Alecra

Against The Odds 9-06

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My eyes were wide with shock as I blurted out loud without thinking, “W-wait, what?! What do you mean, it was him? You’re talking about that noble guy that rescued you and Seller? He’s the bad guy?”

Gaia turned her attention to me, raising an eyebrow. “Ah. So that was your vision after all. I wondered about that. Your mother saw something… else.” Head tilting then, she added, “And you know Seller.”

Part of me wanted to reflexively flinch at that, but after thinking about it for a second, I just nodded. “We met when I visited home, just before everything happened with Ammon. Avalon set it up because I needed answers about my mother and why she and Deveron were erased from the old yearbooks.”

The older woman started to nod at that, then paused in mid-motion. I saw the way her forehead slowly wrinkled in apparent confusion before she looked up to me again. “Excuse me? Your mother and who?”

Blinking once, I went over what I’d said in my head briefly before replying, “Deveron? You know, our joke of a mentor? Mom’s classmate back when she went to Crossroads and later partner in crime? His stuff was erased from the yearbook to—aaaand you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

From the look on the woman’s face, it was clear that she didn’t. “No,” she confirmed flatly. “I’m afraid I have no idea. Which would seem to imply that the Mnemosyne spell was used more than once.”

“Mnemosyne spell,” I echoed. “You mean the spell that erased Mom and the rebellion from everyone’s memory.” Giving a quick glance toward Asenath, I added, “You mean they erased Deveron too, and this time they included you in the effect? Why? Why would they let you remember Mom but not him?”

Gaia shook her head. “The question is more complicated than that, I’m afraid. The Mnemosyne spell is entirely too complicated and power-intensive for it to have been cast without the knowledge or input by myself or any of those loyal to me who would have spoken up. The fact that it was cast without any of our knowledge is proof that it was not cast by Ruthers or anyone at Crossroads. It can’t be done.”

Shiori, shoulders hunched as she stepped back between me and Asenath, spoke up. “Eden’s Garden?”

“No,” Gaia responded quietly, her eyes narrowed in thought. “The original spell, to remove Joselyn from memory, required the input of the most powerful members from both Crossroads and the Garden. There is no conceivable way that they could have done it alone for Deveron Adams.” Looking up to me then, she added, “You said that he was your mother’s partner and schoolmate? Do you have any idea why he is at Crossroads now, or why his demeanor has changed so much in the past few months?”

“Sorry,” I replied while shaking my head. “I was kind of assuming that you put him in with us as a guide or something, or a clue or… I dunno. If you didn’t have anything to do with it, and the rest of Crossroads or Eden’s Garden didn’t either, then who the hell erased him and put him in the school?”

“That,” Gaia murmured quietly while fixing her stare on the floor, “is an extremely good question.”

For a moment I thought the woman was going to say something else about it. Instead, she simply shook her head before turning her attention back to the Meregan. “Nicholas Petan has harmed your people?”

The three tall figures looked to one another, clearly conferring silently before Gavant gave a single nod. “Enemy-Nicholas Petan has been killed many of our people. Not as many as Threat-Fossor.” His voice cracked a little. “The Threat-Fossor has been killed most of… most of our people. Enemy-Nicholas Petan has been killed some of the remains. But his focusing is not been for killing, but for taken.”

“Taking,” Asenath put in. “You mean your people. He’s been stealing your people. Your children.”

“That’s why they needed help,” I confirmed. “They sent for Mom, but… well, I don’t think Fossor was going to let her go out on a day trip to save a bunch of enslaved children.” Even saying his name made me shake a little bit, hand clenching until I felt something soft touch it. A glance down showed Shiori brushing her fingers gently against mine without looking at me, a slight blush touching her cheeks.

“I am aware of some of the situation.” Gaia’s voice was quiet and thoughtful. “But the fact that it involves Nicholas… this seems to be a much bigger threat than I originally assumed it was.”

“I don’t get it,” I started uncertainly. “He was a great guy when he saved you before. He was all honorable and stuff, like some noble knight. What—why the hell is he enslaving children now?”

Gaia’s response was a sight. “Honestly, I wish I knew. I lost contact with Nicholas… a very long time ago, even by my standards. What he’s been doing, or why he’s even here, is beyond me. I didn’t even know he was still alive.” Then her eyes narrowed. “But it is a question that I’ll be certain to ask him.”

“You’re…. you’re gonna help then?” I asked slowly, biting my lip before pressing on. “I mean, you’re actually gonna help the Meregan get their children back, even if it means fighting against Nicholas?”

“Fighting will not be my first resort,” Gaia informed us. “But if it comes down to it, yes. I will press the man for answers. Whatever his explanation, I will make certain that he does not harm anyone else.”

Asenath moved up near me, Shiori still sandwiched between us. Her eyes were narrowed, and I was pretty sure she was still plenty suspicious. Not that I could really blame her, to be honest. “If you expose yourself like that,” she pointed out quietly, “you make it harder to save the kids later. If he knows you’re involved, it gets rid of the element of surprise. He’ll put even more guards on them.”

Rather than debate the point, Gaia gave a single, accepting nod. “Yes. That’s why we won’t actually be asking him to release them. I will go to him and request an explanation. While he is… shall we say occupied, the rest of you will be rescuing the children and bringing them back here. As I said, regardless of what his eventual explanation may be, the Meregan young belong with their families.”

Surprise hit me, and I blinked at her words. “You—you still want us to go in there and rescue them?”

Gaia’s head dipped in a slight nod. “Yes. I will either get satisfactory answers from Nicholas, or distract him long enough for you to do what is needed. Either way, the children will be returned to their home.”

I had to admit, it was a better plan than I’d had. We’d honestly had no particular way to deal with the Heretic, even before finding out just who he actually was. Now, with Gaia focused on him, we could (hopefully) handle the smaller threats at least long enough to get those kids back where they belonged.

And yet… “We still need help,” I informed the headmistress firmly. “You haven’t seen that city they’ve got out there. It’s not just a little encampment, it’s a whole walled fortress. Maybe we’ll get in and out without being seen, but if not, we’re gonna need more than just us to get those kids out nice and safe. Even if you’re distracting Nicholas and the Meregan are distracting the bulk of his army. That’s why we were trying to contact the rest of my team. They…err, wait, crap, did you know that they knew?”

There was obvious amusement in Gaia’s gaze as she looked at me silently for a moment, a smile tugging at her lips before she spoke. “Yes,” she confirmed. “I am not aware of everything you’ve been up to, but I know that you have convinced Avalon and the rest of your team to help you investigate. Even Sandoval, which is a very high mark in your favor, for the record. And it proves that you are indeed your mother’s daughter. The way that Joselyn was able to pull people to her side, it was… well, if I’m being perfectly honest, I have been jealous of it in the past. Your mother is a brilliant leader.”

Something thick caught in my throat, and I had to look away for a second. Folding my arms against my stomach, I forced out a long, low breath before returning my gaze to her. “Were you keeping an eye on me the whole time? After Mom disappeared, I mean. Was Crossroads really watching for that long?”

What looked like a sad little smile touched the woman’s face that time, and she was quiet for a moment, briefly lost in her own thoughts and memories. “Yes,” she finally answered in a voice that was so quiet it was almost inaudible. “Well, Crossroads as a whole watched you because the Committee is convinced that you’re still in touch with your mother somehow. Some, led by Ruthers, believe that she was playing the long game, pretending to take herself out of your life so that we would be more likely to accept you into the school. They think that she has been secretly training and teaching you this entire time, just out of our sight, so that you might work to convert our ‘real’ students to her way of thinking.”

