Sunday, November 11, 2012

Teaser - Bodyguards, Chapter 4

Bodyguards is already available!
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CHAPTER FOUR
Echoes




The beginning of dizziness and the burning taste of bile at the back of her throat caused Vivien to slow down when she reached her street. She’d been running as fast as she could the entire way. Her breath coming out in sharp little pants, she walked up the driveway and to the side door.

She’d thought of calling the police as soon as she reached the house, but now that she was there, something else was more pressing. She needed to hear Anabel say this was all nothing more than nonsense, and of course her parents had not been king and queen of some strange land. It was all just silly.

“Ana?” she called as soon as she entered.

Nothing but silence answered Vivien’s call. She crossed the kitchen, heading straight for the front room where Anabel received customers for her readings. The light above the door was still on, but Vivien didn’t care at that moment if she interrupted Anabel when she was about to reveal to a conflicted woman which of her suitors she should choose. They were all much too old for make-believe.

The front room had once been her favorite playground as a little girl, and she had pretended to herself that the room had magic of its own, magic Anabel drew upon to reveal the future to her customers. Vivien had long since stopped believing in magic, however, and she couldn’t even remember the last time she had been in there.

As soon as she pushed the door open, a strong, familiar scent flowed over her, calling her back to her childhood. The sweetness of Anabel’s ever-present tea, mixed with the deeper scent of incense, formed an aroma that was always overpowering at first, and that would cause anyone—except Anabel—to feel a little groggy after a while.

Without the many candles that usually lit the room, Vivien couldn’t see much. Thick velvet drapes covered the windows, their deep purple matching the color of the walls and making the room appear even darker than it was. One thing was all too apparent, though: Anabel wasn’t there.

Vivien turned around and rushed up the stairs, heading straight to Anabel’s room. It was empty as well, but Vivien gasped when she saw it. The state of the room spoke of a break-in, with furniture upturned and clothes strewn all over. Her heart hammering in her chest, Vivien started down the hallway again, pausing in front of another open door to stare in disbelief.

Her room had been tossed as well, the linens striped off the bed, clothes pulled from the closet and dresser and thrown onto the floor, her laptop lying in two pieces at opposite ends of the room. Unbidden, tears of anger rose to her eyes. Who could have done this, and why? What had they been looking for? More importantly, where was Anabel?

Rushing back downstairs to the phone, Vivien suddenly noticed the small, dark drops splattered on the linoleum, more of them close to the door to the front room. Was it...

She gulped and entered the front room again, her hand fumbling against the wall to find the switch Anabel never used. The light bulb above her flickered to life and cast a bright light on the room. For a moment, everything looked as it should be, with the two armchairs facing each other around the narrow table just waiting for Anabel to receive a customer. Even the cards were already in place for a reading, set in a neat pile in the center of the table.

One card had tumbled to the floor, however; ‘the future,’ Anabel called it. It depicted a little girl, her hands cupped one on top of the other as though she were protecting something. Without thinking, Vivien stepped forward to pick it up. When her fingers brushed against the carpet, however, her heart jumped to her throat and she pulled back, forgetting the card to stare at the large stain obscuring the abstract flowers on the carpet. She moved back until her shoulder hit the doorjamb. She froze, then, raising her left hand to clutch the wood and remain upright.

She had watched a man die, earlier. She remembered the blood pooling under him, thick and dark—as thick, as dark as the blood coating her fingers now.

* * * *

Relief swept through Bradan as soon as he entered Vivien’s house. Without taking one step further, he could see her, standing past the door on the other side of the kitchen. He turned back to the driveway and nodded once at Aedan, whose shoulders slumped for a second before he caught himself. Aedan nodded back, then moved away from the door. In moments, he all but disappeared into the darkness. Sunlight didn’t hurt him here the same way it did back home, but entering a house uninvited was still one of his limitations. Regardless, it made sense for him to stand guard outside while Bradan talked to Vivien.

What he would say to her, however, was still a mystery. He’d already tried to explain everything to her and she clearly hadn’t believed him. If she had, she wouldn’t have run out alone where Rhuinn’s guards might have snatched her.

He took slow steps across the kitchen. He’d been there before, always when Vivien was at school or asleep, and he knew the purpose the front room served. More than once, he’d teased Anabel about the strange use she had found for her Quickening in this world. He pushed those memories away to focus on Vivien instead. Why was she standing so still on the threshold? Why was she trembling, one hand against the doorjamb as though she needed the support?

“Vivien?”

