Joselyn Atherby

Interlude 41B – Margorie And Caela Tombs

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February 18th, 1951

The sound of a meaty fist striking flesh was accompanied by two separate cries. One was of physical pain, while the other was the emotional anguish of seeing a loved one hurt and being unable to stop it. The latter carried on into a desperate plea.

“She can tell you nothing! Leave her, she is only a child!”

The woman making the plea stood just over five and a half feet tall. She wore a light blue dress and had dark red hair that fell to the middle of her back. Her face was adorned with bruises of her own and the dress was torn. Her arms were being held by two large men in jeans and flannel shirts who looked as though they belonged as bouncers in a western country music themed bar.

They stood just inside the entrance of a mostly empty auto repair shop. A single, mostly disassembled sedan sat in the middle of the shop, while the subjects of the woman’s desperate plea were a couple feet away from it. A young girl, just over ten years old, and the large man who had struck her. The man stood over six feet in height and had a large, thick brown mustache that served as the only hair on his head. His knuckles were caked with both wet and dry blood as he cracked them while staring down at the child he had just hit.

“Maybe she can’t,” the man calmly agreed with the woman’s cry, “but you can.” Turning that way, he leveled a dead eyed-stare at her. “Can’t you, mommy?”

Still held by those thugs, The woman shook her head quickly. “I can’t! I can’t give you what you want! I can’t tell you how to get in. Please, please!”

“Oh, I think you can,” the man objected. “See, you’re the majority owner of the Auberge. Which means that if anyone can get us in there, it’s you. Which you’re going to do, unless you don’t care about your daughter’s life, that is.”

Once more, the woman shook her head. A soft whine of fear escaped her before she managed to put it into words. “You’ll kill them. You’ll kill all those people. You’ll kill our guests. I can’t do that. They have families too. They are safe there. I can’t take that away from them. I won’t take that away from them. Please, please I can’t. I can’t do that.” With every word, the terror in the woman’s voice grew more apparent.

Desperately, she looked to the men on either side of her. “Please, you’re Heretics. You call yourselves heroes, right? You’re supposed to be the good guys. Does this look like something good to you? Please, she’s just a child. Let her go. Please, please just let her go.”

If the men keeping her restrained cared about her words, they gave no indication of it. Meanwhile, the one standing by her daughter looked down at the trembling child. “You hear that, kid? I don’t think she cares if I step on your head and crush it like a grape.”

The woman cried out, a desperate, horrified wail as she strained at her captors iron grips to no avail. “Leave her alone! I won’t give you what you want! I’m not going to let you do to them what you’re doing to us! I won’t let you in! I won’t! I won’t!” With each word, the woman’s sobs grew more pronounced, more anguished and broken.

For a long moment, the man looked to her before slowly lowering his gaze to the quietly crying child lying on the floor at his feet. He seemed to regard her contemplatively, as though deciding how best to end her life. Finally, a slight smile cracked his face. “That’s okay,” he replied as though they were simply having a casual conversation. “I don’t really need you anyway, though it would’ve been better for you both if you cooperated.”  Turning his head slightly, the man raised his voice. “Bring in the kid!”

Daughter and mother alike turned then at the sound of one of the side doors opening to admit several more figures. With them was another child, a boy of about five years old with pale blonde hair, who walked between them in clothes that were a little too big for him. His shoes, too large for his feet, slapped noisily against the concrete floor with each step.

“Papa?” the boy hesitantly asked, looking to the man.

“C’mere, kid.” Their oppressor raised his hand, gesturing for the boy to approach. Once he did, the man lay a hand on his soft blonde head. “You see, this here is Francis. He’s real special, aren’t you, kid?”

Rather than answer, the young Francis raised his hand to point to the fallen girl. “Is she okay?”

“Don’t you worry about them,” the man firmly ordered before continuing his explanation for the prisoners. “You see, Francis here is real special. Just like his mom was special. But unlike her, he’s going to be a good boy and do what he’s told, isn’t that right?” When the boy nodded his head, he continued. “Damn right he is. His mama was what we call a Steward. You know what that means?”

In a shaky, broken voice, the woman answered. “They protect and take care of a home. What they see as their home. They get power from staying there and keeping it safe. And… and from killing things that invade their home or threaten the people who live there.”

“Ding, ding,” the man announced, grinning. “That’s right. Except here’s the thing. When they’re young, like this little guy, their power fluctuates a lot. It’s not as reliable, but they also pick new homes really quick. It takes years for them to settle down. When they’re tiny, it means they basically pick any place they happen to be standing in as their home, if you know what I mean. Francis here may be half-human, but that’s enough for him to get the job done. And keeps him from being a full fucking monster like you creatures.”

It took the woman a moment, but her eyes widened, and she shook her head quickly while blurting, “No!”

“See?” the man taunted a little. “Told you I didn’t really need you to cooperate. You just stand right there and my boy here will copy your power to open the way to your little hotel. That’s a gift they give all the owners, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Special little gift so you can open a door from anywhere. So you just stand there and look pretty. Frances here will open the door for you. You don’t have to do anything else. Except maybe ask yourself why you left the hotel today.”

He focused on the boy then. “Now Francis, you remember what I told you to do? You just focus on the lady over there, and think about opening doors. Feel that power? You focus on that. Focus on opening that door. That’s right.”

The woman cried and struggled uselessly, while her daughter simply sobbed on the floor. Meanwhile, the boy did as he was told, focusing on the image of a door. Gradually, that door began to appear in the middle of the room. The doorway that would lead to the Auberge, and to hundreds of unsuspecting guests.

“Cowards.”

The single, simple word broke through all other sound in the garage. The men all looked to one another with obvious confusion before turning to search for the source of the voice, which had seemed to come from everywhere at once. Their eyes scanned the room, as they produced weapons. Their leader’s voice was harsh. “Who’s there? Another one of the bitch’s security? You should’ve kept playing dead if you survived, you stupid fuck. Now we’re just gonna have to finish the job.”

Their search, regardless of all the extra powers they brought into play in addition to their natural senses, was fruitless. They could not find the voice. Their leader was about to tell his hybrid son to keep bringing the door into place and forget the distraction. But when he turned that way, he found himself facing a woman. She had appeared from absolutely nowhere, her slight blonde figure giving no indication as to the tremendous power, both literal and figurative, within her. Francis lay at her feet, sleeping peacefully so that he wouldn’t have to see what came next. The doorway he had been summoning had disappeared along with his consciousness.

“Wh-” that was as far as the man got before she struck him. Her fist slammed into his chest and the man was sent flying across the garage to crash into the far wall with enough force to leave a visible crater-like dent within it.

The remaining six men in the room snapped to the attack. One of them brought up what looked like a tommy gun, filling the air with hundreds of tiny flaming bullets, while another produced a cannon-like weapon, which he fired a long metallic harpoon from. Jagged arcs of electricity danced around the thing as it flew through the air.

But it was useless. The woman’s figure was a blur of motion as she moved to them. As fast as she was, the bullets might as well have been standing still. She stepped around each one, plucking it from the air and crushing it between her fingers like ash. When she reached the harpoon, her hand caught the end of it and she pushed the thing just enough to correct its course before letting go.

The harpoon continued on its new course, which put it straight through the knee of a man who had been racing up behind her with his sword held high. He collapsed to the ground with a scream just as the woman threw the handful of hot bullet ash into the face of the man who had been shooting at her.

He stumbled back, screaming out while grabbing for his burned eyes. But she put him out of his misery quickly by flicking a hand. The gesture simultaneously restored the bullets to their original size and made them explode, sending a hot, concussive shockwave straight into his head, killing him instantly.

Without looking (or paying much attention to the golden aura that sprang up around her), the woman made a twirling motion with her finger. At her silent command, the harpoon embedded in the one man’s leg proceeded to tear its way free and whipped around the room to cut through the throat of every other man save for the one she had originally struck, their leader. Every time the harpoon neared another victim, it glowed with blinding white power. The heat that it gave off melted part of the concrete and metal several feet away, and it cut through any defense the men had like a knife through butter. Each man was killed unceremoniously in those couple of seconds.

Then she let the harpoon drop, allowing it to clatter noisily to the floor. The only man left, the one who had been in charge, was picking himself off the floor while giving a horrified look around him. His face turned red, just before steel covered his skin. Bellowing an outraged curse, he flung himself at her.

She didn’t move. She didn’t lift a finger or twitch a muscle. The man’s fist collided with her face, and the fist lost. The metal in it snapped, cracking in several places while his arm collapsed inward like a broken accordion. The man hit the floor on his knees, screaming incoherently.

The woman reached out, putting hand on top of his head and pushing back to make him look at her. “You would have slaughtered all those people,” she spoke quietly. “The girl here and her mother, you tortured them.” The fury in her voice was palpable, filling the room with near physical manifestations of her righteous outrage.

The man realized who she was. “You,” he blurted. “Atherby. You’re supposed to be one of us! You’re supposed to kill the monsters, not take their side, you fucking traitor!”

“Kill the monsters?” she echoed, lifting her chin before looking around the room at the downed men. Then she returned her gaze to him. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

With that, the woman sent the harpoon into the back of the man’s head, leaving his dead body to collapse onto the ground as she turned to survey the rest of the room. Only three living figures remained. The slumbering boy, Francis, and the mother and daughter pair.

For a moment, the terrified red-haired woman stood silently, staring at her. Then her eyes seemed to notice her cowering, trembling daughter, and she ran that way, falling to her knees to gather the girl into her arms. Both sobbed and held on to one another.

“Wh-what do you want?” the red-haired woman carefully and fearfully asked while clutching her child tightly once she had assured herself that the girl really was alive and in her arms.

“Nothing.” The answer came simply, before their rescue were added quietly, “My name is Joselyn. Joselyn Atherby. I know you have no reason to trust Heretics. But some of us are trying to change that. Some of us are trying to make things better.”

She took one step forward then before sinking down to one knee. Mother and daughter were both watching her intently, fear and distrust written across their faces. “I know you’re scared. I would be too. After what they did, after what they were trying to do… I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner. I’m sorry I couldn’t save the people who were protecting you. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop your daughter from seeing all of that, or from being hurt.”

