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Of course, the rest of my going away party with all my friends ran long into the night. I was glad I had that ability to go so long without rest, because I was sure going to need it by the time all this was over. At this rate, I was going to end up needing a break before I ever actually left to meet Ehn in the first place. Especially when you added in the emotional cost of leaving all these people behind for who knew how long. Yes, I would still be in contact and keep track of what was going on, at least as much as possible. But that wouldn’t be the same as being here myself. For all intents and purposes, I was leaving them to handle all that stuff without me. It made me feel weird inside.
Either way, I didn’t have a choice. Not a real one, anyway. I might feel anxious right now because I was leaving the people I cared about for a while. But it would be a hell of a lot worse if I didn’t do this and it turned out I really could have helped stop the Fomorians if I hadn’t been so selfish.
The day after that big party, where I had spent hours long into the night talking to what seemed to be everyone I had ever even slightly interacted with, was my last day here. This was the day I had to spend with my family. My dad, my mom, sort-of stepdad or whatever Deveron was, my grandparents, big sister, little sister, big brother, and my niece.
I had thought that we would spend a lot of time talking about everything that still needed to be done, or about what I was going to do while I was gone. But we didn’t. Not that much anyway. Actually, most of the day was spent taking a hike through Yellowstone Park down on Earth. We didn’t talk about anything that important or world changing. We just hiked through the beautiful scenery and talked about stuff we liked to watch, listen to, anything like that. Somehow, we had agreed on an unspoken rule not to discuss anything important. Even Wyatt went with it, and simply regaled us with a story about the time he had tracked a pack of violent werecreatures through a forest fairly similar to this one.
Needless to say, he wasn’t the only one with an impressive tale. Koren, Tabbris, and I were treated to hours-worth of amazing stories, even from my grandparents, who talked both about things they had seen while out in Seosten space, and stuff they have been through in their supposedly completely ordinary (but not at all boring) lives.
Eventually, we stopped by a lake and fished. Yes, we actually fished the old-fashioned way. It was just the right level of boring, allowing us to sit there and focus mostly on more stories. Popser brought out a grill at one point and we had dinner using the very fish we had caught.
Yeah, it was pretty great, especially since it actually allowed me to stop thinking about all that important stuff and just enjoy the time I had with my family. There would be time to dwell on everything else later.
After hours of playing around the lake, fishing, eating, and just talking, the sun was starting to set. I stood at the edge of the water, skipping rocks with Koren now that we were done with the fishing part and wouldn’t scare anything away. The two of us were talking, not about Heretic stuff, but about our lives before all this started. She told me about being the spoiled but somewhat neglected child of a big shot lawyer (Abigail still felt bad about how far she had allowed that to go while she had been busy with her job), and I talked about being a kid and teenager back in Wyoming. Not that my life before all this had been anything ordinary, considering how often I managed to find trouble. But it had been pretty mundane by the standards I was using now.
Either way, we chatted about that stuff, teasing one another about the whole aunt and niece thing. In the background, the adults were talking, while Tabbris went swimming in the lake itself and kept diving down to look at the fish there. I had even let my sharks out through the portal connection I had with them, so they could stretch their fins in this new water. Obviously, they were still protected from that whole salt versus fresh water problem thanks to Wyatt. They could swim in any of it.
Climbing on Princess Cuddles’ back, Tabbris called out to tell us she had found a really pretty Arctic Grayling (some sort of fish she had shown me a picture of earlier) down there. Smiling at that, I waved to my sister and spoke quietly to the girl next to me. “Keep an eye on her, okay? She said something about going with me, but I talked her out of trying. It’s better for her to stay here with her mom most of the time and just stay in contact through our connection.”
“Better for both of you,” Koren noted. “It’s the best way for you to know what’s going on here, and for everyone here to know you’re okay.” She sighed and looked at me. “You have to be okay. Whatever happens out there, whatever this guy wants you to get into, take care of yourself. Don’t let him control you too much.”
Despite the doubt and uncertainty I felt about the whole situation, I offered her a faint smile. “When have you ever known me to let anyone control everything I did and who I am, no matter how powerful they are? This guy might be strong, but I’m still me. And I’ll still be me when I get back.”
We embraced like that, before I saw my grandparents beckoning me over to the tall rocks they were standing by. So, I excused myself and walked back that way.
“Do you think you guys can stick around and not get taken on any more wild outer space adventures while I’m gone?” I managed to ask without allowing my voice to crack too much.
