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.
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.”
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.”