Kye’s white shirt is drenched with blood. It pools on the smooth, black floor of the cave, soaks my knees, and ruins the silk dress I bought in New York just yesterday. A river of it runs into his golden hair until it’s orange and sticky. He’s so still, so broken.
I’ve always known it’s my destiny to give in to death while healing someone else. That’s the one lesson Gram taught me that actually stuck. I just never imagined the day would come before my eighteenth birthday. No amount of childhood training—no crystals, herbs, or healing energy—will give back the life slowly draining away.
It’s happening again. Feelings of helplessness and grief are at war as I struggle to hold on to the last shred of the person I’ve loved for so many lifetimes but only known a few weeks. So much has happened, and all I can think is that his car is at the airport.
Knowing that the person who did this is dead doesn’t comfort me. Too little, too late. It doesn’t change what’s been done. To me. To him. To all of us. I’ve cried so much today that I’m already drained. I can’t catch a breath, so I let the tears come. Emotions crash down on me; anger, sadness, frustration, love, pain. They flow into me, swirl together until flashes of memory sharpen my other senses.
His face close to mine, his thumb stroking my cheek, a heartbroken declaration of love on a pedal-cab ride through Central Park. It’s not enough. Not nearly. It’s not his time to go. Or mine either.
There is a solution. Something I can do to save him. I can offer my life in place of his and hope the goddesses accept. One of us will survive. As I picture my life without him, the world without him, I know it’s the only thing left for me. Because I love him that much. The world and others like us need him more than they need me, and I’m the only one who can save him.
He’s already done everything in his power to protect me, to save me. I am why he’s here. It’s my turn now.
I bend to touch one last kiss to his swollen lips and whisper, “It’ll all be over soon. I’ll love you forever.” Then, with all I have in me, I gather his broken energy together and call it into myself—preparing my body to die in place of his.
The Round Man
“In a time when the world is stricken, there will arise a new generation of Gifted individuals on whose shoulders shall rest the fate of the civilization.”~Prophecy of the Cairn Elen
Three Months Ago
We’re comfortable in Nevada. We have been for a few years. According to Gram, the problem with being comfortable is that comfortable people tend to get sloppy. Stuff happens. People get found and secrets discovered and women like us have to pack up and move on—or something like that.
One evening during winter break, my friends and I attend a show at one of the big hotels on the Strip. Halfway through, the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, followed by the prickling sensation I’ve experienced so many times before, an inexplicable knowledge that someone is watching me. I turn my head, squinting into the gray space behind us as my pulse jumps with anxiety.
The eyes that light on mine are yellow with a hint of green so they resemble burning amber. He has a round face on a round head topped with auburn hair, attached to a round body dressed in the most awful brown tweed suit I’ve ever seen. The man watches from the back corner of the room and nods when he sees me looking—as if I should know precisely who he is.
I feel like I should know, but I don’t have a clue.
Then a vision hits me with a force that knocks me off my chair and sends me sprawling to the ground.
It’s me, standing on a tall cliff overlooking a bubbling, steaming pool of muddyish goo and feeling more than seeing that someone important to me is in serious danger. I’m desperate to help and crazy with fear. Gram’s blue and white diamond ring pulses with heat on my hand—a detail that seems odd to me, since I’ve never been allowed to touch Gram’s most treasured possession. I’m surrounded on all sides by trees, grass, and mushy piles of snow, and wearing a beautiful silver evening gown but no shoes. The trees around me bend with the pressure of the wind, and the pool bubbles harder as I scream, and scream, and scream.
Patches of snow in the background melt and fade. The ground trembles.
Then the vision goes black.
I rasp in a mouthful of air and open my eyes. The world quivers. Several faces hover over me; my friends—and a few strangers.
My body shakes as one of the girls helps me to my feet and a security guard takes my elbow, guiding me through the doors at the back of the theater. As we pass, I scan the area where I saw the man with the amber eyes, but the table in the corner is empty.
The guard takes me to a desk where I call my mom, grateful she’s close enough to come to my rescue.
Something’s very wrong. I’m anxious, so anxious to get home, and yet as we pass through the bright lights of the Strip, nausea rolls around inside me until I nearly vomit in the car.
“Honey, are you sure you’re okay?” Wrinkles tug at the corners of Mom’s mouth as she pulls into our assigned parking stall.
I squeeze my lips together and close my eyes, fighting the dread, the burning in the pit of my stomach, but don’t answer.
“You must be coming down with something.” She opens the door and takes my elbow, and I let her help me. At the bottom of the stairs, I stop, bracing my palms on the building. A thick, black cloud of bad energy hovers in the stairwell, though I’m the only one who can see it. “Mom?”
“Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.”
I take her advice and try again. “Mom, something’s wrong.”
“Do you need to see a doctor?”
I shake my head. “It’s not me. Something else. I don’t know—I can’t see it. It’s so black.”
“It’s just outside my line of vision, but there’s a black haze. Something ... something.” I look up, meeting her eyes. “It’s really bad.”
Mom wraps her arm around my shoulders and leads me to the stairs but I turn, bolt to the patch of grass, and fall on all fours to throw up everything I’ve eaten today. Gram’s face flashes in my mind—her gray-blue eyes surrounded by laugh-lines and the smile that says she’s far younger than seventy-three. “Gram!” The hazy edges of my conscious self sharpen and fear shoots a burst of energy through me.
