Lightning Kissed by Lila Felix

The lightning, the flash that marked my power, pulsed through my body, vibrating my cells and igniting my veins. Adrenaline was nothing compared to the vibrancy lightning afforded me. The powerful, electrical glow glimmered around me as I landed. I was revived when I flashed. My feet gently touched the metal rail as I arrived in the tunnel. The air tasted different here. It tasted different everywhere. Stale oxygen burned the insides of my nose and smelled like earth and smog.
Lightning Kissed
Lightning Kissed by Lila Felix
French air tasted like bread. Spanish air tasted like the ocean. Portuguese air tasted like home. The best places to land were alleys, tunnels, and if I could find them, caves. Caves were dark and quiet. If there were none available, alleys and unused subway routes did the trick. Otherwise, the light in my wake could be seen for blocks—maybe miles. Today was a tunnel kind of day. I shouldn’t have to hide my gift—none of us should. We should be queens of the skies and land, revered for the ability to bend time and space—to accomplish feats that no physicist could work through on paper. Instead, we were forced to hide in the folds of society, pretending to be ordinary. We were anything but normal. A noise echoed through the tunnel. My chest pounded—as I was overcome by paranoia. I turned to find the noise’s owner. With a squeak came a tiny mouse, who in these tunnels conjured a great sound. The rodent scrambled into a hole, leaving the tunnel once again quiet. I hated hiding what I was just because humans were fearful. I’d memorized the underground system of Japan by heart a long time ago when I’d once flashed into a tunnel being used by eager heroin junkies. I still said a little prayer every night for those unfortunate souls—their situation was just too sad. I prayed that they got better. I prayed they chalked up my appearance to meth-induced hysteria. I prayed they believed in ghosts and keeping their mouths shut in favor of reporting me to the news. I didn’t make the mistake of flashing to that particular tunnel again. How pitiful was it that an advanced race, such as we, was forced to creep along with criminals to avoid unnecessary persecution—or worse? In order to do my job—I had to. My job required fast—and I was damned good at it. I was faster than fast. I was lightning. The postal service and FedEx were quick and regular companies had to make do with them. However, I was faster, and to those companies who were so desperate that they could meet my steep fees—I was nearly indispensable. Considering my profession, most people didn’t find my prices high at all. In fact, I was pretty damned priceless. So there I was, in the northernmost abandoned subway tunnel this side of Tokyo. I could hear the echoes of their high speed trains and railways as it was early in the morning and everyone was in full commute mode. The metal rails beneath my feet began to vibrate, and in their reverberation, called out to their kin, begging to be called to commission once again. Tokyo and Osaka were regular stomping grounds for me since software creators and executives had become privy to my specialized delivery system. They paid double my regular fees—sometimes triple. I could’ve easily demanded much more. The software protocol I was contracted to deliver this time sizzled in my pocket, and I couldn’t deny the prospect of the endless sins I could commit with one tiny USB drive. I could run and hijack it for more money. I could sell it to any of their competitors and make millions. I could disappear with it, burying it deep in the catacombs of Palermo. I could stow it away in a temple in Thailand or I could cover it in soot in a Mayan burial ground. And by the time they reached it, if they ever found it, I’d have already moved it to the next hiding spot. How very exhilarating it was to be me and have my abilities. I flashed again to the entrance of the solemn tunnel where darkness met light and forced my legs to walk. It became difficult after flashing long distances. Like a mermaid switching from swimming to walking on land, such was my difficulty. But it only ever lasted a second and before I could really register the weakness, it had been replaced by the adrenaline from the flash. It pumped through my veins, filling me and my ego up with visions of invincibility. Walking always made me feel snail-like. As I placed one foot in front of the other, looking around for video cameras, I thought about the YouTube videos which claimed that I was the disappearing girl and was thankful for the mythoclasts. I’d been in trouble more than once with the Lucent council for such sightings, but always managed to squirm my way out—most of the time because of Theo. Somehow, my connection to him had always been brought up and spotlighted—as if he was my only saving grace. The videos got me into the most trouble, but some I’d brought on myself out of pure boredom. Don’t get me wrong, ninety-five percent of the videos were frauds, but three of them had actually caught me on tape. How, I didn’t know. Maybe they were just surveillance cameras or amateur voyeurs who’d gotten a lucky break. The videos showed no face, or shape, or any unique qualities except for my one defining feature—the light in my wake. The thing about our lightning was that each person had their own special version and it varied by the mood we were in. Each Lucent had their own palette, reminiscent of a mood ring. Theo often said mine was iridescent. He also claimed, as a stroke to his ego, that when I flashed away after one of our dates or him kissing me, that my lightning held tinges of pink. It was complete bullshit, of course—I hated pink. And nothing he ever did would make my light turn pink. Everything he did made my light turn pink. Shaking my head against unwanted memories, I stomped through the lines of people, crushed against each other, shoulder to shoulder, overpopulating the narrow streets, all moving toward their next meal, their next shift, or their next lover. From face to face, I searched for those like me, but there was no way to tell from a person’s face if they were Lucent. I wasn’t even sure why I tried. There was no way to really tell a human from a Lucent by physical appearance alone. We aged a little slower but still maintained the same life expectancy. A smug grin overtook my face as I eyed the skyscrapers around me. My heart thundered in my ears, and I took inventory of each building. It would only take a second to be at the top of those buildings. I’d never ridden in an elevator in my life. I never would either. I walked into the corporate headquarters and dialed the pre-plotted number in my disposable cell phone. I let it ring twice, and when the male voice answered, immediately hung up and diverted my path to the nearest restroom and locked the door behind me. That was his cue to clear the riff raff from his office. By riff raff, I meant loose-lipped humans who’d all jump at the chance to make the news—even in the capacity of a tattle-tale. But even the dumbest of Lucents knew how to prep for prevention of such things. Before my first job with this company, they’d sent me a live-stream video of the path from the front of the skyscraper to the office in which I’d make the drop. Now it was a breeze. Not that I’d taken the path they’d given me. The visual cue was used simply to carve it into my mind for flashing purposes. The process was simple. Small distances didn’t cause much of a flash, which is why I chose to come into the building instead of flashing directly from the tunnel—less wake. And with less wake, there was less chance of the person receiving the delivery freaking out—which meant less chance of them screaming or worse—blabbing. My mom said that once, when she was a girl, she’d flashed to an amusement park from school—right into the fun house. Her light burst forth, and its reflection bounced around the mirrors in the place until she was overcome by the power of it—and passed out cold. The news crews called it a fluke accident. My grandmother called it a month’s grounding. I could imagine the things they’d ask us. How did we do it? How far could we go? Did it hurt? Flashing didn’t hurt. It felt as if, for a fraction of a second, my entire body went concave, almost flattening into itself and then retracting, though I’d never suffered a broken bone or internal injuries. I’d love to know more about how it works, but all we knew were the histories. When I was a kid, it thrilled me. I could get my chores done like nobody’s business. I was never late for school or swim practice, but there were always consequences. My mother was a flasher—don’t laugh—not that kind of flasher. It was a genetic gift or curse, depending on how you viewed it. The gene was passed from mother to daughter, so she knew what once tickled me as a toddler would, with the onslaught of pubescence, become a compulsion. I flashed because I had to. I’d tried to deny myself the adrenaline rush as a teen, longing for the chance to be normal. It’s not like the other kids were normal, but I knew deep down inside that something cataclysmic separated me from them. That period of stillness nearly killed me. And then, when I could take it no more, I flashed constantly, from Italy to Greece, from Argentina to Vancouver and back. For an entire month, I whisked through time and space, getting it all out of my system. It bordered on madness, but the cure was travel. That’s when YouTube video number one came into being. Some rent-a-cop caught me on a security camera in Santiago, Chile outside of President Franco’s office just after two in the morning and thought it would be wise to plaster it all over the internet. I had just been sightseeing, getting a better view. Get over it—effing part-time, wanna-be policia. My mother never flashed much—not until my dad died. When they first met, the adrenaline of first love equaled the rush of flashing, so it wasn’t until after she had me, when time and age had lessened the thrill of married life that the itch of needing to travel slammed into her again. The first time I’d seen her flash, at the tender age of three, I’d mimicked her by instinct, flashing from my room to the park, and it had nearly given her a coronary trying to find me. Most children would get into trouble. I was praised for flashing such a large distance and was kindly asked to let them know where I was going the next time. She’d sat on my bed that night and explained it all to me. I’d loved her as a child before I knew about our gift, and after that night, I worshipped her. That was the first time she’d taught me the meaning of relâmpago, the lightning bolt, in Portuguese. Our people are named after the breath of electricity whose bolts brighten the sky during storms. In modern times—the younger generations—we called ourselves Lucents. But I would always remember my mother proudly telling me that my gift was born from pure light—the light of the lightning and the light of the Almighty. We were all descended of Xoana, daughter of Ofelia, who stood in the fields of Portugal, cursing her father for not allowing her to travel to other lands because she was his only daughter and he feared for her safety. Xoana had a hunger—a desire so deep that it flooded her veins, to see the world. As she stood, surrounded by the wheat crops she loathed, and used his scythe to drive her anger into the heavens, the Almighty struck her down with a bolt of lightning, blessing and cursing her all at once. Xoana was the first Lucent and we, her daughters, called her light to this day. Some crudely called us teleporters. I’d always despised that name. Either way, I could travel anywhere in the blink of an eye thanks to Xoana and her curses. I did all this without stepping foot on any land or oceans between myself and my destination. And I’d perfected the art. My father had tried to understand it, he had. Many a night he’d stayed up by the light of his lamp, sitting in his chair, studying our history. I couldn’t keep track of the many times he’d asked my mother how it felt to travel—and later he’d asked me. He would beg my mother to take him with her. “Just try it,” he’d say. But there were rumors—females of our kind who’d tried to share the experience with their husbands, friends, and lovers and lost them in the fray—never to be seen again. He’d died of a heart attack on a jet, headed to Portugal to meet her—alone, eternally chasing his love. I was sure there were those who envied our gift. But what good was the ability to travel the world in seconds if you were perpetually lonely. I was lonely without Theo, though I’d never tell him. The bridges of Paris, packed with embracing patrons reminded me. The scrolling, illustrious sunsets on the coast of the Sierra Leone made the fact gleam. We couldn’t be together. It was too dangerous. ALL LUCENT BIRTHS MUST BE RECORDED BY THE SYNOD WITHIN TEN DAYS. Flashing, to me, was like a jewel I continued to polish and shine. I could now slide gracefully into the driver’s seat of a parked car, the pew of an abandoned chapel, a conspicuous phone booth, or my chair at the dining room table without a sound. Most Lucents could only flash once or twice a year, but I’d stretched my talent to its borders—and found it limitless. My mom screamed, “Colby, you really should give me some warning. I swear you scare the shit out of me when you do that.” She held her chest in panic and I quickly squelched the laugh that threatened to bubble up at her dramatics. “Sorry, Mom. Mr. Sato started asking me questions, so I had to duck out early before he completely wigged.” She grabbed Mr. Sato’s invisible neck with her hands, choking him hypothetically. “Why do they do that? Do they think we’re just going to have a seat in one of their modern-glass office chairs and give an exclusive interview? It never fails. They need to learn to accept the delivery, pay up, and shut up.” She flitted about the kitchen while she spoke. We were kinda like birds in that we tried to eat very little to stay as light as possible. I’d gained twenty pounds in my phase of rebellion, and when I’d finally flashed again, well, let’s just say it had taken a little more effort than usual. “I’m really not hungry, Mom. I picked up some soup in the city.” “That’s fine. I’ll just eat some salad. And by the way, Ari called, she wanted to know your decision about Friday night—some club called Orion’s Belt?” I laughed at her exuberance. My mom would be the first one in that club. She was a clubber type. My mom was more of a friend than a mother. She still strongly resembled a woman in her thirties and dressed like a conservative teen. Our hair was exactly the same in color, sandy blonde. But where hers was straight and shined like glass, mine puffed out in curls that I barely managed to contain after ten bottles of product. Eventually, I just stopped trying. “It’s in Spain, right in the middle of Madrid, underground. You’ve been there, Mom. It’s just another European club—nothing special. But she saw this guy there, so she wants to go back and see if she can spot him again.” “Madrid, huh?” “Yes, Madrid. But I probably won’t go. How about you and I go to Costa Rica or maybe the Caymans?” She said nothing and I knew why. It was a running silent argument, had been since the day Theo and I had split up. She just couldn’t contain herself for very long, so once in a while, she’d politely sneak it into regular conversation. Or just blurt it out like right then. I groaned. “Just say it.” She sat down beside me, holding a white bowl with various julienned vegetables shimmering a bit from a drizzling of olive oil and lemon juice. “I was already married by the time I was your age. It’s possible, you know, marriage, family. Just because Lucent females are travelers, doesn’t mean we can’t have some stability. Our husbands give us a home to return to—a home that isn’t a place, but a person to belong to.” The older female generations called it traveling—called themselves travelers. But it sounded like a convoy of gypsies to me and my generation had more readily adopted the term flashers. Plus, the word flashers was more fun. And flashing sounded—naughty. The term earned giggles from pre-pubescent Lucents and scolding glares from the older ones. It was a win-win. “I’ve heard this lecture, Mom. I just—can’t right now.” My mom knew nothing about why Theo and I weren’t together anymore, and it was safer all the way around if she didn’t—that was the whole point of this exercise—to keep all of them safe and at a safe distance from me and my antics. She was hinting, not so subtly, at the fact that Theo had spent the summer in Madrid. She probably didn’t know he’d moved on. She changed the subject quickly. “I haven’t been to Belize in years. Maybe we should just go there. You love it there.” We tried very hard not to fight. There were a lot of things that could go wrong when you traveled through chasms of space. You could get stuck. You could get misdirected. You could get caught—any of us could get caught. I got up from the table and scooted my chair under it. “Let’s leave Friday morning—spend the weekend.” “Sounds good. Sleep tight, Colby. I love you more than time and space.” “Love you too, Mom.” I trekked down the hall toward my room and paused midway to let my fingers glide along the last picture of my dad. It was a selfie we’d taken the day before he had gotten on the plane. He was ecstatic to see Portugal for the first time. He and Mom were going to have a second honeymoon. He was happy. I was happy. We were invincible. And then he was gone. I headed straight for the shower. I didn’t stink per se, but I always smelled like the last place I’d been. It was disconcerting to say the least. It made me forget what country I was in. Peeling off the leather pants, I reveled in my freedom as the hot water deflated my hair and cascaded down my back. Most people, excluding my mother, and from what I’d heard, my grandmother, were exhausted after flashing. But I was exhilarated, alive from the core of my body to the electrical pulses in my brain. I washed Japan from my skin and then brushed my teeth to the beats of Moby. My landline rang, and I knew it was Ari. She was one of only a few who knew the number. I plopped on my bed, still wrapped in my gray towel, and answered the phone, “Hello, you’ve reached the voicemail of—Colby Evans—please leave a message after the tone.” She laughed before replying. “It’s really scary how good you are at that customer service voice. You’d think you were human.” “You’re such a snob. And by the way, no, I’m not going to Spain. Mom and I are going to Belize for the weekend.” “That’s fine. I’m thinking about not going myself. Think Sable would mind if I tagged along?” “Not at all. We’re leaving Friday morning.” “I’ll be there. Later, babe.” *** She hung up, and I slipped on my pink, gauzy pajama pants with a matching spaghetti-strap top. It was hotter than hell itself in Alexandria this time of the summer. For some reason, the Gulf Coast was a hot spot for the Lucent, and my parents had chosen Louisiana as our stomping grounds when they were newlyweds. We’d been here ever since. Most kids were entering their freshman or sophomore years at my age but I hadn’t been to school since my one-month spell of sporadic traveling. It had totally been worth it. Instead, I got my G.E.D. at sixteen and immediately began working in ‘special deliveries.’ It was basically the only legal thing we were good at. Some flashers robbed banks, muled drugs—we’d even come across some rogue flashers who kidnapped babies—but the rest of us chose to stay legit. I opened up my brand new laptop—a perk from the software company—and signed into my email. There were three from new clients and one from him. There was always one from him. The two from clients were more of the same. They heard about my services. They were in desperate need of my special delivery but couldn’t quite meet our price range—typical. If someone from the outside read these emails, they would probably think I was hustling drugs—or worse. The cheap ones frustrated me. They wanted a one-second delivery that constantly threatened my life and secrecy, but they didn’t want to fork over the necessary cash. *** So what did this hard ass do? Yeah, I emailed them back and told them to name the price so we could help them—I was such a sap sometimes. The third email was from a client who was willing to pay double for our services, but as I scrolled down, I saw that the writer of the email constantly used words like special interest and highly confidential, and that meant only one thing. They wanted us to transport drugs or worse. I deleted it. I hovered my finger over the email from him. I resisted in vain—I knew I was going to open it. He wrote in prose, like poetry-pointed journal entries. He was now in New Zealand with his family. He had taken the Lord of the Rings tour three times. He missed me. He didn’t understand why we couldn’t be together. He couldn’t remember the exact color of my eyes. Theo Ramsey was so full of shit. I yelled at the computer, “You do remember, liar!” I moved the heartfelt letter into the folder marked Theo and pushed the lighted button, turning off the monitor. There was just so much I could take. Yes, I’d broken it off with him. Yes, it had been my decision. But I’d done it to keep him out of the spotlight and, selfishly, to keep my heart safe from the likes of the one guy who could ruin me with a single word. He knew why we’d split up. He was a Lucent, like me. That didn’t have anything to do with it. Anyway, I wasn’t that big of a snob. We were allowed to date and marry outside of our race, the powerful mutation still powered through the female of the coupling. There were flukes in the system—one or two per century—males who could flash, but only short distances, and their wakes were so bright, it brought them immediate attention. Theo was one of those—a male Lucent who could flash. And my fetish for frequent travel plus his genetic mutation was just a government experiment waiting to happen—not to mention, the Synod’s Book of Lei would crumble to ashes if they ever found out. And the government experiments, they happened every day. Lucents were grabbed up in set-up meetings or facades of money-making opportunities. Then they were tortured, tested, and re-tested, trying to see what made us tick. The government just didn’t get it—our blood on a microscopic slide would never reveal the power of the Almighty to them. Duh. The ones experimented on—they became the Resin—their wakes of light dirtied, muddied, and clouded by the sadistic acts performed on them. It was devastating to us all and we mourned such sisters as if they’d died a slow and painful death. Such was the case of my other friend Sway. She was now one of the Resin. She could no longer flash—and it made her less than hospitable, to say the least. Lately, she was a real peach. But it wasn’t her fault. And some of them chose to live a life that portrayed their name—they became lawless—denied respect or acknowledgement in our world. I’d rather be tortured thirteen times over than for Theo to ever come to even a flicker of harm. So I kept my distance, in theory. Being with me would just bring attention to him. The Synod kept track of me like their checking accounts because of what they suspected I could do. There was one more glitch in my Lucent DNA, as if I wasn’t freaky enough. I could travel between places but my chromosomes took it one step further. I was a seeker—a specialized flasher who could also travel to a certain person, anywhere, anytime—which is why he could send emails all he wanted, thinking he was doing me some service in updating me. In truth, my body always knew where he was—always. LUCENT FEMALES SHALL NOT TAKE LABOR-INTENSIVE JOBS. Good thing I put a return receipt on all my emails to her. Then again, I always knew where she was, so it wasn’t really a surprise that less than two hours after she’d arrived home, she’d opened my email. I’d skipped the fall semester of college for one specific reason—Colby. I knew why she’d broken up with me after years of dating. And really I couldn’t remember a time, other than right now, when I wasn’t with her—whether in my mind or body. I had to do what I could to fix myself so she wouldn’t continue trying to protect herself from me. We’d met at Westminster Elementary. She’d given me her peanut butter and jelly sandwich after I realized, at the stark white cafeteria table, that I’d forgotten my lunch at home. I’d offered her half, but she’d been content to gnaw on celery sticks. In second grade, while we lined up on bleachers, prepping to sing ‘Greatest Love of All’ to our parents at the end of year assembly, I’d reached for her hand behind the row of students in front of us and she squeezed mine back and smiled a front-toothless smile. In the fourth grade, I had trouble with division. Mrs. Peabody lined us up along the chalkboard and made us call out the answers to her drills. And when it got to my turn, I always answered wrong. Clayton Brown called me stupid at recess and before I knew what was happening, Colby had clocked his chubby chin until he was out cold underneath the metal monkey bars. And when we were twelve, under the boardwalk at Surfside Beach, where our families vacationed together every summer, I pressed my awkward lips to hers. She’d tasted like sunblock and salt. I knew everything about her. During the summer, beads of moisture broke out on the bridge of her nose before her forehead even thought about sweating. She clipped her fingernails down to the quick out of some asinine fear that she would scratch herself while flashing. Her hair was the color of dry sand sprinkled with wet sand. And when I ran my palms along the length of the backs of her thighs, she moaned my name. On my eighteenth birthday, I’d pulled her aside after the family birthday dinner and revealed my secret—I could flash just like her. Not the distance and certainly without the flair. But I could do it. And the next day she’d broken up with me—that was two years ago. After some time in Spain, I’d decided to go to New Zealand but not for vacation—for practice. I’d been practicing in all kinds of obscure places—the pyramids of Egypt, the catacombs of Paris, the drug tunnel between Mexico and the United States, and in all that practice, I realized a few things. Number one: not only could I travel in the underground tunnels, but I could also travel between them and everywhere else. Last month, I’d gone from Chile to Vancouver in one straight shot—no sweat. Number Two: the more I traveled, the more my flash depleted, until it was nothing more than a shot of lightning. Number Three: I had another talent, other than the seeking and the flashing. That’s what I was here to research. This was a talent that even the all-knowing Colby was ignorant of. The records of our species were kept in a cave at the peak of Mount Cook on New Zealand’s South Island. At least, that’s the only one I knew of. Rumor was, there were plenty more in various parts of the world, not to mention countless digital copies, but again, this is the one I thought I could gain access to. And there was that little issue of The Resin. I’d discovered a pack of them in Spain, plotting and planning on catching Lucents and handing them over to the Escuro for cash—the answer to the Lucent Synod. There were two on my tail since I left Madrid. Of course they had to fly by plane since they could no longer flash, so I was always one step ahead of them—or three. My new gift was coming in handy. Why they wanted to catch us, I didn’t know. Maybe it was all just an over-bloated case of jealousy or revenge. My phone rang. It was my mother, one of the few people who knew why I was here. “Hi, Mom.” “I’ve just heard from Sable. She and Colby will be in Belize for the weekend, and we’ve decided to join them. Do you want to come? You’ll have to travel by plane.” “She doesn’t want me there, Mom. There’s no reason to go.” “God forbid you come to see your mother.” She laughed after her statement but it was laced with a twinge of truth. “Ok Mom, I’ll be there. It will give me a chance to conduct an experiment of sorts.” We spoke in rhymes and riddles sometimes, since we suspected most of our phone calls were monitored. “Excellent, I’ll let Sable know and we won’t tell Colby.” “Friday?” “Yes, we are arriving in the afternoon. Dinner at seven at the regular spot.” She referred to the Red Ginger on the Ambergris Caye beach, our favorite in Belize, but such was one of the things we didn’t discuss over the phone. She hung up and my stomach performed its typical acrobatics at the thought of seeing Colby again. *** The next morning, I flashed to the front door of the Lucent Guardian of the area. I’d been told that he guarded the clandestine records, but I hadn’t gotten the information from the most reliable source—I’d gotten it from an on-the-fence Resin. For all I knew, I could be walking right into the pit. The guardian’s home was more castle than cottage with vines and flower-laden plants climbing the fence and peeking out from cracks in the gray stone walls. When knocking at the huge iron and oak front door didn’t produce any results, I pulled the long rope-like cord next to the threshold. A gong rang through the place and then, within seconds, a man lurched the door open—clearly, I’d disturbed—something. I hoped to God the white button- down with gray slacks I’d worn was formal enough. I used a cough to camouflage the gasp that erupted when the owner appeared. The man was huge—monstrous, really. I could’ve taken a picture of him, Photoshopped some fur on his body, and passed him off for Sasquatch. His long ponytail and beard reminded me of a Viking warrior. I supposed that was why he had been chosen—for the scare factor. “Excuse me, sir, my name is Theodore Ramsey. I was told to ask you about accessing the Lucent texts.” Take that, you six foot four, could have me in a coma with his pinkie finger, Yeti. “Why?” Why—I hadn’t expected why. Why was he asking me why? I’d always thought the Lucent texts to be the equivalent of the state library. Fill out a form and walk right in. I should’ve known better. The Synod had rules for everything under the sun. They also had rules for things not done under the sun. Micro-management didn’t even begin to thoroughly describe them, and since the Lucent Guardians were part of the Synod or directly under them, I supposed they’d make this process just as difficult. “Because I have questions and I need to research some things about myself.” “There are copies of the archives available for anyone to view,” he respectfully swore and then proceeded to close the door in my face. This was the point at which a smart man would’ve moved on, turned right around and just dealt with it. But I’d never professed to be a smart man—only cunning. I was gonna die at the ripe old age of twenty at the hands of a cryptozoologist’s wet dream. “I can just flash inside if I want to, but I thought the respectful thing would be to ask,” I yelled into the splice of the open door, which grew smaller and smaller as he shut me out. And then it halted and began to swing open again. “You can travel?” He stuck his large face into the opening. When he spoke, his jaw worked against the frame and the door at once. It reminded me of Jack Nicholson when he’d stuck his head into the hole he’d just axed open. “Yes, I am also a seeker and—maybe more.” “Come in.” The door swung wide for my entrance and then closed firmly behind me. The Yeti stuck out his hand. “I am Collin. Let’s begin the journey.” He was no nonsense. “Now?” “I’m sorry; I thought your reason for coming here was to study the texts.” “It is—I just didn’t expect—let’s go.” With heavy footsteps, we made a straight shot through his castle. He took me to the back of the house, then through an invisible panel in the wall which led to a library that would make the United States Library of Congress shit its pants. The shelves were made of cedar. I could smell it way before the door was opened. There were book shelves nine feet tall spanning the room. Just when I thought my eyes had trailed to its northern limit, I saw a set of stairs that led to the second floor—with more books. “This is it?” I asked, staring, quite unimpressed. “Did you need more?” he asked, unbelieving. “I just assumed…” He chuckled, a low grumbling laugh. “You assumed it was a cave-like cavern, buried deep in the mountain, never to be discovered, taking days and weeks of hiking and starvation to reach?” “Yeah, something like that. So tell me, where in the hell do I start?” “Tell me, Theodore Ramsey, male Traveler, what you’re looking for. I’ve been the Guardian for forty years. If it’s here, I know where to find it.” “I’m looking for the papers on Eivan.” He screwed his face up in disbelief. “And why would you be looking for those?” His attitude had suddenly morphed from helpful to suspicious. “Because I think I’m a…” I couldn’t even say it out loud. If I couldn’t say it, there was no way I was who I suspected I was. The person I suspected I was embodied strength and confidence. We were told stories about him as children. He was to our people as Robin Hood was to humans. I gathered my courage and tugged nervously at my top button, preparing to tell the first person ever of what I’d discovered about myself. “I am Eidolon.” LUCENT FEMALES SHALL NOT ATTEMPT TO TRAVEL WITH THEIR MATES. Ari showed up at two a.m. on Friday morning with two bags and a grin. “S’up ladies! Let’s go!” I’d met Ari at an arcade by my house. Two games of Galaga, one shared cotton candy, and we were best friends. She was homeschooled by her parents. My parents hadn’t known we had Lucents that close to our home. Good thing Ari had a super big mouth. She’d gotten angry at her mother at a family dinner and flashed from the table to her room. Her mother gasped and her father lost all the color in his face. I simply smiled, clapped, and responded, “Ari can flash too?” “Where are you gonna be,” I asked both of them. Between Ari and my mom, someone had to take inventory. I was the most responsible of the group and that was really saying something since, in general, I was mostly selfish and wild. “I’m going to the alley behind the hotel,” my mother reported like I was the parental and she was the teen queen. “And I’m flashing to one of the lifeguard posts on the beach,” Ari answered in turn. “Okay, Mom, you go first and I will be right behind you. Then we can all check in and get some sleep.” “You already made reservations.” My mother thought the whole thrill of our gift was flying by the seat of our pants. But what did an advance reservation hurt? “Yes, we all have cabins out on the water. Are we ready?” Ari was gone before she could answer and her crystal clear golden wake told me she’d arrived without trouble. My mother was next and her wake, pale purple, like a beauty queen’s dress, resembled pixie dust—a good sign. My turn. It was a simple process. I visualized the place I wanted to go, and I was there. I didn’t understand the physics of it—nor did I care. The science behind it would probably take all the fun out of it. I just knew that I could get into Sacs in the middle of the night or was able to see the sunset in every time zone in the world—all on the same day. It wasn’t necessary for me to have visited the spot before, just to have seen pictures or video—the beauty of a cell phone with internet was incomparable. I felt the familiar tug of time and space plunging me to my desired destination, and before I knew it, I was next to my mother in the alley behind a tropical Belizean paradise. No time was wasted—I knew Ari’s game. The last one in the ocean after arriving at a destination bought breakfast the next morning. After checking in quickly and paying a fee for our odd arrival time, I slipped my maxi dress onto the floor which revealed an ivory crocheted bikini. I loved the cabins in Belize. Why people stayed in hotels overlooking the best view in Central America, when they could stay in these huts hovering atop the ocean was a mystery. I booked the same cabin every time, no matter what. As my toes wrapped around the edge of the porch surrounding my hut, I heard a splash and knew that breakfast would be on me. I dove in after Ari, and from that time until the tangerine sun began to peek over the horizon, we played and swam like children. It wasn’t often Ari and I were free like this. One would think that, with our gift, we could go anywhere, anytime. But Ari was in the same kind of specialized delivery business as I was. She and Sway had taken the medical side of it. They flashed from place to place with vials, samples, and God only knew what else. Except Sway had been stripped of her ability. Ari was tired from the traveling, so she suggested we go ashore. We leaned back, side by side on the shoreline, and the tide caressed us as it rose. I closed my eyes as the first rays of the sunrise hit my face. “Is it a gift or a curse, Bee?” Ari had called me Bee since we were kids. I knew what she was referring to, but acted ignorant, as I always did. The right or wrong, the blessing or curse question of what we could do, never went away. Yet, I still had no answers. It hid behind the thick red curtains on the stage of my life. Everyone could see its form behind the material, and the curtains swayed this way and that, letting us know it was there and trying to get our attention. I didn’t know the answer. If there even was an answer. “What?” “Flashing.” Leaning back on my elbows, I threw my head back. Ari counted on me to soothe her worries. I tried my damnedest to fulfill that role. What could I say this time that would placate her? I began, “The first time we flashed to Jeju Island, I spent three days there, just taking in the scenery, these two older men were arguing. Theo was with me. Our parents had all travelled together. And of course…” She groaned. “He speaks Korean.” “Yeah, so he starts translating for me. They were in one of the most majestic, serene places on the entire planet and they were arguing politics. So, I looked at Theo and I said, ‘I don’t understand.’ He answered, ‘There is no perfect gift. Every good comes with bad—every blessing carries its own curse.’” She made a gagging noise. “He makes me sick when he’s right all the time.” I cracked up at her blatant disdain for Theo. A picture of Ari and Theo was next to the phrase ‘love/hate relationship’ in the urban dictionary. Theo could drive her completely into the ground with anger—but if anyone wrongly batted an eye in her direction—he was on them in a heartbeat. “Me too.” “I miss his smug ass, sometimes. I bet you just miss his ass.” I pretended not to hear her while cupping a handful of sand, and then I stuffed it into her hair. Instead of reciprocating, she flashed out into the ocean, past the breakers, and flipped me off. “I miss him so bad it hurts.” THOSE WHO MARRY A LUCENT FEMALE MUST INCLUDE THE HIDING OF HER ABILITIES INTO THEIR SEALING VOWS. By the time Collin stopped pulling down the books he could find on Eivan, the day was already gone. Thursday and Friday, I’d gone back with his permission and studied everything I could cram in—which wasn’t much. The thing was, Collin wouldn’t actually let me touch the books. Even he handled them with rubber gloves on, and it took him a full seventeen seconds to turn each page. Once, toward the end of the night, I leaned in too close and he clothes-lined me, nearly taking out my larynx. Apparently breathing on the books was a no, no. Friday night, I flashed to Belize. My parents had booked us a hotel room instead of our regular cabins. I didn’t exactly know if my presence would be welcomed by Colby. I landed unceremoniously on the bed, toeing off my shoes before the shrill of my mother’s yell startled me. “Theodore Romero Ramsey, you come in and don’t even let us know!” I looked in the direction she was coming from, the bathroom. It was just like my mom to give me no personal space. I was twenty years old, and she still thought an adjoining bathroom was a good idea. “Mom, I’m exhausted. I would’ve called in a few minutes.” Her stern face didn’t faze me. “I know. Come on, let me see you.” That was mom-speak for let me squeeze the life out of you while simultaneously not-so-coolly checking if you’ve lost weight or suddenly stopped bathing. “Son, don’t give your mother a hard time.” My father’s voice beckoned me to motion. “I’m not. I’m just tired.” I made my way over to them, endured the sniffing and measuring of my mom and the back-clapping embrace of my father. I wasn’t sure if I passed the test with my mom, but my arms had gone around a lot more of her this time. My parents had me late in life, and after my mom had turned fifty, she began having trouble flashing long distances—and now she could only flash once every few years and short distances. Out of boredom and frustration, she’d taken up cooking, and it showed. Even my dad, who’d once been a stickler for exercise and health, now sported a peach-cobbler belly. “Hazel, let’s leave him to rest. Son, we’re going shopping. We have our phones. We will see you tonight at dinner, right?” “Yes, Dad. Does she know?” “No,” Mom answered. “Sable knows, but not Colby.” I nodded in reply and yawned. They left me to my thoughts—which always strayed back to her. I walked over to the sliding glass door and looked out onto the beach, searching her out with my eyes. Instead of searching for journals and texts which only held obtuse bits of information, I should’ve been honing my seeking skills. There had been seekers before. It was a common secondary gift for females. Some stories said they could pinpoint a person down to the specific room where they were. So far, I only knew the general area people were in and what country. Right now, scouring the sea of bodies on the beach for hers would be a perfect time to sharpen that skill. I chuckled to myself at the girls on the beach. Hundreds of them lounged on the sand hoping to perfect their tans. If I knew Colby, and I did, she’d be under an umbrella praying for the Almighty to give her the power to block out UV rays. Her mom and her grandmother were the same way. Her grandmother, though seventy years old, could pass for a woman in her forties. Her skin was nearly wrinkle-free and without a blemish. Sable and Colby wished for the same thing, so they followed the elderly woman’s strict advice: avoid the sun; it was made to heat the Earth, not bake your skin. After almost giving up, I spotted the biggest umbrella advertising some bottled beer with a Spanish name. I pressed my fingertips to the glass, trying to touch her. Though I could only see her legs, I knew them by heart. She was ingrained in me—intermingled with the cells in my skin. I would know her in a sea of people. I could recognize her form in an ocean of clones. Just because she denied it, didn’t mean she wasn’t mine. She scissored her legs using one to scrape sand off the opposite foot. She liked the warmth of the sand as it cradled her body while she lay in it. There was something, she always cooed, about how the sand was so close to the ocean, yet so far away, that called to her. She loved the beach. No matter what country, ocean or time zone, she had an equal opportunity beach obsession. I’d once imagined our sealing to be held on a beach of her choice. With her in a simple white dress, her hair caught in the torrent of the ocean’s gust. Colby shot up to a seated position and looked directly at the hotel. There was no way she could ever see me all the way in the Penthouse, but I ducked behind the cover of the wall anyhow. I knocked my head against the hotel wall, completely dumbstruck again by her beauty. I peeked back out to see that she’d relented and relaxed once more under her protective shade. The first time I ever saw Colby was in Kindergarten. She was wearing rain boots on the sunniest first day of school with lime green leggings and a hot pink dress with black polka dots. My first thought was to ask her why she was dressed like a slice of watermelon. The teacher made us all introduce ourselves by standing at our desks. We had to state our name and then our favorite thing to do. I said my name was Theo and that I loved to play checkers. She stood and said her name was Colby, pointing her glare in my direction and declaring, “My favorite thing to do is not play checkers.” She earned my heart with her checker-hating, watermelon-outfit-wearing spunk. Even at that tender age, all I wanted to do was jump up and kiss her pink lips. Those days seemed like ages ago. And there I was, no longer in love with checkers, but still in love with her. I dressed for dinner in dark-washed jeans and a button-down white shirt. It was a beach, after all, so I passed on the Chucks and went for the flip-flops. I stepped in front of the mirror and took a deep breath. This appearance tonight was going to give it all away—the secret of my newest gift. Best bet: she would think I was amazing and throw her arms around me, accepting me and my ever-growing bag of tricks. Worst case scenario, and the one I most expected, all of this would make things worse and our only communication, my unanswered e-mails, would be trashed instead of read. These were the stupid things I did—taking wild chances to get her back. *** Arriving a little late had been my plan all along. I wanted to see her face. Her expression told me everything. I knew every crease, every dimple, every twitch of her eye and the definitions that went along with them. So when I walked in and saw surprise, followed by concern, mark her face—it made me more worried than ever. I placed the customary kisses on the temples of my mother, Ari, and Sable. Such was our custom. I never even knew why until Colby explained it to me when we were little. She told me the story with bright eyes and a bold smile—she loved the story of Xoana—a woman who, I imagined, had much of the same spirit as Colby. When Xoana had cursed her father to the heavens and was struck by the bolt of lightning, she was struck on her temple. So her father would kiss her temple daily as a symbol of his acceptance and awe of his greatly gifted daughter. And so we greet our females with a kiss to the temple—honoring their gift. “Theo,” Colby whispered with a pained expression before I kissed her. “I will explain later.” She nodded. I felt the motion against my hovering lips. Her smell was incredible—the perfect mix of woman and ocean. She always smelled of the ocean, no matter where she was. She could be hidden in Siberia and her hair would carry the memory of ocean to me through her scent. I took my seat next to my mother. Colby and I did an excellent job of pretending everything was okay. The conversation centered on banal things, as nothing about what we were could ever be discussed in public. “So, where have you been… doing business, Colby?” My father could make traveling sound like an exciting business trip. I stabbed my chicken, pretending not to be hovering on the edge as I waited for her reply. I knew every place she’d been. But when the answer didn’t come immediately, I glanced up to find her gaze stuck on me. My face heated under her stare. To have her look at me again was priceless. I would travel in any condition, to any place, just to see her look at me. “Colby.” Sable saved her daughter. “Oh,” she said, breaking free from whatever she was thinking about. “I’ve been to Japan, lately.” “And Finland,” I added. She cocked her head at me with a squint. “Yes, and Finland. I love Olavinlinna in the fall. I sit on the top and pretend to be a Viking princess.” That caused people at the table to chuckle as a whole. Colby had been reprimanded more times than I could count for traveling to Scandinavia with her craving for all things Viking. During her pre-teen years, she was obsessed with them. She read out-of-her-league Viking romances and studied their history with more gusto than she did our own. We’d go in her backyard and pretend to be Frey and Freya—or whatever couple she wanted to be at the time. Our parents had always been privy to Colby and me and the love we shared. They’d encouraged our friendship when we were children with sleepovers and play dates. Then later, they’d done their damnedest to stop our sleepovers and knew that our dates were nothing even close to play. She blushed at the attention and turned it on me. “So, Theo, how is New Zealand?” “It’s beautiful. It’s been interesting. I’ve learned a lot.” She looked shocked. “But you’re not in school.” I met her gaze with my own. “You don’t have to be in school to learn things, Colby.” She shrugged. It was a habit of hers. Whenever she was perplexed about something or I’d bested her in an argument, she would shift into an attitude of ambiguity. But I knew better. “I need to go swimming,” Ari proclaimed. “And we should get to bed early,” my parents followed. They left the table one by one. I paid the bill after my father gestured in my direction before his departure. Colby opened her mouth, leaned over the table to whisper something to me. “Not here,” I stopped her in her tracks. “Okay.” She made me wait that night. I didn’t grow impatient. I knew she’d come in her own time. LUCENT HISTORIES MUST BE PRESERVED BY THE SYNOD. How could it be? I’d felt him in New Zealand. He was there, but it was fuzzy, like static on an old television set. It had felt that way since early afternoon. I didn’t question it. In fact, I reveled in it. Maybe it meant my power was waning. I welcomed less power. I was about to find out what the hell was going on. I flashed straight into his room after asking the people at the front desk which one he was in. His parents always seemed to get adjoining rooms or cabins, no matter how old Theo was, but I asked anyway. He stood on the balcony in jeans—his shirt flapping in the ocean wind. I could no longer differentiate between habit and desire with him—my feelings were blurry. I swayed in his direction involuntarily, but stopped myself. We were no longer together—I’d made sure that I’d stayed away from him so the Resin, the Synod, and the government were all kept at a distance. Because they were constantly on my trail. “Took you long enough,” he remarked, still facing the beach. I blew out an emotionally loaded breath. “I needed time to think.” “And to what conclusion did you come?” Leave it to Theo to sound cavalier at a time like this. He turned around and my breath caught in my throat. His dark brown hair was gelled in a completely clean-cut style out of another time. Even as a child, he emitted an air of vintage class. He wore suspenders at the age of ten. In high school, he wore button-down shirts and slacks, the exact opposite of the other boys with their sports jerseys and ragged jeans. He was James Dean meets David Gandy, but with glassy gray eyes. He was my every desire and it pained me not to run to him, bury myself in the security of his embrace, and let him tell me it was all going to be okay. It was not going to be okay. So many suspicions and insinuations were flitting through my mind. And none of them ended well. “I don’t even know, Theo.” My voice cracked as I said his name. It showed my weakness for him. I hated my weakness. “Come here.” He motioned with open arms. I screamed in response. He wasn’t just going to hug me and think all of this would go away. “No. I’m pissed off at you. How are you doing this? You’re gonna get caught. And then what will I do?” I hadn’t meant to confess that. How was it that my weakness took center stage when he was around? Why couldn’t I be the strong-willed person everyone else knew me to be when I was with him? He didn’t listen to me. Forging toward me, he grabbed my arms and slammed me into his chest. I fought against him, trying to push him away. He remained steady, holding me until I broke, relenting to what I really wanted. I let it all go, crying into the nook of his neck, letting his steady breaths and heartbeat calm me. I knew the implications of what he was doing. I knew he would be an even more attractive target now. “Let it out, Querida. It’s a lot to comprehend.” I cried for a half an hour, holding him as tightly as I could manage. “Cry, my love, cry all night if you must,” he said, his mouth next to my ear. I could feel his chin bobbing up and down as the syllables rolled from his mouth. “I won’t lose you,” I murmured, still in his hold. My palms meant to be the barrier between his body and mine but instead they relented to the feel of his solid pecs. I let out a sound that Theo took as an invitation. He moved in closer, his foot between mine, making his knee rub against my upper thigh. I gave in and looked into his eyes, so gray they were nearly translucent. He leaned in, the tip of his nose ghosted down the bridge of mine and when he began to speak, our chins were connected as his mouth moved. “Amada, talk to me. One day you deny my existence and now you’re here, in my room, telling me you won’t lose me. And you can’t ignore the heat between us. Why? Why do you deprive us of what we need?” Amada—he called me beloved. Theo and his damned Portuguese. Why must he speak the sexiest language known to man? He’d eaten some kind of banana caramel cake for dessert and the sweet smell flowed with his words. He knew what it did to me when he spoke to me in Portuguese—the language of our ancestors calmed me with just a few choice words. And I did need him. I needed his bottom lip between my teeth. I needed his warm, rough tongue in my mouth, searching for more contact. And his hips, cut in a shape made for my hands, rocking against mine for the sheer pleasure of the movement—even clad in jeans, it was thrilling. But those desires were squelched in an instant as I remembered the real reason for my visit. The piece of my heart I’d tried my damnedest to ignore was in danger that far surpassed his traveling abilities. He thought I left him that day after his admission of his abilities. But the truth was I’d left him long before that. My father’s death made an immediate and profound impact. He was so much more than a father. He was my friend. My mother never stopped mourning him, not for one single second. That was my problem—I didn’t want to mourn Theo. I thought that if I left him, he’d find a good human girl and spend his life with someone who might actually be in his bed in the morning. Not like me—I might be in Greece. So when he told me that he could flash—it doubled our trouble. Instead of worrying about mourning him chasing me, like my father chased my mother—now I worried about the Resin, the government, and maybe even the Synod going after him. Was it too much to ask my love to stay out of trouble? “Tell me everything,” I finally managed to croak out after I was well spent. “Sit down, meu amor.” He escorted me to a chair by the bed and then pulled the desk chair beside me. I let myself relax. I would fix this. Whatever I had to do to protect him, I would. “I don’t even know what it’s called. I’ve been looking through the texts, trying to figure it out.” “What texts?” “Eivan’s journals. The journals of Sevella. Their life—his life.” I gasped. Eivan was Eidolon. He retained many gifts—gifts that consumed him. An Eidolon had not existed for centuries. Eidolon meant phantom, ghost, apparition. That’s what Eivan was. Few had seen him, but the stories were many. There had only ever been two—one was Demetrius. He was assassinated by the Resin’s then leader, Sanctum. And then there was Eivan. Eivan travelled one night and never appeared again. There was speculation of all kinds in the stories told to us as children. Eivan travelled too much—he overexerted his gifts—his wife killed him. Even the descendants of Eivan were forced into hiding at the shunning of the Lucents. No one even knew where they were. Or who they were. “I think I am…” he began. I jerked forward and covered his mouth with my palm. “No. Don’t even say it. It can’t be,” I sobbed, removing my hand and using it to cover my face. Eidolon carried such a profound power and responsibility to our people and the Resin alike. “Saying the word doesn’t change what I am capable of.” “Which is?” “Duality. I am there. A shadow of myself is there, in New Zealand. It’s like an obedient clone, walking, talking, breathing, doing whatever I want it to. It’s actually the perfect decoy. And it follows every instruction to a T. Collin says it looks like a more translucent version of me—a ghost, if you will. And if any member of the Resin should come in contact with it—it vanishes. That is its orders.” “How,” I begged for answers. “In Madrid, I waited for you.” My heart stopped for a moment with that admission. I knew he would be waiting there. Yes, Ari had seen some guy there. But that was only part of the story. She’d also seen Theo on her trip, but I’d ignored it—like she’d never told me. It must be easy for couples to break up when one or both of them don’t really want to be together. It was nowhere near that with Theo and me. But at least I tried to act like I didn’t hang on his every word. Theo had no ability to pretend—at least not with me. “There are a lot of Resin there. I was confronted behind one of the clubs and as my fear grew, I felt a shedding of sorts, like I was losing my outer shell. I don’t know exactly how it works. It was stranger than the first time I’d flashed. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I saw the gang of them, looking back and forth from me to something else and back again. I followed their stares and found—me.” “And now you can summon it at will?” “Yes, after some intensive practicing.” I recoiled at his response. This made a total of two things that according to legend and history, he should not be able to do. Things that made him even more valuable to our enemies. “You’re scared of me?” he asked. There were very few times that Theo sounded vulnerable, and this was one of them. “I’m scared for you. There’s a difference.” He moved his head from side to side, cracking his neck. A disgusting-sounding habit, I’d learned to live with long ago. He made no attempt to respond, just leaned forward and laid his head in my lap. “I feel better just telling you. I hate not telling you things.” I ran my fingernails through his hair and against his scalp. I knew it calmed him. He was being careless, just flashing here and there, and practicing unprecedented gifts. I needed to formulate a plan. I had to convince him to let me keep him safe, somehow. A knock at the door of the adjoining bathroom startled us both, and I flashed immediately. All we needed was the added nosiness of parents. *** I spent most of the next morning on a tiny island off the coast. It could be faintly seen from the beach, but no one visited it. It was uninhabitable, and the surrounding rocks made it impossible for a boat to approach it. But I needed no boat. There was one mountain in its center that contained caves and secret springs only known to me and Theo—that I knew of. It was my favorite place to go and think, even when I could be anywhere in the world. I wanted to beg him to give up his pursuit of more information. The Guardians of the texts were monitored. Records of who came in and what they studied were written down and reported directly to the Synod. They would soon know that Theo had been there and what he had been studying. It was just a matter of time. Unless we could get this Collin guy to keep his damned mouth shut. I knew very little of Eivan, but I knew my grandmother would know it all. My mother had always told the encouraging story of Eivan as opposed to the negative one. She’d chosen to believe that Eivan, as told to her by my grandmother, was a great man who loved his wife and cared for the Lucents—cared about protecting our race. But Sevella was human, and in his love for her, he did not travel. However, as the compulsion built and he finally did travel, it was too much. He got lost. I’d always thought that was the romantic version of the story. Sevella was outcast after Eivan disappeared. They blamed her for the disappearance of their Eidolon. She was never seen again. He was revered for his gifts—but mostly he was revered for his ability to restore light to the Resin. He could give them the ability to travel again, but some were so far gone that they no longer cared to travel, only harbor their hate. “You couldn’t have picked an island with some mangoes? I’m starving.” I turned my head to find the object of my thoughts there in front of me. Sometimes, Theo pissed me off beyond sanity. “What the hell are you doing here?” He shrugged, picking up rocks from the beach and tossing one into the surf. “Did I forget to tell you, I can seek as well?” My face told him that clearly he hadn’t mentioned it. “You’re shitting me.” “No, my foul-mouthed love, I am not shitting you.” I waved my hands in the air, exasperated with him. “Any other gifts you have that you want to share?” “Yes. Now that you mention it, I used to be able to make my girl moan my name.” I rolled my eyes at him. Not that it wasn’t true. It was so true. Theo’s mouth and the things he could do with his tongue should’ve been outlawed. Plus, there was this thing he did, digging his fingers into the backs of my thighs—ah, posters of his face should be plastered on telephone poles, ‘Beware Theo: One kiss and you’re done for.’ “I meant Lucent gifts.” He shrugged. A playful smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Oh, no, not yet. But Eivan did have twelve children. I supposed he had plenty of unpublished gifts. Maybe I should re-read Sevella’s personal journals.” He was trying very hard to be funny, but I found no humor in his situation. Done with his incessant jokes, I eyed the ocean before me. I loved the ocean. There was something about the constant weightlessness that reminded me of flashing. It was like bobbing up and down in that perpetual state of adrenaline and calm. “Do you want me to go so you can swim alone,” he asked facing the waves. He knew me too well. “No. I want to know what we’re going to do about this.” His expression grew hard. “We will do nothing. I will do more research and eventually I will need to tell the Synod.” Research meant finding the other keepers of the histories—and maybe even speaking to some of the Prophets. Long ago, before the Lucents had a Synod, there were Prophets. Their words were gold and their wisdom infallible. But finally, some Lucents began to think they had too much power and insisted on having a council. My grandmother had been one of them—still was. “Let’s go see Grammy first and then we decide.” Still as a statue he stood, and then bellowed out a hefty breath. “Since when is there a we, Colby?” I deserved that sting and all its aftershocks. Nightly, daily, and sometimes hourly I had to remind myself of why there wasn’t a we. And yet, here I was, calling us we again. It felt like freedom. “There has always been and will always be a we as long as we live, Theo.” I almost hoped he hadn’t heard my answer. If he had, he provided no outward response. The waves became louder and louder as they crashed closer to us both. “It’s too dangerous,” he began our banter. It was useless on his part. I’d never lost an argument. He was too soft. Always had been. “I love danger.” He turned to face me. “There are Resin on my tail—always.” “Mine too. They like to look at my ass as I flash away.” “You are so stubborn. You’re not going with me!” He growled through a clenched jaw. I shrugged with my left shoulder, and my left eyebrow followed suit. “That’s fine. I’ll just follow you. You forget—I’m a seeker as well.” His jaw worked overtime and the vein on his neck rolled blood through it in anger. That vein always popped out when he was angry. It was the only way I knew. He’d never raised his voice at me or even shown in tone or words any bit of aggravation. Which was aggravating in itself. Show me some anger, man. The opposite was true of his expressions of love. There had been times I had been brought to tears by his raw honesty about how he felt about me. I’d never really been able to return the same sentiment. It was hard for me to make that emotional connection with anyone. I kept myself at a healthy distance—healthy for me and everyone else. That mistake of getting so close to my father wouldn’t be repeated again. He was taken from me in an instant, and I couldn’t endure that pain again, ever. At the same time I couldn’t let anything happen to Theo. It wasn’t an option. He turned around to face the mountain and lifted his head to view the top. It wasn’t much of a mountain, but then again, he wasn’t admiring the view. He was clearly thinking of what to say next. He did that too much. Or maybe I didn’t do it enough. Words and thoughts just blurted from my mouth at any time and place. “All this time you’ve pushed me away, and now that I’m in trouble and actually want you to stay away from me, you want to come with me. Must you always be so damned stubborn? Can’t you see?” His voice broke with his last question, and at once I knew I’d taken it all too far. I got up from my seated position. Theo’s hands were in his pockets, his head bowed in exasperation. I looped my arms around his waist and splayed my hands against his abdomen. His abs trembled underneath my palms, but he didn’t move to embrace me. I’d definitely taken things too far in the sarcasm department. I laid my cheek against the spot between his shoulder blades. “Can’t you see?” Finally, his hands enveloped mine and tangled our fingers together. “They’ll never let us travel together unaccompanied. We are neither bonded nor sealed. It wouldn’t be right even if I were to concede. And I’m not saying I’m going to let you.” I squeezed him tighter. Even his back smelled phenomenal. What he spoke was truth. Our parents would be wary of us being together again at our ages if we were not bonded, the Lucent version of engaged, or sealed, the Lucent version of marriage. Theo was a stickler for the rules. He claimed the rules kept us out of trouble. I claimed they kept us caged. “If they give us permission, it will be fine. We can ask them together, tonight.” “Even if they do, Querida—you know me better than that. Please, stay away. I swear to the stars if something happened to you—I would chase you into the Paraíso. It would be the end of us both.” Anger broke me free from his hold. He was winning. For the first time in our lives, he was winning and I couldn’t even take it. “Name your terms.” I folded my arms over my chest. “No, not this time. There are no terms.” And with that exasperating statement, he flashed away. THE PROPHETS ARE NO LONGER ACKNOWLEDGED AS MESSENGERS OF THE ALMIGHTY. I had a cool temperament most of the time, but Colby needed to learn a lesson. There just weren’t negotiating terms for some situations. And this was one of them. She was that bull-headed. She would’ve stood there and agreed to bonding with me just to make sure she could come with me. If Colby was going to bond with me, I’d be damned if it was going to be under duress. Forget the Resin and the Synod and our parents—I was gonna kill the beauty myself and then chase her around eternity until she folded. The door that linked my parents’ room to mine was open. I figured it was now or never. They needed to know every facet of the situation in case something happened to me. I splashed water on my face in the adjoining bathroom before knocking on the frame of the door that led to their room. They both turned their attentions toward me. My parents knew most of the situation with my new gifts, but I hadn’t told them everything—not even close. “Colby,” my mother questioned. She claimed there was a particular expression I got after my encounters with Colby. It used to be one of utter and complete joy. But since things had, on the surface, ended between us, it had evolved into total and complete pain. “It’s fine, Mom. We do need to talk though. I have a feeling she will tell you if I don’t.” “Sit, son,” my dad commanded. I recounted the whole story. Everything I’d found out about Eivan, all my gifts, and all my suspicions. My mom began to cry halfway through, and we stopped several times in order for her to compose herself. It was hard to watch. It was grating on my heart, knowing I was the one bringing her pain. “What is the plan? How can we help you?” My father was all business. He supported all that the Lucent culture was. His mother was a Lucent and now his wife was one as well. He worshipped my mom. I felt movement somewhere in my psyche and knew it was Colby. She was flashing, and I concentrated on her so that I could know exactly where she was going. The tiniest of jolts resonated in my chest as she landed. Involuntarily, I closed my eyes and pictured her in my head, as I grasped at ways to pinpoint her location. Rebekah—she’d gone to see her Grandmother. To seek her counsel, no doubt. “She’s gone to Rebekah,” I relayed the information to my parents. “You two try so hard to escape each other. The world itself will turn on its axis when you finally give in. And I, for one, can’t wait.” My father chuckled and kissed the temple of my still weary mother’s head. “What do I do, Dad?” My father and I had a decent relationship. He’d reared me to be calm and patient, yet headstrong, just like him. It had caused a rift between us when I was a teenager. But by the time I was eighteen and needed him after Colby had left me, the tension fizzled. My head hung and then plopped into my palms. She aggravated the fire out of me. This was the problem and the glory of Lucent women. You couldn’t hold them down. Any man in love with a Lucent female was doomed and blessed to eternally chase her lightning. You couldn’t anchor them. You couldn’t guarantee they would be in your bed the next morning or anytime at all. But when I had Colby—I had her heart and soul. I smelled the cologne that was uniquely my father’s as he kneeled down in front of me. He didn’t force my hand. Instead, he waited for me to look at him. When I met his eyes, I expected to see pity. I wasn’t in the most predictable situation. There was only hope. “Theodore, we will work through this. And you may hate me for saying this, but I think Colby accompanying you is the best option. She has bravery where you would rather fall back and remain safe. She has an ability to see the details the rest of us miss. But she needs you to ground her—she can be a bit—boisterous in all things.” I saw his point. “I won’t tarnish her reputation with the Synod. The Almighty knows she’s already in trouble with them every time she turns around. I know we’re in the modern world, but the Synod is still in the nineteenth century.” He chuckled, causing him to fall right on his ass. “So, we have a job to do—convince Colby to bond with you.” *** Everything was clearer close to the coast. The moon stared at me in judgment as I lay in my room after several more hours of pointless discussions about what ifs. It was almost like it knew the thoughts revolving through my head. Even the moon knew what a head-case I was. Colby was still with her grandmother, discussing who knew what. My stomach churned at the thought of her speaking to her about me—how to manipulate me into giving into her. They were all against me—the lot of them. I expected my father to agree with me. I expected him to say he would help me convince Colby to keep her pretty nose and, in turn, her pretty life, out of my business. He was a traitor. As I lay there, arms crossed behind my head, I concentrated on where she was. Inquisition consumed my thoughts. I could almost picture her there, in her grandmother’s grand mansion. “Rebekah, please. Stop speaking to me in riddles and tell me what to do.” Shooting straight up in the bed, I looked around the room, thinking I had inadvertently flashed to Rebekah’s home. But I hadn’t seen Colby, nor Rebekah—only heard her words. Maybe I’d just begun to fall into a dream and imagined her voice. It must’ve just been a dream. LUCENT GIFTS ARE TO BE USED WITH HONORABLE INTENTIONS. “You should eat some fruit.” I threw myself dramatically onto my grandmother’s French blind-stitch couch. It didn’t give an inch—none of her furniture did. All of her living room furniture and dining room chairs were covered in plastic and were harder than brick covered in steel. Every time someone moved an inch while sitting on them, the plastic gave off the most curious sounds. My grandmother, the oldest Prophet, had stopped progressing in terms of technological advances when the Synod took its place among our people. She only spoke to me about such things. She said when they cut themselves off from her and the sight given directly to her by the Almighty—it was akin to death. She felt useless and discarded. Since the formation of the Synod marked nefarious advancement in her eyes—she stopped advancing in protest. Stepping into her home and her presence was like stepping back to an age where Xoana ruled the Lucents and we were queens. Now the Synod were the queens. And my grandmother was forgotten by most. We, technically, weren’t supposed to call her the Prophetess, but that’s what she was, regardless of what they said. “I’m telling you that my—Theo—could possibly