Sindri Koraug

Interlude 17A – Gordon And Sindri (Heretical Edge 2)

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Standing with his back to the transport truck, Gordon Kuhn closed his eyes for a moment and let out a long, slow breath. He wished his mother was here. After all the time they had been apart, his parents deserved their own reunions. But she was still stuck at Crossroads, essentially kept prisoner rather than being allowed to become a threat to them. She, along with a number of others, were kept locked down in some secret facility. Even more secret than the first prison that the rebellion had hit over the summer to save Sean Gerardo and others. Crossroads had… not liked that, to say the least. Wherever their new prison was, no one had been able to find out.  

Which, yes, meant that both his parents had been held captive by each Boscher organization. And now that he had finally freed his father from his long-imprisonment, the two of them could focus on getting his mother out of her own captivity. His parents would have their reunion, and they would be a family again. Gordon had told himself that repeatedly throughout the lead-up to this trip, and through the entire mission itself. It had been his silent mantra. He would help save his father, and then they would rescue his mother. Whatever happened, whatever it took, he was done having his family split apart and imprisoned.

Of course, the first thing that had to happen, before anything else as far as that went, was his father waking up. Whatever had been done to him, and his fellow prisoners who had been in those tubes, had left them thoroughly drained and in what amounted to a mild coma. According to Professor Tangle, they just needed time out of the tubes to recover. She assured Gordon and the others that the prisoners would wake up on their own, particularly if they were laid out in the open air. 

So, Gordon and the rest of the students had taken the comatose prisoners out of the storage space and laid them on other blankets arranged to one side of the truck. Aside from Asenath’s father, who was on the opposite side, shielded from the sunlight by a spell of darkness. Not that the man himself had a problem with the sun. That was limited to half-Akharu. Vampires like Asenath. Full Akharu like Tiras were just fine out in the sunlight. Gordon… had no idea why that was a thing. But then, there were a lot of aspects of the whole vampire situation that didn’t make sense. They were essentially natural Akharu Heretics, and yet they functioned a lot differently than most would. It was strange, to say the least.  

In any case, while others took turns sleeping or helping out with the conscious prisoners (talking to them about what was going on, assuring them that they would be safe and that this wasn’t some weird trick, and so on), Gordon stood by the truck and watched the comatose people laid out on the blankets. He knew Asenath was on the opposite side of the truck with her mother as they waited for Tiras to awaken. He wondered if she felt as impatient as he did. After all, she had been waiting much longer than him for that reunion. Hundreds of years, apparently. If he’d had to wait that long… he couldn’t even imagine it. This was bad enough as it was. The last time he had spoken to his father, Gordon was still a very small child. He barely remembered it, despite clinging tightly to that memory for all this time. If he’d had to wait centuries to see the man again, he didn’t know how he would have survived. Asenath hadn’t even known if her father was alive at all. She only knew that he had disappeared with no explanation, no word. He was simply gone, for all that time, and she’d barely had a whisper here or there of his survival. 

How she dealt with that, how she had moved on to focus on other things without having any idea what was going on with her father, he had no idea. And now she was sitting over there, quietly waiting for him to wake up. It was all Gordon could do not to shake his own father in a desperate attempt to hurry along his recovery so they could talk about everything. The amount of willpower it must have taken for her to silently wait had to be astronomical. 

Abruptly, Gordon’s musings about the nearby vampire were cut off by the sound of one of the prisoners waking up. It wasn’t his father, but rather a female humanoid with green skin, four eyes, and no hair. Also no mouth. According to Roger Dornan, she was something called a Deitezen, who communicated telepathically. A couple of the conscious prisoners had called her Meyfers.

The Deitezen shifted as she came to consciousness, before abruptly sitting up. Her eyes were wide, and a large stone the size of Gordon himself abruptly rose into the air before spinning around as though searching for a threat. Apparently her people were telekinetic as well. 

Before Gordon could move, Professor Kohaku was there, appearing just far enough away from the suddenly-panicked woman that it wouldn’t instantly be seen as an attack. Her hands were folded behind her back, which Gordon had heard in the Bystander world would be an indication that she was hiding something. But among Heretics and Alters, raising one’s hands was not a sign of peaceful intentions. There were far too many dangerous powers that could be launched from open palms. Folding one’s arms behind their back, in that case, was far more of an indication that one didn’t mean any harm. It didn’t rule out any possible attack, of course. That was all but impossible, particularly coming from a Heretic. But the very fact that a Heretic was taking the time and care to even slightly show lack of hostile intention would likely come as a surprise to the other woman. At least enough to make her stop for a moment. 

Sure enough, the Deitezen froze briefly at the sight. The heavy boulder spun in a slow circle over her head, like an anxious guard dog waiting for directions to attack. But she didn’t hurl it that way. Instead, she turned her head from one side to the other, taking in the sight of her fellow prisoners who had yet to wake up. A sound off in the distance caught her attention, and she quickly turned that way only to see Jazz playing some sort of ball game with the two orcs who had been freed. The sound had been the orcs laughing loudly as the ball went quite high. 

Finally, the woman looked at Gordon, eyes narrowing slightly. Then she ‘spoke,’ her voice coming into his mind. Rebel Heretics? They don’t exist anymore. 

“We do now, again,” Kohaku announced. Apparently the telepathic woman had been projecting those words into more than just Gordon’s head. “Look into my mind. I know your people can’t dig too deep from a distance, but you’ll see the answers you’re looking for.” 

