The Devil’s Footprints
The world didn’t end on December 21st, 2012. There was no apocalypse when the two sevens clashed, and there were no signs, no seals, no horsemen. Fire and brimstone failed to make appearances, and if a seven-headed beast did in fact rise from the ocean, no one was there to see it. Was it still a sign of the end? If a tree falls in the woods…
There was no Rapture, and T.S. Eliot was wrong – there was no whimper. Nor was there a bang, or even the sound of a solitary trumpet. There was a cacophony of screams, whispers, laughs, cries, a chorus of billions of individuals all making different noises for different reasons, but no trumpets. The only signal was the chorus of pieces of a whole that could never see itself.
We made a choice, because a choice was ours to make. We made a decision, our own decision, and there was no outside influence. We did this to ourselves, and we did it of our own volition. Does that make it better?
We don’t know how many are left. There could be millions, maybe even billions, but there’s no way to tell, at least not yet. We can count our own though, those of us who are different, those of us who call ourselves Evanesca. We can count our own when they’re near us, and those of us who are stronger can even count all of us at any given time without too much effort. We’re still strangers here, higher on the evolutionary ladder, if an invasive species. Oh, we’re still human – but we never belonged here.
The population dwindles as power fails, dams fail, and infrastructure crumbles while we look on and remember the glory we had. Once-proud interstate highways are now little more than fractured concrete scars that lead us from one decaying reminder of this once-great civilization to the next. The cities are dangerous places, full of feral humans and rabid dogs. Buildings collapse at random and fire tears through what’s left, reclaiming land for the earth, expediting decay in cinders and chemical-green flames of our toxic mistakes.
Nature is taking her planet back. But weren’t we a part of nature? Aren’t we still? Aren’t all events in nature a part of her? Did we destroy ourselves like a gangrenous limb? But then – this wasn’t our planet to begin with, at least not those like us. We brought this on another people. But if we weren’t meant to be here, how could we be?
The world didn’t end on a specific day, there was no glorious moment of ultimate triumph or failure. It was a process, a process that continues. But there was a moment – a point in time, a single decision that swayed events toward this eventuality. It was a human choice, a single act of free will, an escape from the cycles of action and reaction. It had to happen.
While Man studied the stars, bowed to its gods and succumbed to outer divinity, he was blind to the prophesy he was creating as it insinuated itself into the vacuum of our possibility. We willingly and cheerfully created the binds of prophesy, we worshipped them. We saw them as hope, promise.. But the rainbow was nothing more than another fractured road to a crumbling pot of worthless gold. We were looking in the wrong direction; we were looking without when we should have looked within.
At the end of days, God didn’t smite us, Allah didn’t punish us. Shiva did not place a single foot on that ground and Ragnarok is a street in a Minnesota suburb. Or at least it was. But Shiva could still be teetering that foot above the Earth; God could still threaten or promise eternally a second coming perpetually on the brink. We had balance of a sort, as short –sighted as it might have been.
We ignored prophesy as it settled gracefully into our stagnant lives like ancient dust from the skin of long-dead ancestors. We accepted; we capitulated. We did it willingly and lovingly.
We ask still – is there a single God? Is there a Divine intelligence outside of that which we project and pray toward, that which we create, adore, and give credit to our own actions? I still don’t know. But I intend to find out.
My mother was caught in prophesy, she allowed herself to be swept up in it, viewing it as an outside dictator of her actions, an insidious trickster-puppet master, though she didn’t see it until the end. My father was a prisoner of a self-appointed god, a deity existing for the sake of existence, for the satiety of our needs.
My mother, born into leadership with no inherent aptitude for it wanted nothing more than to sip her coffee over the morning paper where she read of human threats, human interest and J.C. Penney sales. She wanted a solid ground under her feet and a sun she could trust would rise in the morning and rain she could trust would come as surely from pregnant clouds as the thunder that followed the lightning while she read her book under a warm blanket with her purring cat. She wanted to pay her insurance bills on time and she wanted to complain about the water pressure in her high-rise apartment. What she didn’t understand, what she couldn’t explain, what lay in the world beyond mortgages and student loan payments was a world she didn’t know or want, and yet was expected to lead.
This world did not ask for us to be thrust upon it, but we were. Many like my mother argue that this was an unnatural occurrence. But aren’t we a part of nature? Is all reality not a part of the natural world? How can anything occur outside of nature? If a thing were not meant to happen, it simply wouldn’t happen.
And what of the impossible? By very definition, isn’t the impossible an inherently self-destructive concept? Are not all things happening at once, everywhere? There is no impossible action. There does not exist the concept of “impossible,” by its very definition.
So I wonder even now, why was my family trapped in prophesy? How did such a thing even occur? They saw it coming. Generations before them saw it coming. My mother’s very birth was another sign that it was coming. Some even knew the single decision that was to be made, the crux of so many made before and after.
Where does it begin? Who came first, mankind or his gods? Where did my mother’s story start? Did it start with her mother, or her father? Who influenced her decisions? Does the story begin in the nineteenth century with a set of cloven footprints in the snow? Does it begin with the countless seemingly-inconsequential decisions made that day, and the offspring of those decisions? Did Aunt Rory’s choice to save a young man targeted by The Amala set prophesy in motion once more? Once could argue that yes, in fact it did.
You could trace it back to before the footprints were made, you could trace it to the very foundations of the towns through which the footprints invaded. After all, if footprints are made in the snow and no one is there to see them…
You could trace it back to the first cell division in the primordial ooze. The cells split at just the right time, in just the right way, so that both survived to produce more. Did the rain provide the precise moisture needed, did it provide that delicately perfect formula for mankind to eventually be born? What if it hadn’t rained that day?
If you made a decision to leave work early and you hit a car from behind, a pregnant woman at the wheel, and that woman was carrying a mass murderer, did you save lives? Why did you leave work early? Who made that decision for you, and was it then they who saved those lives? But these aren’t questions you haven’t asked before, are they? This is nothing new.
Our existence is a web of action-reaction, cause-effect. What if you could stand back and see the web as a single object, and zoom in at will? You could change an action as simple as a woman stepping out onto her porch and viewing the Devil’s footprints, and that would change the course of history.
We could have had lasting existence. We could have survived what my previous generation and the one before it struggled to prevent. It would have been bad, but we would have gone through it and emerged on the other side a stronger species – a single species, a united humanity from two existences. But instead we chose choice itself. We avoided our fates and those for generations after being controlled by an outside force, a god. And we brought chaos in its stead.
It’s my job to fix it. We’ll get to that. But first, you need to know how I got here. My name is Abigail Easterly, but this is not my story. This is the story of how apocalypse began. I can feel the others dying even now. But it was our choice. We own it. Does that make it better?
Part One: The House Daeanna Built
Charleston, South Carolina
Jamie Riley left the gathering crowd to their stories of her mother and slipped into the kitchen as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. She had learned more about her mother since her death than she had ever known. Most of it had been that day, during the wake. While she was grateful for the comforting words and gestures of Patricia’s friends and distant family, she was growing weary of hearing about nuances of life of the woman she had never really known.
Jamie felt as if all these strangers were giving her a primer on the woman that raised her. She didn’t know who most of them were. She recognized distant cousins, aunts and uncles from family albums, had spoken to a few of them over the phone, but those she did know had been out of her life since around the time of her father’s death when she was eleven.
She wanted to be a gracious host as her mother taught her, (ironically enough, since rarely did they have any visitors), but she also wanted peace and quiet, time to think, room to grieve. And as if reading her thoughts as she realized Nora would be the only person she would want to remain, she noticed Nora sitting at the kitchen table, probably waiting for Jamie to run in and escape.
“You want me to get rid of them?” Nora asked, standing up and greeting her lifelong friend with a tight hug as the kitchen door swung closed behind her.
Jamie and Nora had known each other as long as each could remember.
Nora Ramsey had grown up on the same street as Jamie, and had known each other for as long as either could remember. They had two other close friends, who died shortly after Jamie’s father, Marlin. All three deaths were completely unrelated, but happened within the same year. As all this was happening, Nora’s parents moved Jamie’s only remaining friend to Atlanta. In the wake of all the tragedy, Jamie’s mother was all she had left.
Jamie and Nora would write about that year from time to time, referring to it in their letters simply and vaguely as ‘the time.’ So much death in such a short time had helped to make both girls icy to the outside world, and strengthened their friendship, even though they were so far apart.
Nora and Jamie kept in touch by letters, email, and frequent phone calls, but each attempt at a visit had always failed. There was always an excuse, always an accident, always a Ramsey Family Vacation already planned. It was endlessly frustrating, but the letter-writing never stopped.
“No,” Jamie laughed as Nora drew back, but kept her hands on Jamie’s shoulders. Nora was a good six inches taller than Jamie – slender and always so graceful, Jamie thought. With Nora’s hands on Jamie’s petite shoulders, she felt as if her mother were standing before her.
Nora had been the mother Jamie needed over the past four months, as Patricia slowly succumbed to a brain tumor. As Patricia slowly withered away, she refused hospice and Jamie was finding it more and more difficult to tend to the woman’s every need.
When Jamie thought she was at her breaking point and was about to call Hospice despite Patricia’s wishes, Nora showed up – almost as Jamie was about to go online and look for the telephone number.
Nora explained to Jamie that her mother had called her, told her she was dying, and that Jamie could use some help and comfort. While Jamie found it hard to believe her mother could pick up the phone, let alone have a lucid conversation, Jamie was aware that her mother had moments of strength and clarity, moments that if you didn’t see the effects of radiation and chemotherapy on the woman’s body, you wouldn’t know she was even ill.
Nora took a leave of absence from work and stayed by Jamie and Patricia’s side until the end. She stayed and supported Jamie as the situation became even more mysterious, and Nora began to suspect ulterior motives for her being summoned to help. Nora had no idea what those motives were, but she could almost sense a pattern in the things Patricia would tell her, the revelations about Patricia that seemed to come daily, as if they were being metered out.
“I’m going to that house tomorrow,” Jamie told Nora. “I can’t stand the wait anymore. I have to know what’s there.”
“Don’t you want to give it some more time?” Nora asked, releasing Jamie’s shoulders and heading to the refrigerator to retrieve another bottle of Chardonnay.
“No,” Jamie said as she pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and pointed at the glass cabinet.
Nora nodded and took two wine glasses from the cabinet as she selected her words carefully. “There might be things you don’t want to know,” Nora said.
“Nora,” Jamie sighed, looking at her as if she were a child, “when I reached out to my mother’s church, I thought I would get support. Instead, the church I grew up thinking my mother attended three days a week didn’t contain a single member who knew her. So where was she on all those mission trips the church supposedly sponsored? Where did she go for months on end? I have to know, Nora.”
“I understand,” Nora said as she filled the glasses, “but maybe some things-“
“Don’t,” Jamie interrupted her. “Besides, if it appears Mom has been paying for a full-time caregiver. She’s paying enormous taxes. What’s so important about that place? And let’s not forget the money. Why on Earth did she allow me to pay rent to live here, allow me to pay my way through college, twice, and why did she work a full-time job, when we had so much money? Why live in this house when apparently this property has seven bedrooms and two wings?”
“I don’t know,” Nora said as she sat across from her friend, “but-“
“And there’s more than one person living there. There has to be. These utility bills do not say one person has been there. There has to be more. I need to know who they are, and I need to know why Mom kept this place a secret from me.”
Nora took in half her glass of wine in two swallows, and took a deep breath before speaking. “Your mother and I had a chat a few nights ago. She told me things.”
“She spoke? How? What things?” Jamie asked, now forgetting about the two dozen or so guests in the next room.
“She was probably not lucid, or it might have been a combination of chemo fog and morphine. Likely it was all these things.”
“Tell me,” Jamie said sternly. Sitting at the same table their height difference was nullified, and Jamie now seemed to be looking down at Nora, as if the maternal role had been reversed and Jamie was the one in charge now.
Nora didn’t argue. She wasn’t even sure she could.
Scarborough, Rhode Island
Amantha Easterly sat on the back porch and watched the waves splash the rocks through the glass of the sun room. She rocked in the chair Marlin Riley made her all those years ago, and turned the folded letter in her hands over and over.
Patricia Riley was dead. And she had reversed everything the two of them, along with Marlin and Nikolas Ramsey had done all those years ago. They all felt they had avoided the trap. They felt they had righted a wrong before it had been done, and saved their children. And now Patricia, on her deathbed, had pulled the tablecloth from beneath the carefully laid table and sent their plans crashing to the floor.
On her front porch a messenger was waiting. He wouldn’t leave until he had given the letter Patricia had sent to her son, David. She had sent two letters to Easterly House – the one to Amantha was an apology for the one meant for David.
She wondered if Patricia had made such an apology to Nikolas, or to Marissa’s adoptive parents, or to Marlin. She wondered if Marlin had been in on it, and if either of them knew what they had just done to their children, all the trials they would face in the coming months and years, possibly decades, maybe longer. No one knew. Pandora’s Box had been opened. She wondered if Patricia realized how much death she had just cost the world.
“Why, Patricia?” Amantha asked the empty room. “Why condemn our children? What did you know?”
Amantha debated on whether she could avert the messenger, but she knew it would be too late. Nora and Jamie would soon be at Daeanna, the house built for them. There they would find Seamus, and Marissa would be on her way there as well. Stopping David now, even if she could, would only put them all in danger. The damage had been done. The children they separated would now be meeting. And she couldn’t go with him. Doing so would put him in even more danger. She had lost her son, at least for a while.
First, David would be angry. The blunt force of the supernatural compulsion to get to the house would hit him in his soul, would stir his anger, let loose emotions he didn’t know he had. It was like being given a drug against your knowledge and will. And there was nothing she could do to help him.
Amantha could sense the messenger on the front porch, standing, waiting, and watching. The one way to ensure a message was delivered to whom it was intended, when it was intended to be delivered was to send a Zenati Messenger. These were people bred for the job, and spent their entire lives preparing. They could not speak, but they did their job with inhuman efficiency, somehow communicating with one another without the possibility of anyone else gleaning what they were communicating. It was an art and a science, a profession and a lifetime commitment. The Zenati had relied on their messengers for time before time.
They were multi-talented creatures, capable of speeds humans shouldn’t be capable of on their own. Among their talents was the ability to know when and where a person would be. When Amantha accepted her letter and saw the second one, she suspected it was for David. When he didn’t leave her porch as she stepped back inside, she knew David would be over to visit soon.
Amantha glanced down at her letter and opened it once more.
You are like a sister to me. And David is like a son, you know that, which is why my doing this is bringing me so much pain. You might even say that’s what’s killing me, that this thing caused my cancer.
We were wrong. We were wrong to separate them. We ran across a carefully laid trap and we all fell for it, even Nikolas. Our children would have spotted it by now, if we’d just given them the chance and let them become who they are. Now, our only hope is that they can figure out in months what took me years to unravel.
The alternative is so much worse. I know what’s on their shoulders now. I know what they’ll have to do. Despite that, I have sent letters to David, Marissa, Marissa’s parents, and I will speak personally with Nora.
As you know Seamus has been taking care of Daeanna. That poor child has been to Hell and back, Amantha. Marlin and I thought he would be safe at Daeanna. We also knew this would be his best chance for a good life. Although we should have consulted you and Nikolas, we felt it was the best decision. As you know, the fewer who know about each child’s whereabouts the safer they are. So we never told anyone he was in Daeanna. The Zenati Guards were forbidden to speak of it. He has, however, cultivated a friendship with a few of them that will only serve to help him later. For a while, I was unsure if he was even capable of forming these kinds of relationships. There’s hope for him yet.
We paid for his education, and gave him grocery allowance, in addition to taking care of the utilities and other expenditures a house the size of Daeanna commands. The basement is locked to him as long as I remain living, as was my duty as steward of the house. By the time you read this, I will be dead and the door will be unlocked.
I feel the need to remind you that Daeanna was built for our children, even as foundations were laid long before any of our ancestors even set foot on this continent. The house itself was being built by our ancestors long before the Europeans arrived. It is a legacy meant for them, and we have denied them that legacy.
We have also denied them the education and training needed for what they will have to do. Such training is only available in Daeanna. We can’t fight this thing, Amantha. We’re killing our children and so many more by doing that. The best way out of these handcuffs is to simply relax and give in. That’s the beauty of the trap set for us all.
If I’ve ever asked you to do anything else, it’s not as important as this – not by a long shot my dear friend. I’m asking you to trust me just one more time. It’s my dying wish to you, my closest ally. Trust me.
As for what it is I have seen – telling you, writing it in this letter, would put you in danger. The truth will come out, in time.
I will see you in the ether. I will love you there and then as I always have.
Amantha could always hear her son coming, knew his footsteps, and always knew when he was nearby. She felt like the letter had somehow put her in a trance, as if Patricia had placed an Imperative on it. She may have, Amantha thought. Or maybe she was in too much pain to focus on her environment. She had already lost a son, and was ill-prepared to lose another. It could have as easily been this pain that kept her from being aware David had entered the sun room, his own letter in hand.
The compulsion had hit. David was clearly feeling its effects. He would be focused on nothing but getting to Daeanna.
“You told me they died,” David said, his voice shaking.
Patricia stood up from the rocking chair and faced her son, tears streaming down her face. “David, it was so long ago, I-“
“Stop,” David interrupted. “You told Marissa and me that our friends had died, that Jamie’s father had died. We were eleven. Why would you put us through that?”
“Let me explain,” Amantha said, reaching her arms out to David.
David backed away from her. “Is my father really dead? Is Michael?”
“Yes,” Amantha said, and lowered her gaze, speaking what was always the unspoken in Easterly House. “You know I’m telling you the truth.”
“And now I have an inkling of why I know it,” David said. “Just like I know Patricia was telling me the truth in this letter.” David sighed. “Why not just tell me?”
“We were trying to save you all from so much pain. We were trying to let you lead normal lives.” Patricia moved closer again, but David held out his hand.
“Too late,” he said, and sighed again. “I think I understand,” he said. “But even now, you’re still not telling me everything. Even in the letter Patricia didn’t tell me everything.”
“What did she tell you?” Patricia asked.
David shook his head and laughed. “So you can compare notes?” He collected himself for a moment, suddenly aware of the pain he was causing his mother, who was already grieving for the loss of Patricia and now caught in a twenty-year lie. “She told me Jamie and Nora were alive and that she’d sent a letter to Marissa. I’m going to go pick her up, and we’re headed to this Daeanna place. She told me you had something for me, but I don’t really care. She said all my answers would be in that house. And you know I have more questions, we all will.”
“David,” Amantha said as she approached him again. This time he didn’t move. She gingerly patted his arm, and then his other arm, slowly embracing him in a hug. He reluctantly hugged her back with one arm.
“I’ve paid rent for the next two months, and asked my landlord to keep an eye on the place,” he said. “I just got a large commission check, and don’t really have to work for a while. I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone.”
“I could answer some of your questions,” Amantha said as she backed away from her son.
“No you can’t,” David shook, his head as he backed away. “There are things I haven’t told you, and when I’ve broached the subject you’ve been clearly unwilling to talk about it.”
“Such as what happened to you father,” she said, “and about your brothers, and about things you can do. You don’t have to tell me,” she sobbed, a tears welling in her eyes, “it’s I who’ve kept everything from you.”
“I need to see the others,” David said. “I have to go now.”
Amantha knew he was right. He was feeling a pull toward Daeanna, toward the others that she could not relate to, but knew how strong it must be. Now that they were awakening to who they were, now that the chain reaction had begun, the five of them would not stop until they were together. If there were nothing else insidious about their birthright, it was their lack of choice. Her son may as well have been under a spell, he wouldn’t want to stay a moment longer.
“I have something for you, just as Patricia said,” Amantha smiled through her tears. She had always wanted to give her son the relic, the item that was rightfully his. She had always been afraid of how it might affect him, or if it would awaken him just as easily as if he had been in the presence of the other four.
Amantha stepped past her son and into the dining room. She walked over to the old mahogany china cabinet that had remained locked David’s entire life. His older brother James used to try to pick the lock, and David did as well when he was older. Michael, David’s younger brother who had died ten years prior never showed much interest in it.
Amantha had always told them that the key had been lost, but it was just another lie. Or was it, David thought as Amantha waved her arm over the ornately carved central drawer beneath the case. The ivy was carved into the shape of a pentagon, with a key hole in the middle. Some mechanism inside the cabinet made a single click and the drawer slid open.
Amantha retrieved a long, narrow black box and placed it on the dining room table. She pushed it toward her son, who drew it closer. The box was made of some dark wood, or maybe the black was just some kind of resin, he wasn’t sure. But as he reached for the lid he felt as if his hand were being drawn to it. He felt a pull toward the inner object nearly as strong as the pull toward the house. Whatever was inside wanted him to have it.
David slowly opened the box and saw within it a velvet cloth. He removed the cloth and his jaw dropped. A dagger lay before him. The blade and hilt appeared to be made entirely of silver, but it showed no sign of tarnish. On the simple, unadorned hilt separated from the blade by a single silver disk, was inscribed something in a language he’d never seen, letters he’d never laid eyes on. He wondered how many others had.
It seemed to vibrate, increasing the frequency until it emitted a high-pitched hum as he reached toward it and wrapped his fingers around the hilt, while leaving it resting in the box. The vibration was immediately rushing up his arm and through his body. The feel of the cold, unyielding metal changed instantly. It seemed to be moving, changing, fitting perfectly with the contours of his hand. And it began to grow warm, matching his body temperature. It no longer felt as if he were holding an object, only that his arm had grown longer, sharper. He closed his eyes instinctively as a flood of images washed into his mind. Somewhere in the distance, he thought he heard a sigh, a soft, relieved sigh of a woman, and a whisper. Welcome, David.
He saw Jamie sitting at a table with Nora. They had grown older, beautiful. Jamie was still short, full-figured, curvy. She still had those lips that David was drawn to in his prepubescent years. She still had those piercing eyes. Nora was tall, slender, as she too had been when they were small children.
The scene shifted. He saw Marissa sitting at a desk, a book in front of her, staring out her bedroom window. He saw another man in the hallway of the house he somehow knew was Daeanna. For a very brief moment he felt as if they were all aware of him as well.
David, unsettled and shaken, quickly withdrew his hand and closed the box. For a moment, he felt a fleeting sadness as he was separated from the dagger, as he felt when a dear friend or lover visited for a while and left suddenly. It was coupled with the jolt of waking from a peaceful dream. The dagger wanted him to hold it, and he wanted it. But it was now a distraction.
“I have to go,” he said.
“Of course you do,” Amantha whispered.
David took the box and walked toward the door, Amantha following behind, reaching out for his shoulder with one hand, stifling her tears with the other. He kept stepping just out of her reach, denying that last hug. She gave up as he stepped onto the porch.
Amantha let the screen door close in front of her, and waved as David drove off under the influence of his birthright. She stepped back inside the house with her grief. She knew she’d have to contact Nikolas and Marlin immediately. She should have done so when she first received her letter. But then, she thought they probably already knew what was happening.
Amantha wondered if she could have changed Patricia’s mind if she had just seen her during her last days. But she kept her cancer a secret from everyone, including Marlin. Initially they all thought it was because she didn’t want them to see her so ill. But now, she suspected they would have gleaned her plans to tell the children the truth. She wondered if she herself had something to do with her death, a spell of some kind, some ancient Genna she discovered in that house. Maybe her death was part of her plan. There was no way to know.
As for the children, they were supposed to do this on their own, awaken with no one’s assistance but their own. Prophesy was clear on this. If they were to meet, they had to face the coming challenges with nothing but each other and the resources of Daeanna. Damn her though, if she wasn’t going to try to help. Since when had any of the High Zenati, herself included, paid a bit of attention to what prophesy dictated they should do? And thought occurred to her that brought with it a tremendous surge of guilt for not having the thought sooner.
David would be fine, at least in the short term. He would reach Daeanna, and he would be safe there. Who was in real trouble now – who the Shadows would know existed if by nothing else deduction, since they likely knew David, Nora and Jamie to be alive – was James.
Unlike the others, James would not find safety in Daeanna. James was on a hopeless trajectory, one that only distance from others like him could avert, if only for a time. If the Shadows found him, he would soon no longer be her son. He would awaken as sure as Michael had awoken, to their father’s legacy – and as much of a threat as James would become, there was no one around to stop it. Her son would become a soulless killer. Her best chance of protecting him had always been to keep her distance. She had always preferred to know that he was alive and unreachable with the chance to be happy, than near her and buried in a cemetery.
But then, she thought. What assurance did she have that David wasn’t on the same course? She didn’t. She just had her gut, which told her he was different. He was not like his brothers. He couldn’t be. She wondered how much of that was just a mother’s empty hope, and how much of it was real intuition.
Jamie listened as Nora told her of the last conversation her mother likely ever had.
Jamie had been asleep, and Nora was sleeping in the living room beside Patricia’s day bed. They took turns staying up with her, giving her morphine when she needed it, bringing her water if she asked for it, or any other needs that might arise.
Nora had been drifting in and out of sleep, watching the Late Show and thinking of calling her father. She thought he might want a chance to say goodbye, though she didn’t exactly yearn to see him. He had always floated in and out of her life as he seemed to please, even when he was raising her.
As a teenager, Nora had access to the bank accounts. Nora paid the bills and kept the house up. Her father would come home for a few weeks, dote on her, ask her about her schoolwork, and demand to see her report cards – which always reflected an A-student. As soon life started to feel remotely normal and Nora grew accustomed to having a parent, he would disappear again.
She decided she would call him if his phone was even on, or if she was lucky enough not to get an “out of range” message.
“He knows,” Patricia said as Nora thought about this.
Startled, Nora sat up, eyes wide, and saw Patricia sitting straight up in the day bed, all skin draped over bones, eyes obscured by sagging lids – Patricia had been a large woman, and her skin didn’t shrink with the weight loss brought on by her cancer treatment. But her eyes were somehow alert nonetheless, and she was smiling. Nora watched in awe as the woman brought her legs off the bed and sat facing forward. She hadn’t taken in food in almost a week. That kind of strength didn’t seem possible.
“Patricia, you should-“
Patricia raised a hand to silence the woman. “I assure you, I’m fine,” she said, her voice coarse but steady. She reached for the water glass and took a sip, ignoring the straw. Just an hour before, Nora had held the straw up to her for her to slowly draw in the liquid, and yet now she was doing it on her own.
“I’m so thirsty though!” She laughed as she placed the empty glass on the table. “I’ll want some more of that, if you will,” she said, “but not just yet. I need to tell you something.”
“I’m listening,” Nora said.
“You need to watch out for my daughter,” she said, pointing a bony finger at her. Patricia leaned in and gazed intently at Nora. “You need to take care of her.”
“Of course, she’s my best fr-“
“She’s your charge,” Patricia said. “When I’m gone, she’ll want to see Daeanna for herself.”
“About that,” Nora said, not wanting to miss the opportunity to have some questions answered while Patricia was lucid, and strong.
Patricia interrupted her – “there’s not much time to explain it all. You’ll have all your answers in due course,” she said. “But it’s there where you’ll find those answers. And it’s Daeanna where you’ll remain safe. Stay there. Stay there and wait for the others. You will know what to do. But keep my daughter safe, at all costs. And keep yourself safe as well, my dear. You don’t know how much you mean to me. You’re like a daugh- “ Patricia trailed off.
“Are you okay?” Nora asked, “do you-“
“I’m fine,” Patricia said with a gentle wave of her hand. “Seamus – Sam, as he knows himself – he’s there, he’s been taking care of the house for several years now.”
“Who is Sam?” Nora asked.
Patricia smiled. “He’s like you. David and Marissa will join you there too.”
“David and Marissa,” Nora said slowly, “David Easterly and Marissa Davenport? Our old neighbors?”
Patricia laughed, and it turned into a cough. “Yes,” she said. “They are alive and well.”
“Then why – “
“And so is Jamie’s father. It was necessary to separate him from her. It was for my safety and hers. Tell my daughter, it was because we loved her. It was all for her. Everything we ever did, was for her. She saved my life you know,” Patricia said, still smiling. “She brought me back from shadow. Such a thing has never been done.”
“What do you mean?” Nora asked.
“Who are you talking to?” Jamie asked from the end of the hallway, looking around the living room as she tied her bathrobe.
Nora turned to face Jamie, then back to Patricia. She was on her back again, moving her arm slowly toward the water glass.
“I must have fallen asleep,” Nora said as she creased her brow. “I must have been – I don’t know, I – “
“You haven’t slept well for weeks, neither of us have,” Jamie said as she walked past her mother, taking the glass to the kitchen to fill it up. “I’ll stay up with her if you like,” she said as she went into the kitchen.
As the door swung closed, Nora stared at Patricia, who was showing no signs of the clearness or strength she had just exhibited. The room was silent, save the audience laughter from the television. Nora expected the woman to sit up again at any moment, but she never did. The silence was heavy and somehow frightening. Nora was startled again as the kitchen door swung open again, and Jamie emerged with the water glass.
“I’ll stay up with her,” Nora said. “I don’t mind, I must have been talking in my sleep.”
Jamie went back to bed and for the next two hours Nora stared at Patricia, hoping that at any moment she would sit up again.
“She never did,” Nora told Jamie as she poured them each a glass of wine. “Eventually I fell back asleep.”
Jamie stared at her glass, into the swirling wine and through it onto the table. What had she meant? And was her father really alive?
“I think it was the morphine,” Nora said gently, “and I’ve read that there is usually one more burst of energy, one more – you know, kind of a sprint, right to the end.”
Jamie shook her head. “I don’t know what to believe,” she said. “But we’re going to that house tomorrow. We’re leaving first thing in the morning. If Dad really is alive, if there’s a chance of it, I have to know, and I have to find him.”
“Of course you do,” Nora said. “Truth be told, I really want to go to the house as well. I want to know if there’s even a chance that David and Marissa are still out there somewhere, or if it was just – you know. But Jamie, all this has happened, and if you’re not ready –“
“Stop it,” Jamie said, raising her eyebrows. “I know you too well. You want to go there as badly as I do.”
“It feels almost compulsory,” Nora nodded. “It’s the strangest sensation, it’s like-“
“It’s calling us,” Jamie said.
“Do you suppose Amantha Easterly is listed in the phone book? Or David for that matter, or Marissa?”
“Well,” Jamie sighed, “for all we know Marissa is married. And besides, if all our parents did conjure up this plan to separate us, for whatever reason, they wouldn’t make it that easy.”
“I should call Dad,” Nora said, “I thought he would have seen Patricia in the paper, and I half-expected to see him at the funeral. But as far as I know he’s out of the country again.”
“Call him,” Jamie said. “If anybody knows what’s going on, if there’s any truth to any of this, it’s him. You never did before, did you?”
“No,” Nora shook her head, “and I know I should have.” She got up from the table. “Okay,” she nodded, changing the subject. “I’m going to go and try to drop some subtle hints for these people to leave. I’m exhausted.”
“Me too,” Jamie said.
Nora started out the door, but stopped when Jamie called to her.
“Nora?” Jamie said, and as her friend turned, “thank you.”
“Anything for a sister,” Nora smiled, and walked out into the crowd.
Red Hook, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
James Easterly propped his feet up on the stool across the table from him. He nursed his beer, watching the shoppers stroll through the strip mall across the street from the Duffy’s Love Shack, an open-air bar set up under a tin roof in a parking lot.
James left North Carolina after his release from prison. As far as the world, including his brother David were concerned, he murdered his brother Michael in a drug-induced frenzy nearly twenty years ago. When he was released on parole, he made a deal with his mother Amantha – the only person who didn’t believe he did it – to leave the country and never come back.
Even James wasn’t sure what had happened to his brother. His memories of the night in question were hazy at best. David also admitted he never saw the act itself, claiming he was under the hallucinogenic effects of mushrooms. But James knew he couldn’t have been.
The brothers were camping in the woods of North Carolina celebrating James’ twenty-first birthday. Since they had always joked about having their ‘wild’ weekend away, and James wasn’t comfortable breaking his promise to their mother and purchasing beer for everyone, his brothers were frustrated with him. They begged and begged, so he decided to play a prank, in hopes of showing them that booze or drugs weren’t necessary, especially when they were in a place as beautiful as the Southern Appalachians.
They reached a hostel in the small town of Hot Springs, left a donation and most of their belongings, and walked to the edge of town on the Appalachian Trail to make camp.
When they reached their campsite, James took a mushroom cap out of his back pack, broke it into thirds, and told his brothers it would be a night they would never forget. He was going to goad them along, allow them to convince themselves they were feeling ‘something.’ He had even debated whether or not to tell them, waiting to see of the placebo effect would produce the chemical-induced fun they were all after.
Shortly before he was about to tell them, the world around them went to Hell. James was certain there were others present, but all he could remember was fear. He remembered a fear that was palpable, that was as tangible as the wind, a living thing holding them down and showing them the world as it saw. He remembered Michael changing somehow, taking control of the situation. He remembered a knife, but not one that was slid into his brother.
The moment James was convinced the murder too place, he had been propelled from the hellish place they were experiencing, to a Thanksgiving dinner. He had been at a table with friends and family - some long-dead, some never born. His father had been there. He had children, as did James and Michael, and they were there he had a wife there.
I know this is a dream.
No, James. It’s a possibility.
He had been shot from Hell to Heaven before being dragged back to the real world. The strangers, if they had ever been there, were gone. He had managed to leave the campsite and return to the hostel where they left most of their things. He had called the police. And he was thrown in prison after giving what amounted to confession. James had hallucinated, even if such a thing were not apparently possible. He had remembered a knife.
His prison sentence was brief, and he was given parole, from which he was somehow pardoned, though to that very day he had no idea how. He believed his mother was somehow involved, though he couldn’t imagine what she might have done.
Amantha wanted him gone immediately. She gave him some credit cards, and cash. She said he would never run out of money, and to buy a house if he wished. She even promised to one day visit, if she could. She told him to keep to himself, and to leave the island only if it meant his life was in danger. She also asked that he not visit, write, or call. She was crystal clear on the last request – so clear in fact, that James didn’t have the slightest urge to disobey her, as much as he missed his family.
He led a peaceful life in St Thomas. He took a job as a waiter on a resort in Charlotte Amalie, bought a modest house and a motorcycle, and spent his time off wandering the trails through the woods, swimming, working out, or drinking alone in Duffy’s Love Shack. He had made a few loose friends, but another part of the condition his mother had given him was to lay low. She told him not to make too many friends, and warned him that eventually people may come looking for him. She said to watch out for them, and to avoid them as best he could.
So when several weeks prior he began suspecting there were people in the woods around his house – walking around his property for no particular reason, he was mildly suspicious. But he didn’t think much of it. His house was at least half a mile away from the next, and his side of the hill was basically vacant save some woods and a few shacks, so he mostly assumed they were campers and hikers.
Then, about four nights into the hearing the strangers walk around in the woods, he decided to sit out on the front porch and see if any of them came to ask questions, or if his presence might scare them off. James was foreboding in appearance – 6’2 and muscular. His long dark hair was pulled into a ponytail at work, but he let it hang over his shoulders as he sat in the broken lawn chair on his concrete porch with a cane in his hand.
There was no noise that night, but James was sure someone was in the woods. Someone was interested in the fact that he noticed them. He also had the oddest sensation that they were interested in the fact that he wasn’t afraid of them. He had no basis for these feelings, no logical reason for their existence, but he felt them.
That night he went to bed and slept through the night without any sounds keeping him from drifting to sleep. When he woke up the next morning he set his coffee to brew and opened the front door to let in the ocean breeze. He noticed his lawn chair missing. Why would the strangers set out to steal his lawn chair? He stepped outside and looked around, but saw no other sign of disturbance.
James turned back around and allowed the screen door to slam closed behind him, and nearly fell over. The lawn chair was in his kitchen. Why hadn’t he noticed that when he first walked in? He realized that he probably hadn’t been looking for it. He took this as a message: we know you were aware of us. And we can get into your house.
James called off of work that day, citing a headache. He went into Charlotte Amalie and purchased dead bolts and new window locks. He bought a motion-sensor flood light, and installed everything that afternoon. When the sun set, he decided not to wait on the front porch as he had previously. He now suspected whoever these people were, they could be dangerous. They could be the people his mother had warned him would come. Instead he waited in the house that night, watching fuzzy television through rabbit ears scotch-taped to the aged set. He set the volume low enough to hear if there were a noise, but high enough to distract him. He kept his bamboo cane nest to his recliner.
There were no sounds that evening. There were no disturbances. The flood light never came on. He drifted to sleep around four A.M. and woke up just after sunrise. He stepped out onto the front porch and saw no signs of the strangers’ return. He turned back around as he had done the day before and so nothing waiting for him. Nothing had been out of place. He checked the windows. Nothing.
He went to work for his lunch shift and returned to his house to find it as he left it. The sun set. James waited up once again. He let himself sink into Saturday Night Live, even allowed himself to laugh once or twice. He drifted to sleep for a few minutes – and his eyes popped open. Something had awoken him from his brief slumber. Something in the corner of his eye caused him to turn his head. The flood light had turned on.
