Illusions: Paranormal Shapeshifter Romance (The Seekers Book 1), page 4
Until now Sera had tried, alone, to advance her skills, as Hedy recommended so often; she practiced her rune-craft daily and focused her mind on internal magic, attempting to move objects, to read minds, to see the world through the eyes of others. And she’d even begun to exhibit signs of transmutation and object-morphing: on occasion she had managed to switch around items on her desk, substituting a quill for a spool of thread. She could even alter the composition of some objects; turn liquids to solids and back again. But these were novelty tricks, and she might need an arsenal to take on the men of the Guild.
It took all her strength just to accomplish her few meagre tasks, and when all was said and done she generally collapsed, exhausted from her exertion. All of this to seek to prove that she could do it—with or without the Bonding, she had the skills. It was only a matter of honing them.
* * *
After leaving her sister to her restful sleep, the rune tucked securely under her pillow, Sera returned to the kitchen where Nyx was scurrying about, no doubt hunting mice. She sat down on a chair and watched the ferret run, laughing at his movements, for a moment forgetting her worries. He reminded her often of a snake—one with legs and fur, but a snake nonetheless—it was as though his back could bend into any shape whatsoever, his spine as flexible as a strand of hair.
One skill that Serafina had attempted several times in past, but always without success, was called Transference. She tried on occasion to get into her Familiar’s head and to see the world from his vantage point. The Crones could do it, flying about with the eyes of birds or running through the woods, fast as cheetahs, depending on what sort of Familiar accompanied them. But Sera had never managed yet to enter Nyx’s mind, to use him in that way. Either their bond wasn’t strong enough or it was her own mind that failed her.
She tried now, closing her eyes as she pictured the lithe creature sprinting around corners, his head tucked into a small hole in the wall.
For a moment, she thought she saw the clear image of a mouse scurrying ahead in the dark, a trail of crumbs and splintered bits of wood on the ground around him. And then she knew that she was seeing Nyx’s point of view, from an inch or so above the floor as he studied his potential prey. His eyes were hers, his vision transferred successfully.
She opened her eyes and looked down towards the hole in the wall. Indeed, the ferret’s whole, long body stuck out from the opening, only his face tucked into the small chasm. The vision had only lasted a second, but it seemed that she had transferred successfully for the first time.
“Nyx,” Sera said, “I think I did it! Did you feel that? I was inside your mind.”
The ferret extracted his head from the hole and ran at her, springing up her leg and onto her lap, his eyes fixed on hers as though to say, “What the hell did you just do to me?”
She patted his head. “I’m sorry. You nearly had him and I spoiled it for you.”
The Familiar let out a quiet chirp of reprimand.
“Yes, dear, you’re right. Go back to your fun,” said Sera. “I’m going to clean up.”
When Nyx had run off, Sera stood, her hands pulling dishes towards the white bowl that served as a sink. Its water was murky, useless for cleaning, and as she stared into it, speaking a few words, it cleared, transparent as the freshest spring water. Steam began to rise from its hot surface under her gaze.
“Well, that’s a fairly useless skill,” she said out loud. “But at least I’m damn good at it.”
As she scrubbed the few dirty bowls, she looked out the window towards the woods, thanking the goddess or whomever was responsible for the beautiful day outside. The sky was deep blue, the air fresh, and the leaves were beginning to change colour to rich reds, yellows and orange. The sunlight reflecting off the leaves gave them the appearance of small, hot flames, flickering in the breeze.
It was as Sera’s eyes moved away from the treetops and down to the field surrounding the village that she noticed the large man making his way directly towards the houses—no—her house.
He was dressed in a linen tunic and leather pants, and his eyes shone like fire, alert, intense under a lock of thick brown hair that fell over his forehead. He appeared to be staring at her through the window, and Sera felt herself go hot, as though every inch of her skin were turning pink at once.
This was no local man. But who—what—was he?
“Nyx,” she called. “Come to me.” The ferret immediately sprang over, leaping up and onto her shoulder.
Moments later, a knock sounded at the door.
The voice coming from inside the house was that of a woman, frightened. But to her credit, attempting to sound antagonistic and threatening.
“Who are you?”
Rohan had seen her standing at the window. He knew she’d seen him too, and that she must no doubt felt threatened by such a large male showing up on her doorstep; any sane woman would. He would need to approach with caution in order to avoid frightening her further.
“Avon calling,” he said, employing a phrase that he recalled from modern day studies.
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Oh, right. In that case, my name is Rohan, and I’ve come to introduce myself to you.”
A moment later, the door opened. The woman he’d first seen from the edge of the woods stood before him, even more beautiful close up. Her skin was all the conceivable variations of peaches and cream, a few freckles dotted across her cheeks. Her eyes were large, bluish-green, keenly intelligent and bright. Kind, as well, though she was doing her best to look irritated with him for invading her space.
And what was he to say?