She paused another moment before quietly asking, “May I please know your names?”

“Tombs,” The red-haired woman answered while keeping on arm protectively around her daughter. “Margorie Tombs. This is Caela. I… I’ve heard your name. If you’re really her, I… I…” She swallowed, still a bit afraid. “Thank you. If you’re her, thank you. But please, if this is a trick-”

“It’s not a trick,” Joselyn assured them softly. “I promise. My friends and I, we just want to help. We just want to make things right.”

“Where’s Papa?”

The question came from the boy named Francis. He was sitting up, looking around with confusion. When Margorie followed his gaze, she found that all the bodies, including that of his father, had disappeared.

“He didn’t need to see that,” Joselyn replied to the unspoken question before looking over at the boy. “Francis, right? Can you come here for a second, please?”

When the five-year-old boy obediently came to her, Joselyn gently took his hand and squeezed it. “Hi, there. Do you know what happened to your mom?”

“Papa,” the boy answered solemnly. He said nothing else, but the single word and look in his eyes made the meaning obvious. The hybrid boy’s Heretic father had killed his Steward mother.

“I’m sorry,” Joselyn whispered before giving the boys a hug. “He’s gone now, okay? He’s gone and he won’t hurt you again. He won’t make you hurt anyone else again. You are a good boy, Francis.”

“Y-you made him go away?” Francis sounded a little doubtful. He’d seen how strong his father was, had experienced just how much power the man had.

The response came not from Joselyn herself, but from Margorie’s daughter, Caela. The girl, several years older than Francis, spoke up. “Uh huh. She made him leave, and he’s never coming back. Never ever.”

Francis stared at her for a moment before offering a tentative, “I’m sorry Papa made you cry. I didn’t want to make you cry.”

He looked down at his hand then, which began to glow white. Hesitantly, the boy reached over to touch Caela’s bruised cheek and blackened eye. She reflexively tried to sit back, but at that single touch, her face began to heal. The girl gasped softly, as did her mother, as the injuries faded.

“You.” Margorie was looking to Joselyn. “He’s using one of your powers. That’s what he does, what his mother’s people do. They borrow powers of people in the place they consider home. He’s young enough, he considers everything home.”

“Yes,” Joselyn confirmed, “but he needs a better one, a more permanent one.”

Eyes widening just a little, Margorie realized, “You want us to take the boy with us back to the Auberge. You don’t want to take him with you? He’d… he’d grow up to be very helpful for what you’re doing..”

“He’s a child,” Joselyn replied softly. She reached out to gently brush her hand through the boy’s soft hair. “He deserves a chance to keep being a child. But yes, he may grow up to be very strong. Which means he’ll be able to protect his home. That should be the Auberge. Or maybe he’ll leave. The point is that should be his choice when the time comes. Right now, he’s just a little boy. And I think that you can take care of him.”

She looked over to where Francis and Caela were quietly talking and smiled faintly. “Besides, they seem to be getting along. I wouldn’t want to break that up.” As she spoke, Joselyn brought the white healing glow to her own hand while reaching out. She gently touched the other woman’s face and healed her.

“My people are at war. Your Auberge is a safe place. He deserves that, if you’ll have him.”

Touching her own now-pristine cheek with a soft gasp of wonder, Margorie then gave a quick nod. “We… we’ll take him with us. We’ll keep him safe until he’s ready to decide for himself what to do.” She hesitated very slightly before adding, “You could come too. You saved our lives, the least we can do is allow you to stay.”

“Thank you,” Joselyn graciously answered, “but I can’t. There’s too much to do. Too many people like you being hurt by people like them. I’ll just be glad to know that you and the kids are safe. So you better go, just to make sure you all stay that way. I’ll handle the cleanup here. They’ll send people to check on what happened. You need to be gone before they arrive.”

Margorie raised a hand, hesitated only slightly, then summoned the doorway that would take them back to the hotel. She stood, beckoning the two children to join her. Together, they moved to the door before the woman looked back to Joselyn.

“I heard what you said, but you still saved our lives. So, Joselyn Atherby, I want you to know that you and your family will always have an open invitation to the Auberge, if you change your mind. You are welcome in our home.”

Joselyn met her gaze with a smile. “Thank you. And who knows?

“Maybe someday we’ll take you up on that.”

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Bonus Interlude – Joselyn Edge Visions

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1918

Her name was Joselyn Atherby. She had just turned seventeen a few weeks earlier, and now she was going to save the world.

Not from the Krauts. The Great War would be over soon, as the Allies had already pushed the Germans back to the Hindenburg line right around the same time as that birthday. No, this was an entirely different threat than the one which had been ripping the world apart for so long. This was a threat that very few knew of, let alone could do anything about.

Monsters. Evil creatures hiding within humanity’s own backyards, hunting and killing them from the shadows. And only very few select people could see and combat them.

Today, Joselyn would become one of those people.

She had always known that her parents weren’t her real parents. Dustin and Fiona Ossiler had always made it clear that, as much as they loved her, she was adopted. She called them Mom and Dad, they treated her as a daughter, but they were also honest with her as soon as she was old enough to understand.

They had also made it clear that her ‘Grandpa Zed’ was the man who had arranged her adoption. Zedekiah Pericles had visited at least once a month the whole time that Joselyn had been growing up, coming for dinner or just to talk for a little bit. Sometimes he took her fishing, or roller skating. She loved her Grandpa Zed.

And it was he who finally told her the truth, that her parents were Heretics. He told her what Heretics were, and that she could be one if she wanted to. Of course she had agreed, and the man had brought her to Crossroads. That was the year before. They’d come and gone several times, as he showed her around and told her what it would be like when she finally started attending in September.

Now she was here. Finally, after all this time, after all the anticipation, she was in the lighthouse with the Heretical Edge. Professor Gaia Sinclaire had just finished explaining everything that Joselyn already knew, and was telling them to prepare for the visions that would come as they were turned from ordinary humans into people who could actually fight the monsters.

The light came, blinding in its intensity. And when it began to fade, she heard a voice cry out, “Tiras, down!”

Whipping her head that way, she was just in time to see a young blonde woman around her age rear back and hurl a spear directly at her. A flash of terror shot her heart up into her throat,and she let out a reflexive scream before the spear passed harmlessly through her. It was just like Professor Sinclaire had said, they weren’t really there. It was like a dream.

All of that passed through her mind while she spun back to look at where the spear had gone. The thing had impaled itself through the body of a tall, white-furred creature with an incredibly ugly and misshapen face, which was tilted toward the sky as it howled in pain.

Monster. Real monster. It was Joselyn’s first real look at one, and her mouth fell open at the sight, even as she took a reflexive step back. A quiet whimper of terror escaped the young woman while she tried to tell herself that it couldn’t hurt her, that it couldn’t even see her. She wasn’t really there.

But the monster. The monster was bellowing. It reached back, yanking the spear from its back as it twisted to face the girl who had thrown it. The girl who was right then sprinting through Joselyn, which was a disturbing experience all by itself. Recovering quickly, her gaze snapped that way to see the big, white-furred thing give a terrible roar as it swiped a massive clawed paw at the girl who was racing toward it. But the girl’s hand snapped up to catch the incoming paw. Joselyn heard a dangerous wolf-like growl coming from her, before she lashed out with her other hand. Claws had appeared on the end of her fingers, which were driven past the heavy fur and deep into the monster’s chest.

It reared back, stumbling even as the girl released the monster’s wrist to catch her spear as it fell from the his grip. Her other hand was still extended, claws buried in the beast’s chest, and she used that to hoist herself up high enough to drive the spear through its neck with enough force that the blade went all the way through from one side to the other. Finally releasing her grip on its chest, the girl instead caught her spear from both sides of where it had impaled the monster’s throat. She brought her feet up to its chest and then kicked backwards off of it to hurl herself away. In the process, she literally tore the thing’s throat out with the shaft of the spear.

Some distant part of Joselyn almost reflexively thought she should catch the girl before she fell. But the vast majority of her was entirely too occupied with staring at the gory sight in front of her while a horrified scream tried to erupt from her. She had already stumbled backward, hand covering her mouth as she stared in shock. The girl… her… her ancestor? Her ancestor had just killed that monster like that. It was a vicious kill, one that reminded Joselyn of the pictures she had seen of… of bodies in the war.

The beast collapsed, even as her ancestor landed nimbly on both feet. Her hands had returned to normal, and she slowly straightened up. For a moment, the two stood facing one another. And despite everything she had been told, Joselyn couldn’t shake the undeniable feeling that her ancestor was staring directly at her. Their gazes locked, and something… finally clicked in a way that it had yet to up to this point.

This was her relative, her ancestor. Whoever she was, this was a blood relative, someone she was related to. This… this incredible girl who had single-handedly destroyed that monster was related to her.

Joselyn felt intimidated and awed in equal measure. Her throat closed up, and she tears rushed to her eyes in that moment. For so long, she had wanted to know about her real family, her only idea of them being that they had sacrificed themselves to defeat an invasion of monsters. But now… now she could look into this girl’s gaze. She could see herself in it. And somehow… somehow she knew this wasn’t just an ancestor several times removed from her. This was someone far closer to her. This was…

“Mother…”

The word left Joselyn’s lips in a whisper, and in turn she saw the other girl open her mouth. Once more the thought that she was actually there and that her ancestor–her mother was going to respond to her rose in her mind.

But her name didn’t come. Instead, the girl’s mouth finished opening and she blurted that same word that she had before. “Tiras!”

It was only after her mother raced past her once more (Joselyn twisted out of the way to avoid the sensation of being run through) that she realized who the other girl was calling to. Just beyond the dead beast’s collapsed body, a man slouched against the nearby tree. One of many. They were in a forest of some kind, Joselyn belatedly realized now that she had a chance to look around at things other than the big white monster or her mother. The man himself was almost disturbingly handsome, and the teenage girl’s heart beat faster for a reason entirely different from the fight she had just witnessed. He had strong Indian features, and even grimacing in pain as he was, the man looked incredible.

