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Fighting for infinity, p.11
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.11

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  “If your soul were free to travel—” Rina chewed her fingers. “You would really spy on Dedrick?”

  “Of course.”

  “And?”

  “And what?” Having a conversation with her was so difficult.

  “Where else would you go? Honestly.”

  Lying to her seemed pointless. I needed her to trust me and this one seemed like a given. “Honestly, I’d visit my kindrily. Because I miss them, but also because they are super wise and could help us.”

  “Nathaniel said he would help stop Dedrick.”

  “Obviously. He despises Dedrick. We all do.”

  Rina’s face was emotionless. She didn’t look away or even blink. After what felt like a long time, she quietly said, “Okay.”

  Hope pulsed through me. “Okay what?”

  “I’ll release you.”

  “You can release me?”

  She tentatively nodded.

  “Just like that? You’ve had the ability to release me this whole time, but you kept me trapped here? Why? Does Dedrick know?”

  “So many questions,” Rina mumbled.

  “Um, you think?” I was furious. My suspicions had just risen tenfold. “What’s your part in all this? How could you hide so much from Dedrick for so long? Maybe he does know how powerful you are and you’re helping him, and all this time you’ve been trying to act like we can trust each other, but in reality you might be the most evil Nefarioun of them all.”

  She lurched forward. “I am not evil!”

  “Then why would you keep me here like a prisoner?”

  “I was hoping you’d figure out how to set yourself free.”

  “Why would I need to figure it out if you could do it for me?”

  Her eyes widened. “Listen to yourself. Me do it for you? Is that how you want to live your life? Counting on others to fix your mistakes? Everyone else should figure out how to get you out of trouble? Wouldn’t it be more dignified if you learned how to do it yourself?”

  She made me sound like some lazy leech who wanted to sit around eating ice cream all day while everyone else worked for me. “I can handle my own problems, but I didn’t ask to be trapped here. This isn’t my mistake to fix.”

  She snorted a laugh. “You traveled here, Maryah. It is your mistake.” She walked to the table and ran her fingers over the old book. “You have a lot of mistakes to fix, and I can only help you so much.”

  I screamed with frustration. “Stop talking in riddles! You act like you know so much, but you never actually say or do anything helpful.”

  She lifted her gaze, her eyes reflecting some emotion I hadn’t seen before, maybe part sadness but with an accusatory heat burning somewhere deep within her. Her pained voice was almost a whisper. “I never do anything helpful?”

  I could tell I hurt her feelings, and I considered apologizing, but for what? For speaking the truth? I wasn’t sorry for that. She was frustrating, and she hadn’t done anything to help. All she had done was use my body without my consent.

  She stood straight and cleared her throat. “I’ll do what you’ve asked. Like I always do.” She held her hands out at her sides, closed her eyes, and bowed her head.

  “Rina, wait. I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

  She didn’t acknowledge me. She stayed in place, unmoving.

  “Rina?”

  I felt different—stronger. The invisible cloud around me had dissipated. I searched my mind’s eye for the cords of light that allowed me to astral travel—the cords I hadn’t been able to see or feel since I arrived in this dreaded place.

  I found them, glowing brightly, more visible than they’d ever been. Rina did it. She was setting me free.

  “Rina?” I couldn’t leave like this. As frustrating as she was, she didn’t deserve to be hurt. She had already suffered more than one person ever should. “Please answer me.”

  She still didn’t move, open her eyes, or say a word.

  “I won’t be gone more than an hour or two,” I told her. “I promise I’ll be back.”

  As scary as those words sounded, I knew I meant them.

  KEEPING IN TOUCH

  Nathaniel

  Everyone had gone to bed for the evening, but I couldn’t sleep.

  One of Maryah’s favorite songs played for the third time. I lay beside her, singing along with Ella. The same song that played as Mary passed away two lifetimes ago, so peaceful and undramatic. Just she and I at home, our bodies aged and exhausted, waiting for the curtain to fall and allow us to start all over again. She passed quietly, drifting to sleep in my arms while Ella sang on our record player. I couldn’t hear it because I was deaf, but I felt the music in the air.

