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Fighting for infinity, p.32
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.32

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  “Wait, Harmony?” She turned. “Rina and Dakota, where are they?”

  “Dakota is in his place in our circle.” Her focus drifted to the space beside me. “Rina is by your side, ready to walk the path in front of you.” Harmony smirked. “She said to tell you she can’t sprinkle flower petals, but she will be sprinkling stardust.”

  Gregory watched me, waiting for me to tell him I was ready. I nodded, and he started strumming a slow song on his Spanish guitar. Eightball, our ring bearer, sat at Carson’s feet and chewed on his leash. Manny the mouse, Eightball’s new best friend, was perched on the ring pillow secured to Eightball’s back.

  I turned to the seemingly empty space beside me and exhaled. “Shall we, Rina?”

  I could feel her loving energy move in front of me. I stared at the path, imagining the back of her dark hair fanning out like black feathers as she strolled along sprinkling stardust.

  Amazingly, I saw a faint blue light. I happily followed her lead.

  Anthony and Helen stepped apart, creating an opening in the circle and motioned for me to walk through.

  Nathan slid the sash from his head. His green eyes locked on me. My knees weakened as dragonflies started our first official wedding dance in my stomach.

  That beautiful, charming, sexy, superhero of a man standing in the center of the circle was about to become my husband. I walked faster.

  “Anthony?” Pausing beside him and Louise, I whispered, “Will you give me away?”

  “Never. We all love you too much.” He winked as his dark eyes gleamed with honor. “But I will escort you to the center and leave you in the hands of the man who loves you more than life itself.”

  I blushed and tucked my hand around Anthony’s elbow. We walked forward, and I stopped in front of Nathan. The intensity of love in his gaze took my breath away.

  “You’re breathtaking,” he said.

  “I was just thinking the same thing about you.” We both smiled as he held my hands.

  Edgar bound our wrists together with the sash. Until that moment, the term “tie the knot” had never held such a wonderful meaning.

  Edgar returned to his place in the circle then spoke in a way that seemed to hush the desert around us. “A wise soul once said, ‘If you love someone, put them in a circle, because hearts can be broken but circles never end.’”

  I had heard those words before. I was sure of it. Maybe my soul had stored away that saying from a previous wedding.

  We repeated meaningful statements and made sacred vows, but it was all a blur of joy. I removed a ring from Eightball’s pillow and slid it onto Nathan’s finger.

  “This is the best part,” Nathan whispered. “I’m looking forward to seeing your reactions since technically, you haven’t experienced it before.”

  “What’s going to happen?”

  “Watch and see.”

  Edgar cleared his throat and announced, “May your twin flames be united as one and forever burn bright.”

  Nathan bowed his head, and I raised my lips to meet his. He let out a slow, steady, warm breath and I inhaled it into my being—my calm before the magical storm. Then his lips caressed mine.

  Human words couldn’t adequately explain what happened next.

  Each member radiated different colors, shades, and textures of light. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then, it was like the world stopped spinning. Night and day occurred at the same time. The white moon shone against a purple sky, and a multicolored halo circled the blazing sun.

  We were surrounded by stars. They weren’t small and distant; they were huge and so close that I reached out to touch them. They were above us, under us, to the sides of us. It was like we were suspended in a gorgeous, fantasy painting of the cosmos. There was no black in the sky; colors were everywhere.

  I stared in astonishment. Nathan studied my every move and facial expression. Everywhere my eyes went, his followed.

  I was so in awe that I struggled to find my voice. “This happens every time we get married?”

  “Every time.”

  “Let’s get married every day.”

  He laughed. “Then it wouldn’t be as wondrous.”

  I couldn’t believe my eyes, but it wasn’t just my eyes. Feelings danced inside of me that I had never experienced—a sensation of calm and elation all at the same time. I had never known such an overwhelming feeling of love. The pulsing ring of light still circled us, but the faces and bodies of our kindrily had disappeared.

  I gasped. “Where did they go?”

