Puriel and Chayyiel
Standing alone in the otherwise empty kitchen somewhere in the vast corridors of the starstation, Puriel carefully lined up five carrots of as close to equal length as he could find. Setting them next to one another, he took a silver knife and began chopping down the line from tip to stem, cutting them into small disks in a rapid series of motions. The sound of the knife slicing through carrots and thunking into the cutting board filled the air. It was over in a few seconds and he grabbed a pot, swinging it up in front of the counter before sweeping the carrot slices into it with one swipe of the blade. They joined many more carrots and other vegetables already resting at the bottom. Another swipe in the opposite direction sent the stems off into the compost bin.
With that done, Puriel set the pot back down and reached for the box of onions before pausing. He wasn’t alone anymore. The knife shook just a little in his hand, a betrayal of inner turmoil before he composed himself and carefully placed it down on the cutting board. His fingers left the knife and he clenched them tightly before carefully speaking. “Should I be leaving this place soon, lest you fulfill your promise to kill me?”
Chayyiel, who had been standing in the doorway to this kitchen, stepped through and spoke simply. “I believe what I said was that I would kill you if you ever tried to give me another order. And something tells me that won’t be a problem right now, will it?” As she spoke, the small girl moved to the nearby counter and boosted herself up onto it before perching there so she could look him in the eye if he turned around.
He didn’t make the girl wait long for that. After only another moment, the man did so, facing her while taking a breath. Their eyes met, and both were silent for a few seconds. Each was thinking about the last time they had faced one another alone like this, after he had betrayed her trust in order to get her to lead the human king Arthur into a trap. She had given the man her word that he would be safe and they would only talk, and Puriel had used that to drop an ambush on top of him. An ambush he had not walked away from.
Each of them was clearly lost in the memories of those choices and what had come afterward. Well over a thousand years had passed since those days, yet being Seosten, the memories were as fresh as if it had occurred the day before. Finally, Puriel exhaled that breath he had taken and spoke. “This may not be something you want to hear, but it is good to see you again.”
Chayyiel didn’t respond at first. She was silent while meeting his gaze. Several different reactions seemed to pass through her eyes, but he couldn’t be certain exactly what they were. In the past he would’ve been able to quite easily, but the girl had become entirely too good at disguising her reactions and emotions. That most certainly came from the time she had spent absorbing political skills after joining the Seraphim. She had changed quite a bit, having grown in power, in skill, in so many ways. Though he could still sense the essence of who she had always been. She had grown, but was still Chayyiel.
Eventually, the girl broke the silence that had fallen after his words. “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?” There was sympathy in her voice, despite everything that had happened between them. “I heard about most of it, maybe all of it, though I can’t be certain. You…” She trailed off, gaze moving from his eyes to look him up and down briefly. “You lost your wife, in more than one way and more than one time. You handed your daughter over to someone who was your best friend once, not even noticing how much he’d changed. But then, he’d been changing for centuries and you never noticed. You tore apart the family of the subordinate who trusted you once, scattered them across the universe and sent her to be tortured, imprisoned, experimented on, and bred by your wife. Yes, you didn’t know that would happen like that, but it did. In the same motion, you broke yourself. You shattered your mind, scoured your memories. And in doing that, you gave yourself a chance to experience real love, trust, and family again. Then all those people the blank slate that was you loved were murdered by Fomorians, and you got your memories back. Sort of. Enough to escape and go back to your old home. That’s where they retired you, where they thought you’d stay forever with your memory problems so they wouldn’t have to think about you anymore. But you didn’t. You didn’t stay there, out of sight and out of mind. You might’ve. But your wife made the mistake of bringing one little girl around you. She couldn’t resist the urge to brag and gloat about having gotten one over that same woman whose family you tore apart to create that whole situation. And you, in what was probably one of so very few coherent moments, knew you had to protect this girl. So you did it in the only way you could. You made her possess you.”
Through all of that, Puriel stood silent and motionless, allowing the girl to tell him his own story. Finally, as she trailed off with that, he gave a short nod. “And Spark has been with me ever since. She’s the reason I’m here, mentally and physically. Without her, I’d still be lost.” His voice was soft, yet held clear pride and emotion for the girl he spoke of.