Oh, right, her ancestor. Joselyn’s eyes snapped back to the girl just as she reached the spot where the man was. He had slumped all the way to the ground, and the young woman went down to one knee. Her hand moved to an obvious wound in his chest. “Are you–are you…” The fear in her voice was obvious, and Joselyn almost forgot herself by stepping over to help.

“I’ll be fine, kid.” The man’s response was immediate, though he definitely didn’t sound fine. His voice was weak, and he gave a grimace of pain. “Just… gotta let it run its course.”

“Run its course?” the other girl demanded. “That thing was meant for you, Tiras. That poison on its claws, that was meant for an Akharu. They’re sending things specifically to kill you now.”

An Akharu? Joselyn was confused. What was an Akharu? Was that his… tribe? Why would poison work better on someone from a specific tribe?

The man managed a weak smile at that. “Not an Akharu. A vampire. I’m a little more than that, Virginia. Just because I make vampires doesn’t mean what kills them will kill me.”

… Wait. Wait. Make vampires? What… what was he talking about? An Akharu made vampires? Why would her mother be working with someone who made vampires? Joselyn couldn’t understand. Her mind was reeling, as she staggered backward.

The blinding light was back. It enveloped everything, and then Joselyn was back in the lighthouse. Back with everyone else.

“Hey, Jos!” The boy she had just met, Deveron, was grinning at her. His too-large nose and ears, skinny frame, and gawky expression was immediately endearing. “Did you see something good?”

“Good?” Joselyn echoed, the confusion fresh on her mind as she started to blurt a demand. “Why the hell would my…”

She trailed off, and Deveron, who had taken a reflexive step back, blinked at her. “Err… why the hell would what?”

Joselyn blinked. Then she blinked again. What… had she been so upset and confused by? “I…” Her head shook. “Nothing, yeah, I saw my… ancestor kill this monster with white fur.”

Ancestor… what did she look like again? The face was a blur, but the hair was… blonde, right? She was pretty sure it was blonde. Had there been someone else there? She thought there was someone else there.

Oh well, the Edge had apparently done its job, so who cared? Joselyn was ready to train and kill monsters herself now.

Whoever her ancestor was, it probably wasn’t very important anyway.

*******

2007

She remembered. Gods, she remembered everything. Joselyn remembered the friendships, the… the love. She remembered Deveron. She remembered her other children. Where were they now? Were they alive? Were they happy?

She remembered the war. She remembered what Ruthers had done. She remembered surrendering to save her children. All of it. She remembered all of it.

And that was all thanks to the monster in front of her. Fossor. He had brought her back into things, had forced her to remember who she really was just before he planned to take her Felicity away to do Gods only knew what to her.

So Joselyn had once more surrendered herself, had volunteered herself to take Felicity’s place. She could never allow her daughter to be alone with that monster, could never have lived with herself knowing that Felicity was out there being brought up by the amoral necromancer. So she had come instead, had voluntarily subjected herself to a ritual that bound her to obey the man, so long as he left with her instead of Felicity, and didn’t willingly allow any harm to come to her until she was eighteen.

Eighteen. That would give her time to get a message to Gabriel Prosser somehow. Or he would just take Felicity and Lincoln in once it was clear that she had disappeared.

Now, Fossor wanted her to be a Heretic again. Why, precisely, she didn’t know. To be his guard dog/soldier, no doubt. But what exactly was his plan? Joselyn didn’t know. All she knew was that to protect her daughter, she had to keep her end of the magical bargain. And that meant eating the Eden’s Garden apple that would restore her ability to gain powers through killing things. It wouldn’t restore all the powers that she’d had before, but she had a feeling Fossor had a plan for dealing with that as well.

At least… the normal powers. She was absolutely certain that he had no way of forcing the Edge itself to restore her connection to the Committee. That was beyond even him.

Still, she had to eat the apple, had to become a true Heretic again. And as she did so, Joselyn felt the light start to rise up across her vision once more. Once more, she was thrust back into a vision of her ancestor.

The light faded away, and Joselyn was standing in a burned out field of some kind. Smoldering ruins of buildings were nearby, while all that lay beneath her feet was charred ground and scattered, scorched rock. At a sound, Joselyn raised her gaze and found herself looking at… herself.

It was herself as a tiny child, a toddler, yet she knew without a doubt that the little girl being held up in strong arms was her. She just knew.

The man holding her looked like Michael Landon from his Little House On The Prairie days. Handsome, strong, with a head full of dark curly hair. Dad. He was her dad, her father.

“I wish we had more time,” the man murmured, while cradling the young Joselyn to himself. His strong hand tenderly brushed through her hair.

“There would never be enough time.” The response came not from the tiny Joselyn, of course. It came from a woman standing behind the adult Joselyn. She turned, just in time to see a familiar blonde woman step past her.

Virginia Dare. That was Virginia Dare. Gaia’s protege, whom she had brought to the school as a teacher after taking over as Headmistress. Which was after Joselyn’s time there, but she still knew the woman. They’d met a couple times, had seen each other mostly from a distance. What was… what was… she…

She remembered. Her first vision. Joselyn remembered that first vision, of her mother… of Virginia Dare with Tiras. Her mother. Virginia Dare was her mother.

The shock of that realization struck with the force of thunder through her entire body, even as Dare continued softly. “We could have a thousand years together, and it wouldn’t be enough.” As she spoke, the woman raised both hands. One touched the young Joselyn’s hair while the other brushed across the man’s face.

“I know.” The man’s two-word response cracked from emotion as he put one arm around the woman to pull her closer. The two stood there together with their daughter held between them. For a few long seconds, neither said anything, until the tiny Joselyn’s plaintive voice blurted out, “Squishing, Mommy!”

With a laugh that was almost crying, Dare stepped back a bit. “Sorry, baby,” she murmured in a weak voice before turning her attention to Joselyn’s father.

Joshua. Joselyn knew that much. Her father’s name was Joshua Atherby.

“The longer we…” Dare’s eyes closed briefly before opening once more as she clearly forced the words out past a dam of emotion. “The longer we wait, the more people will die.”

Oh no. Oh no, that’s what this was. That’s what today was. This was the day that Joselyn’s parents sacrificed themselves, her father losing his life and her mother losing her identity as his wife. They sacrificed their family to stop the Fomorian invasion. This was their last moment together. And Joselyn was seeing it, mere… mere hours after leaving her own family behind.

This was too much. It was too much, too fast.

But it kept going. From the side, a portal opened and two figures emerged. Joselyn immediately recognized them. One was Gaia Sinclaire herself. The other was Zedekiah Pericles, her Grandpa Zed.

“It’s time,” Gaia spoke softly, regret and remorse audible in her voice. “The spell is prepared, and if we wait any longer, the Fomorian line will overwhelm the token defenses we left in place. If we wait, they will escape Desoto.”

Desoto, the state that Gaia had been baroness of before… before sacrificing it to help halt the Fomorian invasion. That’s where they were, likely as close to the actual original Fomorian entrance portal as they could get.

Joshua held the young Joselyn up, meeting her gaze as his voice broke. “You be good, okay, Jossy? Papa loves you. You know that?” His words sounded almost… desperate. He needed his baby to know that he loved her.

“I love you, Papa! Jossy good girl!” Her younger self insisted, before wrapping both arms around his neck tightly. “Jossy stay, Papa!”

It was horrible. Through the tears that half-blinded her, the older Joselyn watched as Dare took her from Joshua, then hugged her tightly. “Baby. My baby…”

“Mama, want Papa.” Joselyn squirmed in her mother’s grip. “Wanna go with Papa!”

It broke something deep inside of Joselyn to hear herself say that, and she could see the same thing break in both of her parents, each for different reasons. Joshua’s daughter wanted him, but he was about to sacrifice his life. Dare was about to sacrifice her identity, about to sacrifice her own daughter’s memories of her… and that daughter was trying to squirm away from her. Even if Joselyn hadn’t understood what was going on at the time, seeing that… seeing that made her feel a deep pit of shame in her stomach.

Dare held her daughter tightly for a moment despite her protests, kissing her forehead and whispering something tender to her before passing the girl to Zedekiah carefully. “Make sure she’s safe,” Dare insisted, her voice equally broken. “Make her safe.”

“We will,” Gaia and Zedekiah promised, the former stepping forward to touch Dare’s arm.

“My girl… my… I am so sorry. I am sorry that you must do this. This is… not… fair.”

Dare’s lips trembled, before she shook her head. “The Fomorians don’t care about fair. Go. Take her. We’ll finish here.”

“When the spell completes, you will be teleported back behind the line,” Gaia reminded her, sounding as if she just wanted to say something, even if everyone clearly already knew that. “You will be brought to safety.”

She left unsaid, of course, the fact that Joshua would not.

Gaia and Zedekiah left with the young Joselyn, leaving Dare and Joshua alone (save for the adult Joselyn secretly watching through the vision). The two faced one another, taking each other into their arms before holding tight.

“I love you, Josh,” Virginia quietly murmured as she clung to her husband.

“My Ginny… “ Joshua murmured back, pressing his forehead to hers. “I love you. I will always love you. We don’t have forever, but if we remember, we can turn now into eternity.”

Raising her eyes to meet her husband’s, Virginia whispered softly, “I will remember. I will always remember.”

They said nothing else. With the time that was left, the two held one another. Their lips met one last time. Joselyn stood there, watching as her mother and father spent their last few seconds together joined together in one final kiss.

Then Dare was gone. Her body vanished from Joshua’s grip, leaving the man standing alone. Alone, that was, save for the Joselyn. But she wasn’t truly there. She couldn’t offer her father anything.

“If you’re there…” Joshua’s sudden voice startled Joselyn, and her gaze snapped up to find her father looking off into the distance away from her as he continued. “I want you to know that I love you.”

Who… who was he… talking to?

“Maybe I’m talking to myself. Maybe the Edge won’t show you this. But if it does. If it shows you this moment, I want you to know that I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you.”

