Seer’s Hope – excerpt

Because no one’s imposing word limits on my website *g* here’s a nice long excerpt from Seer’s Hope for y’all. Enjoy!

Seer’s Hope (Book One of The Seer Trilogy) – Excerpt

Prologue

He was a Sehan, the last of his kind, and his people would be appalled by the risk he’d taken. Piercing the veil between worlds was perilous and this time he’d pushed himself to the limits of his endurance. Hunger gnawed at him. He needed rest, but his Seeing left him no choice. When he died his people would be helpless to defend themselves. One more world, he silently promised his gods, just one more and then he would rest.

He drifted through the incorporeal plane until he felt an insistent tug from a blue-green world. He scanned the multi-colored soul-lights, searching for a hint of potential. Many souls showed promise but the one he had foreseen was not amongst them.

He had gathered his waning strength for the journey home when one flickering soul-light demanded his attention. It teetered on the brink of extinction. He yearned to intervene, to tempt fate by playing the god, but at the last instant he pulled back. A crisis point had been reached, an opportunity for the soul to evolve. He must not influence the outcome or all could be lost.

He prayed… and was rewarded for his faith, for the soul-light flared and reformed, pulsating with vibrant rich-gold hues. She seethed with such vast Sehani potential that his weary heart beat with renewed vigor. He had found her—the savior he had foreseen. But even as he rejoiced his soul twisted with regret for the horrors she would face.

~~~

Chapter One

Hope leaned against the broad trunk of her favorite shade tree and closed her eyes—just for a second. But the dream took her, transporting her back to the night she’d lost everything she loved. “Why didn’t I die, too?” she whispered to the indifferent blackness.

This time it answered her, a gentle compassionate voice. “You survived because you are needed. I need you—we need you.”

At some elemental level she believed the voice, understood she’d survived for some higher purpose she had yet to fulfill. Still she couldn’t absolve herself of the guilt.

She awoke with a hiccupping gasp. Her parents and her brothers were dead and she’d survived. There was no going back, no point playing “what if”. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut against the pain, waiting for it to ease so she could function again. But this time her nightmare did not fade, and the voice that had dogged her dreams since the accident intruded upon her waking world.

His words drilled into her skull. “We need you, Hope. Come to me. Come. Now.”

He snatched control of her body and jerked her to her feet. He called a breeze into existence, she heard—felt—him do it. And he molded it into a snarling vortex of energy that engulfed her.

When she would have slumped bonelessly to the ground, overwhelmed by the forces battering her unprotected mind, her knee joints locked. Her body was no longer hers to command and she stood powerless, given no choice but to endure the pounding energy filling her, expanding her until she thought her skin would burst. His invasion of her mind was a two-way channel and so she shared his regret that he must take her against her will.

Her protests were drowned by his pleas to trust him. The vortex streamed upward, drawing her with it. Her physical body stretched, elongating to an impossible length.

“Hope!” Her name on his lips was the last thing she heard before she exploded … and the oblivion she had craved crashed in on her. But not even he could grant her respite from her dreams.

Another dream—a new dream that whisked her to some unknown place to confront a monster that was spiteful and evil. Amoral. She tried to flee but it—they—held her transfixed, and the cacophony of voices echoed in the confines of her mind. You will give usss what we crave. We will consssume you.

Their poison-green eyes burned with unholy glee. Agony lanced through her as they tore her soul from her body, feasted on it. And at some unconscious level she understood this was not a dream but a portent.

~~~

Rhythmic humming banished her nightmares, and for a few precious moments she wallowed in memories of her father singing her to sleep. The façade of comfort cracked when she sucked in a deep breath redolent of pungent herbs rather than salt-laden sea air. Another breath. And it was an effort to inflate her lungs because… because she hung head-down over something.

Pressure built behind her eyes until her head throbbed in perfect unison with each ragged breath she inhaled. She beat back the stabbing pains, compartmentalizing them until she could concentrate. Her cheek rested against the textured material of a man’s shirt. He bore her weight easily, as though she weighed no more than a sack of potatoes. The surface he walked upon crunched underfoot and the resinous odor of pine wafted on the cool breeze. But her last conscious memory was of dozing in the shade of the oak. Could she still be caught in a dream?

Unlikely. This—here and now—felt far too real to be a dream.

She was about to demand to be put down when the man halted of his own accord.

