We continued in silence down the road. Every time I fidgeted to adjust my hands or legs, I noticed the goons on either side tense up, ready to restrain me again. The windows were covered with small curtains, so I couldn’t see outside. I assumed we were on a highway since I could hear other vehicles driving around us, relatively fast. It had taken about ten minutes or so to get to the highway, which meant we were likely on I-96. But were we heading North or Southbound?
Not that it really mattered. Who was I going to tell? They weren’t going to let me use my phone, and as far as I could tell, I couldn’t telepathically send a message to Liam.
Of course, I hadn’t tried, yet. But my abilities were so erratic; I hadn’t even experienced anything remotely psychic since I found grandma’s diary.
Send yourself, a voice suddenly whispered.
“What?” I said aloud, looking around at the men. They all looked at me, then each other.
“What?” the one with the knife across from me furrowed his brow.
“Didn’t…didn’t someone just…say…something…” I trailed off, as I realized that the voice was in my head. Knife guy scowled at me, and looked back out the window. But what did the voice say?
Send yourself, the voice said again.
Send myself? Send myself where? I asked the question in my head, since this seemed like a conversation with…someone. In my head.
Energy. Send myself. Send myself…energy? Send my…energy?
“Oh!” I gasped out loud. They all looked at me again. I quickly shook my head, and shrugged. “Sorry, I’m not good in kidnapping situations.”
“Shut up,” Knife guy said, holding the blade in his hand. I shifted in my seat and tried to lean back a little more.
Okay. Astral projection. How the hell did that work? I closed my eyes and took a couple deep breaths. I tried to envision where I wanted to be. I needed to find Liam.
Liam… I said in my mind. Liam. Liam. Liam.
My body started to tingle, and I felt a strange lifting sensation. I opened my eyes, and I was no longer in the back seat with the Order of the Mighty goons. I was sitting in the passenger seat of Liam’s car, and he was driving down a road.
“Liam?” I said. He jumped, and swerved the car into the left lane, cutting off a yellow pickup truck.
“Holy fuck! What…did you just teleport?” he said, looking over at me and back at the road.
“No, I…astral projected?” I was too afraid to move anything other than my head in case I flew through the roof of the car or something.
“I have no idea, but look, we’re driving on a highway, and it took about ten minutes from the storage place to get to it. So I’m thinking—”
“I-96 Southbound,” he finished. Then he looked over at me. “I can sense where your energy is headed, now. Kinda like…like a beacon?”
“Well, thank god for my built-in stalker assistance. Maybe call the cops or something?”
“No time for that,” he said, shifting into 2nd gear and speeding down the road. “I’m coming to get you.”
“But there’s like, 4 of them and —” my body started tingling again, along with the lifting sensation. I opened my eyes, and I was back in the other car, but two of the goons were gone. The car had stopped moving.
“Oh, sleeping beauty awakes just in time,” Knife guy sneered. “Get out of the car.” I scooted over to the open door, and one of the guys grabbed my elbow, pulled me out and pushed me ahead. At the doorway I saw Melba, with his phony reassuring smile plastered on his face.
“I’m glad you decided to see it our way, Sister Krystal.”
“Eat a dick.”
“I’ll take her from here,” Melba said, grabbing my elbow and dragging me inside.
We walked through an entryway and turned right into a long hallway. The area was lushly carpeted, and the walls had wrought iron sculptures of symbols hanging on them. I didn’t recognize what any of them were, but they were complex, and reminded me of a mix between runic symbols and cuneiform.
“You know, we didn’t want to resort to violence, Miss Krystal,” he continued. I didn’t say anything.
“The Order of the Mighty are normally peaceful, but when the fate of the world is at stake—”
“You turn into the Mafia, and get shitty when somebody says something you don’t wanna hear. I get it.” I finished for him.
He suddenly shoved me, slamming my right shoulder against the wall. The pain radiated down my arm and into my fingers. His grip on my left arm tightened, and he brought his mouth to my ear.
“You have no idea what is happening, girl,” he hissed. “Just a few days ago, you were Nothing. Nobody. A meaningless piece of flesh who got lucky that some deity decided to piss in your general direction. And now—”
“That’s enough Melba!” a voice boomed at the end of the hallway. He quickly stood up, pulling me upright, but didn’t loosen the grip on my arm. A large man with long crimson hair, dressed in a black suit walked toward us.
