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Authors: Nina Berry

Othersphere (5 page)

BOOK: Othersphere
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CHAPTER 3
I didn't want to talk to Ximon alone. “Can we put him on the big monitor?” I asked Arnaldo. “So we all can see him.”
“Sure, yeah.” Arnaldo effectively put the call on hold.
Lazar was already up, turning on the fifty-five-inch monitor he'd recently installed on the big blank wall in the living room. We weren't allowed to watch TV or recreational movies, but it served well when Morfael screened a documentary for a class, or when all five of the shifter council called, usually to castigate me.
Arnaldo pressed two keys, and Ximon appeared, larger than life, on the big monitor. He blinked. The room he sat in was very dark. A light from somewhere higher up, as if at the top of a staircase, caught only the glittering corner of his left eye and the sagging flesh of his cheek. His shoulders, cast in silhouette, were slumped. It was hard to see him clearly, but he didn't look like the strong, wild, confident man I'd just seen whisk Amaris off to Othersphere.
“Ximon,” I said, taking my seat again next to Lazar on the couch. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“I need your help,” came the familiar voice, strong as always, but carrying a new tremor. It sounded like fear, or weakness, or age.
“That's not a very funny joke,” I said.
He moved closer to the monitor. I caught sight of his upper lip. It was trembling. “Desdemona, I beg you—hear me out.”
I stared at the half-dark monitor. What the hell was Ximon up to? “Why?”
“Because I am under attack,” he said. “And I won't survive without you.”
My friends were all staring at him with identical blank looks of incredulity. “What a shame,” I said. “I'd wish you good luck, but you'd know I was lying.”
“The attack on me is the reason my daughter was taken away tonight.” His powerful voice was thick, as if with emotion, perhaps with tears. But Ximon was a powerful caller of shadow, a master with his voice, who could control someone with a single word.
“You're not making any sense,” I said. “You are the one who took her away tonight.”
He breathed heavily. His body shuddered, as if in pain. “Allow me to explain and there's a chance we can get her back.”
“ ‘We' can get her back?” My voice shot high with disbelief. “What game are you playing?”
“It's no game.” He cast a glance over his shoulder. For a moment we could clearly see his profile, still classically handsome, but adorned now with drooping jowls, his lips thin with anxiety. “I don't have much time. He could come back any second.”
“He—who?” I frowned over at my friends. November was rolling her eyes.
“You won't believe me, I know,” he said. “But you will believe that I thought for a long time before placing this call. The fact that I have reached out to you indicates the level of my desperation. My . . . my God has abandoned me.”
“About time,” London whispered.
His overacting was getting on my nerves. “How did you get this number?” I asked.
“What does that matter now?” A touch of impatience crept into his voice, and he sounded much more like the Ximon I knew. “I tracked all of Lazar's calls to you last month. I knew you would be foolish enough to keep the same number.”
“Point for Ximon,” Arnaldo muttered.
I made a throat-cutting motion to Arnaldo, who put the call on hold. The screen froze. “He's using his voice to trick us into thinking he's stressed out, right?” I asked, looking at Caleb and Lazar.
Lazar shook his head, but it was Caleb who spoke. “He's not using any vocal tricks that I can detect. But he's so good at it, I might not be able to tell.”
“He sounded genuine when he spoke of God,” Lazar said. “I still can't quite believe he said it, though. He has always claimed to be specially chosen.”
I nodded at Arnaldo, who took the phone off mute. Ximon's image jerked back to life. If anything, he looked smaller, more hunched. “Why would God abandon you?” I asked. “Has he finally figured out you're insane?”
“Insane.” It came out of the monitor's speaker as a low groan. “Insanity would be a blessing compared to this. First I started blacking out. I had strange dreams, even when I was awake. My lieutenants claimed I gave them orders that I didn't remember giving.”
“He should stop hitting the bottle so hard,” Arnaldo said, but kept his voice low.
“I understand that you can't believe me yet,” Ximon said, glancing over his shoulder again. “Only let me finish. I don't know how long I have.”
“He's acting like a prisoner sneaking a message out,” Caleb said under his breath.
