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Monday, January 26, 2009

Paths to Power, Chapt. 1

by K.A. Kinrade

She was born to power—power that could destroy worlds. He was born to stop her, whatever the cost. They didn’t plan to fall in love. Will it save them…or lead to their foretold destruction?

In the Urban Fantasy Paths to Power, the very nature of good and evil is turned on its head as one woman struggles with duty, destiny, love and betrayal to discover the heart of her own power – and realizes that while magic isn’t everything, it sure does help.

Corinne Driscol believes her life is under control, if not perfect. She’s a martial arts champion with money, beauty, brains and the ability to see and talk to elemental beings. The power she feels deep inside her still causes pain and depression as she struggles with her inability to access it, but she’s coping. Everything unravels, however, the day her childhood cat, Mothball, magically appears in her Washington cottage after a two year absence. He bears gifts that begin to unlock her powers and shake the very foundation of the life she’s always known.

As a string of supernatural serial murders threatens her hometown, Corinne becomes involved with sexy Irish homicide detective Kian O’Riley. Things go from complicated to chaotic as Corinne is attacked, beaten up and nearly killed. Their potential love is further tested by prophesies that, unbeknownst to Corinne, have been dictating her life from the beginning. Will Corinne bring the end of the world, as Kian has always thought, or will she be the savior her mentor believes her to be? While maintaining the escapist excitement and archetypal magic that fantasy readers love, Paths to Power offers a new look at the oldest story ever written.
Publication date to be announced
All work copyrighted

This is a VERY rough draft of Chpt. 1, with more to follow. Enjoy.

Chapter 1

I never knew how IT got there. One moment the spot was empty, the next it was there.
Isn’t that the way of my crazy life? To always leave me wondering.

Things like this didn’t happen to others. I’d learned that the hard way. Raised by my aunt in Olympia, Washington, and attending a local Waldorf School, I’d always been surrounded by magic. I couldn’t do magic -- I'd tried, oh, how I'd tried -- but it was still a big part of my life, When I told kids and teachers at school that I could see fairies and spirits and that things sometimes appeared before me, they accepted that as par for the course. It was that kind of school. Unfortunately, not all the world met me with the same acceptance or grace. Go figure. So I learned to keep my mouth shut and tried to keep my eyes focused on what everyone else could see.

But it was 2 a.m. -- so much for getting a good night’s sleep -- and I was alone in the cottage I’d had built on our property once I came into my inheritance. I was allowed to be my crazy self. Besides, this was truly the most interesting thing I’d had appear in front of me ever. Which was saying something.

It was a cat. But not just any cat. It was Mothball, my cat from my childhood. My constant companion for years, who suddenly disappeared two years ago, never to be seen or heard from again. We’d spent months looking for this cat -- trips to the shelters, ads in the paper, posters everywhere and late night searches through nearby woods. Aunt Alana even used magic to track him. Nothing. No sign of him. We’d assumed he was dead. Such was my life.

Woe is me. Sometimes it bothered me a lot, being so down. I knew, objectively, I had much to be thankful for. I had everything I ever needed or wanted, or at least what my aunt thought I should need or want. I saw things others could only dream about seeing. Even my name, Corinne Callan Driscol, had power. Corinne means “fair maiden” in Gaelic; Callan is “powerful in battle” and Driscol, “from Wild Roses”. That was me. I led a charmed life by most people’s standards ... if you take out the whole disappearing parents thing. But even with charm there was pain. There’s always pain. It’s one of the four noble truths, according to the Buddha, though some days it didn’t feel all that noble to me.

I shook my head, dismissing the thoughts. Existential crises notwithstanding, I had a cat, MY cat, sitting on the oak table next to my small prayer altar, looking like a guardian angel with golden fir trimmed in white, and a strange pouch tied around his neck.

I could feel the familiar pull to unleash my own magic. The lingering anxiety that was a constant companion of mine receded as the piercing pain that accompanied my reach for power burned through my body. I closed my eyes and fought to reestablish the razor edge of balance between the two that kept me sane. Most of the time. Besides, no matter how hard I tried to reach my power, no matter how deep I went into myself, no matter how much pain I endured, I could never reach it. I could never use it. Once I even passed out from the pain while trying. It was futile. But if I didn’t try a little, the depression would overwhelm me. I looked at the faint white scars on my arms and cringed in shame at my one and only descent into that abyss. Never again. I’d gladly suffer the pain.

