RICOCHET THROUGH TIME
Echo Trilogy, #3
Read Chapter 1 here.
Catch & Release
I have trust issues. I know this. Earning my trust is like pulling teeth, and regaining it once it’s lost is like trying to shove those pulled teeth back into their respective holes, dead roots and all. It’s probably my biggest flaw. But what can I say? I’ve been conditioned to expect those who love me most to lie to me. My parents did it, my grandparents did it, my friends did it . . . even Marcus did it.
All that dishonesty makes a girl wary. And, at times, pissed off.
Last winter, I’d been a normal grad student at the University of Washington, well on my way to earning my PhD in archaeology. I’d been a bit of a loner, my only true friend in the program being a fellow archaeologist, a classicist named Carson. Or I’d thought he was my friend.
It turned out Carson was an agent of Marcus’s, planted at the U to keep an eye on me on the off chance that I manifested into a full-blown Nejerette. But what Marcus hadn’t known was that Carson was a double agent, so to speak. He’d pledged his loyalty to Marcus, claiming to be of his bloodline. And maybe he was—none of us knew for sure. But Carson’s true loyalty belonged to the Kin, a hidden, subversive group of Nejerets opposed to the Council of Seven’s rule for reasons we didn’t fully understand yet.
Carson had kept his head low, earning his way into the close circle of Marcus’s trusted few by capitalizing on his friendship with me and manipulating the emotions of my young Nejerette half-sister, Kat. He’d fooled us all, and in the end, he’d shown his true colors by shooting Dom, holding Kat hostage with a gun to her head, and stealing the At orb containing the twisted soul of one of the most ancient and powerful beings in the universe—the Netjer Apep.
And who’d helped him accomplish that great feat of betrayal? None other than Kat’s mom, Genevieve. And now they were both here, within our walls. Our home. My deceitful former UW peer and Kat’s traitorous mother were somewhere nearby, just under my feet. I had no idea what I would say to them when they were finally in front of me. Accusations and blame were the only things that came to mind.
Carlisle brought the electric cart to a halt in the compound’s enormous warehouse of a garage. It wasn’t far from the main house as the crow flies, but the route to get there was circuitous, and the cart wasn’t the speediest four-wheeled creation.
I’d been clenching my teeth so hard that my jaw groaned when I finally spoke again. “There’s a dungeon below the garage?”
“Can you think of a better location?”
“I—” Was any location a good location for a dungeon? “Well, no,” I admitted.
Carlisle scooted out of the driver’s seat and rounded the front of the cart, stopping on my side. “Please, Meswett . . .” He held his arm out toward the back wall. “It’s just this way.”
“Have they explained their intentions?” Nik asked as we wove between vehicles of all sizes parked in orderly rows and closed in on a metal fire door painted an ashen gray.
I blew out a breath. This whole thing felt surreal.
“So far as I know,” Carlisle said, “they have not explained their reason for being here.” He fit a silver key into the lock and turned the handle, pushing the door inward to reveal a short hallway with another door at the end.
This new door was also metal, but the similarity ended there. It was shiny and paint-free, had no visible hinges, locks, knobs, or handles, and was paired with a small screen in the wall immediately to the right. Some sort of high-tech biometric scanner, I assumed.
Carlisle stepped up to the screen in the wall by the second door. He stared at it for a few seconds, saying nothing.
“Identity confirmed—Carlisle Walker the Third.” The voice was vaguely artificial, but still pleasant. “Passcode, please.”
“Five-three-eight-U-C-L,” he said clearly.
“Voice recognized. Passcode confirmed.”
The door slid open, revealing a compact elevator car with stainless steel everything. We loaded in and, as soon as the door slid shut, started descending.
“So,” I said, drawing out the word. I felt like I was shouting in the deafening quiet. Who knew I’d ever wish for elevator music? “Are there any other secret elevators hidden around the compound?”
“Not at present, Meswett,” Carlisle said, clasping his hands behind his back. “Though there is one on the outside, in case an emergency evacuation is necessitated. It links to a system of tunnels under the compound. The entry security for that elevator is much stronger, of course.”
“Of course,” I said dryly.
