January

Patreon Snippets 28 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Puriel and Chayyiel

Standing alone in the otherwise empty kitchen somewhere in the vast corridors of the starstation, Puriel carefully lined up five carrots of as close to equal length as he could find. Setting them next to one another, he took a silver knife and began chopping down the line from tip to stem, cutting them into small disks in a rapid series of motions. The sound of the knife slicing through carrots and thunking into the cutting board filled the air. It was over in a few seconds and he grabbed a pot, swinging it up in front of the counter before sweeping the carrot slices into it with one swipe of the blade. They joined many more carrots and other vegetables already resting at the bottom. Another swipe in the opposite direction sent the stems off into the compost bin. 

With that done, Puriel set the pot back down and reached for the box of onions before pausing. He wasn’t alone anymore. The knife shook just a little in his hand, a betrayal of inner turmoil before he composed himself and carefully placed it down on the cutting board. His fingers left the knife and he clenched them tightly before carefully speaking. “Should I be leaving this place soon, lest you fulfill your promise to kill me?” 

Chayyiel, who had been standing in the doorway to this kitchen, stepped through and spoke simply. “I believe what I said was that I would kill you if you ever tried to give me another order. And something tells me that won’t be a problem right now, will it?” As she spoke, the small girl moved to the nearby counter and boosted herself up onto it before perching there so she could look him in the eye if he turned around. 

He didn’t make the girl wait long for that. After only another moment, the man did so, facing her while taking a breath. Their eyes met, and both were silent for a few seconds. Each was thinking about the last time they had faced one another alone like this, after he had betrayed her trust in order to get her to lead the human king Arthur into a trap. She had given the man her word that he would be safe and they would only talk, and Puriel had used that to drop an ambush on top of him. An ambush he had not walked away from. 

Each of them was clearly lost in the memories of those choices and what had come afterward. Well over a thousand years had passed since those days, yet being Seosten, the memories were as fresh as if it had occurred the day before. Finally, Puriel exhaled that breath he had taken and spoke. “This may not be something you want to hear, but it is good to see you again.” 

Chayyiel didn’t respond at first. She was silent while meeting his gaze. Several different reactions seemed to pass through her eyes, but he couldn’t be certain exactly what they were. In the past he would’ve been able to quite easily, but the girl had become entirely too good at disguising her reactions and emotions. That most certainly came from the time she had spent absorbing political skills after joining the Seraphim. She had changed quite a bit, having grown in power, in skill, in so many ways. Though he could still sense the essence of who she had always been. She had grown, but was still Chayyiel. 

Eventually, the girl broke the silence that had fallen after his words. “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?” There was sympathy in her voice, despite everything that had happened between them. “I heard about most of it, maybe all of it, though I can’t be certain. You…” She trailed off, gaze moving from his eyes to look him up and down briefly. “You lost your wife, in more than one way and more than one time. You handed your daughter over to someone who was your best friend once, not even noticing how much he’d changed. But then, he’d been changing for centuries and you never noticed. You tore apart the family of the subordinate who trusted you once, scattered them across the universe and sent her to be tortured, imprisoned, experimented on, and bred by your wife. Yes, you didn’t know that would happen like that, but it did. In the same motion, you broke yourself. You shattered your mind, scoured your memories. And in doing that, you gave yourself a chance to experience real love, trust, and family again. Then all those people the blank slate that was you loved were murdered by Fomorians, and you got your memories back. Sort of. Enough to escape and go back to your old home. That’s where they retired you, where they thought you’d stay forever with your memory problems so they wouldn’t have to think about you anymore. But you didn’t. You didn’t stay there, out of sight and out of mind. You might’ve. But your wife made the mistake of bringing one little girl around you. She couldn’t resist the urge to brag and gloat about having gotten one over that same woman whose family you tore apart to create that whole situation. And you, in what was probably one of so very few coherent moments, knew you had to protect this girl. So you did it in the only way you could. You made her possess you.” 

Through all of that, Puriel stood silent and motionless, allowing the girl to tell him his own story. Finally, as she trailed off with that, he gave a short nod. “And Spark has been with me ever since. She’s the reason I’m here, mentally and physically. Without her, I’d still be lost.” His voice was soft, yet held clear pride and emotion for the girl he spoke of.  

“You love her,” Chayyiel noted, “as though she was your own child. You’ve raised her that way.” 

“It would be more accurate to say that we have raised one another,” Puriel corrected. “And saved one another. I stopped her from being used by…” He sighed heavily. “By Kushiel. And she protected my mind, brought me back to myself, stopped others from noticing when I was too lost to respond. She anchored me. You say I see her as my child. Which… which is true to an extent, but I know she is Sariel’s. I wouldn’t take that from her. But I would kill to protect her. And more, I would die for the same.” 

Silence reigned once more between them, stretching on for several long seconds before Chayyiel nodded. “I believe you. That’s why I’m here.” She started to say something else, before stopping as another consideration jumped to mind. “Hold, am I speaking to you or to both of you?” 

Puriel chuckled softly despite himself. It was a surprising sound to both of them, and it took the man a second to reorient. “Ah, she is not here. Well, she is physically still a part of me. We have not been able to disconnect her properly. Not yet. But she is projecting herself out to spend time with her brother and mother, while they worry about what is happening with their sister, the… Tabbris.” 

“Yes, the… trip to Fossor’s world.” Leaving it at that for the moment, Chayyiel focused on the matter at hand. “I believe, after everything you’ve been through, that you have truly changed. Whether you are aware of this or not, I have been keeping an eye on you when I could, through a few different sources. I wanted to know what was happening after I heard you had reappeared in that condition. For awhile I believed it was a ploy of some sort, though I couldn’t imagine what or why. It didn’t seem like your style.” 

She offered a shrug after a moment of contemplation. “I suppose I was simply making excuses for myself because I didn’t want to have any sympathy for you after what you did.” Her voice was flat, and when she saw his mouth open, she raised a finger to stop his attempted words. He acquiesced, allowing her to continue uninterrupted. 

“But I did come to believe you had changed. Which is why I sent Aletheia and Kutattca to you. I believed you could get the latter here to Earth with less… oversight and other nonsense than I tend to experience when traveling.” Her face twisted just a little at that, betraying her annoyance. 

The expression actually made Puriel chuckle once more, yet again in spite of the situation. “I’m sorry, I do sympathize with your pain in that regard. It’s just, you’ve clearly grown so much, but that face still reminds me of trying to convince you that everyone had to take their full doses of Hesentanien after the Jaoin flowers bloomed.” 

“That stuff tasted like licking the bottom of Abaddon’s boot right after he stepped off a seven-day battlefield,” Chayyiel shot back. The two of them held their gazes on one another for a moment, before each smiled very slightly. Between that and Puriel’s chuckle, most of the lingering tension had left the room, though some would remain for quite awhile. Their history was too complicated, long, and painful for all of it to vanish just like that. 

“I believed you changed, and I believed you would come here,” Chayyiel reiterated. “So I wanted you to bring Kutattca, because he can help the Heretic Rebellion undermine one of the loudest voices against them, his own sister.” 

“Yes, I… believe they are working on the best way to do something with that,” Puriel confirmed thoughtfully before turning his attention back to her. “You believed I had changed and trusted me to do that, though with the aid of your assistant.” 

“Aletheia wasn’t sent only to keep an eye on you,” Chayyiel informed him. “She cares about you. After everything that–” 

“I am sorry.” Puriel’s abrupt interruption seemed to surprise even him. But he pushed on as soon as it came. “I betrayed your trust. More than that, I forced you to betray your own word. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, because losing control of even a little bit of this world to a burgeoning Dragon Heretic like that made me look bad. That was all I cared about.

“I told myself it was because he was a threat to our civilization, that was the only way to keep this world in line so we could focus our efforts on the Fomorians, I told myself all sorts of things. But the truth is that having a human stand against us on this world made me look bad, and I needed to deal with that before I looked worse. That’s why I didn’t wait. That’s why I didn’t listen to you. The idea of negotiating with a primitive human was absurd to me. No, worse, I believed that being seen negotiating with a human would make me look even worse. I wanted to interrupt your deal with him because otherwise… otherwise you would have treated him as an equal, and that thought disgusted me beyond anything I could have described.” 

After saying all that, the man gave a long, heavy sigh. “Needless to say, I have had occasion to reevaluate. But above all, I owe you an apology. I am sorry for my arrogance. I am sorry, not only for what I took from you with my choices, but also for what I took from our people and those of Earth. What could have been, and your proposed alliance continued….” 

His eyes closed at the thought, and he slumped back a bit as his voice softened. “But the past is not something we can change, only the future. I am sorry for my mistakes, conscious and otherwise. I apologize, with everything I am, for everything I chose that was wrong. I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your help. For all the power I have, I cannot… I cannot make up for those mistakes on my own, or even with those who have already agreed to lend their aid. I need you, Chayyiel. If we are going to fix this, and make our people see the best way forward, I need your help.” 

Puriel was motionless like that briefly, before Chayyiel spoke up and drew his gaze. “You’re right, in your arrogance, you made mistakes. But so have I. As you said, we can’t change the past, only the future. And if I were to refuse you right now, it would be even worse than what you did. Because I have the benefit of hindsight.”

Rather than say anything else on that point right then, however, she slid off the counter and stepped around him to where he had been working. “I didn’t realize you had picked up a love of cooking.” Her head tilted before she added, “You’ve been practicing lately.” 

“It helps clear my head without clearing it too far,” Puriel replied after turning that way as well. “Following a strict recipe requires just enough focus that I don’t drift away completely, but I can still… stop thinking about everything else. For a little while, at least.” He paused for a moment, clearly considering his next words before gesturing. “Would you like to help prepare the rest of this soup? It is for the children. They…” His gaze moved to the large pot he had been working with. “… tend to work up an appetite.” 

“I’m certain they do,” Chayyiel agreed, before reaching out to take the knife he had been using. Her other hand tugged the box of onions into place, before she plucked one out and began to carefully cut out its bulb, then began slicing it. “You know about Mercury.” 

“I know, now,” he confirmed quietly, then moved beside her to start working on cutting meat into cubes to be browned before they would be added to the pot. “I’m glad I didn’t then. I… you did the right thing in telling him to hide it from everyone.” 

Once again, both were silent, losing themselves in the act of preparing the meal for several long minutes. They communicated only in grunts, pointing, and the very occasional word for how the recipe was supposed to go. Only once the pot was settled on the burner and slowly bubbling away, did Chayyiel speak properly once more. “Yes, I will help you make this right.” 

“No.” Puriel’s head shook. “I think it’s more proper to say that I will help you. 

“After all, you do outrank me, Seraph.” 

********

Apollo’s Father Meets The Young Sariel 

As the sleek shuttle came to a stop on the landing platform outside of a nondescript building located at the edge of a crater on a partially-colonized moon, the Seosten known as Jehoel leaned up out of the rear seat to remind their pilot to keep the engine warm and promised this would not take long. With a quick glance toward the boy next to him, he firmly added, “We’re going to be in and out. Come, Lucifer.”

