And then it ended, and I felt empty, so very empty.
Someone came walking out of the surf, naked and golden and beautiful, and he wasn’t David anymore, not my David, he was something more.
On the aetheric, he was a white-hot star, and everything, everything linked to him. Every Djinn. Every Warden. The network clicked into place and began to hum with power, vast and intense.
Jonathan was dead.
And David had become the linchpin in his place.
He staggered and went down in the water, and Ashan and Rahel leaped forward, taking his arms, dragging him out onto the shore. I got to my feet but didn’t move toward them, because something in me told me… it wasn’t right. Not anymore.
When he got up, David was dressed and steady. He looked the same as he always had, on the surface, but what was underneath was hugely different.
As he looked at me, I saw eternity in his eyes. They were black, swirling with galaxies and energy.
He came to me and crouched down. Not touching me, except with the force of his emotion. “I’m sorry,” he told me softly. “I’m so sorry. I wish things were different, Jo.”
All the Djinn turned to look at me, and I felt the force of their stares. All those inhuman eyes. All that power, back in their own hands.
Something was very, very wrong.
I heard that murmur again, echoing on a level that I couldn’t hear or understand, only feel.
David reached out, but his hand stopped a few inches from my skin. There was a vast distance between us, a gulf neither of us could reach across. “Tell the Wardens that the Djinn can’t be owned anymore. That agreement died with Jonathan. It’s a new world now.”
I swallowed hard. I could feel the difference on the aetheric, a silvery vibration that was growing stronger. Like a gigantic, slow heartbeat.
He glanced up, as if he could see what I was feeling. “She’s coming awake.”
“Who’s coming awake?”
His black eyes came down to meet mine again. “The Mother. Our Mother. Your Mother.”
“Is that…” I was really afraid to ask. “That’s not good, is it.”
“Not for you,” he said. “I’m sorry. I love you, but I can’t protect you, not from her.”
Something changed in that whisper. A red thread of anger in the silver pulse. David’s eyes swirled from black to crimson, then back again.
“You need to tell the Wardens,” David said. “You need to tell them that she’s dreaming, but the dream is ending. She’s going to be very—”
His eyes turned entirely red.
“Angry,” he said. “She’s already angry, even in her dreams. We don’t have any choice. We belong to her now.”
I stumbled back. He didn’t move to attack. None of them did, but I could feel the pulse of menace, pounding faster.
“Run,” David told me softly. “Tell the Wardens. Tell them they need to stop her. Stop us before it’s too late. Before she wakes up all the way.”
“How?” Because I had no idea, none at all, how any group of Wardens, no matter how powerful, could begin to fight the Djinn, much less the Earth itself. It was just… impossible. “David! How?”
“RUN!” he screamed.
I felt his control shatter with a sound like breaking crystal, and stumbled backward from what I saw in his eyes.
A hand closed around my arm and jerked me upright. Not David. Not Rahel. Not Ashan. I didn’t know this Djinn. She had waist-length, glossy black hair falling in waves; she had burnished golden skin and eyes like the sun.
“Stop staring and run,” she yelled, and shoved me to the car.
We ran. Behind us, hundreds of Djinn closed in on us like a silent, deadly pack of hounds. My savior practically threw me into the car, leaped in the passenger door and screamed at Cherise, “DRIVE!” When Cherise stared, uncomprehending, the Djinn gestured at the gas pedal.
We peeled out at an inhuman speed, leaving the storm-swept beach and the rest of the Djinn behind.
David came closest to catching us. I twisted to watch him disappearing in the back window, a tall figure standing in the road, coat blowing and belling in the wind.
“Are you all right?” the black-haired Djinn asked. I blinked at her. She looked familiar, but I had no idea why. “Hey! Can you hear me? Are you all right?”
I opened my mouth to tell her that I was, but something was happening in the back of my mind, something enormous and unbelievable. I knew something, but I couldn’t think what it was.
She must have seen it in my eyes, the knowledge and the fear, because she smiled, and when I saw the smile, it all came into blinding clarity.
That was David’s smile.
That was my face.
That was my daughter.
“Imara,” I said. She closed her hand around mine, and her skin was hot and smooth and real. “Oh, my God. How…”
“Jonathan,” she said, and the smile turned sad. “It takes death to make a Djinn. He told you.”
I remembered him taking the spark of life from me and walking away. He’d known, even then, what he intended to do. Die. Put his power into David.
Give life to David’s child.
I had a child. Okay, she was a six-foot Amazon goddess dressed in flawless, tailored black, but she was my child. And she wasn’t like the others. She wasn’t in thrall to the Earth, at least not completely; she could still think for herself, act for herself. Act against them.
And Jonathan must have known that, too. Maybe this was his way of apologizing.
Cherise gulped and said, “Jo? Is this some kind of alien thing? Are you really, like, from space and a thousand years old and going to take over the planet? Is this an invasion?” She was serious. But then, I supposed that explanation made more sense than the reality.
“You’re kidding, right?” Imara asked, grinning. “Do we look like aliens to you?”
Cherise took her eyes off the road for so long I was afraid we were going to find out the crash-test rating of a Mustang. “Yeah,” she said. “Well, you do. With the eyes and all.”
Imara winked at her, and through the touch of her hand on mine she poured power into me, healing power, easing my various cuts and wounds and restoring some of my life energy.
“Maybe I am,” she said. “You never know, right?”
Cherise was oddly cheered. “Nope,” she said. “Jo? Where do you want me to go?”
I raised my eyebrows at Imara, who shrugged. So strange, seeing myself from the outside. Although I could see hints of David in the highlights of her hair, and the golden wash of her skin. Me, made exotic.
I couldn’t feel anything yet, but I knew this was going to hit me later, in big, strange ways. Grief and love and terror and awareness of my own mortality, in ways I had never considered.
“New York,” I said. “The Wardens need to get their act together, right now, if I have to kick every ass from here to Beijing. We can’t afford to lose.” Because if the Wardens folded, then there was nothing between the 6.5 billion people on the planet and Mother Earth in the grip of dreams, nightmares, and rage.
With the Djinn at her command.
David had told me, explicitly. Tell them they need to stop her. Stop us.
The Wardens were at war with the Djinn.
Music to read by (or at least, it really worked for me to write to…)—and this time, it’s a double album!
Paper in Fire… John Mellencamp
Larger Than Life… The Feelers
I Scare Myself… Thomas Dolby
Pain and Sorrow… Joe Bonamassa
Harder to Breathe… Maroon 5
Madonna… Jude Christadel
Let Go… Frou Frou