Joshua Atherby

Mini-Interlude 74 – Historical Figures Part B

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Theodore Roosevelt

“You know I hate it when you people do that.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s voice was rough as the man himself sat nursing a drink in one of the many rooms of the White House. He spoke without bothering to turn toward the man who had just appeared behind him. “It’s creepy as hell. I’d threaten to shoot the next one of you who did it, but I don’t think it’d do much good. The threat or the shooting.”

With an apologetic smile, the handsome man with curly dark hair stepped around the desk and into his sightline. “Sorry. Force of habit. Also, I don’t think your people would much like me coming in the normal way.”

Sitting back in his seat, Roosevelt considered the man for a moment before giving a slight sigh as he leaned forward and slid the bottle across the desk. “Have a seat, Mr. Atherby. And whatever bad news you’ve come to give me, you keep your trap shut about it until we have a drink together. Unless it’s the type of news that won’t keep for a few minutes.”

Just before the bottle would have slid off the edge of the desk, Joshua Atherby raised a hand to catch it with one finger. “It’ll keep,” he allowed before sitting to pour himself a drink, as ordered.

Taking a sip of it, he regarded the other man. “You’ve worn a lot of different hats in your day, Mr. President. Rancher, writer, politician, police commissioner, navy secretary, soldier, governor, then vice president and now president. You’ve done more things with your life than a lot of people I know who, well, let’s just say they’ve had longer to work with.”

“Speaking of which,” Roosevelt put in then, “how many of your Heretic people actually know that I know about them? Just a simple, ordinary, mundane old man.”

Joshua snorted. “First, every single word aside from man is wrong in that sentence. You’re not simple, ordinary, mundane, or old. You’re not even old by normal standards. Aren’t you the youngest guy to ever become president? What are you, forty?”

“Forty-two,” Roosevelt corrected. “And I aim to at least double that digit.”

Regarding him for a moment, Joshua quietly pointed out, “We could do more than double it, you know. People with our abilities tend to live longer if we don’t die tragically. And you don’t seem like the type who would go out easy.”

The other man gave a slow shake of his head. “Am I going to have to tell you no every time we talk, Joshua? It’s just like I said every other time you bring it up. I want to be human. I want to live in the real world, be with the real people.” Belatedly, he corrected himself. “Not that your people aren’t real, but…”

Joshua shook his head. “I understand, you don’t have to explain. You want to be with the regular population. And you’re doing a good job of it so far.” He sighed then. “But I won’t say that I’m not disappointed. You could do good with us too. As for who knows about you, that depends. With my people, there’s a few. It’s kind of gotten around. But with Crossroads or the Garden folks, I’d say just a couple. They don’t exactly want to advertise that we took the Bystander Effect away from the guy who is now President of the United States. Especially when that man doesn’t want anything to do with our society.”

“You,” Roosevelt corrected him. “You took it away. Right there in that Cuban jungle. You woke me up to the things both us and the Spaniards were fighting and dying to instead of each other. You took the blindfold off my damn eyes, and none of this shit has been the same since. You know, I’m pretty sure we’ve got a few of those Alter people right here in Congress. And damned if a couple of them aren’t the ones I like.”

“Don’t let Crossroads hear you say that,” Joshua muttered under his breath.

Roosevelt took another deep gulp from his drink. “The point is, you showed me the monsters. The monsters that are still down there in the jungle. And everywhere else.” He paused briefly before meeting the other man’s gaze. “Speaking of, have your people had a chance to look into… this particular hat I’m wearing right now?”

Clearly having anticipated the question, Joshua gave a single nod. “We did, and there’s nothing there. Your predecessor was killed by Leon Czolgosz, a completely normal human being. He has no ties that we can find to anything to do with our world. Just a man.”