James got up from his chair and grabbed his cane, walking slowly to the front door. He gingerly pushed down the blinds of his kitchen window so he could see what was in the front yard triggering the light. James had heard there were a few deer on St Thomas, but in his years there had never seen one – until then. He sighed, wiped the beads of sweat from his forehead and let out a small laugh as he let the blinds close. He turned around and in the other kitchen window by the front door was a silhouette. It was facing sideways, toward the porch.
Someone was on the ground beside his front porch. The head and shoulders were clearly outlined through the blinds. How was it that a deer wasn’t frightened by another person? James walked toward the window slowly, stomping his feet so that the would-be intruder knew he was awake. The shadow didn’t move, and James stopped advancing toward it.
“Who’s there?” He called out. “I’m armed.”
The silhouette appeared to turn and face the window. James had no idea how he knew this, but he was instantly aware of the stranger smiling. He thought he even heard a faint laugh. And then it spoke. It spoke softly, like a hiss. Somehow James was able to hear it through the closed window.
“Of course you are,” it said. And the shadow faded. It didn’t walk away, and there was no change in light. It just faded.
James waited in silence for something – anything to happen. The flood light eventually turned off. After a few minutes of silent waiting, he made his way back to the living room. After a few hours of no noises and the floodlight not coming back on, he decided the stranger (or strangers) had made their point. He was being stalked. It seemed that was all they were really saying -at least for now.
The next morning James woke up and set his coffee to brew. He was off work that day, and could think up some more ways to further fortify his house. He opened the door and there was a note taped to the screen door, facing in.
Meet me at Duffy’s Love Shack in Red Hook today at noon. I am not the one stalking you, but I know who is.
James wondered if he was being scammed. He immediately thought someone was going to try to charge him for their protective services, there were so many con artists on the island. But they usually preyed on tourists, and he had been seen and known around the island for too long to be taken for a tourist.
Thinking he had nothing to lose, James headed into Red Hook just before noon and made his way around the barrels and empty kegs in the parking lot to his usual seat. Toby, the daytime server brought him his beer without being asked, and James propped his feet up on the stool across the table from him. He watched the tourists across the street.
James looked at his watch. It was twelve o’clock on the nose. He looked up.
James never heard any footsteps, never caught movement out the corner of his eye. But standing in front of him was a man nearly as tall as he. He was thicker than James, stockier, but not out of shape. He was wearing black cargo pants and a white t-shirt, and sporting a Paul Bunyan-esque salt and pepper beard. It was a face he hadn’t seen since before his family moved to Rhode Island.
The brawny man held out his hand. James sat up and shook it.
The man smiled. “It’s good to see you, James.”
David Easterly was almost to Marissa’s house, driving well past the speed limit and doubting his sanity. He had no idea why he’d been rude to his mother, why he was so angry about something that had happened so long ago. It wasn’t even so much as anger as it was imperative that he get to this house in South Carolina as quickly as possible. And he had to bring Marissa with him.
It didn’t feel like he was putting his life on hold, though he thought it should. What it felt like was a course correction. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had years and years of damage to undo, that he had to make up for lost time. What that time was he lost, he didn’t know.
He had always imposed order on every aspect of his life. Since his older brother murdered his younger brother, since two of his childhood friends had died, he had grown to embrace control. Controlling his life brought him comfort and ease. And here was something out of his control – an aspect of his life that was a complete mystery. The more he thought about it, the more he came to the conclusion that the mystery was everything that had happened since moving to Rhode Island. These were the wasted years. He had been meant to be doing something else. Part of him had always known it.
His brother’s murder at the hands of the other brother, his friends’ death, his mother’s moving him away, even Mr. Riley’s death – were all related somehow. It was as if his subconscious had already worked out the puzzle and his conscious mind was lagging. The answer lay just beyond his grasp. He knew the final pieces would be waiting for him in South Carolina, he just knew it.
He also knew his mother could have answered more questions for him, but that they wouldn’t make sense. Nothing would make sense until he got to the house called Daeanna. Somehow he knew Marissa would feel the same way.
Marissa had been David’s lifelong friend, and his only real friend. Others had come and gone, but he, like her, had never established any close, meaningful friendships beyond each other. Neither had had any successful relationships either, but in spite of their puberty, they were never sexually interested in each other. It would have been incestuous, so sibling-like they were.
David worried about her often, the fact that she seemed to sleep her way through the men of her high school and later college, that her string of hurt ex-boyfriends had somehow become a living trophy case for her to view in private. But David knew she was emotionally strong. She had always been stronger even than him. He knew she could take care of herself, but wondered why she too, could not seem to grow a life beyond the family and her one friend.
David also knew that answer to be awaiting them at Daeanna. He was beginning to wonder that if Jamie and Nora were in fact alive, if they had experienced the same disconnect with the world at large.
David picked up his phone and again tried to call Marissa’s house, and then her cell phone. There was no answer on either, just the voicemail again. He then tried her parents’ house, and again there was no answer. He kept driving. Something had gone wrong. And just as he didn’t know why he was leaving his life behind for a house in South Carolina, he didn’t know how he knew something was amiss. He just knew. He tried to dismiss it as adrenaline and fear of more beyond his control, but couldn’t. Logic seemed to be giving way to this new reality that had no rhyme, no reason, just impulse.
David pressed the gas pedal and was now going twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. He turned off the highway and onto the poorly-paved road that lead to Marissa’s house. Before he could see the smoke, he could smell it coming from his vents. He eased off the pedal and rounded the bend, cautiously, as if peeking from behind the corner of a room that held something inexplicable. He knew what he was going to see, but had to see it. He had to see Marissa’s house smoldering, the remaining timbers standing slowly crumbling to the ground in small clouds of ash and ember.
This house had not recently caught fire. This house had burned for some time, and was now mostly out. The soft rain did little other than produce a cloud of steam on the simmering pile of lumber. The dark clouds in the distance told him it would be raining harder soon. Why had the fire department not come? There was no sign of anyone having been alerted. Sure, her house was in the middle of nowhere, it was miles between her house and the next – but had no one noticed? It had to have been burning all night, and yet there were no fresh tracks in the damp dirt driveway, no hazard tape. It was as if everyone in the area had been blind to what must have been a gargantuan blaze.
David wondered why Marissa hadn’t called him. She was safe, he knew she must be. Although he could never reach her phone, her parents would have called him and they would have called Amantha. David was like a brother to Marissa. He had keys to both her house and her parents.’ Something had gone wrong. Something had gone drastically wrong.
David turned around, kicking up loose dust beneath the thin layer of mud on the driveway, and screeched around the bend and back onto the highway, toward Marissa’s parents’ house. It was just ten miles away, and almost equally secluded. Almost as secluded as Marissa’s house – almost as secluded has his mother’s. Almost as secluded has his apartment complex had been, a set of row houses three miles from the nearest grocery store or gas station. If he had to guess, he’d say that Nora and Jamie had grown up in similar circumstances, if they were in fact alive. It was another piece. They all lived away from everyone. Even in the houses they grew up in on the same street, all four children – there had been a five-mile buffer before the next house.
As he drove, he thought about that fifth person. Sam, was it? Sam was in this enormous house surrounded by marsh and connected to the mainland by a narrow land bridge. The map Patricia Riley had included in the letter clearly showed how desolate Daeanna had been.
David’s knee-jerk reaction was to pick up the phone and call his mother, ask if she had heard anything about the fire. Wouldn’t she have told him? He hadn’t given her much time, sure. But then, he told her he was going to pick her up. David fought the unexplained urge to be angry at her and picked up his phone.
Amantha had been packing a travel bag when the phone rang. She immediately thought of James, one of very few people who had her number and ran to the phone at the other side of her bed, nearly falling over the corner as she rounded it with clumsy speed. It wouldn’t be Marlin or Nikolas – they had other means of reaching her. It was James, or it was –
“Mom?” David said before Amantha even had time to speak.
“David,” she sighed, catching her breath has her heart pounded in her ears. “Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I just left Marissa’s house,” he said.
“Is she with you?”
“Her house was gone. It burned,” David said. “Did she call you? Did the Davenports call you?”
“No,” Amantha said, her heart pounding harder again. “Go. Get to Daeanna. Go now.”
“I’m on my way to the Davenports’,” he said defiantly. “I have to get Marissa. She’s okay. I think – I think I know she’s okay, Mom. How do I know that? I have so many questions.”
“I know you do,” she said. “If you think she’s okay, she is. Trust your gut. Let me go find her, and I’ll bring her to Daeanna.” Amantha knew this was futile.
“I can’t leave without her,” David said. “I really can’t. And I have to see her for myself to know she’s okay.”
“David, trust me to find her. It’s dangerous for you right now. Get to Daeanna with the others.”
“They’re alive,” David said. It was more a statement than a question, a reiteration of the strangeness of all that was happening around him and to him. “Jamie and Nora, they really are alive, aren’t they?”
“They are,” Amantha said. “Alive and well – and waiting for you, I presume.”
“I have to find her,” David said again, ready to hang up if Amantha tried to argue again. “I know you do,” she said. “But remember what’s in that box. It can help you.”
“You want me to knife somebody?” David asked, knowing there was more to the dagger than a sharp blade.
“You’ll know how to use it when you have to,” Amantha said. “But if Marissa is not there, you go. Get to Daeanna as fast as you can. Don’t stop, don’t sleep, just go. We’ll find Marissa.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” David asked, wondering if he wanted to know what the answer was.
“Friends,” she said. “We’ll find her if you don’t. Just do what your gut tells you to do, and I know it’s telling you to get to Daeanna.”
“It is,” he said. “I love you Mom.” David hung up.
Amantha pressed the receiver and held onto the phone for a moment. She closed her eyes and concentrated, allowed her mind’s eye to wander the Southern New England landscape. There were dozens of Shadows in the area, wandering in frenzy like ants on a kicked nest. Fortunately for her son, there were also dozens of Zenati.
Amantha released the receiver and dialed James’ house. He had to get out of St Thomas, maybe even South to St Croix. There were more places to hide there, a larger distance to maintain. Or perhaps he could buy a boat and stay at sea a while. Soon their attention would be focused elsewhere. Soon all the Shadows in the world would be ignoring everything while they searched for Daeanna.
While the phone rang in James’ empty house, he sat a few miles away in Red Hook, staring at Marlin Riley for a few moments before grinning and removing his feet from the stool across the table.
“Have a seat,” James said, and nodded his head at the bored, eager server. “What kind of beer do dead guys drink nowadays, Mr. Riley?”
Marlin shook his head. “What you need to understand, is that we had very good reasons for doing what we did.” His thick Southern drawl was refreshing to James. He hadn’t heard a Southern accent for years. His closest friend in prison (if you could call him that) had been from Jacksonville, Florida, and sounded very similar. James often thought about his friend and hoped he’d one day see him again.
“I would hope so,” James said slowly, trying to determine if Marlin Riley had an angle, or if this was just a visit. James doubted Jamie Riley’s supposedly dead father would pay a social visit to a convicted murderer. “Now I’m curious,” James said, “Does Mom know about you? You know, being alive?”
“What about Jamie and Nora?”
“Also alive,” Marlin sighed.
“I think I always suspected,” James said. “There were too many coincidences; it just seemed to me like you were all separating from each other. I thought you must have had some kind of falling out, but telling my brother that two of his friends had died? Did you also tell Jamie and Nora than David and Marissa were dead? Or do Jamie and Nora each thing the other’s dead too?”
Marlin ordered a beer and leaned forward toward James, arms crossed on the table. “They know each other. James, you deduced all this simply from seeing me. You were always the clever Easterly,” Marlin said, still grinning. “So you probably know by now that you’re in some serious trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?” James asked, still grinning but deadly serious. Someone had been after him, and he was certain it hadn’t been Marlin Riley.
“What happened to your brother Michael,” Marlin said slowly as James’ grin faded, “it’s about to happen to you.”
“And just what happened to Michael?” James asked, his fists clenching. He gritted his teeth after speaking his brother’s name, it was so painful. He was trying to conceal his distress, but it was plain to Marlin.
“It’s going to take a long time to explain,” he sighed.
“Well, you have until we finish our beers to explain,” James said, sitting up. He picked up his beer and downed it in just a few hard swallows. He signaled for another. “I thought I’d even the turf,” he said.
“I can’t explain everything here,” Marlin started, “it’s going to take-“
“I can leave right now,” James said, “and take care of these freaks myself. Explain, or I can down this beer right now and go. You and Mom have lied to me, and to my brother, and to those poor girls. You’ve seriously fucked with all our lives, there’s no question there. Explain.”
“We were trying to protect you,” Marlin said, “all of you.”
Marlin winced as pain shot across his temples, meeting at his crown and shot back down the back of his neck. His head throbbed. Marline ignored it. He was being summoned. The Zenati could wait, he thought.
“Protect us?” James asked, oblivious to Marlin’s pain. He had grown adept at concealing it. One never knew when they would be summoned, and others could not know it was happening. Although he supposed that before the day was over, James would know all too well what was happening.
“Yes,” Marlin said as a fresh beer was placed before James. “Like I said, it’s a long story. I’ll explain it to you on the plane.”
James laughed, then took another gulp of his beer. “Really now, a plane” James said, chuckling has he wiped his upper lip with his forearm.
“Really,” Marlin said. “David’s in danger as well. This is your chance to help him.”
“Help David,” James echoed as he leaned against the pole supporting the tin roof. “Tick tock. You haven’t told me shit yet, and I’m almost halfway through my beer.”
“You can help him, and he may live,” Marlin said, “or you can stay here and you’ll both probably die. Only for him it will be faster.”
James bolted upright. “Are you threatening us?” James said slowly, his brow creasing.
“No,” Marlin answered softly, “I’m the one who wants to help you.”
James stared at Marlin for a moment, and slowly picked up his beer mug. His eyes never leaving the man, James finished his beer. “Leave here,” James said as he started to get up, “whatever concoction you and Mom have cooked up, I don’t want anything to-“
“You didn’t kill Michael,” Marlin said in what appeared to be a constant calm.
James stopped, standing up and leaning over the table, his face inches from Marlin. Beads of sweat popped onto his skin, merged, and a single line ran down his face, dripping in Marlin’s beer.
“What did you just say?”
David reached the Davenport house, a stately home with four white columns supporting white ivy-covered gables. A Single lamp hung from the gables reminiscent of the White House.
The long gravel driveway encircled a fountain centered with the front door. David skidded to a halt in front of the entrance, and left his keys in the ignition and his car door open as he ran across the front porch, past the rocking chairs. Ignoring the doorbell and the imposing brass gargoyle knocker, he tried the handle – it was unlocked.
David hesitated, but then slowly pushed open the ten-foot high door.
He stepped inside the cavernous foyer and stared ahead at the double-spiral staircase. “Hello?” he called out. All he heard was the remainder of his echo.
David walked across the black and white checkered tiles and turned to his left to enter the living room. The television was on, but was muted. “Anybody here?” he called out, “Mr. and Mrs. Davenport? Marissa?”
There was only silence. Then, a delicate crunching sound emanated from the kitchen at the other side of the dining room. David’s footsteps on the plush carpet and then the parquet wood of the dining room were the only sounds beyond that of the soft crackling sound.
“Is somebody in there?” David called out, terrified of what he was about to see.
He walked past the china cabinet he and Marissa had once almost thrown to the floor in a wrestling match. He stepped past the piano Mrs. Davenport had taught him to play. He saw the Grandfather clock out the corner of his eye that he helped Mr. Davenport re-stain when he was still in high school. It had stopped ticking years before, and Mr. Davenport swore that one day he and David would find a way to make it work once more.
David had more happy memories in the Davenport house than his own. He loved his mother and loved her company, but the Davenports had been a family. That Marissa was adopted had been superfluous. That David was not their son was equally so. He may as well have been.
David reached the swinging door of the kitchen, and pressed his foot on the brass kick plate. He pushed it slowly open as he stepped inside to see what might await him.
Loki, Mrs. Davenport’s Himalayan Cat was devouring his food. This was the crunching sound. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a seemingly empty house, with the TV on was all that appeared to be here. The cat had been fed recently, his bowl was full. David knew that Loki didn’t wait around after feeding time, and it was about that time.
David sighed, and wondered if perhaps they were out back by the pool. He walked around the island and to the French Doors, which were half-open. He pushed them the rest of the way open and walked out onto the wooden deck.
There were empty wine glasses on the patio tables – nothing out of the ordinary. The water in the pool was still, glassy. There were no sounds in the yard. All David could hear was a few birds and the distant humming of the air conditioner.
“David?” a shaky, unfamiliar voice called out from behind him.
David startled, then turned. He hadn’t heard anyone approaching from behind, yet standing in the archway of the French Doors was a woman about their age, with a single straight long, red braid hanging over her shoulder nearly to her waist, and bright green eyes. He reminded her of Nora, so many years ago. But she was taller, more slender. She had abnormally long arms and fingers. Her cheeks were slightly sunken in, and her eyes were deep set beneath a sharp brow, giving her eyes an almost incandescent quality. Her voice was low, strong, resolute. He could hear that in just the calling of his name.
“Who are you? Where is everybody? Where’s Marissa?” David asked frantically.
“She’s on her way to Daeanna. I was to wait for you here.”
“Who are you?” David asked.
“My name is Rory,” she said. She didn’t offer her hand, and seemed as concerned with he about getting to Daeanna. I’m a friend. She wanted me to go with you, she said I’d be safe with you.”
“Why didn’t she wait?” David asked, instantly skeptical though unsure why.
“I don’t know,” Rory shrugged, “she said you’d understand why she couldn’t wait.”
David admitted there was some part of that that made a little sense. He didn’t want to wait either. “Why didn’t she answer her phone?” David asked.
“She told me you would try to call her. She said people were listening, that it was too late.”
David stared at the woman, and after a few moments knew what he had to do. “Okay,” David said. “Let’s go though, we don’t have much time.”
Rory followed David through the dining room and into the living room. David caught something out the corner of his eye that he had missed before.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Rory said as they made their way to the front door. “They called me and said they had to go, to wait for you, and you would know where Daeanna was. They said you’d have a map.”
“I do,” David said as he walked out the front door. She followed him, and didn’t close it. David took note.
David reached his car, and walked around to the passenger’s side. He stopped before getting in. “You don’t have anything?” he asked, “A purse? A bag? Anything?”
“Marissa has all of it,” Rory said, “let’s go now, we don’t have much time.”
David stared at the woman, at her eyes that seemed to breathe apart from her chest. “The door’s unlocked,” David said as he sat in his seat.
“Of course,” she laughed, and tried the door. As soon as she discovered it was locked, David was pressing the gas pedal and was soon kicking gravel in her face.
As David accelerated down the driveway his engine growled, but couldn’t drown out the blood-boiling, horrifying scream that filled the air around him. It was the sound of pure fury unleashed. This thing, whatever it had been, would have killed him.
Somehow, he knew Marissa was still out there, somewhere.
Southeastern South Carolina
Sam Quinn knelt on the kitchen floor in front of the sink. Defeated by the leaky pipe, he peeled off his rubber gloves and tossed them into the pool of water on the kitchen floor. Patricia had given him money for such occasions, but asked that he at least try to make repairs around the house on his own before calling in a stranger.
Of course, now that she had died, he wondered if his new boss would feel the same way. He wanted to go to the funeral, but she asked that he not. She told him repeatedly that her daughter would be by to see him shortly after the funeral. Thinking she may be there at any moment, he decided he would clean up the mess and call a plumber. He wanted the house to be in perfect condition for her arrival, and presumed inspection.
Over five years Sam developed a cleaning routine. He would start at the West Wing on Sunday and work his way around to the South Wing by Saturday. On Wednesdays he would tend to the garden and on Thursdays he would do whatever odd jobs were remaining. It was amazing to him how a dusty a place could get simply by being there.
Sam never knew what he was getting himself into by accepting the job. He had dropped out of high school, ran away from his last foster home and was washing dishes in a roadside diner in Montana when Patricia Riley became a regular. She went out of her way to get to know him. She began helping him with bills as they became closer friends, though he knew very little about her.
All Sam knew about her was that she was separated from her husband and she raised her daughter alone in South Carolina. She said she’d been coming to Montana on business two to three times a month, but never elaborated on that business. Instead, she served as his sounding board and therapist. She would wait for him in the parking lot after work and take him home (previously he’d walked two miles every day) and would constantly offer to cook his dinner, help him get his apartment in order, or anything else he might need. By all accounts, Patricia had been the first friend he’d ever had.
So when she offered for him to come live at Daeanna, he couldn’t refuse. She offered quadruple what he was making at the diner, as well as room, board, money for education and freedom from bills. He thought it was too good to be true, until he saw the place.
Patricia drove the two of them to South Carolina. Two hours passed after they left the interstate and drove down a lonely marsh-bordered highway. It seemed all there was on that side of the state were live oaks, Spanish Moss, and miles of unspoiled wetlands.
Eventually she turned off the highway and onto a lonely road – pavement was cracking up and after twenty minutes or so they were driving on a dirt road. At street level, the black water on either side threatened to swallow the path at any moment.
Then the woods cleared and he found himself on an earthen bridge that seemed to go for a mile through the marsh before emptying onto a wooded island. They drove down a winding road, (now paved) through the woods until they emerged in a clearing.
Standing at the edge of a perfectly manicured grassy field dotted with live oaks, was a mansion. On one side of the mansion was a larger expanse of marsh, and a thin line of trees in the far distance. On the other was a line of dense woods. The expansive house was made from brick, with oversized shutters lining rows of oversized windows on three stories. Under the lower level piazza was a series of brick arches leading to small doors. Two sets of steps arched around to the columned piazza, and on the roof was a series of gabled stained glass windows – three on either side.
As they drew closer, Sam could see another wing of the house to the left, extending deeper than the front was wide. He couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping. “You want me to take care of this?” he had asked, wondering where even to start. At first glance it appeared very well taken care-of.
“Welcome to Daeanna,” Patricia laughed. “Don’t worry, you have help. I’ll walk you through the routine that has worked for past caretakers after I show you around. You don’t have to start right away. Take a week or so to become familiarized with the place.”
That night Patricia cooked dinner. They were joined by four others, who Patricia simply identified as friends of the family. She told Sam that he might see them around the house from time to time, and not to be alarmed. Apparently they acted as some sort of security. Though why anyone would bother driving that far out into the known universe to rob a place and expect a “clean getaway” was beyond him. He would be amazed if anyone who didn’t know it was there could even find it.
Patricia stayed at Daeanna for the next few days, showing him where everything was kept, taking him to the nearest supermarket (an hour away) and pointing out the flaws of the house – things he should watch out for. On the list was faulty plumbing, the tendency for the power to go out during the mildest of storms, and the list of people to expect to see on the grounds.
Sam began noticing a few idiosyncrasies around the house. It appeared to have been built in stages. The bottom floor was of a completely different style than the main floor. It was rustic, simple, compared to the upper two floors. The third floor was also different, almost art deco in appearance, and the attic level – while finished – appeared to be of recent, modern design.
The lowest level was built from stone. The main level was made from brown brick, and the upper two were red brick with plaster. The outside of the house had been redone in the same brick, though Sam suspected this outer shell had been done relatively recently, maybe in the past twenty years of so, it looked so new.
And then there was the door. On the bottom floor, at the back of the wine cellar, was a heavy oak door. He had been taking an inventory of the wine one afternoon after his third week in Daeanna when he stumbled across it. There had been an old blanket hanging over it, and thinking there was another rack in what appeared to be an alcove, Sam pulled the blanket down.
The door was solid – no design, just a flat piece of wood with a wooden handle. Just as he placed his hand on it and pulled, (it didn’t budge), Patricia startled him from behind.
“It’s locked,” she said coarsely. “Best to cover it and continue with your inventory,” she continued, and turned to leave. Sam had never heard her enter the room. How long had she been there?
“What is it?” Sam asked as Patricia turned away.
She never turned back to face him, but stopped, and said simply: “It’s locked. Best to leave that alone for now,” and she walked back up the creaky steps – which had made no sound when she came in.
A few weeks after Patricia left, Sam was weeding around the side of the house, thinking of the door. He would feel ungrateful for what had been given him if he went against her one rule, a rule he wouldn’t have known about had he not discovered the passage. But he had been instantly curious. As was his nature, if someone had ever told him not to do something, it was the first thing he did.
She had used the words “for now,” so he decided he would revisit the place at a later date, with her permission.
And why did he care about her permission? He thought as he weeded. When had he ever respected a boss to that level? He hadn’t. He did his job and minded his own business, but Sam had always considered rules as a tool for people who couldn’t use common sense.
And yet, here he was, afraid of disrespecting his boss. Of course it was a boss who gave him a nice salary, money for college (if he decided to use it), as well as a roof over his head – maybe that’s what it was, he had thought. He had never experienced loyalty before then, and didn’t have a frame of reference. He was becoming loyal to Patricia.
Sam continued to pull the weeds, and realized he was on the other side of the wine cellar. He looked toward the front of the house – it appeared to be the depth of the room. He then looked the other way. There was at least another hundred feet before the end of the wing. He thought that whatever this door lead to, if it were a single room, must have been enormous.
Sam never removed the blanket. In five years, he only ever saw Patricia a handful of times, when she seemed to be coming to Daeanna simply to relax. She would sit on the veranda and read, or meditate in the courtyard in the right angle of the wings, overlooking the marsh. She would usually cook him dinner once, and on one or two occasions ask that he cook for her. She seemed to dote on him, frequently asking when and if he was planning to go to school – which he finally did, online, with a laptop Patricia bought him for Christmas.
It was an accredited school, and he could continue to watch the house while he earned a degree. Patricia would call often to find out how he had been doing. If she thought of him as a son, he was certainly beginning to think of her as a mother.
After five years, a degree, and Daeanna in better shape than it had been in decades, Sam still had no inclination of leaving. Daeanna was his home, and as long as Patricia would have him, it always would be. His rebelliousness had given way to responsibility. His restlessness had given way to the peacefulness that came with living in such a beautiful and remote setting. He had grown to be friends with the “security” as Patricia referred to them, and would even go out to town and have drinks with them, from time to time. Though they never discussed work, or what they did, they proved to be good companions.
Sam had grown so accustomed to being alone, he often wondered if the reason why he had never developed any lasting relationships was that alone was how he was meant to be. He had been completely at peace with that.
But when Patricia visited after five years and informed him she had less than six months to live, “alone” took on a new meaning. He cried in her arms that night as she explained that he would soon be in his daughter’s employ, and that he need not worry about his job. She begged him not to come to the funeral, though never told him why.
She died leaving Sam with more questions than answers. He thought about her as he sat in the pool of water on the kitchen floor. He sighed. The doorbell rang. In over five years, Sam had never heard the door bell. The security would simply come in whenever they wished, as would Patricia.
It was an older bell, and sounded as if it were made of brass. It rang a single chime that echoed through the old house. The ringing of the bell was like a welcome alarm clock, a chime that seemed to almost awaken the house. The chime reverberated through the walls and seemed to fill the rooms.
Something about this arrival was different. Something was new here.
Sam walked past the dining room table and into the foyer. He peered through the window on the side of the front door. A man in a black suit was standing, facing forward. He was holding an envelope. Sam saw Simon, one of the “security guards” at the bottom of the steps. Sam had never seen these security men in action, but he was sure that if the man at the door were a threat, he wouldn’t be standing there. He wouldn’t have made it to the front door. But there was a matter of importance to this visit, he could feel it.
Sam opened the door slowly. There was a tall, thin man with olive skin and a black suit before him. White shirt, black tie, bald, he looked like the quintessential man in black. Whoever this guy was, he appeared to radiate mystery. Something told Sam he was supposed to.
The man did not smile, and did not take his eyes off Sam as he extended his arm and handed Sam the envelope. Sam took it. The man nodded, and turned away, walking back down the steps, not even acknowledging Simon as he brushed past. The man in black got into his black sedan and drove away.
Sam looked at Simon, who was regarding him with a kind of sadness.
“It’s started then,” Simon sighed.
David drove past the dirt road leading to Marissa’s house and pulled over. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she was still nearby, somewhere, and she was okay – for now. He picked up his phone and dialed his mother’s number.
“David?” she picked up almost immediately. “Are you with Marissa?”
“No,” David said. He told her about his encounter with the woman at the Davenports’, and the horrific scream that had haunted him afterward.
“Go now David. Go,” she said. “We’ll take care of this, and we’ll get Marissa.”
“You don’t even know where she is,” David protested, “How can you?”
“Was her car there?” Amantha asked. “Did you see it in the side garage?”
“I didn’t notice,” David said. “I should have looked. But I did notice her purse in the living room. She wouldn’t have left it.”
“Then she’s probably still in the house somewhere, or at least nearby,” Amantha said. “Let me take care of this.” Amantha knew that if anyone could hide from that creature it was Marissa. If the Davenports remembered the one instruction she had ever given them, then Marissa was safe, at least for the time being.
“I got the impression, somehow, that she was close,” David said, almost under his breath. “I need to go back. I need to get her,” he said. “Who knows how long she has?”
Before Amantha could argue, David hung up and turned around. This time he would park in the woods. As he drove, he remembered seeing her in his mind’s eye, at a desk in her childhood bedroom, looking out the window. Had this been right before any of this happened? She hadn’t seemed afraid. Didn’t she know her house was burning to the ground? Why hadn’t she called him?
David careened back up the country road, past apple orchards and dairy farms, through the woods, past more fields. Why did they all have to live so far away from everyone?
As he approached the woods surrounding the property, David slowly turned onto the road leading to the Davenport manse. He pulled off the main road and onto an access road that lead to a tool shed, and parked his car. As he got out, he turned to the black box on the passenger’s seat and picked it up.
As David opened the box, he could feel it vibrating for him. He was as if it were beckoning him. He carefully removed the cloth and wrapped his hand slowly around the hilt. The flood of visions returned. He saw Jamie and Nora in a living room somewhere, opening a cardboard box. Then there was the man his own age in the house. He was receiving a letter from a man in a black suit, as David had hours earlier. And then he saw Marissa.
It was dark where Marissa was hiding. She was in the house. She was in the attic, beneath a pile of old clothes. She was wearing something around her neck, something that made her feel safe – in fact, it was making her safe. It was somehow responsible for the red-headed creature not to know where she was. Somehow, that thing around her neck was protecting her far better than the old clothes.
David took the dagger out of the box and slowly opened the car door. He stepped out gingerly, and carefully pushed the door closed. Images of the others floated in and out of his mind, He tried to block it out, tried as hard as he could to focus on the there and then.
He could see the outline of the house through the thick woods, and took each step as carefully as possible to as to disturb as few leaves and branches as he could. Each time the wind blew he would take a few more steps in the camouflaging rustle of the foliage.
As he neared closer to the house he saw the red-headed woman standing on the front porch, talking to someone else. He could barely make out their voices, but a memory returned to him. The red head - and the man to which she was speaking – were not new to him.
There was a quality about the other stranger that brought those memories back to the surface. He was dark, appearing as if a shadow were covering his face. If you looked away from him you could almost make out his features, the details of his clothing, but if you looked right at him he almost resembled a shadow. It was an unsettling visage. And the red-headed woman – she hadn’t aged much, if at all, but that was her. She was there the day his little brother had been murdered. They hadn’t been hallucinations. They had been there. They had something to do with it all – Michael’s murder, James’ disappearance, and David’s vision. He had forgotten all about what he had seen that night until that moment.
David fought his rage and instead tried to think of a way into the house, or a way to let Marissa know he was there. She hadn’t answered her phone because it had been in her purse, or somewhere else. She had hidden quickly. And where were the Davenports?
David knew that he could make his way around to the back of the house. The woods came right up to the brick fence that surrounded the back yard. If he could get into the back he might be able to make his way to the den and up the stairs that lead to the end of the hallway near the attic entrance.
It would be easier, he thought, if he could somehow reach her. He remembered the sensation he’d had when he first picked up the knife, that somehow the others were aware of him as well. He felt it as sure as he could see them. He wondered if they never realized it because they weren’t looking for it.
David realized he had to at least try. He closed his eyes and squeezed the knife. He thought of Marissa only. He thought if her hair, her face, her sense of humor, the way she carried herself. David felt as if what he was doing was coming as natural to him as breathing. In his mind, he called her.
She was in the house, in a closet. He could almost see her, smell her. She was scared, but somewhat confident in her safety. She knew he was close, and that he was – doing something stupid?
David’s eyes opened as he was ripped back out of the place within himself he had just discovered. David was paralyzed with fear. It was that palpable fear he had experienced so many years earlier. He was helpless against it.
“Well,” the redheaded woman laughed. “I guess you didn’t believe me before, so I’ll cut through the bullshit for both our sakes. Let’s go inside, Zenati,” she seemed to spit the last word. “Let’s have ourselves a talk, huh?”
Three more men emerged from the woods, three more Shadows that seemed to be taking delight in David’s fear. In fact, he was pretty certain they were feeding on it.
As the sun set above St. Thomas, Marlin sat across from James in his living room.
“Took his own life,” James shook his head as he repeated what he must have repeated dozens of times. James somehow believed it was true. It had been the only thing that made sense. And yet the knife had been in his hand. Michael’s blood had been on his hands.
“It was a trap,” Marlin had told him earlier that afternoon at Duffy’s. “You remembered the others. David remembered them too. They were no hallucination. And how could they be? You each ate part of a portabella mushroom, not a hallucinogenic one.”
“Why?” James had asked. “Why would he kill himself, and why would they want the blame to fall on me?”
“So many reasons,” Marlin told him. “Michael was changing, turning into something else. He knew it, and acted before it could happen. He had likely suspected the change was happening for months, if not years. That woman – her name is Roia – and those creatures she was with are called Shadows. They knew that such an act might spur the same change in you and your brother.”
“What change is that?” James had asked, “What is this creature we’ll turn into?”
“Let me come back to your house tonight,” Marlin said. “Let me introduce you to these creatures. They’ve been stalking you, trying to bring on the change. I can feel it in you as well. It’s already started.”
James laughed. “Has it now.”
“You’ve felt it,” Marlin said. “You know it’s coming, and you have an inkling of what it is. You inherited it from your father. You are the only one of your brothers who remembers him. Remember that fear? Do you remember that terror that he seemed to radiate?”
James pushed the memory from his mind. “I was four,” he said. “I don’t know what I felt, what I saw.”
“How many events in your life,” Marlin began, “are you going to chalk up to ‘I just don’t know’ before you face what’s happening?”
James saw Marlin’s logic. And he was beginning to think this was the only way he could answer the questions that had been simmering in his mind for so many years.
“Fine,” James said. “Come back to my house. They don’t come every night though.”
“Oh,” Marlin had said. “They will tonight.”
And now James and Marlin were back at his house, waiting for dark. James kept recounting the story over and over as Marlin had told it. One question still remained though. James had been afraid to ask it, partly because he feared the answer, and partly because he thought the logic in this story would fall apart. He was beginning to want to believe it. It started pulling together so many missing pieces, that he almost needed it to be true.
“How do you know all this?” James asked.
Marlin laughed. “I wondered why you hadn’t asked me that. I was there, James. I was supposed to watch you that night, in case the Shadows found you. I killed two of them. The rest escaped.
“But I could see the one with her, the one you said was called Roia,” James said.
“ Roia isn’t a Shadow. I ‘m not sure what you would call her, but she’s not a Shadow. “ Marlin seemed to stare off into space for a moment. “She’s not just a Seed, either,” he said and then met James’ eyes again.
“That word,” James said. “I’ve heard it before. That night, in the woods. The Shadows, as you call them, they used that word: Seed.”
“It’s what you are,” Marlin said slowly.
“A Seed,” Marlin began again after a moment,” is a son or daughter, or descendant of Bracchus, in his human form.”
“Bracchus?” James asked.
“The Beast,” Marlin said. “He is the reason people like me exist. He is an enemy trapped in another world, by our ancestors. Only he found a way in. He has divided himself, reproduced with certain people who are able to travel between our worlds. He has divided his consciousness. Though it weakens him in that world, he grows stronger here. Those children are Seeds. As they awaken to the seed of his consciousness within, they become very powerful. That tiny aspect of Bracchus grows and devours the soul of the human side as it awakens. The Seed becomes a small version of Bracchus. And when it dies, that consciousness rejoins the strongest Seed closest to it.
“Think of Bracchus as a large piece of clay. It won’t fit through any of the holes in say, a wire mesh net, or a strainer – but if you break it apart, you can fit it through piece by piece and rejoin it on the other side.”
James leaned back in his chair and chortled. “I wanted to believe you until you spouted that crock of shit,” he said. “So, I’m a son of Bracchus?”
“Actually,” Marlin said, “I think you’re a third generation, though we’re not sure. It’s hard to tell. As the generations pass, Bracchus becomes weaker, in some as his potency is lessened, in some he grows stronger with each generation. Even if a Seed spends its lifespan never awakening in its human host, that part of him still rejoins the rest when they die.”
“Humoring you,” James smiled, “what’s a Shaodw?”