Grandpartie stooped to pick me all the way off the ground, crushing me against his chest in an embrace that made me let out an embarrassing squawk sound. “Sounds like you’re the one disappearing on a space adventure, kid.” He reminded me of that while continuing to hold me tightly. “So you just make sure you find your way back here before you miss all the fun, you got it? If this situation with the Seosten comes to a head and you’re still off gallivanting around with your new dragon tutor, I don’t think we’ll ever let you live it down.” His words were teasing, but also tinted with emotion. It was obvious that he didn’t want me to go. But he, like everyone else, knew it was for the best.
After I promised to be back, even if I had to tell Ehn to give me a sabbatical, he let me down and gave Grandmaria a chance for a hug. The two of them set me down there by the rock and talked about their wedding day, which had apparently been a bit of an adventure in and of itself when their first choice of venue had been rained out. Then their priest had been arrested for some sort of money laundering or something. They still weren’t completely certain about the details, but it sure sounded exciting. Especially when the priest had stripped naked (yeah, he turned out to be incredibly drunk) when the cops showed up and went streaking through the assortment of shocked guests and police.
It stayed exciting as a story rather than tragic because they had still managed to get married in the end. And they had enjoyed their actual ceremony, crazy as it was, perhaps more than they would have enjoyed the normal, planned one.
It was a story I’d heard little bits of previously, but this was the first time I’ve gotten the whole thing from start to finish. They had previously said I wasn’t old enough to get into it, considering the whole drunk, naked priest thing. But now, apparently I finally was.
Honestly, I was pretty sure they could’ve told me the story before and the whole me not being old enough thing was just an excuse so they have a good story to tell at my own wedding if I had one, or something else big and important. Maybe my high school graduation.
Whatever it was, they had clearly decided that this moment was a good one to get the whole thing out. And boy was it a good one to listen to. From Grandmaria imitating the way all the little old ladies had screamed when the priest stripped himself and went running through the crowd, to Popser mimicking the priest himself flailing the whole way through and drunkenly screaming about the cost of reshingling the church roof or something, it sounded like a really wild time. I was just sorry it happened long before the advent of cell phone video.
I also took the time to tell them a few stories of my own, from my old Bystander life. Just like before, these weren’t Heretic stories. They were just my own stuff from my time in Wyoming. It was the sort of things I would’ve been nervous to tell them before, stuff I might’ve thought would get me in trouble. Or at least make them tell my dad so he could put a stop to it. My habit of finding trouble hadn’t completely come out of nowhere once I got to Crossroads. That had simply magnified the sort of threats I was capable of finding. Thankfully, my ability to deal with those threats had been magnified a fair bit as well.
And speaking of people whose ability had been magnified, they both showed me how much they had improved with the powers they had inherited. Which, considering how strong those powers were, meant my grandparents were going to be two of the strongest members of the rebellion before too much longer. I was very okay with that. They were the sort of people who deserved that. And given the level of trouble my family tended to attract, they are going to need it.
After leaving the two of them for now, I went over to talk with Deveron, Wyatt, and Abigail. My half-siblings and my step-father. That really was the best term for it, I supposed. Step didn’t really define it properly since he had been married to Mom before my own father was. And technically, I supposed, they were still married. They were still together just like Mom was with Dad. It was the same way I was with Avalon and Shiori. Terms be damned, I was just glad they had worked it out.
The three of them were about a hundred yards away from the lake and rest of the area where the others were. It was only once I got closer that I realized they were practicing with some sort of booby trap landmine spell. Apparently Wyatt and Abigail had both come up with it together and were showing it to Deveron. He gave a couple tips based on his own experience, but for the most part, it was their own thing. Which they also showed to me as soon as I approached.
“Okay,” I started once they had explained once, “let me get this straight. If any person steps within the barrier of this spell, it makes a face outline of what they look like in a sand pile that’s sitting somewhere else, like the security room. From that point on until the spell is canceled, everything that person says is also said by the sand facsimile so you know what they’re talking about. What if more than one person goes through it?”
Wyatt was positively bouncing with glee. “We thought of that! Of course we did. Show her, show her!” He waved both hands toward his sister and father.
