Zoe felt Kay trip slightly as she walked through the open door, not realizing that there was a slight step where the house met the concrete patio. Kay didn’t fall but she moved forward awkwardly. Zoe steadied her. The air smelled fresh and clean after the storm the other day. A few birds chirped, but they abruptly went silent when Kay tripped.
The creature that Zoe had seen appeared in her mind’s eye, much clearer now, like he was closer. She saw others behind him, stranger creatures than even this one, with faces that were elongated like a horse or with tusks like a wild boar. She moved closer to Kay.
“Emrys?” Kay whispered.
“Child of the Blood,” Emrys said. There was something joyous in his voice, something that was missing from a face that did not smile.
The others moved closer, looking at him, looking for a way around him. Their gaze was fixed on Zoe, and she clung to Kay for her life.
“How can she help me?” Zoe whispered.
Emrys turned his head slowly towards her, as if seeing her for the first time and then looked back at Kay, dismissing her.
“How can I help her?” Kay asked when it was apparent that Emrys was not going to respond to Zoe.
“You could wish that I protect her as I protect all of the Blood,” Emrys said.
Kay was silent. Zoe willed her to say it. Wanted to scream that the other woman needed to say something. Now the other creatures were moving across the yard, getting closer. She could hardly make out the trees behind them or any of the bushes. Normally she wasn’t good at visualizations, but these were every bit as detailed as a movie in a theater.
Kay was still not making a wish.
“What is it, Child of the Blood? Do you not wish to save her?” Emrys pressed.
“If I do make this wish, I’ll be damning my own soul, won’t I?” Kay said.
Emrys cocked his head.
The creatures were nearer to him now.
Zoe fancied she could smell raw meat on their breath, though she did not see any of them breathing in and out.
“It was a strange thing that your mother believed. I am not a demon sent to capture your soul, not as your church would describe demons. I have existed before the church and likely I will exist after. If I don’t, I will, at least, exist until the end of said church. Asking me for something should not damn your soul. If it does, the god who would do so is petty and inconsiderate,” Emrys said.
Kay was still silent. Zoe felt her moving, like she was shaking her head.
If she turned to look at Kay, would she still see Kay or would she look something like the Emrys creature and the things behind him? Would that space just be empty because Kay wasn’t one of these creatures?
“Please,” Zoe whispered.
The first of the creatures was past Emrys now.
This was one of the ones with tusks that broke through its lower jaw and jutted up to its eyes. It had skin a color between brown and green, as if it had sprung from the earth, a carnivorous plant. The tusks themselves were cream. It opened its mouth like it wanted to take a bite of Zoe, showing a line of spiked teeth, all cream colored.
Its breath smelled of rotting vegetation, like a compost pile that had been inexpertly turned.
Kay was still silent.
Zoe watched as the tusked creature reached out a claw to touch her wrist. She felt a million tiny spiders crawling on her skin, tickling and frightening her. It pulled her hand away from Kay’s with hardly a thought, its strength so far beyond hers that it was like she was an ant and it the human. The mouth and face bent down to take a bite.
“Stop it!” Kay said.
“You must wish me to make it stop,” Emrys said.
Something wet touched Zoe’s hand making it sting and burn as if there were a fire inside the bones of her fingers burning its way through the flesh to the outside world.
Zoe heard a groan, only vaguely aware that she was the one groaning. She hadn’t know she could make such a noise.
“All right! I wish you’d protect her,” Kay screamed at Emrys.
With that Emrys backhanded the creature that was touching Zoe. Her hand still felt like it was a burning torch. She held her eyelids closed, scrunching them shut even more tightly, refusing to look at a hand that she imagined was a blackened ruin.
Kay was sniffling softly. Zoe moved to offer a comforting pat, but even that simple movement seemed to fan the burning flames.
“I could heal her, too,” Emrys said.
“Why do you want my soul?” Kay sniffed.
“I have no interest in your soul,” Emrys said. He made a sound of distaste. “That is for you and your god, if you wish. No, I am interested in the power you give me in the mortal world to effect changes and to keep the town safe from the likes of them.”
He gestured casually with his hand behind him, where the other creatures were still watching, listening.
“Why would you do that—keep the town safe, I mean?” Kay asked.
“Because it was a promise I made long ago. I keep my promises, and though later humans try to bend me to their will, always I work with that first promise I made, keeping later promises only as far as they allow me to uphold the original one.”
“Why did it have to be me?” Kay was holding onto Zoe’s undamaged hand much too tightly.
“It was your ancestor who offered the service that extracted the first promise, Child of the Blood. She” —Emrys gestured to Zoe— “is also an ancestor, but the Blood runs so thin in her veins I can barely hear her unless there is another of the Blood with her.”
Like Taran, Zoe thought. He, too, had some “Blood” in his veins. It was why together they could see Emrys but they couldn’t really communicate. Only Kay had enough.
Kay was crying now. “What else do you need?”
“I need to be able to protect the town. I need to hear from you from time to time. I need your presence in Corbin Meadow at least half of each turn of the moon to ground me in the physical world. If not, the wish keeps me out of the world, and those there, who would make the town over in their own likeness, would run amok.”
Emrys disappeared when he said that. Zoe wasn’t sure why, but Kay was disengaging herself from Zoe.
“Let’s go inside,” Kay sniffed.
Chapter 35 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.