|Home > Jacquelyn Frank > Shadowdwellers > Ecstasy (Page 18)|
|Ecstasy(Shadowdwellers #1) by Jacquelyn Frank|
But Magnus was beginning to understand that perhaps if they had, he might know the seat of Trace’s despondency far better. He frowned as he thought that, not for the first time wondering at the wisdom of his order’s exclusionary living arrangements. Perhaps if they lived more among the people they ministered to, they could be of even more use than they were. However, there were those in the order that would consider that kind of thinking a show of wavering faith. Magnus was secure in his faith—he had lived nothing else for centuries and had never wanted anything more—but he was always willing to accept that he wasn’t the beginning and the end of all knowledge. That would make him a god, and he was a bit more humble than that.
As it stood, there was a great deal about the aberration that was Ashla Townsend to stimulate not only his interest, but his concern. Not just because Trace was being so soundly affected by her existence, but because Shadowscape was. He was a guardian of all ’scapes, save the one he could never survive in, in this mortal form. Lightscape was a Shadowdweller’s hell in any event, the very idea of arriving in such a place the thing of nightmares. Hell had its own guardians as far as Magnus was concerned, and he had no intention of ever knowing them. However, the others he had access to and knowledge of, those were his to protect. The guidance of his people actually took second place to that duty.
What he needed was information. From this he could formulate a workable theory using logic that he and Trace could both accept and understand. He had no other goal and must not attach any others to himself. His personal beliefs and cultural taboos should not play a part in what was true. Also, his desire to help his fosterling find peace of mind should not influence him. Magnus kept all of this in mind as he gained his feet and rounded the bed toward the doorway. He paused only long enough to trade a strong look with Guin, who was clearly ready to leave with him.
“Karri, keep him calm, restful, and otherwise cared for.” He wanted to stress to her not to unbind him, but a look alone took care of that, and he got a sour face from her for his trouble that said “what am I, stupid?” all over it. Of course she knew better, Magnus realized, but this was Ajai Trace. His charm and power of diplomacy were legendary. He knew how to work people’s strengths and weaknesses against them or to his advantage. Karri had been by Magnus’s side a long time, had even known Trace since his days as a young man, and he should trust she knew better, but there was too much critical need lying in Trace and too much compassion inside the handmaiden. Together it could make for unwelcome circumstances. “Just the same,” he said aloud, his tone quite firm with her.
He stepped through the door and left it to Guin to close it as another solid jolt thudded through the RV. In the next room was a low circle of two half-moon couches settled low to the floor. They were separated just enough to allow a path through the middle between them. The usual exotic fabrics they favored in their culture hung about or lay draped for comfort and appeal all around them. This time it was Malaya who sat sprawled back against piles of pillows, toying with one of her gold-chained necklaces as she stared vacantly up at the ceiling. Tristan was on his feet, restlessly pacing the path between the couches.
“It’s enough!” he was saying to his sister, his voice hot and wired, his hand streaking roughly through his thickly curled hair. “Damn me, Laya, but he has suffered enough for us! Now this nasty business with Baylor…leading him back to that Lost and coming to this!” Tristan gestured toward the door the others had exited from, noticing them for the first time and drawing up short. “What has happened?” he demanded, his dark eyes darting from one to the other in an attempt to read their minds from their faces. Since telepathy was not Tristan’s special skill, he was only as successful as both neutral faces allowed him to be.
“Lucidity,” Magnus offered as if he had expected nothing else. He couldn’t have been certain, everyone’s tolerance for euphoria differing, but he would have been surprised if a man of Trace’s strength and power would have permanently succumbed. He would have been grieved as well. Deeply, deeply grieved. “Karri can take this from here, Tristan. I am needed on a mission elsewhere.”
“You’re leaving the convoy? In the middle of nowhere?” Malaya spoke up quickly, sitting forward with concern. “But we need you in Elk’s Lake! What safeties will you have, going alone and without travel planning? Where are you going?”