I stared at her open-mouthed, but it was Shiori who blurted, “That’s…. stupid! Flick isn’t—her mom wouldn’t—I don’t even know her mom and I know that’s stupid! She left her family for a decade just as part of a plan to mess with Crossroads? How… how… how arrogant are they?! Do they really think that everything revolves around them? How—how out of touch—how stupid—how crazy are–” After that, the other girl just sort of devolved into incoherent stammering, occasionally getting an actual word out.

It was Asenath who quieted her, putting an arm around the girl and leaning in to whisper something against her ear that actually made Shiori give a snort of amusement. She was still flushed with indignation however, and glanced toward me before clearing her throat. “Err, I mean it’s really dumb.”

“There are others on the Committee who agree with you,” Gaia replied easily. “That’s why nothing overt was done. Ruthers advocated picking you,” she looked toward me, “up as soon as possible. Nothing that bad,” she added quickly, “the other members of the Committee wouldn’t have gone for it. But his plan was to have you placed with a Heretic family, out of your mother’s reach and influence. He almost had them sold on it, even played up how much safer you would be with active Heretics than if any of those nasty Strangers happened to come across the great Joselyn Atherby’s daughter unprotected.”

I wanted to scream. Actually, fuck it, I did scream. “You mean he came up with that point after it was too fucking late?!” My yell echoed through the room and made Tristan jump, but I didn’t care. I was seeing red. “They threw my mom under the bus, just tossed her out into the world where anyone could find her, and only after some psychopath takes her away do they think about how vulnerable that is? And even then, it’s just part of a stupid fucking excuse to keep her child, me, away from her?!”

Gaia’s head bowed, and I saw the way she flinched. “I’m sorry, Felicity. I’m very sorry about… everything. I genuinely tried to find your mother after she disappeared. I wish I’d done more now. I wish there was more I could have done. As it was, it took all the clout I had to make the Committee see reason and leave you where you were. You belonged with your father. Taking you from him at that point… I don’t think he would have survived it. My efforts, they were centered on that, on keeping you where you belonged. By the time I was free to really search for Joselyn, the trail was just too cold. It was my choice to focus on keeping you with your father, and I would make the same choice again. But for my further failure to find your mother, to save her from this… this monster, I am very, truly sorry.”

“Yeah,” I started to speak, but my voice failed me for a moment. I had to take a breath before starting again. “I’m sorry too. But right now, those kids are still missing. And we still need the rest of my team.”

She didn’t respond at first, falling silent again for a few seconds. Then Gaia gave a slight nod and gestured toward the pool where the fountain was. The water rose once more, and I saw the image change. Instead of showing the beach, we were now seeing the hallway just outside the twins’ room.

The door opened a second later, and the two of them came hustling out together. Sands was saying something about checking with Avalon one more time. In mid-sentence, both girls went right through the portal and ended up taking several steps through the fountain before their brains caught up.

“What the–” Sands blurted, twisting around while yanking her mace into her hand. Her eyes spotted the three Meregan, and I saw the way she took a quick step through the water toward them. “Hey!”

Scout, meanwhile, had spotted the rest of us and laid a hand on her sister’s arm to stop her before pointing our way once Sands looked back toward her. The mix of confusion in both of their eyes as their gazes flicked from the Meregan and Asenath, to Shiori, Tristan, and me, then to the headmistress and back on through the line again was almost amusing. They were both completely lost.

“Flick, Shiori!” Sands blurted. “H-Headmistress? Wait, you… you said they were… wait. You said they were doing some secret job for you, but—but…” Stammering, she looked back to the Meregan.

“Hello, Sands,” Gaia greeted her calmly. “Hello, Scout. Please come out of the water, there’s a lot to talk about, but we need to bring the rest of your team over as well. Trust me, everything is… well, not fine, but well enough as far as you’re concerned. It’s all right.”

Leaning closer to the woman, I spoke quietly. “You told them we were doing a secret job for you or something?”

The headmistress gave a faint nod without looking. “It wouldn’t have been right to let them continue to tear their hair out with worry. Especially poor Columbus.” She looked toward Shiori then. “Simply leaving him in fear for what happened to his sister would have been utterly irresponsible and cruel.”

Slowly, Sands and Scout climbed out of the water. “Okay…” Sands started, still clearly feeling very defensive. She was clutching her mace. “But why are you standing next to a Stranger, and why are there giant strangers over there, at least I assume they’re Strangers even though they don’t feel like it for some reason, and…” She trailed off, eyes flicking toward me, looking for answers.

“It’s okay, Sands,” I assured her. “Both of you, it’s fine. She knows. She knows about my mom and all that. She’s on our side. I mean—you know what I mean. We’re not in trouble. Well, technically we are because there’s some bad, bad stuff going on, but the headmistress, she’s with us. You can trust her.”

“You?” Sands looked completely aghast as she stared at Gaia. “You’re part of this… this Stranger love fest? But you’re the head of the school that teaches us all about how evil they all are! Why–huh?!” That last noise sounded like the verbal manifestation of poor Sands’s brain slipping one of its gears.

“It’s a very long story, I’m afraid.” Gaia intoned with a slight smile. “Your teammate can tell you some of it. For now, we need to focus on assisting these innocent people.” she gestured toward the Meregan.

“Hello,” Purin called, waving a hand enthusiastically. “We are being glad to having meet you.”

Sands looked at the man, mouth working in silent confusion while Scout silently waved back.

Tristan, for his part, waved enthusiastically before practically sprinting that way to start talking at the two girls. Obviously, the poor kid (who should have been our age… the Heretic world was weird) was still pretty starved for human interaction.

“Now then,” Gaia cleared her throat. “To the others.”

It went on like that. Gaia pulled through Sean and Avalon next, the latter of which looked as close to utterly shocked as I’d ever seen her. Once she realized what was going on, her face actually pinked a little. “M… mother…”

“It’s quite all right, Valley,” Gaia assured her. “We’ll talk later, but… I understand.”

Valley… Avalon… Realizing that it was a shortened nickname, my eyes lit up and the girl immediately shot me a warning look, raising a finger to quiet me.

It did not, however, stop me from snickering as Tristan, standing out from the rest of us, blurted while staring at my roommate, “Ho-holy crap, dude… are you like… a… a movie star or something?”

She ignored him. Which, to be fair, was pretty reasonable for Avalon. She must like the kid or something. Maybe finding me safe had put her in a really good mood. Even teasing myself with that thought made me blush, and I found myself looking between Avalon and Shiori thoughtfully.

Vulcan, meanwhile, left Sean’s side and came running up to where I was. Smiling, I crouched down to greet the mechanical dog, rubbing his head before nodding to the boy himself. “Hey there, guys.”

Next, and finally, Gaia brought Columbus through. The boy was on his way down the stairs, taking them several at a time so that he came through the portal in mid-jump, making him crash straight down into the water with a sudden surprised yelp. “Wha—blllrggphh!”

Shiori was in the water before he had recovered, hauling her brother back up before grabbing onto him in a tight hug. “Columbus! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made you worry so much. I’m sorry I ignored you. I’m sorry I was so out of it. I’m sorry, please forgive me, please. I love you. I didn’t mean to push you away, please don’t be mad at me, please?”

Looking totally taken aback, Columbus froze, standing there in the water for a second. He looked at us, then to the Meregan and then back again.

Then he just hugged his sister back, leaning down to whisper something before clutching her tighter. His second whisper was a bit louder, just enough to make out. “I missed you.”

“So…” Sean spoke up a moment later, turning away from the two of them. “Not that I don’t love going on a field trip with my school principal, my team, a little kid, a bunch of giants and… whatever you are,” he nodded toward Asenath. “But why are we here, exactly?”

