According to the Books of History, everything that happened after the year 2010 actually began in the year 4036 ad. It began in the future, not the past. Confusing perhaps, but perfectly understandable once you realize that some things are as dependent on the future as on the past.
The world’s history was written in the Books of History, those magnificent volumes that recorded only the truth of all that happened. Earth was destroyed once during the twenty-first century, in an apocalypse foretold in the books of the ancient prophets Daniel and John, and then recorded as history in the Books of History. But the time for history was not yet finished, and Elyon in his great wisdom set upon the earth a new firstborn named Tanis.
This time, Elyon gave humans an advantage. This time, what had been spiritual and unseen became physical and seen. All good and evil could be watched and felt and touched and tasted. As time passed, however, mankind closed its eyes to what was real and became blind to the forces that surrounded them.
But there remained a small band of rebels who longed to see Elyon as they once had. They were led by one man who claimed to have visited the twenty-first century in his dreams.
His name was Thomas Hunter.
This is his story.
Chelise Hunter, wife of Thomas Hunter, stood beside her son, Samuel, and gazed over the canyon now flooded with those who’d crossed the desert for the annual Gathering. The sound of pounding drums echoed from the cliff walls; thousands milled in groups or danced in small circles as they awaited the final ceremonies, which would commence when the sun settled beyond the horizon. The night would fill with cries of loyalty and all would feast on fatted cows and hopes for deliverance from their great enemy, the Horde.
But Samuel, the warrior with his heavy sword and angry glare, had evidently put his hope in something entirely different. He stood still, but she knew that under the leather chest-and-shoulder armor his muscles were tense and, in his mind’s eye, moving already. Racing off to make war.
Chelise let the breeze blow her hair about her face and tried to calm herself with steady breathing. “This is impossible, Samuel. Complete foolishness.”
“Is it? Say that to Sacura.”
“She would agree with me.”
Sacura, mother of three just a few days earlier, was now mother of two. Her fifteen-year-old son, Richard, had been caught and hung by a Horde scouting party when he’d straggled behind his tribe as it made its way to the Gathering.
“Then she’s the fool, not me.”
“You think our nonviolent ways are just a haphazard strategy to gain us the upper hand?” Chelise demanded. “You think returning death with more death will bring us peace? Nearly everyone in the valley was once Horde, including me, in case I need to remind you—now you want to hunt their families because they haven’t converted to our ways?”
“And you would let them slaughter us instead? How many of us do they need to kill before you shed this absurd love you have for our enemy?”
Chelise could take his backtalk no longer. It took all of her strength to resist the temptation to slap his face, here and now. But it occurred to her that using violence at precisely this moment would strengthen his point.
And knowing Samuel, he would only grin. She knew how to fight, they all did as a matter of tradition, but next to Samuel she was the butterfly and he the eagle.
Chelise settled. For the sake of Jake, her youngest, they must follow the ways of Elyon. For the sake of her father, Qurong, commander of the Horde, and her mother. For the sake of the world, they had to cling to what they knew, not what their emotions demanded from them. To take up arms now would make an unforgivable mockery of all the Circle stood for.
She faced Samuel and saw that his sleeve was hitched up under his left arm guard. She pulled it down and brushed it flat. “It’s hard, I know,” she said, casting a glance back at the three mounted guards who waited behind them. Samuel’s band numbered a couple dozen, all sharing his hatred. Honorable men who were tired of seeing loved ones die at the hands of the Horde.
“He’s larger-than-life, we all know that. Just because you’re his son doesn’t mean you have to blaze his trail.”
She’d meant to console him, but he stiffened and she knew her words had done the opposite. “Not that you feel like you have to measure up to Thomas, but—”
“This has nothing to do with Thomas!” he snapped, pulling away. “Nobody could possibly measure up to a man with his past. My concern is the future, not some crazy history bounding between the worlds through these dreams of his.”
Odd that he would refer to the time when Thomas claimed to have traveled back in time through dreams. Thomas so rarely referred to it himself these days.
“Forget his dreams. My husband is the leader of the Circle. He carries the burden of keeping twelve thousand hearts in line with the truth, and you, his only son, would undermine that?”
Samuel’s jaw knotted. “The truth, Mother?” he bit off. He shoved a hand south, in the direction of Qurongi Forest, once controlled by Thomas and the Forest Guard, now inhabited by her father, leader of the Horde, Qurong. “The truth is, your precious Horde hates us and butchers us wherever they find us.”
“What do you suggest?” she cried. “Run off now, on the eve of our greatest celebration, in search for a few Scabs who are likely back in the city by now?”
Samuel lowered his hand and looked back at his men. Then to the south again. “We have him now.”
“You have who now?”
“The Scab who killed Sacura’s son. We have him captive in a canyon.”
Chelise didn’t know what to say to this. They had taken a Scab captive? Who’d ever heard of such a thing?
“We’re going to give him a trial in the desert,” Samuel said.
“For what purpose?”
“You cannot kill him, Samuel! The Gathering would come undone! I don’t have to tell you what that would do to your father.”
“To my father?” He looked at her. “Or to you, Mother, the daughter of Qurong, supreme commander of all that is wicked and vile?”
Chelise slapped him. Nothing more than a flat palm to his cheek, but the crack of the blow sounded like a whip.
Samuel grinned. She immediately wished to have her anger back.
“Sorry. Sorry, I didn’t mean that. But you’re speaking of my father!”
“Yes, you did mean that, Mother.” He turned and strode toward his horse.
“Where are you going?”
“To conduct a trial,” he said.
“Then at least bring him in, Samuel.” She started after him, but he was already swinging into the saddle. “Think!”
“I’m done thinking.” He pulled his horse around and brushed past his men, who turned with him. “It’s time to act.”
“Samuel . . .”
“Keep this between us, will you?” he said, looking over his shoulder. “I’d hate to put a damper on such a wonderful night of celebration.”
“Samuel. Stop this!”
He kicked his horse and left her with the sound of pounding hooves.
Dear Elyon . . . the boy would be the ruin of them all.
Thomas Hunter stood next to his wife, Chelise, facing the shallow canyon lined by three thousand of Elyon’s lovers, who’d drowned in the red lakes to rid their bodies of the scabbing disease that covered the skin of all Horde.
The reenactment of the Great Wedding had taken an hour, and the final salute, which would usher the Gathering into a wild night of celebration, was upon them.
