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Soulmate (Chapter 12)

was sixteen and her name was Ha-nahkt. She was a virgin priestess dedicated to the goddess Isis.

She was wearing a fine linen shift that fell from her waist to her ankles. Above the waist, she wore

nothing except a deep silver collar strung with beads of amethyst, carnelian, turquoise, and lapis lazuli.

There were two silver bracelets on her upper arms and two on her wrists.

Morning was her favorite time.

This morning she carefully placed her offering in front of the statue of Isis. Lotus blossoms, small cakes,

and beer. Then, facing south, she began the chant to wake the goddess up.

"Awaken, Isis, Mother of the Stars, Great of Magic, Mistress of all the World, Sovereign of her father,

Mightier than the gods,

Lady of the Waters of Life,

Powerful of Heart,

Isis of the Ten Thousand Names …"

A step sounded behind her and she broke off short, feeling startled and annoyed.

"I'm sorry. Did I disturb you?"

It was a woman, a beautiful woman with long black hair.

"You're not allowed in here," Ha-nahkt said sharply. "Only priests and priestesses…" Her voice trailed

off as she looked at the woman more closely. Maybe she is a priestess, she thought. There's something in

her face….

"I just want to talk to you," the woman said. Her voice was husky and persuasive, almost mesmerizing.

"It's very important." She smiled and Ha-nahkt felt hairs stir at the back of her neck.

If she's a priestess, I bet she's a priestess of Set. Set was the most evil of all the gods-and one of the

most powerful. Ha-nahkt could sense power in this woman, no question about that. But evil? She wasn't

sure.

"My name is Maya. And what I have to tell you may save your life."

Ha-nahkt stood still. Part of her wanted to run from Maya, to go and get her best friend Khet-hetep-"es.

Or, better yet, one of the senior priestesses. But another part of her was curious.

"I really shouldn't stop in the middle of the chant," she began.

"It's about the stranger."

Ha-nahkt lost her breath.

There was a long moment of silence, and then she said, "I don't know what you're talking about." She

could hear the shake in her own voice.

"Oh, yes, you do. The stranger. Tall, blond, handsome… and with such sad dark eyes. The one you've

been meeting on the sly."

Ha-nahkt could feel the shaking take over her whole body. She was a priestess, sworn to the goddess.

If anyone found she'd been meeting a man. …

"Oh, don't worry, little one," Maya said and laughed. "I'm not here to turn you in. Just the opposite, in

fact. I want to help you."

"We haven't done anything," Ha-nahkt faltered. "Just kissed. He says he doesn't want me to leave the

temple. He isn't going to stay long. He says he saw me, and he just had to speak to me."

"And no wonder," Maya said in a cooing tone. She touched Ha-nahkt's hair lightly and Ha-nahkt moved

instinctively away. "You're such a pretty girl. Such unusual coloring for this part of the world. I suppose

you think you love him."

"I do love him," Ha-nahkt blurted before she could stop herself. Then she lowered her voice. "But I

know my duty. He says that in the next world we'll be together." She didn't want to tell the rest of it, the

remarkable things she'd seen with the stranger, the way she'd recognized him. The way they were

destined for each other.

"And you believed him? Oh, my dear child. You're so innocent. I suppose that comes from living your

life in a temple." She gazed around thoughtfully, then looked back at Hannah. Her face became grave and

regretful.

"I hate to have to tell you this," she said. "But the

stranger does not love you. The truth is that he's a very evil man. The truth is that he's not a man at all.

He's an Ur-Demon and he wants to steal your sa."

Oh, Isis, Ha-nahkt thought. Sa was the breath of life, the magical force that allowed you to live. She'd

heard of demons who wanted to steal it. But she couldn't believe it of the stranger. He seemed so gentle,

so kind…

"It's true," Maya said positively. She glanced at Ha-nahkt sideways. "And you know it is, if you think

about it. Why else would he want to taste your blood?"

Ha-nahkt started and flushed. "How do you know-?" She stopped and bit her lip.