That said, the man rose and emerged from the small shuttle. Like his son, he was blond, though that was where the similarities ended. He was tall and muscular, barely managing to avoid banging his head off the hatch when he stepped out. At his full height as he straightened up, the man stood almost five inches over six feet, and was built more like a pit fighter than a businessman. The suit he wore was dark gold with red outlining, its elegant design at odds with his size and even his face. Jeho, as he was more commonly known, was a very plain-looking man, particularly for a Seosten. His nose was slightly too big for his face, and oddly shaped. He never paid it any mind on his own behalf, but he was often amused by the looks he got from those who were unaccustomed to it. Extending his hand now, he made a dark red cane appear and tapped the ground with it testingly before starting to walk. He didn’t need the cane, but it made for a good prop. Behind him, his son scrambled to follow.

Jeho was glad that this was about to be over. For days now, Lucifer had spoken of nothing save for the little girl he had supposedly been playing with in the Prasinus Luna asylum while his father was conducting business. At first the idea that his son had an imaginary friend had been amusing and endearing (and was hardly the worst of his jokes and pranks), but the boy would not let up. He continued to insist that his new friend needed help and that she was stuck there, hiding in the walls of all places. Jeho had told his son eventually that he’d had enough of the games and that it was time to move on to something else. But Lucifer continued to insist that they had to help the girl. He grew increasingly distressed at the idea that they might just move on and forget about her. Distressed enough to cause his father some measure of concern. It clearly wasn’t just a game to him. Or he was taking it entirely too far.

Jeho obviously didn’t believe that his son had met a girl in the walls of the asylum. He had an overactive imagination and was constantly making up stories. Sometimes it seemed that he forgot the difference between what he’d made up and what was real. While he could have simply ordered his son to be silent about it, the man chose another route. He would take his son back there and show him that there was no one like that. That would be the end of it. For the moment, at least. Eventually, Lucifer would find another imaginary story to latch onto, but they would take that as it came. For now, what mattered was helping his son move past this delusion.

Together, the two walked across the landing platform, passed several other shuttles until they reached the circular transport pad. The visibly-elderly man there snapped to attention when he saw who was approaching and blurted, “Apologies, we didn’t know you were coming today, sir.” 

“Don’t worry, Ivaseo,” Jeho assured him with a raised hand to ease the reaction his appearance had drawn. “This isn’t a snap inspection and nobody left you out of the loop. I’m just here to show my son something. Would you mind sending us over to the north wing, level eleven b?” 

With a quick note of agreement, the old man hurriedly set up the transport system and gestured for them to step onto the circle. Both did so, and there was a twisting sensation before they vanished from the platform and reappeared in one of several arrival lobbies spread throughout the asylum. As soon as they appeared, the head nurse by the central desk abandoned her conversation with subordinates and quickly made her way over to express surprise at their arrival, pondering aloud if she had missed a scheduled meeting. She was a rather short, thin woman with dark hair, who would have appeared to be in her early thirties to someone from the far-away and as-yet unimportant Earth. Her words were accompanied by dark looks toward the lower nurses, who exchanged frantic looks and headshakes to insist that they had not neglected to inform their superior of any such meeting today. 

“At ease, Anahel,” Jeho urged, holding his cane up to gesture with it. “Neither you nor anyone else here has made any mistakes in that regard. Please, go about your business. We’ll only be a moment and then Lucifer and I will be out of your hair. I simply need to show him that his imagination has been running wild with him again.” 

A blank, clearly uncertain smile found its way to the woman’s face as she looked toward Lucifer. “Ah, imagination? Did the boy find our lost and found and think it was a treasure hoard?” 

Jeho expected his son to immediately launch into the same old story he had been listening to for the past week, about the girl in the walls. But the boy remained oddly silent, standing next to his father with a hand against his arm in a grip that betrayed his uncertainty and need for reassurance. It was an odd reaction for his son to have. Lucifer was far from shy, to say the least. And he had spoken of nothing these past days but this imaginary girl. The fact that he suddenly fell silent about it right now… Jeho wasn’t certain what it meant. 

Putting a hand on his son’s shoulder, the man focused on the woman in front of them. “Don’t worry about us, we just need to visit one of your patient rooms quickly. We’ll be in and out. I’m certain you have far more important business to attend to than to play tour guide.” With that, he began to walk down the hall, following the directions his son had given him repeatedly in the days leading up to this. Lucifer had been exploring the place while his father was busy, and knew the exact path through the maze of corridors to get there from this spot. A path he had told his dad about in exhausting detail, to the point that Jeho felt quite certain he could have navigated it even if their species was not known for having photographic memories. 

Rather than simply leave them to their own devices, however, Anahel abandoned the other nurses and began to come along with them. Her head shook. “Oh, if the boy wants to show you something he found, I’m sure we can help. Is it our mural on the next floor? Several of our patients spent quite a few hours making that, and we’re very proud of them.” 

With an audible chuckle, Jeho replied, “Nothing so interesting, I am afraid. It seems my son went and made himself a friend when we were here. He’d like to visit her again. Actually, he’s been quite insistent on that. He thinks you’re hiding her in this place.”

The woman made a noise in the back of her throat, eyes darting to the boy in question before asking, “Hiding her? Hiding who, exactly? Our patients are all well-accounted for. You and the rest of the board make certain of that.” She added that part with a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.  

Paying little attention to her reaction, the man continued walking, turning right at the intersection his son had described. “A small girl, about his age. He thinks she’s living in the walls of this place, can you believe that? Quite the imagination.” 

For a brief moment, the nurse stopped, staring after them before quickly picking up the pace to catch up. “Hold a moment, are you saying you want to go poking around inside the walls of our patients’ rooms? I can’t allow something like that. Do you have any idea how much that would disturb the people whose care we are responsible for? That’s completely preposterous.” 

Jeho, tapping his cane along the floor curiously, replied without looking up. “Only one room, I promise. My son has assured me that should we check this single room and have it prove to be a dead end, as I believe we both know it will, he will speak no more on the subject. Believe me, had you been listening to these stories for the past week, you’d want to silence them as well.”

Anahel began to respond, but was interrupted by the arrival of a heavyset man who appeared old enough to be near final retirement. He had long gray hair and a walrus-like mustache, and walked with a cane that appeared far more necessary than Jeho’s more decorative version. His name was Deismea, the primary administrator of the facility. “What’s this I hear about one of our favorite board members wanting to disturb our patients? We all know better than that, don’t we? The people on this floor already had an unscheduled fire drill earlier today, I’m afraid we absolutely cannot interrupt their schedule any further. It would be a disaster.” He paused before adding, “Even for a member of the board, there are regulations to follow. Inspections must come via the proper channels. Things can’t just happen out of the blue like that. We owe our patients their privacy.”

The man had a fair point. The patients here were often very sensitive and did not take well to unscheduled changes or interruptions. Jeho paused, considering his words. Had this simply been a whim of his own, he almost certainly would have backed off then. But this wasn’t about him. As soon as he stopped, Lucifer woke up in a quiet, yet audible voice. “Please, Father. I promise you’ll see. You can’t give them a chance to hide her. We’ll never find her again now that they know you’ll check. This is our only chance.” 

“Now you see here,” Deismea put in, “we have neither the time nor patience to entertain these ridiculous games of yours. Your father is a busy man and so am I. Far too busy to play along with this. You need to go home and leave your dad alone. Now you’ve dragged him all the way out here and you want us to let you barge in on the people under our care just so you can have a little extra attention? I think not. This situation is over.” To Jeho, he added, “If you would like to bring your son back in a day or two for a scheduled tour, when we have had a chance to warn our patients, that would be one thing. But I’m afraid I must put my foot down now. As the administrator of this facility and the person most entrusted to care for its inhabitants, I cannot allow strangers to traipse around disturbing them.”

Once again, his points were valid. He was indeed the person given final consideration when it came to what happened in this asylum. He knew every patient within, and had been entrusted with their care. Ultimate authority over the facility fell to him, and for good reason. He had been doing the job for many centuries by that point, and doing it quite well by all accounts. There had never been a major problem with him, be it from staff, patients, or the board of governors on which Jeho sat.

With all that in mind, the man held his cane against the floor and considered for a moment, his eyes shifting over to his son. Lucifer had not said anything else, which was, again, quite odd for him. Normally, he would be talking up a storm, trying to shout down the man who had been naysaying his story. Lucifer had never been the type of boy to let age and authority dissuade him when he thought he was being insulted or dismissed. And yet, he almost entirely ignored the man, instead focusing on staring pleadingly up at his father. That, more than anything he could have said, was what decided the man’s next course of action. 

“You are absolutely correct,” Jeho assured the asylum director. “This is an unscheduled invasion and it may very well prove entirely too disturbing for your patients. That isn’t fair, particularly given how sensitive some of them are. The last thing we wish to do is set back their treatment or cause them, or your staff, undue pressure and pain. So, my son and I shall leave you to your work.” 

In the following moment, as Lucifer seemed to deflate and both head nurse and administrator straightened up with a pair of smiles, the man continued. “As soon as we see this single room.” His cane snapped out, pointing toward the nearby door. “Lucifer, this is the place in question, is it not?” 

Truth be told, he was certain they wouldn’t find anything interesting. But, given how intent his son was about the whole thing, following through was the least he could do. He had told Lucifer they would check it out, and he was not a man who went back on his word. All they needed was to step into the room and show him that there was no girl hiding in the walls. Then this would all be over. He could hardly blame Deismea and Anahel for not wanting to play along. They had their own jobs to do here, and as far as he knew, neither of them spent much time around children. They had no idea how persistent someone like Lucifer could be. They still believed that simply ordering him to be silent about it would help anything. Jeho didn’t want to order his son to be silent. Tired as he may have been of hearing the story about the girl, the best way to handle the situation was to show him that he was wrong.

So, even as the two asylum staff protested, Lucifer darted away from his father and yanked the door open before slipping within. Which left Jeho to give a casual smile of indulgence toward the other two, shrugging as though to remind them that there was little he could do in the face of his son’s insistence. Then he followed, stepping through the doorway. In the background, Deismea continued to raise his strenuous, insistent objections, reminding them of just how sensitive his patients were and how much something like this could set them back. 

Well, it was no wonder Lucifer may have begun to believe there was someone else here. The moment they stepped into this single patient room, Jeho’s eyes were immediately pulled toward a series of colorful drawings on the floor. Clearly the woman in this room, who lay sleeping in the bed, had a child or other descendant who had visited and tried to brighten the place up for her. Was it truly that simple? Had Lucifer simply found the drawings and assumed it must have come from some secret girl? That would fit with his imagination. Or perhaps the girl had been here at the time and filled his head with stories. 

Giving the woman in the bed a brief glance, Jeho started to speak up. “Now, as you can see, there’s no one else here, Lucifer. Maybe if you ask politely, Deismea will tell you about the child who visits this poor woman, and you–” 

In mid-sentence, he stopped talking. Because Lucifer had completely ignored the drawings on the floor, and simply walked straight to the rear corner of the room, where nothing appeared to be. Anahel snapped for him to stop and went to grab the boy’s arm, but he ducked past her and went to that spot. 

“Now this is quite enough,” Deismea declared, starting to move that way. “If your father refuses to put an end to these games before they end up causing undue distress to those under our care, I’m afraid I shall have to put my foot down. Come away from there before–” 

It was that man’s turn to fall silent, visibly deflating a bit as a piece of the wall right there in the corner moved aside. Just like that, there was a small, yet visible crack. A crack which widened as Lucifer pushed on it. 

