A Beth-Hill Novel: Jacob Lane Series Book 5: The Sixth Stone
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by Jennifer St. Clair
Description: Jacob and Danny stumble across an alternate world where the Hunt was never bound, and Darkbrook was abandoned a hundred years ago. But when the Hounds wish to surrender, they are swept up in a whirlwind of heartbreak, betrayal, and a lost treasure.
eBook Publisher: Writers Exchange E-Publishing, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [139 KB]
Reading time: 88-123 min.
"Healers go where they are needed," Sennet said.
"You've said that before." Jacob sat down on the mis-matched couch and folded her arms. "What does that mean? Exactly?"
"I took you to meet Espen a week ago," Sennet said, joining Jacob on the couch. "Through the portal, not by mundane means. Why do you think we went that way?"
"Because--" It sounded stupid to say it out loud, but Jacob couldn't think of any other reason why they'd go through a portal and not in a car. "Because she lives too far away?"
Sennet smiled. "Yes and no," she said. "You could get into a car and drive for the rest of your life and still not find Espen's house."
"She lives in Faerie?" Jacob guessed.
"Not exactly, but you're closer," Sennet said. "What would you say if I told you that she doesn't live in this world at all? That there are other worlds--other realities--out there, where Healers can go if they are needed?"
Jacob sat and thought about that for a moment. Her first reaction was to deny it, but Faerie existed, after all. She couldn't deny that. And if Faerie existed, then why not other worlds? Why not?
"Does anyone else know about these other worlds?" she finally asked.
"They know, but they don't really think about them all that much," Sennet said. "There's enough trouble in this world, after all. And it's easier if you just go where you are needed and don't really worry about where you are. Or when."
"When?" Jacob asked. It wasn't that she hadn't learned a lot from the Healer; she had. But the suddenness of her talent appearing, and how she had saved Danny's life was still too new for the numbness to wear off. She hadn't quite gotten used to the fact that she was a 'Healer'--in training, yes, but a Healer nonetheless.
"Sometimes, yes," Sennet said, and a look passed across her face; a mixture of sadness and regret. "Hopefully, I'll be with you the first time you're called somewhere."
Jacob hoped so, too. She had none of Sennet's calm, none of her quiet strength.
"All you have to worry about is the person who called you, and that Healers are neutral," Sennet said. "If someone harms a Healer in the line of duty--"
"I've been meaning to ask you about that," Jacob said, thinking of Danny. "Why didn't the Healers withdraw when Genevieve was killed?"
"Danny's life and Gen's life were tangled together when he killed himself," Sennet said. "Someone had to sort it out, but not just anyone can approach a mess like that, much less make sense of what had happened."
"You're going to say that I was the only person who could have--" Jacob shook her head before she could finish the sentence. "I don't believe you. Stuff like that only happens in stories!"
"No. You were in the right place at the right time, that's all," Sennet said, and smiled. "It's not at all unusual."
This whole conversation was unusual. Jacob couldn't quite relax in the Healer's presence; she thought she would feel the same way if summoned to the private chambers of a Queen. Healers were important people, after all, quiet and resourceful, but important.
And Jacob was--well, just Jacob.
She'd tried to explain this to Sennet once, and the Healer had smiled, and nodded, and completely failed to understand. And then she'd taken Jacob out into the forest where a tiny little fairy had gotten caught in a spider web, and Jacob had cupped the fairy's body in her hand and she had healed the creature's broken wing--and for a moment, she had felt--different.
Almost--connected. To something more vast than the bulk of a dragon looming over her head.
She'd been too intrigued by the feeling to mention it to Sennet, and now, after weeks had passed without its mention, she hesitated to bring it up. But it wasn't ever far from her mind.
"What are you planning to do today?" she asked.
"I thought I'd take you shopping," Sennet said. "It's almost the holiday season, after all, and the holidays are stressful for most people. I want to show you something I think you'll enjoy."
So they had walked to the bus stop--Sennet didn't own a car--and they had taken the bus to the nearest mall, a world away from Darkbrook even though it was only--in truth--less than fifteen miles. Despite the fact that it was November, holiday music blared from the speaker, the stores were selling everything under the sun, and while the music spoke of peace and goodwill and happiness, Jacob only saw a handful of people who were actually smiling.
"Sometimes I come here just to people watch," Sennet said, and sat down on a nearby bench. She patted the seat beside her, and Jacob sat down. "To remind myself that there are other things than magic. That most of these people would never believe that the Wild Hunt once terrorized this town, or that Darkbrook actually exists."
"There are more people who are hurt in this world than one network of Healers can heal," Jacob said softly, watching a girl on crutches maneuver her way past two strollers piled high with bags and packages.
"We tend to stick to the fringes of what everyone else would call society. Those who cannot risk taking their wounded to a doctor--especially in this day and age--come to us. We don't ask questions." She smiled. "Well, not that many, and not always."
"If that girl came to you, would you heal her?" Jacob asked.
"Of course," Sennet replied. "But she wouldn't come to me, or to you either. And if you approached her and offered to heal her, what do you think would happen?"