  “They’re all there.” He motioned to the celestial wonder around us. “They are holding the circle for us.”

  “Holding the circle?”

  “Once they let go, it will all return to normal.”

  “Don’t let go!” I shouted to them.

  Nathan beamed so brightly that I had to squint. The light swirled and spiraled around us.

  A noise that sounded like a freight train roared toward us. I wanted to put my hands over my ears, but Nathan’s hands were still bound to mine with the sash. “I don’t like this part!”

  His eyes narrowed. “Which part?”

  “The noise!”

  “What noise?” He looked confused. How could he not hear it? He could usually hear a leaf rustle in the breeze from a mile away. His eyes grew wide as he stared over my head. I could barely hear over the intensifying whistling-screeching sound. “Is it possible?”

  “Is what possible?” I yelled.

  “Look!” Nathan pointed over my shoulder, not taking his attention away from whatever was happening behind me. I turned to see.

  It was blinding, but also incredibly beautiful.

  A massive star was rising from behind Bell Rock, and then it barreled toward us. The noise, its heat, and its glow intensified as it came closer. Just as the star looked like it was about to crash into our circle, it looped around us and hovered at the edge of our cliff.

  “Does that happen every time too?” I shouted to Nathan.

  “This has never happened. But why are you shouting?”

  Could he really not hear the bone-rattling noise? Through my clenched jaw I asked, “What does it mean?”

  The giant ball of light seemed to be inching its way upward. Nathan’s eyes were wider than I’d ever seen as he stared, fascinated. “Maryah, stars burn out and fall from the heavens all the time.” He squeezed my hands and pulled me closer to him. “But we are witnessing your star reigniting and rising again.”

  The noise was so loud it vibrated my teeth. My toes curled into the dirt. My knees threatened to give out.

  Nathan smiled at me. “This is by far our best wedding yet.”

  Could we be experiencing the same thing? How could he smile through such a jarring, eardrum-blowing experience?

  A sharp pain stabbed my head. My eyes burned like bees were stinging my sockets. I clutched Nathan’s arms as I buckled over in pain.

  “Maryah, what’s wrong?”

  Bursts of light exploded behind my scrunched lids. With each flash it felt like someone was chiseling through my head with an ice pick. It took so much strength to speak.

  “My head,” I groaned.

  “Krista!” Nathan shouted. “Maryah’s in pain.”

  The moon and sun vanished. So did all the stars, except for one. My star. The flaring tunnel of screaming light hovered just above the cliff as if waiting to swallow me and the whole town of Sedona.

  It glowed brighter and brighter until I had to look away. I stared down at my white dress, so bold against the red ground that it burned my eyes. Eightball barked as bursts of pain continued rippling through me.

  “Hang on!” I heard Krista, but I couldn’t peel my seared eyelids open. Her hands braced either side of my head.

  As if I were an animal acting on survival instincts, I roared ferociously then punched Krista fast and hard in her face. I didn’t even feel my fist connect, but she dropped to the ground.

  “Maryah!” Nathan’
s voice was so distant. Eightball kept barking, but I could barely hear him. The star’s noise grew even louder. All I could see was a steady glow of bright white. But the pain didn’t stop. It increased steadily, more powerful and more excruciating, building and layering until I wanted to crumble under the pressure.

  Every muscle in my body tensed as my spine felt torn out of me.

  “Nathan.” My jaw locked in a spasm. I squeezed his forearms tighter. My body was shattering into a million pieces.

  “You’re hurting me.” Nathan sounded like he was on the other side of the galaxy.

  A wave that I can only describe as raging fire poured through me and did not subside. I convulsed and thrashed.

  I squeezed tighter and tighter until Nathan’s bones cracked beneath my grip.

  He cried out in pain.

  I wanted to let go, but I couldn’t. My hands were locked shut.

  I couldn’t bear it any longer. I had never heard death described as so torturous, but so much unimaginable pain could only mean I was dying.

  It was beyond any human threshold of suffering. I couldn’t survive it.