As was customary, both he and Chelise were dressed in white, because Elyon would come in white. She with lilies in her hair and a long, flowing gown spun from silk; he in a bleached tunic, dyed red around the collar to remind them of the blood that had paid for this wedding.
This was their great romance, and there could not possibly be a dry eye in the valley.
Six maidens also in white faced Chelise and Thomas on their knees and sang the Great Wedding’s song. Their sweet, yearning voices filled the valley as they cried the refrain in melodic unison, faces bright with an eager desperation.
You are Beautiful . . . so Beautiful . . . Beautiful . . . Beautiful . . .
The drums lifted the cry to a crescendo. Milus, one of the older children, had recounted their history earlier in the night to thundering applause. Now Thomas retraced from his own vantage all that had brought them here.
Ten years ago, most of these people had been Horde, enslaved by Teeleh’s disease. The rest were Forest Dwellers who had kept the disease at bay by washing in Elyon’s lakes once every day as he’d directed.
Then the Horde, led by Qurong, had invaded the forests and defiled the lakes. All had succumbed to the scabbing disease, which deceived the mind and cracked the skin.
But Elyon made a new way to defeat the evil disease: Any Horde simply had to drown in one of the red pools, and the disease would be washed away, never to return. Those who chose to drown and find new life were called albinos by the Horde, because their skin, whether dark or light, was smooth.
The albinos formed a Circle of trust and followed their leader, Thomas of Hunter.
The Horde, however, divided into two races: Purebred Horde, who’d always had the scabbing disease, and half-breeds, who’d been Forest Dwellers but turned Horde after Qurong’s invasion of the forests. The full-breed Horde despised and persecuted the half-breeds because they’d once been Forest Dwellers.
Eram, a half-breed, had fled Qurong’s persecution and welcomed all half-breeds to join him in the deep northern desert, where they thrived as Horde and enemies of Qurong. Nearly half a million, rumor had it.
They called the faction who followed Eram Eramites, remnants of the faithful who were as diseased as any other Scab. All suffered from the sickly, smelly disease that covered the skin and clouded the mind.
Thomas glanced at his bride. To look at Chelise’s smooth, bronzed jaw now . . . her bright emerald eyes had once been gray. Her long blonde hair had once been tangled dreadlocks smothered in morst paste to fight the stench of the scabbing disease.
Chelise, who’d given birth to one of his three children, was a vision of perfect beauty. And in so many ways they were all perfectly beautiful, as Elyon was beautiful. Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful.
They had all once denied Elyon, their maker, their lover, the author of the Great Romance. Now they were the Circle, roughly twelve thousand who lived in nomadic tribes, fugitives from the Horde hunters who sought their death.
Three thousand had come together northwest of Qurongi City in a remote, shallow canyon called Paradose. They did this every year to express their solidarity and celebrate their passion for Elyon.
The Gathering, they called it. This year four Gatherings would take place near four forests, one north, one south, one east, one west. The danger of all twelve thousand crossing the desert from where they had scattered and coming to one location was simply too great.
Thomas scanned the three thousand strewn along the rocks and on the earth in a huge semicircle before him. After three days of late nights and long days filled with laughter and dancing and innumerable embraces of affection, they now stared at him in wide-eyed silence.
A large bonfire raged to his left, casting shifting shadows over their intent gazes. To his right, the red pool glistened, black in the night, one of seventy-seven they’d found throughout the land. Cliffs surrounded the hidden canyon, broken only by two gaps wide enough for four horses abreast. Guards lined the top of the cliffs, keeping a keen eye on the desert beyond for any sign of Horde.
How many times over the past ten years had members of the Circle been found and slaughtered wholesale? Too many to count. But they had learned well, gone deep, tracked the Horde’s movements, become invisible in the desert canyons. So invisible that the Scabs now often referred to the Circle as ghosts.
But Thomas now knew that the greatest danger no longer came from the Horde.
Treachery was brewing inside the Circle.
A horse snorted from the corrals around the bend behind Thomas. The fire popped and crackled as hungry flames lapped at the shimmering waves of heat they chased into the cool night air. The breathing of several thousand bodies steadied in the magic of the maiden’s song.
Still no sign of his elder son, Samuel.
An echo followed the last note, and silence fell upon the Gathering as the maidens backed slowly into the crowd. Thomas lifted his gray chalice, filled to the brim with Elyon’s red healing waters from the pool.
As one, the followers of Elyon lifted their chalices out to him, level with their steady gazes. The Salute. Their eyes held his, some defiant in their determination to stay true, many wet with tears of gratitude for the great sacrifice that had first turned the pools red.
The leaders stood to his left. Mikil and Jamous, her husband, side by side, goblets raised, staring forward, waiting for Thomas. Suzan, one of the many colored albinos, and her lover, Johan, who had been a mighty warrior—was a mighty warrior—gripped each other’s hands and watched Thomas.
Marie, his daughter from his first wife, who was now with Elyon, stood next to his youngest child, Jake, who was five years old one month ago. Where had all the years gone? The last time he’d taken a breath, Marie had been sixteen; now she was twenty-five. A hundred boys would have wed her years ago if Thomas hadn’t been so stuffy, as she put it. At eighteen Marie had lost interest in boys and taken up scouting with Samuel. Her betrothal to Vadal, the dark-skinned man next to her, had occurred only after she abandoned her old passions.
Samuel, on the other hand, still pursued his, with enough eagerness to keep Thomas pacing late into the night on occasion.
And still, no sign of the boy. He’d been gone for a day.
The Circle waited, and he let the moment stretch to the snapping point. A presence here warmed the back of his neck with anticipation. They couldn’t see him, hadn’t seen him for many years, but Elyon was near.
Elyon—as the boy, as the warrior, as the lion, the lamb, the giver of life and the lover of all. Their Great Romance was for him. He’d given his life for them, and they for him.
They all wore the symbol that represented their own history, a medallion or a tattoo shaped like a circle, with an outer ring in green to signify the beginning, the life of Elyon. Then a black circle to remember evil’s crushing blow. Two straps of red crossed the black circle, the death that brought life in the red waters.
And at the center, a white circle, for it was prophesied that Elyon would come again on a white horse and rescue his bride from the dragon Teeleh, who pursued her day and night.
Soon, Thomas thought. Elyon had to come soon. If he did not, they would fall apart. They’d been wandering in the desert for ten years, like lost Israelites without a home. At celebrations like this, surrounded by song and dance, they all knew the truth. But when the singing was over . . . how quickly they could forget.
