Heya, people! The following is the seventh non-canon chapter for Heretical Edge, as chosen by our $5+ donators! All patrons regardless of level have access to this chapter, and it will be released to the public tomorrow.
It was a one-in-a-million accident, an event so incredibly unlikely that most wouldn't even bother considering it an option. The sheer, astronomical odds against the precise series of events which led to the situation that Tabbris actually found herself in were incredibly staggering. And yet, it happened. As hard as it was to believe, as impossible as the event was, it beat the odds.
The night of this unbelievable set of occurrences began normally enough for the young, seven-year-old Seosten girl. As always, she waited until her long-time, unknowing host, Flick, was sound asleep in her bed. Then she very carefully exited the older girl, wearing the same special Seosten bodysuit she always had, since being a baby. It grew along with her. If Tabbris was being honest, she would say that the suit was her most prized possession. Partly because it was essentially her only possession, and partly because it came from her mother. It was the only thing she had from her mama, the only material object that gave her any connection at all to Sariel. Yes, she’d had the mental imprint version of her mother, a loving tutor who had cared for and taken care of the tiny infant until she was old enough to comprehend what was going on and act on her own in the physical world. And on her own was the right way of putting it, because no one was there to help her. Aunt Larissa was supposed to be there, but she never showed up. Tabbris was… really afraid of what that meant, afraid of what could have happened to the woman who was supposed to be waiting for her when she ‘woke up.’ But, despite that worry, she still tried to keep doing what her mother wanted. She protected Flick from the Seosten who wanted to possess her just because of who her mother was.
Protecting the girl meant moving around a lot at night, checking and reinforcing all of the special magic her dream Mama had taught her over the years. There were spells to identify intruders, push them away, let them know they were being monitored, disable other people’s monitoring enchantments, and more. Some of the spells sent alerts that actually went nowhere in particular. But anyone experiencing them would believe the alert had gone to a specific person. A person who, at that very moment, would be on their way. It was all part of the smokescreen, an intricate series of spells set up to make it look as though spending too much time in the house would result in the intruders being confronted by whatever powerful and dangerous force had set up the monitoring spells in the first place.
The series of enchantments was incredibly elaborate, and had taken Tabbris a long time to get just right. She had to renew the spells in the exact proper order, or the entire web would collapse in on itself. Which meant her Seosten perfect memory came in handy. Every night, while the others were asleep, she would slip out and go through her checklist. Step by step over the course of at least two hours per night, she stealthily made her way through the house, inside and outside, to update the enchantments and keep them running as well as possible.
This night began the same as any other, in that regard. After stepping out of the older girl, Tabbris carefully activated the two simple sets of enchantments on that special bodysuit, enchantments she would redraw for the next night before going to bed. The first enhanced her own stealthiness by silencing any sound she made so that she wouldn’t accidentally wake up Flick or her father. Meanwhile, the other one was linked to monitoring spells in both of their bedrooms, which would let her know if they woke up and started moving around.
Satisfied that her stealthy spells were working, Tabbris began her usual route through the bedroom first before expanding through the rest of the house. In each room, she first checked all of the very intricate spellwork. Some were more hidden, those drawn behind dressers and other furniture, under rugs, and more. But other spells needed too much space or had very specific requirements about how far they could be from other spells in order to work. Those were, by necessity, drawn more in the open. With another year or so of practice and study, she would probably be able to hide them far more effectively. At least, that’s what Dream Mama had said. But, for the moment, several of the walls throughout the house had large spots that were filled with very elaborate drawings, runes for the spells. And each of those had a very minor spell linked to them, which made the whole thing invisible to anyone who was affected by the Bystander Effect. Namely, Flick and Lincoln. They had no idea that the walls in almost every room they went through were lined with dozens of drawings, spells to keep the house safe.
Most of the enchantments, by this point, required only a small bit of magical energy to renew them. Her mama had taught Tabbris how to use incredibly efficient spells to do what she needed to. Though even then, she had to occasionally move back to Flick and draw a little bit of energy from the girl in order to keep up.
Naturally, she felt incredibly guilty about that sort of thing. But there was no other way. She was too little to run all these spells entirely by herself. She needed some of Flick’s energy. Energy that was otherwise only being used to help run the Bystander Effect anyway.