“Well, Sean,” I replied after glancing toward Gaia.

“We’re about to rescue some really, really big children.”

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Against The Odds 9-05

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In the past several months, I’d repeatedly had to reassess my standard for what the true definition of being dumbfounded was. Seeing Gaia Sinclaire simply take control of alien teleporter technology while standing on a different world entirely and just nonchalantly step into the room like that took my previous definition of that word and punted it all the way down the field. I was so thoroughly shocked in that moment that I couldn’t make actual words come out of my mouth. There were just vague sounds.

In the end, it was seeing the Meregan, beings twice my size with technology beyond what I could even begin to understand, shrinking back from her that snapped me out of my shock. “H-headmistress!” I blurted while having absolutely no idea whatsoever what I was going to follow that single word with.

Her eyes turned to me, and I started to talk. The words just poured out. “You can’t hurt these people, yeah I said people because that’s what they are. I know they’re big and I know they look strange because they’re sort-of giants but that doesn’t make them evil. Yeah I know what everyone says at the school you’re in charge of and I know all of that but I think you have to do evil things to be evil.”

I was so… well, honestly terrified in that moment that the words kept coming. I was nervous so I babbled without even waiting to see how the woman was reacting. “And if you don’t do evil things I think that should mean you’re not really evil but according to your school someone is evil just because they were born different from human which really seems sort of umm, bad if you think about it which I really think you should because the letter from my mom said I could trust you and oh yeah I forgot to mention I know my Mom was a Heretic and I know I should’ve come to you sooner before this all spiraled out of control but I really, really, really, hope she was right and I really can trust you because there’s something bad happening now but they aren’t the ones doing it and if you’ll just wait a second-”

“Felicity,” Gaia spoke calmly, snapping my attention back to her. She was holding one hand up placatingly, her other hand at her side. The single word without any particular inflection or threat behind it shut me up immediately and more effectively than I could ever remember happening before.

Once I was quiet, she continued. “When I said that there are many things we need to discuss, I did not mean that each of those discussions should take place simultaneously within the next thirty seconds.”

My mouth opened and then shut again, but before I could find any more words, someone else spoke. “H-headmistress.” Shiori was on her feet, looking just as terrified as I felt, or possibly even worse. She was standing slightly in front of Asenath. As scared of Gaia as she clearly was, the girl still stood straight, planting herself between the vampire and probably the most powerful Heretic we’d ever met.

Asenath, on the other hand, clearly wanted to put herself in front of her little sister. She had a hand on the girl’s shoulder and was obviously attempting to make her stop holding herself in the way.

“Good morning, Shiori,” Gaia greeted her as simply and calmly as ever. “I see you’ve met your sister.”

Well shit, then. Even the past few months of total surprises hadn’t made me adjust my standards for being dumbfounded quite that quickly. That time, all I managed to do for a solid ten seconds or so was openly gape. Behind me, I was pretty sure that both other girls were having fairly identical reactions.

In the end, it was Tristan who broke the resulting stunned silence. The kid was standing at my side, staring up at Gaia as he blurted out loud, “Holy crap, are you Jean Grey?” When her eyes turned that way, he shifted somewhat behind me while continuing. “I mean, you sort of look like her. You know, from the comics? It’s just the—the red hair and the pretty and the, umm, yeah.” He made a sort of all encompassing gesture with his hand. “I mean, obviously you’re not, but no one else was talking.”

“I’m sorry,” Gaia answered, sounding truly regretful. “I’m afraid I’m not really her, no.”

“Wait… wait, just… just…” I held up both hands, feeling flustered and confused. Looking toward the spot where Asenath and Shiori were standing, having settled for being side-by-side when it became clear that neither of them would accept the other being in front of them, I hesitated. Then I turned back to the headmistress. “Baroness, Headmistress, Professor, Miss, whatever you want me to call you. You mean you’re not here to-I mean you’re not gonna—you know that Asenath is her—you know Asenath?”

“Pardon me one moment, please.” Holding a hand up to us, Gaia looked toward the Meregan. “Noble peoples. You have my every apology for using your transportation technology without your express permission and guidance. If any damage has been done, I will ensure that it is taken care of. You have my word that I mean neither any of you nor any of your allies, friends, family, or companions any ill will or intent. So long as myself and my students are safe, I have no particular quarrel with you.”

Gavant lifted his head, watching the smaller woman for a moment warily at first. “That is… being good, Else-Leader-Gaia. We are wishing no harm to you or yours as well. The beacon was not been hurt.”

It probably said a lot that the rest of us remained totally silent through this, until Gaia turned back our way. “Now, to start with, no, I do not know Asenath personally. I have, however, heard of her through several stories and acquaintances, including her long-standing alliance with one Joselyn Atherby.”

“Mom,” I spoke quietly, mostly under my breath while trying to process that. So Asenath really had worked with my mother after all. Since she obviously would have brought that up before, that fact must’ve been wiped out of her memory by the spell that erased everything else about my mother’s rebellion from everyone’s mind. Whatever else I could say about it, that spell was pretty thorough.

“Yes,” Gaia confirmed quietly. “Your mother. You know about what happened to her then, and why.”

“I know she led some kind of rebellion against the idea of killing every Alter in the world just because they’re not human,” I replied, watching the other woman’s reaction. “I know it went on for a long time, even after she was captured. And I know that a bunch of Heretics did some kind of spell to erase the memory of what she did from pretty much everyone’s mind just to stop the rebellion from continuing.”

After glancing away briefly, Gaia gave a single nod before speaking again. “That is true. Your mother, young as she was in the grand scheme of things, was able to lead a rebellion against those much older, more experienced, and with greater resources than she had. She was able, on her own, to fight those who should have been far stronger than she was. She was not just a great and inspiring leader, but had also somehow found a way to gain enough power to stand toe to toe against Heretics that should have been much stronger than she was, all things considered. That is what truly made the rebellion as powerful as it was while Joselyn was in charge of it. The Heretical leaders could not risk an open fight as easily as they could with any other form of conflict, because their victory was not guaranteed.”

“But if you knew all this, if you remember all of it, then you couldn’t be a part of the rebellion,” I pointed out, confused. “You’d have to have been a part of casting the spell that erased those memories.”

Gaia nodded. “You’re right, I was not a part of the rebellion. Not… openly. I felt, and your mother agreed, that the teaching of students at Crossroads was too important. If I left, or was seen as a real ally to Joselyn and her people, I would have been replaced by one much closer to Ruthers. My place was there, a quiet ally who would help where I could without giving away that connection to her enemies.”

“And they believed that,” I spoke slowly. “They believed you were on their side so much they didn’t even erase your memories about Mom or the rebellion. They… they included you in it.”

“Yes,” she acknowledged, meeting my gaze. “I added my power to the casting of that spell. But more than that, I was the one who suggested it be used, and that Joselyn be returned to the Bystander world.”

Staring at her, I demanded, “Why? Why would you do that? You obviously don’t think that every Alter or Stranger or whatever you call them should be killed, and Mom left that message about trusting you. So why, why, why would you help them erase the memory of her from everyone? Why would you help them turn her into an ordinary human again? Why would you do any of that instead of helping her?!”

Gaia waited quietly until I was done before responding, as simply as ever. “Because she asked me to.”

Well, that threw me yet again. Eyes wide, I stared while sputtering, “B-because she—what the hell?”

“You know that your mother spent more than a decade imprisoned, while the rebellion continued,” Gaia began to explain. “Toward the end of that time, Ruthers, the former Crossroads headmaster and the Committee member most devoted to ending that rebellion, came up with a plan to destroy them once and for all.” She went quiet briefly, wincing. “He planned to unleash a blood plague onto them.”

