We didn’t go straight to the camp or star-station, of course. Even though we were on a truce with the loyalists, there was no sense in taking unnecessary risks. They knew where that quarry was, and there was nothing stopping them from deciding to quickly go back and check the portal signatures to see where we went. None of us trusted that they wouldn’t go that far. Even if Ruthers himself didn’t (which I wasn’t sure about), some of the other Committee members would almost certainly do it themselves or sign off on it. Like Litonya, the second she found out.
So, we made multiple quick jumps instead. About seven or eight in total, just to be safe. We’d come out of a portal, check to make sure everything was clear, then jump again. And we weren’t all together either. There were over a dozen groups jumping to different places, just to confuse any attempted pursuers even more. After everything that had just happened, the last thing any of us wanted (or needed) was to have to fight a bunch of overzealous loyalist Heretics. I was with my team, Shiori, my family, and Mom’s team. None of us really said anything, too focused on making certain we made it somewhere safe without more problems.
Yeah, I was pretty sure everyone else was just as tense as I was, half-expecting something horrible to pop up just because things were going entirely too well. Every time we came through a portal (created by Roger and Seamus Dornan in our case), I had my guard up. I wasn’t going to be able to relax or believe any of this was really how it would end until we were somewhere safe. Even then, it would probably take awhile for me to actually accept it wasn’t a dream.
Finally, the last jump carried us to right on the edge of the Atherby camp, on a bare hill overlooking the cabins and lake below. I could see other groups popping up around us, everyone shaking off the disorientation and kind of sagging with some level of relief when they saw where they were, and realized that the rapid series of jumps was over. We had made it.
Still, no one moved much or said anything. We were all quietly looking around and waiting, still at least a little bit tense. That was, until Gabriel Prosser arrived with the last batch. The hill was crowded by that point, people spread out all the way down basically into the camp itself. Everyone turned when the man himself appeared, looking to him expectantly. Even the people from Wonderland were waiting silently to see what he said. I was pretty sure they, like me, were ready for him to declare that we had been followed and were about to be attacked.
Yeah, sue me, I was having a hard time believing that this whole thing was going to end this well. And judging from the looks of the people around me, I was nowhere near the only one.
Prosser, on the other hand, didn’t say anything at first. Instead, he looked over to my mother. The two of them locked eyes for a few seconds, seeming to communicate silently. Then Prosser gave a short nod before turning back to everyone else. He raised his voice to be heard by everyone. “We’re good! No one followed us and our trail is clear. It’s safe.”
That was the trigger, apparently. The tension immediately vanished from everyone around me the moment he said it was safe. No, it didn’t just vanish. It morphed into utter jubilation. Everyone up to that point had been fairly quiet and subdued. They were all keeping themselves under control while there was still danger of being attacked again. But the second they got the official all-clear from Prosser, loud cheering suddenly erupted. People were jumping up and down, hugging each other, even shouting in each other’s faces about what had just happened. There were tears of joy and relief with the realization that this whole thing was real, that the dark, evil cloud known as Fossor, hung over everything and everyone for so long was finally gone. He was dead. He was officially and completely dead. More than dead. He was disintegrated, his essence completely erased. There would be no coming back for him, no last-minute tricks. He was gone. And from the sound of the cheers and wild celebration that had broken out around me, I wasn’t anywhere near the only one euphoric about that.
Well I was still reeling from the sudden outburst, Sands and Sarah were there. They made it to me first, both launching themselves to grab me in a tight hug together, nearly knocking me down. There were a lot of words flying at me, mostly from Sands but some from Sarah too. Mostly about how glad they were that I was safe, that I’d made it home, and about how amazing it was that Fossor was actually dead. There were tears too. The twins hugged me tightly, and I hugged them right back.
Others were right after them. The rest of my team, my girls, Koren, everyone took a turn to grab on. It was almost like we hadn’t already had a quick reunion back in the quarry. But that was the whole problem, I quickly realized. It had been a quick reunion while still on potentially dangerous ground. Now that we were home–or at least somewhere completely safe, the reunion was happening all over again. Actually, I had a feeling it would happen a few more times before everyone was satisfied. Not that I was complaining at all. In fact, I was pretty ready to have nothing but this for the foreseeable future.
Except I couldn’t. Even as I was exchanging an embrace with an exhausted-looking Roxa, the realization came. I had to talk to Tristan and Jophiel. I had to tell them what was going on.