On this particular night, Tabbris made it as far as the kitchen. After ensuring that the alarm spells along the window above the sink were intact, she took a little break. That was nothing unusual. She had been working for almost an hour by that point, and used a lot of her own energy. When she was finished with the kitchen, she often took the time to eat something. That was another thing that made the young girl feel guilty, of course. Taking food without permission was bad. It was stealing. But, again, there was nothing else she could do. Most of her nutrition and energy came from the time she spent recharging inside of Flick. But she still had to eat at least a little bit. Especially if she was going to keep using magic like this. She had to have real food at least once per day in order to go on like she was. The only way the girl could justify it to herself was that she really was doing all of this for Flick and her dad. She had to have energy to protect them, and the only way to have that energy was to eat something now and then.
Exactly what she tended to eat varied from night to night, though it was always something she was certain wouldn't be missed. On this night, she collected the ingredients to make a ham and cheese sandwich, planning to have it with some chips and milk. With the stuff laid out on the counter, she knelt on a chair to reach properly, slathering lots of mayo on the bread before adding the meat and cheese. Then she put it all together and started to cut the sandwich in half.
Unfortunately, that moment was when the first of the impossible series of events occurred. As she was cutting the bread with the sharp knife, the girl’s grip on it slipped. The knife almost fell to the floor before she instinctively snapped her hand down to grab onto the blade, cutting herself as a soft yelp escaped her. There was a bit of visible blood on the knife as she pulled it up, and a cut across her palm. Quickly, she started to move to the sink to wash off the knife and her hand. It wasn’t that deep of a cut, nothing she couldn’t handle as long as--
And that was when the second unlikely event occurred. The monitoring spell that she had inside Lincoln’s room activated. It warned her that not only was the man awake, he was already moving, rising from his bed. He couldn’t have heard her yelp, of course. The silence enchantment would’ve made certain of that. And yet, he was up and starting to leave his room.
Eyes widening dramatically at that, Tabbris hastily wiped a cloth across the knife to get the blood off before setting it in the sink. Then, moving as quickly as possible, she put the chair back, shoved the lunch meat and cheese into the fridge, grabbed the sandwich, and started to bolt out of the room. Unfortunately, she could already hear the man's footsteps as he approached the kitchen. The only thing she could do was practically dive into the pantry, closing the door after herself as she hid in the small, closet-like space and hoped he wasn’t planning on getting anything out of it.
Leaving the door cracked just a little bit, the tiny Seosten girl peeked through and watched as Lincoln entered the room. The man was yawning as he flicked on the light, flooding the room with illumination before walking to the fridge and opening it to fill a glass with milk. To Tabbris’s surprise, he took a look at the ham and cheese sitting there, seemed to pause as though considering, then took them out along with the bread. He was going to make a sandwich of his own, apparently. The third in the series of unlikely events.
After laying out the ingredients on the cutting board, Lincoln reached for the drawer. Then he paused, his gaze moving to the sink. As Tabbris watched anxiously, the man shrugged and muttered something to himself about wasting dishes as he reached into the sink and took out the knife she herself had just been using. The knife she had cut herself on only moments earlier.
Worse, as he pulled out the knife, the girl noticed something she hadn’t before, in the darkness. When she had wiped the cloth across the knife, she’d only managed to clean one side of it. That was the fourth part of this impossible situation: there was still blood on the other side of the blade. Blood that Lincoln didn’t notice as he dipped the knife into the jar of mayo and began to slather it onto the bread for his own sandwich.
Oh no. Oh no, she had to do something, didn’t she? She should stop him from eating that, right? How was she supposed to interrupt him? She had spells that could distract the man and draw his attention somewhere else in the house. But which one? How should she do this? Could she draw him away from the kitchen and just take the sandwich? He’d noticed that, but what else could she do? What choice did she have? What was she supposed to--
In her blind panic, the poor girl remained frozen from indecision and uncertainty as the man raised the finished sandwich to his mouth and took an enormous bite. A strangled sound escaped Tabbris at the sight of that, silenced by her own secrecy spell. Now there was nothing she could do. Hidden in that pantry, she kept one hand over her mouth, staring as the man ate the entire sandwich, pausing only briefly now and then to glance at it as though vaguely uncertain of the taste. But he must have been quite hungry, because he wolfed the entire thing down in only a few bites. Then, without seeming to notice anything untoward, he wiped off the counter with the same cloth Tabbris had used to supposedly clean the knife, put the ingredients away, and started to move out of the room.