Hello, I come from another century. I saw you while I was stalking you from the woods and this will sound strange, but I think that you and I are meant to mate. I mean, not just us, but with another man as well—you know, a threesome. I realize we’ve never spoken to one another, but if you could see what was happening in my pants right now, you’d realize that conversation is unnecessary.
“Men are not generally allowed in this village,” said the woman, her tone hostile. “I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
“I…I’m sorry. I didn’t know that. I say, did you know that there’s a rodent attached to your neck?” asked Rohan, punching himself internally for the idiotic question. Of course she knew. It had been there all day, as far as he could tell, and the thing weighed significantly more than a mosquito.
“I’m well aware,” she said. “Now please tell me your purpose here and then go.”
I came to meet you. I came to meet you.
“Well, you see, I’m new to the area…to put it mildly. I was wondering if you could tell me about available land.”
“To purchase.” He held up a small pouch which apparently contained money.
“There is land around the town of Salem proper. You’ll find more of your kind there,” said the woman, her hand moving to close the door. “Go talk to them.”
“Wait,” said Rohan, thrusting his palm out to stop her. The expression on the woman’s face was one of proper, simple fear now; his act had been a little too aggressive. He pulled the hand away. “I’m sorry. Listen—I’m new to this. And clearly I can’t just ask you to a movie, like they do in another time and place.”
“You see, that’s what I’m saying. I would like to talk to you, and I’m not sure how men around here approach ladies such as yourself.”
“Why would you want to talk to me? You don’t know me.”
“Because I…I saw you and I find you interesting.” To put it very mildly.
“I’m afraid that there is nothing interesting about me, sir.”
“I beg to differ,” said Rohan, leaning against the door frame. “You see, there’s the way that you move. The way that your body advances through the tall grass so gracefully, your eyes looking up at the sky as though you’re wondering what exactly lies a
No one had ever spoken to her like this. Perhaps it was that Sera had been prevented all her life from speaking to men, or perhaps it was that this particular man was unique, special. He was direct and sincere, and so bloody charming. His words should have made her slam the door in his face; after all they were incredibly forward. But instead she found herself flushing, her eyes moving to her feet as they shuffled a little on the floor below.
“How long were you looking at me?” she asked.
“Long enough, and yet not nearly long enough,” he said. “I would have watched you all day, had I had the patience to do so before coming to speak to you. It’s difficult to explain and we don’t know each other, my Lady.” With the last word Sera pulled her chin up and looked him in the eye.
“My Lady?” she asked. “Why did you say that?”
“Where I come from it’s a title of respect, of reverence. I wouldn’t call you anything else.”
She smiled for a moment. He really was a strange sort: unusual, beautiful. Perfect. And she needed to stop speaking to him that instant or she would continue admiring him in this unseemly way.
“I’m afraid that I can’t help you,” she said, her tone once again set in a deliberate coldness.
With that, she pushed the door shut, and Rohan stepped back.
Maybe she was playing hard to get. He’d heard about that tactic.
Who am I kidding? he asked himself. This woman wanted nothing to do with him. And his attraction to her had clearly been a purely superficial one; the biological urge to make contact. But even the most desperate of men didn’t want a woman who seemed to find him repugnant. He turned and walked away.
Instead of making his way back to the woods, though, Rohan wandered towards the house next door, curious to learn about this small community that apparently consisted solely of women. Something about it seemed unsafe; who would protect them, after all?
Then again, his sister was in no need of protection—if they were like her, they’d be just fine. But that was the thing: they weren’t like her. Not in the least. These women weren’t shifters, and the one who’d answered the door had smelled…well, she’d smelled like all sorts of things: lavender, savoury spices, fresh morning grass. She exuded a oneness with nature that he couldn’t quite explain.
A voice came from in front of him, in the direction of the small house that he now faced. As he looked up he saw that an older woman with long grey braids stood at its front, doing something to the casing around its windows with a pot of clay and a small sort of wooden spatula.
“Hello,” he said as he approached.
“What are you doing in these parts?” the woman asked, seemingly unconcerned.
“Visiting, I suppose you’d say,” he offered. “That’s as simple a reply as I can give. Can I help you with that?”
“If you’d hold this plank, I need to fasten it in place.”
She offered him a chunk of crudely cut wood to suspend just under the glass of the window and turned to grab a handful of iron nails.
Rohan held up the wood, angling it so that it cut off any potential flow of air to the indoors as the woman began to hammer it into place.
“I see that you’ve done this before,” she said.
“Not exactly. I grew up in a stone…house,” he said, avoiding the revelation that his childhood home had been a giant castle in England. “But I’ve seen a lot of builders at work. I’m good at imitation.”
“I can tell by your accent that you come from over the sea,” she said. “We don’t see so many of your kind around here, you know, and those we do see aren’t generally friendly.”
