The following is the third 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.
Columbus, Shiori, And Jiao
Through the pitch black night, three figures picked their way along a winding mountain trail. Trees lined both sides of the path, branches often sticking out in their way. Yet despite that, and despite the winding nature of the path that often seemed terribly random, none of the three ever missed a step. Through the complete darkness that came from the stars and moon being hidden behind clouds and the nearest city lights being many miles away, they nonetheless avoided every branch, stepped over every loose rock and random hole, hiking the trail as though it was illuminated by the bright light of noon.
Shiori, Columbus, and Jiao. Shiori and her mother had been spending a few days… or nights rather, each month meeting for things like these hikes, so that they could get to know each other. And this time, with her mother’s blessing, Shiori had invited her brother along, feeling that he really needed to get out. Manakel was now as dead as Charmeine. Avalon had been rescued and was recuperating at the Atherby camp. Things had… for the most part, settled down at least for the time being.
“Do you ever, umm, miss it?” Columbus, whose goggles really did allow him to see everything as if it was daytime, asked hesitantly while looking toward the taller of his two companions.
Jiao, whose vampiric gifts included the vision that allowed her to function perfectly in darkness, paused very briefly before guessing what he was referring to. “You mean the sun.”
Shiori paused as well, glancing over her shoulder at her mother. Though she wasn’t an actual vampire, she was a dhampyr, a hybrid. Which meant that her own night vision was good enough that she was no more inconvenienced by the darkness than either of the others. When she spoke up, her voice was hesitant. “It’s been a really long time, hasn’t it?”
“Two hundred and twenty-seven years,” the woman confirmed, her always soft voice even more so as she turned her head to look up at the dark, cloud-covered sky. “And yes, in some ways, I do miss it. It’s different now, with motion pictures. But back then, being away from the sun for so long was… sometimes very hard. All I had was my memories, and paintings. Over the years, I’ve seen more of it. Pictures, silent movies, when color came to the motion pictures, I was… I spent a long time watching them, because they allowed me to see the sun in real time.
“I–” Wincing, Columbus offered a weak, “I didn’t mean to make you sad or… or anything.”
Meeting his gaze, the Asian woman gave a slight shake of her head. “You didn’t make me sad, Columbus. At least, not in the way that you think. Yes, being a vampire means that I cannot function in daylight. But it also means that I am alive. If I had never met Tiras, if he had never shared his blood with me, I would have died in that hospital. I didn’t lose two hundred and twenty-seven years of sunlight. I gained two hundred and twenty-seven years of moonlight. Two hundred and twenty-seven years of seeing the world grow, of seeing society develop. I was sick, I was dying. I did not lose anything. I gained. I gained two incredible men that I love very much, along with two beautiful, amazing daughters whom I would not trade for any amount of sun.”
“But you haven’t seen them,” Shiori pointed out hesitantly. “You haven’t seen Tiras in… over two hundred years, almost as long as you haven’t seen the sun. And then you fell in love with… with my dad… with Liang, and you haven’t seen him for years either.”
Jiao gave the slightest nod. “You’re right. And I miss them both terribly. I still believe that I will see them again, that I will find them, or they will find me. But if we don’t… if I live a thousand years and never see them again, that won’t erase the reason that I love them, or the time that we did spend together. There are so many bad things in this world, and so many good things. If you spend all your time dwelling on the bad, like the years that you spend apart from someone you love, you’ll forget about the good, like the reason you miss them to begin with.”
Her golden-amber eyes remained locked on Columbus’s. “The trick is to remember that no matter what’s wrong… whether you feel lost, confused, alone… frightened… angry… betrayed, that they are your feelings. And there is nothing wrong with you for feeling that way.”
“I–” Columbus spoke that single word before his voice cracked, breaking right there as he gave a sharp shudder. His eyes closed behind those goggles, his voice a whisper that barely carried over the soft breeze. “I’m afraid.”
The admission was accompanied by a sag of his shoulders, his entire body slumping a bit. “I’m afraid. She’s dead. She’s gone. He’s dead too. They’re dead. I have protection. But it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I’m afraid. I don’t…” Squeezing his eyes shut even tighter, along with his fists, the boy shook his head. “I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be afraid.”