This was probably okay, right? The odds that one little bit of blood would actually affect him were microscopically small. There had barely been a few drops on that knife. So little he hadn’t really seemed to notice anything wrong with the sandwich. So, it was fine. It was probably fine. There was almost no chance that anything would happen with--
“What the?” Tabbris’s musings were interrupted as Lincoln abruptly stopped and stared at the wall next to the kitchen doorway. Shifting around a little bit, she peeked out further to see what he was looking at, even as a part of her already knew. Sure enough, the man's gaze was locked onto the spell drawn along that part of the wall. The spell that should have been invisible to him. Invisible to anyone who was affected by the Bystander Effect. It was a particularly important part too, a hinge pin in the spells that she had put across the house, linking many of them together. It had taken her a very long time to get that completely right. Without it, most of the spells would collapse and the house would be vulnerable once more. Specifically, vulnerable to the sort of monitoring the bad Seosten would be trying to do. And if they happened to be doing that, or just had a remote sensor up while the protective spells went down and gave them a look at Tabbris here while she was stuck in the pantry, that would be it. The only real advantage that she had would be gone. Right now, one of the main reasons they hadn't pushed the issue even more was because they didn’t know who was putting these spells up, or what kind of trap they would be walking into if they weren’t careful. But if they knew the person responsible was just a Seosten kid, they would come in force, and she wouldn't be able to stop them.
All of those things ran through the girl’s mind in those brief few seconds while Lincoln stared at the spell drawn on the wall. She saw his frown of confusion as he looked around the room, clearly noticing a couple other spots before turning back to the first. Head shaking, the man reached out toward the spell, muttering something under his breath about asking Flick what the hell she was doing with all this.
As soon as she saw his hand moving toward the oh-so-important spellwork, Tabbris acted without thinking. A rush of terror about what would happen if the enchantments collapsed and the bad Seosten confronted them propelled her out of the pantry. The door flung open with a bang as she dismissed the silence spell on her clothes to blurt, “Don’t!”
Throughout his life, Lincoln Chambers had been in some pretty hair-raising and downright terrifying situations. Mostly while he was working in Los Angeles, making enemies on both sides of the legal line as he strove to both find and report the truth. Those enemies, and the thought of what they could do to the family he wanted to build, were one of the main reasons he had come here, to Laramie Falls, Wyoming. And for more than a year after moving into this house, he had gotten up more than once during the night to check every window and door, making sure they were all locked and secure.
Over time, most of that paranoia had faded, though he still made sure everything was locked before going to bed. He simply didn’t feel the need to obsessively get up at night to check again.
The point, however, once that he was, for the most part, very difficult to scare. He had faced down corrupt cops, politicians, and murderous gang members who all hated his guts, and still reported the truth. He did his job. And, in so doing, developed a very thick skin against being startled. Things didn’t scare him anymore. Not like that.
And yet, as he reached toward the confusing shapes drawn on the kitchen wall, wondering why Flick would be doing that as a teenager, there was a sudden bang of a door behind him. Lincoln was already spinning that way, hands rising defensively as his mind jumped to thoughts of where that knife that he used to cut the sandwich was. He was a big guy, he could get to the knife and--
“Don’t!” That single word, on its own, cut through all of Lincoln’s thoughts and stopped the man in his tracks. Not so much because of the word itself, but because of the voice attached to it. A young voice. The voice of a child, a little girl. A voice that reminded him of Flick from years ago.
His gaze, once searching for the threat that he would have to protect his daughter from, instead found a small, blonde figure staring at him with her hands up fleetingly. For a brief second, in his late-night and very shocked confusion, Lincoln thought she really was a younger Flick.
But she wasn’t. He realized that an instant later, mind still processing what he was looking at. She was… she was a girl. A little girl he’d never seen before.