Adrenaline scorched her muscles. He bent, lowering her from his shoulder, and the instant she felt solid ground beneath her feet she lunged, slamming him aside. She fled, hands outstretched for balance, scrambling to keep her footing. The smooth aggregate pathways and manicured grass verges of her hometown had vanished. Knee-high coarse grass whipped her bare calves. Plant debris and leaves clogged her sandals, bunching up between her toes.

He called out but her hammering pulse muffled his words. To her right a bird squawked, startled into flight. She listened for sounds of pursuit, heard the thuds of running feet behind her and increased her speed, heedless of the unfamiliar terrain. The only thought pounding through her brain was the safety a crowd would afford. She could beg a passerby to call her a taxi. And everything would be all right once she got home.

Her lungs protested her breakneck speed. The air seemed to thicken, coating her throat like thick cream. Spots danced before her eyes. Pain blazed through her skull and she staggered and fell, measuring her length on the ground.

Gentle hands rolled her onto her back and brushed hair back from her face. She identified concern in his tone but couldn’t understand his words. She wanted to tell him something was terribly wrong but her tongue lay thick and heavy in her mouth.

He slipped an arm beneath her shoulders, raising her torso so he could press a flask to her lips. The bitter liquid made her gag and choke. He muttered something, his tone laced with concern as he massaged her throat, forcing her to swallow.