He felt arms wrap around him then, recognizing his sister as she embraced him tightly. “It’s okay to be afraid, Columbus. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
His mouth opened and shut before he managed to protest, “They’re dead. They’re gone. She’s dead.”
“Oh, my boy.” Reaching past her daughter, Jiao put one gentle, soft hand against the side of his face. “The hurt and fear that someone leaves behind after they’re gone doesn’t simply disappear when they do. Bad things can last for quite awhile. But so do good things, if you let them. You want to know how to fight this, how to move on? Make new memories, better memories. Be with your family, with your friends. Do things that you enjoy.
“The pain that your demons inflicted on you doesn’t fade when they die. It fades when you live.”
Columbus couldn’t speak for another few seconds, the lump in his throat taking his voice while he simply clung to Shiori. Finally, he managed to move one arm, opening it while Shiori did the same. His own voice returned, just enough for the boy to whisper, “Thank you.”
Jiao took one step closer, letting both of her arms wrap around the two. She embraced them, brother and sister, her daughter…
And the boy she would have proudly called her son.
Lincoln and Tabbris after the hospital.
The tiny blonde girl, face still adorned by fox paint, staggered through the portal that had been opened to lead her back to the Atherby camp. Two steps through, and she was there, standing on the grass next to the lake. Standing, that was, for all of a brief second. Then her legs buckled and the girl began to collapse.
She didn’t fall far, however, before a pair of strong arms caught her. Lincoln Chambers, taking a quick knee to grab onto the girl, lifted her up smoothly while rising. “Whoa, hey there.”
Starting a bit, Tabbris belatedly realized where she was, blinking up at the man who held her in his arms. A slight tremble came to the girl, before she turned a bit to hug onto him as tightly as she could manage. “M.. Mr… Mr… I… I mean… Dad. Dad. Avalon… Avalon–”
“She’s okay,” Lincoln promised. “They’re taking care of her right now. You kept her alive, Tabbris. Brave, brave girl. You kept her alive. You saved her.”
“Columbus too,” she murmured, not relaxing her grip at all. “He’s… he’s…” She could barely speak. The exhaustion from everything she had done, even with Columbus’s help, had left her entirely too far gone. She needed to sleep. But first, she needed to know that things were okay.
“He’s okay too,” Lincoln assured the girl. “And Flick. She’ll be okay.”
“R-Rudolph won’t,” Tabbris whispered, tears suddenly filling her eyes as she shuddered. “Rudolph. Rudolph’s–”
“I know.” His own voice cracking as well, Lincoln hugged the girl tight against himself. He couldn’t say it would be okay, because it wouldn’t. Not anytime soon. A boy had been murdered by a monster, and Tabbris had seen his body. She had seen… too much. She’d seen entirely too much. Not just that night, but throughout her life. She never had a real chance to be a little kid. Even when she had been hiding inside Felicity, the girl had still needed to worry about intruders, about monsters trying to enslave or abduct her charge. And she had had no one to help her.
But she would never lack for that now. Never again. Lincoln vowed that to himself. Tabbris would never have to feel that alone again.
“You’re safe,” he whispered, holding the exhausted girl close. “Flick is safe. It’s over, my little fox-girl. It’s done. You saved Avalon. You beat them.”
Her eyes blinked up at him then, still wet from tears even as she clung desperately, both to him and to consciousness itself. “Dad,” she whispered softly. “Daddy. Please don’t go away.”
Heart aching, Lincoln shook his head. “I promise, baby girl. I promise, I’m right here. I won’t leave you alone. I’m right here. My girl. My beautiful, brave little girl.”
Tears returning, Tabbris closed her eyes briefly, shaking her head. She tried to say something else, but couldn’t find the words. And the thought of opening her eyes now that they had closed seemed an impossibly daunting task.
So she didn’t. Eyes closed, the girl turned her head a little to rest it against her father’s chest. Just for a moment, just to catch her breath. Just to feel, for a second or two, the unconditional paternal love and acceptance that she had been so starved for through so much of her life.
It would be hours before her eyes opened again. And true to his word, Lincoln stayed with her through all of it.
Lies and Pace
They were in the forest of Eden’s Garden. Pace with her fellow werewolves Valentine and the pack leader Lemuel. Facing them was the blonde girl that Doxer wanted to play with, that Felicity Chambers. Somewhere in the distance came the sound of the other girl, the one that Lemuel had turned into a werewolf. That one was currently going through her first change, and from the sound of things, it was not going well.
