“Wait, LILLIAN? How are you STILL ALIVE? WHERE ARE YOU?” My own voice reverberated in my head, as if hitting a cave wall.
“Breathe, Krystal. You sound like you’re yelling on speaker phone. Try to remain calm when sending your thoughts.”
“Sorry, is this better?”
“You’ll…get there. It’ll take time. Something you have very little of at the moment. I’m not far from the Sister’s village, but I figured this would be the safest way to contact you.”
“Aren’t you a SISTER? Why aren’t YOU here?” There was a pause, and for a moment I thought we had lost the connection.
“They…removed me,” she finally said. “It’s…a long story.”
Was nothing around here a simple explanation? It seemed like everyone had enough backstory to fill a Stephen King novel.
“I assume the sisters have told you nothing so far. What do you know about The Channeling?” she continued.
I shook my head and shrugged, then remembered that we were speaking telepathically. “Very little,” I said.
“Figures,” she said flatly. “The Channeling process starts at the Full Moon—your birthday–and usually lasts until the New Moon. During that time, your body and soul prepare themselves to house the goddess. You’ll undergo many changes, some of which you’re already experiencing, but you will also be quite vulnerable. As you know, the process is not all pleasant. And the symptoms will get worse before they get better.”
“WONDERFUL,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“I can’t make this decision for you, of course, but if you really do want out, I’m afraid the Order of Might may be the only ones willing to perform the ritual freeing you of Amali’s power. The Sisters would rather die than see you choose your own fate.”
“I don’t UNDERSTAND. WHY should I trust you?”
“Because…I want to do for you what I couldn’t do for Katherine.” My stomach dropped.
“SO SHE WANTED OUT TOO?” My words sounded like feedback, bouncing around in my head. “SHIT, SORRY! Sorry, sorry, sorry.” I held my head and took a deep breath. I needed to stay calm.
“PLEASE, Krystal. You’re starting to give me a headache. Yes, she wanted out. But the Sisters strictly forbade it. They kept us both on a short leash until after the Channeling was complete.”
“So… you…. Tried…. To… help her… back then.” I tried speaking slower for more control. “That’s… why… they… kicked… you out?”
“Sort of. But we have no time for that. In order for this to work, you have to conduct the ritual before the New Moon, when the Channeling process completes. After that, Amali is in complete control and would do everything within her power to prevent it from happening.”
“And only… the Order… of Might… can do this?”
“I know they seem…unsavory, but they mean well.” I clenched my fists.
“They… kidnapped me…Lillian. And… I don’t… think I… can trust Kaleb.”
“Perhaps you sense that Kaleb is not of this world. Krystal, If anything goes wrong, I will protect you. I promise. But we’ll need to hurry. The Goddess may have taken a liking to you as a vessel. She could be moving faster than normal. Which is very dangerous. Human vessels aren’t really meant for this sort of thing. Are you aware how many women in your family died during this process simply because she was too powerful to be contained?”
My breath caught in my throat. Women died during this process? But I thought we were specifically chosen to fulfill this role.
“Let’s end this conversation here. I don’t want to overexert you. We’ll speak again soon,” she said. I felt a slight release at the crown of my head, like she had removed her hand. I rubbed my neck and looked over at Liam, who was staring at me with a strange look on his face.
“Dude, you were just staring off into space, making weird faces. Where’d you go?”
I hesitated with my answer. If Lillian felt the safest way to contact me was via telepathy, then maybe the Sisters could hear all of my conversations. But really? Wire-tapping the Conduit? That seemed a little extreme.
“I don’t want to say much, but uh…” I got out of bed and took the journal from Liam. I flipped through until I found Lillian’s name and pointed at it. I looked up at him.
“We just had a chat.”
“Oh. OH,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Like—” he pointed between our heads. I nodded.
“It would be easier if we could do that, too,” he muttered.
“To be honest, I think I prefer you not being connected right now. Whatever I’m experiencing is trippy and painful. I wouldn’t want you sensing any of it.”
He grunted and scratched the side of his head. “So, what did they say?”
“Apparently I’m on the clock. I only have until the new moon to stop this. After that, I’m stuck.”
“Okay, so that gives you how long?”
“Well, the full moon was on my birthday, so somewhere around…9 days? Give or take?”
“All right, well what do we need to do?”
“Yeah…that’s the rub. We need to go back to…the Order.” I whispered the last part, fearful that those words alone would bring the Sisters running.
“That’s what they said?”
“Fuck that,” he said, standing up and balling his fists. “There’s gotta be another way. They were fucking goons, Krys.”
“I know, I know, and it seems ridiculous.”
“But you believe her?”
“I…I honestly don’t know what to believe. The Sisters are slow to throw me information, and Li— they have nothing to gain by telling me all this.”
“That you know of. Let’s pause for a second,” he sat down again, and grabbed my hands.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time reacting over the past couple days. But right now, as far as we know, we’re safe, right?”