Roxa, for her part, raised an eyebrow after stepping back. “You okay? You should be happy-face right now, but you’re worried-face. And tired-face, but that’s more understandable. You’re not thinking of running out to find another super-Necromancer to pick a blood feud with already, are you?” Pausing, she added, “I’m kidding. But really not. Please don’t do that for at least a month.”
“More like a year.” That was my dad, putting both hands on my shoulders from behind. He was grinning, pulling me back against him tightly in a reverse embrace. “You hear me? No Necromancer supervillains to go hunt down for a year. We’ve had more than enough.”
Oh God, how I just wanted to forget everything, melt into my dad’s arms, see my mom, and let everything wash away. I wanted to party. Everyone around me was still in that zone. They’d produced music somewhere down in the camp, and people were heading that way. They were having an actual party, a real celebration. I could see Mom, still with Wyatt and Abigail, and surrounded by a veritable horde of people wanted to talk to her. Everyone who had known her before was getting close, apologizing for not saving her, or just congratulating her on being free again, on being herself again. Mom looked overwhelmed, but was dealing with it, talking to everyone at once. It clearly helped that her eldest children were there, and that she could see me.
Still, she’d been a prisoner for a long time. It was obviously going to take awhile before Mom truly relaxed. I was having a hard enough time, and I’d only been held by Fossor for a tiny fraction of how long Mom had been trapped. And he had… he had done worse to her. A lot worse.
But she was dealing with it. I almost felt like speaking up, asking people to back up. Yet, seeing her like that, I was pretty sure this was actually good. She had been alone, save for Fossor, ghosts, and vile people she had to fight and kill, through basically all that time. As I watched for those brief seconds, I could see that she was tired and still reeling. But happy. She was happy, being right here with everyone. She could see Dad and me. She had Deveron right there, along with Abigail and Wyatt. Her best friend, Lillian, was there along with the rest of their team.
Yes, it was a lot. But it was a lot of good. Mom needed it. She was happy. Maybe in a few minutes we could ask everyone to back off for a little while and give her some air. But for the moment, I was pretty sure this was doing more good than harm.
“She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she?” Dad murmured in a voice filled with awe and reverence while his hands squeezed my shoulders. He knew where I was looking. Probably because he couldn’t take his eyes off her either. He was giving her time to be with the others for the moment, though I was pretty sure it was all he could do not to march over there, pick Mom up, and carry her somewhere quiet where they could talk about everything.
“Super-amazing,” I agreed before tilting my head to look up at him. “You’re allowed to call dibs and go somewhere with her, you know.”
Dad gave me a small smile. “Soon enough. These people have been waiting to see your mom back again even longer than we have. And believe me, I know just what it’s like to miss her.” His voice caught a little. I could tell that, despite his words, it was taking everything he had to wait here.
Prosser had clearly noticed too. The man moved up beside us, hand finding its way to Dad’s shoulder. “You’re a fine man, Lincoln. A brave and very understanding one too.” Turning his head a bit, he cleared his throat. “Now put that aside for the moment. Let’s go rescue your family and get you some privacy. I’ll handle everyone else. The celebration can go on without her. You all deserve time alone.”
Time alone. Time with just my family. My reunited family, with my mother safe and sound. God, did I have any idea what that was going to be like? The thought made me happier than I could even process. But it also made me strangely nervous. I was afraid of what that was going to be like. Was that weird? Was it strange that I felt confused and worried by the prospect of actually winning this whole thing and getting my mother back safe and sound? As happy as I was, I couldn’t shake the tiny knot in my stomach. It kept telling me that something was going to go wrong. I tried to shove it aside, and was successful for the most part. But no matter what I did, I always heard that dark, worried whisper coming from that little knot in my stomach. I had a feeling it was going to take a long time for it to fully go away.
Or maybe I was just permanently paranoid. Maybe Wyatt was rubbing off on me. I’d ask him how he dealt with it. Though I was pretty sure that would end with him teaching me a bunch of new alarm spells.
It took some doing, but Prosser eventually managed to separate my family from the rest of the celebration. Everyone was making their way down to where food and drinks had been laid out, and where the music was loudest. There was dancing, cheering, laughing, and a lot more going on. This was a party that was going to last long into the night.
Eventually, after Mom promised to separate and go spend some time with Lillian and the rest of her old team (the Dornans and Tribald), our family was by the cabin. Prosser gestured to the door, remarking that he’d make sure no one bothered us.
