Into The Light - Part 6 (complete)

Into The Light

Into The Light (Part 6 of 6)

by Erisian

Chapter 20 - Power

Saturday and Sunday were a blur. True to her word, Jenna escorted me to each meal plus all the exams they kept throwing at me. In addition to the ones on Friday, they assigned World History, U.S. History (yeah, they made them separate tests), Chemistry (ugh), Biology (double ugh), Physics, Theology, and even Computer Science. Yes, they added a few to the original list Rabbi Kirov had previously rattled off.

By the time I finished the last one I was readily convinced I was an ignorant idiot. Whoever was organizing these damn things was expecting college graduate level knowledge as far as I could tell. And theology, really? Why bother giving me that one? Other than general knowledge (yeah, I had read the Bible in high school) and whatever myths I had enjoyed in my role-playing game years (alright, so at least I had some passing familiarities with a few pantheons), I was fairly lost when it came to the finer questions regarding various sects and their unique interpretations of whatever scriptures their groups had declared to be holy. My paper was entirely blank across vast sections other than a comment I wedged in the middle of a question about Sodom and Gomorrah where I wrote, ‘Angels are real. I met one. She was nice’.

Let’s see them grade that, ha!

We didn’t see Tamara at the cafeteria all weekend, though I did catch sight of Erica a.k.a. ‘Fields’ -she just glared fierce daggers in my direction, but left me alone otherwise.

Jenna hovering protectively at my side may have accounted for that. My new friend was really taking her ‘bodyguard’ notion seriously. It was both really touching and at the same time kind of annoying, like when she insisted on stepping through doors first to make sure things were ‘clear’ before allowing me to go in too.

We did manage to convince Evie to join us for an early dinner on Saturday when the hall was still mostly empty. She seemed to enjoy it but then also got more anxious as the meal went on. Leland had kept a good eye on how she was holding up, and recognized the symptoms of overload when they started to appear. He had figured, correctly it seemed, that empath overload would probably be a lot like his usual physical sensory ones and therefore he knew exactly what to watch for. Being almost done with our meals anyway, we left quickly so Evie could return to Hawthorne and be more comfortable.

My room was mostly off-limits during the day during all the construction. As for the second circle, the rabbi told me that unfortunately one of the practitioners they required to make the changes had needed to go away for the weekend and wouldn’t be back until the middle of the upcoming week at the earliest. Every night I kept having that frustrating ‘stuck in the fog’ dream, so I was really hoping they could fix it soon. I’d been tempted to just sleep on the floor outside all of their circles, but Kirov had strenuously warned me that ‘for the safety of the students’ I should always sleep inside Circe’s outer failsafe one.

And no, they still wouldn’t tell me what that outer circle of hers was designed to do, which had me wondering whether they even knew.

But by the end of Sunday the elevator to the attic opened to a simple lobby-like area enclosed by sky-blue painted drywall and a solid oak door that had the standard Hawthorne security keypad stuck next to it. It was biometric and required a fingerprint along with my ID, though I was also given a key I could use in case my ID went missing. I’d lost a small part of the floorspace for my living area, but considering how ridiculously large the attic was I had very little to complain about. The two plants in the lobby area were also a nice touch. I’d get some for my room, but I was afraid Khan would just eat ‘em.

I’d discovered that with just a sweater and the thicker uniform skirt I could comfortably hang out in Penelope’s room with her and my fuzzy buddy; the cold really didn’t bother either of us. Truth be told, I may not have even needed the sweater, but mentally I knew it was just above freezing in there so I was hesitant to take it off.

Khan loved the attention Penelope gave him all day. His toys were scattered all over her room, and whenever he got tired he’d dive under a pile of woolen blankets that she borrowed from another student. Seeing as it was middle of summer, it’s not like they were using them at the moment anyway.

Penelope herself bounced off the walls with happiness from having him in there with her, really driving home how isolated she was during these warmer months until winter and things got cold enough for her to venture outside again. It may only be getting up to the lower eighties here in the New Hampshire summer, but her body just couldn’t take those kinds of temperatures.

She had explained that her blood was different: it was blue and didn’t have hemoglobin. Instead it had something called hemocyanin that used copper instead of iron to transport the oxygen. This also was what gave her skin its unusual color - she said that Antarctic octopods were like that too, allowing them to survive in oceans at just below freezing temperatures. She said there were other adaptations in her body for the cold, but the blood thing was the main one.

Having totally bombed the biology exam that day, I decided it’d be best to take her word for it.

Of more interest was how little she was able to discover about Tamara’s necklace. She emailed Tamara’s friends (who had all gone to their various homes for the summer) and received a response from only one named Rachel. She hadn’t seen it herself, but Tamara had emailed her all excited about how her mother had sent her a present, one that had a jewel which could ‘really help’ her magical studies as well as act as a focus for her practices. Tamara had also lamented that with her mom’s busy social schedule and need to protect her own (even more powerful) crystal, her mom’s orb was put somewhere secure for safe keeping during her trip to Europe - thus they wouldn’t be able to chat other than quick phone calls at odd hours until her mom got back in early September.

The more Penelope told me about Tamara’s mom, an obviously potent Wiccan who lobbied and worked hard on behalf of magical societies of various beliefs as well as a large collection of environmental movements, the more things didn’t add up. Why would her mom send her something that the strongest (and most troubled) empath I knew would describe as evil? That was a mystery, and a bothersome one.

Oh - and Zap kept lurking out on my balcony each morning. I didn’t flash him anymore, but I don’t think he minded. He just wanted to dance up and down with me for a minute, clothes on or not - it was the bouncing dance that seemed to make him really happy. Saturday night I brought a couple hot dogs back to my room to put out on the balcony for him, and sure enough when I woke up they had disappeared.

I figured I really should get him a steak or something with how he’d saved me the other night, but I first wanted to test if he’d eat anything offered. Now I knew and could plan accordingly.

As for me and recovering from the latest mental shock about the nature of my existence, I tried not to think about it. They’d scheduled me and Evie to go talk to Natalie on Monday morning anyway, Evie first, then me. So as far as I was concerned it could all wait until then.

The universe, of course, didn’t want to give it or me a rest and so as if on cue, in the Monday morning way before dawn I was yanked from yet another annoying foggy dream by the demands of the obnoxious telephone.

“Yeah?” Not the most polite of phone greetings, but hey, whoever was calling had it coming for waking me up.

“… Jordan? Is that you?” a male voice responded, one that seemed familiar but there was a lot of static or some kind of distortion on the line that made it hard to place.

“Maybe. Who’s this? Do you have any idea what time it is?” I grumped.

“Time? Oh… yeah, my fault. I forgot about the time difference,” he said. “It’s Nick, Nick Wright. Remember me?”

Well duh, of course I remembered him. “Like I’d forget. Jesus, it’s only four a.m. here, what time is it there? And for that matter where the hell are you?”

“Uhm I think it’s late morning here. As for where, I don’t really want to say. Sorry for the quality of the connection, I’m using a satellite phone.”

“So you’re what, just checking in? Or did you find something? Wait, weren’t you supposed to go to Israel?”

“I started there, yeah. As for the first two questions, I think a bit of both. How are you holding up with, uh, everything?”

“Oh I dunno, how would you be doing if you discovered you’d actually died and Gabriel sent you back?”

There was a long pause from the other end. That’s okay, I could wait - after all, I wasn’t paying for the satellite connection.

“You uh, you figured that out?”

“Rabbi Kirov and Mr. Geintz discovered it - that I’d died - and then I remembered a bit of what happened back at the storage unit. Wait a minute. You knew? You bastard!”

“I didn’t… I didn’t want to alarm you with that yet, okay? You had enough to deal with as it was.”

“Dammit, what the hell did you really see? You were there! Did you tell the DPA?” I was furious. How dare he keep that from me!

“No. I didn’t tell them. They would have isolated you even further if they knew. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but please believe me when I say that it was for the best at the time. Really. But why’d you say it was Gabriel who sent you back?”

“Because I saw her on the other side,” I growled.

“Wow. Seriously, wow. That…. that makes a lot of sense, actually.”

Ever want to reach through a phone and strangle someone? “Spill it, Wright. I’m tired of the bullcrap.”

“I’ve been investigating…” His voice trailed off, and then right when I was about to yell at him, he spoke again.

“Let’s back up. At the storage unit I saw your old body disintegrate into dust by the time you reached Danielle, just like I had feared would happen. But then her chair got lifted up by a pulsing bright light - one that slowly took on the outline of a person. And, as I watched, it layered itself with bone, organs, and muscle before sealing it all with still-glowing skin. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“The pain,” I stuttered, remembering all too vividly that part.

“Was the pain of a total rebirth.”

“What else?” I demanded. “According to the rabbi, angels aren’t supposed to be here. Like at all.”

“He’s right. It didn’t make sense to me either until now, until you mentioned Gabriel. Because I think I’ve figured out what else Soren’s ritual did.”

I went silent, awkwardly realizing I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to know.

He continued anyway. “According to lore angels used to visit here directly, but some bad things happened. That’s not important right now. What’s important is that Gabriel was supposed to have been a main factor in the Host binding our world from any further direct visitations. How and the details, I don’t have. But Soren’s ritual, as best as I can determine, was designed not just to pump power into your spirit, it was also made to weaken that barrier in that place. It was all incredibly complex and powerful, but by itself it couldn’t actually puncture it - just weaken it.”

The multicolored and infinite barrier came back to my mind. It had seemed impermeable, yet I had plunged through - deliberately aiming for back into the storage unit, back to Danielle.

Holy shit.

I swallowed “I did it. Gabriel caught me and then let me go back, and I punched through.”