Once I had myself under control I refocused my attention on Mothball. He sat there quietly gazing at me with the same knowing expression I remembered with fondness. Always an unusual cat, Mothball seemed more human than catlike. He came when people called him, knew instinctively what I was feeling and what I needed from him, and had an intelligence in his yellow eyes I’ve never before or since seen in animals. But he couldn’t talk, and right now I needed answers.

Time to call Aunt Alana. She, too, was named for her most brilliant qualities – harmony and nobility. As an Anthropology major focusing on linguistics and storytelling; words, names and history held special meaning for me these days.

I grabbed my cell phone and hit the speed dial. There were two people in my life who knew things others couldn’t. But my lifelong friend Sylphy likely wouldn’t appreciate a call at 2 a.m. Aunt Alana, on the other hand, would be expecting it.

Ring. Ring. “Hello, Corinne,” said the voice of my dear aunt on the other line, not sounding the least bit tired. Yes, she'd been expecting it.

“Hi. How do you do that?” I asked for the umpteenth time. She didn't have caller ID. She didn't need it.

“Magic, my dear. I’m psychic.” The running family joke and catch-all answer to any question relating to the fantastical. Nor was she done being psychic. “I take it Mothball is back and is at this very moment confounding you with his presence at this unseemly hour of the morning.”

I sighed. “Yes, of course you know all about this, probably before I did. So tell me, what’s this about? Where’s he been? Why’s he back now?”

“Does it matter? You have your precious cat back." I blinked. That seemed a bit harsh. "You should be grateful! Are you coming by the house tomorrow after class? I’ll make your favorite lemonade and we can catch up. I’ve hardly seen you in weeks.”

“Nice change of subject. I know you know more than you’re letting on. Don’t think I’m going to let this go. And yes, I’ll come by tomorrow, but I’ve got a hectic schedule so I can’t stay long. Master Song is training me harder these days to prepare me for my next belt. Plus, I’ve been working on a big research project for school,” I said.

“Yes, well, I don’t see why you have to train so hard. You’re going to get yourself hurt if you push yourself too much. I just think…”

“Aunt Alana!” I said, cutting her off. The middle of the night was not the time for this conversation, if indeed there ever was such a time, but she didn't seem to get that. “I know you’re worried. But I’ll be fine. Now, I have to go get some sleep or I will be pushing myself too far, and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”

“No, I suppose not. I’ll see you tomorrow, you promise, right?”

“Yes, I promise. Good bye.”

“Night, dear." Yeah, right. I knew better than to hang up immediately. "Oh, wait." Inevitably. "I’ve been reading some terrible things in the news lately. People dying horrible deaths, and I see a very dark force around it. Be very careful. Something's come here that’s not normal.”

I’d read about the murders, but chalked it up to some wacko. That Aunt Alana was concerned bothered me. Yes, she was overprotective, but she wasn’t easily spooked.

“Okay, I’ll be extra careful. Good thing I’ve been training so hard. I’m in top shape,” I said, hoping against hope to end the argument once and for all.

“I just worry about you Corinne. You train all the time. You don’t have any friends. You never go out. It’s just not normal.”

I sighed. That was getting old real fast. “Aunt Alana, I’m happy. I like my life just the way it is. So, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“All right, dear. You’re right. It’s good that you’re so skilled and beautiful, I don’t just don’t want you to end up alone.” Like me.

The last two words hung silently in the air. She didn’t have to speak them, I knew. I softened my attitude, knowing she was just looking out for me. She must have been lonely, and scared that I’ll end up like her. I felt a familiar guilt return. It was my fault she was alone. She’d been forced to raise me when my parents…were killed. It couldn’t have been easy. I tried to remember that whenever her overbearing protectiveness got to me. Still, it’s time to cut the chords, I thought. If she was so lonely there was nothing holding her back from changing that.

“I won’t. Promise. Now good night.”

“Good night.”

