Chapter Eight of Gifts
Allison didn’t know how long she had been kneeling for. She widened her search a while ago, but the more she did, the more people she needed to filter out. It became worse when she got to the city. Thousands of people to go through. It took time and energy. Neither of which she retained much of. Beyond the city, her vision became hazy. She found it increasingly difficult to differentiate between male and female, town and country, land and air. Soon, all she found was nothing more than static. Still, she kept on trying. Her efforts to increase her powers yielded simple shapes and nothing more. She was forced to accept the futility of her search The kidnapper had teleported too far away. She fell down and cried until morning.
Atharron sat thinking by an open window, allowing his cigar smoke to disappear through it. Allison entertained the idea of looking into his mind to discover his thoughts. She wanted answers now. She couldn’t just wait around for him to think. She considered it impolite, but if he stayed silent for another minute, she’d try. Etiquette be damned. Allison jumped when he finally spoke. ‘The way I see it, someone has taken her for the same reason they tried to take you. In order to be trained and used as their soldier. The Forgotten War may be over, but there are those who wish to wage it again. Being your daughter, she is very likely to have powers similar in strength to yours. She would be a powerful ally for the enemy.’ Atharron looked to the ceiling, still thinking. ‘I have read many prophecies, even heard some, regarding you. None directly mention Anna, but judging from what we now know, we can theoretically reinterpret some to include her. Though I wouldn’t want to guess any at the moment.’ ‘She was only born a couple of days ago,’ Kate said. ‘I know. I’m really sorry. There is a slight chance she has been taken to ransom, but Allison failed to find anyone in the vicinity, which means they must have teleported, and that leads me to believe it’s not a normal celebrity kidnapping.’ Allison dimly heard the telephone ring, and felt Kate let go of her hand to answer it. She couldn’t believe this. Her own daughter—that tiny child she had loved for barely a few days—would be brought up by a stranger. ‘Do you know who could have taken her?’ ‘I have many guesses, but the most obvious would be either the witch, Naomi, or if he has been sworn in, the Emissary himself. But I don’t even have the faintest idea of where he would be. As opposed to you, very few prophecies have been made about him, and those that have, talk about his power, or what he will do, not about how to find him.’ ‘Allison,’ Kate said. Allison barely registered her voice. ‘Allison.’ She looked up and Kate continued. ‘That was the police on the phone.’ Allison felt a measure of hope. After the conversation she just had, she wanted Atharron to be wrong and the police to have found Anna and apprehended her kidnapper. ‘Is it anything to do with Anna?’ Now Allison gave her full attention, she noticed Kate’s skin was paler than usual as she shook her head. ‘Linda’s escaped.’ Of all the things Allison feared, this wasn’t too bad, ‘Not the worst news I’ve heard today,’ she said, indifferent. ‘Let her come here. Having a stalker is the least of my problems.’ ‘She didn’t just escape, though,’ Kate said, plainly terrified. ‘She managed to break open her cell doors and walk out the front door. And … she … she … killed all the guards and let out other convicts.’ ‘What?’ Allison said, standing up. ‘She’s an annoyance. Not a killer.’ ‘How did the guards die?’ Atharron said, quietly. Kate looked at him. ‘They … didn’t say. Does it matter?’ Atharron got up, throwing his cigar out the window, and grabbed his coat. ‘This Linda chick, she’s never seemed murderous before, no?’ Both girls shook their heads. ‘And now she suddenly goes on a killing spree? ’Tis odd behaviour under normal circumstances, but from what I understand, she seems to be allied with the Emissary or one of his followers. I need to find out how they died. If I’m right, this Linda may be advancing the ranks in a way not seen for years.’ He put his coat on and ran out the door. Allison followed him, but before she could ask him anything, he was in his car, beginning to drive off. She tried to look in his mind, but got nothing but static. Shouting for him to stop, she ran after his car as he drove on through her gates. Soon, the car outran her, and she stopped; she would never catch up with him. She began to walk slowly home, looking at the sky, but not really admiring it. The sun was setting just next to her house. She saw the yellow globe half hidden by the horizon as it cast an orange glow across the heavens, lighting up thin wisps of clouds. Usually it was her favourite part of the day, but now the sky seemed stained with blood. Thinking of this, she looked down and heard a shout from the other side of the road. ‘Oh my god!’