Chapter 1:

My Mother is a Superhero

The Legacy of Xaero: A Mother's Love

"I beg your pardon?!” Ridley Oakley gasped, unsure what to do. He didn't even know how he got into this situation. One moment he was about to start reading his evening newspaper, the next, his step-mother Alinyah came in. She nearly broke down the door, scurrying in to plop a giggling child on his rug barely uttering, "Entertain her," before she rushed out as quickly as she had entered. Oakley had only barely finished grading his students’ history assignments when this more complex assignment was given to him.

Not fair, he grumbled to himself. I give out the homework, I'm too old to do it myself!

"Tell me a sto-wy." The little girl insisted, her blue eyes boring into his soul.

"I-I will do no such thing," Ridley stuttered. "I don't even know you!"

The little girl paused for only a moment, her eyes dimming briefly before burning brightly again. “I’m Cwystal,” she replied, surprisingly articulate.

Alinyah had told him to entertain her, so why now out of all times was he suddenly drawing a blank? He needed a distraction, something to stall for time.

"My name is Ridley," he said quickly, brain running at lightspeed to find some kind of story to tell. "How do you know my mom?"

Crystal suddenly became confused, looking at the old man with a peculiar expression. "The cat lady is youw mom?" she asked.

"Of course she is, couldn't you see the resemblance?" Ridley replied dryly.

"There's no way she can be youw mom," Crystal said rather dismissively. "She's so pwetty and young, and you'we all old and pwuney."

Ridley winced. I’m not that old, I had only just turned 60! "I'm going to pretend I didn't take offense to that."


"Nothing," Ridley said quickly. He smiled, feeling an idea form in his wrinkled brain. "It's true, the nice lady that brought you over is my stepmom, Alinyah Darkfur."

It seemed like the notion of stepparents was hard for a little girl like Crystal to understand right now. Ridley didn’t blame her; he had the same problem when he was her age. She frowned, still unconvinced. "But Alin-ey called you Oak-ey. You can't be her son because yo last names are diffewent."

A feeling of triumph bloomed in Ridley's chest. He knew what kind of story to tell. Even better, the little girl was fully attentive to her elderly storyteller. She’ll be a far better listener than any of my students, Ridley mused.

"And who decided that's how it goes?" he countered. "Alinyah may not have given birth to me, but she raised me all the same. I’d say that makes her my mom.”

The realization that one didn’t need to birth the child to be their parent seemed to awe Crystal. She finally broke eye contact with Ridley to ponder what he said, her piercing gaze finally drilling into the fine wood floors instead of his own. The elderly man paused to ponder what exactly he should do if the little girl wanted to do something else after or got bored during story time. Should we go for a walk? The starry night is beautiful, especially from the island’s edge. Wait, no, she could fall off. Mom wouldn’t like that. I suppose she’s eventually going to want something to eat. Maybe I could brew her some hot cocoa? But that could burn her tongue if I make it too hot. Hold on a moment, why do I have to entertain her, where are her parents?

“Crystal,” Ridley continued quietly as a dour weight manifested in his chest. “Why did my mom bring you over? Where are your parents?”

The silence birthed between his question and her answer was deafening, increasing the weight he felt. “Grampa Ally said they had to go away to fight wobots, then he said he was going to go fight wobots.” She eventually replied, a hint of confusion and sadness in her voice. “Only thing is, Mommy and Dad left to fight wobots a long time ago, and haven’t come back since.

“They didn’t even make it for my birfday.” Crystal added, almost as an afterthought, but now became a depressing conclusion to her explanation.

Ridley’s heart sank. Her parents were involved in the TechnoWar against the Unimus. What likely happened to her parents, was exactly what he feared would happen to Alinyah every day. He had an idea who this Crystal was exactly now; she was a little familiar. Wasn’t this the child that the Headmaster would shove pictures in the face of every student and teacher he came across when he was off duty? With that realization, came an even darker one: He was watching Crystal because her Grampa Ally couldn’t. Whether it was because Alister was compromised by emotional distress or some mission in the war against the Unimus, Ridley wasn’t sure, but he was all that little girl had left right now.

“Crystal, would you like anything to eat?” He asked, regretting his previous question. If there was anything he could do, it was keeping her mind off her parents. “Are you thirsty?”