“The real name for these creatures is the Auroch’Mir,” Marlin said. “Prior to the Shadows, they were Bracchus’ only means of affecting this world. Although they don’t carry a Seed of his essence, they do carry a tiny fraction of his power. They start as normal human beings, and we don’t know how the process works – but a Shadow, or usually multiple Shadows have to be nearby. We think Seeds can spawn them as well. A piece of the purest human consciousness, that undeveloped, banal, primeval side, begins to grow. It eats away at the person’s soul much in the same way a Seed awakens. They physically change, no longer requiring traditional sustenance to live, only fear. They live only to serve Bracchus and his Seeds.” Marlin stopped for a moment, sighed, and continued. “They don’t often reproduce, and when they do, the children usually die of neglect or physical absuse. This is why more are needed all the time. As I said, we don’t know how they come about. But they’re incapable of compassion, mercy or restraint. They’re the foot soldiers of Bracchus. They are why the Zenati exist.”
James got up from his seat and walked to the refrigerator. “Tell me more,” he said as he withdrew a beer. “This is getting good,” he laughed as he opened it. “Want one?”
Marlin shook his head, and continued. He knew part of James believed him, but his logic was preventing him from fully accepting what to him probably sounded preposterous. “The Zenati have been in existence as long as the Shadows. We are given gifts at birth. These gifts are designed to negate the Shadow within people. Once the Shadow is gone, the bodies, depending on how long they’ve been affected, usually perish immediately. If they don’t, in most cases what’s left is a shell, incapable of caring for itself. It’s usually more humane just to kill them.”
“So you’re a Zenati,” James nodded, “And so is Mom I suppose?”
Marlin nodded. “We thought it might save you boys, the Zenati blood. She was raped by a Seed, a very powerful one. She was held captive by Bracchus himself for several years. It was during that time she met my wife, and introduced me. And she was Shadow. She was the only Shadow we know of ever to return.”
“So Jamie Riley,” James smiled, “is a Zenati by birth– and she’s half Shadow? David and I, we’re also Zenati. And Seed. Oh Dear God, could this get any more convoluted?” He laughed. “I need a flow chart or something.”
Marlin stared at James for a moment, then nodded. “There’s more. There’s so much more. But our guests have arrived,” he said. “We’ll test your sarcasm again after this is over.”
Sam paced from one end of the second-level piazza to the other. The sun was setting behind the trees, and it was getting dark fast. He held the letter in his hands, occasionally glancing down at it to see if it was still there, if all this was really happening. Simon was waiting for him downstairs, told him when he was ready to talk, he’d be there for him.
What scared Sam the most was not what was in the letter, but that he believed it.
Patricia waited until he was ready, then befriended him. She waited for the right time to offer him the job, then brought him down here, to Daeanna. Why so early? She said it had been to protect him, and to offer him a better life. All this time, he was simply in waiting for the other four.
Michael thought about his sister, a woman he never knew existed. He thought about her privileged upbringing, and about his series of foster homes. Patricia told him he had been given to good people to raise him, as had Marissa, but that they had died when he was still an infant.
Apparently she would have brought him there sooner, but someone named Nikolas –a sorcerer is how she had described him – forbade it. He said it would risk bringing unwanted attention to the house, though eventually she and her husband went against his wishes.
Michael had fought it at first, dismissed it as the ramblings of a woman with a brain tumor. But part of him didn’t think he could ignore it. She had known things about him, about his past, that she couldn’t know. She knew things no one else knew, things he hadn’t even told her during their most in-depth conversations over the years. But she had always known his secrets.
And this letter lent a sort of twisted logic to his secrets. Above it all, he had a sister! He had a twin sister! He had suspected he was a sibling, suspected he had someone else out there, more family, but never had an inclination to find them. He had always dismissed any family he had as nothing more than shared blood. Patricia had been the first family he knew.
And now he found out that she carried him in her arms as an infant. She had tried to adopt him herself, but they were afraid of his being too close to Jamie, that they might have an “undesirable effect on each other by way of proximity” as she described it. She said the rest of his answers were there, in the house – the house he’d lived in and taken care of for over five years. He knew every nook and cranny of the house, except –
Sam ran back into the house, through the upper-level sitting room, down the hallway and nearly tripped over himself running down the stairs. Simon stood up as he entered the parlor.
“Where are you going?” Simon asked as Sam sprinted down the hallway to the stair leading to the cellar.
“To find proof,” Sam called out.
Simon ran after him. No one but Patricia had opened the door to the Keep in years. Simon didn’t even know if it was there. It wasn’t always there. He hurried after Sam.
Sam reached the blanketed wall at the end of the last row of wine bottles and stared at it a moment as Simon reached him and looked over his shoulder. Sam pulled the blanket off the wall, and stared at the solid oak door.
“Go ahead,” Simon said, “it’s yours, after all.”
Sam turned to face the man. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what Patricia told you in the letter,” Simon said as he pointed to the envelope, “but you’ll have to know soon enough. This house, and everything in it, was built for you and for the other four. It was built to house what’s beyond this door. It’s called the Keep.”
Sam didn’t hesitate and pulled the door open. He pulled hard, expecting resistance, but when there was done he was propelled backwards into Sam, who caught him. Sam regained his balance and peered into the black space. It was completely devoid of light.
“Is there a lamp or something in there?” Sam asked, his gaze fixed on the blackness ahead of him.
“Just walk in,” Simon said as he nudged Sam gently on the back of the shoulder. “It knows when a Zenati or – someone like you – enters.”
That was the first time Sam had heard that word, Zenati. Patricia hadn’t mentioned it in her letter. “Someone like me?” he asked.
Simon chuckled, and nudged him again. “Just walk in,” he said.
Sam stepped over the threshold, and a gold glow filled the cavernous space. He was standing at the top of a set of stairs. Ahead of him were rows upon rows of books, at least fifteen across, lining the length of the west wing of the house. In the middle was a round table. The rows of shelves stopped and started in a pattern that revealed a circle. The table fit perfectly in the middle. There were five chairs around the table, and a strange-looking object in the middle.
The object was a brass or gold globe. From the top of the object emerged four gold hands, palms up, as if they were meant to hold something. Each palm was outstretched between two chairs. The alignment was perfect.
Glyphs were carved into the three walls. The walls themselves appeared to be wooden, though he couldn’t be sure. The pictures appeared to tell a story. On the wall to the left, he saw as he descended the staircase, were representations of the ground and sky, and naked people around a fire.
The next picture showed giant people in the clouds, pointing fingers and yelling at the primitives below. The primitives were yelling back, it appeared.
The next picture showed the people in chains. They were tilling fields, and in the next picture building houses. For the last two pictures one of the giants in the sky seemed to be chiding the others. He thought it might be a female giant. Straight ahead, on the far wall, there were three pictures. The first one on the left appeared to show the giantess was pointing fingers at the slaves. Their shackles were breaking.
The middle picture had a red line drawn through the center. On one side were the giants, and the slaves. On the other were a few of the slaves, now without shackles, and the giantess, who was now on the ground rather than in the sky. The picture to the right of it showed the slaves and the giants trying to break through.
Sam glanced to the wall on the right as he reached the bottom of the steps. Each picture was now divided by the line in the middle. The next carving depicted the giants on one side leaving, except for one, who pressed his face against the line. The giantess on the other side did the same. It was as if they were kissing, or getting ready to brawl through the line, he couldn’t tell.
The next picture showed the people on the right side of the barrier growing larger. Those on the left were at war with each other, some growing larger some not. The next carving seemed to show the giantess shrinking. There were smaller giant versions of the remaining one making their way to the other side.
The last carving on the left showed the line between pictures dissolving as the remaining giant and the people on both sides going to war. Sam turned around and saw the back ball. Five figures were carved into it. There were three female figures, and two males. Each was holding in both hands what appeared to be parts of the red lines that had divided the second half of the pictures. And they resembled the giants from the first picture.
“Meant for the five of you,” Simon sighed. “It’s been waiting for you a long time.”
As Sam stepped into the room and faced forward a breeze flew passed him. It was as if the house itself were exhaling in relief.
Sam stared at the central row of books and the table beyond. “What are all these books?” he asked as he made his way toward the center of the Keep.
“Everything you ever wanted to know and more,” Simon said as he followed Sam, “about Zenati, Shadows, Seeds, the Amala, the Evanesca, Bracchus, Daeanna, and the five of you.”
“You’ll have to repeat what you just said sometime,” Sam said as he gazed in awe of the books upon books upon books. Some were bound in leather, others with what looked like dried weeds. In between the books were stacks of scrolls. “No one could ever read all this,” Sam said as he reverted his attention to the table at the end of the aisle.
“You probably won’t have to,” Simon answered, “the most important volume will be here soon. Jamie and Nora will bring it with them.”
Sam stopped and turned to Simon. “You knew about all this? All these years, you knew.”
“I was forbidden to tell you,” he said. “If Nikolas had his way you’d never know. I would have been bound by duty to stop Patricia had I known before it was too late. The five of you were never to meet. The Zenati council decreed it years ago. But I was loyal to Patricia, so who knows what I would have done. She was the dedicated steward of the house. I am a Zenati Guard, sworn to protect it. And Patricia was my friend.”
“Why are we meeting now?” Sam asked beginning to finally accept that what he had discovered that day was truth.
“Patricia started a chain reaction,” Simon began, “that would only end in either the five of you finally meeting, or all of you dying. She reversed the decision made to keep you apart. We don’t know why.”
“Why were we kept apart?” Sam asked.
“To avoid Daeanna’s prophesy,” Simon said after a moment’s hesitation. “It states that when the five of you are born, you will bring war.”
“The house made a prophesy?” Sam asked, glancing once more at the carvings above.
“No,” Simon laughed. “The house was named after Daeanna. She was our savior. She created the Zenati, and the line of sorcerers, the first of whom helped her to create the Thread, along with a few others Daeanna endowed with certain traits to make the spell possible. The Thread is what divides our world from the Enemy. It was a doorway opened to a new place, a new possibility, if you will. The door was created in such a way as to keep Bracchus and those like him out. The Zenati are this world’s guardians.”
“And what of us?” Sam asked, “What of me, and those who, as you say, are like me?”
Simon continued toward the center of the room, and Sam followed him, enrapt. He was accepting it, though he didn’t know why. Somehow it all made sense of everything. This had been why he had never settled anywhere. This was what he was waiting for.
“You,” Simon said as they entered the clearing and gestured to the chairs around the table, “are the direct descendents of the five who created the Thread. The Thread is, for lack of a better word, a spell. These spells – we call them Genna, are living things in and of themselves. And like all living things, they eventually die. The five of you have it in you to recreate it.
“This particular Genna, the Hekta Thread, is not only the doorway between our worlds, it’s what keeps them both separate and together. They don’t collide into each other, and they don’t drift apart. Travel between the worlds is possible for some, by way of Shinva – naturally-occuring weak points in the Thread.”
“Is this room a Shinva?” Sam asked as he ran his fingers across the wooden table.
“No,” Simon shook his head, “this room exists within the Thread itself. While in here, you are neither in this world or the other. The house above you though – that is built around a Shinva.
“Shinva are veritable springs of power. You see, the power, or Gen, from the old world, and there was much of it – was dammed off by the Thread. In this world humanity was to incubate, evolve, and when it was ready, rejoin the old world and rid it of Bracchus and his ilk.”
Sam grew dizzy, He wasn’t sure if it was everything he was hearing, or if it was something in the room itself. He felt his fingers and toes tingle. He felt the hair on the back of his neck, then all over his body stand on end. Before he could hold onto something, he collapsed on the stone floor of the Keep.
“I thought this might happen,” Simon sighed as he reached down to pick up his friend and bring him back upstairs. “It was too much for me the first time I came in here,” he said as he carried Sam back through the library. “For someone like you, I’m surprised it didn’t knock you out sooner.”
The Keep was practically made of Gen. No one could even cross the threshold without some trace of Gen inside them. Once they were inside, that Gen was multiplied several times over. This was partly why Simon wanted to fill in some of the details while in the Keep. Had Sam not diced to go down there of his own volition, Simon would have brought him there if he refused to accept the truth.
One Zenati trait was the ability to hear truth and pick out lies. Sam was Amala, and while they were said to possess absolutely no Gen in their blood, Sam and his twin Sister were descended from the original Amala, the first Chara. He was a powerful man, the only Chara ever to be born with the ability to manipulate Gen.
Simon and a few others suspected that rather than dissolve, the power was handed down directly through generations of powerless Amala, and blossomed in the twins. Daeanna’s prophesy, after all, was reported to have been named “Root to Flower.”
Prophesy also stated that before the twins mentioned, no other twins would be born of Amala, before or after. This was how they would be known to the sorcerer. This was how Nikolas had found them.
Once at the top of the steps, Simon took Sam to the parlor and placed him on the chez lounge. He sighed, and decided it was time to await the others.
David felt as if someone were trying to peer into his darkest thoughts, as if some unwelcome visitor was determined to force its way into his brain. As the red-headed creature questioned him verbally, she seemed to be trying to invade his very being.
“Marissa is here in this house, isn’t she?” the tall woman asked as she paced in front of David, who was sitting at the dining room table. One of the shadow-men were at the entrance to the kitchen, the other at the entrance to the living room. The sun had set, and the only light in the room was coming from the glow of the television in the living room.
Even if David was able to move of his own volition, he would likely not have made it past either one. The terror-weight they seemed to produce would weaken him to collapse before he even left the room.
“I really don’t know the answer to that,” David said as he stared forward. He didn’t want to look at the woman head on – the memories of that night Michael died flooded in every time he did so.
“I’ll know if you’re lying to me,” she said as she continued to pace the length of the dining room table, arms crossed. Could it really be that he was telling the truth? She didn’t sense deception. He could be evading the answer she thought, so she tried a new approach as she stopped immediately across from him. He turned his head away as she asked her next question. “Is she nearby?”
“I think so,” David sighed. He knew in his heart that she was correct. Like his mother, she would know immediately if he were lying, and if she had no use for him she would simply kill him – it was apparent she was after Marissa. He decided it must be she who set fire to the house. He wondered what became of the Davenports.
“You sense her nearby,” the woman said, nodding, as she placed her hands on the table and leaned in closer. “But it occurs to me now,” she said, turning her head to the side, “that you have no idea how you know this. I sense anxiety, David Easterly. And it’s not the kind coming from my Auroch’Mir.” The woman stood straight up and laughed. “Do you know who I am?”
“In my experience,” David said as he mustered the courage to look into the woman’s piercing green eyes, “when somebody feels the need to underline their own importance – it’s usually because they feel that importance is threatened, either in perception or reality.” David was doing what he always did, a comfort in the face of fear – he was trying to impose order on the conversation. He was stepping outside himself in defense and examining the situation.
“I’m Roia,” she said, “surely you’ve heard of me?”
“I’ve seen you before,” David sighed. “But no, I have never heard of you.”
Roia’s green eyes widened to near perfect circles. There was something about her face that was almost inhuman, David thought. She was either less than human or more so, or something entirely new. But David had never seen anyone quite like her. She was almost unnaturally tall, her cheeks sunken in and her brow deep. But her eyes, the muscles around them, they seemed to move a little more than that of most people. It was as if she had control of facial muscles no one else had. Her legs were a little too long, her breasts small for her frame. She was a genetic aberration, he thought.
There it is again.
David felt something push at him on the inside. Something or someone was trying to reach him, and it was coming from the general direction of Roia. What was she doing? It was as if she were poking and prodding at the walls of his soul.
“I can’t believe a Zenati, a son of a High Zenati, has not heard of Roia,” she laughed.
“Then you have me mistaken for somebody else,” David said. “My Dad is dead, and the only council Mom has ever been on is the PTA.” David thought there may be some semblance of truth to Roia’s words. He was learning more about his family by the minute.
Roia laughed again, a deep, hearty laugh that filled the room. “They kept you in the dark,” she said as she paced. “They kept all of you in the dark. And David – Amantha has never been one to join the PTA, I assure you.”
David was suddenly aware that the fear was having less of an effect on him. He turned to the shadow-man by the door, and realized he was looking right at him. He was clearer than he had ever been. It was still there, but he felt as if he were becoming immune to it. It was – speaking – to something deep inside him, and that thing was responding. Was it some kind of immune response? Was it yet another aspect of himself his mother kept from him?
Roia continued to chuckle as she paced. She stopped near the end of the table and ran her unusually long, slender fingers along the back of a chair, like a snake in a tree. “Do you know how prophesy works, David?” she asked, looking up from the table and facing him.
David returned her gaze, somehow more confident. “I really don’t know what you’re asking me,” he said coolly.
“No,” she said, looking back down to the table and snaking around to his side. “You wouldn’t, would you? David,” she continued, making her way toward him, “a wise man – an ancestor of yours, of sorts, actually – once referred to prophesy as a possibility vacuum. A prophesy itself is not just a foretelling of a future event,” she said as she stopped a few feet from him, and turned back. “A prophesy is a Genna. Now, you don’t know what that is either, do you?” Roia didn’t give David a chance to answer. “It’s what you might call a spell. You see, a prophesy is like a keyhole. Once it’s created, it requires a key. The keyhole is the possibility vacuum, the key is the action that completes it. Once the keyhole is created – and it takes someone immensely powerful to do this – the key must fit into it. It’s a vacuum, and it requires the correct key, you see? It will not cease to be until the key unlocks it. The possibility requires the action.”
Roia made her way to the other side of the table, across from David again. “Somehow, the council found a way to block the keyhole. But something occurred, something recent,” she said as she again paced to the opposite side of the table near the entrance to the living room. “Something unblocked it. A chain of events was initiated, that had to run its course.” To David this seemed to be a conclusion she was coming to as she was speaking. “Once those events began, all of you began converging on Daeanna – because prophesy dictates that’s where you need to be. You should have been there long ago, but Bracchus was fooled for a while into thinking all of you were dead.”
David saw truth to it. Somehow it made sense. He and Marissa were separated from Jamie and Nora. This fifth child never knew any of them. They were separated shortly after they all began seeing things, doing things that none of them could explain. Marissa could practically see another child – a twin brother. It had started out as an imaginary friend, and eventually all of them knew what he looked like, and knew his name. David had forgotten about these events, had blocked them – or they had been blocked for him. But he remembered their invisible friend, the one they were trying to talk to – his name had been Seamus.
“Tell me,” Roia said as she rounded the corner and was now standing behind David. “How did you come to know of Daeanna? What about the others?”
David was feeling compelled to answer. He knew he had given her too much, but she had given back some. He refused to answer. Roia reached out her arm, her face inches from David’s neck. He could feel her cold breath on him. He felt a disconnect between the mind invasion and what she was actually asking him. As she stared into his eyes, he could almost see something, almost feel her connecting with him.
The man at the entrance to the kitchen held out his arm and stepped toward Roia, handing her David’s dagger. Roia inhaled deeply as she grasped it. David could feel its vibrations emanating from Roia – it was as if whoever was holding it became an extension of it, its arms and legs – not the other way around. Roia touched David’s shoulder.
“Tell me where Marissa is,” she said. “the dagger senses you through me. All of you are connected, but she’s close, isn’t she?” Roia wrapped her hand around David’s shoulder and placed the hilt of the dagger against his neck as she pressed her face into the top of his head and inhaled.
David could see Marissa, and now he was certain Roia could as well. He could also feel a surge of power rush into him – from her, from the dagger or both. In the blink of an eye he was keenly aware of Roia’s presence. He had to act, there was no second chance. It was as if the dagger were saying – NOW!
David stood and kicked his chair back with a force he didn’t know he had. It crashed into Roia, sending her into the grandfather clock just as he pulled the dagger from her hands. Her eyes widened in surprise, in that inhuman way – at David’s strength, and the fact that Marissa had just hit the Shadow in the kitchen entrance in the head with a frying pan. The sound of iron meeting cracking bone was followed by the sound of the dead creature collapsing on the floor.
Marissa didn’t have time to witness the shadow energy leaving the corpse’s body. David didn’t have time to question as he threw the dagger at the Shadow standing in the entrance to the living room. He stuck in his throat and he collapsed. David began to run toward the exit to meet Marissa, who was almost there as a hand wrapped around David’s ankle.
David kicked, feeling the surge of power well up within him once again. His ankle was free. He kicked again, and this time he could feel the energy radiate from his foot . Roia was pushed further into the clock. It split in two as the clock face fell to her head. Glass shattered and scattered across the wood floor. David remembered the night in the woods and advanced toward Roia, kicking again, this time in her mid-section. His anger was welling inside him, feeding off his newfound energy, this thing that had been growing inside of him since Roia took him into the house. He thought he could hear her spine crack. A bloody face turned from beneath the broken clock face, smiling through blood and glass, and what he suspected was bone jutting from her paper-like skin.
David discovered the dagger was in his hand again. He had no idea how it got there, but knew it belonged there. He didn’t remember it returning, and yet it had returned, the blade red with blood from the neck of the Shadow. He clasped the dagger’s hilt tightly with his left hand, and swung at the air with his right arm in Roia’s direction. Pure fury seemed to ignite the air. Something from deep inside of him was awakening, creating a feedback loop of power. Energy from the air itself seemed to be flowing into his body through the knife, through his arm, through every pore. David swung hard and fierce with his right arm.
A concussion of air thickened around David’s outstretched right hand and propelled itself to Roia and the clock, a tangled mess of hair, glass, blood and wood. The entire pile was thrust halfway into the dining room wall.
“David!” Marissa cried, “David, stop it!” David blinked his eyes. He was gasping for air. He felt something warm on his nose, and reached him with his hand to find blood. His head began to pound. Everything around him grew dark. He was vaguely aware of hitting the floor, and then there was nothing.
As the last guests were leaving Jamie’s house, she and Nora stood on the porch waving them good bye (and good riddance, as far as Jamie was concerned). One woman still remained in the house, however.
Jamie’s Aunt Rebecca said she had something to tell Jamie before she left. Jamie and Nora turned and walked back into the living room, where Rebecca sat on the couch, legs together, arms on her knees, her black dress showing a slip – a relic of the sixties. This was the churchgoing choir director type that Patricia had always wanted to project.
“Is it okay to talk about family business,” Rebecca asked, gesturing toward Nora.
“Nora’s family,” Jamie said, and sat on the sofa next to her aunt. Nora sat on the ottoman in front of the day bed.
“Okay then” Rebecca said. “You know, your mother and I were very close, before she disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” Jamie asked, “what do you mean?”
“She ran away,” Rebecca said, “when we were in high school. She disappeared for almost ten years, and when she finally reached out to us you were an infant.”
“I never knew that,” Jamie said, “but I’m not shocked. There’s a lot she didn’t tell me.”
“I’m not surprised,” Rebecca said, smiling. “She was always secretive. But she loved you – she loved you so very much. But when she came back, she was distant. She wouldn’t have us over, and rarely visited. She called from time to time, wrote a few letters, but that was it. She had changed somehow.”
“Changed how?” Jamie asked. If there was more to the puzzle that had been Patricia, Jamie needed to know.
Rebecca seemed to be collecting herself. “Before she disappeared, your mother and I were so close, as sisters often are. But when she came back, years would go by without a word unless I initiated contact. She had been a church-goer as well, but that stopped. She had begun using foul language she would never have used before. But when she talked about you, there was a glow to her. You were her life.
“But you knew that. At least I hope you did. But that’s not why I stayed. Two weeks ago, Patricia called me.”
“Impossible,” Jamie shook her head. “Two weeks ago she didn’t have the strength to speak, let alone pick up a telephone.”
Nora cleared her throat. Jamie glanced at her, and back to Rebecca. Of course, Jamie thought, anything appeared to be possible where Patricia was concerned.
“Impossible or not,” Rebecca said, “She called me. She told me to tell you to look in the attic. She said to look where you were snooping when you were fifteen. She said you would know what it meant. She said there were pictures, memorabilia, and other things you’d want to have. And she told me to tell you she was sorry.”
“Why didn’t she tell me this herself,” Jamie asked, “Why call you in between my changing her diapers? She talked to Nora to. Why insist on convoluted communication?”
“She wasn’t herself,” Rebecca said as she patted Jamie on the knee. “She was sick. She wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Jamie nodded her head. “I know. She hadn’t been herself in months. I know it was the tumor. I know she loved me. But damn if she didn’t find creative ways of showing it.”
Rebecca laughed nervously, either trying to diffuse what she determined was a tense situation, or because she didn’t know how else to respond. She ultimately responded the only way a polite woman would in this situation, the end-all be-all polite thing to do. “Call me if you need anything at all, Jamie. I’m here for you.”
Rebecca stood, and hugged Jamie as she rose to meet her. “I would like to get to know family some day,” Jamie said, and then responded to the gesture in kind. “Don’t be a stranger, Aunt Rebecca.”
Rebecca smiled as she walked toward the front door, and held up a finger. “Oh, sweetie, I won’t. Count on it.”
Rebecca waved goodbye without turning around as she walked toward her car. Jamie couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying. “What was that about?” Jamie asked as she closed the door and walked back into the living room.
“Good question,” Nora said, arms folded. She squinted her eyes slightly. “The one you asked her, I mean. Why would she have been so convoluted about the way she communicated these things with you? Why talk to you through Rebecca and me?”
Jamie shook her head again. “Who knows, I mean she was sick. I can only chalk it up to that. A brain tumor is monster. It killed her before her body died.” Jamie started to cry again, but pushed the tears away. She shook her head, as if to shake it off, and walked passed Nora into the hallway. “Let’s get that box,” she said. Nora followed her.
Jamie stepped into her mother’s bedroom. It still smelled like her, felt like her. It was where Jamie had wanted her mother to die, but changing her diapers and her clothes was too difficult in that bed. She had to have her where it was easy to access her.
As Jamie wrapped her hand around the doorknob, she remembered doing it all those years before. Her Mom had gone to a church dinner, or so she had said. She even invited Jamie to come along, but Jamie now knew she had known the answer would be no.
She remembered walking up the creaky steps that night as she was doing it once again. Each step had felt like she was entering a mysterious cave, a treasure trove. Jamie was almost as curious then as she had been at that moment. She was going to find out what her mother had been so adamant Jamie not see.
That night Jamie had been looking through boxes, old photographs. She had worked her way to the back of the attic, thrilled to have found so many old pictures of her mother, her father, their wedding, stacks of old family albums. She had found beautiful paintings, scrapbooks of animal drawings, old jewelry, some of it beyond strange in its design. Jamie wondered if in addition to drawing and painting, her mother had once made jewelry.
In the back of the attic she found a cardboard box, about the size of a hat box that sat alone against the leaning roof, resting on boards. Jamie stepped off the wood floor and onto the beams that rose above the insulation. As she reached the box, she heard her mother yell her name from the bottom of the stairs in a tone she had never heard before. She nearly lost her balance as Patricia screamed for Jamie to come downstairs.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs her mother’s face was twisted in rage. Jamie could feel anger filling the room like scalding bathwater. This was a fury she could almost touch. It nearly paralyzed her. All this before the screaming had even begun.
Patricia’s voice had changed, was deeper as she told Jamie she had been an insolent brat to go up there, it wasn’t her place to disobey, and she could have fallen through the ceiling. It began with a logical argument, but escalated to nearly-nonsensical rage as Patricia seemed to lose control.
Patricia screamed at Jamie, following her down the hallway, breathing fire into her own words, each one having its own sting. “You absent-minded little bitch,” Patricia yelled, “you accident of nature, you arrogant little animal!”
As Jamie ran into her bedroom and locked the door, Patricia continued to yell, continued to hurl words that felt like boulders.
Jamie had buried her head under her pillow when the door popped open, the lock broken. Patricia’s screaming grew louder, and Jamie felt her mother’s hand rip the pillow from on top of her. She grabbed Jamie’s arm and began yelling obscenities at her. Her arm began to throb. Waves of existential terror began to fall on Jamie like one suffocating steel blanket after another.
“You stupid little girl,” Patricia snarled as Jamie tried to get away, wriggling her arm from the ever-tighter grip, until she lost her strength and felt herself succumbing to the palpable fright. “You weren’t even meant to be, and yet I have done nothing but protect you! I have done nothing but keep you safe, and you disobey me! You could have been killed, and what happened to your father would be for nothing!”
“Mom, you’re hurting me!” Jamie cried softly, her last protest, and turned to face Patricia. The anger seemed to melt away, evolve into that of shock. After a moment she released Jamie’s arm, and began to cry.
“Oh my God,” Patricia said, “My god, my god, I’m so sorry!”
Patricia backed away from Jamie, who was now on the floor at the other side of her bed, sobbing in terror and nursing her arm, rocking herself, bloodshot, watery eyes staring into space.
As Jamie had tried to gather her thoughts and make sense of what had happened, Patricia ran out of the bedroom. Jamie could hear the front door open and close, and all was quiet. The oppressive fog that had hung nearly visibly in the air began to lift.
Jamie propped her bedroom door closed with a chair, and cried herself to sleep. When she woke up the next morning, she could smell coffee, pancakes and toast.
Jamie walked carefully into the kitchen. There were flowers on the table, and pancakes, warm syrup in a gooseneck, a perfectly set table and a stack of toast. There was a pitcher of orange juice and two empty glasses.
“I am so sorry,” Patricia said as she flipped another pancake. She sounded as if she were still crying. “Jamie, I should never have lost control. I have never hurt you before, and I never intend to. It’s just-“
Patricia was interrupted by Jamie’s hug. All Jamie could feel now from the woman was love. The terror was gone. The fury was miles away. “I know,” Jamie said. After they were silent a moment, Patricia returned to the pancakes.
“I’ll never go up there again,” Jamie laughed, trying to erode whatever tension remained. “You made your point.”
“Thank you,” Patricia laughed again as she flipped the pancake.
That day they had gone into town together, perused the book store, and went to see the flowers blooming in the park. Patricia never had another outburst again, nothing that resembled that night. And Jamie remained forever terrified of the attic. She had somehow associated going up there with the rage she had experienced. But in the back of her mind, she knew that somewhere within her mother existed that beast.
And now she was once more inching across the beams toward the cardboard box. She retrieved it and brought it back downstairs, Nora following behind the whole time.
Jamie placed the box on the coffee table as she and Nora sat on the sofa.
“Well open it,” Nora said. Jamie turned to her and back to the box, and began peeling the masking tape from the seams. She tossed the tape on the table in a ball and lifted the lid.
The first thing they saw was a stack of photographs, mostly of Marlin. Jamie took them out and realized she had never remembered him having a beard. And he had aged. These were newer photographs. “It’s true,” Jamie whispered.
Jamie was in awe of the photos and almost didn’t notice Nora reaching in for a stack of white envelopes. Jamie turned to see Nora, ashen. Jamie could see Nora’s handwriting on the envelopes, and old stamps. They had been letters – Jamie thought she had saved all the letters they wrote to each other over the years, but clearly her mother had saved a few.
As Jamie sifted through the pictures, she recognized Nora’s father, and Amantha Easterly. She saw pictures of the four of them – her parents, Nikolas and Amantha together. They weren’t especially new pictures, but they were taken after her father had grown a beard. Jamie guessed they were ten or more years old.
Nora opened each envelope and scanned the letters. She realized then why Jamie had never replied to a few of them. Jamie always replied, except on five occasions. Nora had assumed it was because Jamie didn’t know how to respond, or because she thought Nora must be going crazy. That had been Nora’s worst fear. But Jamie had never brought up those letters.
It had been because Patricia kept them from Jamie. Why? Not ready to discuss it with Jamie, at least not yet, Nora placed the letters back in their envelopes.
“Do you mind if I keep these?” Nora asked casually, “For memory’s sake?”
“Huh?” Jamie asked, transfixed on the photos. She looked up at Nora, then down at the letters. “Yes, of course,” Jamie half- smiled, then returned to her pictures.
“There’s more in there,” Nora said as she folded the envelopes and placed them in her jeans pocket.
Jamie tore herself away from the pictures and placed them on the table beside the box.
“Yeah,” Jamie said, furrowing her brow as she pulled the cardboard flap down. “Another box.” Jamie reached in and pulled out a dark wooden box. It was covered with some sort of resin. It had rounded corners, and a circular indentation on top.
Nora took the now-empty cardboard box and put it on the living room floor. Jamie placed the wooden box in its place, and felt around the edges for a hinge. Jamie could tell where it opened, but when she lifted the top it wouldn’t budge.
“Look at that,” Nora said, feeling the top of the box with the tips of her fingers. In the middle of the six-inch wide, millimeter-deep circular indentation, was a small cone. The cone was about an inch across, and rose to about half an inch. There was a very small carving on the tip of the cone, resembling two pentagons overlapping each other.
Jamie picked the box up and turned it around. Something heavy was inside of it, taking up most of the box. It was as if the box were made for whatever it was, it shook so little. “It’s probably another box,” Jamie said dryly as she searched for a way to open it. It wouldn’t budge.
The wood was thick, heavy, She could take a hammer to it if she had to, she thought, but she wasn’t sure what that would do to its contents. She wondered however, if even a hammer wouldn’t get through. There was no slight give, as if it were locked – there was no give at all. It was simply closed, as if sealed.
“I’m willing to bet,” Nora said as Jamie placed the box back on the table, “that the key to that is in Daeanna.”
Jamie nodded. “But it looks to be a pretty big place. How will we know where to look?”
“We’ll ask the caretaker,” Nora said. “After this many years, he should know that place like the back of his hand.”
“We’ll leave first thing,” Jamie said. “We need to sleep off this wine.”
“We should probably leave now,” Nora said under her breath. “I would like to go out there tonight.”
Jamie considered this for a moment. She realized she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. And she wanted to get there as well. It was beginning to feel more and more necessary, as it appeared to be to Nora as well.
Jamie remembered how just a few hours prior, she had been talking Nora into it. “I’ll brew a pot of coffee,” Jamie said as she stood up, “it’s eight o’clock now. If we leave by nine, we should get there around ten-thirty or eleven.”
Sam opened his eyes and saw Simon sitting across the room, staring at him. A lamp was on in the corner. It was dark outside. “How long was I out?” he asked as he sat up.
Simon chuckled, “For a little guy, you’re kind of heavy. You were out for a couple of hours, no more. I should have warned you,” he said. “The first time in there can be a doozy even for Zenati, let alone someone like you. Maybe I should have given you the relic first. It might have helped.”
There it is again. Someone like me. “Relic?” Sam asked, turning on the lamp by the chez lounge and resting his elbows on his knees. “What’s a relic?”
“There are seven relics,” Simon began, “and each was used to create the Hekta Thread.”
“The thing that divides the world,” Sam said, “the red line in the carvings, that’s the Thread.”
“Yes, sort of,” Simon said as he rested his elbows on his knees, mirroring Sam. “Actually, the worlds are separate. They’re held together by the Thread, and simultaneously kept from colliding. They should drift apart, as reality strings do, but the Thread maintains the balance.”
“Reality strings?” Sam asked. “Like a flow of events?”
“Sort of,” Simon said, eyes widening. “ A reality string is a set of events, trillions upon trillions of events, each cause having an effect. Don’t think of time as chronology, but as a structure, a sphere. The Thread holds two spheres together, two sets of possibilities, two realities – sometimes spheres blend if they’re too close – destroying both but creating something new in their stead. But not in this case. And don’t think of them as side by side. They’re sort of in the same space, just different aspects of that space. Different outcomes from different events, but in many ways the same world.”
“And the relics, they’re tools,” Sam said, “I think I understand. Sort of.”
Doubtful,” Simon muttered, “I’ve been studying it my entire life, and still don’t grasp all of it. But you’re doing remarkably well for someone so new to it. Yes, the relics were the tools used, they’re living things. They have life breathed into them by Daeanna herself.”
“About her,” Sam started, but was interrupted.
“One thing at a time,” Simon said with his hand out. “This is going to take months to explain, I’m sure. The relics – we know of five of them. The Amala were their guardians, for thousands of years. About a hundred fifty years ago, there was an event. It scared the Chara, the born leader of the Amala. Rather than a friend to the Zenati as they always had been, sacred guardians of the relics, they became our enemy.
“The Amala set out to destroy anything dealing with the Genna or the Thread. As they turned away from us, our ancestors retrieved the relics. They were scattered, and passed down through the generations. Each of the five known relics corresponds with one of the prophesied children.
“You and your sister share the twin pentagons, which together form the seal of the Zenati, a single relic. David’s relic is Hekta’s Dagger, Jamie’s is Daeanna’s Cup, and Nora’s is the Exegesis. The Exegesis is a book of prophesy, the prophesy that holds the Thread together – as well as the binding agent to the Thread itself. In a way, the Exegesis is the physical representation of the Hekta Thread itself. It’s its voice, and perhaps its soul.
“Each relic is as much a part of the Thread as they are a part of you.”
Sam stood up. “Does my sister have the other half of the seal?”
“Yes,” Simon nodded. “Patricia kept the Exegesis in a sealed box. Amantha kept the dagger. Patricia kept one half of the seal here, and Marissa’s adoptive parents kept the other half. The Cup is also here. They could not all be retrieved without all of them present.”
“What does that mean?” Sam asked.
Simon laughed. “I have no idea,” he said. “It’s something Nikolas told me when I was assigned to protect Daeanna and be in charge of all its Zenati guards. He told me two relics rested here, but they were safe, even in the extremely unlikely event a Shadow or Seed found this place. He said ‘all five relics cannot be retrieved, without all five relics present.”
“And what of the remaining relic,” Sam asked. “Where is it?”
“No one knows,” he said. “It’s said to be referred to in the Exegesis as the Fifth Blood of the Unions, or something like that. I’ve also heard it called the Blood of the Union, the Fifth Generation, and a host of other things.”
“Is the entire book that cryptic?”
