Joshua Atherby

Patreon Snippets 6

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

Present Day – Seosten Space

“Sir? I–can I get you anything?” Teures, Puriel’s young (an incredibly fresh-faced forty-seven years) Seosten assistant tentatively asked. He stood just in the doorway of a grand, if lonely-looking library. His eyes were on the room’s only occupant, a gray-haired man standing next to a globe. The globe itself was blank at the moment, though at any point it could be set to display any of the millions of planets within the Seosten databanks.

Considering the news he had just passed along, Teures had no idea how the old man was going to react. His wife had been killed, murdered by their own daughter. How would he react to that? How could he react to that?

Teures had just opened his mouth after a few moments of silence to offer to bring the man a drink, when Puriel spoke. “I’d like to be alone, please.” His voice was quiet enough that the young Seosten had to lean closer to hear him properly. “Just… alone.”

Bowing his head, Teures gracefully replied, “Of course, sir. I’ll be downstairs if you need anything.” As he backed out of the room and closed the doors behind him, Teures had a moment to wonder why it hadn’t been one of Puriel’s old crewmates to bring him the news. Surely a man as powerful and influential as he deserved to be told of his wife’s death by someone more important than his barely-adult assistant.

In the room, Puriel waited for the doors to close. His hand played over the blank globe as he let out a soft sigh. A few short steps took him to a plush armchair, where he sat and leaned his head back. His eyes closed, and he cast himself… elsewhere.

Well, not elsewhere. The place he went was into his own mind, a mental landscape that worked much like a much more stable dream-world. It was a virtual reality of sorts, created by him and maintained by his… companion, the girl who had been possessing him for years by this point. Sariel’s possession-impaired daughter.

“Spark,” he spoke quietly while ‘appearing’ in the middle of the girl’s workshop. In reality, he was still sitting in that chair in the library, but now all of his attention was directed inward, to this simple-looking room full of tables with various architectural designs and ship blueprints. All of them created and obsessively corrected and updated by the young girl herself. The girl he called Spark, not only because of his own penchant for electricity, but also because it was her presence that had pulled Puriel himself out of what would have been a completely self-destructive cycle of grief and regret.

She was there, standing by a table. For a moment, Puriel looked at her. The truth was, they had no idea what she would look like now, given that it had been years since she had possessed him and, for obvious reasons, she had not left him in all that time. What he saw was the image she chose to present. Which happened to be a small, ten-year old girl with hair fashioned into a tight, elegant braid. One half of the girl’s hair, the left side, was very light blonde, while the right half was pitch-black. The braid itself alternated black and blonde all the way down.

Exactly why she chose to present herself that way, with hair split between light and dark, was something Puriel had wondered for some time without bringing it up. He had a feeling it was an effort on her part to show her split between being Sariel’s daughter and being raised and cared for by him.

Those thoughts and more went through the man’s mind while he watched Spark standing there by one of her tables, intently working on her latest plans for a building. Her interest in architecture, in designing buildings, cities, worlds, and even various spaceships, had started almost as soon as they had first… come together. Now, it was how she spent so much of her time, here in his mind, creating entire worlds and only able to show him.

For now. He would find a way to free the girl, a way to return her to her mother. He would… somehow.

Finally, after a couple minutes of silence (aside from the steady sound of the girl marking the paper for her new design), she looked back to him. “How do you feel?” As ever, her words were economical, saying as much as possible in as few words as she could manage.

He’d had time to anticipate the question. And yet, even then, it took Puriel a few seconds to find the words. “How do I feel? As though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders… only to settle in the pit of my stomach. The woman I once loved beyond all reason has been killed… by our own daughter, who did so to save her own life. Or the life of her host.”

The man looked away then, feeling a slight dampness in his eyes. There was an empty pit that had been hollowed out of his soul by the news of Kushiel’s death. And yet, hadn’t that pit already been there? Because he’d lost the woman that he loved long before this day. Perhaps even before they had set foot on Earth, in many ways. He had lost her gradually over the past several thousand years, and had finally begun noticing that loss… when he had saved Spark from her. When he had recognized that there was something to save the girl from. Allowing himself to accept, in his own mind, that the child had to be taken away from his wife was when he had first truly recognized just how far she had fallen, how much she had changed.