Her. He was talking to her. He was talking to the older Joselyn just in case she saw a vision of him, of this moment. That realization struck the woman with such force that she physically staggered, hand reaching her mouth.

“I adore you, my Joselyn. My brave little girl. And no matter who you grew up to be, I am proud of you. Be strong. Be brave. Be everything that I know you already are. Because you are my daughter. Always… always know without any doubt, that I am your father.

“And I love you.”

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Mini-Interlude 45 – Joselyn

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The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the specific event during Joselyn’s first year as a student at Crossroads that turned her from loyal Heretic to budding rebellion instigator and leader. I hope you enjoy. 

Sunday, March 2nd, 1919

“We’re clear on the north end. How’s it look where you are, Jos?”

The voice of Joselyn Atherby’s teammate came through the badge that had been pinned to the front of her school uniform. It was loud and clear to her, yet somehow no one else could possibly hear it, no matter how close they were standing.

Not that anyone else was close to the blonde, short-haired teenager at that point. The girl crouched on the roof of the drugstore, hidden in shadows while she watched people and automobiles alike trundling by. After scanning the alley below her for a moment, she spoke up. “We’re jake over here, Tribald. Alley’s clear. No one’s getting out this way. Dev, you still got the bear in sight?”

There was a brief pause before Deveron responded. “Well, she’s not a bear right now. But yeah, she’s inside the left-most apartment. Lillian, you finished with your bit yet?”

Again, silence reigned for a few seconds before the voice of Joselyn’s roommate came back. “All set. Magical boundary should keep anyone from walking by this way or hearing anything.”

“Can we do this already?” Roger Dornan, another teammate, demanded with obvious annoyance. “It’s one werebear and there’s six of us. We can handle her.”

“Take it easy, Rog,” the other boy’s roommate and cousin, Seamus, scolded him. “Remember, we don’t want to screw this up. Unless you want a failing grade for this hunt.”

Roger retorted immediately, “We could get a failing grade for taking too long too. The alley’s clear, no one’s coming to investigate, and Deveron’s got the Stranger in sight. Let’s do it.”

“Jos?” That was Deveron again. “What do you think? Time to move?”

Leaning over the edge of the roof to look down one more time, making absolutely certain everything was clear, Joselyn finally nodded to herself while replying, “Rog is right, we can’t sit around second-guessing ourselves all night. Time to stop that bear before she attacks anyone else. You guys know the plan. Deveron first, make all the noise, draw her attention. Roger and Seamus hit her when she comes out. Tribald and Lillian hit her once she’s engaged with those two. I’ll cover things here if she tries to retreat.”

The acknowledgments came quickly. And almost as quickly came the sounds of the attack. Deveron, being loud and obvious as he broke down the door of the apartment building behind the drugstore that Joselyn was perched atop. A second later, there was a loud roar that made Joselyn shiver, despite the fact that she had been ready for it.

“Be careful, Dev,” she whispered to herself without engaging the badge radio.

Thankfully, Seamus and Roger joined in right away. For once, Joselyn was grateful for the latter’s impulsiveness. It meant that Deveron wasn’t left alone with the monster for that long.

Thirty seconds passed. Thirty horribly long seconds. Joselyn was regretting putting herself on back-up duty. But it had been the best choice, the best use of everyone. She knelt there, listening to the sounds of Tribald and Lillian finally getting involved. Five Heretic students versus one werebear. They could handle it, right?

She wished she was there.

The sound of a door squeaking nearby interrupted her inner lamentations, and Joselyn turned quickly to see the back entrance of the apartment building opening. As she watched with confusion, a woman stepped out, looking both ways. As soon as she saw her, Joselyn’s Heretic-sense began to scream its warnings. Apparently there were more Strangers inside the apartment building than they’d thought.

Just as Joselyn started to gather herself to stop the Stranger from escaping, pulling her Hunga Munga from their spot on her belt, the woman turned and began gesturing frantically for someone else to come out.

And come they did. Eight figures hurried through the doorway and into the small courtyard between the apartment building and the alley. Eight children, some of them tiny little things, ranging from what looked like four years old to around ten. All of them were Strangers, not human. And all had tears in their eyes. A couple were outright sobbing.

“Kaya, Kaya, is it the Moffy guys?” One of the youngest, a tiny, blue-skinned girl with white hair tugged at the older woman’s leg. “Is it the Moffy guys?”

“Mafia, Limny,” one of the older boys corrected her. He was sniffling, clearly trying to be brave. “You mean Mafia. And nuh uh, it’s the Heretics.”

That caused a loud gasp to go up among the children, and the crying intensified. The older woman turned back, obviously fighting back her own fear. “Don’t scare them, Puck. Limnoreia, it’s going to be okay.” She put a hand on the tiny blue-skinned girl’s shoulder, squeezing it briefly before another loud roar from inside made her jump. “Come on, let’s go. Hurry, children.”

“Will Aunt Callisto be okay?” one of the other little ones asked, even as a terrifyingly loud bang came that shook the entire apartment building.

For a moment, the woman, Kaya apparently, looked like she was going to answer. In the end, with a worried look over her shoulder, she just urged them on with her hands. “Come, she’ll meet us later. Hurry, hurry.”

It was time to stop them. Time to drop down and get in their way so this could all be mopped up. So that the… the monsters… could be… so that the monsters could be… so that the monsters…

Joselyn stayed where she was, watching as the woman and eight very different children rushed by below her. None looked up. None noticed her there. They ran, they fled for their lives.

They weren’t putting on a show. They had no idea she was there. They weren’t faking.  They had no reason to, no way of knowing that they should pretend. They weren’t pretending. They were… they had been… terrified. Terrified… of… of Heretics.

She was still there, staring at the spot where the children had been as three more figures came into view. They were moving from the street, through the alley and to the apartment building. As they emerged, Joselyn’s Heretic-sense went off once more, for two of the figures. It was silent for the third.

“Ya morons!” the shorter, fatter man, the only one who didn’t set off Joselyn’s warning sense, smacked one of the others. “I told you we was gonna be late! Now look.” He waved a hand to the open doorway ahead of them. “They’re already gone!”

“Don’t you worry none, boss,” one of the other men announced. “Those kids smell something fierce. Olly and me, we can track ‘em down.”

The boss turned, jabbing a finger into the man’s chest. “You better. I paid good money, good money, to get that ursine bitch’s location into Heretic hands. She wants to stand in my way, in Leo Torrio’s way and stop me from getting my hands on what’s mine? Those kids are worth a fortune, a fucking fortune. Now those Heretics are getting rid of my problem, but the kids ain’t fucking here, cuz you stupid dewdroppers couldn’t get a fucking move-on! Now get those kids! Go!”

The Mafia, Joselyn realized, the ones that the little blue girl… Limnoreia had mentioned. The ones that they had been afraid of… the ones that the werebear had been… had been… protecting… them… from…

Before she knew what she was doing, Joselyn was already moving. Leaping from the roof of the drug store, she threw one of her Hunga Munga. A thought stopped it in the air just above the ground at the entrance into the alley, and she teleported herself straight to it.

There. The Mafia men were just leaving the alley. But she could pull them back in. It wouldn’t be hard. She’d distract them, make them think the children were here after all, and then–

A hand caught her shoulder. As she spun, weapons up, Deveron took a step back, holding his hands out. “Whoa, whoa, hey. You okay?” The boy was panting heavily, but grinning. “Annoyed you didn’t get in on the action?”

“Action?” Even to herself, Joselyn sounded out of it, distracted, confused.

“We’re all good, Jos. It’s over.” Still panting from exertion, Deveron continued to her that broad smile. “Bear’s down. We saved the day. Huge heroes.”

“Bear… the bear… you… you killed the werebear?” The words sounded and felt like they were coming from someone else, some other person far away.

“Uh, yeah? You know, our job? Woohoo?” Deveron squinted at her. “Are you okay? You’re not seriously sore that you didn’t get to fight, are you? She just went down sooner than we expected. Took most of that apartment with her too, you should see it. Lillian got the last hit, lucky girl. Don’t worry though, I’m sure you’ll get the next one. I mean, if that’s what you’re upset about. Jos?”

“I… I have to…” Joselyn took a step back, half-turning to look over her shoulder at the alley, back the way the Mafia had gone on their way to follow those children, the… the Stranger children… the… innocent… Stranger children.

A glowing blue portal appeared directly beside them, and a woman stepped out. Freidra Konstant, one of their professors.

“Excellent work, children,” she announced with clear pride. “The target has been eliminated and none of you were seriously harmed. Good show. Come, let us collect the others and then prepare to receive your score.”

Deveron moved that way, almost stepping through the portal before looking back to where Joselyn was still standing. “Jos? Hey, what’s–”

He said something else, but she didn’t hear him. Her attention was on the alley once more, even as her eyes slid closed. Deveron’s voice faded to background noise, as the memory of the children crying, that innocent little girl asking if the Moffy had come for them, and the Mafia man himself saying that he had deliberately leaked the werebear’s location so that the Heretics would kill her to get her out of the way so that he could take those children all flooded into her mind at once. Their voices in her memory were overpowering, so loud as they competed with one another for prominence. Deafening. Their voices were completely deafening. Almost as loud as the sound of her own heartbeat. Her own heart, pounding, thudding, thundering there in the alley. Couldn’t they hear it? Couldn’t they all hear it?

Miss Atherby!” Professor Konstant bodily turned her around, holding onto her shoulders. “Open your eyes. Look at me. Are you quite all right? What–did something happen to you?”

Slowly, Joselyn Atherby’s eyes opened.

And in a way… they would never close again.

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Mini-Interlude 44 – Davis

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The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the character of Davis, the Committee member who is commonly referred to as ‘the lumberjack’ for his habit of wearing flannel shirts and his impressive beard.

July 17th, 1838

“Pa! Hey, Pa!”

