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Fighting for infinity, p.23
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.23

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  I clutched the bathroom rug I was sitting on and bent forward, expecting to throw up. Choking and dry heaving, I asked, “What if he kills them?”

  Speaking the possibility out loud sent me into convulsions. Carson eased Krista aside.

  “What are you doing?” she asked.

  Carson lifted me into his arms. “Helping her.”

  HER OWN BIGGEST SECRET

  Maryah

  I sat curled up on the couch, staring out the windows. They might die. They might already be dead. Because of me. How many more people would Dedrick kill because of their connection to me? Because of my stupid decisions.

  Helen took my mug of cold tea from me and handed me a new one. The steam rose in front of me, but I couldn’t feel its warmth. I couldn’t feel anything.

  Louise watched me from the kitchen. Her worried eyes bore down on me every time I made the slightest movement. I ached to astral travel back there and find out what was going on, but Rina’s warning kept my soul crazy-glued to my body.

  She said I’d never see Nathan or her again. I couldn’t take that risk. I prayed for them to be alive.

  Krista sat beside me. She didn’t make me false promises that it would be okay. She didn’t fuss like Helen and keep urging me to drink tea. She just stayed beside me. I needed her there more than anything. If she left me I was sure I’d come unglued and fall apart.

  Anthony walked in and squatted down in front of me. “Maryah, we’re preparing the plane. You’re welcome to come with us or you can stay here with Faith, Amber, and Mikey. It’s your choice.”

  I stared at him. His big brown eyes looked so much like Carson’s, except less smartass and more sympathetic. Biologically, Nathan was his son, but they’d known each other for centuries. Dedrick had captured his son, his friend. What lengths would Anthony go to save him?

  I licked my dry lips. “How do you freeze time?”

  He contemplated my question then shrugged. “How do any of us do any of the things we do? The universe gifts us with the ability.”

  He was the biggest challenge. When Rina taught me to how to tune into each member’s energy, Anthony was the toughest for me to read. He was the most closed off. His power was just like his personality, astoundingly strong but guarded.

  “If someone asked you to describe how you do it, could you?” I asked. “Could you teach them to stop time if they had that ability?”

  “I don’t know. I’ve never tried to teach it to anyone. What are you getting at?”

  I sat forward, lowering my voice. “Everyone’s ability seems to be getting stronger. Maybe yours is too. What if you couldn’t just freeze time? What if you could rewind it?”

  “Maryah,” Krista said. “This isn’t the Outlander series. No one can travel back in time.”

  “How do we know that for sure?”

  Anthony touched my knee. “If it were possible, where would you travel to?”

  My mind raced at all the possible points: before I caused Nathan to traverse to me and be trapped by Dedrick, the night my parents and Mikey were killed, before I erased. “I’m not sure yet. Maybe back to the lifetime when I told my so-called-friend about my ability. Then Nathan and I wouldn’t have been punished on the pillory. Dedrick would have never known about me or any of us.”

  “Do you realize how much you’d be altering our history?” Anthony asked. “Besides this strife with Dedrick, we’ve had countless great times since then.”

  “We could relive the good parts.”

  “You don’t know that. You don’t know what traveling back in time would do. Every choice and action has a consequence. It’s like throwing a pebble into a lake. It will cause ripples.”

  “Could you try?” I begged. “Just far back enough that I can stop Nathan from traversing to me and being tranquilized by Dedrick.”

  “We don’t move backward, Maryah. We never have. Just like always, we play with the cards life deals us and we march forward like we’re about to do now. If we have to, we’ll search every mountain until we find Nathaniel.”

  I hung my head. Impossible as it seemed, rewinding time was my only idea.

  “Besides,” Anthony said, “I’m not capable of that level of time manipulation. Nor would I ever want to be.” He stood and touched the side of my face like a concerned parent. “Plane leaves in less than an hour.”

  He walked away, and I handed Krista my mug. My hands were too weak to hold it any longer. She took it with no questions asked and sipped it then leaned her head against my shoulder.