After a brief pause, the Deitezen turned back that way. A few seconds of silence fast as she stared intently toward Kohaku, before jerking slightly. If she’d had a mouth, Gordon was certain she would have gasped. Joselyn of Atherby has returned? She is– she is alive. Many believed her to have been long-since murdered. My own people– my– She went silent then, clearly absorbing all that before pushing herself to her feet somewhat unsteadily. The Rebellion has returned. Your memories are restored. Yet what precisely stops them from doing the same thing again? In ancient history, humans were our allies and friends, our family. Then your memories were erased and you became monsters hunting us down. A hundred years ago, Joselyn of Atherby began a revolution and created a group that would again work with us. You were our friends and family once more. But then those memories were again erased. And again, you were our enemies. What assurances do any of us have that history will not once more repeat itself? How do we know that you are all not… what is the term? Ticking time bombs. How do we know that the clock is not counting down for the next time that your memories are erased and you yet again become monsters intent on killing us all?  

Gordon knew that some of the others might have been offended by the question. After all, they had just gone through all that to save that woman, and now she was questioning how long it would take for them to try to kill her again. But quite honestly, he couldn’t blame her. Not after everything she had clearly been through. He would have been suspicious himself. 

Even as he had those thoughts,the Deitezen spoke again, this time sounding apologetic. I am sorry. That was uncalled for. Reading your thoughts, the things you did–you have saved us. You saved our lives and protected us, and I rewarded you with suspicion. 

“It’s understandable,” Kohaku assured her. “Believe me, we have thought the same thing. But we have also taken measures to protect ourselves against that eventuality. Including having someone on the inside of the Crossroads leadership Committee who will tell us if they are attempting such a thing. And other measures, such as an alliance with some of the people responsible for the creation of those memory alterations. We will not be taken by surprise again. It will not be as it was the last time. Though I know words are cheap, we are protecting ourselves. You are far from the first to raise such a fair question.”  

There was another brief pause before the Deitezen nodded once. Still, I apologize. My name is Meyfers. And you– Her head turned to focus on Gordon. You are his son, aren’t you? As she said that, her hand rose to point toward Gordon’s father. You are Sindri’s boy. He spoke of you many times. And he allowed me to see his mental image of you, his memories. You have grown, but I can still recognize you. I see him in you, Gordon Koraug. 

Reflexively, Gordon almost corrected her that his last name was Kuhn, his mother’s name. Yet he stopped. Koraug was his father’s family name. There was no reason to correct that. Instead, he nodded. “Yes. I–I’ve been looking for him for a long time.” The words almost caught in his throat, but he forced them out past the lump. 

Yes, came the slow, silent response. I imagine you have. She glanced down to the man in question before adding, He will be beside himself to see you, young Gordon. His family has always been high on his mind. He swore he would find a way to escape and get back to you someday. But it seems you have… as I believe they say, punched him to the beat. 

“Beaten him to the punch,” Gordon corrected simply. 

Yes, that, Meyfers confirmed before turning back to Kohaku. My people are resistant to the sort of draining effect that has left my companions in this state. I believe it will be some time before the rest of them awaken. But when they do, I would like to be nearby to help explain what is happening. I believe that will help prevent any potential misunderstandings. Even as she said that, the woman lowered the heavy boulder to where it had been. 

“Of course,” Kohaku agreed immediately. “In the meantime, if you wouldn’t mind, I would like to have a more private conversation about what happened back on that planet. From what we have heard and been able to put together, it was… very bad. The creature that–” She stopped, clearly not wanting to say more right then. Instead, the woman settled on simply finishing with, “I’d like to hear some details from someone who was there the entire time.” 

Meyfers agreed and the two women stepped away to confer in the distance. They were still close enough to see if any of the others woke up, but Gordon was once more left to his own thoughts. His gaze found its way to his father, and the boy found himself very faintly smiling. On another person, it would have been a broad, almost painful grin. But Gordon didn’t tend to show that much outward emotion. He kept everything inside, thanks to a lifetime of exercising control. If he was too emotional, too wild, his powers could have hurt or killed someone. He could have frozen over an entire room, or worse. He would have exposed the truth about himself. So he had learned from a young age, thanks in part to his mother’s lessons, to control himself. 

But now, standing there looking at his living father, knowing that the man would soon wake up so that they could talk for the first time since he had been a child, that faint smile found its way to Gordon’s face. 

Very soon, after all this time, he would finally be able to say…

*****

“Hello, Father.” 

Sindri Koraug had been the last of his unconscious group, lying together on those blankets, to awaken. By the time his eyes opened, the others had all been pulled aside by Kohaku and Meyfers. First for an explanation and then for food and water, as well as a reunion with their fellow former prisoners. Through all of that, for another hour, he had slept and recuperated. 

But finally, he was awake. He had seen Meyfers standing in the distance, and took the mental download of information about what exactly was going on, and about who was here. Absorbing all that as he rose to his feet, the dark-skinned, goateed man had turned around to face the boy waiting there by the truck. His entirely silver eyes with no white or pupil had focused just in time to hear those two simple words. Words that, despite the advance explanation he had been given, still took his breath away. 

