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Sometime Over The Summer
It was a moment that both mother and daughter had dreamed about for a very long time. In the quiet, early evening air, Sariel and Tabbris walked through a beautiful park somewhere in southern California. They were alone here, no other visitors in sight as they watched the end of the sunset across the distant ocean. Holding hands, the two stopped together at the top of the low hill the pathway through the park had led them to. Neither had spoken in the past few minutes, content to simply be with one another in silence. It had been a long road to get to this point, and neither had been certain they would ever actually make it.
Finally, once the last rays of light had disappeared behind the horizon, Tabbris spoke up. “I wish I could show you the house, Mama.” She didn’t have to clarify further than that, they both knew what she meant. The house where she had grown up, the house she had spent so much time in while secretly possessing Flick. Her home for so long, even if neither of the other two who lived there had known that she was with them until after they left. She wanted to show her mother the house, the room where she had slept inside Flick, the flower garden where she had secretly performed so many protective spells, and so on. She simply wanted to share that and let her mother see the home that she had been sent to.
Unfortunately, it was too dangerous. The Crossroads loyalists would be watching many places just in case, and the Chambers’ home was one of them. If they showed up there, even for a few minutes, it could set off an alert and cause problems. No matter how much Tabbris wanted to show her mother the house, it wasn’t worth that sort of danger. She knew that, but still felt a pang of regret that she wouldn’t be able to walk through what truly was her childhood home with her mother that way.
“Well,” Sariel murmured thoughtfully while turning to look at her daughter with a fond smile. “You can still show me, you know? You can show me everything you’ve done, if you want to.”
Hesitating slightly, Tabbris guessed, “You mean with my memories?” She knew she could share memories with her mother. Using it for this sort of thing simply hadn’t occurred to her.
Sariel, however, replied, “In a way, with my memories.” Smiling faintly at her daughter’s confusion, she continued. “You remember the… other me.”
“Dream Mama?” Tabbris gave a hurried nod. “Of course I do! She taught me everything, and she was there for me when I was sad and lonely, and she rocked me, and–and…” Trailing off, she hesitated. “She hasn’t been around very much since I showed Flick who I was. I guess because I had someone else to talk to and I wasn’t alone anymore. And… and I think she ran out of things she could teach me. But she helped me a lot. She–you…” Swallowing, she moved to embrace her actual mother. “I’m glad you were here, Mama, even if it was just like that.”
Returning her daughter’s embrace, Sariel smiled. “Yes, I was here, in a way. And, if you allow it, I can experience everything the other version of me did.” She gently stroked Tabbris’s hair. “If you send her back to me, I’ll have all of her memories of everything that happened while you were growing up. Just as if I was there myself.”
Eyes widening a bit at that, Tabbris stared at her mother. “S-so you mean, it would be like… you’d have memories of me being a baby and you taking care of me? And teaching me? And… and everything?”
“Yes,” Sariel confirmed. “I know… I know it is a lot to ask you to send me your mental version of me, after everything she meant to you–”
“It’s okay, Mama,” Tabbris insisted. “Um, she’s you. She’s part of you. And now I have you. So if I give her back, it’s like you’re whole now. You’re both of you. And you’ll have all her memories, so you’ll, umm, you’ll remember everything you said to me and everything we did. I’ll have Dream Mama and Real Mama at the same time.”
Touching the side of her daughter’s face, Sariel asked, “Are you absolutely certain?”
Without hesitation, Tabbris nodded. “Mama, I want you and Dream Mama to be one so I can hug her when I hug you and you can remember everything she said. It’s… ummm, you couldn’t be there to raise me yourself, but you did raise me. And if you take her back, you’ll remember it. But, how do we do that?”
“I’ll show you, baby,” Sariel quietly assured her before turning to look out at the ocean once more as the moon shone across it. “In a few minutes. There’s no rush.
“We have plenty of time.”
