Mini-Interlude

Mini-Interlude 2 – Avalon

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(The following is another mini-interlude. For information about what that is and how they are commissioned, please see the mini-interlude section of the donations page here)

“I miss the tree.”

Avalon Sinclaire stood on the balcony of her adopted mother’s apartment, looking out over the jungle in the distance. Her voice was soft, barely loud enough to reach her own ears, let alone anyone else’s.

And yet, as she finished whispering, the young woman heard movement behind her. Gaia stepped out onto the balcony as well, putting her hands down to lean against it while casting her own gaze out into the dense foliage. “It must take some time to grow accustomed to living among such heights. I’m not entirely certain that I could adjust to living in a city built at the top of a tree.” Turning her head slightly toward Avalon, she added in a gentle voice. “But it must have been very beautiful.”

Avalon didn’t respond at first, her gaze remaining fixed on a flock of birds flying just above the jungle. “It was. It is. And it’s dangerous. You know how many of their students make it from initiation to graduation? Fifty percent. Everyone else is just… they don’t make it out of the crucible. That’s half. Flip a coin when you start out. Heads you make it, tails you die before graduation.

“I was almost one of the failures, really early on. I was too small, too weak, too scared. Fuck. I was scared of everything, Gaia. Terrified. My father—my dad, his… his bullshit left me so fucking terrified of my own shadow. I couldn’t speak up for myself, I couldn’t even talk without stammering. I would’ve died as soon as the real trials started. I would’ve been one of the failures. The wrong side of the coin flip. I was too broken. I’d be dead now if it wasn’t for…” she trailed off, biting her lip.

Rather than prompt her, Gaia simply stood by, her expression calm as she waited for the girl to go on. Which she did, after a few more seconds of silence. “My dad. My father saved my life.”

Beside her, she felt Gaia move before the woman laid a hand on her shoulder. “How?”

The answer came easily. “By surviving.” Looking up from the jungle finally, she turned to the woman. “I found out he was alive, that he was a vampire. You know how I found out? Because he came after me again while we were on a trip. I don’t know how he found me, but he was there. And I was…” She looked away, back to the jungle. “I was useless. Seller had to save me from him, had to drive him off.”

She made a face at the memory before forcing herself to continue telling the story. “You know what I did after that? I literally hid under my bed. Yeah. I took my blanket and I cowered under there for a long time. I stayed there. I just hid and cried a lot. My dad was going to kill me. He was a monster.  He was one of the real monsters now. And there was nothing I could do about it. I was pathetic.”

Gaia started to say something, hand squeezing her shoulder, but Avalon pushed on. “Then, while I was hiding and crying, I realized something. I had a choice. I could stay under my bed, keep crying and then die whenever the people that were better than me didn’t happen to be around to save me anymore. I could just be afraid for the rest of my life until Dad or something else killed me like the sniveling little coward that I was.

“Or I could change. Or I could make myself better, make myself stronger. So I did. I… got out from under the bed and I went to the gym and I started training. By myself at first, but then Seller started helping me. Between him and our normal training, I was… I was pushing myself as hard as I could. Seller’s the one that taught me the most about… everything. Not just about how to fight or make myself stronger, but how to take care of myself in other ways. He taught me how to groom myself, how to clean, even how to put on make-up.

“He’s the one that helped me with my first period, poor guy. But he did it. You should’ve seen him drag me through that store trying to explain to the bystanders what we needed. There was a lot of confusing sign language.”

She smiled at the memory before sighing. “The point is, he helped me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. And if I hadn’t made the choice to be stronger. It’s like… it’s like he was always willing and ready to help me, but he was just waiting for me to make the first step. Once I started trying to work out on my own, he was right there. But he didn’t make the first step. He waited for me to be ready. Maybe so he wouldn’t be wasting his time.”

Falling silent for a few seconds, Avalon finally shrugged. “Like I said, my dad being alive, becoming a real monster and coming after me was the thing that spurred me to either die or make myself stronger. So in a way, he kind of saved my life.”

“You saved your life,” Gaia corrected her gently. “And one thing you are mistaken about. Your father was a monster long before he became a vampire. Giving a serial killer a gun does not turn them into a monster. The only thing turning that child abusing alcoholic piece of human excrement into a vampire did was arm him. The monster part was always there.”

For a few minutes after that, the two of them simply stood in silence, the proximity comfort enough. Finally, Avalon spoke in a low voice. “I still miss the tree. But… I suppose this place isn’t so bad.”

