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"I saw him inside," Gen said as the group started away from the beach. "He must have..." She stopped abruptly and doubled over, hand going to her stomach. A wave of nausea swept over her again.
Merri went to her side immediately. "Gen, are you—"
"I’m fine," Gen said, straightening herself once more. "Seems like sealing those dimensional tear thingies are rough on the body. Didn’t see that in the book."
"Neither did I," Michael said.
Gen half expected to hear him finish with a snarky remark about her being useless, but surprisingly he didn’t continue. A glance in his direction revealed little to alleviate her confusion—in fact, she couldn’t see anything at all.
My light source is gone... Perhaps the other spell cancelled the light one out? She tried to conjure it up again, but nothing worked.
"Something’s wrong," she said. "The light...I can’t summon it."
"You’re weak after the last spell," Michael said.
"As opposed to usual?" she muttered.
"Maybe we should wait," Merri said, but Gen shook her head.
"We have to get to Levi."
"We haven’t seen anything out here," Merri said. "He’s probably fine—"
"We have to get Levi," Sage said, her step quickening.
Levi looked around the empty lot behind On the Map. Several minutes earlier, he watched as Merri came inside to speak to Gen. He knew something was up when the two girls took off moments later.
He kept his distance as they walked around the club and then he waited at the side of the building for a few minutes. It seemed entirely likely they went out there to push drugs or something, and Levi didn’t want to get in the middle of things, but...
But this is Gen, he realized. He didn’t know what the hell she had gotten herself into, but he was determined to get her help.
He hadn’t found anyone when he chanced a look around the back of the building, however. No people, no voices, no sign that anyone was around. So where the hell did Gen and Meredith go?
Beyond the weak lights affixed to club’s exterior, Levi saw only blackness. Suppose they went for the field past the fence? Or even the beach? He sure as hell didn’t want to head out in the dark to run into possible drug dealers...
Or killers. He recalled, vividly, his conversation with Genny and the others the day before. The group of them were involved somehow with killers—the people who murdered his brother and tried to kill Sage. And all this talk of special people and super powers...did they think he was stupid? That he would actually buy it? That he wouldn’t recognize it as a smokescreen for whatever other shit they were into?
And poor Genny was wrapped right up in the thick of it. He knew she’d lied to him all these months, knew she’d kept things from him... But at the same time, he couldn’t completely hate her. This person she’d become—this wasn’t the Genevieve he knew and loved. It had to be the drugs or the influence of the others, like Merri. Gen would have told him what was going on otherwise. Maybe she just didn’t know how to ask for help...
Whatever the reason, he wasn’t about to let the same thing happen to her as happened to Hayden. He’d get her help—get the police, if he had to. He’d—
The sound of a voice singing caught his attention. Levi paused his step and glanced around. He couldn’t pinpoint the location—it was as if the music came from all around him.
"Hello?" he called.
The song called to him, dragged him forward, pulled him into the darkness. A cold breeze brushed over him, bringing with it a watery mist, as if he stood at the lake’s edge. Rational thought left him then—he just knew he had to follow.
Gen, Merri, Sage, and Michael moved quickly through the dark field...or as quickly as Gen could given her spinning head and frequent bouts of nausea. She had to stop a few times when a headache would swell up and she felt as though she’d pass out.
Halfway through the field and a couple dozen metres from the fence, she felt a hand on her shoulder draw her to a halt. She turned to see the vague outline of Michael in the darkness.
"We have to—"
"You’re stumbling every few steps," he said. "You need to stop for a minute."
"Sage, Merri, head toward the club and see if you can find Levi."
The other two girls took off ahead, and Gen had to admit they were infinitely faster without her dragging herself along.
"I seriously didn’t see anything in that book that said it would take this much out of me," Gen said. She bent over and placed her hands over her knees, propping her body up while she closed her eyes and willed the rumbles in her stomach to pass. "I really suck."
