Avalon needed a distraction. She’d already slept for a few hours before waking up, restless and incapable of drifting off again. So, after several minutes of tossing and turning, she finally gave up and left the Atherby cabin where she’d been resting, emerging into the open, somewhat chilly air. It was to the point where it was hard to say whether it was very late night, or very early morning. The party had, for the most part, died down save for pockets of either die-hards or night-dwelling people here and there who were still up and talking or playing games.
Flick was home. Felicity was back. After months of being terrified about what was happening to the other girl, Felicity was finally safe. Well, as safe as she could be. None of the many, many worst-case scenarios that had constantly run on a loop through Avalon’s mind throughout the time that Flick had been gone had come to pass. She was here and Fossor was fucking dead.
Avalon wouldn’t have let the other girl out of her sight, except that would have been selfish. Other people missed her too, other people needed her. Like her family, whom Flick was spending well-deserved time with. Sleeping by now, most likely. But still. She was busy with them. Avalon would get more time with her later, and she was fine with waiting her turn.
At least, she told herself that. Her subconscious wasn’t sure it agreed, given the dreams she’d had and the feeling of disappointment when her eyes had opened to realize Flick wasn’t there. Yeah, maybe that was why it was so hard to sleep more than a few hours.
Either way, she was awake now, and clearly wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep anytime soon. So, Avalon made her way off the porch of the cabin and began to take a walk around the lake, deep in thought. Or brooding, she supposed some would say.
Flick was safe, which gave Avalon time to focus on the person she’d had to put aside for the time that the other girl had been gone. Gaia. Blurting out that demand to Ruthers back at the quarry hadn’t accomplished much, aside from the man claiming he wouldn’t use her as a hostage. Not that Avalon trusted that, whatever he might say. If things got bad enough, if it looked like the revolution might win, she had no doubt that he or one of the other loyalist Committee members would absolutely do whatever they thought was necessary. Including holding a gun to Gaia’s head to try to make the people who cared about her stand down.
That couldn’t happen. They had to save Gaia from the Crossroads prison before it got that far. But how? They didn’t have any idea where it even was, let alone how to get Gaia out of it. This wasn’t like finding the prison where Sean had been. That was hard enough, but this? They would be far more careful about keeping Gaia locked down somewhere safe, especially after that last prison break. For someone as important as Gaia, finding and getting her out was going to be nearly impossible.
Then again, getting Flick back from Fossor with her mother, both of them safe, should have been nearly impossible too. And it happened. Avalon refused to believe it was impossible. There had to be a way to find out where the prison was. That was the place to start, just finding out where it was. They could work from there. But that would mean getting that kind of information from someone. And who would both know where the prison was and tell them?
One of the semi-rogue Committee members? There were a few who sympathized with the rebellion to various degrees, Avalon knew. But the one time she’d brought up the question with Jophiel while Flick was gone, the Seosten had told her that none on the Committee could tell her even if she found one willing to. According to her, the remaining Committee members would certainly have taken a magically-enforced agreement not to reveal Gaia’s location without approval. If they did, that fact would be revealed to every other member of the Committee. Which would basically destroy the entire point of finding out, because then they’d just move her.
So, getting the information from one of them was out of the question. But there had to be another choice, right? There had to be someone who wasn’t on the Committee who could tell them where to go, without exposing the fact that they’d told. Except… who?
“You can’t sleep either, huh?” Miranda (or possibly just one of her, Avalon was never sure) spoke up while emerging from the shadows to join her. “I think I crashed for like two hours. Feels like Christmas, except we already got our presents.” As she said that, the other girl moved up beside Avalon, looking out at the water. “I keep feeling like there’s something else going on.”
“Like getting Flick back is just a dream, and if you go to sleep, you’ll wake up in the real world?” Avalon asked flatly, her voice barely audible. She’d stopped walking, standing with her shoes right up at the very edge of the gently lapping waves. “Or like something else bad is happening while we’re celebrating.”
