He was getting close. He could feel it. Any day, and he would have the key to unlocking the secret of her device. The archon energies hovered around the small metal object, swirling in a helix of power, until they converged on it. But instead of holding the energies, it crumbled under their pressure and became a formless lump.
“It’s not just me? It happens to you, too?”
Danna rose from her seat where she was supposed to be studying from her math book and walked over to Donald Calvin’s desk. She picked up the destroyed object and inspected it. Then she set it down and looked at him, waiting.
“It happens to us all sometimes, Danna,” he said, but she sensed there was more to it than that. He was trying to do something hard. Much harder than what he required of her.
“Return to your studies. We will practice your gift later,” he said tiredly. “Or better yet, go and socialize with the other residents.”
She cast her eyes down and solemnly returned to the small table across the room where her book waited for her. Donald sighed, but the subtle sound was not lost on the girl, though no typical human could have ever heard it. She poured herself back into the book, hoping to distract herself from thoughts of his disappointment as he continued his work on another object that he pulled from his desk.
A short while later, his phone rang. He looked at the caller’s name and then answered, “Mister Leider. You have news?”
“Yes, sir,” Danna heard Mr. Calvin’s personal assistant respond, though she had to strain to make out the words. “The jet has landed. They’ll be here in one hour thirty minutes.”
“Thank you, Mr. Leider.” He hung up the phone and turned to the girl sitting at the table. “Miss Keating is back from South America, Danna. Why don’t you go get ready? She’ll want to see you when she gets here.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, gathering her things and retreating to her room. She was happy that her other guardian would be coming back to her. Miss Keating sometimes made Danna feel more pressure than even Mr. Calvin, especially recently, but she was the closest thing Danna had to a mother and made her feel like an ordinary girl most times.
“Well, you’ve been terribly secretive up until now, ma’am. What news from Serra do Imeri?” Donald asked when Sarah Keating had joined him in his study.
“Not now, Donny. Tell me about my ‘daughter.’ How is her progress?” she asked, a little too intently.
Donald read between the lines. “We are close to Duarte then. You made progress after all.”
“Careful, Donny. Don’t overstep your bounds.” She scowled at him.
Donald Calvin breathed out heavily and took a swig of his scotch. “My daughter is gone, Miss Keating. Your leverage over me isn’t what it used to be. I suggest we start sharing more information with each other. You already know most of my secrets, but not all of them I assure you.”
Sarah Keating chuckled and crossed her arms. “Good, Donny, good. The time you have spent with Danna has done you well. Much better than when you were channeling that craven Visnau. But you must consider that your daughter may return, and if you want to keep her safe from me…” She let the comment hang. When Donald’s jaw remained firm, she added, “I believe you are also becoming quite fond of Danna. Do you value her as much as you did her mother once? I wonder.”
Donald’s fist clenched at that, and he seemed to be on the verge of action.
“There is also the question of your men. Do you still have their loyalty?” She glanced over her shoulder at the two armed agents behind her. They moved to flank her, but stared hard at Donald.
He merely sat back and unclenched his hand. “I know you have come to feel for Danna as well, Sarah. Can you really harm her if it ever comes to that?” he asked, but the question was not threatening.
Her shoulders relaxed and she waved off the men. “I don’t know, Donny,” she said sincerely. “But I am still dedicated to my goal, and nothing will stop me. Not you, not her, and not even your daughter should she show her face again.”
He nodded and looked at her a moment. “Her influence has expanded greatly since you left. She can reach levels of power I have never seen before, but she still has trouble focusing. Her emotions still rule her. Worse, she has grown to fear herself. She refuses to socialize with anyone else for worry that she will bring ruin upon them.”
“Dammit, Calvin. It’s been three years. How much longer is this going to take?”
“It is her own fear that holds her back. Her powers have developed under my direction, waiting for her command, but until she can learn to control her feelings, she’ll never be able to master her power. I have done my part. If I recall, her psychological guidance was your charge.”
Sarah nodded. “She is ready then, we just need to give her a focus.”
“As soon as you can make her ready, but no. She may be able to move mountains, but they will come down around her, and us. And once she starts, she has extreme difficulty stopping it. There have been times that she was only able to pull herself back from the edge when I threatened my own safety.” He studied her closely, looking for any measure of concern in her face, but she didn’t oblige his curiosity and kept her expression perfectly even.
“Is that all? I get the feeling you are withholding from me,” she said.
“No. I believe she has her mother’s gift. She can read the archon signatures as well as any seeker,” he admitted.
“What?” she replied with a hopeful smile. “Donny, that’s amazing! This will make finding our quarry in Brazil that much easier.”
She looked at him, perplexed. “You don’t seem too excited about it,” she mused.
“She asked about her mother again,” he said resignedly.
Sarah huffed in frustration, her mood falling. “We cannot let her know about her mother. I wish there was another way, but no.” She paced the room for a moment. “I wish she had never learned that her mother was still alive. How did she find out?”