Still he held them, three minutes now, and not a man, woman, or child over the age of two spoke. Even the infants seemed to understand that they had reached the climax of the three-day celebration. Later they would feast on the fifty boar they’d slaughtered and set over fires at the back of the canyon. They would dance and sing and boast of all things worthy and some not.
But they all knew that every pleasure they tasted, every hope that filled their chests, every moment of peace and love rested firmly on the meaning behind the words that Thomas would now speak.
His low voice flooded the canyon with an assurance that brought a tremble to their limbs.
“Lovers of Elyon who have drowned in the lakes and been given life, this is our hope, our passion, our only true reason to live.”
“It is as he says,” Chelise said in a light voice choked with emotion.
Together the three thousand responded, “He speaks the truth.” Their soft voices rumbled through the valley.
They knew Elyon by many names: the Creator, who’d fashioned them; the Warrior, who’d once rescued them; the Giver of gifts, who gave them the fruit that healed and sustained them. But they’d agreed to simply call him Elyon several years earlier, when a heretic from a southern tribe began to teach that Thomas himself was their savior.
Thomas spoke with more intensity. “He has rescued us. He has wooed us. He has lavished us with more pleasures than we can contain in this life.”
“It is as he says,” Chelise said.
The people’s reply washed over Thomas like a wave, gaining volume. “He speaks the truth.”
“Now we wait for the return of our king, the prince warrior who loved us while we were yet Horde.”
“It is as he says!”
“He speaks the truth!”
“Our lives are his, born in his waters, made pure by the very blood we now raise to the sky!” Thomas thundered each word.
And Chelise cried her agreement. “It is as he says!”
“He speaks the truth.” Their voices spilled over the canyon walls for any within a mile on this still night to hear.
“Remember Elyon, brothers and sisters of the Circle! Live for him! Ready the bride, make a celebration ready, for he is among us!”
“It is as he says!”
The volume rose to a crushing roar. “He speaks the truth.”
“I speak the truth.”
“He speaks the truth!”
“I speak the truth!”
“He speaks the truth!”
“Drink to remember. To the Great Romance. To Elyon!”
This time their response was whispered in utmost reverence, as if each syllable was something as precious as the red water in their hands.
Thomas closed his eyes, brought the chalice to his lips, tilted it back, and let the cool water flow into his mouth. The red liquid swirled around his tongue then seeped down his throat, leaving a lingering copper taste. He let the gentle effects of the first few drops warm his belly for a second, then swallowed deep, flooding his mouth and throat with the healing waters.
They weren’t nearly as strong as the green lake waters that had once flowed with Elyon’s presence. And they didn’t contain the same medicinal qualities of the fruit that hung from the trees around the pools, but they lifted spirits and brought simple pleasure.
He took three full gulps of the precious water, allowing some to spill down his chin, then pulled the chalice away, cleared his throat with one final swallow, and gasped at the night sky.
As one, the Circle pulled their goblets from their mouths like parched warriors satisfied by sweet ale, and roared at the night sky.
And with that cry, the spirit of celebration was released. Thomas turned to Chelise, drew her to him with his free arm, and kissed her wet lips. A thousand voices cried their approval, chased by undulating calls from the unwed maidens and their hopeful suitors. Chelise’s laughter filled his mouth as he spun back to the crowd, goblet still raised.
He pulled her forward, so all could see his bride. “Is there anyone here who would dare not love as Elyon has loved us all? Can anyone not remember the disease that covered their flesh?” Thomas looked at Chelise and spoke his poetic offering around a subtle grin that undoubtedly failed to properly express his love for this woman.
“What beauty, what pleasure, what intoxicating love he has given me for my own ashes. In place of the stench that once filled my very own nostrils he has given me this fragrance. A princess whom I can serve. She numbs my mind with dizzying pictures of exquisite beauty.”
They all knew he was speaking of Chelise, who had been the princess of the Horde, Qurong’s very own daughter. Now she was the bride of Elyon, Thomas’s lover, the bearer of his youngest son, who stared up at them with wonder next to Marie.
“He speaks the truth,” Johan said, grinning. He took a pull from his goblet and dipped his head.
“He speaks the truth,” they returned, followed by more calls and rounds of drinks.
Johan, too, had been Horde not so long ago, charged with killing hundreds—thousands by the time it was all over—of Elyon’s followers.
Thomas thrust his goblet toward the Gathering, unmindful of the liquid that splashed out; there were seventy-seven pools filled with the red waters, and not one had ever showed any sign of going dry.
“To the Horde.”
“To the Horde!”
And they drank again, flooding themselves with the intoxicating waters in a start to what promised to be a night of serious, unrestricted celebration.
“Aye, Father.” The male voice came from behind and to his right. The husky, unmistakable sound of Samuel. “To the Horde.”
Thomas lowered his chalice and turned to see his son perched atop his horse, drilling him with his bright green eyes. He rode low in the pale stallion’s saddle and moved with the horse as if he’d been bred and born on the beast. His dark hair fell to his shoulders, blown by a hard ride. Sweat had mixed with the red mud that he and those of his band applied to their cheekbones; streaks etched his darkened face and neck. His leather chest guard was open, allowing the night air to cool his bared chest, still glistening in the moonlight.
He had his mother’s nose and eyes.
A stab of pride sliced through Thomas’s heart. Samuel might have gone astray, but this image of his boy could have been him fifteen years ago.
The stallion’s clip-clopping hooves echoed as it stepped into the firelight, followed by three, then five, then nine warriors who’d taken up arms with Samuel. All were dressed in the same battle dress of the Forest Guard, largely abandoned since the Circle had laid down arms eleven years ago. Only the guards and scouts wore the protective leathers to ward off arrows and blades.
But Samuel . . . no amount of reason seemed to jar good sense into his thick skull.
His son stilled his horse with a gentle tug on its reins. His followers stopped behind him in a loose formation that left them with no weak flank, standard Guard protocol by his own orders. Samuel and his band moved with the ease of seasoned warriors.
A few catcalls from different points in the crowd raised praise for the man who scanned them without a hint of acknowledgment.
“Hear, Samuel! Elyon’s strength, boy!” A pause. “Keep the boogers in their stink hole, Samuel!”
This remark was a departure from general sentiment, though not as distant from the heart of the Circle as it once had been. Thomas was all too aware of the rumblings among many clans.
“Nice of you to join us, Samuel,” Thomas said, tipping his chalice in the boy’s direction.