“Both,” Miranda admitted with a shrug. “Partly the former, a lot of the latter.” She gave a side-glance toward Avalon. “I guess you’re in the same boat. That and, you know, the headmistress.”
Avalon, in turn, nodded in confirmation. “All three. We’ve got Felicity, now we need Gaia. But…” She trailed off, frowning. “But something else.” It hadn’t been clear until she’d said it out loud a moment earlier. “It feels like there’s another problem. Something bad happening.”
“Yeah, it feels like we’re missing something.” With that, Miranda blew out a long, low breath. “Except I have no idea what it could be. You think we’re just being paranoid because having Flick back feels too easy?”
“Nothing about today was easy,” Avalon countered pointedly, before dropping her gaze back to the water with a sigh. “But I don’t know. Maybe it is just paranoia. Except if we’re both feeling it…”
“We both care about Flick,” Miranda pointed out with a shrug. “Both went through a lot trying to get her back, and now we’re sitting here trying to let her have time with her family instead of forcing ourselves in there just to keep her in our sight. It makes sense that we’d both be out here feeling antsy.”
“True.” With that simple, one-word response, Avalon fell silent, as did Miranda. The two of them stood there, staring out at the dark water for another minute or so in quiet contemplation. The uncertainty seemed to build in the air throughout that time, until she finally added a quiet, “But that’s not it.”
Miranda’s head shook quickly, the girl letting out a nearly-explosive breath of relief. “No, it’s not, is it? There’s something else. I swear, it’s like my skin is almost on fire. My hair keeps standing up. Feels like there’s something behind me, but I keep looking and no one’s there. I feel like I’m going insane. It’s just–just something. But it’s nothing, right? It has to be nothing.”
Before Avalon could respond, there was a buzzing in Miranda’s pocket. Looking surprised that she’d actually thought to grab her phone before coming out here, she pulled it out to look. “Dakota,” she announced for Avalon’s benefit, before adding, “Calling this early.”
The two girls exchanged looks before Miranda answered the phone with a simple, “Yeah.” For a few moments, she spoke quietly, mostly listening and giving one or two word answers aside from asking if Dakota was okay after whatever had happened. Because something obviously had. Finally, the girl promised that they would be there soon, before disconnecting.
“What?” Avalon immediately asked. The bad thing they’d both been feeling, it obviously wasn’t about getting Flick back. It had been about this, about Dakota.
“She’s safe now,” Miranda assured her straight off. “Victor Childs got there in time to save her.”
Avalon felt a small weight lift, but only a very small one. Knowing that Dakota wasn’t in immediate danger after the two of them had left her with the Eden’s Garden people was one thing, and yet the fact that something had happened… “Save her from what?”
So, with a small sigh, Miranda explained what had happened to Dakota and to the older Garden student she’d been working with. Hearing about the Nuckelavee made the hard lump in Avalon’s stomach return. Yes, it wasn’t about Fossor or Flick, but in the short time since they’d started working with Dakota, Avalon had come to like the kid. Hearing that she’d gone through yet another trauma, when she was just trying to help… it pissed Avalon off.
Not to mention, finding out that the Nuckelavee and their master had apparently set their eyes on the vines that the Garden rebels needed to get working… that was bad on a totally different level. If they couldn’t safely plant the vines and get them growing, the rebels would have no way of creating new Bosch Heretics, and the loyalists would eventually outstrip them in power.
One thing was certain, that bad feeling that Avalon and Miranda had been having was completely accurate. They’d simply mistaken who the bad feeling was about.
Rather than bother everyone else, especially given how much Flick clearly needed the break with her family, Avalon and Miranda called up Seller and had the man give them a teleportation lift over to the Garden rebels so they could find Dakota. Once there, the two were directed to a small motel room where the young girl was seated in the corner with her knees drawn to her chest. A cup of water and a sandwich sat untouched on a tray nearby.
The older girls exchanged looks, before Avalon nodded for her companion to go on. She was pretty sure of the two of them, Miranda would be better at talking to the kid when it came to this sort of thing.