“You? Gabriel didn’t do it, didn’t push you through?”

“No. She just watched me go.”

I heard him curse and fumble his phone, and I flinched at the loud impact of it hitting the ground. While he tried to pick it up I could just make out over the line as he mumbled to himself. “…impossible, only Gabriel’s pattern could open it, even weakened like that…”

“What was that, Nick?”

“I said… I said that’s not possible, but obviously it is. Which means I have a lot more research to do. I have one more lead to pursue right now based on the kind of script Soren used at key places in his ritual setup. Because if I’m right, that script is not supposed to exist anywhere since the Tower of Babel happened.”

“You aren’t making sense again.”

“Sorry, sorry. I promise it’ll all be clear eventually - one way or the other. But right now you have got to promise me not to tell anyone, especially Rabbi Kirov, what you saw on the other side. You don’t need that headache.”

“Headache?”

“You don’t need religious nuts fighting over interpretations of your return - if you aren’t careful they could label you a new Messiah or something.”

“Oh shit.” My stomach sank, familiar butterflies taking flight yet again.

“Don’t worry, you aren’t. At least, I’m pretty sure you aren’t anyway. I’ll know more if I can chase down this last lead - especially if I can uncover who Soren actually is. He’s much older than I thought, than pretty much anybody thought.”

“So what do I do?” I asked plaintively. You’d think my head would be used to this crap by now, but no, it was freaking out like usual.

“Just chill and take classes at the school. Make sure to take Circe’s ‘Mythic History’ class; there’s probably stuff in there useful for you to know.”

“Circe? Did they tell you that she put a special circle around the other two surrounding my bed? No one will tell me what it does; she just called it a ‘failsafe.’”

“Really? Can you describe it to me? I can’t receive images with this thing.”

Stretching the anachronistic telephone cord to its limits, I walked around my bed and tried to give details of what I could see of that outermost circle and, when he asked, what I felt from it.

“If I try and power up a little, it feels like it wants to, I dunno, pull the energy from me. It’s weird. If I stand inside the center circle, though, that doesn’t happen.”

“Gimme a minute to think,” he responded. I did so as patiently as I could. “I think I know what it is,” he said at last. “Failsafe, huh? Holy shit, yeah, okay. Understatement, but okay.”

“Tell me, dammit!” Okay, so my patience had reached its limits. Can you blame me?

“No easy way to put this, but if you were to pull more energy into that space than would be safe for the building, the campus, or the world? I’m pretty sure that circle would cut you adrift from reality before the energy could get too far.”

I choked. “And… and then what?”

“Uh, unless you could navigate between realms, you’d likely be stuck. But everyone else would be safe. Really smart of the ol’ gal too.”

“Smart? Spinning me off into the never-never lands?”

“You still aren’t getting it, are you. Angels, especially the archs like Gabriel, they are Powers - with capital ‘P’s. Heck, one of the angelic choirs has that as their name. They have the energy potential at the highest levels to raze not just solar systems but probably entire clusters of galaxies. Not that they would, but they could if they manifested fully down here.”

“That’s impossible, I mean, I’m just…”

“Just what?” he interrupted. “We have no idea what level of angel you are. If you’re only a lower messenger, then sure, that’s total precaution overkill. But Circe is smart - she’s not taking the risk. If you are a manifestation of something bigger from the Greater Ethereal realms, and your inexperience here causes you to fuck up and channel enough energy to make the sun look like a spark plug, then with that circle there’s a chance the world could survive. The campus, hell maybe New England itself, would be torched in that scenario, but I bet her magic working there has a shot at getting that energy off of our plane fast enough to save the rest. If you’re unstable while you sleep, then you need to be within that protection, it’s that simple. Honestly, I should have thought of it myself.”

My knees gave out and I hit the floor with a loud thump. Fortunately my hand had a death grip on the phone so I didn’t drop it.

He sighed. “I’m sorry to have to tell you all this, but I think that you’re right - you need to know these things. Take Circe’s class, talk to her, and hey - maybe even ask her about Soren. He guest lectured there many years ago, and they would hang out at dinner some nights.”

“How do you know?”

He chuckled. “Because I was once one of her most difficult students. All the hard stuff in her classes I did with ease, but the easy stuff? Boy did I struggle with those. Drove her nuts. It’s also how I met Soren originally and I guess I caught his attention for when he found me later.”

“Later?” I asked.

“Story for another time. Right now I need to get moving and see if I can get you, and us, more answers. You just learn and practice - and for everyone’s sake, be careful, okay?”

“Right. Sure. Piece of cake.” I didn’t mean a word of it.

“Good. Look, I’ll try to call again in a few weeks. Stay safe ‘till then.”

“You too. And hey, Nick?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For finally being honest.”

“You bet.” He hung up.

I sat there on the floor, resting my back up against the bed while staring out at the three circles wrapping all around. After awhile Khan came over, nudged my hand, and curled up by my side.

“Buddy,” I whispered to him, “We are so not in Kansas anymore.”

He yawned unconcernedly. That made one of us.

We sat there together until the pre-dawn light began to peek through my window. I even got to watch as Zap cruised in to perch on my railing, tilting his head at me in surprise at my already being awake. He bopped his little head up and down in greeting, which made me feel better. Khan just opened an eye, assessed Zap for a moment, then drifted back to his sleep.

I guess there was a lot of new crap to tell Natalie about later that morning. I wondered if she’d be disturbed by any of it. Nah, she’d likely be fully professional and helpful, and wait until after I’d left before maybe freaking out on her own. What else was there to do when your client might be able to destroy the Earth? Egads!

I know Nick said not to tell anyone, but if you can’t trust your therapist with your completely insane life, who can you trust? And wasn’t that also the point of this whole place anyway? To get support for dealing with the crazy and maddening world we found ourselves shoved into whether we wanted it or not?

At first I’d thought that it was only Danielle who needed that kind of support longer term and not me. Yeah, I was wrong. So very wrong.

Sighing quietly I snuggled my cat, while me and the hawk watched the day slowly break as the morning sun rose just out sight of my more south-facing view. The forest glimmered with the first pinkish and purple rays, bathing the dense trees with a mystical glow.

At least my view from here was pretty darn awesome.

Chapter 21 - Corruption

After another hastily completed shower (yes, other bare girls being in the bathroom still discombobulated my peace of mind), Evie joined me to get breakfast. She was running late when she came out to the lobby and then mumbled something about having to return to her room so her phone could charge. On her sheepish return she admitted that she had played a game on it most of the night. She also insisted without words to hold my hand throughout the entire meal. I didn’t mind, seeing as how eggs-over-easy, Belgian waffles, bacon, and sausage don’t require a fork and knife to eat - even a spoon alone could be made to work if one was determined.

Leland had said he’d meet us at the cafeteria as he was going to try and join a history class study group afterwards. This was final exam week for the summer classes, so students were busy preparing to cram everything at the last minute. Yep, being a meta or mutant didn’t change the specialty of teenage procrastination. Come to think of it, a lot of adults never grow out of that too. Having just been through the exam ringer myself, though, the kids had my sympathies.

We waited for him, sitting side by side so he could sit opposite, but he didn’t show. Evie just shrugged, commenting that some days Leland would wake up and find his perceptual abilities even more sensitive, and that on those days he just holed up in his room. Even talking on the phone or using a computer would make his overload migraine worse, and when I suggested maybe we should go check up on him she reminded me that knocking on his door would only add to his headache.

Evie had only gotten a toasted muffin and a couple sausage links, so she finished way before I could have even if I had rushed it.

“Jordan?” she said, letting go of my hand. She was studying her empty plate intently, a growing nervousness causing her shoulders to hunch in.

“Hmm?” I still had a mouth full of buttery syrup-laden waffle.

“When you pulled me from my state of crazy in the bathroom, what… what was that like for you? How did you do it?”

Hoo boy. I held up a finger so I could finish chewing, washing it down with more tea before I said anything. I knew I needed to speak clearly for this.

“I’m not sure I can really answer the ‘how’, hon. But you were surrounded by those emotional projection things, and I had to walk through them to get to you. The energy I can tap seems to have an effect on them, so I was able to do so.”

“So you just got to me and they all ran away?”

“Not quite. I sorta burned a path through them, but when I got to you not only were they surrounding you, but they also had gotten inside. You didn’t respond when I called your name - you couldn’t see me.”

“Oh.” She thought about that for a moment. “What did you do then?”

“Well, uh, I touched you.”

“That’s it?” She studied my face and the set of her own expression made it clear she was bracing herself. But it wasn’t the truth she was afraid of - she was afraid I’d lie.

“Nope. By touching you we connected, and I kinda fell inside you too.”

She stared, unsure if that was lie or truth so I had to plow on.

“I can’t explain, but I think I went into your spirit, or maybe your mind, something like that, okay? I’d never done anything like that before, so it was very confusing. At first I was bombarded by your memories, and then I think I found the part of you that was stuck and trying to protect itself from those dark emanations.”

“My memories?” She began to panic - I had to quickly take her hand again and try to reassure her.

“Most likely, sweetie. Lots of fragments of images and things. But don’t worry, alright? I haven’t told anyone - not even Natalie - what I saw in there. And I promise I won’t - not without your permission. Ever.”

“Do you… do you know what happened? What I did?” Her voice got very small.

Pushing my breakfast away, I turned my chair to face hers. With a gentle finger I lifted her downcast face so I could look into her eyes.

“Evie, I think I saw a lot of things. What I saw most of all was a young, beautiful, and innocent girl being treated beyond horribly. One who should never shoulder the blame for the outcome of events.”

“But I… I…” She didn’t say it, but her lips made it clear. She mouthed, ‘…killed her.’

Giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, I said, “No, Evie, you didn’t. You didn’t.” Thinking quickly I added, “Let me tell you a story, something I did as a baby - in fact this is one of my father’s favorite tales according to my mom. I was in the crib, you see, resting on my tummy. My father walked up to the crib and leaned down to kiss the back of my head. I must have heard him, because I suddenly looked up very fast. I whacked him so hard with the back of my head that it broke his nose.”

“Ow. But what does…”

I completed the question. “What does that have to do with anything? Simple. Would you blame me for breaking his nose?”

“You? But you were just a baby! No!” She squirmed in her chair, uncomfortable with the idea.

I smiled. “Exactly, hon. I didn’t know what would happen when I looked up - heck, even as a young child it took me awhile to understand just how hard my own noggin was. Why, I even knocked another kid out in a swimming pool once by our heads colliding, but hmm… that’s another story altogether. What’s important is that my concrete block of a baby head is like your powers. You weren’t aware of them, and you still are only beginning to even understand them, let alone manage control. No one can blame you for what happened when your abilities first manifested. They, and you, can blame the universe or genetics or whatever, but they can’t blame you. You didn’t know what would happen, just like I didn’t know as a baby that raising my head that fast would break my father’s nose. And there was no way you could have known.”

I let her think about it, praying that the message would sink in.

“Your dad - how bad was his nose?” she then asked with curiosity, a hint of a smile touching her face. Success? Maybe? Please?

I grinned. “He had to go get it set at the hospital and everything. But he was forevermore proud that his boy was that strong.”

She startled and looked at me funny. “Boy?”

Oh shit! Shit shit shit! “Uhh…” I bit my lip while inwardly raging at myself for my stupidity. How could I have let that slip? Argh!

She stared at me, then nodded her head. “You were born a boy, weren’t you.” She didn’t even say it as a question.

I cringed, but I didn’t lie. I couldn’t, not now. Dammit, I was stuck. “Yes. I was.”

It was her turn to squeeze my hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. You didn’t tell my stuff, I won’t tell yours. But you shouldn’t let others know, they’d be mean.”

My complexion likely resembled a crimson rose by that point, a large deep Valentine’s Day one. “It… kinda slipped out,” I muttered.

“Is it weird?” She tilted her head, her raven bangs hanging off to one side.

Sighing, I tried to answer. “Yeah, I guess it is. It’s not bad or anything, just different. My mental self-image is still inconsistent, which is awkward. But mostly I feel like it should bother me more than it does, if that makes any sense. And the part of me that feels that way I think may be afraid I could come to like this better. I dunno.”

She stood up and gave me a hug, speaking into my shoulder. “I like you this way. And you’re very pretty. You were probably all scruffy and gross before.”

I snerked. If she only knew how scruffy I had kept my facial hair, or how furry my chest and back had been…

Huh. I really didn’t miss all that.

“Yeah I was,” I said and let go of her hug. “Think we should get ourselves going over to Doyle to see Natalie?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” Then she smiled suddenly. “You really did have your own issues to deal with when you were upset the other day, huh?”

“My dear, you have no idea. And Evie?” I asked, catching her eye to let her know I was serious with what I was about to say.

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For keeping my secret.”

Her grin quadrupled in size - a smile that had the beautiful morning sun beat. There was no contest.

~o~O~o~

We exited the cafeteria heading towards Doyle and our awaiting appointments, ready to have our heads shrunk by Natalie. All things considered, I had a ton to tell her about and was caught between looking forward and yet cringing at the same time because I knew she’d probably force me to examine the scarier stuff even further. Thing is, there was a lot I most likely needed to get off my chest (so to speak, the new additions were obviously permanent, ahem).

C'est la vie.

Evie, to the surprise of not just myself but a few other students who passed us by, skipped ahead of me and, of all things, sang quietly, “I know a secret! I know a secret!” My glare to those students likely stopped them from interrupting her obvious enjoyment of that fact.

Either that or distracted them entirely - I may have flared a little when I did it. Maybe. They certainly sped up their pace to get away from me though. I called that success.

I was content to just follow behind her, but halfway across the lawn she slowed, then stopped, and I caught up to her. She was staring off to the right towards the forest and was frowning deeply.

“You okay?” I asked, glancing at the trees and catching sight of the hawk as he swooped down to land on a branch at the edge of the wood.

Her eyebrows squinched in concentration. “Something’s wrong.”

“With the hawk?” He looked okay to me, in fact he seemed to be staring at me from across the distance.

She shook her head. “Shut up for a moment, okay?”

I stood awkwardly at her side, not sure what was bothering her. Her hands clenched into fists, and if her eyes had lasers those distant trees would have been leveled - and set on fire.

Her face shifted from focus to alarm. “Oh no! Leland! He’s hurt!”

“Where?”

She grabbed my arm. “Beyond the trees! There’s evil! And it’s got Leland!”

Her touch was like plugging into an outlet. What she was feeling flooded into me, waves of intense panic along with blasts of sheer agony as if someone had taken a needle and jabbed every nerve I had. I think I cried out in shock. Because somewhere beyond the trees, a lot further into the woods, Leland was hurting - and bad. Somehow I also knew it was him. And the area was infested with a feeling awfully like what Evie’s own dark manifestations had been like. I had a sudden intuition that time was of the essence.

Not good.

Zap’s cry caused me to look up at him. He was staring into the woods, shrieking, then looking back at me.

I forced my voice to be calm.

“Evie - I need you to run to Doyle. You need to find an adult - a nurse, Natalie’s appointment secretary, anyone. And you need to tell them what you felt.”

Her face was paler than usual. “It’s bad,” she whispered.

I stepped quickly to place myself between her and the forest, just in case that somehow could shield her.

“Evie, you can do it. What you’re feeling isn’t you - it’s something else. And you can help, okay? You can help Leland by running quickly from here, getting to a safer distance, and telling someone what’s happening.”

Her hands shook with fright - for Leland and for herself. “What about you?”

“I have to go in there after Leland. You can get people to come help me and him, okay?”

“But I’ll lock up inside again!”

I rested a hand on her cheek, trying to pull the terror and pain she was feeling off of her. “You can do it, hon. I have faith in you. If you see another student, shout at them to help you too.”

“Can’t you just call someone? And stay here? We’re not supposed to go into those woods!”

“No, I still don’t have a phone. And yours is back in your room charging, remember?”

I saw her desire to help wrestle with her fear - and to my relief her desire won out and she nodded. “Get to Doyle. Get help. I can do this.”

Without waiting for me to say anything more, she turned and ran towards the medical building at top speed.

Zap’s piercing summons reminded me I had better run too. So I did.

With all the forced running I kept doing lately, maybe I should just wear a sports bra every damn day.

~o~O~o~

It didn’t take long to reach the tree where Zap had perched, and as I did he took off to soar further into the forest. He was faster, but kept slowing or landing on a branch to allow me to catch up.

As I’d suspected, he knew where to go. He may be stuck as a hawk, but he had an intelligence behind those eyes - and maybe something else I couldn’t put a finger on. It was a good thing though, because without Evie’s touch I’d lost the directionality to the empathic feeling other than a low-level disquiet which was slowly growing stronger as we went along. Triangulating based on that would have taken forever - if not been outright impossible.

Ducking under a dangerously low branch, I heard a guttural voice chanting somewhere ahead, and I went towards it as best I could - right into even thicker forest. My poor blouse and skirt were going to need to be sent back to Cecilia for repairs after this - they kept snagging on thorns and sticks but I wasn’t about to stop. I’d deal with the fabric carnage later.

Through the trees I spotted what looked to be a clearing or at least an area that was less dense. A figure in a dark hooded cloak was standing there, holding a knife aloft in one hand with blade pointed towards the sky, and in the other held a multi-colored sphere about six inches across with its two halves being held together by, I kid you not, duct tape.

That’s when I ran directly into an invisible wall. Hard.

My nose went crunch against it (damn Dad, that really does hurt!) and I saw nothing but stars.

The chanting was interrupted by maniacal girlish laughter. “Didn’t see THAT coming, did you!”

I slid to my knees down along a barrier now visible due to my nose’s blood smearing all over it. I moaned as my eyes refocused on the leering face beneath the hood. Green eyes ringed with deep black circles over an unhealthily anorexic face. “Tamara?”

“Yeah, it’s me you bitch!” She spat at me - though her spittle just hit the other side of the wall to mirror my bloodstain.

There was a whimper behind her. It was Leland. He was tied to a tree by thick rope wrapped around his arms and chest, with more around his waist and wrists pinning him to the bark, and a third winding similarly strangling his ankles. He was clad only in his shorts - his special glasses and ear protections had been removed. Oh man.

His eyes were tightly squeezed shut, but I knew our spoken words alone probably sounded like church bells bouncing off his eardrums.

I had to get to him. But also had to keep her distracted until I could.

While I tried to gather my energies and let my inner vision take control (so maybe I could see what the hell she had put in my way), I spoke to her as quietly as I could yet loud enough so she would hear.

“What are you doing, Tamara?”

The black opal pendant was perched between her collarbones. As my sight opened up to magic and beyond, I felt my stomach drop as it fought the terror of what I beheld.

Dark tendrils had sprouted from that opal - a multitude of them - and they crawled over her skin from head to toe. Worse still, they plunged under her skin in too many spots to count. Like a spiderweb made up of tiny maleficent razorblades, she was being shredded apart piece by tiny piece. The damn web even pulsed as if sucking the spirit-force right out of her.

It was one of the worst things I had ever seen.

“Doing? I’m fixing what you fucking broke!” She held up the duct-taped halves of her crystal ball.