Sixteen-year-old Davis Neal, a tall yet scrawny youth with gangly arms and ears that he had yet to grow into hopped the fence at the edge of his family’s property. They lived in the heart of Arkansas, the twenty-sixth and most recent territory to be granted statehood in the United States (Desoto had beaten them by only a few months), several miles outside of the tiny (and just recently incorporated) capital city of Little Rock.

With his fishing rod in one hand, and the day’s catch (three good-sized trout!) in the other, Davis called for his father once more while jogging up the path, past the paddock where Goodheart, the family’s lazy mare, was munching her food. He wanted to show off the fish.

Moving around the corner of the house toward the front porch, the boy stopped at the sight of three strange horses tied to the railing there. They were big, strong beasts, flanks sweaty from a long ride and laden down with a lot of supplies.

Blinking at the animals for a moment, Davis turned to look at the house, listening for a moment. He didn’t hear any voices coming from the window of the nearby parlor, where his father always entertained any company that came by. Maybe they were in the kitchen.

Knowing that he’d be due a whuppin if he went tearing in like a banshee in front of guests, Davis carefully opened the door, mindful of the squeaky hinge as he slipped through the gap. Now he could hear voices. But they weren’t coming from the kitchen as he’d assumed. Instead, they were coming from the room that he and his brother shared.

Davis’s heart sank a bit at that realization. The only times that his parents took guests into the boys’ bedroom was when they would be staying for awhile. Did this mean that he and Peterson were going to have to share a room with strangers?

With a sigh, he set the fish and rods down before carefully creeping that way. He was hoping to overhear something that would tell them how long the guests would be sticking around and praying it would only be for one night. As he reached the short hallway that led to his room, Davis leaned around the corner and listened intently.

The only voice that Davis could hear at that moment was that of his younger brother. Peterson seemed to be in the midst of a prayer. But why was he praying in the middle of the day with their parents and guests in the room? Squinting, the boy put his hand on the edge of the doorframe for balance and leaned in a bit more.

Unfortunately, the bit of wall where he put his hand felt sticky and wet. Blinking back that way to see what he’d put his hand into, the boy saw something horrific. The entire wall, from the doorjamb leading into the hallway, clear past the doorway into his bedroom, was smeared with fresh blood. Blood which led all the way into the dim corner that he hadn’t bothered looking toward when his focus had been solely on hearing what was going on in the other room. And as the boy’s eyes moved that way, he saw the body of his father, lying in a pool of what remained of his blood. His chest had been ripped open, leaving bits of bone and organs strewn about.

Before he could catch himself, Davis’s hand reflexively jerked away from the blood on the wall, and a strangled cry escaped him as he fell to the floor on his side. He landed hard, head just within sight of the open doorway into his room.

His mother’s body was there, lying next to his bed. It was torn open, identical to his father’s. A little further in, twelve-year-old Peterson knelt with three men crowding around him, mocking the boy as he continued to desperately pray for divine intervention.

Men. They didn’t look human. Two seemed part-wolf, with beastial features, extended claws, and visible fur. The third, meanwhile, had rough, scaled green skin like a lizard, and his solid red eyes were twice the size of a normal person’s.

All of their eyes, both Peterson’s and the three murderous monsters, turned toward Davis as he landed on the floor while crying out. At the sight of him, all three ‘men’ started to chuckle. Their predatory smiles grew, and the boy could only lie there, staring in horror as the lizard-man began to walk toward him. In the background, he could distantly hear his younger brother screaming his name, but it seemed to be coming from far away. All of Davis’s attention and focus was centered on the creature stalking his way.

He was going to die. He was going to die like his father and mother, torn open by these… these…

Thunder like none that Davis had ever heard filled the air. The lizard-man was blown backward, a good chunk of his upper body missing. A figure stepped over the prone boy, that of a man holding what looked something like a rifle with two wide barrels and an attached blade in between them that stuck out several inches beyond the barrels.

The two wolf-men were reacting by then. Abandoning their torment of Peterson at the sound of the gun, they spun that way. Seeing their companion’s body, the pair made unearthly howling sounds, lunging toward the attacker. One blurted a single word: Heretic.

A second deafening blast from that gun took one of the beast-men in the stomach. He staggered backward, while the other continued on. The man with the gun pivoted, snapping his rifle down and out. As he did so, the barrels flipped backward while the blade extended, turning the weapon into a sword with two gun barrels pointed back as if to act as handguards.

Continuing his pivot, the man allowed the charging figure to rush past him. It nearly reached the spot where Davis was lying, before that blade suddenly appeared as it was thrust into the creature’s back and all the way through his chest.

By that point, as that wolf-man stumbled to his knees, the other had risen once more despite the shot it had taken to the stomach. Instead of charging, it twisted to run for the window. The man, the Heretic, was ready for that, however. He twisted, yanking his gun-sword from the back of the first wolf before hurling it that way.

The wolf-man leapt out the window, disappearing from sight. But the sword didn’t simply fall to the ground or embed itself in the wall as Davis had expected. Instead, those gun barrels pointed themselves down, and some strange purple flame-like energy shot out of them. Rather than burn the floor, the energy lifted the sword over the edge of the windowsill. Once it was at the correct height, the barrels adjusted themselves to point fully backward, and then propelled the sword through the window. Then they adjusted themselves yet again to turn the sword, sending it out of sight.

A few seconds passed before a terrible squelching sound reached them, cutting off what had sounded like a scream. The Heretic made a noise that sounded a bit like enjoyment. Then the sword returned, covered in more blood. He caught it, pivoting back just as the wolf-man that he had gutted struggled back to his feet. A quick slice of the man’s blade took the creature’s head from its shoulders.

Almost before the body had finished falling, Davis was up and lunging for Peterson. He caught his little brother around the waist, pulling the sobbing boy against himself tightly. Both boys knelt there, practically lying in the blood of their dead mother, while the Heretic pushed the headless body of the wolf-man to the floor contemptuously.

“Evil beasts,” the man snarled, lowering his gun-sword as he turned to face the boys. His expression softened slightly, though he had the kind of face that made it impossible for him to ever actually look inviting or friendly.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured quietly then. “I am so very, very sorry, boys. I should have gotten here sooner. But I promise you, these things will not harm you or anyone else again.”

Peterson was too busy sobbing and clinging to Davis to actually say anything. The older boy stared up at their savior, stammering, “Ma…. Pa… those… those th-th-things. They were… they were…” He trailed off, frowning. The men… the men who had killed his parents. There was something off about them, wasn’t there? Why… ? Were they Mexican or Negroes? What was… what had they looked like? Why was it so hard to…

“Monsters,” the Heretic finished for him with a sigh. “Yes. Yes, they were. Come, let’s get you cleaned up. I won’t leave you alone here, you have my word.

“My name is Gabriel Ruthers. And I swear on my life, I will not let anything hurt you.”

******

December 5th, 1918

“This is impossible,” Davis, now a fully-grown man (yet still appearing to be in the prime of his life despite being nearly a hundred years old) announced. “They’re making a mistake.”

“No, my boy,” Gabriel Ruthers assured him, “it’s no mistake.” He beamed with pride, rubbing a hand over his own chin. “You’ve earned your reputation.”

Davis shook his head. “But I’ve only been a Heretic for about eighty years. How could the Committee possibly want to recruit me? They should want you. You’ve been around since before there was a Crossroads.”

Ruthers smiled, shaking his head. “My place is here, making sure the school runs smoothly and protecting the students. You’re the one who’s been making such a name for yourself, hunting down every target they give you. What was it at last count, an eighty-nine percent success rate? That’s extraordinary. And it’s why they want you. The Committee will put you in charge of tracking Strangers that have been eluding everyone else, and they’ll want you to teach others how to do what you do.”

Davis flushed at that. “I just do what you taught us, that’s all.”

“You do far more than that,” the other man insisted. “Don’t you be selling yourself short.” Tapping Davis against the head, he added, “So you go right back in there and tell them you accept the invitation. Do you understand? You’ve earned it.”

Swallowing hard, Davis lifted his chin. Despite being old enough to be a great-grandfather in human terms, he still saw Ruthers as a father-figure. Though not nearly as much as Peterson, who basically worshipped the ground the man walked on, did. Peterson would do anything for Ruthers after the man had saved their lives and killed the monsters who murdered their parents.

“Do you think I’m ready?” he asked, a little hesitantly.  

Ruthers gave a short nod, grunting, “Yes. You are. Now let’s go, they’ll be wondering what’s going on out here.”

The two turned, only to almost run into a first-year student. She was a pretty blonde with short hair, who came up short with a gasp as the two men nearly ran right into her. “Oh! Sorry, um, Headmaster. I was looking for Professor Pericles.”

Giving the girl a short look, Ruthers replied, “I believe he was down by the beach, the last time I saw him, Miss Atherby.”

“Oh!” the girl perked up, giving a little wave. “Thank you, sir!”

As she pivoted and darted off, Davis kept watching for a moment. “Did you say Atherby? That would make her–”

Ruthers gave a slight nod. “Yes, it would. With her onboard, we may be able to coax more of the clan to join us. Maybe even Prosser himself, given some luck. It would be… encouraging.”

Davis glanced back that way once more, watching the girl disappear in the distance. “I know it’s only been a few months, but do you think she’ll be a good student?”

“Oh yes,” Ruthers confirmed.

“Our most promising one in decades.”

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Interlude 22C – Joselyn

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Please note that there was a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the origin of Pace posted yesterday (Sunday). If you missed it, you may want to click the Previous Chapter button above. 

July 10th, 1950

“My son, they would have killed him.”

Two women stood facing one another, their appearances within the illumination of the city street lights starkly contrasting. One was white, with blonde hair that stood out in the night. The other was black, her skin and hair both dark enough to fade easily into the shadows lurking just beyond the street lamps. Overhead, the moon was at its dimmest, a bare sliver that did little more than confirm its existence, while clouds ended any light that might have come from the far distant stars. The city itself, aside from the streetlights above these two women, was as dark as it was silent.

“You’re right, Calafia,” Joselyn Atherby replied to the much-older woman across from her. “They would have killed him. Because he was different. Because he wasn’t human. One little scratch. One scratch from that weretiger and now every plan, every dream, every goal you had for your son is gone. Everything you wanted to do for him, everything he was going to be for you is gone.”