While Flick And Company Were Dealing With The Denny Situation
Two wolves, one gray-furred and one a tawny color, raced through a quiet suburban neighborhood together. Accompanying them was a cyberform cougar. People out mowing their lawns, delivering papers, or any other number of mundane daily tasks simply saw a trio of dogs that had gotten loose and were running free. A couple called after them, but no one gave chase. Blame the Bystander Effect, or the bystander effect, upper or lower case. A worldwide magical enchantment drawing away the attention and memories of ordinary people, or a very mundane reality in which many people witnessing something will all assume that someone else will act. Either could explain the fact that no one moved to intercept the ‘dogs’ racing through their neighborhood.
Eventually, the wolf pair and their cyberform companion cut through a backyard, startling a man who had been picking up weeds in his flower garden. They leapt over a tall fence, easily clearing its ten foot height before sprinting through the empty yard behind, approached a fence that was two feet taller than the previous one. They still cleared that in a single leap.
Finally, the trio stopped upon finding themselves facing an assembled group of people waiting for them.
“Good,” Mateo, a quite thin Latino man who was barely five foot eight, spoke up. “You made it.”
Immediately, the two wolves began to transform, while the metal cougar simply sat on her haunches and watched. The tawny-furred one shifted and grew into blonde-haired Roxa, while the gray one next to her became Gia Perez, better known as Pace. Both were wearing dark blue skin-tight Seosten bodysuits.
Taking a quick glance around, inventorying who was there, Roxa recognized the pack leader Mateo, the red-haired man Franklin Corson (who was a couple inches shorter than even Mateo), the other Latina member of the pack, Hasty, and their newest member, a tall, muscular man with long brownish-blond hair who went by Pars. Pars had been the werewolf who was controlled by the evil plant-creature Kwur to attack Flick and the others in Las Vegas. Flick had pointed him toward Mateo, and now he was part of the pack.
Unfortunately, there was one member Roxa didn’t see. She winced, reaching down to touch the top of Gidget’s head. “You haven’t found Lesedi yet?”
Lesedi, the last member of the pack. Once there had been another, but Fezzik had died during the fight against the Seosten in the Auberge, when everyone had been trying to get to Liesje’s vault.
With her short purple hair and dark skin, as well as her tendency to wear sunglasses with purple lenses, the woman stood out. But there was no sign of her here in the yard where the pack had been staying recently, and the only scents of the girl that Roxa could pick up as she carefully sniffed were at least several hours old.
“Yes and no,” Corson (he preferred that over his first name of Franklin), answered. “We know where she is, but getting in there might be a little tougher with all the cops.”
“All the cops?” Roxa echoed, blanching. “What happened? Why–she was locked up for Vice Day, wasn’t she?”
Vice Day came once a month. It was a different day for everyone, normally sometime around when they were first changed. For roughly twenty-four hours, they would be entirely taken by one of the seven vices. It was always the same vice for each person. For Mateo, it was envy. He wanted what other people had. For Hasty, it was gluttony. She gorged herself on treats and food, but also on having fun. Corson’s was wrath, Pace’s was pride, and Pars’ was sloth.
Roxa’s, much to her embarrassment, was lust. But she and Sean had a standing arrangement to lock themselves in a motel room and… waste that twenty-four hours. There was no shame between the two of them, because they had plenty of discussions before and after about what they could do while she was taken by her vice and how to be safe. Between protection and dialogue, they made it work.
Which left Lesedi. Her personal vice was greed.
With a grimace, Mateo explained the situation better than he had when sending the message for the two of them to hurry down here in the first place. “Lesedi locked herself up in the safe room, like usual. She had all the games and movies in there, and we dumped in that bag of gold coins for her to count. That usually makes her feel better and helps her pass the time. But there was some sort of short in the electrical system, and the door opened while we were out getting lunch. She got out and…” He sighed.
“And she went to rob a bank,” Hasty put in promptly. “Now she’s in the vault down there counting all the money, and there’s a bunch of cops outside waiting to go in. I mean, not really that tough. We could smack all of them around, but Mateo wanted to be more subtle.” She sounded very put out that their pack leader had put the kibosh on that idea.
“We were hoping,” Mateo himself announced flatly, “that the two of you would have some Heretic powers that could get you in there more quietly.”