  We stayed like that for several minutes while others flitted around the house talking in hushed whispers.

  Krista’s head bobbed forward, and she dropped the mug of tea. Even with the splash of liquid on my feet and the crashing of ceramic on the tile floor, I didn’t flinch.

  It was the cymbal crash before the bittersweet symphony.

  Her fingers fluttered. Her head twitched. I knew before she even turned to look at me. Krista’s brown eyes had been replaced with a deep blue.

  In one shifting bounce I kneeled beside her. “Rina, are you okay? Where are you and Nathan?”

  “I don’t know where Nathan is, but I’m okay. For now.”

  The sob that had been stuck in my throat escaped in a gargled, “I’m so sorry.”

  “I need you to travel to me. Hurry.”

  Krista’s body went limp. I caught her and gently laid her back, tucking a throw pillow behind her head. I leaned back and visualized Rina’s eyes. My soul traveled at record speed.

  She was sitting on the floor of her room, her knees to her chest and her head down. The candle burned near her feet.

  “Rina?”

  She lifted her head. Her swollen cheek was smeared with blood, and a bruise was forming.

  I moved closer. “He hit you?”

  “No, he ordered one of his slaves to do it.” One side of her lips lifted. The half that didn’t lift had been split open. “I expected much worse.”

  Anger and guilt rippled through me. “This is all my fault.”

  Rina nodded like her head weighed a thousand pounds. “Yes.”

  “Thanks for your honesty.”

  She smirked then flinched. Her hand flew to her split lip. “You had no choice. You did whatever it took to protect us.”

  “Protect you? You’re worse off than ever. And I have no idea what Dedrick has done with Nathan, but I’m sick over it. I haven’t protected anyone. I’ve made everything a million times worse.”

  “It’s time to tell you.” Her hand dropped to her side like dead weight. “I’m pretty sure both of us have what we need.”

  “Tell me what? What do we need?”

  “You said this was the only way we’d survive—if we accumulated enough power and knew how to use it.” She sounded so tired. Some of her words slurred together. “I thought you’d have more time to practice, but we’ll work with what we have.”

  She was either fighting the effects of a drug Dedrick had injected into her, or she was just recovering from it.

  “Please, Rina,” I pleaded. “No more riddles.”

  “I wasn’t allowed to tell you. No matter how badly I wanted to, you forbade me to tell you.”

  “Tell me what?”

  She leaned her head back against the wall. “The big secret.”

  “Which is what?”

  “I’m not the powerful one. I was the glue you needed to connect your strings. It took time for me to become what you needed, but I’m not the one who can save us.” She sucked in a labored breath. “You are.”

  “Me? Compared to what you can do—”

  She held up her hand, cutting me off. “Deep down, you know the truth. You’ve known the whole time. Your mind just couldn’t process it.”

  “Known what?”

  Her heavy eyelids fluttered until she forced them open. “Look at me. Really look at me. You know who I am.”

  She reached forward, fumbling for the candle, then lifted it to her face. She didn’t b
link. Her pupils dilated. The candle flame danced, and I stared deeper as a ring of green formed around her dark blue irises, like a peacock feather but more beautiful. Almost hypnotic.

  The room went hazy in my peripheral vision.

  I was swept away.

  Rina and I stood together in a tunnel of blue and green light. I reached out, running my fingers through the clouds of swirling colors around us as they shifted into different shapes. I had experienced this before during the couple of precious times I had truly seen into Nathan’s soul.

  My breath caught. I was seeing into Rina’s soul. Reading her story.

  Information flooded through me. I watched, unable to peel my gaze away. I saw her past and how she came to be. I felt her emotions as if they were my own.

  So much joy, so much love, so many experiences had been stripped away from her. A normal life had been stolen from her—and me.

  One gorgeous cord of light connected her heart and mine. The miraculous, stupefying truth rushed through me until I could no longer breathe.