“Gordon.” Speaking that simple name, a name that had been on his mind every day for over a decade, Sindri found himself frozen in place as thoroughly as if he had been one of the people turned to ice by his own powers. He wanted to move. He wanted to cross the short distance that was now all that separated them. He wanted to take his son in his arms and hold him as tight as possible. For all these years, that had often been all he was capable of thinking about. In his waking hours as well as his dreams, seeing and touching his son (and wife) once more had kept him going through things that otherwise might have broken the man. He had clung to the hope of being reunited with his family. They were his strength, and he had spent so long planning how he would greet his child. 

And now that moment had come, yet Sindri stood paralyzed. A small part of him still wondered if this could be some sort of dream or trick, though it was easily pushed aside. Meyfers’ mental projection had given him the full summary in just a few seconds. The Rebellion had saved them. A rebellion that his own son was a part of. His son, standing there waiting for him to move. 

And move he finally did. Like one of those same frozen statues managing to shatter the ice that contained them, the man took one step, then another. He walked to his son and raised both hands. They trembled almost violently as the man slowly set his palms against either side of Gordon’s face. Neither spoke a word for those few seconds. Sindri simply closed his eyes, allowing a visible shudder to run through him he felt his now not-so-little boy’s face. After all this time, after everything that had happened and all that had been taken from him, he was finally standing here with his son. With his son. It was too much to take in at once. Seeing his boy, hearing him, touching him. Having all those sensations at once was overwhelming. Now, right now, all he could do was close his eyes, remain silent, and run his fingers over his son’s face, across his jaw, up over his hair, and against his shoulders. There. He was really there. 

Opening his eyes once more, Sindri met his son’s gaze. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come at first. They caught in his throat, causing a weak, barely audible noise. 

“It’s okay, Father,” Gordon finally assured him, though his own voice was weak as well. “You are safe now. You–we… I’m here.” 

Still unable to find words, Sindri nonetheless gave a quick, almost violent nod. Tears had begun to stream their way down his face, blurring his vision before he rapidly blinked them away. “Yes,” he managed in a voice that cracked audibly. “Yes, you certainly are. My boy. My son. My–” That was all he could manage to say before his throat locked up once more. And yet, though he couldn’t express his feelings in words at that moment, there was another way. His hand squeezed the boy’s shoulders, before pulling him closer. Close enough to embrace. Which was exactly what he did, arms locking around the boy tightly as he pulled Gordon to his chest and held him there. He said nothing, unable to bring any more words. Instead, the man simply stood there, clutching his son tightly. Nothing could take this moment away from him. There would be time for talking later. Right now, in this second, all that mattered was holding his child for the first time in so many years. Soon, the time would come for more details about what they were going to do. But now, he cared about nothing aside from standing here like this. 

Finally, after some time that way, Sindri relaxed his grip marginally and leaned back so he could look down at his son. “You’ve grown so much.” There was mixed pride and wonder in his voice. It was no surprise, of course. He had known his son wouldn’t remain the helpless little child that he had been when Sindri last saw him. And yet, consciously knowing something and seeing it in front of his eyes were two different things. Only now, seeing his boy as an adult, did the full weight of the years they had been separated settle on Sindri’s mind. He would truly never get to see those years he had missed. He would never see his child grow from toddler to adult. He would never see those years. Everything he had missed was gone forever. 

On the other hand, he had so much more to look forward to. So many more years that he never would have gotten without the efforts of his son and the other members of this group. Realizing that, Sindri pushed his thoughts about what he had lost aside and focused on what was still to come. 

Gordon spoke then, his own voice flat. “I’m sorry it took so long to find you.” 

With a grunt of disbelief, Sindri shook his head. “I’m amazed you found us at all. You–you are incredible, my son. My boy.” He released Gordon from the embrace, but only to move his hand back to his son’s face. “You got big. You got strong, like your mother. Who–” 

“She’s not here,” Gordon quietly informed him. “She’s not–they have her. Crossroads won’t let her leave. I don’t know how they found out she was sympathetic to the Rebellion, but they have her and others locked up somewhere. She managed to get a few messages out, but she can’t tell us where they are, or–I wanted to bring her. But I had to find you while we had the chance.” 

Easing his son’s turmoil with a gentle smile, Sindri forced his own worry and fear for his wife aside for the moment. “Then we will have to find her ourselves,” he promised the boy. “Together.” 

“But–but are you… are you alright?” Gordon quickly put in, leaning back as though to scan his father up and down. “You were in prison, that tube thing they had you in–” 

“I wasn’t there for long,” Sindri assured him. “We spent most of our time digging out that mountain and uncovering those tunnels. The… creature, whatever it was, they had only just begun to… feed it recently. 

Meeting his gaze, Gordon quietly murmured, “It’s something really bad. They were talking about it earlier, and it sounds like this Victor wants to… if he’s not stopped–” 

“Then we will stop him,” Sindri firmly announced. “We will find your mother, and we will stop the Victors of the Lost Scar tribe.” 

Gordon blinked at that. “What? No, it was Kyril Shamon of the Eternal Eye tribe. He was the one who imprisoned you.” 

“I do not know who told you that,” Sindri informed him, “but that prison camp belonged to the Lost Scar tribe. The Victors Remember Bennett and Zoya Dalal called themselves our owners, not this Kyril Shamon you mention. Dalal herself visited the camp more than once.” 

Gordon frowned. “But… but…

“What does that mean?” 

