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Soulmate (Chapter 4)

Thierry knelt by the window, careful not to make a noise or disturb the dry earth beneath him. It was a

skill so familiar to his body that he might have been born with it. Darkness was his native environment; he

could melt into a shadow at an instant's notice or move more quietly than a stalking cat. But right now he

was looking into the light.

He could see her. Just the curve of her shoulder and the spill of her hair, but he knew it was her.

Beside him, Lupe was crouched, her thin body human but quivering with animal alertness and tension.

She whispered, softer than a breath, "All right?"

Thierry tore his gaze from that shoulder to look at her. Lupe's face was bruised, one eye almost closed,

lower lip torn. But she was smiling. She'd stuck around Medicine Rock until Thierry had arrived, tailing

the girl called Hannah Snow, making sure no harm came to her.

Thierry took Lupe's hand and kissed it. You're an angel, he told her, and made even less sound than she

had in speaking because he didn't use his vocal chords at all. His voice was telepathic. And you deserve

a long vacation. My limo's at the tourist resort in Clearwater; take it to the airport at Billings.

"But-you're not planning to stay here alone, are you? You need backup, sir. If she comes-"

I can take care of things. I brought something to protect Hannah. Besides she won't do anything until she

talks to me.

"But-"

Lupe, go. His tone was gentle, but it was unmistakably not the urging of a friend anymore. It was the

order of her liege lord, Thierry of the Night World, who was accustomed to being obeyed. Funny,

Thierry thought, how you never realized how accustomed you were to being obeyed until somebody

defied you. Now, he turned away from Lupe and looked through the cracks in the boarded-up window

again.

And promptly forgot that Lupe existed. The girl on the couch had turned. He could see her face.

Shock coursed through him.

He had known it was her-but he hadn't known that it would look so much like her. Like the way she had

looked the first time, the first time she had been born, the first time he had seen her. This was what he

thought of as her true face, and though he'd seen various approximations of it through the years, he'd

never seen it again. Until now.

This was the exact image of the girl he'd fallen in love with.

The same long, straight fair hair, like silk in different shades of wheat color, spilling over her shoulders.

The same wide gray eyes that seemed full of light. The same steady expression, the same tender mouth,

upper lip indenting the lower to give her a look of t unintentional sensuality. The same fine bone structure,

the high cheekbones and graceful line of jaw that made her a sculptor's dream.

The only thing that was different was the birthmark.

The psychic brand.

It was the color of watered wine held up to the light, of watermelon ice, of a pink tourmaline, the palest

of gemstones. Blushing rose. Like one large petal, slantwise beneath her cheekbone. As if she'd laid a

rose against her cheek for a moment and it had left its imprint on her flesh.

To Thierry, it was beautiful, because it was part of her. She'd worn it in every lifetime after the first. But

at the same time the very sight of it made his throat clamp shut and his fists clench in helpless grief and

fury-fury against himself. The mark was his shame, his punishment. And his penance was to watch her

wear it in her innocence through the years.

He would pour out his blood on the dry Montana dirt right now if it would take the mark away. But

nothing in either the Night World or the human world could do that-at least nothing he'd found in

uncounted years of searching.

Oh, Goddess, he loved her.

He hadn't allowed himself to feel it for so long- because the feeling could drive him insane while he was

away from her. But now it came over him in a flood that he couldn't have resisted if he'd tried. It made his

heart pound and his body tremble. The sight of her lying there, warm and alive, separated from him by

only a few flimsy boards and an equally flimsy human male…

He wanted her. He wanted to yank off the boards, step through the window, brush aside the red-haired

man, and take her in his arms. He wanted to carry her off into the night, holding her close to his heart, to

some secret place where nobody could ever find her to hurt her.

He didn't. He knew… from experience… that it didn't work. He'd done it once or twice, and he'd

paid for it. She had hated him before she died.

He would never risk that again.

And so now, on this spring night near the turn of the millennium in the state of Montana in the United

States of America, all Thierry could do was kneel outside a window and watch the newest incarnation of

his only Jove.

He didn't realize at first, though, what his only love was actually doing. Lupe had told him that Hannah

Snow was seeing a psychologist. But it was only now, listening to what was going on in the room that

Thierry slowly realized exactly what Hannah and the psychologist were up to.

They were trying to recover her memories. Using hypnosis. Breaking into her subconscious as if it were

some bank vault.

It was dangerous.

Not just because the guy performing the hypnosis didn't seem to know what he was doing. But because

Hannah's memory was a time-bomb, full of trauma for her and deadly knowledge for any human.

They shouldn't be doing this.

Every muscle in Thierry's body was tense. But there was no way he could stop it. He could only

listen-and wait.

Paul repeated with slow resignation, "He's not human."

"No. He's a Lord of the Night World. He's powerful… and evil," Hannah whispered. "He's lived for

thousands of years." She added, almost absently, "I'm the one who's been reincarnated."

"Oh, terrific. Well, that's a twist."

"You don't believe me?"

Paul seemed to suddenly remember that he was talking with a patient-and a hypnotized patient at that.