He’d gone silent, but Spark had not done anything to fill that silence. It wasn’t her way. She never filled silences with random small talk, never spoke a single word that wasn’t exactly and only what she needed to speak to make her point. She simply turned back to her work and waited for him to continue. Not because she was intentionally being rude or uncaring, but because she loathed wasting time. Standing there in silence waiting for him to say something, or worse, filling the silence with platitudes, was utterly foreign and distasteful to the girl. When he was ready to speak, she would turn her attention back to him. Until then, she focused on her designs.

Whether it was a habit she had picked up on her own and always would have preferred, or a response to his tendency to drift off into his own memories for minutes at a time, even after these past years, he couldn’t say. He did know that when something was important, she called him back. Most of his people believed that he was much better than he had been. But the truth was that his mind wandered against his will just as often. He would lose track of where and when he was, believing that he was still on the Olympus, or on Earth, or even earlier than those times. He would lose track of who he was talking to, believing them to be someone else.

Spark brought him back in those times. She guided him back to his real memories, reminding him of who he was. And in the times that she could not get him to respond soon enough, she took over his body. They had been together long enough, and he had opened up enough to her, that when he was in one of those states, she was able to take over and, essentially, fake things enough to stop any questions.

Realizing that he was drifting off into another memory hole, even if it was a minor one, Puriel focused on answering.

“I feel… the end of a great loss. As if the life that I once imagined having with the woman whom I loved was a basin of water that has been steadily draining over these years. Her death is not the greatest source of the loss of the life we could have had. It did not empty the basin. It only ensured that the basin would never be filled again.”

For a few long seconds after that, Spark said nothing. Her hands were busily moving along her paper, marking out a few adjustments. She seemed to be thinking quite hard, though he didn’t know if it was about what he’d said, or about her design. When she did finally speak, it was in a slow, careful tone. “I’m sorry for what you lost.”

Extending his hand, Puriel conjured a chair within his mind space and sat down. He genuinely wasn’t sure what difference it made whether he was standing up or sitting down in his own mind, but it felt like the right thing to do. So he sat, and spoke. “It’s okay to be glad that she won’t hurt… anyone else. It’s alright for you to be happy about that.”

Turning away from her table finally, Spark looked at him in silent thought before stepping over. She stood by his chair, shifting on her feet and, for the moment, looking like the little girl that she was. “I am. But I don’t want you to be sad.”

Letting out a breath (another thing he didn’t understand the purpose of), Puriel carefully reached out and picked the girl up. He sat her on his leg with one hand against her back while the other gently touched her face. “Listen, okay? I have done very bad things, very wrong things. You’ve seen a lot of them. I’ve ignored things I never should have. I’ve turned a blind eye to situations that I could have fixed. I’ve let people down, and I have betrayed them.

“You are quite probably the best thing that I have done. You are the very best part of my life. So believe me when I tell you, feel what you need to feel. No one who matters will ever blame you for being happy that someone cannot inflict suffering and torture on anyone else again.”

Sitting there on his leg, Spark hesitated before meeting his gaze. “You loved her.”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “I did love her. And I allowed that love to blind me to her many faults, to our many faults. Perhaps if I had seen them, acknowledged them, she could’ve been saved a long time ago from becoming the person she was. Perhaps I could have pulled her back from what she turned into if I hadn’t spent so long seeing her as I wished she was.”

His head shook then. “But that is for me to think of. For now, I believe what I could truly use is a distraction. Do you think you could manage that?”

With a silent nod that made her black-blonde braid bounce, Spark slipped off his leg and stood, extending a hand to him. As he took it, she led him to a door on the side of the room.

They could have simply appeared wherever in his mindscape she meant to take him. But the process of using doors felt more natural. And it also made the space seem ‘real’ in a way that was important for her. Trapped as she was within his mind, Puriel felt as though even those small things were incredibly important.

Through the open door, the two emerged into a grassy courtyard. Ahead of them was a fountain that appeared to be split in half, with a statue of an androgynous figure in the middle holding the two halves together. On each side of the fountain was another figure, both of them with with an arm extended, holding the hilt of a sword. The blades of those swords were the water, each striking one side of the statue in the middle that was trying so hard to hold the two halves together while being struck down from either side by the water-swords.

Beyond the fountain was a building shaped like an L on its side, the long part half a dozen stories higher than the short, the top three of which were cut at a slant. On top of the shorter half was another courtyard where Puriel could see tables set for what appeared to be an outdoor restaurant.