  “No.” I stumbled backward, out of the tunnel of light, unable to absorb anymore. “That can’t be true.”

  My shimmering hands trembled. My soul blazed so hot with sadness and regret that I felt like I was actually sweating. Shame kept me from looking up at Rina for several excruciating seconds. Had part of me known all along?

  I hated myself for what I had done, so I buried it as deep as I could.

  I erased it.

  I erased her.

  “You.” I lifted my head. My eyes met hers again. My voice was breathless as my heart plummeted. “You were my daughter.”

  She reached forward, holding my hand. “You erased to protect me. To protect the kindrily and the world. To protect him.”

  “Nathan,” I whispered. How could I do that to him? To her?

  “He didn’t know about me. No one did. You were only a couple months pregnant when Dedrick kidnapped you.”

  My head involuntarily shook like a bobble head doll. I didn’t want to believe it. Any of it. Even though part of me knew without a doubt that it was true. “But you’re so young. Younger than me. It doesn’t add up.”

  “I’ve been like this since Dedrick stopped me from aging.”

  My fists clenched. Of course. He stopped himself and Gregory from aging, why didn’t I suspect he’d done the same with Rina? He deprived her of becoming an adult. He deprived her of so, so much.

  She inhaled a sharp breath then blew it out through her teeth. “Dedrick’s healer kept you alive so I could be born, and then he took me away from you. He tried using me as leverage so you would help him find the stones.”

  “You were a baby. How could you possibly know any of that?”

  “You secretly wrote the book to leave me with knowledge of who I was and why you had to leave. You gave it to Evelyn before you killed yourself. She gave it to me when I was old enough to read it.”

  I wanted to cry. “What kind of person gives up like that? Leaves her own daughter with someone like him? And then erases all knowledge of it.”

  “You had to or we wouldn’t have made it this far.” She was still wincing with every move, but her speech was no longer slurred. “If you remembered me, if you knew Dedrick had me, you would have tried saving me too early. I wouldn’t have been powerful enough. The kindrily wouldn’t have been powerful enough. Dedrick’s plan would have worked. The whole world would have suffered. He would have won.”

  “But he did win. He has you and Nathan.”

  “You planned accordingly. Now you’re more powerful than him. You wrote pages and pages, predicting how our story would unfold, and promising to come back for me when the time was right. I memorized that book by heart and soul. And now it’s time for my favorite part.”

  I croaked out my words, still fighting back tears and struggling with the shock of what I had done. “How could you have a favorite part of such an ugly, tragic story?”

  She leaned forward. Somehow through her suffering, fervent hope shone in her eyes. “Because it’s the part where you save me.”

  The lump in my throat grew bigger until I couldn’t swallow. “But I don’t know how.”

  “Yes, you do.” She traced a figure eight around my eyes. “I’ll be waiting.”

  She dissolved like starlight.

  I reached out, stunned that she had vanished. “Rina?”

  The candle still sat where she had set it on the floor, but I was alone. I tried reconnecting with my body, but the energy cords were nowhere to be found.

  And Rina wasn’t there to help me.

  My despicable soul was back in its cage, and I had no idea how to save her or Nathan.

  GHOSTS FROM THE PAST

  Nathaniel

  “Nathan?” Someone gruffly called my name.

  I woke up slowly, blinking away the fuzzy feeling in my head and limbs.

  I was in a dim room even smaller than Rina’s. Dirt floor to ceiling, it couldn’t have been more than six feet. My hands and feet were shackled together. I opened every cell in my body, ready to return home.

  Nothing happened.

  I couldn’t traverse.

  I should have killed Dedrick. I should have taken the one chair in the dirty room and beat him with it until not one iota of life force remained in him.

  A burning candle moved closer, warming my face. I squinted, unable to lift my arms high enough to shield my eyes from its light.

  “You okay, man?” River asked.

  I thrashed, impulsively trying to leap up so I could strangle him, forgetting my hands and feet were chained together. I toppled over, landing on my side again.

