Aaaand another nice long excerpt from Seer’s Promise:
Something pointy and hard dug into her back. Hope dragged open her eyelids and immediately squeezed them shut again against the stabbing pain. After a few seconds she experimentally twitched her leg muscles. Owww. Felt like she’d been trampled by something very large and very solid.
“Easy, girl,” Chryss rumbled. “Give it a minute.”
She forced her brain to focus but even thinking about her self-healing ability hurt. She coaxed it out of hiding, fighting her body’s desire to curl up and sleep until it healed. She cracked one eyelid and then the other, waited a minute for her heart to quit pounding like she’d run a marathon, and then tensed her stomach muscles and sat up. “Gods. I don’t want to do that again in a hurry. Are you okay, Chryss?”
“I’ve the constitution of a bear.”
“What about you, Blayne?” She swept her seer-senses outward to locate him and—
Panic kicked her in the stomach, making her hunch and gasp. “What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s unconscious. Been waiting for you to wake up so you can check him over.”
She pressed a fist against her belly, a vain attempt to contain her anger and fear. “Why wait for me? Couldn’t you have healed him?”
“He’s in no immediate danger. I knew you were about to wake, and you’ve got a more delicate touch than me.”
Not. Very. Reassuring. On all fours she scrambled over to Blayne. She laid her hands on his forehead, and then ran them the length of his prone body. No broken bones. Good. Concussion? No. That wasn’t it, either.
She slowed her adrenaline-fueled heartbeat, calmed her breathing, and started again, this time keeping her hands an inch above him and moving them slowly and deliberately down his body. There. Something in his chest region. She probed deeper with her seer-senses, and her stomach knotted. It was his lungs. She melded her aureya with his to feed him energy… and sagged with relief when the congestion in his lungs eased.
But it was only a temporary fix.
She sat back on her heels. “I know what’s wrong but it’s not something I can cure.” Her voice sounded calm, distant—such a stark contrast to the fear churning through her veins.
“It’s the air we’re breathing—the composition of it. It’s different enough that his body is having to work twice as hard to take in enough oxygen. His lungs can’t cope and he’s weakening fast. When I first arrived in Dayamaria, the same thing happened to me but the spore eventually altered me enough that I could survive. I thought he’d be fine. Although her health isn’t good Romana has survived here, so I thought…. I thought he’d be okay—we both did.”
Her fists were clenched so tight her nails bit into her palms. The small pain didn’t help. The fear threatened to overwhelm her. “I don’t know enough about human physiology to help him. I’d have to work on instinct alone. And if I tamper too much I might change him permanently. He’d end up trapped in this world, unable to return to Dayamaria. We have to send him back, Chryss. We have to send him back now!”
“Easy, easy.” He grasped her forearms and shook her gently. “The situation isn’t that dire. Are you sure about your diagnosis?”
“Y-yes!” She sucked in a deep breath to steady herself. “Yes. We’re not affected because of our self-healing abilities.”
“Over the short term. It’ll take a physical toll on us, too, if we prolong our stay.”
She immediately dismissed the danger to herself and Chryss. “We’ll be fine. But what are we going to do about Blayne?”
“I’ve a few ideas up my sleeve. Can’t do anything here, though. Need to get him some place where I can work on him for a prolonged period without fear of interruption. Any ideas where we are?”
She smacked her head with her palm. “I haven’t even bothered to check. Can I use your eyes, Chryss? Everything seems hauntingly familiar, but the way I’m feeling at the moment I don’t want to risk relying solely on my senses.”
Through his eyes she took her first glimpse of the world around her.
They sat beneath a canopy of spreading branches. The tree’s leaves were shiny and broad-leafed, longer than they were wide. Even if the lobes and sinuses hadn’t been enough to identify the leaves, the acorns scattered across the grass were pretty conclusive. And as she cast Chryss’s gaze beyond the tree she saw what she already knew would be there. A long driveway leading to a large, achingly familiar house. Her breath eked out in a relieved sigh. “We made it. This is my home, Chryss. Welcome.”
“Well done, girl. I knew you could do it.” He knelt beside Blayne to swing him over one shoulder. As he straightened he said, “Now can I have my eyes back? You’re too much you for it be comfortable.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
His sigh gusted out as she left his mind. “Later,” he said. “Let’s get him inside and fix him up.”
Her pleasure in her accomplishment dimmed and she bolted toward the path. “Slow down!” she heard Chryss call after her.
He had no idea how much of an effort it took to slow to a walk.
