Mortal Defiance (Dark Betrayal Trilogy #2)

Chapter 5

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“Actually, something happened on the island, but I didn’t know how to explain it. When I went out for some time alone, I fell out of that huge tree.”

“Ree!” Melanie looked at her with huge eyes. “You could have been really hurt!”

“Tell me what happened,” Sophie said quietly. “Everything you can remember.”

“I wanted to be alone, so I went for a run that morning after eating a huge breakfast. I took a break near the giant tree with the low, thick limbs. I tried to lean back against the trunk but I was too far away and fell. I thought I was a goner but everything stopped. I opened my eyes to see that I was floating a couple of inches above the ground. As soon as I realized it was happening I fell the rest of the way and ate dirt.” Scrunching up her nose, she looked at the peppermint mocha that she was still holding and considered what that might mean. “I’d like to say I had a split second of clarity and caught myself on purpose, but the truth is I was completely shocked. I had no way of explaining it and when I got back to the house everyone else was getting ready to go hunt.”

Straightening the papers on her desk, Sophie didn’t meet either of the girl’s eyes for a moment. Melanie looked at Ree, her eyes drawn together in suspicion, apparently not liking the hesitation.

“There are several things that could have caused these things to happen. When you fell out of the tree it could have been an instinctual use of the power. Perhaps something in your subconscious took over and kept you from cracking your head on a tree root. As for this morning, that is another matter altogether.” Sophie looked at the girls; her brown eyes were shadowed and if Ree didn’t know better she would have thought there was a tremor to Sophie’s voice. “I only know of one case where an Alastriana had enough reserve power to float the way Melanie described.”

“Did you ever meet her?” Ree asked, interested by the intensity of Sophie’s words.

“Did it give the Alastriana an advantage?” Melanie obviously had focused on the more pressing matter of the battle.

“Yes, I knew her.” Sophie looked at Ree with eyes that sparkled with tears. “And it got her killed.”

Ree slid her legs off of the armrest and placed her feet on the floor in front of the plush chair. Her heart felt like it was stuck on pause and her breath caught in her throat. She wondered if Melanie had also thought of the same thing and looked at her friend. Caught in an unusual moment, Melanie’s face was clouded in sadness.

“Tria was the only person to ever have enough of a personal reserve of power to float in the manner you are speaking of. Until you, that is.” Sophie stood up and walked over to where Ree sat, kneeling at the younger girl’s feet. “I don’t think there is any more denying what is right in front of us.” Beautiful, lilting words fell from the older woman’s mouth as she looked at Ree in awe. A dam seemed to break in Ree’s chest, water flooding her eyes. She stood up and backed away from Sophie.

“No. I’m not your sister, Sophie. I’m sorry, but I can’t be Tria.” Her fists clenched her skirt on either side, the material bunching under the stress. Why this would be the straw to break the camel’s back, Ree would never be able to explain. Yet, it was more than she could handle to have the rest of her identity taken away from her.

Sophie’s smile was luminous as she shook her head at Ree. “You are, and you aren’t. There is a part of you that is Tria, but in this life you are most definitely Ree.” Taking a deep breath, she moved closer to Ree, still smiling. “Souls come back all the time. They evolve, change, learn, and grow. There will be a part of you that will always be Tria, just as there are many new facets that are not. It isn’t a shame to have had some experience as an Alastriana before this battle. Obviously, the gods thought so as well.”

“You said it killed her, but I thought it was because she saved Roland,” Melanie asked from her chair. Ree wanted to scream in protest. Her life didn’t feel like her own anymore, yet her friend was more worried about fighting. And she couldn’t begin to fathom what this might mean for her as far as Roland and Paden went. She belonged with Paden; she knew it in her gut, even if he had doubts. But a part of her seemed to grow daily, seemed to remember something of Roland, missed him when he wasn’t around. Was that her or Tria? Was there even a difference?

Ree backed away slowly from the Greek woman and her friend as Sophie turned to respond to Melanie. The need to be herself—to not feel like she was a weapon controlled by gods—burned in her veins. She wanted out of that back room, out of the suddenly stuffy shop, and away from the people that seemed to think she was nothing but a tool.

“Because Tria had such a large reserve of power, she didn’t pull from me the way she should have, and bringing Roland back drained her to the point of death. When she received a blow from another Dark One, her body literally gave up. She had no more strength, no more will to live.” Sophie turned back to Ree, her face pulled by a frown. “Where are you going, Ree?”