Miranda, for her part, took a step that way before crouching down. “Hey, Dakota,” she started, “I… I’m sorry about Noyade.”
Her words were met, for a moment, by silence. The thirteen-year-old stared past them, toward the opposite corner of the room. Her eyes were hollow, the memory of seeing the older boy’s headless corpse impaled against the fence, his skull slurped clean of all its flesh parts within the monster’s torso-like mouth, clearly playing through her memory.
What kind of horrific world did they live in where that was probably playing a distant fifth or sixth as far as terrible memories this kid had, considering what she’d gone through when Kwur had forced her and the rest of her family to kill one another? What the fuck did this kid do to deserve that?
Nothing, Avalon knew. It wasn’t about deserving, as much as it should have been. The kid hadn’t done anything wrong. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t supposed to be. It just was. You dealt with it or you didn’t. But having people in your corner helped with the dealing with it part.
Before she met Flick, before she bonded with the girl and the others on their team, Avalon had had only a few people in her corner. Torv had been one, and the Seosten fucks had destroyed that, had forced her to kill her best friend in self-defense. Seller was another, and that same event had made him send her away to protect her.
Then there was Gaia. Gaia had saved Avalon’s life back when she was Hannah. She was the first person in then-Hannah’s life who had ever really gone to bat for her. The first person to be there for her. And then she had been there for Hannah again, adopting her not only for political reasons, but for real reasons. She gave Avalon her new name, her new life. She protected her, guided her.
Gaia was her mother. And now? Now Gaia was the one who needed help.
By that point, Dakota had exhaled and finally spoke in a quiet voice. “He saved me. He told me to run. He tried to distract the… the monster. It killed him.” Her words were flat as the girl’s eyes closed for a moment. A visible shudder ran through her, lips quivering as she fought to find words. “Th-they said… they said those things are hurting the ground, poisoning it or something so the v-vines won’t grow. A-and that… that they’re not the ones in charge. Something else is telling them to do it.”
With a nod, Miranda put a hand on the other girl’s arm very gently. “Those things, they’re called the Nuckelavee, and they were created by this thing that lives–I mean it’s trapped at the bottom of the ocean. The deepest part of the ocean. Something or someone trapped it there. We don’t know very much about it. Except it’s really big. Big enough that it has umm… tentacles that can stretch out for hundreds of miles. And it’s really evil. Really powerful. Just… bad. It’s really bad and it’s trying to get out, trying to break whatever its prison is.”
“What is it?” Dakota asked in a quiet voice, turning her eyes from the corner to meet Miranda’s gaze. She wanted to know exactly what kind of monster the thing was.
Avalon was the one who answered, when her companion hesitated. “They call it Lotan. No one’s gotten close enough to know what it looks like or how exactly it’s imprisoned. Magic viewings and things like that tell us enough to know that it’s big enough to swallow entire aircraft carriers if it ever gets free. And… and the only people who have managed to get a good look at it, the ones who used their vision powers to really see the thing and look into its eyes, they… they’re never the same after that.”
“It’s the monster’s eyes,” Miranda confirmed. “They drive anyone who looks at them mad. It… it burns its way into their brain, and they start talking like they’re–like they’re part of it. Everyone who does that is either put down, or locked up forever.”
Dakota gave a soft whimper, but focused on the two, looking back and forth between them before nodding once. She digested the information, absorbed it, and asked, “So it’s… they know it’s there but they can’t just kill it? There’s a lot of really powerful people here.”
“Everyone’s afraid of what might happen if they take a shot at the thing and don’t manage to kill it,” Avalon informed her. “If they end up breaking its cage instead of destroying Lotan itself, they could’ve just released a world-ending threat. Like we said, just getting a look at its eyes drives people insane, bonds them to it. And that’s from where it is. If the thing ever got out, it could… it could possibly destroy the entire planet, just tear it apart.”