  On his knees, River inched closer to me. “I get it. You’re beyond pissed. You think I’m one of them, but I’m not. I want to help Maryah and—”

  “Bite your tongue or I swear, once I’m free I’ll cut it from your mouth.”

  He held up one hand. “Fair enough. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either if I were you.” He stared down at me as if he pitied me.

  I tugged against my shackles, hoping to break them with the strength of my hatred.

  “Nathan, stop. That rusty iron hurts like a bitch once it rubs your skin raw. I know because I tried fighting my way out of them when I woke up trapped in this room.”

  How did I let myself end up here? Where were Maryah and Rina?

  He reached behind his back and then held up a bottle of liquid. “You need to drink this. It will temporarily override the stuff Dedrick injected in you. Evelyn said she doesn’t know how long it will work. Make sure you only traverse home, or someplace safe. She said she’s not sure if it’s strong enough to work twice.”

  I thrashed again, trying to kick my feet high enough to knock it from his hands. He moved out of the way just in time.

  “Come on, don’t screw up your only chance of getting out of here.” He spoke in a hushed but frustrated voice. “Evelyn warned me not to spill it or lose it. It’s the only one she has.”

  Whatever was in the bottle would most likely kill me. “I’m not accepting anything from you.”

  “You don’t have much of a choice. Dedrick will be back any minute, and I promise he’s not coming to chat. He’ll kill you, Nathan. Evelyn said if he does, and if Dedrick succeeds with his plan, you might be separated from Maryah for eternity.”

  “He’ll never succeed.”

  “Won’t he? From what I’ve heard, the only chance at stopping all of this was Maryah and Rina. Together. They had to be together. Don’t ask me why because I don’t understand half of what these people talk about, but Evelyn insisted they had to be together or there was no hope. And as of right now, there’s no hope.”

  I hated that I was asking River to elaborate. “Where are they?”

  “Dedrick separated them. He found out Rina was helping Maryah so he took her away.”

  “Took her where?” I asked.

  “We don’t know.”

  “Where’s Maryah?”

  “Her
soul is still trapped in that room. Evelyn says she’ll never be free unless you bring her body here.”

  “And why should I believe Evelyn? A person I’ve never met.”

  “She said you’d ask that. She told me to tell you that you did meet her. In your first lifetime. She said you knew her by a different name, but that if I described how you met you’d understand and drink the elixir.”

  “Then proceed because so far I don’t believe any of the dribble sputtering from your mouth.”

  “Let me remember exactly what she said.” He rubbed his jaw. “It was a lot to remember.”

  I shook my head in disgust. Clearly this Evelyn person couldn’t be very intelligent if she sent River, the imbecile, to do her dirty work.

  “Okay,” River said. “I’m pretty sure this is it. You and Maryah had a fight.”

  Idiot. Her name wasn’t Maryah back then.

  River continued. “She threw a rock at you, and your head was bleeding. Evelyn tried helping you by putting some leaf against your cut.” My jaw went slack. “And then she kissed you.”

  The room spun. River watched me. “Do you remember that? Does that make sense?”

  It was the only time I had ever cheated on Mary. I regretted the kiss the moment our lips touched. The instant our lips parted, she told me who she was. Her story was more grandiose than anything I could have imagined. I hadn’t believed her at the time—her claims of eternal life, Elements, and soul mates.

  I had always worried that my mistake started the chain reaction of our ongoing problems with Dedrick. I didn’t even know who he was at the time—the man she said she abandoned to save her own soul—but many years later, the woman’s name haunted me again. I had always wondered if the woman I kissed had been Dedrick’s forsaken twin flame.

  “Emily,” I whispered.

  “What?” River asked.

  Emily never erased like Dedrick claimed. She never moved on, never progressed to a higher level, never chose a different form of existence like we suspected. She stayed and hid her identity. She hid in plain sight—as close to the enemy as she could.

  I didn’t trust River, but I did trust Emily wholeheartedly. “Pour half of the elixir into my mouth.”

 
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