It was only his first glimpse of what Spark had been working on lately, and as the girl pulled him by the hand, Puriel knew he’d made the right choice in coming here. Because while he could not be there for his actual daughter after she had killed her mother (the Seraphim would never allow him to go to Earth in his condition, even if he did seem to be improving), this right here was a reminder that there was someone else who depended on him.

And, if Puriel was being honest, he depended on her just as much.

 

******

 

1796 – Boston

 

Two figures stood at the top of a hill overlooking the thriving city of Boston. With a population of almost twenty thousand people, it was the third largest city in the fledgling United States, just after New York and Philadelphia. Large enough that no one paid attention to the two visitors who stood on that hill, watching the busy people rushing back and forth about their daily lives. Two figures, one an adult woman with dark hair and a round face that left her looking eternally cheerful, her smile lines a permanent indent, and the other a young boy with equally dark hair that was a curly mop atop his head. The boy held the woman’s hand tightly while scanning the people in the distance with the intensity of trying to pick out faces despite the fact that they were entirely too far away to even have a chance of doing so without some form of telescopic vision.  

“Mama, are Grandpap and Grandmam tall?”

Blinking down to the boy at her side with some surprise, Edeva Atherby asked, “Why do you want to know if they’re tall, Joshua?”

“Cuz,” he replied simply, “I wanna be tall. But you’re not very tall, and Papa’s not very tall. So I was hoping they were because then maybe I could be.”

With a very faint smile, Edeva answered, “Your grandfather is a little taller than your father. And your grandmother is taller than him. She’s about…” The woman held her hand up to about the six foot mark. “Here.”

“Wow!” Smiling brightly, the curly-haired boy excitedly babbled, “I can’t wait for them to get here, Mama! Do you think they’ll bring me a present? I mean, they don’t have to bring me a present, but I would really like a new whittling knife. Or maybe a kite. Oh, oh, do you think they know it was my birthday last week?”

Smiling a little sadly at her son, Edeva nodded. “Of course they did. They sent those little candies for you, remember? You’re still saving them, right?”

“Only one a day,” Joshua dutifully reported. “Uh huh.” Belatedly, he added in a whisper, “But it’s really hard. Sometimes I wanna have two.”

Rubbing her son’s head, Edeva started to respond to that, only to be interrupted by a crisp, no-nonsense voice that sounded as though it would be right at home belonging to a schoolmarm.

“It pains me that you allow the boy to eat such filth.”

As promised, Remember Humility Bennett stood a full six feet tall, not counting the severe, tight bun her gray hair had been tied into. Her eyes were a deep, dark green, while she wore a black dress, looking as though she were in mourning. Which her countenance did nothing to dissuade.

“Hello, Mother,” Edeva quietly greeted. “I promise you, no one is eating filth. It was very good candy that you and Father provided.” The last bit was added with a pointed glance toward her suddenly shy son hiding behind her leg.

“One should never lie to their children,” Remember primly informed her in a tone that her daughter was all-too familiar with. “It sets a poor example. You’ll note that I never lied to you.”

“Yes,” Edeva readily agreed. “You always spoke the truth and nothing but, no matter how it made me feel.”

“And you are a strong woman because of it,” Remember noted before turning her attention back to Joshua. “Now, to the point of this meeting. Come here boy, I would like to have a look at you.”

At an encouraging nod from his mother, Joshua slowly slipped out from behind her and took a couple steps that way before straightening himself somewhat. “H-hello, Grandmam. I am glad to finally meet you.” His voice had the quality of clearly reciting from memory. “Oh, and thank you for the clothes you send every year.”

Nodding primly, Remember spoke again. “You are welcome. I trust you are making good use of them.”

The boy nodded quickly. “Yes, ma’am. My friend Ossy and me–”

“Ossy and I,” Remember corrected sharply.

“Ossy and I,” Joshua obediently parroted, “we took the clothes and cut up the–” Again he was cut off, this time as his mother pointedly cleared her throat, correcting himself to, “Uh, cut up a tree and I didn’t get any splinters because of the long sleeves.”

Making a noise of both disapproval and pleasure of being proven correct in her own mind, Remember looked to Edeva. “You see? Lying begets lying. If he were in our training program at the tree, he would not dare. And what sort of name is Ossy for a little boy?”