Pace, or Lies in that moment, had just shared her secret with the Felicity-girl, had just revealed the hilarious truth that she was both werewolf and Heretic.
Werewolf, Heretic, and Seosten Lie, but the girl didn’t need to know that part. That was an even bigger secret. Couldn’t tell her that. Couldn’t let her ruin it.
Aloud, she announced, “Shh. Nobody else gets to know. Don’t want you spoiling my secret fun. That’d be really, really mean.”
Technically, she was referring to the secret about her being a werewolf. But she also meant the secret about her being a Seosten. The secret that Felicity didn’t know yet. Sometimes Lies got herself confused about what people did and didn’t know. It was all so exhausting, keeping those secrets.
See? that voice in the back of her mind, the true Pace, who still refused to just be quiet and stop talking, put in. You keep pretending you don’t know her name. You call her Present to her face. But you think of her as Felicity. She’s a person. They’re all people. Roxa’s a person. Roxa. That’s her name. That’s the name of the person you let Lemuel put through hell. Felicity. That’s this girl’s name. You know her name.
The girl, Felic–Present was babbling. She was saying something, but then Rox–the new wolfie girl was very, very rude and interrupted with a scream of agony. So whatever Present was about to say had been forgotten, as she blurted the other girl’s name and moved as though to go to her.
Well, that was just rude. Growling deep in her throat at the sheer audacity, Lies quickly put herself back in front of the other girl. Her arms snapped up, her hands found both of Present’s shoulders, and she forcefully shoved her back a step. “No!” she blurted, “Bad present! You can’t see her now, the other one isn’t done making her change yet, and we promised she’d be alone the whole time. You don’t wanna make liars out of us, do you? Rude Present.”
Lies. Lies, look. Look. Focus. Look!
In mid-rant, the words of her host penetrated, and Lies found herself slowly lowering her gaze slightly, from Present’s face to a spot a bit lower. She saw then, what she had been too distracted by her anger to see before. She saw what her host had immediately seen, even in that brief split second when they had shoved Present.
She saw the other girl. She saw the child… the child inside of Felicity Chambers.
Seosten. A Seosten child. There was a Seosten child inside of Felicity Chambers. That was why she was immune to being possessed. All the manpower, all the time, all the arguments over what Joselyn Atherby had done to render her daughter immune to possession, all the ranting from Cahethal about the problem… and the answer had been that simple.
Felicity Chambers was possessed… by a child.
Chambers was saying something else, something about them making Roxa into a werewolf as that realization dawned on her.
“Isn’t it funny?!” Lies blurted with a loud, crazed cackle of laughter. She wasn’t talking about the Roxa girl. Who cared about the Roxa girl? She knew why Chambers couldn’t be possessed. She knew another secret.
But the others didn’t. No one knew what she knew. She had to cover. So she let them think she was talking about the Roxa girl, babbling on something ridiculous about not giving the girl her toy.
She brought up the choker, even flicking a finger against it, while keeping half an eye on the Seosten child. Was she a Lie too? Was she controlling this Felicity this whole time?
No. Felicity moved without the girl moving the same way. The girl wasn’t controlling her, she was just… standing there, so to speak. She was possessing her, but she wasn’t doing anything with it. She was just there… protecting the girl from being possessed.
This was hilarious. This was very… very funny.
So distracted was she, that Lies didn’t see the attack coming. She was caught flat footed as Felicity moved suddenly, lashing out with that staff of hers while triggering a kinetic blast that sent Pace flying off to hit a tree.
She recovered instantly, of course. But still, the girl sat there, thinking.
What are you going to do? The voice, fearful, came from the real Pace once more. You know the truth. So what are you going to do with it?
We could make Manakel love us forever, Lies pointed out. Manakel would love us. Cahethal would love us. Even Charmeine would be happy. They would tell Mama that we did good. Maybe–
You don’t believe that. The voice was soft, far different from the tone that had come before. Pace had seen as much of the Seosten’s mind as Lies had seen of hers. But you’re right about Manakel and the others. They’d be really happy. They’d reward you. All you have to do is tell them about that girl. All you’d have to do is tell them about the girl.