His son looked directly at Chelise, dipped his head, then looked back at the three thousand gathered in the natural amphitheater. “To the Horde,” he called.
“To the Horde.” But only half took up the cry. The rest, like Thomas, heard the bite in Samuel’s voice.
“To the stinking, bloody Horde who butcher our children and spread their filthy disease through our forests!” Samuel cried, voice now bitter with mockery.
Only a few took him up. “Stinking, bloody Horde.”
“Our friends, the Horde, have sent their apologies for taking the life of our own three days ago. They have sent us all a gift to express their remorse, and I have brought it to our Gathering.”
Samuel stuck his hand out, palm up. A dark object sailed forward, lobbed by Petrus, son of Jeremiah, and Samuel snatched it out of the air as if it were a water bag needing to be refilled. He tossed it onto the ground. The object bounced once and rolled to stop where firelight illuminated the fine details of their prize.
This was a head. A human head. A Horde head with a mane of long dreadlocks, covered in disease
A chill snaked down Thomas’s spine. This, he thought, was the beginning of the end.
There was no gasp, no outcry, only a heavy silence. None of them was a stranger to violence. But among the Circle, taking the life of another, Scab or albino, was strictly forbidden.
This . . . this looked to be the result of an execution. Carried out by his own son. For a moment, all Thomas could hear was the pounding of his own heart.
Vadal, son of Ronin, one of the very first to drown, stumbled out to the severed head and stared, disbelieving, for a moment. Any hint of celebration in the wake of Thomas’s salute was gone.
He swiveled to face Samuel. “Are you mad, man?”
“The head belongs to the man who hung Richard, son of Sacura. We seized him, tried him, and found him guilty. The punishment was death.”
Vadal thrust his finger at the head near his feet. “Don’t be a fool. You kill them and you might as well be them. This is your idea?”
“This, you blithering fool, is doing the work of Elyon,” Samuel said calmly. “Ridding the world of those who mock him.”
“Only to become them?” Vadal shot back.
“Do I look like a Scab to you? Am I—having defiled the love of Elyon himself as you claim—now covered from head to foot with the disease that marks unbelievers? Has he taken away his healing from me?”
Thomas held up his hand to bring some order before the whole thing got out of control. “You’ve made your point, Samuel. Now take your prize, bury it somewhere far from here, and return to our celebration.”
“That’s not what I had in mind.”
Thomas felt his own patience thinning. “Get off of that horse. Pick up that head. Get back on your horse. And leave us!”
A crooked grin crossed Samuel’s face. “Now, there’s the father I once knew. Commander of the Forest Guard. The world once quivered at your name.”
“And now it quivers at the name of another.”
“Does it? Elyon? And just where is Elyon these days?”
“Stop it!” Chelise snapped. She released Thomas’s arm and took a step toward Samuel. “How dare you speak of your Maker with such a callous tongue?”
“I’m only stating what is on the mind of us all. Love the Horde? Why? They hate us, they kill us, they strike terror into our camps. They would wipe out this entire gathering with one blow if they could. We are the vomit on the bottom of their boots, and that will never change.”
“You were once Horde, you insolent pup!” Chelise shot back.
Samuel nudged his horse around the severed head. His posse stood their ground, a group of mind-numb fighters who’d tasted just enough bloodlust to give them a thirst. “Do we not believe that a time will soon come when Elyon will destroy all of this land and the Horde with it, and finally rescue us to bliss?”
“Ten years have gone by without one indisputable sign that Elyon still hovers nearby, preparing to rescue us. You’re too busy running and hiding from that Horde beast Qurong to ask why.”
“That beast is my father,” Chelise cried. “I would die for him. And you would kill him?”
Samuel paused only a moment. “Kill Qurong, the supreme commander who has sworn to slaughter our children? The Scab who paces deep into the night, poisoned by bitterness against his own daughter because she betrayed him by drowning? That Qurong? The one you are obsessed with because he gave birth to you?” He spoke in a soft voice that cut the night silence like a thin blade. “You love your father more than you love any of us, Mother. If it were his head on the ground now, we might finally be free.”
Samuel had always been bitter about Chelise’s love for her father, but he’d never voiced it so plainly.
Vadal spoke for Chelise, who was swimming in so much fury at the moment that she didn’t appear to be able to form words.
“This is heresy! You have no—”
“I took this Scab’s head in a canyon twenty miles from here,” Samuel announced, ignoring Vadal. “We ambushed him, and my sword cut cleanly through his neck with one swing. It was the most satisfying thing I have done in my life.”
“Samuel!” This from Marie, who glared at her brother, red faced.
Thomas fought a terrible urge to leap upon the boy and whip his hide until he begged for mercy. But he remained rooted to the ground.
Samuel blurted out, “War is permissible. I say we wage it. I’ve been out there slipping in and around the Horde since I turned fifteen, and I can tell you that with five thousand warriors we could make them regret the day they ever killed one of ours.”
“Elyon forbid!” Vadal gasped.
“If Elyon will kindly tell me I’m wrong, then I will step down. We say that evil is on the flesh, that the disease on the Horde’s skin is Elyon’s curse. So why am I still disease free, having committed this terrible evil by killing this Scab, unless Elyon approves? Until he makes my error clear, my heart will cry for the days when we took them on, twenty to one, and turned the sand red with their blood.”
“What’s sacrilege?” Samuel threw back. “What Elyon tells us himself, or what we have been told he says? Have any of you heard this specific instruction from Elyon lately? Or are you all too drunk on his fruit and water to notice his absence?”
“This . . .” Vadal was trembling with rage. “This is utter nonsense!”
“It used to be that we celebrated the passing of every soul, believing that they had gone on to a better place. Now our celebrations at the passing are filled with mourning. Why? Where is Elyon, and where is this better place?”
None of them could deny the subtle shift in their treatment of the dead.
“We used to long for the day of Elyon, clinging to the hope that any moment he would come swooping over the hills to rescue us once and for all. Now we long only for the day of the Gathering, when we can drink the waters and eat the fruit and dance ourselves silly, deep into the night. The Great Romance has become our elixir, a place to hide from the world.”
“You’re speaking rubbish.”
“I say bring back the days of our glory! Hasten the day of Elyon’s return. Fight Qurong the way the Eramites do.”
“You’ll have to fight me first,” Vadal said.