Up until that point, Jeho had truly not believed a word his son had said about what happened in this place while he was playing around. He hadn’t wanted to simply order Lucifer to be silent about it, seeing it as more productive to prove that he was incorrect. But in that moment, as the hidden doorway appeared, he considered for the first time what would happen if his son wasn’t wrong. The administrator caught himself and went to step that way with an order to get back, but Jeho put a hand on his shoulder in an iron grip. The difference in their sizes was never more apparent than in that moment. His voice was flat. “Stay.” 

Lucifer, for his part, hadn’t waited for any further encouragement. He pushed the hidden door open and poked his head in, calling, “Sariel! It’s okay, you can stop hiding! I told you, I’d bring my father back! I’m sorry it took so long, but we’re here now. You can come out!”

For a long, frozen moment, there was no response. Deismea started to say something, the words barely beginning to emerge from his mouth before turning to a strangled noise as Jeho squeezed his shoulder harder. He didn’t want to hear anything from this man right now. Not if what he thought was about to happen really did. 

Lucifer stepped back, moving slowly out of the way. There was another sound within the area behind the walls, the hidden area Lucifer had told his father all about. And just like that, a small, blonde figure poked her head into view. She blanched at the site of the head nurse and administrator, very nearly ducking back out of sight. But Lucifer reached out to take her hand and gently yet firmly pulled the girl into view. He was right, she was about his age, looking dirty and disheveled, though at least generally well-fed. 

Seeing her, Lucifer’s father released his grip on the administrator and took two steps that way. He paused, letting out a heavy sigh before going down to one knee in front of the suddenly nervous girl. “My name is Jeho. Can you tell me yours? And who is your mother?”

She told him. She told him her name and that her mother, Korsmea, was the woman in that bed. And, when he asked, she told him her father had been a member of the staff here in the hospital. A man who had slept with a patient who could not even begin to consent.

Hearing all that, Jeho rose and turned to focus on the pair behind him. His voice was low and tight. “I am calling the rest of the board.

“I believe it’s safe to say, we need to have a meeting.”

******

In the end, many people involved with what happened at the facility would end up losing their jobs. Deismea first and foremost among them. He had helped hide what happened, and kept the birth of the child a secret. How long he had planned to keep going with that was anyone’s guess. But now that was immaterial. He had been removed from his position and so had most others of any level of authority. New officials had been brought in to take over, which was going to cause more problems for the patients, who only knew and trusted those who had been removed. But there was nothing else to be done for it. They couldn’t simply ignore the fact that these people had hidden something of that magnitude. Yes, the man responsible for impregnating Korsmea had been removed and demoted within. But that clearly wasn’t enough.

Most importantly, the girl in question needed somewhere to go. She could not simply grow up within the asylum with a mother who only knew who she was a small portion of the time. So, Jeho had volunteered to take her in alongside his son. Lucifer was the one who had met her, after all. Honestly, it hadn’t been that much of an argument. His fellow board members were glad to wipe the problem off their hands and hopefully move on.

Leading the girl through the front door of his manor, the man ordered Lucifer to go and find one of the maids who could help make up a room for the child. As he bounded off to do that, Jeho turned and looked down at the blonde child staring up at him nervously. “You’ll stay here when Lucifer does, and attend school with him when he goes back. They will have a girls dorm for you to live in there. When he returns here to visit, you will accompany him then as well. Any time you wish to go back to that place and see your mother, you may. But you live here and at Lucifer’s school. And you will follow all rules that you are expected to. Do you have any questions about that?

Sariel seemed to consider the question for a moment, fidgeting uncertainly before meeting his gaze. “What do I call you, sir?”

It was a question he should have seen coming and had an answer for, yet it brought him up short. What should she call him? A dozen possible answers, most of them dismissals, came to mind. Finally, he settled on the only response he could have just then. “Sariel, my name is Jehoel, or Jeho. But you call me anything you want to.  

“After all, I have a feeling you and I are going to be seeing a lot of each other from now on.” 

**********

The Calendar 

“Let me guess, she’s not very happy with me.” As he idly said those words, the man once known as June, though more often as Dracula or Drake, dipped several of his French fries from the nearby bag into the milkshake in his other hand, popping them into his mouth while looking at the group who had approached him in this out-of-the-way park somewhere in southern Idaho.

There were three of them. September/Tember, the tall Latino-looking man, dark-skinned July/Julie, and October/Otto, the Caucasian man with dyed electric-blue hair and a loud Hawaiian-style shirt that was partially covered by a plain white lab coat. 

“Not very happy would be putting it mildly,” Otto informed him while holding his hand out expectantly. “She wants you to report in and explain yourself in person.” 

“Yeah, well, I doubt I’ll be doing that.” With that casual response, Drake gave the other man a few fries, before offering the bag to the other pair. Neither of them took him up on the offer. “I quit for a reason. Well, several reasons, but none of them have anything to do with wanting to go back now.” 

“You didn’t so much quit as fake your death and abandon all of us,” Julie pointed out, taking the seat next to him on the park bench. “That wasn’t very nice, you know.” 

“I was always going to tell you all,” Drake assured her. “When the time was right. There was no way I’d ever abandon all of you forever. You’re my people.”

Tember, taking the seat on the opposite side, made a noise deep in his throat that betrayed his uncertainty. “You’ve been here on Earth a lot longer than we have, Dracula. How many others have you said were part of your people before you abandoned them forever?” 

“Now, that’s not fair,” Drake insisted. “I told you, I’ve barely seen others like us here on earth. We’re not exactly easy to come across. Lies, Mendacia, Anima Catenata, SPS Seosten as I believe they call us up in that Fusion school, whatever term they use, our people don’t tend to let us run round free and clear. We’re too shameful for that. So yes, when I got to this planet and saw my chance, I took it. I abandoned the other Seosten. But not you. Not my fellow Mendacia. As soon as I found out this Calendar existed, I had to put myself into it. Which wasn’t easy, let me tell you. But I had to get to know all of you. And I did. Then I needed to leave for a while to decide what to do next. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to just tell you to abandon Cahethal. After all, her willingness to throw our people the tiniest of bones is the only reason you’re allowed to exist the way you do.” 

“We can talk about that later,” Otto insisted. The man folded his arms, staring down at Drake. “It’s part of a longer debate that we don’t have time for right now. Did you know about these Whispers, and the… the ghosts from the Olympus they’re possessing now?” 

“It’s a good question,” Julie agreed. “After all, it wasn’t too long after we found out about them before you happened to show yourself to us.” She was squinting sidelong at the man, trying to read his reaction. “Were you aware that they had begun to show themselves?” 

For a moment, it looked as though Drake was trying to decide how seriously to take the question. He glanced around at all three of them as they stared at him, before waving a hand. “No, I didn’t know anything about them. I came when I did because I heard you were going to visit that school up there, and figured it was my best chance to approach you without Cahethal jumping on me. Seosten Scout’s honor.” He said that solemnly while holding several fingers up. Then the man shifted in his seat. “And speaking of Cahethal, how does she feel about how friendly December, April, and May are getting in that place? Do you…” He paused to consider before carefully continuing. “Do you think she’ll just let them go if they don’t want to come back to the fold?” 

Tember was the one who answered. “Do you think we’d be hard to replace? The second she asks for more volunteers from our people, she’ll have enough to fill five more Calendars if she wants to. We aren’t exactly a precious commodity.” 

“That’s what she thinks,” Drake snapped before catching himself. “Let me ask you a more important question. What do you all think is going to happen as soon as these Whispers and the Olympian ghosts they’re possessing become known? Do you think that’s going to make the regular Seosten like us more than they already do? Because I have the strangest feeling we’ll end up getting the blame. They’ll probably decide these Whispers are actually dead Mendacia. Think about it, they can possess Seosten and control them. They’ll find a way to make that our fault, and take away even more of our rights.” 

Otto frowned at that, turning to glance toward a man running by with his dog for a moment before lowering his voice reflexively. “Do you honestly believe they’d think something so absurd? These Whispers came from a sealed-off cave on another world. They are an entirely different species than we are, not the ghosts of other Mendacia.” 

“What I believe,” Drake shot back, “is that our people have given us no reason to believe they will think rationally about this situation. If they can find a way to blame us, they will. You know that’s true.” 

All four were quiet for a few moments as they considered that. Finally, Drake broke the silence. “Just think about that a little bit, and don’t be surprised when I get to say I told you so. But in the meantime, how are the others doing? Not the trio up in the Fusion school. I know all about them, thanks to December. What about January, Feb, and the rest? I kind of expected them to show up here today.” 

There was another pause while Julie squinted at him for a few long seconds. And then she exhaled and gestured. “You can all come out now. He knows you’re there.” 

The rest of the Calendar, January, Feb, March, August, and November, all promptly revealed themselves by killing the various rodents and bugs they had been possessing. Soon, the now much larger group surrounded the bench where Drake continued to calmly eat his fries and shake. January was at their head, the beautiful blonde woman standing directly in front of him. “Does this mean you’re not going to come back to see Cahethal?” 

Slowly raising his eyes to stare into hers, Drake calmly replied, “Does this mean all of you are ready to hear me out how to protect ourselves when our people try to blame us for their problems?” 

January, and the rest of the Calendar, were silent. They exchanged long, telling looks. Finally, she focused on him once more. “Perhaps this should be the start of a much longer conversation. But first, where did you purchase that food? It smells delicious, and I don’t plan on sitting around taking scraps from you. We’re all quite hungry right now.” 

Drake met the question with an easy smile. “Oh, that’s definitely something we can fix. And you’ve got to try this whole dipping them in ice cream thing. 

“The humans may have a lot of issues, largely thanks to us, but this may be the single greatest achievement of their species.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Patreon Snippets 24 (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The following is the 24th edition of Patreon Snippets (or at least the Heretical Edge-related ones). Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request at least five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers. Remember, as little as 5 dollars per month gets you every single chapter one day early. In addition, donators get to vote on end-of-arc interludes, non-canon chapters, and have discounts for commissions. And hey, don’t forget that everyone, Patron or not, can join us in the Discord channel right here

Avalon and Gwen (The following takes place sometime after the previous chapter 17-01 and before the next chapter 17-02

“This place has the best sushi you will ever eat. Bar none.” 

With that small aside, Gwen pulled the nozzle out of the corvette’s gas tank, slid it back onto the pump, hit the screen twice with her thumb to decline a receipt, and started up toward the rundown, dingy-looking building advertising one dollar hot dogs and seventy-nine cent large fountain drinks. “Don’t just stand there, this is the best time of day for the fresh stuff.” 

Avalon, standing by the rear of the car, stared after the blonde (with pink tips) woman while silently echoing, ‘fresh stuff.’ Her head shook as she quickly pushed herself into motion, walking that way. “Wait, this is a gas station.” 

“Uh huh,” Gwen agreed, already reaching out for the door after giving a quick nod to the distracted man who passed them while talking on his phone. 

“A gas station in the middle of Nebraska,” Avalon continued, stepping in once the other woman gestured for her to go ahead. “Which, just to be clear, is literally the most landlocked state in the entire US. I double-checked just to be sure. It’s the only state that is triple-landlocked. You have to go through at least three states, or two states and a big Canadian province, to get to the ocean no matter which way you go. We’re talking over a thousand miles to the nearest ocean.” 