“That sick son of a bitch!” Asenath abruptly blurted, eyes wide as she took a quick step forward. “Are you serious? Is he fucking crazy? No, scratch that, of course he is. Why the hell isn’t he locked up?”

“Wha—I don’t get it, what’s a blood plague?” I asked while looking back and forth between the female figures. Shiori, who had moved up with her sister, looked just as confused and lost as I was.

It was Asenath who spoke. “A blood plague is what my father’s people, the Akharu, had done to them. Against most people, it’s an enslavement tool. Their blood itself is cursed so that they and anyone connected to them, depending on the exact spell you use, is uhh, they’re slaves. They’ll follow the orders of whoever cast it for the rest of their lives. So will their children, and their children’s children. It won’t just enslave them, it’ll enslave all future children they ever have. Forever. There’s no real cure.”

I stared at the other girl for a second, but it was Shiori who spoke, sounding just as uncertain and lost as I felt. “B-but you’re not a slave. And I don’t think your dad was? So… what, what happened?”

“The Akharu were too powerful at that point for that spell to work that well against them,” Senny explained. “They were already… okay, it’s a long story, but they were basically practically immortal already by that point. The blood plague couldn’t enslave them, because their own regeneration kept working against it. Instead, it just sort of… paralyzed them. As long as the infected blood was in their system, it left them completely paralyzed. They couldn’t move at all. They were alive, but… frozen. Turned out that they could put new blood into their system to counteract the effect, but that blood would be infected eventually. So they had to keep adding new blood every once in awhile. Hence…”

“Vampires,” I realized. “That’s why they have to keep drinking blood. But you’re not a full Akharu.”

“They went looking for a cure,” she replied softly. “When they got to Earth, the Akharu found out they could change humans into vampires. And they could have children with humans because the human blood of the offspring counteracted the curse, so their hybrid children, like me, weren’t born slaves.”

“So… so Ruthers was going to use some magic blood curse to enslave not just the rebellion, but any children they ever had, forever?” I felt sick inside, almost physically staggering from the thought.

“Yes,” Gaia confirmed. “He was waiting for approval from the rest of the committee. The majority still opposed the idea, but he was wearing them down with each successive month. I don’t know how long it would have taken for him to be given the approval he needed, but it was inevitable. Those against the plan were only a majority by one vote. At least one of those who were appalled by the idea would bend, or even die and be replaced by someone who would approve of the idea. It was only a matter of time.

“So, I went to Joselyn. I told her what was happening. Together, we came up with the only possible course of action that we could. We had to offer the Committee a different solution, one that would not result in such… barbaric action. Because it is possible to undo a memory spell. It would even be possible to make your mother into a Heretic again. But the blood plague, that could not be fixed. The Akharu have searched for such a cure for thousands of years without any success. We had to give the Committee another plan, one that would seem less extreme yet still accomplish their goals. Your mother volunteered to have her memory taken away from the people, and her power taken away from herself, in order to protect them. She surrendered everything she had worked for throughout her entire life in order to save her people from an eternity of slavery. If you learn nothing else in your life, know this, Felicity. Your mother is the most heroic person I have ever known in my long life.”

Rocking backwards on my heels from that, I worked my mouth a bit before managing, “What about her children? Her other children, I mean. Who are they? Where are they? What happened to them?”

“First, they were taken in after she was captured,” Gaia began in a slow, careful tone.

Before she could continue, however, Asenath interrupted sharply. “No.” When our eyes turned that way, the vampire girl continued while shaking her head. “You’re wrong. They weren’t taken after Joselyn was captured. They were taken before. That’s the whole reason she was captured.”

It was Gaia’s turn to look confused. Her eyes narrowed a bit. “I’m sorry?”

Asenath’s expression held a look of silent fury, a rage at what she was about to say clearly boiling over in her. “Your people, your… Ruthers, he killed children. His people set fire to a building where our families were kept, where the civilians were, where the children were. They set fire to the children’s rooms as a distraction, then they killed the guards in the nursery and stole Joselyn’s babies right out of their cribs. They wanted us to be so busy protecting and saving the rest of the children from the fire just so they could steal Joselyn’s in order to use them as leverage against her. Ruthers and his people killed innocent children that day, and used more innocent children, Joselyn’s children, to threaten her into surrendering. That’s why she turned herself in. That’s why she let them take her. That’s Ruthers’s great victory.”

Gaia looked as sick as I felt. Her voice was quiet. “Joselyn never told me… she never corrected the record that her children were taken after she surrendered… she never… “ Sighing, she lowered her head. “She was still protecting them. Still protecting everyone from that maniac.”

“Yeah,” I blurted, “And now she’s in the hands of another fucking psychopath, and this one happens to be an immortal necromancer with some kind of ash obsession.”

That brought Gaia’s gaze up. “So you do know about Fossor and your mother.”

“Fossor,” I spat the name darkly. “Yeah, I know about him. I know he took her. And you know why? Because he came for me, to turn me into a weapon against you guys. He thought it would be funny to turn Joselyn Atherby’s daughter into an obedient little toy to use against you and the rest of the Heretics. Mom convinced him to take her instead. I was seven years old and she sacrificed herself again. He’s had her for a decade. He’s got a son with her, a fucking son that’s a god damn psychopath himself! Do you know what that means? Do you know what he—what he’s done? What she’s gone through?!” I was shouting by the end.

Gaia’s face was pained. “Felicity, I… I’m sorry. Yes. I know what sort of torture and pain she has been put through. I know what she allowed to happen. If we can find her, if we can save her, I promise you that we will. Damn Ruthers, damn the committee, damn our entire society. If I can save Joselyn, I will. You have my word on that. But I will also keep you safe, and that means protecting you from the committee as well. As hard as it may be, you cannot openly rebel against them. You cannot let on that you know any of this. You must be patient.”

Before I could respond to that, Shiori spoke up. “What about me?” She took a step away from Asenath, waving the other girl back with a hand while keeping her eyes on the headmistress. “You called Asenath my sister. You knew she was a vampire, and you knew as soon as you came here that she was my sister. You knew everything. You knew before you came here. You knew while I was still in Crossroads. You probably knew even before I got there, didn’t you? You knew what I am, and what I… what I saw, what I was… what I thought.”

Gaia’s eyes closed, and I saw her flinch slightly before returned the other girl’s gaze. “Yes,” she answered quietly. “I knew who your mother was, and what you were, Shiori. I knew of your relation.”

“Why?!” Shiori blurted out loud, her voice raised into a yell. “Why would you do that? Why would you let me keep thinking I was a monster?! You had to notice what I was doing, how much it hurt, what I was… you had to know, so why didn’t you stop it?!”

Gaia’s response was simple. “I did.” Lifting her hand, she took Shiori’s and tugged her closer before enveloping the other girl in an embrace. “Did you think that you left that notebook behind accidentally, or that the specific bit of paper that would lead Felicity to realized your connection to your sister just happened to fall out right in front of her? Sometimes the best action is an indirect one. You needed help. But not from me. You needed it from Felicity. I simply pointed her toward you.”

My mouth was working in silence for a solid fifteen seconds before I finally managed, “I… god, there’s so many things I need to ask you. I’ve got questions, so many questions. But their kids,” I pointed back toward the Meregan. “Their children, the last of their race, are in danger. If you’re really on our side, if you’re really not some psycho kill all the Alters person, you have to help them. Please, please, Headmistress, please help them. They’ve been enslaved by some Heretic and he’s going to wipe out their whole race, or just enslave all of them.”

