Authors: G.P. Ching
Tags: #General Fiction
“I’m sorry I took so long to get here. Jacob and I went home last night after the party, and I had to pretend to be sick this morning to slip away from my parents.”
Lillian nodded. “Thanks for coming.”
“How did this happen.” Malini glanced between Gideon and Lillian. She would have liked to ask the same question of Dane, but he was currently in Dr. Silva’s office, falling to pieces from guilt.
“I’m not sure.” Lillian shook her head. “I’ve never failed so miserably in a fight, let alone a sparring session with a student. He wasn’t even particularly talented.”
Malini stifled a laugh.
“I realize, considering the circumstances, that sounds odd, but he wasn’t, Malini. He reacted slowly when I dropped the knife. All I needed to do was step out of the way.”
“Hmm.” Malini tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and scanned Lillian from head to toe.
“Maybe she’s getting sick?” Gideon asked. “A Soulkeeper virus?”
Arms crossed over her chest, Malini considered the possibility. “I suppose, but I’ve never heard of one before.” She stared at Lillian for a full minute, tapping her toe on the stone floor before the flicker of an idea raised her eyebrow. Abruptly, she strode behind the curtain that divided the beds in the infirmary. She selected a spoon from the bedside table, tucking it behind her back before she returned to the front of the bed. “Hey, Lillian?”
“Catch.” Malini tossed the spoon at Lillian’s chest, a soft lob that should have been easy for the Soulkeeper to catch. The utensil thumped against her breastbone.
“I missed.” Tears gathered in Lillian’s eyes. “Oh my God, what’s happened to me?” She looked down at herself as if she wanted to rip her skin off to see the disease within.
“Hold on, Lillian. I want to try something else.” She pulled a rough sapphire from her pocket and held the gem out in the palm of her hand. After a moment of concentration, light poured out of the blue stone, and Dr. Silva’s face floated before her.
“What is it, Malini? Is Lillian all right?” Dr. Silva’s opaque image flickered slightly.
“Can you please send Dane to the infirmary? I need to ask him a few questions.”
Abigail nodded. “We’ll be there.” Her image blinked out, and Malini dropped the stone back into her pocket.
Gideon approached her, narrowing his eyes. “You don’t think…”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Malini whispered.
Lillian sat up in bed. “What is wrong with me?”
Malini approached her, lifting the spoon from the bed and sliding her hand into Lillian’s. She concentrated on sending her comfort, peace, and love. The older woman’s face warmed at the touch, and she leaned into the pillow, smiling. “Okay. I can wait.”
Only a moment later, Dane and Abigail arrived, panting from their run. Dane gawked at Lillian’s healed shoulder. “Oh, thank God.”
“Dane,” Malini called.
“Yeah.” Dane looked up at her with tear-stained eyes.
She whipped the spoon as hard and fast as she could at Dane’s head. As she expected, his hand shot out, like a snakebite, and snatched the implement from the air.
“Damn,” she murmured.
“Huh,” Gideon said under his breath.
Dane grinned. “Hey, I caught it! Must be the old football days coming back to me.”
Abigail shook her head in time with Malini’s.
The light bulb came on for Lillian, and she didn’t hesitate to share. “You stole my power!” She bounded out of bed and was in his face in an instant.
“What?” Dane held up his hands. “What are you talking about?”
“He doesn’t know,” Malini said.
Lillian pulled up short of slamming her hands into Dane’s shoulders. Instead, she placed her fists on her hips.
“Your Soulkeeper gift, Dane, is not your ability to trap souls. You borrow other Soulkeepers’ powers.” Malini approached him with a serene smile.
“Huh?” Dane gaped at her in disbelief.
“The reason Cheveyo is inside your head is because that is
power, not yours. He can possess people. Only, he didn’t have a body for you to possess, so instead you possessed his soul. But with Lillian, her gift is weapons. You captured her gift.”
Dane’s eyes darted around the room and then settled on Lillian.
“Give it back,” she growled.
Eyes wide, Dane digested the revelation. “I don’t know how.”
“How did you take it?” Malini asked softly.
“We were sparring, and it just happened.”