“Secretary Kaleb, I’m sorry, I was just—”
“You are no better than the goons who brought her here. Out of my sight, you leech. I will deal with you later.” His voice seethed with disdain for Melba, who let go of my arm, and backed away bowing over and over again. Maybe this redhead wasn’t so bad.
Or maybe he was worse.
“Miss Cabot, I am sorry for this entire situation,” the man said. He had a strange accent, it sounded like maybe French or Ukrainian was his first language. He looked down at me and smiled, but there was nothing behind his eyes. I felt a strange sensation in my chest, similar to when I was in the hospital, but deeper.
Like he was already dead. Or… soulless?
He reached toward me and I flinched, but he was just reaching for my handcuffs. With a simple touch, my hands were freed. I began rubbing my wrists, and then winced at the pain in both of my arms. He lightly ran a finger down each arm, and the pain quickly dissipated.
“Please come with me, and I will explain everything.” It wasn’t like I had a choice, here. And he had just healed me, so I could probably trust him as far as I could throw him.
The hallway opened into a large room with an executive desk on the far wall, surrounded by comfortable-looking red velvet easy chairs. There looked to be an altar setup on the far right wall, with one of those strange wrought iron sculptures perched on the center of the table. Large ornate chandeliers hung from the vaulted ceilings, giving the room an eerie yellow glow.
“Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to one of the velvet chairs. I sat down, and he sat behind the desk. I relaxed a little knowing there was an object between us.
“Are you the high priest?” I asked. He barely nodded.
“Yes. I am Kaleb, First Priest of the Order of the Mighty. It is an honor to meet you, Miss Cabot.”
“I’m afraid I can’t say the same for you,” I replied. He chuckled.
“Well, I hope to change your perception before the day ends.”
“You can try. But first impressions count. And your goons have no class.”
“Joseph, some tea for our guest,” he called, looking at someone behind me.
“Right away, sir,” a voice said, and I heard his footsteps descend into the hallway. Kaleb turned back to me.
“Miss Cabot, do you know why you’re here?”
“Because I was kidnapped.”
“Because you have been forced into a role you didn’t ask for. Am I right?” He raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow. For someone lacking a soul, he still remembered how to make his face expressive. I nodded.
“And we simply believe that it isn’t fair. You are human. You have complicated inner and external lives, and a finite time on this plane. To be burdened with the task of divine possession is nothing short of slavery, is it not?”
“Uh-well…” He was right, to a point, but I knew better than to assume it was as simple as the divine choosing anyone they wanted.
“Do you know what it means to be a Conduit?”
“I only know through the stories I’ve heard from family. The goddess channels messages through us. And she stays until…we’re done.”
“Until you die, Miss Cabot. This is no time to mince words. And do you know what the Conduits endure during this time?”
“Well, I’m experiencing symptoms now, and it’s certainly no picnic.”
“Do you really think they’ll go away at some point?” He furrowed his brows and cocked his head in the same way a parent would do when their kid tells them that their imaginary friend broke the vase.
Just as I was about to respond, Joseph returned with a tray holding a teapot and two cups of tea. He placed it between us, and set my teacup in front of me, then Kaleb’s in front of him. I had a strange feeling tugging at the back of my head. There was something off about this Kaleb guy.
“What are you really, Kaleb?”
“You spoke of humans as if you weren’t one yourself. What are you?” I had no idea what he was capable of beyond the magical abilities he showed me, but there was definitely more.
“Clever, Miss Cabot. I am not human, but my identity shall remain a mystery. For now. Please, have some tea,” he said, gesturing toward my cup. I lifted it to my lips, taking a sip, but stopped myself, placing the cup back in the saucer. That was strange; I complied too readily, as if I were obeying an order. What if he drugged it? And how much would it take to hit my system and take effect?
“So what is it that you can do for me?” I asked, sitting up and placing my hands in my lap. His eyes flickered to the teacup.
“Simply put, we can free you of this burden.”
“It is a complicated process, involving ritual. And blood. It has only been done once before. It… will not be comfortable.” He was certainly drawing this out. And doing a terrible job of convincing me.
“But when it’s over, I can go back to a normal life?”
“You will be free of your fate,” he replied.
“That’s not what I asked,” I said.
“Is that not what you want? Freedom from this damned position?”