“You love her,” Chayyiel noted, “as though she was your own child. You’ve raised her that way.”
“It would be more accurate to say that we have raised one another,” Puriel corrected. “And saved one another. I stopped her from being used by…” He sighed heavily. “By Kushiel. And she protected my mind, brought me back to myself, stopped others from noticing when I was too lost to respond. She anchored me. You say I see her as my child. Which… which is true to an extent, but I know she is Sariel’s. I wouldn’t take that from her. But I would kill to protect her. And more, I would die for the same.”
Silence reigned once more between them, stretching on for several long seconds before Chayyiel nodded. “I believe you. That’s why I’m here.” She started to say something else, before stopping as another consideration jumped to mind. “Hold, am I speaking to you or to both of you?”
Puriel chuckled softly despite himself. It was a surprising sound to both of them, and it took the man a second to reorient. “Ah, she is not here. Well, she is physically still a part of me. We have not been able to disconnect her properly. Not yet. But she is projecting herself out to spend time with her brother and mother, while they worry about what is happening with their sister, the… Tabbris.”
“Yes, the… trip to Fossor’s world.” Leaving it at that for the moment, Chayyiel focused on the matter at hand. “I believe, after everything you’ve been through, that you have truly changed. Whether you are aware of this or not, I have been keeping an eye on you when I could, through a few different sources. I wanted to know what was happening after I heard you had reappeared in that condition. For awhile I believed it was a ploy of some sort, though I couldn’t imagine what or why. It didn’t seem like your style.”
She offered a shrug after a moment of contemplation. “I suppose I was simply making excuses for myself because I didn’t want to have any sympathy for you after what you did.” Her voice was flat, and when she saw his mouth open, she raised a finger to stop his attempted words. He acquiesced, allowing her to continue uninterrupted.
“But I did come to believe you had changed. Which is why I sent Aletheia and Kutattca to you. I believed you could get the latter here to Earth with less… oversight and other nonsense than I tend to experience when traveling.” Her face twisted just a little at that, betraying her annoyance.
The expression actually made Puriel chuckle once more, yet again in spite of the situation. “I’m sorry, I do sympathize with your pain in that regard. It’s just, you’ve clearly grown so much, but that face still reminds me of trying to convince you that everyone had to take their full doses of Hesentanien after the Jaoin flowers bloomed.”
“That stuff tasted like licking the bottom of Abaddon’s boot right after he stepped off a seven-day battlefield,” Chayyiel shot back. The two of them held their gazes on one another for a moment, before each smiled very slightly. Between that and Puriel’s chuckle, most of the lingering tension had left the room, though some would remain for quite awhile. Their history was too complicated, long, and painful for all of it to vanish just like that.
“I believed you changed, and I believed you would come here,” Chayyiel reiterated. “So I wanted you to bring Kutattca, because he can help the Heretic Rebellion undermine one of the loudest voices against them, his own sister.”
“Yes, I… believe they are working on the best way to do something with that,” Puriel confirmed thoughtfully before turning his attention back to her. “You believed I had changed and trusted me to do that, though with the aid of your assistant.”
“Aletheia wasn’t sent only to keep an eye on you,” Chayyiel informed him. “She cares about you. After everything that–”
“I am sorry.” Puriel’s abrupt interruption seemed to surprise even him. But he pushed on as soon as it came. “I betrayed your trust. More than that, I forced you to betray your own word. I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, because losing control of even a little bit of this world to a burgeoning Dragon Heretic like that made me look bad. That was all I cared about.
“I told myself it was because he was a threat to our civilization, that was the only way to keep this world in line so we could focus our efforts on the Fomorians, I told myself all sorts of things. But the truth is that having a human stand against us on this world made me look bad, and I needed to deal with that before I looked worse. That’s why I didn’t wait. That’s why I didn’t listen to you. The idea of negotiating with a primitive human was absurd to me. No, worse, I believed that being seen negotiating with a human would make me look even worse. I wanted to interrupt your deal with him because otherwise… otherwise you would have treated him as an equal, and that thought disgusted me beyond anything I could have described.”