“A heretic?” Gaia lifted her chin, still embracing Shiori. “Who?”

“I—I think they said—what, Nicholas?” I asked the Meregan.

Gavant nodded. “This is being his name. Enemy-Nicholas Petan.”

Gaia’s face actually paled a bit. “Oh dear.”

“What?” I blurted, looking at her with confusion. “Do you know him?”

Slowly, the woman nodded. “Yes. I know Nicholas very well. My first encounter with Alters, as an ordinary bystander, was when I was taken and imprisoned by a group of orcs. I was taken along with another man that you likely now know as Seller, Avalon’s mentor.”

“Nicholas Petan is the man who saved us from those creatures.”

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Against The Odds 9-04

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A few minutes later, I got to see what it had looked like when Shiori and I had been transferred over. It… wasn’t anything special. Just like I hadn’t noticed that we were in a new place until afterward, I almost missed the fact that Asenath had arrived. One second there was no one standing in the designated space, and in the next, the vampire girl was suddenly there. It even took my Stranger sense a second to kick in to warn me that ‘ooh there was a big scary Alter standing there.’

Asenath had appeared with her back to us, facing the wall. She immediately pivoted back the right way, her gaze passing over the trio of tall Meregan just long enough to give them a nod of greeting before focusing on me. “Flick,” the deceptively-young looking vampire started smoothly. “Are you o–”

In mid-sentence, the girl stopped. Her head tilted slightly, and I saw her nostrils flare a little bit as she sniffed. A little frown creased her forehead for a moment as she sniffed once more. Then, silently, she took a few short steps to the side, crossing around behind me to where Shiori was partially-hidden.

At first, Asenath said nothing. She just stood there, watching the other girl with an unreadable expression. Meanwhile, Shiori just sort of shuffled from one foot to the other, unable to lift her gaze from the floor. The girl’s cheeks were pink, and I could see her mouth open and shut a couple times.

Even the Meregan didn’t say anything. They were aware of just how important this moment was. And Tristan, well, he was sitting nearby, watching what was happening with interest but staying quiet.

My own mouth opened to say something witty, but I stopped. No. Forcing the urge to break the silence back down, I made myself remain silent. This wasn’t about me, and it didn’t need any of my help.

Slowly, Asenath reached out a hand. With two fingers, she gently touched the bottom of Shiori’s chin, tilting it up. Bit by bit, the other girl’s gaze rose, until the two of them were face to face, eye to eye.

Gradually, the emotionless mask fell from Asenath’s face. I saw her wince, her lower lip trembling just a little before she spoke quietly, her voice filled with sudden understanding and regret. “Oh… Oh no.”

Before Shiori’s face could finish crumpling at the admittedly bad choice of words, Asenath stepped forward and embraced her. I could hear the other girl’s gasp as Senny wrapped both arms around her tightly. She spoke again, repeating her words. “No, oh no. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. I’m sorry.”

Standing straight, clearly taken aback as her wide eyes found me, Shiori managed a weak, “Wh-what?”

Without releasing the girl, Asenath spoke quietly. “I didn’t know what was happening, what you were going through. I didn’t know who you were. I had no idea you were with the Heretics. If I’d known where you were, what you were going through, I would’ve.. Reathma, you must have been so scared.”

“I… I…” Shiori floundered a bit, stammering while Senny held onto her. “You know who I am?”

“Of course I know who you are,” Asenath confirmed with a tiny smile. “You think I wouldn’t recognize the scent of my own sister? I’ve made a whole career out of tracking family members for other people. Trust me, if I couldn’t figure out who you were at first scent, I’d be the worst vampire in the world.”

“But I—but you–” Falling silent briefly, the other girl hesitated. Finally, she very slowly lifted her hands to tentatively touch Asenath’s shoulders in a very tentative hug that she clearly wasn’t very certain about. “I thought I was a monster,” she whispered. “They said people like me deserved die.”

I saw the way Asenath stiffened before lifting her head to look at her sister. “Hey, listen to me, okay? I’ve been around for about two hundred and thirty years, and if there’s one thing I’ve figured out it’s that drinking blood and living a long time doesn’t make someone a monster. You know what does? Doing monstrous things. Human, Alter, Hybrid whatever you call yourself. Evil actions are evil actions.”

“I wanted to find out about my family for so long,” Shiori admitted quietly. “I kept looking for anything. And then when Professor Dare showed up to talk to Columbus and me, I thought maybe that’s why my parents disappeared, why they gave me up. I thought they were heroes, h-heroic monster slayers and they were just trying to pr-protect me. But then I saw the v-vision from the Heretical Edge a-and it was my mother giving me up. I s-saw her, she was a… a vampire. She was a vampire, and I thought that meant I was a monster too. I thought th-they’d kill me if they found out. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who to t-talk to or wh-where to go. I—I… I think they know something’s wrong.”

Asenath was shaking her head, leaning back a bit to look down at the other girl. Her fingers tilted Shiori’s chin up once more. “I’m going to tell you something right now, and I want you to pay attention, okay? Both of your parents, our mom and your dad, are heroes. They did let you go to protect you, and it was very, very hard for them. It hurt so much because all they wanted to do was take care of you.”

She sighed then before continuing. “But our mom… our mother, she has enemies, enemies that wouldn’t think twice about killing a baby to get at her. That’s why she had to send you away. Hell, that’s gotta be why she let them give you a Japanese name when both our mom and your dad are Chinese. She was hiding you so that her enemies wouldn’t have a chance of tracking you down to use against her.”

Shiori barked a short, humorless laugh then, shoulders shaking. “I don’t think that worked very well.”

Making a short, slightly amused shoulder shrug, Asenath admitted, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure she didn’t expect you to end up with the Heretics. It should’ve been impossible. Hybrids aren’t ever picked up by the Edge. That’s one of the reasons we keep them secret. If Heretics knew there was a way for Alters to produce offspring with humans, offspring that they couldn’t detect, they’d go nuts with paranoia. Knowing them, the crazy ones might even come up with a way to detect you, and then hybrids would be in even worse danger. So we push the idea that it’s impossible just so they don’t have any reason to start looking that hard. The easiest way to protect something is to make your enemy think it can’t exist.”

Shiori was quiet for a few seconds before looking up again. “Do you think there’s others like me? You said the Edge isn’t supposed to pick up hybrids. But it picked up me, s-so there could be others. Others that think they’re monsters, th-that keep hearing about how evil they are and… and don’t know what to do about it. Maybe even in o-older classes. They might’ve been there for years, hearing that… stuff.”

Wincing a little noticeably, Asenath gave a slight nod. “There might be, I really don’t know. If you were taken there, I… hell, I’m surprised the Heretical Edge even worked on you. It… seems impossible.”

“So there might be others,” Shiori murmured. “Th-there might be others that are as scared as I was… am,” she amended with a little shiver. “I’m still scared. If they find out what I am—who my mom is…”

“Hey,” Asenath was holding her tighter, I could tell. “I won’t let that happen. You don’t have to go back. You can stay with me. I’ll take care of you, I promise. You don’t have to go through that anymore.”

For a few seconds, Shiori didn’t say anything. Slowly, her arms fully enveloped the other girl, hugging her older sister with much less reservation. I saw the way she pressed her forehead against Asenath’s shoulder, giving a noticeable shiver before she spoke quietly. “Yes, I do. I do have to go back there.”

Before Asenath could object, she went on. “My brother, Columbus, he’s there. My team is there. Even if they’d think… even if they’d turn on me, I have to go back. I can’t run and hide just because—just because it’s easier.” Giving a helpless little shrug, the girl murmured, “And if there’s others like me in there, others that that’ve been in my position, I have to try to find them. I have to try to help them.”