Abigail and Deveron looked at each other before shrugging as they moved to step one at a time through the spell area. First, Abigail’s face appeared in the sand at full size. A second later, a much smaller addition of Deveron’s face appeared below that, just barely large enough to make out a couple minor details, like the picture in picture setting on a television. As I watched, Wyatt touched the smaller bit with two fingers and the facsimiles switched places so Abigail was the small one and Deveron was the big one. Apparently you could set the spell so that it would stick with one until you touched it like that, or make it automatically switch back-and-forth based on who was talking.
They were still working on perfecting it, so I sat there with them for a bit and worked on it as well. But mostly, I listened as the three of them talked about their own old lives. Deveron gave a few stories about the old rebellion and also about being a student at Crossroads. Wyatt got into a bit of his own life growing up, which mostly just made my heart ache about how rough he’d had it for so long. There was a reason he had grown up to be so paranoid. But he was getting better. We were all getting better. And, of course, Abigail told stories about being a lawyer, and about being in law school. Which, if I understood things right, involved a lot of heavy drinking. From the stories she told, I was starting to think my half-sister could drink Ruthers under the table. Which would’ve been one hell of a way to settle this war. Actually, come to think of it– nah, he totally wouldn’t go for that.
Abigail, of course, made me promise repeatedly to keep them updated about what was going on and to be certain I could say no if Ehn tried to get me to do anything I didn’t want to do. She was very emphatic about that, as were the other two. I reassured them as much as I could under the circumstances, but mostly kept the conversation as casual as possible. I didn’t want to spend this time fretting about what was going to happen in the future. I just wanted to talk about the past, or about nothing in particular. I wanted to enjoy this time with the various pieces of my family, since I had no idea how long it would be before I saw them again.
With that in mind, I finally made my way to my parents. Mom and Dad were standing together under a tree near the lake, talking about one of the first dates they had ever gone on together. I started to leave them alone, but they insisted I join them. So I found myself standing between the two of them, leaning against my father with both of their arms around me as they talked about those first times spent seeing one another, long before they had ever known anything about this stuff. In those days, my dad had regaled my enraptured mother with stories about being in Los Angeles and all the trouble he’d gotten up to there. Which they both laughed about now. But still, it just made me feel even closer to my father. Like me, he had found plenty of danger and excitement on his own long before the whole Heretic situation was an open part of his life.
For the next little while, as the sun finished setting and the moon rose, I simply stayed there with my parents. Tabbris joined us after a while, clearly nervous about interrupting, but it was my mother who insisted she come over and sit.
So, she did. And then the four of us talked even longer before eventually getting up and moving back over to where everyone else had already gathered and started a fire. We sat in a circle around it, watching the flames and talking about everything and about nothing. We told stories that alternated between frightening and funny, or even both at the same time. There were jokes, boasts, teasing, and more. I had no idea how long we stayed there like that, though to be honest, it could have been decades. Decades of some of the best moments I remembered having any time recently. I was there with my family. Even better, Avalon and Shiori joined us eventually. As did Asenath. Senny, the first Alter friend I’d made, the source of the best decision in my life and the sister of one of my girlfriends. She absolutely belonged here too.
Yeah, I could definitely get used to this. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last forever, no matter how much we might’ve wanted it to. No matter how much I wanted it too. Eventually, it was clear that it was the end of that day. Which meant I needed to try to sleep a little bit before Sun showed up and wanted to get this show on the road.
So, we doused the fire, cleaned up, and made a portal back to the station. I was going to sleep in my own bed rather than at my family’s apartment. There’d been a lot of talk back-and-forth about that, and I’d promised to come to the apartment with Sun once he showed up so I could give a last minute goodbye. Right now, however, I needed to sleep in my own bed one more time.
Once on the station, before I could head off that way, my mother pulled me into a tight embrace. It wouldn’t be the last one we shared before I left, but I still felt myself clinging tightly to her. “I’m scared,” I whispered once we were completely alone and the others had moved down the hall. “I don’t know what’s going to happen while I’m gone.”
Mom held me, brushing my hair back while meeting my gaze. “It’s okay to be scared, my Felicity. We just don’t let it control us. And you have never allowed your fear to rule you. Whatever happens, no matter where you go or what that man involves you in, know that I am your mother. And I will always be there when you need me. Even if it is only in spirit, through the lessons I know you’ve learned.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I murmured, feeling a shiver run through me. “Something tells me I’m gonna need every last one of those lessons. But hey, at least I won’t be completely alone.
“After all, Persephone’s coming along, and how much trouble could I possibly get in with her beside me?”