"You've been meeting him at night by the lotus pool, when everyone else is asleep," Maya said. "And I

suppose you thought it wouldn't hurt to let him drink a little of your blood. Not much. Just a bit. It was

exciting. But I'm telling you the truth, now-it will hurt you. He's a demon and he wants you dead."

The husky, mesmerizing voice went on and on. It was telling all about Ur-Demons who drank blood,

and men and women who could change into animals, and a place called the World of the Night, where

they all lived. Ha-nahkt's head began to spin.

And her heart shattered.

Literally. She could feel the jagged pieces of it every time she tried to breathe. A priestess didn't cry, but

tears were forcing themselves out of her closed lids.

Because she couldn't deny that the stranger did act a little like an Ur-Demon. Why else would he drink

blood?

And the things she'd seen with him, the feeling of

destiny… that must have all been magic. He had tricked her with spells.

Maya seemed to have finished her story. "Do you think you can remember all that?" she asked.

Ha-nahkt made a miserable gesture. What did it matter if she remembered it? She only wanted to be left

alone.

"Look at me!"

Ha-nahkt glanced up, startled. It was a mistake. Maya's eyes were strange; they seemed to turn different

colors from moment to moment, and once Ha-nahkt met them, she couldn't look away. She was caught

in a spell, and she felt her will slipping.

"Now," Maya said, and her eyes were deep gold and ancient as a crocodile's. "Remember all that. And

remember this. Remember… how he kills you."

And then the strangest thing of all happened.

It suddenly seemed to Ha-nahkt that she was two people. One of them was her ordinary self. And the

other was a different self, a distant self, who seemed to be looking on from the future. At this moment,

Ha-nahkt and the future self were seeing different things.

Ha-nahkt saw that Maya was gone and the temple was empty. And then she saw that someone else was

walking in. A tall figure, with light hair and dark fathomless eyes-the stranger. He smiled at her, walked

toward her with his arms held out. He grasped her with hands that were as strong as a demon's. Then he

showed his teeth.

The future self saw something else. She saw that Maya never left the temple. She saw Maya's face and

body ripple as if they were made of water-and then change. It was as if there were two images, one on

top of the other. The outward image was of the stranger, but it was Maya underneath.

That's it. That's how she did it.

The voice came from outside Ha-nahkt, and she didn't understand it. She didn't have time to think about

it, either, because the next instant she felt the tearing pain of teeth.

Oh, Isis, Goddess of Life, guide me to the other world….

"That's how she did it," Hannah breathed.

She was sitting up on the couch. She knew who she was, and more, she knew who she'd been.

It was another of those blinding flashes of illumination. She felt as if she were standing at the end of the

corridor of time and looking back at a hundred different versions of herself. They each looked slightly

different, and they wore different clothes, but they were all her. Her name had been Hanje, Anora, Xiana,

Nan Haiane, Honni, Ian, Annette. She had been a warrior, a priestess, a princess, a slave. And right now

she felt she had the strength of all her selves.

At the far end of the corridor, back where it was misty and blurry and faintly tinted pink and blue, she

seemed to see Hana smiling at her. And then Hana turned and walked away, her task accomplished.

Hannah took a deep breath and let it out.

"She did it with illusions," she said, hardly aware that she was talking out loud. "Maya. And she's done it

before, of course. Maybe every time. What do you do with somebody who keeps killing you over and

over? Never letting you live to your seventeenth birthday? Trying to destroy you, not just your life, but

your heart… ?"

She realized that Paul was staring at her. "You want me to answer that?"

Hannah shook her head even as she went on talking. "Goddess-I mean, God-she must hate me. I still

don't understand why. It must be because she wants Thierry herself-or maybe just because she wants

him miserable. She wants him to know that I'm terrified of him, that I hate him. And she did it. She

convinced me. She convinced my subconscious enough that I started warning myself against him."

"If any of this is true-which I'm not going to admit for a second, because they would definitely take my

license away-then I can tell you one thing," Paul said. "She sounds very, very dangerous."

"She is."

"Then why are you so happy?" he asked pathetically.

Hannah glanced at him and laughed. She couldn't hope to explain it.

But she was more than happy, she was exalted. She was buoyant, ecstatic, over the moon.