Samuel pulled his horse around on its rear quarter to face the man. His mount snorted in protest. “So be it.” Loudly to the whole gathering, he said, “I’m told the followers of Eram also respect the challenge as we once did. I challenge Vadal of Ronin to combat as in the days of old. It is still permitted.”
Was it? Thomas felt his gut churn.
“I accept,” Vadal snapped.
“To the death.”
“Stop it!” Chelise cried. Then, in a softer voice, “I warned you about this, Samuel.”
“Did you? Our prevailing doctrine denounces violence against the Horde,” Samuel said, “but what does it say of the Challenge? We speak all night long about tales of the heroics that preceded us: Elyon this, Thomas that . . . I say let the heroics be seen in the flesh. Elyon will save the one who speaks the truth as he once did.”
His argument contained a thread of truth that turned Thomas’s blood cold. Before their very eyes they were witnessing the greatest threat to all truth. And from the mouth of his own son. But Thomas was too stunned to form a response. This was his own son, for the love of Elyon!
Chelise whispered his name urgently, and he saw that she was staring at him, begging him to stop Samuel.
Instead, Thomas looked at Ronin and Johan for support. William, Mikil, Jamous—any of them. They all stared at him for guidance. Were they, too, growing tired of waiting for an imminent return that had been imminent for longer than any of them cared to think? Could this be the source of their hesitation?
Samuel wasn’t the only one to wonder if Elyon really was coming back for a “bride” anytime soon. After all, he’d allowed them to take beating after beating without so much as lifting a finger. What good was being disease free if you lived in ridicule and on the run?
Thomas caught Ronin’s stare. “Ronin?”
The spiritual leader for Thomas’s clan frowned, then studied his son Vadal and Samuel.
“No one in the Circle has issued a challenge for a very long time. Never, that I know of. It’s utterly foolish.”
“But was it outlawed?” Samuel pressed.
Chelise flung both arms wide. “This is so much nonsense, this flexing of the muscle to prove a point. And to the death?” She turned to the others. “Come on, Mikil! Johan, surely you can’t think this is permissible.”
“It’s absurd,” Mikil said, and Johan agreed, but neither was demanding. The fear in Thomas’s gut spread. Why weren’t they rushing out and dragging Samuel off his horse in protest? They harbored a small vessel of doubt themselves? Surely not all of them!
Samuel took advantage of their inaction. “Didn’t Elyon once condone our use of force? Has he changed his mind? Does Elyon change his mind? Well, well, by the heavens I’ve made a dreadful mistake, I will change the way it is done! Is this a perfect Creator?”
He let that settle.
“No. Elyon knows that it is better to love, that everything rests on the fulfillment of the Great Romance, like the union of bride and groom after a night of dizzying celebration. But sometimes love can be expressed by defending the truth. Vadal has that prerogative. No, Mikil?”
The famed fighter shifted her eyes to Thomas, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Samuel, but by this very deflection she had endorsed him. Didn’t she realize what she was doing? Supporting this ludicrous assertion before the entire Gathering could only bring ruin!
But the fear cascading down Thomas’s spine rendered him mute as well. A dozen years ago he would have cut this challenge to the ground with a few well-placed words. Those days were gone, replaced by a wisdom that now seemed to fail him entirely. Smothered by dread.
“Does this Gathering cower from the truth?” Samuel called out. “Let me fight as the Eramites fight!”
Thomas had risked his life on a hundred occasions to love the Horde, to win Chelise, to follow the ways of Elyon, no matter how dangerous or brutal the path. Now that path had doubled back and was running straight down the middle of the Circle itself. The greatest danger was from inside, he always told the others. Tonight it had finally bared its teeth for all to see.
And there was no outcry from the Circle against Samuel’s demand.
Thomas looked up at the thousands regarding him. “Who says so?”
No one shouted agreement, as was their right. But after several beats a younger man from another clan—Andres, if Thomas was right—lifted his drink.
“So says I.” They looked at him, and he stepped forward into the orange firelight. “There is a time for peace and there is a time for war. Maybe the time for war has come. Didn’t Elyon once wage war?”
A hundred ayes rumbled through the night.
So then, Samuel was tapping the unspoken sentiment of many. This attitude was practically epidemic, a cancer that would eat them alive from the inside.
And this from his own son . . .
Thomas tried to swallow, but the fear now swelling through his head prevented the simple action. He’d faced that devil Teeleh himself and bested him in the blackest forest; he’d hacked his way out of thirty encroaching Scabs with a single broad blade; he’d marched into the city to the cheers of a hundred thousand throats shouting the praises of Thomas of Hunter, the greatest warrior who’d ever lived.
But at the moment, he was only a terrified husk. Useless against this enemy called Samuel, son of Hunter.
It occurred to him that Samuel was speaking again, demanding more from the crowd. “Who else?” he was shouting. And hundreds were agreeing.
“Don’t be so thin headed!” William cried over them all. “We’ve always agreed that we were shown a new way by Elyon, apart from the sword. Now our impatience changes that? Our way is to love our enemies, not wage war on them.”
A thousand ayes and shrill cries of agreement shook the canyon.
Finally! Finally some sense!
“But I am within my rights to make this challenge, am I not?” Samuel demanded. “And Vadal is in his rights to accept.”
“Aye.” The agreements peppered the gathering, but all eyes were now back on Ronin and Thomas.
Ronin must have noted the concern that had locked up Thomas, because he addressed the crowd.
“Yes, I suppose it is right what Samuel says. Nothing I know of has outlawed his prerogative to challenge my son. And Vadal has the right to accept that challenge or reject it, which would be the wiser by far. Frankly, I’m appalled that there isn’t a protest among you all. Have you decided to feed your bloodlust?”
“He’s right,” Chelise said. “This is the kind of thing we might do as Horde.”
“Or under the old Thomas,” a lone voice called.
“All things may be permissible, but not all are beneficial,” Ronin said, cutting off any further dialogue that might mire them in their own violent history. To Vadal, his son: “Surely, you see the madness in this.”
“I see the madness in what tempts Samuel and half of the Circle,” he said.
Samuel slid out of his saddle and landed on the ground with a slap of boots on rock. He slipped his sword from its scabbard, thrust the bronzed tip into the shale, and rested both palms in its handle.
“What is it, O favored one? Shall we test the truth?” The fool wasn’t taking any of this seriously! Or worse, he was drunk on his own power and took Vadal’s death very seriously.
“I accept,” Vadal snapped.