Stepping into the store before letting the door close after her, Gwen airily replied, “That’s right.” She turned a bit then, eyes surveying the empty shop aside from a single employee who was silently reading a magazine while keeping half an eye on them. The man looked Latino, with long hair pulled into a ponytail, a heavyset body, and a tee-shirt advertising a boxing match that had been over for going on twenty-five years. 

Satisfied that there was no one else in the convenience store, Gwen called out toward the man sitting there. Only she spoke in what sounded like rapid Japanese, and all Avalon got out of it was that her tone sounded questioning. Plus she was pretty sure there was a greeting in there somewhere. 

By the time Gwen was half-way through her question, the man behind the counter was already scrambling off his stool. It fell with a crash while he darted around the side and approached, speaking in his own rapid Japanese the moment the woman had finished. Again, Avalon couldn’t follow the actual words, but she could tell he was apologizing. He also kept bowing repeatedly, fumbling for something in his pocket. 

“Kaili,” Gwen interrupted, her hand moving to touch his arm. “It’s alright. We haven’t seen each other in awhile, and I looked different then. But please, my… niece here doesn’t speak your language.” 

“Niece?” The man’s gaze snapped from Gwen to Avalon, eyes widening. “You are the princess of Avalon?!” He was already bowing to her rapidly, babbling in his own language once more in what sounded like even more apologies. 

“Wait, no, I’m not–I mean it’s not princess anything, it’s just Ava–” Cutting herself off in mid-objection (which she was pretty sure the man himself wasn’t even hearing in the midst of his own apology), Avalon looked toward Gwen, voice flat. “Gaia knew what she was doing.” 

Giving her a tiny smirk, Gwen nodded easily. “Of course she did. Good or bad, that woman rarely did anything by accident.” With that, she turned back to Kaili and spoke up with a gentle, yet firm voice. “It’s alright, we aren’t here for any of that. We came for the sushi. If it’s ready?” 

Clearly snapped out of his rambling apology for not somehow intuiting who Avalon and Gwen were the moment they stepped inside, Kaili stopped short, glancing toward an unlabeled door in the back while tugging a set of keys from his pocket. “Oh yes, yes, of course. Our normal customers have not arrived yet, you shall be the first. And ahh, have first choice, naturally.” Even as he said that, the man was already hurrying toward that rear door, using no-less than four keys on separate locks before he finally pulled it open. As he was starting to give a grand gesture for the two to go through, a man in a trucker’s cap began to come in the main door from the lot outside. But before he could get more than a step inside, Kaili snapped, “We’re closed!” At his words, the customer was pushed back out the door by an invisible force and the door shut firmly in his face before the sound of a lock clicking filled the air. Outside, the man voiced confusion, pulled at the door twice, then shook his head and walked away muttering. 

“Ahem,” Kaili turned his attention back to the two women, arm rising to motion them inward as he held the door politely. “Please, please, after you, your majesties.” 

Avalon started to object, then simply gave a heavy sigh before walking through the door, with Gwen following just behind her. There was a set of stairs on the other side, leading down into an open basement room that was much larger than the building upstairs. Along the walls on either side were several enormous aquarium tanks, filled with fish of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Many of which didn’t look like they belonged on Earth. The tanks continued down under their feet, as Avalon, Gwen, and their escort walked across a glass floor, toward several tables that had been set up in the middle of the room, spaced far enough apart that the occupants could have a private conversation. 

Handing the two of them menus, Kaili bowed once more before announcing that he would return right away. Then he moved to a door at the back of the room, which seemed to lead to a kitchen area. 

With her menu in one hand, Avalon glanced around, taking in the colorful fish on all sides of her. Glancing up, she saw a literal glass ceiling with even more fish visible there. “This is… different.” 

“Not what you expected, hmm?” Gwen teased lightly. “It’s something wonderful hiding under the guise of something plain. I think that’s why I like it so much.” Pausing briefly, she added, “Well, that and the fact that the food truly is utterly delightful. I, ah, wanted to share something nice with you. I know we haven’t… really had much time to talk about…” She gestured back and forth between herself and the other girl. “Our situation.” 

“You mean my situation as your, ah, niece?” Avalon tried out the word, face twisting a little before she shook her head. “You don’t have to call me that. I know you didn’t get along with Gaia, and she just adopted–” 

“Stop,” Gwen interrupted. “You’re right, I have had my issues with… Gaia. When we get her back, she and I are going to have a very long, very intense conversation about a lot of things. But she has more than proven that she is not the same person I knew back then. And she has absolutely proven that she loves you. Believe me when I say, I watched her all last year. The way she is with you, the way she watches you when you aren’t looking, the way–” Cutting herself off, she simply finished with, “She does not see you as a responsibility, she sees you as her daughter. I hope you know that.” 

“I’m… still coming to terms with it,” Avalon murmured while shifting in her seat. “I need–I want–we have to get her out of there. I have to tell her, I mean… I have to tell her everything I wanted to tell her before.” 

“We will,” Gwen assured her. “But that’s my point. You love her and she loves you. She is your family. Which means you are my family. Believe me, Arthur will make that abundantly clear when we get him back. Which we are also doing.” 

“Arthur… literal King Arthur,” Avalon breathed out the words even as her head shook in disbelief. It took a moment to organize her thoughts. “You know, I thought that with Liesje’s spell finally cast, my whole ridiculous important family thing would be over. But I’m sitting here with Queen Guinevere, wife to King Arthur, whose sister is the, ahem, formerly evil witch Morgan Le Fay, who is my adopted mother.” 

“Yeeeah, your life is never gonna be boring,” Gwen confirmed with a light, casual chuckle. “But at least you’ve got some interesting relatives out of it.” 

Grimacing, Avalon muttered a dark, “Better than my dad, that’s for sure.” She paused to consider briefly before meeting the woman’s gaze. “It is pretty weird though. I mean, having Harper as my aunt.” 

With an audible snicker, Gwen offered, “It could be worse. At least you’re not related to Litonya.” 

Silently mouthing, ‘oh my God’ at the very thought, Avalon gave a full-body shudder. “Is this your way of making up for not being able to mentally torture me for all the years I was growing up, by putting that thought in my head?” 

“Figured that out, did ya?” With those teasing words, Gwen sobered a bit, her voice softening. “Wherever you came from, however it happened and whatever the reasoning, you are Gaia’s daughter. Which means you are my niece. That means something to me. And it’ll mean something to Arthur. Not to mention the people who are still loyal to him. You are, for all intents and purposes, a princess. Granted, one with no lands or real responsibilities… yet. But a princess nonetheless.” 

Awkwardly rubbing the back of her neck, Avalon made a face. “I’m not–I mean… I’m not, though. Not–I just want to… I’m not that type of person. When I was a kid, I was a wimp. At the Garden, I learned how to be tough, how to fight and protect myself. Then that fell apart, and Flick… Flick, Gaia, and the others taught me how to open up a little bit and not be so hard. But I’ll never be…” She took a deep breath. “I’ll never be a princess-type princess.” 

A snort escaped Gwen, which turned into a laugh. “I’m sorry, have you taken a look at me? Listen, Avalon–” Stopping abruptly, she shook her head. “I’m starting to think Gaia named you that to mess with me too. Anyway, I was raised to be a fighter. I was raised by Michael. I never–being queen was never on my to-do list either. Neither was falling in love with Arthur. So believe me, I know where you’re coming from. I know how uncomfortable it can be to find out that people are looking up to you, that you’re actually responsible for more than just yourself and the few people around you. That’s why I’m here now, with you. Because I want to help you be ready for when that responsibility actually shows up. You and me, we’ve got a lot in common. I wish I had a me to be there for me when I was me back–” She stopped, face twisting a little. “And now I’ve lost myself.” 

Smiling just a little, Avalon quietly replied, “That’s why we’re here, so you can start talking to me about all these things?” 

“Well no, we’re together so I can start talking to you about all these things,” Gwen corrected. “We’re here because like I said, their sushi is goddamn amazing. Now look at the menu and figure out what you want. And don’t worry, if you want to sneak a little wine, I won’t tell anyone. 

“After all, I am the cool aunt. And being queen has its privileges.” 

*********

The Calendar (The following takes place sometime shortly after the upcoming 17-03)

“Why are we here?” The skinny man who asked that question had short, dirty-blond hair that was mussed up, and wore a pair of jeans with a flannel shirt tucked into them. His words were addressed to the eclectic group standing around him, all of them waiting in a large shed at the rear end of an old farm. 

“You know why we’re here, November.” That crisp reply came from a tall, blonde woman in a red evening gown that looked quite out of place in the dingy shed. “We were invited.” 

Clearing his throat, a black man with shoulder-length dark hair wearing a pristine white suit pointed out, “Now January, I believe what November was asking was why were we invited?”

“Feb’s got a point,” Julie (July) agreed. Like the man she was referring to, Julie was black and appeared to be what humans would consider twenty-two or so. She preferred to wear a tan trench coat, like various Earth detective stories they had seen, over black pants and a white shirt. “They already have three of us up there. Why would they want any more?” 

“Unless it’s a trap.” That supposition came from October, or rather, Otto. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties (making him several thousand in actuality), and his own style of clothing went toward loud Hawaiian shirts covered by a white lab coat. He also wore glasses that possessed an array of special abilities. “Perhaps Athena’s alliance believes that they can remove a resource from an enemy in one stroke by taking her entire Calendar off the board.” 

“If you believed that,” the eldest of their group, a gray-haired man in a multi-thousand dollar suit, put in, “you would not have agreed to come here.” August’s eyes narrowed that way. “Not unless you had some plan of your own.” 

The two members of the group who had been silent up to that point were both rather large men, each standing well over six feet. One would have been considered Latino if he had been human, and wore clothes that were rather drab and heavily patched. They had been worn for a long time. The other, equally as tall, had green crewcut hair and also wore simple clothing. Tember (September) and March respectively. 

It was Tember who spoke up then, his attention on Otto. “Come on, man, tell us you didn’t bring some sort of bomb or weapon that’s gonna start the war up all over again.” 

March, who rarely spoke at all given his intense dislike of attention, made a noise in the back of his throat that showed just how much he didn’t like that idea either. 

With the attention of all seven other members of the immediate group on him, Otto waved both hands. “I didn’t bring a bomb or a weapon. I mean, no more weapons than the rest of you are carrying. Trust me, I got the speech. Multiple times. I’m just saying, if they wanted to get rid of all of us, it makes the most sense to do it all at once. If they ‘lost’ the other three, it would look suspicious to ask for replacements. This way, we can all have an accident together.” 

“Now I’m regretting even bringing it up,” November muttered before shaking his head. “I wasn’t trying to say it’s a trap. I’m just asking why they want us up there. There has to be a reason, but I can’t figure out what they get out of it.”

August, who had been gazing out the nearby open door for a moment, turned his attention back to the others while speaking flatly. “When it comes down to it, we are not worth such effort. It would be trivially simple for Cahethal to replace all twelve of us should the need arise. Never forget that the courtesy she extends us in allowing our autonomy and individuality is not due to any specific unique achievements on our part. There is a long list of those like us who would quite easily take our place.” 

“She hasn’t replaced June yet,” Julie pointed out in a quiet voice. “Why do you think that is? I mean, she replaced December faster than this. And others.” That last bit served to remind the others that she was one of the longest-lasting members of the current Calendar. To the point that she had slightly adapted the provided name of July to Julie, making it more of her own. 