After saying all that, the man gave a long, heavy sigh. “Needless to say, I have had occasion to reevaluate. But above all, I owe you an apology. I am sorry for my arrogance. I am sorry, not only for what I took from you with my choices, but also for what I took from our people and those of Earth. What could have been, and your proposed alliance continued….”
His eyes closed at the thought, and he slumped back a bit as his voice softened. “But the past is not something we can change, only the future. I am sorry for my mistakes, conscious and otherwise. I apologize, with everything I am, for everything I chose that was wrong. I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your help. For all the power I have, I cannot… I cannot make up for those mistakes on my own, or even with those who have already agreed to lend their aid. I need you, Chayyiel. If we are going to fix this, and make our people see the best way forward, I need your help.”
Puriel was motionless like that briefly, before Chayyiel spoke up and drew his gaze. “You’re right, in your arrogance, you made mistakes. But so have I. As you said, we can’t change the past, only the future. And if I were to refuse you right now, it would be even worse than what you did. Because I have the benefit of hindsight.”
Rather than say anything else on that point right then, however, she slid off the counter and stepped around him to where he had been working. “I didn’t realize you had picked up a love of cooking.” Her head tilted before she added, “You’ve been practicing lately.”
“It helps clear my head without clearing it too far,” Puriel replied after turning that way as well. “Following a strict recipe requires just enough focus that I don’t drift away completely, but I can still… stop thinking about everything else. For a little while, at least.” He paused for a moment, clearly considering his next words before gesturing. “Would you like to help prepare the rest of this soup? It is for the children. They…” His gaze moved to the large pot he had been working with. “… tend to work up an appetite.”
“I’m certain they do,” Chayyiel agreed, before reaching out to take the knife he had been using. Her other hand tugged the box of onions into place, before she plucked one out and began to carefully cut out its bulb, then began slicing it. “You know about Mercury.”
“I know, now,” he confirmed quietly, then moved beside her to start working on cutting meat into cubes to be browned before they would be added to the pot. “I’m glad I didn’t then. I… you did the right thing in telling him to hide it from everyone.”
Once again, both were silent, losing themselves in the act of preparing the meal for several long minutes. They communicated only in grunts, pointing, and the very occasional word for how the recipe was supposed to go. Only once the pot was settled on the burner and slowly bubbling away, did Chayyiel speak properly once more. “Yes, I will help you make this right.”
“No.” Puriel’s head shook. “I think it’s more proper to say that I will help you.
“After all, you do outrank me, Seraph.”
Apollo’s Father Meets The Young Sariel
As the sleek shuttle came to a stop on the landing platform outside of a nondescript building located at the edge of a crater on a partially-colonized moon, the Seosten known as Jehoel leaned up out of the rear seat to remind their pilot to keep the engine warm and promised this would not take long. With a quick glance toward the boy next to him, he firmly added, “We’re going to be in and out. Come, Lucifer.”
That said, the man rose and emerged from the small shuttle. Like his son, he was blond, though that was where the similarities ended. He was tall and muscular, barely managing to avoid banging his head off the hatch when he stepped out. At his full height as he straightened up, the man stood almost five inches over six feet, and was built more like a pit fighter than a businessman. The suit he wore was dark gold with red outlining, its elegant design at odds with his size and even his face. Jeho, as he was more commonly known, was a very plain-looking man, particularly for a Seosten. His nose was slightly too big for his face, and oddly shaped. He never paid it any mind on his own behalf, but he was often amused by the looks he got from those who were unaccustomed to it. Extending his hand now, he made a dark red cane appear and tapped the ground with it testingly before starting to walk. He didn’t need the cane, but it made for a good prop. Behind him, his son scrambled to follow.