Lillian shook her head. “You grabbed my wrist. Here.” She held out her arm and pointed at the patch of skin.
Forcing a swallow, Dane reached a trembling hand toward her. “Of course, skin to skin. The same as when I took Cheveyo.” He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and closed his eyes.
Malini watched the force of will on Dane’s features. He was learning, figuring it out. Their bodies jolted and then he let go.
Lillian backed away. “Throw me another spoon.”
Gideon obliged, snatching another from behind the divider and lashing the utensil at the back of her head. Without even breaking eye contact with Dane, Lillian’s hand seized the projectile from the air, twirled it between her fingers, and pressed it into Dane’s neck like a knife. She laughed with delight.
“I’m back! Oh thank God, I’m back.”
Malini breathed out a sigh of relief, fixating on Dane.
“I didn’t take her power on purpose,” he stated firmly.
Malini nodded. “We know that, Dane. It’s just going to take some time for us to get used to the idea of what you are.”
Abigail folded her hands in front of her. “Yes, and how we can use you.”
Dane ran both hands through his hair and blew out a shaky breath.
“Come on,” Malini said. “It’s getting late. I’ll take you home.”
* * * * *
Dane waved goodbye to Malini as she backed out of his driveway, so overwhelmed by the weekend he hardly remembered the journey home. She’d promised him she’d check on Raine, the least he could do for the boy trapped in his head. He was a Soulkeeper now, and according to Malini, a powerful one. All the implications of his gift weren’t entirely clear. He could borrow other Soulkeepers’ powers. What could he do with humans? Watchers? No one seemed to know.
Confusing as his abilities were, Ethan was a close second. He’d left Eden without saying goodbye, easy considering he’d never made it to breakfast. Things were going to be awkward between them. Why had Dane been compelled to admit his feelings? There was no putting that genie back into the bottle. Ethan
. He knew that Dane hadn’t enjoyed kissing Bonnie.
He slapped his forehead. How should he play this? He hadn’t said straight out he was attracted to Ethan or anything, and he hadn’t acted on those feelings. Maybe Dane would be attracted to a different girl someday. Rubbing his chest, he tried to ignore the lingering thought that even if he were attracted to someone else, he’d never get over Ethan. The guy was under his skin. And if he were honest with himself, the thought of Ethan with someone else made his stomach twist.
The screen door squeaked as he let himself into the old farmhouse. “Hello?” he called, wondering if his dad was still of a mind to kick him out of the house, or if the argument had blown over.
Muffled sobs floated out from the dining room. He set his stuff on the table and followed the crying to its source, his mother’s hunched body.
“Mom?” He placed a hand on her shoulder. She raised her red-rimmed eyes to his.
“Oh, Dane, thank heavens you’re home.” She sandwiched one of his hands between her two shaking ones.
“What’s going on, Mom?”
“It’s your father. He’s in the hospital. The sickness is worse. Some kind of crazy virus they don’t even have a name for. He’s unconscious, and the doctors aren’t sure he will ever wake up.”
Dane’s butt landed in the chair nearest to his mother. “What are you saying?”
“He could die, sweetheart. They just don’t know anything about this illness. They’re running tests. He has fluids and different medications, but the doctor says Luke’s got to fight this bug off on his own.”
“What hospital is he at?”
“Terre Haute. Jenny and Walter are still with him. I only came back here to pack some things and meet you. With you coming home today and all anyway, I didn’t think you should hear the news over the phone.”
Wiping her tears away, Dane took his mother into his arms, rubbing her back and holding her tight. “It’s going to be okay, Mom. What do we need to bring back to the hospital? I’ll help you pack, and then I’ll drive you.”
She placed her hand gingerly on either side of his face and searched his eyes. “I can’t leave him there alone, Dane. I’m gonna spend the night. Can you bring Jenny and Walter back and take care of things tomorrow?”
Dane nodded. More responsibility. Could he do this? He didn’t have a choice; he had to. “Sure, Mom. I’ll take care of everything.”