  I passed two days later, looking forward to the next time I’d hold her and wondering what my new life and body would be like.

  A trumpet played a soft, slow riff as the song came to an end. Unlike two lifetimes ago, I was grateful to hear the music. Being deaf enhanced many of my senses, but I had missed music immensely.

  Maryah thrashed violently then choked in a deep breath. Eightball barked and sprang out of his bed, his nubby tail wagging uncontrollably.

  “Nathan!” She sat up and threw her arms around me in one burst of motion.

  I pulled back to confirm it was her.

  “Maryah.” I kissed her. “You have no idea how worried I’ve been.”

  Her fingertips pressed into my pecs as if trying to clutch onto the heart that already belonged to her. I held her hands and kissed them then pressed my forehead against hers. “I’m here. I’m right here, and so are you. You’re safe.”

  She touched my face, staring into my eyes as if I might not be real. “I missed you so much.”

  “I missed you infinitely more.” I caressed her cheek. “How do you feel?”

  “I’m okay.” Eightball whined and pawed at the bed. I lifted him up to join us, and he tackled Maryah, covering her with kisses.

  After their reunion had calmed down, she hugged him and said, “I’m shook up and thirsty, but relieved to be back here.”

  I wrapped my arms around both of them and traversed us to the kitchen. I set them down on the counter, letting go of Maryah long enough to grab a bottle of juice. She gulped it down as I stood and watched her in the glow of the light from the refrigerator.

  Eightball snorted happily. His whole back end wagged as he squirmed in her arms, licking her chin. She giggled, and my heart overflowed.

  She took a long swig of juice then lowered the bottle and wiped her lips. “Thank you.”

  I nodded then kissed her again, tasting the fruit punch she just drank and assuring myself this was really happening. She was back in her body. She was safe. “Never again,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

  She pulled away. “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

  “I felt so helpless knowing you were trapped with Dedrick and there was nothing I could do. Never again will you astral travel to him. None of us will ever ask you to.”

  “Nathan,” Maryah said, “I’m going back.”

  “Absolutely not,” I argued. “We’ll figure out another way to stop Dedrick without putting you in danger.”

  “Dedrick can’t know I left. I came here to tell you I was fine, and to relay everything I know, but then I have to go back.”

  “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

  “Deal? What deal?”

  “I promised Rina we’d help her fight Dedrick if she set you free. I never agreed that you’d return to his lair.”

  “He’ll kill Rina if he finds out I’m gone. Or torture her. Then he’ll come after us.” Her voice hitched with concern. “All of us.”

  Krista and Carson hurried into the kitchen wearing their pajamas. “Pudding!” Krista exclaimed. “It’s really you. Thank goodness!”

  I stepped aside so Krista could hug Maryah, but I was still trying to absorb the fact that Maryah would voluntarily go back to Dedrick. Louise and Anthony rushed in too.

  “Th
ank the heavens!” Louise said, taking her turn to hug Maryah. “What happened? Tell us everything.”

  “You look exhausted,” Anthony told Maryah. “Do you need to sleep first?”

  Maryah shook her head then her eyes found mine. “I have to update you then I have to go back.”

  My heart sank again.

  “Go back?” Louise and Krista asked at the same time.

  “The girl who visited you; her name is Rina, and Dedrick is keeping her prisoner. It’s so awful. You can’t even imagine. I have to help her, and if Dedrick finds out that she helped me escape then who knows what he’ll do to her.”

  Carson moved to Maryah’s side. “Where is he? Do you know where he was keeping you?”

  “No,” Maryah answered. “We’re locked in some room with no doors or windows.”

  “At least Rina was telling the truth,” Carson said.

  “She had never left that room until she traveled here and met all of you. If you could see it for yourself, you’d understand how horrible her life is and that I need to help her.” Maryah sat up so tall and fast it looked like she’d been whipped. “Wait, Rina was here! Nathan, you saw her soul through her eyes, right? You could traverse to her and bring her here.”