“Go.” With that word, I nodded to my mother and the others. My hand caught my dad’s, squeezing firmly. “Go ahead without me. I’ll be right there, I promise. I just have to talk to someone first. It’s–” There was a lump in my throat that I had to swallow down. “It’s important.” That felt like an understatement, so I added, “Life and death.”
Dad and the others looked uncertain, but Mom met my gaze before nodding. She smiled, reaching out to take my father’s hand. “Come. We have a lot to talk about.”
So, my parents, Deveron, Abigail, Wyatt, and Koren went into the cabin together. That was good. I’d already had time to reunite with my mother. Even if it was under pretty terrible circumstances, I’d still had weeks with her. Weeks of sleeping in the same bed, of sharing quiet secrets, of just being with her. The others deserved to have time with her too, time where she could focus on them. And she deserved to have that focus. She’d been separated from one husband for ten years, and from her other husband and two eldest children for a lot longer than that. Several decades she had spent imprisoned by Ruthers and his people, then a couple more decades either mind-wiped or imprisoned by Fossor.
They deserved time. I would join them, after I took care of this part. But for the moment, letting Mom and the others have their own reunion felt like the right thing to do.
Feeling a presence next to me, I glanced over to see Tabbris there, staring up. Her eyes were a bit watery, voice a quiet whisper. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. We’re supposed to be partners and I… I wasn’t… I couldn’t…”
My head shook quickly, and I quickly wrapped both arms around her, hugging the girl tight up against me. “Stop that. Stop it right now. If you weren’t where you were, we wouldn’t have been able to kill Kwur. And if you were with me, Fossor would’ve had a way to drive you out. Then he might’ve–” My voice caught, and I hugged her even tighter. “We’re fine, Tabs. You, me, we’re both fine. We’re all fine. And he’s dead.” Saying it outloud like that made a shudder run through me. I had to say it again. “He’s dead, he’s gone. He’ll never bother anyone again.”
We stood there, embracing like that in silence for a minute. Well, not really silence. Even though we weren’t talking, there was a lot of cheering, music, jubilant screaming, and more from nearby. Looking up finally, I saw people dancing, running around with colorful torches, some flying through the air.
Colorful torches… fire… light… wait.
“Hey,” I finally blurted, my gaze snapping back to the girl. “What about those wings? Where the hell did those come from? Is that–I mean are they… umm…”
Tabbris giggled, but also looked a bit nervous. Squirming on her feet, she stared up at me with those big, innocent eyes and hesitantly explained, “They’re… my… biological father. He’s one of the Dyeusai–err, that’s the archangels. Jegudiel. Michael checked, he used a spell to see the signature and said my father is Jegudiel.”
She told me a bit more then, about how this Jegudiel guy apparently made the most sense as someone who would have given genetic samples to Kushiel for her experiments because he wanted to build some kind of legacy, that he had been disappointed when it seemed as though the archangels (or Dyeusai) couldn’t pass on their energy wings to any children.
“So, if–when he finds out that you did get the wings…” I murmured under my breath, trailing off as the thought made me grimace.
“I’m not going anywhere with him!” Tabbris declared firmly. “I have a dad. I have a great dad, a real dad.”
Hugging her tightly to me, I nodded. “You do. You always do, Tabs. Don’t worry, we’re not going to let anyone take you away. I promise.” Inside, I was reeling. Tabbris was the daughter of one of the archangels. I’d known that, of course. I’d known that from the moment she first used them. But hearing it outloud, having confirmation, made my knees weak. Tabbris being the daughter of an Olympian and a Dyeusai. No wonder she was so amazing. And was it bad that I wanted to cling to hope that her bio-dad would be reasonable about the whole thing? Tabbris should get to know him if it was possible that he could be nice.
“Are you okay, Flick?” the girl asked tentatively, staring at me with that worried expression, like she was afraid I would treat her differently.
“I’m fine,” I insisted, hugging her tighter. “Whatever happens, you’re my sister. That doesn’t change just because we know who your biological father is. I love you.”
“I love you, Flick.” Her quiet voice murmured the words as she clung to me.