“Ossy’s not a boy,” Joshua piped up, immediately wanting to correct the woman about his friend. “She’s a girl. And she’s not human, she’s–”

“Ahem,” Remember started, looking sharply to her daughter. “I was under the impression that Lyell was in line with our beliefs. Particularly given his… history with the necromancer.”

“Lyell understands that judging trillions of beings by the actions of a few is a level of ignorant that surpasses the heat output of the sun,” Edeva informed her mother, though she did so with a bright, put-on smile and tone that would hopefully stop her son from understanding that there was a dark and dangerous argument brewing. “And that people, including he himself, can change.”

Intent on changing the subject rather than waste her son’s precious time with his grandparents after he’d pleaded for so long to meet them, Edeva pressed, “Where is Father?”

Primly, Remember replied, “You ask that as if you believe I have any sort of relationship with Bernlak. I assure you, that is not the case. Where he chooses to keep himself is precisely none of my concern.”

“And isn’t that just wonderful for me,” a new voice announced as Edeva’s father, Bernlak, appeared. As always, he wore his trademark green. This time in the form of a waistcoat and breeches, with a black silk shirt and equally dark boots. He also wore glasses with emerald lenses that tended to attract at least a little bit of attention from unawakened humans.

“Hello, Father,” Edeva greeted the man, pulling her son out in front of her once more. “Joshua, this is your grandfather. Father, this is your grandson.”

“Aww, you’re already so big!” Bernlak took a step that way, going down on one knee in front of the boy. “How old are you now, sixteen?”

“I’m eight!” the boy retorted, giggling as his head shook.

“Oh, really?” Bernlak sounded doubtful, looking him up and down. “Well, you’re going to be huge when you get older, I’ll tell you that much.”

Smiling brightly as his earlier hope was seemingly confirmed by his grandfather, Joshua eagerly asked, “Really? You think so, Grandpap?”

Watching the two of them for a moment, Edeva felt a pang. Her father was so effortlessly good with the boy, so charming and able to bond with him. And yet, she knew from experience that it wouldn’t last. Bernlak was incredibly good in the moment. He was great at making promises, but very bad at following through with them afterward. He would bond with Joshua, make all kinds of arrangements, then disappear. As soon as they were out of sight, he would forget about them, sometimes for years at a time. He was unreliable.

Given that, and her mother’s emotional distance, it was no wonder that Edeva herself had been raised almost entirely by Zedekiah Pericles at Crossroads. Her father was always off on one of his jobs as a mercenary, and her mother was… busy and never in any mood to entertain a child. Papa Pericles, as she had called him, had taken up every bit of slack to take care of her. At some point, he had told her that Gaia Sinclaire, the baroness of Desoto, had asked him to keep an eye on her given her own history with Bernlak. But he had grown to see her as his own grandchild, and she adored him as a mixture of a father and grandfather. Zedekiah was her real family, not these two.

Another new arrival yanked Edeva’s thoughts away from that, as she turned to see her husband step into view. Lyell Atherby was, as their son had noted, not a very tall man, standing only five and a half feet. Which was, to be fair, above average for the unawakened who didn’t eat nearly as well as they should. Yet for Heretics, it was on the short side.

Despite his lack of height, Lyell still cut an impressive figure. His straight brown hair reached his shoulders, and he kept a meticulously maintained goatee and thin mustache. His brown eyes were somehow piercing despite their apparent plainness. The man seemed to have the ability to look straight through someone. Which, given his age and experience (he had led the Atherby clan for several hundred years), was understandable.

“Sorry I’m late,” Lyell murmured, stepping over to his wife. “What did I miss?”

Edeva shook her head at that. “Nothing, really. Joshua’s just… getting to know his grandparents.”

With a very slight wince, Lyell put an arm around her and leaned in to whisper, “Do I need to strangle anyone?”

The words made her smile despite herself, and she once more shook her head. “Not yet.”

Her attention returned to her son and father then, as she slipped an arm around her husband. The two were already whispering conspiratorially, while Remember stood in the background, looking stiff and vaguely annoyed that this was eating into her productivity time.

But Joshua had pleaded with his mother for weeks to finally meet his grandparents, and she could not deny him that chance. While she had no faith that her father would follow up any of these promises, or that her mother would lighten up, Edeva did think that perhaps this meeting wouldn’t be so bad. Her son could have at least one decent memory with his grandparents without either of them ruining it.

