Entirely Too Few Answers

Interlude 9B – More Lost Memories

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Seven Years Ago

“Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeer! Pew, pew, pew!” Running through the front foyer of his house, nine-year-old Anthony Tate held a toy jet fighter out to one side as he imitated laserfire. The boy’s unruly mop of light brown hair matched his eyes, and a light coating of freckles dusted his face. A face that was covered by a wide smile that showed his crooked teeth as he called in his best approximation of a pilot’s commanding voice. “Target locked, dodge this, you alien scum! Missiles away! Whooosh, there they go!” With a sweep of his hand, he indicated their path.

“Weeerrbblee reebble rabble!” Anthony’s best friend, Cassidy Evans, held a toy fighter of her own. This one had started out its life looking almost identical to the one that Anthony was playing with. But the two of them had carefully painted it bright pink with purple lightning bolts (or as close as they could get to lightning bolts) on the wings, and glued a second pair of wings to the bottom of it to make the fighter look a little more alien. Granted, they easily could have asked for and received an entire fleet of alien toys within fifteen minutes. But they wanted to do it themselves. Plus, it was fun, and it gave Anthony something to do with the plane whose wings had broken off. 

“Werble rebble rabble?” the boy echoed, head tilting in obvious confusion as he watched Cassie zoom in circles around him, the ‘alien fighter’ held out beside her. “What does that mean?” 

Grinning, the short-haired girl chirped, “That’s the sound of the anti-missile shield! It’s like a tractor beam, only it pushes things away instead of pulling them in!” Quickly, she added, “But it takes all the power from the shield to push things away, so the aliens hafeta time it right, or–” 

“Pew, pew, pew!” Anthony blurted, suddenly realizing where the girl was going with that before she finished describing how the shields being down to power their anti-missile system would leave the aliens vulnerable to other attacks. He made his fighter do a quick loop and a barrel roll while indicating the path of his lasers with quick flicks from his fingers. “Pew, pew!” 

“Naaaaargh!” Cassidy cried out, making the fighter spin around while speaking in her best high-pitched alien voice. “Damage, damage! Return to mothership, return to mothership!” With that, she began racing up the nearby stairs two at a time. “Accelerating out of Earth’s atmosphere! Divert remaining power to boosters to escape gravitational pull!”  

Quickly, Anthony started up the stairs after her. “Oh no you don’t!” He called. “Come back here, you alien scum! We modified this fighter to reach space, you can’t get away that easily!” 

“Come and get us, dirty human!” Cassidy called back from the top of the stairs, still using her high-pitched alien voice, while adding a buzzing sound just because she thought it sounded better that way. “You can’t hope to stand up against the firepower of our main battle–oof!” 

That last bit came because Cassidy had run straight on into a man who had just stepped out of one of the rooms on the second floor. Just as he appeared, speaking over his shoulder, Cassidy bounced off him, landing on her backside with a yelp as the man grunted and stumbled a bit. 

“Cassie!” Anthony quickly flung himself up the last couple stairs, dropping beside his friend. His plane fell to the side, forgotten for the moment as he checked on her. “Are you okay?” 

“Uh huh,” she confirmed, staring up at the man she had run into with large doe-like eyes. She didn’t recognize him. He was in his mid-late thirties, with dark blond hair and brown eyes. “Sorry, Mister.” 

There was the slightest pause before the man offered a faint, yet genuine smile, shaking his head. “Not at all,” he assured her, holding a hand out to the girl, helping her up. “I’m afraid it was entirely my fault for getting in the middle of a…” He glanced from the modified ‘alien’ fighter on the floor, to the normal one lying nearby where both had been dropped. “spaceship dogfight?” 

“Anthony, Cassidy?” Anthony’s father appeared in the doorway behind the other man, stepping around him. “Is everything okay out here? You’re not bothering our guest too much, are you?” 

“Oh, it’s quite alright, Russell,” the man assured him. “I managed to stumble my way out into the middle of a fight to save the planet, that’s all.” He winked at the kids before turning to Anthony’s father. “No harm, no foul. Shall we continue our discussion in the other room? I have a few more examples of just how we can revolutionize the entire industry.”  