“It is best I keep that to myself for the moment.” He made the response as if he did this sort of thing all of the time. “Don’t worry. I will do most of my traveling in the night and in Shadowscape. After so many migrations, I know the northeast safely well. I will find the houses I need. I only ask you two things. Don’t immediately tell Trace I have left. Let him rest and recover some more beforehand. Also, keep him with you here until you reach Elk’s Lake, whatever it takes—short of keeping him bound.”
“Drenna!” Tristan swore darkly. “As if we would!”
“Understand this: if you release him, Trace will flee you,” Magnus promised them. “He may be lucid and coming back to himself, but he is a man with an obsession, and this sort of devotion is hard to interfere with. Time should improve matters, as will being back around the usual demands of work and the companionship of old friends. Keep him out of Shadowscape for at least a week. To return any sooner would risk relapse. He knows this and will expect you to watch him closely, so don’t bother being subversive about it.”
“The man is anything but an idiot,” Guin remarked, “and neither are we. We know what to do.”
Sophia Townsend was a saint.
Or so the nurses at the West End Rehabilitation and Long Term Care Facility thought. She came like clockwork, every Tuesday evening, and never once had she missed one. Not even that time there had been a terrible snowstorm and even the shift nurses had been forced to stay put rather than go home. She had arrived, as always, with coffee in hand and homemade treats for the nurses. In a place like West End, at least on the LTC side of the building, visits from family members were not so regular, if they even happened at all. It usually depended on the length of time involved; the longer the coma or vegetative state, the more time between visits.
Not so with Ashla Townsend’s mother. The nurses set their watches by her, making sure her daughter was freshly bathed, dressed, and presented. Sophia arrived punctually at seven, as always, and this Tuesday night was no different. Also as always, she was dressed in perfectly tailored clothing, all freshly pressed and creased where it was required to be, and her hair swept into a smooth, taut chignon. She carried a purse on her arm, always something that coordinated and evoked compliments from other women, and flowers that she would leave in her daughter’s room until next week.
“Good evening, Mrs. Townsend,” she was greeted, smiles and warmth always awaiting her.
“Good evening, Sandra. Frannie. Jaime. Olivia, how is that baby of yours?”
“Fine. Getting big. Not so much a baby anymore,” she said wistfully.
“Oh, they are always our babies, no matter how old they get,” Sophia assured her, reaching to pat the head nurse’s hand as she slid this week’s tray of goodies onto the counter. “Apple strudel this week. I even portioned it with that new sugar substitute, cutting the sugar in it by half. This way you girls can’t accuse me of being responsible for your waistlines!”
“Oh! Mrs. Townsend, you are an angel! And we would never accuse you of anything. Thank you so much.”
“You are quite welcome.” Sophia’s eyes slid to the near hallway, her smile becoming a degree more fixed. “And how is our girl today?”
“Better. Much better. She is healing quite quickly. We still have no idea what caused her to suddenly drop into seizures like that after all this time, but thankfully the tests show nothing is traumatically wrong. I thought for sure she’d have a bleed somewhere, but the neurosurgeon says not.”
“Well, I can tell you I feel so guilty, leaving that vase by the bed. The very idea that it was a danger to her all this time…”
“Oh, no! Don’t feel that way, Mrs. Townsend, please,” Olivia begged as she came quickly around the counter to take her under a comforting arm. “There was no way any of us could expect she would knock it onto the floor and then fall out of the bed on the broken glass while seizing. It was just one of those freakish things. Certainly an accident. And anyway, we have a new one in there, except now it’s safely on the far dresser. These will look lovely in it.” Olivia reached to fondle the petal of one of the lilies. “Her cuts were almost all superficial, and she is healing, as I said. And other than some restlessness and the usual muscle spasms, she hasn’t moved a bit. No more seizures.”
“I never thought I’d be grateful for my daughter not moving,” Sophia remarked wryly. “Well, time marches forward and so must I.” She broke free of the other woman, discreetly shrugging and smoothing her suit jacket back into place. “Enjoy your treat, ladies. God bless.”