“That’s what it’s trying to do now, isn’t it?” Dakota asked in a quiet, knowing voice. “That’s why it wants to corrupt the vines, or… or whatever it’s making the Nuckelavee do. Because it wants the power in them t-to escape or something.” It was clearly all she could do to get the words out as she trembled visibly, curling in on herself some more. “How can they stop it? Is… is it even possible? If they can’t plant the vines in the ocean, what do… what do we do?”
“We can’t destroy Lotan,” Miranda answered while moving to sit next to the girl. “But we can hurt it. Those tentacles, it spawns the Nuckelavee with them. So there has to be one close enough to send them this way. If we can destroy the tentacle, it’ll stop Lotan long enough to get the vines growing. It’s not… fast. It’s not quick about acting, especially once you hurt it. If you can destroy one of its tentacles, it usually takes months before another one shows up. The main tentacles are really slow. I mean, they’re gigantic, but the ocean is too big. It takes time for them to move far enough to get here, just–just from the sheer scale, you know? They’ve gotta move thousands of miles.”
“Find the tentacle and kill it,” Dakota echoed, her voice still hollow. “But there’ll be a lot of those Nuckelavee around. And Victor Childs had to try to kill one of them. A Victor had to try.”
“It’ll be dangerous,” Miranda confirmed. “But don’t worry. We’ve got a lot of dangerous people. And you won’t be anywhere near any of it. They’ll put a force together, all the Victors, and go after the tentacle. They can handle it, now that they know what the threat is.”
Avalon took a seat on the other side of Dakota, nodding once. “They’ll have to. It’s the only way to make the vines work. And if the vines don’t work, we can’t make more Bosch Heretics.
“Which would be a really shitty way to lose this war.”
An hour later, the kid was asleep. Who knew how long she’d stay that way, but Miranda had volunteered to remain with her, so Avalon stepped out. She needed air. Leaving the motel room, she saw a few people she recognized from her time at Garden. No one she knew by name, but she’d seen them around. All took a look at her, whispered amongst themselves, and headed off with an air of awkwardness.
Yeah, that was about what she’d expected. Rolling her eyes, the dark-haired girl started to turn to the left. At the last second, however, she abruptly spun back to the right. The simple wristband on her arm expanded out to become the full gauntlet just before a blade of energy appearing from it.
Avalon stopped the blade just in front of a dark-haired, clean-shaven man with brown eyes. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, though that meant several tons of nothing. He wore blue jeans and a dark button-up shirt. When the blade of energy swept to his face before stopping barely an inch away from his nose, the man did not so much as blink. Instead, he simply spoke with a casual, “A fine swing, milady.”
Turning off the blade after a moment, Avalon grunted, “Who are you? What do you want?”
The man gave a slight bow. “Apologies. My name is–well, I am known as Accolon, formerly of Avalon. I come to offer aid on behalf of the king.”
The girl squinted at him. “I’m sorry, formerly of who?”
He, in turn, chuckled. “I suppose that is a bit confusing. Sorry, not formerly of you. Formerly of the organization known as Avalon, the group of loyalists who followed Guinevere after the fall of Camelot.”
Absorbing that, Avalon blinked. “Accolon. I know that name. You were Gai–Morgana’s um… lover.” She’d had a long conversation with her mother about her past as Morgana before the woman’s imprisonment, and had subsequently done her own attempt at research into the subject. “I mean, in some versions, anyway.”
“We had a little fling,” the man confirmed with a shrug. “Not too serious. Not as serious what she had with the king.”
“With the king–Arthur? Wait, no.” Avalon frowned in confusion. “‘What king? The only king I know of right now is–”
“Oberon, King of Canada,” Accolon finished with a nod. “Precisely. I come with a promise of what aid he can spare, to locate and rescue your mother from her imprisonment. Given my history with her, he thought I would be a useful go-between for this cause.”
Ever-suspicious, Avalon demanded, “But why would he care what happens to Gaia?”
Accolon, in turn, offered her a small smile. “They may have drifted far from what they were, but the king still cares deeply for the woman he once loved more than life itself.
“After all, she bore his tragically-fated first son, Mordred.”