"The fact that you were able to successfully cast the spell to begin with speaks volumes," he said. "Far worse could have happened than some flu-like symptoms."
"Worse as in...?"
"A brain aneurysm."
Gen stood straight and wished she could see him better in the darkness. His tone sounded dead serious and she wanted more than anything to see a wry grin or something. When he didn’t follow up his words with a chuckle about her gullibility, fear crept through her.
"An aneurysm? Really?" Please say no...
"It’s happened to others."
"You really let me do something that could have—"
"As you can see, yes, I did."
"I might have died," she pointed out, as obviously that fact had escaped his brain at some point.
"I knew you wouldn’t."
"You had done it before and you survived. You’re stronger now than you were then—"
She elbowed him in the ribs playfully. "You gave me a compliment," she said in a singsong voice. "You think I’m awesome. I’m telling everyone as soon as we catch up."
Michael’s cell phone rang, which he answered. All Gen caught was a couple of "uh huhs" before he hung up again.
"Levi hasn’t reappeared around the front yet," Michael reported back to her. "Merri and Sage didn’t see him at the back of the club, and decided to check with Thad."
Lev... Gen swept her worried gaze over the black field. Where the hell was he?
As they neared the fence, they caught sight of Merri and Sage again.
"No luck," Merri said.
Michael nodded. "I spoke to Thad."
"We can’t see anything out here," Sage said. "But we need to find him. You only have the one flashlight?"
We need the light spell, Gen thought. She was used to doing one that only lit the immediate area...it couldn’t be that difficult to light part of a field, could it?
"I’m going to try again," she said. She closed her eyes and stood still, taking deep breaths to will her body to relax. Reaching internally, she sought the piece of herself that lay buried deep—the other girl from her dreams. The powerful version of herself, the confident one. She could do anything.
Gen drew on that energy and whispered the incantation, changing a few words so that a larger area would be lit. She knew immediately it didn’t work, and so she pushed herself farther, repeating the words of the spell and willing it to succeed. Her head spun and she felt displaced, as if she wasn’t quite there in her body...then she breathed out the final words and felt power tingle through her fingertips.
Her body swayed and she lost her balance. Hands caught her arm, saving her from hitting the ground.
As she opened her eyes, she found it difficult to focus on her surroundings—she wanted nothing more than to just sleep. A glance to her left revealed Michael holding her arm, keeping her steady. He looked down at her with a frown—perhaps of worry—and it was then she realized she could make out his features as if a light shone overhead.
"Are you okay?" Merri said from her other side.
Gen nodded as she stood straight. "It worked. That’s what matters. We have to move, though."
"Looks like it has a radius of about two dozen metres," Sage said. "It’s not a lot, but it should help."
"The bodies of the guys killed here were found between the fence and the lake," Merri said. "If the siren is leading Levi somewhere, it’s gotta be around here."
"Someone can take Michael’s flashlight and we can split up," Gen said. "We could..." Her voice trailed off as she noticed Merri’s gaze fixed on a spot behind her. Turning around, she saw Michael walking away from them and into the dark. "Michael?"
"Looks like maybe the bait worked," Sage said dryly.
"I hear something," he called over his shoulder as his pace picked up.
"At least he’s not a thrall yet," Gen muttered as she, Sage, and Merri went after him.
Sage moved up to his side, asking him questions about what he heard as they walked, while Merri kept an eye out for anything strange. Gen still felt dizzy and struggled to keep up with both their pace and conversation.
"It’s definitely music," Michael said as they walked. "A voice singing something..."
"Can you make out words?" Sage asked, but he shook his head.
"No words...just the sense that I need to follow."
"He’s not zoning out like Finn did," Gen said in a low voice to Merri. "Why not?"
"My guess?" Merri sighed. "The siren’s full attention is diverted elsewhere."
Michael stopped so suddenly that Gen nearly bumped into him.