be the next Eidolon, and you’re suggesting I eat a tangerine and it will all be better? Come on, Prophetess, give me something other than that.” She slapped my thigh, and it stung through my lightweight maxi dress. A rebellious tear came from my eye, and I swiped it away before she saw it—not for the slap, but for Theo. She grabbed my hand with hers in reaction to my crying. I loved my grandmother’s hands. With age, her fingers had become slim, while her knuckles stayed the same size. Her hand wrapped around mine was like being surrounded by silk. “Don’t sass me, Colby Sage. I can still tear your behind up.” My grandmother hadn’t whipped me since I was seven. I’d lied to her and told her I was at the library when really I was in Madagascar after seeing that movie by the same name. I’d inadvertently gotten on the news for some weird flashes of lightning they saw on the top of one of their mountains. Oops. Busted. “I’m sorry, Grammy. What’s fruit going to do for me?” She let go of my hand, picked up her never-ending cross stitching, and shrugged. “I thought maybe I could think if your mouth would stop running for five seconds.” I pulled my other arm away from where it was shielding my eyes from the world. Grammy was pooching out her lips and sucking in her cheeks in order not to laugh at her own sassiness. I inherited my sass directly from the source. Theo was still in Belize. I could feel him there and then a fuzzier version of him in New Zealand, which was disconcerting to say the least. My head was a mess. This was why I’d broken up with Theo—to keep him safe from being on the receiving end of—me. But what had he done? Gone and gotten powers and abilities. He was making my job nearly impossible. Not to mention, he hadn’t let me have my way earlier on the island. That was the most aggravating of all. Since when don’t I win? With his admission that he may be Eidolon, which I hoped he wasn’t, he’d made a whole plethora of new enemies. He had the usual nemeses, the government, the Resin—but now he had the whole Lucent community as well as the Synod. There was a reason they’d formed so long ago. They weren’t pleased with what the Prophets foretold and so they thought writing a book and sitting at a long table would suppress the prophecies. They were dead wrong. I grew serious as I addressed my grandmother then, not as a granddaughter, but as a Lucent looking for guidance from the Prophetess. I turned to her and smiled at her features. Her hair was still blonde, but glints of silver peeked out around her hairline and in the round part of her bun. Her skin was flawless. She could easily pass for someone in her forties. I hoped I could be half as breathtaking when I was her age. “Rebekah, did you see it? Did you see Theo in a vision?” “Be specific in your questions.” She caught my tone and in turn changed hers. It was like the very atmosphere turned to the past where she was revered and I longed for her words. “Did you see the coming of another Eidolon?” “I did. I’ve seen it many times. He will be the one to restore the Resin—the ones who want it. But only if he can conquer his greatest fear. This fear is keeping him from attaining all the power, and it will prevent him from closing the door. It is a shallow fear, but one whose roots bind his hands and anchors itself into his very soul.” I blew out a breath. I’d hoped against hope she would say no. I needed her to say no. Why couldn’t she just say no? Theo didn’t fear anything—I’d never seen him cower at horror movies or any of the heeebie jeebies most people run from. He wasn’t afraid of anything. “What is his fear?” She cut her iridescent green eyes at me. “That’s not the right question.” Now I knew she was in full Prophetess mode. She struck down any question whose answer would be the one I needed. Instead, I had to ask vague questions that led to nowhere. I was aggravated beyond anything. “Rebekah, please. Stop speaking to me in riddles and tell me what to do.” “Find the truth. Even the so-called upholders of the truth are expert liars. Search and find the truth for yourself. False truths camouflage lies which are the truth no one wants told. There is one keyhole, but many keys.” What—the—hell. “I have to convince him to let me go with him.” She got up and I expected something profound from her. “I think I have some leftover meatloaf.” I shuddered. “Meatloaf, Grammy, really?” “I no longer flash, child. I can eat whatever I want. Now go. I know you’re going to him. Best do it now while he’s open to your ideas. By morning he won’t be so obliging.” *** Theo was asleep when I flashed into his room an hour later. I waited the hour just out of spite—one day, I supposed I would grow out of that. I couldn’t wait until the day when I grew out of all my finicky habits. He must’ve been exhausted because he didn’t even stir when I flashed in, or when I sat on the edge of his bed. I hated to see his face in a scowl while he slept. All this time, I’d been thinking of how difficult it would be for me to protect him. But looking down at his brow furrowed so heavily in his sleep, I could see how all of this was affecting him. I flashed from where I was on the side of the bed to the middle on the other side of him and leaned over his face. He had no pajamas on, only a pair of those plaid boxers that I loved to hate. They were so awful. He looked like an old man. I giggled at how much I hated them, plus how good he looked in everything he wore. I rubbed my thumb between his eyes on the bridge of his nose, attempting to get him to relax his brow. He stirred and woke. “Querida, are you okay?” He looked me up and down—what he was looking for, I didn’t know. “I’m fine. Can we talk? No sarcasm or joking, just talk?” He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Brown hair fell every way but the right way and I loved it. Rarely was Theo disheveled, and so seeing him when he first woke up or after he was, well, riled up—it was a treat. It had been way too long. “Of course. Whatever you want.” Whatever you want—those words were like a dream to me. Theo and I were so similar. He and I pretended to be so strong and solid to the outside world. We almost prided ourselves on being the ones who stood in strength as others faltered. But when we were like this—one on one—shut out from the world—this was when we were real, raw, and allowed to be weak. Anything I’d ever mentioned in passing or called a faint desire for, he got me. We went to a parish fair one time and I saw some cheap silver turtle necklace. I hadn’t even wanted the damned thing, it just caught my eye. Theo and I were thirteen at the time, and he bought it for me. The next week, I found out he’d spent the last of his allowance money on me. I cornered him by the lockers at school and tried to pay him back. I asked him why he would do that. “Anything for you.” His pimply self shuffled his shoes. Then he shrugged and added, “Whatever you want.” Theo touched my arm, bringing me back to the present. “Talk to me.” “Why don’t you want me to come with you?” He blew out a breath, causing his cheeks to bubble out. He was thinking again—way too much for my taste. “It’s dangerous.” “If something happens, we flash.” “The Synod will not look well on our traveling together at our age without being bonded.” He turned away from me as he said it. I knew we would come to that subject, but I’d hoped to avoid it. “We are just friends. There’s no problem.” His shoulders slumped. “Don’t kid yourself, Colby. No matter what you do, you and I will never just be friends.” “So let’s do the bonding thing. We can go together without anyone meddling and I can help you.” Silence filled the space between us. I realized the sharpness of my words after they came out—typical me. Theo asked me to marry him when we were sixteen, and in the middle of a heady kissing session, I’d agreed. I tended to blame everything on Theo’s talented tongue. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “You ended it with me because I’m some fluke. I understand that now. But I can’t just pretend I’m only your friend.” “You’re not a fluke. Well, you are. I ended it because I’m already in everyone’s spotlight. Our being together is like taking out an ad on a billboard. Is that what you thought?” Theo turned on me, battling something so vicious inside him that he shook as he spoke. “What was I supposed to think? You wouldn’t talk to me. You never talk to me—good or bad.” I threw myself backwards on the bed. He was right. It was completely purposeful. I could barely look him in the eye after I’d broken it off between us, because I knew if he muttered one damned Portuguese word or even touched me that I would be done for. I felt a depression on the bed and then before I knew what was happening, his weight was on top of me, his arms pinning mine above my head. “Why must you break me?” He breathed into my face. His hair danced along my forehead. “I’m not.” I defied him. “Yes, you do. Every time I’m in a room with you and I can’t touch you—you break me. Every time you pretend that we are only friends—you break me. Does it make you happy to break me, Querida?” “No.” “Do you remember when you agreed to bond with me all those years ago?” Another nod. My throat was constricting because I knew that tonight, Theo was going to break me. “Why?” He phantomed kisses along the line of my jaw. He knew it was my undoing. “You know why.” He shifted, letting my wrists go. His expression changed back to the gentler, less Alpha Theo that I was used to. “Just once, Colby,” he begged. “Must you break me?” I mimicked his earlier sentiment. “Ahh, Querida.” He pushed some miscreant hair behind my ear. “I’m not trying to break you—just your walls. When are you going to let me in?” “When you can promise not to hurt me or leave me.” “Says the woman who continues to break my heart and push me away.” We were at a standstill. He’d never been so blatant in demanding an emotional response from me in words. He’d never demanded anything of me. I squirmed under his stare. Gray eyes bore down upon me, pleading for a piece of me. It ripped me open. This was the moment I’d dreaded forever. It was like reaching inside myself without anesthesia and plucking an organ out to give to him. That’s what it would feel like. Right? But my heart wanted to reach out to his and soothe it. “Theo.” The tears formed in my eyes. “You know I love you. I always have.” He buried his head in the crook of my neck the way I had done to him the night before. “I didn’t expect that,” he murmured, his voice reverberating against the sensitive skin at my neck. “Sorry.” “Don’t be sorry. That may be the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life.” My unemotional soul wished he would just forget he ever heard it so I could tally up how many bricks were lost in that small battle and replace them—quickly. “What now?” I questioned. “We go looking for whatever I am.” “What about the bonding ceremony?” “I don’t care what they think. I know what we are. And I know who you are. I’m going to be sealed to you heart and soul one day. If they don’t like our traveling unbonded, they can just suck it.” The man I loved was a sly, sneaky rat. I smacked his bicep as hard as I could. “You ass. All that crap and you don’t even care.” “Meu coração, está completo.” A shiver tore through me at his chosen speech. I didn’t even care what the hell he was saying. I just wanted him to say more of it. “Speak English.” “Doesn’t work as well on you,” he quipped back. Ass. THE RESIN ARE NO LONGER CONSIDERED LUCENT. I had to admit, hearing Colby say she loved me wasn’t what I expected to come from her. I’d almost settled myself in for a lifetime of not hearing it. She got up from the bed, leaving me there wanting so much more. We wouldn’t bond. I wouldn’t force her hand just because the Synod expected her to. She never was much for rule following anyway. “Where are we going first? I need to speak to my mother and Ari. I should tell Sway. How long will we be gone?” I hopped down from the bed. Realizing I was only in boxers, I quickly grabbed a pair of jeans from the chair and threw them on. “I think Tibet is the best place to start after we finish in New Zealand. Collin knows a good deal about Eivan. But Sevella’s handwritten journals are in Tibet.” She said nothing, so I turned around, buttoning my pants, to see what was going on. She was mulling something around in that pretty head of hers, I could tell. “What?” “We’re going to one of those monasteries?” “Yes.” “With the shaved heads and the gongs and the orangey robes?” “Yes.” She sighed really loud and dramatically. It made me chuckle. I couldn’t pin down exactly what part she had an aversion to. “What is it? You can flash back home if you don’t want to stay the night or you don’t want to be there. I can still do this alone.” Her worrisome pout turned in an instant into one of credible anger. “I’m not backing out. I’m just not really good at being quiet.” I couldn’t help myself. I broke out into a doubled over, stomach- cramping laugh. She so nailed it. She could never be quiet—church, tests… you name it, Colby was going to talk. She got kicked out of the SATs twice for talking to the person next to her—who she didn’t even know. “That’s it. I’m leaving if you’re just gonna laugh all day. When are we beginning our journey?” “Friday,” I answered, trying to compose myself. “I’ll see you then.” “Wait.” I grew serious. I couldn’t let her remember this night like that. I closed the gap between us with a few steps. Pressing my forehead to hers, I placed one chaste kiss on her still surprised lips. Then I popped her backside with my hand. “Now let’s see what color your wake is.” “No color whatsoever.” She flashed out of my room and I chuckled at the wake she left behind. It shimmered in pale notes of pink. “Yep,” I said to myself in the mirror. “I still got it.” *** I skipped out Sunday afternoon after spending more time with my parents. I got back to my rented cottage in the backwoods of New Zealand. I spent some time observing my shadow. That’s what I called him. From a distance, he looked like just that—my shadow. He carried out meaningless tasks and even turned out the lights when he was done. It was like having a zombie for a twin without all the intestine chewing. Then I simply said the words and his image swished back into me. It was weird, to say the least. I called Collin and made arrangements to come back on Friday, noting that I would have someone with me. He seemed excited as Collin could get—which meant he didn’t yell at me. Colby had stayed pretty silent the past few days. I supposed she was juggling her business around and prepping for whatever we were heading into. I didn’t worry about it. Colby’s word was solid. But I was nervous as hell for whatever would happen next. Specifically, how everything would hash out with Colby and me being together again. Not together-together, but in the same proximity. I tried—God help me I tried to keep cool around her. Holding up that façade of ambiguity was exhausting. Cool and unattached just wasn’t who I was. Sharing my feelings with Colby was like second nature to me. I couldn’t imagine being in her presence and not commenting on how beautiful she was or not letting her know how much I loved her. It came as easy to me as breathing. Mostly, because she was my very breath. I simply couldn’t survive without her. Colby was the opposite. She was the opposite of me in so many ways. She was beach when I was mountain retreat. She listened to Moby while my earbuds blasted Roy Orbison. Colby was defense, and I was always on the offense. On the surface, nothing about us made sense. Until you got down to the core of things. I’d lost my brother only three months after she lost her dad. Just like she never spoke of her dad, except on his birthday, I never spoke of my brother. Torrent hadn’t died. In some ways, it would be better if he had. He’d simply disappeared. One day, he went to bed on a normal school night, seven weeks before his high school graduation. The next morning, he was gone. We shrugged it off at first. Torrent was a track runner and a Varsity swimmer. He went to practice and workouts early on a regular basis. Even when the school called to report his absence midday, my mother thought it was an oversight. We assumed because his car was still in the driveway that he’d caught a ride with one of his many friends. But that night, the official search began. He was a good bit older than me, six years. Our family had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private investigators, Lucent and human alike, trying to find him. It killed my mother and nearly demolished my father. They still kept his room as he left it and his car unmoved from its spot. I knew they missed him and I did too, but I couldn’t imagine Torrent would want their lives to stay still. It was horrible to say, but I was almost glad for the distraction when I discovered that I could flash. It became an escape from the funeral home that was my house. The depths of what could be for their now only son kicked my parents out of grief and into protection mode. It happened on accident. And as if the Almighty wanted me to be perfectly camouflaged when I discovered the gift—I flashed for the first time in the middle of a particularly noisy Louisiana thunderstorm. I was on the phone with Colby, one of our never-ending phone conversations though we had been together in school and most of the afternoon. When I closed my eyes, I imagined being on the roof opposite her room so I could see her through a window as she talked to me. Clutching my phone as my only float through the waves of space, I suddenly landed in a sloppy, bumbling mess on the roof I had imagined, watching her through her open window. She continued speaking to me as if the most shocking and powerful moment of my life hadn’t just occurred. I had patted myself down, expecting to lose body parts or some of the depth of my form—something. But my body was just fine, and I regained my balance in seconds. Of course, I walked home that night, afraid to try it again. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I tried somewhere a little further away—and a little further from that. The first time I landed in Israel, I nearly shit my pants right there in the Holy Land. That was the day before my birthday, three days before Colby had made me wonder if it had really been a gift after all. I hadn’t expected her until Friday morning, but Thursday night, as I studied as much computer research as I could from the digital records the Synod would let me see, I felt the atmosphere shift around me. A bubble popped somewhere nearby in the time it took for lightning to strike. Lightning had struck. I knew for sure when Colby knocked on my door, my conscience and my gift alerting me to her identity. Agitated nerves flared to life, knowing this was the beginning of the end. Many things could happen with Colby and me, with me and the Synod, and with us and the Resin. Things that didn’t even take into account the government or everyday worries. Hell, I didn’t even know if the place in Tibet would allow me access to Sevella’s journals without permission from the Synod. I tried like hell to open the door without a beaming smile on my face. My senses were already on overload with her on the other side of it. What would happen when we were constantly in such close proximity? The door creaked as it opened. It was a small cottage of a place. I’d never meant for it to house more than just me. But it was only for one more day until we headed to Tibet. “Hey.” She shielded her eyes against the light pouring from the tiny abode. “Come in,” I bid her. She carried only a small bag, but somehow I knew that small, almost weightless bag carried a mall’s worth of clothes, even though we could flash into any store, anytime of the night, and get whatever she needed. I knew for a fact that she went into H&M, her favorite store, and got what she wanted in the night, grabbed the surveillance videos, and then left a wad of cash on the counter as she left. Colby shivered as she stepped into the cottage and looked around. “It’s so cute—like a Hobbit house.” I chuckled and took the bag from her. I was right. Her bag was light as could be. She flounced onto the loveseat and picked up my notebook where I’d been taking notes. Without a second thought, she plucked her sandals off one by one, bent her legs under herself, and settled into the couch as she read. Who did she think she was kidding? Nothing had changed between us but a shallow relationship status. Colby was just as comfortable around me as she always had been—as she always would be. “Can I make you some tea?” I offered. She thought about it for a second, and then opened her mouth to say something, but must have decided, last minute, to squelch whatever it was. “Just say it,” I said. “I was going to ask you to get me something else, but I don’t know what we are anymore. I don’t know what you are to me. I don’t have the right to ask.” “I’m a man the last time I checked,” I provided, patting my clothes in the obvious region proving my male status. She snickered. “Shut up. You know what I mean.” “I think I know what you want.” I flashed to the back of a gas station in Southern Mississippi where I knew they had exactly what she craved. Going inside, I spotted the machine and chuckled at my love’s love of such a kiddie thing. I paid for two, since I knew one would never suffice and flashed back to the cottage, holding on tight to the priceless treasure. She looked up at me, desperate not to smile. “What flavor?” “I got one cotton candy and one strawberry. I knew you couldn’t just have one.” I bent down to give it to her unable to resist jabbing her one more time. Hovering just over her shoulder, I whispered into her ear, “I know all the things you are insatiable for.” She shivered again, the second in such a short period of time, and looked up at me with those almost golden light brown eyes. I backed off and offered her both of the drinks. “What did you do, memorize all the gas stations that sell Slush Puppies?” I shrugged. I never had been good at pretending not to hang on every breath she took. “Yeah, so?” She answered my shrug with one of her own and went back to reading my notes. By the time the night was over, she’d given herself half a dozen brain freezes. It never failed. No matter how many she got, as soon as they receded, she’d down enough to give her another one. She had a seriously unhealthy relationship with brain freezes. The digital records glowing on the computer screen grabbed my attention and kept me reading until I could see the sun rising outside of the windows. I hadn’t even realized it was so late or early. Colby was long gone, asleep on the couch, still clutching one of the empty Slush Puppies in one hand and my notebook in the other. Her lips were tinted red like a child who’d been keeping a cherry Popsicle company. They were slightly open while she slept. Her eyes flittered behind closed eyelids. Knowing Colby, she probably flashed in her dreams and in consciousness. I stretched, making the blood return to my legs. They’d gone to sleep sometime in the night. Colby had to be put to bed or her neck would be killing her later. Putting her empty treat in the trash, I closed the notebook and picked up her feather-light form. I wanted more than anything to close the distance between her mouth and mine, but thought better of it. Tucking her into my tiny bed seemed like a shame without me next to her, but I wouldn’t sleep with her unless I had her explicit permission, preferably with her prompting. Instead, I would make do with the loveseat. The next morning, I woke with the crick in my neck that I’d saved Colby from. I pulled my body this way and that trying to relieve its stiffness. I heard the shower start to run and saw the steam billowing from the gap between the door and the hardwood flooring. From this vantage point, her voice could be heard belting out the chords of Nirvana and the smell of her white, ‘Please for the love of all that’s holy don’t ever buy her another color other than white’ Dove soap wafted in with the steam. A myriad of memories were brought to life by just that one scent. She was a fickle princess when she wanted to be. In order to give her the privacy she would want, I took a frigid shower outside in the makeshift stall that looked like it was built more for after beach outings than regular cleanliness. Its walls were nothing more than nailed and patched driftwood from the sea. There was certainly no steam coming from my shower since it was colder than a snowman’s ass. I dressed as quickly as I could and went back into the cottage, hoping she was ready. I was more than eager to introduce her to Collin and get her take on the things I’d found thus far. When I entered, she was cleaning up the place, picking up after herself and packing her bag. “Have a good shower?” I asked her. “Yeah, thank you. You didn’t have to go outside. Just knock on the door and tell me to hurry up next time.” “I will. Are you ready now?” “Yes. Got anything to eat?” “There are apples and pears in the fridge.” I knew she ate like a bird, always had. She grabbed a few, one for now and two for later. Collin would surely put a damper on her eating plans later on. I wanted to get just a little satisfaction over watching her get into all the trouble I had with Collin over eating and touching things—mostly, general breathing in the direction of the books. I’d texted her pictures of the castle where the records were kept, so it was easy for us, in a matter of seconds, to get to the castle. I wanted the first experience at this place to be completely real for her—so a few things had to happen. First, she had to discover that knocking on the door did absolutely no good. She propped her fists on her hips after the second knock. “What the hell?” I pointed to the rope with the larger-than-life tassel hanging from it. “You’ve got to be kidding, Theo. What is this, the Addams Family?” “Try it.” Colby was such a lightweight that I had to help her pull on the rope. A reverberating gong could be heard echoing through the place. She made a satisfied ‘huh’ and crossed her arms over her chest. She observed the surroundings for the first time in person. She allowed the purple flowers to float along her fingertips while we waited. She’d always been infatuated with all things delicate in nature. She didn’t want to be involved with them, but she respected their beauty. Like babies—Colby loved to look at babies, but when propositioned to hold one, she would back away slowly and shake her head with a resounding ‘no’. The monstrous door began to creak open and I stepped back, wanting Colby to get the full effect of Collin’s size and stature. Collin looked haggard this time though, and I regained my previous step to get a closer look. “Collin, what’s wrong?” He looked around and waved us in wordlessly. After we were inside, he stuck his head out of the door and looked around again. He hadn’t acted this way the other times I’d come around. Something was definitely up. “I’ve been replaced,” he lamented, dragging his right hand over his closely shaven head. I was less shocked than I thought I’d be. I was digging into topics and records that were hardly ever dug from their graves—that was the way the Synod liked it. Their word on subjects like Eivan and Eidolon were the end of the story. Though the Synod, on the surface, encouraged the Lucents to research their histories, researching and questioning were two heads of a coin teetering on the edge of defiance. “Did they say why?” Colby got his attention. “They don’t have to. I already know why. You must be Colby. It’s a pleasure to meet you, finally.” Colby shot me a knowing look. “Because of me,” I provided the answer he refused to. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve spent the better part of the last week scanning and getting most of the information on Eivan and Sevella to digital form. Whoever comes in after me tomorrow will certainly be—discouraging—to anyone who wants to look at them in the future.” This was my fault. This was the reason I wanted as few people involved as possible. This man, who had been a Guardian for decades, was now homeless and jobless because of his desire to help me. And all he did was show me some books. What repercussions would Colby have to face? I’d allowed myself to get so caught up in having her with me that I let it cloud the fact that it might ruin her life. Maybe this whole issue with Collin would change her mind. “Those sons of bitches. What will you do now? How can we help you?” In juxtaposition to his general outward appearance of strength, Collin held onto the back of the chair beside him and looked truly perplexed. “Help me? No one helps me.” That sparked a dangerous rebellion in Colby’s eyes. Her personal disdain for the Synod was mostly about herself and because of the way Rebekah was now treated in their shadow. But then again, Colby was defiant to anything and anyone who tried to rule her—she had a real deep-rooted issue with authority. “Yes, we will.” He met her stare with an equally resilient one. “I can help myself, young lady. I was going to offer my services to who I believe is the Eidolon.” He turned to address me, “It would be my honor to help you on your quest for more answers and information, Theodore.” THE SYNOD IS THE GOVERNING BODY OVER THE LUCENTS. Already, I hated the behemoth—mostly because he wasn’t letting me have my way. He offered to help Theo with his quest like Theo was Link from Zelda. I should’ve taken pictures of Collin’s face while he talked to Theo. He was in the presence of greatness, or so his expression revealed. It was just Theo, for crying out loud. A miniscule bolt of fear meandered through my veins as Theo agreed to let Collin go with him. Because he said me, not us. ‘Sure you can come with me.’ Who in the hell does this skunk ape think he is? “Don’t even think about cutting me out,” I whispered, ashamed of the emotion it carried. “Hey,” Theo sidled up next to me, using a soothing tone. “Have I ever cut you out?” He probably meant no harm by that statement. He would never purposefully hurt me. But I read between the lines anyway. What he was really saying was that I had constantly cut him out. And I had. I cut him out of my life time and time again, only to summon him back when I needed him. But Theo had always been stronger than me. He could take getting cut out and drawn back in. I couldn’t. The minute I had felt my defenses being penetrated, I cast him away. I needed to grow up. I looked into Theo’s deep gray eyes as he waited for a response. “No,” I answered. This wasn’t the time or the place to have my pesky feelings get in the way. I shuffled away from him and found what seemed to be the only standard-sized chair in the place. This Collin guy must’ve had custom furniture brought in. I dug through my bag and found one of the apples I’d stashed. I’d intended to eat it right away, but I had no idea that getting into this place would entail pulling on a huge rope using all my body weight. The apple crunched as I sank my teeth into it. The sound of my own chewing kept me from hearing the hushed conversation going on between David and Goliath. I was more of an action kind of girl. After a while, my apple was diminished, and I was itching to go again. “So how are you gonna get to Tibet?” I asked Collin. Both of their heads jerked in my direction. It wasn’t that hard of a question. He couldn’t flash like us, so traveling would be an issue. I was just being logical—practical—in a mean girl sort of way. “I have my own plane. All Guardians do in case there is an emergency meeting.” Apparently there were a lot of idiosyncrasies about the Guardian world I had no idea about. Like the fact that they had planes and held secret meetings. All this time, I thought they were just loners. Theo and Collin flowed back into their conversation about logistics and USB drives. This wasn’t turning out to be the diabolical and high-danger journey Theo had made it out to be. So far it was Slush Puppies and giants. “Can I see the books?” I queried simply out of boredom. Whatever was in those books had been cataloged in such a detailed manner by Theo and now Collin that I doubted I would find any new information. But Theo had trouble finding ketchup in the refrigerator. Boys. “Of course,” Collin waved his arm toward the back of the place. Theo chuckled into his fist. “What are you laughing at? Isn’t this what we’re supposed to be doing?” “Yes, just wait.” We meandered through the great home. I stopped to look at the paintings on our way through the hall. One was of my grandmother. “Rebekah,” Collin said with an air of reverence. “Your grandmother is the wisest of all the Prophets. But it is only in the halls of records that she is respected as she should be.” The picture of my grandmother was encased in a frame made of golden filigree. She was younger, her hair revealing the generation in which the painting was completed. “You knew her?” He patted my back. “Know, young female, know. Just because something is deemed unworthy by a group of people, doesn’t make it less loved.” Then he winked at me. An unfounded giggle erupted from my mouth. Collin was handsome up close. From far away, I couldn’t get past his overgrown stature to see it. But now, when I turned and he was bent over targeting his words to my ear, I could clearly see it. His jaw was rugged and his eyes were the deep brown of someone who had a tiny bit of rebel in them. Collin had a little bit of anarchy brewing inside him. I could see it. Theo was in such trouble. “Onward, good sir,” I said and motioned. I felt a new camaraderie with him and showed it by linking my arm through his. Theo shot a questioning look my way, but I ignored it. There was no way to explain to him the glimmer I’d seen in Collin without sounding any more right field than I usually did. “Are there no pictures of Eivan and Sevella?” I questioned the two of them. “There are in Tibet. There’s a monk there who is descended from Eivan’s advisor, Winchester—he commissioned painters to paint their portrait for one of their anniversaries. He also has some personal artifacts, but it would take some coercing to let us see them.” Coercing was my specialty. We entered the multi-storied library and I gasped. It was bigger and more magnificent than anything I could’ve imagined. In truth, I’d thought it would be more—cave-like. It was grand—a library fit for a king. “Where are the records on Sevella?” I prompted. Both men glared at me. “Don’t look at me like that. A woman usually has a more—emotional, detailed account of things. Men tend to float over the details.” Collin nodded in understanding. He stalked over to a stack already set on a table and brought all the books over to me. He outlined the stacks, giving me an overview of where I could find what. Theo stood nearby and oversaw the whole ordeal but he looked anxious—preemptive. The books were enormous volumes that smelled of the rich history of our race. History drove me. I could recite the old laws instead of the Preamble to the United States Constitution by the time I was seven. Each was leather-bound with gold writing and matching gold filigree, which struck me as indicative. This is what the Synod wanted us to believe. Were these the pretty lies Rebekah spoke of? If someone were to lie to an entire race of people, certainly covering it with leather in intimidating-sized books would be the way to convey truth. I opened the first book and gently turned it to the section, or near the section, Collin showed me. He’d presented so many things, I couldn’t keep track. Theo’s eyes widened and ping-ponged between the books and Collin. “What is your deal?” I asked a little louder than necessary. The squawk resounded through the halls in high-pitched echoes, carrying with it the level of my irritation. “You’re not gonna do the gloves and the ‘don’t breathe on anything’ routine? What the hell, man?” Theo’s earlobes had gone completely red and that vein was working an angry rhythm on the side of his neck. Whatever Collin had done was really jerking Theo’s nerves. But it didn’t matter what it was, he was out of line. “Theo!” I berated him. Collin had been ‘relieved’ of his job. Most likely, because of his recent connection to Theo and what he was studying. The guy just announced that he was going to travel with us to help, and Theo was whining about gloves or some piddly thing. Theo stuttered in response, “No—I just—he—no breathing.” I turned to our new friend. “Collin, what