Jeho was glad that this was about to be over. For days now, Lucifer had spoken of nothing save for the little girl he had supposedly been playing with in the Prasinus Luna asylum while his father was conducting business. At first the idea that his son had an imaginary friend had been amusing and endearing (and was hardly the worst of his jokes and pranks), but the boy would not let up. He continued to insist that his new friend needed help and that she was stuck there, hiding in the walls of all places. Jeho had told his son eventually that he’d had enough of the games and that it was time to move on to something else. But Lucifer continued to insist that they had to help the girl. He grew increasingly distressed at the idea that they might just move on and forget about her. Distressed enough to cause his father some measure of concern. It clearly wasn’t just a game to him. Or he was taking it entirely too far.
Jeho obviously didn’t believe that his son had met a girl in the walls of the asylum. He had an overactive imagination and was constantly making up stories. Sometimes it seemed that he forgot the difference between what he’d made up and what was real. While he could have simply ordered his son to be silent about it, the man chose another route. He would take his son back there and show him that there was no one like that. That would be the end of it. For the moment, at least. Eventually, Lucifer would find another imaginary story to latch onto, but they would take that as it came. For now, what mattered was helping his son move past this delusion.
Together, the two walked across the landing platform, passed several other shuttles until they reached the circular transport pad. The visibly-elderly man there snapped to attention when he saw who was approaching and blurted, “Apologies, we didn’t know you were coming today, sir.”
“Don’t worry, Ivaseo,” Jeho assured him with a raised hand to ease the reaction his appearance had drawn. “This isn’t a snap inspection and nobody left you out of the loop. I’m just here to show my son something. Would you mind sending us over to the north wing, level eleven b?”
With a quick note of agreement, the old man hurriedly set up the transport system and gestured for them to step onto the circle. Both did so, and there was a twisting sensation before they vanished from the platform and reappeared in one of several arrival lobbies spread throughout the asylum. As soon as they appeared, the head nurse by the central desk abandoned her conversation with subordinates and quickly made her way over to express surprise at their arrival, pondering aloud if she had missed a scheduled meeting. She was a rather short, thin woman with dark hair, who would have appeared to be in her early thirties to someone from the far-away and as-yet unimportant Earth. Her words were accompanied by dark looks toward the lower nurses, who exchanged frantic looks and headshakes to insist that they had not neglected to inform their superior of any such meeting today.
“At ease, Anahel,” Jeho urged, holding his cane up to gesture with it. “Neither you nor anyone else here has made any mistakes in that regard. Please, go about your business. We’ll only be a moment and then Lucifer and I will be out of your hair. I simply need to show him that his imagination has been running wild with him again.”
A blank, clearly uncertain smile found its way to the woman’s face as she looked toward Lucifer. “Ah, imagination? Did the boy find our lost and found and think it was a treasure hoard?”
Jeho expected his son to immediately launch into the same old story he had been listening to for the past week, about the girl in the walls. But the boy remained oddly silent, standing next to his father with a hand against his arm in a grip that betrayed his uncertainty and need for reassurance. It was an odd reaction for his son to have. Lucifer was far from shy, to say the least. And he had spoken of nothing these past days but this imaginary girl. The fact that he suddenly fell silent about it right now… Jeho wasn’t certain what it meant.
Putting a hand on his son’s shoulder, the man focused on the woman in front of them. “Don’t worry about us, we just need to visit one of your patient rooms quickly. We’ll be in and out. I’m certain you have far more important business to attend to than to play tour guide.” With that, he began to walk down the hall, following the directions his son had given him repeatedly in the days leading up to this. Lucifer had been exploring the place while his father was busy, and knew the exact path through the maze of corridors to get there from this spot. A path he had told his dad about in exhausting detail, to the point that Jeho felt quite certain he could have navigated it even if their species was not known for having photographic memories.
Rather than simply leave them to their own devices, however, Anahel abandoned the other nurses and began to come along with them. Her head shook. “Oh, if the boy wants to show you something he found, I’m sure we can help. Is it our mural on the next floor? Several of our patients spent quite a few hours making that, and we’re very proud of them.”
With an audible chuckle, Jeho replied, “Nothing so interesting, I am afraid. It seems my son went and made himself a friend when we were here. He’d like to visit her again. Actually, he’s been quite insistent on that. He thinks you’re hiding her in this place.”