Giving a good-natured roll of his eyes at the bold claim, Mr. Tate waved for the children to be off. “Why don’t you kids play outside for a little bit and run off a little more energy? I’ll have Ricky bring you out some treats to the pavilion.” That said, he began to walk off with his guest, informing him, “You know, a lot of people claim what they have will ‘revolutionize things.’” 

“Ah,” the other man retorted while following. “But they don’t have what I have. Results.” 

Standing there, the two children watched the men leave, before Anthony turned to Cassie with a sudden grin. “Hey! I saw the truck that guy came in. It looks all funny, like a van and a truck all smooshed together. That can be the alien mothership and we can fly around it and stuff!” 

Cassidy immediately jumped at that idea, and the two of them grabbed their respective fighters before rushing down the stairs and out the door. As promised, there was what appeared to be a van-truck hybrid in the long, half-circle driveway, near the exit gate with its back end pointed toward the mansion. With gleeful whoops, the two kids raced past the fountain and to the vehicle with their ships held out to the side in flying mode, already blurting the onomatopoeia for their respective laser and missile sounds as they split up at the back of the truck-van, each racing around it in a different direction. Anthony went toward the driver’s side while Cassidy ran on the passenger side, each sprinting to reach the front of the designated ‘mothership’ first. 

Before Cassidy could reach it, however, the heavy side door of the vehicle slid open right beside her, and she stopped abruptly. Turning, the nine-year-old found herself facing another girl who had just slid the door open. This girl was perhaps a year older than the other two, a pretty blonde ten-year-old who sat cross-legged in the back of the truck-van, which turned out to be full of random crates, electrical equipment, and tools. Both girls stared at one another in silence for several long seconds. Finally, Cassidy piped up with, “Hi!” 

“Hi!” the girl echoed brightly, though she remained sitting in the same position. 

“Who are you–” Anthony, having reached the front of the vehicle, came around to join her before seeing the girl sitting there. “Oh! Uhh, hi.” 

Abruptly focusing on him, the blonde girl chirped, “Hi, Anthony!” She looked positively delighted, giving a dazzling smile. “Did my dad tell you to come get me? I was bored.” 

“Um.” Exchanging a brief, confused look with his friend, Anthony shook his head. “Not really. Your dad’s still talking to my dad. He made you stay out here by yourself? Oh, um, this is Cassidy.” He gestured that way. “How come you know who I am?” 

“Hi, Cassidy.” Smiling easily as she greeted the other girl by name that time, the girl added, “I’m Paige. My dad showed me your picture when we were coming over here. He really likes your dad.” She paused, as though only just thinking of something, before frowning. “But I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” 

Shrugging, Anthony pointed out, “He showed you my picture and told you my name, so I’m not a stranger, right? And this is my friend, so she’s not a stranger either.” 

“She?” Paige blinked once, looking back that way. “You look like a boy.” It was a statement made not of maliciousness, but youthful innocent frankness. 

Flushing, Cassidy cupped both hands to the side of her head, covering her short black hair before stomping once. “I’m a girl!” she insisted. “I just like short hair, that’s all.” 

“Okay,” Paige replied with immediate acceptance before adding, “I’m sorry if I said something wrong.” 

Cassidy shook her head. “It’s okay, everyone thinks I’m a boy at first. Um.” She hesitated before offering, “Do you wanna play with us?” The girl reached into her pocket before tugging out a small action figure, holding it out. “We’re the ships, but you could be a Star-Touched who comes to help Anthony’s ship! Like Silversmith!” 

There was another brief pause as Paige looked blankly at the toy being offered to her. Then her hand moved, taking it from Cassidy with a small smile. “You really want to play with me?” 

“Sure!” Anthony agreed, head bobbing up and down. “Your dad’s van is the alien mothership, okay? I’m the American fighter ship and Cassie’s the aliens. So, you wanna play?” 

Finally, Paige picked herself up from her cross-legged position, hopping nimbly out of the van. “Okay!” 

With that agreement, the three children immediately began running in circles around the vehicle, loudly exclaiming about everything they were doing in the course of their battle. 

