“Yeah, well fuck you assholes too!” A loud clattering sound accompanied that outburst as Erin Redcliffe hurled the phone she had been using against the nearby wall of the empty (aside from desks and chairs) classroom she had stepped into. As it fell to the floor, she added in its direction, “Guess what, I’m gonna get hold of my dad whether you stupid fuckers like it or not!”
From the doorway, Nevada spoke up. “Still having problems getting through to him, huh?” The young blonde teacher was holding an enormous brown sack in both hands that was completely overflowing with random objects, from a tall lamp, to a stuffed rabbit head, to a golf club, a long set of bells attached to a rope that hung out one side and jingled with each motion, and more.
“What–oh.” Spinning that way in surprise before realizing who it was, Erin visibly flushed, her face turning almost the same color as her recently vividly dyed hair. “Sorry, this is your classroom, isn’t it? Hang on, I’ll get out.” Walking quickly to where she had thrown the phone, the girl bent over to pick it up, mumbling to herself about finding some other place to scream.
“It’s okay,” Nevada assured her while shifting the heavy bag, making the lamp slide out of sight to reveal an umbrella with a shotgun attached as the handle. “Someone should get some use out of it. Not like there’s any classes going on til tomorrow anyway.” Squinting at her, she added, “I heard you and that new girl you brought in tried using Dreamjaunt to get hold of your dad, and even that didn’t work?”
After a brief hesitation, Erin nodded slowly. She held the phone (undamaged thanks to magical reinforcement that was intended to keep it intact through intense fighting) against her chest while murmuring, “And we know the spell worked on our end, because that’s how we contacted Vanessa and the Mason twins back here. Err, Lucas twins? They’re going by Lucas now, right?”
“Yup, that’s right,” Nevada confirmed. “And if the Dreamjaunt worked for them, then it should have worked for your dad unless they were specifically blocking you.” She made a face at that thought, shaking her head. “In which case, damn. They really don’t want anything getting through to him.” Raising a hand to her chin, the blonde woman murmured quietly, “They must be doing that for everyone who leaves a family member back there when they take off. Or maybe just the ones who have a history of joining the Rebellion before.” Sighing then, Nevada added, “You know, cuz as long as he doesn’t realize you’re free and clear, he’ll keep playing nice with them.”
“Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured,” Erin agreed, still squeezing the phone tightly. “I thought I’d be able to get through to him once we got here, but everyone’s so busy. Vanessa and the others already left on that uhh, I think it’s a rescue mission? I’m not sure. Everyone else has their own things, even Dylan’s trying to get to know what’s going on around here. I don’t… know who to get help from.” Her last words were murmured softly under her breath as she lowered her gaze.
“Well, I’m here, and like I said, no classes til tomorrow. So, I’ve got free time.” With an easy smile, Nevada stepped the rest of the way into the room, letting the door close behind her. “And to tell you the truth, I always liked Nolan.” That said, she heaved the enormous bag of apparently random junk over onto one of the desks, wincing as a set of bowls fell out to the floor.
Ignoring those to be dealt with later, she made two of the nearby chairs slide closer and turn to face one another with a flick of her hand, gesturing for Erin to take one. “Let’s figure out how we’re going to let him know he can give those guys the finger and get his butt over here, huh?”
Blinking twice before smiling as she moved to sit down, Erin managed a hesitant, “You’ve really got time to help? I mean, you don’t have some other life and death mission to run off on?” From the tone of her voice, it was clear that the girl had already become accustomed to that.
Wincing, Nevada took the other seat. “Trust me, I’ve got time. But yeah, I guess people around here are pretty busy lately. You know it’s nothing personal, right? It’s not that they don’t care about you or your dad. They do. They just–there’s a lot going on. Trying to keep all you students in the right classes and learning while also keeping up on these rescue missions that just seem to be getting more and more dangerous, with the Crossroads and Eden’s Garden people setting up traps to try to get people back under their thumb. Sorry, back where they can teach people right from wrong, as they’d put it.” Her head shook. “It’s a whole thing, believe me.”
“I know it’s not personal,” Erin agreed, foot kicking against the floor lightly with a soft squeak. “And I know I just got here. But that doesn’t matter. None of that matters. I just have to let my dad know where I am.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do.” With that announcement, Nevada held her fist out, waiting for the younger girl to bump it. “Don’t worry, Erin. Whatever it takes, we’ll break through that wall they’ve got your dad locked behind and get him out of there. And I swear I’m not just saying that cuz your dad still owes me seventeen homemade desserts after I kicked his butt at Jagdausflug last year.”
“Man, why does he keep betting on that game?” Erin lamented. “He sucks at it. I beat him so bad back when we played, he’s had to do the dishes for like three years straight.”