“Can I have a soda?”

Ridley felt a sense of purpose and urgency in a way he hadn’t felt before. Moving as quickly as his old bones would let him, the old man hurried over to his kitchen fridge and selected a pop at random. Crystal accepted the drink without arguing and cupped the beverage to her cheek for a few moments before pulling the tab and drinking deeply. After a hearty burp and sigh, Crystal sat down on the floor.

"Crystal, is there a particular story you would like to hear?" Ridley asked. He felt terrible and under-equipped to tend to a precious child like Crystal. Was this why I never… He forced himself to stop that train of thought. It wasn't the time or place for negative self reflection.

"Can you tell me more about Alin-ey?" She asked. "Her hair's so soft and pwetty. It weminds me of my pillows."

"I would love to tell you more about my mother," Ridley replied tenderly. "She's the smartest, bravest, and most beautiful woman I've ever known. She doesn't look bad for being almost four hundred years old, does she?"


"What I mean to say," Ridley stumbled, inwardly cursing himself. This was a little girl, barely four or five years old who could barely count to twenty, let alone four hundred! "Alinyah has lived for a very, very long time, and will continue to live for many years to come."

"Oh." Was all she replied.

"If I remember correctly, I was about your age when I first met her," he continued. I can see it almost like it was yesterday. “Even then, her hair was long, soft, and pretty. It was the first thing my father and I noticed about her. We had come to the cemetery to pay our respects to… well, we were there to visit someone we lost, when we heard someone crying behind the Widow's tree.”

“What’s the Willow’s twee?” Crystal interrupted.

The old man sighed. He supposed it was only natural that she would be curious. At least she was still attentive. So much for an attentive, silent listener.

“Well, the Willow Tree,” Ridley answered slowly, straining to remember. “I mean, the Widow’s Tree, is a special tree used to honor loved ones who were lost and never found.”

“Like my pawents?”

Ridley felt like he was punched in the stomach. He restrained the urge to curse in front of the little girl. “Oh, well… yes. Like your parents,” he replied. “I suppose so.”

“Could we visit a Willow’s twee sometime?” She asked.

“If… if that's what you want, sure.”

“Can we go tomorrow?”

“Um, if that would make you happy,” Ridley relented. “Do you still want to hear the rest of the story? I promise it’ll get better.”

“Okay, but only if it gets better.”

“Alright, let me… let me get my bearings.” Ridley replied, pulling himself out of his seat. He ambled towards the fireplace, ruminating as he fiddled with the figurines. They weren’t meant to be played with, but perhaps some things should be. It was during times like these that he wished he could use magic and just make everyone’s problems go away, starting with Crystal here. With a sigh, Ridley returned to his rocking chair.

"Where was I…” He mumbled, rubbing his temples. “Did I bring up the tree? I think so. Oh, crying. Yes, we heard crying. So my Father decided to check on who was crying to see if they needed anything, and barely a moment after he disappeared behind the hill, I heard him calling me over. When I did, I could barely believe it myself."

"You and your dad met Alin-ey?" Crystal asked, her voice growing to a whisper.

"We met Alin-ey," he confirmed with a grin. "She was the most beautiful woman we had ever seen. I thought she was an angel from above, seeing her cry made me want to break down myself."

"Why was she crying?"

"Well, a war had ended, much like the one we're in now." Ridley confessed, his voice suddenly solemn. "A lot of bad people didn't like how things were being done, and tried to make everyone else do things the way they thought it should be done. And these bad people, they had hurt Alinyah, they had hurt her in a way no one ever wanted to be hurt: they took her husband."

"But Alin-ey's an Ashuwa," Crystal exclaimed. "No one can hurt the Ashuwa. They're too stwong."

"That's true," he admitted. "But she didn't know as much then as she does now. The bad people figured out a way to hurt Alinyah, and they hurt her because she didn't agree with their ways of thinking. And because of that, she had been in mourning. Crying over her missing husband at the Widow's tree for days and days, until we found her there.