“The sister I know never makes a move without some due diligence. And you’re in the one place where you can get some answers. I did some wandering while you were unconscious, and they have a huge library on the first floor. We can start there. I just… I think we need to use our time wisely, and not make any rash decisions.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said, looking down at the floor. Being with the Sisters was the perfect opportunity to learn more about this whole messed up birthright, our lineage, maybe even a little about Katherine. And according to Farrah, I’d be receiving some training. My mind wandered to our conversation earlier today, when she told me about my psychic abilities.
“Liam…did you tell Farrah that we shared telepathy?” I asked.
“No. Honestly, I’ve barely said a word to any of the sisters. I don’t think they like me.”
“Hm… she knew that. She also knew what my job was, and— oh my god, Ramona! How many days has it been?” I got up and started searching around the bed and window for my cell phone.
“Your phone is charging over here. You have a ton of missed calls,” he said, tossing it to me.
31 missed calls and 17 voicemails, to be exact. Most of the voicemails were from Ramona, oscillating between angry and frantic. I called her back.
“Krystal? Oh my god, oh thank god, are you okay?”
“Ramona, I’m so sorry I didn’t call you back,”
“No, no, it’s totally fine, I just want to make sure everything is all right. Are you hurt?”
“I’m not. I mean — I was in the hospital for a bit, but then —”
“Was it the people who broke into your house?”
“I — what?”
“I stopped by your house the day after your birthday, and the door was wide open. The place had been turned over, like someone was looking for something. I called the cops, and well… you had been missing, so I told them that I hadn’t been able to find you, and then they found out that you had been in the hospital for a head injury but you were discharged and I got so worried and started asking EVERYONE where you had been—”
“Okay, Ramona, Ramona… breathe. I am fine. I am safe. And I’m with Liam. I just had a bit of a breakdown and needed to clear my head. I’m so sorry I didn’t call you before about any of this, but everything happened so quickly.”
“A breakdown? What’s going on?” Her shaky voice rose about three octaves.
“It’s…hard to explain. I’m still working through it,” I said.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I’ll respect your privacy. I’m just glad you’re okay. Take the time you need, and I can keep an eye on your house until you come back, all right? And don’t worry about your clients, I’ll figure it out,” she said.
“Thank you Ramona. You’re a good friend. I’m sorry I can’t give you any more information, but… I just need to work this out first, okay?”
“Okay. Call me if you need anything.”
“I will,” I said, and hung up the phone. I felt terrible lying to her, but there was no way I was going to be able to clearly explain any of this. Although I bought myself some time to avoid ruining my reputation, I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to go back to my job. God, all of those clients, abandoned. My life and my career were at risk of being wiped out. It wasn’t fair. I looked over at Liam, who was deep into Grandma’s journal, highlighting passages. At least I had him; one person who knew what I was going through. But what about his life?
“Hey Liam—” I began, but I was interrupted by my stomach growling loudly. He looked up.
“You uh…you hungry?” he asked, smiling.
“A little bit. How do we get food in this place?”
“Just dial ‘4’ for Sister Hannah,” he nodded toward the landline phone on my nightstand. “She’ll whip up whatever you want.”
“Ramen…” I said, holding my stomach.
“Make that two,” he said, going back to the journal. I called Sister Hannah, and she promised to be at my door within a half hour with two bowls.
“I’m digging the room service feel,” I said as I hung up the phone.
“Well, you’re The Conduit, sis. In this place, you’re pretty much royalty. They’ll be waiting on you hand and foot. If you could have seen the procession of sisters coming in and out of this room while you were unconscious, you would have thought you were a queen with a staff of handmaids. Like a harem,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. I laughed, but it was cut short when a stabbing pain shot through chest and right arm. I groaned, and fell forward onto the floor, trying to catch my breath.
“Krys!” Liam rushed to my side, trying to sit me up.
“Don’t move me,” I gasped, trying to inhale. “My heart. I can’t breathe.”
Panic seized my body. Was this a heart attack? Was I about to become another failed attempt at the goddess using me as a vessel? I closed my eyes from the pain, but I didn’t see darkness, I saw a bright light, then the faint outline of a room. It was like I had been transported somewhere else, and my eyes were adjusting to the lights. In this room I was sitting on a chair, and a woman was sitting across from me on the couch, reading a book.
She suddenly looks up and crouches to my side.
“Honey, are you okay? Greg?”
I opened my eyes, and I was back in my room with Liam. I could feel my body growing weak as he held onto me.
And then I understood. This wasn’t my pain.
Another stab of pressure hit my chest, and I clutched the corner of the bed blanket as tightly as I could, my body trembling. We needed to call one of the Sisters immediately. I tried to speak, but then Liam placed a hand on the center of my back. After a few seconds, the pain began to subside. The pressure began to lift as warmth radiated throughout my back and chest. I took a deep breath, and the pain faded into a tingling sensation. He sat me back upright.
“What did you do?” I asked, still working on taking deep breaths.
“I don’t know. I was just reminded of some Reiki classes I took a while ago, and followed my instincts. I just…knew it would help you.” I patted his arm, and rested my head against the nightstand.
“Good job, bro. I’m gonna gift you with some free ramen for that one,” I said.
In that moment, grandma’s words to Liam came back to me:
But you, my dear, will be right beside her as protector.