*******

Two Years Later/Five Years Ago

 

A soft tap at Cassidy’s window drew her attention that way. She was in her bedroom, sitting on the floor as she stared at Anthony’s jet fighter and her own modified ‘alien’ ship. It had been mere days since the… attack that ended with her best friend’s death and that of his family and the house employees. Days since she had learned in such a traumatic fashion that her father was Silversmith, that her grandfather had sent those men to kill her friend and his family because he wanted to get at her. Days since Bobby had saved her life nearly at the cost of his own and since she had seen her father cut her grandfather’s head off in front of her.

Days since she had spoken more than a few words to anyone, or had done much of anything aside from sit, stare at nothing, and murmur or whisper to herself. Sometimes she watched TV, but she didn’t really engage with it. She’d had books in her hand but had barely read. She took toys and sat there staring at them, remembering all the things she had done with Anthony. 

As that tap came, the girl turned her head slightly to see a familiar figure crouched there by the window. There was a brief pause before she stood up, walked over to unlatch the window, and then stepped back. 

It slid up, and Paige slipped inside. The blonde opened her mouth, shut it, then stepped over to silently embrace Cassidy. The other girl let her, and they stood in silence for a few seconds with Paige tightly hugging her while Cassidy stood with her arms at her sides. She felt… tired. Just so damn tired. She wanted her best friend back. She wanted none of this to be real. She wanted… something. She didn’t know what, but she wanted something to change. She had spent so many long hours closing her eyes, wishing that everything that had happened would be a dream, and opening them. 

The only part of her days when Cassidy wasn’t sad were the moments just after she woke up, before the memory of what had happened settled in. She slept as much as she could, not only because she was tired (though she was), but because every time she slept and woke up, Anthony was kind of… sort of alive for just a couple seconds. 

Until she remembered that he wasn’t. 

Finally releasing Cassidy, Paige stepped back with a small, worried frown knitting her forehead. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I’m really sorry, Cassie. I–” She stopped, head tilting slightly before she admitted, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say right now. Dad never… told me how to talk to people like this. He never told me what I’m supposed to do.” Swallowing hard, her voice trembled as she added pleadingly, “I want to know what to do.” 

At first, Cassidy didn’t respond. She simply stood and stared over the other girl’s shoulder at the window. After a few long seconds of that, her eyes moved to meet the despondent Paige’s, and she asked in a quiet, brittle voice, “How did you get inside? There’s security cameras and stuff.” It was the most outward interest she had shown in anything since that horrific day. 

“Yes,” Paige agreed. “There’s a lot of them. But it’s not really hard to get past them if you…” She paused, considering for a moment before settling on, “… if you time it right. You just have to watch the cameras and go where they’re not looking.” She said it that simply, as if talking about learning how to water the lawn rather than how to sneak past a dozen cameras on the grounds of the richest family in Michigan. 

Again, Cassidy didn’t say anything for a moment. She stood there, looking at the window in silence before finally turning back to Paige. “Can you teach me how to do that?” 

“How to–” Paige started before looking over her shoulder at the window and back again. “How to get past your house security? Why do you want to leave? It’s… “ She paused, considering her words before deciding on, “Don’t you want to stay where it’s safe?” 

“It’s not safe here,” Cassidy replied quietly, a slight tremor in her voice as her head shook. “I…” A hard lump formed in her throat, and she had to swallow repeatedly before being able to speak again. “I don’t want to be trapped here.” Her gaze found the other girl’s urgently, lower lip quivering. “Please, Paige.” 

“Okay,” the blonde agreed softly. She took Cassidy’s hand and squeezed it. “You didn’t tell your parents about me?” 

“No,” Cassidy confirmed in a barely audible voice. She was looking away. “You always said you’d get in trouble if your dad knew you were playing with us when he came over.” For the past two years, about once a month, Paige’s father would visit Anthony’s house. While he was inside having long meetings, Paige would emerge and play with Anthony and Cassidy for awhile. She always seemed to know when her dad was coming back, no matter how long he took, and would tell the other two she had to go back to the van. Actually, it was kind of fun to have a secret friend nobody knew about. It was… kind of fun… while Anthony was alive. 

Stepping over to the window while tugging Cassidy by the hand, Paige carefully asked, “Are you really sure you want me to show you how to get past the cameras?” When the other girl gave a firm nod, Paige pulled her right up to the window. “Okay. 