"You three, go," he said. He handed off the bag slung over his shoulder to Sage. "I won’t be much use to you." He swallowed hard, his gaze was fixed ahead, and Gen suspected it took every ounce of his willpower not to continue forward.
"You’re sure you’ll be okay," Gen started, but Michael waved off her concern.
"I’ll phone Thad and Raji in case we need backup. Go now."
"I can take over from here," Merri said as she, Gen and Sage moved on without Michael. "I can already feel it..."
Though she wasn’t feeling one hundred percent herself, Gen was infinitely happier that she didn’t have the powers—or burdens—Merri did.
Several feet farther, the light around them revealed the outline of a figure in the distance. Gen’s step quickened. "Levi!"
A second figure stood just in front of her friend. As Gen neared them, she saw hands on the back of Levi’s head, drawing him nearer, and then Levi began to struggle.
Sage dropped the bag on the ground and raced head of them. Diving for Levi, she grabbed him by the shoulders and knocked him to the ground. Gen’s need to check on him was put on hold when she caught sight of the siren.
A young man gazed back at her, eyes a solid midnight blue—almost black—and with soft, handsome features. He grinned at her. "Hello, Witch."
"Okay, why is it speaking English?" Merri asked.
The siren regarded her with a smile. "You hear my intent. Your brain interprets them as words."
Gen glanced Levi’s way. Sage had him on his side where he coughed up mouthfuls of water. We should keep it talking—keep it distracted and away from Levi.
"So you know us?" Gen guessed as she looked at the siren once more.
"I know you." His voice came out smooth and melodic, though Gen could hardly see what had all guys so gaga over it. "I’m here because of what you did. You let me in."
What I did... Realization hit her suddenly. The day at the farmhouse. The spell she cast from that book without knowing what she was doing. It affected dimensions and sent those Brethren assassins somewhere else... And let this thing into our world.
Levi thrashed on the ground under Sage’s grip, trying to rise, trying to heed the call of the siren. Merri joined them, kneeling down to give Sage a hand.
"So rather than look me up and ask to go home, you thought you’d start killing innocent people?" Gen asked.
"The desire, the need to consume," the siren said. "It’s overwhelming. Need must be served at all costs. The need rules the body, the mind. You understand. Or you did. I see it in you."
"You’re batshit crazy," Gen said.
The siren moved towards her suddenly, so fast that it took a moment for her brain to register the movement. He grasped her head and yanked her forward. Fingers dug into her skull and Genevieve screamed.
The siren released her as a body collided with them.
Sage stepped between them, knocking Genevieve out of the way. "Go get the bag," she called over her shoulder.
Gen ran to where Sage had dropped the black bag a few feet away. Grasping the handles, she heaved it up and dragged it closer to Sage. "Please tell me you brought a sword this time."
Sage pivoted out of reach as the siren grabbed for her. She dove to the side, somersaulted Gen’s way, and landed by the black bag. Grasping the zipper, she yanked it open and felt around inside. The blade of a long knife glittered in the light as Sage pulled the weapon from the bag.
"You’re not still committed to sending this thing home, right?" Sage asked, meeting Gen’s eyes for a moment.
"It’s trying to kill us," Gen replied grimly. "Send it to hell for all I care."
Sage leapt up, the hilt of the weapon clutched in her hand, and advanced on the siren. Supernatural drowning abilities seemed to be his only defense, as he could do little to stop her from slashing the blade in wide arcs. The tip nicked his skin a few times, tearing flesh.
Gen moved to where Merri sat with Levi. Having recovered from his near drowning incident, Levi tried to rise again, unfocused eyes staring at the siren.
"He’s not responding," Merri said, holding him back. "He’s right out of it."
Pausing behind him, Gen wrapped her arms around Levi’s torso and held him there. The front of his shirt was soaked, reminding her again how close she had come to losing him. She tightened her grip as she looked up at Sage.