have you done? I’ve never seen Theo stutter like that. You must’ve committed some great crime. All I can think right now is that you did something inappropriate with gloves and breathing.” He broke out into a boisterous chortle loud enough to jostle some of the antiquated books right from their shelves. He quickly quieted himself and cleared his throat. Poor guy, he probably wasn’t used to laughing—unless it was at himself. “I hadn’t had a visitor in a great many years. I may have been overprotective of the records.” Theo was grumbling, “Overprotective, my ass.” I quieted down after the glove uproar and dove back into the texts. They were fascinating to me. Everything about who we were and where we’d come from demanded my attention and held it steadfast. Through just a few hours of reading, I’d discovered that the detailed stories of grandeur my mother and grandmother told me as a child were a firm opposition to the cold, almost scientific observations gathered in these books. Eivan was painted as a shell of a man, commandeered by his gifts—a slave to his blessing. Aggravated, I continued on and finally came upon information on Sevella—which was more of the same. She was regarded as an unsocial creature—inhospitable and standoffish. How could the stories of my youth and these ‘official records’ be so different? I slammed the book closed, not wanting any more of my visions of the Eidolon and his mate to be muddled by the flippant attitude of the authors of these histories. “These are lies,” I bellowed at no one in particular. “I can’t stand it.” Collin looked down, as if silently deciding neither to agree nor disagree with my assessment. I’d probably just ruffled the feathers of at least two thirds of my race with one statement. And if the Synod ever got wind of my rebellion—punishment would be warranted. Punishment from the Synod, at least for me, was limiting my travel. To me, not traveling was as painful as caging me in a cell. Theo bristled at my words. I didn’t mean to cause him pain—but what was in front of us wasn’t truth. And there was no point in all this searching if we were just going to settle for the Synod’s truth. We needed Eivan’s truth. Theo shut the book in front of him and leaned back, arms crossed over his chest. He was upset with me. I needed to keep my thoughts to myself for once in my life—well, the snotty ones. “I need to go to Tibet and make sure they are ready for our arrival—and get some other things done,” Theo said, standing and stretching out his back with his arms raised in the air. A slow rising blush covered my neck and bloomed in my cheeks. It had been too long and not long enough since I’d been in Theo’s presence. His shirt became taut around his shoulders as he bent left and right and his biceps stretched the limits of the material around them. I knew what was under that shirt. You just can’t unvisualize things like Theo’s torso. He was irresistible—even in mundane things, like stretching. “Okay, do you have a picture?” I slid my chair out in preparation to leave. “I don’t. Not on me. I will be back soon, Querida.” I grumped out a sound of mild irritation. I was itching already for flashing. “Collin, do you need help?” He looked at me, shocked. “No, thank you.” Theo sidled up next to me. “Go wherever you want. There’s nothing pressing happening until tomorrow. If you can just be back by tonight.” He bit down on his plumped bottom lip as he told me that last bit. It was him asking me to be back tonight. “Or we can go to Tibet tonight.” He thought it over for a second. “I will try to arrange everything. Meet me at my place tonight.” “Done,” I responded with a nod. Without telling him where I was going, I flashed to the back entrance of the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland. Once a year I went there and soaked myself in the calming, renewing waters. I walked around to the front entrance, paid my way, and bought a glimmering turquoise bikini from the gift shop. I had packed plenty of them in my bag, but I wanted to get there as quickly as possible. On the way to one of the smaller pools, I gathered my hair up and tied it into a knot at the base of my neck. No matter how many times I’d been here, the temperature of the warm, soothing water, nestled in amongst sheets and mountains of ice, was surprising. The steam around the pools rose in rings as if the tubs were blowing cigar smoke in the ice’s mouth. Around me, mothers doted on their tiny tots who clearly got a kick out of the sensation of ice to fire. Submerging myself, I let out a breath I’d been holding since I learned of Theo’s gifts. I was terrified for him. Eventually the Synod would catch up with me. I was summoned at least once a month, if not more, when my work and travel were analytically audited—to what end I didn’t know. We didn’t have many laws regarding travel. Just the usual—don’t get caught, don’t make a Las Vegas magic show out of it, and don’t use your powers for immoral behavior. But ever since the Synod had taken over, that line between immoral and moral had been skewed. Especially with their ‘sanctioned’ employment opportunities. Such was the case with Sway. Sway used to steal vaccinations, both harmful and helpful, and formulas to make more, from Russian and North Korean scientific facilities. She gave them to the Synod. The Synod, in turn, would trade them for head-turning from government officials. Theo said it was stealing—period. We weren’t supposed to use our powers to steal—even to such an end as to stop those countries from using those horrible diseases on our citizens. Sway called it the lesser of many evils. She fancied herself a Robin Hood of sorts—stealing from the devil and giving to the mildly devilish. I was on the fence and stayed there. Yes, it was stealing. And yes, she was stopping nefarious people from doing heinous acts of terror. Both sides had equal defenses in my mind. I’d finally made up my mind after she’d been captured. She had stolen an entire cold storage unit worth of Ebola from Iran and handed it over to the Synod. They, in turn, used the trade to make a government head of state turn a blind eye. A Hawaiian United States Senator had been caught on tape, flashing from the wooded area behind his home to his garage, by paparazzi amidst an unrelated political scandal. The video never saw the light of day, but apparently an entire country’s worth of potential terrorist ammunition was enough, because when the exchange was made, Sway became part of the bargain. They gave her to the government as a lab experiment, like a three-dollar rat. She was let out months later, decrepit and Resin. Sway hardly ever spoke to anyone now. Once, she told me about her ordeal but made me swear to never speak of it to anyone again. She always seemed afraid of the Synod, calling me immediately after my meeting with them just to make sure I was okay. I didn’t even bother to tell her about Theo. It would’ve been like alcohol in her wound. But for Theo—the whole situation scared me so deeply, I could hardly breathe around him. Well that and the other thing. That thing where I was completely in love with him but could only say it under complete submission. Idiot. I almost hoped he would lose his powers. They were dangerous. Nothing good has ever come of being Eidolon. Nothing. Even my fairy tales ended the same way their ‘truths’ did. Eivan was never seen again, leaving Sevella to grieve her life away. And I was afraid, selfishly so, that one day, I might take her place in the false histories. ANY LUCENTS LOST IN THE FRAY ARE TO BE REPORTED TO THE SYNOD IMMEDIATELY. I felt her land somewhere and, reaching into my gift, found she was in Iceland. I should’ve known. The woman tried to pretend like she was this no frills kind of girl. Colby was so high maintenance she should come with a manual. Good thing I’d become a Colby-specialized machinist. I knew just how she worked. I made arrangements for us to stay at a borderline contemporary home in Tibet, near enough to the temple as not to cause too much of a flash, but close enough to be out of suspicion’s hearing distance. It was costly. My father had opened up my trust fund for me. I was not supposed to have access to it until my twenty-first birthday, but he wanted me to have anything I needed on this quest. I also think that a small part of him thought I may not survive it. I may not live past knowing what I was. I may just up and disappear like Eivan—never to be seen again. No, those were my own fears. With everything set, I decided to get back to the cottage and pack up the little I had. When I first began traveling, I tested the waters with weight limits—like an airplane. I tried to carry heavy things and light things until I found a good balance. Thirty pounds was about right for me—though for Colby it was more like twenty, gauging the weight of her bags. I also tested the limits on my own weight—it was the same thing. When I gained weight, on a purposeful binge of glazed donuts, I felt heavier and after I flashed, my body was weak and exhausted. I hated it when Colby was right. She was always smug about it. But somehow the same principle wasn’t true with another being. I knew it in my gut. I packed up all our things and sat down at the computer, waiting for Colby to arrive. After re-studying the notes, looking for a clue or more information I’d missed, I felt a rush of energy inside me—the shadow of myself returning to my body. I’d let my shadow play in the field outside the cottage while I was in Tibet, pretending to read and take a long leisurely walk. There was only one reason he would return without my call. Resin were present. And if he’d been discovered, then they were near. I grabbed my bags and Colby’s and called her phone—of course it was off, she was in the geothermic pools. I had to get her. Flashing quickly into Collin’s home felt like an invasion of privacy, but one word, ‘Resin’, answered all his questions at once. I couldn’t conjure a cohesive thought other than making sure Colby was safe. Honing my seeking skills, I felt warm water around me and an icy coolness at my neck. It made me feel like sweating and shivering at the same time. She was still in Iceland. I didn’t know how I could feel her sensations like that. Maybe it was a new power emerging. Almighty above, I hoped not. I just wanted to flash to her location and hide her away from harm. “Colby is going to the cottage tonight. I have to get them away from there,” I yelled mostly at the air, but also at Collin. Somehow in all of this he’d become an advisor to me—always so calm and knowing. “Use your shadow.” He was bustling now, in more of a rush to leave with the Resin near. The Resin were mostly just humans, powerless and unable to travel. But it wasn’t what they couldn’t do that made them dangerous—it was what they knew coupled with their vengeful attitude about their lack of power. The power they’d been born with had been stripped from them. Lucents didn’t even know how the Resin’s power was stripped. We figured it was through endless torture or experiments—but there was no surety. Not one of them could remember the exact moment their powers were taken. They only mourned their absence. Some of them were even said to have a phantom feeling, like amputees can still feel their missing arm or leg. Still, we could be caught. They used some device—Colby called it the Blinder—it was a crude contraption that completely bound our visual cortex. It looked like a stun gun—or so was the rumor. They sent a needle-like dart into our body with a dose of some medicine that rendered our occipital lobes completely dormant. If we couldn’t visualize our target destination, then we couldn’t flash. Nor could we pick out our captors without a brain that could process sight. “I need to distract them. Maybe if I flash in front of them, they will think I’m gone.” “That will expose your gift. I assume they already suspect. That’s why they are following you, but why give them more ammunition?” “It will get them away from Colby.” He sighed, sounding exasperated like a parent with a child. “Just go get her. If she throws a fit, I will restrain her myself.” He grinned mischievously. I knew something shady went down in the hallway while they were looking at the picture of Rebekah. They stared way too long. I’m a jealous bastard. “It would be a real hardship, I can tell.” “What?” He shrugged like it was no big deal. “I don’t exactly have a harem around here. I can appreciate a handsome woman when I see one.” “A handsome woman? What are you, eighty?” “Maybe.” “Okay, get ready to hold her down, but don’t have that shit-eating grin on your face when she gets here.” Collin saluted me. In a moment’s time, I was in the back of the changing room of The Blue Lagoon and grateful for an empty space. I shucked my pants and shirt, tossing them onto one of the benches as not to look out of place. I quickened my pace through the lobby as I hadn’t paid to get in—and probably wouldn’t. There was only one thing on my mind and a massage in sea water wasn’t it. Clenching my hands into fists, I concentrated on her. I imagined the perfect curve of her hip that led to the hourglass of her waist. My fingers twitched—as though they were remembering the feel of her skin—and that’s when she appeared to me. The sensation was different from before when I just knew where she was. This was like being near her—close enough to take a picture. She shot up to a sitting position and looked around her for something. I wondered if she could feel me. I knew her exact location and my feet took me there in an instant. “We need to talk.” She bolted from the pool in a hurry. “Yes, we do. We had…” I glanced around me to see if there were listening ears. “There are dirty people around the cottage. We need to move faster than I thought.” “Dirty.” She shuddered, still not getting my drift. “They like airplanes,” I said in a slow row of words, trying to get her to understand. “Oh, them, yeah, okay. Can you show me pictures?” “Not yet. Let’s get to Collin’s and then move from there. He will be worried otherwise.” “Behind there,” she pointed to a fairly empty pool in front of an icy wall. In a moment, we were back at Collin’s, or what was once Collin’s, mansion. I expected the need to hide Colby from his sight, especially since she was wearing only threads and the old man was already jonesing for her. But Collin was nowhere to be found. “Where is he?” Colby inquired. We weren’t worried—it was a huge place. “I don’t know. I brought our bags here. Maybe you should get changed before he returns.” I looked everywhere but at her, hoping she wouldn’t get soaked in my spew of jealousy. “Okay,” she questioned with a furrowed brow. When did I become this archaic man? I searched the whole house for Collin. I had no way of calling his cell phone—no way of getting in touch with him other than coming directly to his home. Colby came out sometime later, having taken the liberty of using Collin’s shower. “Where is he,” she repeated her earlier question. “I don’t know, but now I’m getting a little worried.” Colby popped out her bottom lip. “He’s a big guy. He can handle himself. We aren’t his babysitters. Maybe he had business in town or had to say goodbye to a girlfriend. You don’t know. That’s a handsome sasquatch.” “Yeah, you two had a little moment in the hallway.” She flounced onto the antique-looking couch and laughed. “Oh yeah, it was so sexy. We had a real moment there. His eyes bore into mine. It was like our souls understood each other…talking about my grandmother!” I could take a lot of things. Seeing Colby flirt and have fun with other guys had never been a comfortable situation. But all of this relationship in the air stuff had me on edge. Plus, there was that thing where I could possibly be the savior of the Resin. I couldn’t even save myself. “Sorry, I’m just—I don’t know what I am anymore.” “You’re a man, remember.” She patted down herself as I’d done the night before. “Funny.” We sat in silence, both glancing back and forth at the door, expecting Collin any moment. “Theo,” Colby said, throwing her legs over the edge of the sofa. “Yes, Querida.” The term of affection flowed so easily from my lips. “What’s your greatest fear?” I checked her face to see if the question was serious or just one of her games. The sternness of her chin indicated she was true in her want to know. It made me squirm, her question. Mostly because I didn’t know the answer. I had a clue as to what my ultimate fear was, but really, was it her goal to completely expose me? Did she have to dissect me all the time? I just wasn’t that interesting. But if there was anything interesting about me, she would dig it out. “You have to earn that knowledge.” “Earn it, pshh…” Her response irked me. It irked me a lot. Just those two words and one sound made me know for sure what I’d suspected for so long but refused to acknowledge. I had spoiled Colby rotten. So rotten that she’d begun to take me for granted. She’d been doing it for years. At first I didn’t mind it. I somewhat prided myself on being one of those guys who tended to my girl’s every whim. And for the first few years, it was give and take. She was affectionate and loving. But after her dad died, she began to slowly pull away. I knew it was aftershocks of her dad’s death, so I gave her the space she craved. But when I gave her a mile, she stretched it to two miles. She was fine over the phone or while we were with a group of people. But one on one, she was distant. She made sure we were either making out or doing something equally busy so that we never had time to really talk about anything. “Yes. Earn it. You’re my best friend before anything else, Colby. But we have hardly spoken in two years and now you just expect to jump right in and have me bare my soul? Give it five minutes for the love of the Almighty.” Her eyes widened at my response. I bit my lips to stop them from immediately apologizing. That’s what I would’ve done before, apologized—even if I wasn’t wrong. She had me by a noose and she knew it, but did she really have to tighten the knot so much? “I’m sorr…” The door busted open and in barreled Collin with a swollen eye and a slit lip. His button-down shirt was torn from the pocket being ripped open and there was a cut across his broad knuckles. “What the hell,” I asked him. “Resin—tried to break in—beat their asses.” He huffed out. A chuckle burst from me at hearing Collin say he’d beaten someone’s ass. “It looks like they got a few in,” Colby said, running to Collin’s aid. He was barely bleeding. LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHOULD BE CIRCUMVENTED IN THE CASE OF A CRIME. I was sure it was Theo’s newfound disdain for Collin that blinded him to the severity of Collin’s wounds. Either that, or it was another one of Theo’s man things—where he downgraded wounds, ticking them off his gory bucket list. Collin had taken a real beating—for us, for Theo. Those little Resin bastards must’ve had a stepstool or a ladder. That was the only way I could imagine any of them reaching his eye or his mouth for that matter. But not only had they reached it, they’d had some real power behind their punches. “How many?” I demanded. “There were five of them. Two ran for the hills as soon as they saw me. But the other three tried to take me on. I left them unconscious. I didn’t want to…” He didn’t want to kill them or render them physically incapable. His reasoning didn’t have to be spoken aloud. We had to get through whatever this was with as little Resin casualties as possible. The more Resin who were alive—the more who had the possibility of being restored by Theo—if he was what we expected he was. “Did you recognize any of them?” “No. All girls of course—two of the damned biggest Amazonian-looking females I’d ever seen. I swear they had bigger biceps than me.” Collin took my chin between his thumb and forefinger and drew my attention to him. “I wouldn’t hurt a female—I’ve never hurt a female—I couldn’t let them get to you—him. I couldn’t let them get to Theo. I have no suspicions left. I know what he is.” I reassured him with an insincere smile. “I know that, Collin. I’m not afraid of you. You were just protecting us.” He offered a curt nod. Despite his obvious strength, he hissed loudly when I dabbed his cut with alcohol. I cleaned up the welt on his eye and offered him ice. “No, we have no time. They have seen me and will know soon enough that I am assisting Theo. There are enough spies working in connection with the Synod—they will all know soon what information we are searching for.” He grabbed my elbow and implored, “Theo will need us—more than he knows.” It was my turn to nod. “All cleaned up.” Theo’s voice broke us from the intensity of the conversation. “Yes. Did you make the arrangements?” I looked to Collin. “I am ready. Can you fly the helicopter like this?” Collin frowned. “Female, it’s a bloody lip and a busted jaw. Neither are required for the operation of a helicopter.” “Oh, really? I thought you flew with your lips.” In lieu of answering, he hopped down from the counter and began gathering his things. Theo’s foot was tapping involuntarily. “Let’s go,” I prompted. His attitude toward Collin was grating on my last nerve. It wasn’t in Theo’s personality to not show appreciation. It also wasn’t like him to be so bitter all the time. I counted on him for those things. He was encouraging and mindful of good manners where I was jaded and bitter. I didn’t like the shift of paradigm. Not one bit. Maybe it was my fault. I’d made him like this—as much as one person can alter another’s personality. His glare bore down on me as I contemplated how to get him back to his normal self. Probably more feelings and emotional vomiting and shit. Theo handed me my bag. He took my hand, showed me a quick visual, and offered a playful smile. “Wanna try it together?” “No!” I wretched from his grasp. What was he thinking? His hurt expression told me he thought it would be some kind of bonus to this whole ordeal. I may have overreacted. Just a little. He flashed without me and before I followed, I was enveloped by his wake, the tones displaying the emotions I could already read by his sorrowful eyes and lips thinned in disappointment. The colors were dark, muddy greens, murky like his thoughts, no doubt. We arrived in the middle of the picture he’d shown me. My landing feet tapped on the teakwood floors. I groped Theo’s shoulders for balance, nearly toppling us both over. It wasn’t the most graceful of landings. Certainly not one for the books. “Sorry,” I shifted, regaining my footing. “Don’t ever apologize for using me to steady yourself,” he said in a faint whisper. There was too much meaning between our words lately. Everything was a double entendre. “So this is Tibet.” I made a three sixty. The home was sparse but beautiful. Everything was built of the same teakwood. I gave myself a tour of the place while Theo stood on the porch which overlooked the landscape of peaks and valleys. The further into the house I went, the cooler it got. And when I reached the very back wall of the home, I realized why. The wall wasn’t a wall at all. It was a solid sheet of mountainous rock. The home wasn’t built on the side of a mountain as I’d first guessed. It was built into the mountain. The house boasted three large bedrooms and one bathroom that rivaled some modern ones in the States. I crossed through the living room and went through the sliding doors. Theo hadn’t moved from his previous position. I sidled up to him and made a childish attempt to make conversation by pushing his shoulder with mine. “If it’s not okay, we can find somewhere else,” he said imperviously. “Come on. I’m not that bad, am I?” His lack of answer was my answer. “I am not high maintenance.” He cut me a look that argued otherwise. “Name one thing that makes me high maintenance.” Theo turned in my direction and began to tick off reasons on his fingers. “The soap, the Slush Puppies, the dresses, the bikinis, the shoes, the shampoo, the fingernails, the…” “Okay, okay.” Maybe he had a point. Doubt crawled into my heart. This wasn’t exactly the kind of mission for a newly discovered fickle girl like me. Did he need some stealthy woman with highly attuned senses and at least decent manners? “I’ll try not to be,” I swore the oath to myself more than him. He squeezed my waist and drew me in closer. “You’re…particular. There’s nothing wrong with that. You know what you want.” Again with the two-headed meanings. Everything became clouded in his presence. I inhaled his exhales as if I survived on them. Had I mentioned how divine his lips were? A freckle lay directly in the middle of his bottom lip, and it beckoned me to relish once again in the feel of his mouth and the things it did to me. “You can’t do this to me,” he begged. “Do what?” “Always making me wonder where we are.” He took advantage of our position and stroked my back. I could almost feel the details of the pads of his fingers through the lightweight material of my dress. A remembered heat built in my chest and meandered throughout my torso, searching out his touch. “You can’t let me touch you like this and not give me anything. You love me. You said it.” He placed tender nips at my bottom lip and all logical thought fell away. “I did.” “You’re mine again,” he inquired sincerely. I nodded. But I should’ve known the lack of words wouldn’t suffice for him. “Do I need to pin you down again?” He teased. I argued, “There’s more going on here. It’s bigger than me and you.” He narrowed his smoky eyes and tightened his hold on me. His fingers pulsed, as though they were trying to draw out more of a verbal reaction. When that failed to work, his lips, those delicious, truth serum-like appendages descended on the curve of my neck. The short hairs on the side of his head tickled my cheek, bidding caged goose bumps freedom. But when those lips reached my earlobe, I lost it. “I’m yours.” I finally relented. All movement froze. “Is it getting easier,” he asked in secret next to my ear. I wish that expressing my emotions was like recovering from surgery—the more you did, the easier it got. Nope. Not for me. No,” I answered truthfully. “It will, Querida. I’ll help you.” Of course he would. Must he be so damned—Theo all the time? “There are more important things at stake here,” I attempted to change the subject to anything but me. “There are.” He again took up his luscious assault on my neck. “And now, with all of this settled, I can finally concentrate on it.” Too bad I couldn’t concentrate on anything but how low his hands had gone. He was going for the thighs. I just knew it. “I’m hungry.” I grasped at a straw, not quite ready to jump all the way back into our relationship so quickly. I knew it would throw him into ‘take care of me’ mode. “Okay. Let’s go into the village for soup or something.” “Sounds good.” We flashed down to a valley near the town, courtesy of one of my satellite apps. Walking into town, I watched the people go about their business. Each country had its own feel and smell. Tibet, so far, smelled like candied incense and mustard powder. Bells and the bustling of street vendors selling their product filled my ears. Monks dressed in orange garb paraded down the street in a perfect line, chanting prayers, probably for themselves at the news of who would arrive the next day—nosey foreigners. One of the monks, the last one in the procession, caught my eye. There was something not quite fitting about him amongst his brothers. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the difference was. Thinner than the others, his carriage and gait registered differently than his predecessors. He held my gaze and immediately came to a halt. “What?” Theo followed my stare. “There’s something different about that one.” Theo popped a shoulder in nonchalance and dragged me away. He was always afraid I was going to start a cultural faux pas while in other countries—especially those where caning was a prominent punishment. Really, I think he was saving me from possibly setting the domino that would lead to WWIII, because that’s something I would accidentally do. No, really, it’s something I would do. He was completely justified in that line of thinking. We settled on the only vendor who seemed to speak some English. The enormous hunks of meat had me squelching a gag. So when we sat on the curb of the street, our makeshift dining table, the first thing I did was scoop out my hunk, which I swore was a hoof, and plopped it into Theo’s bowl. He chuckled at my blatant disgust for all things meat related. I wasn’t a vegetarian as a rule. But eating heavy foods usually stagnated my flashing and made me feel sluggish. “Should we call Collin?” I asked after slurping some of the pungent broth. “I don’t have his number.” “Yeah, I guess we missed some of the basics. So when are we going to the temple?” “Tomorrow morning.” “I need to call my mom. I need to call Ari and Sway. I set up Ari on all of my jobs.” He nodded, way too interested in his soup. I sipped at mine, completely blasé about the whole eating thing. The people around us scattered, taking their oxen and goats with them. Theo now seemed to be in a different world, staring off into space instead of eating. “If you’re done, maybe we should get back. The vendor woman is eyeing our bowls. She probably thinks we may swipe them or something.” Still it took him a moment to respond. “Sure.” He took mine and nested it within his and handed it back to the woman who received it with a smile despite her previous foul expression. That was the effect Theo had on women in general. EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES MUST BE PRE-APPROVED BY THE SYNOD. It happened again. Colby was talking about the monk at the end of the line. I don’t even know how it happened or why it kept happening. I stared at the monk, not really noticing anything different about him. And then while I was eating the soup, I heard him speaking and somehow I knew it was him. It was similar to when I’d heard Colby talking to Rebekah, but I assumed it was a thing between the two of us. The monk’s voice was hushed. He spoke not to a person, but as a person recording something. It was too much. Every time I turned around there was something else happening to me. I had to find more information. No wonder most of the stories centered on Eivan and his inability to handle all the powers being bestowed upon him at one time. Wasn’t it enough that I was the fluke male who could flash? I didn’t want to put any more pressure on Colby. She was so benign about most deep things. I thought that was why she spent so much energy on superficial things—it was to deter her from thinking about things that really mattered. Plus, she was a brat. Collin wouldn’t arrive until later in the night. With everything that had happened, it sounded ridiculous, but I just needed one night with her. I’d been deprived of her presence for so long that I just needed my fill of her. Even though she claimed we were together, she was still distant. Maybe it was just the stress of all this. I almost wish she hadn’t come. Almost. When we got to the valley, we flashed to the house. “Are you tired?” I asked her. “No. I thought maybe we could go somewhere tonight. Somewhere you like to go. We always used to go wherever I wanted.” We had always gone where she wanted, but I’d never minded. “Really?” “Sure. Do you want to go to The Isle of Skye? Maybe just home? If you want to go spend some time with your parents, it’s fine.” She was facing the bookshelves, packed with books that appeared to be as ancient as the mountains themselves. There was no TV in the whole place, not that Colby had ever been fond of TV, with the exception of the travel channel for obvious reasons. “Let’s go to Catatumbo,” I suggested, wrapping my arms around her waist and pulling her against me. “But that’s one of my favorites,” she said, turning so that I could see her pronounced pout. “It’s one of mine too. This is the perfect season for the lightning storms.” “I know. Let’s grab a blanket or two.” A side effect of Colby’s lithe stature and purposefully kept low weight was that she was always cold, which was also another reason why she loved the beach. While other tourists baked, she was completely satisfied in the heat. I grabbed two blankets, both brightly colored, like the clothing of the Tibetan people and teased, “Beat you there.” I hit our spot at the top of the cliff before she did. From our perch, the Catatumbo River could be seen for miles and miles. The lightning storms lasted two hundred plus days a year. It was Colby’s spot of choice next to Scandinavia. She said she felt close to our people when surrounded by lightning. Her tenacity for the history and wellbeing of our people had been on my mind constantly, of late. She revered the tales of how our people came to be and if Xoana were alive today, Colby would be her biggest fan and greatest ally. Sable once told me, seemingly in jest, that she thought Colby was the spirit of Xoana herself, come back to avenge what started so long ago with the lightning strike on her temple. If I was what I thought I was—she was my perfect mate. She was my perfect mate—no matter what. Colby took a little longer than I expected. Just as I’d decided to check on her, she arrived. “I grabbed a sweater, just in case.” I nodded and spread out the blankets. I wished we could just go back to the way things were, before. I hoped it wasn’t because of what or who I was. The last thing in the world I wanted was to be away from Colby for one more second. “Meu amor, you think too much. Come, sit.” “I don’t know if I can,” she whispered as the lightning around us caused her already blonde hair to glow. That was how I always dreamed of her—it was natural—she belonged to the lightning and it belonged to her. This place always renewed her. It was like she was coming home. There was no rain in this storm, only lightning and the dry, balmy winds. A loud, almost thundering bolt struck, but this one could be seen where the negative leader met the positive streamer in the middle of the sky. The light made her jump, and a smile ten times more brilliant than the electricity lit up her face. Colby slowly proceeded to sit down next to me, but I wasn’t having any of that. I gripped her tiny waist and hoisted her up so that she sat between my outstretched legs. An electric sensation pulsed through me in waves at having her so near again. Thousands of bolts raced through the sky. One particularly close one shot down and startled her. She turned and held on to me. “Are you worried?” I asked her, craving her negative response. “Yes.” “I’m scared for you. I’m worried about me with you and how that will complicate your situation.” Another bolt made her scoot a little closer. I took advantage of the position and encircled her waist in my arms. She was as stiff as ice. Must she make me work so damned hard? “You are like the relâmpago,” I whispered in her ear. “Why?” She leaned back and let herself get comfortable in my hold. “Because you come from the heavens, from Paraíso, and you strike the sky making everything around you light up. And I’m just one of those streamers, hoping that you will reach down and touch me.” She grunted out her aggravation. “I can’t do that, Theo. I can’t open my chest and let you know everything. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel it, because I do. It feels like peeling my skin off.” I chuckled and she moved with me, my laugh jostling us both. “Good thing I’m sappy enough for us both.” “Sway,” she said and let her friend’s name float into the air without explanation or purpose. “What about her?” “Eivan could restore the Resin. She wouldn’t tell a soul. You could try your power on her.” I let my forehead rest on her shoulder. I wasn’t ready for that. Being ready to try that meant I’d come to a point where acceptance was real. And it was nowhere near real. Eidolon in my head was still a childhood story like Robin Hood. Too good to be true. “Can we just let it settle—find out more information before we go doing magic shows?” She nuzzled her back closer into my chest, distracting me from the subject. I appreciated the gesture. “I forced myself not to miss this.” She tightened her hold on my arms around her, and I obliged drawing her in the space between us. That was just about the most emotion I was going to get without pinning her down, but I’d take it. I could read between the lines. My phone buzzed. I threw it on the ground next to me, silencing it, but Colby picked it up. “Hello,” she answered in a sweet tone. She always answered my phone, mostly because I hated it. “Already? Boy, you are so quick. Make yourself at home. We will be there soon.” He said something else that made her giggle and slap her knee, breaking her free of my hold. The bastard. “Collin just landed. We should get back.” “There’s no hurry. Collin’s a big boy.” She tensed. I was no mind reader, but I could tell I was about to be on the receiving end of a Colby attack. “What’s your problem? You’ve never shown the least bit of jealousy before. And that was when we were in high school. That was when I expected you to be a jealous little ninny. Now you’ve chosen to grow a green tail over a man who is old enough to court Rebekah. Give me a freakin’ break, Theodore.” Her eyes squinted. The splotches on her neck and chest were in full force. Plus, she’d called me Theodore. She always got formal when she was angry. It kinda got me going. But I’d never tell her that. She’d never do it again. I had to admit, the jealousy thing had taken me by just as much surprise as it had her. But there were only so many things a guy could suppress. Right at that moment, for instance, I was squashing down the urge to kiss her senseless. “In high school I knew you were mine, that’s the difference.” I’d also become a little piss ant, apparently. She didn’t say anything and I didn’t expect her to. I caved, “I’ll lay off the snide remarks, okay?” Nodding once, she tucked herself back into place. My heart throbbed against my ribcage. It was the same throbbing I got when I kissed her under the boardwalk. Colby reached back and tousled my hair, pulling me down to rest my chin on her shoulder. These little gestures were her language. She spoke so many things to me through her mannerisms, which was why I hadn’t minded her lack of loving words over the years. In my arms was my heart—a respiração em meus pulmões. “Maybe the lightning is just meeting the streamer in the middle. It can’t help itself. It would leave the beauty of heaven to be with the streamer if only for one second.” The skin on her neck pebbled as I breathed warm air against it and fair hairs on the back of her neck rose to the challenge. “Can you be my rock, Querida? Will you be my Sevella if all of this is true?” LUCENT FEMALES ARE TO KEEP AN UPSTANDING REPUTATION AT ALL TIMES. I changed the subject quickly and pretended to be distraught over having still not called my mother or Ari or Sway. We flashed back to the house. Collin was all business. He’d made a pit stop in South Korea and put a set of information-carrying USB drives in the hand of someone he said he trusted with his life. The boys were pretty beat, but I was wide awake. I placed calls to Sway and Ari, letting them know where we were, but no more. I told them the bare minimal information in case they were ever questioned in connection to us. “Tell me everything,” my mom insisted. “Mom, what if you’re questioned? I don’t want the Synod up your ass because of me.” “Oh, Colby, the Synod has been up my ass more times than I care to admit. Just tell me. It will help you to get it off your chest.” “Okay.” I flopped onto the chair on the porch and spilled my guts. Some things came out as a robotic spewing of facts and some things came out with an emotional tone of voice I didn’t know I was capable of. My mom knew my aversion to feelings but never missed a beat. Before I knew what had happened, I was a blubbering mess, just hopping from topic to topic with no intelligent train of thought. Arms folded a blanket around my legs and put two tissues in my hands and then disappeared. “Mom, I’m a newspaper where he’s a romance novel.” She laughed loud and long at that remark. “No, you’re more like a travel magazine.” “Make fun of me, Mom. Thanks.” That made her laugh even harder. “Go to bed, Colby. You sound like a mess and it’s taking everything in me not to flash over there and hold you. I’m going to Rebekah’s tomorrow. She said she’s got some kind of stomach bug and she doesn’t get sick often.” “That’s because she’s taken to eating big, greasy slabs of meatloaf. No wonder she’s having digestion issues.” “Meatloaf? I just gagged, Colby. Don’t say that word again.” I sighed into the phone. “Thanks, Mom.” “I love you more than time and space, Colby. And Theo does too.” “I love you too, Mom.” “See? Not so hard, huh? Do the boy a solid and tell him you love him more than just once a year.” “Do you a solid? Have you learned how to travel to the seventies?” “No. I wish. Goodnight, my girl. Be safe.” “Goodnight, Mom.” Shrugging out of the blanket, I did the best I could to mop up the remains of my emotion fest. It was Theo who had covered me and provided the tissues. Knowing him, he was watching me through the window. I moved to get up when I saw a flicker of something in the distance. Whatever it was, it bobbed from place to place. It must’ve been an animal. Blindly reaching behind me, I knocked on the windows. Theo was out first, followed by Collin. “There’s something out there.” “Resin.” “I think it’s an animal. But it was so fast.” Panicking, I jumped behind Theo. “I read that there’s a huge jumping spider here.” Their response? Both of the men I’d so foolishly trusted with my protection and safekeeping doubled over laughing. Still scanning the bushes for movement I saw it again, but this time, the figure gave itself away. “Lucent.” I pointed in awe. “There was a flash. It’s one of us.” All eyes focused on where I was pointing but that was the last we saw of whoever it was. If it were Resin, there would be no flashing. But if it were Lucent, who would be so near to us without making themselves known? “Let’s get inside. You’re staying with me tonight, just in case. We don’t know who is on our side and who isn’t at this point.” Collin cleared his throat not so smoothly. “I don’t think that’s proper. You two are not bonded.” He was a lot more handsome when he was fueled by rebellion. All this prim and proper didn’t fit along with his beard and Viking-esque vibe. “Don’t worry, Collin, the only person in the world who is more concerned about rules is this one.” I jutted my thumb toward Theo, who looked a little offended. “Trust me. I’ve been with him in one way or another since I was seven and—well—all marriage type rules are being followed.” Collin fingered his severely buttoned collar and released the top button. “Well, as long as your parents are aware of the situation, I guess I have no authority over the circumstances. But we have enough to worry about—let’s not add pregnancy to the mix.” I was living in a sex talk nightmare featuring a Norseman Sasquatch that I just met. “It will be fine.” Theo assured him, grabbed my hand and pulled me down the narrow hallway. My bags were already in the room sitting next to his. That was his plan all along. “You are such a sneak. Everyone thinks you’re such a pillar of righteousness and virtue and you’re just a—a—a —I don’t even know.” “Just because your bags are in my room doesn’t mean I was planning anything. I just didn’t know what room you wanted to stay in. Don’t get all twitchy.” “So do you think whoever is out there is dangerous?” “No.” “So why do I need to sleep in here?” I threw my arms in the air and screamed at him. It was out of turn, but it had been a long day and I had zero patience for Theo and his crap. I took one step back as I met his gaze. “Can’t I just want to hold you tonight?” Who could say no to that? After changing into pajamas we both crawled into the bed, really just a yoga mat on the floor with sparse blankets. Naturally, we fell into our old sleeping position and were soon fast asleep. *** Chopping woke us the next morning. Who chops things in the morning? Who? “You should’ve let me kill Collin back when I was jealous,” Theo murmured into my hair. He began a dangerous path of pecks down my back. “Please, Theo, you’re still jealous. You’re just going to hide it well. Correct?” “What is with all the chopping,” he asked with a wide grin, not so smoothly ignoring my question. In turn, I ignored him, grabbed my bag, and flashed into the bathroom. It resembled more of a sauna than a bathroom—more of the teakwood I’d found in the rest of the house. I loved the simple elegance of the whole thing. After showering, trying not to use all of the hot water, I put on a white maxi dress with a pale pink sweater on top. My stomach rolled thinking about all the faux pas I would commit while with the monks. I just knew I was going to embarrass Theo so much that he’d ask me to go home. “I saved you some hot water,” I blurted out into the kitchen. As my eyes searched for Theo, I squealed a little. In the kitchen was Collin, chopping away at some fruit salad makings, Theo with a devilish grin on his face—and two monks. One was the one I’d eyed at the end of their line—he was just so intriguing to me. And I was equally intriguing to him, I’d guessed by the way he then stared at me in awe. They pressed their hands together and bowed in my direction. I bowed back, only because I didn’t know what else to do. No one broke out in uncontrollable laughter, so I assumed I didn’t commit an international manners crime. Theo sidled up beside me. “They have come to escort us.” “How do you know? Aren’t they not allowed to speak?” “A note, Querida. Are you ready?” “Yes. Are you?” “I’m fine.” He didn’t look fine. In fact, he looked downright squirmy. Theo took my hand because he needed to. He was anxious. I let go of his hand and burrowed into his side. I knew it would comfort him. Wrapping his arm around my waist, he kissed my temple and sighed. The guilt of denying him these things that I knew made him happy was almost more palpable now than it was when I stayed away from him. “Whatever it is, we will handle it together,” he murmured the words to me that I should be saying to him. But they were still stuck in my throat. “Yes.” The monks were watching us intently. The one curious monk had his head tilted to the side listening and almost hanging onto every word and gesture Theo and I shared. The other one made a wave toward the door and we took it as our signal to leave. Collin grumbled something about not eating and tossed his chunks of fruit into the refrigerator. Both monks turned to us and smiled. The monk who interested me so much grabbed the hand of the other, and before I knew what was happening or had time to process—they’d both flashed away. They flashed. Traveled. Like Lucents. Like us. “Holy shit! Those monks are Lucents!” I shouted to the space that was occupied by the monks a few seconds before. Beside me, Theo closed his eyes and shook his head. Cursing in the same sentence as monks probably wasn’t the most ladylike thing to do. It wasn’t like he thought I was Princess Kate when he decided to love me. He knew I was a bag of mess. “What? I bet they were the ones flashing near the house last night—checking us out.” “Let’s just go before they come back and you cuss at them again.” I thumped him on the shoulder. “I waited until they were gone.” “Praise the Almighty for the little things,” Collin grunted in the corner. I didn’t know if he was more pissed about me cussing or his precious fruit. “We are going to flash ahead, Collin. We’ll see you later?” “Yes. I will be there as soon as I can.” “Wait,” Theo said. I’d already started to move into a space away from him to flash. I knew what he would say. I didn’t know why he wanted to test this theory so badly. “No.” I answered before the question could be posed. “Collin isn’t scared,” Theo challenged. “But I am. People get lost. And until we can figure out how those two did it, we should remain cautious.” Collin bounced down the stairs off the porch and began his journey on foot toward the temples. “At least someone has some sense.” I didn’t wait for Theo’s reply. I flashed to the temple, making sure to land on the crumbling stone stairs in front of it instead of in the temple itself. I would have to wait for Theo to mimic his formalities. *** Hours later, we were deep in research. My mind was filled to the brim with new information and histories I’d never dreamed of. We were getting all the answers we came for and more. No, wait. That wasn’t happening at all. We were still having tea and listening to chanting. For three hours. Even Collin was hanging himself with an invisible noose. He’d also stabbed himself with an invisible knife and slit his throat several times with his finger. He was trying to get me in trouble. I’d crossed and recrossed my legs four hundred times. I’d snorted the first time Collin made a face of boredom, directed at me. Here I’d thought the Viking was all formal and prim, like Theo. Turns out he was a little bit fun—a little bit. The last time my tailbone hurt this bad, it was from a sealing ceremony. Sealings, or Lucent weddings, took three hours—which was exactly two hours and forty minutes longer than I wanted anything to last. The monks were still chanting. It was a beautiful sound, even I had to admit. Their voices rose and fell with such spirit and conviction. The curious monk—curious to me—was missing from the festivities and I wondered why. He was last in line and now was missing from the fun part—and I used the term fun loosely. Around the third time I’d nodded off, the chanting stopped, but I was only a fool once. The first time they stopped I thought for sure that was the end, but instead it was just one of many rounds. It was merely a pause. This time, several of the monks got up from their sitting positions and began bustling about. Collin got up and we followed his lead. One of the monks ticked his head toward the door, and we took it as our cue to move on. We were wordlessly escorted to a small cabin outside. Its construction mirrored the temple in elegance, but not in grandeur. It was removed from the building, but carried that same air of reverence. It looked to be many years younger than the ancient temple, like it was an afterthought. We were welcomed by a door swinging open, and inside was the missing monk whose smile indicated he hadn’t been lost at all. The door closed behind us. “I am Pema,” said a faint and very female voice from the other side of the small hut. We all turned to find that the monk—was not a monk at all. Her voice was all fairy and pixie. She spoke in a tone that was neither hushed nor forced. My face reddened in embarrassment. I needed to be sent to social skills school or something. Her presence was mysterious, yet alluring. The close cut hair was there, but as she threw off the confines of her dreary robe, I could see why she’d looked so curious to me, because he wasn’t a he at all. It was a pixie-cut she. She wore a simple brown dress underneath the robe, almost Puritan in nature and form. And her short hair was very becoming on her tiny, thin body. Her eyes were sweet, honest almonds whose corners rose as she smiled with her introduction. “You are Pema?” I questioned the pint-sized beauty. I thought Pema meant something crucial. I’d gotten into Sherlock Holmes mode, thinking there was always information between the two lines. Plus, I thought the chanting did something to my head—like made my brains mush. “I think her name is Pema,” Theo corrected and Pema confirmed with a nod of her head. Know it all. “Yes. My name is Pema. Thank you, Theo. Collin said you were well-mannered and very kind. I see that he was right.” Collin was in big trouble. But we didn’t have time for petty reprimands. Should we know that name? I filtered through what we’d learned thus far but Pema didn’t register. She acted as if we should know who she was. “I am the great, great granddaughter of Eivan. I live here under the umbrella of the monks. The family was made aware of your search for information from Collin. We discussed it at great length and have decided not to help, as we are on neither side—neither helpful nor hurtful, but to simply offer alternative information.” I wasn’t aware there were sides in this story. She stepped, more like danced, to the small rickety table. Several leather bags were there, like Indiana Jones had lost one of his messenger bags. “What you have been reading so far has been the Synod’s histories. You see, in any culture, place, or race—and in our case, species, there is history. But just like the truth, every person retains their own form of it. What you have been reading was what they chose for you to read. The Synod, just like most groups of powerful collaborates, have their own agenda. And what would an agenda be without the proper evidence?” She began to unshackle each bag and pull books from them. “I won’t tell you my conclusions, my facts, or my take on the Synod and who they really are. You have to determine that for yourself. But these may help you.” In worship, she ghosted her fingers across the covers of the books. “This is our side of the story. These are our written truths. I’ve been given permission to show them to you now. You may study them for three days. After that, they will be taken back to their hiding place.” She faced us again. Pema had spoken more to the books than to us, so when she turned around, the tears rivering down her face marked the treasure these truths were to her. Her show of intense emotion amplified my curiosity. “Theodore,” she continued, laying a hand on his arm. “We have been watching you for some time. Study, learn, and draw your own conclusions.” She began to leave, but he stopped her. “Am I the—am I?” She gave him a tight-lipped smile. “You are. You are the one we’ve been waiting for. Make sure you read and study with that mindset. You are no longer searching for what you are. You are now on a mission to find out the limitations and limitlessness of what being an Eidolon means. As I said before, we have been waiting for you for a very long time.” Pema made another move to Collin, raising up on her toes to kiss his cheek and then giggling as his scraggly beard tickled her face. She thanked him for keeping us safe and for contacting her. I made a step toward the books, just as curious as the rest, but I was interrupted. “Colby, may I speak to you in private?” Pema walked out of the door, not even waiting for me to answer. At this point, with her vague and obtuse speeches, I figured she was Eivan’s family, far removed or not so far removed. But her face resembled the other monks. I didn’t suppose she had a genealogy map to feed my interest. Collin and Theo sat down, still in a discovery trance. Something about this woman, like Xoana’s stories, called to me. I followed her out of the cabin. At first I couldn’t find her. I looked around for a minute until I saw the flash, atop a mountain, in the distance—far enough away to give us privacy but not far enough in case danger discovered us. I didn’t hesitate in flashing up to meet her. This was one meeting I looked forward to. I had questions and though I loved to research history as much as Theo, it was nothing like getting firsthand information. She sat down facing the lowering sun. I hadn’t realized just how long we’d been at the temple. She inhaled and exhaled deeply, as if the conversation we were about to have chafed her somehow. “I’m sure you have questions first.” “I do.” “Go on.” “Where is Eivan?” I treaded lightly. If there was a time and a place not to step on any toes—this was it. Especially since her toes might be attached to the ass I might one day have to kiss. “He died of old age at Sevella’s side.” That revelation made me gasp. Even my lovely stories portrayed his untimely death. Yet, it was still shocking to hear it firsthand. “We were told he was lost in the fray—dead—murdered.” Pema shrugged. “All lies perpetrated by our family to protect him.” I was scared to ask the next question. Though I was always curious about Eivan and what happened to him, my questions were really derivative of my fear for Theo. “Protect him from what?” “From your enemies. You have enemies now—whether you have seen them or not. Whatever or whoever you trusted—all of it—consider it all false. I had to see you two together this morning before I revealed our histories. Eidolon is so much more than one person and his abilities. There is no Eidolon without his mate—his female. Collin has kept me informed, but I get the gift of discernment directly from Sevella and often I have to see things with my own eyes before believing. Her discernment kept Eivan alive. “ “Who are our enemies? I have to protect Theo,” I pleaded. She shook her head. This was it. Pema was just going to be another person posing questions and scenarios, leaving me empty and useless to Theo—the very opposite of what I needed to be. I sat, on the verge of tears, when her hand outstretched and touched my hair. Almighty, please let her give me the answers—something. “You have lovely hair. I couldn’t have chosen to hide amongst royalty. No, I loved Tibet.” We laughed at her offhand comment. It was sarcasm—but underneath and in her brown eyes, a hint of sadness lay. I gathered that my previous question would remain unanswered. But I needed information, so I pressed forward. “Is there a time when you won’t have to hide?” “When the keyhole is finally locked.” “Huh?” Not the most proper response. But I couldn’t take it back. “There are things best not said out loud. I can tell you of one of your enemies. He will be the closest enemy and the one most dangerous to you and Theo. He will claw at you, flare dissention among those you trust and push you away at all costs. You mustn’t let him get between you. This will be your most difficult job as his mate.” “Who?” I almost begged, shifting to a kneeling position, ready to grovel on my hands and knees if I must. If this person was going to try and separate me from protecting Theo—I’d die in order to stop him. “Theo.” “What?” “You’ve heard the stories of Eivan going mad with his own power?” “Yes.” “Some of that is truth. But it wasn’t his power that betrayed him, it was the voices of those he was meant to guide. His life has meaning beyond just vacations and transportation means.” I loved this female for everything she was trying to help me with. But so help me, if one more person spoke to me in cryptic riddles, I would go ape-shit. “Please, just this one thing. Tell me plainly. Tell me how to help him in English and without hurdles to jump through.” She chuckled at my crass plea. “Love him. Care for him. Put his needs before your own. Be the mate you are destined to be. The Synod hasn’t been on your heels for piddly reasons. There’s always more at stake with them—nothing is simple. It is the only way to bring him down from the heavens when his head has gone too far away. Be—his—mate.” I hefted out a heavy breath—laden with self-depreciating emotions. Being his mate wasn’t as easy as it seemed. I was a selfish person—always had been. I was a willful, spoiled child and had come to realize I was even more of a rude, willful, spoiled woman. I was so self-involved, my own reflection checked herself out. I flashed for my own satisfaction and monetary gain when I could be helping people. I treated my entire life like one big vacation. But for Theo I would give it all away. I could become what he needed. I would carve out my heart and offer it to him if it would help him. The time to grow up and leave the spoiled child behind had come and gone. “I can do that.” She laughed. “I know you can. I watched your love this morning. Take care of him.” Pema sighed and shrugged. I took it our little chat was finished. There was so much more I needed to know, but I had a feeling she’d given me all she wanted me to have. “Hey, how can you travel with someone else without losing them?” She shrugged, got up from her perch and wiped off her backside. “Don’t let go.” “So all the others, who travelled with those they loved?” She wrapped her arm around my shoulder like we were old friends. “I can’t answer for them. All I can say is that not letting go works.” “What about the weight?” “That’s all up here.” She tapped lightly on my temple. “Mind over matter.” *** Pema broke free of our hold as we reached the temple. She explained on the long walk back that she chose to come there as a teen. The monks didn’t know what she was, but they had seen her flash. She laughed in telling me that she heard the word lightning used frequently to describe her. They didn’t ask for information and she offered none. They made her live in the other cabin because she was a girl and in her own words, super-hot. There were so many more things I wanted to ask her. Why did she choose Tibet? Why did they let her stay? Why didn’t her family hide together? WHEN THE SYNOD SUMMONS A LUCENT, THE LUCENT SHALL ANSWER THE CALL IN HASTE. I wasn’t one of those people who could read or study while listening to music. I needed complete quiet without interruptions. Collin hadn’t gotten the memo and neither had the voice—now two voices—in my head. It took Collin a full thirty minutes to open the books. He sat and stared at them for half an hour. I understood his reverence, I did. But that Pema girl had given us a deadline. These books weren’t going to be around forever like his books were. There weren’t digital copies of them everywhere at our disposal. He got up as the sun set and lit an oil lamp I hadn’t even noticed in the corner. The second voice spoke in Portuguese, which I found strange. And not the contemporary Portuguese either. This was old school. The same phrase was spoken over and over in perfect form, not a hint of a lilted accent or Americanized fashion. It was akin to having noise-cancelling ear buds plugged in. All I could hear were their voices. Cosmically or heavenly, those same voices rose and fell with the climaxes and valleys in the texts before me. It was like they were speaking through the books to me, or to me about them. I didn’t know which. But mostly, I couldn’t get them to stop. A hand touched mine and like water through a syphon, the voices were sucked away. Colby. To regain my senses, I tore my gaze from the page and up to her face. Her glassy blues bore down into me. Colby’s eyes had always been otherworldly to me. Mostly they were blue, but like her wake, they lightened and darkened according to her mood. There was a storm brewing in them now. “Theo, where were you?” Concern laced her tone. I shook my head from the residual echoes of the voices. “I’m here.” “No, you weren’t. You were somewhere else. Collin was yelling your name when I came in. Did something happen?” Shifting to look at Collin, I saw he was distressed. He was stroking his beard, consoling himself. I must’ve been far gone. “No, nothing happened. I just need to read more.” She nodded and let go, but as soon as she did, the voices returned. My hand jerked out and grabbed her wrist. They quieted again, as if she were their master. “Tell me,” Colby demanded. “There are voices. They’ve spoken to me only twice. But when I read these books, they are relentless. You made them stop.” “What do they say?” She broke down and kneeled in front of me, fisting the edge of my shirt. “They say ‘Help us’, ‘Ajudar-nos-á.’” “Help them what?” “I don’t know. Sit with me while I read. We don’t have much time.” She pulled up a chair, never letting go of my hand, and I read faster than I’ve ever read. Colby filtered through pictures, taking notes as she did. The three of us studied until we could hardly see the letters anymore. “You must retire. There are still two more days.” Pema had entered the cabin again. Colby squeezed my hand once and then let go, looking for any sign that it had distressed me. “I’m good,” I assured her. Collin stayed to speak to Pema while Colby and I went outside. My legs would barely move and my neck ached from being huddled over the texts. “Hold my hands,” she requested, and the glow of something mischievous beamed in her eyes. “Don’t use your powers.” “What?” And before I knew it, we were in the bathroom of the house in Tibet—in the bathtub. “I did it!” She yelled and flailed her arms. “How?” “Pema told me to not let go. Just don’t let go. How stupid is that? All this time, I’ve been too scared. So everyone else must’ve let go. We could’ve flashed together as kids.” Frustration took hold of me, and I held her. “Everything works out like it should. We can flash together now. As long as you don’t let go of me again, everything will be fine.” Unlike the times before, she willingly relented to my touch. Her arms wrapped around my neck and her face went where it should, to that nook between my neck and my shoulder—as though it had been made just for her. Just when I was getting comfortable, she broke free. “I can go get Collin!” “Okay, but I don’t share bathtubs with dudes.” *** That night was spent debriefing each other of what we had seen, which was no more than patches of a quilt that didn’t fit together and just left more holes. “What did Pema tell you?” I asked Colby. She looked down and straightened an already perfectly placed piece of her dress—which meant she was about to lie to me. Somehow my female still thought she could lie to me and get away with it. Wrong. “She just warned me about some things.” “What things,” Collin interjected. “Things I should be aware of as—you know.” Starting with her neck, Colby’s blush invaded her skin until the tips of her ears glowed red and even her lips flushed. “Spit it out.” Collin rose in posture, challenging her as a joke. Colby and Collin had become rivaling siblings sometime in the past day. “Hey! Lay off Sasquatch!” Collin reared back, feigning offense. He pinged his gaze between the two of us and then blurted out, “What’s a sasquatch?” The glint in Colby’s eyes told me she wasn’t letting this issue go so easily but neither was Collin. It also told me that Colby had found a way out of her wriggling jam. She’d found a way out of explaining to us what she and Pema had discussed. Poor Collin. “It’s a big, hairy, Viking ape,” she spewed at him in jest. Collin pointed at her. “There are no legends of Viking apes.” “Oh yeah? I’m looking at one.” I could’ve stopped it at any time, but it was kind of fun to watch. Plus, Collin couldn’t ogle her if she was gutting him. “I am not descended from Viking people, and for that matter, I am not descended from apes either. How dare you!” Collin’s poker face was infallible. I couldn’t discern whether or not he was truly offended or just playing along. “I was just calling you a name based on your looks, you oaf.” “Well, if we are making assumptions based on appearance alone then you are a…” We waited for a few seconds while he formulated a name for Colby. I had the feeling Collin had never playfully or seriously insulted someone in his life. His face screwed up in over-concentration. “A wiry, boney little imp who has no manners.” That one shut us all up. That was a little more truth than joke. I supposed I should’ve come to Colby’s rescue, but I was in the middle of witnessing something I’d never seen. Colby Evans was speechless. Any residual blush had floated away with her loss of words. I should’ve called Ari. Even though I despised her, we could’ve shared a laugh over this scenario. She opened her mouth twice to take her revenge and then closed it, standing with slumped shoulders and forging to the bedroom—which was unheard of. Colby didn’t back down from a battle, especially one of wit and sarcasm. “I apologize, Theodore. I thought it was all in play.” Collin said to me, though his gaze was still on the hallway. “It’s fine. I don’t know what’s gotten into her.” *** Collin and I sat for a while, discussing the day’s events. I’d finally gotten comfortable when the lightest of footsteps pranced down the hallway. A bag was thrown into my lap. “Resin,” she whisper yelled and snapped her fingers, getting us to pay attention. Collin jolted to action, grabbing his bag and scouting outside from the windows. “Can you take Collin?” I asked Colby. I hadn’t really gotten a chance to investigate the hows and whys of Colby’s newfound bring a buddy program. I wished I had. “Yes, but first I need something. Go ahead and go somewhere, anywhere, and I will catch up.” I caught her wrist. “I’m not leaving you.” “Two seconds, Theo. I’m grabbing one thing and then I’m gone. I swear it. If I’m not with you in ten minutes, come after me.” I was screaming then. “They could have you in ten minutes.” “I wouldn’t let them. I will flash before getting caught.” “Ten minutes, Evans.” She grabbed me by the collar and jerked me toward her for a small but powerful kiss. “I swear.” Giving up on the feeling in my gut, I flashed to Brussels. I looked at my watch; she had seven minutes and forty seven seconds. I ducked into the nearest hotel and made reservations for two rooms. Five minutes and three seconds. I was gonna kill her if she got herself hurt or caught. Forget the Eidolon business. Forget the voices and the effing books and everything that came with it. I might be able to travel the planet in a flash—but Colby Evans was my whole world. I’d just gotten her back—there was no way I would lose her now. Desperate in only a few minutes, I called her phone. Nothing. I called Collin’s phone. Nothing. Seven minutes had gone by and I was about to explode. I could feel her presence still in Tibet. And if I concentrated hard enough, I could track her motions. She was running, not from something, but toward something—Pema’s cabin. “Sir!” The sound of yelling tore me from her. The girl behind the desk was shoving printed papers at me and waving a pen. She didn’t realize that Colby was not here yet, and the only real reason I was still here, not insane, and with a purpose for the first time in my life, was because of Colby. Didn’t the girl realize while she was making me remember my own name and forcing me to sign some bullshit form my girl could be captured? As the pen hit the paper, scribbling my name, I felt it, the shift of her presence. I could feel her entire path this time. It was as if my chest was a map, somewhere in my soul were the planes of the Earth, and she was moving along them with ease like a figure along a board game. The feeling seized momentarily and my heart along with it, thinking something had happened. As quickly as it fled, it returned, close. She was close, within five hundred or so feet of me. Shoving the paper to the hotel clerk, I finally relaxed. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as Colby and Collin entered the lobby. A simple nod toward the elevator and we were shuffling wordlessly in single file line. We were on the seventh floor, and on every floor, we stopped to take in more people. Every person in that hotel was conspiring against my getting information from them. I’d been confined to the corner and held Colby flush against me. It was the slowest elevator in the history of mankind. “Are you okay?” I hummed against her ear. A shiver rustled through her at the nearness. “Yes,” she sighed out. With my hands on her hips, I drew her closer. The bag in her hand was enormous and I recognized it as one of Collins’ bags. Finally, we arrived at the seventh floor and we exited, the trio of us making great haste toward our rooms. I jutted a key toward Collin and he took it in question. “Give us five minutes and then we need to talk.” He went into his room without hesitation and I dragged Colby behind me into our room. As soon as the door was shut, all bets were off. I shoved her against the closest wall and pinned both of her hands above her. “Don’t do that to me again. Promise.” The pink blush on her cheeks intensified, both from the adrenaline of flashing and I hoped, from the position I now held her in. “Okay, okay.” “No,” I demanded, pulsing my hips against hers in an uncharacteristic show of male claim. “Say it. Promise me. Your word has always been true. Say it.” I never broke my stare from her eyes. She needed to know that no matter what, from then on, us being separated just was not going to happen. Her chest heaved with ragged breaths as she composed herself enough to submit to my insistence. “I promise. But I had to get the books.” “You stole the books! The books from Pema? You stole them?” She smirked at me. Usually I would’ve found that particular smirk endearing, but in that moment, I found it annoying. “She said we had three days. She didn’t specify anything else. We still have two days with them.” I opened my mouth several times to argue with her, but even I had to admit she had a valid point. Giving up on a pointless argument, I marked my surrender by resting my forehead against hers and letting go of my hold on her arms. The relief flooded me. “I was worried.” “It was ten seconds.” “Felt like a lot more, Querida. Eu sempre vou me preocupar.” I ghosted my nose along the perimeter of her face, breathing her in. She smelled like the mountains we just left mixed with her own scent. I reveled in the sensation of being this close to her again. Our hearts were pounding together. Before long, Colby’s hands were in my hair. The atmosphere around us changed, and the desperation of my worry converted into something raw, an emotion that could only be expressed through our bodies—through my mouth on hers. Kissing Colby was like witnessing a miracle. It couldn’t be explained by any rational hypothesis or theory. Science would never do it justice. Every caress of her lips touched my heart and tugged at my soul. I felt the peak of desperation grow after only a few seconds. It was the moment where she craved something closer. Her hands grew greedy and painfully grasped at my hair. It fueled me on. A whimper broke free of her as I pulled back slightly, outlining her heart-shaped top lip with my tongue. Every time I kissed her, I thought I’d die right there, from pure, unadulterated bliss. We were both breathless when I began to slow down. She deflated with her face buried against my chest. “God, I missed that,” she said and we both laughed. Combing my fingers through her hair, I kissed her temple and her cheek. “I did too. How many did you steal?” “Only four. I grabbed the ones that Collin said hadn’t been touched.” “Good ole Collin.” She looked up at me. “Theo, how did they find us?