There was mischief in Gaia’s voice then. “Not so bad? Hm, well, how can we make it better? Maybe I was wrong and you would prefer a different roommate? Or a solo room, I believe we have one available.”

Turning her head slightly to squint at the woman before looking away, Avalon’s tone turned as indifferent as she could make it. “No need, I can put up with the situation as it is.”

“Oh, I don’t want you to have to put up with a situation if you’re not enjoying it,” Gaia’s teasing continued. “If I was wrong and Felicity isn’t working out as a roommate, all you have to do is say so and we’ll amend the situation immediately. You don’t have to spend another night in that room if you don’t want to.”

In spite of herself, and despite all the tricks that Seller had taught her about how to control her reaction, Avalon still felt her face heating up. She cleared her throat. “No, it’s fine. It’s okay. She uhh…” Another cough came. “She’s not that bad.”

“Oh, well, that’s good to hear,” Gaia was giving her that infuriatingly knowing smile. “But if you ever change your mind, we’ll adjust your roommate situation.”

Squinting at the woman, Avalon asked, “Can I change my adopted mother situation? Because that’s the one giving me the most shit right now.”

“I’m afraid that’s one thing you’re pretty much stuck with,” Gaia promised her, hand slipping from Avalon’s shoulder to her arm as she pulled the girl around and into an embrace. “Can you survive the disappointment?”

Slowly, Avalon lifted her arms to wrap them around the other woman. She lowered her head to Gaia’s shoulder and let out a long, low breath.

“I’ll try.”

******

Some time later, Avalon stepped quietly into her dorm room. Closing the door behind her, she moved her gaze over to the nearby occupied bed.

Felicity hadn’t turned on the privacy screen, even though it was the middle of the day. Apparently she’d been too tired to even take the time to make her side of the room suitably dark. She’d just collapsed in the bed, face down against the pillow while a tangled birds nest of dirty blonde hair spread out in every direction.

Standing there for a moment, the girl watched her sleeping roommate. A variety of emotions warred for her attention before she finally turned away, first moving to her own bed. Glancing down at the box that Gaia had given her for Felicity, she set it on the floor before straightening up. After a short, indecisive pause, she stepped over to the nearby window. Carefully, with a look back to make sure that the blonde girl hadn’t woken up, she picked up the decorated rock that sat there.

Herbie. Gods, her roommate was a dork. Taking the rock, she moved over to her own bed and lay down on it, placing the toy sword-toting stone on the blanket nearby. Tenderly, Avalon brushed her finger over it.

The damn thing still had those eyes. She wasn’t even sure what had prompted her to get the things in the first place. But at least Scout was staying mum about who she’d gotten them from. If Felicity ever found out that Avalon had been the one who provided them, she’d never shut up about it.

“Hey, little guy,” she whispered under her breath. It felt absurd, but she continued in spite of herself after giving the other bed a quick glance. “Your friend over there is a gigantic nerd, you know that?”

Voice dropping even further, she lifted her gaze to stare at the blonde. “How do you put up with her? Why is she so important to you?”

Sighing, annoyed at herself, Avalon turned to lay on her back before placing the damn rock on her stomach. She continued to brush a finger over the thing absently. As she lay there, another memory came to mind. Felicity asking for training, wanting to become stronger. Willing to work harder to make herself better.

She’d almost refused. Almost told the girl to find someone else that could work with her. It wasn’t like there was a lack of options. To that moment, even now, she couldn’t explain exactly what had made her agree to it. Thoughts, feelings, emotions all kept trying to come up in her in spite of every attempt she made to push them back down.

Then her damn roommate and the rest of the team had to go and stand up for her when Trice tried his little attack. She’d tried to tell them to just get the fuck out of there, but no. No, they’d stayed. They’d risked their lives to help her, even though… Avalon sighed, eyes closing.

Sands and the boys had willingly stayed too. All willing to fight, all willing to risk themselves just for her, in spite of Trice’s offer to let them leave safely. They stayed, all of them. And yet, thinking of Felicity’s choice to stay was… it was just different than the others. It made her feel… it made her feel…

And then she found out about Felicity’s mother, about the necromancer. The necromancer who thought he was going to take Felicity away once she was eighteen. The thought, the idea of losing her roommate, of the girl going through what that monster would put her through made Avalon’s free hand clench so tightly she very nearly drew blood from her own palm.