“First, watch that camera right… there by the corner…” 

******

For the next hour, Paige taught Cassidy how to escape her house without being noticed. She showed her where the cameras were, where various motion sensors had to be avoided, how to get across the grounds without being seen from the guard shack, how the guard patrols worked, which windows to keep an eye on while leaving or approaching, and so on. She showed the other girl everything she needed to know to escape her own house. 

Eventually, however, they both watched from the bushes as a car arrived in the driveway of the house, a pale man with dark-blond hair emerging to greet both of Cassidy’s parents as they came from the house to meet him. He wore a crisp white suit. 

“Who’s that?” Paige whispered, as the two girls crouched in the bushes. 

Cassidy’s head shook. “I… I dunno.” She sighed, looking at the ground. The past hour had been the most she’d been able to forget what happened at Anthony’s house, and that made her feel guilty. She… she didn’t quite forget Anthony, just… she hadn’t been sad about it for a few minutes. 

What was wrong with her? Was she evil too? 

“Cassidy?” Paige prompted, squeezing the girl’s arm. “Are you okay?” 

Shaking that off, Cassidy managed a weak, “No. I miss Anthony.” 

“So do I,” Paige murmured, her own voice a very soft whisper. She started to say something else, before turning to look at the front door where the adults were talking. “Cassidy,” she put in a bit urgently. “We need to get back. They’re coming to talk to you.” 

“What?” Blinking, Cassidy looked to the house, where her parents and the strange man were going inside. “How do you–” 

“Come on.” Paige pulled her by the hand, checking the cameras before leading the girl to the side of the house. She had already showed her how to climb up the wall, and did so more quickly, helping Cassidy until they reached her room. Once the other girl was safely inside, Paige started to leave again before wincing. “Guard patrol,” she whispered. Then she looked over to the door. “Your parents are coming.” 

Cassidy looked to the door as well, before pointing. “Go to my closet,” she said simply. “You can hide there.” 

Paige did so, stopping briefly to embrace her friend. “I’m really sorry about Anthony. I wish… he was here to make you feel better instead of me.”

Sniffing, Cassidy closed her eyes tightly. “I wish he was here too,” she agreed in a shaken, trembling voice. Then she looked at the girl. “But I’m still glad you’re here. You’re… you’re my friend too.” 

The two girls, united by their grief for a lost friend, looked at one another for a moment. Then the sound of the doorknob turning spurred Paige into action. She raced to the closet, slipping into it and closing the door just as Cassidy sat on a chair facing the mirror. 

“Hi,” the blond man started while Paige peered out through the crack in the closet door. 

“My name is Jackson. Kent Jackson.” 

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Getting Some Answers 6-03

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The scent that struck me as I neared the back door of my house to head in made me stop in my tracks. What the hell? It smelled like a restaurant in there. Not just any old place either, but a good restaurant. I had to take a second to make sure I hadn’t gotten confused and wandered into the wrong back yard, because that was not a smell that I would ever believe could actually come from the our kitchen.

While I was confirming that, yes, I was definitely in the right place, Twister opened the door. The dusky-skinned girl stood there, watching me with obvious amusement. She had taken off the ratty old homeless person’s coat , exchanging it for my father’s barbecue apron. It dwarfed her diminutive form, and was obviously tied around her waist several times.

“Senners wants to know if you’re coming inside or not,” she called to me. “She’d ask herself, but you know.” To demonstrate her point, the girl stuck her hand out into the sunlight and then proceeded to engage in an incredibly dramatic pantomime of bursting into flames and, apparently, exploding.

“Right, yeah.” I shook my head and moved up past the girl and into the house, shutting the door behind me. Once I was inside, the smell was even stronger, and I turned toward the stove. “What’re you–” I stopped short, staring at the pots bubbling away. Even the oven light was on. “Are you two… cooking?”

Behind me, Twister barked out a single, loud laugh before walking around me to the stove to pick up a spoon. “Two? Nah, see, your house is still standing. That’s how you know ol’ Assy isn’t trying to cook.”

From the other side of the room, safely away from the doorway and the sunlight, Asenath cleared her throat before speaking up. “Okay, I’m going to go ahead and veto that particular nickname right now.”

Stirring some concoction that she had bubbling in one of the pots, Twister snickered. “Sorry, my bad.” She turned to wink at me, her dark fox ears twitching. “You’re not that old. Young Assy it is.”

