Val stood by his side with her usual calm… but if you looked hard enough you could see the fear in her dark eyes.
That alone made Eden’s knees tremble.
“Good work tonight. They did not make it easy.” Cyrus nodded at them both. His eyes stopped on Noah, his jaw strained with seriousness. “Noah, there is something I have left in your room tha
t I would like you to take a look at.”
Eden glanced up at her boyfriend, watching the frown deepen between his eyebrows. He glanced down at her, questioning her silently. When she didn’t say anything the frown turned into a scowl. With one last squeeze of her hand, Noah took off up the stairs, his shoulders tensed with annoyance that he was being left out of… whatever was going on.
Without a word, Eden followed Cyrus and Val out of the hall and down one of the many carpeted corridors. She wasn’t surprised when they ducked inside Cyrus’ private drawing room/office. They clearly wanted no interruptions for this.
As soon as the door closed behind them Eden pounced. “Where’s the girl?”
They both gazed at her, their eyes apprehensive, and Val’s chest was rising and falling a little unsteadily. What the hell…
“OK, just talk to me. Please.”
“Eden.” Val stepped towards her unsurely. “What you witnessed me do tonight… it’s my gift. It’s our gift. It’s the gift of the Unforeseen.”
Ignoring the massive ball of screaming, breath-stealing shock that was swirling in her chest, Eden shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
Her mentor sighed heavily, leaning back against Cyrus’ desk. Cyrus himself stood as straight-backed and as vigilant as ever, his dark, penetrating gaze boring into Eden. “Everyone who knows the legend of the Unforeseen is under a misapprehension. They believe what you yourself have been told… that the Unforeseen are stronger and faster than any other Ankh.”
Eden nodded. That was what she’d been told.
“But… when you train with Noah… do you always outwit him?”
Her heart missed a half-beat in her chest and the feeling brought on a wave of nausea. “No,” she answered hoarsely. No, she didn’t always beat Noah. Sometimes she won. Sometimes he won. Six weeks… and she’d never questioned that.
“You and I are just as strong and just as fast as any other Ankh, Eden. Ryan assumed the legends were true, that was why he wanted you. In truth he would have been disgusted to discover your true talent.”
She longed for more air. “I can turn a soul eater into a human?”
“Yes. We have energy within us, perhaps born from our transition from soul eater to Ankh, that allows us to burn out the hunger, burn out the soul eater within. Once we burn that part of them out, they’re no longer supernatural. They’re just human.”
“Then why didn’t you just do that to me, rather than making me go all the way to Scotland… I don’t get it!”
“Eden.” Cyrus shook his head at her, his expression demanding she keep calm.
Keep calm! Keep calm! Just when she thought she was coping with her bizarre life something new and creepily effed up entered into it!
“We were afraid,” Val told her softly. “We didn’t want to veer from the path that had been taken when I was converted into Ankh. You may have been converted to human rather than Ankh, and that was never your destiny, Eden. Your destiny is to remove soul eaters from our world. It isn’t easy to do what I did tonight. A soul eater has to stay still long enough for me to get my hands on them to change them. And when they become human they have no memory of their life as a soul eater. It’s like a rebirth.”
Eden shook her head, stumbling back against Cyrus’ armchair, her legs catching on it, her butt slumping down on the arm rest. Her chest rose and fell beneath her chin as she tried to gulp down the truth… and fight the ugly, darkness she’d felt earlier as one thought tried to bury its way out to the surface.
No. She felt tears fall behind her eyes. No.
“Cyrus has the converted placed in a private hospital where they are cared for until they are able to cope healthily with their amnesia. He then sends them across seas away from any soul eater family they might have left behind. They are set up with a new life, a new identity, and given a fresh start in life. Very few of them question a wealthy benefactor who found them and takes care of them. Would you? Well maybe you would.” She smiled wryly, sadly. “And some do. They are left to explore their new world alone.
“We kept this from you, Eden, because…” she shook her head, her fingers gripping the edge of Cyrus’ desk so hard her knuckles turned white. “If anyone found out that you can do this, you’d be an even larger target than you already are. Nobody knows I’m Unforeseen, Eden. No one knows I can do this, they wouldn’t even know to turn to me if they discovered someone had this ability. But you… you’re already in a dangerous position as it is. We thought it was best we kept this from you, that you need never know you had this ability.”
The darkness burst forth from Eden as Val ended on a pleading sigh. She looked up at them from underneath her lashes and they tensed at the look in her eyes. “Stellan.”
And she knew.