But if they did, Lyell wouldn’t have a chance to strangle them. Because she might just beat him to it.

*******

Present Day – Atherby Camp

 

Three female figures stood at the head of a cobblestone path leading from the Atherby camp off into the woods. It was a small path, one that was easy to miss if you didn’t know where it was. Particularly as people tended to leave that whole area alone as a form of reverence.

“You know, you don’t… have to do this right now,” Abigail hesitantly informed Theia as she stood on one side of the Seosten girl, with one hand on her shoulder. Ever since Theia had returned separate from Pace earlier that evening, Abigail found it hard to resist the urge to keep touching her. A simple hair stroke, a shoulder squeeze, she just wanted to keep reassuring both herself and Theia that she was indeed in her own body again.

Pace, meanwhile, was also staying close and touching Theia often. And in her case, it likely meant even more that she would willingly touch her after they were finally separated. At the moment, she was standing on the other side of the girl, looking toward Abigail. Her mouth opened as if she was going to say something, but then she stopped, clearly remembering that the girl was perfectly capable of speaking for herself.

A moment later, Theia seemed to remember that too, straightening to look over at Abigail. “Is it wrong?” she asked tentatively, clearly worried. “Is it… bad?”

“Wha–bad? No. No, sweetie, no.” Quickly shaking her head as she realized just why Theia would have taken it that way, Abigail clarified. “I meant they’re going to have an official memorial service in a couple days, and I’m sure they’d let you add a few names to that. You know, so it can be official.”

Theia’s head shook, and Abigail once again marvelled at just how much the girl looked like a young Kushiel (not that she’d ever seen the monster in person, but there were images and holograms of her). It made her wonder just how others who had known Kushiel would handle seeing the girl now.

“I wish to put them to rest myself,” Theia announced carefully, clearly taking a moment to choose her words. “They do not know them. They have no reason to think of them, or care for them. I don’t… want it to be part of their memorial. It is my memorial. It is my friends’ memorial.”

Slowly nodding, Abigail looked to Pace, then back to Theia. “Would you girls like to do this alone?” Suddenly, after the girl’s words, she felt as though she might be intruding.

“No.” Theia gave a quick headshake, turning slightly to look at her. “Theia–I… mean… I… I want you to be there. Here. You are… You matter… you being here matters to me. Theia wants– I… want… you… to be here and… and… help… me.” The last few words came out through a somewhat trembling voice before the Seosten girl quickly added, “But if you want to leave, if you want to go away, that’s okay. I won’t–”

“Shhh.” Abigail put a hand out to the girl’s face, gently touching her cheek. “Theia, it’s okay. I want to be here.”

“So do I,” Pace announced firmly, her hand squeezing the other girl’s arm as reassuringly as she could. “We both want to be here, okay?”

“Okay,” Theia parroted. “Then we go.” Yet despite her words, she didn’t move. Her feet remained firmly planted, as she stared at the path. Pace and Abigail exchanged brief looks, but neither urged the girl on. This was clearly not something to rush. They stood by, patiently waiting for her to actually be ready.

Almost two full minutes of silence passed like that before Theia started to walk up the path. With Abigail and Pace right with her, she moved through the trees, their way lit by tiny candles that only came to life as they approached, providing just enough illumination to follow the winding cobblestone walkway. They moved slowly, none wanting to disturb the atmosphere by rushing things.

At their pace, it took almost five minutes of quiet walking for the group to reach the end of the path. Eventually, however, they emerged into a pretty clearing, lit by more of those candles as well as glowing lamps that projected a somewhat brighter, yet still soft, illumination. The clearing was almost fifty feet in diameter from side to side, and just as deep. A polished granite monument, semi-circular in shape, ran along every side of the clearing aside from the opening. It stood nine feet high. All along its surface were glowing golden letters, names that had been inscribed in the memorial. Names of people who had died in service to the Atherby Clan or in some way connected to them. Children recorded the names of parents who had been killed by Nocen or Heretics. Or parents recorded the names of children.

There were so many names it was staggering, Abigail almost losing a step. All of these people, so many of them… so many deaths. It brought an involuntary noise of dismay to her throat. Somehow, seeing a tangible representation of it made the whole thing that much more real.