There were--stories, after all. From places the Healers had withdrawn from; horrible stories of wards in which Healers were imprisoned and forced to heal well beyond the last reaches of their strength; well beyond their sanity.
Nowadays, according to Sennet, no Healer followed a call without informing another Healer of their whereabouts. There were portals for Healers to use, and no one was ever more than a call away. The advent of cell phones had helped a lot.
"And there are some things that healers cannot heal," Sennet said. "More things than you might think. We aren't omniscient. We aren't perfect, or infallible in any way."
"That's not what everyone seems to think," Jacob said.
"Yes, I've noticed that, especially recently. I'm not sure that's a good thing at all." Sennet nodded to a group of women huddled around a crying child. There were other children present; bored and restless, but their parents weren't paying them any attention. One little girl caught Jacob's gaze and smiled quizzically, almost as if she knew who Jacob was, but couldn't quite remember where she'd seen her before. "There are some things we can do for them," she said, and quite suddenly, the music changed.
It was still the same song; a familiar one Jacob had known since she was small. But there was something different about it now; something almost glittering, a sparkle of goodwill that buoyed the people around them and put a spring into their steps. Strangers held doors open for other shoppers. People waiting in line stood up straighter, and smiled. Two women, strangers until now, turned to each and started talking about cats. A man, who had been scowling at the lady with a cartload of books at the bookstore, actually helped her unload her cart without a single unkind word.
"You can't fix everyone, but you can make everyone feel a little better?" Jacob asked. The group of women had soothed the child, and three of the children now played on the concrete animals that stood in the middle of the mall. Someone had put a Santa hat on the giraffe and wrapped a long scarf around its neck.
"You also can't help those who don't want to be healed," Sennet said quietly. "Are you hungry?"
The music was back to normal now; no sign of glitter or sparkles anywhere. But as they walked away from the middle of the mall towards the food court, Jacob realized that the people weren't returning to their frustrations. Sennet had unlocked something inside of them; or awakened something that had been asleep, perhaps, and while Jacob knew the feeling wouldn't last forever, perhaps it would--at least--last the rest of the day.
"Watch," Sennet said, and waved her hand in front of Jacob's face. "Here is the best lesson you can learn from me or anyone else. Everyone--and everything--you encounter is connected."
A web of light sprang from Sennet's fingers and spread out to touch the people around them -the kids on the carousel; the baby asleep in a stroller almost toppling with the weight of bags; the old man sitting alone at a table, forking the last bit of rice from the Chinese restaurant into his mouth; the group of teenagers dressed all in black with chains and piercings and skin almost pale enough to pass as vampires.
"If you help one person and they are a good person, then they will, in turn, help someone else," Sennet said. "If you help one person and they are a bad person, all you can do is hope that the good will outweigh the bad. But each person you heal, each life you touch, will touch you in turn, and you will, perhaps, know more about that person than you ever wanted to know. That's not a bad thing. Healers are neutral for a reason."
Jacob stared around her at the light that connected each and every person she saw; one with the other, their auras--for want of a better word--merging as they passed, even if they did not speak to one another, and then separating again with some of their colors mixed as they moved on their way.
The only two people who were not connected to anyone else were--of course, she thought--Sennet and herself. Although there were tendrils, here and there, that formed a sort of mesh as Jacob watched.
"Healers aren't connected?"
"Healers stand outside," Sennet said, and from her tone of voice, Jacob realized that 'outside' meant quite a bit more than walking to the nearest door and stepping through it. "We are connected to each other. It isn't called a 'network' of Healers for nothing, you realize."
Jacob shook her head. "I didn't realize. No one said anything about all of this--" There was another person seated at one of the food court's tables who wasn't--at least at first--connected to anyone else, either. But as Jacob watched, that same glowing mesh appeared between Sennet and the lady at the table, and then Jacob found herself joined with them both.
Sennet smiled. "Ah, there she is," she said, and waved across the crowd to where Espen sat, looking more like royalty than an ordinary shopper. But there was a bag by her chair, and she had an actual mug of tea in one of her hands. She waved with the other hand, motioning them over.
"They serve tea here? In mugs?" Jacob asked, and wondered if anyone else thought that was suspicious.
"They serve tea here in mugs if you know where to find it," Espen said as clearly as if she stood next to Jacob. And then, as they joined her, Jacob saw another lady--another Healer she hadn't met--winding her way through the shoppers with a tray holding three mugs and a steaming teapot, which she poured with some finesse as soon as she reached the table.
"I'm Minerva," the other Healer said, and handed Jacob a mug of tea. "I'm visiting."
Minerva wore her pale--almost white--hair in a braid down her back, and a colorful scarf as a headband of sorts. She had elvish features, almost, but her ears weren't pointed like Kyren's--Jacob tried to imagine Kyren in a mall and had to hide a smile in her tea. Minerva's clothing didn't really fit in at a mall, either, but no one seemed to notice she wasn't wearing any shoes, and that her dress seemed more homespun than store-bought.
"I'm Jacob," she said. "Nice to meet you."
"It's always nice to meet a young Healer," Minerva said, and smiled at Jacob. "There are so few new Healers nowadays--"
"Hence the reason why periodic vacations are important," Espen said. "When is the last time you left your post?"