“Those with bright eyes,” she said, turning to him as she wiped perspiration from her brow with the back of her arm. “The Changers.”
* * *
Sera watched the man leave as Nyx made soft, disappointed noises in her ear, chirping like a cat watching a bird outdoors that it wanted to catch.
“He’s not for us, Nyx,” she said. “I’m happy here, alone. Well, not alone. I have you and Circe.”
“Yes. I know that Circe will eventually bond, and probably move out at some point. But for now she needs me. Don’t you go trying to set me up with strange men, just because they have eyes like flame and, well, bodies that are admittedly a little beautiful.”
The ferret turned on her shoulder, slapping her face with his tail.
She stood and watched as the man made his way towards Hedy’s house. He did look good going, but then he’d looked awfully good coming, too.
Hedy was still out front, and as Sera observed, the two struck up a conversation, the man helping her with her handiwork. After a few moments they both turned and looked towards Sera’s house. They were clearly speaking about her.
She ducked, hitting her forehead on the edge of the table and letting out a soft yelp.
“Everything all right in there, Sera?” asked Circe from the next room.
“Fine, fine. Just being clumsy and oafish as always.”
Obsidian flew out of the bedroom and perched on the back of a chair, and Sera knew that this was her sister’s way of checking in. Circe had always been gifted in the ways of Transference, and the eyes of the raven, Sera knew, were her sister’s in that moment.
“I’m fine,” she said quietly, laughing. “Circe, a man came by.”
“What?” her sister called from the next room.
Sera wandered in to see her sitting up in bed, a broad smile on her face.
“Lie down,” she commanded. “What on earth are you doing?”
“I’m feeling much better, I really am.”
Serafina studied her. The colour had returned to her cheeks, the beads of sweat disappeared. She looked…normal.
“It worked,” Sera muttered. “Well, I’m stunned.”
“What worked? Did you—Sera, did you use a healing stone?”
“I did.” Sera sat on the edge of the bed, pressing the back of her hand to her sister’s forehead. “And I actually think it did its job.”
“You’re coming into your powers. You really are.” Circe couldn’t stop smiling. “But I don’t even care about that. Tell me about the man.”
“He came from the woods.”
“Well, that’s not entirely surprising. Everything around here comes from the woods.”
“Fair enough. He’s large. And he dresses…oddly. And his eyes…”
“Like fire and brimstone. Many colours combined. Unreadable.”
“You don’t think…” began Circe.
“Don’t think what?”
“That he’s one of the Guild.”
“No. I don’t. He was alone, for one thing. They say that the Guild moves in packs, like wolves.”
“True. I wonder who he is, then.”
“I don’t know. But I felt as though he was here for a reason. He was looking for me. He wanted to talk to me, specifically.”
“Sera. Why didn’t you invite him in?”
“Because he’s a man. The question answers itself. You know that I have no interest in men.”
“Something tells me in no uncertain terms that you had interest in that one. I know you, remember.”
“Fine, he may have been moderately interesting. But I’m not in the market for interesting males.”
“Sera,” said her sister, taking her hand. “You have always wanted to enhance your powers. And if you bonded…”
“I will bond only with the person chosen for me by the Crones,” she said. “Not with some random stranger who shows up on our doorstep.”
* * *
“My name is Rohan,” the young man said a
“My name is Hedy. And I know because I know. It’s my business to be aware of powers beyond this world.”
“Are you telling me that you’re what they call a…”
“Don’t say the word,” laughed the woman. “Don’t you even think it. Its very use is foolishness being spread by a few power-hungry lads in the territory who seek to keep us—the Sisterhood—in check while they steal innocent women from their homes.”
“Who are these men? And where do I find them?”
“They are known as the Guild. They tear young women from their homes and use them for their own gain. The townsfolk—the Simple Ones, we call them—they think it’s all about religion and politics. Well, they’re partly correct. But it’s not what they think.”
“And what do you know about me?” asked Rohan.
“I know that you are strong. That you have powers that we could only dream about. And that you don’t come from this time. And I know that you have seen the lovely Serafina, and that you would like to make her yours. But Serafina and the other young Aspirants don’t know about your kind, about your Rituals or what you’re capable of. And I would prefer to keep it that way.”
Serafina. So that was her name. An apt name for such a beautiful woman.
“I can’t deny that I find her attractive.”
“Well, you should know that men aren’t allowed here, in the village. The Sisterhood is very firm about the rule.”
“So you’re telling me to stay away from her, then?”
“I’m telling you that I don’t need to do that; she’ll let you know herself, if she hasn’t already. Sera is also very strict about the rules; too strict, if you ask me. But if you would help me with these confounded windows, I could make an exception and allow you to visit me on occasion.”
“I would help you,” he said. “I’ll do my best, at any rate. Meanwhile, though, I assume that I can’t stay with you?”
Hedy lowered her chin, looking up at Rohan as though to say, “Are you nuts?”
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