"Alinyah ignored us, even though,we tried to get her attention. At first we were going to pretend we never saw her, but something caught my Father’s eye. The Mark of the Asura, the Master’s Claim. This means she was important among the Cait Sith and Axis. Eventually, Father figured she was going to starve to death if something wasn't done, so he apologized profusely for what he was about to do, and picked her up and carried her over to our wagon. I think she fell asleep during our drive home. Occasionally, she would call out for someone named 'Donny', but as for who that was, well, my father suspected that it was her missing husband.

"She slept for three whole days, tossing and turning, calling out for Donny, occasionally breaking into tears or punching invisible foes only she could see. Every morning, Father and I would check on her, and he would shoo me out to go feed the dogs while he waited on her. Nothing changed until the third night, when an unexpected visitor found us, an elf with the most ridiculous name I’ve ever heard. At the time, I thought it was completely stupid, and to this day, I still do to some extent; an elderly elf came our way introducing himself as Xelf, and he was told his associate Xilla was here, whom he had come to check up on. Neither I nor my father had even left the property since bringing back Alinyah, so we were at a loss as to how he found us."

"What kind of name is Xelf?" Crystal asked, frowning. "And how did he find you and Alin-ey?"

"Personally, I like to think it's supposed to be a codename," Ridley mused, rubbing his chin and reflecting back to that day. "The Asura, and the people they work with occasionally have to perform dangerous missions. so it would make sense they would have fake names to protect themselves and their loved ones. As for how he found us, I suspect it involved magic. I don't entirely understand it, I just know that my father and I couldn't use it, like many humans who can't."

Crystal frowned with a gasp of surprise. "You can't use magic?" She exclaimed. "How do you even live with yo’self?"

"Surprisingly well," Ridley replied, startled by how defensive he sounded. "Every night I read my paper and enjoy hot cocoa before going to bed, sleeping like a baby. Until tonight that… wait, can you use magic?!"

"Uh huh!" Crystal replied excitedly. "I can see things before they happen, but only when I squint weal hard and, uh, um, weflect on, uh, etwernity."

"'Reflect on eternity' ?" Ridley repeated, dumbfounded. "And how often has what you seen happened?"

"Oh, um… almost always!" Crystal bragged, putting her hands on her hips and a satisfied smirk plastered on her face. "Uncle Tai said I'm weally good at emptying my head! He said the wobots stand no chance with my eyes, whatever that means."

Ridley was stunned. He knew that Crystal's grandfather, Alister, was gifted with sight. How else could the Headmaster pull off his pranks so effectively, if not with the power of foresight? They had been too perfect, yet too impulsive to not be. When it came to magic, Ridley knew and understood precious little; history was his forté, not the arcane or esoteric. Though there was one thing he knew of magic, or at least with foresight, was something that the Headmaster had shared with him early on after they began working together.

"My magic is a gift and a curse," he had said abruptly. "All of time, past and future is mine to observe, every branch and crack in the path cannot be hidden from my gaze. But in exchange, I am no longer able to see my wife, or my son. I cannot witness the majesty of the floating islands or the setting sun on the sea. All that is before me and ahead, in exchange for the now. If that is the price I must pay to bring about the best possible future for my family, and all of Axis, then it is a small price to pay. Would you be so willing to pay that price, Ridley?"

At the time, Ridley had agreed, though he did not entirely understand what the Headmaster was getting at. Now, he felt some stirrings within his heart that perhaps was an idea of what Alister meant. Did Crystal understand what was ahead of her, having the same gifts and talents as her grandfather?

Crystal by this time, had abandoned her spot on the rug and was now roaming about his living room. She was still listening to his story, but only as well as a child could; half-heartedly poking and inspecting the shelves and pictures around her as anyone plumped into a new environment would.

“Where was I?” Ridley mumbled absently. “I always get carried away with stories… Hold on, Xelf came to see us, does that sound right?”

“I think so,” Crystal called back, enraptured by a model horse on one of the cabinets.

“Well, as I was saying, Xelf found us and asked if he could tend to his friend. The sight of his gaze, I could never forget it. It was like he was looking at me, but through me, as if there was something behind me that he was actually looking at. When the elf came out of the room, he told us that Alinyah should wake up within the hour, and with a bit of a gleam in his eye, told us ‘Get cooking. She’s going to be very hungry.’ before departing out the door.