She squeezed him hard around the neck, then wiped under her eyes. Absently, she trudged up the stairs to begin packing.
onday morning, Malini plopped into her usual seat in her Themes in Western Literature class, heavy with the stress of the weekend. Dane had texted her that his father was ill, an unfortunate turn of events considering they had less than two weeks to train him to use his new skills
make a plan for dealing with Auriel. The easy thing to do would be to heal Luke Michaels so that Dane could get back to work, but what was right was not the same as what was easy. Mr. Michaels’s illness had purpose. Natural causes brought him to this place in life, and altering his fate would have negative consequences on the future. Guilt was Malini’s price to pay for doing what she had to do in this circumstance, nothing.
“Do we really have time for this?” Jacob said as he slipped into the seat next to her. “What about Dane? Is it safe for him to be at the hospital with his dad when Cheveyo is still locked inside his head?”
Malini scratched behind her ear in such a way that her forearm blocked her lips as she turned her head toward him. “Be careful what you say.” It was natural for him to be curious, but school wasn’t the safest place to have this conversation. Later, they’d go to Eden and could sort everything out with the council.
Jacob spread his hands and looked at her emphatically.
Right now we need to act as normal as possible
, she thought. She’d learned with Gideon last summer she could exchange thoughts with those people who had used her red stone. She preferred not to communicate telepathically if she didn’t have to, but today, they couldn’t be too careful.
It won’t do anyone any good if we get grounded or have Principal Bailey breathing down our necks for truancy.
But there’s so much we should be doing
“There’s time, Jake.”
He leaned closer. “Did you see the paper today?”
Senator Bakewell is all over the headlines. He’s back in Washington debating his bill. He’s got half the world convinced that S. 5109 will solve our immigration problem and put turbo boosters on the economy.
Great. Too bad it will also give Watchers a legal way to farm their next meal.
“Speaking of,” Jacob whispered, “guess whose body they found in the Chicago river, half eaten by animals?”
Malini pressed her fingers to her lips and shook her head.
Our friendly Harrington secretary, Amanda.
When Malini pictured the stunning woman behind the desk at Harrington Enterprises dead in a river, she gagged and had to cough to cover it up. How cocky! After their visit, the Watcher had to have known the Soulkeepers would notice the kill. The only explanation was the demon didn’t care. Was it drawing them out, just like in Arizona, or perhaps sending her a message from Lucifer? Was this retaliation for their victory at Fermilab last summer?
“Are you okay?” Jacob whispered.
Mr. White clapped his hands at the front of the room. “Settle down, people. I hope you did this weekend’s reading because we are going to move quickly today.”
“What was this weekend’s reading?” Jacob muttered.
“Beowulf,” Malini responded.
“Beo–wolf. Is it about shapeshifters?”
Malini shook her head.
As Mr. White began to lecture at the front of the room, she leaned back in her chair and effectively blocked him out. Fixing her eyes on a spot on the white board, she allowed her vision to blur and her soul to cross over to her spiritual home away from home. She preferred not to do this in such crowded circumstances, but part of her felt like Amanda’s blood was on her hands. She’d waited too long to bring the Watcher responsible to justice. The council counted on her for guidance. The Soulkeepers were supposed to protect human souls, to avoid human casualties in this battle between Heaven and Hell, and she was failing. She needed to consult with the immortals for help.
The classroom faded away, replaced by a stucco-walled warehouse full of rolls of fabric. Malini navigated the brightly colored material quickly. She’d been here before, hundreds of times. At the front of the building, in the patch of light filtering through the arched doorways to the veranda, a tall woman weaved new fabric. Her eight arms worked tirelessly, knitting the silk that flowed between her fingers at lightning speed. Malini had seen her use a loom, but today her weaving flowed only from her. The site of the yarn coming out of her wrists was creepy as was the spiderlike look of her body hovered over her creation.
The woman pivoted, giving Malini an unsettling view of her multiple limbs. Her dark eyes twinkled with stars—the light from the past, present, and future of every life on Earth.
“Welcome, Healer,” Fatima said.
“Can we have tea?”
“Certainly.” Fatima straightened her back and tugged a section of fabric, along with six of her arms inside her torso. The golden dress she wore consisted mostly of beads and clung to her flawless russet skin in a way that defied gravity. She sashayed her perfect silhouette onto the veranda. Malini followed.
“Lucifer is up to something,” Malini began.