“Even if it’s safer to come with me?” Asenath’s voice sounded strained, even a bit lonely, and I thought a bit about what she’d said before about how she tended to lose people. As she’d said, she had her own abandonment issues. “I’d like to have a sister around. It… it’d be nice to have someone else to talk to.”

“I’m not saying no to having a sister,” Shiori spoke carefully then, leaning back to look at the much older girl. I saw the way their eyes met, the half-sisters, born centuries apart. “I want to have a sister. I want to know you. I want to know our—our mom, everything. But I’m not going to run and hide. All those people that the Heretics help, they do help them. Just because there’s problems doesn’t mean they’re all wrong. You don’t fix things by running and hiding. You fix them by… by working on them.

“Besides,” she added with a brief glance my way. “I… kinda don’t want to leave Flick now. Not after everything we’ve already been through. Not after what she said, what… she really made me feel better.”

Asenath was quiet for a second before she looked over at where I was. “Thanks for helping my sister.”

I shrugged a little at that, smiling in spite of myself. “Hey, you helped my dad. What else could I do?”

Returning my smile with one of her own briefly, Asenath then turned her attention to the waiting Meregan. Her tone turned a little more proper, and she made a brief bowing motion. “You have my apologies for my rudeness in not addressing you properly, sirs and miss. I’m afraid even with all the time that I’ve lived, I haven’t actually met any of your people, so I don’t know your correct greetings.”

“It is being well,” Gavant assured her. “We are being know well the missing of peoples and family. You are not being need to apologizing for such emotion. Please, do not being allow us to be interrupting.”

I saw the way Asenath bit her lip hesitantly, eyes glancing toward her little sister before she gestured. “Does that mean you don’t mind if I talk to her for awhile? We’ve got a lot to catch up on, then you can tell me about this threat, and the kids that are in danger. Unless there’s something urgent that we can-”

I shook my head. “We’ve gotta wait until we can pull the rest of my team in anyway. You can talk.”

She raised an eyebrow, watching me with a doubtful look. “You’re bringing in the rest of your team?”

“I know what you’re thinking.” I let out a long sigh before going on. “And yes, it’s not ideal. But we need help. And if we’re ever going to convince people that the way the Heretics are going about things is wrong, if we’re ever going to change what’s happening, we have to start somewhere. I honestly can’t think of a better place to start than with my own team. If I can’t get them to work with a vampire to save a bunch of children, then… then there’s no hope at all. And I’d personally rather not believe that.”

Asenath stepped away then to have a talk with Shiori, and I moved back over to where the Meregan were. My eyes found the spot where Tristan was, and I hesitated before addressing them. “You found Asenath just by using a bit of Shiori’s DNA or whatever, and some thoughts about her. Can’t you do the same thing to find Tristan’s family? He said he remembers having a mom, a dad, and a sister. He remembers being in a house. Can’t you use that and his genetics and do your little tracking thing?”

Poor Gavant look ashamed, glancing away with a flinch. “We have been tried. We are being trying more and more. This spell that is been blocked him, that keeps being return him to this world, it has being affecting our efforts as well. Without more information of what has being done, we cannot probably being do any better. But, we will not being stop trying to be finding Friend-Tristan’s family.”

“What about your own kids?” I asked then, frowning. “You could pull Shiori, Asenath, and me off a completely different world. Couldn’t you just use the technology to locate and transport your children?”

That time, it was Alecra who spoke, her voice clearly sad. “We have been tried that as well, many times. Enemy-Nicholas Petan is being aware of our power and was made protections against it.”

“Protections like the ones around Crossroads,” I realized with a sigh. “The same reason we have to wait until Avalon’s out on the beach before we can contact her and get the rest of my team out here.”

From there, I just moved to sit next to Tristan. I figured the kid could use a human to talk to. He couldn’t really tell me anything about his family or what happened to him, of course, but I managed to get him talking about other things. We should have been the same age, so I still remembered everything he did about movies, toys, games, and cartoons. It was… a little odd talking to a twelve-year old boy about stuff we both liked when we were seven-years old. But I got over it pretty quick, and we just chatted.

Before I knew it, my phone was beeping to let me know that it would be time to get up if I was home. Which meant that it would be time for Avalon to be down on the beach, considering her usual schedule.

Straightening up, I brushed off my legs and glanced to the other side of the room. Asenath was sitting there with Shiori, the latter actually asleep with her head in Senny’s lap while the other girl gently stroked her hair. For a second, I stood there and smiled at the sight before moving to where the Meregan waited. “All right, so how do we find Avalon without using any of her DNA or anything?”

“You were said that she would being on beach area where you and Friend-Shiori were being found?”

I nodded to Alecra. “Yeah, she always goes jogging around now. I mean, assuming she hasn’t changed that up since Shiori and I were taken, which… shit, she might. I mean, if they won’t let anyone out of the shield… oh crap, oh crap, why didn’t I think of that before now?” Raising my hands to my head, I let out a low groan of frustration. “Damn it, what if she doesn’t come out? What if none of them do?”

Purin laid his massive hand on my shoulder. Well, his palm was on my shoulder anyway. His whole hand covered a lot more than that. “You must being calm yourself, Friend-Flick. If there is being trouble with locating your friends, we will be settling that problem when it is being proven to exist.”

Breathing out, I made myself calm down, looking at the man with a slight smile. “You’re right, I get it. Deal with the problem if it presents itself. Right now, just focus on what we know. So how do we find her, assuming she is on the beach?”

Alecra answered. “We will being simply return the beacon focus to where it was finding you and Friend-Shiori before. If Other-Friend is there, we will being see her.”

I started to nod, then paused, glancing to her. “Hey, uhh, I thought of something else. That statue outside, the one of my mother. They said it was supposed to be some kind of message thing to let her know what was going on when she appeared. But then you said that Mom should’ve appeared in here, not outside. So why was the statue out there?”

The Meregan woman made what looked like an embarrassed smile. “The Message-Stone should being appear as near as possible to where its intended person-to-being-hear it is. It tried to being appear to you when you were being arrived here. But the Binsayeac had not even power ready. It could not being project Message-Stone far enough. It only had being put Message-Stone as close as it could.”

Nodding slowly, I glanced toward the water fountain. Already, the image in the water was showing the beach. Seeing that, I smiled. “Hey, look.” There was a female figure, slightly obscured by their nearness to the ‘screen.’ “You found her after all.”

All three Meregan looked confused, then turned their attention to the fountain as well. Gavant was talking. “We had not been done anything yet.”

“Wait, what?” I blinked, equally confused. “You mean you didn’t turn on the beacon thing? Then how did it–”

The figure on the beach came even closer to the fountain screen then, and reached out a hand. That hand actually came out through the screen, appearing inside the room with us. Then she took another step, crossing the whole way through the screen to end up inside the fountain in the middle of the room.

“Well,” Baroness Gaia Sinclaire spoke calmly while straightening to her full height.

“I believe we now have many things to discuss.”

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Against The Odds 9-03

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“Are you, uhh, are you really sure about this?” Shiori asked awhile later as the two of us followed Purin up out of the Elvis docking bay (or whatever it was called) back in the Meregan base/ship. We had raced back even faster than the trip out there, Purin seeming to trust that we knew how to drive the boulder-vehicle well enough that he pushed his own harder than he had before. It had been a wild ride.

“Because this,” Shiori continued in a quiet murmur, “seems like a plan that could go wrong really fast.”

Unable to deny that, I nodded. “You’re right, it could go wrong. It could backfire spectacularly. But if we’re gonna rescue those kids, we’re gonna need them.” Pausing then, I added, “And they’re my team.”