At the front door she faltered, caught between burning need to see her daughter, and a deep foreboding that made her want to run and hide. Wisa’s white feathers, what was she going to say to her child after all these years?
Chryss gently shouldered her aside to rap on the wooden door. The chance to flee was gone and she didn’t know whether to hit him or hug him. “Is speaking English one of your talents?” she asked. “Because—”
The door opened. Her breath caught in her throat. She knew the woman was Maggie—would have known it even without benefit of her seer-senses. Thinking of the years she’d lost, and the pain she must have put Maggie through when she disappeared, made her chest constrict.
“Can I help you?”
Maggie’s voice was tinged with suspicion. Not surprising given Chryss’s bulk and the fact he had an unconscious man slung over his shoulder. But before Hope could reassure her Maggie gasped. “Has he had an accident? How badly is he hurt? Bring him inside at once and I’ll call a doctor.”
And then they were ushered inside and Maggie was instructing Chryss to lay Blayne on a couch in the living room. “He doesn’t look very well,” she said. “What’s wrong with him?”
This was the Maggie she remembered—always more worried about the welfare of others than her own. “Maggie—” She bit off what she’d been about to say. Mere words were inadequate. They would never be enough. She lifted her hand toward the other woman in mute appeal.
“How do you know my name?” Maggie asked. And then Hope heard a sharply indrawn breath. Followed by a silence that throbbed with so many mixed emotions she couldn’t separate one from the other.
After what seemed like an eternity Maggie said, “Hope? It is you! It was your strange-colored eyes that threw me. Why on earth do you want to be wearing lenses like that when the blue eyes God gave you are so pretty? You haven’t changed a bit. Not one bit. I always knew you’d come back. I knew it!”
Hope was swept into a tight embrace. She inhaled a familiar, comforting fragrance that was quintessentially Maggie—a combination of Blue Grass perfume and the sachets of dried rosemary, tansy and geranium she stored with her clothes. Gods. How she’d missed Maggie’s hugs.
Chryss cleared his throat.
She gently pulled from Maggie’s embrace. “Tell me what you need,” she told him, “and I’ll see if Maggie can oblige. Is he getting any worse? Would it be easier if I woke him up? Maybe he could help—he is Panakeya, after all.”
“No. Best leave him be. It’ll be easier for me if he’s unconscious. And it might be a good idea if you spoke in English. Your Maggie’s eyes are about to pop out of her head.”
Thank goodness Chryss was here to ground her and quell her panic… and remind her that she wasn’t the boss in this world. “I’m sorry to be so rude, Maggie.” The long-unused language felt clumsy on her tongue. “And please excuse any mistakes. It’s been a while since I last spoke English.”
“Is that giant of a man your husband?”
The apprehension in Maggie’s voice made her smile. Doubtless Chryss was looming and appeared to fill the room. “Chryss? No.”
He snorted and she thought he heard him mutter, “Thank the gods.”
Behave, she thought at him. “He is a very good friend, though,” she told Maggie. “The other man, Blayne, is my life-partner—husband, I mean. And Romana’s father.”
“Have we got visitors, Maggie?”
The lilting voice, sparking with curiosity, drifted down the stairwell. “I saw people coming up the driveway,” the voice said. “Is everything okay?”
Hope stiffened. Each soft footfall was like a heavy weight wrought with the pain of loss and guilt and fear bowing her shoulders. How would the daughter she’d given up react to her sudden reappearance? Would Romana hate her? Did she have it in her heart to understand and forgive? She touched Maggie’s surface thoughts, desperate for some insight that might help her now.
But Maggie was paralyzed with indecision, wondering how on earth to explain Hope’s reappearance—and her strange clothes and alien eyes. As if that wasn’t enough for Romana to cope with, there was her father, too—unconscious, suffering from goodness knew what malady. Sweet Lord have mercy, the child would have a breakdown. And how would she prepare Hope for her daughter’s mental illness? Heavens! It was all too much. She needed to sit down. Everyone needed to take a deep breath, sit down, and have a nice cup of tea. A cup of tea. That would be wonderful….
“Maggie.” Chryss’s voice made Hope jump. “I have a hankering for a hot drink. How about a cup of tea?” His deep voice, speaking perfect English in an accent that even sounded like he’d attended some fancy private school, rumbled through the room. “I’m partial to herbal tea myself. You look like a discerning woman to me, so I’m sure you have an excellent assortment to choose from. Or perhaps you might have proper coffee? I’ve been looking forward to tasting the real thing. Where’s the kitchen? Is it this way?”
Hope abruptly realized he’d ushered Maggie from the room.