“We don’t know,” Simon sighed as he shook his head. “No one has been able to read the Exegesis in many generations. It was a skill passed down by the Amala. When they changed, we came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t know anything it said other than what was passed down, until the five children were born. When the council decided you would be separated, we all gave up hope of deciphering it in this lifetime.
“There’s a rumor that Patricia figured it out, though. I tend to believe that rumor, because she had it here for a while. I saw her looking at it one night, and she sent me away. A few days later three Zenati Messengers arrived, and Patricia sent them away with instructions. A month after that you arrived, and she told me who you were. And now she’s dead. And the remaining four are on their way. While there is no doubt Patricia reignited the prophesy, I also believe she did it because of something she saw in the Exegesis. If she was privy to the actual prophesy, she achieved something not even The Sorcerer could do.”
David opened his eyes and realized he was back in his car. The door was open, and Amantha was kneeling beside him.
“Mom,” he said, “what happened? Where’s Marissa?”
“I’m here,” she said, and he turned to see her in the driver’s seat. “You’re not ready to drive yet, you’re too weak.”
“I can drive,” he said, and tried to get out of the car. His arms and legs felt as if they weighed half a ton each. “What’s wrong with me?”
“You’re weak,” Amantha said. “You exhausted yourself. You’re not ready for what you did in there. You’re not even awakened yet, so I wouldn’t have even thought it possible had I not seen the bloody mess in there myself.”
“Awakened?” David asked. “What do you mean?”
“I’ll explain on the way,” Marissa said, “but we have to go.”
“She’s right,” Amantha said. “I wish I could come with you, but I have to make sure Roia doesn’t follow you.”
David laughed. “I highly doubt Roia’s going to follow us. You saw her, right? There isn’t much left.”
“That was quite a display,” Amantha nodded, “and I’m anxious, if somewhat afraid, of what you’ll be capable of after your awakening. But it would take so much more than that to stop Roia. She’ll be her old self again in a matter of hours.”
“How is that possible?”
“I’m so sorry I’ve kept you in the dark,” Amantha sighed. “Maybe Patricia was right to do this, I don’t know. But you need to go. I’ll meet you at Daeanna. I’ll take care of Roia, or at least make it so that she won’t be able to catch up with us before we get there. I’ll be behind you, if at a distance.”
“Okay,” David said after a moment. “Mom, please be careful. I’m sorry I was angry earlier.”
“You have no control over what’s happening,” Amantha said, partly aware of how that ate at David. It was perhaps the worst thing she could have said. “The most important thing at that moment was for you to get to the house. You were confused. But we’ll talk later. Drive. Go. Don’t stop,” she said as she closed the car door and patted the roof twice.
Marissa drove off and Amantha strolled slowly back into the house. She knew she couldn’t kill Roia, even if she threw everything she had, her entire being at her. But she could hurt her, and she could slow her down. And she knew one trick that would probably change the woman for good.
Amantha shook her head as she saw Roia, folded almost in half, both legs broken and arms twisted backwards. But she had stopped bleeding. Soon she would begin to heal. And she would be angry.
Her eyes opened, white and green circles in a sea of deep red as Amantha knelt down to face her. She could see Roia’s lips moving, could hear her trying to talk. Amantha stood up, held out her arms and began to draw the energy in the room around her. She began to do what a Zenati was born to do. It wouldn’t kill Roia. But it would slow her down. It would weaken her, for a time. Amantha then drew deeper within herself, calling to mind the Genna Nikolas had taught her. He said she would be able to do it, if the need ever arose. She recalled the feelings, the images necessary, and reached out with her mind to any pockets of Gen she could find. She realized the largest cache was in a heap of flesh before her. She reached, in her mind’s eye, into Roia’s core.
Roia felt herself floating above her body, as if a thread of her soul were tethering her to it. She observed the High Zenati exacting her Gen. But she was doing something else too. This was new. Roia hadn’t known Zenati were capable of such Gen. But then, this was a woman looking after her child, a woman who knew what it was like to lose one. This was a woman who even tried to protect the son everyone thought had committed murder.
Roia also knew that if a human mother’s love of her child was enough to bring her back from Shadow, as had happened to Patricia, then Amantha could in fact accomplish what she was attempting.
Roia felt a tinge of fear. Roy Conroy would be around soon enough, but there was little hope of finding Daeanna anytime soon. She supposed, however, Conroy might have another trick or two up his sleeve. He always did. She hoped he would get there soon. In a matter of moments, Roia would be begging for death.
Three Zenati women were now entering the room, and could see what Amantha was attempting.
“You’re a little late,” she said, eyes closed but aware of their presence.
“You did this?” Sheila asked. Amantha’s immense power was no secret. She was a High Zenati, a member of the Council as had been all her ancestors.
“My son did this,” Amantha said, concentrating on the energy before her. All three women gasped.
“It’s true then,” Sheila said. “All five of them still live.”
“Help me now,” Amantha said. “We will explain it in the next Summit. Please, help me.”
The women gathered around Amantha, one on each flank and one behind. The women on each side grasped a shoulder, and the woman behind her placed her left hand in the middle of Amantha’s back.
The three women closed their eyes, and could almost hear Roia’s soul screaming in agony. The Zenait women focused only on Amantha, opened themselves up to her.
Amantha felt not only her own power, and that of Roia’s, but now the familiar Gen of the Zenati. Such a perfect balance, she thought, and wondered if David and Jamie would come across that balance more naturally as their darker sides emerged.
She thought of the mess of bones before her, and wondered if David in fact might have been capable of destroying Roia, even in his unawakened state. She wondered what had been unleashed.
When the five met, in a place as powerful as Daeanna, they would begin the awakening process. Each one’s power would feed off the other four, and the relics, combined with the Shinva would increase the effect exponentially. What had they unleashed? What had Patricia done?
Amantha then realized that such power would be the only thing that could ever stop Bracchus. But then, Bracchus wouldn’t be a threat to them now if the prophesy hadn’t been reinitiated.
“That should do it,” Amantha said.
Roia felt herself being sucked back into her own body. Each nerve screamed in agonizing pain. She was feeling everything. Her body was still healing, but she was being subjected to each tear of tissue, each nerve repair that was far more painful as its severance, each bone moving within the pile of human goo.
She couldn’t scream, and the pain, while great enough to make her lose consciousness, was unrelenting as the Gen did not allow her to pass out. This was an awful Gen, a torturous one she believed Nikolas designed just for her. After all, there would otherwise be no need for it. No one else had the regenerating power Bracchus gave her.
“Not only will she feel it all,” Amantha said, catching her breath, “but she’ll be paralyzed for a while when it’s over. She will suffer nerve damage as she fights the painful process out of instinct. This will hurt her further, slowing down the recovery.” Amantha knelt down and stared into Roia’s eyes. “It’ll be hours, Roia - Maybe days. Enjoy this, my gift to you.”
Amantha spat on the heap of entangled fibers and muscle, and walked out. The other Zenati followed her.
“I need to get to Daeanna,” Amantha said as she got to her car. “If the three of you could follow me, please, just in case we run into some Shadows. They’ll be swarming now. Others will be on their way to join us. We will get those two to Daeanna in one piece.”
James laughed, stared for a moment at Marlin, and dropped his smile. “Our guests?”
For a moment Marlin thought he looked confused. “You can feel them, can’t you?” Marlin asked, suddenly concerned that he was going to have two Seeds to deal with – one outside, and one here. Amantha’s son would be a powerful Seed as well, and the High Zenati in her was as surely passed onto him as the Bracchen.
“I don’t know what I’m feeling,” James said, and stood to face the kitchen door. “There are three people outside.”
“They’re not people,” Marlin said, trying to shrug away the fury that was filling the house. He wasn’t sure if it was coming from those outside or from James. Marlin had been sure James was still days from awakening, based on the strength of Bracchen Gen he could sense.
Marlin had become an expert in the field, having married a Shadow, and later witnessing Amantha’s youngest son Awaken into a Seed. And though he was going to have to watch her oldest son succumb to his birthright as well, he hoped it wouldn’t be that day.
Marlin stood up from the chair and walked to stand beside James, partly to help him should he need it, and partly to more closely monitor the thing inside him.
“They’re just standing in the front yard,” James said. “What are they doing?”
“Waiting,” Marlin said. “They know I’m here. A Seed can smell a Zenati a mile away. Some of the more powerful Shadows can as well, but they’re not as adept at it. They want me to make the first move.”
“Are you?” James asked, turning to Marlin.
“You tell me,” Marlin said, raising an eyebrow. “I could dispense of the Shadows very quickly and easily. In fact, you’re going to watch me do it so you can see what they really are. But the Seed – I can’t do kill one that strong alone without it killing me. You’ve got Zenati blood in you. You can help me do it. And it will slow down your awakening.”
“Slow it down? Not stop it.” James said.
“So you believe me,” Marlin said.
“Not necessarily,” James tilted his head to the side. “But let me see what you can do with the Shadows, as you call them. Do you have any weapons?”
“I am the weapon,” Marlin said, and walked toward the front door. James followed him.
The Shadows flanked the Seed, a short, thin man in blue jeans and a black tee shirt. James couldn’t make out the details of the Shadows, even as they stood in the full beam of the flood light. But he saw them backing away as Marlin walked down the front steps.
Marlin stopped a few feet from the Seed. “Step away, and let me do this.”
The Seed smiled. “Fine,” he said, “I’ll just have a word with Mr. Easterly here. Do your thing.”
“Fine,” Marlin said, arching an eyebrow.
James backed away toward his house as the Seed advanced toward him. “What,” James said, half-laughing,” you’re not going to stop him?”
Marlin turned toward James, “he won’t hurt you, you’re too important.” He then turned to the Shadows, raised his hands, and closed his eyes. He reached out, felt pockets of Gen, of energy, in the air, the trees, deep in the soil. He drew energy from every source he could find, and allowed it to coalesce within himself. He felt the Gen growing as the Shadows backed away. It always amused Marlin that the only time they demonstrated any sort of self-preservation was in the presence of a Zenati, especially a High Zenati such as himself.
“Make sure you watch,” Marlin called out.
Marlin let the Gen build to a crescendo, felt it raging to get it out, felt it beating against the outer door of his soul. With a great sense of relief coupled with a spark of anger, he released the energy from within, could feel the touch of his ancestors and his descendents converging on the moment of release. He felt the Zenati Gen flow from his hands and move through the air, seeking its target.
The Gen formed a blue glow in the night, a visible flow of living energy that surrounded the Shadows as the last of it left Marlin’s hands. The glow spiraled around the two Shadows like a snake, eventually working its way into their bodies through every cavity.
Their eyes glowed a deep violet as they screamed. Blood soon streamed down the from the glowing violet orbs. Sounding as if they were burning alive and drowning in their own blood, Marlin winced at the thought of these creatures suddenly feeling the pain of millions of dead cells and nerve endings rotting, no longer held together by pure human fury, ignited by the Bracchen within.
Briefly, if for only the most fleeting of moments, the human soul would return as the Shadow dissipated. The human would feel the decomposition of its body, but typically instant death followed. It was of great speculation among the Zenati what such an experience did to a human soul, and what became of that energy after its body’s death, energy reeling from an experience no human was designed to have.
The human bodies fell to the ground as the purple-brown haze of Auroch’Mir left their rotten shells. As the bodies began to breakdown and rejoin the earth, Marlin turned to see the Seed inches from James’ awestruck face.
“I told you I was telling you the truth,” Marlin said casually as he strolled up the front steps, the Seed’s fury now held at bay. Marlin was also adept at keeping the Bracchen power away from his own soul. He knew though, that James was not so experienced, and had much more to lose.
“If I said I believed you,” James said as he felt the thing reaching into his mind, invading him, “would you tell me how to kill this thing?”
The Seed laughed, “go ahead,” he said. “You’ll be joining me eventually.”
James could feel a matching fury within himself try to answer the Seed in its own way. It was wrapped up, sealed off, but its cage was cracking, weakening. James realized he had felt the sensation for years, but now, with this thing in front of him, calling up sensations from within, those sensations brought with them a taste, a smell, a sensory memory. He thought of Michael.
James could feel it awakening, that familiar dark, pounding at the door, hungry for his soul. The Seed before him was reaching into him somehow. The creature’s pupils widened to dark circles and the whites of his eyes turned crimson. Veins pulsated in the man’s forehead and his jaw dropped, revealing a mouth of solid black. He looked barely human. He smiled, and James recoiled at the rotting breath and the sight of jagged, crumbling teeth, protruding from the black gums. As the smile became more of a sneer, his mouth widened as unnaturally as his eyes had rounded. “Kill it!” James yelled as he closed his eyes.
Marlin saw James’ eyes change slightly, grow the slightest bit larger, the bloodshot veins, some of them, joining at the periphery. Something was indeed struggling to get out.
“Kill it, Marlin! Kill it, please!”
Marlin reached around the Seed and wrapped his hand around James’ arm. The Seed didn’t flinch, which surprised Marlin. Without hesitating or debating any further, Marlin placed his remaining hand on the Seed’s back and immediately felt the putrid, oily Bracchen energy engulf him.
In his Zenati mind and soul, Marlin reached out to James’ energy, and could feel the growing Bracchen nature of it inside him.
James could feel the different energies wrestling for control within him. The Zenati energy was welcoming. It was fresh, it was renewal. The Bracchen energy was everything frightening, angry. It was almost human in its own way, base, primeval. That too, was welcoming in its own disturbing way. It was as if he could fight for the renewal, or relax and allow himself to slip easily into the primal.
Marlin released the pent-up power, and the man collapsed on the floor between James and Marlin. No haze emitted from the body. It just lay there, and began to rot. There was no light display. He just unceremoniously rotted and James’ inner tempest calmed.
James and Marlin stepped back as the body appeared to decay before their eyes, until nothing was left but a mass of blood, jeans, biomass and a tee-shirt.
“I expected it would be easy,” Marlin shook his head, “but it shouldn’t have been that easy. It was a suicide mission. He would awaken you or he would die. I would assume those were his orders.”
“From Bracchus?” James asked, staring at the spoiled flesh on his kitchen floor, feeling the spiritual tide continue to ebb. He was feeling himself again, but now he was fully conscious of the thing within. He would feel it for the rest of his life, of that he was sure. And he knew it was now awake, and determined to do its job, do the thing it was meant to do since it was born within him, and he with it. It wanted control. And eventually, it would have it.
“From Bracchus,” Marlin nodded.
“That’s going to happen to me,” James said.
“Yes,” Marlin nodded. “But we can slow it down. And you can help your brother, and so many others. You would be helping all of us,” Marlin said. “Will you do it?”
“How could I not?” James said under his breath as the last of the flesh turned to dirt. “I don’t want to be this thing,” he said.
Marlin reached up and squeezed James’ shoulder. There was nothing he could say to James to make him feel better, nothing he could do to relieve the fear. He was right. He was a dead man walking. He would be a monster. But at least he could do something good before he turned.
“When do we leave?,” James asked, sullenly.
“We can leave tonight, if you want,” Marlin said, releasing James’ shoulder.
“I’ll pack a bag. I’m guessing I won’t need much.”
Marlin was silent as James left the room. As he packed his bags, Marlin cleaned up what remained of the Seed. He hurt for James, almost wished he hadn’t had to endure seeing what he would be. But it had been the only way to get him to leave.
He knew Amantha would be furious. But even she knew the futility of preventing his awakening. Nearly all Seeds awakened, especially the powerful ones. Marlin only hoped David would be spared. The last time he was near him, Marlin didn’t feel even a tinge of Bracchen Gen. He knew he would see the boy the next morning, and hoped against hope that it remained the same, that prophesy had protected David, even if it was forcing him into something equally terrifying.
And his daughter would be there with him. Marlin’s heart skipped a beat when he thought of Jamie. He would see her too. He wondered if she would be angry with him, and wondered if she would be half as happy to see him as he would be her. Maybe, he thought, that would overshadow the anger.
Marlin knew how hurtful and powerful that anger could be. She had inherited at least some of it from her mother. By now, she would know he was alive. At least she would be expecting him, and would have time to realize why they had done what they did.
Jamie and Nora packed the last bag into the trunk, lifting it in together. Jamie grunted. “Did we really need to pack for three weeks?” She asked as she caught her breath.
Nora closed the trunk. “I don’t know,” she said, “but I want options. Who knows, this Sam guy might be hot.”
“Uh huh,” Jamie laighed. “I have a feeling that’ll be the last thing on our minds.”
“I know,” Nora said, “but I’m a little this side of terrified right now, and kind of confused. I don’t know what else to say, if not joke about it.”
“Have you called your Dad?” Jamie asked, walking back up the front step to lock the front door.
“I was going to do that on the way,” she said.
Jamie walked back toward the car as Nora got in. “You’re procrastinating,” she said as she closed her door.
“All those years,” Nora said as she fastened her seat belt, “Dad would disappear and return, and say the craziest things. I thought he was just kind of batshit, you know? I thought that was the end of it, I had a loopy, absent father. Some people were dealt worse hands, and I just learned to live with it.
And now, he’s probably got more answers for us than anybody, and I don’t want to call him. I guess I’m a little embarrassed for being so mean to him.”
“That seems to be the theme,” Jamie said as she started the car. “Funny – we seem to have pretty much accepted all this as fact, haven’t we?”
Nora stared ahead through the foggy windshield into the front of Jamie’s house. “Yeah,” she said. She shook her head and turned to Jamie. “But we both know, don’t we? Your Dad’s alive. My Dad was never batshit. It’s as true as the house right in front of his, as the car we’re in.”
Jamie didn’t respond. She backed out of the driveway and into the crowded street. Although they lived in the middle of downtown Charleston, Jamie always felt isolated from the city, separate from it. She loved the city, and knew she would retire there eventually, if not in Daeanna if it proved pretty nice, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that until the death of her mother, she had been insulated – on purpose – from the world around her.
They drove through the narrow, ancient streets of Charleston past single-family homes with slanted piazzas and ornate gardens. The city was a mix of partying college students, destitute slums and the filthy rich. It was a city of extremes, and it had fit her mother perfectly. Jamie hoped that eventually she could further explore the peninsula on which spent her adolescence, and understand why it held such a draw to her, as apart from it as she felt.
As they left the peninsula and drove over the Ashley River bridge, Jamie turned to view the marina with its yacht spikes piercing the air in tune with the scattered church steeples of the city. They reached James Island, and drove across it in silence as highway 17 took them into the more sparsely populated areas mostly covered in wetlands, pop-up gated subdivisions, and farmer’s markets. The subdivisions subsided, the ambient light faded, and the stars began to take over the night sky as they neared the Charleston County line.
They had driven half an hour into the country before Nora finally broke the silence.
“These letters,” she said, reaching into her pocket and retrieving them. “I don’t think they ever reached you.”
“I always got your letters,” Jamie said. “I guess Mom found a few of them and saved them.”
“Did you reply to every letter?” Nora asked, arching an eyebrow in a way that reminded Jamie of her father.
“Yes, of course,” she said.
“You never answered these,” Nora said. “I assumed you just didn’t know what to say, or thought I had lost it or something.”
“How many are there?” Jamie asked.
“Five,” Nora said. “Five letters, each written a year or two apart, whenever – when certain things happened.”
“Certain things,” Jamie asked, “like what?”
“You’ll think I’m a loon,” Nora chuckled, “and it’s not important. I just thought it odd that your mother kept them from you.”
“No,” Jamie said, “she didn’t. I always got them out of the mail box. In fact, I always got the mail. Always. Mom didn’t remember things like that, just like she never remembered trash pickup, or anything she didn’t deem really important, I guess. I mean she kept up with massive finances it seems, but some things she just left to me.”
Nora considered this for a moment. “Did I ever neglect to write you back?” she asked. “Any time?”
Jamie was quiet for a moment. “Once,” she said. “Tell me what was in those letters.”
“On a few occasions, I – Jamie, you’ll think I’m crazy.”
“Because all this we’re doing right now, everything we’ve seen is just so fucking sane,” Jamie said, “besides, I already think you’re crazy. So tell me. You want to, or you wouldn’t have brought it up.”
“Okay,” Nora said. “Once I dreamt the school was going to catch fire. It did, the next day. I didn’t think much of it, and would have forgotten about it, if the next day I hadn’t dreamt about the arsonist. He was caught, and his picture was in the paper.”
“These things happen,” Jamie said, “they happen all the time. It’s called synchronicity, and it’s the same principle as a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters churning out a Shakespeare play.”
“The next day,” Nora said, “I dreamt he would kill himself. He did. And I wrote to you about it.”
“I never got it,” Jamie said.
“A year later,” Nora continued, “I convinced a boy at school to go to the eighth grade dance with me. I just told him he would, and he did.”
Jamie laughed, “Maybe he liked you.”
“He hated me,” Nora said. “I later told him to kiss me in front of everybody, and he did. Then I told him to try to break dance in the middle of the dance floor – he broke his arm trying.”
“Nora,” Jamie laughed, “that’s remarkable.”
“Similar occurrences,” she said, “they happened all my life. When I was very little my allergies were keeping me from going outside to play, I wanted them to go away – and they did. They went away suddenly. I haven’t had them since. I haven’t had a single symptom except when I’ve had a cold, which is also pretty damned rare.
“And when I’m in a hurry, or late for work? I hit every green light -every single one, Jamie. Sometimes the light had just turned red, and it turns green again after a second. Once I had a late library book, and didn’t have the money to pay for it. I told the librarian the date was wrong, and her records were incorrect. She believed me.”
“Nora,” Jamie started, I-“
“Our neighbor,” Nora interrupted, “he was fired from his job. They were about to lose the house. I told his boss at the carpet store that he was the best salesman there, and if he weren’t brought back to work, something terrible would happen. The next day he hadn’t called him yet, and the bank foreclosed on the store. He lost his job, and the new owner hired him to manage it. I wrote you every time something like this happened.”
Jamie was silent a moment. “Once,” she finally said, “I wrote you to tell you I made my teacher cry. I didn’t mean to. She gave me a D. I scolded her. She cried, broke down in tears, right in front of me. She gave me an A, then begged me not to tell anybody, then begged me not to come see her after class ever again. I wrote you about it. I wrote you about it because I think I did something to her that Mom did to me once.”
“So I’m not crazy,” Nora sighed.
“Well,” Jamie laughed, “I think we both might be.”
Nora laughed with her. “So why didn’t we get the letters?”
“Thank about it,” Jamie said. “Mom and Nikolas were screening them on each end.”
“That makes sense,” Nora said. “They wanted us in touch, but didn’t want us to talk about this stuff.”
“Yep,” Jamie nodded, “they conspired to separate us. You and I were allowed to maintain contact, for what reason I don’t know. But remember all those times we tried to visit each other?”
“Yes, something always came up. And it was either related to Nikolas or to Mom. How stupid of us,” Jamie said.
“We never caught on,” Nora nodded. “But then, we never suspected anything. We were in different cities. Even in our twenties Jamie, we never suspected a thing.”
“Funny , that,” Jamie said, “and I never thought it odd that I always came back home. That growing up I didn’t care to have friends, never met anyone that I grew close to. I never had sleepovers, I never went to anybody else’s house. I was a total loner, and it never phased me.”
“I dated, I had friends,” Nora said, “but they were fleeting. I would hang out with somebody for maybe six months or so, and then get bored with them. I had boyfriends, but really they were only vibrators with beating hearts.”
“There’s a pattern there,” Jamie said. “I’m pretty sure we’ve been had. And Mom was trying to fix it.”
“Why would they keep us apart? Not just from each other, but from anybody?” Nora asked. “It’s amazing. It never occurred to them that it might harm us?”
“I think we turned out okay,” Jamie said, “but we each had at least one friend. Maybe that was it. Keep us apart, but let us get close enough to ease the isolation.”
“Makes a frightening sort of sense,” Nora nodded.
“This better be a damn nice house,” Jamie laughed. “This had all better be worth something.”
Jamie and Nora were quiet again for a while, contemplating their revelation. There was truth indeed to everything Patricia had told Nora. Jamie wanted normalcy again, wanted to discover what the new normal was, but she knew anything resembling normal would be a long time coming.
“Jamie,” Nora said, suddenly sitting straight up and alert.
“What is it?”
“We’re being followed,” she said. “Three cars back.”
“How do you know?” Jamie asked, “I can’t even see three cars back, I can barely see the headlights behind us, they must be a mile away.”
“I have no idea. I know we’re being followed. I can see them,” Nora said, “They’re following us to the house.”
Jamie no longer questioned even the craziest of events or suggestions. Normal couldn’t be farther away. Somehow, she knew they couldn’t follow them all the way to the house. The directions Jamie found took them to the middle of nowhere. It was an island in a marsh, far away from anything civilized. Jamie was confident it was hidden for a reason.
And as she too became aware of someone watching them, following them at a distance, she realized that at all cost they were to be kept away.
“I received the first letter months ago,” Marissa said to David, who was slowly recovering.
“Why?” David asked, finding the strength to lift his head. He sniffed, as his sinuses began to feel as if they were closing. Either he was getting a cold, or his entire body was reacting to his weakened state.
“Patricia explained that if anything were to go wrong – if, for example, Amantha found a way to intercept your letter or talk you out of coming, which she said was unlikely, she gave me this date to come get you.”
“What about your house?” David asked.
“Mom and Dad explained the rest of it to me. They told me everything they knew. I wrote to Patricia, and she confirmed it. She told me all kinds of things in her letters, always delivered by Zenati Messengers.”
David turned his head to view the city of Stamford passing by them in a blur. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said.
“I’m getting to that,” Marissa replied, wondering if he was going to be this ornery for the length of the trip. “She told me Roia would be coming for me first, that I had been the least protected. She said to ask my parents for a necklace. She had given it to them with the instruction that if and when I ask for it, hand it over.” Marissa turned the pentagon in her hand with her right hand as she drove.
“She said that while I wasn’t wearing it, I was vulnerable. But once I put it on, I couldn’t be seen by Roia or any Seeds or Shadows. I put it on, but when I did I knew it was too late. Roia was on her way. So I burned my own house down.
“I doused the sides and interior with gasoline. I left a trail of it to where I hid in the bushes. Once they were all inside, I lit it and ran. When I got to Mom and Dad’s, I asked them to leave. I told them to get as far away as they could, and call me later. I knew from what Patricia had told me that Roia would be back. And I knew you would be coming.”
“You burned your house down,” David said, “surely there was another way?”
“I hated that house,” Marissa shrugged. “Plus, I’ve learned money is not at issue. I don’t even have to claim it. David, being Zenati has its perks. I mean, I’m technically Amala, but I may as well be Zenati. Amantha’s already made arrangements for the event to be covered up. I killed five Shadows after all, not bad for my first attempt.”
“You seem to be taking this very well,” David said.
“I’ve known for months, like I said. David, you’ll come to feel the same way. Everything makes sense now. My entire life makes sense now, don’t you understand?”
“No,” David sighed. “So you hid in the attic, wearing your necklace.”
“Yes, and I could see you when you first grabbed the dagger. I was at my desk, writing a letter to Mom and Dad. Now that I’m gone, they’re safe to go home, or they will be soon. Roia could care less about them.
“Right after you grabbed the dagger, Roia arrived. I didn’t expect her so soon. I had planned to meet you halfway, and was so busy packing and making arrangements that I hadn’t even called you yet. When I got to the attic, I realized I left my phone in my purse.”
“Making arrangements?” David asked, “Let me guess. Clothes?”
“Well yeah,” Marissa shrugged, “and my computer, and makeup, jewelry, books, movies, a TV, my Blu Ray player…they way Patricia saw it, we could be there a while. I don’t want to get bored. I mean, David, we could totally afford to replace all those things now, but I guess I wanted my stuff. It’s a comfort thing I think.”
“You never change,” David laughed, “even when you discover you’re a prophesied chosen something.”
“So anyway,” Marissa continued, “I could see you downstairs, just as if I was there. And while your power is way beyond anything I can do yet, that was some hefty dagger action. Where did you learn to throw a knife like that?”
“I didn’t,” David said. “It found its target. I knew it would. It was like it was telling me to act, and it did the rest of the work.”
“Your relic is way better than mine,” Marissa said.
“You really are taking this well,” David said. “I don’t even know what a relic is. I’ve just learned about all this a few hours ago. I’m fucking terrified Marissa! Aren’t you the slightest bit concerned that we each killed people tonight? That Roia is going to keep coming after us, even after I turned her into a pulpy mess? Aren’t you even the slightest bit worried that I could do that? I saw you, I heard you crying my name while you watched. You burned down your house! Six people were inside, and five died! You always do this, you make light of everything. This is not something you can just make light of, Marissa.”
Marissa was silent as she drove, twirling the pentagon pendent in her hand. “They weren’t people,” she finally said. “Killing them was a mercy. “
“You burned them alive,” David said. “I folded a woman in half.”
“That was no woman,” Marissa replied, “and those weren’t people.” David could hear her voice shaking, knew she was about to finally give into the fear she had probably been shoving aside since she received the first letter from Patricia.
Marissa turned on the hazard lights and pulled over onto the side of the interstate. She put the car in park, and cried. She finally allowed the weight of what was happening to fall on her.
David felt at once guilty and as if he’d accomplished something. He had no idea how long she’d carry on her typical ‘all is okay’ charade. But she was right about one thing – life was suddenly making sense amid all the surreal events.
“We can’t stop,” David said softly, patting her knee. “”But if you want me to drive, I will.”
“I’ll drive,” Marissa said, looking up. She turned the hazard lights off, and put the car in drive. She accelerated quickly as she said stoically, “You’re still too weak.”
“I’m sorry,” David said after a few minutes of hearing Marissa sniff, knowing she was staving off tears.
“Don’t be,” Marissa said. “But I hold to what I said. They weren’t people. Not anymore. They were Shadows. I have to believe that David. I have to believe that they couldn’t be saved.”
“I don’t think they could,” David said, “honestly I don’t. But we need to face the seriousness of what’s happening.”
“I could hear them screaming,” she said. “I listened to them being burned alive. I have to believe it.”
“Let’s just get there,” he said, “and we’ll figure it all out from there. You were right to kill them, they would have killed you.”
“No,” Marissa said, “that’s just it. I believe I did them a favor. But I’m not convinced our death was their ultimate goal.”
“What was then?” David asked.
“Getting to Daeanna,” she answered, her voice steadying itself. “And more than that, I think we’re somehow important to them. I don’t think they want us dead at all. I realized that when I saw Roia questioning you. If death was their goal, they could have accomplished that.”
“Maybe they were just trying to get two of us at once,” David said.
“Maybe,” Marissa acknowledged, “and maybe they want us all alive.”
“I don’t know what scares me more,” he said.
Roia lay on the floor of the Davenports’ dining room, writhing in pain that invaded every cell of her body. She couldn’t escape; she couldn’t leave her body; she couldn’t abandon consciousness. As she tried not to move, tried to keep the excruciating involuntary spasms to a minimum, her body struggled to repair itself. She was undoing the repair almost as it happened with her constant twitching – and she couldn’t stop, it was reflexive.
She was barely aware of a deep, throaty laugh and a foot to her shoulder, someone trying to illicit a response. She was aware of Roy Conroy standing above her, and he knew it. Only she couldn’t respond. Control of her lungs, let alone her voice was yet to return. The pain was almost too great for her to concentrate enough to comprehend what he might tell her, let alone attempt conversation. She couldn’t sense if he was angry or amused, so distracting was her physical misery. She was in Hell, and Amantha had delighted in placing her there.
“I know you can hear me,” he said in his characteristic raspy Australian accent. “So I’ll say what I need to say and be on me way.”
Roia tried to nod, and as she did her neck burned with the fury of severed nerves working to repair themselves time and again.
“A contingent of Auroch’Mir is closing in on Jamie Riley and the Sorceress,” he said. “They may stand a chance, those two are still weak. They may have them, but if not, at least we have an idea of the general vicinity of the house. Maybe we can’t know its exact location, but we have plenty of time to narrow it down.” He laughed. “But here’s what’s even better. Half a dozen Seeds and twice as many Shadows are waiting for David and Marissa. They have Zenati around them, but if I know Amantha half as well as I think I do, they won’t present a problem.”
Conroy paced the room much the same way Roia had just hours earlier. She knew that if he had been angry, she would be in even more pain, if it were even possible. He may have already had it in his power to release her from the Zenati Genna, but Roia was certain that if he did, his punishment would be to let the affliction run its course. No permanent physical damage would be done, but Roia was certain she would never be the same again. The human mind wasn’t intended to comprehend and process pain on that level.
“Obviously I don’t want the children dead, but hurting them will be beneficial. I think I know how to do just that. They’ll limp home, and while my Seeds won’t be able to tail them very far with so many Zenati swarming, I think I may score a blow that will cripple them. You’re too weak to join them just now, but I know the Shadow in you will demand revenge for what that Zenati creature did to you here. You’ll have your chance, my dear.”
Roy paced again, back and forth, running the possibilities through his mind. He knew the Genna Daeanna had created in her prophesy was too great for him to overcome. But there were ways to work with it. All it stated was that the five make it to Daeanna. What happened after that was open to interpretation. She may have toyed with the moment of the Footprints, but she knew as well as he that they had to be created. Risking a paradox would undermine everything she had done. A new reality string would form, and Bracchus/Conroy would remain in place in this reality. He had her trapped, no matter what she thought she had accomplished. Not being in touch with his entire vision was merely a temporary setback.
His thoughts turned to his counterpart on the other side. Gideon, the city he had ruled for thousands of years, had fallen to Nikolas. Bracchus regretted the loss of emotional control caused by his human shell – but the thought of Nikolas made him clench his fists and grind his teeth before taking a deep breath and regaining his composure.
“Things aren’t going well for the other Bracchus. He’s weakened beyond the ability to fight, and I’m not yet strong enough to do much here. He and I have been out of contact for weeks now. This is a vulnerable time for me, and I’m not prepared to pick a fight just yet. But I am able to move my pieces into place.
“Once you’ve finished your healing, there’s someone I want you to find. She is a younger sister of the twin Amala. She lived among them until five or so years ago, and ran away. She abandoned the Amala, and has no love for them. She will also have equal, if not greater disdain for her siblings.”
Conroy paced the room, circled the dining room table and knelt down in front of the twitching bloody mess that was beginning to once again resemble a woman. “Her name is Nikola,” he said. “She rebelled violently from the restrictive teachings of the Amala. Her parents allowed her to be abused by the Chara himself. They tormented her to a degree, and certainly allowed her to be tormented by those around her,” he laughed, “because they were afraid of her. They will be again.”
Conroy took a strand of Roia’s blood-soaked hair and ran it between his thumb and forefinger as he continued, raising an eyebrow. “Like two of her siblings, she’s Evanesca – a thing unheard of among the Amala. She has abilities, and her parents made her suffer for them. They made her stifle them. Jealous of what she could do, all her other siblings- four or five of them I think, alienated and abused her.”
Roia managed to move her eyes to meet Conroy’s. Her head moved slightly upward, and the waves of pain it generated caused stars to appear in her periphery – though she still couldn’t pass out, couldn’t avoid the agony. She tried to focus on Conroy’s words. Her jaw was loose, her mouth open. Unable to close it, a river of blood and saliva flowed down the side of her face. Conroy wiped it with his hand and smeared it on the floor. The right side of her mouth remained dry, felt as if it were cracking.
“Want to know the real irony?” Conroy laughed, and said mockingly: “Mommy and Daddy miss her as much as they miss their twins. You see, they secretly regret giving them to Nikolas to save their own hides. Their own children, Roia - abandoned, neglected, abused, all because of fear. And these are humans with typical human emotions and emotional needs. Culturally apart as they may be from the majority of humanity, they are still very much like most of them – they are typical. Here is an argument, if there were no other, that these people aren’t capable of choice, not yet. They need me a while longer.”
Conroy leaned closer. “Once you have Nikola,” he continued, “I want the two of you to continue locating the remaining Seeds. There are so many out there, descendents of those long forgotten. The blood has thinned in them, but my spark remains. I need those sparks awakened, dear. I need them all awakened.” Conroy folded his arms as he observed his daughter twitch.
Roia slipped into a brief seizure, and for a fleeting, glorious moment, the pain disappeared with reality, And again it was back. Once again, fragile nerves shattered, veins split, her heart stopped briefly and regained its beat. She was torture embodied.
“I have some Seeds out there searching for the Davenports. They may be a key to finding the house. It’s my guess that if I trigger an emotional response within Marissa Davenport, she may leak her location. It will furthermore be up to you and Nikola to help capture the twins’ birth parents. They will be most valuable to us. If the Davenports’ pain doesn’t get a response, the twins’ birth parents will. They have no love for the Zenati, and they may even cooperate. “
Conroy signaled with his hand for others to follow as he left the room. Roia had not been aware of the other Seeds and Auroch’Mir in the room. She had been oblivious to them, so focused was her body on healing. Conroy continued to speak as he left the room. “You can find Nikola in Washington, D.C. You’ll be able to spot her from miles away. I hate to leave and miss the show, but I’ve got some PR work to do.”
He stopped in the living room and turned back toward Roia. “If we’re going to save this pathetic excuse for a race, I need you to focus and stop letting unawakened Zenati like your nephew turn you into a bloody pulp. Be careful Roia. I can’t lose you.”