Her mind blanked. All her senses shut down until, cocooned in nothingness, she floated in a place outside of time… and a mental barrier shattered. Foreign words flew through her mind in an unending data-stream. As each word flashed past a voice chanted it aloud and it echoed in her mind. Hundreds upon thousands of words were then augmented by phrases. And the process continued, unrelenting, until comprehension burst through her brain in a blinding flash that robbed her of consciousness.

~~~

Her brain came back on line slowly—too slowly. Her sluggish, clumsy limbs didn’t seem to belong to her body. She inhaled and caught a whiff of that herbal fragrance again. She was not alone.

She rolled off the thin pallet, curling into a defensive crouch, and waited, increasingly uneasy when he did nothing, said nothing. It was too quiet. No purr of luxury vehicles or steady thrum of pleasure craft motoring up the marina. No slap of waves against moorings. No other people. Only him.

When he cleared his throat her heart stuttered. She snatched a breath and let it out slowly. She mustn’t allow herself to be distracted again.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I’m the Panakeya. I won’t hurt you.”

Huh? Pana-what?

“You’ve been unconscious for more than a day. How do you feel now?”

“I feel fine.” An out and out lie, but he didn’t need to know that.

“I will be fine on my own now,” she said. “I will find my own way home. I do not need your help.” Her hand crept to her lips. Good grief. Where had those formal, stilted words come from? She cast about for something more forceful to say, but the necessary words only popped into her head if she concentrated hard. It was like thinking in English but being forced to speak a different language. She pinched the bridge of her nose to help her to focus.

A callused hand grasped her chin, tilting her face upward.

She slapped it away. “Leave. Me. Alone!” She punctuated the demand by lashing out with a fist but he must have read her intentions in her eyes because she connected with air.

“Thought as much.” A pause, and then, “I’m Blayne.”

Blayne.

Images of a man careened through her mind. She knew they were of him. It was a tantalizing vision of the future—her future—inexplicably intertwined with his. She shook her head, refusing to dwell upon the wonder, the magic of such a gift. She didn’t need anyone. She sure as heck didn’t need him.

“Have you been blind from birth, or were you blinded in an accident of some sort?” Professional curiosity infused his tone. Better than pity, at least, but it didn’t incline her to reveal such private details to a stranger.

“I want to go home. The least you can do is call me a— a—” Her jaw sagged. She could clearly visualize a taxi but the correct word to verbalize it had vanished from her vocabulary as though it had been excised from the language…. Or never existed at all. Panic stroked her spine. This bizarre situation was getting way out of hand. She crawled to her feet, took a couple of hesitant steps to test her ankle and—

Her shoulder scraped against an expanse of cold unyielding stone. She bit back a whimper. Extending her hands, she felt her way inch by cautious inch, patting the stone wall with her palms. The ambient temperature was cooler the farther she ventured. The air was unnaturally still. And those echoes….

He’d brought her to a cave? No way. Seaview was a trendy seaside resort town. She’d lived there all her life. There were no caves.

“I know you’re scared but I won’t harm you. I’m a healer for gods’ sakes!”

He sounded affronted and intuition told her he’d spoken the truth. He wasn’t going to hurt her. She could trust him. He would help her. She knew this absolutely to be true. But in the aftermath of the car wreck she’d learned to be self-contained. Too often people who’d claimed to have her best interests at heart had tried to take advantage. Now she didn’t trust anyone except Maggie, her mother’s best friend. So damned if she’d trust a stranger, and put herself entirely at his mercy.

Strident voices boomed in her mind.

You can trust him. Trust him… trust him… trust him…. TRUST HIM! A pulse at her temple throbbed with each echo. The band of tension across her forehead tightened until even her sinuses ached. She pressed the heels of her palms to her eye sockets, willing herself not to scream. Coherent thought was almost impossible. It was easier to give in, easier to believe the voices. Easier to trust Blayne.

She hunched her shoulders. She would let him help her—for now, anyway.

And as though a switch had been flipped, the headache and accompanying pains instantly vanished. A ragged sigh escaped her lips.

“Are you all right?” His voice again, gentle, concerned.

“Yes.” Another lie. Because what on earth was right about any of this?

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Hope.”

“Hope.” His unusual accent bestowed an exotic quality upon her plain, uninteresting name. Despite her churning belly and racing heart her lips quirked upward.

“Okay, Hope. You’ve got some minor cuts and scratches, and from that limp I’d guess you’ve twisted your ankle. Will you let me check it? Please?”

What other choice did she have? “Yes.” She tensed her muscles, fighting the need to flee, and waited for him to approach and guide her. When he grasped her hand she couldn’t help a muffled squeak.

He led her to another area of the cave and urged her to sit. “First I’m going to clean this scrape on your knee, okay?” He dabbed on a liquid that smelled of minty turpentine and stung like blazes.

She hissed beneath her breath, biting the inside of her cheek until the stinging eased. He pulled her foot into his lap and fumbled with her footwear for a moment, before undoing the buckle and easing her sandal off her foot. He ran his hands over her ankle, his fingers gently probing for injuries. She held herself very still, painfully aware of her vulnerability.

He hit a sore spot. When she winced and bit her lips his probing fingers stilled. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s nothing serious. Just a sprain.” He slathered on a salve and massaged it in with firm but careful fingers. Warmth infused her skin and relaxed her twitching muscles. He wrapped her ankle tightly with a supple strip of material and tucked in the ends.

“Where are we?” she asked, dreading his answer.

“Dayamaria.”

She knit her brows. “Dye-a-mah-ree-a. Where is that, exactly?”

“My home. My settlement is a few days walk from here. Where are you from?”

“What makes you think I do not come from around here?”

A pause. “It’s obvious you don’t.”

Oh. Okay. “I come from Seaview.”

Another pause, longer this time. “See-View? I’ve never heard of such a place.”

Not good. Sooo not good. Where the hell was she? She shivered and rubbed her arms.

Something bulky plunked into her lap. A blanket. She draped it cape-like over her shoulders and huddled into its warmth.

The dull, solid strike of stone against stone broke the silence. She heard him puff a couple of loud breaths, and then a burnt odor wafted through the air.

If he was trying to start a fire why use flint instead of matches or a lighter? It didn’t make any sense. None of this made sense.

The fire crackled, warming Hope’s small portion of the cave. She racked her brains for clues as to how she’d gotten here—wherever here might conceivably be.

“Hungry?”