With a broad grin, Nevada offered a shrug. “I dunno. Dude’s always convinced he’s got a new winning strategy. Hey, maybe when we get him back, we can talk him into playing both of us together. Might be a good way of getting you a brand new car or something.”
Giggling a little despite herself before swallowing it down, Erin quietly asked, “You’re sure we’ll get through to him? I just… they really don’t want to let him go.”
“Hey, trust me, Erin, we’ll get him out of there,” Nevada confirmed. “And if any of those assholes try to get in our way, well…
“You saw the shotgun umbrella over there, right?”
Back when the Rebellion had first been restarted a few months earlier, the fact that some of the Heretics were actually Hybrids, people with a mix of human and Alter parents, had come to light. Fortunately, this did not end up exposing every graduated Hybrid Heretic. A few had revealed themselves in order to openly join the side that didn’t think they deserved to die for existing, of course. But others remained silently in place, taking advantage of their positions to covertly help now and then. There wasn’t a lot they could do openly, given how many eyes were now watching for traitors. It was easy to be seen as suspicious. But they could help here and there.
Being who she was, Nevada was in a unique position of knowing who and where basically every single Hybrid Heretic was. She knew them, and they knew her. Not as well as they had known Professor Zedekiah Pericles, but still, enough. They knew she could be trusted, absolutely.
That trust meant that she was able to contact one hybrid in particular, who quietly reached out with his own contacts to find out certain schedules. Or rather, one schedule. Her contact was able to quietly track down exactly where Nolan Redcliffe was supposed to be that day.
“They really sent him on a hunting trip?” Erin asked in disbelief as she and Nevada were sitting in a car parked on the roof of a tall parking structure, overlooking a few other buildings. Their eyes were on one warehouse in particular that was toward the end of the street. From their position, the two could barely see the mouth of an alley beside the building. From what their contact had said, that alley was to be the staging point for a raid into the warehouse itself.
“They’re trying to keep him and others like him busy,” Nevada murmured before glancing toward the girl next to her. “And, you know, show them just how much good they can do. I guarantee the missions they’re sending people like your dad on right now are obvious hero trips. They won’t send them on any questionable missions. The things they’re hunting are gonna be the real worst of the worst, the monsters that kidnap and eat innocent kids, the big beasts that don’t leave any questions about whether they’re bad or not. You know, the ones that won’t challenge their assumptions at all. They’re trying to convince people like your dad that Crossroads really is the good side by showing them alllll the horrible monsters they help put a stop to.”
Erin made a face, head shaking. “They really think my dad’s that easily manipulated? I mean, of course Crossroads does good things. That’s not really in question, right? You can do good things and bad things at the same time. If you take a gun and mow down a bunch of people in a prison, there’s a good chance you’ll get some that deserved it. But you’ll also hit a hell of a lot who definitely didn’t. I don’t think anyone on the Rebellion is saying that we shouldn’t kill the real monsters, just that not everyone who isn’t human is a monster.”
Reaching out, Nevada ruffled the girl’s hair with a small smile. “Yeah, pretty much. It’s kind of a level of nuance a lot of the people making these decisions about where to send your dad don’t really get. Or they just don’t care and don’t understand why others do. They think just showing how bad some of those Alters out there can be will convince people not to take any risks with them, I guess.”
Erin was quiet for a moment, her gaze locked on that alley across the street and down several floors from their elevated position. Finally, after several moments of silence, she asked, “Do you really think we can get him out of there by ourselves? I mean, there’ll be others with him.”
“Only a couple, according to my old friend,” Nevada assured her. “Crossroads doesn’t exactly have a lot of extra people to throw around big groups at the best of times, let alone with this whole Rebellion going on. They’ve got to deal with people like us while trying to keep up with all the normal hunts. It’s spread them a bit thin here and there. Emphasis on the here right now.” She glanced to the girl, hesitating before adding, “The thing we really need to worry about is any spells they might’ve put on your dad’s equipment or clothes. You know, things that could yank him back if something goes wrong. They’d probably tell him it’s for his own safety with all the dangerous things out there, but everyone knows the truth. And he’d put up with the lie because-”
“Because he thinks he’s protecting me,” Erin murmured darkly. “Same reason he’s playing along with the rest of this. That’s why he hasn’t already taken off, because he thinks they still have me as a hostage.” She folded her arms tightly and frowned. “How many bad things do you think he’s done just to protect me already? How many people would still be alive if I’d just left with the rest of you guys that first night? Or just… or just gotten out earlier?”
Nevada was silent for a moment before speaking up. “Erin, listen to me. That kind of thinking doesn’t help anything. Believe me, worrying about what could have been won’t get anyone anywhere useful. We may have a lot of powers, but changing the past isn’t something we can do like that. The truth is, I do wish that we had managed to take the time to grab you and everyone like you who would have chosen to come with us. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time. And look at it this way, if you hadn’t stayed behind, you never would’ve met Dylan.”