  Every bone, muscle, tendon, artery, vein, capillary, cell, molecule, and atom in my body burst into flames. I screamed so loud it was probably heard on the opposite side of the earth.

  Then finally my world went black, and there was nothing. Not even pain.

  ∞

  I awoke to his heartbeat pounding against my chest.

  His heavy breathing warmed my ear. His shoulder bone pressed against my cheek. I turned my head, trying to alleviate my facial pain. I inhaled, and his intoxicating scent caused my eyes to open. He sucked in a breath through his teeth as if surprised by my movements.

  I glimpsed the red slab of rock he was sitting on with me cradled in his lap. He was holding me like I was a baby—his baby. His arms tightened around me. Krista must have already healed the broken arms that were my home. How many other ways had I broken him? Could all the damage I had done ever be repaired?

  “Maryah?” He tilted up my chin, and my head fell back like a newborn with no control of its neck muscles. My eyes fluttered closed as he lifted my head to a normal position.

  “Maryah, please.” There was a degree of sorrow in his voice I had never heard before.

  I caused that grief. I put that agony there, and I cursed myself for it. I needed to begin mending the damage, so I forced my lids to open.

  His face was only inches from mine. His angelic green eyes were even more soul-rousing than I remembered. The welcoming windows of his soul expanded wider and deeper. He looked shocked and mystified. His eyes turned glassy as he blinked back tears.

  I was quite pleased with myself. It had been too long since I stirred his emotions so strongly.

  “Look!” Faith’s voice cried out from somewhere above us. “She’s awake.”

  Grateful prayers filled the space around us, but all I could see was him. Nathaniel’s jaw ticked, and his bottom lip quivered—his telltale signs. It rarely ever happened, maybe a dozen occasions throughout our entire existence together.

  “Don’t cry,” I whispered, “I’m right here.”

  A single tear rolled down each of his cheeks. He hugged me, then pulled back to stare at me again.

  He didn’t need to speak. I knew what he was seeing and why he was seeing it—countless volumes of our history together.

  I swallowed hard, trying to coat my painful throat. It felt like I had swallowed broken glass then washed it down with acid. I was disappointed in myself for screaming like a banshee and not maintaining my composure.

  “Yes.” My voice was raspy. Another tear fell, but his expression changed to elation.

  “Really?”

  “Yes,” I said again.

  I had gained enough strength to gather my thoughts and obtain some control over the muscles in my body. I turned my head and saw our kindrily gathered around us. The sight of them filled my heart with joy. Carson held back Eightball who was squirming and whimpering, trying to reach me. I turned back to Nathaniel.

  “All of it,” I whispered.

  He shook as he choked in a breath.

  “Nathan, please!” Faith begged. “What is she saying?”

  Nathaniel didn’t flinch. He kept his focus locked on me.

  I caressed his face. “The first time we met, you had blond hair. You tripped over your own feet and—”

  I didn’t get to finish the story of how we first met.

  He clenched me to his chest so tight we were one again.

  His whole body trembled as he laughed yet cried at the same time, saying thank you over and over and over. His gratitude spilled out in a soft whisper as he kissed each of my eyelids then my forehead. “She remembers.”

  “Everything?” Faith knelt beside us and held my hand. I allowed her to feel my love, gratitude, and relief.

  They had done it. It was a huge risk, and the orchestration was daunting at times, but I believed in them, all of them, even the ones whom I hadn’t met yet.

  I sat up, searching for the one I had moved mountains for and did the unthinkable in order to protect. “Marina?”

  “She’s right here.” Harmony motioned to the space beside her.

  I was confident of my newly strengthened ability, so I connected to the strands of energy circling me. Using my power and Rina’s—strings and glue—I tapped into Harmony’s ability to communicate with spirits, and then I extended that gift through our kindrily’s ethereal net so that every member could see and hear our interaction.

  I ignored the collective gasps and mutterings of how and what.

  My breath caught as Rina’s incandescent soul came into view.

  “Hello again,” I said to my daughter.

  “Hi,” Rina answered.