She jolted and swallowed a squeak, hating that she sounded like a scared little girl. “Yes. Please.”

The smooth-skinned fruit he pressed into her hands smelled like a ripe apple. She dared a small nibble. Sweetness burst on her tongue. When she’d gnawed it down to the core she shuffled forward on her knees with one hand outstretched, intending to toss the core into the fire.

His hand clamped her wrist. “Unless you want burns on top of everything else, stay put.”

She choked down the angry protest bubbling to her lips. He had a point. This wasn’t her house, where she knew the placement of every last item of furniture and appliance, and could putter about with minimal risk. She handed him the fruit core and backed away, taking refuge beneath her blanket. Scenarios chattered in her mind. Where had he found her? Why had he brought her here? What were his intentions?

She hadn’t realized she’d been gnawing on her thumbnail until he took her hand from her mouth, cupping it instead around a mug. At least this time, she’d managed not to squeak at the unexpectedness of his touch. Things were looking up.

“Herbal tea,” he said. “Careful, it’s hot.”

Herbal tea? She wrinkled her nose. She could do with a strong black coffee right about now. Cupping the mug in both hands she took a cautious sniff. “What is it?”

Anthemisia plus a mix of various other herbs.”

Riiight. Smelled like chamomile tea. She paused with the mug midway to her lips.

“I haven’t drugged it,” he said, his tone flat.

She bit back the automatic apology that sprang to her lips. She didn’t know him. She hadn’t asked him to bring her here. Why should she apologize for anything? “I imagine that being a healer, such underhanded actions are beneath you.”

Her sarcastic tone provoked a wry chuckle. “Depends wholly on the patient.”

“And?”

And, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

When she’d drained the brew he substituted a bowl for the empty mug. The contents smelled savory and so delicious she almost moaned. Her stomach gurgled loud enough that he’d have to be deaf not to hear it.

He handed her a spoon. “I like a woman with an appetite.”

She detected amusement in his voice. Nice that someone found this situation funny. She examined the utensil with her fingertips. “What is this made of?”

“Wood. What else would it be made of?”

A wooden spoon. Sure. Why not? It was in keeping with the flint. And the odd utensil didn’t stop her demolishing the food with unseemly haste. She listened to the sounds of Blayne cleaning up and thought how ironic it was that her situation, which had seemed so dire a short time ago, was much improved by a full stomach.

A portion of her mind drifted like seaweed buffeted by the tide. Wind whistled an eerie chorus, carrying with it the faint howl of a wolf. And in her mind’s eye, Hope was transported elsewhere.

Moonlight swathed a velvety black sky, highlighting the woman who sat cross-legged atop a large boulder. Her eyes were closed, face serene. A silvery corona of pure power licked her pale skin. Beside her, a silver wolf howled at the night. The beast circled the woman once before settling and laying its shaggy head in her lap. The white owl perched on the woman’s shoulder preened its feathers. It stretched its wings and hooted once before settling to survey the night. The red-banded black serpent coiled about the woman’s neck hissed, tasting the air with its forked tongue.

The woman’s eyelids fluttered, and slowly opened. She and her non-human companions gazed at Hope, their glittering golden eyes boring into hers.

The woman was her. And the instant Hope recognized herself her vision cut to the blackness of her current reality. She felt tightness as the tiny muscles around her eyes twitched and spasmed. A pleasant tingling sensation warmed her toes, her feet, her calves. It swirled in her pelvis, building to a breath-stealing burn before moving upward. The blanket slipped unnoticed from her shoulders as the heat coiled in her chest, moved upward again, intensifying still more as it reached her eyes.

Fiery power licked her eyeballs, burned down her optic nerve and into her brain. A pained gasp choked in her throat. Tears tracked heated trails down her cheeks. She wanted to scream. She yearned to blink. All she could do, all she was permitted to do, was to open her eyes wide. Wider—

“Hope?” Blayne reached out to shake her and halted, hand outstretched. Gold flecks swirled amidst the intense blue of her eyes. The bizarre dance mesmerized him. And then her irises flashed to molten gold.

He recoiled, snatching back his hand. Sweet Wisa protect him. As he watched, the golden color drained away, leaving her irises their natural blue. And she slumped forward and then toppled onto her side.

He rocked back on his heels, shocked to the core. Only when the clamoring of his healer instincts became too loud to ignore did he rouse himself. Even then his hand hovered over her prone form for an achingly long moment before he dared roll her onto her back.

He checked her pulse and respiration. Normal. He peeled back first one eyelid and then the other. The pupils expanded and contracted, functioning exactly as he expected healthy eyes to do. Both irises were completely normal—well, as normal as blue eyes could be. But her eyes had been as golden as Dayamar’s. He had not imagined it. And Dayamar was a Sehan, a Seer. Hope was—

Gods. He didn’t know who or what she was. Deeply unsettled, he observed her until finally convinced she merely slept.

She shivered. And the tiny bumps stippling her bare skin were such a normal human reaction to the chill that he snorted and berated himself for his previous fears. He scooped her up and carried her to the pallet, arranging her on her side. She murmured something incomprehensible and then her breathing deepened.

As he tucked a blanket about her the glint from her finger-bands caught his attention. His people did not wear decorative bands such as these. He doubted even the most skilled craftsman had the skill to replicate such fine work. He marveled at the way the firelight reflected in the facets of the large silvery-white gem adorning one of the bands on her index finger. Her thumb-band was inset with a deep crimson gem that reminded him of the kuruvinda pendant that had belonged to his mother.

He examined her clothing more closely. Short pants, a light shirt, and the unusually designed leather footwear he’d removed from her feet. Impractical. She couldn’t have traveled far in such flimsy clothing. It was as though she’d been snatched from another world and deliberately deposited in his path. For such a tiny thing she was a big bundle of anomalies.

He rummaged through the spare clothing in his pack. His garments were far too large but they would at least offer her protection from the elements. He didn’t make a habit of carrying spare boots, however. With luck her footwear would last the distance.

He checked on his perplexing companion once more before rolling himself in a blanket. But sleep was elusive. He tossed and turned, grinding his teeth until his jaw ached. He was a healer. His abilities might seem magical to his patients but his skills lay with diagnosing and treating physical ailments. If, as he suspected, Hope was manifesting Sehani transformation symptoms, there would be little he could do to help her. He needed to get her back to the settlement as quickly as possible.