“No sooner did the door close, my father bolted to the kitchen, calling for me to grab everything from the pantry. I distinctly remember him saying quite sternly, ‘Rid, I want everything. Yes, absolutely everything, she’s a Cait Sith!’ when I asked if there was anything in particular he wanted to make. I always enjoyed my Father’s cooking; I particularly loved when he made quiche. But anyway, Scott went right to work, furiously mixing and baking and cooking everything we had at our disposal. He even stopped me from licking the spoons, which surprised me; I always got to lick the spoons!

“Every few minutes, Father would have me check up on Alinyah and report if she was still asleep or not. Our lovely little patient had stopped fidgeting and calling out to this Donny fellow, and was finally curled up under her covers, head poking out from her blankets and purring, purring! like a little kitten! After the better part of an hour, when the smell of food dominated our home, and Scott had asked me again to check on her, something happened: Her eyes flipped open as I approached, exposing her bright yellow eyes, glowing like a cat on the hunt! Alinyah jumped out of bed, tail stiff as wood as she sniffed the air and sped out the room to the kitchen with a howl.”

At the same time, an ear splitting roar erupted in the room, causing Crystal to jump as the room began to shake. Panicking, the little girl dropped the toys she was interacting with and instinctively crouched into a ball, hands over her ears in a useless attempt to block out the sound. The fire began to spark and sputter as the sound displaced the wood within the hearth and the toys fell from the shelves and cabinets. Ridley felt the noise vibrate up his legs from the chair as his bones began to rattle in time with the roar.

A blue shadow entered the room, large and imposing, with fangs gleaming in its mouth and slitted eyes inspecting the scene before it. Padded feet with their claws extended rapped against the floorboards before the rug sheathed the claws in its fur. With its unblinking eyes focused solely on the cowering Crystal, the beast said, “And when I went into the kitchen,” it growled. “I saw two of the most beautiful things in the world: A man that knows how to cook, and the delicious buffet made with his own two hands!”

Upon hearing those words, Crystal opened her eyes in shock, matching gazes with the shadow. “Alin-ey?” She called out.

The beast licked her cheek as Ridley roared with laughter. “In the fur,” Alinyah replied as she padded over and curled herself around the little girl. “I’m sorry Crystal. I heard my son, and I just couldn’t resist.”

“That wasn’t very nice!” Crystal pouted.

Ridley felt tears in his eyes. He wiped them away, still laughing at how well this had played out. “Just like that,” he exclaimed. “And in a flash, all my Father’s hard work in the kitchen was gobbled up like a flash flood in a canyon! Didn’t see that coming, now did you?”

“I think my favorite dish was the quiche,” Alinyah mused as she nuzzled Crystal. Her shadowy blue fur glistened against the light of the fire. “Out of all my partners, none could cook like him.”

Crystal’s glare softened as she cuddled Alinyah. “What’s a keesh?” she asked, muffled by the fur.

“Well, there’s apple pie and pumpkin pie,” Alinyah explained. “It’s a bit like an egg pie.”

“That sounds gwoss,” Crystal commented.

“It takes some getting used to,” Ridley admitted. “Though I have yet to taste anything that was better than a parent’s cooking.”

“I still don’t know how you preferred Scott’s cooking to my own,” Alinyah huffed. “I had centuries of experience over him.”

“Neither of us measured up to Father, at least with cooking,” Ridley agreed. “But you were all he talked about after you left. When you came back a month later, he was ecstatic. You gave him a new life, Alinyah.”

“Why were you gone for so long, Alin-ey?” Crystal asked. “Didn’t you like them?”

Alinyah chucked, a loud chuffing sound that reverberated from her chest. “Of course I did, little one,” she replied. “I just had some things to take care of. The other Stewards were still dealing with the Cult of Nyx and needed my help. It took longer than we had hoped, and then we had to help bolster the Republic that was taking its place. We were all very busy. While wrapping things up, I realized I wanted somewhere to get away from it all, and I remembered how kind Scott and Ridley had been to me.

“When I made my return to their farm, I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking I would only stay for a few more days untilI figured out my next move,” Alinyah confessed. “Seeing their faces made me glad I had found somewhere safe to stay. Their farm was out of the way, but close enough to the town that I could come and go without notice or get resources easily. I… I couldn’t go to my old home. There were too many memories there I didn’t want to see. Not immediately, in any case.”