I hung the phone up with more force than was absolutely necessary -- I'd wanted answers, not smothering overprotectiveness -- and stared at Mothball. I cursed; I'd forgotten to ask her about the pouch. Oh, well, there'd be time tomorrow. I wasn’t about to call her back and invite another lecture about my hectic schedule or empty social life. If she had her way, I’d quit my training entirely to become a ‘normal college student.’ Not likely.

“What do I do with you now?” I asked the cat, who stared at me without moving. “Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but I’m really tired, I’m not a big fan of sleep deprivation, and I was REALLY pissed when you left!”

Mothball stared at me silently, as if waiting to see if I was finished. Finally, the cat gave a tiny meow, and my will collapsed. I picked up the big fur ball and held him close to my chest.
“Dang, you’ve gotten bigger. What’ve you been eating? Whatever. Gotta get some sleep. So, let’s see what you brought me.”

I untangled the pouch from around his neck and studied it carefully as I carried him to my bedroom. I threw Mothball on the bed and sat next to him. The pouch was made of a smooth white leather that appeared aged, but wasn’t stained or discolored at all. There were four amethyst beads, two on each side of the leather strips that tightened the bag. In the middle there was a silver design of a full moon in the center with a crescent moon on each side. I ran my finger over the moons and felt a shiver of recognition.

The design matched a unique birthmark I had on my right hip. How odd. The pouch had the look and feel of a medicine bag. Taking a breath, I opened it and gently poured the contents unto my purple comforter.

There were two items in the pouch. The first was a necklace. On a silver chain hung a heavy symbol that looked ancient and like nothing I had ever seen in any cultures I’d studied. It reminded me of a cross between hieroglyphs and Asian symbols, but even that didn’t fully explain what I was looking at.

The metal was thick and had a liquid quality to it, like melted silver. It was cool to the touch, and sent a shock through my body. I would have to have it analyzed to be sure, but I didn’t think this metal was found on Earth. Maybe it was made from some sort of meteorite? Regardless of its origins, I knew immediately that I needed to wear it. I took off the Ankh I occasionally wore and slipped this around my neck. I wasn’t at all prepared for what happened next.

Heat moved over my skin, like fire caressing me. I expected to feel burned, but instead felt a warmth seeping into me, causing my body to become jellylike. I had the fleeting thought that this must be what a Morphine overdose felt like. My breathing became labored and I struggled not to panic. I searched frantically for a spot in my mind that wasn’t racing. No such luck. Had to get out of my mind. I refocused my attention to my body, my breath, pulling in all the tricks I’d learned after years of meditation.

Then I screamed. A sharp tearing in my chest sent me back to panicking. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to claw at my neck in an effort to tear the necklace of me, but I couldn’t move. My ribs felt like the were cracking into tiny pieces, piercing my lungs in the process. I was sure I would die if I couldn’t get this blasted thing off my neck. I began to lose consciousness just as I felt my body split in two. Then nothing.

Was I awake or dreaming? I didn’t know. The pain was gone, but I wasn’t in my bedroom anymore. I was floating through rainbows of lights amidst a jet black sky. The lights entered me and floated through me. My body was gone. I was an expansion of all that was, is and will ever be. I was an expression of eternity. Freedom and power coursed through every aspect of my being. Power without pain. Joy without the shadows of depression. My heart soared. My soul breathed in the stillness of the night and rejoiced in the beauty.

When I opened my eyes I was struck by how dull and lifeless everything looked. My body, a body I had carefully trained to be lean, fast and skilled, felt like a lump of lead. My head was spinning with conflicting images and thoughts. I took a few deep breathes to steady myself nad tried to sit up. Mothball was next to me, lending me his warmth. I looked down at the necklace on my chest. It was warm against my chest and it glowed with a firelight that reminded me of my recent dream. Was it a dream?

I felt different. Unlocked, somehow, if that made any sense. The necklace had become a part of me. A power greater than I had ever felt surged into me. Like something was opening up inside of me, a crack forming where the wall blocking my power stood. I sat on my bed, closed my eyes and let this power flow completely through me. It wasn’t with the same intensity as I had experienced in the ethers, or wherever I’d been, but it was more power than I’d ever been able to feel before. I could almost imagine the very chemicals in my body reshaping themselves to accommodate this new presence.