“I will literally eat you,” Asenath informed her mildly before focusing on me. “Sorry, she insisted on making lunch. I hope you don’t really mind the whole, uh, kitchen takeover thing.”

My head shook quickly. “No, no, of course not. I just didn’t know our kitchen could make anything like this. And where’d all this food come from? I know Dad doesn’t stock up like this. Hamburger Helper is pretty much the limit of our combined cooking skill, and this looks, um, slightly more involved.”

“I brought it in after you skedaddled for your meeting,” Twister answered, looking a bit thoughtful as she shook out a little bit of something in a seasoning bottle into one of the pots, then stirred it more. “Guessed that the single pops living here wouldn’t really have much in the way of real food.” She shrugged then. “Everyone deserves to eat good on their birthday so, ya know, figured I’d provide.”

I stared at her for a moment. “Wow, I, umm, thanks, Twister. You didn’t have to do that. Dad and I usually go out to a restaurant or something to celebrate. But seriously, thanks for this. We don’t cook much… at all. Like I said, if it doesn’t come straight out of a box, it’s pretty much beyond us.”

“That’s still better than me,” Senny replied with a nod, “Poor taste in nicknames aside, Twister wasn’t really wrong about what would’ve happened if I tried to help. I—ahh–don’t get along with stoves.”

“Or toasters, microwaves, blenders, those little toy ovens that make brownies with a light bulb…” Twister began to recite while stirring another of the pots, dodging out of the way as Senny aimed a lazy kick in her direction. “Hey, don’t blame me for your curse. Cooking just isn’t in your genes.”

Focusing on me then, the girl lifted the spoon and held it out toward me. “Try my groovy gravy, girl.”

Obediently taking the spoon in my mouth to taste what she’d made, I very nearly impersonated my own post-stranger killing reaction. My eyes closed and I gasped. “Mmmm, jeeze, that’s the gravy? Where the hell did you learn how to cook like this? Or is it some kind of ingrained pooka skill?”

Her response was to lightly swat my hand with the spoon. “Ingrained skill? Hell nah, I worked my tush off to learn how to cook. I studied under three different world famous chefs for years, okay? You’re tasting a couple decades worth of hard work and training in that spoon. Ingrained skill, bah.”

Sticking my tongue out at her, I scoffed. “I was just asking. But hey, that leads me to another question. A couple decades? So, I guess you are older than you look then?” I gestured to her small figure, which still didn’t look like she could be older than eleven or twelve at the latest. “How old are you then?”

She winked at me, those ears twitching with amusement. “Two, eleven and a hundred and seven.”

I squinted. “Two, eleven and a hundred and seven? What am I supposed to do, add them together?”

It was Asenath who explained. “She’s all three. She’s two, and she’s eleven and she’s a hundred and seven. See, a pooka is sort of like a phoenix. When they die, they’re reborn a short time later in the form of a child around age eight or nine, but with all their old memories. The last time that happened to Twist was about two years ago, but she was first born over a century ago. So her whole self has been around for a hundred and seven years, this particular incarnation has been alive for just over two, and since she was reborn around age nine, now she looks like she’s eleven. Make sense now?”

“I uhh, I think so,” I confirmed before looking at the pooka girl curiously. “So you really keep the memories from all your past lives whenever you get, ahh, reborn?”

“Most of ’em,” she confirmed while turning back to the stove to focus on her bubbling pots. “It’s sort of like having a reference book that’s constantly in my head. Or a bunch of twin sisters whispering in my ear. Or… you know, it’s hard to explain. I’m just me, Twister. I was born two years ago, I look like I’m eleven, and I’ve got about a hundred and three years worth of memories and thoughts in my head.”

I shook my head slowly, trying to take all of that in. In mid-shake, something else caught my eye, something I hadn’t noticed during our initial meeting because of the heavy coat she’d been wearing. The sight of it made me gasp and straighten suddenly, eyes widening. “Oh my god. Twister. Is that a tail?”

Turning my way quickly, the girl faced me with a blush. I saw the object of my attention shoot back up inside her shirt and mostly out of sight. “What?” Her voice absolutely failed to convey confusion.

