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Authors: Maria Rachel Hooley

Conduit

 

 

 

 

Sojourner
Soulseeker: Conduit

by

Maria
Rachel Hooley

Sojourner
Soulseeker: Conduit

Copyright ©2014 Maria
Rachel Hooley

Cover by Phatpuppy Art

 

All
rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—except for brief quotations
in printed reviews, without the prior written permission of the copyright
owner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

            In spite of the late
August heat, a slight breeze blew, temporarily cooling the world as the last
rays of the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, Celia sat on the porch swing with
Griffin.  As they swayed slowly to and fro, she rested her head on his
shoulder.

            “How do you think he’s
doing?” he asked, staring at the sky, watching it darken.  It had been six
months since Lev’s change, but in some ways it felt like yesterday.

            “Lev’s trying to adjust,
but it’s not easy.”  She reached out and slid her hand over his.  “It’s one
thing to be human, but to have been an angel first only to switch is tricky.  I
can’t imagine what it must be like for him.”

            Griffin nodded and used
his feet to push the swing again.  “Lizzie said he sometimes takes the whole
teenage guy thing to an extreme, something she wasn’t prepared for.”

            “Yeah, it’s the
hormones.  He’s trying to fight them off, but it’s hard to combat something you
have no experience dealing with.”  She toyed with a strand of hair-- one of the
few human gestures she’d seemed to take to since Griffin had known her.  Still,
had he not witnessed her powers as an angel, he wouldn’t have expected the
truth.  He wasn’t like Lizzie, what with the otherworldly connection she’d
shared with Lev.  He’d found out the hard way.

            Celia leaned forward, her
long, curly hair spilling into her face as she stood and crossed to the edge of
the porch.

            “So where does this leave
them?” Griffin asked. “I know Lizzie’s worried about it.”  His feet stopped the
swing, his gaze never straying from her even as she stared into the starry sky.

            “She’s not the only one. 
I can’t lie and say both Evan and I are aren’t concerned.  We know he wanted to
be human, and the change was a gift, but none of us saw this coming.”  She
folded her arms across her chest, and in the near darkness her body seemed to
glow. 

            As Griffin slowly stood,
he squinted, focusing on Celia’s back.  At first, he saw nothing special, but
the longer he looked, the more he glimpsed the faint, tell-tale outline of her wings,
invisible to everyone but him.  He stepped beside her and stared at the sky, at
those glittering stars.

            “It’s a gorgeous night,”
he murmured, still unused to the Tennessee sky in the evenings--a far cry from
the view of the heavens in Hauser’s Landing, where the stars barely poked out
for any of them to see.  Of course it helped that Jimmie didn’t live in a big
city, something that Lizzie often complained about.

            “Yeah,” she agreed, and
even though she seemed to be looking at the ever-changing sky, Griffin got the
distinct impression her thoughts lingered elsewhere.

            “Still thinking about
Lev?” he asked.

            “It’s foolish to worry, I
guess.”  She took a deep breath and shook her head.  “I mean, Evan knows what’s
happening, and if anyone can handle it, it’s him.  He knows what he’s doing and
all that.”

“But?”

            “But he’s still my
brother for all intents and purposes, and now that he’s human, I worry.”

            Griffin nodded.  “You
mean because of his past, right?  Because before he met Lizzie he walked a fine
line between saving and falling.”  He took a deep breath.  “Your words, not
mine.”

            “Yes, that is part of the
reason.  He’s more unpredictable now.”  She frowned, and the expression on her
face seemed almost human and vulnerable, which while endearing enough definitely
didn’t put Griffin at ease.  “Regardless of his past, he’s always taken care of
me, and now the roles are reversed, which is…strange.”

            “I know there’s a whole
lot of history between you and Lev, but you know the guy Lizzie changed is
still in there, don’t you?  Granted, he might be a little less stable, but he’s
there, which has to count for something.”  Griffin took her hand, trying to comfort
her. 

            Celia squeezed it and
stared up at stars which had grown steadily brighter as the world grew darker. 
“Why don’t we take a stroll?”

            “Okay.”  Although he
tried to keep hold of her hand, she gently pulled away and headed down the
steps, off the porch.  She cast only a single glance over her shoulder to make
sure he  followed and then moved on.

            “Where are we going?”
Griffin asked, upping his pace.

            “The lake.  It’s been one
of my favorite places to go and think when this world gets too crazy.”

            “Speaking of crazy,
there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about.  Celia—” he began, but she
waved him to silence. She fixed her blue eyes on him.

“Perhaps
this isn’t the best time, Griffin.  We shouldn’t say things that can’t be taken
back—just in case.”

Before he
could argue, she averted her gaze and continued down the dirt track ahead, her steps
quickening as though she could simply leave the conversation behind. And why
wouldn’t she, Griffin wondered. She
was
an angel, after all, in spite of
how human she sometimes appeared.

            “Are we ever going to
talk about it?” he called, his voice calm but determined.

            She didn’t answer as she waded
through a knot of knee-deep grass which had choked out the path.  Even in the
growing darkness, though, he had no trouble seeing her, not with the soft,
unearthly glow of her skin.  Despite her reasons for the walk, Griffin had a
pretty good idea she was still distracted.  She’d let her disguise slip
somewhat, and he could see the faint outline of her wings.

