Phoenix Freed, page 8
Today, at your fifth birthday, your mother had a vision.
It changed her.
A group of LexTals recruits came to the house to pay their respects. One second, introductions were being made, the next your mother had frozen. The recruit was bewildered but managed to hide most of his discomfort. I don’t remember his name, only his eyes — piercing green.
I’ve worried about Elisabeth since then, about the mysterious errands she’s had to run, the way no one else seems to recall the strangeness of the encounter.
And the fleeting glimpse of a black spot I saw on her palm.
It was gone later, my mind attributing it to a speck of dirt. Yet, I can’t shake the notion that something isn’t right.
I hope I am wrong, but if I am not, you must know the risk.
If Elisabeth is infected, you must be wary. With her powers of foresight, with her telepathic ability to modify memories, she could be the most dangerous enemy the Rengalla has ever seen.
This box is to be delivered to you on your eighteenth birthday. If something happens to me, I hope the information will be of help. Know that if there is no one else you can turn to, you can always trust Dante. He’s the best man I’ve ever known.
And know—please know—how very much I love you. I wish I could believe that I will always be there for you, but the recent reemergence of the Dalshie has made me believe that the only thing I can be certain about is that life is filled with uncertainty.
With love, forever and always,
June 30th, 1994
Daughtry’s eyes reached the end of the note and she sat back, her mind empty, her limbs limp in shock. The curse made her jump.
Her gaze shot up.
“I remember meeting you.” A shake of his head. “I remember . . .”
“What?” she asked. His tone, his mind was so wistful that she waited for his answer with baited breath.
“You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. An absolute angel,” he said, eyes unfocused, mind delving deeply into his memories. “Until you smiled. Then there was a spark of mischievousness that brought you back to earth. I remember how every instinct in my body was screaming at me to protect you, to defend the fragile innocence inside of you.”
Cold prickled down her nape, her arms. She bit her lip to stifle the questions. Cody’s mind was a jumble of thoughts and fragmented memories that he sifted through slowly.
“I knew then,” he said. His gaze came up to meet hers. “I knew our futures would be tied together from that first glimpse of your curious violet eyes. You undid me, even then. It wasn’t desire—not sexual anyway,” he added quickly. “It was more . . . a settling. As if my heart sighed and said this is what it had been waiting for.”
“But you didn’t remember me when we met.”
She could sense the direction of his thoughts though he didn’t give voice to them. Daughtry didn’t bother to be so gentle. The only way to prevent the past from separating them again was to rip off the Band-Aid and air the wounds to the world. “Do you think that’s why you hated me? Because I look like her?”
Cody searched his mind, reaching deep into recollections long hidden. “I guess it’s possible, but I don’t—I can’t remember anything else about you aside from that first meeting at your apartment, when the Dalshie had attacked you.” He shook his head. “I hardly even remember your father, though I must have interacted with him multiple times during my training.”
“Elisabeth—” Daughtry couldn’t finish the sentence. It was one thing to have her mind manipulated. To know that her mother must have screwed with the memories and emotions of countless others was an even greater travesty.
“She must have. The ‘errands’ from the note were probably her way of ensuring that we didn’t bond.” He sighed. “She certainly seemed incredulous about it when she found out while posing as Caroline.”
“Why would she care?” Daughtry asked. “Bonding is a good thing, was almost totally lost altogether for the Rengalla. Why wouldn’t she be happy to know it was coming back?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I would have thought it was because I was a Null, because my powers didn’t work right. But I don’t think she cared about that. Or at least not just that. By the time I met you my powers functioned well enough for me to pass the entrance requirements for the LexTals.”
Daughtry processed that for a moment and decided that she agreed. “And anyway who cares if it was about your magic? So what if your path to your powers was different? You’re whole.”
A bloom of emotions swelled across the bond: frustration, hope, anger, affection. But at her last words, that all faded away, love descending in place of the whirling feelings.
“I am,” he said, cupping her cheek. “Finally, I am.”
“How long have you been a LexTal anyway?” Daughtry asked Cody a few minutes later. She knelt next to him, watching as he worked to settle the items back into the crate. Her assumption had always been that he’d joined right after coming to the Colony in the 1940s. But if he was just a recruit when she was five—
“Over twenty years,” he said. “I finished my training less than a year after that party.”
He tugged on her ponytail and smiled. “I had to work my way up the ranks, same as anyone else.”
There was a blip of a memory, a slight surge of emotion over their link. “But not quite like anyone else, right?” Another tick along the bond. “No, I bet you had to prove yourself three times over.”
“It made sense. My powers weren’t reliable, I—”
“You’re important, Cody. The best fighter I’ve ever seen. So what if your magic isn’t perfect?”
