The top of my head slammed into the wall of the ship, jolting me awake. The wooden bed I was lying on creaked in defiance at the sudden halt in movement. Rubbing the spot that took the hardest blow, I glanced to the ornate carvings on the ceiling and lowered my gaze to the only porthole. The same intricate detail encircled the window. The colors of the sky were a brush stroke of gray and pale orange. Land. We’d arrived on the Yucatan Peninsula.
I rose from my semi-comfortable nest, straightened my clothing, and strapped my sword in place. Shouts of orders being given, followed by the sounds of running footsteps, fell below deck. A slight tingling sensation warmed at my left shoulder and ran the length of my arm.
“I feel you,” I whispered, angling my head to the side. “Will you show yourself?” I reached a hand toward the man I’d come to know as Cerys but felt nothing as my fingers penetrated his image. The dream I’d awoken from so abruptly was one with detail of my bonding to the spirit in front of me. “Are you responsible for that vision of us?”
“Not this time. Your dreams are memories of other experiences, other places you have been. I wanted to be here when it was returned to you.”
“How could you be sure it would?”
“Having a direct connection with the entity guiding your course, I’m privy to information released to you.”
My gaze floated around the tiny quarters in search of my boots.
I was still getting accustomed to the recent knowledge that Cerys had all the information required to guide Kevin, the human form of his spirit and my love. For each human, there existed a higher level of being to guide them. The closest science had to proving such a theory was that of a parallel universe. It would take more years than I had on Earth to see the formula connecting spirits to the human experience come to light. While Cerys aided Kevin, I had yet to encounter my equal or even the memory of her. The only information I had was that her name, Arwyn, also belonged to me in realms far from Earth.
My memories had been withheld by the Alliance, a governing order that handed down the direction of the Soltari—an entity that set the rule of law for creation and its progression in the realms. They did this by voting on certain factors pertaining to the immortals and their ability to complete a mission. The Alliance believed my memories would give rise to emotions that might interfere with recovering the keys, risking the future of the humans who had opened the path for Tarsamon’s consuming shadows. Kevin was sworn to secrecy to be able to join me in this life. The problem was the emotional connection existed, anyway, between Cerys, Kevin, and myself without any history to anchor it to.
I glanced up at Cerys. “I don’t agree with the Alliance’s decision. I fought for them to give me those memories, our history together.” A seed of resentment had been planted when I’d learned it had been a vote that would alter my life. I wanted more than anything to understand the deep connection I shared with a man I’d only known a few short months. All I had were flash images revealing a life from long ago, and the need to know felt like a relentless itch I couldn’t scratch.
“They’ve seen the clarity in your argument to not deny you, us, of what was shared.”
I nodded. Maybe.
“And you’ve proven your ability by obtaining the first key.”
“I hope you’re right.”
When I’d last seen Kevin a little more than a week ago, I’d almost interrupted his request to alter his agreement with the Soltari to protect me. The penalty for going against the Order or failing the mission was a permanent breaking of that connection forged so long ago. That grated on my nerves. A punishment for failure by an entity that had guided my existence and a belief system I fought for.
For Kevin, there was too much pain in my not knowing our past. Combined with my stubborn nature, it had caused tension to grow between us as he tried to protect me in the manner he believed was best, which often meant keeping track of my every move. I was too independent a soul for that sort of care. What occurred to me on our voyage across the sea was that what I wanted most, though I loved him, was distance. I’d have to find a reasonable common ground.
“Are you not pleased to have the memory of us?” Cerys asked, interrupting further thought on the matter.
“Of course I am.” I pressed a smile across my lips, avoiding the intense stare I felt from him as I slipped the dagger in place.
A flash of the vivid dream blinked across my vision. Since waking from it, there at least existed an answer for our connection—a bond that transcended life. The tenderness we’d shared touched the core of my soul and frightened me. I’d spent my life blocking intimate relationships and close feelings for the vulnerability that came with them. No, I needed to keep the wall in place that numbed my feelings and kept me focused on my task to recover the last two keys.
With a decision made, I lifted my gaze to Cerys again. “They’re waiting,” I said, referring to the team that traveled with me. “I wish we had more time.”