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Patreon Snippets 9 (Heretical Edge)

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Hey guys! Here are (most) of this edition of Patreon snippets. There was one request for a bit from Summus Proelium, which is awesome to already have! After some thought, I’ve decided that mixing snippets from different stories could probably get confusing for anyone who is reading through only one or the other at any given time. So I’ve decided to keep them separate. But by the same token, one 500 word snippet is entirely too short for a whole chapter. Thus, we will simply have that stuck onto the end of the next actual Summus Proelium chapter as a sort of addition, with a quick note about what exactly it is. 

As a quick reminder,  the way these work is that every month, each Patreon supporter who donates at least ten dollars is able to request five hundred words toward any subject they would like to see written about (within reason), join their idea to others to make it longer, or hold it for future installments. All of my gratitude and thanks go to them for making this story possible. 

“Koraug, Teragn, Meyfers, Three-oh-oh-two, Three-oh-oh-three, Zaps, and Qork, with me!” The tall, blond man calling out names from a list stood in the doorway of a large barracks-like room. Hundreds of simple cots filled the room stretching off into the distance. At least, they looked simple at first glance. In reality, there was a powerful forcefield blocking each occupant from leaving their cot or the small area immediately around it. Not only that, but while most of the cots were of generally uniform size, there were some that were either much smaller for occupants who were actually tiny, all the way up to beds that were several times larger than normal. 

Gordon Kuhn’s father, a dark-skinned man with a neatly trimmed goatee named Sindri Koraug, rose from his bed as the forcefield dimmed. His eyes, pure silver with no white or pupil to them, glanced over the other six people that had been called as they all made their way to the Eden’s Garden Heretic who had summoned them. 

A second Heretic stepped into view, this one a younger-looking dark-haired female. “The hell, Coppe? Where’re you getting all those names from? Only thing on that list is the numbers.”

The blond man replied, “Simple, Pike, I’ve asked them what their names are before. The ones who gave me a name, I use. Three-oh-oh-two and Three-oh-oh-three haven’t.” With that, the man gestured to the assembled group. “Come on, big job today.” 

He turned to leave through the doorway, followed by Pike. Sindri glanced around at his companions as they filed through as well. Teragn was a male Orc, Meyfers a female Deitezen (a humanoid species with no hair, green skin, four eyes, and no mouth who communicated telepathically and also had telekinetic abilities), Zaps and Qork were both male Gafaiez (short, squat beings who looked like piles of rocks and crystals capable of generating lasers of varying intensity from the gems that were scattered throughout their bodies), and ‘Oh Two and ‘Oh Three were Trolls. 

The group walked together through the Heretic outpost. The world they were on didn’t have a name yet. It had only recently been discovered. This was the first exploration camp sent by Eden’s Garden. By the Lost Scar tribe, specifically, to whom Sindri and all of his companions belonged. The camp itself had only been set up a couple weeks earlier, and was essentially a circle of quickly-erected buildings set down in the middle of a clearing that had been created at the edge of a forest of gray-and-black trees. The dirt under their feet was a light orange, and a mountain that the camp was near was mostly black as well. 

Given the make-up of their group, Sindri had a pretty good guess of what their job would be. His assumption was born out as they were led right up to the side of that jagged, imposing mountain.

“Boss wants a defensive station,” Coppe explained. “That means cutting into this mountain so we can use it as a backdrop. That’s your jobs today. Cut into the hill here so we can start moving buildings in. There’s a design page here.” His hand extended a sheet of paper, which Sindri took. “Follow the illustration, come if you have any questions. There’s breakfast on the table there.” He pointed nearby. “Lunch will be in four hours. If you do a good job, you’ll get double allotments for dinner tonight. Any questions?” Receiving nothing but silent looks, the man nodded. “Good. Get busy. We’ll be watching.” 

As he turned to start in on the newest job, Sindri thought briefly about his wife and the son he had not seen for so long. Were they okay? Were they safe? He had to assume they were, as if any of his captors had known anything about them, he had no doubt he would have been killed to prevent any word of human-Alter genetic compatibility. 

And that was good enough. Whatever he had to do, wherever he had to work, as long as he was put to work and treated like any other slave, it meant they didn’t know about his son. Which meant his family wasn’t in immediate danger.. 

If it meant they’d stay that way, he…

*******

“… could move mountains,” Lincoln Chambers announced. “You know, before I found out that Jos literally could at some point. But not counting powers or anything, just force of personality. Talk at a mountain and make it decide to move.”

Lillian Patters looked up from the table where she and Lincoln were sitting on the porch of one of the cabins. “Joselyn has that effect on people.” 

With a small smile, Lincoln noted, “I asked her about Lillian, you know.” 

“You asked her about Lillian?” she echoed curiously. 

The man nodded. “I asked her where the name came from. She didn’t know. She just said it was a nice name, that it made her smile and… and that she felt like our daughter would be safe with that name. Like it would watch over her.” 

With a small smile as a pang of heartache swept through her, Lillian quietly replied, “I felt the same when I suggested my daughter use Joselyn for her daughter’s middle name.  It just felt right.” She looked away then, thinking about her old best friend, her sister in almost every respect. Memories, newly unlocked, flooded her mind. Too many to focus on. 

Finally, she breathed out, forcing herself to speak through a somewhat shaky voice. “It… must have been hard for you, to believe that she would just leave her family like that.” 