“That’s true,” Erin murmured thoughtfully while still staring down at the alley. “And she’s definitely worth meeting. Her and Fiesta and the pups.” That last bit was added with a small smile as she finally glanced toward Nevada. “Did you know–”
“There,” the blonde woman suddenly announced, raising a hand to point back the way Erin had just been looking before.
“Oh, of course,” the girl muttered, “the second I look away from–” She cut herself off in mid-sentence, because turning back that way revealed the thing–the person–she had been waiting to see for so long. “… Dad…” she breathed out the single word in a gasp.
Indeed, Nolan Redcliffe himself, a thin man of average height with brown eyes and matching hair that fell to his shoulders, stood just barely in view at the mouth of that alley. He wore a beige suit, and was accompanied by two other men, as expected. All three of them looked like ordinary, boring office workers on their way to lunch, who had just happened to pause there at the alley to chat for a minute.
“Of course they sent him with Coleman and Bridger,” Nevada murmured under her breath as she recognized the two men Nolan was with. “Those two are a couple of Ruthers’ most loyal–never mind. We’ll get him out of there. Let’s see if they split up at all before going in there. Just sit tight for a second, okay, babe?”
Erin was clearly anxious, but she agreed. Sitting in the car, she watched while one hand squeezed the door handle so tightly her knuckles almost turned white. It took everything she had not to bolt out of the car and shout out to her dad. Seeing him there, being this close after everything that had happened to keep them separated, it was so hard not to shout to him. But she had to be patient. She had to wait. Because if they messed this up and those assholes took her father away again, they’d be a hell of a lot more careful from then on. Erin might not get another chance like this. Hard as it was, she would wait. She would be patient.
That patience seemed to pay off about a minute later, as Nolan and the two men he was with did indeed split up. The other pair moved around toward the front of the building, while Nolan himself seemed to be focused on an emergency exit door a few feet further down the alley.
“This is our chance.” With those blurted words, Erin shoved the door open and was already out of the car before the other women could respond. She moved to the edge of the parking structure, getting ready to hop down. Sure, it was a bit rushed, but as far as Erin was concerned, she had waited long enough. No way was she going to lose this chance to get her dad out of there. He was right there, in plain view, and his escorts had already moved away.
Nevada, however, was a little more cautious for obvious reasons. And it was a cautiousness that, like their earlier patience, would pay off. Just before Erin would have hopped over the edge of the parking structure to drop to the ground, the other woman reached out quickly to catch her arm. “Wait.” There was a sudden tenseness to her voice, a fear that none of her students had heard the new teacher display before.
“Wait?” Erin echoed in disbelief. “What are we waiting for n–”
“Look.” With that quiet, shaking voice, Nevada pointed to a figure that had just appeared in the same doorway that Nolan had been paying attention to. The door hadn’t moved at all, yet there was a woman standing there. Either she had been invisible, or had stepped through the closed door. Either way, the woman had short, dark hair and was saying something to Nolan.
“She’s gotta be one of their targets or something, come on!” Erin blurted, still intent on getting to her father.
But Nevada kept hold of her arm in an iron grip, holding the girl from leaving. In fact, even as she pulled her back away from the edge with one hand, the woman quickly held up a glowing coin with the other and cast an invisibility spell. It wrapped around the two of them moments before the woman in the alley and Nolan himself both turned slightly to look that way. They seemed to watch that spot briefly, then returned to their conversation.
“Wha–what’d you do that for?!” Erin demanded in disbelief. She was half-struggling, trying to twist her way out of Nevada’s grip. “You said you’d help me get to my dad, and he’s right there! Those other guys’ll be back any second. Let go!”
“Erin, stop, trust me.” Nevada kept hold of the girl, pulling her tightly against her own chest to keep Erin within the bounds of her invisibility spell. It did more than just stop people from seeing them, it also masked their sounds and most other ways to sense them. “Stop, it’s not about your dad, it’s about her!”
“Her?” Erin shook her head. She wanted to struggle even more, wanted to jerk her way free and get to her dad. But she also trusted her teacher, young as the woman might’ve been. “What do you mean? She’s just some woman. Probably another Heretic or something. She doesn’t even–”
“She’s not another Heretic, Erin,” Nevada interrupted. Her gaze was focused intently on the spot where Nolan and the woman were engaged in deep conversation. “I’m sorry. She already has your dad. We can’t get him away from her right now. Not without a lot more help.”
“What… what do you mean?” Erin turned, confusion written across her face. “Who the hell is she? Why can’t we get my dad away from her?”
“Because,” Nevada quietly informed her, “She’s disguised right now, but I know her. I know what she feels like. I can sense her. When I see her, I know her. That woman, she’s not a Heretic. She’s a lot worse than that. Erin, Crossroads doesn’t have control of your dad right now.