Take a deep breath, he whispered in her mind. She’s here. And then his presence faded, and she was left to face her daughter alone.
Romana’s stomach loop-de-looped. The people she’d glimpsed coming up the driveway worried her. It was their clothes. They didn’t fit in. They looked like they’d walked off some movie set or something. And it was the “or something”, and her suspicion about what the man was carrying over his shoulder, and the fact Maggie didn’t respond to her questions, that made her pulse ratchet and prodded her to run down the last flight of stairs and through the open the door to the lounge.
She skidded to a halt.
The woman standing in the middle of the room looked to be in her twenties. She had thick waist-length reddish brown hair. She was beautiful, Romana noted, but her clothes were even more eye-catching. Their style was like nothing she had seen before. Dress, jacket and boots were all made of blood-red leather edged with black oval designs that looked kind of like eyes.
The woman smoothed her hair back from her temples, revealing a tattoo that could have been a stylized eye on her left temple. And Romana realized something even more strange. The woman’s eyes were gold. They raked her from head to toe, absorbing every little detail, stripping off the veneer of teenage self-assurance that Romana clung to and seeing right to her heart. She shifted uneasily. “I’m Romana.”
“I know,” the woman said, soft and gentle but with an undercurrent of something strong and raw that made Romana even more uncomfortable.
“Oh. Um, do you know Maggie?”
“Yes. But I’m here to see you.”
“Oh.” She tried to think of something intelligent to say but the awkward silence intensified along with the woman’s alien golden gaze, until Romana couldn’t take it any longer. Her glaze darted away and fixed on a figure lying on the couch.
Unconscious? That couldn’t be good.
He was big—strong-looking. And his features were exotic. High cheekbones, full lips for a man, olive skin. His longish dark brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her gaze swung back to the woman standing patiently in front of her. So familiar. Both of them. Why?
Recognition came with a sensation like a punch to the stomach that made her take a lurching step backward. No. It couldn’t be. She sucked in a breath. And then another. A part of her mind screamed for her to relax but it was too late. The wheeze built deep in her chest and she stumbled toward the kitchen door. “Need… inhaler. Can’t… breathe. Maggie!”
The monster inside her took full advantage of her weakness and tried to possess her. Her spine stiffened, fingers curling into claws. Sweat beaded, slid down her skin.
The woman’s voice cut through her growing panic and Romana found herself turned around again although no one had physically touched her. She glued her gaze to the woman’s face, focusing on those strange golden eyes.
Let me help you, Romana.
The woman’s lips hadn’t moved but her voice echoed in Romana’s mind. And then she heard, Please.
She nodded, feeling something—an upwelling of certainty that she could trust this woman. Her mother. And the instant she gave in and put herself completely in her mother’s hands a warm glow centered in her diaphragm and spread quickly through her torso. Her breathing calmed and the tensed muscles of her chest and abdomen relaxed. Somehow she knew it would be okay. This time it would not win.
That’s it. Good girl. Now let me join with you to fight this thing inside you. Let me in, Romana.
“Okay,” she breathed. And felt a slight pressure behind her eyes, not uncomfortable, but insistent. All her barriers dissolved. Her mind felt like it had expanded, as though long unused neural pathways had suddenly flared to life. And the thing inside her roared to life.
Use me, Romana. Draw on my power to fight this thing inside you. All I have is yours to use. Fight!
Romana took what she’d been offered. In her mind’s eye she spat flaming gouts of pure energy at her tormentor and beat it into submission. And then she caged it behind bars that sizzled with psychic energy, imprisoning it inside herself where it could do no harm. She sensed approval from her mother and smiled triumphantly. Now for the kill.
She was gathering her will when her mother’s presence vanished, leaving her powerless and filled with nothing but a savage need. “Why did you do that? I was going to kill it!”
“Killing it would damage your soul. Don’t you see, Romana? If you try to kill it out of hatred, it will have won. As much as I loathe it and want it destroyed for what it’s done to you, we have to find another way. We’ll work it out. Together.”
“I-I guess you’re right. Hating it always made it stronger.” She was silent for a long moment. “How do you know so much about it?”
“Because I’m your mother. I’m the one who sent you here. To save you.”
“You’re really my mother.” Her mouth went dry. “You’re Hope.” And the man lying on the couch was her father. God. This was big—huge. So huge she couldn’t get her head around it.
“Yes. I’m Hope Leah Delamore. I’m your mother.” And she held out her arms.