"No, I-I mean, I don't know what to believe. If it's a fantasy, there's got to be something underneath it,

some psychological reason for you to make it all up. And that's what we're looking for. What all this

means to you." He hesitated, then said with new determination, "Let's take you back to the first time you

met this guy. Okay, I want you to relax in the light; you're feeling very good. And now I want you to go

back through time, just like turning back the pages of a book. In your mind, go back. …"

Hannah's ordinary mind was intruding, waking up, overriding the dreamy part of her that had been

answering Paul's questions. "Wait, I-I don't know if that's a good idea."

"We can't figure this out until we find out what it all symbolizes; what it means to you."

Hannah still didn't feel convinced, but she had the feeling she wasn't supposed to argue under hypnosis.

Maybe it doesn't matter, though, she thought. I'm waking up now; I probably won't be able to go back.

"I want you to see yourself as fifteen years old, see yourself as fifteen. Go back to the time when you

were fifteen. And now I want you to see yourself at twelve years old; go in your mind to the time when

you are twelve. Now go farther back, see yourself at nine years old, at six years old, at three years old.

Now go back and see yourself as a baby, as an infant. Feel very comfortable and see yourself as a tiny

baby."

Hannah couldn't help but listen. She did feel comfortable, and her mind did show her pictures as the

years seemed to turn back. It was like watching a film of her life running backward, herself getting smaller

and smaller, and in the end tiny and bald.

"And now," the soothing, irresistible voice said, "I want you to go farther back. Back to the time before

you were born. The time before you were born as Hannah Snow. You are floating in the red light, you

feel very relaxed, and you are going back, back… to the time when you first met this man you think of

as Thierry. Whatever that time might be, go back. Go back to the first time."

Hannah was being drawn down a tunnel.

She had no control and she was scared. It wasn't like the rumored near-death tunnel. It was red, with

translucent, shining, pulsing walls-something like a womb. And she was being pulled or sucked through it

at ever-increasing speed.

No, she thought. But she couldn't say anything. It was all happening too fast and she couldn't make a

sound.

"Back to the first time," Paul intoned, and his words set up a sort of echo in Hannah's head, a whispering

of many voices. As if a hundred Hannahs had

all gotten together and murmured sibilantly, "The First Time. The First Time."

"Go back… and you will begin to see pictures. You will see yourself, maybe in a strange place. Go

back and see this." The First Time…

No, Hannah thought again. And something very deep inside her whimpered, "I don't want to see it." But

she was still being pulled through the soft red tunnel, faster and faster. She had a feeling of unimaginable

distance being crossed. And then … she had a feeling of some threshold being reached. The First Time.

She exploded into darkness, squirted out of the tunnel like a watermelon seed between wet ringers.

Silence. Dark. And then-a picture. It opened like a tiny leaf unfolding out of a seed, got bigger until it

surrounded her. It was like a scene from a movie, except that it was all around her, she seemed to be

floating in the middle of it.

"What do you see?" came Paul's voice softly from very far away.

"I see… me," Hannah said. "It's me-it looks just like me. Except that I don't have a birthmark." She

was full of wonder.

"Where are you? What do you see yourself doing?"

"I don't know where I am." Hannah was too amazed to be frightened now. It was so strange . .. she

could see this better than any memory of her real life. The scene was incredibly detailed. At the same

time, it was completely unfamiliar to her. "What I'm doing… I'm holding… something. A rock. And

I'm doing something with it to a little tiny… something." She sighed, defeated, then added, "I'm wearing

animal skins! It's a sort of shirt and pants all made of skins. It's unbelievably… primitive. Paul, there's a

cave behind me."

"Sounds like you're really far back." Paul's voice sounded in stark contrast to Hannah's wonder and

excitement. He was clearly bored. Amused, resigned, but bored.

"And-there's a girl beside me and she looks like Chess. Like my best friend, Chess. She's got the same

face, the same eyes. She's wearing skins, too… some kind of skin dress."

"Yeah, and it has about the detail of most of the past-life regressions in this book," Paul said wryly.

Hannah could tell he was flipping pages. "You're doing something to something with a rock. You're

wearing some kind of skins. The book's full of descriptions like that. People who want to imagine

themselves in the olden days, but who don't know the first thing about them," he muttered to himself.

Hannah didn't wait for him to remember that he was talking to a hypnotized patient. "But you didn't tell

me to be the person back then. You just told me to see it."

"Huh? Oh. Okay, then, be that person." He said it so casually.

Panic spurted through Hannah. "Wait-I…"

But it was happening. She was falling, dissolving, merging into the scene around her. She was becoming

the girl in front of the cave.

The First Time…

Distantly, she heard her own voice whispering, "I'm holding a flint burin, a tool for drilling. I'm boring

holes in the tooth of an arctic fox."

"Be that person," Paul was repeating mechanically, still in the bored voice. Then he said, "What?"