Minerva sat down. "Oh, it must have been at least a century," she said, waving away a hundred years as if it were a day. "But Bets is coming along quite nicely, and I thought now was as good of a time as ever." She smiled brightly and sipped her tea.
"Elizabeth is two or three years older than you," Sennet said before Jacob could ask. "And she's Minerva's apprentice. I'm sure you'll meet her one day."
"Where is your post?" Jacob asked, remembering what Sennet had said about Espen's house.
"Oh, it's far from here," Minerva said vaguely. "And a bit of a hot button site at the moment, although I never would have left Bets in charge if I thought she was in danger." She hesitated, glanced at Jacob, then asked, "Any word from--"
"No," Espen said, and it was the finality in her voice that caught Jacob's attention.
Jacob glanced at Sennet, who seemed a bit annoyed that Minerva had even asked. And she wondered what they weren't saying--any word from whom? Another Healer? Did she dare ask?
"There are alternate places, Jacob, different than the ones I've mentioned," Sennet said after a long moment of silence. "Places like this, only different in some special way. Many hundreds of places."
"And the person who hasn't sent word is in one of these places?" Jacob asked.
"In all usual circumstances, we don't cover the alternates," Espen said. "We work with the actuals; those worlds that exist in a bubble of their own, not the ones that are twisted copies of this one or another. Every once in a while, though, a Healer will contact us from one of those places. That's what happened years ago when Freda contacted me with a bit of a situation on her hands. We helped, and stayed in contact, but--"
"But you don't live in this world," Jacob said before she could stop herself. "Why did she contact you and not someone here?"
"Either way, where I live and this place are as similar as here and Faerie," Espen said. "There's not much difference. But in Freda's case, there's quite a large anomaly--"
"You know of the Wild Hunt, I presume?" Minerva asked before Espen could continue.
"Yes," Jacob said. "I've--spoken with them."
"You know they were bound by the Council a hundred years ago and recently freed from the binding," Espen said.
"Yes, and I know their names," Jacob replied. "Josiah comes to Darkbrook sometimes, to help my Uncle Lucas." She hesitated. What did you call the Master of the Wild Hunt? It didn't seem right to call him 'Gabriel'. "I have a standing invitation to visit their home. And--"
"Gabriel's daughter Erianthe has enrolled in Darkbrook," Sennet said. "I think she's supposed to start soon. And if you remember, Espen, I wasn't there to help you before. I think that was around the same time as the war."
Jacob opened her mouth to ask, but Espen spoke first.
"In Freda's world, the Hunt was never bound," she said. "The Council tried a hundred years ago, but they failed."
"They--they failed?" Jacob asked, and quite suddenly, the fact that they sat in the middle of a mall food court seemed all the more strange. "But--if the Hunt was never bound--"
She'd read the stories, after all. Everyone had. Some of the stories were obviously myth, but most of them held more than just a grain of truth. And once, not that long ago, she'd found the diary of her great-great-uncle Peter, who had been one of the Council members to attempt the binding, and one of the few to survive.
What would the world be like if the Hunt was never bound?
"We helped corral the Hunt," Espen said quietly, as if she sensed some of Jacob's thoughts. "We roped off the forest with magic; Darkbrook was abandoned, and the Hunt left to starve or fade away. No one was quite certain what would happen."
"Our spells have not failed, so we know they haven't escaped," Minerva said. "But we haven't heard from Freda for almost three months. And after weekly letters--"
"It does seem a bit suspicious," Espen admitted. "Even though there's a bit of a time lag between this world and that one."
"Darkbrook was abandoned?" Jacob repeated.
"Without a Council, that was really the only thing that could be done," Espen said, watching her closely. "We couldn't negotiate with someone willing to murder anyone who set foot in his path, after all." She smiled. "Don't worry about it, Jacob. That isn't your place, after all."
"But still--" Jacob didn't want to argue with a Healer, but she couldn't help it. Josiah was nice. Even Gabriel had not been a monster. And what about his daughter? What about herself? If there was no Council, was there no Jacob Lane in this alternate world? Or Uncle Lucas? Or her mother and father?
"If the Hunt exists in this other world, do I exist too?"
"I doubt it," Espen said. "The alternates tend to break off during some terrible struggle; perhaps in one, someone who died would then live, or vice versa. In this one, among other things, the Hunt was not bound. In some, wars were not fought or they were; kings were not murdered or they were. Do you understand?"
"It's like a nightmare," Jacob said. "Or a horror story. I like the Hunt. At least, the Hounds I've met."
"And there is no reason not to," Minerva said. "It's like a nightmare, yes, but it's also real. If you go looking for alternates, child, you'll find them, but its best to stick with what you have here."
But even after their conversation veered off into another direction, Jacob couldn't stop thinking about it. The Hunt, never bound. Or, bound to the forest, but Darkbrook abandoned? That was almost too terrible to contemplate.
And later, as she walked back to Darkbrook from Sennet's house, she wondered if another Jacob Lane in another alternate reality was walking home from someone's house, and maybe, just maybe, in one alternate world, her parents really had been killed by the dragons.
And maybe that thought was the worst of all.