Sophia gave the nurses a little wave as she hurried into the hallway. Her heels snapped an echoing rhythm as she went, marking her steady familiarity with the route.
Her first hesitation came when she realized her daughter’s door was closed. For obvious reasons, all the doors on the floor were usually left open. Only need for privacy would alter that. However, Ashla’s nurses would have taken care of any issues like that before her arrival. She had made certain they would always know when she was coming so they could make the room bearable before her visit. Sophia despised the smell of human waste, especially the bitter sharpness of urine. She had raised enough righteous fuss in the past with the floor nurses that she no longer needed to worry about encountering such unpleasantries.
So, she was a little hesitant as she touched her hand to the door and pushed it open. The room was pitch black, she noted immediately, the only light coming from the monitor screens. Sophia reached in to fumble for the light switch, but before she could find it, someone from inside the room grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her inside the room. She squealed in natural reaction to her fear, but the sound was lost in the black privacy of the room as the door closed again at the quick urging push of a foot.
She knew she was dealing with a man instantaneously, just by the strength, size, and scent of him. She heard the creak of leather as he moved, and smelled it, too. She was a small woman, it was true, but even so she could tell he was big. Big in height and big across the shoulders as he sealed a gloved hand over her mouth and pushed her back against the closed door.
“Apologies, miss, for the drama, but I need a few questions answered. You will do this for me and I will assure you not to harm you. If you call for help, however, that will change the agreement. Are we clear?”
Sophia stared at his dimly quarter-lit face, the blue from a bedside machine catching him in a muted slash over his left eye and forehead. It was a dark eye, a serious one, and though there was no obvious menace, Sophia had no doubt that the man beyond it was very dangerous—when provoked. She nodded quickly, not at all interested in provoking him.
“Are you a nurse?” he asked as he lifted cautious fingers from her mouth. “Can you tell me about this woman?”
“I am her mother. I know everything about Ashla.”
“I doubt that, but I will settle for a few details. What happened to her?”
“A car wreck. Six people in the car, and she was the only one to survive.” Sophia glanced toward the bed where her daughter lay peacefully sleeping. She teared up, as she always did, when she thought of the accident. “My Cristine died.”
“How long ago was this?” he asked her, not even bothering to offer sympathy for her grief. This made Sophia angry, so there was bite in her reply.
“And why does she not awaken?”
“I have no idea! She had some kind of brain bleeding thing and didn’t wake up from the surgery. She won’t die and she won’t wake up, so she just lies there. Why do you want to know about some useless vegetable?”
“I don’t recall my answering questions as part of this arrangement,” he countered. “Tell me about when she was young. Tell me about the healing.”
Magnus had the mother securely held against the door, so he felt the rigidity flushing through her. He squeezed her tightly in warning.
“Don’t bother to lie or deny. I have seen it with my own eyes.”
“Is that it, then? Are you here because I spawned a demon and you think you can somehow gain use of her wicked power? I hope it died along with the rest of her cursed spirit! I hope she is walking in hell for killing my baby! I come here every week and I pray she pays for her sins!”
“Why there, hmm?” Magnus asked with speculation, the low tenor of his voice making the female fury he held trapped look at him wide-eyed. “With your Christian choices of heaven and hell, blessings and curses, good and evil, why do you take this power she has to a place of evil? In your religion, angels heal. God heals. Jesus healed. So why is Ashla not equated with them in your mind? Why do you relegate her to a dark place?”
“Because she is as dark as this room! Black as ink soaked to her soul. She can’t help it, I know! She was born a sin! She was born the daughter of the devil.” The mother sobbed with a rushing combination of honesty and drama, and Magnus was bemused by her theatrics. He had no doubt she believed every word of her convictions, but there was more to it than that. Luckily, he had the power of truth on his side. She was probably already wondering why she was saying so much to him.