Deep Red, Chapter Four
January 6, 1704: Jack is the only one who seems to be defying the marriage and breeding laws. He uses his warrior’s cause as an excuse and is at the front of every fight with the Residents … April 4, 1706: Largely due to Jack’s skill and magic, we won the first battles against what we are now calling Mirrors–as they mimic the best parts of us, in spite of their deformities–but we still lost many of our kind. Jack also seems to believe that his prowess as a warrior entitles him to take liberties with some of the Otherworld women amongst our ranks. This would not be a problem if some of the women were not already married and trying to conceive legitimate children. Due to my theories regarding the breeding potential for our kind, Jack is sure to avoid coupling with volemic women … May 24, 1708: More battles are to come, but Victoria has improved the manipulation of her containment field. She has begun to experiment with its use as a weapon, as most volemics have done with their new magic. Having gifts, however, is small comfort when we must all be unwilling soldiers in a war we had not anticipated … February 27, 1710: I have had a son, Benjamin, and my wolf wife is with child again. While I have the benefit of being one of the few respected men from the Otherworld, I know how difficult it is to be male in our culture. I see some hope, however, in this new reality. The men seem to rule here. Nonetheless, the order in this reality has not changed how our culture works….
excerpts from The Diary of Walker Shinab, 1704-1710, trans. by Jonah Shinab, 1849
After the man in the parking lot cut off the oxygen to her brain, Marlo began falling into a recurring dream. She stood in the middle of a clearing. Outside of the clearing, beyond the trees, nothing existed but negative space. The trees swayed in a breeze she couldn’t feel, and the leaves looked like a child’s watercolor. She felt something waiting out there in the darkness. Something bad. She closed her eyes, and the moss beneath her feet became cold cement. When she opened her eyes again, she was in a tunnel. Dread burned in her gut as she tried to keep her breath quiet. Something was hunting her. She felt a hand on hers, the hand of her savior. She never saw him, but he was always there, a safe presence in a place of fear and madness.
Before the dream could play out further, Marlo opened her eyes to a blinding white light. She licked her cracked lips and tried to move her limbs without success. “She’s awake,” someone said. A rush of euphoria swept over her, and she fell asleep again.
The next time she awoke, she felt the movement of her legs and arms against the sheets of a comfortable bed as sunlight poured through a large window. She cringed at the brightness and looked at the digital clock beside her bed. 9:00. She pulled back the covers and saw she was wearing a hospital gown. Patches of dried blood marked her arms and legs. She felt her head, and the blood-matted curls were untouched. Why would they leave her this way?
She pushed herself to a sitting position, and, while the anticipated aches from her fall were absent, her head throbbed in the presence of the unrelenting sun. Her eyes had never been this sensitive before. The sun and other elements were friends to kindred. It’s where they derived much of their power. She reasoned that whatever the human put in her drink must have given her this wicked hangover. A hangover minus any other effects but photosensitivity? Marlo tensed. The voice had clung on during her sleep. And it was still annoying. She conceded that her body had none of the flu-like symptoms she once experienced after a bender, but was willing to give little else. She decided to adopt a mental resistance to her present reality and, instead, went to close the curtains.
As she yanked the cloth together, she cringed. The clacking of the metal sounded about a hundred times louder what she expected. Although the decibel level did not approach pain, the voice nagged at her again. And sound sensitivity?
Her eyes adjusted to the now-dark, quiet room as she walked around trying to orient herself. If the man who accosted her was Counsel, then she should be in an Otherworld prison and not a warm, clean room. And what was the light she saw earlier and who was the person talking? Why was she wearing a hospital gown? A second glance at her new cell revealed a bathroom. Marlo still had little idea of what happened or what would happen when she stepped out of the room but decided she would rather go into her inevitable punishment with a clean body, since a clean conscience was impossible.
In the bathroom, she pulled off the hospital gown and then nearly heaved at the sight of a thick coat of red on her skin. It reminded her of the time she and her brother Isaak had created a mud pit in their back yard and covered themselves head to toe in the brown mess.
When they had tried to go back into their grandmother Lucy’s clean house, she yelled at them. “I raised you better than this! Clean yourselves off before coming inside. Every inch!” As Marlo turned away from the door, she had heard Lucy mutter, “What human non-sense.” Marlo had blushed, which squeezed the drying mud so it pinched. Her eyes welled up, but before they could release their usual stream of frustrated tears, Isaak had turned the hose on her full blast.
“How dare you have fun like those mangy humans!?” Isaak had mimicked in a shrill voice. Marlo had laughed and let him spray her off. She always wished for his composure, his freedom from Lucy’s judgment. She tried to call on his strength now as she stepped in the shower, and tried not to think what Lucy would think about her when she found out about the dead soldier.
What Marlo couldn’t get off with scalding water, soap and a loofa, she scraped away with her red-caked nails. Flashes of shredding flesh and blood pouring down her throat came and went. She still had little idea of what happened in the GI’s room. Her spirit, which had not come out of her since the incident, twisted inside her. She leaned her head against the wall. For the first time, she wondered if it, too, dreamed.