  “I am so sorry for what I put you through. So, so sorry.”

  “Stop apologizing. It was the only way.”

  No one knew that truth as deeply as I did, but it didn’t change the anguish in my heart that she had endured so much sadness and solitude.

  From behind me, Nathaniel squeezed my shoulders.

  I placed my hand over his. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to jinx it. We had lost so many children, and I was only several weeks along.”

  He nodded. “It’s all right.”

  “No, I need you to understand.” I glanced between him and Rina. “I need both of you to understand.”

  My heart ached as if the nightmare from my previous life happened yesterday.

  I told Rina, “During the massacre on the beach, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from worrying about you. The akin had assured me you would live by gifting my soul and yours with the vital energy of Meru’s stars. It’s all I could think about. Even as I slit my own throat, I was hoping your soul would stay attached to mine. That we’d travel to the Higher Realm together and I would be able to protect you.”

  I turned to Nathaniel. “But Lexie, Dedrick’s mind reader, she heard my thoughts. She told Dedrick I was pregnant, but thankfully, not about the power Rina possessed. That was my first clue that not every Nefarioun was what they seemed.”

  I rambled on as all of our kindrily listened.

  “Dedrick’s healer kept me alive. I was restrained to a bed, not even let up to use the bathroom. Evelyn was my caretaker. For weeks, Dedrick watched us like a grimy, bloodthirsty vulture, but as he grew more lenient and allowed Evelyn alone time with me, I found out who she really was. She showed me the capabilities of her illusions. She told me about her mission to stop Dedrick, and how she hadn’t figured out a way to do that until I showed up carrying the answer who hadn’t yet been born.

  Evelyn and I plotted endlessly. She told me Dedrick’s plan to use my daughter as a bargaining chip. He would torture her until I agreed to tell him the location of the starstone.” I touched Rina’s ghostly cheek and her energy warmed my fingertips. “He was oblivious that the star energy of Meru resided in Marina’s soul.

  Every night Evelyn bro
ught me the book, and I would write to you,” I explained to Rina. “Dedrick took you from me before it was time.” My throat tightened, remembering the horror of Dedrick cutting me open and taking Rina months ahead of schedule. “I was so distraught and broken, so worried you wouldn’t survive.” Tears filled my eyes. Rina turned into a prism of blurry colors. “He wouldn’t even let me see you.”

  “But Evelyn did,” Rina said. “She told me the first time you looked into my eyes, you knew I had the ability to absorb other people’s powers.”

  I nodded.

  Rina glowed brighter. “She said you loved me so much. She knew you’d reveal the truth to Dedrick to stop him from hurting me. You would have told him that I was the starstone to prevent him from hurting me, but then he would have taken me away because I contained the power he needed.”

  Tears spilled down my face. “Either way, no matter what I chose, I lost. And you suffered.”

  Nathaniel squeezed my shoulders again.

  I spun to face him. “I had to erase. I didn’t want to, but if I remembered, if I knew Dedrick had our daughter, I would have tried to save her as soon as I could. I had a premonition of the future.” I cringed at the powerful foretelling of what would have happened if I hadn’t erased. “The older kindrily members helped us, but so many of us were too young. Rina was too young. Our powers weren’t strong enough yet. We didn’t have eighteen members. I wasn’t able to connect to anyone’s abilities.” I glanced around at my beloved kindrily. “Dedrick would have killed so many of us.” My hand trailed along Nathan’s strong jaw. “Including you. He would have won. He would have ended up with Rina. He would have shut down the energy portals to this world, and our fallen members wouldn’t have been able to return. You and I would have been separated forever.”

  Nathaniel’s muscles tensed as he winced.

  “So you devised an elaborate plan.” Rina melded her radiant hand over mine. “To stop Dedrick and allow all of us to be together again as a real family in the future.”

  Nathaniel reached down, brushing his fingers over Rina’s light.

  “Much too far in the future.” My heart ached at the thought of losing her all over again.

  “It went by in the blink of an eye,” she said. “I’ll be back soon.”

 
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