Thierry wasn't evil. She had the confirmation of a hundred selves whispering it to her. Maya was the

enemy, the snake in the garden. Thierry was exactly what he'd told her he was. Someone who had made

a terrible mistake and had spent millennia paying for it-and searching for her.

He is gentle and kind. He does love me. And we are destined for each other.

I've got to find him.

The last thought came as an additional bright revelation, but one that made her sit up and go still.

She had no idea how.

Where had he gone? Home. Where was home? She didn't know.

It could be anywhere in the world.

"Hannah…"

"Wait," Hannah whispered.

"Look, Hannah, I think we should maybe do some work on this. Talk about it, examine your feelings …"

"No, hush!" Hannah waved a hand at him. "She gave me a clue! She didn't mean to, but she gave me a

clue! She said he had connections with witches in Vegas."

"Oh, my God," Paul muttered. Then he jumped up. "Hannah, where are you going?"

"I'm sorry." She darted back into the office, threw her arms around him, and gave him a kiss. Then,

smiling into his startled face, she said, "Thank you. Thank you for helping. You'll never know how much

you've done for me."

"I need money."

Chess blinked, but went on looking at her intently.

"I know it isn't fair to ask you without explaining why. But I can't tell you. It would be dangerous for you.

I just have to ask you to trust me."

Chess kept looking at her. The slanted green eyes searched Hannah's face. Then, without a word, she

got up.

Hannah sat on Chess's crisp white-on-white coverlet and waited. After a few minutes Chess came back

into the room and settled her own petite self on the bed.

"Here," she said, and plunked down a credit card. "Mom said I could use it to get some things for

graduation. I figure she'll understand-maybe."

Hannah threw her arms around her. "Thank you," she whispered. "I'll pay it back as soon as I can." Then

she burst out, "How can you be so nice? I'd be yelling to know what was going on."

"I am going to yell," Chess said, squeezing her back. "But more than that. I'm going with you."

Hannah drew back. How could she explain? She knew that by going to Las Vegas she would be putting

her own life in danger. From Maya, certainly. From the Night World, probably. Even from the witches

Thierry had connections with, possibly.

And she couldn't drag Chess into that.

"I've got something I want you to hang on to," she said. She reached into her canvas bag and pulled out

an envelope. "This is for you and for my mom- just in case. If you don't hear from me by my birthday,

then I want you to open it."

"Didn't you hear me? I'm going with you. I don't know what's been going on with you, but I'm not going

to let you run off on your own."

"And I can't take you." She caught the glowing cat-eyes and held them. "Please understand, Chess. It's

something I have to do alone. Besides, I need you here to cover for me, to tell my mom I'm at your

house so she doesn't worry. Okay?" She reached out and gave Chess a tiny shake. "Okay?"

Chess shut her eyes, then nodded. Then she sniffled, her chin trembling.

Hannah hugged her again. "Thank you," she whispered. "Let's be best friends forever."

Monday morning, instead of going to school, Hannah started for Billings airport. She was driving the

Ford-her mom had fixed it over the weekend. Her mom thought she was spending the next couple of

days with Chess to study for finals.

It was frightening but exhilarating to fly on a plane by herself, going to a city she'd never been to before.

All the time she was in the air, she was thinking, Closer, closer, closer-and looking at the black rose ring

on her finger.

She'd fished it out of her bedroom wastebasket. Now she turned her hand this way and that to see the

black gems catch the light. Her chest tightened.

What if I can't find him? she thought.

The other fear she didn't want to admit, even to herself. What if she did find him, and he didn't want her

anymore? After all, she'd only told him that she hated him a few dozen times and ordered him to stay

away from her forever.

I won't think about that. There's no point. First I have to track him down, and after that what happens,

happens.

The airport in Las Vegas was surprisingly small. There were slot machines all over. Hannah collected her

one duffel bag at the luggage carousel and then walked outside. She stood in the warm desert air, trying

to figure out what to do next.

How do you find witches?

She didn't know. She didn't think they were likely to be listed in the phone book. So she just trusted to

luck and headed where everybody else was heading-the Strip.

It was a mistake from the beginning, and that afternoon and night were among the worst times in. her life.