Pars spoke up finally, rubbing his shoulder. “We can still probably help, quietly put the uhh, snipers to sleep for awhile or whatever. Give you an opening to get in the back. Plan B was getting Barnyard to cause a distraction.” He smirked just a little at the thought of his troll buddy. “But this seemed better.”
Exchanging glances with Pace, Roxa gave a quick nod. “Yeah, I think we can do that. We’ll need to see a picture of the bank so we can plan it out and all, but… wait, how do you know she’s still safe in there and they haven’t gone in?”
“We’ve got a member of Section Four in charge of the police response,” Mateo answered. Section Four was the secret Alter-Adjacent (human unaffected by the Bystander Effect) group within various positions of authority throughout the government and similar institutions. “He can’t make them leave or anything obvious like that, but he’s been making sure they don’t go inside. For now, anyway. We need to hurry up.”
“Okay,” Roxa agreed. “Then let’s bring the place up on Google Maps and figure out how to get in.
“And, more importantly, how to get Lesedi out.”
Sometime Over The Past Few Weeks
“And when Feutar the Cannibalized landed his ship on that half-moon island in the middle of the Kavnan Ocean on the Rakshasa homeworld, who can tell me the name of the tribe he ran into?”
As he asked that question, Hubert Hobart (they were pretty sure that wasn’t his real name, but it was what he chose to go by) looked through the class of assembled young students. They ranged in actual age dramatically, given the varying maturity rates of different species. But for the most part, the class the heavy-set humanoid with dark green skin and pronounced orc-like tusks was teaching would be considered sixth grade or very early middle school. Some were younger than that, even as far as the maturity rate of their species went. But that was a fair general estimation.
Perched on her seat around the middle of the class, Tabbris was quiet until a foot gently kicked the back of her leg. She turned slightly to see the boy behind her, a young Menmeran (frog-like humanoid who naturally grew to have quite pronounced muscles) named Gleeger. He whispered, “I know that look. You know this, you should answer.”
“But it’s not fair,” Tabbris whispered back. “I know it because Seosten memorize everything and he mentioned it at the beginning of the semester. It’s like cheating. I have to give everyone else a chance.”
Even as she whispered that, Hubert Hobart pointed to the young Prevenkuat (two-headed humanoid hyena) sitting near the back of the room with their hand up. “Kahrsa? You had something you wanted to say?”
The two canine-like heads faced one another, quietly bickering in whispers about which of them was right. Then they faced forward. The female head announced, “I think the tribe was called Aleshkashkah.”
“And I think it was called Ellifkahkesh,” the male head put in. “The name of the town he went to after that, once he finally got off the island, was Aleshkashkah.”
“Well, it seems we have a bit of debate,” Hubert noted while taking a few more steps until his quite plump form was at the front of the room once more. “Tabbris, can you tell us which one of them is right?”
Flushing a bit at the realization that the man was aware she already knew the answer, Tabbris fidgeted a bit in her seat before offering, “Um, he’s right, it was Ellifkahkesh. That was the tribe. But Aleshkashkah wasn’t really the name of the town, it was the name of the family that met him when he got there. So… so they were both names of groups he met, just at different times.”
“Very good, thank you, Tabbris,” Hubert confirmed with a broad smile. He gestured to the Prevenukuat. “And very good for both of you as well. A gold-worthy answer. But now let’s get back to poor Feutar himself. When he arrived on the island, there was a bit of a familiar surprise waiting for him. Who can tell me which of his former wives was already there, hmm?”
Class went on that way, before eventually ending. Which meant it was time for lunch. Tabbris shifted off her seat, already planning to simply check and see what Flick was having. But a hand found her arm, and she looked over to see Kahrsa. Both their male and female heads were looking at her, the latter speaking up. “Can you sit with us today? We need help with some of these names before the test.”
Gleeger the Menmeran gave a hurried nod. “Me too.” Behind him a few others spoke up in agreement.
“Uhh, I don’t–umm, yeah, I can try.” Tabbris was blushing a bit at the attention.
Even as she said that, the girl felt someone else step up beside her. Kisea, the young, Asian-looking Seosten girl she had first met alongside several others way back when she and Flick had been taken in by Athena in Seosten space. “I can help too,” the other girl announced. “Um, if you want.”