After she dried off, she realized she had no new clothes to change into. She saw a few drawers across from the bed and began shuffling through them. They were full of clothes, but it wasn’t until she pulled out the third drawer that she found some medium-sized shirts, hoodies, and pants.
Once dressed, she padded to the door and tried the handle. The lever stuck. So much for not being locked up. A moment later, she heard a click and the handle moved by itself. She stepped back, expecting a guard of some kind, but the person standing in front of her looked more like a swollen Ken doll, or an obscenely tall, thick volemic dressed in casual, yet slightly wrinkled Armani.
She stepped back. “Who — ” The sound of her own voice shocked her. Like the curtains, it was louder than normal. “Who are you?” she asked softly.
“Victoria sent me to wait for you.” His voice pitch matched hers. Marlo saw the chair next to the door. So, he was guarding her. But what did Victoria have to do with all this?
“Where am I?” she asked.
“She’ll want to see you,” he said, turning. “Follow me.”
Marlo glanced through the doorway and saw an ordinary hallway, painted the same off-color white as her room, with the same wood floors and charcoal paintings. The hallway curved to the right, and she followed the volemic through the corridors. She wanted to yell at him, to get him to tell her what the hell was going on, but as they neared the end of yet another long hallway, the sounds and voices began to press in on her.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and realized she was crouching. “Just breathe, okay?” The Teutonic mass leading her actually had concern in his eyes. She tried to remember back to when she was ten and Victoria had taught her to block out the voices of both kindred and human spirits, which only she seemed to hear. Marlo allowed her breaths to grey out the other sounds, which created a welcome period of adjustment for her ears.
“I’m okay,” she said, but he helped her up anyway.
The new smells took less preparation. Marlo’s sense of smell had always been acute. For the first time, though, Marlo only smelled two different scents, aside from the volemic’s cologne. The first smell was food, which would normally make her already burning stomach ravenous, but now it smelled of death. The other smell made her feel dizzy. She couldn’t place the smell, but it was the smell of life.
When they reached the stairs, the volemic still held onto her, like she was an invalid. She saw people milling around downstairs, and almost all of them were teenagers. The larger portion had to be Otherworlders, she thought, though there was a faint whiff of Residents, which must have been where the smell of life came from. It was a smell that stirred her hunger.
She almost lost her footing when she recognized Victoria’s voice amidst the muted sounds. “You’re awake.” The voice of her childhood, and the voice of her conscience, boomed up at her. Victoria appeared by her side in mere moments. “I can take it from here, Drew.”
Drew released Marlo and leaned into Victoria. Though the sound was barely perceivable, she heard him say, “She seems to be suffering from hyperacusis.” Victoria nodded and waved him away.
Victoria smiled again. “I can see you have a million questions, my dear, but we’ll wait on that.” She ushered Marlo down the stairs, and away from the smells of life. “I want you to come with me to the dining area to get some breakfast.”
Victoria pulled Marlo into a large hall filled with tables, more children, and more sound. Marlo was shading in her environment as quickly as her mind would allow, filling up the sounds and smells and brightness to a bearable level, but it wasn’t fast enough. Under Victoria’s gentle smile and harsh gaze, Marlo blindly heaped eggs, potatoes, sausage and toast onto a plate. Marlo balanced the plate as she filled a glass with water. Victoria led Marlo to a table for two and sat opposite her. Marlo choked down two sawdust-like bites as she stared at Victoria’s moving lips. She felt sure sound was coming out, but since they spilled meaningless assurances and concern, Marlo ignored them.
Marlo drank her full glass of water before speaking. “Where am I?” she asked, breaking into Victoria’s monologue.
“You’re at Haven,” Victoria said, not seeming perturbed by the interruption, which surprised Marlo. Victoria was neither warm nor patient, no matter what mask she likely wore at Haven.
“It’s a little late for that,” Marlo said. She looked around. “I seem to remember you saying that there was no way that I needed to be ‘in a place for dangerous children who cannot control their powers.’” Unlike Isaak, Marlo was a perfect mimic, nailing Victoria’s accent and mannerisms.
“Things change,” Victoria said, her mouth tightening.
“Yes, they do,” Marlo said. “Most significantly, I’m not a child anymore.”
“It was either here or prison. The Counsel let me choose. I told them that locking you up would not answer any of our questions. Here, I offer an organic environment to find out what you are becoming–”
Marlo snorted. “Becoming?”
“. . . and to redirect your abilities,” Victoria finished.
“To something the Counsel can use, no doubt,” Marlo said.
“Would you rather be in prison for the rest of your life? I’m trying to help you,” Victoria said. Marlo knew Victoria well enough to look for more strings, but said nothing. Victoria’s schemes would unravel more quickly if she thought she had control.
“So,” Marlo said. “What did you mean by ‘what I’m becoming?’”
“What do you remember about the other night?” Victoria asked.