“How is this going to fix it?” I asked, forcing my perception away from her to try and examine the wall that stopped me. I was no good to anyone while stuck outside it. A lattice-work similar yet different to what was covering her skin rose out of the ground in a circle - and it went all the way around her small clearing. Embedded within it were not just Norse runes but also these small straight lines making stranger symbols as they crossed themselves in regular patterns.

But it was an entirely different style of symbol scattered throughout which caused me greater worry. They looked awfully like the ones Circe had used for her ‘failsafe’ circle in my room.

“How?” she crowed. “Oh it’s quite simple, but seeing as how you’ve had no proper education in the mystic arts whatsoever, I’ll explain it so maybe an idiot like you can possibly understand. After all, a plebeian such as yourself would not have a master like Glegalin to teach you.”

Gotta keep her talking and not acting. “You’re right, Tamara. I’ve had no teaching - and can only ask for guidance from those, like yourself, who know so much more than I.” I hoped if I stroked her ego it might buy more time - all the while charging up my hand behind my back. I was going to have to try and punch through that barrier, and had a feeling it was going to take a lot to do it.

“Ha.” She snorted. “Flattery will get you nowhere, you worm. But as I am a woman of my word, I will tell you anyway. You see, a crystal such as this requires the proper resonances. You ruined that when you broke it! So to fix and bind it again, something needs to hold it together that resonates with its scrying purpose!”

Scrying… perception. Oh shit. Leland. I couldn’t help it, my eyes darted back to the suffering captive.

She laughed again, a dark laugh laced with hysteria. “You begin to comprehend, don’t you? Yes, Leland here, is quite integral to the spell. So integral that his soul will be the very binding to perfect my pretty crystal - in fact, it should surpass even my mother’s most prize possession when I am done! She will be proud of my accomplishment and envious!”

I figured it was now or never, so I jumped up. Shoving my feet into a proper stance, I threw my burning fist at the wall with all I had.

The barrier’s markings sucked the light right from my fist before I even connected, and my hand collapsed into itself from the impact.

I screamed loudly. Which caused Leland to cry and twitch under his bindings as my shout must have torn through his ears.

Tamara, though, was damn near falling over with how hard she was laughing. “That… that’s hilarious! Look at the blood from your fist still hovering there!”

Cradling my broken hand, I looked down and had to bite my lip to keep from screaming again. The bones of my fingers were shattered, the fingertips had solid chunks just dangling loosely from shredded muscle and skin.

“You think I wouldn’t be prepared for you?” Tamara taunted. “I had Fields hack the Mystical Arts Department’s computers and get their pictures of Circe’s little circle that was done to contain your so-called celestial ass. My barrier will just take your energy and use it against you - Glegalin assures me it’s perfect, especially since you have no idea what you’re doing!”

“Who,” I said through clenched teeth, “is Glegalin?”

“The adviser my mother sent me, you idiot - and with his help I’m going to fix the mess you made, and then he’s going to crush you. Leland will be my mind-slave, of course, because I’ll own his soul, so he gets to live. With his abilities he’ll be really useful, don’t you think?”

This was beyond bad. I reached further within for more Light, letting it wash over my fist. Meanwhile I stared at the damn wall. Did it have a weakness? If I pulled even more energy, could I break it anyway? What was the most I’d pulled so far? Probably back at the DPA labs taking out the wall to get to Danielle.

The inner wellspring burst through me, but like before I felt it was only filling a small part of a much bigger cavern. Dammit! Trying to increase that flow in desperation, it was like the spigot was stuck - I knew it could release more somehow, but it just wouldn’t.

My glow was lighting up the forest, but Tamara just smirked. “Oh this should be good. Hit it with THAT much energy and you’ll obliterate yourself directly! What fun!”

Frowning, I forced my will upon that inner tap - but my conversation with Nick rammed itself through my thoughts.

Power. Too much power. What if I ended up incinerating everything? Dammit. If I could stall her long enough, could help arrive in time?

“Hmm… if you’re going to just stand there, I have better things to do. Like finish what I came here for!” Tamara, turning her back, lifted her dagger and began chanting once more. Shit, no!

While I stood there struggling with what I should or even could do, she lowered the knife to cut markings onto Leland’s exposed stomach. He screamed and thrashed wildly, which only sharpened the pitch of his cries as the ropes also rubbed harshly against his skin.

Fuck! What to do? I didn’t want to blow up everything - not Leland, not Tamara, not Zap, not the school… wait a minute.

Where’s Zap?

Still holding onto a fierce amount of energies, I looked frantically around and found the hawk. He had landed on the forest floor three feet or so off to my side. Staring at me intently, he stretched his wings out wide and shrieked.

In my weird inner sight a vision popped into view. I saw the hawk being raised up in a glowing nimbus forged by my energies, his eyes and feathers burning with all that power.

He wanted me to zap him. With all of it.

I hesitated, afraid of what it might do to him, but Leland screamed again in a choking mindless cry. Zap had caught lightning the other night and he seemed to be okay... what other options did I have?

With a grunt I focused all the energy into a large sun-like ball that burst into existence between my hands and with it casting forth miniature solar flares I threw it at the hawk.

He lifted his head to catch it directly with his chest and wings, soaking it all in.

In awe, I watched him float right up into the air, my energies flaring out along feathers that grew even brighter still. It got so intense I had to close my physical eyes and only use my mind to see.

From there I saw the hawk grow larger and larger as its form changed - like the shining inverse of a shadow - and the light took on the outline of a man.

I opened my eyes.

Standing aglow with eyes flaring white with power was a young man maybe seventeen years of age. He had powerful shoulders and a strong chest, yet his waistline was slender and taut. Dark hair streamed behind his head, looking for all the world like feathers, and his nose was as proud as the bird he had just been.

Oh, and he didn’t have any clothes on. But I wasn’t going to fault him for that. Especially because, to my surprise, I caught myself thinking that he was actually kind of cute.

Must’ve been the energy and the pain from my hand - I definitely wasn’t thinking properly.

Inside the barrier Tamara stopped chanting, leaving Leland bleeding profusely from the incisions her markings had left behind. “Who the hell are you?” she challenged Zap, knowing she was safe behind that wall of hers.

Zap didn’t answer and instead stepped closer to the barrier, those brilliant eyes scanning its surface. He spoke a word I didn’t recognize as he held a hand out behind him, and a staff forged of that light appeared within it. The end of the staff sharpened into a narrow spear-point.

“The trick,” he said calmly as he paced slowly around the wall of energies, “is to know which symbols form the anchor. And not to spread your own power around for the webbing to grab.”

With that he twirled his spear and plunged the sharp tip straight through the barrier.

That part of the wall collapsed in a shower of sparks and ash.

Tamara cried out in alarm, “No! Glegalin, stop him!”

As Zap stepped through the new opening he paused with a warrior’s caution as we watched a darkness stream out of Tamara’s necklace. Much like Zap himself a moment ago had been a silhouette of light within my vision-space, so now was this the opposite: a shadow standing free of any man to cast it.

The shadow’s hands each grew a sword of their own.

“I’ll deal with this, you stop her!” Zap commanded, his face alight with an inner joy for the impending combat. With obvious skill he spun his spear about to block the first slice from one of the blades formed from emptiness. He then danced to the side to avoid its black twin, moving to counter with a spear-point lunge of his own.

I was mesmerized. On top of my sight of the young man wielding a spear of solid light I also saw something grander: a taller more imposing figure, loincloth shifting over powerful legs, bronzed sun-kissed skin with a neckline merging into reddish-brown feathers that covered the head of a battle-hardened hawk.

And this man didn’t need my energy, for a shaft of sunlight streamed down between the trees illuminating him in solar glory. In my vision I saw the sun in the sky above resting atop a strange looking boat, and its light shone down for this man and this man alone.

“Get moving!” Zap roared at me, his voice a blend of old and young. Tamara had dropped the remains of her greenish-purple crystal ball and was now using both hands to carve symbols into the air, aiming them at Zap. Crap.

Rushing through the gap the hawk-man had created, I snarled. “Oh hell no!” I threw my energy directly into her forming symbol, scattering it with the burst. I may not have had the training to wield it finely, but an unruly shotgun blast was usually effective at messing things up. Like storage unit locks, for example.

She stumbled backwards as if the blast had struck her directly. She raised her hands again to try and draw another, but they were shaking badly. Her energy reserves were toast, dangerously so - likely from those horrible black lines digging into her skin and her spirit.

“Dammit Tamara,” I yelled. “That thing is some kind of evil! It’s using you, and it’s killing you!”

“Evil?” I saw her eyes flash back towards the fighting shadow, which somehow distracted it and caused it to stumble. It was still connected to her, if I could disrupt that…

“Yes, evil! Think! Would your mother ever want you to abuse someone’s soul? What would she say if she saw you casting such evil spells?” I moved closer to her.

“Mom?” Tamara looked about in confusion.

The shadow-man took a quick step back towards Tamara, a dark hand darting towards the pendant.

A hand which Zap sliced off with the end of his spear, causing the shadow to shriek in otherworldly agony.

I jumped forward, having already recharged myself as best I could, and grabbed onto Tamara’s necklace with my unbroken hand before the shadow could get to it first.

This time I was ready for the falling transition as I dove into her troubled heart.

Chapter 22 - Cleansing

A tapestry lay under siege: twists of blackened wire suffocated threads which should have been brilliant with multi-colored varieties. The stain of shadow seeped deeper into every stitch piece by piece, spreading pitch darkness across the whole. Each strand reflected a scene - a memory waiting to be touched. Trying to understand how to help, I reached forward and connected with a single wisp that lay on the periphery of the foul stain…

“Mommy! The waves are fun, you gotta come swim!”