Cerys smiled and nodded once. I slid on my boots and glanced up. What would it be like to have both Cerys and Kevin in the same room? Is that even possible?
Warm tingles slipped down the length of my arm again. As I reached the door, I turned to see Cerys fading from view. I headed up the narrow staircase toward the deck.
A blanket of humidity fell over me. A fine mist surrounded the ship and beads of moisture began to form on my skin. I scanned the coastline and the dense trees and foliage we would cover. Making a trek through the jungle would require stamina in an environment I had little familiarity with. Even though I had pulled my hair into a sleek ponytail, the intensity of the warm air made it feel as though I was wearing it long and heavy. I had shucked my heavier garments for a pair of shorts and sleeveless top with a bit of stretch for comfort and movement only to find it sticking like a second skin. I doubted any material in this steam bath would be comfortable. I shifted my gaze upward to watch a sunset of deep yellows and pinks. White clouds were strewn across in an illuminated haze. My eyes drifted to the beach and a mountain below the colored sky. Several elves raced to lower the mainsail, while others finished tying off the bow.
They had initiated this voyage on a ship, undetectable by the human eye and, more importantly, by the evil that sought to interfere with our mission. But it was a temporary veil of protection to get us to the Yucatan and the location of the guardian of the second key. It wouldn’t take long for Tarsamon and the dark shadows to track our energy path to this jungle, as they had done at the gateway at River Teith in Scotland. Darkness hunted light. As another level of guard, Lady Mara, a woman of no more than five feet tall and with a wrinkle for every hour of time that had passed, had a talent for creating certain unique tools not provided by the skilled elves. She had given me a ring to help hide my energy from the dark forces that chased us. Along with the gift was the limitation that the protection was temporary, but she hadn’t said for how long.
Why didn’t the Soltari place the keys in realms where we might be able to hide our energy? Such a place has to exist. The physical world was difficult to maneuver in, heavier, making it harder to move without being noticed.
As I stared across the landscape, the difficulties encountered on the last mission floated back to me, as well as the man with a lot of information who had turned against our team, joining with Tarsamon. C-05 had died once. Or so I’d thought. As a shapeshifter, he’d brushed against the energy of another man, assuming a new image—a spiked haircut set above an overly thin, angular face. But instead of the cool white strands of hair I was used to, they were now the color of soot, to match the darker shade of the soul he was transforming into. His eyes were what I couldn’t forget. Gray steel that burned into my own, willing me to give up the key to him. He’d be back in one form or another, unless, of course, Tarsamon had lost patience with his first failed effort to get the key.
“Sara.” Eldor, the leader of the elves, stood a few yards away. He lifted his chin in my direction. With the flick of a few fingers, he invited me to follow him as he ducked down a stairwell across from where I stood. As I came around, I saw the door to a cabin closing and entered.
Eldor’s appearance was immaculate, with perfectly groomed long chestnut-colored hair resting behind his shoulders. His face was without a single line or wrinkle, despite his age of nearly four hundred years.
“I could take a bath on the deck just standing there,” I said, realizing the scent of my skin and hair was becoming more fragrant the longer I was outside. Easy to track for a hunter.
He smiled, hearing the thought. “You may be,” he replied. “And so I want you to have this.” He lifted two blades tucked in sheaths, not much larger than my hands. “They’re to be worn on your back. And before you ask, you’re not only trained in swordsmanship but in all bladed weapons,” he said, reminding me of yet another memory I didn’t have.
“But I’ve never practiced with these in Ardan,” I replied, taking the package and feeding my arms through the shoulder straps.
Ardan was the home of all immortals. A place where every soul resided, unless they chose to venture to other realms, and where those of us who were tasked with keeping the balance of good and evil could practice our skills.
“Shouldn’t I recall some of the training?” I reached over my shoulder to pull one of the blades.
“You will when the time calls for you to use it,” he replied. “The knowledge is present. While your skills at manipulating energy to protect you are useful, it doesn’t hurt to have a few additional tools at the ready.”
