Liam set down his notebook and pen and yawned. He slowly unfolded his legs and stretched his arms wide. He had been in this room below the library for the past six hours, looking for answers. He had started with the large leather tome on the center podium, but that was pointless. Blame it on Hollywood tropes and the ceremony of most religions, but he was certain that book held the history of the Deities within it, including the story of how Amali became one herself. Unfortunately, most of the pages were blank. The ones that did have writing on them were written in a language he couldn’t understand, so he decided to shift his focus to the journals that Farrah said held recorded conversations between Lillian and Amali.
The strewn piles of journals around him gave off an overwhelming commingled scent of leather, herbs and ink as he inhaled deeply. It reminded him of an evening he had recently spent with friends in New York in a cigar lounge. It seemed like a lifetime ago now. He had just finished taping a special for a well-known food series, and they decided to go out on the town since he would only be there until the next day. He recalled the smell of the leather chairs and the wooded, herbal notes of the small batch locally distilled scotch they enjoyed with their hand-rolled cigars. It was on that night that he met Bryan, his new “we don’t need to put a label on it” boyfriend.
That was also the night that his grandmother visited him in his dream for the first time in over a decade. It was brief, but it stayed with him after he woke: He was a child again, playing in the living room. His grandmother called him from the kitchen. As he rounded the corner to answer her she only said,
When he woke up, he had an overwhelming urge to call Krystal.
Over the next two months, his grandmother visited him three more times, the dreams just as brief and cryptic as the others, until finally, 3 days before Krystal’s birthday, he had a dream where the two of them were in the kitchen with their grandmother, but she wasn’t cooking like usual. She was standing between them both, her hands on their heads.
“It is time,” she said. Then the scene faded away until it was only him and Krystal left in a bright white room.
When Liam awoke, he jumped out of bed, sweating profusely. He began searching for his phone, ignoring Bryan’s sleepy, puzzled looks. Before speaking a word, he booked the earliest flight he could get back to town.
And now he was here, in the basement of a monastery, reading more than he ever had in his life in an effort to figure out what the hell was going on with his sister. Bryan’s constant text messages were becoming annoying, since it just meant Liam had to keep lying. He secretly wished Bryan wasn’t so goddamn loyal. He made the mistake of telling him that his sister was injured and he needed to stay until she was well; it only made Bryan want to send gifts or visit and help out. For someone who wasn’t keen on using relationship labels, he was certainly acting like boyfriend of the year.
Meanwhile, Liam had already feared for Krystal’s life at least twice since this all started, and it didn’t seem like it would be resolving anytime soon. Perhaps it would be better if he just played the asshole route and broke up with Bryan before things got too intense.
He laughed at that thought. “I think we’re beyond ‘too intense’, Liam…” he said aloud, positioning himself back over his piles. He picked up his notebooks, reading over the notes he had taken so far. He had circled a few that stood out to him:
Mar 12, 1940 – Overhead Lillian asking Katherine why she ignored her for so long. Katherine replied, ‘Because you demand too much’.
Mar 15, 1940 – Overheard Lillian telling Katherine that she wanted to be “together forever. Free.”
May 10, 1940 – Overhead Katherine asking Lillian if she knew ‘what love is’.
Aug 23, 1941 – Walked in on Lillian kneeling beside Katherine, kissing her hand. Lillian hissed at the sister to stay out of the Conduit’s ‘private business’.
Sept 30, 1941 – Overheard Lillian arguing with Katherine “They are servants! Less than us. Why do you insist on aiding them?”
Nov 3, 1942 – Sisters checked on a disturbance upstairs, of something breaking. Could hear Katherine yelling at Lillian. Mostly unintelligible except for: “Trusted You…abandon my family…revenge”
He could see why the Sisters first thought the conversations were between Lillian and Katherine. But from what he could gather, the Sisters were attuned to Amali’s presence. He wondered if Lillian attempted to cloak her arrival to allow for their private conversations. It clearly didn’t last the entire duration, but it was effective enough to keep the Sisters away for a little while. But what did any of this information even mean? How could this help Krystal? How could he help Krystal? He tossed the notebook down and stood up, beginning to pace around the room.
She was getting stronger, that much was obvious. Once she was able to channel that energy properly she’d probably be unstoppable.
So what was the point of him being here again? A spiritual doula while she embodied Amali? And then that was it? His job was done and his sister would forever be some strange goddess/human hybrid? He leaned against one of the bookshelves, looking up at the dim wall sconces. Over the past 6 days he fought goons in a secret society, read a bunch of books and shakily attempted to rescue his sister from being taken over by some angry deity – which she seemed to be able to handle on her own, ultimately.
“Guess I’m turning out to be a good researcher,” he sighed. As he bent to begin putting the journals away, he heard the stairs creak. Julia descended down, holding a stack of loose papers.
“Ah, the protector! Just the one I wanted to see,” her smooth voice filled the room like honey, and Liam scoffed.
“I’m no protector…I’m just the brother,” he said, stacking the journals back up on the shelves.
“Just the brother who happens to be of the same blood as the Great Goddess Amali,” she said, stopping behind him. He stood back up to face her, with a wry grin on his face.
“Look, I know this whole situation is woman-centric. I’m not anticipating awesome powers because I’m family; I just want to make sure Krystal is safe.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it,” Julia said, winking. They both laughed. She walked over to the center podium, turning the pages of the open leather bound book with her free hand.
“Are you familiar with the role of the tutelary?” she asked, pausing at a page and placing a few of the loose leaf pages within. Liam shook his head.
“Well, if you look back at Ancient Greece or Rome, the tutelary deities were the protectors. Usually it was for a specific location, geography, profession or even lineage.” She paused again, turning pages and placing more loose leaf papers within. “The way we view them now, they serve more as patrons, dare-I-say, mascots for whatever they were believed to reside over. But they are Protectors in every sense of the word. Loyal. Reliable. Powerful.”
“You’re saying I’m a tittle-whatever-y?”
“I’m saying, you come from a bloodline that has prepared for this moment in time. Krystal has a great number of challenges ahead of her, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that you will be the only one she can count on during many of those challenges. She may possess the power of a deity, but as you are aware, deities are not without a multitude of weaknesses. It is the way of the Universe.” She flipped more pages around the tome, and it appeared that the looseleaf papers had become fully attached. She closed the tome and handed it to Liam.
“Your gifts will come in time. Either way, you have a lot of work ahead of you, young man,” she said with a smile, then turned and headed back upstairs. Liam looked down at the book and opened it. As he flipped through, the formerly blank pages were now filled with words.
Words in a language he still couldn’t understand, but it was a step in the right direction.