Senny giggled a little from her spot. “Oh come on, let her see the tail. You know how girls like it.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Twister grumbled even as she relented, letting the black bushy tail drop back into sight before shaking it out. “I’m trying to be taken seriously as a bodyguard, which is pretty damn hard considering the rest of my looks. And the second a girl sees the tail, they’re always like–”

“Eeee, it’s so fluffy!” I cooed, all-but flinging myself to the floor so I could see the tail a bit closer. My hands moved to pet it, but I caught myself at the very last second. “Can I, umm, would you mind if I…”

A long, heavily put-upon sigh emerged from the girl. “That. That’s what they do.” To me, she gave a slight nod while flicking the tail in my direction. “Fine, fine. Go ahead. But just this once.”

Grinning, I took the tail in hand and stroked it gently. The fluffiness was unbelievable. It was so soft and cuddly. I wanted to hug it forever and forget about every other problem I had. Which was probably why I was playing up my reaction to the tail somewhat. It was easier to focus on that than think about everything I couldn’t fix yet, like my mother’s… everything. If I let myself slow down and think about every terrifying and heart-wrenching thing I could think about, I’d completely fall apart again.

“Thanks,” I finally said quietly, giving the fluffy tail another quick pet. “I kind of always wanted to have a tail when I was a kid.” I started to laugh. “Hell, I remember this one time, my mo–” Stopping in mid-sentence, my face blanched and I straightened away from the girl. It took me a moment to force myself to continue in a softer tone. “My mother took one of my dad’s old socks, filled it up with something, and sewed it onto the back of my sweat pants so I could have a tail around the house.”

“That’s adorable,” Senny spoke quietly, stepping closer to the table so she could pull out a chair while staying safely away from the door. “And focusing on positive memories is good. You’ll get her back.”

In spite of my worry and fear, I made myself nod once before tugging out a chair for myself as well. Sitting down then, I finally set the yearbook on the table between us. “Well, Seller says he fixed everything that was done to this thing. So it should be just the way it was back in 1919.”

Still, it took me a moment to make myself open the book. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I was nervous about what I was going to find. And to their credit, Twister and Asenath didn’t rush me. They just waited and watched while I left one hand on the cover, bracing myself for what could be in there.

Finally, I opened the book to the page that had been altered before to show four entries instead of the six that it should have had. My eyes fell immediately on the familiar image of Deveron first. He looked… well, pretty much the same as he did now as far as physical appearances went. On the other hand, he also looked a lot more innocent. I couldn’t even say what gave that impression. It was just pretty much everything. His eyes were more open and inviting, even excited. He was giving a wide smile that clearly said he was ecstatic to be there. He looked totally optimistic and carefree.

From there, my eyes moved down slightly, and I saw the picture of my mother at my age. She was… god, she was pretty. Unlike my own hair in its simple ponytail, hers was cut short and done up in one of those bob cuts. She sat there, facing the camera with a casual, mysterious smile on her face that clearly implied that there were secrets she wasn’t going to tell. My mother, seventeen years old in the year 1919, the first year that she had attended Crossroads. Almost a hundred years earlier.

The uniforms looked slightly different and less modern than ours, but the same basic style was there. They even had the same color piping system. Deveron’s was green for the Hunter track unlike the Explorer red that I knew him as having. My mother’s, meanwhile, was white for Security, like Sean’s.

I also saw their weapons. They were holding them in the pictures. Deveron’s wasn’t the flintlock pistol that I knew. Instead, he held the neck of a long rifle like one of those old big game hunters.

When I saw the weapons that my mother was holding in her picture, my eyes widened and I reached out to touch them. Hunga Munga, the African throwing axes. When I had been choosing my own weapon, before settling on the staff that was now mine, I had lingered over those. I’d felt the connection, though I hadn’t really understood why. I’d felt somehow drawn to them. In the end, however, I’d taken the staff. Koren was the one who had chosen the Hunga Munga.

Shaking off the feeling of awe at the sight of my mother, I turned the book around. “Okay, this is probably a long shot, but what the hell. The son of a bitch who stole her somehow remembered her in spite of the spell, so let’s just check. Can you tell me if you recognize this girl at all? This is my mom.”