The woman made a noise in the back of her throat, eyes darting to the boy in question before asking, “Hiding her? Hiding who, exactly? Our patients are all well-accounted for. You and the rest of the board make certain of that.” She added that part with a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Paying little attention to her reaction, the man continued walking, turning right at the intersection his son had described. “A small girl, about his age. He thinks she’s living in the walls of this place, can you believe that? Quite the imagination.”
For a brief moment, the nurse stopped, staring after them before quickly picking up the pace to catch up. “Hold a moment, are you saying you want to go poking around inside the walls of our patients’ rooms? I can’t allow something like that. Do you have any idea how much that would disturb the people whose care we are responsible for? That’s completely preposterous.”
Jeho, tapping his cane along the floor curiously, replied without looking up. “Only one room, I promise. My son has assured me that should we check this single room and have it prove to be a dead end, as I believe we both know it will, he will speak no more on the subject. Believe me, had you been listening to these stories for the past week, you’d want to silence them as well.”
Anahel began to respond, but was interrupted by the arrival of a heavyset man who appeared old enough to be near final retirement. He had long gray hair and a walrus-like mustache, and walked with a cane that appeared far more necessary than Jeho’s more decorative version. His name was Deismea, the primary administrator of the facility. “What’s this I hear about one of our favorite board members wanting to disturb our patients? We all know better than that, don’t we? The people on this floor already had an unscheduled fire drill earlier today, I’m afraid we absolutely cannot interrupt their schedule any further. It would be a disaster.” He paused before adding, “Even for a member of the board, there are regulations to follow. Inspections must come via the proper channels. Things can’t just happen out of the blue like that. We owe our patients their privacy.”
The man had a fair point. The patients here were often very sensitive and did not take well to unscheduled changes or interruptions. Jeho paused, considering his words. Had this simply been a whim of his own, he almost certainly would have backed off then. But this wasn’t about him. As soon as he stopped, Lucifer woke up in a quiet, yet audible voice. “Please, Father. I promise you’ll see. You can’t give them a chance to hide her. We’ll never find her again now that they know you’ll check. This is our only chance.”
“Now you see here,” Deismea put in, “we have neither the time nor patience to entertain these ridiculous games of yours. Your father is a busy man and so am I. Far too busy to play along with this. You need to go home and leave your dad alone. Now you’ve dragged him all the way out here and you want us to let you barge in on the people under our care just so you can have a little extra attention? I think not. This situation is over.” To Jeho, he added, “If you would like to bring your son back in a day or two for a scheduled tour, when we have had a chance to warn our patients, that would be one thing. But I’m afraid I must put my foot down now. As the administrator of this facility and the person most entrusted to care for its inhabitants, I cannot allow strangers to traipse around disturbing them.”
Once again, his points were valid. He was indeed the person given final consideration when it came to what happened in this asylum. He knew every patient within, and had been entrusted with their care. Ultimate authority over the facility fell to him, and for good reason. He had been doing the job for many centuries by that point, and doing it quite well by all accounts. There had never been a major problem with him, be it from staff, patients, or the board of governors on which Jeho sat.
With all that in mind, the man held his cane against the floor and considered for a moment, his eyes shifting over to his son. Lucifer had not said anything else, which was, again, quite odd for him. Normally, he would be talking up a storm, trying to shout down the man who had been naysaying his story. Lucifer had never been the type of boy to let age and authority dissuade him when he thought he was being insulted or dismissed. And yet, he almost entirely ignored the man, instead focusing on staring pleadingly up at his father. That, more than anything he could have said, was what decided the man’s next course of action.
“You are absolutely correct,” Jeho assured the asylum director. “This is an unscheduled invasion and it may very well prove entirely too disturbing for your patients. That isn’t fair, particularly given how sensitive some of them are. The last thing we wish to do is set back their treatment or cause them, or your staff, undue pressure and pain. So, my son and I shall leave you to your work.”
In the following moment, as Lucifer seemed to deflate and both head nurse and administrator straightened up with a pair of smiles, the man continued. “As soon as we see this single room.” His cane snapped out, pointing toward the nearby door. “Lucifer, this is the place in question, is it not?”