Theia, who had also stopped short, stared at the monument for several long, silent seconds before turning to Pace. Her voice took on an urgent tone. “Is this wrong?”

Of course she would look to Pace for that. The two of them had been together for so long, had been literally in each other’s minds, that Theia’s first instinct was to ask Pace if something was wrong or right, to seek her opinion and thoughts. Thoughts which, up until a few hours earlier, she would have gotten instantly and silently.

“No, Theia,” Pace answered while meeting the girl’s gaze. “It’s not wrong. I promise.” With those words, she held up the special pen that Gabriel had provided when he learned what they wanted to do. “It’s okay.”

Still clearly uncertain, but taking Pace’s word for it, Theia took the pen. She fidgeted then, rolling it between her fingers before looking toward Abigail. Getting a nod from the woman, she hesitantly stepped up to an empty spot on the memorial, placing the pen against it before going still once more. For a minute, the girl simply stood there, silently staring at that blank bit of polished granite while her mind was clearly focused elsewhere.

When she finally spoke, it was in a voice that was clear and firm, though it obviously took some effort to make it that way. “Debba Sleus. I’m sorry–” Her voice caught, hitching a bit before she pushed on. “I’m sorry that I possessed you and… and couldn’t stop. I’m sorry Momma killed you because I–because I f… failed.”

Pace opened her mouth, then seemed to think better of interrupting. She and Abigail both exchanged looks, each wanting to stop Theia from thinking that way, but neither wanted to stop her from what she was doing. There would be time later to convince her that none of that was her fault. Let her say goodbye now, and begin healing after.

Theia, by that point, had carefully written the name. Abigail was almost certain the girl was actually using her boost solely to keep her hand steady enough to be legible. She finished inscribing it, and as she took the pen away, the letters began to glow just like the others.

She moved to the next spot down then, resting the pen there. “Tedora of Deep Rock. I… I’m sorry.” She wrote the name carefully, then moved to the next line.

“Stavin Epks Nuel Rev, I’m sorry.

“Denanine Rache, I’m sorry.”

“Valian Lien Kodian, I’m… sorry.”

It went on… and on… and on. While Pace and Abigail watched and listened, Theia dutifully continued through a list of thirty names. Thirty names. Thirty people whom Kushiel had forced her to possess and then killed when she could not stop possessing them. Thirty people who were murdered in that insane woman’s quest to ‘fix’ her daughter’s disability. She might as well have pointed a gun at the head of an innocent person and ordered a paraplegic to walk.

And then continued to do that twenty-nine more times.

By the last name, Theia finally stopped. Her hand lowered to her side, and the pen fell to the dirt. She forgot about it for the moment, staring at the names she had written. Slowly, the girl looked up, then down once more, taking them all in. Her voice was a whisper. “I’m sorry.”

Slowly, she looked toward Abigail, her mouth opening and shutting a couple times before she found her voice. “There is something wrong.”

Blinking at that, Abigail stepped that way, carefully asking, “Something wrong?”

“I… I can’t… breathe,” Theia explained a bit haltingly. “I–I… it feels like I’ve been running, but I haven’t. It feels like I’ve been running, and I can’t… can’t get enough… breath. I can’t breathe. My… my eyes. My eyes hurt. They hurt, like needles. They hurt like needles but not. Because I don’t mind needles in my eyes, but I mind this. I mind this. It hurts. There’s acid. There’s acid in my eyes. It’s wet. And it stings. And it hurts, and I don’t like it. I want it to stop. Pain is okay. But not this one. It hurts my eyes. It hurts my chest. I can’t breathe. I want it to stop, please. I want it to stop now.”

“Oh, Theia.” Gasping those words quietly, Abigail gave Pace a quick look before stepping that way to embrace the girl. She pulled her in, wrapping both arms around her to hug Theia as tight as she could. “I’m sorry, baby. That’s not how… that’s not how this kind of pain works. You have to feel it. You have to feel it, but it’s okay.”

Standing stiffly for a moment, the Seosten girl gazed up at her with wide eyes that were indeed somewhat wet. Her voice was plaintive. “But it hurts, Miss Abigail. I don’t like it. I’m think I’m broken.”

“Oh God, no. No, sweet girl,” Abigail assured her. “You’re not broken. You are not broken. Listen to me, this is good.”

“G-good?” Theia echoed, her eyes widening a bit as she stared uncertainly at the woman.