             Her steps quickened all
the more in spite of the grass that should have slowed her, and Griffin had to jog
to keep up, or at least as best he could, tangled as he was getting amid all
that twisted undergrowth. She just kept pulling ahead—that is, until she
stopped, so abruptly he very nearly ran into her. Motionless, Celia stared out over
the lake which had seemed to loom up from out of nowhere, half hidden as it was
amid a stand of swaying cattails and yet more tall, tangled grass.  The full
moon shone atop the still water, making it appear like there were two skies
instead of just the one.

            Celia immediately held up
a hand and cocked her head to one side, listening.  The vague, pale shimmer behind
her now brightened in a way that made her larger than life, radiant with majesty
and beauty and no little power.

            “Celia?”  He spoke
softly, but here again she waved him to silence.

            Celia stepped closer to
the lake, more determined, her wings out in the full, blinding.  Griffin
shielded his eyes with his hand until they could adjust and then looked again, wishing
she’d tell him what was up.  Celia never spooked like this, only in the
presence of the fallen or some other threat too great for mortals even to
fathom, and Griffin was pretty sure there were no fallen around this time,
though he wasn’t entirely certain how he knew.  So what was it, then—and why
did he have a really, really bad feeling about it?

Ahead,
Celia tensed, spreading her wings wide. Griffin had been around long enough to know
such must be instinctual, a response to whatever she saw that he couldn’t. 

            “Griffin,” she hissed,
“You need to run.  Go back to the house—now.”

            Instead of heeding her
warning, Griffin stepped closer. 

            “Run, and I’ll follow
soon—run if you want to live!”  She waved him away, desperate for him to leave.

            Griffin ran, though he
knew not what from and wasn’t sure he wanted to.

            As he sprinted through
the brush, he stumbled more than once over the uneven terrain, scraping his
knees and the palms of his hands—and kept running despite the ache in his side.
Before long, mercifully, he could see the house, its lights a welcome beacon of
safety.  He’d almost gained the porch when something slammed into him full
force from behind. His feet went out from under him, then, and he pitched
forward, dashing his head on the bottom step. Dizzy, he lifted his head and peered
back but couldn’t see anything. Everything was a blur.

            Griffin struggled to sit
up and back his way up the steps like a crab. Frantically, he searched, trying
to blink away the blurriness. What had hit him--and where was it? Griffin tried
to swallow past the rising panic that gnawed at his insides, but it wasn’t
working. He’d never reach the door in time. He was as sure of that as he’d ever
been about anything. Still, he had to try.

            A faint breeze stole in around
him, tousling his hair into his face which, along with the splitting pain in
his head, was quickly lulling him into inaction. Nonetheless, he scrambled
frantically backward as best he could, hoping without hope.

            “Who’s there,” he called.

            “Destiny.”

            The voice came from
behind him, and he whirled, finding himself face to face with a little girl
with a pale face and long, dark hair that blew unnaturally about herself like
black silk, as though the breeze had abruptly whipped itself into a stiff wind.
The girl was thin and fragile, looking for all the world a bit like a younger
version of Lizzie before her life had so dramatically changed.

            “I don’t understand.” 

“Don’t
worry,” she said, though her lips never moved, not even once, and the pain in
Griffin’s head intensified, doubling him over. “You will.”  So sweet, that
voice—and altogether innocent but at the same time anything but either. She
smiled.

            Again, he felt the
breeze, but this time it coiled itself around him in a lover’s embrace, but
then that embrace tightened into a death-grip and he couldn’t move or even
scream. It was all he could do just to breathe.

            All he could manage was to
stare at her, the little girl who so reminded him of Lizzie, the girl who still
offered that sweet, unholy smile.  Then the real pain struck him—a blast of
fire at his chest, burning him to the core. He screamed without screaming,
fighting to stay conscious—fighting for his life.

            Suddenly the world
exploded with light that blinded him even behind closed eyelids.  Still, he was
bound.  Then he heard the screams, like those of an animal being gutted alive. 
Was it human? He didn’t know, couldn’t even think.

            The pain was now
unbearable, burning through every part of him at once, and he knew he was
dying, consumed in flame, but then, all at once, the burning stopped, though
everything still hurt, everywhere. Then suddenly he was free and could breathe
again. That was it, then, wasn’t it? He was dead. That had been what it felt
like to die. His head swam, and he was dimly aware of someone near. A
sojourner?

“Griffin? 
Can you hear me?”

            It was Celia. Not just
any sojourner, then.
Well
, he thought.
If you have to go….

            In spite of the fatigue
trying to draw him down the rabbit hole, Griffin opened his eyes and found her
kneeling beside him, her arms around him, holding him up.  His head lay against
her chest, and she seemed worried.  Her wings shone in the night, brightly like
the midday sun.

            “What happened?” he
whispered.  With every breath, he felt a thousand knives carving themselves
deeply into him, cutting him into a million pieces even Celia might not be able
to reassemble. 

            “A
dybbuk
.”

            “A
dybbuk
,” he
repeated, his voice hoarse.  As he slipped toward unconsciousness, more tired
than he’d ever been, he tried to understand what that meant.  All he could
think of was that little girl, her demonic smile, and all that fire and pain—the
pain that had felt like death.  And then, thankfully, sleep came.

* * *

            One moment, Celia knelt
there, holding Griffin, staring into those dark brown eyes, trying desperately to
put right the wrong the
dybbuk
had done, and the next she saw two others
rushing toward them, toward Griffin.  She could sense their hunger and madness
and knew they wouldn’t stop until one of them had possession of him, and even
though she was an angel, she couldn’t sojourn both spirits at once.  It would
be a battle enough just to sojourn the first.
Dybbuks
never came
quietly. Celia had only one choice.

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