Truth be told, he was certain they wouldn’t find anything interesting. But, given how intent his son was about the whole thing, following through was the least he could do. He had told Lucifer they would check it out, and he was not a man who went back on his word. All they needed was to step into the room and show him that there was no girl hiding in the walls. Then this would all be over. He could hardly blame Deismea and Anahel for not wanting to play along. They had their own jobs to do here, and as far as he knew, neither of them spent much time around children. They had no idea how persistent someone like Lucifer could be. They still believed that simply ordering him to be silent about it would help anything. Jeho didn’t want to order his son to be silent. Tired as he may have been of hearing the story about the girl, the best way to handle the situation was to show him that he was wrong.
So, even as the two asylum staff protested, Lucifer darted away from his father and yanked the door open before slipping within. Which left Jeho to give a casual smile of indulgence toward the other two, shrugging as though to remind them that there was little he could do in the face of his son’s insistence. Then he followed, stepping through the doorway. In the background, Deismea continued to raise his strenuous, insistent objections, reminding them of just how sensitive his patients were and how much something like this could set them back.
Well, it was no wonder Lucifer may have begun to believe there was someone else here. The moment they stepped into this single patient room, Jeho’s eyes were immediately pulled toward a series of colorful drawings on the floor. Clearly the woman in this room, who lay sleeping in the bed, had a child or other descendant who had visited and tried to brighten the place up for her. Was it truly that simple? Had Lucifer simply found the drawings and assumed it must have come from some secret girl? That would fit with his imagination. Or perhaps the girl had been here at the time and filled his head with stories.
Giving the woman in the bed a brief glance, Jeho started to speak up. “Now, as you can see, there’s no one else here, Lucifer. Maybe if you ask politely, Deismea will tell you about the child who visits this poor woman, and you–”
In mid-sentence, he stopped talking. Because Lucifer had completely ignored the drawings on the floor, and simply walked straight to the rear corner of the room, where nothing appeared to be. Anahel snapped for him to stop and went to grab the boy’s arm, but he ducked past her and went to that spot.
“Now this is quite enough,” Deismea declared, starting to move that way. “If your father refuses to put an end to these games before they end up causing undue distress to those under our care, I’m afraid I shall have to put my foot down. Come away from there before–”
It was that man’s turn to fall silent, visibly deflating a bit as a piece of the wall right there in the corner moved aside. Just like that, there was a small, yet visible crack. A crack which widened as Lucifer pushed on it.
Up until that point, Jeho had truly not believed a word his son had said about what happened in this place while he was playing around. He hadn’t wanted to simply order Lucifer to be silent about it, seeing it as more productive to prove that he was incorrect. But in that moment, as the hidden doorway appeared, he considered for the first time what would happen if his son wasn’t wrong. The administrator caught himself and went to step that way with an order to get back, but Jeho put a hand on his shoulder in an iron grip. The difference in their sizes was never more apparent than in that moment. His voice was flat. “Stay.”
Lucifer, for his part, hadn’t waited for any further encouragement. He pushed the hidden door open and poked his head in, calling, “Sariel! It’s okay, you can stop hiding! I told you, I’d bring my father back! I’m sorry it took so long, but we’re here now. You can come out!”
For a long, frozen moment, there was no response. Deismea started to say something, the words barely beginning to emerge from his mouth before turning to a strangled noise as Jeho squeezed his shoulder harder. He didn’t want to hear anything from this man right now. Not if what he thought was about to happen really did.
Lucifer stepped back, moving slowly out of the way. There was another sound within the area behind the walls, the hidden area Lucifer had told his father all about. And just like that, a small, blonde figure poked her head into view. She blanched at the site of the head nurse and administrator, very nearly ducking back out of sight. But Lucifer reached out to take her hand and gently yet firmly pulled the girl into view. He was right, she was about his age, looking dirty and disheveled, though at least generally well-fed.
Seeing her, Lucifer’s father released his grip on the administrator and took two steps that way. He paused, letting out a heavy sigh before going down to one knee in front of the suddenly nervous girl. “My name is Jeho. Can you tell me yours? And who is your mother?”