As an experiment I tried to channel my power to the mug of cold tea left on my bedside table. I willed it to move. A small flare of pain surged through me, but nothing like I’d experienced before. However, the exercise was futile. Nothing happened. I didn’t know what to make of that, so I distracted myself with the remainder of the pouch. I picked it up nervously. I wasn’t sure I was ready for another adventure like that. But, I also wasn’t the patient type. I’d deal.

It was a small pillow of crushed herbs. The material was soft and thin, almost like gold silk. It looked as if it would disintegrate upon touch, but it was obviously more durable than that. I inhaled the scent carefully, not wanting to saturate myself with a rancid or unpleasant smell. The memory hit me with a force of emotion I’d never experienced. I was thrown to my bed and immediately transported.

“Mama, what’s this flower called?” Corinne asked as she pointed with her stubby 2-year-old fingers.

“That’s a ‘sangrisha,’ which is old tongue for sorrow.”

“Why’s it sad?” asked the tiny girl, full of wonder and blond curls, silver eyes big as saucers with the specks of blue reflecting the light in the air.

Her father approached from behind and lifted her off the ground, throwing her high into the sky. Her laughs and giggles were a contrast to the beautiful, sad flowers.

“They’re sad because they didn’t get to be your parents,” her father said as he set her back on the ground and held her little hand.

As her mother caught her other hand Corinne felt happy, safe and most of all loved.
The sun was setting, and Corinne saw three moons rising in the sky. One was full and two were crescents. Corinne loved the moons.

“Look, Mama, Daddy. Lunaria and her sisters are up! Can I say hi?”

“Of course, dear girl; the moons love you,” her mother assured her.

Corinne dropped their hands and clasped hers together before her chest. Raising them in prayer, she sang out a single note into the sky. Her voice was hauntingly beautiful in the cooling night air. When she was done, she sighed and grabbed her parents' hands again.

“They said hi to me, too!” Corinne said excitedly.

“That’s lovely. Well, Corinne, it’s time to get back to our Live-In. We’ve got evening meal to prepare and our lessons to finish,” her father reminded her.

“Oh, okay,” Corinne said. She loved helping Mama and Daddy prepare evening meal, and she really did like her lessons. This week she was learning how to listen to bees. It was great fun! Sometimes the lessons were boring, like the week she had to learn to see a rock. She’d eventually gotten it, and now she enjoyed it, but the lesson had been not so fun.

“But can I take one flower home?” she asked. “I want to make it happy again.” Being an empath and healer, Corinne knew what other beings of all forms were feeling.

They agreed she could keep a few flowers in her basket. She happily picked her favorites as her father retrieved her basket from his bag. She filled it with sangrisha and began skipping back to the house humming a song known only to her and the Muse of Music.

Her parents followed, holding hands and watching as their daughter shared with them her joy and enthusiasm for life. Shadows, unseen by Corinne, haunted their joy in her. Fears deliberately buried. Troubles they hoped she'd never have to face.

They should have known better.

Corinne heard a terrible crash and scream. She turned her head, dropping her basket, and saw two giant black birds appear as if from nowhere and fly directly for her parents. She ran to them, but her parents threw up a field around her and she couldn’t move. She saw them hold up their arms to fight, lightning bolts coming from their hands. The birds wavered, but they didn’t stop. They continued their descent, smoke billowing off the wings that had been hit.

They approached Corinne’s parents with speed and grace and dug their talons into them – tearing right through them. Her Mama and Daddy fought, using magic and muscle to escape the talons of the supernatural beasts. Corinne cried and screamed, running as fast as her chubby little legs could carry her, but it was no use, she couldn’t break through the field her parents had set.

Furiously, Corinne hit the field over and over.

Bolts of lightning flashed from her fingers, and the field cracked.