“No!” Marie, Thomas’s eldest child and Vadal’s betrothed, stepped out, ripped a sword from the mount closest to Samuel’s, and twirled it once with a flip of her wrist. “I exercise my right to take the place of any other in a challenge.”
“Don’t be a fool,” Vadal said. “Step back!”
“Shut up. If you have the right to throw away your life, so do I. Those are the rules.”
“That was a long time ago. Get back, I’m telling you!”
Marie turned to the elder. “Ronin?”
The spiritual leader nodded. “It is her right.”
Samuel grinned, whipped his sword through a backhanded swing, and circled to his right, inviting Marie into an imaginary fighting ring.
“Stop them!” Chelise was glaring at Thomas, whispering harshly. “Do something.”
He did nothing. He could hardly think straight, much less trust himself to do something he would not later regret. He could not stop them; they all had the same freedom to make their own choices.
The grin had faded from Samuel’s face. Surely he wouldn’t use his sword on his own sister. This was Marie’s ploy. She knew that Samuel would back down. This was her gamble, and Thomas could see the wisdom in it.
“So, Sister. It’s you and me, is it?”
“Looks that way.” She walked closer, dragging her sword casually behind her. Not to fool a soul; they all knew she was a devil with that thing.
Samuel glanced at the blade, leaning on his own with confidence. “I’m not the young pup you punished the last time we played this game.”
“This isn’t a game,” Marie said. “You’re playing with the fate of our people.”
“You’ll get hurt,” he said.
“Then hurt me, Brother.”
While Thomas Hunter stood in the canyon, unraveling, Billy Rediger paced the atrium of Raison Pharmaceutical in Thailand two thousand years earlier, in our own reality—or the histories, depending on how one looked at it.
Billy took a moment to take in his surroundings: the rich golden marble floor, the huge paintings of a red and yellow flower that looked as though it might be the bug-eating variety, the gilded wallpaper, two heavy crystal chandeliers that could crush a Volkswagen. The drug giant’s exotic facade fueled his haunting impression of Raison Pharmaceutical.
This is where it had all started roughly thirty-six years ago, in this very building just outside of Bangkok. Seven years before Billy had been born and whisked away to the monastery in Colorado, where he’d been raised and turned into a freak.
This was where Thomas Hunter had stumbled on the Raison Strain, the deadly virus that turned the world upside down. How many dead was it? Hardly imaginable.
But worse than what had died was what had survived Hunter’s discovery.
What would Darcy and Johnny say if they knew of the obsession that had overtaken Billy’s mind this last year? He had a pathological need to understand why his life had been profoundly impacted by these books called the Books of History.
If his two confidants knew of his quest, they would leave their safe harbor in Colorado, hunt him down, and lock him in a cage. Because they would assume that Billy was after more, wouldn’t they? More than just understanding, more than just connecting with his past, more than chasing down the truth, more than . . .
“They will see you now, sir.” The receptionist, a man named Williston, had a heavy French accent.
Billy turned, startled out of his moment of unguarded admissions. They? He’d asked to see only Monique de Raison.
He caught his image in a ten-by-ten mirror framed in heavy black ironwork. Still dressed in the same white shirt he’d thrown on just before landing eight hours earlier. The self-applied blond highlights in his red hair looked too obvious, and his head hadn’t seen a brush since the takeoff from Washington, D.C. a day earlier. Here stands Billy Rediger, one of the three famed gifted savants who turned Paradise, Colorado into a household name. The rumpled look would have to do.
He was twenty-nine going on nineteen. If they only knew.
Billy wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans, squirted a dash of cinnamon freshener into his mouth, straightened his collar, and strode for the door as the dark-haired Williston looked on with a deadpan stare.
“Thank you, Williston. Thank you very much, sir. And by all means, ditch the blonde from France. Go for the local girl. It’s what you want.”
The man blinked with surprise. “Pardon?”
“Ditch Adel. You think she’s a whore, and you’re probably right. Go for the maid— what’s her name? Betty. Yes, Betty.”
The man was speechless—probably wasn’t every day a stranger told him what he was thinking. This far from home, not many knew of Billy’s unique gifting. And if they did, they associated it only with a distant face seen on the Net, not a real, living human being walking before them in three dimensions.
He stepped past the ten-foot doors into a white office with colonial latticed windows that looked out to the thick green jungle beyond. At the room’s center sat a large teakwood desk with a cream-colored lamp that shed yellow light over a clean glass top.
The dark-haired woman who stood behind the desk looked younger than her reported sixty years—all those drugs she manufactured, he supposed. After six months of searching out every scrap of information he could harvest from records far and wide, Billy felt as though he already knew Monique de Raison.
She’d accepted full control of Raison Pharmaceutical from her father, Jacques de Raison, after the Raison Strain had all but destroyed the infamous company. Rebuilding the company’s shattered image was no small task, but she’d risen to the occasion and delivered with flying colors. The sharp, dark eyes studying him as he walked toward her opened to a mind that was missing nothing.
Billy knew, because it was his gift to know what anyone was thinking by looking into their eyes.
This is what Monique was thinking at the moment: Younger than I expected, dressed like a punk. Is he really reading my thoughts this very moment? Does he know I will turn him away regardless of what he hopes to accomplish? Does he know that he’s a freak?
Billy stretched out his hand. “Yes, I do know that I’m a freak.”
Monique stared at him for a moment, then lifted a pair of dark glasses from the desk and put them on, effectively blocking her mind from his probing eyes. She took his hand. “So you can do what they say.”
“Thanks to Thomas Hunter,” he said, and released her hand. Because yes, without Thomas Hunter there never would have been magic books to turn him into the freak he was. But that was all in the past.
Billy was here to change the future.
A blond woman of about Monique’s age sat to his right, one leg crossed over the other, hands folded in her lap. She wore dark glasses already, not wanting to risk any exposure to his prying eyes, but he recognized Kara Hunter immediately. Thomas Hunter’s sister, keeper of only god knew how many secrets regarding the blood Billy was seeking.
Both Kara and Monique in one sitting. He’d struck gold.
Billy crossed to Kara, who rose and offered her hand. “Mr. Rediger.”
“And you would be Kara Hunter.”
“Please, have a seat,” Monique said, motioning to the guest chair in front of her desk.
He did, and they both eased back into their chairs. Eyes on him, he presumed, though he couldn’t be certain what their eyes were doing behind those dark glasses.
“It is a bright day, isn’t it?” he said, failing to lighten the mood.
“What can we do for you?” Monique asked.