The girl paused briefly, a visible flinch crossing her face. “Right,” her voice faltered. “Your team.”

We were in the doorway between the vehicle garage and the corridor, and I turned to Shiori. My hand found hers almost instinctively. “Hey, I… I’m sorry, that was really insensitive. I know, you’d rather have your team here too. I’m going on about wanting my team here, and you… you… I’m sorry.”

At first, Shiori’s gaze turned down and to the side, toward the floor. Then the girl set her shoulders and physically straightened. Her eyes found mine while she shook her head. “No more sulking, remember? Yeah, it sucks that I can’t t-tell them about what I am. But… but I’m not gonna brood about it anymore.”

Her face twisted a little in thought then before she added, “Besides, do you even know how you’re gonna get Columbus and the others here anyway? Because I’m pretty sure they won’t be past the shield and out on the beach like we were. Especially in the middle of the night. It’s like four in the morning.”

“Avalon’ll be down for exercise in another hour,” I assured her. “I know her schedule like the back of my hand. She goes running on the beach at five thirty.” Looking toward Purin, who had paused to watch, I asked, “Is there any way to send a message instead of just teleporting them without warning? I’d kind of like to tell my friends what’s going on and let them choose to come help if they want.”

The big man’s head bobbed immediately. “This is being very possible to have been done, Friend-Flick.”

“That still leaves an hour and a half before she’s on the beach,” Shiori pointed out. “What do we do until then? And are we sure that this umm, Nicholas guy won’t send an even bigger army before then?”

Wincing at the thought, I started to shake my head. Before I could say anything, however, Gavant spoke up while approaching from further down the corridor. “We will being moving, Friend-Shiori. Enemy-Nicholas Petan is having a large army, yes. But he is not having large enough to be finding us.”

“Wait, so, the spaceship is ready to move?” I asked, giving a quick. nervous glance around the corridor.

Gavant winced a little before shaking his head. “Our vessel is not being space-worthy yet. More repairs are being needed. But it is being less difficult to be moving on planet. That moving we can be done.”

“Right,” I nodded. “Probably a good idea to move then, before we get any more unwanted guests.” Hesitating then, I took a breath before looking at Shiori. “As for what we’re gonna do until Avalon’s up, I’ve got an idea.” My eyes met hers while I spoke quietly. “Asenath. We can ask Asenath for help.”

The suggestion made Shiori’s eyes widen. “Asenath,” she breathed out in surprise. “You mean…”

“Yeah,” I confirmed while squeezing her hand upon realizing I was still holding it. “Your sister.”

For a second, I saw the hope in the girl’s eyes. I saw the expression of a child that only wanted to know her real family, and where she had come from. Then it clouded over with worry, like a storm crossing a bright, sunny day. “But what if she, I mean what if I… wh-what if they…” Shiori started to babble.

I responded by lifting her hand, then grabbing the other one. Interlacing our fingers together, I met her gaze while holding our hands up above our heads that way. “Hey,” I replied quietly, “it’s okay. We don’t have to tell any of the others that you guys are related if you don’t want to. Or anything else about you. I mean, I think you should tell Columbus the truth because he’s your brother and he’s been worried as hell. But that’s up to you, and no one’s going to make you do anything you don’t want to. All right?”

Looking down at the floor at first, then back up again to meet my gaze, Shiori nodded. “Okay.” Her voice was quiet, yet a little hope had crept back into it. “And I would like to meet this… Asenath.”

“I know she’d like to meet you too,” I confirmed before looking back toward Gavant and Purin. “Can we do that? If I give you a um, I don’t know, an address or whatever, can you reach someone else?”

“We are not understanding what is this ‘address,’” Gavant responded with a slight frown. “But if Friend-Flick is be telling us all of who this sister of Friend-Shiori is, we can be finding her then.”

“Right, right,” I realized aloud. “It’s like you were saying about how the beacon caught me instead of my mom. It looks for similar genetics, mindsets, actions, memories, personality. You just need me to… what, talk about what I know about Asenath and then your beacon can lock onto her just like that?”

“That is being true,” he confirmed. “If it is being narrowed down to one world, it is being easier. Our beacon was been already used on your world. That will being easier than one whole new world.”

Releasing Shiori, I started to say something else, but the sound of jogging footsteps caught my attention. Not that it was hard to know who was coming, since there was only one other person in the whole ship who could run without it sounding like rumbling thunder echoing around us. “Tristan?”

Sure enough, the boy came running up, skidding to a stop. Excitement shown on his face. “They’re about to start up the engines!” He called, clearly beside himself. “They’re gonna start the ship!”

Despite the urgency of the situation, I felt a flutter of excitement and more than a little awe. I was in a spaceship, a real spaceship, and they were about to start the engines. Part of me wished there was time to bask in how amazing that was, how unbelievable, and how jealous Dad would have been if he knew.

Actually, that raised an interesting question. How would the Bystander effect work when someone was brought onto a working spaceship and taken to another world? Would they just think they were driving in a car or… going on a ship? Or would they fully process it while they were experiencing it, then forget immediately as soon as it was over? The latter seemed more likely given what I knew about the effect.

Shaking off those thoughts, I smiled in spite of myself. The boy’s obvious excitement was infectious. “I guess we better work on getting those reinforcements here then, if the ship’s already ready to take off.”

The boy looked nervous all of a sudden, kicking at the floor with his foot. “Do uhh, do you mind if I…”

Realizing what he was asking, my eyes widened. I suddenly felt like a bitch. He obviously wanted to stay around us. We were the first humans that had been here with him for years, and we’d run out with barely a word right after meeting him. “You wanna hang out while we work on getting our friends?”

Tristan’s head bobbed rapidly, his perfect blonde hair flying with the motion. Seriously, the kid would have given any of those famously cute little boy actors a run for their money without even trying that much. When he got a little bit older, he was going to end up being the subject of a ton of crushes. I had to wonder how much of that had to do with whatever his ‘other half’ besides human was. Not to mention my thoughts of whether the boy had been magically banished because of something to do with the Heretics refusal to accept that there could be human-alter hybrids.

In the end, I just gave the boy a thumbs up. “Cool.” Then I looked to Gavant. “How do we get started?”

The big man pointed down the corridor. “Explore-Master Purin will being take you to beacon room while ship is prepared for launch. It should not be interrupting your work. Meregan beacon will being unhindered by ship movements and activity unless we are being in live combat situation.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” I murmured before nodding. “All right, Purin, let’s get to it.”

The other Meregan man made that salute or prayer gesture with his left hand again, where he pressed it sideways against his chest with the ring and middle fingers stretched out while the rest were pushed back against his palm. He thumped his hand against his chest that way while facing Gavant. Speaking quickly in their own language for a moment, he gave what sounded like an agreement before turning. “Come, Friends-Flick, Shiori, and Tristan. We must be hurry if we are to be finding your other people.”

The four of us jogged down the corridor, hurrying past several other Meregan who were all hard at work effecting repairs and maintenance on the ship to make sure everything was ready. As we jogged, I looked down at the boy. “So you really don’t remember anything about your family or anything?”

Tristan shook his head. “Nuh uh. They tried everything to send me back or help me remember, but it, uh, like I said, it just sends me right back.” Making a face then, he added, “I wish I could remember.”

Despite myself, I reached out to ruffle his hair as we ran. “Hey, don’t worry. We’re not just gonna run off back home and forget all about you when this is over, I promise. We’ll figure something out.”

The boy looked a bit doubtful, but nodded while remaining silent. Before I could say anything else, the jog brought us to a circular platform of some kind, with a safety rail around it that was taller than I was.