Abigail nodded slowly. “Yes. It’s very sad that you’re hurt. I’m sorry that you’re in pain. But I am glad that you still feel it, that you can still…” She trailed off, swallowing hard as she sought the right words. “You’re sad for other people, Theia. You’re sad because someone else died, and that means you’re not broken. You aren’t broken at all. You’re bent. Bent all over. But you’re not broken. You feel. And that’s good. Okay? It is good to feel, because it means you care. You care about all those names, all those people. When you look at them, when you think about them, it hurts? It hurts here?” She leaned back a bit to touch her own chest.

Theia nodded to that, her eyes blinking rapidly. “It hurts there. It hurts here.” She touched near her eyes, swallowing hard before touching her throat, then her stomach. “And here… and here. It hurts and I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”

It was Pace who spoke then, reaching out to take the girl’s hand. “Here.” Carefully, she moved Theia’s fingers to the memorial, touching them against the first name the girl had written. “Say goodbye.”

Eyes snapping to her former host, Theia echoed. “Say goodbye? Say… say…” Slowly, her eyes moved back to the name of Debba Sleus. “Good…” She stopped short, making an almost silent noise in the back of her throat before forcing the word out. “… bye. Goodbye.”

Carefully, Pace lowered the other girl’s fingers to the next name. She remained silent, but Theia knew, quietly whispering, “G-goodbye.”

There was a slight hitch of her breath then, as she moved her own fingers down to the next one, repeating the word. One by one, she said goodbye to each of the names. By the end, she could barely speak, her voice halting repeatedly as she choked out the last of her farewells.

Or perhaps not the last, as Gabriel Prosser took a step into the clearing at the end. His voice was solemn. “They will be remembered, I promise you that.” He paused then, straightening. “I’m sorry. I would never interrupt. But Theia asked me to be here for the end, to make it official.” He looked to her then. “But this isn’t the end, is it? There’s one more.” He was watching Theia, eyes soft as he added, “One more you want to write down.”

Swallowing hard at that, Theia shrank back, somehow ducking into herself. “It… it’s wrong. It can’t go there. It can’t be there with them.”

“Here.” Extending his hand, Gabriel held a stone out to her, about the size of the girl’s fist. It too looked like polished granite, as if it had been taken from the memorial itself.  

Theia took the stone, then the magic pen as Pace stooped to pick it up for her. She held the pen and the stone in each hand, staring at both for almost a full minute before carefully scrawling the last name. Her mother’s.

Abigail watched as Theia wrote Kushiel’s name on the stone. Then the girl gave one last look at the memorial, to all the names she had recorded. She mouthed one last apology before turning on her heel to begin walking quickly back along the path.

Pace, Abigail, and Gabriel exchanged brief looks before following her. Without a word, Theia continued along the path, walking all the way back into the camp before moving to the lake. She stood there, facing the water with the stone in one hand. Her knuckles were white from how tightly she was holding that stone, and she gave a slight shudder while lifting it to stare at her mother’s name.

“Goodbye, Momma.” Her voice was so soft, Abigail almost didn’t hear her. Then she reared back, hurling the stone all the way to the middle of the lake in one toss. It struck the water and dropped out of sight, falling to the bottom with a single splash.

Theia stood there, staring at the water where the rock had gone. Then she turned to Abigail. Her mouth opened, shut, then opened again. Yet no sound emerged. No sound, that was, aside from the keening sound of grief which may as well have been the opening of a deep, long-buried well of pain.

Abigail was there. Arms opening, she took the girl into them once more. This time, Theia returned the embrace. She held on tight, face dropping against Abigail’s shoulder.

And in that moment, she let go of everything she had taught herself to hold in. She let go of all the pain, all the loss, all the grief. She let it out. For the first time in over twenty years, Theia cried.

It would be a long time before she stopped.

*******

Present Day – Crossroads

 

On the far end of Crossroads Island, beyond the jungle and as far from the school as possible, Guinevere, more currently known as Harper Hayes, stood facing the ocean. Taking a step forward, she skipped a rock across the water, grinning to herself as it popped up and back down four separate times. “Whoo! Four. I mean, without any powers, that’s pretty good.”

“It’s tremendous, my queen,” Karlee, the woman who posed as Harper’s mother, announced from a few feet away. “But…” She took a step herself, arm snapping out to send a stone skipping across the water five times. “Perhaps there are still goals to reach.”

