Chapter XII

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Glasgow, Scotland, Present Day

VALAC WORE FADED JEANS and an untucked white button-up shirt. He rode silently in the elevator, and when the doors opened, a beautiful woman in heels and a short skirt met him. Short enough to say things about her.

"Mr. Weston is expecting you. Follow me, please."

"My pleasure," Valac said as he licked his lips. He was a sensual being, and his time with Airel had awakened some of his buried desires.

Two tall solid wood doors opened as they approached. The woman stepped aside and he smiled as he looked her up and down. "My dear, won't you be joining us?"

"No," she said with a wicked smile.

"My heart breaks at this," Valac said, taking her hand and caressing it, looking her over once more as if he were shopping for snacks. "Maybe you can put me back together later tonight, at my hotel?" He did not wait for her answer. He stepped directly into a huge office yawning open before him. It took half the floor. The doors closed behind him before his host said a word.

"Valac. You come with good news, I hope." Jordan was standing beside his desk dressed impeccably, as usual. It's nice to see another man with taste.

"Airel is out of the picture." Valac smiled.

Jordan pursed his lips and nodded as he sipped water—or vodka—from a crystal glass. "I believe you have your reward, then. You did take her abilities?" Jordan pulled out his chair and sat behind his desk, smoking a small cigar.

"It does not work like that, Jiki. And we had a deal," Valac said, walking to the bank of windows and looking out at Glasgow through the beads of rain on the glass. "You wouldn't be foolish enough to think of betraying me, would you?"

"You completed half your mission. Her father yet lives."

Valac made a fist and ground his teeth together. "You change the terms once again, a fact I'm going to allow one last time." Valac turned to face him. "I tell you, if you ever send another team in front of me—"

"I had to be sure. Calm yourself. Airel is a powerful half-breed, and it pays to be careful in this line of work."

"It was a mistake not to trust me."

Jordan snorted. "I trust no one." He stood putting down his cigar and blowing a ring of smoke. "The Alexander is fighting his true calling, and my sources have found a link to the Other."

Valac had heard the rumors of the Other, the one who was in line to be Seer before the Alexander. He didn't really care, but it was interesting that Airel's father would be somehow involved. "What does he have to do with the Other?"

"He may know his identity—it could be lost somewhere in his mind. Blood never lies, Valac."

Valac grew tired of this conversation. "As much as I would love to talk of the Seer, blood, and even who might win the Super Bowl," he said, looking toward the doors, "I have a date with Miss Legs-for-days out there tonight and I need a nap first. If you don't mind, I'll be on my way."

Jordan smiled. "I will pay you, of course. And I have a new job you may be interested in." He held up a slip of paper and Valac took it. "I will double your price, but he must go willingly."

Valac read the note and nodded. "Payment first. What you owe me plus the full amount, up front, for this one."

Jordan shrugged. "Agreed."

"Now, tell me your secretary is single."

"Does it matter?"

Valac smirked. "No, I guess not."

"Just don't eat her."

"You take the fun out of everything."

"I enjoy her too," Jordan said, "but in different ways. I want to keep her around a while longer."

Valac sighed. "Will you allow me at least a finger? Maybe two?"

* * *

Elsewhere

I BECAME AWARE OF the room my body was in. There came to my ears the sound of machines pumping. I felt tubes running down my throat and saw my mom withering away next to me. She was there, but her eyes were empty and void.

Michael didn't come back. Is he gone forever? Where's Ellie—where's Kim? Then I remembered her funeral, the rain, and my tears.

My heart was awake for the first time since my return to Boise. I had been pushing everyone in my life away. Maybe my dreams were the lifeline, the reason I lay here in a coma. I was supposed to realize something crucial. I didn't feel complete. There was still something I was supposed to see—learn.

Like most dreams, when I woke I had a hard time remembering exactly what had happened. It was more feeling than memory. There was a small stone house, a book—but not my Book. It was The Book. She talked to me as if she were a real person, standing beside me in the form of a little girl.

I saw my story overlaid with hers. "I am in every part of your life, Airel. I love you, and your mistakes and triumphs are mine too."

I still didn't understand what it all meant. What am I supposed to see?

I saw the earth made of ink, the people of paper. All were born and plunged into the blackness, but not all had to remain living in the darkness.

I felt as if I'd been walking the earth as a ghost ever since Stanley had plunged his sword into my heart. I was out of order; my life was artificial.

But how . . .?

"Your Book, as is the same with all the Books, was never intended to be used as anything other than to tell the unflinching story of your life, warts and all. That is why it is so dangerous, so powerful. But when Michael wrote in it, he changed the proper order."

I thought about this. You mean that when he wrote in my Book, he overruled the story in The Book?

"Michael's actions changed everything, Airel."

You mean nothing I lived was real?

"Tell me, if reality is an illusion, how real can it be? Michael took something from you that you hadn't offered to him. And yet you did not resist. Not even then."

I wanted to weep. Was none of it real?

"Oh, it was very real. That is why the consequences will be so heavy."

This is why I'm here. This was why everything was falling apart. I was supposed to die that day. Drown. What Michael had done, he did in his grief, out of love, but he set things in motion no one could have predicted.

What do I do?

"Forgive."

I don't understand.

"Forgive him, forgive yourself; stop letting the past rule over you. This is why you are here, Airel. To let go of the things that hold you back so when the time comes, you can do what you were born to do."


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