The others arrived in short order. Seated on her little porch only one step up from the ground, she drank a cup of tea and watched everyone settle in, while Rabbit ran around and sniffed at the newcomers, ecstatic at this adventure. Odd as it was, he didn’t bristle at any other Arrow. Only Vasic.
Either her pet’s instincts were diametrically opposed to her own . . . or he was jealous. And what, Ivy thought, did that say about her own response to an Arrow who remained a black-clad stranger—one who’d taken the time to make certain her cabin was stocked with food suitable for Rabbit.
Calling her pet back when his curiosity seemed to discomfort a small blonde who’d been the last to arrive, she promised him they’d play later. Satisfied, he drank from his water bowl, then sat panting beside her.
As it had so many times over the past two hours, Ivy found her gaze drifting toward Vasic. He was standing in the center of the clearing talking to several other Arrows. The presence of other members of his squad did nothing to mute her fascination with him—none drew her as he did, the quiet, dangerous mystery of him quickly becoming her new addiction.
Reaching out with her mind before she could second-guess herself, she “knocked” against his, her shoulders tensed in anticipation of a rejection. No doubt Arrows limited mental contact to those they trusted.
Do you have a question, Ivy? His telepathic voice was as cool as his physical one.
The hairs rose on her arms, born of a visceral reaction she couldn’t define, but knew wasn’t fear. What are you doing? It felt unutterably intimate to be speaking to him on the psychic level while the world moved around them, unaware of the connection.
Discussing security protocols. Would you like the information? The data flowed into her mind on the heels of his question.
Hmm, interesting, she said, though she couldn’t make heads or tails of the complex diagrams. I’m going to explore.
You’re free to do so. The perimeter is at some distance and clearly marked.
Rabbit rose the instant she did, his eyes bright. Smiling at him because it was impossible not to, she put her mug safely next to a porch post, then tapped her thigh, and they headed away from the cabins. “Be good,” she said, though she wasn’t worried her little white shadow would race too far.
Vasic? she said again.
It was strange how quickly his mental touch had become familiar. Can you tell the changelings about Rabbit in case he accidentally breaches the perimeter?
I’ve already done so. They have promised to herd him back if he does.
A deep warmth uncurling in her abdomen, she said, Thank you.
No response, no polite words. “Because he only says what is necessary.” And, she reminded herself in an effort to fight the temptation to draw him out further, he was working. “Come on, Rabbit. Let’s go find that stream we can hear.”
Tail wagging happily, Rabbit padded beside her through the sun-dappled spaces between the trees. His first winter with her, she’d tried to keep him inside, but her pet had made it clear he loved the snow. Now it was only on the coldest days that she left him snug inside their home.
A couple of minutes of easy walking later, the two of them stood beside a stream that looked like a picture she’d once seen in a children’s storybook, the water creating a quiet music as it ran over smooth pebbles as large as her palm.
Hearing the crackle of fallen branches underfoot behind her, she turned to see Chang. “Hello.”
The distinctive night-sky eyes of a cardinal, white stars on black, focused on Rabbit. “Is that a pet?”
“Yes.” Ivy had made a decision to own her new life, no matter where it led. No lies, no half-truths. Not even from herself. “My Silence is fractured to the point of being nonexistent.” And no one, she decided at that instant beside a sunlit stream, would ever make her feel lesser for it; she wouldn’t permit it.
Yes, Vasic? she said in a deliberate echo of the way he’d answered her earlier . . . and it felt like the beginnings of a secret language.
Are you at ease being alone with Chang? I saw him head in the same direction as you.
Something twisted in her heart. Yes. Thank you for checking.
Your safety is my priority.
Empaths thrive in communities. Extended periods of solitude are known to be damaging to their mental well-being.
Excerpted from The Mysterious E Designation: Empathic Gifts & Shadows by Alice Eldridge
AN HOUR AFTER she’d met Chang by the stream, Ivy found herself seated on one of the large rocks at the open end of the clearing, the sun having warmed the stone. Around her sat the other empaths, the ten of them having gravitated toward one another.
Three men and six women, they ranged in age and geographic localities. Chang had come in from a research station in Kenya, while the blonde woman who wasn’t comfortable with Rabbit—Concetta—helped run a family business in Paraguay. Petite Lianne hailed from Kuala Lumpur, Teri from Houston, and Jaya from an atoll in the Maldives. Tibet born and raised Dechen sat next to Scottish Penn, the two of them across from Brigitte, a German based in Amsterdam. The final male, Isaiah, was from the tiny island nation of Niue.
Chang and Brigitte, both on the cusp of forty, were the oldest. “Apparently,” Chang had said to Ivy as they walked back from the stream, “anyone older is apt to find it more difficult to become active within the necessarily truncated timeline.”
That made sense to Ivy, as did the fact that there was no one younger than Jaya at twenty-one. A younger empath could well be too erratic—because while Silence was a terrible cage, it also taught strict mental discipline. Ivy’s conditioning might not have held, but she’d used the skills she’d learned under Silence to shield herself and to exert control in situations where betraying a fracture could’ve led to dangerous consequences.