She shuddered when he said her name but didn’t turn to look at him.

“Vivien, are you all right?”

When he reached her, he laid a careful hand on her shoulder. She finally turned to face him. She was ghostly pale, her expression reflecting a child’s fear. It had been a long time since he’d seen her so scared. They’d been children then, and Bradan had been too young to help. He felt a pang of guilt at the thought that, even now, he’d been unable to shield her from whatever was upsetting her.

“What is it?” he whispered. “You’re safe, we won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.”

She raised the hand that wasn’t clutching the doorjamb and showed him her fingers. They gleamed wetly, covered in thick blood. Bradan’s eyes widened in alarm, and he grabbed her shoulders, turning her body fully toward him so he could look at her. He could see no injury, no blood on her clothing, only on her hand. Still, he had to ask.

“Are you hurt? What happened?”

“It’s not mine,” she said in a broken voice. “It’s... It was on the floor. I think... Ana isn’t here. I don’t know where she is. Someone came in. They... Upstairs. They were looking for something.”

Her eyes met his, and for all the fear he could see in them, her voice was firm when she asked, “What’s going on? Who did this? Why did they take her?”

Bradan realized that he could try to explain it all to her again, but she still wouldn’t believe him, not until she saw the truth for herself.

“I told you why. But I can show you.”

His words came out slowly as he focused on gathering the Quickening; it was harder in this world, with less energy around him to draw from, but he could always call on the power within him. His heartbeat accelerated, his vision changing until everything had turned a dull gray.

“What are you doing?” Vivien asked, breathless. She was staring at him; could she see the Quickening flowing around him, pulsing with colors?

“I told you. I’ll show you what happened. And then you can decide if you believe me or not.”

He brushed his thumb against the inside of his wrist, an habit he had developed while in this world. His Quickening, every last bit of power he possessed, was at Vivien’s service. It had been part of the QuickSilver vow he had sworn, and that vow was a part of him as surely as the tattoo was.

Raising his left hand palm up, he made a wide, sweeping gesture in front of him, freeing the Quickening, directing it to do what he needed. A silver mist instantly rose through the room, swirling as though from a light breeze. It coalesced into a human shape sitting at the table. Both her hands rested on either side of the cards in front of her, but her eyes remained on the door that faced her. It suddenly burst open. Two men walked in while a third one remained outside the threshold.

“Is that...is that Ana?” Vivien whispered. “Who are they? How are you doing this?”

Bradan did not reply, focusing instead on feeding the echo. The Quickening had flowed through all four of these people and left an imprint on the Otherworld. In a few hours, it would fade, but for now it allowed Bradan to show Vivien what had happened.

One of the two men, probably the leader of the unit, talked for a few seconds, his lips moving soundlessly; the echo retained images, but no sound. The only answer the man received from Anabel was a shake of her head. On a signal from the leader, the other man backhanded Anabel over the mouth, splitting her lip and sending her to the floor. Vivien gasped and lurched forward. Through the echo of the Quickening, Anabel’s blood was like liquid silver, small drops splattering down as she sat up but kept her head bowed.

“Do you want me to stop?” Bradan asked, already preparing to release his focus.

“No!” Vivien’s gaze flicked toward him, then back to the men. “I want to see what happened.”

Bradan inclined his head and continued to direct the flow of the Quickening, even if he was beginning to struggle with it. It had been a while since he had channeled to such an extent, and never in the Otherworld.

After a few more seconds, the same man who had backhanded Anabel grabbed her arm and pulled her to her feet. The two of them accompanied the other man out of the room and up the stairs. After a second of hesitation, Vivien followed them, with Bradan on her heels. He watched her hand rise and brush through the silvery mist that formed Anabel’s body. He wished he could have reassured her as to Anabel’s fate, but from what Aedan had told him of Rhuinn’s temper, she very well might be dead.

Upstairs, Bradan and Vivien could do nothing more than watch as the leader searched the two bedrooms, his frustration visibly growing as he failed to find what he was looking for. Again, he interrogated Anabel, and again she refused to answer, staring stubbornly ahead of her—and as luck had it, straight at where Vivien now stood.

Finally, the three of them returned downstairs. In the front room, the leader brought both his hands together; when he separated them again, the open front door was gleaming. The three men Passed Through, taking Anabel with them. Before she disappeared, she glanced one last time to where Vivien was standing as though she could see her, a small but genuine smile touching her mouth. Although the echo held no sound, when she spoke it was easy to read Vivien’s name on her lips. Her captor pressed a hand to her back and pushed her through. As the portal dissipated, the door banged shut.