“Just like that, huh? You meet one of the few people alive today whose life was profoundly impacted by the Hunter legacy and that’s all you can ask?”
“Every living being on this planet was profoundly impacted by my brother,” Kara said. “Not the least, himself. You have this interesting gift because you evidently came in contact—”
“Evidently? Try conclusively.”
“Conclusively?” Monique cut in. “And what else have you concluded?”
“That thirty-six years ago Thomas Hunter claimed to have dreamed about another reality. That this other reality was, in fact, real. That the Books of History, magical books that turned words to flesh, came to us from that reality. I should know. I used them. They gave me my gift.”
“Conclusively. Did you know that I wrote about Thomas in the books? Maybe that’s why he dreamed what he dreamed and awakened in this other world of his. If I hadn’t written it, he wouldn’t have gone there, and if he hadn’t gone there, he wouldn’t have learned how to alter the Raison Vaccine and turn it into an airborne virus that did what it did. You might say I was the one who started it all. That it was all my fault, not yours, Monique.”
He knew by their silence that his role in these events was news to them, and he continued while their heads still spun.
“So here I am. Billy, the one who has a gift for seeing more than most people can see, just like Thomas Hunter had a gift for seeing, or in his case dreaming what most don’t dream. That makes me unique, don’t you think? You could even say it gives me certain rights.”
Kara stood and paced to the window, arms crossed. She turned slowly back and studied him through her dark glasses. “Your case is fascinating, Mr. Rediger—”
“Billy. Please call me Billy.”
“Fascinating, Billy. But it’s no more than what either of us has faced. I’m sure you can appreciate that. As you obviously know, we both had a singular relationship with Thomas. You came out of your experience with this unique ability to read people’s thoughts when you look into their eyes. That sounds like a net gain. I lost a brother. Many people lost their lives.”
“Net gain?” he snapped. He tried to remain calm, but he wasn’t as adept at controlling his temper as he’d once been. “You call this curse a gain? I’m a freak! My soul haunts me. I can’t live in the same happy ignorance that the rest of you can when every lousy thought is opened to me. It’s driving me mad, and I have to root out the meaning of all this. End it all.”
“We’re sorry you’ve suffered, Billy,” Kara said, clasping her hands before her. “But the stakes were always more than feelings, yours or ours. We’ve all paid a price. I think it’s best to leave the past in the past. Don’t you?”
“Well, see, that’s just the thing, Kara.” A little too much emphasis on her name. Mustn’t sound so condescending. “I don’t think the past is in the past. For one thing, I’m not in the past. I’m here and now, a living consequence of your brother’s indiscretions.”
“Granted, you’re one of the many effects—”
“And then there’s the matter of his blood.”
He wished for a line of sight into their eyes. But he hardly needed to read their minds to know he’d hit the nerve he’d come to hit.
“Blood?” Monique said, leaning back in her chair.
“Blood. The one remaining vial of Thomas Hunter’s blood that you put in safekeeping. Did you think you two were the only ones who knew? The lab technician who withdrew the blood was named Isabella Romain and she lives in Covington, Kentucky, today. Naturally she refused to say what her mind was thinking, but I know with absolute certainty that a vial of Thomas Hunter’s blood was taken by you, Dr. Raison, for security.”
They did not deny it.
“And these eyes of mine exposed a few other secrets,” he said. “Turns out that Thomas’s blood allowed anyone who used it to wake up in the reality that the Books of History came from. Is it in fact another reality? Or is it our future? Either way, that makes the vial of blood a potent little vessel of a whole lot of fun, don’t you think? Not to mention a path to some pretty powerful books.”
Billy couldn’t stop the wild grin that twisted his lips. He was sweating, he realized. Profusely. It beaded up on his forehead and ran past his temples. With each passing week he seemed to have more difficulty maintaining control of his nerves. The tics and the sweating were the worst. Thankfully he’d managed to suppress the tics thus far. Wouldn’t do to start jerking about like a short-circuiting robot before asking them to trust him with their deepest secrets.
He took a deep breath and made an effort to appear reasonable. “Seriously, friends, I know it all. And I’ve come to ask you to bring me in.”
“In?” Monique asked, one brow raised.
“Trust me. Use me. I’m all yours.”
“To what end?”
“To what end?” It was a fair question, no matter how obvious the answer seemed to him. “Sorry, being through what I’ve been through makes that question sound a bit silly. For the purpose of survival, naturally. To that end. So that we can take this messy, crazy world and make sense of it again.”
“And just how do you propose to do that?”
“For starters, as I’m sure you realize, some would consider me a fugitive. Have been for over two years, ever since the Tolerance Act in the fabulous United States of America turned people like me into bigots. Wackos at the least. That doesn’t sit right with all people. The world is primed for more than simple, regional conflicts. Surely you can see that. The very laws that are meant to bring peace and love are gonna bring the big boom, baby.”
A bit too free with the colloquialism there.
“And we may have the one thing that could set things right.”
Both stared without showing any reaction.
He stood and paced. “I need to connect with my past. And with the future. Are you catching my drift here?”
“Not really, no.”
“I need the blood.”
Silence. Dead giveaway.
Monique cleared her throat. “I don’t think you understand, Mr. Rediger. Even if we knew where this figment of your imagination was, this so called vial of blood, what exactly do you think you could do with it?”
“Go into Thomas’s dreams! To the place all this began. Please, don’t tell me you haven’t tried it.”
No admission. No denial.
“You have no idea how much work it took to uncover these dark secrets of yours. Only a handful of people know what actually happened: That Thomas Hunter’s blood was altered when he crossed into the other reality. That it contained unique properties. That when even a single drop of his blood mixes with a person’s while they are dreaming, they, too, can go where he went, which might well be the future. That, my two lovely friends, sounds like a very major trip. You can’t possibly go your entire life knowing about such a thing and not try it at least once. Kinda like sex, right?”
They still didn’t seem to appreciate the simple honesty he was laying down here.
“No?” he pressed.
“Not really, no,” Monique said.
“You haven’t tried it?”
“We haven’t established that this blood you talk about even exists. If it does, perhaps you can tell us where we could find it. The powers you describe sound incredibly valuable.”
So, they would play it this way. What he would give to dive into their minds right now.
One way or another, he would have his way with both of their minds.
“Cute,” he said. “We’re going to pretend, then, is that it?”
Kara walked back to her chair and sat. “Please, Billy, have a seat.”