Alinyah paused, as if she was reflecting on those memories. Ridley glanced over and realized that Crystal was giving her utmost attention to his mother, and he felt a pang of jealousy; she hadn’t been giving that kind of respect when he was telling the story!

“Scott was kind enough to let me stay whenever I needed,” she continued. “But my memory is a bit foggy. Ridley, could you take over?”

“Oh! Er, yes of course,” He replied. Had he been that easy to read, or was her memory really failing her? “Alinyah came and went, but every time she came back, she found some reason to stay a little bit longer. She’d start to help out more around the farm, helping tend the animals with me or cooking with Father. At first, we thought Alinyah was sticking around to repay our kindness with her own. It wasn’t until she left to attend the funeral of a mentor that we realized we loved having her living with us, that the house felt empty without her. When she came back, we asked her to stay.”

“But wasn’t she already… staying with you?” Crystal yawned.

“I mean, we asked her to join our family.” Ridley amended. “We asked her to love again. To open herself up, even if it meant she might get hurt again. As we asked her, she had tears in her eyes, and said yes. Our house had become a home again.”

Ridley glanced down, and was pleasantly surprised to see Crystal was now fast asleep, using his mom’s tail like a blanket.

“What do you think?” Alinyah asked, tilting her head towards the child. “Should I keep her?”

“As much as I would enjoy it, don’t you have enough children?” Ridley answered diplomatically. “You have around twenty kids and maybe five times that many grandchildren.”

“One more wouldn’t hurt,” Alinyah teased.

“Not to you, maybe,” he replied. “But Humans are different from Cait Sith. She’s already lost her parents. She doesn’t need an absent mother. She needs someone who will look after her. Especially with what’s been going on recently.”

“I know. I shouldn’t even be here,” she admitted. “I should be back at the front with the others. But that’s no place to raise a child. Crystal needs someplace that isn’t at risk of getting blown up.”

“What was a child doing in an active combat zone?!” Ridley hissed, struggling to keep his voice down. “Is the military hurting that much for precogs that they’re bringing in untrained children to fight their battles for them?”

His mother shushed him, glancing over at Crystal, who was still sleeping soundly against her. Alinyah gingerly pulled the little girl into her arms and carried her into one of the spare bedrooms.

“Taiberias brought her,” She declared upon her return. “He insisted she’d be able to turn the tide.”

“And everyone just let him?” Ridley asked, incredulous. “How in the hell did he get away with something like that?”

“We only just found out!” Alinyah replied, reclining back on the floor. “I still don’t entirely understand everything myself. But she wasn’t safe there, so I brought her here.”

Ridley steepled his fingers. “How long –”

“Will she be staying? Probably only a few days. I’m thinking of moving her to the Academy, but I need to make sure I wasn’t followed and that it’ll be safe there.”

“So they’ve started hunting people with foresight, then? I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Unimus caught on. Their scanner tech is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Alinyah grumbled, shaking the floor. “It’s honestly frightening,” she admitted. “We’ve only recently started to turn the tide, but it could change any day now.”

Glancing at the clock, Ridley realized how late in the evening it was. He barely had time to read his evening newspaper. “Change seems to be the only constant as of now,” he sighed. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Republic has been scared silly by the Electorate. There’s talk of overhauling everything so that the Unimus can’t take advantage of our own technology.”

“It’s late, get some rest.” his mother encouraged. “We can talk more in the morning before I head out. I know dealing with children isn't your cup of tea unless they’re students, so maybe we can think of ways to distract Crystal together.”

Ridley yawned as he forced himself out of his chair. “I did have the thought of showing her the edge of the island,” he shared. “Not everyone gets to live atop the Kilmari Reefs.”

“Are you sure? We’re quite a ways up. It could get messy if she fell,” Alinyah said nervously.

“I’ll be careful,” Ridley assured her. “I remember the idiot rule: ‘Don’t be anywhere within five feet of the edge unless you’re an idiot.’ and you did not raise an idiot.”

Alinyah’s own eyes started to droop. “Well, I’m glad at least one lesson managed to stick with you.” she said, curling up against the fire. “Good night, Ridley.”

“Good night, Mom.”