Breathing hard, Bradan let go of the Quickening, and color returned to the world. Vivien, however, remained pale as snow. Her wide eyes shone when she looked at Bradan.

“Where did they go? Where did they take her?”

“They Passed Through back to our world,” Bradan said gently. “Back to Foh’Ran. I don’t know where, but those were Rhuinn’s men so I would guess they took her to him.”

“But why?” She shook her head. “You said they want me. Why would they take her?”

“She spent the past fifteen years at your side. Who knows you better than she does?”

Vivien crouched down and picked up a card on the floor. She held it in both her hands, watching it for a long time before she finally looked up at Bradan again and asked, “How did you do this? How did you make all this appear?”

Yet again, Bradan could only lament that Anabel had opposed telling Vivien anything about who she was or where she had come from.

“She forgot Foh’Ran,” Anabel had said, years earlier. “She barely remembers her mother, and if she remembers seeing anyone channel the Quickening, she just thinks it’s all her imagination. Why upset her with all this now?”

Bradan had only been a teen, then. He hadn’t thought it was appropriate to argue with his elder, especially since Dame Eleoren herself had entrusted her daughter to Anabel. Now, he wished he had been more persuasive, especially the last time they had met and he had told Anabel about Aedan’s warning. He had so much to explain to Vivien, he didn’t know where to start. It didn’t help that she was looking at him as though she were finally ready to listen—finally ready to believe him.

“People from our world... Well, most of us, anyway. We have a...power. It’s called the Quickening. We can learn to do things with it, like opening a portal between Foh’Ran and Earth, like Rhuinn’s guard did. Or like summoning images of something that happened in a specific place a few hours ago, like I did.”

Vivien considered the card in her hands. Her voice rose no louder than a whisper when she asked, “Like reading the future in cards?”

Technically, Anabel didn’t read cards, but auras; Bradan didn’t think Vivien needed that bit of knowledge at that moment, though. He didn’t want to overwhelm her with trivia, merely show her that her world was different from what she had believed for the past fifteen years.

“Like that, yes.”

Her frown deepened, and she dropped the card. Bradan instinctively crouched to pick it up. As he did, Vivien pushed past him out of the room. Alarmed, Bradan pocketed the card and followed her as she rushed back upstairs. She entered the first bedroom—Anabel’s, Bradan would have guessed—and went straight to the dresser. The drawers had been pulled askew, the contents searched, and clothes scattered on the floor. Vivien put both hands in the first drawer and searched, flinging whatever was left aside until the drawer was completely empty.

“What are you doing?” Bradan asked, confused.

Vivien stood in front of the drawer, her lips pinched tight and her brow furrowed until she finally said, “This morning, Ana said something. She said... She said she had to talk to me about something important, but I didn’t have time. So she hugged me and she said my birthday present was in her first drawer.” She turned to look at Bradan. “Do you think she knew they...they’d come and take her?”

Bradan sighed softly. “I don’t know. It’s possible.”

She returned her gaze to the empty drawer, still frowning. “What were they looking for? Why did they search our rooms?”

“I don’t know,” Bradan said again. Maybe Aedan knew, but Aedan was outside, standing guard and growing restless. They had to Pass Through, and soon. “But they could return. We should...”

His voice trailed off when Vivien’s eyes suddenly widened.

“Not in her drawer,” she muttered as though to herself. “Under it.”

She pulled the drawer completely out of the dresser and set it on the floor before turning it upside down. Something flat, wrapped in tissue paper, was taped to the recessed underside.

“How did you know?” Bradan asked, stunned.

“It was in a movie we watched a few months ago.” With feverish hands, she pulled the tape apart and freed the wrapped object. “Anabel said, if she ever had to hide something important, that’s where she’d hide it.”

She opened the tissue paper, and something round and metallic fell into her open palm. Bradan held his breath as he recognized it. Each Celden ruler had worn the QuickSilver insignia, the men as a pin over their heart, the women as a pendant around their neck. It had been the visible symbol of who they were, like human rulers wore crowns. And from the time of Lahien the Great, all members of the QuickSilver Guard had worn the same symbol imprinted on their skin.

Without thinking, Bradan dropped to one knee in front of Vivien and raised his hand toward her, closed into a fist, his wrist facing up.

The swirls and spirals of the tattoo gleaming on his skin were a match for the finely crafted metal in Vivien’s trembling hand.

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