Lincoln didn’t respond at first. She looked up once more to see him gazing off into the distance. His voice, when he spoke, was soft. “I didn’t believe it at all for… maybe ever. I thought she was… taken, abducted, from the beginning. The message she left, the things people said they saw when she took off, the phone call to the station… none of it was convincing. Not for me. I just… I just knew she was in trouble. Someone had her, someone was hurting her. I knew it. So I… I tried to find her. For a couple months, it was all I focused on, following every lead, harassing her old deputies, calling the FBI every day.” 

Watching his face, Lillian pointed out, “It doesn’t sound like you really changed your mind.” 

He swallowed. “I guess I kind of made myself set it aside. Two months, and… and I had to put it away. There were no leads, no signs of her, no one was taking me seriously.” 

“But you wouldn’t have given up like that,” Lillian murmured. “Not after two months. What happened?” 

“Taddy,” Lincoln answered softly, looking over to her. “Taddy was… he was the stuffed raccoon that Jos gave Felicity when she was a baby. She loved that little guy more than anything. I was still working on the case, still trying to find Joselyn a couple months after she disappeared. It was… it was getting to me. I found one of her sweatshirts that she wore the night before she disappeared and was trying to go over it for any hairs or anything that weren’t hers, in case the guy who took her made contact earlier. I guess I kind of lost myself in it, and Felicity saw me. The next thing I knew, she…” He swallowed hard once more, breathing unsteadily. “She cut it apart. She ripped it into pieces. She destroyed it, to hurt her mother, because she thought her mom hurt me.” 

Lillian winced. “That’s when you decided to focus on raising her.” 

“Yeah,” Lincoln confirmed. “That’s when I knew that… that Joselyn would want me to make sure our daughter was okay. That’s where I put everything I had, on… on raising Felicity, on being there for her. Because I realized that I was obsessing so much on finding Jos that I could lose our daughter too. I… I had to choose which one to save. I chose Felicity.”

“That’s the choice Jos wanted you to make,” Lillian assured him. She hesitated then, before asking, “What about this Flick thing? I prefer Felicity, for the record.” 

“She decided she hated the name Felicity,” Lincoln informed her. “I… I couldn’t argue with her. It made things worse. She connected Felicity to her mother, since Jos loved that name so much. It was…” He paused. “It was actually… this year, at her birthday, when she finally said she wanted me to call her Felicity again. Here I thought it meant she’d made some big breakthrough about forgiving her mother. And she had. Little did I know she made that breakthrough because the psychotic piece of shit necromancer who took her mother to begin with showed up to gloat about it and tell her that her mother never chose to abandon her at all.” 

Lillian reached out to touch his arm, squeezing it. “You and Felicity have been through a lot this year.” Pausing, she amended, “You’ve been through a lot your whole lives, even if you didn’t know it.” 

With a soft chuckle, Lincoln nodded in agreement. “Tell me about it.” He checked his watch before standing. “But do it on the way to meeting Scott. I’m told you and he have some history.” 

“Some history?” Lillian snorted. “The boy owes me fifty dollars from one of his previous lives.” She glanced to Lincoln while standing. “That must’ve been a lot for you to take in too, this boy who grew up right in your view turning out to be a lot older than that.” 

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s one of the larger surprises, yes,” Lincoln confirmed, heading for the steps. “Kind of makes sense though. I always thought that kid’s musical taste was really old-fashioned.” 

Lillian started to respond to that, before her gaze moved to look off the porch. “Looks like we have company,” she announced with a smile at the sight of the young Seosten children rushing up to meet them, accompanied by their current (rather exhausted) babysitter. As the kids approached, they waved while loudly calling…

*******

“Walker!” 

The trio of voices chorusing his name made Jonathan Walker look up from the newspaper he had been reading while leaning against the black Mercedes that he drove for his employer. He watched as said employer’s three young children, two boys named Bart and Max who were in sixth and fifth grade respectively, and a fourth-grade girl named Erica, all ran from their school to meet him. 

“Hey, kids,” the man greeted, opening the back door of the car to let them all pile in with their backpacks. “How was school, oldest to youngest?” He walked around to the driver’s side then, getting in just in time for Bart to launch into the story of his day. 

Pulling away from the curb while listening to that with one ear, he glanced into the rearview mirror and caught sight of his own face. The way the shadows fell across them made it look as though he had two very black eyes. And in that brief second, he wasn’t in the car. He was transported back to that day forty-five years earlier, when so much had changed. 

He wasn’t born Jonathan Walker. He’d gone through several names and identities in his time, most of them bad ones. Johnny Walker just happened to be the brand of whisky that was used in the bottle that was broken over his head in the barfight that had resulted in him having two actual black eyes. 

The barfight he had lost against a normal human. He was a werewolf. A werewolf, and he had lost a fist fight with an ordinary human being. A human being named Arthur Chambers, in fact. 

That had been a wake-up call, but it wasn’t the only one. Seeing him lose a fight had made his pack abandon him. The man left on the floor of that bar with no pride, no pack, and nothing left in his life had decided to erase it all. He’d changed his name, changed his entire identity. He had remade himself, seeing that as the low point from which he would either lose himself literally, or metaphorically. 

He chose metaphorically, abandoning everything he had been. Taking the name of the last drink he’d had (as well as the one that had been broken over his head), the newly dubbed Jonathan Walker set out to educate himself, grow in every way he could, and eventually became bodyguard and driver for the rich and secretive. His current job, protecting these children, had only been a thing for a couple years. But it was already one of his favorite gigs. He loved these kids, and God help anyone who tried to hurt them. 