“Enough that I don’t want to talk about it.” Crunch crunch crunch. Sweet breads. Just desserts. You remember that you loved it.
Victoria reached out her hand and covered Marlo’s. Marlo refrained from flinching. “I’m not trying to make light of your ordeal,” Victoria said, “but what I mean to ask is, do you remember all of it?”
Marlo frowned. “You already know what happened, don’t you?”
“You haven’t lost your uncanny perception over the years, I see.” Marlo raised her eyebrows. “I have a theory,” Victoria said. “Nothing more. You are a very powerful woman. You always were. But I believe you are more than kindred.”
Victoria’s viper smile taunted Marlo. “Back before the Crossing, the Primoridials made a prophecy that something would be born into this world. It would be no one species, and its ancestral line would be from another world. Until we came here, the Residents did not know what the prophecy meant, and before the official Crossing in 1698, they only had glimpses of Otherworlders.”
“We have waited a long time,” Victoria continued, “As have the Residents. They had other Primordials working to narrow down when this hybrid would be born, and we had our allies doing the same. Many years ago, one of the Primordials, Rayne, narrowed the birth of the hybrid to 1983. To the precise date of your birth. Haven was not actually created to house Otherworlders and Residents with uncontrollable powers. It was built to shelter potential hybrids.”
“Why wasn’t I brought here, then?”
“You were. When you were born, Garrett and I took you from your mother. We had other Counsel members positioned to retrieve other potentials as well. We were able to save one hundred and sixty others. You were here until just after your sixth birthday.”
“That’s impossible,” Marlo said.
“Is it?” Victoria asked. “What do you remember before your mother’s death?”
Marlo chose not to think back that far, or so she had told herself the previous twenty years. Now that she tried to look back, she found little there. She remembered her first Christmas, but the scenery was fuzzy, as was her memory of her birthdays, and summers and other holidays.
“I remember my mother,” Marlo said, though she realized that her first crystal clear memory was her mother’s waxen face at the funeral.
“She would come and visit you on special occasions, and week-ends. We left the important memories intact, but the specifics will be difficult to visualize.”
“We had to protect the information. Witches can read minds, and so can vampires. I spent years teaching you to guard yourself against mind-reading, but when you left here you were so young…There wasn’t time. Lucy begged me to let you come home, and I relented, on that one condition. She knew well enough to keep the rest of your information safe, to keep your identity safe.”
Marlo’s last two years in therapy shattered. Of course Lucy would make that call. “She’s just as selfish as I thought she was,” Marlo said. “And more, her lies didn’t just hurt me. They killed Isaak.”
“She had lost her daughter — ”
“She lost her protégé.” Marlo cocked her head. “There’s a difference. She could have filled an emotional void with Isaak, or our grandfather, but neither of them could carry on the Cayce legacy.”
“Cayce women have generations of magic and memory on this plane. You were the last.”
“So, she exchanged the value of her memories for mine. The value of who I could have been for something that could be shared with another clan, with other women, for what? So I could spend hours grueling over mind protection, blocking out spirits, taking those shots every day. She said it was all to keep me safe, to keep our family safe.”
“And she was right,” Victoria said. “But you rejected her heritage, her secrets. You chose to live a human life these past eight years.” Victoria lowered her voice. “You are old enough now to come back to this reality and old enough to have your memories back.”
“But it wouldn’t have been necessary. None of it. If I had known better. . . .” Marlo’s hand shuddered over her mouth. I never would have killed that soldier.
Victoria sighed. “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be the hybrid. We always believed the most logical combination would be a volemic and a changeling. But now that I’m sure it’s you, it makes perfect sense. Power in mind, body and spirit.” Victoria’s voice sounded reverent. Marlo’s stomach and spirit churned again.
“All other potentials were cleared long ago,” Victoria said, evidently marking Marlo’s impatience and disgust. “If you are not the hybrid, then we have to accept the prophesy as false. But, first, you must also be cleared, and what happened last night renders that hope unlikely.”
If all of this were true, it might explain the new voice in her head, and the change in her senses. But why now? Marlo grasped for a chance at a psychotic break, for the possibility that none of this was true. She would rather be crazy than be a bigger freak than she already was.
“What do I have to do to clear myself?”
“There will be tests, mostly medical. Until then — ” Victoria looked up as Drew sidled up to the table. “What is it, Drew?”
He bent down and whispered in her ear. “Rayne is back. She’s in your office.”
“May I come?” Marlo asked.
Victoria pursed her lips. “Not now. We’ll talk about this more later. For now, Drew will take you back to your room.”
Marlo’s patience burst. “You’re insane if you think I’m going to lock-step with you any more after all this. Just let me talk to this Rayne.”
“Drew?” Victoria said nodding toward Marlo.
He glanced between the two women, and Marlo couldn’t tell who he was more afraid of at that moment. He must have decided on Victoria, because he took Marlo’s arm and pulled her out of her seat.
“It’s for your own good, Marlo,” Victoria said.
“Like you’ve ever known what that was.” She didn’t fight Drew as he took her out of the dining hall.