We stayed like that for another minute, before I reluctantly released her for the moment. “Okay,” I started, “let’s–”
And that was when a loud squeal made my gaze snap to one side, just in time to spot Namythiet fly straight up to me. She zoomed in, doing wild circles and loops around my head as she babbled on and on about how great it was to see me, how worried she’d been, how many nasties she’d stabbed and killed, how much fun she was having with everyone at Wonderland, what it was like being the new Tiebreaker’s apprentice, the places they’d gone, and so on. It all came out in a quick jumble, and she was doing those loops around my head the whole time. Luckily, I had practice deciphering that kind of talk, and finally managed to lift my cupped hands to give the girl a place to land. “Hey there,” I greeted affectionately once she came down, standing on my palms. “Good to see you too, Namythiet. Glad we had you on our side back there.” I was serious too, given what she was capable of with that Cataclysm of hers. The little thing had a lot of power behind it.
And speaking of having a lot of power, I hesitated before asking, “Hey, I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of that ‘Wandering Woman’ that Ruthers wanted me to visit?”
Hearing that, Namythiet flew off my palms and moved so she was half-hiding behind Tabbris’ head. Her voice was quieter. “Um, I don’t know very much, but from what I’ve heard, she’s a really powerful witch. Like, one of the first witches. One of the first Heretics.”
I blinked at that. “One of the first Boschers?”
Her head shook quickly. “Natural. One of the first Natural Heretics.”
For a moment, I stared. “One of the first… Natural Heretics. One of the first humans on the planet to bond with something is still alive?”
The pixie sort-of squirmed in the air. “Uh huh. I mean, there were others before her, but she’s the oldest, the one who stuck around the longest. They say umm… they say she’s not bonded to anything that exists anymore, that she was bonded to one of the Primals.” Quickly, she added, “One of the beings who created the weapons the King of Canada uses. They were beings that lived here back during the time of the dinosaurs all the way up to primitive humans.”
Briefly, I wondered if Aylen’s Grandfather would know this Wandering Woman. He had to, right? Shaking that off, I asked, “So if she’s bonded to some mythical being that helped build the superweapons that Oberon uses, she’s gotta be pretty strong.”
Namythiet, in turn, stared at me. “You know how people use spells to counter those time-stop powers so they don’t get frozen?” When I hesitantly nodded, she continued. “Almost everyone here on Earth who uses those learned them either from the Wandering Woman or from someone else who learned from her. Or–you know, down through the line. They originated from her.”
I whistled low. “That’s… pretty impressive. I guess it makes sense if she’s been around for so long. They call her the Wandering Woman because she–uhh, wanders a lot, I guess? Does she have a real name?”
“They called her the Witch of Endor,” Namythiet piped up helpfully. “Oh, and Werethekau, they called her Werethekau too, when she was in Egypt. And Isis too. She had both names. Sort of interchangeable.”
That made me do a double-take. “Wait, this Wandering Woman is the Witch of Endor from the bible and she’s Isis? As in the goddess Isis?”
Shrugging at me, the pixie pointed out, “A few different goddesses. She was Freyja for the Norse too.”
Yeah, that wasn’t helping my confusion and awe. “Isis, Freyja, Witch of Endor, why the hell does Ruthers want me to talk to her? Is she part of Crossroads?”
Namythiet’s head shook firmly before she moved back to land in my hands again. “Nuh uh, she never joined up with them. She does what she wants, goes where she wants. Sorry, that’s umm, basically all I know.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her. “Thanks a lot. I’ll try to find out more from someone else, see if we can figure out what Ruthers thinks she can do for me.”
Setting the pixie on one shoulder then, I started to walk while talking some more to her. Not about where I had been. I didn’t want to think about that, let alone talk. Instead, I asked about her new mentor, only to stumble as she cheerfully started talking about Jeanne d’Arc. Joan of Arc was her mentor. And was also someone who was quite close to the Seosten Michael, apparently.
“Wow,” I started, before suddenly spotting one of the people I’d been looking for. Tristan was with Vanessa, Sarah, and a couple others, intently watching some kind of show that a few other pixies were putting on.
Seeing the boy, I was reminded of what I had to tell him about his friend. My hand moved to gently pat the pixie on my shoulder as I swallowed back the nervousness and fear about what could be happening on the Meregan world. No way would I be able to keep Tristan calm if I didn’t start that way.
“Okay,” I murmured, taking a breath before walking toward the group. “At least I’m starting with the easy one.”
Because I had the feeling that however Tristan reacted to the news, Jophiel’s reaction was going to be a lot more complicated.