Giving the woman (who appeared to be in her forties with dyed blonde hair to hide the effects of early aging) a brief smirk, Gwen retorted, “And how long have you been practicing to show me up, hmm?”

A small smile played at Karlee’s mouth. “Would it be better if I said a very long time, or a very short time?”

Huffing, Gwen raised herself up with put-upon self-importance. “Never mind, I’ve decided I don’t care to know.”

Giving a genuine chuckle, Karlee looked out at the water once more while asking, “If you don’t mind my asking, your majesty, why did you want me to meet you here? It’s… rather dangerous, isn’t it?”

“I’ll make sure no one sees you,” Gwen promised. “But I needed someone to talk to, someone to… bounce off of.”

“About Joselyn Atherby’s daughter, and her friends?” Karlee asked. “Are you afraid that they don’t understand the danger they’re in?”

“Joselyn Chambers,” Gwen corrected absently before nodding. “And yes, them. But no, just the opposite. I’m afraid that, with everything that’s going on, all the… danger and problems they’ve gotten into, they’ll forget how to enjoy themselves. And with this… Jophiel situation, that could easily blow up in Flick’s face. They’re being forced to lie to their friends and… and that never turns out well.”

“And you’ve thought of telling them that you know, and helping,” Karlee realized.

Again, Gwen nodded. “I’ve thought about it. I just… right now, I think it’s better to wait. But I don’t know how much longer I can. What’s better, to talk to them, or wait and watch? I can’t do both. The moment I show myself, all my… anonymity is gone. But if they don’t know that they have someone else who can help them…”

Karlee hesitated then before quietly asking, “And the pieces? What of them?”

A long, heavy sigh escaped Gwen, her eyes looking away before she murmured, “Three. In the time we’ve had this year, I’ve found three of the six that we were missing. Three pieces of Arthur’s skeleton, buried or hidden somewhere here on Crossroads Island. They could be under the school, somewhere in one of the walls, even out in the middle of the jungle.”

“What about the Merlin Key?” the woman hesitantly asked. “Have you worked out which one of the students they are?”

“Not yet,” Gwen admitted. “One of the assassins who was sent after the Leven boy last month knew something, but he killed himself before I could get it out of him. He worked with Fahsteth, so I guarantee the shark-man knows. Right now, I need the pieces, then we can figure out who the Key is.”

“You’ll find them, your majesty,” Karlee assured her. “I know you will. It’s just a matter of time.”

Gwen turned a slight smile to her. “Thank you, Karlee. It’s just that time… well, that’s the one thing I’m not sure we have. Something big is going down, very soon. And when it does, I’m not sure it’ll be possible for me to stay at Crossroads anymore.”

As Karlee opened her mouth to respond to that, Gwen abruptly snapped her head around to look at the jungle. Her hand came up in a fist to stop the woman, before pointing with two fingers to her.

Karlee took that as the sign and used the teleportation stone she carried with her to vanish, disappearing from the beach an instant later.

Gwen, meanwhile, focused on the approaching presence she had sensed. Her eyes narrowed as the figure came closer and closer before eventually emerging from the bushes.

For a moment, Gwen and the new arrival stared at one another silently. Neither spoke. Neither moved more than their eyes for several long seconds.

Finally, the man spoke. “I have to say, all my powers, all our experience together, and I had no idea it was you. But Nimue? She and Apollo worked it out in a few minutes after going through all the files and recordings together.”

“Percival,” Gwen greeted the man calmly, even as she continued scanning him and the area around him for any other surprises. “You’ve changed.”

“You’ve… shrunk,” Percival casually replied, winking at her. “I remember you being taller.”

“I remember you being not allied with the enemy,” she retorted, though her voice was more appraising and calculating than accusatory.

The man lifted his chin. “I’m where Arthur told me to be. I–it’s a long story and we don’t have time. Gwen, I…” His face fell a bit and he let out a breath before looking back up to her. “There’s so much to say, but we don’t have time.”

“What’s happening?” she asked carefully, still watching him closely, though her suspicion had somewhat lessened.

The man sighed. “Let’s just say you need to get Felicity Chambers and her friends off this island, right now.

“Before they’re arrested with Gaia.”

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Mini-Interlude 74 – Historical Figures Part B

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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.”

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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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