Both of them leaned in to look at the yearbook, but shook their heads. “Sorry,” Asenath apologized. “It’s not ringing any bells. Except—wait, hold on.” She peered closer at the photo. “Not her, but those.” Her fingers moved to touch the picture where my mother’s weapons were. “Those are familiar.”

“Hey, yeah,” Twister agreed, tail going back and forth almost hypnotically in her eagerness. “They are. You think they’re the same ones?”

Blinking back and forth between them, I frowned. “Okay, you’ve seen African throwing axes before.”

Both shook their heads, and Senny explained. “No, you don’t understand. It’s more than that. About, uhh, a little under twenty years ago, Twister and I—she was in her old body then—we were hired to protect this underground auction. They were selling off a bunch of stuff, including Heretic weapons.”

“That stuff goes for tons of money,” Twister added. “Having a weapon that belongs to the people that keep trying to hunt us down and kill us? It’s a sign of prestige or danger or whatever. Like mounting a lion’s head on the wall or something. Only less stupid and gross and more sweet weapons.”

Shifting in my seat while looking at the picture again, I asked, “So, you saw Hunga Munga there?”

Asenath nodded emphatically. “Oh yeah, we definitely saw them. One set, just like those ones in the picture. But more than that, we had to deal with a Heretic attack right in the middle of the auction.”

“They were insane!” Twister blurted with a raised voice. “Six Heretics just to shut down a little auction that wasn’t even that big of a deal. There weren’t even any real Nocens there.”

“Nocens?” I echoed. “Latin for evil or wicked, so I’m guessing it’s your term for evil, uhh, Alters?”

“Hey, pretty good.” Senny was smiling. “Yeah, it’s the term Alters use for those of us that openly attack and kill innocent people for fun. I mean, some do it now and then, or get pushed into it, or whatever. Nocens are the worst ones, the ones that do it for fun, who actually want to do really, really bad things.”

“Right, so none of those were at this little magical item auction, but you were still attacked by six Heretics. I take it these weren’t students or something?”

“Definitely not students,” Twister confirmed with a shudder. “Trust me, blondie, those were the real deal. Full strength, full power Heretics coming at us like we were the worst of the worst. We barely got away, and even that was just because they stopped coming after us after they got what they wanted.”

My eyes moved back to the photograph. “The Hunga Munga. You’re sure that’s what they were after?”

Senny nodded. “Absolutely positive. They went absolutely insane to get them back, and then they broke off the fight, a fight they were winning, to retreat with the damn things as soon as they had them.”

Shaking my head in confusion, I asked, “But why? Why would they be so obsessed with getting those weapons back? Even if they were my mother’s, what difference would it make?”

Both of them shrugged. Asenath added, “Sorry, I haven’t really had much of a chance to discuss the ins and outs of Heretic weapons with your people. They tend to focus pretty heavily on the part where they try to stick the pointy end into me as many times as they can.”

“There has to be a reason they wanted them back so much,” I said slowly, still staring at that picture as if it would spit out an explanation. “A reason why they’d send six fully trained Heretics after them.”

“Maybe you should find those weapons yourself,” Twister suggested with a shrug. “Might get an answer then.” She picked up the yearbook and started to flip through it absently.

She had a point. If I could locate the weapons that the Crossroads Heretics had been so obsessed with recovering, it could go a long way toward answering a lot of questions.

I considered that. Would it even be possible to find them? They had to be kept somewhere really safe and secure, considering the effort they’d gone through to retrieve the weapons to begin with.

Still, if it would help my mother, I’d try anything. “I’ll look for them,” I promised. “I’m not sure where to start, but I’ll give it a shot.”

“You could try starting with this guy,” Twister announced while turning the book around toward me with her finger up on one of the pictures. “Since he was the one that almost killed me to snatch the damn things out of my hands. You know him?”

I looked, and coughed at the sight. Like Deveron and Mom, the picture was of someone much younger than how I knew them. But he was still recognizable. “Yeah, I know him. He’s the father of two of my teammates.”

Liam Mason, Sands’ and Scout’s dad. He was the one who had led the charge to retrieve what I was increasingly certain were my mother’s weapons. To find out what had happened to them, I was going to have to search his place. And the best, maybe even only way to do that, was with the help of the twins.

I was going to have to tell Sands and Scout what was going on.

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