Conroy then turned away from the writhing flesh-heap and left, raising an arm and shouting “ta!” as he left the house.
Roia tried to remain as still as possible, but she had so little control over her muscles, she thought she may just give in and accept the pain, only to find that her body fought that as well. She tried to scream, but her response was a throat that felt as if it were catching on fire. Her eyes burned as salty tears were squeezed from raw eye sockets and dripped down her stinging face.
Even in her blurry tormented state, one thing about Conroy’s speech stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. It was glaring at her, tugging at her curiosity. He hadn’t been completely convinced of his actions. He practically referred to the twins’ birth parents as a backup plan. He was unsure of himself.
Roia was keenly aware that Bracchus had no plans beyond the sermon. His goal was to use his ability, once coalesced, to spark a series of events, leading up to the sermon once again, and ridding himself of his enemies. He had created for himself a closed loop in time. She never knew why he had done this, but there was a continuous cycle of events, a splinter of their reality string looped back around on itself.
Bracchus had created a hiding place in time and space, a cocoon of sorts, and a sandbox for him to play in. He therefore knew the outcomes of events, in theory. He had always been very sure of things. He knew the five children lived, but refused to act until it was time. He knew the chain of events would start later than prophesy suggested, that the Zenati had found a way to thwart prophesy, and that they would ultimately fail.
But now – he spoke in linear terms. Roia knew that trapped in the body of Roy Conroy, Bracchus was weakened. Conroy was a powerful Seed, an amalgam of various Seeds, a being constantly accumulating pieces of himself in this world. But it didn’t account for his lack of foresight.
It also didn’t account for his allowing Roia to see it. Something had changed within Bracchus, something had altered his plan. If she didn’t know better, she would think he was frightened, if only a little. He was on the defensive. Bracchus was never on the defensive.
When David sneezed, his head pounded in retort. He was regaining strength, and his headache had subsided, if only slightly. His joints and muscles ached a little as well, as If he had some kind of flu – but that too, was slowly but steadily improving.
David watched the airport pass by him on the right, and turned to his left to see the distant skyline of Manhattan light up the orange overcast night sky. He sneezed again, and Marissa handed him a tissue. “Ugh, it’s like having a cold. I could deal with the head and body aches, but I can’t shake this sneezing.”
Marissa opened her mouth to say something, but stopped.
“What is it?” David asked, noticing her hesitation as he watched the distant cityscape pass by them.
Deciding to wait and tell him later what might be causing the sneezing, Marissa decided it best to change the subject. “How long a drive do you think it’ll be?”
“I don’t know,” David shrugged. “If I remember correctly, it was fifteen hours – “ David stopped, and then looked forward before continuing. “You know,” he said, “to the mountains in North Carolina, to Hot Springs.”
Electing to once again let a sleeping cat lay, Marissa nudged the conversation forward. “I suppose it’s about eighteen or so hours then, to the house. So I figure we can sleep in shifts. We have another few hours before we have to stop for gas, and if you’re up for it, we’ll switch off then. If not, I think Richmond would be about half way, and we can swap then.”
“That’s fine,” David said, “I could use the rest. You mind if I put on some news?” He asked, gesturing toward the radio. “It would be nice to experience something remotely normal for a while.”
Marissa laughed. “Sure. Who knew that the news would become escapist for us?”
David chuckled, and sneezed again. Marissa opened the elbow rest and handed him a tissue packet. “Thanks,” he said, and switched on the radio.
“…religious cult known as the Free Spirit Movement continues to gain momentum. Its official Facebook page has accumulated nearly a million followers worldwide in just a few months…”
David reached up and changed the channel – Neil Bortz – he changed the channel again – Jazz – and again – Rap – and again –
“…NPR reporter Jason DeRose…the Free Spirit Movement has gained considerable momentum just three months after its first website appeared online…
David turned the radio off. “The last thing I want to hear about right now is the growing popularity of a religious cult,” he said. “That’s just what we need right now – more weirdness.”
“You haven’t heard about that?” Marissa asked, “Where have you been the past few months?”
“Busy as hell at work. Why, what’s all this about?”
“It’s actually pretty interesting,” Marissa said, “I looked into it, since Mom and Dad were showing some interest. It’s a non-denominational church, but it’s not like other churches. It’s been compared to Universalism, but its goal is to encompass the world’s major religions rather than simply tolerate them.”
“I don’t understand,” David said, “Where’s the mass appeal? And how does that work, the major religions are so different from each other.”
“Not so different,” Marissa said, “there are symbolic correspondences in all of them. Nearly every canonical story has counterparts in the other major religions. Nearly every religious icon has its equal in another faith. The goal of the movement is to find the middle ground, the common denominators. It’s nothing new, various movements have done that in the past, but it doesn’t exclude anyone. Kind of like Buddhism, you can practice one while practicing the others.
“A Southern Baptist housewife can be a member, as easily as a Rabbai. It doesn’t have any major texts yet, but they’re constantly seeking ways to work out any contradictions that might arise. They welcome anyone and everyone, and have even started planning rallies and conventions.”
“And there’s no major pushback from world religious leaders?” David sniffed.
“Sure there is,” Marissa said, “but the way they present their argument tends to make these religious leaders appear defensive. It wouldn’t work at all if not for its founder’s charisma.”
“That’s usually the way it works in cults,” David said, “the leaders tend to make everyone feel important, stroke their ego, tell them what they want to hear, or what they think they need to hear. They usually dictate what those needs are as well, eventually.”
“Well,” Marissa said, “this guy Roy Conroy seems to be pretty up front with everything and everyone. He doesn’t mince words, and while I agree that he’s maybe a little too Luke warm at times, he’s very live-and-let-live, you know? He’s not your typical cult leader.”
“If you say so,” David sighed, “let’s see what he’s like a year or more down the road. I’m suspicious of any pop-up religion that makes promises of any sort.”
“They haven’t made any promises. They simply state their goal, and what they’re doing to work toward it. The website is the best part – anyone can go in and enter a correspondence they’ve discovered. They’re building a massive database, and apparently have an army of moderators and research assistants backing it all up.”
David arched an eyebrow. “WikiGod?”
Marissa laughed. “There’s even a section to go in and write your feelings about what the Movement means to you, and where you think it should be headed. Conroy seems to be slowly molding it to the needs of its followers.”
“At what point do you suppose the molding will reverse? Besides that, what do you suppose he has to gain?” David asked. “Why would he do this? Answer those questions, and you’ve probably got the Free Spirit Movement summed up.”
“Now David, I’m the cynical one,” Marissa said, “and I think his goals really might be altruistic. He doesn’t tithe or anything – no need to. He’s independently wealthy, he has no need to work, and he’s by all accounts a stable, rational individual, known for his philanthropy.”
“Stable and rational,” David said, “and yet he’s started an online religious cult.”
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Marissa said. “We’ll have plenty of time to follow the story.”
“About that,” David asked, “how long did Patricia seem to think we’d be there?”
“She said it depended on us,” Marissa shrugged. “She said we would leave when we were ready, maybe in a matter of months, maybe a year or more.”
“Uh huh,” David chuckled, “and what of our jobs, our lives?”
Marissa laughed. “Like I said, I don’t think money will be an issue. The Zenati coiffeurs are pretty immense.”
“So why didn’t they just buy us plane tickets when they knew we were all headed to Daeanna?” David asked, suddenly wondering what he would have said in the frenzy of first realizing he had to go the house, if Amantha had asked him to wait while she bought tickets.
“Lots of reasons,” Marissa said, again with her characteristic laugh that was somewhere between devil-may-care and nervous reflex. “For one, there’s nowhere to run when you’re on a plane. Where you’ll be at a set time can be found by anybody, and a plane itself is very vulnerable to attack from Seeds. It’s just too dangerous, having such few options for that long.”
“That makes sense,” David conceded. “But if we have all this money, then why don’t we have private planes?”
“I’m sure the Zenati prefer to call as little attention to themselves as possible,” Marissa said. “Why are you suddenly playing the Devil’s Advocate?”
“Why aren’t you?” David replied. “I mean – I know there’s truth to what’s happening, I feel it as much as you do.” David stopped to sneeze. “But I have to keep questioning all this. I have to we still really don’t know anything. I don’t like being in this position.”
“You like being in control,” Marissa nodded, “and so do I. We just go about it very differently. I was impressed by you back home. The way you detached yourself form the situation was admirable. I have no idea how you overcame the Shadow’s influence, but I suspect it had to do with your reasoning.”
“Maybe,” David sniffed. “I just wish this feeling of being sick would go away – my allergies-“
David was interrupted by a sound coming from the cargo compartment in the back of his Jeep. It was an unmistakable sound. “You brought Loki?” David asked slowly. “I’m allergic to him for one, but secondly – why the hell did you feel the need to being your cat?”
Marissa emitted the nervous laugh once more, shrugging. “I was worried he might go hungry, Mom and Dad aren’t going to be home for a while – at least a few weeks, maybe longer.”
“He’s a cat,” David said flatly, “he’ll take care of himself.”
“You clearly don’t know him very well,” Marissa said, “and besides, he’ll get lonely.”
David sighed, turned his head to the side and decided he would try to get some sleep. “When you stop for gas,” he said, “make sure you pick me up some Benadryl or something.”
“Then I’ll never get to sleep,” Marissa said, “you can’t drive on that stuff.”
“I hate flying.”
Marlin adjusting his seatbelt with sweaty palms. “We’re too vulnerable up here.”
“Uh huh,” James said, staring out the window onto the Charlotte Amalie tarmac. It would be the last time he would see it. He placed his hand on the window, saying goodbye to his exile and his beloved home for the last time.
It was his last plane ride, his last road trip from Miami to Charleston. He wasn’t sure if he would see his mother or his brother again. Marlin told him that after the change occurred, he wouldn’t want them to see him. He said that it was best they remembered him as they last saw him.
“A murderer?” James had asked.
“Much like what you saw back at your house – perhaps worse, definitely more powerful,” Marlin had said.
James turned toward his nervous, sweaty travel companion – the man who had brought news of what would soon be happening to him elicited surprisingly little anger from James. But what was there to be angry about? Marlin had saved him from hurting anyone after becoming one of those things.
“Is there any hope?” James asked.
Marlin looked to James Easterly. He had carried him in his arms when he was an infant. He had changed his diapers. He had babysat him, helped Amantha feed him. All the while, he knew that in all likelihood, James would change. He would die in a living body and let something else take it over.
“It’s already begun,” Marlin said. “Stranger things have happened, sure. But James, this thing has started its cycle. Had Bracchus not become aware of the children being alive, he might not have sent anyone after you. You might have gone a decade or more, but this would probably eventually happen. Your mother did her best to stave it off, but the change has already started. You feel it, don’t you?”
“Every second,” James said, and turned to look out the window again.
“How soon?” Marlin asked.
“I have no idea,” James said, “I don’t have much experience transforming into a monster.”
“You’ll know when it’s imminent,” Marlin said, “hopefully it will all happen gradually enough for you to give me some warning.”
“I’ll do my best,” James said, and closed his eyes. He would either sleep or cry at that point. All he could think about were wasted years in prison, David’s hate for him, and his mother – aware that he had not murdered Michael, but living with the stigma and the guilt, isolating her oldest son, keeping the middle son in the dark. It must have been Hell for her, he thought.
“I don’t think you’re going to get to sleep without some help,” Marlin said.
James opened his eyes and turned back toward Marlin. “What, you got drugs?”
“I’ll do you one better,” Marlin laughed, and waved his hand in front of James’ face, a trick Nikolas had taught him. It was a form of Imperative, a Genna that acted like a mini-prophesy. The possibility had to find its action. “You’re going to sleep now,” he said.
James ‘ head fell over onto Marlin’s shoulder. Marlin gently rolled it over to rest it on the window. “ Sweet Dreams,” he sighed.
James was at the dining room table in his mother’s house. The tall, gangly redhead with the shocking green eyes smiled at him from across the table. David and Michael were both there, as were their wives. His mother was at one end of the table and his father was at the other. David’s wife was Jamie Riley, and Michael’s was unfamiliar to him – a full-figured blond woman. Their kids were in the next room.
“I remember this dream,” James said to his wife, who smiled at him, her eyes perhaps a little more rounded than they should be.
“It’s not a dream,” she said, “it’s a possibility.”
James stared at the golden, juicy turkey before him, resting in a bed of lettuce and cranberries. He took the knife and fork and moved in on the meat.
David placed a hand on his shoulders. “Not that,” he smiled, “me. Carve me.”
James raised the knife to his brother has he stuck his chest out and smiled brightly. “If you aren’t going to kill everybody, then I guess it’s up to me, huh brother?”
David smiled the whole time. James fought the urge to plunge the knife into David, and struggled to aim it into the turkey.
“Oh honey,” his wife said, now beside him, stoking his cheek with one abnormally long, slender finger. “Just do it, and get it over with. David won’t feel a thing. You can kill yourself afterward, I promise.”
James tried to ignore his brother and his wife and continued to push the knife and fork downward. They each touched the flesh of the turkey’s back, indenting them but not yet piercing the skin. If he could just push a little harder, he would carve the bird and all would be normal again, happy and serene.
James pushed harder as his wife was now kissing the back of his neck, her breath icy and heavy against his skin. “You know you want to do it,”
“Just kill me,” David said, “and nobody would be after you anymore. And I won’t have to do what I have to do. We’ll all be free.”
James plunged the knife and fork into the bird. Instead of juices, blood oozed out, thick and warm. Suddenly he was looking at his youngest brother Michael, lying on the table before him. James’ arms were now at his side, and Michael was the one stabbing himself.
His eyes were red, his pupils dilated. His mouth was black. He was a Seed. James looked up and saw the room was empty. He looked down and saw Michael was gone.
He was alone in blackness. The possibilities were gone.
James started to walk. He walked in the perfect blackness for what felt like hours, searching for something, someone, anything. He called out, and there were no answers. He knew what it meant. It was the end of the line. No more possibility, no more action.
“This is the end of my story,” James said to the nothingness. “If I do nothing, it’s the end. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?”
In the blackness James heard footsteps. They were getting closer, but he couldn’t determine their source. A face appeared before him. It was the face of Patricia Riley. She spoke in a soft, caring voice, a mother’s voice.
“You follow my husband, James. He doesn’t believe so, but there is a possibility remaining, a bright one, though it will be a long time coming. You’re going to have to run the gauntlet. And you may come through the other side. But make no mistake. You will become a Seed. But in so doing, you will be saving lives. Let it happen.”
“I’ll become a monster,” James said.
“I was a monster once,” Patricia’s face smiled. She reminded James of the Cheshire Cat. All that existed there was her face, and James had the very strong impression that she had been in control the entire time. “It’s not so bad while it’s happening to you. Just remember, you found out today that you’re not a murderer. Don’t become one. Save the lives of your family and all they love. Do that, and you’ve already won.”
“I don’t have a choice,” James said.
“There’s always a choice,” the Cheshire Patricia smiled. “Each possibility is a gift, and each choice is the key to unwrapping it.”
“What gift waits for me?” James asked.
“Well that would spoil the fun,” Patricia laughed, “that would ruin the entire point of existence, wouldn’t it?” Patricia then gave James a conspiratorial wink. “But I’ll give you a clue.”
There was a violent shaking. James opened his eyes.
“What is this?” Sam asked, as he and Simon viewed the decidedly out-of-place mirror in Patricia’s bedroom.
The mirror was located behind Patricia’s clothes in her closet. It wasn’t hung so much as it was built into the wall itself. Someone had seemingly painstakingly plastered around its edges so precisely that it almost appeared as if the mirror continued throughout the wall, behind the plaster.
“Daeanna’s cup is back here,” Simon said as he turned on the flashlight and pointed it at the mirror. Instead of reflecting back, Sam could see the outline of a goblet. “Try to break the glass.”
Sam looked up to Simon quizzically, and Simon handed him the flashlight. Simon was at least six-foot-three, and Sam was barely 5’8. Simon was stocky and built, Sam was thin, and slight. Sam always felt like a small child when standing so close to the Zenati Guard. “Go ahead,” Simon urged, “break it, If you can.”
Sam shrugged, “what the hell,” and hit the flashlight against the glass. Nothing happened. The impact didn’t even cause a scratch, or move the glass a millimeter. Sam then hit harder. Nothing. He looked to Simon, then back to the glass. With all his strength, Sam slammed the light into the center of the glass, and the concussion jarred his arm. “Ouch,” he said.
“Only one thing can break this glass,” Simon said, “Patricia told me once that it was designed to be sliced like butter with the Hekta Dagger. But nothing else can break it.”
“You could have just told me,” Sam said, rubbing his arm.
“You may be here a while longer,” Simon said to him, “I suggest you make use of the gym. But even if you had twice my strength, you wouldn’t be able to even crack it.”
“And David has the Dagger?”
“If Amantha is half as smart as I think she is,” Simon nodded, “she gave it to him before he left. She would have found a way to ensure he had it, if she could. It will also protect him.”
Sam looked down at the pentagon hanging on a silver chain around his neck. When he first put it on, he could see Jamie and Nora, as well as David and Marissa, in cars, headed toward Daeanna. Jamie and Nora had been very close.
“We should store these in the Keep,” Sam said. “Once we have them all.”
“That would be smart,” Simon agreed. “They would have been there, in their original places as they had been for over a hundred fifty years, but Nikolas was convinced that as long as they were all together, they would call the five of you to them. They’re far more powerful when they’re in one place, these five.”
“And the other two?” Sam asked, “Whatever and wherever they might be?”
Simon let the clothes fall back in front of the mirror, and exited Patricia’s bedroom. Sam followed him. “If the five of you are in one place,” Simon said as he walked down the long thin hallway, “and five of the relics are here, it would stand to reason that the remaining two would make their way here. The relics are living things, remember?
“Together, the relics will make each other more powerful, as will the five of you. You and the relics will feed off each other. The remaining two relics will undoubtedly be on their way quite swiftly.”
“The Blood of the Union and the Pure,” Sam said to himself as they reached the end of the narrow hallway that opened up to a curved marble staircase. “I can’t wrap my head around it.”
“The Amala were the keepers of the relics,” Simon’s voice echoed in the large open parlor. “I reason to guess that you and Marissa are natural readers of the Exegesis. You can teach the others, once you’ve mastered it. I would imagine the key to figuring out the remaining relics are in there. After all, it would want you to know.”
“A living thing, right,” Sam nodded. As he reached the bottom step he nearly fell over as a notion hit him like a brick. There was an image, then a feeling.
Simon grasped his arm and helped him up. His eyes widened in a gaze, beads of sweat were appearing on his forehead.
“Sam,” Simon said, sensing his fear. “What is it?”
Sam looked up to his new friend. “Jamie and Nora,” he said. “Shadows. They’re near, maybe fifty or so miles from here. They’re closing in on them. Three or four behind them, and a few more to the West of them, closing in.”
Simon closed his eyes. Sam was right, and he had sensed the Shadows before him, a trained Zenati Guard. He was amazed, and wondered if it had more to do with the relic around his neck, or the slow awakening to his abilities. Simon reasoned it was a little of both. Sam had also been in Daeanna for years – his power had been slowly growing without his knowledge the entire time.
“Stay here,” Simon said to Sam, who was visibly frightened. Simon left the house and called out to his Zenati brothers. There were more around the house now, maybe two dozen.
Daeanna had many layers of Genna placed around it keeping anything Bracchen from penetrating its perimeter, including their senses. It was a black hole to them, a semi-permeable hideaway. Usually Zenati could not gather in that number without being sensed by every Shadow and Seed for dozens of miles, but Daeanna’s spells kept that from happening.
Most Shinva, natural weak-points in the Hekta Thread had been similarly enhanced by ancient Zenati and Sorcerers, but Daeanna was fortified many times more than any other. It was the most important, most sacred Zenati location existing in that world, designed to protect, teach, and nurture the children, who were now adults.
And now Sam here, one of the five the for whom the house was built. He paced in the foyer, helpless to do anything. If he left, he would be in danger as well, but if he stayed and did nothing, and they were harmed he would be at least partly to blame.
It then occurred to him to wonder what would happen to prophesy if any of them died before it could be fulfilled. Would there be replacements? Were there replacements already in the waiting? No, he thought – it was the five of them, he could feel it. Therefore, he reasoned, they would all make it – all four of them had to make it. There was no room for error.
Sam walked into the sitting room off to the other side of the foyer and decided to build a fire. It was March, and still cool at night. The fire might calm the two women down a little. Once the fire was stoked, he would make a pot of coffee. They would have so much to go over.
As Sam lit the starter log, he thought about the fact that the five had to be there, in the house, that the four would make it, no matter what. So why did he feel fear for them? Was it part of the process? If one simply gave up and allowed the pieces to fall as they may, would prophesy not simply take over?
The flames began to grow, and David sat on his knees, hypnotized by the fire and debating this new conundrum.
Maybe, he thought, it was their job to fulfill it. They were the tools of the Hekta Thread and its mandates, its prophesies. Maybe that was where the compulsion originated. They were as much a a part of the Hekta Thread as the relics, that was already established. The Exegesis was their voice. So could it be changed?
Who was in charge of their lives, their existence? Were they the soldiers of the Exegesis, or was it their tool to use? Was free will an illusion, or was it their greatest weapon?
Roy Conroy sat in the boardroom of his Manhattan office.
The board members consisted of ordinary humans and Seeds. The humans were completely unaware of the true nature of their company, and equally unaware that eventually he would have to make them Auroch’Mir.
“Another fifteen thousand hits just this evening,” one of the human board members said. “Sponsors have all agreed to remain silent for now. They’ll be allowed to announce themselves at your first sermon,” he said.
“Thank you,” Conroy nodded, “I appreciate your convincing them of this. If we appear too corporate, too soon, we’ll lose followers, that’s assured. Jonas,” Conroy said, turning to the Seed at the end of the table, “how did it go in Haiti?”
“Well,” he said, “we met some resistance from the locals, but as soon as we handed them the cash, they became our biggest supporters.”
“Did anyone see you?” Conroy asked, “does anyone know?”
“If they do,” one of the humans said to Conroy’s right, “it’s fine. We can write it off. We’ll say we raised the cash at one of our galas.”
“Those records are public,” Conroy said, “but then, I suppose records can be changed.” He then turned to the Seed to his left. “And a location for the first sermon?”
“Charleston, South Carolina,” the woman said, smiling, but not showing the inside of her mouth.
“No,” Conroy said flatly, “that will be next year. We can’t go anywhere twice, it’s a waste of resources. What about San Antonio?”
“We’ve met too much resistance there,” she said. “There tend to be more followers in the Southeastern US than anywhere else. Likely it’s due to our church outreach programs. We focused on that area so much early on, we almost overcompensated for the conservative churches. I suggest the first sermon be somewhere the locals still aren’t sold. Don’t underestimate your ability to convince, sir,” she smiled that tight smile again.
Conroy nodded. “You might be right,” he said, “but the last thing we want right now are protesters. Let’s instead focus our media campaigns and charitable outreach in those areas. What other cities not in the Southeast are at least friendly to us?”
“Not many,” she said, “but there appears to be some growing support in Salt Lake City, mostly the younger demographic, rebellious teens. But then you’ll have angry parents getting media attention. There’s some activity in Seattle, but not enough to warrant a sermon.”
“I think what we need,” Conroy said as he leaned back in his chair, “is a city that would be grateful for the attention and the money it would bring. We could meet with city officials before we announce the location and win their trust. What about somewhere smaller? We’ll want a growing city. When we meet tomorrow, I want five suggestions from each of you, and reasons why. We’ll take a vote, and use that list to map out the first tour. We’ll meet with each city independently, or perhaps have them bid, maybe announce an essay contest or something. That way we can best gauge interest.”
The meeting adjourned, and Conroy remained at the table as the council departed, one by one. He spun around in his chair and watched the city. It pained him that he didn’t know where to go. He didn’t know which cities produced which results. He was operating moment by moment.
“Damn you Daeanna,” he said. “Damn you. I will kill you for this. You’ve damned these people, and I will kill you for it. Pathetic as they might be, they did not deserve this sentence.”
As the night wore on, Bracchus’ thoughts turned more and more to Jamie Riley. She was the real key. Ultimately the decision would be hers, he could recall that much of what would happen. Somehow, a few memories were still in place from before Daeanna’s tampering.
Jamie would decide if Bracchus were to be set free, or trapped in his human shell. Jamie would decide the fate of her race. Jamie was the key, and it was up to Bracchus to ensure she see it. As he watched the city lights below, he realized he did have one chance to reach her. He could give her just one message, and there was one way to do it. He picked up his phone.
Bracchus was weakened in his human state, but he thought if he could just manage one little Imperative, he could decide his fate early in the game. He withdrew his cell phone from his jacket pocket and flipped it open, dialing one of the more powerful Seeds lying in wait for David and Marissa.
He may just yet be able to impart a message through his fledgling – one that would blossom when Jamie awakened.
“Root to flower indeed,” Conroy muttered as the phone rang.
Jamie had accelerated to nearly ninety miles per hour.
“They’re keeping up,” Nora said, And there are a few more to our left.”
“I know,” Jamie said, “I can see them now. There’s a left turn up ahead that leads to the house. There was a note on the map about a couple of landmarks. It said the turnoff would be about a hundred feet beyond a sign pointing the way to a Wildlife Refuge. I think I see it. Should I follow it?”
“Well yeah,” Nora said, as if stating the obvious. “Why wouldn’t you? We’d be safer behind locked doors.”
“Do you think that would stop them?”
“And they would know where the house is,” Nora nodded. “And they’d be back, maybe with friends. Fine, so what do you suggest?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie shrugged. “Maybe there are back roads back there, maybe we can lose them.”
“We probably stand a better chance of losing them out there than on the highway,” Nora agreed. “Do it.”
Jamie remembered the map stating that after the sign, just before the turnoff, there would be a rusty, abandoned gas station. She saw it, and decelerated. Her tires squealed as she rounded the turn off the wide highway and onto the narrow, poorly-paved road. There were no lines painted in it, no street sign. The corners were overgrown and branches hung low over the entrance. If they hadn’t known it was there, they would never have seen it.
The road was pitch black, not a light to be found. Jamie slowed down, keenly aware of the ones following them closing in. “How do we know they mean us harm?” Jamie asked as she looked for a road to turn onto. “All we know is that they’re following us.”
“When you sense them,” Nora said, “do they strike you as remotely friendly? There’s something terrifying about them.”
“And something familiar,” Jamie said. “I know that feeling, that brand of fear from somewhere. It’s so - familiar, I just can’t place from where.”
Jamie saw a dirt road ahead on her right, the entrance barely illuminated by the moon. Like the entrance to the road they were on, it too was overgrown. There were deep grooves and potholes on the clay. It hadn’t been tended to in quite some time, Jamie thought as she slowed to a stop and looked down it.
The road winded into more pitch darkness. It could end in a swamp, or wind its way to a house, or field. There was no way to tell.
“Take it,” Nora said, and Jamie turned. The car shook and jolted as they ran over pothole after pothole. The road widened, and Jamie realized it was large enough for two cars. She slowly turned the car around until they faced the bed in the road, and she turned the lights off, leaving the engine to run.
“It stands to reason,” Nora said, “that if we can sense them, they can sense us. How else would they have known where we are?”
“I agree with you,” Jamie said, “though ‘reason’ isn’t a term that floats to mind of late.”
“What do you plan to do?” Nora asked.
“Well,” Jamie said, “we basically have one option right now. We wait until they pass us, and wait until they turn back around, or we wait until they come down this road and high tail it out of here when they do. They can’t turn around that fast.”
“And they’ll just follow us,” Nora said, “they know how to find us. Your mother said we’d be safe at that house, but we’re not there yet. And the last thing we want to do is lead them there.”
“What about the caretaker?” Jamie asked. “I don’t suppose we have a phone number to the house.”
Nora considered this for a moment, then said slowly, “as long as we’re completely out of the land of the sane, I’ll mention that I think he knows we’re here. I think he’s already sent someone on their way here to help us..”
“I thought,” Jamie said, then stopped for a moment, choosing her words carefully. She knew they were venturing further down the rabbit hold just by talking about this openly, as if all this craziness were becoming more real. “I thought I saw him too,” she said. “So maybe we wait for help.”
“Or,” Nora said, “Maybe we wait until they come back here, and we kick it out of here while they’re turning around.”
“Either way,” Jamie sighed, “we won’t have long to find out how quickly Sam’s friend can get here.” She pointed forward, and Nora looked. A set of headlights was making its way down the road they had turned off of, slowing to a crawl, then stopping.
“They’re waiting for the others,” Nora said, shaking her head. “Dammit.”
Jamie didn’t take well to being frightened. And the fear that was clearly emanating from the car a hundred or so feet ahead was becoming stronger – and more familiar. It was an invasion, as far as Jamie was concerned, on her feelings and her mind. These things were intrusive. And, she was certain, they were deadly.
“Shadow,” Jamie sighed.
“What?” Nora turned to her friend for a moment, then back to the outline of the car just a few hundred feet away. Something dark moved near the parked car.
“Shadows,” Jamie said, “that’s what they are.”
“If you say so. How do you know?”
Jamie was about to speak when there was a soft knock at her window. She screamed turned to see thesunken-in face of an emaciated young man, physically in his teens, smiling at her from outside the car. The terror was paralyzing. His pupils were dark circles in bloodshot eyes. His veins, light blue as they were, were stark against his pasty skin. Jamie screamed.
He seemed to be regarding Jamie carefully. At first he had seen her as prey, and now a curiosity. Jamie’s fear was slowly turning to anger. Nora was urging Jamie to hit the accelerator, but her voice was simply white noise. The fear and anger was swirling inside her as the young man placed his bony white hand on the glass.
“Jamie, go! Go now!” Nora was screaming.
Jamie slowly lifted her hand toward the glass. Her nostrils flared, her heart pounded. She could feel pockets of energy around her. They moved toward her, encircled her. The fear from the demon teenager mingled with her hatred.
Nora felt the same fear now emanating from Jamie, but it was different. Jamie was different than these things, but there was a similarity. Nora reached over to place a hand on Jamie’s knee and force the accelerator and perhaps break out from the trance she seemed to be in. But without turning her head and looking, Jamie’s right arm wrapped around Nora’s wrist.
Nora froze. A mixture of hot and cold seemed to be wrapping itself around Nora’s arm, twisting around it and searching for something in Nora’s core. Nora felt the pockets of energy herself, and could sense the object in the black box, could almost see something that resembled blue smoke travel through the ether and envelop Jamie and Nora. It wasn’t visible, and yet she could see it.
Jamie felt the energy from the object, felt the energy drawing into both of them. She placed her hand on the glass. The Shadow seemed to be entranced by Jamie. It eyed her up and down, turning its head to one side, its black smile widening.
A few more Shadows, maybe five, Nora thought, were surrounding the car. Nora felt stronger now, took in the fury and terror they produced, twisting it into strength, into fuel. She knew if she stopped to think how or why, this would all stop. But something was building to a magnificent crescendo.
Jamie smiled at the Shadow as the rest of them seemed to stop approaching. There were six new ones, Jamie thought. There were four to their right, one behind them, and another behind the young man who was so clearly enrapt. Jamie inhaled as her very soul seemed to be drawing their energy in.
The Shadow mingled with something else, something cold and steely, something dangerous. And there was yet another source, something deep within her, something buried and – old, so old. Jamie could feel it inside her, waiting to stretch out, like a coiled snake.
The world was silent.
Instinctively, Jamie squeezed Nora’s hand. They released the energy.
The Shadow before Jamie disintegrated. A blue shockwave emerged from the car and spread out in all direction. Every window of the car was blown open, sending shards of glass flying into the dying Shadows. Their bones snapped, their skin split.
Seven bodies lay in an imperfect circle around Jamie’s car. Nora reached up to discover her nose bleeding, but turned to Jamie and saw hers was not. Nora was catching her breath, could feel a headache coming on.
“Are you okay?” Jamie whispered.
“What was that?” Nora whispered back. “My head is pounding. What was that?”
“I’m not sure,” Jamie said, and drove the car over the body in front of them and back to the main road. “There are more coming,” Jamie said, “maybe half a dozen.”
“I can’t do that again,” Nora said, holding her hands up to her temples.
“We won’t have to,” Jamie said, now starting to feel a headache. She felt as if the life was being drained from her.. The world around her was growing dark, and she slowed the car. “I can’t drive,” she said.
“We have to,” Nora said as the world began to spin.
Jamie put the car in park. “Just a minute’s rest,” she said, as her eyes began to close. Headlights appeared in her rear view mirror. Jamie’s eyes widened. Struggling to gather whatever strength was remaining, she put the car in gear and hit the accelerator.
The car behind them stopped, and Jamie thought they were surveying the damage. She tried to drive straight, but struggled against the dizziness and weakness that was trying to take over. She had to make it. She had no choice.
As she pushed forward, she could see two more sets of headlights ahead. The car behind them had once again accelerated. Jamie slowed as the first car drew nearer. It was a large blue pickup truck, and at the wheel was someone who was definitively not Shadow. There was no fear. Quite the opposite, he seemed to be emanating an air of familiarity.
Simon rolled down his window and saw a weary Jamie, eyes half-closed, nose bleeding, squinting out at him.
“Dear God,” Simon said, and turned to say something to the man in the cab beside him.
The world around Jamie was closing in. She turned to see Nora passed out, her head on the passenger door window. “Nora,” she said weakly, and succumbed to the blackness.
“You feel them too,” Marissa said to David as he awoke in a cold sweat.
“Yeah,” David said, and reached for his phone. He scrolled for his mother’s number, then looked up. “Where are we?” he asked.
“Pennsylvania,” Marissa said, “North of Philly. I don’t think they would attack us out in the open.”
“So you’re an expert?” David asked as he held the phone up to his ear, and sneezed.
“More so than you,” Marissa said, “besides, think about it – they don’t want to be exposed. If the world at large knew about them, they would be hunt-“
“Mom?” David said, and Marissa stopped.
“David,” she said, “we’re about twenty minutes behind you. Keep going.”
“They’re ahead of us too,” David said, “and I think there are some in the city.”
“We know,” Amantha said. “There about a dozen Shadows and a few Seeds closing in on you. But don’t worry.” David could almost hear a smile in his mother’s voice.
“Sure,” David said, “we’ll be busy not worrying while those things close in around us.”
Amantha laughed. “If you only knew, son. You have about thirty Zenati guards surrounding you right now. The car ahead of you, the car behind you, and several others in the vicinity. You’re being escorted to Daeanna. Once we’re nearer, the Zenati will disperse. We can’t risk the Bracchen tracking you, so for a time you’ll be on your own. Daeanna is hidden from them, and we need to keep it that way. For now, you’re well-protected. More will join the escort as we near DC, there are many more Zenati there.”
“Are you serious?” David asked, “How many of you are there?”
“How many of us, you mean,” Patricia said. “And to answer your question, there are thousands, hundreds on this continent alone. Most of them have now been charged with making sure you reach Daeanna. Nora and Jamie are almost there.”
“Marissa says they won’t risk a confrontation in the open,” he said. “Is there truth to that?”
“Somewhat,” Amantha said as Marissa glared briefly at David. “Shadows have no sense of self-preservation, but Bracchus does, as do his Seeds. The Shadows follow their orders. If the world knew about them, they would be hunted.”
“So why don’t we simply expose them?” David asked. “Why not let humanity loose on them?”
“Expose them,” Amantha said, “expose us. We would be hunted down as well, and would be forced into hiding. As it is, we live in the open, so long as nobody knows who or what we are.”
“And what is that?” David asked.
“Different,” Amantha said, “And to the average person, frightening. We’re not like them, and they would begin to sense that. Then the Evanesca would be exposed, otherwise normal human beings born with naturally-occurring Gen in their blood - different from us, but vastly different from normals.”
“Normals?” David asked, “you mean those not like us.”
“The vast majority of the population,” Amantha said, “we tend to call them normals. And then you have the Amala, they’re a wild card. There’s no telling how they would react – probably, they would lead the witch hunt.”
“How is it,” David asked, “that you hid all of this from me my entire life? You seem to be a leader of some kind, clearly you’ve been involved, and yet I never knew.”
“It was difficult beyond words,” she said. “But I need to focus on driving. We’ll talk more when we get to Daeanna. You sound better, rested. I’m glad. But Marissa will need to rest soon too, so at some point you need to let her drive.”
“Bye Mom,” David said, amazed at how her maternal instincts took over even now. She still spoke to him as if he were a teenager. He realized she always would.
“Told you,” Marissa said, chiding David as she would a little brother. “So what did she say?”
“It appears we’re being escorted,” David said. “But we’ll be on our own as we get closer. I guess the Shadows can sense the Zenati as well as they – we – can sense them.”
“Can you sense the other Zenati?” Marissa asked. “I’m trying, but I can’t.”
“Sort of,” David said, reaching out with his mind in all directions. “I mean, I think I do, but I’m not sure. Maybe they’re just so familiar to me that I’m not noticing them.”
“That would make sense,” Marissa nodded, “you grew up around one. Actually, you grew up with a High Zenati, a member of the council, which if I understand right, is many times as powerful as the others. You’ve always known that feeling. So why can’t I sense them I wonder?”