Once we were all in the circle, it started to descend, sinking deeper into the tomb-like ship. I had to wonder why so much of the Meregan technology seemed to be centered around things like rocks and rough masonry. Sure there was smooth metal in certain places, but a lot of the exterior things were very different. There was no aerodynamic structure or anything a modern human would design. Their spaceship looked more like a building than a vehicle, and their scouting vehicles looked like boulders.

As if to add to that, as the elevator stopped and a large set of doors opened in front of us, we saw what looked an awful lot like a cave in front of us. It was almost as large as the cafeteria at Crossroads. There were multicolored crystals lining the walls that fluctuated between red, blue, and green randomly. The floor was marble, and there was a wading pool in the middle of the circular chamber. In the middle of the pool there was a small fountain that shot up at least a good ten feet. And to the side, I could see one of the other Meregan, a woman with long green hair, fiddling with one of the crystals.

Shaking off my surprise at the sight, I stepped into the cavern. “Okay, so um, how does this work?”

“Oh, and we better make sure that it brings them here and not outside like we did,” Shiori added.

Pointing at her, I nodded emphatically toward Purin. “Yeah, what she said. Why did we end up out there instead of in this place anyway? Seems like that could have saved a lot of, you know, confusion.”

The Meregan woman who had already been in the cavern looked embarrassed while speaking up. “That is being my fault, Friends-Flick and Shiori. I am being Alecra, and the mistake was been mine.”

She approached, leaving the crystals behind while continuing to explain. “The beacon was been set to transport Friend-Joselyn Atherby here into this room location. But I was made mistake by not changing location to be matching new coordinates after Binsayeac was been hidden under ground from intruders.”

Quickly, Tristan murmured, “Binsayeac’s the name of the ship. They said it means, umm, Friend-Finder.” His lips were pursed a little, the anger in even his young voice apparent. “They named their ship Friend-Finder. They wanted to go out in space and find other people to talk to, other… friends. They just wanted to help and make a big intergalactic community. They never wanted to hurt anybody.”

I flinched at the thought that this race of explorers, who had gone so far as to name their spaceship after the idea of community and friendship, had been almost completely wiped out. This ship that they had made for the purpose of extending a hand of solidarity to worlds beyond their own had become the home of pretty much their entire species. And if we didn’t save their children, it might all end here.

Forcing that thought aside rather than let myself dwell on the idea of failing, I focused on what Alecra had explained, parsing it for a moment before getting it. “Oh, you set the coordinates for this room, but then they hid this ship to stay away from the bad guys, but you forgot to change the coordinates. So where we showed up would have been where the ship was before you guys took it underground.”

“That is being correct, Friend-Flick,” the tall, green-haired woman confirmed. “If we are to be bring your Friends-People here to help, we will being move the coordinates to bringing them to here.”

After making that clear, she extended a hand. “You will must come being in water if the beacon is to being correct in its search. Lord-March Gavant was said that you was to look for Friend-Shiori’s sister?”

I nodded. “She’s never met her though. Asenath’s her half-sister, but I’m the only one that knows her.”

“Then you must being both in water,” Alecra explained patiently. “The beacon will being scan Friend-Flick’s memories and will being scan Friend-Shiori’s blood and body to being make accurate location.”

With a brief glance toward the other girl, I let out a breath. “All right, let’s do it then. Wait, I can send her a message, right? We locate her and send a message first. I don’t want to just snatch her without warning. That, you know, might be bad.” I coughed, wincing at the thought of both a startled Asenath showing up here with no idea of what was going on, and Twister being left alone, equally clueless.

Beside me, Shiori got that mischievous look again, even as she tried to keep a straight face. “Yeah,” she intoned with clearly false solemness. “Pulling in a vampire without warning them ahead of time would definitely be rued.”

I blinked, blinked again, mouthed her words to myself while she just watched me with obvious amusement and self-satisfaction. Then I got it. “You spelled it r-u-e-d, didn’t—yeah you did.” Groaning while the other girl giggled, I found myself smiling anyway. Especially when Tristan apparently got it abruptly and started to snicker as well.

Finally, I looked back at the two Meregan. “Shiori’s puns aside, what about that warning?”

“Yes, Friend-Flick,” Alecra confirmed with a simple nod. “There will being a chance for conversation.”

With that, Shiori and I both started down into the pool. It was clearly meant to come up to about the knees of a full grown Meregan, which meant it was all the way up past our waists.

Alecra had us each stand on either side of the fountain, then told us to put our hands in the spray. “As the water is being hitting your skin, you are to being speaking of the person you are to being looking for.”

Meeting Shiori’s curious, obviously eager gaze, I smiled. “All right. Let me talk about what I saw when I first met Asenath, how she saved my life. Let me describe what I felt when I realized what she was, and what she did for other people. Let me tell you how grateful I am to her for everything she’s done. And how much I trust her to protect my dad.”

I’d already talked about this with the other girl, but now I went into greater detail. I described the feeling of Asenath saving me at the last second from whatever torture Ammon had had in mind. I openly admitted my own skepticism, and how the vampire had won me over, and how it had felt to see that she had stopped my father from becoming a murderer. I talked about seeing the determination in Asenath’s eyes, and the incredible compassion that had come while she was helping me process what I found out about Fossor and my mother.

Finally, I finished with a quiet, “So if certain people refuse to consider Asenath to be human, then we can’t use the word humanity to mean compassion, kindness, and just… plain caring about other people anymore. Because I’ve never met anyone in my life who embodies those concepts more than Asenath. She’s a vampire, but she’s not a threat. She’s not a monster. She’s my friend. She saved my life.

“She’s a hero.”

Alecra’s quiet voice spoke into the resulting silence. “It is been done.”

With that, the spray of water between us opened up, spreading apart to show empty space that abruptly filled with the image of Asenath herself. The vampire girl was standing on the roof of my house, looking both ways down the street. She didn’t seem to be alarmed or anything, just… watching.

Through the semi-translucent image, I could see Shiori’s face. There were tears streaming down it as she stared, lost in the image. “My…. sister…?”

“That’s her,” I confirmed quietly before looking back toward Alecra. “How do I…?”

“You are to be touching the image and speaking,” the Meregan explained. “She will be hearing your voice.”

I nodded at that, then reached up to put my hand against the image. It felt like touching silly putty that had been stretched out a long ways, yet didn’t break. “Asenath, it’s Flick.”

In the image, the girl jolted a little, turning around before frowning. I quickly went on. “I’m not there. But uhh, it is really me, I swear. Um, when we met, you said Mr. Raphardy was either racist or sexist or both, because he charged you ‘about three times what that piece of shit was worth.’”

She relaxed marginally then, and I heard her voice as she spoke. “Where are you? How are you talking like this?”

I hesitated before starting to explain. “I uh, I’m not on the planet. This other race called the Meregan pulled me and… Shiori here. Listen, there’s a lot to talk about. A lot. But we need your help. The Meregan children are in a lot of danger and… and we um, we can’t really help them without you. Can you… uhh… would you…”

“Bring me,” the vampire spoke calmly, her voice quiet yet confident. “You don’t have to ask, Flick. It’s children. Give me a minute to warn Twister.”

I wanted to tell her about Shiori, but figured that was something best talked about in person. With a glance toward the other girl, I nodded. “Okay, they’ll bring you through as soon as you’re ready.”

I turned to Shiori then, as Asenath moved to tell her partner in bodyguard-duty that she was leaving for (hopefully) a short trip. “Are you ready for this?”

Her nod was emphatic, the tears still evident. “Yes,” she replied in a quiet, barely audible voice.

“I’m ready to meet my sister.”

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