A young girl with sparkling green eyes ran across a beach under a warm sun. Her mother, resting on a folding plastic chair in a turquoise one-piece bathing suit and wide-brimmed flowery hat, was busily writing into a spiral notebook.

“Mommy, Mommy!” The child, maybe eight or nine years old, bounced between one foot and the other, trying to keep the hot sand from burning her pink toes.

“Not yet, honey. This is important.” Her mother, focus still entirely on her notes, dismissed her daughter without even looking up.

Disappointment crushed the little girl, her excitement fading sharply into sadness. With heavy feet she trudged back towards the water - if only to cool her burning feet, for the joy of the ocean’s watery touch had drained away along with all the scene’s vibrant colors. Dull grays and blacks washed over everything, leaving a young girl standing lost in shadow as she stood below a cloudless sky.

My heartache made me want to pull away, but I was held fast by a voice that spoke directly to my mind.

Keep watching. Let your light show you true.

My light? I was a witness to the scene but not in it, what could I do? The little girl stood there at the edge of the shore, the same shallow trickles of icy cold flowing over her toes again and again. Exactly the same wave each time.

She was stuck. The scene was caught in an endless loop, focusing only on the pain of her mother’s rejection.

But what had happened after?

I pushed out over that beach, trying to slowly wash away the clouds that were not clouds, hoping for a glimpse of what lay under the patina of sadness that held it fast.

That’s it. Carefully…

A new wave crashed further out over the sea, and the girl’s mother called out.

“Tamara! I’m all done sweetie - let’s swim!”

Night returned to day as the little girl turned and saw her mom tossing her hat aside with a wide smile and come running across the sands. With a shriek of delight the daughter was swept up into her mother’s arms and carried further out into the refreshing waters of pure happiness and adoration.

The remaining shadows fled from the joy and exaltation shining from this now untarnished memory. I began to understand the affliction Tamara was suffering from.

Yes. If all we remember is in eclipse, if every kindness is forgotten and our every ill-choice brushed over with only sinister pleasure, then who do we become?

“Has it corrupted all her memories like this?” I recognized that voice now - from standing and overlooking a wider blue ocean under a different sky: the man on the rock from my dreams. His presence was felt as if he were standing right at my side, as solid and reassuring as that boulder upon which he had sat.

Not yet. But there is much to be done if you wish to save her. Her spirit is in a fragile state, she has used up too much of her own spark. Deep within the core of her true self she fights the shadows still, so there is hope. But apply too much of your power and her own would be as a candle snuffed out by a hurricane. You need to remove the stain with a gentle touch that leaves behind only the truths as she herself has chosen to remember, the good with the bad. Overdo it and you would be as guilty as the shadow in whitewashing the essence of her soul.

The thought of the entirety of Tamara’s life in all its uncountable and wondrous complexity and hidden subtleties overwhelmed me.

“It’s too much!” I cried. “I’m sure to tear something or ruin it! She was right - I’m too new at this. I don’t have that kind of control. This is her whole life - her whole spirit you’re talking about! What if I screw it up?”

I will guide you if you let me. Have faith, little sister. To do nothing would grant easy victory to the corrupter and she will be forever lost.

No. No!

Marshaling my will, I felt my connection to that inner pillar of Light and its Source offered both strength and purpose.

The sun-lit beach fell away, becoming a single small spot within the full tapestry of thoughts, memories, and emotions which comprised Tamara’s entire existence. But now that tiny spot sparkled and shone against the horrible darkness that had smeared itself across the rest.

It gave me renewed hope. “Show me where to start.”

We got to work.

~o~O~o~

Memory after memory, scene after scene, he guided me to where I needed to focus. His perceptions outclassed mine; where I would have left scorched embers trying to tackle the blackest spots, he held me back and showed me places nearby where only a small burst would tilt the balance and let gentle cleansing wash away the misperceived pain, angers, and sorrows. I lost track of any sense of time, there was only one moment leading to another… and then another.

Finally, after restoring a loving tease given by a close friend from being misremembered as mean-spirited cruelty, he called it.

That should be enough.

Drawing back again to try and view the whole, my vision still saw too much black film cutting into too many threads.

“But there’s still so much…” I sounded tired. That bright tower I could pull from felt infinite, but my willpower was not. I was mentally exhausted and hadn’t realized it.

Look again, little one. Watch closely.

I stared at the entirety of my perception of her soul, not understanding. But then I saw it: the areas we had cleansed that now shone on their own with their mosaic of blended hues and intensities were something truly beautiful - and they were pushing back the black razor foreign tendrils, casting them off one small twist at a time.

Her spirit was fighting it. Not only that, she was starting to win.

I nearly wept with relief. “She’s healing! On her own!”

Her spirit is strong. You have restored her sense of self to her center; she now has the leverage she needs with which to heal the rest. Our work is complete enough, leaving only one thing left to do.

With a mental nudge from him, I became aware that in the physical realm there was something nasty in my hand. The silver necklace with its cursed gemstone was clenched between my fingers contained by the light of my fist. I could feel its rolling waves of hatred and rage trying to spill out, but much like Evie’s own manifestations these could not stand within the glory of the energies granted me from far above.

Shifting my attention more fully from Tamara, I poured my perceptions into the stone and saw the foul working etched within that had ripped open a small portal to a place where light was not meant to shine.

I blasted through that gap anyway, feeling a measure of righteous satisfaction at the wordless scream of terror from something that recoiled and fled away beyond the tiny crack between realms.

Casting my words through that fissure, I shouted at the fleeing entity of misery and despair. “That’s right, you bastard! Run! Run and be glad I’m not crossing through your little hole and setting your whole damned existence aflame!”

So saying I burned away the magic that had let such evil corrupt a most precious and wondrous thing: Tamara’s kaleidoscopic soul.

A ripple pulsed outward as I welded that doorway firmly shut.

It is done. The voice had the same glowing satisfaction that echoed in my heart.

I felt his presence begin to recede, though his love and approval washing over me remained.

“Wait, please!” I pleaded. “Who are you? You called me ‘sister’…”

We are family. A large family that spans your cosmos and beyond.

“I still have too many questions! That hasn’t changed!”

His laugh was warmth personified. We will speak again. But for now I give you this: in your world I am known as Raphael.

Raphael. Just thinking his name pulled more of that comforting warmth into me. “Thank you. I owe you.”

I serve my Purpose, as you do yours. Be well.

And he was gone.

~o~O~o~

My eyes opened.

I was still in that small glade, but instead of standing I now knelt besides Tamara’s prone and unconscious body. My left hand still grasped the melted silver remains of her pendant, its silver chain dangling free and scorched.

Weariness flooded over me, and I fell forward - catching my fall by shoving my wounded hand unthinking to brace against the dirt on Tamara’s other side.

Correction. My formerly wounded hand. It had already healed.

Looking up though, I had a moment of returning panic. A barrier of magic stood surrounding the glade, one which once again completed a full circle. Behind me was the young man Zap had become, facing that barrier as he stood in a guard position with his spear of light held firm and its bottom tip planted solidly into the ground.

The sun now shone down upon him from directly above - obviously many hours had passed.

First things first. I quickly checked Tamara’s pulse - her heart beat was strong, and her breathing steady. Good.

Now second: Leland. A glance at the tree where he had been bound showed a pile of cut rope sitting empty at the base. Leland wasn’t there.

“Where’s Leland?” I tossed the question at Zap.

“The young man from the tree is safe,” he answered. I blinked and looked at him again. The voice that answered was not that of a boy in his middle teens. No, it carried ages of experience, determination, and an underlying sense of sadness. My vision swam for a moment, letting me get another glimpse of the proud hawk-headed warrior that overlay the younger teen.

“Jordan Elin Emrys!” A woman’s voice boomed out from behind the shimmering barrier, also full of experience and accustomed to being obeyed.

“What?” I replied, my own sounding rather frazzled in comparison. If Zap was still on guard, who was that out there?

“Release your powers, so that we may tend to Ms. McPherson.”

Peering through the wall with more normal sight, I realized we were surrounded. But not by enemies - by teachers. Including Rabbi Kirov.

Zap quietly spoke so only I would hear. “They wished to interfere. I did not allow it. They have contained the flashes from your efforts instead.”

He nodded towards the little clearing we were in - there were many burnt leaves, scorched bark, and even a small flame or two dancing happily amidst the brush. Yikes.

Trying to stand up, I foolishly let go of both my inner source and the wad of scrap metal still in my hand. The world spun around, and I fell sideways. Zap, releasing his grip on the electric spear (which disappeared in a satisfying fwoosh), caught me and gently lay me upon the ground next to Tamara without a word.

“Uh, thank you… and also thanks for breaking her wall, and fighting the shadow-man, and…”

He nodded as he knelt over me. He seemed to want to say more, but he looked upward instead. “I must go.”

My sense of him as the hawk-headed man vanished as a cloud drifted in front of the mid-day sun.

Kneeling over me now was a naked and scared boy. He stared in confusion down at me, then at the clearing around us, and finally at himself - and saw he was totally without clothing.

I couldn’t help it, I had to say it. With a tired and loopy grin I quoted one of my favorite movies, “Maybe you should put some shorts on or something if you want to keep fighting evil today.”

Shock shifted to anger. Turning his attention towards the sky he shouted at the now hidden sun. “Fuck you!”

His eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed on top of me.

Oof. Okay, I wasn’t expecting that, but maybe I should have. And probably deserved it for my silly quote. I was just really really tired, okay? I closed my eyes and didn’t even hear or feel the teachers’ magic protections go down.

The stern woman’s voice didn’t let me rest for long though. “Jordan Emrys.”