For what seemed like an eternity Romana couldn’t bring herself to move or speak. And then all the pent-up fury she’d locked up for so long poured from her. “Don’t think I’m going to welcome you with open arms, Hope. You abandoned me, dumped me under a tree like a piece of garbage. I was a baby, for Christ’s sake. A tiny, defenseless baby. What kind of unfeeling bitch are you? I don’t want you here. Go. Go now, and take that man who’s supposed to be my father with you. Just… just… fuck off back to wherever you’ve been hiding all my life. I don’t want you here.”
Hope flinched. Her arms dropped to her sides. Her eyes glistened with tears, but she made no attempt to defend herself.
Romana sucked in another deep breath, and cursed as a surge of glee infected her. It was feeding on her emotions, growing stronger. She swallowed the fury bubbling up inside her and threatening to make her lose control. And when she’d beaten it back and willed herself to a semblance of calm she tried to think logically.
She had always known Maggie loved her deeply. The times when she’d lashed out verbally—and physically, too, when she was younger—at anyone nearby had driven others away. But not Maggie. She had always offered unconditional love. Romana had told herself she had everything she could ever need, and she didn’t miss her absent mother one iota. But now, at this precise moment in time, she understood she’d been lying to herself. She’d nursed a jagged wound in her heart that no amount of love from Maggie could heal. The older she grew the wider it gaped, and the more effort it took to conceal the wound from others.
She gazed at her mother, refusing to let the silent tears coursing down Hope’s face move her or affect her. Yeah, right. Another lie.
“Do you truly want me to leave, Romana?”
There was love and longing and despair in that question, and Romana felt each word as a punch to her heart and soul.
How could she resist?
“No.” Her voice was the merest whisper. “I don’t want you to leave. Please don’t leave me alone again.” She wasn’t consciously aware of moving and then she was enfolded in a tight embrace, hyper-aware of her mother’s tears dampening her shoulder. The wound in her heart shrank just a little bit. It was nice to be held, to know her mother loved her. But she held a piece of herself apart, and that piece observed and analyzed and wondered at Hope’s motives for turning up after all these years.
“How’re you two getting on?”
Chryss’s gruff interruption caused Hope to jump and give a girly squeak. “Do you have to sneak up on me like that?” she said, sounding so irate that Romana giggled.
“By the gods, look at the two of them. They could be sisters. Don’t you think so, Maggie?”
“She doesn’t look a day older than the last time I saw her.”
The note of uncertainty Romana heard in Maggie’s voice made her take a step back from her mother and consider her through new eyes.
Maggie was right: Hope didn’t look anywhere near old enough to have an eighteen year old daughter. Was she really who she claimed to be? The same woman who’d appeared in Romana’s crystal globe?
She fought the impulse to chafe her arms and warm her chilled skin. She had a monster living inside her. A real live bona fide monster that possessed her and used her to do horrible things. How was that any stranger than having a mother who looked far too young? Who had somehow recognized and helped her fight the thing inside her that no one else could see or sense—not even with the latest diagnostic equipment?
“You should go to your room and rest while we see to your mother’s, ah, companion,” Maggie said.
She knew Maggie was only concerned for her wellbeing—and the safety of these unexpected guests should Romana’s supposed schizophrenia make an untimely appearance because of the extra stress she was under. But she didn’t much appreciate being treated like a child who couldn’t control herself… even if there were times she couldn’t control herself. Sometimes she didn’t know whether it’d make things better or worse if Maggie realized her “illness” truly was caused by the monster she’d tried so desperately convince others to believe in as a child. Funny how Maggie never seemed to notice how her eyes turned a hideous shade of green when the monster took over. Or if she did, she found some logical reason to explain away the phenomenon.
“Romana will be fine, Maggie,” Hope said. “I have some… medical training and I’ve already checked her over quite thoroughly.”
Romana cocked an eyebrow at the barely discernible pause. Her mother, or the woman claiming to be her—take your pick—was hiding something.
Maggie pursed her lips. “You know about her ill-health?”
“Yes. That’s why we’re here. But we’ll talk about that later. I’d like her to stay with us. Blayne will want to see her when he wakes up.”
“Please, Maggie?” Romana tried her best wheedling tone. If Hope really was her mother, and this unconscious man really was her father, then no way was she missing a moment of their visit—even if she had to fake getting all worked up to get her way.
“Oh, very well. I’m sure your mother knows best. But just you do as she tells you, miss.” Maggie wagged a forefinger at her. “From what I know of your mother, blind or not you won’t get around her as easily as you do me.”
Blind? OMG! She’d completely forgotten that Hope had been blinded in a car wreck. She found herself staring into those golden eyes. Hang on. Maggie had told her Hope’s eyes were blue.