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. But we need to find out. Let’s go talk to Collin.” “Yeah.” THE RESIN ARE NOT TO BE TRUSTED. Collin was pacing by the time we got into his room. “How?” “We don’t know. Someone is either tracking us—or someone we think we can trust can’t be trusted.” I lounged on one of Collin’s beds. It irked Theo how comfortable I was with Collin. I could just tell. “Who did you tell?” The question was directed at me along with his pointer finger. I wondered why the speculation was pointed at me. He was the one who was in constant contact with Pema without our knowledge. “I told my mother, and my two friends, that’s all. All three are trustworthy.” The Viking was always teetering on the edge between me loving him like a brother and me wanting to send him to Valhalla. “Obviously not!” The redness now apparent on my face was no longer from our tryst in the other room, but from anger. How dare he accuse my friends, or worse, my mother of such treachery? “And you, Mr. Guardian? Let’s not forget it’s you who works directly for the Synod. Maybe it’s you that’s been feeding them information. We all know they have spies in the Resin.” Collin grabbed his chest. I’d fatally wounded him with my accusation. I didn’t really believe he would rat us out. But my hurt feelings at being the prime suspect made me retaliate. “I would never. I know who Theodore is.” Poor guy, I’d really hurt him. I did that with my big mouth, often. “You told Sway,” Theo whispered, looking down at his shoes. One clump of hair had fallen out of place, like it was ashamed to be associated with what he had to say. His shoes always became interesting when he was telling me something he thought I would react strongly to. Accusing Sway of ratting us out to the Escuro was going too far. I wouldn’t even entertain the thought. “Sway is my dearest friend besides Ari and you. There’s no way.” How dare he? It was one thing to make broad accusations in my direction, but to directly implicate Sway. Sway was amazing. Yes, she’d been distraught after everything, but crying out traitor was a whole different can of worms. My phone buzzed in my pocket while Theo and Collin went back and forth on several other outlandish tangents. I pulled it out to check, and my day went from flirty girl to whore in five seconds flat. “What?” Theo eyed my change of expression. I threw myself back on the bed in a dramatic fashion and held out my phone for him to see. “What did you do?” he half accused, half joked. “I can’t even think of anything this time other than all this.” I swirled a circle with my finger indicating the mess with Theo. I felt a hefty depression on the bed and looked up to see Collin sitting next to me. “You must be prudent and respectful. Go in and be completely humble.” And then I fell off the bed laughing. “What is so funny, female? Is respect and decency something to be laughed at?” “Colby hasn’t been anything but arrogant and sarcastic to the Synod in her life. Plus, she wouldn’t know prudent if it jumped out of the ocean and bit her in the ass.” “Hey!” Theo disregarded my offense. “How long do you have?” That was the thing about the Synod. When they said jump, it was common knowledge that you responded with how high, how long, and what you should wear while you’re jumping. Of course, I was a little rebellious. If they told me two hours, I flashed in one hour and fifty nine minutes. On the outside, I played it cool. But the Synod was a scary bitch—or bitches. It was made up of seven Lucents who had been together so long, my mother and I joked that their menstrual cycles were probably in sync. At least, they always seemed to be PMSing when I visited. “I have two hours. I need a shower. I smell like Tibet.” “Are we going to plan this or are you just going to go in there and insult them?” Theo and I both spoke at once. “Insult them.” Ignoring the pleas of Collin, I went into the other room and quickly showered. I changed into my most unimpressive outfit. My rebellious attitude came from my mother. And she got hers from Rebekah. I didn’t even know why I went and answered their ludicrous questions. I wasn’t afraid of them. Mean Girls made these ladies look like puppies. I threw on a toddler-sized white t-shirt and tied it in the front and paired it with a long black maxi skirt. Flip flops made me look even more like a hippie. I put on every single bangle I owned. Next was my favorite part. Regina, one of the Synod, tried to pass a law in the sixties about Lucents’ outward appearance. It included the overuse of make-up and big hair. So every time I went there, I used enough eyeliner to offend Lady Gaga. “Are you still doing that?” Theo leaned against the bathroom threshold. I applied a lethal amount of black eyeliner and then added a thick layer of smoke eye shadow to carry the effect all the way to completely offensive. “Yes. What are they going to do?” “Um, sell you to the Resin?” “Ha, ha, ha. You think it looks sexy and you don’t want me to waste all this on the Synod.” “So true. But hey, Colby?” “Yeah.” He was the epitome of cool, calm and collected. Or so he showed on the outside. “Don’t piss them off, okay? And if they ask you—if they ask specific questions about me, just tell them. Don’t try to lie or get yourself tangled in something you can’t get out of.” I smirked at him through the mirror. “Please, I’m like their golden child. They like to call me in to make me feel like I’m under their thumb. But they know better.” “Colby, meu Amada, please.” The eyeliner got thrown into my makeup bag, and I hopped up on the counter, now facing him. “You know what I know about you,” I said, kicking my legs against the cabinets. He shrugged one shoulder. “I know that when your exterior is cool, you’re worried as hell inside.” Theo rolled his eyes. “Is it so wrong to be worried about my female?” When he called me his female, my insides turned to pudding. “There’s nothing to worry about. I promise to be perfectly diplomatic, polite, disconnected and completely vague.” “You lie so sweetly. But, I know better. Come back to me quickly, Querida.” He approached me then, placing kisses along my face, across my forehead, and on my temple. “I will.” *** Flashing into the Synod’s meeting room was akin to going to the dentist. It wasn’t the most pleasant thing in the world. The people there were all smiley, even when they popped on the masks and cranked up the drill. But you knew that if you could just get the whole thing over with, you’d be relieved. And maybe, if you were lucky, it would be a full six months before your postcard came in the mail. The only punishment they’d ever really handed down was restraining me from flashing for a month or so at a time. Enduring the punishment was itchy, kind of like having restless leg syndrome all the time, but I dealt with it. Why I dealt with it, I’d never know. The only real power they had was threatening to hand us over to the government. It wasn’t even clear how they came into so much power. I assumed it was the same as any other society. Somewhere along the line, after they decreed the prophets null and void, the ones who spoke the loudest got together and decided they were in charge. The loudest voices weren’t necessarily right. They were just louder. We were all scared to be given over to those who would take our gifts from us. Fear was the biggest conduit of false respect. The place was intimidating, I’d give them that. You could only flash directly into the ‘welcoming room’ which wasn’t all that welcoming. The place was the opposite of welcoming. It read more like Hannibal Lector’s lair than reigning leaders of our people. It was all gold. Gold wallpaper lined the walls, golden chairs were stuck into corners, and a platinum chandelier with attitude gave you the first impression of the Synod. It was all façade. Regina opened the door seconds after I flashed inside and further summoned me with a flick of her wrist. She was cold and aloof as usual. There was no point in making small talk with her. Her tight red suit and ruby choker kept her from making any sudden noises or forming words without sneering. All that platinum hair dye had probably infiltrated her brain as well. There was once a rumor that she was involved with a male Resin. I mimicked the curt pop of her hips as we walked. No wonder these people were always in such a bad mood. There were enormous sticks up their asses and their skin-tight skirts stopped them from removing them. My hip popping turned into a dance by the time we got all the way down the embellished hallway. My nervous energy was on overdrive. I didn’t know what to expect. Other than knowing that Theo was the Eidolon, I hadn’t done anything wrong—really. All conversation halted when I walked in. The other two cleared their throats and faked straightening papers. I covered a smile with my fist. Did they know they looked like uptight news reporters when they did that? Almighty help me, I just know I’m going to say something ridiculous. “Colby Evans, it is a pleasure to see you as always.” I curtsied, not out of respect, but rather a lack of. Collin would’ve swatted me on the back of the head if he’d seen that. “A pleasure as always.” “You know why you’ve been summoned?” How was that for an open-ended question? Did they really expect me to answer? Anything I said would be twisted and turned into an implication. These people needed to up their game. “I couldn’t begin to imagine.” I pointed my answer at Clarita. She seemed the most amused at my snippety nature. On more than one occasion, she’d barely stifled a laugh at my antics. “Please have a seat, Colby.” That was a punishment in itself. With all their wealth and golden, glorious furniture, the chair that was placed in front of their larger than life, Brazilian walnut table was a six-dollar metal folding chair. I’d seen better looking chairs at third world cock fights. I bet late at night they got their jollies off making Lucent sit in the cheap monstrosity while they lounged in luxury desk chairs. Because their work was so daunting. The chair protested with a squawk when I sat down. My bracelets banged and clanged against the sides. The sound made Regina squint her eyes. Maybe I liked this chair after all. “You haven’t been traveling much. We wanted to make sure all is well.” I cocked my head to the side and gave her a snide grin. “How sweet of you to be concerned. I assure you, everything is perfect.” Regina leaned back in her chair and attempted to cross her legs, but her skirt was yelling ‘no dice.’ “Excellent. Today’s meeting will be a little off course than our previous ones. We wish to reveal some things to you.” “Like why in the hell you even exist?” Regina stood. “What was that, dear?” “Nothing at all.” A third member, Arlene, stood after Regina. She was the most frigid. She reminded me of the bride of Frankenstein with the gray stripe of hair that ran down the sides of her head. She’d also been my grandmother’s best friend. And the first one to suggest that the prophets were no longer needed. “There’s nothing more important to us than the continuation of our species. We want our females to thrive and grow stronger. It’s imperative for our race to follow the path Xoana laid for us. Don’t you agree?” I threw my head back in aggravation. Everything I told Theo I was going to do and the way I was going to behave just went out the window. There was no way I could continue to be polite when they were acting like deranged detectives. “Can we just skip the bullshit here? What the hell did I do and how long are you going to try and keep me pinned down?” They hated it when I cursed. A flap in the ceiling opened above Regina and Arlene after they’d flipped some switches. A screen turned and emerged from the opening. “Oooh!” I clapped in fake amusement. “We’re gonna watch a movie? I hope it’s Beaches.” “Come now, Colby. You haven’t done anything wrong, correct? We just wanted to show you some pictures. We know how you like history.” “Aww, no popcorn? Bummer.” Regina simpered at me, and suddenly, every light in the room shut off. The last thing I saw was her brighter than white teeth. The bright blue screen flickered to life. Soon, black and white images flooded the screen. And they didn’t ease into what they were doing either. The first two were pictures of old Portugal. But the third—it was a picture of Eivan. Frost replaced heat in my veins as the pictures rolled along. My heart drummed against my sternum, begging for me to flash out of there and away from the nightmarish images on the screen. Someone crouched next to me. I expected Carlita. She’d always tried to comfort me in one way or the other. But the waft of regal perfume that permeated my nose let me know that it was, in fact, Regina. The photos bordered on grotesque. Some were Eivan in a hospital bed, patches of his hair missing. In others, his eyes, the glare he gave the camera, shone with madness. I couldn’t believe my eyes and found myself looking for clues that these pictures were fakes. Pema told me he’d died of old age. But pictures didn’t lie, right? And just when the edges of numbness began to creep in from the slide-after-slide, gruesome portrayal of the equivalent of my childhood hero—the slideshow changed to images of Sevella. I didn’t know if those pictures hit me harder because of my new position and of who Theo was—or if they were just scarier in general, or because she was female. It was Sevella, chained to a wall, crying out for Eivan—crying out for mercy above all else. She was stripped down to her bra and underwear, and the only other thing she wore was a key-shaped pendant on a long necklace. Regina clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “Poor thing. Bless her heart. If Eivan had just fulfilled his destiny, the task he was born to complete—none of this would’ve happened. We had to do what we did in order to maintain his allegiance. You see—the things we do don’t just affect us—they affect the Lucent species as a whole. It’s because of Eivan that the path to Paraíso has been obstructed. And your Theo is our key to regain access. Forget restoring the Resin. They were weak. His purpose is to bring those caught in the fray to their resting place. Eivan refused to do his job—simple as that. Good thing Theo is such a rule follower. And while he’s at it, he may be able to serve a bigger purpose for us. I bet Pema didn’t tell you that, did she? I bet she told you the sentimentalized version of it all. Makes sense, given your place in all this. Lights, please.” She arose with a snap, commanding the lights to come on. I stayed petrified in place. A million insinuations and conclusions flittered through my head beginning and ending with ‘this will not happen to Theo.’ “Answer the question!” Arlene slammed her hand down on that overpriced rainforest wood. There were very few times I’d been truly scared in my life. The first was my initial experience traveling. The second was when Theo asked me to marry him. The third and fourth were about Theo and his gifts. But those were fears of the heart. Those were fears that I’d done something wrong—or that Theo would be hurt. This fear—this fear was palpable, quaking and penetrating me down into the marrow of my bones. This fear wasn’t just one event. My insides quaking was more like a culmination of the past week’s worth of fear, bubbling to the surface—maybe more than that. I couldn’t even remember what question I was supposed to be answering. Oh, right, Pema. “Pema did not mention it.” I hated how my voice changed and showed them just how shaken I was. I needed strength, but I couldn’t muster a lick of it. My reaction seemed of no consequence to them. Arlene and Carlita went about their scribbling while Regina looked bored. “I bet not. She will in Portugal. Mark my words.” Regina returned to the table, and just when I expected to be reamed a second time, she snapped and the door opened behind me. “Wait! What is he supposed to do? What do you want from me?” “From you? Please. Other than the connection to Theodore, we have no use for you in the slightest. We’ve watched you all this time to see how much you were going to screw up our plans—simple as that. And now we will continue to use you for information only. Aww, sweetie, did you think you were important? How disappointing. As for what Theo can do, maybe the three of you need to study a little harder. What we want is to know what you know. So next time we summon you, maybe you should be more prepared to answer questions. Or maybe you just need a little further coercing. Then again, to help you out, we could get the Resin off your tail for a while.” Before I could ask anything else, a woman, more like an Amazonian Sumo wrestler, grappled me out of the door and into the golden room—which now didn’t seem so golden at all. I couldn’t see Theo like that. He would freak and ask me seventeen million questions. I got my phone and dialed the first number I thought of. “What up, babe?” “I—I can’t…” I’d never called Ari upset, but now I needed her. “Flash to me now. You know where I am. Seek out my location and get to me.” And I did. ABOVE ALL—DO NOT GET CAUGHT TRAVELING. Collin and I were scouring the few books Colby had managed to swipe from Pema when I felt her flash again. She’d flashed back to Louisiana, but not to her home. My phone rang and I reached to answer it. “Hello?” I expected the voice of Colby on the other end, but instead I got Ari, her raspy voice was undeniable. “Colby’s here, but I expect you already know that. She’s really, really quiet. And she’s eating cake. She will be along soon. I’m not sure how soon, but she’s safe.” “Good. She loves cake. Keep me updated, okay?” “Yeah.” And with that, Ari hung up. Those were my clues. The most obvious thing she clued me into was simply in her calling me. Ari didn’t call me and I didn’t call Ari. It just didn’t happen. And Colby was never quiet. She even talked in her sleep. Colby didn’t eat cake at her own birthday party. Though maybe that part was true. Since she’d learned that mind over matter thing from Pema, she may have changed her mind. Either way, these things added up to Colby being very upset. But, she hadn’t come to me. That was the worst part. After everything, she still ran to someone else instead of me. When would she learn that there was no one on Earth who could love her like I could? I didn’t have time to wonder why or to let it fester. I had to figure out what my purpose was. Because without my purpose, nothing made sense. Finding nothing in the other texts, I lost hope until I picked up the last one. It couldn’t be seen under the others because of its tiny size. My back and neck ached, but I pressed on. The book was small, dark burgundy, and leather bound with a matching leather tie. From the side, some of the pages could be seen. A lot of them were torn and some warped. Colby was always one to talk about the smell of older books, but it wasn’t until I opened this particular one that I noticed how pungent a book smell could be. It carried the smell of spices along with—woman. The smell of flowers came through the most. It’s been seventy-three days since Eivan travelled to the other side. He stays for a longer period of time every time he goes. I can’t blame him. If I could go and get a glimpse of the other side, I would. I’d give anything to be able to flash like him—to go the places he can—to do the things he can. He won’t take me with him. I’ve begged. Instead, I have to sit here, at the mercy of the Synod who watch me constantly. I am forced to endure their threats. I fear one day they will be a lot more than threats. But I have no power over the Eidolon, despite the fact that he is my husband. They say I am a shame to the Lucent people. They say I should’ve moved aside when I found out he was the Eidolon, so that a proper Lucent wife could travel with him. But no one can help how they are born—not even the perfect Lucents. Each time they visit, they get sneakier, pushier—they are looking for something and I just don’t know what it is. For all they know, Eivan has not returned since he first flashed to the other side so many years ago. I’ll die before I tell them where he is. I can’t even imagine what they’d do with such a key. The voices had come back when I opened the book. I didn’t even have to read it. The voices read it to me. Sometimes overlapping, sometimes speaking all at once. It was like being invaded with a thousand radio stations. They read the Portuguese to me word for word until I closed it. It seemed that every time the voices came back, they multiplied exponentially. Sevella was from Portugal? How did I miss that? More facts that flippantly landed in my lap and had no meaning. Nothing actually meant anything. It was like being given a treasure chest with a key that didn’t fit. “Where did he go?” I became intrigued and yelled at the book. I flipped through the pages until an imprint of my thumb curved the corners of the journal upward. But as soon as my hands left the book, the voices faded. Whatever they needed me to know was connected to that book. Yet, I found no information to give me anything but more questions. By the time the sun fell in the hotel room, I was nowhere closer to the answer than I had been at the beginning. Collin had fallen asleep on his bed with one of the other books still clasped in his hand. He’d studied as hard as I had, if not harder. There was something he wasn’t saying. People don’t just follow other people blindly. I was at least twenty years his younger. To him, I should’ve been just a punk kid who showed up at his door with a pompous attitude and a head full of ego-bloated ideas. “Is there something I should know about?” Colby’s voice rang close. Just the relief to have her back caused my eyes to close and revel in her nearness. “You tell me, Querida. You’ve been gone. And I had to talk to Ari. Not the best combination. Are you okay?” She blew out a great sigh. Without looking at her, I knew her hands were on her hips—her pouting lips were swishing back and forth, picking her words. “I will be. I can’t tell you everything yet. It’s too fresh in my head—too raw. What I can say is that they said something about Portugal and Pema. I don’t know in which order, but we should be prepared to go there. There are so many things that don’t make sense, Theo.” “There are some things I need to tell you as well. I’m just so tired. I haven’t done anything but sit here all day, but I’m exhausted.” “Did you eat, Theo? I know how you get.” I thought about her inquiry. I hadn’t eaten all day. But there were so many more things at stake than a missed meal. “I just want to sleep. Can we just sleep?” “Sure.” She walked over to Collin, tiptoeing all the way. First she slipped the text from his hand. After putting the book down, she pulled a blanket over his monstrous form. He stirred a bit, but soon drifted back to sleep. We went back to our own room, and I stripped down to my boxers, wanting to get into bed as soon as possible. Colby ducked into the bathroom and came out with a different pair of my boxers, rolled at the waist, coupled with the same shirt she had on before. The black gunk she used to rebel against the Synod clung to her eyes, but not nearly as much as it had before. Secretly, I loved it when she piled on the black stuff. It made her eyes seem twice as big. We both took our respective sides of the bed. The routine was so normal, so everyday. We’d curled up like this an infinite amount of times. The window to the hotel room was open. Music and laughing people could be heard in the city below us. It was strange how when everything was frazzled in your life—the world just continued. It shouldn’t continue. It should stop when our lives do and take notice. “That should be us. We should be in the streets, enjoying life together. Sometimes this ability doesn’t seem like a gift at all. Sometimes it seems like false freedom.” I whispered more to the dark than to Colby. I could feel her take a deep breath with her back against my chest. “One day it will be. That’s all I want.” “Tell me what you want, Querida. Tell me all of it.” Her hair moved as the motion of my whisper floated across it. “Just go to sleep, Theo.” Her voice drifted with the last words. *** I felt the slightest weight shift as she rose from the bed the next morning. The shower signaled that she was up and ready to go. I didn’t think we should head straight to Portugal, but I was sure Colby would disagree. Would Pema ever come for her books? Collin had to be feeding her information. I grabbed a button-down shirt and threw on the closest jeans I could find. As long as we were in Belgium, I might as well take advantage of it. The streets were bustling with people, most of them families, dressed up and headed—somewhere. Just as the thought of what day it was crept up, one of the voices joined a gonging bell from a nearby church. This time it felt far away and called to me from the direction of the hotel room. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to match the voice with something—a face, a person—anything. Patrons jostled me as they passed. I’d become a rock in their flowing stream, preventing them from flowing the way they once had. Yet, nothing in my line of sight matched the voice that called for me to help. Help—all it said was help. The only thing that brought me out of my complete obsession with the disembodied voice was the smell of fresh croissants and baking loaves. The smell of baking bread could wake people from comas, I was sure of it. I’d once heard Rebekah say that at a family brunch. “Do you always make everyone else divert their paths around you?” A familiar female made me chuckle. “Actually, most of the time, I divert my path so that others don’t have to sway.” “So why the sudden change?” Turning around, my eyes denied the voice and body connection. It was Pema. But out of her rusty robes and pilgrim dress, she was shocking. Today, in jeans and a red sweater, she almost mixed into the masses. “I heard something. It made me stop and turn.” Pema grabbed my elbow and stepped in close. She scrunched her nose in an almost snarl as her eyes zeroed in on mine. “What did you hear?” A filament of recognition buzzed in my consciousness. It seemed to warn me against showing all of my cards too soon. “Someone shouting,” I answered without actually revealing any information. “Who was shouting?” She bobbed her head around mine, looking for evidence of my accusation. “I don’t know. I couldn’t find them.” She examined me further. The sunlight glinted off the top of the stubby wires on her head as she cocked it back and forth searching for something just out of reach. I blinked once, my tired eyes unable to match her stare any longer. Another gong of a church bell made her cringe. Her back straightened, relieving me of her invasion into my personal space. “I’m assuming you were going for breakfast—though that mate of yours looks as if she never eats.” “You should talk.” Pema was rail thin—those robes actually did her a favor in helping her look less gaunt. “I eat. Not all of us are as blessed as you are. We can’t all make deliveries for the big software companies and have successful investments.” She sneered at me as we again took pace with the people on the sidewalk. That last remark was a direct jab at me—specifically, my parents. “I see the monks taught you humility.” I jabbed back. “Touché.” She didn’t look impressed. A clap of her hands changed her demeanor as we found a bakery and went inside to order. She studied me, never offering to help or lend a hand, as I placed our order and gathered it all up. Not very monk-like. About halfway back to the hotel, I deduced that Pema was coming all the way back with me. She was probably going to take all the books before I could figure out why some of them caused the voices to come back and some quieted them. When we got into the elevator, she pressed the button to our floor before I told her what floor we were on. I felt like a fish in an aquarium. No matter how many rocks I hid under or treasure chests’ bubbles camouflaged me, I could be seen from all angles—anyone who wanted to look in could get a gander at the flashing male. When we reached the room, I allowed Pema to enter first, saving Colby from blabbing some pertinent information out of turn. I noticed Collin was sitting in a chair in the corner without the surprised look on his face that I expected. As much as he came down on Sway—he wasn’t out of my range for suspicion either. Everyone froze in place when Colby saw Pema. She cut her eyes down to the space between Pema and me. Following her gaze, I found that Pema’s arm was looped through mine. I hadn’t even noticed she was doing that or how long it had gone on. My mind was constantly in a different place. “Look what I found on my way to get your breakfast, Colby. Isn’t it convenient?” Colby opened her mouth, but Pema interjected first, “It isn’t convenient at all. Your female stole books that didn’t belong to her. I can’t imagine that she thought that was the honorable road to take.” “How strange,” Colby began. Her cheeks had grown red in the few seconds we’d been in the room. Pema didn’t know what was about to hit her. “As I recall, you said we had three days to study. There were no stipulations about location or any other parameters now that I think about it.” Pema scoffed, “Well, the most appropriate thing to do would’ve been to leave sacred texts with their owner, regardless of the stipulations. But then again, I’ve heard that appropriateness hasn’t always been your forte. I didn’t see much of it in Tibet other than the usual lack of propriety, until you turned into a thief.” I backed up a step out of instinct. It was one thing for me to pick on Colby about her crassness or for her to joke about it, but Pema didn’t even know Colby and yet here she was judging the hell out of my mate. “The texts are in perfect shape in the other room. There’s no reason to resort to rudeness on either account.” That was my best effort in diffusing the situation. Colby cocked her eyebrow at me. I knew she’d be pissed for me not taking her side, but it probably was for the best to stay on the good side of the family of the Eidolon—or, I guessed, the former Eidolon. “I’ll take them now,” Pema demanded. “We still have a day,” Colby reminded her, pretending to check her cuticles. “Unless, you’re intending on going back on your word.” Three times Pema opened her mouth to respond, but came out with nothing. “Fine. I will stay with you until you are done.” THE FORMER PROPHETS ARE NOT TO BE COUNSELED FOR ADVICE ON ANY MATTER. I was gonna kill the shaven-headed wench. I would threaten to scalp her, but apparently, someone had beaten me to that punch—several times over. Other than being mostly inappropriate, there was one more thing I was very skilled at—insincerity. I straightened my dress and conjured the fakest smile I could imagine. “Oh Pema, that would be lovely. How honored we would be to have you here with us.” How’s that for your precious manners? She squinted at me, and for a second, I thought for sure I’d have to grapple with her. “Finally, you’ve come to your senses.” Didn’t she learn to be silent in Tibet? Let’s see some more of that talent. I chanced a glance at Theo. He was barely holding in a smile. The impact of what I’d almost done slammed into me. These were the things Pema had talked about. For some reason, regardless of her attitude, I trusted her. This was not about a smart-mouthed relative of the Eidolon—and it certainly wasn’t about me winning. I needed to reel myself in for him. In my self-absorption, I’d forgotten to first be his mate. “Pema, Collin, if you wouldn’t mind, could I have a few minutes with Colby? Then we will use our last day with the texts and move on.” I should’ve told him what happened at the Synod. Now we had to spend a day rustling through useless texts. But then again, there was still so much information missing. If Theo was supposed to help those caught in the fray—the logistics of that notion were lost on me. If those souls were lost, how was he supposed to find them? The thought of asking Pema felt like shoving a splinter up my own nail bed. Pema turned on him like he’d stuck her with a hot poker. “Where will you move to?” “I’m not sure yet.” She pressed further. “Any ideas? Where is the information leading you?” He cleared his throat, a time-buying tactic. “As I said, we don’t know, Pema. We will return the books to you. After that, we are not sure. Why do you want to know?” She stiffened under the weight of his question and ticked her eyes to Collin’s place in the corner more than what would be deemed normal. It was as if she were looking for him to save her from something. “I was just wondering. The family is eager to see how all this turns out for you. They wish the new Eidolon all the very best.” She shifted to move around Theo, but clearly, he wasn’t done with her. “I’ve wondered why the rest of the family doesn’t come and see me like you have.” He left the insinuation open-ended, hoping she’d take the bait. “As you can well imagine, they are still frightened of the Synod. They can’t risk being caught.” “But you can?” “I am braver than most.” Theo took more than ample time to answer, “Clearly. How lucky we are to be amidst such bravery. Please, go check on your invaluable books.” He swept his hand toward the adjoining door, dismissing her and her false bravado. He waited until she and Collin exited before addressing me. I expected Collin to be friendly with Pema like he was before, but his attitude toward her was ambiguous—he didn’t seem to care if she was here or not. “How do they know where we are all the time?” he asked me. “I didn’t tell Sway or Ari we were here. In fact, I didn’t even tell my own mother. She was upset with me about it. That leaves you and Collin. And I know it’s not you.” He shook the idea from his head. “I don’t think it’s Collin. But, I did tell my parents.” Theo was crawling into himself. He was growing more and more serious by the day. I had to do what I could to draw him out of it. I sauntered over to him and touched the bag still clasped in his hand. “You brought me breakfast?” That snapped him out of it. He dropped the bag and grabbed my face with a fury. Breakfast was long forgotten as his lips crashed against mine. As soon as I got over the unexpectedness of the kiss, I matched his passion with my own. We slowly backed up until my head hit the wall with a thump. His lips were rough and needy and carried warmth I craved like air. With an animalistic aggression, he pulled my waist toward his until there was no space between us. He consumed me. No coherent thoughts could be conjured in that moment. This was no ordinary kiss—this was Theo coming back down from the heavens. This was what Pema had spoken of, and if this was the way to bring him back down from the clouds, then I was happy to oblige. He broke free once to tell me he loved me, but I had no chance to respond before he attacked me again. This time was slower, like he’d gotten the rage out of his system and could take the time now to savor us. Needing to be even closer, I locked my left leg around his hips. I thought it would fuel him on, but instead, it seemed to cool him