It was finally time. Molly’s mom had been held captive for over two months while we tried to pry information from her. Unfortunately, Elaine wasn’t the fount of knowledge we had hoped she’d be. I looked over to where she sat, all prim and proper as though her world wasn’t about to be completely upended. The lack of remorse in her eyes sickened me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t understand how Elaine could so dispassionately slay Seers, betray her daughter, and feel nothing akin to regret. Something in her had broken at some point. Maybe Molly had been right, maybe it had been when she lost her husband. No matter what she’d gone through, I couldn’t excuse what she’d done. Not to Molly, not to the Seers, and not to me.
“Izzy, the time is upon us.” Aberto’s solemn voice startled me out of my reverie.
“Alright, I’m ready.” I stood and walked to the center of the platform, the same one used during my protection mark ceremony only months before. I rooted myself in place, gathering my courage as I thought of the ceremony that was about to take place. Elaine would be stripped of her powers for the rest of her long life, something that wasn’t to be done lightly.
“I call the Council to order.” My voice echoed through the massive group. Aberto nodded his head almost imperceptibly, encouraging me to continue. “We are gathered to strip the Betrayer of her Gifts. She has forsaken all that our people hold to be true. Elaine has turned her back against her fellow Seers and walked the path of darkness. For this, she shall be stripped of her powers and be banished from the Order forever. There will be no shelter from Seer nor Guardian found. From this day forward she shall be nothing more than a memory in our collective.”
Aberto turned toward Elaine, leveling her with his gaze. “Do you wish to say anything before we begin?”
“You think you know what is coming. You think you know where the threat lies. Everyone here is going to die.” Elaine’s maniacal laughter sent chills rushing down my spine. Her words only reinforced the fears that had been building since we’d captured her months ago. “Oh, and Izzy, you can’t hide forever.” As I looked into Elaine’s eyes, I finally understood. No sanity remained there. Whoever she’d once been was there no more.
Elaine smiled at me, ready to incite more fear at any moment. In a split second, Aberto rushed toward her, wrapping his hand around her mouth violently to cut off her unsaid words. Violently pulling her head back he whispered in her ear, “We will hear no more, Betrayer.” He leveled her with his stony gaze. I had only been on the receiving end of that look a few times. It made my knees shake just thinking about it. For a second, I almost felt sorry for Elaine. Aberto could be truly frightening when he wanted to be.
“Let us begin.” Aberto tossed Elaine’s head roughly to the side and moved to retrieve his tattoo implements. He pulled out a stylus and moved towards her body. Her face was an immovable mask as he approached her. Not a trace of remorse shone behind her eyes. He placed the stylus against her skin and made the first mark.
Elaine’s scream tore through the crowd, sending a shockwave that reverberated against everything in its path. For a moment, I wondered if we were doing the right thing. Surely there had to be some other way to keep her from using her powers. Just as the thought danced across my mind, I remembered Ren and everyone else that had perished because of this woman’s selfishly callous behavior. She deserved a far worse fate than the one that had been decided upon. If it were up to Molly, she would already be dead.
I scanned the crowd looking for Molly. Things had been in such upheaval since this all began that I’d hardly had any time to spend with her. I wanted more than anything to be by her side right now. But, I had a place. I was the leader of the Council now and that meant I was not at the liberty to follow my own whims any longer, a lesson I’d learned the hard way only weeks before. My life no longer belonged to me. Molly sent a sad smile in my direction and turned her attention back to where her mother sat, still screaming bloody murder. Someone should shove a sock down the woman’s throat. I was getting sick of hearing her yelps.
I watched Aberto as he moved around her marking her so that she would be unable to use her powers. He muttered words both foreign and familiar as he carved into her skin. These marks were not the beautiful ones he had bestowed upon my body. They were crude lines that gouged into her skin so deeply there was no doubting their permanence. He looked up to catch my eyes momentarily before turning back to his work.
The look in his eyes in that moment spoke volumes. Ever since he’d life breathed me, or whatever the hell he’d done, we shared a weird connection. I was always cognizant of his presence and whenever we were near one another, I found myself drawn closer to him. I rationalized that it was just the part of his spirit living within me that called to him. Yep, that was it. His soul inside of me longed to be back with its other half. That was my story, and I was sticking to it.
“NOOOOOOOOO!” Elaine’s scream snapped me back to the present, just as another shockwave ripped through the gathered Council members, Seers and Guardians. An audible snap sounded that left no doubt about what had just happened. Elaine’s powers were gone. “Just kill me.” She whimpered.