Donald shrugged. “That’s just it. I believe it was the seeker’s gift that allowed her to see her mother’s energy through a rift in the Astral Plane, though I believe it only happened once, during her awakening. I considered telling her that her mother has passed since that event, but the consequences could be ruinous if she learns the truth somehow.”
“True,” Sarah agreed. “She’d never trust us again. The best we can do is shelter her and tell her we have no contact with her mother. That much is true, and we can attest to that honestly even if Danna attempts to read our candor. Although we are maintaining our distance for now, of course I do have my spies on her.”
“At least the odds of Danna reading our thoughts are very slim. That takes a level of power and control beyond even me. She has the power, but it will be a long time before she reaches that level of skill,” Donald affirmed, and he was quite sure of his evaluation.
Sarah let out a long breath. “Okay, fine. But we’ll need to get her ready soon. Duarte knows we are coming for him. We encountered one his acolytes in Brazil last week.”
“Hmm. I had hoped you would maintain a distance and keep him in the dark. For years I worked to keep our reconnaissance hidden, so that our attack would be a surprise. Now that effort is wasted.” He let his annoyance show in his voice, but he hoped that he hadn’t crossed the line.
“I know, and you did well, but we have a new plan. We’ll need Danna to be ready.” She laid out the results of her latest scouting mission on the table before him. “We have a lead. We were able to capture the acolyte and question him. He didn’t say much before he perished of his own device, but we got a concrete point of entry into Duarte’s complex from him first.”
“Oh?” Donald asked. That was very interesting news indeed.
They spent the better part of two hours discussing the archon that Donald had been investigating for the past several years. Though he was living like a hermit in a veritable fortress within the remote Brazilian mountain range near Serra do Imeri, Donald had read the signs. Duarte Innes was expanding his influence on the world, recruiting acolytes to infuse with his archonic power and garnering assault weapons to arm his own personal army. Donald was also fairly certain that the man was actually a dark archon as well. One of the Fallen. If they didn’t move on him soon, he would become a threat to the entire nation of Brazil – and from there, the world.
Danna was just finishing up drying and combing out her hair when she heard the knock at the door. Despite her apprehension over what sort of news Miss Keating would be returning with from her mission to South America, and what kind of mood that would put her in, Danna smiled to herself. Miss Keating, the woman who was more like a mother to her than even her own real mother, whom Danna had never met anyway, was back home. She had come back to Danna.
“Miss Keating, you’re back!” the ten year old cried when she opened the door and saw her.
Miss Keating stooped down to take her in a tight hug. “Oh, I’ve missed you so much, dear! How are you? Did Mr. Calvin treat you well, I hope?”
Danna nodded into her shoulder. “Yes. He’s helping me. I’m a lot better now.”
Miss Keating pulled back from her and looked her in the eyes. “He tells me you won’t spend time with the other residents. Is that true?”
Danna cringed at the question, but she could see in Miss Keating’s eyes that she was not judging her, she was merely concerned for her. Still, she could not face her and turned aside, ashamed of her weakness. “I’m not being mean. I’m just afraid. Honest. I almost hurt Mr. Calvin so many times. What if I hurt someone who can’t defend themselves like he can?”
“You are stronger than you think, my beautiful daughter. You have the good in you too, and that will protect anyone you wish from whatever darkness you can conjure,” she said.
Miss Keating always seemed to see things in a way that made sense. She was so smart that she always knew what she was talking about, too. It gave the young girl courage despite her doubts.
“Let’s not worry over those things. When you are ready, okay? For now, tell me about your studies. Are you keeping up on your schoolwork?”
“Yes. I’m doing good on most of the tests Mrs. Friedmore gives me, too.”
“You are doing ‘well,’ but you must remember that even though your true talents lie in your magic, your studies are just as important,” the pretty woman told her.
“I know,” Danna replied, “but you know, it’s not magic. Mr. Calvin said so. It’s a…”
“…metaphysical understanding of the hidden physics of the universe,” they both finished Donald Calvin’s tired lesson on archonic influence together, laughing.
Sarah leaned forward to hug Danna again. “You are an amazing young lady, Danna, and I’m so proud of you. Now tell me what else you have learned.”
Danna told her about everything she had learned from her school work and what she had learned from Donald. Sarah was impressed with how far her talents had grown while she was away, but the astute woman also caught the underlying trepidation in Danna’s voice as she explained her growth and understanding of her archonic magic. She realized that she truly meant the kind words she had just told to the child. But Sarah had to force herself to remember that this was not an ordinary girl.
The young “lady” before her was a living, breathing force of the universe – an entity of vast cosmic authority that could become capable of massive destruction if they were all not very careful around her. She could also become a source of unparalleled light, a beacon of hope for the sheep of the world. And truly this archon, this force of nature, had somehow come to them a blank slate that was devoid of the typical agenda most archons bore with them from their long memories of past lives. She could be molded for any purpose Sarah imagined.
I mustn’t be tempted, she berated herself.
Sarah shook away those evil thoughts. She couldn’t let that kind of weakness corrupt her. That had been Donald’s downfall in the past. No, Danna would become a tremendous battery of energy for the world, so long as her naked power could be harnessed for humanity. Sarah would see that happen or die trying.