Calafia bowed her head slightly, giving an almost imperceptible nod. “I know,” she murmured quietly. “I know, believe me, I know. But he’s… you… you made sure that he–”

“He’s okay,” Joselyn assured her. She didn’t know what it was like to be a parent, but she did know that the idea of having a child and being separated from them, not knowing if they were okay or what was happening to them, was the worst experience she could possibly imagine. So as angry as she was at the things that the woman in front of her had allowed to happen up until it was personal for her, she wouldn’t hold that reassurance away from her. “He’s safe, I promise.”

The relief in the other woman’s body language was obvious, as a great deal of the tension left her. “Don’t tell me where he is.” The words seemed to almost break her even as she said them. “Just… just promise you’ll make sure he stays safe, that none of our people will find him.”

“They believe he’s dead,” Joselyn replied, her tone turning a bit softer at the woman’s continued concern. “And they’ll keep believing that. No one’s going to find your son, Calafia. You have my word. I told you when you first made contact that we’d keep him safe, and I meant it.”  

For a moment, Calafia closed her eyes. Tears leaked from them, though if they were more from the relief that her son was safe or from the agony of the realization that she would never see him again, Joselyn couldn’t say. She just waited while the woman worked through her emotions.

Finally, Calafia straightened a little, her eyes finding Joselyn’s as she steadied herself. “You never said what you wanted in return for the aid of your people. You saved my son’s life.”

“Calafia,” Joselyn answered simply, “if you think that I need something in exchange for saving your son from the people who would kill him just for being a were, then you’ve missed the entire point.”

Pausing for a moment to take that in, the dark-skinned woman eventually spoke once more. “If there’s nothing else, you should leave this place. I owe you my son’s life, but the others do not. Gabriel has been fully accepted into our ranks. You must already understand what that means.”

“It means that he’s as powerful as you are now,” Joselyn confirmed. “And the first thing he’s going to do with that power is try to pay me back for making him look like such a fool for so long.”

“He won’t just try,” Calafia cautioned her. “If he finds you, he will win. You are here alone, Miss Atherby. Don’t be a prideful fool and throw your life away by waiting for him here. You might have been able to face him as he was, though even that was debateable. But now that he is a part of the Committee, you would be nothing more than a bug against a windshield. You would fail.”

“Maybe,” Joselyn allowed. “But if I don’t do something, he’ll keep coming anyway.” Her hand lifted to gesture at the empty, dark streets around them. “Why do you think I chose to meet here?”

Slowly, she turned in a circle as though taking all of it in. “It’s actually one of the most impressive things the Heretics have done, you know? An exact one-for-one replica of New York City, set down on a world far from Earth, yet almost identical to it. The perfect place for Heretics to practice fighting and hunting in an urban area. Yet devoid of any innocent civilians that might get hurt.”

Calafia took a moment to look around as well, as though seeing how impressive the recreated city really was for the first time. But soon, her gaze locked onto the much younger woman’s once more. “My… son’s condition has made me… think about the things that our society stands for. I don’t know yet how I feel about all of it, but in this case…My son would be dead if it was not for you, Miss Ath– Joselyn. I owe you far more than I can ever repay. But I will attempt to do so. If you ask, I will put myself in the path of Gabriel Ruthers. I will stop him from harming you.” Left unsaid was what that would mean. In exchange for the life of her son, Calafia would put herself against the Committee, would stand openly with the rebellion in defiance of Crossroads laws.

Joselyn smiled slightly, but shook her head. “If you really want to know what you can do to make it up to me… keep thinking about what it means. Think about all the mothers like you who have lost people like your son. Think about the people who have been killed for doing nothing more than being born. Think about all of them. But the most important thing you could ever do for me is… think about the monsters that we hunt and kill. Think about all the monsters you’ve ever killed or ordered killed. Think about them…. And stop thinking of them as monsters. Think of them as people. People with lives. People with families. People with loves, dreams, hopes. Just… people.”

Her voice had softened throughout that, but rose then, firm and confident. “But right now, the best thing you can do is leave. You’re right, Ruthers is gonna be here soon.” Her smile was humorless. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. And the best thing you can do is stay on the Committee. There might be a time that we need you, a time that we need help. You being on the Committee, that’s what we need right now. Just keep thinking. Not just about what I said, but about how you feel. Think about that. Feel it. Let yourself feel it, for once, without shutting it down. Keep feeling.”

“If I leave,” Calafia spoke quietly, “you will die.”

The blonde shrugged. “Messages outlive the messenger, Calafia. And you might be surprised.”   

Obviously realizing that she wouldn’t be able to change the rebel leader’s mind, Calafia bowed her head. “I wish you luck. And if you survive this encounter, we will speak again.”

“Yes,” Joselyn agreed. But by the time she finished with, “we will,” the other woman was gone.

For a few seconds, she just stood there. Eventually, however, she turned and began to walk slowly down the middle of the street. Streetlights came to life as she reached them, while the ones behind her doused themselves, creating a sort of roving spotlight that kept her illuminated.

Ten minutes after Calafia had left, Joselyn rounded a corner to find a man standing in her path. A man she knew far too well, from the years she had spent in what had been his school at the time.

“Shall I call you Headmaster still?” she asked, “Or would you prefer the term Counselor?”

Ruthers stood, his bullish, prizefighter-esque body lit by the lamps above him as he glared at the woman he loathed so thoroughly. “Atherby,” he snarled. “I already checked the city. You’re alone. Your husband isn’t here, and he’s not coming. Neither are any of your people. There’s a lockdown in effect. No one teleports in or out of the training city until this is over. So I’m going to give you one chance. Surrender, and you’ll go to trial. On the honor of my blood, I won’t harm you if you give up now.”

Joselyn shook her head, lamenting. “Aww. And here I thought you’d be excited to show off all your new tricks, like an eager little bulldog. All that power, all that strength, and you want me to surrender without letting you show me any of it? That doesn’t sound like you, Gabby.”

Gabby. She knew he hated the name, loathed it almost as much as he hated Joselyn herself. That was why she used it. Getting under his skin, making him stop thinking straight, it was part of the plan. This night, this moment, had been building since the moment she had decided that she would never be able to live in this society without pouring everything she had into making it better.

His smile was more like a grimace, like the man himself had never fully learned how to make that expression. “We both know you won’t surrender,” he replied flatly. “But now that I’ve offered you the chance and you’ve turned me down, you can feel even worse when this is all over.”

Lowering her gaze to look at the ground, Joselyn gathered her strength for what she had to do next. It wasn’t what she wanted to do. It was one of the hardest things she’d ever done. But she had to try. For everything that she was attempting to change about Heretic society, she had to try.

“Ruthers, it doesn’t have to be like this. None of this has to happen. Things can change. We can be better. You saw that yourself once. You took a chance. It backfired, but that doesn’t make the intention wrong. Trusting the wrong person doesn’t make every person evil. We can work together to change things. We can make Crossroads be the real heroes, the champions we should be. Not just for humans, but for everyone. We can protect them all.”

“You,” Ruthers snarled without a moment’s hesitation, “are a fool. And you are letting yourself and your followers be used by monsters. Yes, I worked with them once before. And what came of it? Humanity was nearly erased, you ignorant child. That is a mistake I will never make again. And I won’t let you drag humanity into extinction by making the same one. This ends now, Atherby.”

“On the contrary,” the blonde woman replied simply. “I think you’ll find that it’s just beginning.”

He was on her then. In the span of less than one hundredth of a second, the man went from standing a hundred feet away, to being directly in front of her. His fist lashed out, tearing through the air faster than sound itself. It was a blow that would devastate mountains. Several windows in the buildings surrounding them shattered from the force and speed of the punch. It was meant to end this entire conflict in a single, solitary blow. A punch meant to end Joselyn herself.

She caught it in the palm of her hand.

It wasn’t that simple, of course. The sheer force that was put into the blow meant that the kinetic energy had to go somewhere. She absorbed it, dissipating the excess into a wave behind her that shattered more windows and sent several cars flipping up and over each other. But for the most part, she simply put a hand up and caught a punch from a man who was now one of the most powerful beings on the planet.

“Come on, Gabby,” Joselyn’s voice was a taunt, as Ruthers stared at his fist pressed firmly into her palm. “I thought you were gonna bring something new to this.”

With a growl, the man yanked his fist back. His other hand lashed out, then the first. That continued for another eight strikes. Ten full blows, each powerful enough to go through concrete like it was rice paper. And all ten so quick that it defied not simply human comprehension, but seemingly physics itself. They came in the span of less than one tenth of a second. It was motion so fast that to the human eye, it wasn’t simply a blur. It was nonexistent.

Joselyn evaded them all. Her body twisted, turned, ducked, and stepped aside to avoid each blow, no matter how fast they came. He was fast, but she was just as fast as he was.

That was the entire point. Not that he understood that. Not that he had any idea.

As his flurry of punches failed to make contact, Ruthers seemed to realize that this wasn’t going to be the cakewalk that he expected it to be. He had come expecting to smack her down like a dog with his new power. But that wasn’t going to happen that easily. And in that realization, he finally unleashed.

A wave of the man’s hand caught all of the glass that had been shattered and now lay along the ground. The shards flew into the air, driving in toward Joselyn from every side, each moving as fast as a bullet. And even as they flew, each tiny shard of glass was transformed into jagged metal, which itself was superheated and surrounded by a tiny arc of what looked like purple electricity. Ghost-fire, as they called it. Energy that was able to burn ghosts, or anyone who was in a ghost-like, non-solid state. Hundreds of shards of glass, all simultaneously turned to burning metal with their own ghost-fire, just to make sure that she couldn’t simply turn intangible to avoid them. And all coming at her from every possible angle.

Grimacing, Joselyn threw both hands up and out. With her motion, a circular wall of concrete two feet thick rose from the ground to surround her, capping itself off in a dome just as the electrified, super-heated metal shards buried themselves in it.