  “Sorry, Sparky,” Carson said. “We’ve been trying that already, and it hasn’t worked.”

  “Why?” Maryah asked me. “Can you not picture her eyes in detail because it’s my body?”

  “That’s not it,” I explained. “Every time I try, I find myself in darkness. I don’t end up anywhere.”

  Her forehead wrinkled. “What does that mean?”

  “We’re not sure yet,” Louise said. “But we’re working on it.”

  We all stood around as Carson asked the necessary questions for his exceptional mind to figure out as much as he could.

  I wanted to argue that Maryah’s safety came first, and she shouldn’t astral travel anywhere until we had more helpful information, but Maryah was still Mary. The deepest, truest part of her would always be dedicated to helping others. No one would convince her to turn her back on Rina. As much as I wanted Maryah home safe with us, I couldn’t in good conscience ask her not to help Rina.

  “What if it is a trap?” Carson asked. “What if Dedrick is using this girl to get to you somehow?”

  Maryah hugged Eightball tighter, petting his head. “Rina hates him. She’s not mind-controlled. And I think she’s an Element. She has gifts like us.”

  “We know she’s a conductor,” Louise said, “and that she traveled here using your ability, but can she do anything else?”

  “I think so, but I’m not sure what exactly. Somehow she freed my soul. She’s sort of secretive about everything.”

  “Secretive indeed,” I agreed. “This whole time she was able to free you, but she didn’t until I promised her I’d help her fight Dedrick.”

  “Like kill him?” Carson sounded a little too excited about the idea.

  “How can we trust that’s her real intention in all of this?” Krista asked.

  “You all met her,” Maryah said. “Sort of. Did you get the impression she was bad?”

  “Her soul was luminescent,” Louise said. “Not one trace of malicious intent.”

  “She could have been emanating a false aura,” I pointed out.

  Louise glared at me over her glasses. “No one can fake their aura.”

  “We didn’t think a soul’s energy could be trapped,” I argued, “but obviously Dedrick is capable of more than we thought.” I placed my hand on top of Maryah’s. “We have to be overly cautious of everyone and everything given the circumstances.”

  “I feel the same way, but why would Rina release my soul?” Maryah held my hand as Eightball licked it. “She helped me. I have to help her too.”

  Anthony chimed in. “It would be beneficial to know what else she knows about Dedrick and what he’s been doing these past two decades.”

  “Which is one of the many reasons I have to return,” Maryah said. “I need to find out a lot more if we have any hope of stopping Dedrick.”

  “Stop him from what?” Krista asked.

  Maryah slid off the counter and stood, setting Eightball on the floor. “He’s going to be God. He’s going to control who comes into this world.” Louise and Anthony glanced at each other. Maryah squeezed my hand. “What does that mean?”

  “It means you’re right,” Louise said. “You have to spy on him so we can see what he’s planning.”

  Everyone stared at Maryah, but she kept her focus on me. “Nathan, please try to understand. I need your support now more than ever.”

  As much as I wanted to shelter her and keep her locked safe in my arms, I knew her spirit couldn’t be caged. Especially not by Dedrick. “Then as always, you have it.”

  WEIGHT OF HER WORLD

  Maryah

  I finished showering and stepped out of the bathroom, towel drying my hair. Nathan stood on the balcony staring out at the night sky. The door was open, so I snuck up behind him, wrapping my arms around him and resting my head against his strong back. He already carried centuries of pain and worry, and without meaning to, I kept adding more. I prayed he wouldn’t break under the weight of it all.

  He turned to hold me in his arms. I breathed in his nectar-of-the-gods scent and from the deepest trenches of my memory came a deluge of déjà vu. Skin tingling, sheets rustling, the sensation of being blissfully sated, body and soul. My guttural sigh brought me back to the present.