“Amazing,” she said again, beaming, when Danna finished telling her of the events that happened while she was gone. “Will you have dinner with me, tonight?”
Danna smiled at her and nodded.
“Good,” Sarah said and kissed the child on the forehead. “I’ll just give you a few more minutes to finish cleaning up, and then I’ll come get you, okay?”
“Okay, Miss Keating. Thank you.”
Only half an hour later, Danna was walking down the halls of the large mansion with her adoptive mother. When they started nearing the larger of house’s dining rooms, Danna hesitated a bit.
“Aren’t we going to eat alone in one of the smaller rooms?” she asked.
“I thought we’d eat at one of the dining tables, tonight. I’ve been gone a long time and want to see my friends. You’ll still come with me, right? You won’t have to say much, Danna.”
Danna frowned at that. She didn’t think Miss Keating had any friends in the house, but she just shrugged and considered how dangerous it could be. “I don’t know.”
Miss Keating knelt down to look at Danna evenly. “Listen, I’ll be right there with you. I’ll protect you, and if anything gets too heavy for you, we can always leave. I’m feeling a bit sick anyway and may have to go back to our rooms at any time. It must have been something in the water down in Brazil,” she said, winking at the young girl.
Danna chuckled, only slightly nervously, at that. “Okay, I’ll try.”
“That’s my girl.”
They settled into their seats at the large table in one of the house’s ornate dining rooms. It could easily have seated two dozen people, though several of the seats were empty that night. The rest of the diners briefly halted their conversation at the arrival of the irregular guests, which put Danna on edge, but Sarah greeted them amiably, and they returned her friendly greeting.
Fortunately for Danna, Sarah engaged the others, making small talk about how things were going in the house and what she had missed while she was gone. But she didn’t make Danna speak up and share anything with the guests. The nervous girl was relieved at that and settled deeper into her seat, attempting to make herself invisible and unnoticed, though he actually had to force herself not to tap any of her mana and make that desire become a physical reality. She really, really didn’t want the other residents of the house to know she was some kind of freak.
Danna completely missed the fact that Sarah had strategically positioned Danna next to a teenage girl who had a reputation for being outspoken and kind.
“Hi, I’m Kylie,” the girl introduced herself. “You’re Danna, right?”
Danna just nodded, still nervous about interacting with others.
“I’ve seen you around. You’re pretty. Do you have a family here?” Kylie asked.
Danna shook her head. “No. Miss Keating and Mr. Calvin are like my family. They help me.”
“Well, that’s okay,” the older teenager said and put her hand of Danna’s shoulder briefly.
Danna was surprised that the touch let her feel a little calmer.
“Miss Keating is really nice. I like her,” the other girl continued. “I don’t know Mr. Calvin very well, but my dad does. He’s one of his advisors. Maybe you’ve seen him around? His name is Hayden Mirren. He’s been working for Mr. Calvin since I was a little girl. I’ve lived here my whole life.”
Danna listened to the other girl rattle on about her life. She had the impression that Kylie could talk forever, but having her open up to Danna a little made the younger girl more receptive as well. She began to forget her fears and just listened intently. Even after their food arrived, Kylie talked around mouthfuls.
“Even though it’s so much fun here, and there’s a lot to do, I can’t wait until next year. I got into Johns Hopkins, that’s a college in Baltimore, but I’ll tell you a secret. My dad helped me get in,” Kylie was saying sometime later. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I get lost and just talk without thinking. How about you? Where did you live before here?”
“I had a family take care of me in Mr. Calvin’s house in Connecticut with Mr. and Mrs. Newcomb until I was old enough to come here and take lesson from Mr. Calvin,” Danna said.
“Wow, you take lessons from him? Are you going to be a big tycoon like him someday?” Kylie said, surprised and genuinely interested.
“No.” Danna blushed, realizing her blunder. Other kids wouldn’t understand the things Mr. Calvin taught her, and she was supposed to keep them a secret. “I also get lessons from Mrs. Friedmore like regular kids, too.”
“Oh. I like your nails. They are pretty,” Kylie said, changing the subject. “You like mine?” She held out her hand for Danna to inspect, showing the swirly, glittered pattern she had painted on them. She seemed rather proud of her artistic talent.
“Yeah, they’re pretty.”
“I can show you how to do that,” Kylie offered.
“Okay,” Danna answered.
She didn’t notice Sarah’s smirk to the other side of her as the two girls continued to talk over their food. When it was finally time to go, Danna said goodbye to her new friend, though it was clear Kylie could go on talking for another hour at least.
“It was nice meeting you. Thank you for being so nice to me,” Danna said.
“Of course!” Kylie said happily. “Someone helped me when I was about your age and made me feel special, too. You kind of remind me of her.”
Then Miss Keating thanked Kylie as well and started Danna out of the room. She put her hand on Danna’s back comfortingly as they walked back toward their suite together.
“You did that on purpose,” Danna accused her.
Miss Keating just gave her a short hug and kissed her on the top of her head.
“Thank you,” Danna said a moment later.