“Sounds great, Bart,” he spoke up then while guiding the car to a stop. “Just make sure you ask your mom or dad before having those kids over next week. You know the rules.” His eyes moved then to catch sight of the other boy. “Max, how’d that project go? You tell Miss Forter about Donny not doing his share?” 

Yes, getting the shit kicked out of him and being abandoned by his pack back in ‘73 had been a damn fine wake-up call. A lot had changed since then. For the better, as far as he was concerned. He was a different man. Without that beating, he had no idea what kind of person he would be today.

When all was said and done, he definitely owed Arthur Chambers a drink. 

******

“Four. You owe me four drinks,” Seamus Dornan informed his cousin. The red-haired man, who stood only five-foot seven inches, seemed smaller than that as he leaned over the bar scribbling notes on inventory papers. Given the time, the place was empty aside from himself and the man he was addressing. Roger Dornan, his cousin. 

Roger was an inch shorter than Seamus himself, and of even slighter stature. His own hair was a very light blond, worn down to his shoulders. At the moment, he was throwing darts at a nearby board. “We own a bar, dude,” Roger informed his cousin. “Put it on my tab.” 

“You do have a tab, you know,” Seamus retorted. “I’m keeping track of every drink you take. Every drink I know about,” he belatedly amended. “Just because we own the place doesn’t mean we get to take everything we want. We have to keep track of it, or you’ll put us out of business.” 

“And I am right on top of paying that back,” Roger distractedly and unconvincingly replied, judging his aim before throwing the dart. Halfway there, it multiplied into a dozen identical darts, all of which hit the board along the triple score band, with one hitting the exact center. “God, I am good.” 

Turning then, Roger asked, “How many are we moving this morning?” 

Flipping over a paper, Seamus replied, “Looks like nine. They’re waiting downstairs. Seven are anyway. We’re still waiting on a couple Rakshasa. Think you can get all the way to Wonderland without getting pulled over for speeding again?” 

The cousins, though they were Heretics graduated from Crossroads, had abandoned their former beliefs almost six years earlier after encountering a group of Stranger children and finding themselves both unable and unwilling to kill them or leave them to die (or direct other Heretics to the so-called threats). They’d taken care of the children, realized they couldn’t go on like that, and proceeded to fake their own deaths. 

From there, Roger and Seamus had made up new lives, purchased this bar to operate as their cover story, and began to work as transport experts, helping take fleeing Alters safely from one place to another. The two of them knew how Heretic checkpoints worked, could break the various enchantments used to track down Alters or alert Crossroads or Eden’s Garden about them, and in general could keep their charges safe. 

It wasn’t much, given everything going on, but Roger and Seamus both knew they had to do something, and with only the two of them, they didn’t dare openly go against the Establishment. Faking their deaths, using their inside knowledge to keep some Alters safe, developing contacts within that world who were only now, six years later, starting to trust them? That was something. Not much, but something. 

Then it hit. As Roger drew back his hand to throw another dart, and Seamus opened his mouth to tell his cousin to do something useful by checking on the group downstairs, both were hit by a sudden wave. A sudden rush of information… knowledge… revelations. It staggered the men, sending Seamus stumbling back a step while Roger collapsed into the nearest booth. 

Slowly, the two rose. Their gazes found one another, and the two men each spoke a single word, a single name, together. “Joselyn.” 

“She needs help,” Seamus announced, his voice cracking a little from the force of the memories and revelations still exploding through his mind. 

“Yeah,” Roger agreed, just as staggered. “But where the hell is she?” 

******

“Right in there.” 

Atop a dark roof several blocks from the glitz, glamor, and blinding lights of the Las Vegas strip, two figures stood. Their backs were to the neon paradise, attention focused instead on a building across the street. It was ostensibly a motel, though one that charged only by the hour (and in many cases, not even that much time was needed). More relevantly, it had been closed for the past week. Closed to new guests, anyway. But it was far from empty. There were lights on in many of the rooms throughout the six-story structure, and the parking lot was half-full. 

“Yeah,” Haiden Moon continued under his breath, “I’d say that’s where our friends are. Right there.”  

Beside him, Sariel nudged his arm and nodded upward toward a large winged figure on the roof. It was armed and watching for people like… well, like them. But Haiden wasn’t worried. The invisibility circle that his wife had drawn around them would stop their friend up there from noticing anything as long as they stayed within it. 

“Yeah,” Sariel agreed quietly, “I’d say this is definitely where those kids got dragged to.” There was a hardness to her voice that reminded Haiden just how personally his wife took someone putting children in danger. 

It made him smile a bit. Sure, the two of them having children was apparently impossible. But still, if they happened to adopt or… or anything in the future, it was good to know that the woman he loved was so great with kids. 

“What do you see?” Sariel asked him, her own gaze on the lookout, who had brought up his rifle to look through the scope toward the strip off in the distance. 

Haiden lowered his gaze from the sniper to the rest of the building, focusing on running through several different vision powers as he scanned the whole place. “They’ve got it pretty well shielded, but… looks like a large group of smaller energy sources on the third floor, near the middle, with three stronger sources around them.” 

“That’ll be the kids and the guys watching them,” Sariel murmured. “As close to the exact center of the building as they can get, to make it harder for any outside group to reach them before they portal away.” 

Haiden nodded. “That was my read too. Beyond that, a few dozen guys spread through the floors above, same amount below. There’s a small army in there, babe.” 