“Would you like to ask me something?” Hope said.
Whoa. It was like Hope had read her mind. Or something. “Um, why are your eyes such a weird color? I thought they were blue, like mine. Are they contact lenses? They’re pretty cool, I guess—like some wild animal or something. And when did you get the tattoo on your temple? Did it hurt much?” She flushed. God. She sounded like a little kid.
Hope only smiled in a way that didn’t make her feel embarrassed. That was a point in her favor. “I’ll tell you all about it after we help Blayne,” she said. “Is that okay?”
“You’re asking me?” Deep breath Romana. “I mean, sure. Of course that’s okay.” Two points. She liked being treated as an adult. She jerked her chin at the big blond man, who looked just plain out of place holding one of Maggie’s fine china teacups. “Who’s he?”
“I’m Chryss. A friend of your parents’. Pleased to meet you.”
Her gaze skittered from his too-knowing penetrating eyes and fixed on the unconscious man’s face. Safer. Much safer.
Her brain isolated certain physical characteristics and made comparisons and—
“He is my father,” she whispered, awed. “I saw him in my crystal sphere.”
“Yes,” Hope said. “I prayed one day you would discover how to activate the sphere. It was created so I could see my family in my mind’s eye whenever I needed to. It’s one of the most precious things I own. But I believed it was important you had a chance to know what your father looked like.” She smiled gently. “So I gave it to you.”
The breath caught in her throat. “That must have been hard—to give it up, I mean.”
“Giving you up was harder.”
Romana had no answer to that.
“His name is Blayne,” her mother continued. “I didn’t want him to risk his life to journey here with me. His people need him too much. But he insisted. No force on our world could keep him from seeing you.”
What was she supposed to say? That she understood it must have been hard for them to give her up? She didn’t. Maybe she never would. This morning she’d woken up an orphan. This afternoon she had two parents who professed to love her but had abandoned her. It was doing her head in.
“Your mother’s important to her people, too, Romana,” Chryss said. “They need her even more than they need Blayne.”
She shot him a glance over her shoulder. “What do you mean ‘her people’?”
“I’ll leave your mother to explain. I’ll enjoy hearing that particular tale.” He threw up a hand to forestall the questions that had bubbled to Romana’s lips. “First, Blayne. Then you get to ask questions. Maggie, my dearest woman, here’s what we’ll need.” He reeled off a lengthy list.
To Romana’s surprise her guardian blushed pink at the endearment. She set aside her teacup and bustled off to fetch the required supplies. And Romana had no time to chew over everything she’d learned, or try to figure out how she felt about it and how she should react, because Maggie called loudly from the kitchen for assistance.
For a good twenty minutes she ran around at Maggie’s beck and call collecting all the bits and pieces on Chryss’s list, and by the time she’d finished she had a newfound respect for Maggie’s phenomenal memory.
“It just takes practice, Romana,” Maggie told her. “But you know, I swear I can still hear every item he asked for echoing inside my head. Isn’t that strange?” She dumped a tray loaded with an assortment of containers and a single cup into Romana’s arms. “That’s all we have. I do hope it suffices. And Romana?”
“Why don’t you call Hope ‘Mom’? She is your mother after all.”
“You’ve been more of a mother to me that she has.” She held her breath, waiting for Maggie to launch into a lecture. But she only compressed her lips into a thin line as she hefted the large saucepan of water Chryss had requested and cradled it in her arms. “Bring the tray,” she said as she marched from the room.
When she entered the living room Romana nearly dropped her burden. Her hands shook as she placed the tray on the coffee table. Blayne floated in mid-air, his body sheathed in a pulsating rainbow of energy. Chryss stood by the unconscious man’s head, and Hope at his feet. Although both were still and their faces serene, perspiration beaded their foreheads. Whatever they were doing wasn’t easy. And… Hope’s eyes were glowing.
“Lord have mercy!” Maggie had half-fallen into an armchair and was clutching the saucepan to her chest. “What on earth are you doing? Magic?”
It’s hard to explain, Maggie. Hope’s voice echoed strangely, and this time Romana knew absolutely her mother’s lips hadn’t moved as she spoke.
“Try,” Maggie said, in the tone she used when Romana had pushed the limits of her patience.
Chryss and I have certain abilities and we’re using them to help Blayne. He has a slightly different physiology to you, and he’s having trouble breathing this world’s air.
“This world’s air?” Maggie emphasized the word with eyes so wide she resembled a Manga character.
Romana didn’t blame her for being shocked. Sure, she’d heard Chryss allude to “worlds” a short time ago, but she’d not truly comprehended the implications.