The siren was fast—faster than Sage, perhaps—but the Warrior was quicker to react. She wove around him like a dancer, deflected his attempts at grabbing her with ease, and whipped the knife back and forth as she moved.
As the siren weakened, so did Levi’s attempts to escape from them. Gen felt him stop pulling, stop thrashing, and all at once slump back.
"Lev?" she said as she lowered him to ground and knelt over him.
He blinked a few times as he gazed up at her. "Genny?"
She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "It’s okay. You’re okay now."
Hearing footsteps treading on the ground nearby, Gen looked up to see Michael with Thad and Raji in tow. The two younger guys looked completely in shock at the siren, but Michael paid it no heed, instead heading straight for the black bag. He pulled out a simple sword, called Sage’s attention, and tossed the weapon her way.
Sage caught the hilt and turned on the siren, who hissed in response. He was weak now, however, and did little to stop the blade from slashing across his throat. As he slumped to his knees, the siren dissolved into water and splashed on the ground. The liquid seeped into the earth and silence followed.
Gen glanced at Sage. The other girl’s dark eyes were wide and excited. She panted a little and sweat dotted her brow, but she looked more thrilled than anything.
After sending a worried look to where the siren fell, Gen gazed up at Michael. "Is it...dead?"
"Um...looks like," Raji answered. He held up his palm pilot. "Did some reading on the subject while we were waiting. The siren has trouble existing in this dimension in the first place and apparently liquefies when the body is damaged too badly."
"What the hell just happened?" Levi asked as he sat up. He looked down at his soaking wet clothes, the spot where the siren had dissipated, and then made a face. "And...and I think that’s my only question at the moment; what the hell happened?"
"There was a siren hanging around the lake that I accidentally let into this dimension," Gen said. "And it’s been making out with young guys, causing them to drown. But we killed it. Any other questions?"
After dispensing introductions, the group gathered and headed back toward the club. The girls took turns trying to explain to Levi what had happened, in some cases repeating themselves, but he looked as confused as ever.
Still, Gen felt better being able to tell him everything. He’d adjust at some point, now that he knew they weren’t all insane.
"So no one else was around when I chased after the siren guy, right?" Levi asked. "I don’t want everyone at school thinking I’m gay."
Gen prickled immediately and smacked his shoulder. "And what the hell is wrong with that? Is being gay so bad that you wouldn’t want people thinking that?"
"C’mon, Genny," he said. "What if everyone thought you were straight?"
"Oh. Okay, I see your point." She linked her arm with his and sighed. It was good to have her best friend back.
"I think that went well," Sage said.
Gen looked at her in horror. "Levi almost drowned after kissing—"
"Can we please stop acting like I had some kind of choice in the matter?" Levi asked. "And at least not so loudly?"
"Fine," Gen said. "Levi almost drowned after falling under the inescapable thrall of a siren."
"I wouldn’t say it’s ‘inescapable,’" Michael pointed out, a half grin hovering on his lips.
God, even he enjoyed himself, Gen thought.
"It’s true," Merri said with a laugh. "Michael retained some willpower."
"‘Cause it was focused on Levi," Gen said. "We should have let it live a bit longer so it could go after Michael. He’d never live that down."
"Although Raj and me missed most of that, I’m inclined to agree with Sage," Thad said, sliding his arm over Merri’s shoulders. "I think that went well."
Gen extinguished the light that hovered around them as they reached the back of the club and the overhead lights provided enough for them to see clearly. She didn’t say anything to the others, but even that simple spell had left her drained. Leaning heavily on Levi’s arm, she was glad for the support—and that no one seemed to notice how weak she actually was.
"Well, I hoped you enjoyed yourself," Michael said. "Because that’s the last time we’re doing that."
"But we did it." Sage skipped ahead and turned to face them so she could walk backwards. Her eyes danced. "We stopped him from killing anyone else. Maybe this is what we’re meant to be doing. And God knows what else Gen let loose—"
"Hey!" Gen said. "It’s not like I knew what would happen."