“The part of that they’re going to regret is ‘small,’” she informed him with a wink. “You ready for this? I don’t want to take the chance that they move those kids again, after taking this long to find them.” 

“Yup,” Haiden agreed, reaching into his trench coat before withdrawing four metal balls. He held them out, his attention on the building across the way as he pointed with his other hand. “See that window with the blue curtains? That one.” 

Sariel took one orb at a time, running her thumb across the spellwork inscribed in each before throwing them across the street to hit the each corner of that window. The metal balls struck the wall there before sticking firmly. Once all four were in place, they glowed red once before fading. 

The room was too magically protected to go straight through from the outside. The abductors had taken care to put a powerful shield around the space they had the children stashed. It would take too long to break through that shield before the men inside could portal themselves and their prisoners away. 

But the point of the orbs wasn’t to break through the shield. Instead, the orbs would use the forcefield, adding their own effect to it. An effect which would essentially stop any sound from outside the shield from penetrating, leaving those within deaf to anything going on outside of it. 

In other words, Haiden and Sariel could make as much noise as they wanted without alerting the people inside the room. 

“You want upstairs or downstairs?” Haiden idly asked, glancing to his wife. 

“You take downstairs,” she replied, leaning in to kiss his cheek. “I think angels are supposed to come from above.” 

With a small smile, Haiden nodded. “I guess you should stick to the brand, huh?” Running his hand through her hair, he watched for a second until their friend on the roof moved to another spot of it to check that direction. Then he moved to the edge. “Let’s do this then.” 

“Yes,” Sariel agreed, taking a few steps back before running forward. “Let’s.” 

Haiden held a hand out, waiting for his wife to get near before creating an energy platform about knee height. As Sariel leapt onto it, he made a heaving motion, sending it, and Sariel, flying up toward the top of the other building. That done, he stepped off the roof, falling several stories before landing lightly on his feet on the street, as though he’d simply stepped off the curb. Straightening, he walked toward the door of the motel. 

******

Leaping from the flung forcefield to land silently on the roof of the building, Sariel saw the tall, angular figure across from her spin that way. His rifle was already raised and ready to fire. But she was faster, her hand having lashed out to send the knife in it flying even as she landed. By the time the lookout had the barrel in line with her, the blade had already driven itself through his eye. As the weapon embedded itself there, it sent an electric shock through his body to ensure that his brain shut down entirely. He collapsed to the ground without firing a shot. 

Using her power, Sariel recalled the throwing dagger without breaking stride as she moved to the nearby hatch. Crouching, she checked the spell on it, taking a few seconds to carefully break the enchantment that would have signalled everyone below if anyone but the man lying dead on the other side of the roof had gone through. Once the spell was disabled, she opened the hatch and dropped through. 

*******

As Haiden strode toward the motel entrance, a figure stepped out to stop him. “Sorry, bud,” the man started before jerking to a halt, hand grabbing for a weapon inside his jacket as he blurted, “Heretic!” 

That was as far as the man got before Haiden abruptly appeared behind him, teleporting to the man’s back before catching him around the neck. “You know,” he murmured in the frantically struggling guy’s ear, “I’ve felt pretty guilty about willy nilly killing every non-human out there for a long time. But you? Someone who kidnaps little kids just to start a war they can profit off of? I’m not gonna feel guilty about you.” 

With that, he snapped the man’s neck with a single motion, letting the body fall as that familiar rush of pleasure went through him. He barely acknowledged it, already moving to the door. A man was there, starting to come through with his gun raised. Haiden, however, teleported across the remaining twenty feet or so in an instant, lashing out with his foot to kick the door. The blow sent it flying backward, crashing into the face of the man who was trying to come through. He stumbled, gun firing wildly twice through the gap that had been left. The bullets struck Haiden, but did nothing to penetrate his skin. 

“Dude,” Haiden informed the man while stepping through the doorway, “you’re gonna need a bigger gun.” 

Then he moved, his speed suddenly magnifying to the point that all the man in front of him would see was a blur, as he tore the extended gun from his grasp, crushing it in the same motion as he threw it away. His left hand caught the man’s side while his right held his head, and he hurled the guy sideways to crash into the wall with so much force that his skull was instantly caved in. Haiden was moving so fast in that moment that he actually spun around to the opposite wall and used it to cave the other side of the man’s head in before his death even set in. 

Another rush of pleasure, even as the sound of running footsteps filled the hall. 

*******

Landing lightly on her feet after dropping through the roof hatch, Sariel found herself standing directly between two men, with a third further down. Even as they started to react, she drove her elbow hard into the face of the man behind her while simultaneously shoving the blade in her other hand up through the throat of the one in front of her. Blood sprayed wildly from the wound as she dropped her elbow away from the first man, letting him double over, clutching his broken nose. Using that, she vaulted up and over his hunched form, landing on the far side of him even as the one further down the hall opened fire. Three of his shots hit the body of the man she had already killed, while it was still collapsing. Several more hit the wall right where she had been an instant earlier. 

The man who had been doubled over gave a shouted curse, pivoting to bring his own gun up toward her. But it was gone. The weapon in his hand had vanished, as had the one being held by his still-living partner. Both guns simply vanished from their hands. 

They reappeared in Sariel’s, one held against the near man’s cheek, while the other was aimed down the hall toward the man who had been holding it an instant earlier. Each fired once, the resulting shots putting their respective owners on the ground. 