“That is a good question,” January agreed thoughtfully. “I suppose she could still be holding out for Kushiel’s daughter, despite May and April’s strong doubts on that front.” 

For a brief moment, all of them exchanged silent looks. In the end, it was Feb who broke that silence. “She has an Olympian power. If she said the word, Cahethal would replace any one of us with her. She doesn’t have to keep a position open. She would create an opening if she had to.” 

None of the others disagreed with that, though they were glad not to be the one who brought up the reality that they simply were not truly that important in the grand scheme of things. 

Tember finally let out an audible sigh. “Everyone calm down. No one is being replaced. Kushiel’s daughter–” He stopped, considering briefly before amending his words. “Theia has no interest in joining us. May and April made that clear. Whatever Cahethal’s reason for not replacing June yet, I don’t think it has anything to do with her. We’ll find out when she wants us to know.” 

“Okay, so that takes us back to why does that group want us up there?” Julie pointed out. “Athena is not stupid enough to think she could get real information out of us. And even if she did, they already have the other three. What is the tactical advantage of having all of us there the same time?” 

Otto, voice thoughtful, put in, “Maybe they’ve got some new tracking spell or something and want to put it on all of us while we’re there so they’ll always know if we start spying on them.” 

January opened her mouth, then paused to consider. “That… if they had such a spell, it would be enormously valuable. At least as much as their new protection magic. The ability to mark us in a way that allows them to track us even through other possessions, and to always know precisely where we are… that would be one of the biggest anti-Seosten weapons in existence.” 

“And if anyone could and would develop it,” Otto pointed out, “it’s Athena’s organization right here at Rysthael.” 

August raised his hand to stop them. “I’m afraid we are getting far too deep into the weeds of wild supposition here. I do not know why we have been invited to visit this place any better than any of you, but I do not believe the intention is nefarious. Ignoring the fact that our friends would have warned us if they suspected any such efforts, it is simply unnecessary. Not only do they have April, May, and December as it is, they also have plenty of other Seosten with them who would quite willingly submit to the testing of such a spell. Our presence would be entirely superfluous.” 

“Unless they just wanted to cast it on us to make sure we can’t ever actually spy on them,” Otto started to point out before blanching as the entire group stared at him. “I get it, I get it, paranoid. It’s not likely, yeah. But I still don’t–” 

At that point, his words were interrupted by the sudden appearance of the portal they had all been waiting for. It grew to full size in front of them, just before several figures stepped through. The group immediately recognized April, May, and December, even as the latter blurted January’s name and embraced her tightly. Then she began to make her way around the circle, giving each of them hugs of their own. 

By that point, April and May had stepped aside to give room for three more figures to join them. The first was Theia herself, while the second was Mercury, his gaze passing quickly over everyone as though assessing them for any threat. Finally, the third was a woman who would have been entirely unfamiliar to them if they had not read the detailed dossier about her. 

“Principal Abigail Fellows?” January couldn’t keep the surprise from her voice. “We didn’t expect to see you here.” 

The woman in question offered her a small smile. “I suppose it is a bit of a surprise. And I know how surprises can be disconcerting. Sorry for that. I wanted to come greet you myself and extend our invitation to visit the school, if you are all still interested.” 

December immediately began to launch into a long spiel about how much they had to come, before May gently covered the girl’s mouth and spoke up herself. “Perhaps official introductions.” She and April went down the line, giving each Calendar member’s name. 

And with each introduction, Abigail insisted on shaking their hands. Which was quite disconcerting for all of them, even knowing about the protection spell. 

“Well,” Mercury finally announced, “shall we go back through? We have–” 

Before he could say anything else, the man abruptly pivoted, hand coming up with a pistol, which he pointed past the others toward the doorway. The doorway where another figure, simultaneously incredibly familiar to the Calendar, and utterly astonishing, had appeared. 

“June!” December blurted out loud, lunging that way. “What’reyoudoinghere?! Ithoughtyouweredeadtheysaidyouweredead! Howcomeeveryonethinksyou’redead?!” 

The man in question, a Seosten who appeared to be around twenty, with short black hair, wore the same dark clothes and white jacket they had always seen him in. But he also wore something else, a sly, cocky smirk that seemed out of place on one of their kind. 

“Well hey there, pals,” he greeted them while ruffling December’s hair. “You weren’t about to go on this tour without me, were you?” 

“Cahethal said you were dead, June.” January’s gaze was laser-focused on the man. 

“Well in a way, I suppose June is,” the man replied lazily. “I got tired of him. And tired of working with that old stuffy bitch. Decided to go back to my old self. Or one of my old selves anyway. Thought maybe I could collect some long-owed royalties.

“After all, these humans have been profiting off the name Dracula for a very long time.” 

A/N: Dracula was previously seen (and established to be an SPS Seosten) in a historical figures snippet found as the last entry in the chapter right here. And yes, he has somewhat changed his appearance since then.

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Interlude 14B – Calendar (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

In the far corner of an enormous junk yard somewhere in the southern edge of Michigan, a glowing green portal abruptly appeared directly between a hollowed out sedan and the remains of several old washing machines. An old mutt of a dog that had been lying idly watching a nearby ball as though deciding whether or not to give chasing it a go made a noise in the back of his throat and looked up in time to see three figures emerge from the portal. One was a young girl about nine or ten years old with dark hair and very pale eyes that were almost white, while the other two girls appeared to be in their teens. One was a pale red-head, and the other looked Asian, with very short hair. In the case of the latter two, their actual ages were roughly twice what they appeared to be.

After emerging from the portal, the three representatives of the so-called Calendar slowly moved their gaze around the junkyard, looking toward the dog briefly before their eyes shifted to take in the rest of the area. The canine itself didn’t move other than to bump its nose toward the tennis ball so that it would roll up a few feet through the dirt, then roll back. Beyond that, he gave no real reaction to their arrival. He was old and quite done being a guard dog. Or perhaps there was another reason he stayed put and didn’t start barking to sound an intruder alarm.

“What do you think?” April asked, squinting in the direction of the mutt. “That easy?” 

“Could be a double bluff,” May pointed out while continuing to split her gaze between the dog and the rest of the junkyard. “Be right in plain sight so that we would think it couldn’t possibly be that one. After all, they know we have December with us. She tends to win at this game.”  

The particular game, in this case, was something that members of the Calendar played with one another when they had to meet up after being separated. They would possess various animals and make the new arrivals guess which ones they were. You got two points for successfully guessing on the first try, one for the second attempt, and if you failed then, the member who had hidden received three points. It wasn’t an idle game either. They kept obsessive track of the score and had actual prizes, including a jackpot that could be won once someone got high enough. Others, including Cahethal, thought it was a waste of time. But members of the Calendar took it very seriously. It was one of the ways in which they bonded with each other. And December did tend to have an advantage at it, for one particular reason. 

“Speaking of which, what do you see?” April asked the younger girl. She herself had already picked out three more potential options in the form of two rats under one of the washing machines, and a mangy-looking crow who had set up a nest in the old junked car.  

December, for her part, appeared to be gazing off at nothing, her eyes unfocused. “There’sfourteenpossibilities,” she informed them. “Fourratsunderthemachinesthere. Twomoreunderthecar. Twocrowsnestingontopofthejunkpilethere. Anotheroneinthatcar. Thatdogwiththeball. Threecatsaboutfiftyfeetthatway. Andarabbitunderground… throughaholethirtyfeettheotherway.” 

She was technically blind, of course, thanks to a rare genetic mutation that had arisen through experiments in earlier generations. But that same mutation had left her with the ability to see magical energies, including that given off by living beings. And not only magical energies. She also saw electricity, heat, sound waves and the way they bounced off of objects, and so on. Put together, it allowed the girl her own particular type of vision, a three-dimensional image of her surrounding area, full of various energy patterns that she had become accustomed to deciphering until she had reached the point where interpreting the energies she saw and mentally translating that came as easily and instantaneously as an average person’s ordinary sight did. 

“Only fourteen?” May asked, looking toward the rabbit burrow that the girl had pointed out. 

December’s head bobbed rapidly. “Uhhuhuhhuhuhhuh! That’sallthestuffthat’sbigenough. Toosmallisstillcheating,right?” 

May gave a very slight nod, considering those options. “Yes, using something too small is still cheating. The game has to be played with something at least the size of an Earth mouse.” 

“So one of those fourteen,” April murmured. “Who was supposed to be meeting us here?” 

“Tember and Julie,” May replied, focusing her attention on the dog once more. It had slumped over onto its side, enjoying the very end-of-fall sun. The air was briskly chill, though there was no visible snow anywhere. Shiloh, the Heretic student who had taken to hanging out with them a bit, would have been dismayed by that fact, given how close to December (the actual month) it was. According to her, snow at the very beginning of December meant there would also be snow at the end, when the holidays came. None of the Calendar trio were exactly convinced of that logic. And truth be told, they were certain Shiloh wasn’t either. But the human girl certainly played up the superstition, possibly for comedic effect. 

It was a strange thought to have in that moment, May realized a bit belatedly. She was standing here, attempting to identify which animals their fellow Calendar people had possessed, and instead of focusing on that, she had thought about Shiloh for the past several seconds. Odd. 

Setting those thoughts aside, she focused on the issue at hand once more. Fourteen possibilities, and two of their companions to identify. For a moment, she thought about what she knew about Tember (September) and Julie (July). Both had been members of the Calendar longer than any of this trio, long enough to have adapted their given monikers somewhat. Despite that, neither happened to work together that often. So May was assuming they would have separated and chosen different animals to hide in.

“I know Tember,” April announced. “We hang out a lot. I’m gonna say he’s…” Trailing off, she leaned over to whisper quietly to the other two. 

There was a very brief conference back and forth, before May gave one more look at the junkyard around them and stepped forward. “Tember is the crow by itself in the car!” she called, loud enough to be heard. “Julie is the rabbit in the hole, pretending to be asleep.” 

There was a brief moment of silence, aside from the old dog panting a bit as he looked at them. Then the rabbit emerged into view while the crow in question flew down. Both animals promptly broke their own necks by twisting their heads too far to the side. An instant later, as the bodies fell, glowing humanoid energy forms appeared before resolving into each respective Seosten. 

“Very good, I thought we finally fooled you that time,” Tember, a large man who would have been considered Latino were he from Earth, announced while dusting off his clothes. They were old, having been repeatedly patched and repaired to the point that almost none of the original material remained. The clothes were the first that he had been given here on Earth, and Tember was loath to either replace them or use magic to repair them. He preferred fixing them, as he put it, ‘the human way.’ 

“So did I,” Julie put in. She was a black woman who appeared to be in her early twenties by human standards, wearing dark pants and a pristine, button-up white shirt under a long tan trench coat. “Especially with the magical tranquilizer we gave the dog there. He was a noisy little thing before that. You were supposed to think he was Tember.”

“Youcan’tfoolusthateasily!” December declared, before abruptly sprinting that way. And in her case, that meant using her improved boost to turn into a blurred form, appearing directly in front of the two almost immediately. “HiyaImissedyou!” She was hugging Tember tightly even as the man reacted to her sudden appearance. “We’vegotsomuchtotellyou,” she added, figure blurring once more as she darted the few feet over to embrace Julie just as tightly. “WehelpedstopaGehennaprisonernamedKwur…andkilledFossorhimselfthebigmeanNecromancer…andwentonapirateship…and–” 

Chuckling, Julie gently eased the young girl back by the shoulders to look down at her. “You do know that May and April have been submitting regular reports about everything that’s happened, don’t you?” There was a mixture of amusement and fondness in her voice as she ruffled the girl’s hair with one hand.