“Well, I wish I could say that makes me feel better,” Roosevelt grunted, “but part of me thinks I would’ve liked it better if there was some kind of conspiracy with your types. Anyway, there’s still plenty of your monsters running around. Like the ones in Desoto. They’ve been there for years now. We’ve got thousands dying there, and every goddamn day I sit around waiting for one of you people to show up and say that you’ve got it under control, that you’ve dealt with them. But something tells me that’s not why you’re here right now. Is it?” The last two words were hard, his tone one of anger born of frustration. He was a man of action, and this was a situation he could take no actual action in.

Not that that had stopped him during his time down in Cuba, and then in Desoto itself. He and his Rough Riders had done as much damage to those monsters as a bunch of humans armed with rifles that had been secretly magically enhanced by Joshua‘s people could do.

But it was never enough. After he had been hit by some kind of Fomorian plague, the Heretics who helped save his life had insisted that he needed to be away from the battlefield or it would get worse. So he had been forced to go back to New York, where he did his best to avoid going insane by staying busy. Staying busy and, of course, getting regular reports from Joshua Atherby and his people. Regular reports which had blossomed into something of a friendship.

Joshua sighed. “Yes and no. The Fomorians… they’re never going to give up. They’re not the type to surrender, or call something a lost cause. They’re just going to keep throwing things at us until we break. The people you’ve been sending in, they’ve been helpful. And we’ve been trying to get them everything we can. But… but it’s not enough. Gaia, the baroness you met, she’s even started waking them up, letting normal people know the truth so they can get the hell out of the state. Some of them stay and fight anyway. But they still die. There’s so many people dying down there, it’s…” he trailed off, staring at his empty glass for a moment before cursing quietly. “It’s bad.”

“People grow from bad things,” Roosevelt informed him. “They grow from hardship and from hard work. Getting out there, fighting and killing those ugly bastards, it’s pain that brings out the real strength. Pain that brings growth. But you know what, I think we’ve grown just about enough as far as those beasts are concerned.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Joshua replied. “Because this has gone on long enough. We have a solution. But you’re not going to like it. Well, there is one part of it you might like.

“I won’t be popping up behind you anymore.“

 

*********

Jack Kirby

 

“I bet a Bystander-Kin student brought them in and just left them on the shelf.”

The words came from Columbus Porter, who sat in the library across from Tristan Moon. Between them lay an assortment of comic books. An assortment which, upon finding them buried deep on one of the library shelves, had driven both boys through nine different kinds of shock and awe. It was a collection that would have made any collector feel faint. Or possibly driven them to the hospital.

The first seven issues of X-Men, the first three issues of Avengers. Six scattered issues from the first forty of Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth, Forever People number one, several issues of Tales of Suspense and of Tales to Astonish, including the first appearances of Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk. Original copies all.

An amazing collection to begin with, but each and every issue had also been magically protected against wear and tear, leaving it completely pristine aside from the single signature that decorated each book. The signature belonging to one Jack Kirby.

“Are you kidding?” Tristan demand of them while gesturing to the collection. “First of all, no student, Bystander or otherwise, is going to leave something like this here if it belongs to them. None. It’s not going to happen. Besides, Vanessa says that they clear the shelves every year to watch for any magical tricks or pranks. There’s no way it would’ve been left here this long by accident.”

“No way what would have been left?” Vanessa herself asked as she approached the table and pulled out a seat beside her brother.

“Those,” Tristan announced as he gestured to the comic books.

Vanessa looked that way before nodding. “Oh, yeah. It’s the Jack Kirby collection, of course they have that.”

In unison, both boys threw up their hands while demanding, “What do you mean, of course they have that?!”

Vanessa blinked twice, looking slowly back and forth between the boys before responding, as though it should have been obvious, “You know, because he was an Adjacent.”

Both boys stared at her before Tristan asked, “A what, now?”