Zap was lifted off. Huh, my arms had wrapped around him - when had I done that?

Blinking, I peered up to see a woman with dark curly hair and rather pretty olive skin standing over me. She looked young, nope, check that, she looked uhh… hmm. Ageless? The depths burning within those eyes were intimidating, let’s just leave it at that.

“Yeah?” I said, hoping my exhaustion wouldn’t trigger a snarky comment that I’d regret later.

“What you just did was incredibly reckless.” Disapproval oozed through her words and posture.

“So is getting out of bed each morning, and yet we do that every day.” Ah shit, there’s the snark.

She bent down to put a hand on Tamara’s forehead, closing her eyes in concentration.

“She’s healing,” I said wearily. “The corruption lost.”

Those eyes flashed back at me. “Do you have any idea what you risked by such reckless action, child?”

Alright, look. I had already figured out who she must be, and therefore knew she was incredibly old and knowledgeable and blah blah blah, but you know what? Screw it. I had my own set of years and experience to stand upon.

“You mean other than risking overwhelming every memory she has and maybe turning them to ash even while trying to cleanse them? Or blowing out that magical spark in her core by accident? Or maybe shredding her very soul? Or perhaps you mean denying her freedom to choose how to remember her past? If not one of those, then nope, I don’t have a damn clue.”

Was that a vein throbbing on her forehead? Blood pressure medicine is useful, you know.

Hey - I didn’t say that, just thought it. I’m not that crazy.

She practically hissed with anger. “You have no training, no experience, and wield your power like a sledgehammer…”

“And yet the girl is healing, yes?” Rabbi Kirov walked up to stand besides the woman who most assuredly was Circe, the head of his department and artificer of the failsafe in my bedroom.

Controlling herself (a lot better than I was controlling myself), she nodded reluctantly. “She is sleeping. Peacefully. The ‘corruption’ as Jordan termed it is being cleansed by the fires of Tamara’s own spirit.”

I relaxed a bit more. I mean, I believed what I saw and what my spirit brother had told me, but having someone else confirm it was nice. “Raphael said she’d be okay.”

The rabbi gasped. “The Archangel Raphael? You spoke with him?”

“Heck, he guided me through the whole thing.” I yawned.

Kirov turned to Circe, his expression enraptured. “Raphael - whose very name translates as ‘Healer of God’. Ms. McPherson was held in the hands of the divine. She could not have been in any better care.”

“Look,” I mumbled, unsure of how much longer I was going to be awake. “I’m not so stupid as to try such a thing alone, okay? I know what a klutz and ticking time-bomb I am, I really do. But feel free to punish me later if that’ll make you feel any better. But right now? I think I’d like to pass out.”

I heard Circe mutter under her breath.

“Ángeloi. Kakoû kórakos kakòn oón.”

While I recognized the first word as meaning ‘angels’, the rest was, uhm, Greek to me. Yet the tone of frustrated disgust it conveyed was rather clear.

Eh, whatever. I fell asleep.

~o~O~o~

I was back in the infirmary, of course. They’d even hooked me up to an I.V. for fluids, even though the attending physician grumbled about how my blood was ‘entirely too normal’.

Yep, that’s me. Entirely normal. Ha!

Anyway, Jenna was there in my room, having sat there for hours waiting for me to come around. She looked so much like a younger version of Caroline sitting there in the hospital room, but that was okay. She wasn’t an exact clone or anything, just had a striking resemblance - especially her smile.

If Brendan didn’t treat her right, he was going to learn just how strong my powered-up fist could be.

Jenna told me that Tamara had woken up, and as Mrs. Carson had arrived back from her vacation shortly after noon, the headmistress herself had gone in to interrogate her. Apparently Evie, after bursting in to the E.R. shouting about evil, had then immediately called Jenna because she knew we were friends. How sweet was that? Jenna in turn called Penelope. Penelope then had reported to the administrators all that I had told her about the curses, the necklace, the works - along with a lot more detail than I’d known about. She had been busy and managed to piece together the source of that necklace: it had indeed been sent to Tamara from England, but not by her mom. Someone here at school had shipped a package to England first, and arranged via hacker-connections for someone there to ship it back along with a forged letter claiming it to be from Tamara’s mother.

Penelope must have gotten the entire hacker community at the school on the case somehow, because they had rapidly uncovered the source: Fields was the one who had sent the package and forged the letter. It was Tamara, though, who had revealed that indeed it was Fields who hacked the gym’s protective shielding device - with help from Tamara using her crystal.

Mrs. Carson, accompanied by security as well as Circe, had gone straight to the room of one Erica Lain, a.k.a. ‘Fields’, only to find it packed up and empty. Fields had already fled the school. Just as well she did, I guess, as she was expelled in absentia and her (divorced) parents notified.

Being at the center of such drama, I had obviously done a real bang up job slipping quietly into Whateley to start the next term of classes. Real smooth-like even. I had a feeling that would bite me in the ass, but hopefully not for a few days at least. I needed the rest.

Leland was back in his special perceptional dampening chamber after the doctors (and mystical healers) had taken care of the incisions on his stomach. They had dosed him with some pretty strong stuff though, and Jenna said she had overheard a doctor mention that they expected him to be mentally out of it for a few days while his system tried to re-balance after such sensory overload trauma. As much as I wanted to go check in on him, that would have to wait awhile.

As for my savior, Zap, he too was in Doyle and still in human form. They had him in isolation and under twenty-four hour surveillance because as soon as he woke up he had hopped out of bed and tried to shove his finger into an electrical outlet, screaming about wanting to shift back. He was currently sedated and restrained, the poor guy, but Natalie was supposed to be talking with him.

I really hoped I could see him soon, even if just to tell him thanks. Until I’d be allowed to, I would have to place faith in Natalie that she could help him. I prayed earnestly for her success. I owed Zap a lot - and would do whatever I could for him, if he’d let me.

They fed me dinner in my recovery room, fortunately catered from Crystal Hall and not standard horrid hospital fare. The doctor hadn’t wanted to release me until I’d eaten something and thereby proven I was really feeling as good as I claimed. In all truth, physically I felt fine. My hand was fully healed and the only lingering effect was a case of mental lassitude. I did tell him I sure as hell wasn’t planning on taking any more of those crazy placement exams today and he walked out in a huff. Heh.

Oh, and Circe had assigned me detention for breaking school rules of not only entering the ‘forbidden forest’, but also performing unauthorized and unsupervised surgery upon a soul. Okay, okay, she termed it ‘spiritual healing’, but I like my way of saying it better. The detention as it turned out was to be served at Hawthorne. Supposedly that was a big punishment to the other students - making them wash the bathrooms and do chores at my cottage with all the unsavory tasks related to the GSD kids, including stuff like scooping gunk out of Louis’ pool, things like that.

I would have been happy to do it anyway if it was helpful. Sheesh.

Thus after I had polished off my dinner (chicken cordon bleu with a nice Italian green salad and tasty risotto), I was released. Jenna had already taken off so she could get herself some food as only in-patients received food delivery, no matter how much I had tried to pout at the nurse.

Before I left, though, I checked if I would be allowed to do at least one thing. After a phone call by the nurse to a Dr. Bellows, my request was granted.

~o~O~o~

“Mind if I come in?” I asked, after knocking (gently, for once) on the door.

A tired, frustrated, and worried voice answered. “Everyone else has, so why not you too?”

Stepping inside, I closed the door behind me. Inside was a girl lying on a bed that was a twin of the one I had just gotten out of. Tamara was propped up on pillows and the bed frame’s elevated automatic lift, and yeah, they had her hooked up to an I.V. too - though I could make out on the label that hers had dextrose added.

Good, she looked way too skinny and anorexic. But, even though she stared at me with caution, her eyes no longer had the sharp edge of disdain or hatred.

“Hey,” I said. “I, uh, well… I think we got off on the wrong foot the other day when I arrived.”

She groaned and rolled her eyes. “Ya think?”

“How much do you remember?” I asked, moving closer to the side of the bed.

“They keep asking me that,” she muttered. “I remember it all, okay? Is that what you want to hear? And yeah, I was awful! I was horrible to you, I did it - all those curses - everything.” I saw tears start to slide down her cheeks spilling from the corners of her eyes.

I picked up the small box next to her bed and offered her a tissue. She took one without meeting my eyes, holding it tightly in her hand.

“I just want to hear that you’re okay,” I said softly. “What was awful is what happened to you.”

She sniffed and finally relented to blow her nose. “Well I’m not okay. I’m mad as hell at Fields, I’m horrified at how I’ve treated everyone, and now they tell me that I may owe my very soul to someone I treated worst of all.”

“It wasn’t you, Tamara. That demonic thing corrupted…”

“It was me! Don’t you get it? I enjoyed being evil! I enjoyed messing with you, and even enjoyed being angry at you for taking that stupid name.”

I reached for her hand, she tried to pull away but I was faster - plus she had the disadvantage of being stuck to the I.V. “Hey. Listen to me. That pendant’s demon infiltrated your spirit - I know, I saw the damage. But under it all? You were trying to fight it!”

Her rage at herself cracked slightly, and for a moment I saw again a little girl on the beach wanting only to play and bounce in the surf. “Fight it?”

“Yes! You’re a good person, Tamara! All the way down to your core you were trying to fight that crap off. It may have corrupted your conscious mind, manipulating the way you remembered everything, pushing your emotions in ways that suited its needs to control you, but at your center? You were struggling with everything you had to hold it at bay. I saw it directly, and I swear to you that what I say is true.” Letting go of her hand, I put another tissue on her lap.

She chewed at her lip, wanting desperately to believe but afraid to.