I exhaled slowly, and looked over at the altar. I knew what those words meant. I had watched enough paranormal TV shows to suspect that this ritual would ruin me. Which meant I needed to find another solution, and I needed to get out of here, fast. But something inside me knew I wouldn’t have much time to plan that out. My muscles were already starting to feel a little too relaxed, like I had taken a strong painkiller.
Goddammit, from just one sip?
Unless it was something else causing this. He had touched both of my arms. Maybe it wasn’t the tea at all. Maybe it was part of his own abilities.
I wondered if it was something I could psychically resist. As I thought that, I heard Liam’s voice in my head. He sounded far away, like he was yelling from outside a building.
“I’m almost there, sis. Just hold on,” I heard him say.
Finally. He needed to hurry up, this dude was bad news.
I just needed to stall, keep Kaleb distracted, and myself alert. I leaned forward, scooting the cup and saucer aside.
“So, walk me through this. What do you do, do you cut my hand, pour it into a cup, and throw it on one of those creepy looking iron statues or something?” I gestured toward the altar. He brought his hands together on the desk in front of him, and I saw his nostrils flare in a split second. I was probably starting to annoy him. Good.
“It’s…a bit more involved than that, and has to be done at the right time. But yes, we draw blood from you and pour it into a…cup.” I nodded.
“I understand. So, what do we do now?” I asked.
“Well first, you must agree to the ritual. Once you do, we will start making preparations. You will be able to stay here comfortably until we are ready to perform the ritual.”
“Wait, what? I have to stay here? What about my life? The other…people…” the effect of whatever it was had begun to take over, and my lids were having trouble staying open. Shit. Stay awake, Krys. Stay awake.
“We can make arrangements for all of that.”
“Arrangements…” I couldn’t help but think of funeral arrangements. This…being was obviously lying to me. And I was rapidly losing consciousness.
“So…tired…” I tried to stand up, but my legs were too weak. I tried to hoist myself up with my arms, but they were like jelly. I felt an ice cold hand wrap around my waist, pulling me up. Kaleb’s bony fingers turned my face toward his. When had he walked around the desk?
“You will comply. The Master orders it,” he said.
Never Again, the voice in my head whispered. Was it talking to me? Was this talking thing going to be a normal occurrence? I shook my head, and tried to push away from Kaleb, but his grip was too tight.
Never Again, the voice whispered a little louder.
I began to hear a multitude of voices whispering in my head, just like that first day in my house.
“Miss Cabot, this wi–” but I could no longer hear him. The voices were getting louder, yelling in every language. I could feel pressure behind my eyes, and in my neck. I pushed away from him with all of the strength I had left, barely breaking away and backing into my chair.
NEVER. AGAIN. The voice was much louder this time.
I grabbed my head, the pounding behind my eyes becoming almost unbearable, when the chair that was supporting me slid away and I fell to the ground. It jerked forward and flew past Kaleb toward the wall behind him. He hurried toward the altar. What was he going for?
Did that chair just fly?
NEVER AGAIN. NEVER AGAIN. NEVER. AGAIN.
The voice was shouting in my head now, as his desk lifted up and hurled itself at Kaleb, knocking him against the wall. What the hell was going on? The voice repeated the same words in my head, until I couldn’t help but join in and yell it aloud. It was like a chant. I could feel power building within me as I said it, but I felt I had no control.
Any item that wasn’t nailed down began hovering all around the room, aiming at other walls, at Kaleb, at the floor.
She was doing this.
I felt piercing pain at the base of my skull again, and I cried out.
“Krystal!” I heard Liam’s voice. Was it in my head again? I looked around, and Liam was running toward me, ducking a teapot.
“It hurts…” was all I could say, as he grabbed my shoulders hurrying me back down the hallway. The wrought iron sculptures began to lift off of the walls, and as we rounded the corner, Melba blocked the door to the outside.
“Hey!” he yelled, but as I turned toward him, the unhinged sculptures all flew toward his head before he could say anything else. He dropped to the ground, unconscious. Or dead. We didn’t have time to check.
“Let’s get out of here!” Liam said, and we ran out of the door. Rocks and gravel from all around the building were lifting up, swirling around our heads, hitting our legs. A stray shopping cart flew through the air and through the front window of Liam’s car. I felt another stabbing pain at the base of my skull that brought me to my knees.
“Krys!” Liam dropped down to help me back up, but I pushed him away.
“Just get out of here! I can’t…I can’t…” I couldn’t finish my words, because I was feeling consciousness slip away from me. Within a few seconds, everything went black.
At least the voices had stopped.