Deliverance. Olivya hated that slithery word, that thin euphemism. Why not call it what it was? Murder. Her legs tensed, straining to run through the front door, down the street, east to Lake Michigan, and keep on going, right into the cool deep waters. Instead, she crept to the foyer, careful to stay out of Mama's line of sight.
The new GAD lay mummy-bound in a pale blue blanket. This one had no intention of hanging out in a tranquilized coma or happily zoned on Hypno-Peace. He just wanted out. She wanted to look into the soul of this death-wisher. Did it take courage to broadcast that invitation to the Reaper? You are cordially invited to escort me to oblivion.
The sickly sweet stench of diseased flesh and stale urine wafted from the GAD. His sweat-soaked orange hair lay like worms on his forehead. Straps held his wrists to the side rails. His lips fluttered with each labored breath. She frowned. He looked just like all the others. Nothing special - shrunken, coma-tranked, and reeking. Was he a coward or a hero? The answer didn't show in his face, but she could find it in his aura.
A chill breeze rippled, raising gooseflesh on her arms. Maybe the old Reaper was already standing right there, ready to claim his prize. If she allowed herself to fully Sight, would she see Death's black robes, its bottomless eyes rimmed in bone? She wanted to curse it, spit in its hideous face. Like Papa, this newcomer had set out a welcome mat for Death.
Mama would be furious if she caught her gaping, disobeying orders to stay away. Olivya would have to hurry, but a moment was all she needed.
She closed her eyes, lifted her defenses and willed the Sight to come. Colors, shapes and lights swirled behind her lids. She compressed them into a single point of white-light deep inside her mind, then she opened her eyes.
The GAD's aura, at first vague and wavy, sharpened into view. Despite the drug-induced coma, misery rose from him in sluggish waves. The dull red of malignancy throbbed against a background of greenish-gray - similar to the other Good-As-Deads, but somehow weightier. Intuition told her to look more closely.
Faint hues darted behind that auric death-shroud, ghosts of the man's former emotions. A streak of robin's egg blue, shimmers of peach. An eerie feeling came over her. Something looked familiar about this combination of gentle pastels in this particular pattern.
The face of a smiling man rose in her mind's eye, one who had always been patient with the friendless psychic girl. Mr. Gragg. Her Seventh Grade English teacher from the old brick and mortar. Could this be him? It looked nothing like him. Mr. Gragg had been thick-muscled and robust, his hair a riot of bright orange ringlets. Yes. That pastel aura was Mr. Gragg's. She recognized the colors of his unique, unflagging kindness. Why him? Then again, so many in the world had cancer. Why not him?
Olivya caught Mama's voice in the kitchen. “Any family?”
“Not any more,” the deliveryman said.
Excerpt – Chapter Two - Mikah: Mikah, an unitiated member of the Kindred clan, dreads his encounters with the Kindred leader, a demon hybrid who goes by the name of Prime . . .
It wasn't just the thought of Initiation and what it might do to him that made Mikah sick with dread. It was the fact that he'd have to be alone with Prime, close to the monster's twisted energy and constantly morphing shape, that hideous creature near enough to touch. He hated thinking about that cellar-dwelling thing, yet his presence permeated the Complex. Prime. The Ancient One. Vile. Disgusting.
Sometimes at night, Mikah would gaze out his bay window, dreaming about what it might be like to plunge through the glass and ride the gravity express straight down to eternal nothingness. He'd catch a glimpse of a lurching form among the trees, a darker dark in the shadows, oozing through the expanse of park-like grounds that joined the Complex with the shores of Lake Michigan. He’d spy Prime, the monster, slipping along the beach in random directions, as if lost.
That shape sometimes caught the moonlight, a pale glow darting among the perfectly manicured hedges at the Complex boundaries. Prime. No boogieman. Real. He'd haunted Mikah's nightmares since he was a little kid. Lately, the changes had accelerated. Prime was growing restless, leaving the Complex more and more often, capering and shrieking about the grounds.
Just a week ago, Mikah caught a rare sight of Prime inside the Complex, slinking past an open door in one of the first floor parlors. He looked thick and clumsy. Then yesterday, Mikah saw the beast again. He'd changed, become taller, oddly flexible, and lighter on his feet. Only Prime's brown, shapeless robes stayed the same, and the absurdly long black patent leather dress shoes sticking out beneath his hems.
“You should not put your attention on him,” Changarai said.
“My shield is up. How did you know I was thinking of Prime?”
“You wear the same expression you did as a toddler when Prime was near. One doesn't need psionic ability to recognize fear.”
“Yeah, well. It's just another thing that separates me from all of you. I fear him. You worship him.”
“You will too,” Changarai said. “Soon.”
No way would Mikah stay alone with that shambling horror while they're at the Gathering. Then he relaxed. He wouldn't be alone tonight. He'll be with Olivya.
Except – Chapter Three – That Familiar Malevolence: This a scene from Olivya and Mikah’s first meeting face to face. They have escaped a Shivpack, a gang of vicious street thugs, by sliding into a rushing stream that runs through the abandoned Lincoln Park Zoo . . .
They barely heard the last as the stream swept them away. After what seemed like a long time, they reached a sturdy bush on a muddy bank. They grabbed it and pulled themselves up, soaked and shivering. The grassy sides of the moat, though wet, were less steep here. Olivya scrambled to the top, Mikah close behind. Her thigh burned where the fence had caught her jeans. She peeled back the torn denim. A deep scratch, puffed and red, but the bleeding had stopped.
Mikah swiped at the splotches of mud and grass from his clothes. Olivya checked him out beneath half-lowered lids. The moonlight illuminated him, as if his strange aura attracted and magnified its glow. She'd never seen anyone so beautiful, almost pretty, but rugged and rough. His skin was the color of sweet tea, a pale creamy brown, incredibly smooth. Latino? Indian? No. Arab. Maybe Native American? No way to tell. He was all races, yet no race. Strong jaw, full lower lip, shining black hair, broad shoulders. He removed his light cotton jacket to wring it out. He wore a form-fitting black T-shirt, now wet and plastered to his smooth, wide chest. His torso V'ed down to narrow hips and long-muscled legs. She glanced back up to his face to find those periwinkle blue-violet eyes staring straight into hers.
She looked away, busily rubbed mud and grass off herself. Just great. She was supposed to be angry with him and he had just caught her, well, ogling. And she was furious at him again, doubly so, for making her feel embarrassed. He was the one who should be humiliated. After all, hadn't she just caught him in a lie? Didn't he scare her half to death with that insane light show? He didn't even care that her leg was cut, and it hurt like hell, and, and− “You little liar!” She shoved her face into Mikah's. “How do you move that way - blurry and super-quick? What the hell did you do to Ripper? And why did Mako run away like a frightened dog when you barely touched him?”
Mikah shrugged and sighed. “Olivya, it's complicated.”
“Use small words.”
“I'm not entirely human.”
Olivya ground her teeth. More lies. She watched his aura, waiting for it to turn lemon-green with deceit . . . and waited. It gleamed steady, a truthful apricot-orange. She took a step back. “O-o-okay?”
“I sensed you were special the first time our holo-sims chatted,” he said, “but I didn't realize how talented you are, how intense your Sight. I wonder if you even know.”
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