Feeling the top of the concrete dome yanked from her control, Joselyn turned herself into an insubstantial, ghost-like state and leapt backward through the wall. She was just in time, as the roof of the dome slammed down with enough force that it would have crushed her in a solid state, and covered in ghost-fire to burn her in her current intangible form if she hadn’t moved.

In the next instant, she was gone. Her blinding speed carried her forward, before a leap took the blonde woman up and over the concrete structure. The leap would have carried her a good fifty feet into the air, except that as soon as she saw the man below her, Joselyn instantly changed the direction that her momentum was carrying her. Now, instead of leaping up and forward, she was suddenly leaping down, without actually touching anything to change direction.

Her fist lashed out. And with it, she summoned not only her own strength, but a literal lightning bolt. It shot, jagged and crackling with power, out of the sky. Her figure was enveloped in the lightning, its power wrapping itself around Joselyn just before both collided into the pavement with enough force to leave a ten-foot wide, three-foot deep crater in the street where Ruthers had been. Had been, because the man had teleported aside at the very last possible instant. Any windows within several blocks that hadn’t already been broken were shattered by the thunder that had accompanied the lightning.

“How?” the man demanded once the echoes of the thunder had faded, his voice dark. “You’re not this strong. Not this fast. Not this powerful.”  As he spoke, a flick of the man’s hand animated one of the cars that had been tossed aside earlier. It rose on impossibly articulated wheels to lunge for Joselyn like a mechanized jungle cat, its front half opening to reveal jagged teeth-like shards of metal as the thing went for her.

It came within a foot before a thought from Joselyn opened a portal directly in front of herself. The mechanical beast flew through the portal to be dumped out somewhere else in the city.

“Guess we both got an upgrade, didn’t we?” she shot back, rising from her crouch to face him.

His head shook. “It doesn’t matter. A few tricks won’t save you, Atherby. I’m putting you down before you destroy our entire society, before your naivety dooms humanity.”

In answer, Joselyn raised a hand and twitched her fingers, beckoning him to keep trying.

With a blur of speed, he was on top of her once more. That time, as his fist lashed out, the concrete beside the man tore itself up and into a giant approximation of his arm and hand that was twice as large as the man himself. Both his real fist and the one that had been summoned from the pavement covered with ghost-fire to ensure that she couldn’t simply turn intangible. And each flew with a speed that would have made bullets in mid-flight seem to be standing still.

Joselyn’s hunga munga were abruptly in her hands as she dove forward and down, passing just beneath the swinging, ghost-fire covered concrete fist before popping up in time to catch Ruthers’ against one of her weapons. The other lashed out toward his throat, but he jerked his head back just in time.

The concrete fist was coming for her from the back, but a thought from Joselyn froze the thing solid, covered in a thick layer of ice. At the same time, she followed up her attack with another rapid series of swings from her throwing axes, forcing her opponent onto the defensive for a moment.

A snap from the man’s fingers froze time.

A blink from her restarted it.

A wave of his hand summoned a tornado of fire that tore its way through the street, melting steel and concrete alike.  

A flick of her finger turned the inferno of wind and ash to stone in the middle of the street.

The ground tore itself apart under her feet, revealing a pit a hundred feet below that was instantly filled with lava. The lava itself erupted into the air, sending a shower of molten rock flying up toward her even as Joselyn herself began to fall.

With a roar of triumph, Ruthers concentrated the lava into a single, powerful geyser. He sent it right up through the spot where Joselyn was. For ten full seconds, the former headmaster kept that up. The spray of molten rock rose a solid hundred feet into the air, and was at least twelve feet wide. It completely enveloped the woman throughout that time, even as the man surrounded the geyser with ghost-fire and several other measures to prevent her from escaping.

Finally, he released it, letting the geyser of lava fall back into its pool.

“Oh,” Joselyn announced as she hovered there in the air, looking utterly unsinged. “Did I forget to mention that I’m immune to heat? And that I can fly? Oops.”

Giving a bellow of frustration and disbelief, Ruthers launched himself into the air. He was a nearly invisible blur, flying so fast along the edge of the tallest nearby building that he created a miniature sonic boom in his wake.

And as he flew, the skyscraper itself ripped up out of the ground. The building tried to fall apart, but Ruthers held it together through sheer force of will, his telekinesis wrapping itself around the structure to keep it intact even as the thing was torn from its foundation to rise up with him.

High in the air above the city, the man inverted. The building hovered there beside him. With a thought, he sent it flying like a missile… straight… back… down. Fast enough to crack the sound barrier by itself, the four hundred foot tall, multi-hundred thousand ton structure careened toward the ground… toward Joselyn.

A point had to be made. So she launched herself straight at the building. Flying toward the thing, Joselyn let herself crash through the bottom, then through floor after floor until she had punched through the top.

She joined the hovering man in the air, even as the building-turned-missile hit the ground with enough force to collapse most of the structures around it.

“Impossible,” Ruthers spat the words, his disbelief at war with his blinding rage. The man was literally shaking. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. This was wrong. It was all… all wrong.

“Remember this, Gabby,” Joselyn informed him, hovering thirty feet away. “As long as you keep murdering innocent people, as long as you keep blaming people who have done nothing wrong for your mistakes, as long as you destroy lives and turn families into terrified orphans and grieving parents, this will never end.

“And,” she added while raising a hand. “Anything you can do…” Her fingers snapped, erasing the anti-teleportation shield that had been erected around the city.

“I can undo.”

Then she was gone.

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Interlude 16 – Tribald Kine

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There was a commissioned mini-interlude posted a couple days ago that focused on Seller and Abigail. If you haven’t seen that yet, feel free to use the Previous Chapter button above. 🙂

February 4th, 1919

“But Professor, is he still… you know… is he still him?” Seventeen-year-old Tribald Kine stared down at Gaia Sinclaire. Somehow, that seemed wrong. His whole life, the rust-haired boy been tall for his age. Now, there wasn’t a person in the school that he didn’t practically tower over. But something about Professor Sinclaire made it seem like he should naturally be looking up to see her. Her aura, her… stature was enormous in a way his tall, yet rail-thin frame shouldn’t have been able to look down to see.

“And why would he not be, Tribald?” the woman asked gently, her tone more curious than reproachful. “Did you become an entirely different person when you killed the Visikin and gained its poison quills?”

Wincing, Tribald shook his head quickly. “Well, no. But Deveron, he’s… different now. That thing he killed, it didn’t just give him a power, it changed how he looks. He doesn’t look like himself anymore.”

The woman reached up to lay a hand on his shoulder. “Permanent physical alterations are rare, but not unheard of. I assure you, your roommate is still the same person as he always was. Killing the Incubus may have physically changed him, but there has been no actual change to his mind, or his personality.”

Tribald was quiet for a few seconds. He thought of the gawky, hook-nosed boy that he’d spent the past half-year sharing a room with. Then he looked through the window into the room where the tall, classically handsome new version of Deveron Adams stood talking to Headmaster Ruthers. The differences were night and day. Hell, the new version of his roommate looked slightly Asian. Another connection to the Japanese Incubus he’d managed to kill after a long and incredibly drawn-out fight.

If he squinted enough, he could see his roommate in this boy, but with all the flaws gone. He was taller, stood straighter, his body was more openly muscled. He looked like a perfect version of himself.

And then Tribald slumped enough that he was almost eye-level with the teacher. “Sorry, Professor,” he mumbled quietly as his face turned red with embarrassment. “I guess I’m really acting stupid, huh?”

The woman’s voice was as gentle as always. “No, Tribald. Acting stupid would be refusing to accept the answers you’re given, not simply asking the questions. Your friend has changed a lot on the outside. It’s easy to assume that he would have changed on the inside as well. And perhaps he will, in time. The kind of physical alteration the Incubus’s power has given him may make him more confident, among any other changes. But they will not be supernatural in nature. And in the end, he will still be himself.”

Still flushing a little, Tribald thought about that for a moment before starting hesitantly. “So… I guess the best way to make sure he doesn’t get carried away with his new look is to… just… be normal?”

“Yes,” Gaia confirmed. “Be there for him. Be his friend, just as you have been this whole year. He still enjoys everything he always has. His hobbies, his likes and dislikes, those are the same as they ever were. You were friends before the Incubus, and this should change nothing, unless you allow it to.”

Letting out a long breath, Tribald gave a quick nod. “I—thanks, Professor. You’re really, um–” He glanced down again, shifting nervously as he brought up something that he’d wondered for awhile. “You’re really good at this kind of thing. Were you really a Baroness before you became a teacher?”

He saw her face go still for a moment and thought that he’d made a terrible mistake. But as an apology formed on his lips, the woman spoke quietly. “Yes, and no. I was Baroness of the lost state of Desoto. Yet even in that role and before it, I would say that I was still a teacher. Taking this position in this school only made official what I saw as my most important duty for much of my life. Especially now.”

Tribald hadn’t been alive when Desoto had been lost in the Fomorian invasion, but it hadn’t been that long before his birth. He’d grown up hearing the stories about how Gaia Sinclaire had violated the secrecy rules and had her Heretics reveal themselves to Bystanders in order to evacuate them before the entire state was annihilated. Most of the people he’d heard talk about it hated the woman for that. They called her a coward, claiming that the Heretics should have stood to fight the invasion, and that revealing themselves to normal humans (even if those people would forget afterward anyway) was tantamount to treason. Between that and the destruction of the entire state, most had thought that Gaia would never hold any position of power in Crossroads society again, and would likely die in infamy.

Except that hadn’t happened. Within a few years of the incident, Headmaster Ruthers had brought the woman on as a teacher at his school. The man took a hit on his popularity, but he was apparently too stubborn to care. His focus, as always, was on protecting humanity at all costs. Which meant he was one of the few who actually agreed with Gaia’s choice to temporarily reveal Heretics to the Bystanders in order to save them. And he was just pig-headed enough to tell her detractors to jump off a bridge.