She told him. She told him her name and that her mother, Korsmea, was the woman in that bed. And, when he asked, she told him her father had been a member of the staff here in the hospital. A man who had slept with a patient who could not even begin to consent.
Hearing all that, Jeho rose and turned to focus on the pair behind him. His voice was low and tight. “I am calling the rest of the board.
“I believe it’s safe to say, we need to have a meeting.”
In the end, many people involved with what happened at the facility would end up losing their jobs. Deismea first and foremost among them. He had helped hide what happened, and kept the birth of the child a secret. How long he had planned to keep going with that was anyone’s guess. But now that was immaterial. He had been removed from his position and so had most others of any level of authority. New officials had been brought in to take over, which was going to cause more problems for the patients, who only knew and trusted those who had been removed. But there was nothing else to be done for it. They couldn’t simply ignore the fact that these people had hidden something of that magnitude. Yes, the man responsible for impregnating Korsmea had been removed and demoted within. But that clearly wasn’t enough.
Most importantly, the girl in question needed somewhere to go. She could not simply grow up within the asylum with a mother who only knew who she was a small portion of the time. So, Jeho had volunteered to take her in alongside his son. Lucifer was the one who had met her, after all. Honestly, it hadn’t been that much of an argument. His fellow board members were glad to wipe the problem off their hands and hopefully move on.
Leading the girl through the front door of his manor, the man ordered Lucifer to go and find one of the maids who could help make up a room for the child. As he bounded off to do that, Jeho turned and looked down at the blonde child staring up at him nervously. “You’ll stay here when Lucifer does, and attend school with him when he goes back. They will have a girls dorm for you to live in there. When he returns here to visit, you will accompany him then as well. Any time you wish to go back to that place and see your mother, you may. But you live here and at Lucifer’s school. And you will follow all rules that you are expected to. Do you have any questions about that?
Sariel seemed to consider the question for a moment, fidgeting uncertainly before meeting his gaze. “What do I call you, sir?”
It was a question he should have seen coming and had an answer for, yet it brought him up short. What should she call him? A dozen possible answers, most of them dismissals, came to mind. Finally, he settled on the only response he could have just then. “Sariel, my name is Jehoel, or Jeho. But you call me anything you want to.
“After all, I have a feeling you and I are going to be seeing a lot of each other from now on.”
“Let me guess, she’s not very happy with me.” As he idly said those words, the man once known as June, though more often as Dracula or Drake, dipped several of his French fries from the nearby bag into the milkshake in his other hand, popping them into his mouth while looking at the group who had approached him in this out-of-the-way park somewhere in southern Idaho.
There were three of them. September/Tember, the tall Latino-looking man, dark-skinned July/Julie, and October/Otto, the Caucasian man with dyed electric-blue hair and a loud Hawaiian-style shirt that was partially covered by a plain white lab coat.
“Not very happy would be putting it mildly,” Otto informed him while holding his hand out expectantly. “She wants you to report in and explain yourself in person.”
“Yeah, well, I doubt I’ll be doing that.” With that casual response, Drake gave the other man a few fries, before offering the bag to the other pair. Neither of them took him up on the offer. “I quit for a reason. Well, several reasons, but none of them have anything to do with wanting to go back now.”
“You didn’t so much quit as fake your death and abandon all of us,” Julie pointed out, taking the seat next to him on the park bench. “That wasn’t very nice, you know.”
“I was always going to tell you all,” Drake assured her. “When the time was right. There was no way I’d ever abandon all of you forever. You’re my people.”
Tember, taking the seat on the opposite side, made a noise deep in his throat that betrayed his uncertainty. “You’ve been here on Earth a lot longer than we have, Dracula. How many others have you said were part of your people before you abandoned them forever?”