“You said you were Amala, or whatever,” David said, “which I’m guessing is a different breed of sorts. I always knew you were a freak,” he smiled.
“Funny or not, I’m glad you’re getting your sense of humor back,” Marissa smiled back. “You worried me for a while there.”
“I’m still a little weak,” he said, facing the road ahead again. “Not to mention confused, and overall pissed off.”
Marissa nodded. “Because they hid so much from you,” she said.
“No,” David said and turned to face Marissa again. “Because you know I’m allergic to Lokie, and yet you brought him anyway.”
“And because they lied to me, yes,” David said. “As this all sinks in, and maybe I’m a little less terrified, I’m still confused. The world is not what we thought it was. There’s this war going on around us, and we seem to be in the middle of it. And it appears we don’t really have a choice in the matter. We were born into it. Who we are, what we’re going to do with our lives, those things were decided for us before our parents, their parents, and their parents were born. That doesn’t bother you?”
“Of course it does, but just like I have to believe the Shadows aren’t people,” Marissa said, and paused. She thought of the screams coming from her burning house. She pushed the thoughts out of her mind and continued. “I have to believe that we do have a choice in the matter, and that it’s not fate that we’re being led into, but a series of decisions that will decide on the outcome of this war.”
“War,” David said, “resting on our shoulders. The lives of so many, our responsibility. What weighs more on you, that, or the idea that we’ll act out of a preordained set of circumstances? Would you rather have the weight of the world on your shoulders, or be tools of fate?”
“Easy,” Marissa shrugged, and glanced at David. “I’d rather it be a matter of choice.”
David looked at Marissa, then back toward the road. The glow of Philadelphia grew, and he could make out the shapes of the skyscrapers piercing the same orange day-glow sky that had hung over New York City.
“I’m going to try to get some more rest,” he said. “Wake me up when we get to Richmond.”
“Sweet dreams,” Marissa said.
“That would be novel,” David muttered as he allowed his fatigue to once again take over.
As David gave into sleep, in the back of his mind a new thing brewed, a sense of something pending, something waiting. He was scarcely aware, and dismissed it as an approaching dream, but somewhere ahead, just off I-95, awaited Seeds.
There was a nest of them, perhaps five or six, waiting exactly where they needed to wait. There were many Shadows with them as well, and they knew David and Marissa were coming. And they knew there would be no Zenati protection for them.
The idea that they were driving into a trap evaporated in David’s heavy rest, a thought dismissed as a dream, or his anxiety creeping into his sleep. In a fog, he dismissed it.
The car door was opened.
A chime was going off, indicating the keys were still in the ignition. Jamie was suddenly aware that her head was on Nora’s shoulder, and that her head was moving, probably as she was waking up as well.
Jamie had been shoved over so that someone else could drive. The seat was now empty, and she adjusted herself, lifting a leg riddled with pins and needles over Nora’s and back to her side of the car as she adjusted back into the driver’s seat.
Reality flooded in as Jamie awoke. She was weak, her head was throbbing. She turned to see Nora awakening as well. Something was waking them up, something giving them a burst of renewal.
Jamie turned to her left, and before her was Daeanna. Standing between her and the magnificent house were five men. One of them was markedly shorter than the others, though Jamie couldn’t make out the details. She squinted her eyes as her focus began to return, her headache suddenly subsiding.
She turned to Nora, who was now sitting straight up, shaking her head as if to remove a settled layer of dust. “Nora,” Jamie said softly, “we made it.”
Nora tilted her head and saw the men standing by the car door. The fog was lifting. The pain was evaporating. She sighed. “Thank God,” she said, and grasped Jamie’s hand.
Jamie turned to face the men, as they were now clear, far closer to the car than she had thought. They were surrounding her, smiling.
“Jamie Riley,” the tallest man said, and reached out his hand. Jamie took it. The smallest of them walked around the car and opened the passenger side door.
Jamie took his hand, and immediately recognized the warm, renewing feeling she had felt earlier, the same feeling coming from the house. “I’m Simon Durant,” he said. “I’m assigned to protect this house, and all it contains. This now includes you.”
Jamie pulled herself up. She was lightheaded for a moment, but the feeling quickly subsided. “Pleasure to meet you,” she said, and again stared up at the house. It was welcoming her, she thought. She could almost feel it beckoning her to come in.
Sam took Nora’s hand, and both felt an instant connection. A warmness seemed to move from each others’ hands, moving backwards and forwards, a blending of energies.
“Sam Quinn,” he said as Nora took his hand and stood, towering nearly a foot above him. “Nora Ramsey,” she said, and like Jamie, began to take in the house. It was a alive, she thought. It was its own animal, a creature built – for them. She could feel it as strongly as she could feel the Shadows’ terror, only this was its pristine opposite. This was the antithesis of the fear. And suddenly Nora recalled her last memory.
“There were more behind us,” Nora said. “Several more, what happened?”
“We took care of them,” Simon smiled. “There were five more. You and Jamie already took out seven,” he smiled. “Amazing. Not even awakened, and you took out seven Shadows. Had you done it before?”
“No,” Jamie said, “it just sort of happened.”
“It’s like that with all of us the first time,” another of the Zenati said, a tall, very thin man with long blond hair. “I’m Marcus,” he said as he shook Jamie’s hand. Again, Jamie could feel that familiarity. It was like a secret handshake no one could reproduce, an instant recognition.
“Jamie,” she said.
“I know,” he laughed. “When a Zenati first meets his or her first Shadow, it comes as naturally as breathing. But to do seven, even with the two of you, is unheard of. Congratulations, I think you’ve set a record.”
Jamie laughed a little, and wondered if all Zenati felt so many different forms of that energy. She doubted it. She now knew she had some of that Shadow in her blood.
“Then again,” another of the men added, “how often does one witness the first Shadow kill of a Sorcerer?”
“Sorceress,” Simon corrected, and looked at Nora. “I guess you’re the first to have that title.”
“Sorceress?” Nora asked, “Hardly.”
“Of course,” Marcus said to Simon, “she doesn’t know yet.”
“Seems to be a theme,” Nora said, repeating Jamie’s sentiment from earlier that evening. The weakness, the headache, were evaporating. The energy from the house seemed to be filling her. She walked around the front of the car and stood beside Jamie. Sam followed her.
A kind of magnetism, and electric current of sorts, seemed to be flowing between the three of them. Nora and Sam instinctively turned to face each other, forming a circle. They stared at each other for a moment, feeling the energy excite. They were at once aware of the box in the car, and various objects in the house, especially the cup, that through Sam, they could see.
A connection was forming between the three of them, a connection long overdue. They knew it should have happened before, and now it was building. A breeze blew in from the Atlantic, and thunder could be heard at a distance.
The four Zenati Guards backed away, in awe of what was happening.
The breeze picked up to a steady wind, whipping Jamie and Nora’s hair in time with the Spanish Moss on the periphery of the property. The sound of the wind grew as Jamie, Sam, and Nora continued to stare at each other in turn.
“Awakening?” Marcus asked.
“That’s just it,” Simon said, “no. They’re feeding off each other. Their power is growing, and they’re doing something similar to when the Seeds coalesce. They’re bonding.”
The wind continued to pick up. Distant chimes from the courtyard at the other side of the house could be heard. These were the true winds of change, Jamie thought, an announcement to the world that three of the five had arrived.
The world seemed to be acknowledging them as their energy began to flow together, as one. Jamie could not necessarily hear Sam or Nora’s thoughts, but could sense their emotions, feel them almost as if they were her own. Only these feelings went deeper than any emotion she had ever experienced.
As the wind whipped around the three, encasing them in an eye of a mini-storm, Nora could feel the power in the air, and the power of the air itself. She drew its energy into her as she became more and more aware of those around her, of the Zenati guards, of her comrades, and especially of the house. It was indeed a living thing. She could feel something within her stir – not awake yet, not quite – but stirring.
Sam could sense the differences in Jamie and Nora. He had never been so keenly aware of the different energies a person possessed and radiated. It was almost as if each had their own scent, their own flavor. He was confident that if his back were turned, he could point out each individual standing in front of the house. He could be blind and deaf and tell who was who. But strongest of all these were the young women standing with him. He could almost hear their thoughts as they seemed to linger just beyond the furious cloud of emotion they radiated.
They weren’t like brothers and sisters. They were closer. They were like one, divided. The wind began to pick up, and while the Zenati Guard had a hard time standing, the three stood fast against the rushing air. Slowly, the winds began to calm.
The air around them seemed to sigh.
For a few moments Sam, Jamie and Nora simply stared at one another in turn. “I think I saw David and Marissa,” Nora said. “They’re drawing nearer, but I think they’re still half a day away.”
“I saw them too,” Jamie agreed. “But maybe not as clear as you. All I could tell was that they were North somewhere.”
“We should try using the relics,” Sam said.
“Relics?” Jamie asked. “What relics?”
Sam gestured for Jamie and Nora to follow him inside as he walked toward the house that seemed to be ushering them into its protective warmth. It felt almost maternal to Sam. “Come on in,” he said, “I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Well,” Nora said, “sounds like you’re further ahead of the game than us. All we know is that some zombie things just tried to kill us – oh, and that Patricia was a little different than most people.”
Sam chuckled as he walked up the steps. “I’ll give you all the answers I can. Simon might be able to help me fill in the gaps. Once Amantha gets here, I’m sure she can help as well.”
Eton, Berkshire, England
Andrew Dougherty listened to his footsteps as they echoed through the empty High Street. He gazed into the windows of darkened storefronts, glanced down alleyways leading to
Eton College buildings, and eventually gazed in awe of just half a mile where he stood. Windsor Castle
Andrew had always wanted to visit
, but until recently didn’t have an excuse. Recently he found one. He rented a room in a guest house in Windsor Slough and spent a few days wandering the area before he found it.
The last one had directed him here. The last one had a brother here – a gay brother. It was all too easy. Most of them were related to each other, so going from one to the next was quite simple. When he ran out of family members he simply reintegrated himself into the Evanesca community, but avoided the communes. He would be spotted almost immediately, an Evanesca of his power. But he would seek out those who had left their communities, either temporarily or permanently. He would get to know them, weasel his way back into their circles. Once there he would ask questions that would, in very little time, lead him to his quarry.
The best were those who didn’t even know they were Evanesca. They were the easiest – those whose families had denied them their heritage and therefore the explanation of why they were so different from everyone around them. But Anthony was not one such as this. He had lived in a commune in the Lake District for two years before deciding he wanted to go back to normal society. Anthony could see why –
was a wonderful place. Windsor
He was in awe of these towns, Eton and Windsor, separated only by a footbridge spanning the River Thames. Not twenty minutes’ walk from Eton was the exhaust-brown town of
, known for housing a chocolate factory and one of the world’s largest office and industrial parks. Slough
There was a pedestrianized High Street lined with a perfectly half and half ratio of pub chains and Asian markets. One could purchase an Indian Sari, a Middle-Eastern rug, mobile phone pre-paid cards, grab a curry and get absolutely hammered in less than a block.
The streets of
Slough were crowded with pedestrians and strollers, and the air was a mix of chocolate and exhaust fumes. And yet, just a few minutes’ walk away, was the historic charm of Eton, with its world-renowned school famous for educating princes and CEOs, and the adjacent town of Windsor, dominating by its delightfully imposing castle and ancient storefronts.
To Anthony it was a metaphor for the Evanesca living so closely with normal human society. Ahead in the town of
was such an Evanesca – one like him – who was just ripe for the picking. Windsor
Anthony walked over the
Windsor and as a passenger boat chugged beneath him, its diesel engines belying the ornamental paddlewheel. Drunk partiers lined the streets of the town. They chased each other, wrestled, kissed, laughed, vomited. Eton Bridge ’s rich culture was at least partly defined by drink. He would only hope this man, this Daniel Torin was as drunk as the rest of those around him. England
He reached the end of the bridge and walked down the steps toward the passenger boat promenade where swans – traditionally solitary birds – swarmed around passersby in hopes of garnering bread or meat pie. This was their new hunting strategy – territory be damned.
Anthony passed the larger of the throngs of swans and stopped to allow a giggle of girls to pass by, off the passenger boat and onto the pub for the conclusion of their hen party.
Behind the offloading party boat was another, a blinking cubic disco on water, full of tourists willing to pay forty pounds per person for a hot-box plated dinner with stale bread and a tiny bar in the saloon to service a hundred guests. Anthony didn’t even have to look into the saloon as the vessel inched toward the promenade. He had been on several, in various countries, and they were so often the same.
As the crew jumped from the gunwales onto the promenade, ropes in hand, Anthony kept walking. He veered off the promenade and began walking into Old Windsor, a quieter section of town. He was only blocks away now from the Three Tuns, a quaint Victorian Stick neighborhood pub he was told was frequented by Daniel Torin.
As far as he could tell, there were very few Evanesca in the area. Anthony thought he caught the scent of one in
, but it quickly faded. He thought Daniel might even be the only one in Windsor, Eton or Slough. There were others in Reading Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, but they were scattered. They may not have even known each other.
At the end of a winding street sat the lonely Three Tuns. Several street lights were either out or flickering, and one of the lights that illuminated the paint-chipped sign had gone out.
Anthony reached his hand around the tarnished brass handle and with a creak it opened. There were only two people at the bar, and no one at the tables. The bar matron was polishing a glass as a sole tinny speaker piped out an old Abba tune.
At one end of the bar was an older woman, maybe in her seventies, eyes half-closed, hand wrapped around a half-pint beer mug. At the other end of the bar was his prize. A slender man, lanky and sinewy, wearing a baggy polo shirt and jeans, Daniel Torin tinkered with his phone, talking to people through a social network – people who may as well be alone in other bars.
It was a sad scene, these people who weren’t even talking to each other. It was a neighborhood pub absent of neighbors. In Daniel’s social circle, the party had gone digital.
“What time is it?” The woman behind the bar lisped, as Anthony realized she didn’t have much in the way of teeth. He had found the stereotype largely untrue, at least nowadays, but this woman was a product of her time. She had probably owned and operated the bar for decades, and appeared to be in her mid to late sixties.
Anthony looked at his watch. “Nearly twelve,” he said, making his way to the bar and sitting two seats away from Daniel, who glanced at him, smiled, then continued texting.
“You’re not from here,” the woman said, “what kind of accent is that?”
“Mixed,” Anthony laughed. “Long story.”
The woman shrugged. “Don’t have a queue at the bar, do I?”
“I grew up in
Papua New Guinea, moved to New Zealand, then to . I was there for fifteen years, then found myself in Indonesia Iceland, and then , where I was until just recently. So I think you might be hard-pressed to pin down my accent.” Scotland
“Coo, you’ve done some movin’, ‘aven’t cha? What can I getcha?”
“Stella,” he said, “and another round for that gentleman over there.”
The woman looked at Daniel, who looked up in half-astonishment, then back at Anthony as she sighed. “A whole or half?” She asked as she slumped her shoulders.
Anthony sat up. “A whole, of course.”
“Just checkin’. I didn’t know if ya’ might be watchin’ your carbs or what-not.”
The woman turned around and began pulling the pint. Clearly she knew Daniel was gay. The woman to his left took a wobbly sip of her beer and continued to stare straight ahead.
“To what do I owe the honor?” Daniel asked as Anthony turned back to look at him. Anthony made a point to stare directly into Daniel’s pupils as he spoke.
“Just a drink for a brethren,” Anthony said, smiling out of the corner of his mouth.
The bar matron placed the beer on a mat in front of Anthony and placed Daniel’s in front of him. “I’m dyin’ for a fag,” she said, “you two mind of I go out back?”
“Not at all,” Anthony said.
She walked through a door, and Daniel listened as he heard the back screen door slam closed. “You’re Evanesca,” he said to Anthony.
“Shall we sit at a table?” he asked.
Anthony stood and walked toward the corner of the room and sat on a sofa that was up against the stained glass window. Daniel sat in the wooden chair across the rickety coffee table and placed his beer in front of him.
“Are you from the commune?” Daniel asked, “because I made it clear I don’t want to be there. I don’t care what the Elders say is coming, I don’t wish to-“
“I’m not,” Anthony said, leaning back and stretching his arm over the sofa as he sipped his beer with the other. He set the drink on his knee and regarded Daniel, looked him up and down, and in so doing invited him to do the same. “I’m simply here to meet new people, new people like me.”
“Are you here to meet Evanesca, or flirt?”
Anthony turned to the side and laughed, then turned back. “A little of both, I suppose. But you really are like me. I mean – specifically.”
“Well – yes, but that’s not what I meant. You know there are different kinds of Evanesca.”
“Sort of,” he said, leaning forward, his arms on his knees. “I mean, different Evanesca can do different things. The more powerful ones are telekinetic, that seems to be a common thread, but otherwise we’re just gifted differently.”
“We might as well be different races,” Anthony said. “We have similarities – telekinesis in many, the ability to learn and use Genna, and who knows what else. But there are some who can change the mood of a room, and others who have specific types of telekinesis – they can excite molecules or slow them, and can affect the weather by doing so. Some are especially gifted Imperators, and some are precogs. There are those who have a gift for hearing bits of a language and learning it almost instantly, and others who we believe can communicate with the disembodied.”
“And you say these are different races.”
“Yes – like you and me – those who have the ability to sense motives in people, and tell what those motives are.”
“You are like me.”
“I am, Daniel. And I know what your exact motives are with me, right now.” Anthony smiled wryly. “But that’s not all you can do.” He lowered his outstretched arm and patted the seat next to him.
Daniel got up and sat next to Anthony. “What else can I do then?”
“You can affect others’ motives, change their desires. You can steer them in any direction you choose. That’s why you come in here. You wait for a cute young man to come in, chat him up and eventually he wants you.”
“Are you telling me you never used your gift for pleasure?” Daniel asked, as he leaned in closer.
Anthony laughed. “Sometimes, yes I have. But I like to know my men want me, without Gen. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to others like me. How often do you come in here and do that? You lonely little queer boy, you don’t even know how to get a man all by yourself, do you? It’s always been so easy.”
“Your motives,” Daniel said, ignoring the insult. He was distracted by the fact that there was no distraction, there was no ulterior motive. There didn’t appear even to be one. “I can’t sense them. I can’t sense anything, how did you-“
Anthony placed a finger over Daniel’s lips. “Shh…” He then placed his hands over the man’s cheeks, cupping his face, then moving his hands back over the sides of his head. He leaned in, their lips inches apart. With a quick and forceful jerk, Anthony snapped his neck. “It’s a secret,” he whispered.
The old woman got up from her stool and stumbled towards the door. Anthony gently lowered Daniel’s head and placed it on his shoulder, smiling at the woman. It was everything he could do to mask his ecstasy.
She mumbled something unintelligible as she left, and Anthony could only make out the words “puffter” and “shirt-lifter” as she left.
The other woman appeared behind the bar again, and Anthony stood quickly, allowing Daniel’s body to drop onto the sofa. She saw his twisted neck and a trail of blood coming from his mouth, and started to scream before Anthony stopped her.
“You can’t scream,” he said, and she closed her mouth, surprised. “You will dial 999, but until I’ve been gone for half an hour. And you will wait until you have more patrons. You don’t remember my face. All you remember is that I’m wearing a military uniform, I’m Asian, and I speak in a Russian accent.” That should throw them.
Anthony laughed. He knew the police would dust for fingerprints, and made a point to stop by one of the tour groups to suggest to the tour leader they all get a round at the genuine English pub known as the Three Tuns.
Near Jakarta, Indonesia
“This is not our war,” Gerald said to Nikolas Ramsey. “We will not participate.”
Nikolas took a seat at the kitchen table across from his old friend. He had known Gerald for decades, had been the one to find him before the Evanesca. Nikolas had spotted him from miles away when he was a small boy, so powerful he was.
Gerald spent five years training with the Zenati, and as was the case with many of his kind, he slowly took on the Zenati traits – but was ever-conscious of his differences. Eventually the Evanesca reached out to him, and Nikolas did nothing to stop it. If he wanted to be with his own kind, that was his decision. He chose to be with them.
Gerald and Nikolas remained in touch for several years, writing each other often. Eventually the letters tapered off. Gerald had found his tribe, and began to side with them on matters of neutrality and involvement with Zenati affairs.
Among the Evanesca, Gerald had proven himself powerful and brilliant, and rose among the ranks quickly. Ten years before, Gerald was granted a leadership role, presiding over Oceana and Eastern Asia, identifying and recruiting Evanesca to their compounds and communities, teaching them to discover their abilities and how to use them to better the world without openly affecting it.
In spite of his brilliance, Gerald had never achieved the Evanesca’s greatest goal – discovering who they were and why they had been born so vastly different from other people. He suspected the secret lay in the Exegesis, but could never officially ask to see it, even if the much-heralded children found a way to read it. One day though, he knew, he would discover their secret. Once they discovered their purpose, the Evanesca knew they would stand a better chance of fully developing their culture, embracing their identity.
Evanesca were sometimes born from normal human beings devoid of Gen. They were also born of other Evanesca parentage. Sometimes it skipped a generation, sometimes two, and sometimes none at all. Two Evanesca did not guarantee Evamescan offspring, but it was becoming a greater likelihood that they would. Recently they had been born of Amala, but that appeared to only occur in the original Chara family line. Only the twins and one of their siblings had displayed the traits.
Evanesca displayed unique abilities. Each was different, and all could learn to commend Gen, to greater and lesser degrees. They didn’t always pass on the same traits, but strength in ability appeared to be genetically linked.
In previous generations going back thousands of years, one or two would be born in each generation worldwide. They were all born on the side protected by the Zenati, in the reality string that consisted primarily of normals. But they all possessed the ability to Evanesce, that is, move between worlds when near weak points in the Thread.
Around the time of the Devil’s Footprints, more began appearing. They began appearing by the dozens – then by the score. Over the past fifty years, they were being born in the thousands. And they were finding each other.
Almost instantly the Evanesca began devising ways of locating their own as they were born. The more they discovered about the war between the Zenati and the Shadows, the more neutral they became. As the Amala became aware of them, they began to threaten to hunt them down. After several were murdered by the Amala, they fled from view of any other creature possessing Gen. They isolated themselves in remote communities, and the Amala seemed to leave them alone.
As the war with Bracchus in the Old World was slowly being won by the Zenati, many Evanesca began fleeing to the other side. In the Old World, Gen was tolerated, celebrated. They were granted by the Zenati a corner of Gideon. In exchange they would help restore the city – but they pledged neutrality. All they wanted their quarter to be was a haven for Evanesca fleeing the New World.
They had evolved a hierarchy of sorts, which as far as Nikolas could tell, was fair and democratic. They had developed their own laws, and the primary law was to stay out of the affairs of normals, and as far from the Amala and the Zenati as possible.
“This is your war too,” Nikolas said. “If the Thread fails, there will be no place for you to Evanesce. Or, there will only be one world. We don’t know – but what’s certain is that many – perhaps billions – will die.”
“Your Exegesis,” Gerald said, “is said to predict war. We cannot be involved in this war. Our communities are in isolated places, we can maintain our neutrality quite easily.”
“What don’t you understand?” Nikolas asked as he placed his elbow on the table and leaned toward his old friend. “The Evanesca are the central characters in the coming war. The Exegesis states that the Children, with the Evanesca, will usher mankind into a race that no longer needs its Gods to shelter it.”
Gerald laughed. “You’re a horrible liar,” he said. “That’s one of the few prophesies ever both translated and confirmed to be accurate, and nowhere in that passage are the Evanseca mentioned.”
“Not in that passage,” Nikolas conceded, “but throughout the book.”
Gerald regarded his friend, leaning back in the chair, looking out through the open door onto the beach, and back to Nikolas. He shook his head. “We’re not warriors,” he said.
“Then why do you train them?” Nikolas asked, standing up. He began to pace the cabin, thinking of an angle, any angle that would garner his support.
“We have the right to defend ourselves from the Amala and even the Auroch’Mir, should they threaten us. We have a right to exist.”
Nikolas had his angle. “Bracchus doesn’t see it that way,” he said, “and neither do the Amala for that matter. Bracchus wants control of your destiny, your future. The Amala want to see you gone. They want you either dead, or back in the Old World.
“You’re right to learn to defend yourselves, as I’m sure the communities are doing all over the world. You will be brought into this fight. If the Auroch’Mir don’t take to hunting you as they have us, the Amala soon will. Wouldn’t it be better for the Evanesca to try to resolve this conflict before it comes to that?”
Gerald stood and approached his friend. The sand felt wonderful against his bare feet. He couldn’t imagine being anywhere other than on this island in the Pacific. Here he was safe, separate from the world that had chastised him, and here he was able to remain apart from the dealings of the Zenati.
Gerald knew that soon he would move up once again, soon he would be among the Evanescan elders. When that time came he would be moved to a larger community. But for now, he wanted nothing more than to be right where he was.
Gerald placed his hands on Nikolas’ forearms. “I believe you’re doing what you believe is right,” he said. “But your prophesies don’t apply to us. We’re not like you. We’re not a part of this.”
“Those are no normal prophesies,” Nikolas said slowly, emphasizing each syllable. “The Exegesis is in itself an Imperative. It’s an Imperative placed on this entire world. What it states must happen. These are the rules by which we live safely apart from The Old World.”
“Ah,” Gerald smiled, rubbing his friends’ arms jovially before releasing them and walking back to the window. “But your war in Gideon is all but won, I understand. Perhaps,” he said as he turned back to face a visibly frustrated Nikolas, “you should take your brethren and go back there. Leave the human race in peace. After all, would that not finally affect the peace you so crave with the Amala? It would certainly go a long way toward your relationship with us. Take your war away from here.”
“Convince Bracchus,” Nikolas chided, “and I’ll go along with it.” Nikolas paused a moment, looked out the door and back toward Gerald. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said.
Gerald walked back to the table and sat, leaning back. “I’m listening,” he said.
“Come with me,” Nikolas said as he too sat back down. “Come to Daeanna. The children will learn to read the Exegesis. It was written for them, after all. And they could teach you. And you could learn what you need. See it for yourself, see the whole picture. The Exegesis can offer you that. And not just the Exegesis. The Keep’s library will be at your disposal.”
Gerald rocked in his chair, pushing it back and forth with his feet on the table ledge. He stared at his feet, wondering if he could safely leave Rudy in charge. He knew he could. He knew there was nothing stopping him from doing this. But what would he tell the Elders? What would they think of him venturing off to the most sacred of Zenati sites?
“Well?” Nikolas asked, “what have you to lose?”
“The respect of the Elders,” Gerald said. “Officially we’re to have nothing to do with you. It’s what we teach our young, and it’s what we constantly remind each other.”
“Were that the right thing to do, you wouldn’t have to constantly remind yourself,” Nikolas said wryly, “May I suggest you tell them you plan to try to talk sense into the Zenati? After all, you certainly would, at least from your perspective. Tell them you want to try to prevent this war.”
“Such an active stance would likely be forbidden,” Gerald said, then paused a moment before continuing. “But if I claim to be going an ambassador, to find out where and when this war is going to begin, they may go along with it. They may agree to a defensive stance. And when I come back, I can confirm what we already know by having viewed the Exegesis with my own eyes. And I may find the answers to some very old questions.”
“Agreed,” Nikolas smiled.
“How long do you think I’m going to be there?” Gerald asked, “I don’t know how long they’ll be comfortable with my studying alongside High Zenati.”
“The children could take months to learn to read the tome. You should plan for a long stay. Since when to the Evanesca revolve their lives around schedules anyway?”
“You know so little of us,” Gerald said, “amazing you lead the Zenati and have such a narrow concept of the Evanesca.”
“So educate me.”
“Perhaps I will old friend,” he said. “But there are other matters to tend to as well. It’s possible the Elders will say that I need to focus on those right now.”
“An Evanesca has been killing our kind. He’s killed dozens. We’ve been trying to track him down, but it’s proved difficult.”
Nikolas tried to contain his fear. He knew what such a thing might mean, but he couldn’t be sure. It might simply be a psychotic Evanesca. “Surely the temporary loss of one man wouldn’t impede their investigation.”
“So,” Jamie said as she surveyed the staircase, the cabinets, and sitting room at the other end of the parlor, “this is mine?”
“On paper, yes,” Marcus said. “There is a steward in every generation. Your father was the house steward, and later he placed deeds in your mother’s name, and she became the steward. Each steward protects the house, and usually adds something to it. That’s always been the tradition. But the house was built, and belongs to, the five.”
“Okay,” Jamie said, eyeing the ornate medallion on the ceiling in the parlor. “So it’s ours. I can live with that.”
Simon placed his phone back into his pocket as he stepped back into the parlor from the sitting room. “Amantha is aware there is an ambush,” he said. “They’re already working on a way around it.”
“I told you,” Sam said, sitting on the sofa. “They have to make it here. I’m beginning to realize there’s no denying this prophesy Daeanna put into place.”
“Does it specify we all get here alive?” Nora asked, “I mean, how specific was it?”
“I’ve never seen it,” Sam shrugged, “it’s in that book you brought with you.”
Jamie sat on the lounge and removed her shoulder bag. She reached in and pulled out the heavy box, placing it on the coffee table. “So that’s what’s in here,” she said. “How do we open it?”
“The key,” Simon said as he walked across the room and knelt down at the table in front of Jamie, “is getting all five relics in the same place at the same time. At least that’s what I’ve been told. The chalice is upstairs, and I believe we need David’s dagger to remove it.”
“So,” Jamie said, “all our answers are in this book.”
“Most of them, yes,” Simon nodded.
“Why?” Nora asked, “How is this book related to everything? Is this thing just about us?”
“It’s about this entire world,” Simon said, “It’s one of the relics used to open a door here. It’s tied into the Thread as much as all of you. In a very real since, it’s the voice of the Thread.”
“Back up,” Jamie said, “what’s the Thread?”
“Tell them everything you told me,” Sam said. “Start at the beginning. Then we can try to figure out how to open that box and retrieve the Exegesis.”
“Everyone get comfortable,” Simon said.
Nora sat beside Jamie, and Sam relaxed in his chair. As Simon recounted the opening of the door to a new possibility, the prophesy, the purpose of the Zenati and the scourge of the Auroch’Mir, Jamie thought she was listening to a fantasy yarn.
Nora was astounded, and had a hard time disbelieving, as much as she desired to dismiss it all. She couldn’t reconcile everything she had felt, seen, experienced that day with any sort of logic. She could only reconcile it all with what she was now hearing. But her logic was standing in the way of her fully accepting it all.
Sam listened to the story once more, tying in the carvings on the wall, trying to fill in as many missing pieces as he could. There would still be missing pieces, as long as the book was sealed. He knew he and his sister would be meant to read it – though he hoped the other three would be able to as well. He was relishing this new feeling of being a part of something, of having family, of having a reason to keep going. He would have simply shrugged those feelings off just a few years earlier.
Jamie’s stomach turned as Simon told of how the Zenati dispense of the Auroch’Mir. He said that only a powerful enough Zenati could overcome the Shadows’ terror and dispense of it. Jamie remembered the Shadows’ terror. She remembered killing seven of them, along with Nora. And as she remembered how she had recognized that particular brand of fear, her heart burned.
Simon reached modern times, told them of the Devil’s Footprints event that Bracchus had created to line the possibilities in his favor. He told them of the Amala’s splitting apart from the Zenati and becoming anti-anything they perceived as inhuman. And finally he told of how the children were to initially be raised together and protected from prophesy, but a decision was made to split them apart.
Jamie and Nora would remain in contact, since they would have very few friends. They would live isolated lives, but still have each other for companionship, if at a distance. They would also be near enough to each other for protection should it ever become necessary.
The same was true for David and Marissa. Only at some point Amantha decided it was okay for him to see her, that if he showed any signs of pre-awakening she could sever their ties.
Sam was placed in as loving and prosperous a home as Marissa, but tragedy struck, and Sam spent the rest of his childhood being bounced between foster homes, many abusive, many seeing him as an easy tax shelter and a source of state checks.
All were given Imperatives to remain distant, to stay low, to stick as close to home as possible. All were given these Imperatives in their sleep. And all three recoiled at the extent to which their parents had lied to them.
Jamie and Nora were silent for a few moments as they tried to assimilate everything they had just learned into their reality. It wouldn’t fit, no matter how hard they each tried. This was too huge, too life-altering. The world as they had always known it did not exist. What did exist was a dangerous universe, filled with Shadow people and under the threat of some ancient monster. What did exist was a world they never should have populated, chained to the world from which their ancestors came.
All Jamie wanted was a quiet dinner with her friend, and some time to mourn. All Nora wanted was to return to work and resume some semblance of normalcy. It was too much, all at once.
“I can’t get passed the fact that Mom was one of those things,” Jamie said in a low voice as she stared at a random point on the wooden floor.
“But she rose above it,” Simon said, “She became an amazing woman. You should be proud of her.”
“I can’t get past any of this,” Nora said. “It’s – it’s unbelievable.”
“You should call your Dad,” Jamie said, her eyes glazed over as she stared into space. She snapped herself out of the trance, and looked to Nora. “Call him,” she said.
Jamie then looked to Sam, Marcus and Simon in turn. “Show me this cup,” she said. “Let’s figure this out.”
Marissa hung up the phone and briefly looked at David as he woke from his slumber. “We’re splitting up,” she said.
“Let me wake up,” he said as he sat up in the seat. He looked at the window where his sweat and saliva had left a smudge. “How long was I out?”
“Five hours,” she said, “Give or take. We just passed Richmond. I could use some sleep, but I’m a little nervous about that now.”
“Why?” David asked as he yawned, “What’s this about splitting up?”
“There’s an ambush a few hours ahead in North Carolina. Since neither of us has awakened, and I’ve got the relic, the only way the Seeds can track us is with all the Zenati around. That was the reason your mother initially didn’t want to accompany you.”
“But we were going to split up around North Carolina anyway,” David said. “Why are you worried if they can’t track us?”
“I just feel something’s waiting for us up ahead,” Marissa said, “it’s been nagging at me all night.”
“I noticed it too,” David said. “So if we can sense them, doesn’t it stand to reason they can sense us? I mean, Roia could sense me when I was hiding in the woods at your parents’ house.”
“You were very close to her,” Marissa said, “And Roia’s much more than a Seed. She’s by far the most powerful of the Bracchen next to the Beast himself. And she didn’t sense me, did she? Besides, I think what we’re sensing is something blocking us from Daeanna. It’s the prophesy telling us something. It’s working to get us there, and there’s something that’s threatening it.”
“You talk about it like it’s a living thing,” David said.
Marissa was silent for a moment. “I think it is,” she said. “Not in the way you and I think of life, but it has a need for survival – it has a way of acting to ensure its completion. In that respect, it very much is.”
“Okay,” David said, “So we don’t split up. We take our chances.”
“Amantha seems to think that’s the bigger risk,” she said. “Once we split up, maybe you and I won’t sense anything ahead of us anymore.”
“We’ll find out in a few hours,” David said. “Pull over and let me drive. You can at least get a nap.”
Marissa put on the hazard lights without hesitation and slowed down as she entered the shoulder. As they both got out of the car the fresh, cool air hit them in the face.
It was eerily quiet. There wasn’t a car in either direction for miles. All they could hear was the clicking of the hazard lights and the rustle of leaves in the woods beside them. Somewhere in the distance lightning flashed.
David inhaled deeply. As the crisp filled his lungs, an increased sense of foreboding filled his body.
“Do you feel that?” Marissa asked, pausing in front of the car to face David.
David nodded as thunder growled to the distant south. “It’s not safe here.”
“It won’t be safe anywhere until we reach Daeanna,” Marissa said.
They crossed each other somberly and got back into the car. David put it in gear, turned off the hazard lights and re-entered the highway.
The woods beside where David and Marissa had stopped were thick. They covered the steep hillside that lead to an access road where two Shadows stopped their car alongside David and Marissa to try to catch their scent.
Every living being had a signature feeling in its trace of Gen. Every living thing had its own feel, its own ‘smell.’ Though they didn’t shine through the ether like awakened Zenati, their light, once recognized, could be more easily followed.
“It’s no use,” Simon said to Nora as she paced in the narrow hallway with her phone to her ear. “You’re trying to call the Sorcerer, aren’t you? It’s no use.”
“Please don’t call him that,” Nora said, hanging up the phone in frustration.
Simon shrugged. “It’s what he is.”
Jamie, Sam, and Marcus were in Patricia’s bedroom viewing the cup behind the solid mirror. Nora had remained outside, frantically trying to reach her father, partly for answers, partly to berate him for lying to her, and partly to lead up to a grand apology.
Nora had spent most of her life chastising her father, and now she understood, or at least was beginning to understand, that despite her anger with him, his need to keep her in the dark and his need to be away was for her safety. She was beginning to conclude he had been hunting things like those that had come after Jamie and her. More than that, he appeared to be leading those that hunted the shadow-things.
But her anger was growing as well. She felt as if all these things were happening to her, and she was simply playing a part. She felt that her father could have done something, either better prepare her for what she would face, or do more to stop it.
Nora closed her phone and glared at Simon. “My father is out of range,” she said. “But you knew that. Where is he?”
“Nikolas doesn’t often tell us where he’s going,” Simon said, “he tends to keep his business to himself unless there’s a need to share it.”
“Welcome to the club,” Nora said.