Wait… no, he had seen her before, hadn’t he? Something tickled his brain. He’d seen the girl, but only in his dreams, when he was in bed and imagined a very young girl crawling in to be hugged. An imaginary sister for Flick. The sister she would have had if Joselyn hadn’t--
Shoving those thoughts away, he took a small step that way. Belatedly, the man realized with a glance toward the open pantry door that that had been what made the banging sound. The girl had shoved it open and leapt out. Because she had been hiding in there. Hiding in his pantry.
What… the… hell?
Lincoln knew he could be intimidating for young children, with his large, bearded figure. Confused as he was about this whole situation, the last thing he wanted to do was scare this kid. He had no idea what was going on, where she had come from, or why he had dreamed of her being Flick’s little sister. But he did know that he didn’t want her to be afraid.
To that end, he went down to one knee, leaving plenty of space between them to avoid threatening her. His voice was as calm as he could make it in that situation. “Are you okay?” That was the first thing he asked, his mind racing with the idea that she had run into the house to hide from something or someone. But, of course, that didn't answer why she seemed so familiar to him. Was it just a coincidence? A case of simple mind-trick deja vu?
“I-I’m sorry,” the girl whispered, eyes wide as she stared at him. There was fear there, but something told him that it wasn't fear of him. Not exactly, anyway. She was afraid of what might happen next, afraid that she had done something wrong. This poor kid, who couldn't have been older than seven or eight, was terrified of being seen.
After a brief moment to try (and fail) to process that, Lincoln slowly offered the girl his hand. His voice was as calm as he could make it. “Listen, my name is Lincoln. I don’t know how you got in here, or what you--” He cut that off, forcing himself to take it as easy as possible on the kid. Instead of bombarding her with all the questions he had at that moment, he asked only one right then. “What’s your name?”
There was a pause before the girl answered. Not as though she was making anything up, he'd done enough interviews to know that much. Instead, she paused as though mentally asking herself if she would screw things up even more by answering.
In the end, she seemed to brace herself before timidly saying, “M-my name is Tabbris.”
Well, that was a name he had definitely never heard before. But then, parents these days really were going nuts trying to give their children unique names. Frowning a little, he carefully asked, “Do you live around here? Do your parents know you’re out right now?”
Apparently, that was the wrong thing to ask. Because the girl suddenly started crying. Her shoulders shook violently while tears streamed down her face as she stammered weak apologies, her head shaking from the effort to pull herself together.
Lincoln didn’t hesitate. The moment he saw that girl cry, he was moving. Before either of them knew what was happening, he had risen to his feet and picked her up. He held the girl tightly to his chest, embracing her instinctively. Holding her, cradling this familiar stranger to him, he stroked her hair, telling this… this Tabbris that it was okay, that she was okay. No one was mad at her. Everything would be fine. She was safe. After a few long, panicked seconds where the girl clearly didn’t know what to do, she slowly hugged him back. Lightly and uncertainly at first, but before long she was clinging to him tightly. Her tears came fast and freely as she clutched the man as though holding on for dear life. God, it was like the poor kid had never actually been hugged before.
Finally, after several long minutes of that, the girl seemed to calm down a little. Lincoln leaned back, still holding her to him as he quietly asked, “Are you okay?”
“I--I…” For a moment, she trailed off, seeming completely overwhelmed and afraid still, even as she continued to cling as tightly as she could to him. Finally, she swallowed a thick lump in her throat and focused, her gaze meeting his. “I… I have a lot to tell you, sir. Y-you’re not gonna believe me, but I have to tell you anyway.”
Something told Lincoln that nothing he could imagine would actually come anywhere near the actual story he was about to hear. So, after a very slight hesitation, he cleared his throat. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Meeting his gaze seriously, her own eyes seeming far too mature for her age, Tabbris quietly disagreed. “No, you’re not.
“But here goes nothing.”
Are We Absolutely Certain Tabbris Doesn't Give Off An Olympian Level Hug Me Aura?
Imagine The Conversation Between Scott And Prosser Trying To Work Out Which Of Joselyn's Allies Were Creating All These Protection Spells For Her Family.