Tossing the guns to either side, Sariel retrieved her knife from the first man’s throat before jogging for the stairs. 

******

Seven men flooded the hallway ahead of Haiden, rifles raised or hands brimming with energy of their own. One held barely-contained lightning between his palms that was ready to lash out at the threat. All of them came rushing through, saw the Heretic ahead of them, and moved to open fire. 

Just as abruptly, they jerked aside as his black sword was hurled their way. It sailed past the men, embedding itself in an open door somewhere behind them. There was the slightest pause as the group looked from the apparently wildly thrown sword, then back to the Heretic. 

“Uh,” Haiden started with a small smile, “could I get a do-over?” 

Apparently not, as all seven of the men suddenly opened fire. Bullets, lasers, fire, and lightning were sent his way, while Haiden made a pulling gesture with his hand. A sudden pillar of rock broke through the floor, rising up to impose itself between him and the incoming shots. It instantly shuddered under the assault, unable to hold up for long. 

But that was okay. It didn’t need to hold for long. Safe behind his rock wall for the moment, Haiden gave a sharp whistle. Down the hall, beyond where the men stood, his sword reacted. The black blade slid apart right where the glowing red line was, and a pair of gun barrels popped out. They swiveled around to face behind the sword before opening fire to take the gathered troops completely by surprise. 

Several of the men were cut down almost instantly, and Haiden gasped his way through the pleasure of that before forcing himself to focus. A thought and a gesture with both hands broke what remained of the rock pillar into two balls, which he quickly reshaped into spears and sent flying that way. Two of the remaining four men were taken down as the rock spears went right through their backs when they spun to face the sword. The remaining two tried to run for it, sprinting past the sword while the guns swiveled to follow them. Haiden, however, quickly teleported that way. His foot lashed out to kick one of the running men into the nearby wall, while he yanked his sword free and spun, throwing it once more. This time, the blade went right through the last guy, impaling him against the wall. 

“Do-don’t-” the man that he had kicked into the wall used the second he had as his partner’s death gave the Heretic a brief rush of pleasure to plead through the blood that soaked his face. “Just a job. It was just a job. Nothing personal.” 

Haiden lifted his chin. “My friend,” he replied, “that job was kidnapping little children.” He grabbed the man by the throat with one hand, lifting him up before making a gesture that made a rocky spike pop out of the nearby wall. “I take that very personally.” With those words, he gave a sharp shove, impaling the back of the man’s head on the spike before turning away as his aura flared up. 

******

Eventually, Haiden and Sariel met at the door of their destination. Dozens of bodies lay around them, the last stand of the guards who lay outside of the hostage room, while dozens more littered the other floors of the hotel. 

“Chinese,” Haiden informed his wife while flicking blood and… other bodily remains off his blade. “We should totally have Chinese after this. I’m starving.” 

“Once the kids are safe,” Sariel reminded him. “And you’re always starving.” 

“I work up an appetite,” he defended himself, moving to one side of the door. “Let’s see…” He focused his vision on the door, looking through it as he judged locations of the energy signatures. With a flick of his hand, he made an image appear on the nearby wall, a roughly drawn outline of the room beyond. He sketched out the square of the room, showing where the door they were standing by was, then drew in the small circles of the children in the middle, along with the exact locations of each of the three guards. One was just behind the door, one in the far corner, and one standing just over the kids. “Got it?” 

Sariel gave a short nod, cracking her neck before producing her knife in one hand and a small rubber ball with a spell inscribed on it in the other. “Go.” 

He went. Haiden kicked the door off its hinges, already hurling himself through to tackle the nearby man to the ground. 

In the same moment, Sariel hurled the knife with one hand and the ball with the other. The knife flew straight through the eye of the man in the corner, dropping him an instant before the ball bounced off the wall where he had just been standing. The ball rebounded off that wall, flying toward the remaining guard, who ducked out of the way. 

Then Sariel activated the spell on the ball, teleporting herself to it. She appeared behind the man, a second knife appearing in her hand. She drove it through his ear, triggering the brain-killing shock on the blade before giving his collapsing body a shove over the nearby bed. 

Eight children, none older than ten, sat on the floor of the motel room, staring at her and Haiden as the man rose from the body of his own target. They huddled together, a few already starting to cry, while others rose protectively in front of their frightened friends. 

“It’s okay,” Sariel assured them, making her knife disappear as she took a knee in front of the kids. Her voice was as gentle as she could make it. “It’s alright. Your parents sent us to bring you all home. You’re safe now.” 

As safe as they could be, that was, while being the youngest children of the Three Families, the trio of Akharu, Vestil, and Oni who ran Las Vegas. Their abductors had intended to renew the bloody war that had been put on tentative truce for years now. The vampires had always hated the Vestil, and both hated the Oni. But the vampires and the mages had joined forces against the Asian demons, before one of the Akharu leadership’s sons had fallen for and married one of the Vestil princesses. That locked the local vampires and mages into a somewhat shaky alliance that the Oni didn’t want to risk dealing with. So, all three sides existed in something resembling a truce, controlling different parts of Las Vegas proper, with the strip considered neutral territory. 

With their children gone and all of them blaming each other, the war would have been rekindled. Sariel and Haiden had been hired to find the kids before that happened. 

It was a living. And with their children returned to them, Haiden and Sariel’s anonymity and protection within Vegas would be assured by the Three Families themselves. 

For awhile, at least… they would be safe here. 

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