“I think I got it,” Jamie said as she entered the hallway from Patricia’s bedroom. Marcus and Sam followed her. Nora was amazed at how Jamie had suddenly wrapped herself up in what was happening around them. She wasn’t sure if it was a form of escapism, a way to avoid mourning her mother, a way to focus on the task and ignore the emotional confusion – or if this was her way of conquering it.
“Got what?” Nora asked.
“The cup,” Jamie said, making the shape of a cup with her hands, “is placed on the box, and unlocks it. There’s a picture of the book on the bottom of the box. There is a symbol on the front of it resembling two pentagons overlapping each other. My guess it that the book can only be opened with the twin pentagons, and the cup can only be released from the glass with David’s dagger. It’s brilliant.” Jamie stopped, keenly aware of Nora’s frustration. “Did you reach your Dad?”
“Apparently,” Nora said, folding her arms, “he’s out of range. I guess they don’t have many signal towers in the other dimension. Or, he may just be somewhere here, but out beyond any reception. Nobody knows. I guess he’s just as mysterious with the Zenati as he’s always been with me.”
Jamie approached Nora and touched her softly on her forearm. She said nothing, but they shared a glance. Nora smiled a close-lipped smile, acknowledging that Jamie truly did understand her feelings, but she was no less aggravated.
“You’re adjusting to all this pretty well,” Nora said. “I guess I’m still having a hard time with it all.”
Jamie smiled and shook her head slightly. “Don’t you get it?” she asked as Sam closed in and looked up at Jamie. As short as Jamie was, she was still taller than Sam, who was barely at Nora’s shoulders.
“Get what?” Nora asked, “Get that we don’t have a choice in the matter? That we’ve apparently been born into something? That everyone around me is calling my Dad a Sorcerer?”
“The Sorcerer,” Marcus said. “Only one.”
“Get that we’re here now,” Jamie continued. “We can figure all this out. We find the answers, we deal with this, and we return to our normal lives. The sooner we find out how to end this thing, the faster we can move on.”
Sam shook his head. “Don’t you get it?” he said, “this is it. We’ve crossed the Rubicon, opened Pandora’s box, and about a thousand other metaphors for ‘no turning back.’”
Jamie looked at him, completely aware that this must have been what he needed in his life. This had filled some niche, some cold empty place. Same must have been waiting for something like this.
“You can live out this life as an Amala, or Zenati, or whatever,” Jamie said. “But Mom wanted a normal life for me. That much is clear. So did Dad, and I think once he gets here, he’ll agree. It’s this mess that separated us. I want to clean it up, and I want to move on.”
Nora nodded in agreement. “So let’s figure this out,” she said, and turned to Sam. “Take us to the Keep.”
Sam shook his head and walked in front of Jamie, Nora, Simon and Marcus. He raised his hand and signaled for him to follow. “Come on then,” he said. “And I’ll show you a place that has been waiting for us for a long time. Just like this house was built for us, this Keep was designed for us.”
Sam had adjusted quickly. He had found something here in Daeanna – a purpose for being. Foster family after foster family, shelter after shelter. He had been a successful thief, con artist, and dishwasher. He had betrayed friends, stolen from bosses, and remained some sort of brigand saint in their eyes. He was never sure if people felt pity on him, or if they did genuinely like him for some reason. He had never particularly cared.
One week before Patricia had introduced herself to him, he had stood on the edge of an overpass. He had watched the cars below in a daze, stared into the empty air as they formed a continuous stream of headlights below. It had been almost like a river of light and white noise that at any moment he could join, and let the current take it all away – the frustration, confusion and emptiness – the boredom, the pointlessness .
And now, there was a point. There was a reason. There was a method to the universes’ madness, and he was a part of it. There was a goal to it all, an ending – a real ending, a bang rather than a whimper.
More than that, here was a beginning. A beginning, a newness, a fresh start was a concept previously beyond Sam. He scoffed at such concepts; he considered them tools of the weak-willed. ‘Clean slate’ was a phrase meant to ignore previous mistakes and pretend they didn’t happen, he had always thought.
But now he understood. It wasn’t all for naught. During the first few years with Patricia he understood what it was like to have family, to really need someone for something other than financial support.
But over the past few weeks, he understood what it was like for the world to need him. He had, in fact, been born for something, and he would not give that up. And he had a sister, real family. And his sister was like him. He wasn’t alone anymore, and didn’t want to be. If nothing else that had happened qualified as a miracle - that did.
Simon caught up to Sam as they descended the staircase. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” he asked, “all three of you going in at once? You know how it works. You feed off each other. When two of you are together, you’re individually twice as powerful as before. When three of you are together, you’re six times as powerful. It’s exponential. You passed out down there when it was just you. You’re in this house, and the three of you are more powerful near the Shinva. If you’re in the Keep, you’re in the Shinva itself.”
“Do you think it will trigger an Awakening?” Sam asked, not even turning to face Simon.
“It might,” he said, “or you could all slip into a coma, however briefly. Or, you could Awaken and David and Marissa will follow suit. You’re all connected, however far apart you might be.”
Sam stopped, and let everyone else catch up with him. He looked to Jamie and Nora. “So what do you two think?”
“I really don’t know,” Nora said. “I say we go for it. Hell, what else is there to lose at this point?”
Nikolas stood on the tarmac of the small airfield, smiling as his friend lugged a bag over his shoulder and made his way to the plane. Nikolas’ Hawaiian shirt was open, flapping in the warm wind. With his cargo pants and Panama hat, he looked somewhere between an aristocrat going on safari or a tourist pretending to be such.
“I thought Zenati didn’t fly,” Gerald called across to Nikolas.
“Normally we don’t,” Nikolas said, lowering his voice as Gerald drew closer. “But we don’t have the time it would take to get there by sea. We’re flying to Johns Island, near Charleston, and we’ll drive the rest of the way. We have to be fast, the Bracchen can sense me from many miles away. I can only mask us for a short while,” he said. “Gen has its boundaries. Blinding so many at one time will require all my strength, so you’ll need to be vigilant. Can you drive?”
“I guess I’ll learn,” Gerald said as they stepped into the open door and into the small jet. “Is this yours?” he asked as they made their way to two seats on either side of a card table. The interior was designed with wood paneling. A CD player was embedded in the wall behind Nikolas’ chair, and a flat screen television was mounted at the other side of the cabin.
“No,” Nikolas laughed, “like you said, we don’t fly if we can avoid it. Why own a plane? I chartered this.”
“Ah,” Gerald nodded as he looked around at the wet bar, video game controllers and all the other amenities. It was like a flying limousine. “It must be nice to have that kind of money.”
“You could too,” Nikolas said.
“Are you trying to tempt me with money?” Gerald laughed, “Once again, you demonstrate your complete lack of understanding of the Evanseca.”
“All I’m saying,” Nikolas said as he fastened his seatbelt, “is that the Evanesca all have unique abilities. Surely they share some of those possessed by the Zenati.”
“You mean surely,” Gerald said as he fastened his own seatbelt and the engines roared to life. “Some of us can learn to place Imperatives on people, place key members of our society in key positions, always ensuring our accounts were full.”
“More or less,” Nikolas shrugged. “It’s not like anybody is getting hurt. We’re not stealing, we’re simply manipulating computers.”
“And peoples’ perceptions,” Gerald said, suddenly realizing how much he missed these debates with his old friend. “You’re bending them to your will.”
“We’re harming no one,” Nikolas said, glad to be in the company of Gerald once again.
“You’re lying,” Gerald said.
“Not having to worry about money means we can focus on survival and defense,” Nikolas laughed, “Why would we weigh ourselves down in financial turmoil when we could be out ridding the world of Auroch’Mir?”
“You’re still manipulating people. The Evanesca are stalwartly against the manipulation of other cultures, especially the normals. Is it within our ability? Absolutely. But if we’re going to be more than human, we’re going to rise above human greed.”
“More than human? Rise above? Listen to yourself, it sounds like the Evanesca are managing to be at once self-righteous and condescending to an entire race. Besides that, you are human,” Nikolas said, “you’re not more human or less human. You’re human, just different.”
“Nobody knows that,” Gerald said as he stared out the window onto the departing earth. “No one knows where we came from or why there are suddenly so many of us.” He turned to face Nikolas. “Until we discover otherwise, we elect to remain apart – as completely apart as possible. It wasn’t easy to convince the elders to let me go, but they’ve bought my defense stance.”
“Tell me then,” Nikolas said, “what is your real stance? “
“I want to see if I can discover any new abilities while in Daeanna, or aspects of my current ones. I hear tell that the longer one stays in that house, the more powerful they are even when they leave. ”
“A selfish act? From an Evanesca?” Nikolas asked mockingly.
“Of course not,” Gerald said, “if this is something that can help me defend my people, then I need to know about it. I have no needs beyond that.”
Nikolas regarded Gerald, and said “I believe that to be true. But there is a wonderful rapture when you find yourself truly in touch with the world around you for the first time.”
“Yes,” Gerald said, “I awakened decades ago.”
“You haven’t experienced the Keep,” Nikolas said. “You’ve been to Daeanna, but never the Keep. You will feel as if you’re awakening all over again.”
“So I’ve heard,” Gerald nodded.
“And what if you discover an active ability to place an Imperative on someone?” Nikolas asked, “And the only way to defend the Evanesca is with money. Would you manipulate the normals?”
Gerald laughed. “That’s a silly question,” he said. “But I’ll humor you and give it some thought.”
“You do that,” Nikolas said.
Jamie, Nora, Sam, Simon and Marcus stood in the cellar around the door to the Keep.
“You’re sure we want them to do this,” Simon said to Marcus. “We don’t know what this will do.”
“We know this was built for us,” Jamie said, reaching her hand out to the door. She could feel something vibrating in the air, wrapping itself around her arm. It was beckoning her. It was reaching out to her, pulling her in.
“Jamie,” Nora said, “I feel it too. It’s strong. Maybe we should wait for the others, or until we- awaken, or whatever. Simon’s right.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Sam said as he placed his hand on the door. He and Jamie pushed, and it swung open.
At first the world seemed to grow bright, get lost in a golden hue. The flash was gone, and the cavernous room lay ahead. Sam and Jamie stepped in, and Nora followed them. Simon and Marcus walked behind the three, watching them closely.
Sam walked down the steps, and Jamie followed. Nora looked at the carvings, and as she got to the bottom of the steps she turned to view the one behind them as Jamie and Sam approached the table. “It’s us,” Nora said, her voice seeming to echo over and over, filling the room.
Jamie and Sam turned to see what she was pointing to, and they too felt her voice filling the Keep. “Amazing,” Jamie said, just to see if her voice had the same effect.
Goose bumps rose in waves over Sam’s arms and legs while the echoes seemed to merge into a single din. It felt as if the Keep itself were awakening. “It hears us,” Sam said. “It’s answering us.”
Nora caught up with Sam and Jamie. They stood in a circle as they had on the front lawn. The Gen was growing within them. The room was welcoming them, embracing them.
Jamie felt warmth wrap itself around her, comfort her. She closed her eyes. “It’s Daeanna,” she said. The word Daeanna seemed to echo above the other sounds, repeat itself over and over, take on a new voice.
Daeanna it seemed to be saying, over and over. Jamie closed her eyes tighter and reached out to that feeling, reached out to the Keep itself.
Nora and Sam were in a similar trance, could feel the word Daeanna take on a form, a feeling, a palpable sensation that filled the air and enveloped the three of them. They could almost feel it directing itself at Jamie.
Daeanna the word echoed. Simon and Marcus dropped their jaws in unison as a gold light seemed to grow from the center of the three standing near the table. It grew, forming a sphere around them.
Jamie could feel that thing inside of her, answering back to the light, to the echo. It wanted out. It was an egg, waiting to hatch, a sprout ready to burst forth. The energy required was immense, but that energy was right here.
Daeanna – the word barreled into Jamie, over and over. It came in waves. And it was encircling the other thing, the dark thing, the horrible legacy left in her by her mother. The black, oily, tangled mess of Auroch’Mir was as clear to her as the golden light in which she bathed.
The light seemed to penetrate the oily morass, seemed to be taking it in. And the sprout was ready to burst forth. She felt it might tear her apart if it burst, but there was no stopping it. Jamie’s physical body was barely withstanding it. She shuddered from the ecstasy of it all, began to succumb to whatever this thing was trying to do to her.
Jamie was suddenly frightened. Her mind was changing, her spirit was changing. Was she changing physically as well? Her body ached, but pleasure soon overcame it. Another rolling tide of pain washed over her, and another of pleasure. She moaned. She squinted her eyes. Her body lurched back and forth, and stopped. Her head bent back as her back arched. and to Simon and Marcus’ amazement her feet were suddenly off the ground. Jamie was levitating two feet above the Keep floor, her body twitching as she moaned. It no longer sounded like a moan of pleasure.
Sam and Nora collapsed. The gold light now centered around the writhing body suspended in mid-air.
“We have to get her out,” Simon said, “now!”
The tow approached Jamie and Simon reached out to her. The moment his hand reached her shoulder, he could feel the enormous amount of Gen nearly knock him over. The light faded. Jamie collapsed in Simon’s arms.
Simon took Jamie to the threshold, and Marcus brought Nora, laying her on the cold stone floor. Before they got back to Sam, he waking up as well. “What happened?” he asked.
Outside the door, Nora sat up and opened her eyes, and looked beside her to see Jamie, twitching, her eyes closed tight. She looked as if she were in pain, and Nora could sense that pain. Something was fighting inside of her. She remembered the brief vision before she blacked out – the Zenati and the Auroch’Mir within Jamie were at war.
They were out of gas, as had been predicted. The silver SUV exited the interstate and pulled alongside a gas pump.
And as predicted, three cars, each carrying a Seed and three Shadows seemed to come from nowhere and surround the car. They were trapped.
Farrah, a recently-awakened Seed got out of her car, and her Shadows followed her. Farrah had yet to develop the physical manifestations of Bracchus. Her eyes were still bright blue, her teeth dull, her gums red, if dark.
She was flanked by two emaciated female Shadows on her left, and a relatively healthy-looking male on her right. He too, was new to Shadow.
The other Seeds, young men, exited their cars, followed by their equally-horrific Shadows. One of the Seeds, Roland, turned to the gas station attendant who was wiping his eyes, likely wondering why he couldn’t look directly at most of the crowd surrounding the SUV at the pump.
Roland flashed a blackened, sharp-toothed grin at the attendant. His black eyes reflected the light from inside the service station. The attendant ducked, and pushed a silent alarm. There was terror in the air. It caused him to pass out.
Farrah reached into a coat pocket, took out a gun and shot the cameras.
Roland laughed and turned back to the car. “Check,” he said in a raspy voice. “You’re ours now.”
The car door opened. A Zenati stepped out, as did three more. They reached across the roof of the car and joined hands. The shockwave shattered the glass of the service station.
Four Shadows lay dead, and the remaining were badly injured. The four Zenati felt for pockets of Gen in the air, reached out, searching for power.
Roland hissed, and Farrah growled. The third Seed, Jack, reeled in pain. “We’re not after them,” he spat, “let’s not waste our energy on these. Grab whatever you have left of your Shadows. Let’s go.”
Another shockwave emanated from the car, and killed two more Shadows. It wasn’t as weak as the first. Jack collapsed, writhing in pain. Farrah could barely walk, and Roland was limping to his car.
The four Zenati got back into the car and left, speeding toward their rendezvous.
Travelling down a narrow access road five miles away, surrounded on both sides by corn fields, David and Marissa wondered if the Seeds had gone for the decoy. There was nothing around them for miles but cornfields piercing the black night. They had driven in silence for nearly an hour.
And then there was light. A flash of gold light filled the space around them, and for a moment David and Marissa were held stiff. They could see Jamie, Marissa and Sam. They were in a library of some kind.
Daeanna they heard whisper in the air. They could feel a string of power rip through the ether from the house to them. There was no space between the remaining three and the two of them. They may as well be in the same place.
Daeanna they heard echo again. It was calling to them, urging them to come home. Then something happened, something had gone wrong. Jamie was in pain, she was screaming.
The car swerved. The light faded. David and Marissa were released. David hit the break and the car skidded to a halt.
There was silence. All that remained was the hum of the engine and a chorus of crickets. David and Marissa tried to catch their breath. “What,” David said, “the fuck.”
Marissa leaned back in her chair, wiped sweat from her brow. “Jamie’s hurt. Something’s wrong with her.”
“Ya’ fuckin’ think?” David said, then calmed a little. “Yes, something’s wrong with her. What the hell just happened to us?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “They were exposed to something I think.”
“We’re connected to them,” David nodded. “We knew that I guess, but I had no idea how connected.”
They sat for a moment in the silence, and something caught both their attention. Ahead of them, maybe half a mile, sets of headlights moved along a road adjacent to theirs – and turned. They were headed straight for them, driving right through the cornfield.
“Seeds,” Marissa said. “They saw us. Damn it, that light gave us away.”
“They sense us now,” David said, putting the car in gear and hitting the gas pedal as hard as he could. The tires spun in place for a moment before they sped down the lonely road.
Another set of headlights popped into view in the distance behind them. And ahead, another set. They were surrounded. David accelerated toward the lights ahead. “We have one chance at this,” David said, unlocking the doors. He reached behind the seat and grabbed his dagger. He put his phone in his pocket. He slowed down. “We have to ditch,” he said. “Now!”
Jamie stood in a foot of snow. Ahead of her several feet were what appeared to be hoof prints. They extended in either direction as far as she could see.
The morning sun reflected off the snow, and allow as fiercely bright and frigid. The distant shapes of houses were drowning in the white light that seemed to be fading – or her eyes were adjusting. She could make out a figure approaching her. He was smiling, holding out a hand.
These were the Devil’s Footprints, she thought. And this must be –
“Please, allow me to introduce myself,” Bracchus said as he trudged through the snow. He was wearing black boots, but his footprints were cloven.
Once he reached her, Jamie did not extend her hand. He shrugged and withdrew it. He was in his mid-thirties, and he looked startlingly familiar to Jamie. She couldn’t place where she had seen him, but she had seen him. He spoke in an Australian accent.
“You must be Bracchus,” Jamie said.
“I am Arawn,” Bracchus said, tilting his head. “I am Beelzebub. I am Old Cloots.” He tilted his head to the other side and began walking around Jamie, eyeing her up and down. “I am the Old Boy, Old Ned, Nero with the fiddle. I am the trickster and the adversary.”
He completed his circle and began walking around the other direction. “I am the beast. I am the enemy, but only if you want me to be.”
“You are who you want to be,” Jamie said, wondering where the words had come from. She simply spoke them, but didn’t know why. Was this a dream?
“Truer words were never spoken,” Bracchus laughed.
“So who are you then?” Jamie’s voice asked, though she now knew it wasn’t her that was speaking the words.
“I am the brightest star in the sky. I outshine the blinding sun.”
“Dramatic, aren’t you,” Jamie said, and paused as she regarded him. “You always were.”
“Is this Jamie Riley before me?” Bracchus asked, “Or is this my love?”
Jamie felt control returning to her limbs, her vocal chords. “I am Jamie Riley,” she said. “I don’t think we’re in love.”
Bracchus laughed, “and yet you have no qualms speaking directly with me? It’s interesting that you’re not afraid of me, even in your dream.”
Jamie realized he was right. She was not remotely afraid of him. Maybe because it wasn’t him standing before her, but a representation she had concocted. She was aware this was a dream. So who had she dreamt in his place? Who was this Australian man?
“You can’t stop this,” Bracchus said, “these footprints. They have to happen. You will have the opportunity to stop it. But if you do, all this will collapse in on itself. It will be a pradox. The Thread itself could be ripped apart. You have no choice but to let me do it.”
“I really don’t care what you do,” Jamie said. “I just want my life back.”
“Good,” he said. “You should. I want you to have that choice, that opportunity. For right now then, our goals are aligned.”
“I find that hard to believe,” Jamie said. “Why did you attack us? Why are you attacking Marissa and David? Let them get here, if you really do want this to end. I have no desire or reason to fight.”
“Also good,” Bracchus nodded. “Sometimes though, I can’t control my Seeds. Many of them still have a will of their own. It really depends on the size of my essence inside of them. But Daeanna’s prophesy is powerful. They’ll make it home.”
“This isn’t home,” Jamie said.
“Oh, it very much is,” Bracchus said, pointing a finger to Jamie. “This is more a home for all of you that you will ever have. It was built for you, and you were born to live there. Daeanna has you trapped in her prophesy, but it’s okay. It’s so completely okay, because the prophesy includes something each of you want, something each of you need. Why is that? Because you were born for it and it was designed for you, this prophesy. You couldn’t be any less a part of it than your very skin.”
“And what is the way out then?” Jamie asked.
Bracchus laughed again, that raspy laugh that sounded like he was about to burst into a fit of coughing. “You have to either kill me and watch your world tear itself apart, or let me come and make the footprints. I have to make them, or you’re never born. A paradox, by definition cannot happen, and therefore the footprints must be made.”
“That’s okay Mister Bracchus,” said a little girl of no more than four or five years who was suddenly standing between Jamie and Bracchus said, “I can make them for you.” She turned to Jamie and smiled. “I’m Abigail. I can make footprints too.”
With a violent jerk, Jamie began to wake up. She lay on her mother’s bed. The twitching had subsided but she was breathing unsteadily. She breathed deeply and slowly. She kept her eyes closed for a moment, feeling each muscle begin to relax.
Nora sat beside her and held her hand. Sam stood at the other side, pacing the floor.
“We have to try again,” Sam said. “We have to get used to it, adjust to it. We need to awaken.”
Nora glared at Sam. “How can you say that? Look what it did to her? You can feel some of her pain as much as I can, and what we feel is miniscule compared to what she’s being put through. Why would you do that to her again?”
“It won’t always be like that,” Sam said. “For all we know, going back down there now might help her.”
“Or it could kill her,” Nora said. “Who knows, Daeanna might not have conceived of Jamie having a Shadow for a mother.”
“One born of Shadow,’” Sam quoted from the text they did know.
“I will believe it when I see the book itself,” Nora said, then looked down to Jamie who was opening her eyes. “She’s coming around.”
“I can settle the argument, if not for the two of you, then for me,” Jamie said, sitting up. She gently released Nora’s hand and folded her arms, giving a small shiver.
“I’m never going in that place again,” she said.
“You have to,” Sam pleaded, “that Keep is designed for us.”
“You’ll have to figure out a way to do it without me,” Jamie shook her head. “I almost lost myself in there. I’m sick of being part of prophesy. This is not Daeanna’s life, it’s mine.”
“What happened to figuring this out and then being done with it?” Nora asked gently.
“I still want to figure it out,” Jamie said. “But I want to figure it out without going in that room.”
Ten miles from Daeanna, James and Marlin stepped out of the truck. They were greeted by one of the lower Zenati Guards. Marlin thought his name might be Bryce.
“Take my truck,” Marlin said, “and park it somewhere near Daeanna.”
Bryce nodded. He looked at James. “Is this – him?” Bryce asked.
“If you mean James,” James said, “it’s him.” James was feeling the effects of the Seed within. He had warned Marlin an hour before, told him it was growing inside of him. James felt angry, annoyed, he felt his basic human Id trying to take over.
He was hungry, tired, and terrified. He was ready to run at any moment, but held true to Marlin, to the idea that he could save David’s life. “It’s coming soon,” James said.
“Will you be able to go through so far from the source of the Shinva?” Daniel asked Marlin, ignoring the tinges of fear now emanating from James. The man was indeed turning.
“There are enough pockets of weakness in this area,” Marlin nodded. “Besides, any closer, and I risk Jamie knowing I’m close. I don’t want her to sense me until I can hold her in my arms.”
Daniel nodded, and got into the truck. As he drove off, he watched in the rearview mirror for the light show that would happen any moment. He reached into his pocket and withdrew two ear plugs.
James looked at Marlin, who was taking off his clothes. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Clothes tend to sort of burn off, evaporate,” Marlin said. “It leaves a film on your skin and smells kind of odd when you get to the other side. I suggest you do the same.”
James shrugged, “What do I care about a film on my skin or a funny smell?”
Marlin considered this. “Good point,” he said, and without warning grasped James’ arm and recalled the feelings and energy required for the evanescence.
Daniel saw a blue light in the distance. He pulled over, and though his ear plugs were in, he cupped his hands over his ears.
Blue arcs of light danced in the night sky. Blue smoke seemed to be rising into the arcs. The light intensified, and there was a boom, a thwump that filled the air. The light was sucked down into the ground.
Locals called it Carolina Thunder. It could be heard for hundreds of square miles. No one knew what had caused the periodic boom, but it happened from time to time in various locations around the world. It just so happened that this particular Shinva was actually a cluster of small holes, surrounding the largest Shinva anyone knew of, at Daeanna.
Therefore Zenati and Evanesca, as well as the occasional Seed would use the area to Evanecse at more regular intervals. Most Shinvas were in isolated locations. This cluster dotted the North and South Carolina coast.
In a parallel world, geographically precisely where Marlin and James had evanesced, they appeared. They fell to the ground from about ten feet in the air.
Marlin got up, dusting off his naked body as two Zenati rushed to him with a robe. They were in what appeared to be a third-world city.
James got up as well, as another Zenati brought him a robe. His skin smelled like burned plastic. He now wished he had done with Marlin suggested. “Does it always hurt?” James asked, his body aching.
“At first,” Marlin said, “and the weather patterns are different, history is different. While the two worlds are physically the same, there is a risk in Evansecing in a new place. The ground here is about ten feet lower than where we were on the other side. Here’ we’re below sea level. A sea wall protects this part of the city.”
“So what if we were to have been ten feet below the ground on the other side?” James asked, running the possibilities through his head.
“That wouldn’t be much fun,” Marlin said. “But I know this place well. I marked the spot with a cross on a pine tree. I knew we were between buildings and close enough to the ground. I also warned the people here in advance. They were expecting us.”
“Where are we going?,” James asked as they were ushered toward a gray stone building. It was surrounded by a rock fence. James immediately realized there were no paved roads. No lights. There were torches, and everyone was either loose robes or what looked like homemade cotton and leather pants and shirts.
This was a place devoid of technology. It was devoid of industry, at least in the twenty-first century form. People were gathered around the stone building – dozens of people, and more joining them every moment. James could hear them whispering, “Can it be done? Is that Easterly? Is it possible?”
The sharp tug of Bracchus within began to grow in intensity. “It’s coming,” James said. “It just got a lot stronger. I can’t hold it off anymore.”
“I thought being here would speed it up,” Marlin nodded. “We need to hurry.”
“Where are we going?” James asked again as they were guided through a gap in the fence, down a gravel path and through a narrow stone arch and into a pitch-black room. James could make out a shape on the far wall. A man was chained to the wall – his arms, wrists, thighs, calves and ankles were all shackled.
“James Easterly,” a low voice hissed through the blackness.
James felt hands tugging at him, felt shackles wrap around each limb. He didn’t fight it. He didn’t want to hurt them.
“James,” Marlin said. James could see his stern look as his eyes adjusted to the blackness. “This is Bracchus.”
In the darkness an inhuman laugh, unnaturally low and rumbling, filled the room. Bracchus was clearly delighted at what he may have even considered a gift. In his weakened state he hadn’t sensed one of his Seeds so near.
Marlin locked the last shackle and took one last look at James. He then backed toward the door as arcs of purple light seemed to radiate from Bracchus, reach through the air like tendrils and enter every opening of James’ body.
Bracchus’ face was illuminated by the tendrils. His eyes were black, his skin pale, and covered in blue veins. His long hair didn’t start until halfway across his scalp and hung in a braid that collected in a small pile on the floor. He was unusually tall, perhaps eight or nine feet. James didn’t notice the height before – he thought the room was smaller than it actually was.
James could feel himself losing control of his body as it shook violently. He thought he might have urinated. Bloody vomit streamed from his mouth. And then the Seed woke up.
David and Marissa ran through the corn field. When the lights approached their car they fell to the ground, and waited.
They breathed steadily and quietly. A roach crawled over Marissa’s hand. She watched it as it seemed to sniff her skin with its antenna and then walk away, unsatisfied with the prospective meal. She was obviously a little too alive for its tastes, but she knew that could change any moment.
David pushed aside the bottom of a stalk with his knife to clear a view. He could see light, movement, but no more. He could hear footsteps, and a low-voiced debate – and then the sounds of footsteps entering the cornfield.
“We don’t want to hurt you,” one of them called out. “Bracchus wants you to live. We just have a message for you.”
David could hear other cars approaching. Based on the lack of response of the Seeds, he guessed they were more Seeds. There were so many he couldn’t tell them apart, couldn’t sense how many there were.
“Come on out,” the voice called, growing ever closer. “You know I’m telling you the truth just by listening to me. Zenati can do that.”
David squeezed the hilt of the dagger with one hand and squeezed Marissa’s hand with the other. There was no deception in its voice. So what did they want?
“Isn’t it sweet,” a new voice – a woman- called from ahead of them. They were closing in. “Hiding, together, in a field. Our two heroes are at a dead end. What, oh what will they do?” She mocked, her voice reaching a high squeal.
Marissa was slowly becoming aware of their numbers. Others had joined them, one of them very weak, but there were six Seeds. And Shadows- so many Shadows! There must have been a dozen, maybe more.
David could feel their essence once again speaking to that dark thing inside of him. It was rousing it, trying to awaken it – but David felt sure they couldn’t. The darkness inside of him was like stone. It wouldn’t budge, and he knew it. Somehow, he felt safe from its influence, and he wondered if it might have to do with Marissa, or the dagger. Maybe it was both.
The darkness weighed down on them, and while they weren’t paralyzed by it this time, they would still be hard-pressed to move very quickly. The nearer footsteps drew close, maybe three feet away.
“What is this I see?” the Seed joked.
David reached out with his arm and stabbed a foot. The dagger sliced through leather, skin, bone and tendon, then through rubber and into dirt. The Seed screamed. David withdrew the dagger just as easily and the two stood up.
Marissa took David’s hand, reaching for Genna. David did the same as he forced his left hand into the air, drawing power from all around him. He pushed his open palm down as Gen seemed to collect beneath it. He slammed his arm down through the air toward the Seed, whose head popped like a balloon as the remaining body collapsed.
The other Seeds backed away as David tried to regain his strength. A ring of Shadows was forming around them. David knew he wouldn’t be able to do it again, not for a while. But it didn’t weaken him as it had before. He was growing stronger.
“That was a Seed,” Marissa whispered. “You just took out a Seed.”
“A very weak one,” David whispered in return. “I doubt I could have done it alone.” David then yelled into the ring that had formed. “This Seed said you meant no harm. He said you had a message for me. What is your message?”
One of the Seeds – a man in his fifties, with the full grotesque markings of an older Seed - black mouth, red eyes, pale skin, blue veins - stepped forward. David wondered how a Seed would ultimately appear if left to age indefinitely. The man withdrew an envelope from his pocket, and slowly advanced toward David and Marissa.
“I need to give you this,” he said, his voice strikingly clear, in contrast to his inhuman appearance. “Promise you won’t snap my head open.” The Shadows and Seeds laughed as the elder creature reached out his hand.
“What is it?” David asked.
“A message from Bracchus,” he said as he drew closer.
The Shadows who were smiling, suddenly began to look around in confusion. David and Marissa could feel something new in the air. There were Zenati near.
The Seed turned to see five of the Shadows collapse under an arc of light. Zenati seemed to appear from the darkness all around them. David and Marissa ran toward the gap as Shadows toppled over like toys, and the Seeds began to fall to the ground in pain.
The older Seed ran after David.
Amantha saw her son and ran toward him, eyeing the Seed just over his shoulder. The Seed was reaching out with the envelope.
Amantha was hit with something hard. A rock? The world faded to black soon after Amantha felt her face hit the ground.
A nearby Zenati woman reached her arm out and flung it toward the Shadow holding the brick. The Shadow, not much more than a boy, was sent flying through the air, purple light escaping the body before it hit the ground, lifeless.
The Seed grabbed David by the arm and pulled. David reeled around and faced the black eyes and grinning animal teeth. David was paralyzed.
The Seed whispered in his ear as he placed the envelope in David’s front jeans pocket. “When Jamie confesses to you, hand her this letter,” it hissed. “You do not remember you have the envelope. You’ll hide it, but you won’t know why you did it. You hear me whispering threats to you and your friends’ lives. You-“
The hissing stopped as three Zenati reached out and pulled him off David. Their arms outstretched, they killed the Seed, and David could see it nearly weakened them to the point of fainting.
David and Marissa had just dispensed of one quite easily. And they were tired – but not exhausted. What would they be like when they awakened? David thought. He then wondered if he would get that far.
That Seed had just threatened to rip him apart.
David heard a scream. He looked to see Marissa, being tugged on each arm by a Seed. Zenati rushed to her defense as she was bathed in purple light. They were laying layer upon layer of terror over her, wrapping her brain and spirit in pure fear.
Marissa saw death, felt torture, saw her family die over and over. It was hopelessness, pure and dreadful, taking over her thoughts. All was useless. All was for naught. All was ending.
David could sense her panic, her dread. Had she been anyone else, she would now be Auroch’Mir.
Two Shadows had joined the attack before David, in blind panic, slashed through the air with his dagger. Metal tore through rotting flesh as the blade sliced through the first Shadow. He withdrew, and instinctively reached up with his left arm. His anger was let loose. More power than he could handle seemed to rush into him from all directions, even from the creatures hurting Marissa.
David released his anger. The Zenati joined him. Both Seeds and the remaining Shadow disintegrated in front of him.
The Zenati were in awe of David’s power. David was barely aware of this as he himself succumbed to unconsciousness.
He had their memories. He knew the message had been delivered. And perhaps he rid himself of another High Zenati. Surely Marissa would never be the same.
As his strength increased, Conroy was becoming more aware of the Seeds around the Northeastern US. And then he was keenly aware of them – their exact locations. And more – he could see them like lights flickering across the continent. Soon, he would be able to feel them all, so close he was to reaching is potential.
Conroy closed his eyes and reached out to them. Yes, he thought. He could communicate with him. They were aware of his presence, they could feel it as crisply as he could them. Where was Roia? Why couldn’t he sense Roia? Had she been that badly hurt?
Conroy knew better than to underestimate a High Zenati. Or, he thought, perhaps it was David who was strong enough to hurt her so. Of course, he thought. Roia was not accustomed to being attacked by a Seed. David’s Seed may not have been awakened, but it was there nonetheless, increasing his power.
Conroy decided he could wait for her no longer. It was time to deliver his first edict in this world as Bracchus.
He reached out to them, every single one. His consciousness was expanding, it must have been, as he could imagine thousands of them, thousands of individuals. He thought he may even know their names.
Tomorrow, Conroy said to them, aware they were receiving the message, aware of their joy at his return to them. I will call out to you all. When you hear me, close your eyes and relax. Give me control of your thoughts. I will bring you to me, in spirit. We will have Communion, as our Zenati enemies do. We will be in one thought. I have a Holy chore for all of you, an edict. Plan to be alone tomorrow. Hide. Do not leave your body vulnerable, because you will be unable to defend it.
I greatly look forward to seeing my children face to face.
When David opened his eyes he was in the back seat of his car. He turned to his right and saw his mother, her eyes barely open, but smiling through dried blood. A Zenati to her left was tending the wound.
“I’m so proud of you,” Amantha said weakly as she raised a limp arm to attempt to caress the side of David’s face.
“Where are we?” David asked, looking out the window and seeing the first hints of the sun glow in the distance.
“Almost there,” Amantha whispered as her eyes closed.
David was suddenly aware of a Shadow’s terror. He jerked his head to his right and saw Marissa passed out, her head leaning against the car window. “Is she-“ he started, then looked to the Zenati in the driver’s seat.
“She’s not Shadow,” he said, “but she’s close. We have to get her to Daeanna. While I don’t even think it’s possible for one of you to become Auroch’Mir, their Gen can still torture.
“Is Mom – is she going to be okay?” David asked, checking to see if Amantha was still breathing.
The Zenati woman nodded. “I think so,” she said. “Nora might not know it yet, but a sorcerer – or, in her case, a sorceress – can heal. We think if we get the relics together, have all five of you together, combined it could trigger Marissa’s awakening, she’s in so much distress. Once awakened she will easily shrug off the Shadow Genna. Her awakening will then trigger the rest of yours. Nora will know what to do, it’s been said that to a sorcerer, healing comes naturally. What she doesn’t quite grasp, I can guide her through.”
“And what if she doesn’t?” David asked, “what if she doesn’t awaken? And if she does, what if she can’t heal?”
“We can discuss what-ifs all night,” the woman said.
The driver made eye contact with David in the rear-view mirror. “There are those of us who don’t agree,” he said. “Nora will have just become Sorceress, she will have no experience in healing. It might work, or it could be disastrous. She might heal Amantha or she might kill her. She doesn’t know what she’s doing, and we have no right to expect her to.”
“We don’t have a choice,” the woman said. “If we try, she might dir – or she could live. If we do nothing, she certainly dies.”
David nodded once, and then looked back to his mother, who looked somehow content, rested. As he gazed out the window at the passing trees and black water he realized how close they must be. The road narrowed, and in the dim dawn light he could make out swamp on either side of the road.