When I disappeared it was because I’d been transported to another world. If I could have I would’ve returned long before now. Nothing would have stopped me. Do you have what Chryss needs?
“Yes,” Maggie said faintly. “But if you have… magic, then why don’t you use it? Why do you need herbs?”
Blayne has been a healer for decades. He uses herbs every day and knows their properties intimately. Chryss believes he will respond best if we use what he knows when we heal him. Do you have all the herbs, Romana?
“Yes.” She was proud that her voice sounded steady.
Good. Please don’t touch them or try to assist. Chryss will take what he needs.
Romana glanced at Maggie and uttered a sincere prayer her elderly guardian wouldn’t freak. She flopped at Maggie’s feet, entranced by the wash of colors running up and down her father’s body. This was beyond awesome.
Abruptly the empty fireplace flamed to life. But Romana was even more impressed when the saucepan of water bucked in Maggie’s arms.
Maggie’s eyes went owl-like again. She clutched the saucepan even more tightly while it tried to escape her grasp. The tug-of-war continued until Romana gently but firmly detached it from her guardian’s hands. They watched as the saucepan sailed through the air and landed in the fireplace. While the water heated, various herbs popped from their containers to dance through the air.
Have you got everything, Chryss?
Almost. Scanned Blayne’s mind for what to use and compared them to your memories of the herbs in this world. Got a pretty close match I think.
Romana had the impression they were broadcasting their conversation to her and Maggie out of politeness. Just as well. She’d go crazy if she had to guess what was going on.
Dried herbs should be adequate, Chryss said. Though fresh would be better. We’re missing one vital ingredient though.
Fragrant herb with silvery foliage and purple flower-heads. Dayamar’s favorite.
It’s called lavender here. I’ll check the garden. A brief pause and then, We’re in luck. How much, Chryss?
That’s not very helpful.
Romana stifled a high-pitched squeak as a bush from Maggie’s prized lavender hedge, roots and all, appeared in the living room. It floated toward Chryss, shedding clods of soil along the way.
Didn’t need the whole bush, girl.
Then you should have been more specific. How much do you want?
Six good-sized tips should do the trick. Can you manage that small thing for me?
If you say ‘please’.
Please. Chryss didn’t sound impressed, and Romana couldn’t help but giggle.
Lavender tips joined the chaotic muddle of herbs swirling in the middle of the room, and then the entire mass flew toward the fireplace and cast itself into the now-boiling water. The uprooted lavender bush vanished.
Please excuse her, Maggie, Chryss said. She gets overly enthusiastic at times—it’s a common trait with young people. I’ve re-planted your lavender bush and it should recover well. And I’ll make sure Hope cleans the dirt from the rug, too.
“Er, thank you,” Maggie managed.
A fleeting image of Hope sticking out her tongue at Chryss formed in Romana’s mind. She stifled another giggle.
The saucepan rose from the fireplace. It flew toward Romana, wafting the odor of infusing herbs.
Would you pour this mixture into the cup for me, Romana? Chryss asked.
“Sure. But won’t it take a while to infuse and cool down?”
Yes. That’s why I’ll have to ‘magic’ it a bit.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to criticize.” She grasped the floating saucepan and found it amazingly light. She snatched the cup from the tray and gingerly decanted the contents of the saucepan into it, careful not to spill a drop. Maggie would have a fit if this mucky stuff ended up on the rug. As the saucepan emptied it became inexplicably heavier. The brimming cup, suddenly buoyant, floated from her grasp and headed toward Chryss.
No offence taken, Chryss said. I’m used to criticism. Suffered years of it from your mother.
Chryss! Hope’s voice lashed out and the cup gave a little dancing hiccup. Can we discuss my manners later, please?
Very well. Are you ready to wake him? This’ll be tough.
Good. Now you two ladies shouldn’t be alarmed if Blayne reacts badly to this. It’s not going to taste good. His muscles might spasm a bit, too.
Maggie’s face scrunched into a worried frown. She reached for Romana’s hand and squeezed it tightly.
Can you hold the weaving on your own for a short time, girl? I need to make sure he doesn’t swallow his tongue or injure himself. Whatever you do, don’t let go while the change is taking place.
Do it now. I’ll manage.
Romana nearly jumped out of her skin when Chryss moved. In a flash he’d bent over Blayne and forced open his jaws. He poured the herbal concoction into Blayne’s mouth bit by bit, pausing to massage his throat to encourage him to swallow.