Relieved, Tabbris nodded hurriedly. “Uh huh. We can help together, right? Right?” She looked to the others who had come to her in the first place.
“Right,” Kahrsa’s male head cheerfully replied. “We’re not gonna argue about having more help. Especially more perfect memory Seosten help.” There were a few murmurs of agreement to that.
“O-okay,” Tabbris, still a bit taken aback by people her own age wanting to spend time with her, found herself smiling a little. “But umm, we definitely need to get lunch first. I still can’t believe how hungry you get when you’re not possessing someone all the time!”
Even as those words left the girl, her eyes widened and her hand was covering her own mouth as her face turned pale. What if they got mad about the reminder of what her people could do, about what they did all the time? What if they didn’t want to talk to her anymore? What if–
The silence that had followed was broken by a laugh from Gleeger before he spoke up. “I wish I could hide inside someone else so I didn’t get hungry all the time. Maybe I could lose weight that way.”
His words made a few other people laugh as well, before he gestured. “Come on, let’s get food before poor Tabbris wastes away.”
And with that, they all walked toward the cafeteria together. Tabbris found herself caught up in the crowd, moving right alongside Kisea.
She would let Flick know she wasn’t going to see her for lunch today.
Thousands of years ago, in Rome
Stepping through the door of the villa into the square patio beyond, the cloaked figure paused almost imperceptibly. They clearly caught sight of the other figure waiting for them near the exit to the street, yet gave no verbal acknowledgement for the moment. Instead, they turned to look back the way they had come. A portly man in heavy robes stood there, hand extended with a sack of coins that jingled as his arm shook from emotion. “It is not as much as you deserve–”
“I require no payment,” the cloaked figure insisted while making no move to accept the sack. “for correcting betrayment. Should you wish to show gratitude, there are many in need of food. Take your funds to the unfortunate, for their hunger is truly importunate.”
The man paused briefly at that before giving a short nod as he lowered the bag of coins. “It shall be done in your name. Thank you, thank you for aiding my daughter. If you had not come–”
“Yet I did, and she will recover,” came the response. “Though I bid you say you love her. To the child in question, is my suggestion. She has come through danger so harrowing, yet her time as a child is narrowing. Embrace these moments you have left, afore they fall to time’s theft. She is your daughter, see what this has taught her.”
Without another word, nor a moment’s pause to see what the man would say, the figure turned to leave once more. They passed the woman waiting for them while remaining silent on her way through the archway leading to the street. For a few moments, they simply walked along the dark road, the city illuminated by lamps along the buildings as well as the high moon and stars overhead.
Finally, once the two had walked together for almost a minute in silence, the cloaked figure spoke. “How many times have you returned, to push for what you have not earned?” After a brief pause, they added, “Lest this has all been in jest, and I am to be possessed.”
Snorting, the blonde woman moved up to walk alongside them, though still out of arm’s reach as a matter of politeness. “As I said the first time I tracked you down, Hecate, your reputation precedes you. I am not foolish enough to believe I could win such a battle of the minds.”
“So you have said,” Hecate allowed, before pausing in their walk to turn their head that way, “yet still not fled.” Even in the dim light, their mismatched blue and green eyes were visible, as were the long curls of dark hair escaping the heavy hood that cast shadows over a face that was equal parts beautiful man or handsome woman.
Meeting their gaze, the blonde woman pointedly replied, “My name is Sariel. And yes, I am a Seosten. We both know what that means, what my people do. But as I said, I am not here for any of that. This is a personal matter. No one knows I’ve come to visit you, and they will continue to not know. I need your help. Me, personally. Not them.”
Lifting their chin, Hecate regarded her silently for several long seconds before speaking. “You wish me to believe, as you cling to my sleeve, that your captain has not sent you, to make me assent to, teaching you my ways, through all mental maze.”
“Yes,” Sariel confirmed without breaking eye contact. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you. Puriel doesn’t know I’m here. My own brother doesn’t know. I haven’t told anyone. What I’m asking for has nothing to do with our mission here. Nothing at all. You have my word.”