"So your mystical purpose is to clean up Genevieve’s messes?" Michael asked. Even he looked ready to burst out laughing, and Gen rolled her eyes.
"You know, you can all pick on me, but I did seal up that tear back there. So shut the fuck up."
"There should definitely be a next time," Sage said.
Just as they reached the corner, a figure stepped around the side of the building and stopped in front of them.
The group froze and stared at the young woman who confronted them. Shorter than Sage, but with lush curves and shoulder-length black hair, Gen recognized her immediately, and she imagined a few of the others did as well.
"I’m afraid I might have to say something about that," the woman said in a smooth voice. Her fathomless dark eyes trailed over all of them, pausing the longest at Genevieve, Sage, and Merri.
Gen spoke up when it seemed no one else would. "Natalya?"
The Immortal smiled. "I haven’t used that one for about three years now, but it’ll do. Yes, Genevieve, I’m Natalya. Perhaps we could all go somewhere for a quiet chat?"
After ensuring Levi would be all right to drive home, Genevieve bid him goodbye in the parking lot at On the Map, and Merri did the same with Thad and Raji. Michael drove the three younger girls back to his house and Natalya followed in her own car.
While Sage, Merri, and Gen sat on the couches, Michael sat back on a barstool at the breakfast bar. Natalya stood not far from the girls, posture straight and movements graceful.
"So, like, what’s our purpose?" Gen asked once they were all settled. "Michael says the end of the world is nigh or something. I can’t believe I got to use that word again."
"Yes, it is," Natalya said. "Well, near, that is."
"And we’re important?"
Natalya nodded. "Very. There have been prophecies of the end times for thousands of years. The three of you—and myself—exist to keep it from coming to pass."
"Now that gets a little complicated and it’s really not a discussion we should have tonight."
"So can you tell us about The Brethren?" Sage asked. "What do they want? I mean, besides having us all die."
"Death to the three of you is pretty much their focus," she said.
"We were attacked before, but others haven’t come yet," Merri said. "Why not?"
Natalya nodded, as if she’d been expecting the question. "Their numbers are great, however they are spread all over the world and they aren’t exactly what I would call ‘organized.’ They’re separated into branches and the left hand doesn’t always know what the right hand is doing, so to speak. The four and their leader that came after you were working as a small, independent group and had little contact with the others. Since they haven’t set upon you, I’m relieved to say the rest of The Brethren aren’t aware of where you are...as of yet."
"I’m glad you’re finally here," Michael said. "There are a lot of things I need to—"
Natalya swung around to face him, straight black hair gliding around her shoulders as she moved. Her eyes narrowed on his. "You’re half right."
Michael’s brows furrowed in confusion. "Excuse me?"
"I’m glad I’m here as well, however there is nothing you need at this time except to have no further contact with my girls."
Silence reined in the room. Michael felt his heart beat faster as he searched for words, but Gen spoke up for him.
Natalya kept her cool gaze fixed on Michael. "You’ve pulled them into a confrontation with highly trained assassins belonging to The Brethren, taken them into a life-threatening situation this evening, allowed them contact with some of the most dangerous supernatural lowlifes in the general area, and I’ve had enough of it. These girls aren’t here for your amusement."
"But it’s not Michael’s fault," Gen started.
"No," Merri agreed. "He—"
"He isn’t providing a safe environment for you." When she turned back to the girls, she smiled kindly. "Your well-being is the single most important thing. Mr. Parris can’t guarantee that."
"But he’s been training us," Sage said. "We can’t just stop. What are we supposed to do?"
"I have a close friend of mine on his way to Newhaven now," Natalya said. "Not only is he just as adept at training you, but I trust him implicitly."
"So you’re firing him?" Gen said, shock spelled out across her face.
"More or less," Natalya said.