“WellsurebutIwantedtotellyoumyself!” December insisted while eagerly bouncing up and down. “Theymight’veleftstuffout! AndI’vegottatellyouaboutTabbris!”  

“Yes, Tabbris.” Tember noted thoughtfully, giving the girl a curious look, his tone casual. “She’s the one who was ahh, giving our people so many fits, right? The one who made them lose their minds trying to figure out why the Chambers girl couldn’t be possessed.” Even as he said that, there was amusement in his voice. It was very clear the revelation of just what–or who–had vexed their fellow Seosten (including Cahethal) for so long positively tickled the man. 

December beamed at that, bouncing up and down even more as she launched into a full-on rant about how positively cool and amazing her new friend was. The spiel went on for awhile, as the girl went deep into all the things Tabbris had done, without much in the way of chronological order. She simply blurted out everything that came to mind all in a rush. But every member of the Calendar was well-acquainted with the girl and accustomed to listening through her extended and very rapid stories to pick out the details of what she was talking about. 

While Tember listened attentively, asking questions now and then to show just how much  he cared about what the youngest member of their group was saying, Julie stepped aside a bit to speak more privately with April and May. Her voice was soft. “You asked for a face-to-face with the entire Calendar, and then Cahethal. Is there something we should know?” The tone of her voice made the underlying question clear. Was something wrong with their assignment to the Fusion school? 

April shook her head. “The assignment’s going fine. We only…” She glanced at the girl next to her, raising an eyebrow as though asking how they should put it. 

May, in turn, spoke up flatly. “The humans have asked for a bit of information, which we might be able to provide.” 

Looking back and forth between the two, Julie considered their words. “And is it information that we would want to give the humans?” 

“They are on our side,” April pointed out carefully. “Or they can be. Helping them now is the best way to ensure they are actually in a position to help our real war against the Fomorians if this truce continues beyond its first year and we begin a full, official alliance with the humans.” 

“Yes,” Julie agreed, “if the truce continues. But if it doesn’t, what sort of information are we giving them? Don’t forget, this could very well be a temporary situation. If the Seraphs choose to move to full invasion, every bit of information you give the humans could be used against us.” Her gaze moved between the two, then glanced toward December, who was still cheerfully talking to Tember about everything she had been doing with Tabbris. “In a few months, we may be taking very different, more direct measures against the people you’re trying to help now.” 

“Nowewon’t!” That was December, who had abruptly pivoted away from Tember, revealing that she had actually been listening the entire time. Her face had grown heated. “They’reourfriendsandtryingtofightthemwouldbestupidandwe’renotstupidand–” 

“December,” May interrupted, giving the younger girl a firm look to stop talking. “It’s okay. We’re just talking right now. Remember, Julie hasn’t been there. She doesn’t know what they’re like.” Her voice was calming, even as she gave the older Seosten girl a brief squint while pointedly adding, “No one’s going to ask you to hurt Tabbris or your friends. Don’t worry about it.” 

A moment of silent conversation passed between May, April, and Julie, where the latter made her opinion on the situation very clear. She believed it was a mistake to get too close to the humans, and had thought that sending December there in the first place was a bad idea. Not that she had anything directly against the humans (she was, after all, using a very human nickname). But when it came down to it, she was loyal to the rest of the Calendar, and to Cahethal for giving them the opportunity to be together. And, of course, to the Seosten in general beyond that. Her own people loathed her existence, yet she still longed for acceptance from them. She still believed it was possible to change their minds simply by being effective enough at her job. No matter how emphatically so many of the Seosten rejected that idea. 

Tember spoke up carefully after that long moment of silence had dragged on. “Well, why don’t we head back to the camp and talk to everyone else? You did say you wanted to get everyone. Even Cahethal agreed to show up. She’s… interested in seeing what has you so worked up.” As he spoke, the tall man  reached down to pick December off the ground, setting her on his shoulders while the girl gave a squeal of delight. “And everyone else has missed you.” 

“Didyoumissus?” December cheerfully chirped the question from her perch on the man’s shoulders, leaning over to look him in the eyes (or at least as close as she could get, being technically blind) from an upside down position. “Didjadidja?” 

“Hmm,” Tember playfully teased the girl, making a show out of pretending to consider before nodding toward May and April. “I suppose I might’ve missed those two, just a little bit.” 

“Andmeyoumissedmetoo!” December insisted while patting the top of the man’s head empathically. “C’monyougottasayityougottasayyoumissedmetooplease!” 

For another minute, Tember continued to tease the girl by pretending to consider whether he had actually missed her or not. She clearly knew he was only teasing her, and yet dramatically played up her reaction, lamenting how terribly mean he was and making a show of telling the man, who was essentially like an older brother, just what a mean and terrible jerk he was. 

“Jerk?” Julie asked the other two with an arched eyebrow. “A very human thing to say.” 

“A very Tabbris thing to say,” April replied mildly. “They’re friends. They’ve gotten pretty close.” 

“So I see.” Julie’s voice was a murmur before she shook her head, clearly uncertain about how that situation was going to unfold in the future, and concerned about December’s reaction. “In any case, you’ve made the first jump and it’s obvious you weren’t followed. Our detectors would have told us if they put any tracking spells on you. So we can go back to the camp now.” 

They still didn’t go directly there, of course. The Heretic rebels were not the only ones who knew what sort of downsides could come from allowing others to track them back to what should be a private location. Despite the confidence that they weren’t followed, the Calendar quintet made a couple extra portal jumps, just in case. 

Eventually, they arrived at their home here on Earth, a former summer camp next to a lake, with several cabins, and some boats. One of which was in use at that very moment as two figures in a canoe in the middle of the lake, fishing. The Calendar Camp should have been too cold for any boating or fishing at all, this close to winter in a place that was actually pretty far north in Alaska. But it was a relatively simple bit of magic between them to keep the surrounding area warm. It was already hard enough for people like them to have a place they could call home as it was. Now that they had a place, they certainly weren’t going to spare any expense or effort making it as comfortable as they could. This was their place. 

As soon as she saw the pair on the lake, December immediately hopped down from Tember’s shoulders  and took off. She became a blur that raced across the water, using her enhanced boost to get all the way over there without falling in. A moment later, she was in the middle of the boat, gesturing wildly while already starting to tell those two stories of her time at Fusion.

“Still as excitable as ever, I see.” Those words came from a much-older man, standing on the porch of the nearest cabin. He wore a painstakingly tailored suit that perfectly fit his slim form, which only added to the dignity afforded by his silvery-gray hair. Bystanders who saw him thought the Calendar man known as August looked quite a bit similar to the human actor Charles Dance. 

“Did you expect anything less?” the long-haired black man beside him, who also wore a neatly tailored business suit (though his was very white as opposed to the dark suit of his companion) asked. February (or Feb, ever since he had lost a bet with April that made him answer to the shortened name), looked out on the water, where the boat was making its way back with its now three occupants. December was still emphatically waving her arms around, her voice carrying just enough for them to hear the excitement in it, if not her specific words. 

His question was answered by a six-foot-tall blonde woman, who emerged from the cabin itself wearing a long red evening gown that glittered with each motion as she stepped into what little sunlight was visible.  “I do not believe anyone expects, nor wants December to change.” 

“Good afternoon, January,” April greeted the other Seosten politely. Of them all, January was often seen as the leader of the Calendar, despite the fact that she was not the one who had been there the longest. And not because she had the earliest month name either, having replaced an earlier January who had been killed. No, this January being seen as the default leader of the group simply came from being the type of person she was. 

With a fond smile at the red-haired younger Seosten, January reached out to brush a hand over the girl’s face. Casual touch may have been unheard of between so-called ‘normal’ Seosten and those they called Lies, but among the Calendar, it was fairly common. Because from each other was the only source many of them would ever get such casual touching. “Hello, April. It’s nice to see all three of you again. Getting your reports is just not the same.” 

“She’s not kidding,” a thin, wiry blond man wearing a flannel shirt put in as he stepped out of the cabin, carrying a clipboard in one hand. “I think she might make me start reading your reports out loud in character if this goes on much longer.” 

April smirked a little at that, “I’d pay to see that, November.” 

By that point, the boat had docked, and December was the first off it. She gave a loud, squealed, “Januaryfebaugustnovember!” Once more, her form blurred as she raced over to embrace each of them in turn, clinging tightly before babbling a long, very involved story about attending actual school classes with Tabbris and some sort of history project the two of them were working on. 

In the meantime, the two other boat occupants had emerged. There was the very tall, very introverted March, whose only sign of standing out in any way from any other pale-skinned humanoid was his magically-colored green hair. He tended to stand slouched, attempting to blend into the background. Which was difficult for a man of his size. 

The man climbing out of the boat behind him, however, was at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as standing out went. Though also Caucasian in appearance, he wore a long, very obvious lab coat over a loud Hawaiian shirt. His hair was naturally light, but currently magically colored similar to his quiet companion. His was electric blue. 

“Hello, March, Otto,” May greeted the new arrivals in turn. “Catch anything interesting?” 

“Sure,” Otto (October) replied with a gesture toward December. “Think she’s big enough to keep, or should we throw her back?” 

After a few moments of good-natured teasing back and forth, the group was interrupted by the appearance of a new portal, as Cahethal herself emerged. Their true leader and benefactor came into view. She was on the small side, barely five foot three inches, with very light hair and intensely green eyes. Like Otto, she wore a white lab coat, and immediately got right down to business after brusquely greeting the three by name. “You’ve asked for an audience with everyone, something about questions that can help your new… friends?” 

“Um, yes,” May confirmed. “But we hoped to talk to everyone. Where’s June?” That made the rest of the group look around, as though only just then realizing that the man in question wasn’t in the background. 

“Ah, yes.” Cahethal took a moment before quietly, yet bluntly telling them, “Unfortunately, June did not return from his last mission. You have my deepest sympathies. I did what I could to aid him, but he… ahh… it did not go well.” 

Lower lip trembling a bit, December tentatively asked, “Wha-what happened to him?” 

“I’m afraid that must remain classified for now,” Cahethal informed her. “And please, take all the time you need to grieve, after I have left. There is no rush to return to work. But do not lose yourself to that grief, as this is an opportunity. Kushiel’s daughter, you may extend an invitation for her to join your group and become the new June.” 

Those words led the three Fusion-guests to exchange glances before turning back to her. April replied quietly, the words thick in her throat. “I don’t think she’ll be interested.” Beside her, May and December were still silently reeling from the revelation of June’s death. As were the rest of the Calendar members, though the others did a better job of concealing their reactions to the blunt news for the time being. 

“It is your job to make her interested,” Cahethal informed her. “All three of you. Now, what is it you wanted to gather everyone here for? As you should know, I am quite busy at all times. 

“But please, tell me how I can aid with your mission.”  

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Patreon Snippets 5

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter

The following is the fifth volume of Patreon Snippets. Each month, every Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars per month is able to request five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. Thanks go to them, as well as to all supporters, and to all readers. 

Sariel’s Eldest Missing Child – Several Years Ago

“Come, Nihil.”