The cracks sent fresh energy surging through her. Corinne kept pounding until she made a space large enough to crawl though. Leaving the dying sangrisha, Corinne ran to her parents, bloodied, sorely wounded, but nearly free of the nightmare birds, who'd been distracted by Corinne.
Nearly free, but not enough. The birds renewed their attack, using their own dark magic, tearing into the dying bodies of her parents and carrying them off. Corinne held her arms up and channeled her anger through her little hands, willing the evil birds to leave her mama and daddy alone. Another stream of lighting escaped her hands, crashing into the birds, but it was too late. They were already in the air, and as her power hit them they disappeared from the sky, leaving behind them clouds of black and a broken-hearted and exhausted two-year-old who lay crumpled on the ground crying over all that was left of her beloved parents. Their blood seeping into the dirt.

It took me several minutes to regain my composure. I had tears running down my face, and veins bulged from my hands gripped tightly around the satchel of herbs. I was so overwhelmed by what had just happened that I didn’t know what to do. The tears kept coming, and I made no effort to stop them. That was the first memory I’d ever had of life with my parents. I could see them clearly in my head. My mother had long red hair in several braids down her back, flowers woven into them. Her green eyes popped with mischief. She was the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. My father was tall and strong, with dark brown eyes and midnight black hair. They were so in love.

All I had ever been told about them was that they were in a terrible car accident when I was a child, and they were killed, which is why Aunt Alana, my mother’s sister, had raised me. I’d had my doubts about that story. She'd tried to convince me that I’d blocked the memory. And all the records and news reports? Surely such an accident would have been written about, if only briefly. In high school, I tried to research the accident, or anything about their lives, and came up blank. Once I was a legal adult and no longer under my aunt’s thumb, I hired the best private investigator money could buy to get information about them. He came up blank.

I'd challenged my aunt when the detective had failed. She'd given some vague response about a mix-up in the records and told me to drop it. We hadn't broached the subject since. But I still had my doubts, and I wasn’t going to give up.

I got my journal out and wrote down every detail I could remember of the experience. Then I pored over it, analyzing every word, every scene, every emotion, every nuance. Was this a real memory? Or some creation from my overactive imagination? Obviously, some of it was make-believe, like the moons. The flowers and names of things could have been my parents playing make-believe with a 2-year-old, though I could see the flower in my mind and I’d never seen or heard of a flower like that. Perhaps we'd been traveling when this memory happened?
And then there were the birds, the nightmare birds.

Obviously, they were a child’s mental stamp over the truth, whatever it might be. Clearly my subconscious mind used my insane fear of black birds to cover something it wasn't capable of facing. But why? And why now?

I looked at the small pillow of herbs in my hands. Scent was a powerful trigger for buried memories. But memories weren’t always reliable. How much weight should I give this one? One side of my brain argued not much. But another, deeper part of myself said to trust every image. It was so vivid and clear, as if I had been there in that moment. I felt the ache for my parents emerge with new force and power, creating a longing in me so terrible I thought I’d never recover from it. Goddess, how was I to move forward with this weight on me?

I could feel the familiar talons of grief grip me, causing a painful tearing in my heart. I fought it, but this time it was harder. This time it ripped at me, cutting into me deeper than anything had in a long time. Twice in one night I was forced to look at my healed arms to keep my delicate hold on reality. Not good. Reaching over to the side dresser next to me bed I grabbed two of the three bottles of pills. With an ease born of routine, I unscrewed them, poured two of each out and popped them in my mouth, swallowing without the use of water. I put the bottles back on my dresser. Xanax and Vicodin. No better combination for pain and anxiety. The last bottle, Wellbutrin, was only taken twice a day. It helped, sometimes. A little.

Mothball rubbed his head against mine and purred comfortingly. He knew the terrible balancing act I performed nearly every day. Two years gone, and he hadn't forgotten that. I almost lost my balance the day he disappeared. Having him back brought a surge of warmth into my gut. Mothball is back, I thought. I let him snuggle with me, as his scratchy tongue licked the tears from my face. It eased my crying, and I regained control. I was not powerless. I would not fall back into that abyss. Besides, Mothball’s reappearance had come with a few mysteries that needed to be solved. I was anxious to get some answers. I looked at my clock. 3 a.m. Patience not being big on my list of virtues, I paced the room and then went to my office and flipped on my computer. Maybe the internet had some answers. Hours later I had come up with only one vague clue that left me with more questions than answers. A word. Maybe a place? Dug up from some ancient writings by even more ancient people. Aaiddynn. But what did that mean?