A very faint, unamused smile played at the face of the cloaked figure, before Hecate replied, “Some would say that such a word was meaningless. Your people’s reputation being thus. Yet I know of you, Sariel, Diana, or Artemis. And if it is your vow, that I may not so quickly dismiss.” They paused yet again, seeming to consider their next words before turning to walk once more. “Despite my lingering doubt, you have convinced me to hear you out. But kindly be quick, and I loathe any trick.”
Moving to follow after them, Sariel gave a quick nod. “Yes, of course. I– I come to learn from you, Hecate. Not for the benefit or purposes of my people as a whole, but… but for my mother.” The words came through a thick lump in the woman’s throat before she forced it down and continued. “Everyone on this planet says that there is no one who knows more about working with mental magic and helping people with their memories than you. My people are experts in their own right, given… given everything we do. And I have put a lot of research into it. But I have never heard of my people being able to do the… level of work others claim you are capable of. If half of what I have heard is true, I believe you might be the only person who can help me.”
Hecate was silent at first, as they walked past several buildings. They were clearly taking a moment to decide how much they were ready to believe, before giving a single nod for the woman to go on. “It is your mother for whom you request aid, if the truth you have not betrayed.”
“Yes,” Sariel confirmed. “My… mother. Her name is Korsmea. A long time ago, many centuries in the past, she was inflicted with a magical curse which my people can do nothing to heal. This curse affects her mind, her memories. It makes her think she’s somewhere else in her past, somewhen else. She wakes up and thinks it’s a thousand years ago and she’s in the middle of an infiltration mission on a desert planet, instead of sitting inside the mental hospital. She’ll get lunch and in the middle of the line, she’ll suddenly think she’s a child again, back in the orphanage. It changes several times a day, she’s just convinced that she’s at some other point in her past. She doesn’t remember where she is, what’s happened to her. She just–” Folding her arms protectively against her own stomach, Sariel finished with a quiet, “She’s been that way since before I was born. I remember her trying to hold on whenever I was with her. She did her best, but she couldn’t stop the… she couldn’t keep her memories. She tried so hard to be herself with me. She always tried to remember. And now I haven’t been around her for so long, I don’t know how… how she’s doing. But I know she needs help. And my people can’t do it. They’ve been trying for centuries and haven’t been able to do it. They can’t fix it.”
Hecate’s voice had softened, as they stopped walking and turned to face the woman. “Your people are not the sort to ask for aid from an outsider. Most would demand any relief I could provide her. I first dismissed your request to speak, believing you were as much of a sneak. Yet perhaps I judged in haste, and you are not indeed two-faced. I am sorry to hear of your mother’s plight, that is not what I thought to learn this night.”
“I know my people have done many bad things,” Sariel quietly murmured, meeting their gaze. “I’m not asking you to forgive that, or work with us as we do anything else. But I need your help. You’re the only person who can teach me how to work with memories enough to… maybe, someday help my mother. Please.”
“And if what I know cannot erase the curse which afflicts her?” Hecate pressed. “Where will you go next, in this quest for an elixir?”
“I don’t know,” Sariel answered honestly. “But anything you teach me could be useful. Even if you don’t know how to remove the curse itself, I can… I can build off what you know. I can learn from you and then practice. I don’t care if it takes me another thousand years or more, I have to try to help my mother. I have to try to give her mind back.”
One last moment of consideration passed, before Hecate finally bowed their head in acceptance. “I shall push you away no longer. Your will is truly stronger. If aiding your mother’s condition is possible, to refuse would be far from ignoscible. Yet I must firmly tell you this, my aid is for you, not this war’s abyss. Do not send more of your people seeking trinkets and teachings, I will ignore all such pleas and beseechings. If you are my student, so shall it be. This changes not reality. I accept your words as presented, yet your people oft prove demented. My lessons are for you alone, not for your captain or any upon a throne.”
“Yes, I promise,” Sariel assured them. “I won’t send any of my people to you. I won’t tell them that you’ve taught me anything, or even that I found you. This is between you and me.”
After meeting her gaze for another few seconds of judgment, Hecate turned to walk once more. “Then let us speak more of this curse.
“It may take much time to reverse.”