The night was wet and cold. Amber’s chest heaved as she gasped to catch her breath, filling her lungs with the damp air. She stood in the middle of the freeway hoping against hope that she had interpreted the scrawled and coded message correctly and had come to the right place in time.
The darkness was as black and deep as death and yet in the distance, filtered by the foggy air, she began to see the streetlights lights flickering in a pattern that seemed to move closer and closer. As each haloed orb blinked off, the next one would flicker on.
A figure emerged from the fog—a young woman walking along the middle of the deserted highway. She carried nothing. Her hands were tucked loosely in her jacket pockets and her pace was steady and even.
She seemed so casual, as though she was out for an evening stroll. Calm and untethered, her pace was slow and deliberate. And as she came closer, Amber could feel the electricity crackling and buzzing and . . . could it be possible? Yes, it was true; each light standard buzzed on as she approached, stayed lit for a few brief moments while she passed and then flickered off as she moved forward.
And as the young woman walked closer, Amber recognized the unmistakable gait. It was Macy. She had finally returned from her visit with the man in the hill.
Macy stepped into the shadow and followed the man. Inside, the air of the hut felt cool. She could hear his ragged breathing just ahead. It was dark and at first she felt blinded, but then her eyes adjusted and her surroundings began to emerge. She had expected to enter the man’s home, but the room was more of a storage space, filled with musty wooden crates and various unnamed paraphernalia.
She could see tiny specks of dust in the sunlight that filtered in through the cracks in the wooden walls. And she could see him standing just ahead, one side of his face in shadow, the other lit by a piercing ray of light that landed just above his eyebrows and filtered down across his nose. His mouth was slightly open, and as he stood there, his eyes were fixed on her, and his panting slowed.
A wide grin spread across his face.
At that moment, she didn’t feel fear. Just the sense that something terrible and wonderful was going to happen; a small thing that might just be the end of her and the beginning of the world.
The dust motes joined and began to circle around them like he was the sun and she was the moon. . . She felt a deep stillness. . . And a huge chasm opened up in her soul.
She had come so far to find this place. She had come from nothing and everything. From love and lust and fear and hunger and giving and taking and the sharp edges of betrayal stained with selfishness and greed. Her world was shattered and sullied with bloody love and loyalty that still pulled her back and yet pushed her in at the same time.
Who was this man to her? She was not afraid of him and yet she knew that he was not her friend. Being there was her own choice and yet she was frightened of the pull she could feel from him. A pull that she had felt from the time she was a young girl . . . and she realized that lecherous leer had already been etched in her deepest unconscious. She moved forward slowly and as she did he begain to step back,
his smile stretched across his face and his faded blue eyes opened wider below the heavy brows. He picked up a wooden cross from a pendant around his neck and placed the base of it between his lips.
Then he extended his muddy hands and she began to feel a stirring deep within her that drew her forward and closer to him. She reached out and placed her hands in his and he pulled her closer. She inhaled the musty odor of his clothing as their bodies touched. She felt the stubble of his beard on her face and neck and the hardness of him as it pressed between her legs. She had no power to resist and no desire to. All she felt was pure instinct and a force ignited deep within her and she sunk closer and closer into his essence. She knew that he could take her in that moment if he chose. . . and she knew from the urgency of his breath that he had every intention of doing so.
As they embraced, he began to step backwards pulling her deeper into the hut. He slid his hands down her arms and twisted her hands behind her back with a grip that had subtly changed from desire to force. At that moment, she knew that she had stepped in too far; and that her own need for adventure had brought her to a place where she would be undone.
She stiffened and began to step back. She wanted to change her mind; to turn around and run back into the light, down the hill and into the broken world that she knew.
But he sensed her mood shift and his grip tightened. Holding her wrists behind her with one hand, he spun her around in front of him and pushed her forward roughly. She realized that as they moved deeper, the walls of the hut had become cave walls and he began to push her down into a stone tunnel and deeper into the hill.
Talie crouched behind the dripping metal pipes and struggled to regain his breath. His heart was pounding and he could feel the pain power begin to surge in him
again. The harder he tried to shove it down, the more it pushed against him. He clamped his eyes shut, he locked his jaw, he inhaled the moist tunnel air
deeply through his nostrils and used his every remaining ounce of strength to hold himself in check.
He realized that he was getting closer and closer to the point where the pain power might burst out of him in a tornado of rage that would roil and spin of control and devour any last glimmer of the good light that he hoped was still contained within him. He knew that at that point, the good light would be snuffed out forever and he would finally be taken beyond the point where he could manage. And then the Mentara would have won.
No! He could not let that happen. His sisters needed him, the seraphs needed him–he had no other choice but to learn to manage the power.
He clenched his fists so tightly that his ragged nails pierced the skin of his palms. He gritted his teeth, and began to softly recite the names that Alphonse had taught him. “Obernow, Corindor, Alanta and Gorn . . . Obernow, Corindor, Alanta and Gorn.” Again and again he repeated them until he truly believed that the strange yet familiar words were the last and only thing that could save him and that maybe, just maybe there was a chance that he could channel the energy
“Obernow, Corindor, Ablanta and Gorn.”
Over and over until finally, the names of the ancient ones began to bring him the control he needed to connect with the pain power, to swirl it around within him and use it to transform the tightness in his chest, the grit in his stomach and the clench of his jaw into an intense energy and power that began to filter up through his spinal column and into his brain stem, through his amygdala and filter through the whites of his eyes.