~~~

Chapter Two

Blayne woke to tendrils of dawn creeping across the floor of the cave. Hope didn’t stir when he checked on her. The bluish smudges beneath her eyes indicated bone-deep exhaustion. She was so deeply asleep he knew she’d not wake for some time. He didn’t like to leave her unattended but he felt compelled to solve the mystery surrounding her appearance. He slipped noiselessly from the cave.

He backtracked to the clearing where he’d first spotted her, lying beneath a large tree. He’d cursorily examined the area when he’d first found her. Now he checked it again. Thoroughly. There had to be some small clue he’d overlooked that would reveal the truth.

He found nothing that made any sense. Save for his own footprints, the ground was undisturbed. None of her footprints showed around the base of the trunk or, indeed, the surrounding area. Barring the compacted soil in the slight depression where she’d lain there was not a single trace of her passing.

There were vast lands beyond the borders known to his people. Perhaps she’d accompanied travelers from some distant land and they’d either died or abandoned her. He discounted the thought as soon as it formed. Settlement trackers would have found evidence of strangers and reported them to the elders. And then there was the wolf that had led him to her—a phantom wolf that had left no tracks. A figment of his imagination? Or a messenger from the gods.

He felt the gods’ hands in this mystery. And if the See-View place she’d spoken of was part of another world it would explain her clothing. Still, her speech might be overly formal and painfully polite, but it was recognizably Dayamaru. A mystery indeed. The sooner he could hand his disturbing companion over to Sehan Dayamar’s care, the better for his peace of mind.

He jogged back to the cave. He’d organize breakfast before rousing her, and then convince her to return to his settlement with him. He could be a persuasive man—especially where women were concerned. Failing that he’d drag her kicking and screaming the entire way because by the gods, he was not going to leave a helpless blind woman to fend for herself.

The instant he entered the cave he knew he should never have left her alone. She’d awoken and struck out on her own. And she’d taken neither food, water, nor the traveling clothes he’d left out for her.

Stubborn damn female. Kunnandi’s snaky fangs, what was she thinking? Even if she didn’t succumb to dehydration along the way, chances were high she’d injure herself. “Great Wisa,” he prayed, “please watch over her and protect her from harm.” At least until he caught up with her and gave her a piece of his mind for being so foolhardy.

He packed his possessions but left the pallet, along with a selection of non-perishables that he stored in a stone-covered cache. He’d used this cave before and would do so again. Its seclusion provided a convenient bolt hole when the pressures of his position and the attentions of young women angling for his Promise became wearying. Shouldering his pack, he strode from the cave.

To an experienced tracker the path she’d taken was strewn with evidence of her passing. Flattened grass, imprints of her footwear in softer areas of ground, bent stalks of foliage, and even strands of her long hair. She wouldn’t be traveling too swiftly with that sprained ankle. The vice-like feeling in his chest eased.

A mere half hour later he caught sight of her limping along, oblivious to all but some unseen path ahead. At least she’d removed her shirt and draped it over her head and shoulders to protect herself from the sun. Beneath it she wore a brief top—merely two triangles of bright crimson cloth that tied around her back and neck. Surprisingly, she was heading in the right direction. If she kept on this track she’d eventually end up on the outskirts of his settlement. Eventually. If she didn’t expire from dehydration first.

As he watched, she blotted her face with her shirt. He admired her determination. He admired her, even if he did want to shake her ’til her teeth rattled for taking such a stupid—

She stumbled and lurched forward, arms outstretched to break her fall. She almost disappeared from view in the long grass.

Blayne broke into a ground-eating jog.

~~~

Copyright 2013 Maree Anderson
Please do not reproduce this excerpt (or part thereof) without written permission from the author. Thank you.

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