Chambers had sent herself through the trees, reappearing directly behind Lies as the girl picked herself up. Before that staff she had could reach her head, Lies had already reacted. She spun, ducking as she moved before lashing out with a punch.
The girl. The child. She needed to activate the choker again so that she could see the child.
The punch did the trick. As did grabbing hold of Felicity’s bicep to keep it active. Lies yanked too hard, breaking the girl’s arm as she threw her to the ground.
She could see her again. The child, right there in plain view. She was so… innocent, so young.
But they’ll take that away, Pace reminded her. You can make yourself the Seosten hero. All you have to do is sentence that girl to whatever Manakel and the others… like your mother, would put her through. Torture. Pain. Loss. They’ll take Felicity away from her. They’ll take that girl back to Seosten space and they will get answers out of her. But you’ll win. You’ll be the hero.
So again, what are you going to do?
In answer, Lies lashed out, kicking Chambers repeatedly while calling her a bad present.
Our secret, she informed her host. No one else’s. Ours. Maybe we’ll get the girl out later. Protect her. Have a friend. We could do that. That… that might be nice. But we don’t tell anyone. We don’t… do that to her. We make this look good. But we keep the secret.
She didn’t know this girl, didn’t know anything about her or why she was there. Or how she’d gotten there, for that matter. But she did know one thing. If it was the choice of being the Seosten hero and subjecting this girl to the same kind of things she had gone through as a child, or keeping it secret… she would keep it secret.
Because what was the point of making Manakel and the others happy and finally winning the approval that she had so desperately wanted for so long… if she couldn’t live with herself?
Tabbris and Gabriel Prosser
“Mr. Gabriel, that train is pretty big. Are you sure you can stop it?”
The question from Tabbris came as the young girl waited a little bit away from the man himself. Gabriel, meanwhile, stood in the middle of a set of the road tracks, watching the incoming freight train as it bore down on him while seeming to pick up speed with each passing second. It was no ordinary freight train, but one that had been heavily reinforced, armored by both technology and magic. The train projected a force field around itself, had heavy plating mounted to it, and there were even turrets attached to the top all along its length, one to each car.
Meanwhile, the tall, yet unassuming black man stood in its path. One hand rested lightly on the handle of his ever-present shovel, which had been pushed into the ground a bit.
In answer to the girl’s question, he gave a slight nod. “It’s quite alright, thank you. Just stay there, and no one will see you.” He had put up half a dozen protection and cloaking fields around the girl.
He could have simply sent her home through a portal, of course. They had been out looking at tropical fish near an island that he had wanted to show the girl when the call came in about a train carrying prisoners and slave labor toward a Seosten transport ship had come in. He could have sent the girl home then, but she had asked to stay and watch. He would still send her away the instant anything went wrong, but for the time being, he let her stay.
The train closed on him and the first few turrets spun toward the front to take aim. The ones behind the front each rose a bit more on platforms to shoot over the others. Leaving nothing to chance, as many as possible opened fire, while the train itself picked up speed, doubling in an instant, even as the force field around the front grew even brighter and stronger.
As dozens of blasts of powerful, pulverizing energy that could have punched their way through armored tanks shot toward him, Gabriel held up his free hand. The blasts were drawn toward it, narrowing into a single dazzlingly bright beam before disappearing into the man’s palm with no more apparent effect than a flashlight.
With all that power summarily absorbed, Gabriel immediately released it once more in the form of dozens of bright blades of energy, which appeared near each turret and instantly sliced through them, leaving the guns useless.
The train itself was still bearing down. As it neared him, in the bare couple of seconds before he would have been left as a smear on the tracks, Gabriel narrowed his eyes. At a thought, two things happened. First, a pair of portals appeared directly in front of him and a bit further back, just further apart than the length of the train itself.
Second, the train’s momentum was taken away. It immediately began to slow down, passing repeatedly between the two portals as it did so. He didn’t want to instantly stop the train, to avoid injuring those on board. So, he simply gradually stole its momentum while repeatedly sending it back and forth through those two portals. From the outside, the train appeared to stay almost in one place, repeatedly running over the same path of track, while from the train’s perspective, it was still covering lots of ground.