down. He left my lips, opting instead to place pecks on my face and temple. “We aren’t even bonded,” he huffed out, breathless. I giggled and attempted to pull him back to me. “That never stopped you before.” Theo phantomed more nibbles down my neck. “We aren’t teenagers fooling around in the back of my car anymore, Colby.” “Mmmm, that was fun.” “Marry me.” He breathed against my mouth. He always picked the most inopportune times to talk about such things. Now was one of those times. “Let’s make a deal. Let’s get through all of this and then talk about the future.” “But there is no future without you.” “Theo, I love you, but let’s focus.” “You love me? Just like that?” He was goading me. “Yes, just like that, now let’s go.” Relief flooded my system as I realized that all this Pema business had stammered our conversation about the happenings at the Synod. In all honestly, I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t want to relive it all. Mostly, if Regina was correct, then Theo would have to leave me to fulfill his purpose. And I couldn’t take that. He picked up the bag from the bakery and dragged me with him to the other room. Pema stood facing the window while Collin was sitting on the edge of the bed, face buried in his hands. We hadn’t been gone more than ten minutes, so I couldn’t fathom what had happened to make Collin look so devastated. “What’s going on?” Theo asked. “They’re gone,” Pema whispered. Her shoulders slumped. Looking around the room, I realized they were right. All the books were gone. The possibilities of who and when filtered through my thoughts. I was with the Synod the day before and Theo needed the texts. Pema certainly wouldn’t lead someone to steal them after coming down on me so hard about taking them in the first place. The only possibility left was one I didn’t want to face. From the first moment I’d met him, Collin had seemed like the one person we could trust. *** “I don’t know. I was only out of the room this morning. It would have to be someone who was monitoring every single thing we did. They would have to know when I left… Wait, you don’t think…” This time Theo responded, “We are just thinking out loud here, Collin. No one is being accused.” Pema swiftly turned around and countered Theo, “Who else could it be?” “Collin?” I inquired again. It was like I continued to call his name, hoping he would jump at the chance to defend himself. He lifted his head slowly, taking the chance to deliberate a decision. A lone tear came down my face and I swiped it away in an instant, not wanting to show any sign of weakness, especially in front of Pema. “Do you want me to leave, Eidolon?” His inquiry sounded more like asking to be granted permission to stay. I knew that unless all the evidence left nothing to chance, that Theo wouldn’t make him go. “No, Collin. I don’t believe you had anything to do with this.” His words said one thing, but his voice told me he wasn’t quite sure. “You have spies in your ranks, Eidolon,” she sneered the word. Pema was awfully pushy. Odd didn’t even begin to describe how obtuse it was to hear Theo referred to with a title. She might as well have called him Your Highness. I hated to admit it, but it put me in my place. Regina had been right—as much as I hated it. All the time the Synod had called me in, I really had built myself up, thinking that I was something special. In my own words, I’d thought I was the shit. But it was him. And not only was that okay with me, it was a relief not to be held up to any standard. Suddenly, I felt two inches tall next to him. “I am aware,” he quipped back. He didn’t even flinch at being called Eidolon anymore. Somehow, in three days’ time, he’d absorbed the title and let it mesh with who he already was. Theodore Ramsey was amazing. It hit me, shot down through my body like electricity shoots from the sky and splits open a tree. I loved him. I’d known that for years and maybe I had always been meant to love him, even before I was born. I’d taken it all for granted—taken him for granted. “Maybe we should take the day to rest.” I suggested. This was me saving Theo from himself and everyone else who wanted a piece of him. “Let’s go visit your parents and reconvene tomorrow. I’m sure they’re worried. They are on vacation in France now. It’s close.” At first he shot me a quizzical look, but soon got my drift. His parents hated France. His dad said it was too frou-frou. They would never vacation in France in a million years. This was me testing the proverbial spy-filled waters. He took my hand, squeezing it in reassurance. “I think that’s the best idea I’ve heard in days.” Pema flashed out of the room before we could discuss it further. “Collin, you are welcome to come with us.” He looked at Theo with such reverence and awe. “I would actually love to see the country, but I think your mate-to-be would like to have you to herself. Why don’t you just let me know where you are tomorrow—if you still want me to join you on this journey?” “Of course we do, Collin. Let’s go, Colby.” As soon as we got into the room, we packed up our things wordlessly. Theo grabbed my hands. “Wanna flash together?” I giggled uncontrollably at that. Theo could make something so simple sound so intimate. “Yes.” A tear came to fruition in the corner of my eye at the thought. If we’d only had the information we did now, my father would still be alive. How many had been lost in the fray because those who had the facts hid them from the rest of us? He raised one of his large hands, cupped the side of my face, and used the pad of his thumb to wipe away the tear that had broken free. “What is it? Is this too much?” “No, I just wish we’d known about traveling together when my dad was around.” “Ah, Colby, your dad would’ve loved to travel with your mom. I wish we’d known. Hell, I wish we’d known when we were kids. There was nothing I wished for more than to travel with you. We could’ve pretended to be Vikings together instead of me waiting to hear the stories from you. Let’s go. I know Mom wants to sniff me and make sure I’m not getting too skinny.” “Ready?” I took his hold again. “I’ve been ready all my life.” *** “No, Mrs. Ramsey, please. I will burst if I eat ice cream.” Theo chimed in. “I thought it was all mind over matter.” “Not wanting ice cream has nothing to do with traveling; it has to do with my stomach being on the verge of bursting.” Everyone around the table laughed at my expense. The only ammunition I had were the cookies on the plate in front of me. I reached out to get one and Theo grinned, thinking he’d won the game. Until I chucked the cookie at his smug ass. “Hey!” He tossed it back, hitting me directly in the mouth. “Ouch, damn it, Theo!” He was up and hovering over me before I could blink. “Querida, I’m sorry.” He was examining me left and right, placing first aid, in the form of kisses, all over my mouth. I laughed at his attentions to a cookie-chucking accident. His eyes were so trusting, so concerned over the littlest things. He’d always been that attentive. But I loved how it continued to shock me over and over again how deeply in love I was with him. “You two finally gave in?” His father’s voice broke us out of our world and back into reality. Theo blinked and recoiled from our coupling, grinning like a stockbroker who’d just swindled a poor man out of his life savings. “Not you two, just her. She’s had my heart all along.” I rolled my eyes. He was back. The guy who so gallantly vowed his devotion to me for all to know. “Our family is back whole again. We weren’t quite complete without you, Colby.” I blushed under Theo’s father’s acceptance. But his mother didn’t seem to feel the same. She met my eyes. “I’m sorry, Colby, it’s not you. I just wish Torrent was here. He would’ve been so happy to see you two back together again.” Theo’s father comforted his wife across the table with his hand on hers, “I’m sorry dear, I shouldn’t have said such a thing.” “No, it’s fine. I just wish we could talk about him more. When we don’t, I feel like I’m the only one who remembers him.” A text came through on my phone, and I excused myself from the table. Theo and his father both were now comforting Hazel and it felt wrong for me to just sit there and be their audience. It felt like an intrusion. The text was from the Synod—again. What could they possibly have to tell me that they didn’t already tell me before? And for the first time in my life, I ignored the summons. “Hey, you didn’t have to leave. She’s okay.” I tucked my phone back in my pocket. “I thought maybe the three of you needed a moment.” “We did.” His eyebrows pulsed. “Thank you. That was thoughtful.” “You’ve got a little,” I said and dabbled at the side of my mouth, “shock all over your face.” “I’m not shocked. What would I be shocked at? That you were thoughtful? Okay, maybe a little.” I laughed. “Yeah, it’s this new thing I’m trying out. It’s called manners.” He sat down on the couch beside me and pulled me onto his lap. “You know, I’ve heard of manners.” “I’m pretty sure you wrote the book, Eidolon.” One of my eyebrows cocked as I called him that title for the first time. I wanted to try it out—see how it felt and how he felt about it. In all honesty, I expected his trademark smug attitude about it. Instead, his whole demeanor changed. A despair—almost a loneliness washed over his features and drew his mouth downward. “It was so weird being called that today. But it’s time I got used to it. If the Eidolon was anyone else and showed up in front of me, I wouldn’t hesitate to call him by anything but that name. I didn’t ask for this. Either way, I have to learn to accept it.” He turned me to face him and tipped my chin up with his forefinger. “But you, meu Amada, I only want you to call me by my name please. If everyone begins to look at me differently—I need you to look at me like you are right now.” My fingers threaded through his hair. It needed to be cut. He’d obviously had other things on his mind the past few weeks. “How?” “How do you look at me?” “Yes. I don’t know. I mean, I know how I mean to look at you, but I…” He chuckled and the motion rocked us both. I took the moment, while he did that thing where he overthought every single word, to really amend the way I looked at him. Memories of us flooded my mind. Theo and Colby before there was talk of Eidolon or flashing. Theo and Colby before the world and its demands got in the way. “Tell me what that is. Tell me what you are thinking about right this second.” “Me and you. It’s always been me and you. No matter how stubborn I am, no matter how hard I fight you. Even when I push you as far away as I can and when it’s not far enough, I cross the planet to get away from you. No matter what, it will always be me and you.” He brought his face as close to mine as he could. Chocolate chip cookies laced his breath, and what girl in her right mind doesn’t want to be kissed by a boy who tastes like chocolate? His eyes danced around my face before landing on my lips. It wasn’t his eyes I wanted on my mouth. His eyes and mouth rose simultaneously in a smile. “Took you long enough.” And then he got smacked in the arm. “Will you make me a promise?” He sobered. “Of course.” “If things get weird or too much for you to handle, can you remember me like this?” The air thickened in my throat. Invisible hands clutched my lungs and wrung them out until nothing was left of them or the rest of my chest. A solidly monotone ringing began between my ears and blocked out everything he was saying. His mouth was moving, but nothing could be heard but the alarm. No, this couldn’t happen. This wasn’t about me. Like a vacuum, the selfishness was sucked away and replaced with my responsibility to Theo, once again. Maybe one day I wouldn’t have to remember to not be selfish. Was that too much to ask of myself? “Colby, I’m sorry.” Those were the first words I heard after crawling out of myself. “No.” I pulled him forward, gripping the collar of his shirt like it was the last raft in a raging ocean. “No matter what. No matter how hard it gets. This time it’s going to be me who stands firm. This time, unless you want me gone, then you are stuck with me forever.” Tears welled in his eyes, and I realized that I’d never seen Theo cry, even after his brother disappeared. “Sounds like bonding rights to me,” a baritone voice entered our cocoon, uninvited. “Is that what that was?” Theo questioned me in jest, attempting to tickle my sides to drive his point in. But there was no jest in my intentions. “I think that’s what it was,” I poured every ounce of intensity I owned into those words. If he didn’t believe me, no blame would be placed. “If you speak those words, you shouldn’t think—you should know.” “Then I know.” Hazel entered the room next, and I realized how much I missed our privacy. Bonding ceremonies weren’t like human engagements. Males didn’t save up for extravagant rings and plan grandiose promenades of affection. They happened naturally and freely. And it made them more beautiful and honest than the most detailed, planned out proposal. Males didn’t have to ask for the father’s permission or jump through hoops. It was simply accepted that when a female chose her mate—then that was the end of it. Formal vows were often exchanged later on, but that one intimate moment could never quite be recaptured. A female’s choice in a mate was never questioned. And once their choice was made—it was solidified for life. “There should be no formal vows exchanged without Rebekah and Sable present. Don’t make me go up against the Prophetess and be forced to explain why we allowed this. I’ve seen that woman in action. She is like a vicious little dragon.” Hazel’s honesty broke through the seriousness and we all laughed in comedy and joy. “We will go tomorrow and speak to her before we return to Collin and whoever else is waiting for us.” “That’s an excellent plan and congratulations.” His parents mentioned before taking their exit. BONDING CEREMONIES SHOULD BE OVERSEEN BY THE SYNOD. Holding Colby like that, in the home of my parents, listening to her say words I thought I’d only hear through dire circumstances—I fell more in love with her. There was something so pure and raw about her like this. It pained me to think that being like this was uncomfortable. She still struggled with emotional displays. But a little discomfort in a relationship isn’t always a bad thing—especially for Colby. The girl needed to be brought down a few levels. “I think you should go to bed,” I said as I squeezed her waist. “Why? Come on, I just confessed my undying love. It was a breakthrough. Let’s flash to the Great Wall and let me shout it out!” Leave it to Colby to have an emotional breakthrough in the middle of my existential crisis. “Let’s wait until we see your grandmother and find out whatever in the hell I am supposed to do before we begin the shouting, please.” She sighed. “I guess you’re right. Always playing it safe. Tomorrow, you will face the dragon lady, Rebekah. And we have to tell my mom. Okay?” “Of course. Your grandmother loves me. In this relationship, she’ll probably be more concerned about you bringing me down.” She feigned insult and then shrugged one shoulder. “Actually, you’re right. Goodnight, Theo.” “Goodnight, Colby.” *** The next morning, my parents were all smiles. Colby had become a jittery mess like I’d never seen her before. In fact, I’d never seen her nervous about anything before. She always carried a charismatic version of pompousness that couldn’t be rivaled. She paced the kitchen as I tried, in vain, to finish breakfast. I was taking my time on purpose, just using this opportunity to make her wig out a little bit more than she already was. It was ridiculous. Every time she passed a different surface she would tap on it twice—once for her nervousness and once for her frustration with me for taking so long. She groaned so loudly when I asked my mom for more orange juice that I figured I’d pushed her to the limit. “Okay, I’m ready.” “Well, I’m glad the Synod wasn’t waiting, you’d be Resin ground meat.” “Let’s go. You’re extra snarky today. Rebekah will get a kick out of that.” We said our goodbyes to my parents and flashed to Rebekah’s kitchen. Rebekah didn’t have a phone, that being one of the modern day conveniences that she openly shunned, so there was no way of announcing our visit. We flashed directly into her kitchen. She’d once told Colby not to flash into her living room, because she often had canasta games in there with her friends and didn’t want to frighten them. Colby agreed, not wanting to be the person that put an old woman over the cliff. Colby’s wake faded quickly, but I could still see it was tinged red along the edges. Colby’s wake was never red. Something was very wrong. Several sensations hit me at once. The first was the temperature of the place. It was wintertime in Louisiana, and one of the reasons Rebekah agreed to move there after she was dismissed was the jungle-like heat. She often said when she got too cold her joints rebelled. It was cold as ice in the house. Colby was more still than a marble statue, staring at something behind me. I turned, expecting to find a robber or something worse. Instead, I found a half-eaten peach, perched alongside a paring knife—the fruit had already begun to spoil. The thing about Rebekah was she was so put together—nothing was ever out of place. Colby screaming Rebekah’s name broke the silence. We didn’t bother to walk, we flashed throughout the house. Every room was checked in seconds except the bathroom. When we were kids we’d called it the blood bathroom. Everything in the room, from the tiles on the floor, to the claw-foot bathtub, and even the toilet were bright red, the color of a poisonous apple. We stood in front of the door, which was shut. Colby’s hand shook so much when she tried to turn the knob that I had to help her with it. At first glance, there was nothing wrong. Everything was in place, just like Rebekah liked it. The stark white towels that so contrasted the red tiles and fixtures were all in order, the floors were waxed to a gleam—everything but the shower curtain. The atmosphere in that tiny room palpitated with sin. Wickedness and sorrow thickened the oxygen and my throat closed a bit, wanting to keep the wretched air out. My heart pounded, expecting the worst. Colby took one step toward the bathtub and before I could stop her, she jerked the shower curtain open, nearly ripping it from its keeper. And inside was Colby’s grandmother. The water surrounding Rebekah matched the shade of red she adored so much. Her head hung back over the opposite side of the bathtub, revealing a large gape in her neck. Her impeccable pearls drooped over the tub’s side. Someone had slit her throat wide open. The edges of my vision clouded and my heartbeat drummed out the sound of Colby’s soul-wrenching screams. The Prophetess, the messenger, born to give our species divine direction and knowledge lay murdered before us. It would take someone beyond reprieve, beyond forgiveness to pull off a crime so mutinous. It was a sign to me—a sign sure to hurt Colby—which was the same as slitting my throat. There was no time for planning what to do next, the only thing left to do was catch Colby before her head hit the bathroom floor. Because as soon as she stopped wailing at the sight of her grandmother, her knees buckled, as she apparently realized the truth of the situation. I didn’t think. I didn’t consider my options or weigh what was best for anyone in the situation but her. Lifting her up, I pulled her against my chest and got out of there. The first place I thought of was her mom’s house. She’d want to go there. It felt like the situation was steering me—like I had no control over my movements or decisions. Straight into her bedroom I travelled—except in the irrationality of my motions, I landed right next to her dresser, and everything on top of it turned over in my haste. I set Colby down on her bed. Nothing was ever too much for Colby to handle—nothing. Her passing out scared the hell out of me. “What in the hell is going on in here, Colby?” Sable barreled into the room, guns blazing, until she saw Colby laying on the bed and me, standing there, looking like an idiot—or a coward, I didn’t know which. “Rebekah,” was the only thing I could mutter and it killed me how pathetic I sounded. With no hesitation, Sable was gone, leaving a scarlet and gray wake with grainy notes. Seconds later, she came back, and for the next few minutes, she and I stood in a stale silence. Her hair was disheveled and her eyes were already ringed with red. “I can’t believe it,” Colby’s mother murmured. “It’s my fault.” Colby’s body wracked with sobs as she made the hollow confession. We both rushed to her side, but she jolted upright, refusing to accept the comfort we offered. She wrestled her phone out of the pocket of her dress and shoved it into her mom’s face. “See? They summoned me yesterday and I ignored it. They told me. They told me that if I didn’t comply that they would…” “What else, Colby? What else did they say to you? Why couldn’t you just have gone when they summoned you?” By the end of Sable’s questions, her hands were clamped down on Colby’s arms as if she could shake the answers out of her. I crossed the room, stalking around the bed and putting myself between them. I’d never seen Sable get even the tiniest bit angry at Colby. Even when she was in trouble, Sable’s motherly instincts were closer to friendly than maternal. Death will turn any sane person to the other side. I spoke to her as calmly as I could, “Sable, you know we can’t handle it like any other human would. They’re going to ask you about funerals and what your plans are. Call my parents if you need help. My dad is good with the humans.” Having a death in the Lucent ranks was a fickle business. Usually, we had the bodies taken to Portugal where we brought them to the original land that was once owned by Xoana’s father. The female Lucents are all buried there. “You’re right, Theo. I just—I never thought. I can’t think. I don’t know how to.” She spoke in choppy nonsense. “I know. We will meet you in Portugal. If I may have the honor, I will flash with Rebekah myself.” “Flash with her?” “I guarantee you, it’s perfectly safe. I swear I won’t let her go. This way, we can have the funeral as soon as you need to. I know Rebekah wouldn’t want you fussing over it too long. She would reach down from Paraíso and swat you on the back of the head, for sure.” “Okay, yes, okay.” And in a fluster, Sable flashed to take care of Rebekah’s parting memorial. Visibly shaken, Colby hadn’t moved from her spot on the bed. I didn’t know about other people and the relationships they maintained with their grandparents. My grandparents were long gone by the time I was born. I did know that Colby worshipped the ground Rebekah walked on. In terms of people she revered and clamored to model herself after, Rebekah was second only to Xoana herself. Sitting next to Colby, I tried to put my arm around her. I expected my strong, firm female to resist. Her sandy hair was plastered to the side of her face with the glue of tears, and any color in her blush had been replaced by the stark milk of shock. She leaned over, collapsed against my side, and finally began to really cry. Before, her cry was the side effect of shock, but these tears soaked into my chest—these were the real cries of debilitating sadness. Being unable to console her was nearly unbearable. She just cried and cried, while mumbling inconsistencies. It was my honor to hold her while she mourned. After an hour, she finally crossed the line between inconsolable and semi-coherent. Something snapped inside of her. Shifting away from me, she savagely wiped her eyes as if she had no right to mourn her grandmother. “We need to go see mom and help her make arrangements. Then we need to get to Portugal and set everything up.” She stomped over to her closet and threw the doors open with such force that one of the doors protested by breaking free of the tracks and almost slamming into her. I caught it with one hand and pulled it away just before it nailed her. In her duress, Colby didn’t even notice. She started simple enough, moving hanger by hanger from right to left, callously inspecting each garment and finding it not up to her standards. Halfway through the rack, it all turned disastrous. Dresses, shirts and skirts were tossed behind her, each with a matching curse. “Colby, I thought we were going to see your mom. What are you doing, Querida?” A long, lithe finger was suddenly in my face. “No you don’t, Theodore Ramsey. Don’t you sexy Portuguese-talk me into whatever you’re talking me into. Look at this.” She thrashed her arms out toward the closet. “Colby Sage Evans—probably the best shopping diva in the entire world. The girl who flashes into Bloomingdale’s and H&M in the middle of the night to pick up the latest fashion trend—her grandmother dies and she doesn’t have one single white dress—that—would—ever—do Rebekah—justice. I’m just a failure.” Lucents viewed death as another part of life. When we passed on, the families and friends wore white. Death was just another form of traveling for us—traveling into the light of the Almighty. She’d broken down again. I ignored her self-reliant attitude and pulled her to me without a second thought. She cried for another three or four hours before coming back down from the mountain. ALL LUCENTS ARE TO BE BURIED ON THE LAND OF XOANA. There were now two goals in my life—be there for whatever was in store for Theo—and kill Regina. I would never tell Theo about the last goal. Mr. Rule Stickler would gasp and cough and probably have some kind of seizure. It was my goal nonetheless. I knew it was the Synod. There was no other person so hexing, so foul that would ever kill a person as revered as my grandmother. And their little warning to me about complacency was well remembered. The Almighty should’ve struck them down with murderous lightning years ago. The next day, Theo took my grandmother to Portugal, her throat stitched up by a Lucent surgeon. My mom wrapped her in a length of white silk over a white silk dress—making sure that her hair was just right and her appearance was just so. Theo handled her as if she were made of glass, and somehow held onto her hands in a grip that told me she would be safer than safe with him. Lucent funerals were void of music and void of speaking. I’d never understood that as a kid. I’d been to several funerals as a kid and wrestled with the silence of it all. It was so clear to me as I looked at the pedestal, adorned with every white flower from every country the Lucents could pluck them from, that not only was silence the most respectful thing to do, but there was no music in this great world that could ever do my love for my grandmother, and the sorrow I felt in losing her, justice. And this time, this one time in my life, I would have no trouble keeping my damned mouth shut. A pinch alerted me that my mother needed me and tore me away from staring at that pedestal any longer. She led me by my dress sleeve into the house of Xoana. “I think we’re in the wrong garden.” I gave her as stern a look as I could muster. “No talking.” “If we have her funeral in the wrong garden, she will haunt me forever. Look at the maps and compare it to her letters.” We sat down at the marble table and scanned everything quickly. I couldn’t tell heads or tails about the damned maps. For someone who spent her life traveling, I was horrible at directions. “It’s not the right place,” Theo burst through the glass French doors. These two together were going to drive me nuts. “How do you know?” I doubted his theory. “The voices—they’re angry. I’ve never heard them angry. This is a mistake. We must move her to the keyhole.” As he spoke, Theo unknotted his tie and unbuttoned the top button on his perfectly pressed white shirt. Lucent’s didn’t wear black to a funeral. Black signified death to us, and we preferred to think of our loved ones as traveling to the light. “Look at the map, Theo. Can you see?” Through all the incessant studying and reading, we still didn’t have a clear hold about Theo or his gifts, especially not the voices. There had been no time for me to speak to him about what Regina had told me and I didn’t know when a good time would ever be. I shoved the papers in his direction as he approached the table. There was no hesitation, no pause in his movements. His pointer finger pinpointed a garden, deep within the surrounding acreage. His honest, dour expression left nothing to doubt. He knew where we should be—or the voices knew where we should be. Our eyes were still locked when my mom circumvented what was proprietary and announced to those already present that we had to move everything to the other area. Theo led the way while an empty, yet determined air commanded his path. And once we got there—it was as if we’d stepped into the knowledge of the ages. Topiaries of all heights and breadths formed a key shape and in the middle was a perfect circle around the most majestic marble, center-staged pedestal. It put the rest of the gardens to shame. Xoana’s gardens were open for all Lucents, anytime. I’d often flashed there when I was going through something or just needed to be closer to my people. It was the only place that I ever really felt like I belonged—almost like I was destined to be there. It was said that her gardens took up one fourth of the entire country of Portugal itself. Lucent females filed in all around us. We’d had the funeral so quickly after her death that only those who could flash, or those who were close enough to fly in, could attend. There must’ve been thousands of Lucents gathered to celebrate the oldest Prophetess. And then Regina stepped into view, wearing a cream-colored gown. It hadn’t escaped me that ever since my little meeting with Regina, the Resin weren’t on our tail anymore. She tucked a stray hair into her conjured coif and all of it, the off-white dress, the hairdo, and as I stared at her, the way she sneered back was all more than I could take. Suddenly, the impact of everything slammed into me. Ari was in my face, holding my hands down. Regina backed away into the crowd. She was smarter than I thought. Ari widened her eyes, begging me not to wig out. I calmed down at her prompt, but I knew that one day, one way or the other, Regina’s days were numbered. She didn’t deserve to live. I distracted myself by taking in the garden and trying to make eye contact with those who came to truly mourn. I hadn’t missed the fact that neither Collin, nor Pema were present. Theo insisted on flashing my grandmother’s body from the house, directly into the garden. He’d taken care of everything for us through this whole thing. He’d intercepted phone calls and took over when my mom and I just couldn’t say the word ‘funeral’ one more time. When I tried to argue with him, fearful of his flashing becoming common knowledge, he insisted that Rebekah didn’t deserve to be carried on the backs of anyone. She deserved to travel one last time. And how could I argue with that. And after he did, he came to my left side to hold my hand, while Ari kept a tight rein on the other one. Collective gasps could be heard above the silence and the wind. But I didn’t want him to be constantly in hiding like Eivan. That wasn’t living. Sway had also made her excuses even after I offered to flash with her. Instead of allowing myself to mourn during the funeral, which was little more than each person silently paying their respects, I chose to count the people as they admired Rebekah. When the line ended, there were six hundred and seventeen people in total. The counting was the only coping mechanism I could come up with. Some left directly after seeing her one last time. Others hung around, taking in the gardens. I chose to admire the place we were in, the place she’d chosen to be remembered. My mother, Theo and his family, and I were the only ones who tagged along to see her laid to her final rest. When everyone was gone, only the three of us remained. Me, Theo and Ari. My mom had gone back to Rebekah’s. She wanted to get everything cleaned up. She said Rebekah wouldn’t want anyone seeing her house like that. *** Three days after the funeral, I’d decided to tell Theo the truth about my visit with the Synod. He needed to know and I desperately needed to get it off my chest. If they would kill my grandmother for my failure to show up at a summoning, then they would kill him or me for not giving them what they wanted—whatever that was. I strolled through the gardens, focusing on his location. He was back in those gardens. I’d begun to call them the keyhole gardens. Ari had begun to call them the butthole gardens. Theo was always there and the day before, when I found him, his head was in his hands. Slumped over in what seemed to be pain, he rocked back and forth. Whatever was consuming him never let him rest. “Theo?” I called to him. There was no answer. He was on his knees on the circular plate of marble next to the pedestal. He didn’t hear me, but clearly he heard something. The atmosphere was different in this garden. I’d thought I had imagined it during the funeral—chalked it up to an air of sorrow. It was something more. Looking around, mentally comparing this garden to the rest, I realized the difference. The grass wasn’t growing here. In the past days, the greenery in the other parts of the vast property had grown up a bit, but the grass in what I was now calling the keyhole garden wasn’t. Through the holes in the topiaries that towered over us like giants, butterflies fluttered and danced in the neighboring areas. But no insects or butterflies meandered through this place. “Theo,” I yelled this time. He never budged. I ran to him, desperate to relieve him of whatever I could. I reached him just as he’d raised his hands to cover his ears—as if he could squelch the voices inside with the act. Kneeling down beside him, his reaction to my touch was immediate. “Thank you,” he covered my hand lying on the side of his neck with his own, keeping it there. “I don’t know how you can get rid of them, but thank you.” “Are they getting worse?” He shrugged and consulted the sky before answering, “No. Yes. There are more of them and they’ve gotten louder. They get louder and instead of demanding that I help them—they demand that I come here over and over again. So here I am, but they are relentless. What do they want from me?” A new voice entered our conversation then. I missed that voice. “They want what we all want in death, Eidolon. It’s simple, really.” Collin came to perch on his haunches near the marble circle, but not touching it. “There’s some correlation between the Prophets and those who are stuck in the fray. Some have said that the Prophets giving their wisdom was actually words straight from the mouths of the soldiers of God. The Eidolons in the past have heard the voices from the other side—and in order to quell them, visited the fray to help them find their way to heaven. Before, being the Eidolon was a gift.” As I listened to Collin, I should’ve been amazed at his knowledge. I should’ve been grateful that finally we were being given straight truths, or what I hoped were truths, about what Theo really was. Instead, anger pulsed behind my closed eyelids and drummed between my temples. How could he keep such information from us? “And now?” No matter my level of anger, we needed to know what we were up against. “During the time of Eivan, the Synod, through the torture of Sevella, found out that Eivan was traveling from the fray and then to Heaven and back to Earth, bringing back stories and revelations that the Prophets were no longer able to give.” Theo was focused on Collin and twitched as he eagerly waited for his chance to propose a question, “So what? Why did the Synod care?” The more Collin spoke, the lighter the air became around us. “Why did the Synod declare the Prophets’ revelations void?” Collin shot back at him. Theo hesitated, but I didn’t. “They wanted to make their own rules. The Prophets spoke of an Earth where humans had full knowledge of our gifts—and we lived in peace.” “Yes,” Collin switched from a crouch to a sitting position. “And the Synod wishes for us to remain elite. Which is why, when a weak link is discovered, they simply remove it.” “I don’t understand,” Theo and I both spoke at once. What was he trying to tell us? “There is no difference between the Synod and the Escuro. They are one in the same. Didn’t you ever wonder how Demetrius was killed by Sanctum when that