She’s calling my name.
“Gram!” I bolt up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
At the top, I pause, my heart racing in dread. The door to our apartment is unlocked. The sea-green sofa cushions are ripped to shreds, white stuffing strewn all over the carpet like fuzzy bits of snow. Knick-knacks Mom and Gram have collected over the years lie in pieces. Pictures have been torn from the walls, the ground littered with shards of glass from shattered mirrors, clothing scattered down the hall leading to the bedrooms. Our Christmas tree—so recently surrounded by brightly wrapped packages—is on its side, branches broken, ornaments crushed.
“Gram?” I yell. “Gram!”
“Isabelle?” Mom calls. “Isabelle, are you here?” Together, Mom and I trip over the mess to Gram’s bedroom, the carpet crunching with every footfall.
“Gram!” I burst through the door, only to find the room empty. I’m vaguely aware that the bed has been stripped, the mattress pulled off, and the contents of Gram’s jewelry armoire scattered on the floor. Erda barks at the sound of my voice but doesn’t come running.
“Abby!” Mom calls. “She’s in here. Come quick!” I tear into the kitchen where Gram lies sprawled on the tile. Her face is ashen gray and a puddle of blood has collected beneath her head, matting her silver hair with a patch of purplish-black.
“Gram! Oh no.” I drop to my knees and place my rose quartz crystal over her heart. My own thumps like a drum.
“She’s breathing, but only just.” Mom stands, turns toward the herb cabinet, and opens it. “What do you need?”
“Um, I need ...” I run my hands over Gram’s arms, down her body—making note of some broken ribs—and stop over her heart. The beat is faint and I detect a struggle. My training kicks in gear.
“Hawthorne and ... um, garlic.” I move my hand in a clockwise circular motion above Gram’s chest, spinning the energy in her heart chakra, the way she taught me. The crystal rises into the air and turns under my hand, but the rotation is slow. “Gram, you have to help me. I don’t know what to do.”
Gram rasps out a breath. “Don’t ...”
“Yeah, that’s it, Gram. Come back to me.”
Mom hands me two tiny glass bottles. I measure out a few drops of each herb and drip them into Gram’s mouth. Her head moves. She catches hold of my wrist. “No.”
“What, Gram? Am I doing it wrong? Help me!”
“Abby,” she croaks. “Stop.”
Ignoring Gram’s words, I hum the heart tones, calling the afflicted energy out of her and toward my strong heart where it can be mended. Louder and louder I hum, chanting, until orange light surrounds Gram and forms a tight ball that spins over her heart. I sing louder as the light moves toward me, preparing for the pain I’m about to feel.
But then the crystal falls lifelessly on Gram’s chest. The herbs I’ve administered dribble down the sides of her chin and the ball of light breaks into a thousand pieces that bounce around the room.
“Gram!” I scream. This can’t be happening.
Gram’s eyes open, but the usually deep blue irises look gray. “Abby.” Her voice is weak. I expect her to tell me something, anything I can do to save the life I can feel slipping out of her body.
“Yes, Gram? Tell me.”
Mom kneels at my side and takes Gram’s hand. A tear rolls down her cheek as she bends to hear Gram’s raspy words. “Isa, it’s okay. You can go. I’ll take care of her.”
I jump in alarm. “No. Don’t say that. I’m going to Heal her. That’s why I have this Gift, so I can Heal the people I love. She told me so.”
Mom shakes her head as another tear falls. “Honey—”
“No!” I bend over my grandmother, wishing I could hug her. Wishing she could sit up and put her arms around me and tell me she’s going to be just fine. “Gram, tell her. Tell her I can do it. You know I can, don’t you? You taught me how—I just need to try it again.”
“Marian. The box. Get the box,” Gram wheezes. Mom nods as another breath whooshes out of Gram’s mouth and I lean closer so I can hear her instructions. “Last lesson. You can’t Heal ... someone—”
“Yes, I can,” I interrupt. “You’ve seen me do it before with Erda.”
“When ... it’s her time ... to go.”
“Right,” I say. Tears burn my eyes. “But it’s not your time, so I’m going to Heal you.”
Gram’s chin bobs. “No, baby. It is.”
I look at Mom and swallow a sob. “Tell her she’s wrong.”
Mom shakes her head and leans toward Gram. “Isabelle, Abby and I need you here. We need your guidance. I can’t teach Abby to Heal—she needs you for that.”
Gram closes her eyes as she struggles for breath. “You ... already know, Abby. Dig deep ... find the light inside you. It’s there.”
I pick up my crystal and reposition it over Gram’s heart, then spin her chakra again as the tears escape. No matter how hard I concentrate or how fast I spin, the crystal won’t rise. The energy won’t form. I want to scream in frustration, but I’m controlled. Instead, I hum the heart tones—direct them to Gram’s chest. To her heart.
Her breathing grows rapid and shallow, and for a minute I think she’s releasing her energy to me at last. Seconds later, her eyes grow wide. “Raina.” She says. Slowly, very slowly, her eyes close and her lips draw into a serene smile.
She doesn’t take another breath.