Within a few seconds, the train was safely stopped, unable to move no matter what its drivers tried. Almost as quickly, dozens of armored soldiers appeared, dropping off of the train or scrambling up on its roof to surround the man who had stopped them. Their weapons were raised and ready. Before long, fifty troops of various shapes and sizes were there.
In response to all of this, as their weapons were leveled and the troops awaited the order to attack, Gabriel spoke three simple words.
“You may surrender.“
They didn’t, of course. But he had to offer. Instead, as their leader shouted a single word, the soldiers all opened fire, or used whatever ranged power they happened to have. Whatever it took, they would destroy him. Dozens of energy blasts, fireballs, jets of ice, hyper-accelerated metal balls, contained explosions, and more collided with the man in a terrifying display of power.
Then it was over. The dust cleared, and Gabriel Prosser stood entirely unaffected. Not a single attack had managed to so much as ruffle his shirt.
“Okay,” he said then, even as the troops prepared to attack again. With that simple word, Gabriel lifted his shovel from the dirt and drove it down hard once more.
As the blade of the shovel was driven through the dirt, dozens of copies of it appeared simultaneously. They shot up out of the ground, out of thin air, or out of the side or roof of the train itself. The duplicated shovel blades instantly grew to several times their normal size while glowing with unbelievable power. Each was positioned perfectly to slice straight through one of the soldiers. No armor or protection could save them. The troops, to a man, were instantly cut in half from every direction by that single thrust.
Throughout all of this, Gabriel had only moved twice. Once to raise his hand, and the second time to lift his shovel and drive it down once more. Now the train was stopped, its mounted weaponry destroyed, and its troops eliminated.
“Okay,” the man announced simply, turning to where Tabbris was.
“Let’s see how our new friends on board are doing.”
“And then Trierarch Bayest drew his gun, pointed at the Fomorian on the ground, and said, ‘You didn’t leave one survivor, you’ve left two.’ And then he pulled the trigger and blew the Fomorian’s whole head into splatter dust like fwoomsh!”
With the end of her pronouncement, the young Chayyiel suddenly threw her arms wide open, going as far as jumping into the air to demonstrate the explosive nature of the aforementioned head explosion. She added in her best approximation of gooey noises as well right at the end, as if demonstrating the resulting gore dripping from the walls.
The first of her two-member audience who had been listening to the girl’s story gave her a broad smile. Abaddon, his enormous figure completely dwarfing the child’s as they stood on one of the Olympus’s space observation decks, raised his hand. His thumb was lightly pressed against the side of his index finger, while the other three fingers were tucked down against his palm. Millennia in the future and far away, the human equivalent of that gesture would be a thumbs up.
“That’s right, aucellus,” he announced, using his favored nickname for the child. “That’s exactly how that went down. I should know, I was the other survivor. And Bayest was one of the most badass trierarchs I ever had the pleasure of serving under.”
The other occupant of the observation deck grunted in disbelief. Cahethal, her incredibly, distractingly green eyes focused on the man, disbelievingly asked, “Are you quite certain that you’re not exaggerating even a little bit? I find it difficult to believe that one man, no matter how talented he may be, was capable of single-handedly wiping out an entire Fomorian strike force, no matter how motivated he may have been.”
Grunting, Abaddon thumped a fist against his chest. “You believe what you want, science girl. I know what I saw. Bayest is the biggest damn hero of the Seosten that I’ve ever met. And there ain’t never going to be another one like him.”
“You just said—” In mid-sentence, Cahethal visibly gave up and shook her head with a sigh. “Never mind.”
She focused on Chayyiel then. “Come, you know that you are here for more than simply listening to totally exaggerated war stories.”
Obediently, Chayyiel moved over to stand next to the woman who had, over the past year or so since the ship had launched, taken up a role as one of her teachers.
Once the girl was there, Cahethal asked, “You asked to work on your experiment here on the observation deck so you could watch the stars. Are you sure you won’t be too distracted? And did you bring your materials?”
Quickly nodding, the girl promised, “I’ll work on it. I have my things right over there.” She pointed to a couple of cloth bags sitting near the entrance. “Thank you, praeceptor. It’s so boring in the test lab.”
Grunting a little, Cahethal simply gave a single nod. “Just be sure that you do not make me regret this allowance. I will return in one hour and I hope to see some definite progress.”