He set aside the cup. Blayne’s eyelids popped open. His limbs began to tremble and his facial muscles twitched uncontrollably. Abruptly he arched his back, and his jaws stretched wide in a silent scream His fingers curled into claws and then jerked upward to scratch at his eyes and face. Chryss moved quickly to pin him down. It looked like it was taking a whole lot of strength to restrain him.
The colors enveloping Blayne surged to engulf Chryss, too. Romana held her breath. She hadn’t the faintest clue if this… process was going well. She tore her gaze from her father to dart a glance at her mother. Hope was outwardly calm, but blood smeared her chin. She’d bitten through her lip.
Romana’s gaze fixed on those beautiful crimson smears. And the monster inside her burst from the imperfect prison she’d created for it.
Marc couldn’t believe he’d volunteered to visit his parents in this wholesome, pristine, boring holiday haven. Why the hell had they chosen to retire here, of all places? And what the hell had he been thinking? If he hadn’t been fired—again—and been a little short on cash—okay, a lot short on cash—he’d have avoided it like the plague. He thrust away his plate of bacon and eggs, slumped back in his chair, and wondered how soon he could leave without offending his mother.
“It’s such a shame, John,” she was saying, “Rose was telling me at the store this morning how that poor child Maggie looks has taken a turn for the worse again. What do you think could be the matter with her?”
A snort came from Marc’s father, hidden behind his morning newspaper. “Bad genes will out,” he said. “Christ only knows who the father is. To saddle the girl with a name like ‘Romana’ my guess is he was probably some European con-man who smooth-talked his way into her mother’s bed.”
Marc’s mother rolled her eyes ceiling-ward. “You know very well Hope Delamore was never that kind of girl.”
“How else do you explain it, Jean?” He folded his newspaper with careful, precise motions. He took off his glasses, huffed on them, and began to polish the lenses with the bottom of his shirt.
Uh oh. Marc knew from years of experience a “discussion” was brewing. The kind of discussion that’d result in his parents not speaking to each other for the rest of the day. He bolted his coffee and was preparing to lunge from his chair and do a disappearing act when his father’s words halted him.
“What sort of a girl would vanish for nigh on a year, then leave her baby under a tree and disappear again? She very obviously was ‘that kind of a girl’, Jean.” He smirked, obviously convinced he’d won the argument.
“What do you mean, disappear? People don’t just vanish in this day and age.” Marc scoffed. “There’s always a trail left behind. You just have to know where to look.”
“Not this time. She vanished. No trace of her was ever found. And believe me, with her family’s estate in limbo until she turned up or was declared dead, there was an extensive search. Wasn’t that right, Jean?”
“Oh yes. There was quite a to-do. Her fancy lawyer was beside himself. He had the police and private detectives snooping around for months after she disappeared. No one was safe from their prying—not even your father and I.”
“What about the daughter?” Marc asked in what he hoped was a casual manner. “Does she know anything?”
His father’s bushy eyebrows peaked. “Going to play detective and write an exclusive, are you?” He snorted again. “What makes you think you’ll find anything when all those professionals failed?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, John. Tell him the full story, why don’t you? I’m sure he’s only curious. Marc would never dream of dredging up all that unpleasantness again, would you, dear?”
Marc smiled. “Of course not, Mom. Merely my prurient curiosity getting the better of me.”
His father’s snort was even louder this time. “Despite what your mother believes, I reckon that girl was too ashamed to face everyone after she got herself pregnant. So she sneaked home, left her baby where Maggie would find it, and took off again. Wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t even know who the father is.”
“John, really.” Jean shook her head. “You’re worse than Rose with your speculations. How do you even know it was Hope who brought her daughter back? It could have been anyone. And that makes far more sense than a young blind woman returning to her home undetected and then disappearing for a second time without leaving a trace.”
“And this Romana chick is definitely the daughter of this Hope Delamore who went missing?” This was getting more interesting by the moment.
“The tests proved it. Poor little mite. She’s been living in that huge house with only Maggie for company. She’s missed far too much school over the years because of her health.” Marc’s mother tapped her temple and mouthed ‘mental problems’. “And she has no friends her own age. It’s hardly been the ideal situation for a young girl.”
“What twaddle,” Marc’s father said. “She’s better off than most girls her age—what with all that money in the bank.”
“Money’s not everything, John.”
“Don’t be naïve. Of course it is. Money’s the very reason the child’s been so well looked after all these years.”
Marc’s mother gave him her best frown. “You can’t seriously believe Maggie stayed on only because of the money? She was Leah Delamore’s best friend and she was devastated when Leah and Shawn and the boys died in that accident. Maggie was the one who got Hope through the tragedy of losing her family. And Maggie loves that girl’s daughter like she was her own flesh and blood!”