I decided to push just a little further. “You’re amazing, Tamara, and your mom should be very proud of you. Your spirit, your life, it’s beautiful. It glitters, and it’s probably the prettiest I’ve seen.”

Cocking her head at me, she asked, “And just how many souls have you looked at?”

I grinned. “Including yours? Maybe two?”

She scoffed, but at least she gave a hint of a smile. “Not the most experienced of reviewers then, are you.”

“Yeah, okay, you got me. But that doesn’t change what I said. And I’ll repeat it all to your mom if you want me to.”

Moaning, she wiped at her eyes. “My mom. How am I going to explain this to her? They called her - she’s already on a flight from London.”

“Good!” That really made me happy to hear. “Just tell her the truth. And call me in to back you up if you want.”

She looked at me. “Aren’t you mad at me? For what I did to you? Goddess, what I did to Leland! Is he okay? No one’s really told me anything after Carson got done grilling me.”

I nodded. “Jenna said they got the healers to do their magic on his stomach, and he’s back in his room. He may be out of it for the week, though. I don’t know what you did to get him out there with you, but Jenna mentioned that they weren’t sure he’d remember much of it. That may be for the best, actually.”

Her face flushed with embarrassment. “I cast a mind-control spell on him. G… the demon taught it to me. It’s horrible.”

“Ah, guess that explains that.”

We both were quiet for about half a minute, neither of us sure what else to say.

“So, uh, how long they going to keep you here?” I asked, trying to break that uncomfortable silence.

“Probably a few days. They say I should be out before Friday to take my Algebra final, which I’m totally going to fail again.” She sighed.

“Algebra?”

“Yeah. I suck at it. Aced everything else, but math? I can manipulate magical symbols, see their relationships and correspondences, all of that - yet those silly x’s and y’s just confuse the heck out of me.”

I thought for a moment. “Can I make you a deal?”

She frowned. “A deal?”

“I’m likely to be assigned magic classes, and if my teacher is Circe - well, I get the feeling she may not like me much. So I might need help in them. But math? I’m good at that. If I can help you study for your final on Friday, and you manage to pass? Be my tutor for the magic stuff. And I’ll keep helping you for your next math level too.”

“Seriously? You’d do that for me? Why don’t you hate me for all of this?”

“Hate you? How could I?”

She shook her head. “What are you, some kind of angel?”

“Uh…”

Looking at my discomfort she laughed. “Sorry, I had to! Jenna came in earlier and let that slip when I asked her how you could have done what you did. Don’t blame her, though - I totally pried.”

“Well played,” I said.

She grinned. “I didn’t want to believe her, but… let’s just say after properly meeting you I will grant the possibility.”

“Fair enough. I’m having a hard enough time believing it all myself, to be honest.”

“I bet.” She settled back against her pillows, looking truly tired.

“I should let you rest up. But I’ll be back tomorrow with your math book.”

“Ugh. Torture.”

“You know it.” I stepped towards the door. “Get more sleep and dream of quadratic oceans and parabolic waves!”

“That’s awful,” she said. “But hey, Jordan?”

I turned back to look at her from the doorway. “Yeah?”

Her clear green eyes met mine. “Thank you.”

Not sure what to say, I just smiled an acknowledgment before closing the door and sighing in relief. She really was going to be okay - her natural spirit was fast along in its healing if she could already laugh like that.

I whispered my own prayer of thanks to Raphael again. There’s no way I could have done it without him.

With my heart no longer as worried as when I had gone in, I decided to stop by the cafeteria first before heading to my next destination of the evening.

I had one last person I needed to check up on.

~o~O~o~

I found Evie in her room. She practically tackled me with a hug after she let me in, I had to swing the grocery bag and its contents out of the way as she did so to prevent a potential mess.

“Whoa! Careful, hon!”

She clung to me as I tried to walk over to her desk and put the bag down.

“I was worried!” she said forcefully.

Wrapping both arms around her properly, I held her close. “Truth to tell, so was I.”

“They wouldn’t let me go out to the woods after you. Natalie said I had to just wait like she did. All day!”

I sighed. “Yeah, sorry about that. It took awhile to take care things, and then I kinda passed out.”

She looked up at me. “You okay?”

Smiling, I nodded. “Yep. All better, just tired. But I needed to come tell you something, and then needed your help with something else.”

Dark eyes looked suspiciously at me, and she backed up to her bed, defensively crossing her arms. “What… what did you need to tell me?”

Her self-protective reaction tugged at the strings of my heart. “Just that I am very proud of you, Evie. You got to Doyle, you told them to send help out there. You even thought to tell Jenna, which really helped in getting information to the administration that they needed to know. And more than that, your abilities let you feel Leland’s distress when no one else could have noticed. You’re a hero, Evie. You saved him. And also saved Tamara.”

“But you did that! You saved them both! I know, I heard!”

“Without you noticing he was in trouble, who knows what would have happened. And I didn’t save them alone. I had help. Lots of help - especially yours. The teachers saw to Leland and kept the forest from burning down from what I was doing. All of it was thanks to you. All of it.”

She looked at me with wide amazement gleaming across her face. “Really?”

“Really. Which brings me to what I need your help with.” I looked towards the plastic grocery bag resting on her desk, and the small dribbles of condensation pooling on its surface.

“What?” she asked, again suspicious.

“Something I’ve been trying to do ever since I got here, but kept not getting the chance.” I reached into the bag to retrieve a small carton of vanilla ice cream and pulled off its top. Haagen-daaz, yum!

She looked scared. “But I’m not supposed to have that…”

I pulled out two spoons. “You’re going to help me start a new tradition. You see, I recently lost my home. It’s gone, all of it, only my kitty remains. But the rest? Poof. And the future looks like it’s going to be chock full of all kinds of further craziness in ways I can’t even imagine yet. But I figure that today, here and now, just you and me, we’re going to eat this ice cream together.”

Looking deep into those frightened eyes with all the love I could muster I added, “And when we’re finished? I say we’re home. Both of us, right here, right now, safe and sound here in Hawthorne Cottage.”

Comprehension dawned in those eyes like the sun peeking out after a storm. She took hold of the offered spoon, and together we fought to get a couple scoops out of the still solidly frozen dessert.

It was very hard, those first spoonfuls. But each attempt after got just a little easier until before we knew it we had finished the entire thing.

With a grin reaching all the way up, she dropped her spoon into the empty carton.

“Home,” she declared.

“Home,” I echoed solemnly. And you know what? I meant it.

Danielle would soon be arriving, and with any luck she too could come to think of this crazy school with its amazing kids as a good place to call home. Like them - and like me - she needed it.

An angel can hope, right?

Epilogue - Departure

The airport in Berlin was busier than usual. As flights arrived throughout the day, Erica noted the arrival of a number of students on their way back to Whateley to begin the fall term. A term she now would be absent from.

It was all that blasted redhead’s fault.

Erica had had a good thing going - with the use of that pendant she had swiped from her father’s hidden safe (which she had discovered during one of her rare allowed visits), she had gotten access to not only Tamara’s scrying crystal but also Tamara’s powerful skill in using it. Her father’s notes, found equally buried within his not-so-secure computer, had described how the cursed item had been used to render its victim susceptible to suggestion and manipulation by those inclined to take advantage. Her father had deemed the item too dangerous to leave in the usual police lockup and so had taken it upon himself, as an agent of the DPA, to hide it away.

She bet that the inert duplicate forgery she had swapped it with was still undiscovered and unexamined nestled as it was within the other random collection of magical toys he had stashed away. Imagine his surprise should her mother actually inform him of what had happened - not that such was likely. Mother hated him with a powerful vengeance after discovering his affair performing ‘sacred rites’ with that pagan tramp.

Hence sending Erica away from California, all the way to the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire - guaranteeing that not only would her mother not have to deal with a daughter being in the way of her corporate ambitions, but the father would have no chance at easy visitation either. Not that the judge had given him much of that to begin with, after the picture her mother’s lawyer had painted of him in the courtroom.

Erica wasn’t even sure her mother had bothered to inform him just which school on the East Coast she had shuffled her daughter off to. Legally, according to the divorce decree, it wasn’t even required. Her father was an idiot as far as Erica was concerned, and had let himself be steamrolled by the court. A trait she was determined not to duplicate.

And that crystal of Tamara’s! As a technomage, it had granted Erica incredible ways to bypass the usual cyber-securities surrounding her intended targets. Most governmental and corporate agencies still hadn’t learned to coordinate between their magical and technical security divisions, leaving such deliciously wide open varieties of gaps to exploit.

Which was her specialty.

Not being a fool, she had not wasted the opportunity, short as it turned out to be. Across the nation and the world, the backdoor accounts she had created by use of her blend of mutant tech-manipulations as merged with the scrying crystal’s abilities all now waited for her. Her triumph was discovering a way to extend the range of the far-seeing orb. By gaining root access to a remote computer system, she was able to energetically link that system’s physical location to the crystal, and thus allow Tamara to project the crystal’s scrying as if it was sitting in that far distant computer’s casing.

Ingenious, wasn’t it? The correspondences and alignments were painstaking to create, relying exclusively on her own unique electro-magnetic talents, but it worked. For the entire summer Fields had been the world’s foremost hacker, or at least within the top ten. As that idiot Hector Greenbaum had discovered to his family’s misfortune. He should never have rigged that hacker contest they competed in after finals the way he did, the jerk.

Now however, she was stuck waiting for a flight to Chicago, and then to wherever she decided to go next. Fake identifications had already been created to provide for such necessities, the only thing she lacked was a ready flow of cash.

To solve this, she figured she could kill two birds with one stone.