was before there even was an Escuro? The Synod and the Resin council came about at the same time, during the rise of Eivan. So what happened to Demetrius? Sanctum was Demetrius’ brother.” I was more confused than ever. All these history lessons were fine and good, but the only thing I really was concerned about was Theo and how to relieve him of the madness that was slowly consuming him. “Just tell him what to do!” Screaming at Collin wasn’t what I intended. But it happened anyway. The last two weeks made me feel like I was constantly teetering on the edge of sanity myself. “The Synod want to enter Paraíso —not for the gift of seeing the Almighty, but rather to ‘borrow’ the Army of God for a sole purpose.” My hands moved him along with a paddlewheel motion. “They want to annihilate the human race.” Even though I was supposed to be strong for Theo, the information overload made me lay down, resting my head in Theo’s lap. I still didn’t understand Theo’s place in all of this. And more than anything, I needed to know. After all, the former Eidolon’s didn’t fare so well. A groan of complete frustration erupted from me. Collin was vomiting out a lot of things, but none of them were actually helping. “Where’s Pema?” I turned to face Collin, hoping that the fierce expression on my face would make him spill his guts and her whereabouts. “In Tibet.” “Call her, please. Tell her we need to see her.” I pointed at the Viking. “And don’t even think about telling me that you don’t know how to contact her. We all know better.” “Theo,” I implored him, dragging him out of another deep thinking session. I’d itched for days to flash but I felt guilty traveling when my grandmother could no longer. “Let’s go somewhere far away. Just come with me. By the time we get back, Pema will be here and we can get some answers.” He didn’t answer, so I took control of bringing him back to sanity. Enveloping his waist in my arms, I flashed us to the first place I thought of—the Haiku Stairs in Hawaii. I was so careless, I didn’t even think about the time difference or about anyone spotting us—I just needed to get Theo away from it all. He needed to be reminded that he was the Eidolon, but the Eidolon wasn’t all he was. When we arrived, it was right before dawn and thankfully the only people awake that I could see were eager surfers who probably thought that a storm was now brewing from the sighting of the lightning. The entire island could be seen from that vantage point. It ranked in my top ten places to see the sun rise. “Do you remember this place?” I asked him, framing his chiseled jaw with my hands. After a few minutes, he shook himself free of the depths and met my eyes. “Hawaii, when we were fifteen.” “Welcome back,” I grinned and as he mirrored my smile, it became apparent how long it had been since we were happy. It seemed like decades past. We stared at the ocean for hours as the sun rose. I missed the sun rising. I missed my gift. Lately it had just been used to run from the Resin or the Synod, whichever one they were. “Can you promise me something?” Theo asked with an attitude of lament. His hair was out of control now, blowing this way and that. High School Theo would’ve offered him some gel and a comb. He lay back as he spoke, taking a more relaxed stance against one of the steps behind him. “I will promise you anything.” He blew out a breath, heavily laden with sorrow. “Sometimes I can’t pull myself out of it—like today. It’s like the voices anchor me to that spot in the garden. Can you promise to get me away from there if it gets too heavy?” “How do I know when? Is there like a code or are you going to knock twice and whistle once?” It was a lame attempt at a joke, but hearing him laugh proved it was worth the shame. “Use your intuition. It worked pretty well today.” Who knew I had intuition. That little attribute may have come in handy all the times I’d stepped out of line. “Come here,” he commanded, patting the spot between his legs. “You’ve been taking care of me when it should be the other way around.” “Why?” “I don’t know. It’s just always been that way.” I tilted my head back so that I could see his face upside down. “Maybe that was the problem, Theo. Maybe all the time you were taking care of me, we should’ve been taking care of each other.” He lowered his face down so that his lips barely grazed my forehead. Outlining the perimeter of my face, he whispered, “I think you’re right. But do I still get to spoil you?” “Absolutely. What? Just because you’ve got super powers, you think I don’t need shoes? Please.” What started out as an easy laugh evolved into an all-out, doubled over, tears running down his face laugh—every time he stopped, we would begin again. A text brought us back down to Earth. It was Collin, informing me that Pema was back. LUCENTS SHOULD NOT ATTEMPT TO TRAVEL WHILE PREGNANT. Could I just ignore the whole Eidolon thing? It would be fairly simple. I could avoid the gardens, the books, and the Synod for the rest of my life. Easy. The gardens were simple to avoid. The books were missing. And the Synod, well, they were actually a problem. Everyone was scared of those three heinous wenches. But to my knowledge they’d never carried out any orders other than to punish Colby by not letting her travel. Now we knew they were capable of so much more. In the days that followed Rebekah’s murder, there had been whispers among the other Lucents about the scandal. It wasn’t a secret. Everyone knew who had murdered Rebekah. They may not have killed her with their own hands, but they had ordered it for sure. Plus, I didn’t want Colby living the life of a fugitive. She deserved better than that. “I guess we’d better go see what Pema has to say. But you’re not going back to that garden. Even if I have to chain you down.” I rolled my eyes at her tenacity. We flashed back to the house of the Lucents where Collin, Ari and Pema were already in some kind of heated conversation. Heated wasn’t quite the word to use. Ari was in Pema’s face pushing her back inch by inch with tiny, jerky shoves. “Hey, knock it off Ari.” Colby’s spunky best friend turned on us. “She’s nuts. She’s trying to defend the Synod.” “Just sit down, everyone, please.” Theo begged. He was exhausted. Anyone could see how this whole ordeal had worn down on him. All five of us sat down and for a few minutes were silent—each of us, I supposed, was gathering our thoughts. Pema ticked her eyes around the room like she was on the clock and her lunch hour was dwindling away. “Collin said you have questions.” “I’m only going to ask one question. What is my purpose?” Pema took a deep breath and crossed her hands over her lap. “The Eidolon’s original purpose was to escort those caught in the fray to Paraíso. They are shrouded in doubt and cannot find their way. However, your purpose to the Synod is to allow them to travel to Paraíso with you. They think that somehow they can tap into the power of the Almighty and command His army. They plan to threaten God with the annihilation of the human race.” “But isn’t that why they want the army?” “No, they wish to use the army to enslave the humans. But if necessary, they will begin to slaughter the humans until the Almighty relents.” “So I don’t let them go with me. It’s done.” Pema zeroed in on Theo with a gaze that could melt steel. “Yes, because the Synod reacts so well to being shot down when they want something.” Pema was sarcastic after all. “Colby and her mom will go into hiding—Ari and Sway too—and my parents.” “You’d cement them into a life of hiding—which isn’t a life at all. Trust me. That’s what Eivan did to us. His love for Sevella kept him from completing his tasks. He refused to grant the Synod entrance to Paraíso and in doing so, thrusted us into this life where our family is scattered to the winds, assuming aliases to keep the Synod off our trail. It’s no life worth living.” I didn’t know if it was just this moment, or everything building on me and coming to a head. But if Pema wasn’t a girl, I would’ve added the word throat punch to her vocabulary five seconds ago. These damned people wouldn’t know a straight answer if one was stapled to their eyelids. “So what choice do I have here?” Pema wrung her hands in distress. For a few seconds, she studied the wall behind me—I recognized the maneuver as one of procrastination. My mind made no attempt at figuring any of this out—it was done trying to navigate a maze that had no exit in sight. “The way to Paraíso must be locked—or the Synod must be overthrown. Those are your choices.” I applauded her straight answer and even more, answers that seemed easy. Well, the first choice seemed easy. “So, I figure out how to lock the path and that’s it. Jeez, you would’ve thought I had to throw myself into a sacred volcano the way you two stayed so cryptic.” Collin stood and excused himself from the conversation, dragging a very unwilling Ari with him. Pema closed her eyes while she spoke the next words, “In order to seal the path between Paraíso and Earth, you must close it from the inside. After all, the Almighty opened it from heaven’s side, it must be closed in the same way.” “Meaning, I won’t be able to return.” She parroted me, “Meaning you won’t be able to return. I’m going to get some fresh air. The two of you should talk.” Pema expected me to talk to Colby about the two grave options we had, both choices left much to want. But I couldn’t even look at her, much less talk to her about which path I would take. Needing an anchor to stop my swaying, I reached out for her—but she recoiled in an aggressive huff. “Don’t, Theo. You promised.” “Which promise was that? I’ve made millions of promises to you.” “The one where you promised not to leave me.” My own anger decided that this was the time and place to seek an outlet. I roared at her, “Colby, really? Does it look like I chose this? Is this a promise I’m breaking or a life that chose me regardless of what I want? I don’t want this life. You know what, Colby? This is not about you! For once, this is not all about you and that’s what you can’t stand! All my life I’ve put you above myself and was glad to do it and now this happens to me and you can’t take the heat.” My own eyes dilated in repulsion of what I’d just said to her. I expected tears or screaming. I expected slapping and pinching or something equally as violent. Instead I became the receiver of a rebuttal I never thought Colby was capable of—silence. It turned out that silence was the sharpest knife she could’ve stabbed me with. It was beyond hurtful, what I’d said to her. I’d like to deny the whole thing, but Colby had always been a tiny bit self-absorbed—but it was one of the qualities I found endearing about her. “Colby, I’m sorry.” My apology didn’t really even cut it. “I need to breathe.” The tones of burgundy in her wake told me all I needed to know. More than angry, she was hurt. In this time when we needed each other most, I’d pushed her away with callous accusations. I was certainly not fit for being an Eidolon. The so-called answers Pema and Collin provided me, answered the issues about who I was and what was expected of me. But I now knew, firsthand, Eivan’s great dilemma. In the cavity of my chest, her path travelled through me, making me aware of her traveling direction. She must’ve been really pissed at me, because she hit all the places I hated. I hated Antarctica. I hated Easter Island. I wasn’t really fond of the Cayman Islands. And one by one, she hit them all. She could never be contained, even in anger. Her love of the Earth and all it encompassed would remain the same even if she were in hiding. So, hiding her would be like killing her. I could fight the Synod, but that would put Colby, her mom, and my family in danger. I’d rather them be in hiding than in danger. One way or the other—I was screwed. THE ESCURO MUST NOT BE SPOKEN OF. Why was this happening to us? Why was Theo chosen and why in the name of all that was holy couldn’t all this just end in a big, gushy, happily ever after? I wanted to throw myself on the ground and beat my fists on the dirt in a dramatic, childish show of ‘this isn’t fair’. Because it wasn’t fair. The Synod just got to live their hoity-toity lives, cooped up in that hallway of horrors. Pema got to be set free, and Collin probably wanted to give her his Viking Sasquatch babies. The two of them would live happily ever after, and I would be stuck here without the one person I needed more than air. Why us? I flashed to all the places I could think of that Theo didn’t particularly like, places that I didn’t particularly like either. I wanted to make myself hate traveling. Place by place, I went, convincing myself that being in hiding for the rest of my life was better than having to travel to all those places. Except it backfired on me. Even the places he didn’t like—even the places I didn’t like—I would miss. The reason I got angry at him was not because his words were hurtful. I mean, they were completely hurtful and they stuck in my chest like a briar that refused to budge. I was angry because he was right. He was so right, I could barely breathe. When I reached Argentina, a place that we neither loved nor disliked, I landed on a roof that ran along a row of houses, perched on the side of the curve of a mountain. There was no care in my conscious about whether or not my lightning could be seen. I just didn’t care. For hours, I people-watched from that rooftop. But everything reminded me of Theo. A group of children in little tiny blue and white plaid uniforms highlighted that Theo and I would never have the opportunity to pursue twelve children like Eivan and Sevella had. Then again, when they were in hiding, there probably wasn’t much entertainment. Apparently, they wrote incessantly in journals and made babies. It just went downhill from there. Everything I saw made me aware of something Theo—or Theo and I—would never get to experience. I was fine with giving it all up to go in hiding. I would deal with the impulsion to travel. Who was I kidding? Traveling was like my heart beating. *** Hours later, I travelled back to Portugal. I had to face him one way or the other. Plus, if he made the choice I didn’t want him to make, then I needed to spend all the time with him that I could. Every garden was void of him. I looked everywhere, until I finally found him in the kitchen of all places. He was sitting on the floor, surrounded by every Slush Puppie flavor invented and a bucket of fried chicken. He wore nothing but boxers and socks. His hair was a mess, strewn every which way. It was the funniest damned thing I’d ever seen. “What the hell? Are we binge eating?” He was encircled in some cultish circle of Slush Puppie worship, yet none had been drunk from and the chicken hadn’t been touched. The Slush Puppies were for me, I knew that much. “Theo?” “I went nuts. I flashed to every slimy gas station I could think of and got them all. It was the lamest attempt at apologizing ever.” “No, it’s actually really sweet. But the fried chicken?” He shrugged and kicked it away from him. “I couldn’t even tell you.” In his eyes, I could already see the struggle. “The voices?” “Yeah, they’re quiet now that I’m not in that garden, but they’re still buzzing.” He tapped the side of his head. “How about we just go to bed and before anything is decided, we just rest. I—I feel like you haven’t held me in weeks.” He got up and gave me the look. Even through everything, the decisions looming over his head, the weight of our people on his shoulders, and the voices in his head—that look meant that I was in real trouble. “Eu vou segurar você todas da minha vida, Querida.” “In here.” He took my hand, placed it over his chest, and translated what I already knew were sweet words. “I have held you all my life.” He exhaled and his shoulders slumped. He could sweet talk me still, but everything about his posture told me that he was way beyond exhausted. I often forgot how tiresome flashing could be for some of us. “Come on,” I said, grabbing his hand and leading him to the bedroom at the very top of the stairs. He was already undressed for the most part and climbed into the enormous king-sized bed. Xoana’s house was open to all. It always had been. It was a retreat of sorts, a timeshare, shared by all Lucents. We used to have to make reservations, but in the past decade or so, people just stopped coming. I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to visit Xoana’s home. Well, it wasn’t her original home. Her father was, as we knew, a farmer, and not a rich one at that. But Xoana was smart. So smart that she realized her gift allowed her to begin the first Lucent delivery service. Of course, hers wasn’t software or vaccines—more like rare spices and fabrics. In fact, there are said to be several non-native species of plants and other creatures present in Portugal that no one knows the origin of. Science blames evolution, but the Lucents know better. All this trading of exotic goods made Xoana a very rich woman. Climbing in the bed, I could hear Theo’s deep, elongated breaths, signaling he was already asleep. I chuckled a bit to myself. Nothing ever seemed to bother him like it did me. I would stay awake all night until the early hours of the morning demanded I get at least a few hours of sleep when something was bothering me. And whatever it was plagues me with my first blinks of awakening. But not Theo. That boy could sleep through a damned earthquake. Only seconds after I’d gotten comfortable, I heard noises downstairs. It was probably Ari drinking all my Slush Puppies or Collin eating all the fried chicken—the beast. Looking over at Theo, his eyelids were fluttering. I decided not to worry about whoever was downstairs until I heard a dish break. I padded down the stairs to find Ari and Pema, eyeball deep in some kind of argument. Whatever Pema had done, she had no idea what she was getting into with Ari. Ari wouldn’t hesitate to kick another girl in the uterus for me—or anyone she loved. As I got closer, the conversation became clear. “So, you just dump the choice of a lifetime in his lap and now—oh, I think I’m gonna go away for a while. Bullshit—you’re gonna keep your shaven-haired, skinny ass right here until this is all sorted out. You are straight up shady-fied. I mean it.” Pema looked like she was working harder at figuring out Ari’s street slang than she was actually being offended. “I am trying to help them, no matter how shady-whatever you find me, child. I am their friend just as much as you are.” Ari reached out and flicked Pema in the forehead. “That’s where you’re wrong. Those are my best friends in the whole world and there’s no two people on Earth who deserve happiness more than them. I’m only gonna say this once. If you screw with either one of them—I will hunt you down and strangle you with my own bare hands. So, you go, do whatever you think you need to do. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” “Whoa,” Theo whispered in my ear, nearly making me jump through the ceiling. “Since when am I Ari’s best friend?” I snorted. “That’s what you got out of it? Who knew Ari was so thug?” “Not me, that’s for sure. Where’s Pema going?” “I don’t know.” I was turned to face him now. He almost looked in worse shape than just minutes ago. I questioned him with a confused face. “Voices. They started again. There’s no predicting when they’re going to start talking. I feel like I’m losing my mind.” He grabbed my hand in the middle of explaining. As soon as we touched, he slumped against the wall next to him. It was borderline comical how they quieted when I touched him. They probably all knew what a loud mouth I was and decided it wasn’t even worth the battle. We turned our attentions back on Ari who was picking up Theo’s mess—grumbling the whole time about love-struck idiots and stupid Icees. She always called them Icees. I moved to help her, but Theo stopped me. “Let her. She needs to learn some humility.” *** That was the last time Theo slept a full night without being woken up. We didn’t speak about the inevitable—we didn’t really need to. I knew Theo—I knew the second the choice was put before him how this all would go down. Theo wouldn’t have me hide for the rest of my life any more than I would ask him to. I stayed sick to my stomach, knowing that these days, filled with unspoken words, living in the shadows of what he would do, were the last days we had together. Theo was honorable beyond anyone I ever knew. I wished it was me. I deserved to have to make a decision like this. With my constant ill repute and blatant rebellion of authority—you’d think that the Almighty would give a treacherous task like this to someone like me. No, that wasn’t right at all. Because I would choose to run. Cowards run. Collin and Theo walked the grounds during the day. Ari joked about them having a bromance. But I was grateful for it. Collin seemed to be the only person Theo would talk to about it all. He certainly wouldn’t talk to me. THE EIDOLON, SHOULD ANOTHER BE BORN, SHALL ANSWER TO THE SYNOD. Sitting outside the window of the bedroom, I let all the information settle deep down in my chest. Everyone wanted something from me—everyone. The Synod or the Resin, they were one in the same, wanted me as their own living key to carry around, attached to a blood red string around their necks. They’d stick me into their noxious smelling chests, rotting from the inside out not from disease but because of their dung pile of sins against their own people. They’d pull me out and unlock the door, take what they need from heaven and then come back out, more powerful and more rotten than ever before. The stained glass window was open behind me. Through it, I could hear her wrestling around in her sleep. I regretted showing her my gifts. If I was any kind of decent person—any kind of decent man, I would’ve kept my mouth shut. I would’ve let her be separated from me. She would’ve been safer that way. If I could take it all back, I thought maybe I would. As I watched her, I took inventory of her marked changed appearance in just the past couple of days. Her skin was pale and the crescents that hung below her eyes shone like glittery blue moons as the beginnings of the sunrise settled on them. Colby was usually pale, but this was the pale of someone on the edge of sickly. She hadn’t been sleeping. I’d woken at all times of the night, the voices becoming too overbearing to sleep through, even with her touch and when I did, she was always awake. On the rare occasion that she was asleep, she remained in a sitting position. She was stuck here, taking care of me. Already I was robbing her of her life. Aside from Colby’s deteriorating outer shell, she’d lost her fire. That’s what scared me the most. Her voice had evolved into something timid. She no longer argued with me at every turn. She was the first to give in. Something about this short but trying journey had stripped her of her vitality. Pema had informed me with a solemn tone that the only way to seal the door between Heaven and the Earth was from the inside—and I was the key. Apparently, it was an easy process. All I had to do was travel to Heaven and wish for the door to be closed—more mind over matter bullcrap. Our souls would still be able to transcend to Paraíso, but the Synod would not be able to access it through anyone, anymore, even if there was another Eidolon. My action would be finite. So would every future I’d dreamed of for Colby and me. It all seemed like an easy choice from another perspective. I could see it. Anyone could. What’s his problem? All he has to do is give up his life, close the portal and be a hero etched in time and the histories for generations to come. He’d give up one life to save thousands. The Synod would be glorified hall monitors without their bigger plans of world domination. But in my own eyes, I was saving thousands and giving up the only other life that was more precious to me than my own. I found myself asking the Almighty why so many times. Finally, I’d gotten Colby back and I was being forced to give her up. That’s what I had to do. I had to give her up. It was like she was already gone. My chest already felt the void. The rest of the morning was spent soaking her up. The way she slept with her hands pressed together in prayer on the side of her face. She owned me. From the time she said she hated checkers, her heart wrapped a chain around mine that would never be broken. I would be happily chained to her regardless of the constraints of time or place. I would love her in Heaven or in Hell and everywhere between and beyond. She stirred as my mind finally deferred to the only decision that carried any honor. Her lithe arms breezed over the space next to her, seeking me. It would be a while after I disappeared before she slept well, I knew that about her. She’d wrack her brain, trying to find a way to get me out. But finally she would relent to a life without me and then move on. “You’re up,” she said with her raspy morning voice. “I am. You slept.” She confirmed with a nod, tousling her matted hair. A piece had plastered itself to the side of her face. She swung her legs over the bed and I panicked. Her getting out of the bed meant the real beginning of the day—the beginning of our last day. “No, not yet.” I halted her with my hand extended. “Just stay here for a while.” She smiled and scooted back against the headboard. “You’re too far away.” I could do this. I could go back if just for this blip in time and be the person I used to be. I could be the Theo that made her moan my name and create hues of love in her wake. That’s what she would be from now on. She would live in the wake of what I was until she died—until she joined me in the beyond. She’d always been my lightning, the light in my storm and now she’d be the lightning in my wake. “I found you those, outside the house. I hope Pema doesn’t mind too much,” I gestured toward a vase on her bedside table filled with every color rose I could find. She looked over at them and smiled, a still sleepy smile that would rival the sun. “They’re beautiful, thank you.” I found my way to the bed and slunk in beside her. She wasted no time in laying her head on my chest. We stayed like that for a while. I closed my eyes and branded my memory with the feel of her like this. “Can I ask you something?” I prompted the conversation I wanted to have. “Duh,” she answered and it made me happy to hear her nearer to her former self. “If all this hadn’t happened, would we still be apart?” She froze next to me. “I’d love to say yes. I really would. I—I never stopped loving you, Theo. I thought if I got too close, when you eventually realized how much of a foul up I was, that I would be the one left hurting. And then after you left I’d be left without you.” “You think I’d leave you?” “I don’t think there would be a choice. Listen Theo, there are some things I need to say.” She sat up, but pressed her hand to my chest when I attempted to mimic her action. Her chest rose and fell several times—whatever she was about to tell me would be profound. It wasn’t often that Colby prepped herself for anything. In fact, she often goaded me for thinking too long before I spoke. “Theo, do you remember when you kissed me under the boardwalk?” I nodded. She looked so serious, and it was all I could do to abstain from grabbing her back down to me and kissing her senseless. “That day, I told my mom everything. She said, ‘Don’t pass those lips around to everyone, Colby.’ She was joking mostly. I answered her, ‘Mom, it’s Theo. I’m never gonna kiss anyone else anyway. I might as well get started.’” She floored me in the best way possible. Her words were spoken so fast, like she was trying to get them out in a hurry before she lost her nerve. “I didn’t know that. Tell me something else.” I shouldn’t have demanded it from her, but I needed it—craved whatever she had to give me. It would have to last a long time. The apples of her cheeks emblazoned and she picked at the corner of the pillow nearest her. “Last year, I made a delivery to a place in Milan. I ended up staying about a week because Ari loves to shop there. We walked into this obscure little dress shop. There was a table right smack in the middle of the place, and dresses were hung on every wall. Five older ladies sat around the table, laughing and talking in Italian. You know what they were doing?” “What.” I sat up and pulled her closer. I felt like she was on the cusp of telling me something really intimate. Our legs intertwined, but it felt like every cell in my body meshed with hers. “They were all hand-sewing wedding dresses. It took them eight months to get one done. Eight months. They were finishing up the one they were working on then. We were just gawking at them, like idiots, when they looked up and before I knew it I was in the back, stripped down, with five measuring tapes practically molesting me.” She danced around it. Anyone could figure out what she was talking about, but it wasn’t enough. I had to take advantage of her, and I knew just how to do it. “There’s no one else here, Querida. It’s just me. Say what you need to say. Eu te amo.” I calmed her with a soothing tone and a matching touch. “I had my wedding dress commissioned that day.” My heart flat lined at her confession. “Why would you do that?” That remark sparked something in her. “Because I knew. I didn’t know when and I didn’t know how, but there was just so long I could stay away from you, Theo. I’ve never been able to escape you completely.” A swift knock at the door interrupted the cloud she had me in. “Come in,” she called out, but never broke our gaze. Ari floated into the doorway and struck a Shakespearian damsel in distress pose. “Collin says he knows something. He’s all weird and broody. He’s really hot when he gets like that. Anyway, he’s been pacing the floors for a couple of hours. It woke me up at the ass crack of dawn. And also, Pema has called your phone about as many times as Collin has thrown his hands in the air—which is like every five seconds. I didn’t even know Robes knew how to use a phone. So, speed along the make-out fest before I nut-punch the hot Viking—please.” Ari had never been one to handle things smoothly. “We’ll be there in a second.” Ari shut the door with a knowing grin. Before I lost my chance, I grabbed Colby to me and squeezed her as hard as I could without breaking her. I inhaled the cinnamon lavender scent of her hair. She gasped when I walked my fingers up the back of her leg to the place I knew she liked best and kneaded the muscles there. Her hands grabbed mine and guided them to her face. Her eyes told me there was something lingering that she needed to tell me. “Theo, I love you. I don’t want anything else to happen to us without you knowing that. No holding me down, no forcing it out of me. I love you.” I leaned forward to kiss her temple, the part of her where I acknowledged my utmost honor and respect for her and everything that she was. “I love you Colby—more than time and space.” We heard something break in the other room and it smashed any hope I had of continuing what Ari called our make-out fest. “Let’s get dressed before they break each other,” Colby sighed. We threw on clothes quickly and bounded downstairs. Pema was in the living room, pleading about something with Collin—who had one hand cupped around Ari’s head like it was a basketball. Ari’s arms were flailing about and clawing at Collin’s arm, trying to break free. If I hadn’t been so concerned, it would’ve been comical. “What’s going on?” I asked firmly. I meant for it to come out loud and demanding, but instead it sounded more—pitiful. “Pema says she’s gotten someone to help us. But she says it’s going to hurt you and now I’m gonna hurt her!” Ari began a new, more furious version of her previous rampage and even Collin couldn’t resist laughing. “Wait, Ari. Pema, what did you do?” “He should be here soon. I didn’t know what else to do. I can’t watch you give up everything—all your life and your love just because Eivan—my ancestor—was too much of a coward to do what needed to be done. There’s another way. It’s a little more—sinister—but it’s a way out. It’s a way out of leaving her.” As she darted her eyes in the direction of Colby, my stomach somersaulted in a bit of relief. “What did you do, make a deal with the devil?” Ari had calmed some, but was still under the umbrella of Collin’s palm. All color trickled from Pema’s face. Ari had tapped into something close to the truth. “What did you do?” I asked her pointedly. “I…I…” she stuttered. A flash of lightning struck outside of the window behind Pema. The morning sky blackened and even the lightning strike seemed to be computer generated, carrying a dark purple hue instead of the light we were used to. Previously non-existent clouds rolled in and around the house causing the room to darken. If there was such a thing as the end of time, that was what it would’ve looked like. Colby drew herself against my back. I could feel the heaves of her fearful chest behind me. Ari stopped her pre-assault, opting instead for a gaping mouth and a slouched posture. I looked to Pema. What had she done? Her eyes were closed tight, like a child afraid of the monster in the closet. If she just closed her eyes, maybe it would go away. Ari joined Colby behind me as a figure, dark as the clouds in the sky, approached the French doors. “I swear, I only did it to help you,” Pema blurted out again, sneaking in one more apology. “Who is it?” I asked. She opened her mouth to answer, but was overwrought with a tremble so great, it prevented her explanation. “Well, dear perfect Theo, what have we gotten ourselves into?” The man was years older than the one I remembered, but there was no denying his identity. His hair was shaven so close to his head on the sides that the sheen reflected aftershocks of the black lightning. He wore a black button-down shirt, black pants, and matching black suspenders. Even his eyes were black. Not at all who I remembered from our childhood. “Torrent?” I asked and shocked myself into believing at the same time. “Yes, brother. Long time no see.” His voice was slitherous, which matched his devilish appearance. He was alive and well. Not well, per se, but alive. My brother had always been the darker of us two, always dabbling in the more mysterious things in life. “Long enough to drive our parents to near madness wondering where you were.” “Oh, believe me, Theo, they know. It’s just easier for them to pretend I’m missing than think about what I am.” “And what exactly are you, Torrent?” He smoothed his collar and took an unwelcome seat on the nearest chair. He made sure to glare at Pema before matching my gaze again. “I thought you said he had been researching.” “He had. There’s missing information.” With an eye roll, he mumbled, “Clearly. Tsk, tsk, Pema. Theo, come now, think about it.” His accent sounded a little British. He was a grown up, British version of my brother. “No, just tell me. Without the taunting, or the pompous attitude. Tell me what has been more important than your family?” Another eye roll. I didn’t like this Torrent at all. “There is good and bad. Heaven and Hell. Ice and Fire. You really think there could be an Eidolon without his counterpart? Who better to fulfill the role than the brother of the Eidolon?” Collin straightened up. “It’s just a myth.” “You people are ridiculous. You take everything at face value. Do I look like a myth?” Pema chimed in, but looked like she might want to upchuck instead, “It’s true. He is Sanctum.” “Sanctum is a person—who killed Demetrius,” Colby spoke up. Torrent, Sanctum, whatever his name was, stood and encroached on my personal space. He looked at Colby. One corner of his mouth upturned as he addressed her comment. “No, sweet Colby, Sanctum is my title.” “Explain,” my tone demanded. “Nah. I don’t feel like it.” He began to stroll around the room. “How about we talk about bigger and better things. Let’s talk about how you and I are going to work together.” “Work together? In what capacity would I ever work with you?” He took in the perimeter of the room while drumming up his next sentence. It had better be a good one. Though I hadn’t seen him in years, at this point, I was grateful for his absence. If this was what we were missing, then he could just go back to wherever he came from. “Like how we have a common enemy—enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that. More specifically, let’s talk about how you and I are going to take out the Synod—together.”


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