Anger swelled in her, hot and boiling. Why did everyone discount him so easily? He wasn’t some guy hanging on the shirttails of the rest of the LexTals. He was a warrior and a great one at that—
“Daughtry.” Cody waited until she met his eyes. “We fight with magic. Why take on the guy who has to kill with a sword or gun when a strand of magic can take out a half dozen Dalshie? No,” he said when her mouth opened to interrupt. “I had to find a way to prove myself, to make myself invaluable despite my powers. It doesn’t matter how long it took, what’s important is that I did.”
She poked him in the chest. “I don’t like when you act like you’re not good enough.”
“Ditto,” he said. His hands dropped to her shoulders, rounding to her nape as they rubbed away the tension there. “But we all have our crosses to bear.”
“You’re not funny,” she said.
“So why are you smiling?”
“Shut up.” Daughtry’s knees were aching from kneeling on the floor so she started to stand.
“Wait.” Cody grabbed her hand and tugged her to him. Closing her eyes to soak in the warm comfort of his body against hers, she started when a weight settled around her throat.
Her father’s necklace.
The charm was heavier that she expected, larger than the violet flower pendant Cody had bought for her a few months before. That necklace had been incinerated the first time her powers had flared out of control.
She hoped that wasn’t a sign of how her luck would be with future jewelry.
“Do you think it’s okay?” she asked. She wasn’t a LexTal, wasn’t even part of the lower military that it had taken Cody so long to work his way through.
“I think it’s perfect,” he said, touching his fingertip to her collarbone before standing.
“Thank you,” she murmured as he helped her up then gestured to the stacks of crates around them. “God, Cody. The dresses, the artifacts, they’re incredible. The Smithsonian would kill for a collection like this.”
“Minus the sweatbands,” he said, nodding to the slightly musty smelling wristbands sitting near the open 80’s box.
“Yes.” Daughtry rolled her eyes. “Minus
Cody started to put the lid back on the crate in front of them. “Didn’t you feel the air come out when we opened them?”
“There was power holding the contents in suspension.” He grabbed her hand and brought it to an unopened box on the shelf behind them. “See? Try to grab something from the outside.”
Her fingers found the gap in the wooden slats of the crate, tried to press through the opening and grab the slip of fabric she could see peeking out. But the container might as well have been flat and strong as steel. No matter how much force she used, her fingers couldn’t breach the barrier surrounding the box.
“But how were we able to open them?”
“I haven’t seen this exact setup before, but Dante has a box in his office that only opens when it’s on the floor. The shield is made of compressed air or something and it can sense gravity. Once it’s on the ground, he can pull off the top.”
“That would be good if there were an earthquake.”
“True,” he said, laughter trickling over the bond. “But Kansas isn’t exactly the earthquake capital of the world.”
“Hilarious,” she muttered. But the easy manner with which Cody answered her questions made her realize how much their relationship had grown over the past few days. Another piece of the armor she’d been shielding her heart with fell away. It should have been terrifying, making that much of her soul vulnerable again. It wasn’t.
She was strong. She was loved.
The future, the present was more important than the past.
"Cowgirl." It was the whisper of a thought and yet all the more powerful because in those seven letters was a sheer breadth of emotions. His fingers brushed back her bangs and he leaned in to kiss her forehead.
After a moment, he sat back and said, “Can you put the lids on those two? I’ll do my best to shield this one.”
“You sure we should be messing with them?”
“I’ll just do my best to replicate what was there. Later, I’ll bring Francis back to make sure it’s right.”
Daughtry nodded then walked down the aisle, stopping periodically to put the tops back on the crates.
“Do you think we should open them all and look for the Orb?”
“I think we’d probably better have a starting point,” he said. “And then worst case, open them all.”
Considering there were hundreds of boxes, she figured that was a good suggestion.
“Unless one is calling out to you in particular?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. The only one I was drawn to was my parents’.”
He nodded and Daughtry the hairs on her arms prickled as Cody called on his magic. She turned to watch the emerald strands of his magic burst from his palms. They descended on the first box, twining around it like a ball of thread.
After a moment, he lifted the box and set it on the shelf before proceeding down the aisle to seal the other open containers.
“Do you think Francis knows about this place?” she asked after he’d finished.
A shrug, emerald eyes flicking to hers then away as he returned the remaining crates. “Probably.”
Daughtry frowned. “So why haven’t we asked him about the Orb?”
Cody went still for a moment. “I—” He shook his head, disbelief coursing across the bond. “I don’t know why we haven’t.”
Because they hadn’t had time.
They’d been too wrapped up in Tyler, in the Forgotten, in her coping with the fact that her mother was basically the worst creature on the planet.
With a sigh, she turned away, her subconscious nagging her that she was missing something, that there was something here she needed to find. But as she walked up and down the aisles, nothing drew her attention.
“Dammit,” she muttered.
“What is it?” Cody asked.
“Not nothing.” He crossed to her and tapped her temple. “Your little tornado of thoughts may be a tangled knot and too tightly wound for me to read, but it’s definitely not nothing.”