No. She wouldn’t let it happen. No matter what. No matter who she had to go after, no matter what she had to do, she would not let that piece of shit take away the girl who… the girl that she…

Sitting up, Avalon let the rock fall into her hand. She looked down at it, forehead knitting into a frown. “We have to protect her,” she said quietly. “You understand? Even if she is a dork.”

Picking herself off the bed, she stepped over to carefully place the decorated stone back on the windowsill. Another sigh escaped her as she looked out at the grounds before returning to her bed. She sat there, eyes on the sleeping girl.

And of course, there was the fact that her literal trouble-magnet of a roommate had gotten herself abducted by actual aliens. Because why not, it wasn’t like she already had enough things to deal with, just add that as well. Maybe toss in a few demons and a serial killer clown while they were at it.

Sure, the aliens that took her turned out to be good, and the whole situation there a big misunderstanding or mistake. But still, just the idea that Felicity could be taken away that easily made her feel… angry. It was an undirected anger, a confused fury that had no real outlet. Especially since she couldn’t even make herself think about the fact that she felt…

Okay, this was ridiculous. She could do this. She could think it. When she looked at Felicity, when she thought about her, she felt…

Felicity moved. Her hand shifted to wipe away the bit of drool under her mouth before she sat up, yawning. Her eyes found Avalon’s own.

“Wha—oh, um, hey. What’s up?”

“I…” Avalon coughed, forcing down all those other thoughts with a shake of her head.

“I was just wondering how long you were going to sleep for.”

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Mini-Interlude 1 – Shiori and Columbus

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“So, um, I… sort of have something I need to tell you,” Shiori carefully began while leading her adopted brother over toward a corner of the building. She could see Flick talking to the headmistress, and felt her heart seem to bounce a few times in her chest, buoying her for what she needed to do now.

Columbus, for his part, came willingly with a curious expression. “What’s up, Shy? You seem, you know, better. Did something happen? I mean, other than the obvious that you already talked about.”

Stopping a short distance away from where Asenath was, Shiori bit her lip. This was hard. Even knowing what she knew now, even after everything that Flick and Gaia had said, it was still difficult. Her mother had given her up. For good reasons, yes, but she had still given her up. Throughout her life, she’d had no one to count on until she finally met Columbus. From that point on, he had been her constant. He was, in every respect, her brother.

She felt better about what she was, but the idea of losing Columbus because of it still made her want to throw up. It didn’t matter how reassured she’d been or how unlikely it was that he would cast her aside. The possibility itself was utterly terrifying, no matter how remote it may have been. Her brain kept coming up with worst case scenarios, and then refused to stop obsessively dwelling on them.

“Y-yeah,” she managed then after realizing that the boy was staring at her, waiting for a response. “Yeah, something happened. But it sort of… started back when we first came to Crossroads. Back when we looked into the Edge.”

“Your vision,” Columbus realized then, his brow knitting in a frown. “I knew it. I knew you saw something bad. You were just so—sorry.” Realizing he was interrupting, the boy reached up to tug his goggles off before shoving them in a pocket. Looking at her with his bare eyes, the boy nodded for her to go on.

“I um…” Shifting from one foot to the other uncertainly, Shiori let her gaze shift first toward the corner where Asenath was calmly and silently waiting, then to the other side of the room where Flick and Gaia were. Both sights made her feel better, and she straightened a little bit. “I saw my mom. I saw her… umm, with me, when she gave me up to the adoption place.”

“Oh my god,” Columbus’s eyes widened noticeably. “You saw your mom? Crap. No wonder you’ve been bummed. Seeing your mom give you up must’ve been… but… there’s more, isn’t there?”

Forcing back the reflex to hide or evade the question, Shiori made herself nod. “Yes. My mom, she umm, she made the guy at the adoption place take me. She made him change my identity, change everything to hide me.”

Columbus looked even more confused by that. “Hide you? Why would she need to—wait, what do you mean, she made him? And why would she need to hide you? Wait, is your mom a spy?”

“No,” Shiori started before muttering an amendment under her breath, “I mean probably at some point, but that’s not…” She trailed off, blushing a little bit before looking back up to meet the boy’s gaze. Just like taking off a band-aid, just like taking off a band-aid. “My mom isn’t a normal human.”

“Not a normal human?” The boy’s head tilted a little, an uncertain frown crossing his face before a look of realization came over him. “Oh. Oh shit. I get it now.”

“You do?” Her voice was weak and uncertain.

He was nodding then. “Yeah, I mean… your mom’s a Heretic.”