“Now, that’s not fair,” Drake insisted. “I told you, I’ve barely seen others like us here on earth. We’re not exactly easy to come across. Lies, Mendacia, Anima Catenata, SPS Seosten as I believe they call us up in that Fusion school, whatever term they use, our people don’t tend to let us run round free and clear. We’re too shameful for that. So yes, when I got to this planet and saw my chance, I took it. I abandoned the other Seosten. But not you. Not my fellow Mendacia. As soon as I found out this Calendar existed, I had to put myself into it. Which wasn’t easy, let me tell you. But I had to get to know all of you. And I did. Then I needed to leave for a while to decide what to do next. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to just tell you to abandon Cahethal. After all, her willingness to throw our people the tiniest of bones is the only reason you’re allowed to exist the way you do.”
“We can talk about that later,” Otto insisted. The man folded his arms, staring down at Drake. “It’s part of a longer debate that we don’t have time for right now. Did you know about these Whispers, and the… the ghosts from the Olympus they’re possessing now?”
“It’s a good question,” Julie agreed. “After all, it wasn’t too long after we found out about them before you happened to show yourself to us.” She was squinting sidelong at the man, trying to read his reaction. “Were you aware that they had begun to show themselves?”
For a moment, it looked as though Drake was trying to decide how seriously to take the question. He glanced around at all three of them as they stared at him, before waving a hand. “No, I didn’t know anything about them. I came when I did because I heard you were going to visit that school up there, and figured it was my best chance to approach you without Cahethal jumping on me. Seosten Scout’s honor.” He said that solemnly while holding several fingers up. Then the man shifted in his seat. “And speaking of Cahethal, how does she feel about how friendly December, April, and May are getting in that place? Do you…” He paused to consider before carefully continuing. “Do you think she’ll just let them go if they don’t want to come back to the fold?”
Tember was the one who answered. “Do you think we’d be hard to replace? The second she asks for more volunteers from our people, she’ll have enough to fill five more Calendars if she wants to. We aren’t exactly a precious commodity.”
“That’s what she thinks,” Drake snapped before catching himself. “Let me ask you a more important question. What do you all think is going to happen as soon as these Whispers and the Olympian ghosts they’re possessing become known? Do you think that’s going to make the regular Seosten like us more than they already do? Because I have the strangest feeling we’ll end up getting the blame. They’ll probably decide these Whispers are actually dead Mendacia. Think about it, they can possess Seosten and control them. They’ll find a way to make that our fault, and take away even more of our rights.”
Otto frowned at that, turning to glance toward a man running by with his dog for a moment before lowering his voice reflexively. “Do you honestly believe they’d think something so absurd? These Whispers came from a sealed-off cave on another world. They are an entirely different species than we are, not the ghosts of other Mendacia.”
“What I believe,” Drake shot back, “is that our people have given us no reason to believe they will think rationally about this situation. If they can find a way to blame us, they will. You know that’s true.”
All four were quiet for a few moments as they considered that. Finally, Drake broke the silence. “Just think about that a little bit, and don’t be surprised when I get to say I told you so. But in the meantime, how are the others doing? Not the trio up in the Fusion school. I know all about them, thanks to December. What about January, Feb, and the rest? I kind of expected them to show up here today.”
There was another pause while Julie squinted at him for a few long seconds. And then she exhaled and gestured. “You can all come out now. He knows you’re there.”
The rest of the Calendar, January, Feb, March, August, and November, all promptly revealed themselves by killing the various rodents and bugs they had been possessing. Soon, the now much larger group surrounded the bench where Drake continued to calmly eat his fries and shake. January was at their head, the beautiful blonde woman standing directly in front of him. “Does this mean you’re not going to come back to see Cahethal?”
Slowly raising his eyes to stare into hers, Drake calmly replied, “Does this mean all of you are ready to hear me out how to protect ourselves when our people try to blame us for their problems?”
January, and the rest of the Calendar, were silent. They exchanged long, telling looks. Finally, she focused on him once more. “Perhaps this should be the start of a much longer conversation. But first, where did you purchase that food? It smells delicious, and I don’t plan on sitting around taking scraps from you. We’re all quite hungry right now.”
Drake met the question with an easy smile. “Oh, that’s definitely something we can fix. And you’ve got to try this whole dipping them in ice cream thing.
“The humans may have a lot of issues, largely thanks to us, but this may be the single greatest achievement of their species.”