As the girl fervently promised to get her work done, Cahethal and Abaddon stepped out, leaving her alone for the time being. On his way, the large man glanced back and winked at her. “Biggest badass of the Seosten, kid. You remember that. Maybe you’ll get lucky and meet him one day.”
Once they were gone, Chayyiel move to the nearest wall and used the screen there to call up an exterior view of the ship. She stood there, smiling giddily at the projected image.
“Oh Olympus,” the girl murmured while running her hands through the holographic shape, “you’re the most amazing ship in the universe.”
Bias aside, the girl wasn’t that far off. Though their crew was somewhat limited only to those who had passed through the Summus Proelium Project, it was easily state of the art. The latest in technology and magic lay at their fingertips. The Olympus was truly remarkable in every conceivable way.
The main central body of the ship was made up of an orb exactly five hundred meters in diameter. This was where the living and science facilities, as well as the primary slide-drive that allowed the ship to enter what amounted to hyperspace, were. Attached to that orb in three separate places (the top and both sides) were three long structures that extended about twenty meters behind the orb, continued along the outside of the orb and ahead past it another one hundred. Each of the three structures was shaped roughly like part of a cylinder, curved inward so that they lay almost flat against the surface of the orb itself. They were wide enough that with one on top and the two equidistant apart on the bottom left and bottom right of the orb, each nearly touched one of the others. The far end of each of these part-cylinder structures narrowed into sharp points, forming a jagged end.
At an order from the ship’s captain, each of those three (or fewer if needed) could separate from the main orb. As it did so, that half-cylinder would extend its sides, opening wing-like structures so that it could function as a separate combat-capable ship. When all four of its pieces were locked in place, the Olympus was a terrifyingly powerful vessel for its size, precisely because it was essentially three gunships mounted against a very well shielded central core. It could fight like that, as one, or separate itself into the three distinct combat ships and one command orb that could stay to direct the battle, or flee with all of their intact leadership and resources if need be. The separate, incredibly heavily armed combat ships had their own slide-drives just in case, but they were only rated for a much slower jump, used for emergencies. The vast majority of their power and available space was given to shields and weapons. There was no doubt about their intended purpose.
As the girl stood there admiring the hologram, the nearby door slid open, admitting Amitiel to the observation room. “Hey, kid,” he started with a wave. “Thought you might like some company.“
Immediately smiling, Chayyiel nodded. “Hi, Uncle Amitiel.” She paused, turning to look both ways before taking a bit of metal from her pocket. Her thumb pressed against it and she murmured a spell that she had picked up from a few of the adults. After a second of that, she nodded. “It’s okay, nobody’s watching.”
With that established, she then asked, “Did you think about what we were talking about? The bit about you having your own name, I mean.”
Shaking his head, the being who had once been known as a Lie before taking the body of the true Amitiel replied, “It might’ve been over a year, but I’m still getting accustomed to answering to his name. Besides, what’s the point of having a name that only you or I know about?”
Shrugging, Chayyiel answered, “Other people might know someday. You can trust Sariel and Lucifer, you know.”
Rather than directly respond to that, Amitiel asked, “How are you doing with them still being gone on that mission? You alright?”
Looking back that way, Chayyiel hesitated, biting her lip before honestly answering, “I miss them. I know we have to maintain radio silence and everything, but we don’t even know if they’re okay.”
“Don’t you worry,” Amitiel assured her. “You know how good those two are. Kushiel may have pushed for them to go that first time just to get rid of them, but they showed her, didn’t they?”
The girl swallowed at that memory before giving a short nod. “Why does Kushiel hate them so much?”
The question made him sigh, hanging his head before shaking it. “Why does Kushiel do anything? She pretty much hates everyone she can’t control, and you know how Lucifer is about people trying to control him or his partner.”
Frowning, Chayyiel folded her arms across her chest while her brow knitted. “Kushiel isn’t very nice. But Uncle Puriel is… usually. Except when he listens to her.” She paused briefly before amending, “Okay, sometimes he’s nice. But she’s never nice. So how come he likes her so much?”
Amitiel opened his mouth, before pausing to shake his head. “You know what kid, I think you just stumbled across one of the great mysteries of the universe. I mean, sure, she’s pretty and all, but…” He paused again, then shrugged helplessly. “Yeah, sorry, I’ve got nothing.”