Ree’s back hit the swinging door that led to the front of the shop. She looked between the two people staring at her and could think of nothing to say. Instead, she shoved through the door and ran as fast as she could.

Chapter 8

Ree knew someone was behind her as she ran, but they kept their distance. They were probably trying to let her calm down, but it only irritated her to know they were back there, still watching her. Well, if they were going to give her space then she was going to take it. She neared the city market and slowed. Even in the cold weather, tourists walked along the sidewalks, peeking into shops and watching local artists work.

There was a large network of artisans who worked and lived in the Savannah area. Ree figured that was to be expected, considering the large, well-known art college located in the downtown area. Not only did many of the college’s students and teachers live in the downtown center, they often migrated back after exploring the world. That influx of creative-minded people lent the downtown area a sense of color and expression that mingled with the historic portions. It was a truly unique place and for a few minutes Ree let herself enjoy the cold breeze on her face and the different music that floated out from the shops and restaurants.

Noticing someone eating a praline as they walked by, Ree felt her stomach rumble. She ducked into one of the many candy and fudge stores and patiently waited for one of the people behind the counter to help her. After a few minutes she left the shop, munching on a caramel- and peanut-covered apple. It was messy, but she didn’t care. It was such a great treat she almost forgot why she was upset in the first place. Unfortunately, that feeling of being followed nagged along her shoulders, yanking her mind back to the problems she faced.

She headed for the riverfront, crossing the busy four-lane road and climbing down the steep stairs to River Street. The breeze was much colder on the waterfront and she wished she had worn something heavier. At least it isn’t raining, she thought, sitting down on one of the benches.

She picked some of the peanuts off the caramel apple and popped them into her mouth. Her mind was unable to pick a train of thought to work out. Instead, it bounced back and forth between the death of her friend, the shocking realization of what her brother had become, the new side to Paden, her comfort with Roland, and the fact that she may or may not be feeling things that were real. Sighing, she tucked some of her hair that was being blown in the breeze behind her ear and frowned down at her apple. If what she was feeling and experiencing was part of Tria, did that make it any less real? Did other people reincarnate and deal with the same questions? She picked off another peanut and stuck it into her mouth, still lost in thought. Maybe it wasn’t as big a deal as she was making it. Maybe it was; after all, most people aren’t thrust face-to-face with their previous life, were they?

Something warm caught her attention, and she realized someone was nearing her that carried their own sense of energy. It was different than what Sophie seemed to radiate, but similar in the sense that it didn’t feel dark or unnatural. Ree looked over her shoulder and smiled when she saw Melanie’s grandmother making her way toward the bench she was sitting on.

“Doing some shopping?” Ree asked as she scooted to the side to make room.

“Would it make you feel better if I had an excuse? Or would you rather I tell you my granddaughter called me because she was worried about you?” She sat down next to Ree and popped a peanut off the apple for herself. “Good choice.”

They sat there for a little while in silence, watching the wake of the boats that went past and enjoying a companionable silence.

“So, I take it you’re upset with some things.” Ellie smiled kindly at Ree.

Ree sighed and stuffed the rest of the apple into the bag from the store. “I guess Melanie is the one lurking in the store behind us?”

“Shouldn’t you know?” Ellie tilted her head to look at Ree, the lines around her eyes deepened by surprise.

“Yeah, I should.” Taking a deep breath, Ree let the power loose from the tiny ball she had tucked it into and made sure it really was Melanie standing in the shop with all of the wind chimes. Once she opened it up, she could feel the guilt and worry radiating from her friend. “I wanted some time to myself,” Ree explained, “so I wasn’t paying attention the way I should.”

“Ah.” The gray-haired woman looked at her for a moment, making Ree want to squirm. “I can understand the need to be alone.”

“I shouldn’t have let my guard down.” Ree looked down at the red bricks under her feet and sighed.

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Ellie smiled at Ree, easing some of the tension that had crept back into her shoulders. “But we all make mistakes. Just as I suspect they may have made mistakes when telling you about Tria.”

“You know about her?” Ree looked at the older woman in surprise.

“Oh, yes, dear. I knew a little before Melanie called, but she filled in some of the gaps.” Ellie settled back against the bench and pulled her heavy sweater tighter around her shoulders. “Obviously you aren’t too happy about it all.”