I saw Molly start toward the stage. She’d been trying to kill her mom ever since Ian had brought her back from the old factory. Before she even made it a step from her seat, Ian pulled her back and whispered something in her ear. She sat rigid in her seat clenching and unclenching her fists. I drew her attention and shook my head slightly. I wouldn’t have her doing something that she would regret the rest of her life. No matter how mad she was at the woman, she was still her mother.
“Elaine, you will find no refuge from our kind from this day forward. You will live the rest of your very long life alone in the world of humanity. Perhaps, in this new life you will find some way to atone for your betrayal.” Aberto leaned close to her ear and whispered the rest. “May your judgment be swift and merciless. May the rest of your days upon this earth be a torment, for you deserve no less.”
With that, Aberto poofed. I still didn’t really know how he did it. One second he was there, then the next, gone. He would make an excellent magician. Perhaps we could raise money for the Council that way. “The Amazing Aberto,” it could work. It would be an excellent Vegas show. I shook myself from my thoughts and looked back at the crowd. Time to be the leader.
“The Division will remove Elaine from the grounds. They will place her in a suitable home, far from here. No one shall seek her out, none shall provide her with comfort. If anyone is found disobeying this directive, they will also be stripped of their abilities. We have been called to a higher purpose. We are meant to provide stability in a world that is lost to chaos. While it may seem more appealing to use our gifts in a way that will bring us fame or fortune, that is not what we were made to do. Our lives are meant to be lives of service and sacrifice. If you feel you are not up to fulfilling this task, I am sure the Old One can return and strip you of your powers as well. A darkness is coming people, and we must pull ourselves together and fight. There will be no refuge for traitors within this Council.” I eyed everyone in the crowd steadily, I wanted to see if there was a weak link that I’d missed. I was truly tired of being blindsided.
The gathered crowd stared back at me. Their expressions were part horror, part pride. Two months ago I would have balked at the responsibility that now rested upon my shoulders. Now, I would be damned if I let anyone else be hurt. I’d grown tired of losing everyone I held dear; of watching people die and being powerless to stop it. Enough was enough, and I was determined to put an end to whatever darkness was coming. No matter what the cost may be.
“It is finished, you are free to go.” I watched as they moved back toward the house. Only the four Council members remained. The last four people I wanted anywhere near me at the moment.
I’d been doing my durndest to hide the changes that were happening within me. It had started with my eyes. Right after Aberto had breathed part of his soul into me, my eyes became this churning miasma of blue and hazel. They never quite settled on one color or another. Luckily, only the people I truly trusted had seen them before I started to wear contacts. It wasn’t exactly a natural thing I was experiencing. In fact, I was the first person that had ever been saved by an Old One. No one really knew what was going to happen to me. Each day, things changed a little bit more, and never at a time that would be convenient. Like yesterday, I accidentally eavesdropped on Ian as he mentally undressed Molly. Not something I wanted to ever see again, that’s for sure.
“Milady, we have some questions if you are at the leisure to answer them.” One of the Council members, I think her name was Damali. Her skin was a beautifully dark tan denoting her Arabic descent. She was utterly stunning. I still wasn’t used to these people answering to me. After all, they had been around far longer than I had, and they probably expected to ascend to Council Leader when Isadora passed on.
“I have nothing else going on, would ya’ll like to go to the office and discuss your questions? I think it might be more comfortable.” As the words left my mouth, I realized I’d just pulled an Isadora. I had posed a question that really left no room for argument. They would come, of that I was sure.
“That would be lovely.” Damali’s Guardian bellowed. I was convinced that the man was physically incapable of speaking at a normal decibel. Every word out of his mouth threatened to burst my ear drums. I wondered if anyone had ever told him about his voice modulation problem.
“If you would follow me.” Kennan stepped forward pulling me from my mental inquisition in the process.
As we moved toward the office I thought about my Guardian, the man I loved. Things had been, in a word, tense between us. I hated it. There was a rift between us ever since I started to change. It wasn’t exactly like I could fix this. I didn’t ask for Aberto to breathe his life force into me and save me. In reality, the changes just made it abundantly clear that our old life could no longer exist. It was something I’d accepted months ago. He had not.
We moved into the office and sat down to discuss whatever questions the Council had. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be that close to them. Hiding my new talents, and freakish physical changes, was not exactly easy.