Whatever her reason for being here, Tribald was just glad she was. And that Headmaster Ruthers had given her a chance when no one else would. The man may have been hard to talk to sometimes, and extremely stubborn about his way being the right way. But at least he’d recognized that Gaia Sinclaire would be good for the school.

And who knew? Maybe in time, her influence would temper even the crotchety Headmaster.

******

October 15th, 1929

Walking along the edge of the school grounds, Tribald watched the placid ocean in the distance. The water looked so peaceful from up where he was, it was easy to get lost in thought while staring at it.

He couldn’t loiter here for long. He may not have been a student anymore, but he still had responsibilities. Hell, as part of the security team, he probably had less free time than he had as an actual student. In fifteen minutes, he needed to be back in the office so that Thompson could go on break.

As he was about to turn away from the sight of the ocean, a soft hand covered his mouth while another caught his arm. He jerked, and was about to retaliate when a familiar voice whispered, “Bang, bang.”

“Hggmm?” Eyes widening, Tribald pulled his head free and turned, his own voice a whisper, “Joselyn?” he hissed. “What are you—how are you here? What—I didn’t hear the alarm, did you just-”

The beautiful blonde grinned, stepping back as she released him. She’d had to make herself float about a foot off the ground in order to reach his mouth to cover it. Now, she sank back down and stretched while waving a hand at him. “There’s no alarm, Trib. Don’t worry, no one else knows I’m within a thousand miles of this place. And no one’s going to know. Right?” She added with a raised eyebrow.

“Not from me,” he confirmed, still whispering hoarsely even as he looked around with a deep sense of paranoia. “But how? How can you be on the grounds right now without anyone knowing? Jos, you’re like–” Lowering his voice even further until it was barely audible, he hissed, “You’re a criminal now. You being on the grounds should be sending off every alert we have. They should be dogpiling you.”

“Ooh, dogpiling,” the blonde woman gave that incorrigible grin once more before nudging him. “Should I be flattered? How’s the security crop this year, any good sheiks? Besides you, I mean.”

She laughed at his expression. “Okay, okay. The truth is, I can’t tell you how I got here. A girl’s gotta have her secrets, Trib. And what you don’t know, they can’t get out of you if anything goes wrong.” At the last bit, she sobered noticeably, laying a hand on his shoulder. “And I don’t want anything to go wrong. That’s why you should know as little as possible. Plausible deniability. You’re safer that way.”

Tribald finally focused on her rather than letting his eyes dart around so much. Instead, he squinted at his former classmate. “Safer? I don’t want to be safe, I want to help you with… you know what. I should be out there with you, not playing security for this place.” He waved a hand around vaguely.

“No, Tribald.” Joselyn shook her head. “I already told you, being with me is a bad idea.” Her voice softened then. “Deveron trusts you more than anything, so I trust you more than anything. You’re our friend, but the others don’t know that. They can’t know that. No one can. They have to think that you’re loyal to Crossroads, that you hate us. That’s how you can help, by being our ace in the hole. If anything goes wrong, we’ll need people like you on the inside more than we need you fighting right beside us.”

It took him a moment, but finally the man swallowed hard and nodded. “Whatever I can do to help. You know that. You, me, and Deveron, we go way back. Back to the beginning. So yeah, I’m with you. You need me to play security in this place for another fifty years, I’ll do it. Anything you need, Jos.”

“Great,” Joselyn replied with an impish wink and smile. “Because I need you to quit your job.”

His mouth opened and shut at that, and he gaped for a moment before managing a weak, “Err, what?”

Chuckling, the woman squeezed his arm. “Okay, not just quit. We need to get someone into the Bow Street Runners, Trib. It’s too dangerous not to have any eyes on that group, if we’re going to pull any of this off. You’ve already got the scores to make it, and being part of the security team here will help.”

“The Runners?” Tribald echoed in disbelief. “You really think they’d take someone like me?”

She shot him a hard look at that. “Stop it. You’re brilliant, Trib. If you don’t belong with the Runners, no one does. You’re a great security guard, but you’ll be an even better detective. And I’m not just saying that. If I didn’t think you could do some real good there, I wouldn’t ask you. And I am asking. If you don’t want to do it, just say so. We’ll find someone else. But like I said, it’s not just about having someone in that group. I think you can really help people as one of the Runners. If you want to do it.”

In spite of himself, Tribald swallowed nervously. “Apply to the Runners, I mean… they’re a—that’s really–” He took a breath, buoyed by her encouragement. “Yeah. I’ll do it. I’ll apply to the Runners.”

The relief on Joselyn’s face was obvious, despite her attempt to try to make him think it would be okay if he refused. “Thank you.” Floating up off the ground once more, she kissed his cheek before giving him a brief hug. “Now I really need to go before one of your coworkers comes looking for you. Besides,” she added while looking pointedly over her shoulder. “I think my friend’s getting impatient.”

He blinked blankly, looking up past her. “What fri-” He stopped short, eyes widening at the sight of the black man standing half-hidden in the shadows. The figure wasn’t tall in comparison to him, topping out at only a couple inches over six feet. But just like with Gaia, something about the silent man made Tribald feel tiny in comparison. Except this was even more apparent. The power and strength that radiated out from the dark-skinned man somehow made him feel like he was a child again, standing in the shadow of his father. He felt at once protected and also intimidated by this invincible sentinel.

“Is–” His voice cracked in spite of himself before he pushed on. “Is that… is that Gabriel Pro–”

“Shh.” Joselyn touched her finger to her lips, eyes sparkling with mischief and amusement. “Don’t say it. Next time I’ll try to have time to let you guys talk. I’m sure he’ll want to hear all your stories.”

He’ll want to hear my stories?” Tribald echoed in disbelief. But Joselyn was already retreating back to the shadows to join her companion. Before she disappeared entirely, he quickly added, “Do you think we can pull this off? You really believe we can actually win this thing?”

By that point, Joselyn herself was almost entirely enveloped by the shadows. Her face was mostly hidden as she looked back to him, though he could see the white of her smile. “Don’t you understand? It’s not about whether we win or lose at some eventual end-point. It’s about everything we do. Every time we save someone they would have killed, we win. Every time we make one of them think, even for a second, that what they’re doing is wrong, we win. Every person we convince, every life we save, every family we help, that’s when we win. Every father, mother, and child who does not have their right to exist taken away just because of how they were born, we win.

“So don’t look at me and ask if we’re going to win. Look at every single person who will die if we don’t try, and ask yourself if they deserve to lose.”

******

September 7th, 2017

As Joselyn’s daughter left the room where he’d been questioning her about Zedekiah’s death, Tribald sat back for a moment. She looked… so much like her mother. The resemblance and family connection was obvious from the very first second that he’d seen her. The sight of the blonde girl sitting there when he’d come into the room had surprised him so much that he’d almost blurted Joselyn’s name before catching himself.

The girl had noticed. He knew that much. She’d noticed enough to ask about it, about why she had almost been refused entry to the school. Something about the way he’d looked at her had convinced the girl that he had answers. And he did, even if that damned spell prevented him from actually giving them to her. Given the choice, he’d take the girl aside and tell her everything. All of it. He owed her mother that much and far more.

He’d wanted to damn the consequences and break Joselyn out of prison the entire time that she’d been locked up in there. He had been willing to risk everything if it meant getting his friend out of her cell. But Joselyn had stopped him, had convinced him to look to the future. She made him promise to keep his position and use it to both look for and protect her children. Especially if they came to Crossroads.

So he had done what he could without tipping his hand. He tried to protect the boy, Wyatt by that point, from Ruthers’ manipulations and spies throughout his schooling. It wasn’t much, but he made sure that the kid always had a job to fall back on and that he received enough training to protect himself. He made sure that books detailing various security enchantments found their way into the boy’s hands, acting as a secret, hands-off tutor.

It was harder to keep an eye on Abigail without being noticed by his contemporaries, but he did what he could while out in the regular world. As far as he could tell, she had grown up happy enough with her Bystander family. He’d even made certain that she met one of his distant relatives, the grandson of one of his cousins. Abigail and Kenneth had hit it off, and now their child was coming to the same school as Joselyn’s daughter.

Shaking off those thoughts, Tribald pushed himself away from the chair and stood. In the same motion, he called on one of the teleportation powers he’d gained over the years.

Then he was standing in front of the trophy case, the same one he’d directed Flick toward. Turning, the man’s eyes immediately found someone else waiting there.

“I figured you’d come down here,” Klassin Roe, the school therapist, remarked. “She looks like her mother, doesn’t she?”

Tribald nodded once, a lump catching in his throat at the thought. “She does.” He nodded to the picture behind the glass. “She also deserves to know the truth.”

Klassin glanced that way as well, his voice quiet. “You’re taking the spell down?”

Putting his hand up against the glass, Tribald gave another nod, his eyes focusing on the photograph of their graduating class. It was one of the only existing photographs of Joselyn that he’d managed to protect from the spell. He’d left it in the case here so that nothing would happen to it, leaving a protective enchantment that stopped most people from noticing it. Then, between himself and Klassin, they managed to keep the enchantment up.

“She’s a good kid,” Tribald murmured while keeping his hand against the glass in front of the picture. “Joselyn would be proud of her.”

Klassin gave a soft chuckle. “Of course she would, the kid’s already finding ways to buck the system and it’s been like three days.”

Both of their heads turned slightly then at the sound of approaching footsteps. Flick and her roommate. Apparently his partner was done with her interrogation too.

Before the two girls came into view, Tribald silently dismissed the enchantment on the picture, allowing it to be seen so that they could find it. Then he met Klassin’s gaze briefly before both men teleported out of sight at the last second.

Maybe the spell prevented him from outright telling the girl the truth. But he could damn well make sure she found enough clues to put it together. It was the least he could do after everything that had happened. Like so many others, whether they admitted it or not, he was the man he was because of Joselyn Atherby.

And that went double for his companion. Not only would the school therapist not be the kind of man that he was without Joselyn’s influence, he would literally be a different person.

After all, without Joselyn, Klassin Roe never would have rebelled against his father and changed his name from Jonathan Ruthers.

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