With the interference of that bitch Jordan, Tamara’s link with the pendant had become too strong. It must have fed off the anger and indignation the redhead had sparked and used it fully to its advantage. Smart move on its part, but a pain in the ass for Erica. Whatever nasty spirit lurked within the item clearly had started pushing Tamara beyond her limits, corrupting her thinking so far that she became reckless and therefore a liability. So Erica did what she always did when faced with any kind of threat.

She had plunged herself into the net for more information about her subject, Jordan Emrys, at the same time as doing what she could to cover for Tamara’s mistakes. And preparing escape routes should it become necessary.

At first blush, her search into the annoying exemplar’s history yielded very little. In fact, Jordan’s lack of presence on the Internet was disturbing and caused her to dig even deeper.

To her surprise, more information began to appear out of nowhere. Yearbook photos of a plain brown-haired girl with glasses popped up to fill the odd gaps between years that had been empty moments before. Archived social media started to contain references of a boring girl and her life as a normal student at Santa Barbara High. Day by day, even hour by hour, a complete web of data comprising a complete yet ordinary life appeared.

That’s when Erica understood what it meant. Someone was creating that history out of whole cloth. In fact, with proper analysis, she even traced it back to the very DPA office where her father worked. The agency had faked Jordan’s entire life history, and then shipped her off to Whateley so she could hide.

But hide from what was the question.

It was obviously something big, Erica could figure out that much. The DPA systems were busy even now making that background as tight as possible - an effort indicating a rather high priority. If she hadn’t caught it during its creation, she doubted she would have been able to spot the fakery later. It was that good. And while she was confident with time she could tackle the DPA’s own systems, she had noted their own protections did indeed employ a mix of technology and magic - even devisor-based security.

Far too risky to attempt without weeks if not months of planning and observations.

So now, with many hours remaining before her flight, she decided to scratch two itches of irritation: accomplishing revenge on Jordan and also filling the coffers of her hidden bank accounts.

Connecting to the airport’s wifi, Erica began to hop through the numerous proxies she used to prevent any back-trace to her own IP address and therefore her physical location. And even if some organization tried to trace it later, she would already be on her way elsewhere to an even busier hub where with a swap of identification she would simply disappear.

She wasn’t even sitting at the gate of the airline she would board to leave this dead-end place behind.

With a considerable amount of smugness she posted on one of the more mercenary underground hacker boards. A snippet of the campus security footage taken of Jordan right after being kicked through the wall of the gym, including the moment where the girl’s glow of power turned off. She had edited the video to remove the gym wall and lawn, in fact everything except for Jordan herself was blanked out.

Along with the video she included a simple message: $250k will buy the current location of this individual. One time offer for exclusive transaction.

She sat back to wait. If it was hot enough it shouldn’t take long.

On that score she was wildly correct, but not in the way she had intended.

Within ten minutes her magic senses triggered as the numerous mystic wards she had placed on her own laptop started to pop. It was impossible, she had already logged out of the hacker system, there shouldn’t have been anything to trace. Even the email notification system was routed through a set of anonymizing relays. But all that obviously didn’t matter to whoever was attacking her computer - and they were using magic directly and not tech to do so. And no ordinary magic at that - the multitude of layered wards that had taken hours each to create were peeling off the device like someone casually licking its way to the center of a Tootsie-Pop.

To her mounting horror, as each protective spell fizzled into black electric ash before her magical sight, she realized that the attack was proceeding crosswise through alternating dimensions.

Trying to remain as calm as possible, she turned off the laptop and unplugged it, going so far as to pop out first its battery and then its hard drive. Looking around the airport, she wondered if the attacker was nearby and just messing with a random target. Or could her posting have triggered something worse? Could they be using a scrying crystal and were a technomage like herself? Except she was sure no human magus could skirt realities with such speed and ease. The thought began to terrify her.

With the instinct of startled prey, her eyes darted about the scene in the airport. With a gulp she noticed two MCO officers staring at her from the doors by a different flight’s gate. With her magic senses already on high alert, she gasped as the eyes of both officers went solid black as if their eyes had just been sucked into a bottomless pit.

They began to walk in her direction.

Barely containing her panic, she shoved her laptop and components back into her travel bag, preparing to run the other way.

A woman’s voice stopped her cold.

“There’s no point in running, girl. The dogs have acquired your scent.”

Erica spun in her seat. A woman, dressed conspicuously in a sparkling silver evening gown complete with crystalline high heels, had appeared in the seat right beside her. She sat with one lengthy leg casually crossing the other while hair the same shade of glimmering silver as her dress cascaded alongside a sharply angular yet beautiful face - and also revealed one ear as being somewhat pointed.

Having attended Whateley for over a year, Erica recognized two things about the woman immediately. She was clearly of the sidhe bloodlines, plus she was only an astral projection and not physically present.

“Who are you?” Erica hissed while her eyes darted back to the two officers. They were still making their way closer, albeit attempting to be casual and circuitous in their approach.

“Your true ticket out of here, if you are brave enough to take it,” the woman replied. “Take a look behind and you will see that the two officers are not the only dogs that have been set upon you.”

Peeking over her shoulder, Erica saw one of the gate attendants and even one of the random passengers showing eyes that were just as black as the MCO agents’.

“What do you want?” Erica asked, trying her best to mask her creeping desperation.

“I want you, of course. You intrigue me and have made the monitoring of all the fascinating specimens through this terminal even more interesting than I could have hoped for. Pledge yourself to me as one of my loyal vassals and you will not be harmed by these pups who clearly are not holding your best interests at heart.”

“What if they’re already your agents and you’re trying to trick me?”

“Ah, so you do have some intelligence after all! Good. I have cast no glamour upon your mind, child. And they do not work for me. Choose quickly, or I can do nothing to aid you - and you would be left to their mercy, or rather their lack thereof.”

Erica’s mind raced. She might be able to get past them, but wait, no… two more black eyeless people were standing further down the corridor. How’d they get everywhere! It was so unfair!

She was trapped. The sidhe, though, had to keep their bargains once made - she had been taught that much. She thought quickly.

“If I agree, you will grant me safe passage? And promise to not harm me?”

“Safe passage from here, yes. As for lack of harm - child, as one of my vassals you will bear the responsibilities and onuses that such a position would place upon you. To be sure I will take full advantage of my end of the arrangement, and harm is a always a possible outcome while in the service of one greater than yourself. But as your sworn Lady I can promise to endeavor to minimize those chances in all the ways a true royal is bound towards their subjects. Except when absolutely necessary in the defense of my realm and its honor, of course. But best choose now, time is up.” She said the last rather gaily, as if whatever choice Erica made mattered very little to her.

The MCO guys with their endless dark eye sockets were within twenty feet. Fifteen feet.

Ten feet.

“Fine!” Erica blurted loudly. “I accept!”

A predatory smile curled along the woman’s lips. “Say it twice more. Quickly!”

“I accept! I accept!” Something within Erica’s own magic pulse powerfully. She wondered what she had just gotten herself into.

“Thrice spoken and done!” Silver moon-crescent earrings chimed as the woman hopped to her feet, putting herself between Erica and the approaching officers. “Gentlemen! Your task here is over. This child is under my protection, understand? Report that to your master.”

The two men stopped dead in their tracks, gazing without seeing towards the grinning lady who remained utterly non-plussed by their sightless visage. After a long and intimidating pause, one opened his mouth to speak - but the sound that oozed forth came from much farther away.

Why are you interfering, Fionnabhair? This is no concern of yours.

The menace and power in that voice rippled over Erica’s skin, causing her legs to weaken - yet the woman simply chuckled.

“Because I want to. And because this girl just pledged herself to me. Furthermore, Grigori, be reminded that you owe me. A rather substantial amount.” The last was said with an edge sharp enough to cut through steel.

She has information we require. We will have it.

The woman waved an elegantly manicured hand dismissively. “Entirely irrelevant at this point, don’t you think? Unless you are stating that you have a true claim, which would be rather odd considering she is clearly not one of yours - neither in spirit nor in marks. Whereas she has accepted my offer to join my House, and therefore anything I grant you from hereon would simply be a gesture of courtesy. Of course, if you wish to escalate events and renege on your bonded debts then it is not just me you would have to fear from the consequences.”

A low rumbling laugh twisted and folded through the open mouth of the mindless agent.

You always were an opportunist, Fionnabhair.

“And yet a successful one, would you not agree?” The fae lady tilted her head with amusement.

Only so far. But enough, even we must acknowledge your claim both of the child and the measure of the debt owed you and your House.

With a curtsy the lady accepted her victory. “Excellent. Then in exchange for her personal items, including the electrical bauble you were so busily interfering with moments ago, your lackeys can see to the girl’s needs in being returned bodily to her mother’s care - with no harm visited upon her, not even unto a single strand of her hair.”

So be it.

“What?” Erica said with alarm and, to her own surprise, a measure of relief. “You’re just going to send me back to my mom?”

The tall slender sidhe assessed her newest bound vassal. “Oh no, dear child. For now you shall be coming with me. Your body, however, must remain behind as it is ill-suited to travel to my domain as things currently stand. Thus it will be by necessity a burden - one which your mother can easily afford to sustain in your absence. I prefer things tidy, don’t you?”

Before Erica could utter a syllable of protest the lady made a sharp complicated gesture with a single silver painted fingernail and disappeared.

The two MCO agents watched passively as Erica’s body crumpled unconscious to the floor. Only then did one nudge the travel bag under the gate terminal’s plastic chair with his foot, revealing upon its front the embroidered Whateley crest.

Far away, deeply buried under the mountains of Syria, the terrible voice laughed and its rolling laughter echoed around the globe within the many thousands of conquered minds it had claimed for its own.

Continued in Book Two: Light's Promise



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