I pulled the blade through the air in a sweeping X fashion. The movement felt natural enough, as though I had done so many times. “What about the members of the team?”
Eldor and his fleet of elves were precision weaponry craftsmen, developing our blades, and expert fighters who had aided us when nearly consumed by Tarsamon’s army of dark shadows and faceless demons a few weeks earlier.
“They’ve been provided for as well.”
A knock on the cabin door redirected my attention.
“Come in, Kevin,” Eldor said. I flashed a smile at Kevin that went unreturned.
“The ship is secured and Mac is ready to depart to the village with the team to locate the guardian of the key.” A slight shine of perspiration glowed over his face and I felt him fight to not meet my gaze. He hadn’t said more than a few words since our departure from Scotland. Like me, I sensed from him a desire to maintain a distance between us.
So that’s how he’s going to play it. Good, I need the distance anyway to concentrate.
Kevin’s eyes met mine at the thought before returning to Eldor.
No complex emotions. Need to focus.
It would take me a little time to set aside the bond that we had begun to create since reconnecting in this world. But if Kevin thought he’d be able to focus on the mission that much more because of the space he was creating, he wasn’t fooling me. Had he forgotten that I shared the same ability as he to feel what others felt and to hear the truths of their thoughts? His ability to block me was either weakening or I was becoming stronger at getting through. And he was most certainly in a battle with himself over his decision. His eyes confirmed that much. How long could he fight the good fight?
“We were just finishing up here,” I said.
“I’ll let him know.” He turned to leave, closing the door behind him without another glance.
“Be patient with him, Sara,” Eldor said, giving my shoulder a slight squeeze. “He must find the best way to fulfill his obligation to the Soltari and the Alliance and not lose you in the process.”
“I know. But patience doesn’t make things any easier between us.” I tugged once on the strap at my shoulder. “Thanks again.”
“You love him, whether easy or not.”
It wasn’t a question, and yet I still felt obligated to confirm the statement. “Yes. And we both know that can get us killed with one wrong judgment call.”
Eldor placed a light kiss on my cheek a second before I turned to leave.
I joined the six other members of the team, waiting for the two boats maneuvering closer to take us to shore. As I stepped into one of them, I felt something more in the balmy air than humidity, drawing my attention as though a rancid aroma floated on the current. I hadn’t detected the shift in the energy earlier as I’d gazed over the landscape. I sharpened my senses but couldn’t tune in to it. Kevin looked at me with the same knowing. Stay with Ceanag. I heard his thought and let my eyes linger on him before letting them drift to the team with their own connections to each other.
Aria had formed an alliance with Matt that seemed as old as the one Kevin and I shared. And despite Elise’s attempts to thwart Juno’s attention, they, too, were connected in some way I had yet to uncover.
Ceanag (KEN-uhk) MacCristal, better known to us as Mac, and guardian of the first key, was tasked with leading us to the guardian of the second key and journey with us until all three were obtained. Although we were guided by Mac, I also carried knowledge that would lead me to each one. If I needed to follow a different path than the one intended, there would be little I could do to deny that urge.
I hiked with the others through the damp and rocky terrain. Numerous fallen trees lay on our self-made path, along with hundreds upon thousands of sprouts of new foliage. We were headed into the depths of the jungle, far beyond any well-worn tourist routes, and across a landscape resembling destruction following a storm. Debris was scattered all about the ground. A bird whistled from above, signaling tranquility and calling my immediate assessment a lie. Above us towered mature trees and plants, shading us from the heat of the sun under canopies of leafy green arms clasped together. While the additional shade provided some relief from the heat, it would be more difficult for us to see anything or anyone who might be stalking. I would need to keep my senses sharply tuned.
As if he felt the same ominous sensation in the air, Kevin’s next steps brought him closer to where I hiked, choosing to follow through with guarding me and withdrawing his previous affections. If that’s what he needed to do, so be it. I respected the decision and had developed enough of a toughened shell to withstand the nagging loss of him while he focused on his duty.
Still, being close to him was wearing on my defenses, those I’d spent thirty-one years molding. My nerves tightened at the tension not eased with the silence between us.Return to Book Page