Kushiel entered the pristine medical room at a crisp walk, beckoning with her fingers for the child at her heels to keep up. The young girl herself looked to be about five in Earth human years, which would have made her roughly three as far as the Seosten home planet of Elohim was concerned. Her light blonde hair was worn short, almost into a buzz cut, and she wore a simple silver hospital gown, with flashes of a blue Seosten bodysuit visible beneath it as she moved.

The room the two of them entered was taken up almost exclusively by various medical and scanning equipment that lined every wall. In the middle was a single bed, its occupant sitting up and watching them. He was an older man, his long hair gray and his face lined from many millennia of life. Though he was looking their way, he showed no change of expression at their entrance aside from a single blink. Beyond that, his face was empty.

Gazing up at the man, the young girl asked, “This is your husband, Mistress?”

Rather than answer, Kushiel pointed to a single chair that sat in the corner. “Sit, Nihil. Be silent.” She waited until the girl obediently did so before turning to the man. “Puriel,” she announced, stepping that way to take his limp hand. “Puriel, look at me.”

He did so, eyes moving to meet hers and focusing slightly better than they had been. “Kushiel,” he started in a voice that was rough, a testament to how seldom he used it lately. “Are they alive?”

Sighing with obvious annoyance, Kushiel shook her head. “Just like the last time you asked, and the time before that, and every time stretching back to the first, no.” She pulled his hand up to put both of hers around it. “Husband. Love. You have to stop this. It was years ago. The orphanage chose to take you in. They chose to care for your wounds after your transport through the banishment orb. They cared for you when you didn’t know who you were. And yes, you were in no shape to protect them when the Fomorians came. They died, my husband. But you survived. You survived, and now you remember who you are. You have to move on. Your people need you.”

His gaze had gone empty again, as he stared off at nothing. Stared at his memories. Kushiel sighed, dropping his hand as she turned to the nearby counter where various instruments lay. “This is Sariel’s newest spawn.” Her hand waved vaguely to where Nihil sat. “I’ve told you about her. I brought her here because she’s ready for the first experiment.”

Puriel’s eyes focused once more, looking at her. “Experiment,” he repeated the word as though it was entirely foreign to him. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given how much of his mind had been damaged first by the loss (and subsequent return) of his memories about himself through the banishment orb, and then the trauma of every person, adult and child alike, in the orphanage that had taken him in being violently murdered by the Fomorians.

“Yes,” Kushiel snapped a little impatiently. “Experiment. Our daughter, Puriel. We have to fix her. Sariel’s spawn there is a Lie as well.” She smirked. “Even the great Artemis produced a Lie. How shamed must she be?”

“Artemis,” Puriel echoed, head tilting once more. “Sariel.”

“Yes, yes, the one who helped do this to you.” Angrily, Kushiel waved at the man with the laser scalpel she had picked up. “So what justice will it be to make her spawn do whatever experiments it takes to finally find a cure for our daughter? I have… ideas. Ideas I would not put our child through. But that?” She waved to the obediently seated child. “That I will feel no guilt over.”

She turned back to the table then, picking up a vial of red liquid to examine before setting it aside for a glowing green vial instead. Behind her, Puriel spoke again. “Experiment… you will… hurt the girl.”

Sighing long and low, Kushiel kept her attention on the various tools and vials. “To fix our child so that she is not a failure, I will hurt many, yes. You don’t have to concern yourself with it. I have several ideas… such as this.” Holding up what looked like a thin metal rod about three inches long with tiny red glowing spellforms drawn along it, she explained, “Inserting one of these into the spine of two different Seosten should make the first follow the actions of the second while they’re active. Including possessing and then not possessing. If a Lie can’t stop possessing on their own, perhaps they will if they’re remotely controlled by a non-Lie.”

Puriel’s voice came back then. “You can’t hurt the girl.”

Annoyed, Kushiel set the tools down. “For the last time, husband, you must let go of this absurd guilt. Nothing that happened to those–wait.” In mid-sentence, the woman sensed something wrong. She turned, only to find the bed empty. Instead, Puriel was standing next to the chair where the child she had dubbed Nihil was. He had taken the girl’s hand.

“No!” Kushiel blurted, spinning around so fast she knocked over the tray full of vials and tools to crash along the floor. “Get away from–”

It was too late. The girl vanished, reflexively possessing her husband in fear from the loud crash of everything Kushiel had knocked over. With a loud, violent curse, the woman lunged that way to grab her husband by the arms. “What were you doing?! What–Puriel?”

His eyes focused, and the man nodded. “I am here. I… am here. What happened?”

“You just–” Kushiel paused, then sighed once more. “You had one of your fugue states. It… never mind.” Her anger was evident through the way she clenched her fist so tightly, speaking through gritted teeth. “I will just have to find another specimen, since you had to destroy that one.”

She moved to pick up the fallen equipment then, grumbling to herself. Meanwhile, Puriel stared off into the distance, as a small voice spoke in his head.

Where… where am I?

In me, the man thought back. You are a part of me.

But I can’t leave, the child hesitantly informed him. I’m not supposed to touch people. It’s bad. Touching is bad. You… you made me. Why?

Sariel’s child, came the simple response. Her children are Lies. Her…  I remember… children are Lies. I won’t let you be hurt. Not… not this time. Not this one.

I don’t understand, Mister.

Neither do I. But you are safe. I won’t crush you. I won’t… hurt you. I will raise you. I will… show you what I know.

I will keep you… safe.

******

Norbit Drish – Last Month

“Yo man, chu know I ain’t like saying bad things ‘bout my homeys. It ain’t fly.”

“Mr. Drish,” Klassin Roe addressed the nineteen-year-old, pale and skinny boy across the desk from him. “No one is asking you to say bad things about your friends. I only asked if you still feel as though he is… different than he was last year.”

For a moment, Norbit (not that anyone was allowed to call him by that hated name) rocked back and forth in his seat, considering the words. “Yeah, man, I mean… sure, it ain’t as bad as it was before, but he still ain’t really here, right? He ain’t like– It’s like, he didn’t give a shit about nothing at first. That was bad. Like–lazy or something. Like he gave up. Then all of a sudden it’s like he do care, but he only care ‘bout that Freshman team, right? Like, like, all his effort going that way and the rest of us, we’re just like… not even there for him, you know? I mean, we there, but we ain’t there. Like he don’t really– like he like us, but not like us like them, you know?”

Klassin stared at him for a moment, then turned his head to cough once. “I think I have the general idea, yes. Do you still see him as a good teammate, as a friend?”

“Hey, he’s a solid guy.” Drish shot back, using two fingers to point emphatically. “Deveron’s always got my back. You know, when he’s there. But he ain’t wanna like… he ain’t wanna hang out. He does work. He aces the tests, he’s all over that shit. But he never wants to–ya know, shoot the shit without actually shooting. He never wants to chill.”

Leaning back in his seat, Klassin nodded. “He’s good to have around, he does all the work. But he’s not really much of a friend to you. He doesn’t play games with you, doesn’t hang out.”

“Right, right, yeah.” Drish’s head bobbed up and down as he pointed at the man. “Like that. Like, if you need him, he’s right there. Always count on him in a fight. But like… if you don’t need him, can‘t ever find him. We used to be buds. We was tight last year. So tight, like this.” He crossed his fingers. “Now he just always running off on his own. Doing his own shit, or shit with those Freshmen. I mean, that’s cool and all, he’s working on the next gen and shiz, whatever. But throw a dog a bone, you know?”

Klassin considered the boy thoughtfully for a moment. “He was one of your best friends last year, and now he never hangs out. I understand. People change, and it can be hard sometimes.”

“Psshhh.” Waving his hand unconvincingly, Drish sat back. “Ain’t no big. I gots plenty of homeys to hang with. Don’t really need another one crowding me out. Ain’t gonna cry about it. Nice to have space. Space to stretch, you hear?”

With a nod, Klassin replied, “I do hear, thanks. But tell me one thing. What do you think of Deveron this year?”

“Man…” Starting to dismissively wave that off once more, Drish then hesitated. “It’s like… he’s a great fighter, great Heretic, good at all that shit. But I miss just like…doing nothing, you know? I miss hanging with him. Sitting on the beach just chilling. He never wants to do nothing. Always gots something to stay busy with. It’s exhausting just watching him.” Seeming to realize that he’d opened up too much for his own liking, the boy finally made a dismissive noise. “But whatevs, just chill with some babes. His loss.”

“Indeed,” Klassin agreed with the boy. “But let’s talk about something else. You went home for your birthday last week, right? Why don’t you tell me how that went?”

******

Remember Bennett – Present Day

Remember Humility Bennett. Many years earlier, she had been one of the original founding members of Eden’s Garden, before soon becoming one of the Victors of an entire tribe. It went through several names throughout the course of its history, the most recent one being Lost Scar.

She was also the mother of the late Edeva, who had in turn married Lyell Atherby and been mother to Joshua Atherby.

Remember’s great-granddaughter was Joselyn Atherby. Her great-great-granddaughter was Felicity Chambers.

“Victor Bennett?” A soft, hesitant voice interrupted the woman, as a demure young woman appeared in the doorway of her office. “I–I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am. You said you wanted to be informed if there was any news of the missing tribe students.”

Turning from the names that had been scrawled on the wall, Remember focused on her young assistant. “Yes, Aconitum. Did they find Trice?”

“Err…” The girl shook her head. “No, ma’am. It’s about Pace. The… men who were sent to give the warning to the Fellows woman–errr, that is… your… I mean–”

“My great-great-granddaughter, yes,” Remember dismissively finished for her with a wave of her hand. “I am well aware of the nuisance she’s made of herself and the situation surrounding her. Go on.”

Aconitum told her the story, at least as much as they knew, about what had happened back at the Bystander clothing shop. Men were dead, while Abigail, the newly dubbed Stray, and Pace were on the run.

“A werewolf…” Remember murmured under her breath. “No wonder she vanished for so long.” Clearing her throat, she ordered, “Take whoever is needed and find them. Find her. Pace is the priority. I want her brought back here. There may be a lot to learn from the girl if she has been taken into a wild pack.”

Her assistant hesitated before slowly asking, “And your, err… descendent, Victor? Shall we send a request to Crossroads to have her daughter brought in for questioning? They may be amenable to that in exchange for some favors.”

“Yes,” Remember agreed. “Send the request and see what they want in return. Go.”

Waiting until the girl had bowed and left, the old woman turned back to look at the name on the wall once more. Felicity Chambers. No wonder her primitive precognitive power had been pushing her to write the girl’s name. Though Aconitum wasn’t aware of Chambers’ relation to Abigail (or who their mother was), Remember was fully aware of it.

Chambers. The girl had such potential, that much was clear. It was too bad that Remember had failed to follow her first instinct to insist that she be recruited by Garden. Having the potential of that girl under her supervision, before she could be corrupted by Gaia Sinclaire, would have led to great things.

It was a shame, because it was clear that Felicity Chambers had the same great potential as her mother. And just as clear that she had already at least begun to be swayed to the wrong side in this war.

Losing more of her descendants would be a waste. Perhaps there was still time to right the course of things? That may be what her precognition was trying to tell her by making her write the girl’s name so often. A replacement for the loss of Doxer, perhaps? She had been the one to kill the boy, after all. Sinclaire would object, but if she could convince Ruthers that the girl would be better off outside of that woman’s influence…

Hmm. Her descendant… brought back to line as a member of her tribe. It was something to think about. A long shot, of course, and yet… as much as the girl had grown in such a short time, she could be an asset.