"I live here, though," Merri said. "I can’t help but have contact with him."
"And I’m not saying you can’t continue to stay here, for the time being. However, your training will be done by someone else and you no longer need to trouble Michael with anything more." She turned suddenly to face Michael with a smile. "May I have a glass of water?"
He was livid. There was no other word for it—he wanted to kill her. Who the hell was she that she could just stroll in and change everything? Decide that everything he’d done wasn’t good enough? He had done everything in his power from the day he came to Newhaven to find her—to get answers for the girls, to ensure they were taught and protected, and now this? If she didn’t resemble the drawing David Shaw directed him to create, he would have questioned if it was, indeed, Natalya or not.
"If you don’t mind," she said, reminding him of her request. She raised a dark eyebrow and tilted her head to the side, saying volumes with just that small movement. She knew he was upset. Knew he wanted to throw her out.
She also knew, however, that he wouldn’t. He’d be civil, at least in front of the three girls.
Without a word, he slipped off the barstool and went into the kitchen to get her drink. His hand tightened on the cup to the point that he thought the glass might shatter under his grip, and his other hand shook a little as he poured water from the jug.
Michael heard soft footfalls on the floor behind him and turned to see Natalya. He thrust the glass toward her, which she accepted and sipped from gingerly.
He glanced over the top of her head to see the three girls whispering quietly amongst themselves. Satisfied they weren’t listening, his angry gaze went to Natalya. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?"
"Ensuring the welfare of my girls," she said coldly. Out of earshot of the others, she made no pretense of being nice. "They could have been killed tonight."
"But they weren’t—"
"But this wasn’t the first time they were in danger of being killed or harmed, and half of the time you don’t even know what’s going on. I know what nearly happened to the Witch last week."
"‘The Witch’ has a name."
"Don’t you dare suggest that I don’t know my sisters, and don’t pretend that you care what her name is. I know who you are, Michael Parris. I know what you’ve done."
"Then you know why I’m here," he said. "And you know that I’m the one who’s supposed to help them—"
"Why? Because someone, somewhere, told you that? Told you that everything happens for a reason and it was all so that you could be here, at this moment, to train them and teach them? They are not here as your playthings, nor are they here to give your pathetic life meaning. They have a purpose beyond your understanding. I have lived much longer than you—I know far more about this than you do. As long as they are around you, their lives are in danger. And I’m not putting up with it any longer."
"You can’t just do this," he said in a low voice. "You can’t just—"
She stepped forward and glared up at him. "I think I just did. You are to have no further contact with them, save for the Seer while she temporarily stays here. My reach is far greater than yours and trust me when I say that you do not want to cross me."
Without waiting for him to respond, she turned back to the girls and strolled away from him. "I have to get to the airport, as I have a plane to catch shortly, so I’ll be taking my leave. The three of you can gather here on Monday after you’re done school. A man named Cade McMahon will be here around four p.m. and he’ll instruct you from there. I’m hoping I’ll be back in the country before too long, and I’ll see you then."
"But—" Gen began, though Natalya stopped her with a warm smile.
"Questions, I know. Cade will be able to answer many of them. Those he can’t shall fall to me when I return." Before she left, she sent one final, warning glance at Michael, then exited out the front door.
"Holy shit," Gen mumbled. Her wide blue eyes went to Michael. "I can’t believe she fired you."
"She just doesn’t understand," Sage said, rising. "We’ll explain it to that Cade guy when he comes, though—"
"Leave," Michael said in a low voice, gaze fixed on the floor.
"Michael," Gen said. "It’s okay—"
"I said leave," he snapped without looking at them.
A few beats of silence passed, then Gen and Sage finally rose to leave. As the door closed behind them, Merri turned to Michael. "I know what she said, but—"
"It’s late," he said, starting past her and heading for the stairs to his loft. "Go to bed."
"It’ll be okay—"
But Michael was already upstairs and didn’t hear what else she had to say.