Shiori’s brain stuttered a bit as she mentally flailed. “Wait, wait, a Heret–”

“Of course. It makes sense now,” Columbus continued. “The reason you’ve been all freaked out. She’s a Heretic for Eden’s Garden. You found out that your mom’s part of Eden’s Garden and freaked out because they’re supposed to be our like… rivals or whatever. And the reason you feel better about things now, ready to talk about them, is because Flick told you that they’re not really that bad.”

“Oh man,” Shiori mumbled while staring at him. “How can you be so close and yet so far at the same time?”

“So far?” The boy blinked. “I don’t get it. Wait, is she a Heretic for another group?”

She shook her head quickly, trying to push on before she ended up losing her nerve. “No, she’s not a Heretic at all. She’s—she’s a—she’s a…” Closing her eyes, she let out a breath before opening them to look at him. “She’s a vampire.”

“Oh.” Columbus took that in with a wince. “Oh shit. Was that… why she gave you up? Because someone turned her into a vampire after she had you?”

“No, you d-don’t understand.” Shiori tightened her fists. “She was a vampire before she had me.”

It took a few seconds for that to sink in before he reacted. “Before she had you? But that would mean you… that would make…”

“Half,” the girl whispered under her breath, just barely loud enough for him to hear. “I’m a h-ha-half… vampire. I mean, I d-don’t drink blood or anything like that, but I’m still—M-my mother is a vampire. And that makes me a half-vampire.” Realizing she was rambling, trying to fill the resulting silence, Shiori closed her mouth with a sudden snap.

There was no response at first. The boy simply stood there, staring at her while his mouth opened and shut a few times before any noise came out. “…. y-you… you’re… half… vampire?” he managed in a weak voice. “That’s… holy shit.”

Cringing, Shiori made herself not look away, though her own voice was weak as well, a plaintive little mewl. “Please don’t hate me. Please.”

“Don’t hate you?” Columbus echoed, chin lifting a little. “You just said that you’re half-Heretic, half-vampire. This is… I mean it’s… awesome!”

The violin screech inside Shiori’s head must have been audible. “Wait. W-what?”

“You’re half-vampire! Dude, that’s cool as hell.” Columbus was raving. “You’re like Blade. Only better because you’re Shiori.”

She stared at him. “B-bu-but the—Crossroads was talking about how every St-Stranger is evil and all that. And vampires are… you know.”

Columbus just raised an eyebrow before slowly shaking his head. “Shy, they can say anything they want. They could get every single person who has ever gone to that school, every Heretic who has ever existed to line up and tell me about how evil vampires are, all of them repeating over and over in one hundred percent agreement.”

His voice softened then, hand coming up to gently cup the side of her face, just under her chin. “And I’d tell every last one to screw themselves. Because you’re my sister. And I love you.”

A tidal wave of emotion rushed through Shiori as she stood there, trying to force the words to come out. “I… Columbus, you—I… I…” Failing to force the right response through the lump in her throat, she instead flung herself forward and wrapped both arms around the boy as tightly as she could. Her face was pressed to his chest while she clung to him.

The two of them stood like that for a several long seconds, Columbus eventually lowering his hands to hold onto her. “It’s okay, Shy.”

“You… you think being a half-vampire is cool?” she finally managed without releasing him.

“Cool? It’s amazing. Shy, you’re like a superhero! I mean, even more than we are already. After meeting Asenath, do you really think I’d believe you were—wait.” In mid-sentence, the boy blinked, turning a bit. “Your mother, you said she was—and Asenath was–”

While Shiori fought to collect herself, the vampire in question stepped forward. Her voice was low. “I’m not her mother. I’m her sister.”

Poor Columbus did a quick double-take. “Her si-sister?”

Smiling a little, clearly enjoying the act of surprising the boy, Asenath nodded. “Yes. Well, half-sister. We share the same mother.”

“That means you’re—she’s–” Columbus looked to Shiori, who was actually giggling a little bit in spite of herself.

“Yup,” Asenath stepped closer, opening her arms. “If you’re her brother, you’re my brother too. Do I get some of that?” she teased.

Looking from one girl to the other, Columbus finally shrugged. Pivoting on his foot, he lifted Shiori off the ground. As the girl yelped in surprise, he took two quick steps before accepting Asenath’s offered hug. Shiori was squeezed between them, giving a short squeal that quickly became a laugh.

“So basically,”she heard him say after a few seconds of that, “I have a half-vampire sister training to be an evil monster hunter, and a full vampire sister that’s already a superhero detective bodyguard.

“It’s official. This is basically the best day of my life.”

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