. The speaker had a slight American accent, and sounded young and feminine, so when Allison turned, she wasn’t surprised to see a girl of about eighteen or nineteen staring at her. She wore black net-like clothing covering a sleeveless top and a long skirt of the same colour leaving a bare and slender midriff. She ran across the road without looking for traffic, a delighted look in her eyes. As she got closer, Allison noted her hair was not just dark brown, but as black as her garments; it framed an oval face with a thin nose and large dark brown, almost black, eyes. She wore more black on her lips, and her extensive jewellery consisted of onyx and black gold decorating her fingers, wrists and neck. ‘Oh my god!’ she said again. ‘It is you. Allison Sands!’ Allison was in no mood for autographs, but she considered it her duty to the fans. She took out a pen, clicked it, and prepared to sign whatever the girl gave to her. She held out a copy of Eye of Chaos, ‘It’s my favourite,’ the girl said as Allison pulled out the insert, pointing her pen at a convenient position. ‘Great,’ Allison replied, trying to be invested. ‘So what’s your name?’ The girl replied without hesitation. ‘Naomi.’ Allison stopped and slowly looked up. The girl, still wearing an eager face, seemed too young to be the one Atharron spoke about. She looked back at the insert and continued to write, telling herself Naomi was a fairly common name and it could just be coincidence. Coincidence that a girl called Naomi had come up to her, just outside her house, shortly after Linda broke out and her daughter had been taken. She paused. Looking up again, she made no effort to keep suspicion from her voice. ‘Who are you?’ ‘I told you,’ the girl said, sounding a little annoyed behind her eagerness, ‘my name’s Naomi.’ The more Allison looked at that smiling face, the more she felt as if she saw a mask. Her suspicion grew stronger; she probed the girl’s mind and found nothing. Not even static like when she tried Atharron’s. It was like something was there, but it was being blocked. ‘You told me your name,’ Allison said, the autograph forgotten, ‘I asked who you are.’ The girl leaned in and whispered in Allison’s ear. ‘I’m the girl who has your daughter.’ She moved back to her original position and Allison dropped the CD and pen. In one smooth move, she swung her left arm across the girl’s face and fell on top of her as she hit the floor, pinning her to the ground, one hand around her neck. ‘What have you done with her?!’ Allison screamed. Allison’s hands seemed to have no effect on Naomi’s ability to talk. ‘I’ve done nothing ‘cept take care of her. She ain’t even been near formula milk.’ ‘Tell me where she is!’ ‘Carry on squeezing like that and you’ll never know.’ Allison loosened her grip, hesitated, then let go completely, standing up. ‘That’s better.’ Naomi picked herself up from the ground and continued in the same conversational tone. ‘You know, my boyfriend has already learnt to use his powers properly. And you’re still resorting to physical violence? If you continue like this, you’re gonna lose.’ ‘Believe me, nothing can replace the satisfaction of feeling your neck being crushed.’ ‘Maybe, but it’s inefficient.’ ‘I’ve also got more than just my hands.’ ‘Ah, yes, I’d heard. You’ve been given Diamond Tooth. You’ll get to use it soon.’ ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Because it has started. You need to get out of the way to clear the board for the endgame. And like any good queen, you cannot be attacked while surrounded by pawns. You need to be lured out. I can’t see you as being the kind of player to sacrifice a piece, no matter how insignificant he is.’ ‘Sorry. Never played chess.’ ‘Pity. It’s a good game. You could learn a lot; like for example, allowing a piece to be taken to avoid losing a more powerful one. We have a man named Robert Page. A friend of yours, I believe. Plays darn good bass as well. Anyway, he’s at the Quay. Should you accept this trap, you will have to beat my companion there and prevent her from killing him. Should you fail, Robert will die and will be the first in what my boyfriend dramatically calls “The Program of Death” where we create an army of vampires.’ Allison stepped back and mouthed the last word. Naomi seemed to take her disbelieving attitude for incredulity at the idea. ‘Yeah, I know. He just doesn’t do small and subtle. So, it’s time for you to meet my rook. Turn around.’ Allison, unwilling to turn her back on Naomi, used her remote vision to keep an eye on her. Before she turned fully, she saw from the corner of her eye, a mass of red and knew, a second before she saw the opponent, she would have to race Linda. Something was different about her though. It took a second or two to figure it out, but then she saw it. Her hair, as red as it ever was, seemed in stark contrast to her face, which was so drained of blood as to appear white and make her freckles stand out. Her eyes, no longer green, shone yellow, reflecting the sun in front of her like a cat. Linda tilted her head and looked at Allison in her usual way. ‘Hello, Sweetie.’ As she spoke, Allison caught a glimpse of her teeth, the two upper canines longer and sharper than normal. Allison saw Linda in a new way. Knowing she had killed, rather than merely irritate, made her smile seem malicious. ‘Don’t be frightened. I’m not going to harm you.’ Allison, too scared to move, allowed the other woman to come closer. Linda put her arms around Allison in a tender way, reminding her of how Kate did it. Linda pressed her body against Allison and kissed her. Still, Allison didn’t move, not even to kiss back. When Linda let go, she licked one of her elongated teeth. ‘You really are a sweetie.’ Allison jumped to feel her mouth with her hand, and placed a finger on the inside of her lower lip. She withdrew it and saw blood. ‘You bit me!’ Linda closed her eyes, savouring the flavour. She continued to speak in an almost orgasmic tone. ‘Mmm, you taste gooood.’ Opening her eyes again, she revealed not merely lust, but hunger too. ‘I want more. I know I’ll get it. You’ll let me. You’ll want it. And you’ll love it. To have the one you want most literally devouring you. It’ll be the height of pleasure. You’ll want me to draw more. You’ll be screaming for it. And when your head feels light and darkness closes in, you will turn on me, almost tearing away at my neck. I will sigh with ecstasy. And while the blood is still wet on your lips, you and I will be the same. I will savour … every … last … second … of it. And when that day comes, nothing will ever surpass it.’ ‘You’ll be waiting a long time,’ Allison said, seeing Linda as similar to what she was before. After hearing what she did, Allison expected someone who had somehow turned ‘evil’, ‘Why did you kill those guards?’ Linda shrugged. ‘I was hungry. When you rise, the first thing you want … need … is fresh blood.’ ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ Allison looked around at Naomi’s voice; she forgot the witch still stood there. ‘Time to get on with it.’ Naomi waved a hand and darkness fell as if she’d kept it back and released it. Black smoke engulfed Linda, erasing her from sight. ‘Try to get there as fast as you can. I’ve given her a little head start, but she still has to travel … and it takes time to turn someone.’ Allison needed no encouragement. She ran to her car halfway through Naomi’s last sentence and jumped in a few seconds later. She knew exactly where to go. It wouldn’t take long, not at the speed she hurtled at. She didn’t know how much of a head start Linda had, but she tried not to concentrate on it. She drove through country lanes, swerving out the way of what little traffic lay in front. She didn’t give a thought to the speed camera taking her picture as she entered the city, and weaved in and out of the cars. Within minutes, she skidded to a halt and left the car in the middle of the road. She walked onto the waterfront in the silver moonlight. And saw nobody. It was still early; the many eateries lining the canal should at least be open. No lights shone to be reflected by the water as it quietly lapped at the brick banks and emphasised the silence. Allison looked around and the more she listened, the less she heard. No birds. No cars. No people. Nothing. She walked, her footsteps echoing as if in a cave. Doing nothing gave her time to think clearly for the first time since meeting Naomi. Her most immediate thought was she believed a complete stranger. Did she really have Rob here? She saw him only earlier today. Was she luring Allison here, as she said, to try to fight her? Or was it a diversion? Allison stopped, her footsteps still echoing. The reverberations continued, but instead of dying away, they sounded louder. She turned and faced Linda. Allison was fully prepared for anything … except the sight of blood on Linda’s lips. Allison balled her fist and struck as hard and as fast as she could. The force of the blow propelled Linda’s head to the side; the rest of her body remained still. Linda slowly returned to her original position, saying, ‘Sweetie? That hurt. Not, of course, physically; it’s difficult to harm me now. I’m hurt inside. How could you do that to me?’ Rolling her eyes and giving a huff of annoyance, Allison said, ‘Where’s Rob?’ To answer, Linda wiped the trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth with her index finger. She showed it to Allison. ‘There.’ She ignored Allison’s face drop as she sucked the liquid with relish. It took Allison a moment to register that she had pointed to the bridge spanning the canal. Turning her back on the vampire, she ran towards the bridge. She stepped onto it and saw a bundle in the middle. Worrying how far Linda had gone, she sprinted the distance and slid to her knees at the bundle, finding Rob lying in a pool of glistening red reflecting the moon. She knew she would see this, but that pale face confirmed it and washed away any hopes. She closed her eyes and practised a calming trick Atharron had taught her to use before a fight. She breathed slowly and forcefully; concentrating on emptiness. She counted down from ten and, filled with nothing but her calm awareness, she stood up and opened her eyes. Looking straight ahead to avoid seeing Rob, she turned and faced Linda striding up the bridge. She kept her breathing slow, trying desperately to hold on to tranquillity. But the closer the redhead came, the more she lost it. As Linda paced a few more steps, Allison’s anger destroyed any calm she built up. An arm’s length from her now, Linda stopped and Allison threw her hands around her throat, squeezing. ‘Choking me is going to do about as much damage as that punch earlier, Sweetie.’ Allison tried to prove Linda wrong by squeezing tighter, but when nothing happened, she picked her up by her throat and threw her over the bridge. Not waiting to hear the splash sounding a second later, she ran to Rob’s body, and with a clearer head now, she could see his chest rise and fall. She sighed relief, but it only lasted a second. He needed medical attention fast. She took her jacket off, folded it and pressed it to his neck. She then took her mobile out, dialling for an ambulance. She quickly gave them the details and hung up as she heard another splash. She turned around and saw Linda shoot into the air, water spraying from her as she span like a bullet into the glow of the moon. Her long hair radiated from her as rotors on a helicopter. She stopped suddenly and flew towards Allison, mouth open and ready to bite. Allison readied herself to knock her out of the air. Her fist balled, she struck out when Linda was close enough but hit nothing but black smoke. She spun with the force of her own momentum and saw another figure on the bridge. ‘Naomi,’ Allison said. ‘Yes,’ the girl replied. ‘It is I, the great witch of whom all speak with terror.’ She paused for a second. ‘Sorry, my boyfriend’s melodrama has rubbed off on me a little.’ Looking at the girl, she knew Linda was not to blame as much as this facilitator. The one who ordered the killing of one of her closest friends. The one who took her daughter from under her nose. She acted without thought, throwing her arms in front of her. She let out all her anger and forced it into the other woman. She watched as white bolts of lightning ripped from her fingertips; she felt the thousands of volts of electricity run through her body. And she heard the agonising screams of Naomi, the stench of charred flesh filling her nostrils. The witch’s hold over the Quay waned and people arrived, shops opened, and businesses continued trading for the night as if they had always been there. The fight, however, drove any thoughts of eating from the public’s mind. They watched the display of energy as Allison continued. They heard Naomi scream for mercy. They watched and did nothing. Every one too afraid to interfere. Allison ignored them. She didn’t know how this started and had even less of an idea how to stop it. She tried closing her hands, but the massive power she held paralysed her. With her limited vision, she looked around to find anything to stop it. Then it came to her. Electricity can be earthed. She sensed the water underneath and pulled it up. Giant waves on either side of the bridge rose and the canal gripped the bridge, knocking both women over and shorting out the current. Allison felt a tingling in her fingers, a ghost of the power she just let go. The water drained back to the canal and Allison stood up looking at the burned and soaked remains of Naomi. She stared at her hands in wonder, unable to grasp what she did. Hearing a groan from the other side of the bridge, she stepped forwards and looked at Naomi. Her skin, black, charred and peeling, was virtually indistinguishable from the tattered remains of her clothes. She lay on the concrete unable to move more than a finger. Her face, though burnt beyond recognition, still held eyes filled with hatred. Allison felt sorry. She didn’t mean to do this. As she looked, Allison saw Naomi’s lips move. She couldn’t hear, so she bent down and put her head closer, hearing, ‘Izoa Edzi, lejd zhăzădhägheveka ejd. Izoa Edzi, lejd zhăzădhägheveka ìzi êb badejd.’ Naomi repeated the words, again and again. Allison pulled her head away when they became filled with more life, ‘Ajdhedzi, lejd zhăzădhägheveka ejd. ajdhedzi, lejd zhăzădhägheveka ìzi êb badejd!!’ Allison, captivated by the ferocity of the words, didn’t notice the effect they had. Naomi’s skin lightened, the blistering subsided, the surface smoothed, her hair grew back. Allison stepped back at this incredible event. When Naomi stood up, she retained only a few still healing scars. Her clothes hung off her like an ancient black shroud, revealing more skin than they had when whole. Naomi took a first determined step towards Allison, then another, and another. Allison, amazed and frightened by the regeneration backed off. She looked at the crowd of people seeing a range of emotions on their faces, fear, excitement, disgust, encouragement. But one stood out. One that looked at her in a studious way. A woman in a black cloak.