"Mother's going to be furious-I'm supposed to be sorting fruit we stored last winter for the Spring,

Gathering. There's not much left and it's mostly rotten. But Ran killed a fox and gave the skull to Ket, and

we've spent all morning knocking the teeth out and making them into a necklace for Ket. Ket just has to

have something new to wear every festival." She heard Paul say softly, "Oh, my God…" Then he

swallowed and said, "Wait-you want to be a paleontologist, right? You know about old things…" "I want

to be a what? I'm going to be a shaman, like Old Mother. I should get married, but there's nobody I

want. Ket keeps telling me I'll meet somebody at a gathering, but I don't think so." She shivered.

"Weird-I've got chills all of a sudden. Old Mother says she can't see my destiny. She pretends that's

nothing to worry about, but I know she's worried. That's why she wants me to be a shaman, so I can

fight back if the spirits have something rotten in mind for me."

Paul said, "Hannah-uh, let's just make sure we can get you out of this, all right? You know, in case that

should become necessary. Now, when I clap my hands you're going to awaken completely refreshed.

Okay? Okay?"

"My name's Hana." It was pronounced slightly differently: Hah-na. "And I'm already awake. Ket is

laughing at me. She's threading the teeth on a sinew string. She says I'm daydreaming. She's right; I

wrecked the hole for this tooth."

"When I clap my hands, you're going to wake up. When I clap my hands, you're going to wake up. You

will be Hannah Snow in Montana." A clap. "Hannah, how do you feel?" Another clap. "Hannah?

Hannah?"

"It's Hana. Hana of the River People. And I don't know what you're talking about; I can't be somebody

else." She stiffened. "Wait-something's happening. There's some kind of commotion from the river.

Something's going on."

The voice was desperate. "When I clap my hands-"

"Shh. Be quiet." Something was happening and she had to see it, she had to know. She had to stand up.

Hana of the Three Rivers stood up.

"Everybody's all excited by the river' she told Ket.

"Maybe Ran fell in," Ket said. "No, that's too much to hope for. Hana, what am I going to do? He wants

to mate me, but I just can't picture it. I want somebody interesting, somebody different. . . ," She held up

the half-finished necklace. "So what do you think?"

Hana barely glanced at her. Ket looked wonderful, with her short dark hair, her glowing slanted green

eyes, and her mysterious smile. The necklace was attractive; red beads alternated with delicate

milky-white teeth. "Fine, beautiful. You'll break every heart at the gathering. I'm going down to the river."

Ket put down the necklace. "Well, if you insist- wait for me."

The river was broad and fast-flowing, covered with little white-capped waves because it had just been

joined by two tributaries. Hana's people had rived in

the limestone caves by the three rivers for longer than anyone could remember.

Ket was behind her as Hana made her way through new green cattails to the bend in the river. And then

, she saw what the fuss was about.

There was a stranger crouching in the reeds. That was exciting enough-strangers didn't come very often.

But this stranger was like no man Hana had ever seen.

"It's a demon," Ket whispered, awed.

It was a young man-a boy a few years older than Hana herself. He might have been handsome in other

circumstances. His hair was very light blond, lighter than the dry grass of the steppes. His face was

well-made; his tall body was lithe. Hana could see almost all of that body because he was only wearing a

brief leather loincloth. That didn't bother her; everybody went naked in the summer when it was hot

enough. But this wasn't summer; it was spring and the days could still be chilly. No sane person would go

traveling without clothes.

But that wasn't what shocked Hana, what held her standing there rigid with her heart pounding so hard

she couldn't breathe. It was the rest of the boy's appearance. Ket was right-he was clearly a demon.

His eyes were wrong. More like the eyes of a lynx or a wolverine than the eyes of a person. They

seemed to throw the pale sunlight back at you when you looked into them. But the eyes were nothing

compared to the teeth. His canine teeth were long and delicately curved. They came to a sharp and very

non-human point.

Almost involuntarily, Hana looked down at the fox tooth she still held in her palm. Yes, they were like

that, only bigger.

The boy was filthy, caked with mud from the river, his blond hair ruffled crazily, his eyes staring wildly

from side to side. There was blood on his mouth and chin.

"He's a demon, all right," one of the men said. Five men were standing around the crouching boy, several

of them with spears, others with hastily grabbed rocks. "What else could have a human body with animal

eyes and teeth?"

"A spirit?" Hana said. She didn't realize that she was going to say it until the words were out. But then,

with everybody looking at her, she drew herself up tall. "Whether he's a demon or a spirit, you'd better

not hurt him. It's Old Mother who should decide what to do with him. This is a matter for shamans."

"You're not a shaman yet," another of the men said. It was Arno, a very broad-shouldered man who

was the leader of the hunters. Hana didn't like him.

And she wasn't sure why she had spoken up in favor of the stranger. There was something in his eyes,

the look of a suffering animal. He seemed so alone, and so frightened-and so much in pain, even though

there were no visible wounds on his body.

"She's right, we'd better take him to Old Mother," one of the hunters said. "Should we hit him on the

head and tie him up, or do you think we can just herd him?"

But at that moment, a high thin sound came to Hana over the rushing of the river. It was a woman

screaming.

"Help me! Somebody come help me! Ryl's been attacked!"

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