It didn't start off so bad. The Strip was gaudy and glittery, especially as darkness fell. The hotels were so

bizarre and so dazzling that it took Hannah's breath away. One of them, the Luxor, was shaped like a

giant black pyramid with a Sphinx in front of it. Hannah stood and watched colored lasers dart from the

Sphinx's eyes and laughed.

What would Ha-nahkt have thought of that?

But there was something almost sickening about all the lights and the hustling after a while. Something . .

. unwholesome. The crowds were so thick, both inside the hotels and out on the street, that Hannah

could hardly move. Everyone seemed to be in a rush-except the people nailed in front of slot machines.

It feels… greedy, Hannah decided finally, searching in her mind for the right word. All these people

want to win free money. All these hotels want to take their money. And of course, the hotels are the

winners in the end. They've built a sort of Venus' flytrap to lure people here. And some of these people

don't look as if they can afford to lose.

Her heart felt physically heavy and her lungs felt constricted. She wanted Montana and a horizon so far

away that it pried your mind open. She wanted clean air. She wanted space.

But even worse than the atmosphere of greed and commercialism was the fact that she wasn't finding

any witches.

She struck up conversations a few times with desk clerks and waitresses. But when she casually asked if

there were any odd people in town who practiced witchcraft, they looked at her as if she were crazy.

By nine o'clock that night she was dizzy, exhausted, and sick with defeat.

I'm never going to find them. Which means I'm never going to find him.

She collapsed on a bench outside the Stardust Hotel, wondering what to do next. Her legs hurt and her

head was pounding. She didn't want to spend Chess's mom's money on a hotel-but she'd noticed police

officers making people move on if they tried to sleep on the street.

Why did I come here? I should have put an ad in the paper: "Desperately Seeking Thierry." I should

have known this wouldn't work.

Even as she was thinking it, something about a boy in the crowd caught her eye.

He wasn't Thierry. He wasn't anything like Thierry. Except for the way he moved.

It was that same rippling grace she'd seen in both Thierry and Maya, an easy control of motion that

reminded her of a jungle cat. And his face … he was almost eerily good-looking in a ragamuffin way.

When he glanced up toward the Stardust's tall neon sign, she thought she could see light reflect from his

eyes.

He's one of them. I know it. He's one of the Night People.

Without stopping to think, she jumped up, slung her bag over her shoulder, and followed him.

It wasn't easy. He walked fast and she had to keep dodging tourists. He was headed off the Strip, to

one of the quiet dimly-lit streets that ran parallel to it.

It was a whole different world here, just one block away from the glitter and bustle. The hotels were,

small and in poor repair. The businesses seemed to be mostly pawnshops. Everything had a dingy

depressed feeling.

Hannah felt a prickling down her spine.

She was now following the only figure on a deserted street. Any minute now, he'd realize she was tailing

him-but what could she do? She didn't dare lose sight of him.

The boy seemed to be leading her into worse and worse areas-sleazy was the word for them, Hannah

thought. The streetlights were far apart here with areas of darkness in between.

All at once he took a sharp left turn, seeming to disappear behind a building with a sign that read, Dan's

Bail Bonds. Hannah jogged to catch up to him and found herself staring down a narrow alley. It was

extremely dark. She hesitated a moment, then grimly took a few steps forward.

On the third step, the boy appeared from behind a Dumpster.

He was facing her, and once again Hannah caught the flash of eyeshine. She stood very still as he

walked slowly toward her.

"You following me or something?" he asked. He seemed amused. He had a sharp face with an almost

pointed chin and dark hair that looked uncombed. He was no taller than Hannah, but his body seemed

tough and wiry.

It's the Artful Dodger, Hannah thought.

As he reached her, he looked her up and down. His expression was a combination of lechery and

hunger. Gooseflesh blossomed on Hannah's skin.

"I'm sorry," she said, trying to make her voice quiet and direct. "I was following you. I wanted to ask

you something-I'm looking for someone."

"You found him, baby," the boy said. He darted a quick glance around as if to make sure that there was

nobody in the alley with them.

And then, before Hannah could say another word, he knocked her into the wall and pinned her there.

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