Changing the subject then, the man asked, “So what kind of project are you doing for the old microscope?”
Giggling despite herself, Chayyiel chastised, “You shouldn’t call her that. Just because she’s short and has special eyes…”
“Still makes you laugh though,” Amitiel pointed out with a wink. “So about this project, you wanna show me?”
Brightening, the girl asked, “Do you want to help me with it? The stuff is right there.” She pointed to the bags next to him.
Amitiel glanced down before grabbing the bags to walk that way. “Sure, why not. Let’s see what we’re working with.
“And while we work, you can tell me what outrageous story Abaddon’s filled your head with this week.”
Alone in the room that she shared with Koren Fellows, Aylen Tamaya stood at the window, gazing down at the grassy field where her fellow students walked, sat, or even ran. They studied and worked there, enjoying the always-beautiful afternoon on the magical island.
The Native American girl’s eyes found their way to one group in particular. Sitting there on the grass, engrossed in another of their deeply private conversations, were Columbus Porter, Sean Gerardo, Felicity Chambers, Douglas Frey, and Scout Mason. Avalon wasn’t there, because she had been hurt, taken by monsters and terribly hurt in some way before being rescued by her team, and by Gaia. She was recovering now, apparently, off in some secret place with people the Crossroads headmistress trusted.
Aylen hoped that the girl was okay. Avalon had… had helped her when she really needed it. Without her, Aylen’s… secret would have gotten out. She wouldn’t have been able to stop it. She owed her life to the other girl, and so much more. If there was anything she could have done to help Avalon, she would have, without a second thought.
But the others, the rest of Avalon’s team, didn’t trust her. And she didn’t blame them. Why wouldn’t they keep secrets? After all, she was keeping a very big one. One that she had even convinced Avalon herself to keep for her. A secret from everyone, except for Avalon, now.
Whatever problems Avalon’s team was going through, Aylen wished that she could help. But that would mean revealing herself, revealing the truth about what she was. And that was… that was too much. She wanted to help, but exposing herself like that, revealing herself was… she couldn’t do that. Not yet. No matter what Avalon had said about how they could be trusted.
She’d promised to think about it, and she would, she had, quite a lot. More than once, Aylen had stood outside either Felicity or Scout’s door, sometimes in the middle of the night, and tried to work up the courage to knock. She wanted, so badly, to tell them everything.
But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Not only from a lack of trust, or an overabundance of fear. But also because whatever they were going through, it would be so much worse if they had to deal with her problems too. And that wasn’t fair to them. Felicity and the others had far too much to deal with as it was without Aylen piling onto the secrets they were keeping.
With a sigh, the girl gave the group one last look before turning away from the window. She walked from there to the wall, where a mirror had been mounted. Standing there, she faced the mirror and examined herself, seeing what others saw when they looked at her.
Dark hair that fell to her shoulders. Dusky skin. High cheekbones. Dark eyes. As she examined herself from each angle, Sovereign, her cyberform hawk, made a noise from where he was perched on his wooden stand. The nest that he slept in was on top of Aylen’s dresser nearby.
“I know, Sovereign,” the girl assured her partner. “We’ll leave soon, I promise. I just have to see.”
From her pocket, she withdrew a small comb. The comb had been a gift. Running a thumb over the runes etched in it, the girl slowly touched it to the side of her face, and whispered the activation spell.
In an instant, she changed. And Aylen saw her true form. Her skin was still dark, testament to her true Native American roots. Or at least, those of her mother. Or at least… one of her mothers. What the comb revealed was the genetic contributions of her other mother.
Her first mother’s contribution to the child made possible by the being known as Grandfather was her Native American appearance. Sonoma had also passed along her werecrow gifts. Aylen had kept them secret ever since she had come to this school, though she had gifted herself a few private flights with Sovereign whenever she needed to clear her head.
But as the magical comb revealed her true self, Aylen saw the parts of her that she had inherited from her other mother.
Eyes that were a deep azure blue.
Hair that was much the same. Blue. The blue of the cloudless sky.
The blue of the Reapers. Or a half-reaper, like her second mother, Bastet.
Bastet and Sonoma, her mothers. And with any luck at all, Aylen would soon be able to save her grandfather.
No, not that one. Her other grandfather. Bastet’s father.
What Crossroads called the Heretical Edge.