Our descent was quick and ended not with a ding, but with a gentle shush as the door opened. Carlisle led us into a hallway that was nothing like what I’d expected. Plaster coated the walls and the arched ceiling, friezes faintly engraved and painted into the surfaces to display hieroglyphs and figures in a notably Egyptian style. The color palette, limited to grays and silver, gave the wall decoration a distinctly modern bent. It was the perfect marriage of ancient Egypt and Marcus’s personal stylistic taste, and it was so unexpected that it knocked me temporarily speechless.
Not Nik, though. He whistled. “Well, this is interesting . . .”
“Heru has always taken comfort in surrounding himself with reminders of his home.”
As we made our way down the hallway, I studied the scenes depicted on the walls. Most made little sense to me, though I was certain every detail had been chosen purposefully and held deep significance to Marcus. He never said, did, or created anything without purpose.
“What stories do the friezes tell?” I asked, eyes scanning the images. Yes, I was avoiding the confrontation with Genevieve and Carson. And yes, I knew it was inevitable. But delaying it just a smidgen longer was so very tempting. I couldn’t resist.
“They contain our history.” Carlisle paused and waved his hand over a scene on the left side of the hallway. “This one in particular is a vignette of Heru’s childhood growing up in the Netjer-At Oasis.” It was a beautiful image, with buildings in shimmering silver in the background and two children standing on either side of a noble-looking ancient Egyptian woman. All three were staring up at a glorious male figure, who dwarfed them.
“Mut,” Nik said softly, brushing his fingertips over the depiction of the woman. There was fondness in his voice, and sorrow.
I rested my hand on his arm and studied his features. An aching sense of loss was painted across his face, transforming him from tough ancient being to little boy in an instant. “Your grandmother?”
When he nodded, I returned my attention to the graceful figure—Marcus and Aset’s human mother.
“She was an incredible woman. So warm and giving, but also strong enough to stand up to Osiris when necessary.” He let out a whisper of a laugh. “Their marriage was arranged by Nuin, but the way everyone told it, grandfather never minded one bit.”
“Marcus never talks about her,” I said, my voice hushed.
“I’m not surprised.” Nik turned and draped an arm over my shoulder. “Don’t take it personally, Lex. Her death—it destroyed him. He spent decades shying away from mortals to keep himself from feeling that way again.” He glanced at me, sympathy filling the pale blue depths of his eyes. “Immortality takes a while to get used to. Watching beloved humans die . . . it’s not easy, not for any of us. You’ll see.” Though his words carried the promise of terrible pain, his open expression told me he’d be there to help me through it.
I offered him a weak smile and a reluctant nod, then turned to Carlisle. “Alright, let’s get this over with, shall we?” Facing traitorous Carson and Genevieve would be way better than thinking about the inevitable day when my human parents would die . . . and my sister . . .
Anything would be better than thinking about that.
A few minutes and several turns down different hallways later, we reached what appeared to be a dead end. Like the other walls, the one at the end of the corridor was covered in gleaming silver hieroglyphs. But unlike the other walls, this one contained only a single, large image—a human male, limbs extended Vitruvian-man style. The figure still appeared Egyptian, stylistically, but the image was far more gruesome than any ancient Egyptian art I’d ever seen. The man appeared to have knives stabbed into his feet and wrists, holding his limbs in place, and where his eyes should have been were nothing but gaping black holes.
I tilted my head to the side, watching as Carlisle pushed on the figure. It depressed, sinking into the wall, and a moment later, the entire wall slid to the side, revealing a wrought iron gate.
“That last image was rather unique,” I said to Nik while we waited for Carlisle to unlock the gate.
Nik nodded slowly. “It’s Marcus—or, Heru.”
I gaped at him.
Nik glanced at me sidelong. “That’s how we found him, Mother and I, when Apep-Set jumped him back during the whole Council succession thing—you know, ‘The Contendings of Horus and Seth’ . . .”
My eyes bulged. Set—or rather, Apep—had done that to Marcus? “At least that psycho’s locked away for good,” I said, crossing my arms and shaking my head. About a month ago, Nik had sealed Apep’s sickly soul in a prison of At about the size of a baseball, and until my kids were born and came into their godly power, nobody else on this earth but Nik could let Apep out. Maybe I’d have felt a little more comfortable if we still had possession of the Apep orb, but we didn’t. Because Carson stole it. The bastard.