“Was that your plan for him?” the anger crumpled into renewed grief as she thought of what the future could have held for her brother. “You were originally going to tell me because you were going to change him for me?”
Val’s nod was almost imperceptible but Eden caught it like a lump of sorrow in her throat. “When Noah reported how close you two were, how protective he was… how… different he sounded… Cyrus and I thought it would be easier for your transition if he was saved too.”
Eden choked on a sob as she thought of Stellan. He would have welcomed the change. She knew it. She just knew it.
As Cyrus made to approach her, she waved him off, not wanting anybody to touch her. She curled into herself, trying to stop the shuddering sobs that cracked up out of her… but she couldn’t.
All this time she’d thought a future with Stellan in it would have been hopeless anyway if Romany hadn’t killed him. That she’d have to avoid him all her life and hope they never crossed paths, that she was never put in a position where she’d have to choose duty over Stellan… because she knew she’d never have been able to execute that duty. She wouldn’t have been able to hurt Stellan. Ever.
And now… to know that if he’d lived, if her brother, her best friend, had lived… he would have been OK. He could have been in her life. And even if he couldn’t remember how much he’d loved his little sister it would have been worth it… because he’d have been free.
“Eden,” Val whispered unsurely.
Eden gulped down a deep breath, batting away her tears, unable to look at either of them. Her lips trembled as she tried to control herself.
“Eden… we are very sorry for what happened to Stellan. For what will never be.”
“Don’t,” she choked out, the aching pain in her chest too much. “Please don’t. I can’t…”
They were silent a while as Eden’s breathing evened out, a numbness creeping over the grief. She needed to be numb.
“You can’t tell anyone, Eden,” Val eventually spoke up. “No one can know what you are capable of.”
Wiping her nose with the back of her sleeve, Eden shook her head, her voice still weak with tears, “I’m not lying to Noah.”
“Good,” his warm voice entered the room, the door closing shut behind him. Noah stilled when she turned around, his eyes narrowing at the sight of her tear-streaked face. His pale eyes darkened as he approached her, his strong hand easing down onto her shoulder. With a questioning look he handed her a manila folder. “Because I refuse to lie to you too.” At that he threw a glare over at Cyrus. Eden immediately felt a pierce of panic shoot through her body. Not once had she seen Noah angry at Cyrus. Not once.
With trembling hands, she turned the page of the paper folder.
An image gazed back at her. An image of Neil McLeish, the Scottish Neith Councilman who had been less than friendly to her when she was visiting the Douglas’ in Edinburgh, standing talking to a young woman with sandy blonde hair.
She turned the next page.
And the next.
They were surveillance photographs.
Finally, Eden turned to a
nother. Her heart froze in her chest at this one. A close up of the young woman with McLeish.
It was Romany.
Neil McLeish was not surprised by Cyrus’ test. Not in the least. After his attitude towards the Ankh and, in particular, Eden MacDouglas, it was no shocker that Cyrus might believe him to be the rebel Neith traitor their world was slowly growing abuzz with. For all his contacts, for all the rumors, Neil had been unable to unearth the identity of the Neith who was on the verge of leading a rebellion.
That told him one, reassuring thing.
Whoever it was he or she hadn’t been able to create much of a furor so far.
And while that eased his worries somewhat, he knew it didn’t mean the rebel wouldn’t eventually have the kind of power he needed to take down the Ankh.
Take down the Ankh.
Neil grimaced at the thought.
People perceived him as one thing when in truth he was neither this nor that. No wonder Cyrus had sent Romany Jordan of the Chicago Neith to sniff out his true loyalty. She’d come to him with a tale of woe. She’d dated Noah Valois. Had loved him. She’d killed Stellan Winslow, a soul eater and the half-brother of Eden MacDouglas, and Noah had turned his back on Romany. They all had. She’d just done her duty and the arrogant bastards had turned her out. She wanted revenge. She wanted Eden MacDouglas dead. She wanted the Ankh… gone.
It hadn’t taken much to verify her story. That’s probably why Cyrus had sent her on this mission. A double agent. The Princeps had sent her to the wrong bloody man, that’s all. Still… he hadn’t been surprised by Cyrus’ mistrust. Neil’s sister had after all betrayed them and contacted Cosmina Arcos in an attempt to have Eden killed. Mary had always been narrow-minded, unwilling to rationalize or think things through. Just like their pig-headed father who had beaten his hatred of soul eaters quite literally into his children. And then of course there was Neil’s own behavior. He hadn’t been able to curb his negative attitude towards Eden. She was an anomaly… and she’d given him the willies. Not to mention she was just a complete and total pain in the arse.