“Adjacent,” she repeated. “You know, it’s what they call a human who isn’t really a Heretic, but is either less affected by the Bystander Effect, or isn’t affected at all. You know, for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s because of a magic spell that they get hit with, other times it something on their bloodline, and sometimes there’s no explanation at all. There’s just some people out there who see through some of it for no reason that anyone can find. They get… glimpses through the veil. Some more than others. It drives a lot of them insane.”

Her words were quiet as she looked away for a moment, lost in her perfect, inescapable memories before she looked back again. “Jacob Kurtzberg was an Adjacent.” Belatedly, she started, “That’s—”

“Jack Kirby,” Tristan interrupted, “duh, everyone knows that. But what do you mean, he was an Adjacent? He saw through the Bystander Effect?”

“Some of it,” Vanessa confirmed. “Enough that it helped him… create. He put things that he saw or partially remembered in some of his projects. A lot of it is really distorted, like peeking through your fingers or something you’ll only remember tiny parts of, but it’s there. And he was creative enough to express it. Even if he didn’t know exactly what he was expressing.”

Curiously, Columbus asked, “What does that have to do with his comics being here, and being signed?”

Reaching out to pick up one of the books, Vanessa replied, “Some Heretics back when he was first starting out recognized some of what he was drawing and went to investigate, just in case there was a problem. One of them made friends with him and brought these comics back over the years.”

“They didn’t make him a Heretic, or tell him the truth, or anything?” Tristan asked, clearly fascinated.

Her head shook while she carefully looked through the comic in her hands. It was as pristine as the day it had been released decades earlier. “There was no real need to. The Heretic who made contact and was friends with him didn’t want to do anything to ruin his work. He wasn’t being threatened, no one was going to go after him. He was just drawing things. They just checked in on him once in a while. That’s where the books here kept coming from. Gaia made them part of the school’s collection. They’re spelled to stay here in the library.”

“I wonder why,” Columbus murmured. “I mean, I wonder why Gaia keeps them here in the library.”

It was Tristan who answered. “I think it’s because she wanted people to find them and see that not all Bystanders are completely clueless. Or just see how brilliant his work is. Maybe she wanted to give the school some kind of connection to the regular world. Or she just thought the students here would like them.”

“Probably all of that,” Vanessa agreed. “Leaving these here does a lot of things. Plus, I’m pretty sure Gaia likes the idea of sticking comic books in the library because of how much it pisses off certain people.”

“Hey,” Tristan started, “speaking of which, how come you never told me these were here? That would’ve got me in the library a lot faster.”

“I know,” Vanessa retorted, “I put a few of them near some of the books that I said you should check out. It let me know how much attention you were paying to my recommendations. So, see? If you’d listened to me sooner, you would have found out about these.”

Tristan opened his mouth while raising a hand to retort, then stopped. His hand lowered, and he grudgingly admitted, “Well played. But wait a minute, does that mean that there’s other comics that we haven’t found?”

Pursing her lips thoughtfully, Vanessa regarding the collection on the table before looking up with a smile. “Maybe. I guess you’ll just have to look through the books that I said you should and find out. And maybe some of those books have sticky notes somewhere inside them saying where other comics are.”

“I’m being tricked into learning,” Tristan muttered. “This is unfair.”

Vanessa gave an easy smile. “Now see, if I was tricking you, I would’ve said something to Columbus that would lead him to the first pile of these things, knowing that he’d get you involved and you’d let him get you into the library because you didn’t think it was coming from me.”

Starting to report, Tristan paused, before shrugging. “You know what, that’s fair. One genius bribing me into the library with work from another genius? I’ll take it.”

Columbus nodded, reaching out to put a hand on the nearest comic. Running a finger along the signature, he murmured, “I think you missed the most obvious reason Gaia lets these be here though.

“It’s because this is where all the magic books are supposed to be.”

Previous Chapter                              Next Chapter

Advertisements

Bonus Interlude – Joselyn Edge Visions

Previous Chapter                                            Next Chapter

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.”

Previous Chapter                                            Next Chapter