It was worth considering, at least. And if she could not be convinced to turn away from the same foolishness that had caused her mother to create such a rift in the Heretical world, then… she would need to be silenced, before she ended up making things worse.

And who better to ensure that happened than her own great-great-grandmother?  

******

Fossor – Present Day

It was known as Hidden Hills, a gated off community several minutes drive from the edge of a small town in Idaho. It was set up against a range of hills and reachable only via a partially paved road. To the outside world, it was either a retirement community or a cult, no one was quite sure which.

The truth was quite different. Hidden Hills was actually a collection of barracks and training grounds established by a man who called himself Sheol. A self-styled warlord who had broken and forcibly recruited numerous small bands of previously warring Alter groups, Sheol hammered fear of his displeasure into his troops, tempered against the great rewards they received for obedience. Hidden Hills was only one of his training centers, though possibly the largest. What he intended to do with his rapidly growing army was unknown to any but him.

Unknown, but… in at least one man’s opinion, not worth waiting around to find out. That particular man stood in the middle of the road, facing the gate that led into the community. His unassuming, vaguely husky figure appeared less a threat and more a simple tourist who had managed to get himself turned around on these confusing backroads.

Those who knew him, however, would never believe that the two dozen figures who appeared at the gate with firearms and other weapons raised and trained on the man was an overreaction. Indeed, their questions would more fall along the lines of why those men believed two dozen would be enough. Or perhaps why they wasted time with that when they could have been fleeing.

“Well,” Fossor remarked quietly as his eyes passed over the weapons trained on him. “I suppose this leaves out the possibility of asking to see your real estate listings.”

“Leave, necromancer.” The leader of their band, a jackal-headed figure with a wide shotgun-type weapon, demanded. “The grounds here are warded against your magic. You can raise no zombies, summon no ghosts, manipulate no skeletons. You have no power within two miles of these gates.” Even as the man spoke, another couple dozen armed figures joined them, doubling their initial numbers.

If those words (and the reinforcements) were a revelation, or particularly worrisome, Fossor gave no indication of it. He simply gave the man and his companions what might have been mistaken for a kind smile if one didn’t see the empty coldness in his eyes. “Is that right? Well, in that case… I suppose there’s nothing else to be done.” With an idle shrug, he turned to start casually strolling away. With each step, a cloud of dark ashes emerged from the canteen that had appeared in one hand. The ashes flew down to lead the man’s path so that he only stepped on them, creating a black path along the road.

After a few steps, however, he stopped. With those weapons trained on him, the man slowly tilted his head as though considering something. “Unless,” he murmured while raising one finger thoughtfully, “… there were youth in your stronghold back there.”

Slowly turning back that way, Fossor began to continue, only to be interrupted at the sound of a gunshot. That was followed by three more, as a collection of holes appeared in his chest. A final shot put a hole in the center of his forehead.

The gunfire faded at a shout, leaving the gathered troops staring at the necromancer… who appeared none the worse for wear. Indeed, the holes that had appeared in his body vanished almost instantly as his connection to his homeworld shifted the damage to one of the billions of enslaved life forms who dwelled there. His people were connected to him at all times, and any damage done to him was immediately shunted to them. So long as his connection to that world remained active, they would literally have to kill billions of what amounted to hostages before any damage could be done to the necromancer himself.

When the only evidence of the sudden attack that remained were the holes in his white shirt, Fossor raised a hand, touching a finger against the fabric there before uttering a single word. The holes patched themselves, erasing even that sign.

Then, without seeming to acknowledge the assault in any other way, he simply continued speaking. “If there were youth in there, teenagers… well, they might be a bit rebellious. They might… say… sneak out of your complex now and then, to visit town and… express themselves.”

Slowly, casually strolling back the way he had just come, the man went on. “And these… hypothetical rebellious youths could find themselves over the course of… mmm… a couple weeks being talked into receiving tattoos as a sign of the… I don’t know, unity of their little gang. Tattoos of… let’s just say a particular magical spell which, upon their death, causes them to rise once more to attack and brutally murder everyone they see without that tattoo… well, that’s the kind of spell that wouldn’t be affected by your necromancy blockers. Since they brought it in themselves.”

Regarding the increasingly nervous and skittish soldiers, Fossor gave a thoughtful hum. “Of course, the real question would be how to ensure those deaths all happened at a useful time. One can’t simply depend on even the most morose of teenagers to do something useful like a group suicide, after all.” His finger rose illustratively. “But… if, say… the ink in those magical tattoos happened to be of a particular incredibly lethal poison set to activate at a certain time… such as… say…”

Slowly, deliberately, the man raised his arm to look at his watch. As he did so, the sound of screaming and gunfire filled the air. It came not from the troops assembled before the necromancer, but from the stronghold behind them. Smoke rose from several buildings, as the screams of horror and rapidly rising stench of death grew with each passing second.

“Thirty seconds ago,” Fossor finished, giving an apologetic smile. “Oops.”

Some of the men opened fire, to no avail. Most immediately gave up that endeavor and raced back into the stronghold, to put out fires, to put down their risen children, to save their friends. None of those efforts would prove any more fruitful.

As for Fossor, he calmly adjusted his shirt and gave his thumb a slight lick before using that to polish a smudge off of his watch. A cloud of ashes rose from his canteen to create a path to the open gate, and he slowly, casually strolled that way to enter the compound.

Within the hour, there would be nothing left save empty buildings.

*******

Lies/Theia – Last Year

A portal opened into a field of grass set beside a wooden cabin. Nearby stretched the crystal clear water of a lake, with a couple of kayaks and other boats tied to a dock.

Through that portal stepped a single, pale figure with brown hair and matching eyes. Appearing to be about fifteen by human standards, the girl set foot on the grass before looking around curiously. Her head tilted back, and she spread her arms to both sides while looking at the sky with her mouth open to taste the air.

The Lie daughter of Kushiel and Puriel had never set foot on Earth before. Nor had she been outside on any planet more than a handful of times. This was… in many ways, a new experience.

She had only stood there for a few seconds like that before the sound of approaching footsteps drew her attention. Lowering her gaze from the sky, she was just in time to spot a small figure running not along the ground, but over the roof of the nearby cabin.

“Hiya!” The call came with a wave, before the figure turned into a blur of motion, going all the way across the roof to hop from one tree to another, then to a third like a some kind of turbocharged squirrel. Leaping from the third tree in the span of less than two seconds since her movement had begun, the small figure rocketed across the remaining distance between them before snapping to an almost vibrating stop directly in front of the newly arrived girl.

The so-called Lie tilted her head, taking in the figure in front of her. She was clearly much younger, appearing to be only nine or ten years old at most. Which, given the fact that Seosten aging didn’t slow for several years after that, meant that Lies was actually over a decade older than her.

The younger girl had dark hair, her eyes so pale they were almost white. She wore urban camo pants, and a white hoody that seemed almost too big for her diminutive figure. And she gave Lies barely a second to take her in before launching into a spiel that came so fast and free of any particular pauses that it was almost impossible to follow.

“Hiyayou’rethenewgirlrightyeahthat’srightwhyelsewouldyoubeheremyname’sDecemberwhat’syours?”

“Breathe, December.” The voice came from the cabin behind them, as a six-foot tall blonde woman emerged. She wore a glittering red gown that made it appear as though she had just stepped from the dance floor of a dinner party for some royal wedding. “Remember what we talked about, leave some space between your words.”

She was joined a moment later by a dark skinned woman who appeared to be in her twenties who wore a very ruffled tan trench coat over a white shirt, and an enormous Hispanic man with heavily patched and fraying clothes.

“Hello,” the blonde woman politely greeted Lies. “We were told you would be coming to pay us a visit while your… group settles in, until a new body can be found for your mission. I am January. You’ve met December already. These are July and September.”

“Julie,” the black woman corrected. “It’s Julie.”

The large man gave a nod. “And you can call me Tember.” He showed a toothy smile. “Like timber.”

Confused, the new arrival tilted her head. “Why are you giving me names? We are all Lies, aren’t we? Lies don’t have names.”

“Hey!” The sharp retort came from a different girl. This one, arriving from around the side of the cabin, appeared to be what the humans would call Asian in her late teens. She wore simple army fatigues with her hair cut short. “We don’t use that word around here!” Clearly bristling with anger, she stormed that way before yet another figure caught her arm.

“May’s right,” that one, a thin man with dirty-blond hair who wore a flannel shirt tucked into his jeans, announced. “We don’t use the L word. Like I said, she’s May. I’m November.”

“We,” announced a black man in a white suit whose dark hair fell to his shoulders as he stepped into view, “are the Calendar. And we do not allow others to define our worth with their contemptuous slurs.” To the new arrival, he added, “February. Though I have been known to answer simply to Feb.”

“Only because I won a bet that made him answer to it.” The correction came from what appeared to be a teenage girl around fourteen or fifteen, with long red hair. She wore clothes that were the spitting image of the uniform worn by the Heretical Crossroads students, and introduced herself as April.

Before long, they were joined by the remaining four members of the so-called Calendar. There was the incredibly quiet and apparently very introverted March, who stood as tall as Tember and had green hair fashioned into a crewcut; a Caucasian man in his mid-thirties who wore a lab coat over a Hawaiian shirt and went by October or Otto, another man around twenty or so with close-cropped dark hair in dark clothes and a white jacket who was June; and a much older man called August whose gray hair went well with his perfectly tailored suit.

Looking around at the gathered dozen, Lies blinked twice. “You wear different clothes,” she noted. “You call yourselves different names. You refuse to answer to the name Lie. Why?”

It was August who spoke, his voice a smooth timbre. “We are the Calendar. We serve Cahethal, and in exchange, we maintain our individuality as we please.”

“Hemeanswedoagoodjobandshelikeswhenwedoagoodjobsosheletsusdowhatwewantwhenwe’renotonajobsowedon’thavetogobackt–”

As December warp-sped her way through her version of the explanation, April took a step forward to cover the younger girl’s mouth. “Sorry, I’d say she’s just excited to meet you, but she’s pretty much always like this.”

“It’s true,” January confirmed. “She is not one to sit still. Which is why she is never assigned to simple, long-term quiet surveillance. The last time we tried that, the humans were treated to the sight of a raccoon repeatedly performing backflips and cartwheels out of a tree before giving them an intricate dance routine set to music from a nearby stereo.”

“I got bored,” was December’s only defense.  

“You possess animals,” Lies put in then, “not people.”

“Animals are easier to dispose of so that we may emerge without drawing attention to missing people,” Otto explained while polishing his glasses on the end of that incredibly loud shirt. “We keep a veritable zoo beneath our feet here.” He tapped the ground demonstrably. “Perhaps we’ll have an opportunity to show it to you before your leader calls for your return.”

“Indeed, perhaps we will,” January agreed. “But for now, come. It’s time for lunch.”

The collection of Lies-who-didn’t-call-themselves-Lies began to walk back to the cabin, leaving Kushiel’s daughter to stare after them. They were… odd. Very odd. What kind of Lie refused to answer to that word?

She couldn’t even imagine it.

Previous Chapter                                 Next Chapter