“It’s just that when I saw all of the crates, I thought we might find the Orb.”
But she’d seen nothing more than books, jewelry, clothes.
She supposed the Orb could be hidden amongst the items, but her gut was just telling her it wasn’t.
It was also telling her she was missing something.
But what? What wasn’t she seeing?
“We’ll find it.” He touched her front pocket—where she’d stashed the note from her father. “This is more important.”
Evidence that Elisabeth’s betrayal went back decades.
“No,” Cody said, gripping her chin when she would have dropped her gaze to the floor. “No. This”—he tapped the pocket again—“is the proof that you’ve been craving. Your father loved you. Focus on that.”
A breath shuddered through her. “I’ll try.”
“Is this where I say, There is no try?“ he asked.
Her lips curved. “Nerd,” she teased.
“True,” he said. “Now let’s go and try to blow our way out of this joint.”
Daughtry watched Cody try all four elements of magic to get them out.
Since the wall seemed to be made of stacked stones, he tried earth first. Green strands crawled along the floor, crept up the rocks, carrying with them dust and cobwebs.
Francis had once described magic to her as like begets like. Since Cody was drawing on earth, it also attracted the components of earth that were present nearby.
Cody could use all four elements, but when he called on a single one alone, he was able to transform things specifically from that element. In this case—using earth—everything manipulated and attracted to the emerald magic came from the ground.
Or normally that was the case.
Because this time Cody ended up with a still solid wall, a pile of dirt, and very grimy hands.
Next he tried air, forcing a ball of the gases that surrounded them into a stiff plane that he pushed against the wall.
Nothing happened. Well, nothing except that he was making her have a really bad hair day.
Water seemed like it would work, the stream Cody had managed to summon running through the grout lines of the stones, absorbing into the wall—
Until it evaporated into wisps of steam.
He was noticeably more delicate with fire. For good reason. When the small flame he directed at the wall didn’t even blacken one stone, he extinguished the flames altogether.
She had watched the process in silence, amazed by the breadth of his skills, at how far the man whose magic had been so inconsistent just months before had come.
“My magic is always more reliable when you’re near.”
That made her pause for a moment, wonder if he was still safe when she wasn’t glued to his side.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said, coming over to her. She sensed him call up some water along the bond. It appeared in his cupped palms and he scrubbed his hands together before rubbing them on his jeans. “I spent a long time without functioning powers, and so I tend not to rely on them as much.”
But he also tired easily. Well, magic-wise.
Not having trained that so-called mental muscle, using his powers exhausted him more quickly than the typical Rengalla. Which is why he had needed Suz’s help in healing Tyler. and why now his skin was the slightest bit shiny from sweat. He gleamed like a freaking golden Adonis in the low light, making the area just below her belly button flutter in anticipation. It wasn’t like she hadn’t wanted him when they had been separated—she’d always found him attractive. It had just been all of the other garbage between them that had stifled her desires.
With things between them improving, her desire was tangible, almost oppressive, and even just looking a
Parts she wanted him to revisit.
“Here.” He plunked his phone into her hand.
“What?” She blinked, her mind on a completely different track.
His words were whispered into her ear and sent a bolt of heat straight between her thighs. “I know.” A nip on her jaw. “Which is why you’re going to call John.”
“I—” Her lungs felt tight, her tongue dry.
“Because if you don’t then I’m going to take you right on the floor. Then the shelves. The wall.” His voice was gravel, sandpaper across her skin. It shot her desire into the stratosphere.
When she turned, his lips were close. It would take the smallest movement to close that gap.
He leaned back. “Not here. Not amongst the spider webs and dirt.”
Her feet moved of their own volition. “I don’t care.”
“I do.” His hands gripped her shoulders, stalling her movements.
The phone clattered to the floor, skittering across the stones and underneath one row of shelving.
That snapped her out of her fog of desire. “Oh God,” she said. “What if it’s broken?”
“It’ll be fine.” Cody walked over to the shelf and peered beneath the rack.
A breath whistled between her teeth because—sweet Christ—that man had an ass like—
He turned around.
Walked around to the other side. “Even if it’s broken, we’ll be fine.”
“Fine?” she asked, forcing herself to focus. Because as much as she wanted to devour Cody’s body, they both needed food to survive. And a bathroom. She would probably need a bathroom. Soon. “We’ll be stuck!”
“We were stuck before.” He rose and crossed to her.
“That was before you didn’t know how to get out.”
“Hey. Shh.” His arms wrapped around her. “It’ll be okay.”
Shoving him away, she jogged to the shelf then dropped to her knees.
Cody followed and knelt beside her. His thigh pressed against hers, his hand sweeping down to cup her ass. “Stop it,” she muttered, reaching for the phone. His palm was hot through the denim of her jeans and all too distracting.