He sat again, aware that his right hand was twitching slightly.
Tea? A bit late to ask him if he wanted to break bread with them. On the other hand, this represented a sea change in at least Kara’s attitude toward him. Yes, indeed. At least a pretention of being sweet.
“No thank you, Kara. No tea at the moment, but thank you for offering.”
She smiled. “Perhaps we were a bit too hasty in dismissing you. Let’s try a different approach, shall we? After Thomas left, my life never seemed to find its true bearing.”
“Careful, Kara,” Monique warned in a low voice.
Kara glanced at her friend. “It’s okay. He obviously knows at least some of the truth.” Back to Billy. “But you must understand how dangerous your knowledge is. I’m not sure you do. In the wrong hands, what you know could bring about more pain and suffering than you can possibly imagine.”
“Oh, I think I can imagine it just fine. Why do you think I’m here? I’ve spent every waking minute for the last year thinking of it, tracking you two down.”
“The information you have could end life as we know it,” Kara continued.
“It could bring the great dragon down from the sky and fill the oceans with blood,” Billy said. “Saint John’s Apocalypse.”
He could only imagine them blinking behind their shades. Too much, way too much. His imaginations were a thing that he should keep strictly to himself. He should know that by now. Not even these two had the capacity to go where his mind went, which is why he was suited—perhaps even prepared, preordained, chosen, all of that rot—to do what needed doing now.
“As a figure of speech,” he said, circling his hand for effect, “the dragon being the symbol of death, virus, nuclear holocaust, Armageddon. Point is, if it’s all true, if a person could cross into another world with Thomas’s blood, and then return with untold secrets, they might unravel not only the past, but solve the problems of the future. Of now.”
“We get it,” Monique said.
He couldn’t read her true sentiment by her tone; he’d become too accustomed to reading people by their minds.
“So then. You’re going to bring me in?” Billy asked.
“We should lock you up and throw away the key, Billy,” Monique said.
“What she means,” Kara inserted, “is that none of us is trustworthy with what we know. We both try to stay . . . private. We’re not sure you appreciate just how difficult that can be.”
“I was raised in a monastery, I think that qualifies me.”
“Perhaps. But we don’t know where the blood is, Billy. Or if it even still exists. We’ve removed ourselves from that knowledge.”
“For everyone’s sake,” Monique said.
Nonsense. Billy knew then that they had no intention whatsoever of trusting him with the code to their front gates, much less the most potent secret the world had ever known. And why should they? He’d presented himself as a bit of a loose cannon.
But they didn’t know him. He’d danced with the devil himself, and he wouldn’t let these two witches stop him from doing it again.
“Well, then we’ll have to take this one step at a time,” Billy said. “I was wondering if you could recommend suitable accommodations.”
The door flew wide and a young woman walked in, dressed in a short black dress with spaghetti straps. Bare feet, petite physique. Her black hair fell loosely past square shoulders, and her soft brown eyes cut sharply through the world.
“Excuse me, Mother. So sorry to interrupt. Henri tells me you’ve decided to sell our New York research laboratory. One of mylaboratories the last time I checked. Tell me why Henri has decided to speak lies.”
“So nice to see you, Janae,” Monique returned in a soothing voice. “How was your trip to France?”
“As expected.” No further explanation. Monique’s daughter, this stunning creature with a fluid French accent who looked to be in her early twenties, seemed to notice Billy for the first time. She turned her gaze on him and peeled him open with that first look.
And who is this young pip? An American, clearly, dressed to attend a rock concert. What kind of fools is Mother exposing herself to these days? And what are those monstrous glasses doing on Mother’s face?
“Mr. Rediger, please meet my daughter, Janae.” Billy saw that a thin smile had nudged the corner of Monique’s mouth northward. “But then you probably already know all about her, don’t you? Perhaps more than I do.”
The bold pronouncement left Janae silent for the moment. Billy thought it best to leave the young woman wondering.
“You might want to consider wearing dark glasses, dear Janae. Our visitor from America seems to have the ability to read minds.”
Again, silence from the spirited one. Billy decided then that he would out himself fully to the dark-haired beauty. One, because he found her strangely compelling, and two, because he thought it wise to give her a reason to find him just as interesting.
“Young pip?” He stared into her eyes. “This young pip who’s dressed to attend a rock concert is inside your mind right now, dear Janae. And what a delicious treat it is, all that hostility and resentment for having never known your father. He vanished when you were a small child, and you’re thinking even now that he held secrets that would complete you. Isn’t that what all orphans believe?”
She blinked. Her mouth parted slightly but held back the gasp some might utter when so quickly stripped. He liked her already.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m an orphan as well.”
“I think we all get the point,” Monique said. “He’s quite dangerous. I would tread carefully.”
But Billy wasn’t finished. “I’m here for the vial of blood that your mother harvested from Thomas Hunter three decades ago. Maybe you know where it is. Or you could help me find it.”
He might as well have dropped a bomb in the room.
Janae looked at her mother. “What blood?”
“This is completely unacceptable,” Kara snapped, rising from her chair.
“On the contrary, this is the only acceptable course,” Billy returned. “You need to keep an eye on me. What better way than to keep me close? You know I won’t put up with either of you babysitting me.”
His implication could hardly be stronger. He took the fact that Janae didn’t immediately reject the notion of “babysitting” him as a sign of her interest. A glance into her eyes confirmed this.
On second look, interest was a bad word choice to describe her disposition toward him. Fascination was better. Billy turned back to the others.
Kara was clearly on rough ground. “Surely you can’t—”
“It’s okay, Kara,” Monique said. “He’s right. He can stay in the guest quarters until his curiosity is satisfied. God knows we’re all better off with him here than out there where real damage can be done.”
Monique de Raison thought she could control him, Billy realized. Anyone else and he would dismiss the possibility outright. But Monique was not anyone else. Neither was Kara.
Nor, for that matter, was Janae, who was still trying to understand him.
“Please give us a moment, Billy,” Monique said. “Williston will show you to the guest building. Janae will be right out.”
Billy stood and walked for the door. The scent of Janae’s musky perfume filled him with a sudden desire as he walked past her. Those deep, dark secrets her father had hidden from her seemed to beckon him. There was something about Janae that pulled at him like a strong tide.
“Take your time,” he said, stepping from the room.
Excerpted from GREEN: The Circle, Book Zero: The Beginning and the End © Copyright 2011 by Ted Dekker. Reprinted with permission by Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.