“Maybe Carson’s here to return the orb.” Nik laughed under his breath. “I bet he grovels real nice.”
“Guess we’re about to find out,” I said as Carlisle pushed the wrought iron gate open. I took a deep breath, then followed him down the stairs.
He led us into a fairly authentic dungeon setting. The dingy, rough-hewn stone walls, iron-barred cells, and pervasive chill in the air seemed both ridiculously out of place and laughably expected. But then, dungeons like this had been the way of things for millennia for Marcus; I supposed it didn’t make sense for him to change his ways now just because the world had gone ahead and changed all around him.
“The cell at the end,” Carlisle said, though the direction was unnecessary. Dominic and a full retinue of guards crowded the space at the end of the dungeon.
Dominic spotted us and hurried our way.
“What have they told you?” I asked my half-brother, rushing ahead to meet him.
“Nothing.” His dark eyes met mine, and he combed his long fingers through his night-black hair, slicking the lengthy strands back. His face was tense, his irritation clear, making his sharp features even more angular. “Where is Marcus?” he asked, his French accent heavier than usual.
“She’s still alive. On life support, but still with us.” I cleared my throat. “Neffe seems hopeful.”
“Well, that is something, at least.” With a hand on my lower back, Dominic guided me toward the cell at the end. “Gen demanded to speak to Marcus, but hopefully you will be good enough.”
I snorted. Not likely, considering Genevieve’s none-too-hidden feelings toward Marcus. Not that her jealousy meant she didn’t like me, exactly. At least, not that I was aware of—or had been aware of before she’d gone turncoat. It was just that she’d been carrying a torch for Marcus for years, and if she wanted to talk to him, well, she wanted to talk to him.
“Also,” Dominic said when we reached the iron-barred cell door, “Carson is injured.”
I stared through the bars into the dimly lit cell. Within, Genevieve was huddled on her knees on the floor, Carson curled into the fetal position, his head resting on her lap. Blood soaked her lilac tunic and white leggings, as well as Carson’s blue T-shirt. My stomach twisted at the sight; it had been sensitive lately, an early gift from the twins.
“Injured, indeed,” I said quietly, crossing my arms.
Genevieve’s head shot up at the sound of my voice, and she speared me with bloodshot eyes. “He needs a doctor! Where’s Neffe or—”
“She’s busy,” I said. I glanced at Dominic, hesitant to dismiss aid outright. “How bad is it?” After everything Carson had done, I really didn’t mind him being in pain for a while. But that didn’t mean I wanted him to die.
“Gunshot to the shoulder,” Dominic said with a lazy shrug. “He has lost some blood, but he will live.”
“Okay.” I flashed Genevieve a grim, humorless smile. “He’ll have to wait. Why did you come here?”
“To warn Marcus . . .” She trailed off, shaking her head. “I want to see him.”
“You think you want to see him,” I said, “but trust me, Gen, you don’t.”
“You came back here thinking . . . what? That things would go right back to the way they were? That he’d still love you like a little sister?” I took a step closer to the cell door, stopping when Dominic placed a hand on my shoulder, holding me just out of arm’s reach from the bars. “After everything you’ve done, Gen, after all the betrayal, did you really think he’d forgive you?” I leaned forward. “Tell me why you’re here. Prove to me—to Marcus—that there’s a reason he should still give a damn about you.”
Genevieve’s resolve was wavering; it was written all over her face.
“Did you really come here to warn Marcus?” I asked. “About what? Are we in danger?” I would do anything to protect my twins—anything. Even kick another mother when she was down. “Is Kat in danger?”
Genevieve’s love for her daughter had always been her weakness. Kat was her whole world and, in a twisted way, had been her reason for betraying Marcus and the Council of Seven.
She hung her head, her limp chestnut waves falling around her face like a curtain. “Apep . . .” She spoke so quietly that without my heightened sense of hearing, I wouldn’t have heard her. “Someone released him. He’s free.”
That's it for the second chapter. Stay tuned for Chapter 3!