  In a perfect world, I could stay wrapped up in him forever, but our life was far from perfect. “My time is almost up. I promised Rina no more than two hours.”

  Nathan lifted my chin. The stars shone behind him, but they dulled in comparison to the love in his eyes. “When will you be back?”

  “I’m not sure. We didn’t discuss that yet. This was a test. Hopefully she’ll let me leave more frequently.” An all too familiar wave of pain spread up the back of my neck. The beginning of a headache. I didn’t want to worry Nathan even more, so I did my best to ignore it.

  “What if Dedrick finds out you’re able to travel?”

  “We have to make sure he doesn’t.”

  “I hate that you’re enduring this type of stress and danger.”

  “I’ll be fine.”

  “I wish I could believe that.” He stroked my face while looking at me with so much worry it made me wish I could erase emotions instead of memories. “Find out where you are. That’s crucial. If we know where he’s keeping Rina, we can rescue her.”

  “I have a feeling Dedrick has that place well-guarded. Wherever it is.”

  “We will get her out.” He sounded so confident. “Just do your best to find out where it is. Pay attention to details, even the smallest ones.”

  “I will, but not much happens unless someone visits.”

  “Visits?”

  I stayed focused on the facts instead of my brewing migraine. “So far there’s a woman, Evelyn, who brings Rina meals and is sort of a mother figure to her, but her eyes are snakelike so she’s being controlled. Dedrick has also brought in Lexie, the mind reader, and River.”

  Nathan’s biceps and forearms flexed as he scowled. “River?”

  “Don’t worry. He never stays long, and I don’t believe a word he says. He claims Dedrick is keeping him locked up too. Dedrick wants me to believe he’s protecting me from River, but they’re probably working together.”

  “I don’t like this, Maryah. What if River tries to kill you again?”

  Despite my headache, I grinned. “Nathan, he can’t kill me if I’m not in my body.”

  Nathan blinked rapidly, as if that fact had momentarily escaped him. “Right, but still. Be careful. Dedrick is a master manipulator. Be on high alert for any way he could be deceiving you or using someone against you. Especially River.”

  “I’m alert as can be.”

  Nathan’s Adam’s apple bobbed as worry lines framed his mouth. “Louise swears she saw no negativity i
n Rina’s aura, but I’m suspicious of her as well. Dedrick leaves you alone with her for long stretches of time. He must have a reason, and I suspect that reason is so you’ll become friends with her.”

  “I’d know if she were up to something, but she’s not.” I was surprised to hear the lie tumble so easily from my lips. I was confused by Rina’s words and questioned her intentions almost every time she spoke, but I couldn’t worry Nathan or the rest of our kindrily. Deep down, I really believed Rina had a good heart, but my instincts also screamed that she was hiding something big.

  A shooting pain forced me to squeeze my eyes shut. I was looking forward to checking out of my body again. The pain had spread behind my ears, which meant this headache would be a bad one.

  “What’s wrong?” Nathan asked. He leaned so close his minty breath cooled my cheek. “Is it a headache?”

  I tried acting like it was no big deal. “Good timing. At least I won’t be in my body to suffer through it.”

  “I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”

  “Trust me. It’s good.”

  “Please be careful,” Nathan said, concern dripping from his voice. “Don’t share any information about us with Rina. Don’t give her anything she could use against you later.”

  I almost told Nathan about my fear that she’d travel to my body and never return to her own. That she’d realize she could break free forever by living as me, but if I expressed that possibility out loud, he’d never support me going back. And I wouldn’t blame him.

  “I’ll be careful,” I promised.

  “Maryah.” His next words were laced with sadness. “We need to discuss a lot about our past, but I’m not sure where to start.”

  My two hours were up, and my headache was getting worse. “We’ll discuss everything, but it has to wait. I can’t break my promise to Rina the first time she let me out.”

  He somberly nodded, holding my hand as we walked inside. I crawled into bed, and he leaned over me, kissing me with such tenderness that it almost made me change my mind about leaving him. “I love you. Come home soon.”

 
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