“And aren’t we all risking the Seeds and Shadows seeing where we’re going, all here together? “ David asked, “Wasn’t that the point of going in separately?”
“There are no more Bracchen in the vicinity,” the woman said. “And those that are near enough to get close enough to sense our location – well, let’s just say you might have given them something to be afraid of – at least for now.”
David looked back at his mother. “It seems like you’re gambling an awful lot,” he said. “He’s right, it’s not fair to ask that of Nora, or just guess that Marissa will awaken. What else could we do?”
“My point exactly,” the woman said. “My name is Mara. I’m a Zenati Healer. I have a lot of experience in this – I was raised a Healer. Even if Nora can’t, I might be able to at least slow down the damage.”
“Can’t you do it?” David asked.
Mara shook her head. “The damage to both Marissa and your mother is too great. Had Marissa been attacked by Shadows and not Seeds, or possibly even a single Seed, then yes. Had your mother just been grazed by the brick and not had her skull” - she stopped, sensitive to David’s fear. Healers were natural empaths. Such deep empathy was a sign a Zenati should be raised as a Healer. “Had she not suffered such a blow, then yes, I could probably help. But this is beyond the abilities of a Healer. I need help. At the very least we can buy her enough time to then get to a hospital.”
“How soon until we get there?” David asked, “How long do they have?” he asked again as he turned to Mara.
Sam, Nora and Jamie were aware something had happened. They couldn’t quite tell what it was, but something had gone horribly wrong. They waited in the parlor for hours. They paced, they debated, and they nearly panicked. After a while they would calm down, and the cycle would begin anew.
Jamie wanted to figure out what was happening, get to the bottom of it all and resume her life. Nora went back and forth from acceptance to denial, and Sam kept telling them that they should be glad about what was happening. His exuberance about the situation increasingly annoyed Jamie and Nora, who each wondered if they would be so enthusiastic if they’d had so little to lose and so much to gain.
Everyone jumped as a “Thwump” tore through the air and rattled the windows. Jamie’s ears were ringing and Sam winced as the sound seemed to rattle his bones.
“What was that?” Nora asked.
“Someone evanesced,” Simon said as he looked at the window to see if he could determine where it had happened. “It was a Zenati – the glow was blue.” He turned toward the others. “You can always see who went through by the glow it leaves behind. There’s also a very distinct feeling in the air if a Bracchen pops into our world. But this was someone leaving.”
“Who was it?” Jamie asked, wondering if she could trust the distant feeling that it had been someone she knew.
“I really don’t know,” Simon lied.
Jamie rolled her eyes. “Uh huh.”
Nora’s phone rang. She took it out of her purse and looked at everyone. “It’s Amantha,” she said and answered it.
As she seemed to weight what was being told to her, she left the room. Jamie and Sam could sense the worry. Something had gone wrong.
After a few moments, Nora re-entered the room. She hung up the phone and stared into space.
“What is it?” Jamie asked, feeling Nora’s anxiety grow.
“Marissa and Amantha have been hurt,” she said. “They were hurt badly. The Seeds we saw – they attacked.”
Jamie stood up from the bed. “Oh my god,” she said, then turned to Simon. “Can’t they go to a hospital?”
Nora shook her head. “Marissa was attacked by two Seeds and two Shadows. They tried to turn her. Amantha’s injuries are too severe. She was hit in the skull with a brick.” Nora looked up at Jamie, a tear welling in her eye. She was sad for Amantha, but even more she was terrified of what they had to do in order to help her. “She’s dying,” Nora said.
Sam walked to Jamie, placed a hand on her shoulder. “We might be able to help them,” he said.
Nora nodded. “Sam’s right. Apparently – I can heal, if I’m awakened.” Nora told them Mara’s theory, that perhaps Marissa’s awakening could trigger theirs.
Jamie shook her head, “No. I’m not going through that again.”
“Then they die,” Nora said. “Don’t you see?”
“No,” Jamie protested, “don’t you see? This prophesy is playing out. We’re being made to awaken. We won’t be the same afterward. That thing inside of me will take over.”
“But we’ll live,” Nora said. “We’ll all live. Marissa won’t turn to Shadow, but if and when she wakes up, she’ll be a shell of herself. Imagine what it would feel like to be drowning in that terror for so long.”
Jamie sighed. She had no choice. Just like everything she had done since her mother died, and likely many years before that, she had no choice.”Fine,” Jamie said. “We can’t let Amantha die. I just hope we’re the same afterward.”
“We won’t be,” Sam shook his head. “We’ll be better.”
“So you say,” Jamie sighed again. “So how do we do this?”
“Bring the book onto the front lawn,” Nora said. She turned to Sam. “Bring your pentagon. Take it off your neck, and be ready.” She turned to Simon. “When they get here, take David’s dagger and get the cup, then bring it out onto the lawn.”
“Shouldn’t you do it in the Keep?” Marcus asked. “Aren’t you strongest there?”
Nora shook her head. “We don’t want to move Amantha any more than we have to. If the awakening doesn’t happen, then we’ll move to the Keep.” Nora didn’t know where this decisiveness had come from, but it made her feel comfortable. She felt in control, for the first time since it had all started.
Nora extended her hand, and Jamie took it. “I’ll still be here when this is over,” Nora said. “And so will you. It will still be you.”
Nora, Jamie and Sam walked through the house, feeling it breathe as they made their way down the narrow hallway. Their hearts seemed to beat in unison as they walked in time. It felt right, it felt natural. They all felt as if they were joining with the house as they moved through it.
Walking down the steps, Jamie felt the iron railing slide beneath her hand. She could feel its awareness of her. The house was alive. The relics were alive. The Keep was alive, and it was all part of the whole. Jamie knew she would soon awaken, and she too would be a part of it all – the prophesy, the coming war, the Hekta Thread, and this house Daeanna built for them. It was all one in the same, a single living creature. And Jamie knew that in giving into it, she was giving up a part of herself.
Nora opened the front door and the three stepped out onto the piazza, and slowly walked down the steps, side by side. Jamie turned to her left as they descended the stairs and saw an orange glow at the edge of the horizon, over the miles of marsh. She knew the sun would rise on a different world that day, a place on the edge of earth-shattering war. And it would be her fault. And yet, she could do nothing to stop it.
A few Zenati guards appeared from the edge of the woods and began walking across the field toward them. Simon, at the top of the steps, signaled for them to stop.
“You’ll want to keep your distance,” he called out. Jamie turned to face him, and he regarded her with a kind of sadness. “You’ll still be you,” he said. “Just give into it.”
“As if I had a choice in the matter,” Jamie said.
The car shook lightly as it moved over the gravel road. David winced as Marissa moaned, and he felt something akin to sympathy pain. It was a sharp, quick burst of terror. Amantha groaned and he turned to see his mother, one eye half-open, and the hint of a smile out the corner of her mouth.
“You’re going to be okay Mom,” David said, his voice shaking. “You’re going to be just fine.”
Amantha gave a slight nod, and her half-open eye closed again, only to reopen. David suspected she lacked the strength to keep it closed.
As the car entered the woods, David could feel the others – Jamie, Nora and Sam – they were waiting for them. They were standing on a front lawn.
Once again, the thing inside David stirred. Not the stone Seed, the frozen threat, but the other – the warm feeling, the golden glow within. It was reaching out to the others, calling to them. And from beneath the oppression of the Auroch’Mir, David could feel the same inner glow reaching out from Marissa.
She was not beyond help. She was still there, somewhere. “Fight,” David said to Marissa. “Fight it off. You’ve always been so strong. Fight it.”
The car emerged from the woods and for the first time David saw Daeanna. It was welcoming him home, he thought as he then laid eyes on Nora and Jamie for the first time since he was a small child. He recognized them immediately. He couldn’t have been happier to see them.
Jamie and Nora ran to greet the car as it stopped. Sam slowly walked up behind them. Mara stepped out and with David’s help gently moved Amantha onto the ground. David knelt beside her, and Jamie squeezed his shoulder. He could feel the Gen radiating from her.
David turned and stood, and gave Jamie a tight, embracing hug. “Don’t you die on me again,” he said, and then turned to Nora. Nora then stepped around Amantha and hugged David around his neck.
Nora backed up, and said “Let’s help your mother. Where’s Marissa?” Nora then turned and saw Marissa passed out in the back seat. “Help her out,” Nora said to Sam as he regarded her with awe. Here was his twin sister, right here.
Sam ran around the car and opened the door, catching Marissa as she fell into his arms. He could feel the strength of their bond immediately, and remembered images he had of his own, probably at about the same age she had begun drawing pictures of him.
The wind began picking up around them as David reluctantly handed the dagger to Simon, who ran into the house.
“We need to move out into the field,” Nora said. “David, help Sam with Marissa.”
Mara propped Amantha’s head under a jacket and wiped dried blood from her face with her shirt sleeve.
David and Sam each took one of Marissa’s arms over their shoulders and carried her to the middle of the yard. As Simon ran out with the dagger and chalice, Jamie sat the box on the ground. The wind howled around them.
Thunder roared violently in the distance. Lightning strobed in the sky.
David, Sam, Jamie and Nora, and somewhere inside, Marissa, could feel the power swelling around them. While it grew brighter with the coming sun, thunder clouds seemed to be coming from nowhere, appearing from nothing just above Daeanna.
Jamie took the cub and placed it atop the box. In clicked, and opened as she removed it. Inside was a white leather-bound tome. Nora removed it as Jamie tossed the box aside. It seemed to radiate energy. It was locked with a brass device that had an indention on it – two overlaid pentagons.
Sam removed the pentagon from Marissa’s neck, and placed it, with his, on the seal meant for it. The lock snapped open and the book opened.
Rain poured onto the house as the thunder growled angrily. Lightning was striking in the woods around them and into the marsh. A small, slow-moving cyclone of debris began to form around the five. Debris blew in the air, forming a cylindrical tempest.
The book seemed to be immune to water, as the raindrops rolled off the pages filled with symbols none of them could recognize.
“It’s gibberish,” Jamie said. “How are we supposed to read this?”
Nora was about to respond when a small shockwave emanated from the book and knocked them flat into the ground. It had awoken.
Inside the cyclone, the air was almost calm. Marissa was raised from the ground and she was standing on her own. Her eyes opened and a purple mist seemed to flow out of them. Her eyes widened, and she appeared to be startled. Her chest began to protrude as she arched her back. She screamed briefly, and then stopped.
Marissa straightened up, looked to the others who were also standing, and then to the sky, her arms outstretched, stiff , palms pointing to the ground beneath her. Her eyes then turned white, as if they were rolling back in their sockets. The earth seemed to tremble.
Marissa’s ecstasy could now be felt by the other four. As Gen from the earth, the air around them, even the lightning above flowed into her; it flowed from her into the remaining four. She arched her back again, taking in the ecstasy.
Jamie could feel the thing now bursting, the thing she keeping at bay – it was taking over. There was no turning back. Jamie was releasing the hidden dragon within, and she expected it to terrify her. Only it felt miraculous. It felt like she was becoming not something else, but becoming, fully becoming, who she had always been. She stopped fighting it and it enraptured her.
But there was something else. The part of her inner dragon that she was most afraid of, that piece of her that lay dormant, that when awakened would in fact change her – it was still sleeping. She was awakening to her Zenati self. She was absorbing the Auroch’Mir, making it a part of her. The Zenati had won easily.
But the other part of her, what she could only describe as an unborn version of herself, a new person waiting to emerge – it lay dormant. She didn’t even have to fight it. It was immune to her blossoming Zenati Gen. It was separate. It was different.
Jamie winced involuntarily David too, could see the other sleeping giant within. David and Jamie were vaguely aware of the similarity of their experiences. But what David felt, that sleeping Seed – was just that. It was the Seed. He could see it clearly. It was a stone Seed, as he had felt before. It was solid, trapped, unmoving. It might as well have been steel. But inside that steel rock was a piece of Bracchus.
David’s Seed, like Jamie’s unborn power, was immune to the Gen unfolding and taking shape within his soul. It was beyond it, above it, and completely apart. It was its own life force waiting to burst forth.
The relics fell to the ground as the remaining four arched their backs. The five reached out and held each others’ hands, instinctively. They began to lift into the air in unison. At first they were barely hovering above the ground, but as the cyclone dissipated, they lifted ten, then fifteen feet into the air.
The clouds cleared. The wind stopped. The crickets, frogs and birds didn’t even make a sound. All was still, as the five hung motionless in the air. A peaceful calm fell over Daeanna as the sun burst forth in the distance, rising on a new world.
For a moment, there was a perfect peace.
And then the earth shook again, violently. Blue arcs emanated from all five, and a concussive wave ripped from them through the air as they were dropped to the ground. The book snapped closed and locked itself.
The birds sang again.
The children had awakened.
Nora got off the ground and ran, stumbling a few times, desperate to get to Amantha. She held Mara’s hand as a golden hue covered them both. David ran behind her, followed by the others.
The hue extended over them as Jamie touched Nora’s shoulder, David held her hand, and the twins touched each of Nora’s arms. The cut on Amantha’s forehead began to close, and she sat up.
Nora could feel the injury depart Amantha and hang in the air as a nuisance. It was looking for a place to land. It was hovering between the worlds of possibility and action, requiring an outlet. The longer she let it hang there, the longer Nora felt as if it would cling to her, or find its way back to Amantha. She had to get rid of it. Nora flung her hand into the air and sent it away, amazed she could even do this.
Somehow Nora knew there must be a cost, but she would discover that soon enough. For now, Amantha was healing. She would live. Nora had saved a life that morning. She didn’t regret awakening as she thought she might. She was still herself, she was still Nora – only stronger. She felt solid, complete.
The golden hue disappeared. “You need a doctor,” Nora said. “You’re not out of the woods yet, but the internal bleeding has stopped, at least for now. There is still blood in there though. This is all I can do for now.”
“I can get her to a hospital,” Simon said, “there is a Zenati doctor, another Healter, at St. Francis. Do we have about an hour to get there?”
“I think so,” Mara said. “Hurry.”
“I’m coming too,” David said.
“No,” Amantha said, and coughed. “You can’t leave here, it’s too dangerous. They’ll see you from hundreds of miles around.”
“I can’t leave you,” David said.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Amantha laughed and patted him on the shoulder.
Marissa screamed. Everyone turned to her, and then saw what had frightened her. Jamie lay on the ground curled into a fetal position. A cut had opened on her forehead. It was spreading and gushing blood as David rushed to her side.
Mara took the damp rag in her hand and ran to Jamie, gently picking her head up and applying pressure to the open wound. “There’s blood-stop in the car,” she said, nodding to Sam. “There’s still some left from treating Amantha.”
Mara looked up at Simon. “There’s no mistaking, this is the same wound.”
Nora covered her mouth with her hands. She’s your charge.
Nora had healed Amantha and cast the wound onto Jamie. How could a wound be a thing, an object? It was the result of something, not a physical manifestation that could be removed and put somewhere else. Was this how Genna worked? Had Nora just killed her best friend?
“Snap out of it,” Mara said to Nora, “you didn’t know. None of us did. Help me get Jamie inside, you still might be able to help.”
Nora shook her head. “No,” she said as she gently walked to her friend. The strength from moments earlier was gone.
“Hurry,” Mara insisted. She knew that helping Jamie now might ease her guilt.
Nora ran to Jamie and helped Mara by taking an arm. David and Sam gently lifted her legs from below the knees, and Marcus helped Mara keep her head stable as they carried a dying Jamie up the steps and into the house.
Marlin walked back into the building, not sure of what he might find.
James and Bracchus were both growling. It was like being in a lion’s cage. They were both glaring at him, ready to attack if they could.
Marlin could see James’ skin had lightened and his eyes had turned black. He looked as if he’d been a Seed for months.
“Maybe I have,” James said, gleaning Marlin’s thoughts.
Marlin was surprised at James’ power. He guessed it was because he had been so close to the original source, and he himself was no more than five or six generations removed. Add to that that in a world where Gen flowed freely, and he would appear just as Bracchus did in a matter of months.
“Good,” James said, “I like the look of him.”
“How does it feel to be a Seed?” Marlin asked. “Are you still in there James?”
“Very little remains of James,” the creature said. “He’s rotting away inside of me now.”
“That’s all I need to know,” Marlin said. He withdrew a dagger and walked toward James Easterly, who was now rattling his shackles. “This pen you’ve constructed won’t work for very long,” he hissed. “Soon I’ll be out of here and after your whore daughter. It’ll feel nice sliding into that tender-”
Marlin held out his arms, dagger in hand, and James was silent, aware of what was about to happen.
Several Zenati Guards entered the building. The first two flanked Marlin on either side and placed a hand on each of his shoulders. Four came in behind them and did the same, followed by eight more.
The triangular chain began to glow in shades of purple and green as Marlin released the collective power of all the Zenati present. They were in turn drawing from the Gen in the air, and from the hundreds of Zenati surrounding the building.
If they were successful, this would change the nature of their war with Bracchus. If they were successful, Zenati would now be required to think before acting, a thing not heard of in all the generations of their existence. But it would also highlight a vulnerability if the newly-awakened Seeds.
A purple glow could be seen in James’ open mouth as he began to howl. His eyes began to glow, and purple streams seemed to be leaking from his ears and nostrils. The Seed within was hanging on, but it was clearly still somewhat separated from James’ soul. He was still in there, somewhere.
“Fight it James!” Marlin screamed as he forced the Gen from his body while drawing it in as intensely as he could manage. A Zenati in the back of the chain had already collapsed, but another stepped in to replace the man as he was carried outside.
James continued to howl in pain, unable to speak as more of the Bracchen energy leaked from his body. He was now surrounded by what appeared to be a purple mist. As quickly as it left his body, it was streaming back in.
Marlin pushed harder as more and more Zenati joined the chain, as a few more were drained, and carried out. But the mist around James wasn’t growing. Marlin even thought it might be retreating into him as his very skin began to crack and peel.
Marlin could see veins breaking in the James’ face and arms. His body couldn’t handle much more of this.
James stopped howling as the Zenati were growing weaker. The purple was finding ways back into his body, working to heal him to preserve itself.
Marlin shrugged his shoulders to signal the Zenati to let go. He reached out with a weakened arm and sliced the dagger across James’ throat as the crown of Zenati Guards and Warriors caught their breath and wiped sweat from their brows.
The purple streaks left James as violently as predicted and arched across the room, over the crowd. The streams coalesced into the fine mist and settled over Bracchus, who was howling with delight. “Good for you,” Bracchus said, “killed another Easterly boy, did you? Two down, one to go!” The mist was quickly absorbed into the beaming giant creature on the wall.
“Shut up!” Marlin screamed across the room, his voice booming with Zenati power. Bracchus was forced briefly into the wall, and sneered as he recovered himself.
Bracchus began to laugh again, then stopped as the crowd made way for a hooded figure to enter the room. It was a Zenati Healer – a powerful one, who had not sapped her energy in the attempt at exorcising James.
“Can you do it?” Marlin asked.
“I will try,” she said, and approached James. The Healer reached her hand to his throat and began to do what she was born to do. “You damaged him far greater than I had expected. I may be able to help, I may not. But I will try.”
“Perhaps there is hope after all,” Marlin said to the lifeless body. “Maybe you’ll live to understand why I couldn’t tell you.”
“You whore, you stinking-” Bracchus hissed. The Healer waived a hand behind her and Bracchus’ voice became that of a whisper. It didn’t stop him from trying to scream more obscenities, and Marlin thought he saw the hint of a smile cross the Healer’s exposed lips. She looked toward Marlin. “I’ll need a conduit. There will have to be a sacrifice, you know that.”
Marlin nodded toward the doorway. Two Zenati Guards nodded their reply and left the room.
The Healer looked to the door, and back again to Marlin. “Surely, you don’t have a volunteer?”
In reply, the Guards brought in a man who seemed to be willingly walking into the room. His robe was of Zenati origin, but his hair was long, uncombed and he had a loose uneven beard growing from lack of shaving. He smelled as if he hadn’t showered in weeks, and his face was riddled with bruises. But he walked tall and sure.
“He was a traitor,” Marlin said. “He betrayed the Head of Gideon Watch, who was killed as a result, along with a fifth of the entire Watch. Unlike most of the other Drohahk, he was not acting to preserve himself or his family, but simply out of a loyalty to Bracchus, so far as we can tell.”
The Healer approached the prison and placed a hand under his chin. Though her hood obscured her face, she appeared to be examining him. “What is your name, Drohahk?”
“Neil,” he said, looking forward, head high.
The Healer could tell he was hiding something. He was indeed willing to sacrifice himself, but there was deception in each word. “This is your will?”
“It is my will,” Neil said. “You don’t have much time. The Easterly boy is dying.”
The Healer looked back to Marlin once more, who now looked away. Guilt was radiating from the man. The Healer suspected he himself would almost rather be the one sacrificed. He felt responsible for the life of James Easterly.
“I need to get to work,” The Healer sighed, “clear the room.”
Marlin turned and left the building, drawing power into himself once again from the world around him as he drew the strength to face that world again. Had he been truly doing a service to the Easterly brothers, had he truly been making penance, he would have been the man in there, who now began to wail in pain.
Marlin tried to push it out of his mind, the guilt that was sapping his power. He would need the energy to evanesce, and to reach his daughter – finally – after so many years.
Nikola Amala lay in bed beneath the weight of her client.
Her white-blond hair lay sprawled in a long tangled mess all over the pillow, her porcelain face seemed to be afloat in it. She smiled, pretending to enjoy the dirty, unshaved, smelly client clumsily enter her over and over.
Each time she closed her eyes in a pointless attempt to enjoy it, he told her to open them. She obeyed, and moaned in sarcastic delight. He didn’t know the difference. She could feign anything for someone offering up eight hundred bucks for two hours.
Nikola wished her parents could see her now. It would be the ultimate insult, the ultimate comeback at her harsh upbringing. Her brothers and sisters detested her and teased her relentlessly while her parents punished her with hours of chores and praying to the Chara.
They regarded her with pity and a familial brand of tough love that walked the thin line of hate. They did not treat her as a daughter so much as a burden, all because she was different, all because she could do things they deemed unnatural.
Nikola always thought that in any other family she would be celebrated, cherished for her abilities, not punished, not isolated. Her parents home-schooled her, telling her they were protecting her, keeping her from becoming a danger to herself and the children around her. Unfortunately, that protection was never extended to her during her evening meetings with the Chara.
He was always testing her limits, trying to make her angry, trying to determine what all she could do. He would taunt her, slap her, tie her up and abuse her for hours. And then he would untie her, bring her tea, and question her experience, ask her what she had felt, what her instinct had been.
He never bruised her, and her parents never believed her stories. When she was twelve and he raped her, he had said it was to purge the evil from her body. She almost believed him, and remained quiet as it continued for years.
Once she reached her early teens, she began to suspect that she was being brutalized for no other reason than to pleasure the sick old man. Again, her parents never believed her and her siblings hurled more insults and hatred to her for denigrating the Chara in such a way.
When she was sixteen she ran away, and never regretted the decision. With no education and no money, and no virginal aspect to protect, she made money doing the only thing in which she’d had ample experience.
When she first got to DC she was amazed at the ease in which she found clients. She could pick one out from a crowd, a man or woman who was either looking for a prostitute, had looked for a prostitute or had the inclination to do so.
She found her clients in bars, in clubs, on the Metro, in the museums. They were everywhere, and all she ever had to do was find an excuse to talk to them. They were hers almost immediately, every time. Occasionally she would encounter a strong-willed individual, but she would wear them down, unless she grew bored first and moved onto the next client.
When she was first approached by Ralph, she was plying her wears in a pool hall. He said he’d heard of her from his regular clients, and the other girls had grown jealous. She soon realized she was talking to a pimp.
He first threatened her to leave the city, but as she unleashed one of her many persuasive talents, he switched his tune. She thought he would leave her alone, but instead he proved much stronger-willed than she’d suspected. He offered her a job.
Ralph promised the best clientele in the city. When she told him she could seek them out on her own, he said he could offer her protection. He asked her to give it six months, and if it didn’t work out he would ask her again. All he asked was ten percent, and Nikola thought she could live with that. She could focus her energy and talents on her clients, and not on evading this pimp.
She agreed to six months, and it did not work out. He began demanding more money, dictating where she work, demanding she service specific clients that did not pay what she was used to demanding. She had become a commodity for his little empire, a tool to be traded and bartered. No one objectified Nikola and remained unscathed, she had thought. No one turned her into property. When she sold herself, she was in control. Not Ralph.
So Nikola left him, and defiantly continued working in DC. She relished his anger, laughed at messages he sent her. Only she wasn’t at first aware the man on top of her was the latest message.
He had finished, and she had been scarcely aware. Lost in thoughts, she almost forgot to fake an orgasm. As he exited her, she let out a half-hearted moan, and suggested they go again.
“Nah,” he said. “I just wanted to see what it was like.” He sat above her, sweat pouring down his breasts of fat and hairy rolls. He held out a pudgy, sweaty hand, still catching his breath. Nikola imagined he would probably sweat that much simply walking up a flight of stairs.
She laughed. “No,” she said quite simply.
He widened his hairy arms and bent down over her, holding his mass up as the indentions in the mattress deepened. In a way, it was helping her back away from him further, and his cigar-whiskey breath. His sweaty nipples sagged down and barely touched her chest as she squinted.
“Get off me now,” she said. He didn’t move. He drew closer, puckering his lips. “I said now,” she said again, widening her eyes.
She then smiled and relaxed. He had forced this on himself. “Fine then,” she sighed, and waited for the intrusion of the swelled tongue. When it came, she bit as hard as she could while she reached out for pockets of the thing that seemed to make her stronger. She could feel the pockets in the air around the block, and drew them into her.
As he recoiled in pain and backed away, his arm reached out to slap her. Milliseconds became like minutes to Nikola as she swelled inside with power. And she released it.
As the man’s arm flung through the air toward her, his body moved backward, forced upward and off the bed by Nikola’s legs. She raised her arms and pushed outward. Three feet in the air, the fat sweaty flesh paused for just a brief moment before flying backwards into the wall, creating a hole in the plaster.
Nikola got out of bed, and walked naked across the hotel room. People next door were screaming and she could hear running down the hallway. “I suppose this was a message from Ralph,” she said as the man nodded his head, wiping away a smudge of sweat, blood and dried plaster.
He sneered at her.
“Well,” Nikola said as there were bangs on the door. “That was mine to him. It would be wise of him to avoid me. I’m not leaving this city.”
Nikola quickly got dressed and felt her jeans pocket to ensure the cash was in place. She never felt the need to hide the money when she was paid. She could protect herself well enough. “I;m not going anywhere,” she said as she opened the window. She looked out onto the city. “I like it here,” she said as she climbed out onto the fire escape and climbed into the alley below.
The door burst open and the hotel security guard was at first unsure what to think of the naked fat man sitting half in the wall. The hotel’s manager on duty entered the room and surveyed the damage. “Get him some help,” he said, trying to muster some authority.
Jamie lay on her mother’s bed as Nora curled up beside her, wiping dried blood from the side of her face, crying.
Sam and David sat on either side of the bed. David’s head was buried in his hands and Sam was periodically standing up and sitting again. Marissa entered the room carrying a pot of coffee and some cups. “Nikolas is on his way,” she said. “He just contacted Simon. He’ll be here soon, and said he was confident he could help Jamie.”
Nora wiped her eyes with her arm, suddenly terrified that not only was she regretting being so cold to her father all these years, she would now be a disappointment. She had not only failed to heal Amantha completely, she had nearly killed her best friend, a woman whose mother made her promise from her death bed she would take care of. She had failed spectacularly. How arrogant, she thought. How arrogant of her to think she could command power she knew nothing about.
All four looked to each other and out the window.
“That was a Zenati,” David said. “Nikolas?”
“I don’t think Nikolas would be coming from the old world,” Sam said. “That was someone else. They’re strong, but they’re Zenati. Very strong.”
“A High Zenati?” Marissa asked. “There are only two possibilities.”
“It’s Marlin,” David sighed in relief. “He might be able to help his daughter.”
Marissa shook her head. “I think Healers and Sorcerers are the only ones adept at healing. I could overhear some of the conversation in the car on the way over. “She gazed into the floor, remembering the terror of being trapped in her own body and unable to control it. “I was still in there.”
David looked at her, wondering how aware she had been on the ride home. “Did you sleep?” He asked. “I mean, at least I’ve had a few hours here and there.”
“Something akin to it,” Marissa said, “it was kind of like a dream, but I could definitely hear conversation from time to time.
“Just his being here might help,” Nora said. “She’ll fight harder. It will give her the strength she needs until Dad gets here.”
Sam once again stood up and began pacing. “Has it occurred to anyone here,” he said, “that the prophesy would not have ensured we all get here and then let Jamie die?”
“The thought crossed my mind,” Marissa said. “It doesn’t make sense. There would have to be another somewhere, a replacement, or other fifth we weren’t aware of. But Jamie is the child born of Shadow. I can’t imagine may other Auroch’Mir had healthy babies that survived to adulthood.”
“I agree,” Sam said, “and as hurt as she might be, did Nikolas give you any indication you should worry? Did he sound worried?”
“No,” Marissa said, “he didn’t.”
“He might not have,” Nora sighed. “Dad never was very adept at showing any kind of emotion. It was always hard to tell how he was feeling. Sorcerer or not, he’s never been the most sensitive person I’ve known.”
“I think he would be a little more rushed,” Marissa said. “If he thought one of us was in danger, he might have given further instructions, or event suggested a way for Nora to help.”
“We’ve seen what happens when I try to help,” Nora said.
A door slammed in the distance. Someone was running up the stairs and down the hall. The bedroom door opened, and Marlin ran in, dressed in jeans and a tee shirt that seemed a little too big for him.
“What happened,” he asked as he crossed the room and climbed on the bed , surveying the injuries.
“I tried to help,” Nora cried. “Amantha was injured by a Shadow. It hit her in the head with a brick. After I awakened, I tried to help. They told me sorcerers could heal, and Mara couldn’t help her. I felt the injury move off her, I felt it like it was a thing, a…”
Marlin reached over his daughter and moved the hair out of Nora’s face, placing it behind her ear. “It’s okay,” Marlin said. “You shouldn’t have attempted, but you didn’t really have a choice. Thank you for helping Amantha. Nikolas is on his way.”
Marlin held back his tears as he stroked his daughter’s hair. She had grown into a beautiful young woman. The pictures Patricia had brought him never did her any justice. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Marlin leaned down and smelled his daughter’s hair, gently caressing the dressing on her forehead. He couldn’t lose Jamie now. He allowed a single tear to escape his eye.
“I’d like to be alone with my daughter,” Marlin said without looking up. “I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
Sam, David, and Marissa left the room. Nora got off the bed and meandered around to the door. She placed her hand on the door knob and turned back to Marlin. “I promised Patricia that I would look after her,” Nora said. “I’m so sorry.”
Marlin didn’t move. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said. “You tried to help. Now Nora, please leave me alone with my daughter.”
Nora closed the door behind her and collapsed against the wall, head in her knees, sobbing. After a few moments she made herself get up and join the others downstairs.
Marlin sobbed in his daughter’s shoulder. “How I missed you,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry. We thought it was for the best.”
Marlin lifted his head and propped it up with his arm as he continued to stroke Jamie’s hair. “Ironic,” he said as another single tear streamed from his eye, “that I know someone who could help you right now, but she’s busy with James Easterly. Ironic that she of all people should possess that gift and not you.”
Marlin once again let his head rest on his daughter’s shoulder, now feeling the fatigue of twice evanescing and using all his strength and that of hundreds of Zenati to try to help James. He wasn’t sure if he had fallen asleep. He didn’t know if a few minutes had passed or a few hours. But when he opened his eyes to the sound and distinct feel of Nikolas entering the room, the sun was high in the sky, shining hot onto Marlin and Jamie.
Marlin sat up and smiled as Nikolas smiled back at him. Nora entered the room behind him, followed but Marissa, Sam, David and Gerald.
“Quit it Nora,” Nikolas said without turning to his daughter. He rounded the bed and placed a hand over Jamie’s forehead. “Stop wallowing in your guilt, it won’t do you or any of us any good,” he continued as he closed his eyes and the familiar gold hue surrounded him and Jamie.
Nikolas had seemed genuinely pleased to see his daughter, but he regarded her with a kind of sadness when they first saw each other. It was a brief regard, followed by what Nora considered an almost business-like hug.
“Come here,” Nikolas said. His eyes remained closed, but Nora knew he was talking to her. She walked around the bed and stood beside him.
“Hold out your arms, as I’m doing,” he said.
Nora did, and immediately felt her father’s influence. The gold hue surrounded her, and she closed her eyes instinctively.
“Focus on me,” Nikolas said, “clear your mind of any thoughts but that of me.”
As Nora focused on her father, she could sense what he was doing. Once again she could see the injury as a thing separate from Jamie, its own object.
“A sorcerer,” Nikolas began, “is very different from a Zenati Healer. A Healer, like many Zenati, is telekenitc, only they tend to have greater influence over organic matter. Couple that with an innate empathic ability and a natural instinct for determining how different types of organic matter work together, and you have the ingredients for a Healer. Throughout their lives, Healers are then trained in telepathic empathy, honing those skills. Only Healers can teach other Healers.”
As Nora felt what her father was doing, sensed his how he manipulated the Gen in the room, she mimicked him, slowly moving herself into near-perfect synchronicity with his power.
“A Sorcerer,” he said, “draws power from the world around him – or her. That Gen is combined with the Gen Daeanna gave the first Sorcerer. It was her gift to this family line, and as with many gifts, it has a price – and limits.
“Daeanna had to make sure that we in our evolutionary infancy did not abuse her gift. She also had to ensure our ability to manipulate our reality had limits. So with any powerful Genna such as healing, there is a price, a balance. If the injury is removed, it must be displaced. You did not know you had the ability to control its destination, but you did.”
The others in the room watched in awe as Jamie’s wound was mended before their eyes, while Nikolas and Nora waved their hands in perfect synch. Their very breathing appeared to be matched.
“Feel it now,” Nikolas said, “in front of you Nora, feel the action lifting from Jamie. It has moved from action back to possibility, and now it needs to become an action once again. This temporary state cannot be maintained very long. The balance must be restored.”
Nora could feel Nikolas pull the possibility away from Jamie. As if she had no control, when he waved his arms, she waved them in the same direction. Before she knew what she was doing, she saw a live oak tree in the back of the house, near the courtyard, at the edge of the woods. In that tree were several dozen birds. The possibility found its action.
The live oak tree in back was split, ever so slightly, down the base of its five-foot-thick trunk. As it split, a woodpecker and two Wren dropped from above and fell dead to the ground. They had given their lives for Jamie, and in turn for Amantha.
A tear streamed down Nora’s face. They had never known what was coming. She felt the urge to run and thank them, but wasn’t sure how to respond. What other choice was there?
Nikolas turned to Nora. “There’s always a price,” he said.
Jamie moved an arm, and squinted. Nikolas raised a hand over her face, and said “sleep.” He turned to Marlin. “She needs her rest now. She will wake up in a few hours. Be here for her when she does.” Nikolas looked to the remaining four standing around the bed. “We have so much to talk about, but I’m afraid it will have to wait. I need to get Amantha to a Healer in the old world. She stands a better chance there.”
“I can take her,” Gerald said, “you’re not the only one other than Marlin and Amantha who can evanesce, you know.”
“I wish you could old friend,” Nikolas said, “but the Healer I’m visiting will be exhausted. She’d probably rather not meet any new faces today.” He then turned to his daughter. “Walk me out?”
“Of course,” Nora said.
As Nikolas and Nora descended the staircase, Nora broke the awkward silence. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“For Jamie?” Nikolas scoffed, “I told you it wasn’t your fault, now you need to-“
“For everything else,” Nora interrupted. Nikolas stopped at the bottom of the stairs, silent for a moment as he chose his words carefully. He looked straight at the door as he spoke.
“You acted on what you knew,” he said. “It hurt, of course. I’m your father. But my life made no sense to you because I never allowed it to. I was willing to let this generation pass without a Sorcerer. I was the selfish one. In trying to thwart prophesy, I also denied you the existence you were destined to have. In a very real way, I was responsible for what happened today.”
“Now it’s your turn to not wallow in guilt,” Nora said.
Nikolas turned to face his daughter finally. “But I’m not,” he said. “I don’t regret a thing. This is the first thing you need to learn. If you live in a constant state of apology you will never grow beyond your mistakes. Rather than learning from them you will re-live them again and again. Remorse is normal, it’s healthy. But you have to move past it.”
Nora nodded her understanding. “When will you be back?” She asked. “I’d really like some time with you.”
“We’re on the cusp of war,” Nikolas said as he started toward the door again. “I hope we eventually do have that time. But right now the task at hand is the most important thing. I will be back this evening for Communion.”
“Communion?” Nora asked as she opened the door for her father.
“I can’t explain it now,” he said. “But for the next while it will be the best way for you and me to communicate with each other. Tonight I will introduce you to all the Zenati who can join in. And you will finally see the big picture. The five of you will understand exactly what’s at stake here, and you will understand why I tried to prevent it. Go now, and rest. You haven’t had much sleep.”
Nikolas left the parlor and closed the front door behind him.
“Only my Dad would say that,” Nora sighed.