A sick laugh escaped Ree as she shook her head. “I guess you could say that.”

“But, why, dear? What is there to fear?”

“How do I know where I begin and Tria ends? Will it affect how I think and what I do?”

“Let’s walk. It’s too cold to sit here and let the wind eat away at us.” Ellie stood up and offered her hand to Ree. Letting the older woman hold her hand as they walked, she felt a sense of peace settle in her heart. Ellie felt like home on a cold winter night. Remembering what she had learned about Melanie’s family, Ree looked at the sweet grandmother walking beside her. The faint gold color Ree had noticed earlier shone along the woman’s shoulders and near her head. It was subtle, but definitely there, which made her wonder if the woman had consciously done something to ease Ree’s stress level.

“It’s part of the gift.” As if sensing her thoughts, Ellie winked at her conspiratorially. They crossed the old cobblestone road, avoiding the trolley rails that were embedded in the stonework. Closer to the store fronts, the wind wasn’t quite as harsh while they walked past the vendors and shops. Ellie looped her arm through Ree’s and they walked in companionable silence for a while.

“So, you are worried Tria will make your decisions for you?” Ellie fingered a silk scarf that had a Celtic design along the edges. Her tone was conversational, but Ree couldn’t help but wonder if Ellie thought she was being silly.

“Yeah. How do I know if my thoughts are my own? Will she try to take control of me?”

“No, child. Let’s see, how can I explain this?” Pursing her lips, Ellie hummed to herself as she thought. “Ah. Okay. Do you think of ten-year-old Ree as a different person?”

“Ten-year-old Ree?”

“Yes. You when you were ten. Were you a different person, or just younger?”

“I was just younger. I was still me.”

“Exactly.” Ellie nodded her head in agreement and Ree couldn’t help wondering if the woman was losing her mind. What was she agreeing to?

“I don’t get it.”

“It’s simple, sweetheart. You were still you at ten years old, just a younger version of you. Tria was still you when she was alive; your soul was just a younger version.” Ellie chuckled at Ree. “If your eyebrows go any farther into your hairline, people are going to think you had a terrible waxing accident.”

Ree quickly tried to smooth her face, but couldn’t help the giggle that escaped.

“It is my belief that souls are on this plane so they can learn, and it would be impossible to learn everything that life has to offer in one go-around.” Ellie stopped and picked up a statue of a little dachshund wearing four-leaf-clover sunglasses and smiled. “Oh, I have to have this. It looks just like my Sam boy, doesn’t it? Hold that thought, I’ll be right back.” She ducked into the shop and handed the cashier some money. A giant smile lit up her face as she cradled her new package. Ree couldn’t help returning that grin. There was something very infectious about Ellie and her moods. When she was serious, you could feel it in your bones. When she was happy, it made you feel light.

“Okay, so back to what I was saying. Tria doesn’t make your decisions for you any more than ten-year-old Ree does. Her experiences and life lessons might help you make decisions, but she isn’t going to take over.”

“So, what you’re saying is that I am Tria?”

“Yes. You are both Tria and Ree. They are the same person.”

“So, if I was in love with someone else in another life, will I still be in love with them in this life?” Ree twisted the bottom corners of her jacket in her hands.

“Well, you might remember that love, and it is likely you might love them again. After all, there was probably something deep inside that person your soul will recognize. Of course, you could also end up being that person’s sibling or best friend. Love comes in many forms.” She looked at Ree from the corner of her eyes. “Is this about Paden, then? Or the new guy? Roland?”

Turning sheepish eyes toward the other woman, Ree grimaced. “Both, I guess.”

“Hm. Well, it is possible to love many people over many lifetimes. Soul mates are often connected through incarnations, but that doesn’t mean you incarnate together all the time. And in those lives you might fall in love with another.”

“Soul mates.” The word came out in quiet breath. “That’s the second time the idea of soul mates has been brought to my attention in less than a week.” Stepping around some tourists, Ree tried to form her thoughts into a coherent question. Could it be possible Roland was her soul mate? He had waited for hundreds of years for Tria. No, for me, Ree thought with a shiver. And what about Paden? What she felt for him was so intense and right. When she was in his arms it was like she had come home. Like she belonged right there with him and nothing else mattered. Yet, part of her couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like with Roland. She had a feeling it would be completely different if she were to give in to him. Sighing loudly, she wrapped her arms around her while keeping her eyes on the ground in front her.

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