“Very wealthy flesh and blood, though eh? Makes all the difference.”
Marc listened to his parents bickering for a few moments, and then snuck away before things escalated into out-and-out war. His instincts told him he could be on to a great story, especially if he could get an interview with the old lady or the girl. And since his ’rents refused to spot him any cash, he needed something to occupy himself. If he showed up back at work with a scoop he could talk his way back into his reporting job.
Before he left the house Marc swiped a bunch of flowers from a vase in the entranceway. He shook the water from them and wrapped them in a travel brochure sitting on the sideboard. Bit of bribery never hurt. Then he quietly closed the front door behind him and strolled off, already imagining the lead for his story.
He strode up the driveway toward Romana Delamore’s fancy house, confident he could talk his way inside. But when he reached out to knock on the door he was struck by a wave of weakness that brought him crashing to his knees. And then a voice whispered inside his head, Don’t be afraid….
He slumped against the door and closed his eyes, waiting for the dizziness to pass. Must be coming down with a virus. Shit. That was all he needed.
“Romana!” Maggie’s frightened voice demanded Hope’s attention. She borrowed Maggie’s eyes and saw her daughter’s body twitching and jerking as the monster inside her fought for control.
Maggie rushed to Romana and wrapped her arms around her, trying to restrain her. Romana’s face twisted into a grotesque smile and she lashed out, knocking Maggie back against the armchair.
Don’t touch her again, Maggie, Hope warned her old friend. She’s fighting the being inside her.
“Being?” It came out as a shriek and Maggie sank in the chair, one hand fluttering over her heart.
Being. Monster. Whatever you want to call it. It’s possessed her.
“The poor child’s possessed? But I— we all thought she was schizophrenic.”
She dipped into Maggie’s thoughts. Her world had turned topsy-turvy as the diagnoses of countless specialists went poof, and were replaced by a new truth. One that finally made sense—far-fetched as it sounded.
“Possessed.” Maggie stared at Romana and her breath caught in her throat. “Oh my Lord.”
Romana’s eyes had bled of all color until they were white orbs. New color oozed in—a sickly, malignant green. She blew a kiss at Maggie and then pivoted on her heel and headed straight for Hope with hands outstretched, fingers curled into claws.
Hope had seen enough. She couldn’t afford to divide her attention—not even in this smallest of ways. She had to rely on her seer-senses alone. She honed in on Romana’s aureya and thrust her back with a blast of mental power. Her will pinned Romana to the ground and held her there.
Hold onto the linkage, girl!
Damn it all, Chryss, I’m trying. But it’s not interested in Romana anymore. It wants me. And if it succeeded in possessing her, it would find others to seduce and link with. The six-fold entity that still haunted her dreams would again be unleashed to feed on the helpless souls of an unsuspecting world.
Find a way to defeat it, Chryss said. I can’t help until I’ve got Blayne stabilized.
Hope debated borrowing power from him, but with all his considerable strength concentrated on Blayne she dared not interfere. Gods only knew how siphoning some power would affect Blayne’s outcome. And gods only knew what effect the power surge needed to obliterate the being infecting her daughter would have on anyone in this three-way psychic linkage. But whatever the risks it had to be done. She couldn’t let a soul-eater loose upon this world. All she could do was pray they would all survive.
Romana, forgive me. She gathered her will. The power throbbed through her veins, built….
And she heard a plea.
No. Please, I beg you, let me live! I do not want to die. Please!
What the—? In the split-second before she would have unleashed the deadly force she reined it in. Her thirst for revenge was powerful, nourished by years of living with choices that had been forced on her and had left her soul-sick and stricken with guilt. But who was she to play the god and destroy a being that had begged for mercy?
She could only pray she wasn’t about to make the biggest mistake of her life.
Decision made, she wrestled to constrain her power but it battered relentlessly at her, yearning to be freed. The journey between worlds followed by her efforts to heal Blayne had already sapped her strength. But she couldn’t afford weakness, not when she still needed to extract this monster from her daughter. She cast about for another source to augment her strength. It was imperative the being was caged once and for all. She couldn’t risk it inhabiting another human being while she debated whether to grant it mercy.
Then she sensed him. His aureya brimmed with latent psychic power and he was close by. Very close.
Don’t be afraid, she whispered. And then she punched through his natural mental defenses and wove him into the linkage.
Copyright 2013 Maree Anderson
Please do not reproduce this excerpt (or part thereof) without written permission from the author. Thank you.