“Have you seen a psychiatrist?” I asked, knowing that would anger him. Ximon was the ultimate arrogant jerk who thought he was the strongest, the sanest, the one who knew all the secrets.
“They would not believe me,” he said. “For they do not believe in Othersphere, or demons. Or in possession.”
I caught Morfael's eye. He raised his nearly invisible eyebrows, urging me to ask the next question. I couldn't quite believe I was saying the words as they came out of my mouth. “Are you saying that you're being possessed, Ximon?”
Ximon exhaled heavily, as if in relief. “Thanks be to God you understand. Yes.”
Muffled explosions of skepticism erupted from around the room.
“What or who would take up residence in you?” I asked, unable to keep the derision from my voice. “And why?”
“It is a demon from Othersphere. No, hear me out!” he insisted as I let loose a ridiculing hiss. “I know you don't believe that evil resides in the other world, because you yourselves are connected to it, and you, Dez, were born there, but you must believe this: Something from Othersphere has taken hold of me. I can't refuse when he calls. I need your help. I need an exorcism.”
I almost said, “Oh, brother,” but controlled myself. “One moment,” I said, and Arnaldo put him on hold again. “What is really going on here?”
The others did not look as contemptuous as I felt. “There was something odd about him tonight during the attack,” Caleb said. “His vibration was different.”
November was hunched over, tense. “Whatever he's up to, we should go along with it so we can find him and kill him.”
“I'm the last person to believe him, but it's possible he's not lying,” Caleb said. “You've seen things from Othersphere take hold of me, back when I wasn't as well trained in calling things forth from shadow. Of course, Ximon is better trained than I am, so it's a very remote chance that anything could get to him.”
“He was weakened by the lightning strike,” Lazar said, referring to a battle back at Morfael's first school, when Caleb had called forth a bolt of lightning and struck his father with it, nearly killing him. It was weird to hear him say things that supported Caleb, but something about facing their father at the same time had muted their other conflict. For now. “And I'm sure his defeat at the particle accelerator was devastating. But still, it sounds like a very convenient excuse.”
“Exactly,” I said.
“We need to know more.” Caleb strode over to the computer and resumed the call. “Who is it that's possessing you, Ximon? And what does it want?”
“My son.” Ximon's voice was creased with weariness. The light caught his wide forehead below the white hair. The skin was creased with lines. “I don't know its name, but I have been locked in a battle for control of my will with it for weeks now. I've been forced to warn my lieutenants not to take any strange orders from me, to check my demeanor, to double-check with me on every order before carrying it out. And still this monster took me over long enough to plan and execute the kidnapping of your sister. He has sent her to Hell. . . .” The strong voice cracked a little. “To force me to yield my will to him forever.”
I leaned in and spoke very clearly, to make sure he caught my every word. “I was there when you shoved Amaris into Othersphere, Ximon. That was you, not some creature from another world. I've seen things come through from Othersphere, and none of them looked human.”
“You're from Othersphere, yet you look human,” Ximon said.
I shivered, and caught Caleb throwing me a glance. He almost appeared concerned, and then he turned back to the monitor. Ximon was saying, “And it . . . he told me that he learned not to announce himself after you saw him possess Caleb, back at my old compound in the desert.”
Caleb inhaled sharply. Our eyes met again, and for the first time in forever, he didn't look away. I knew that he, too, was remembering the night when he had called upon his powers for too long, and in his weariness had been unable to prevent a powerful presence from Othersphere from taking over his body. Caleb had altered under its influence, gotten sharper, taller, leaner, as if he'd been made of hard black stone. I'd understood then why Ximon thought Othersphere was inhabited by demons, for that creature had emanated a malevolence and power I'd never felt before. I'd known I could not defeat it physically. Instead, I'd called upon Caleb's love for me. That was what had given him the strength to force it back to where it came from.
Maybe Ximon wasn't lying. How else could he know about that night? Then I remembered: Ximon had been there, too. He and Lazar had been nearby in a small plane, taxiing for takeoff, and could have easily seen what had happened to Caleb.
“He got a taste of our world that night,” Ximon was saying. “And now he wants it for his own.”
“Why the hell would anyone want to rule this stupid world?” London said, mumbling and low.
November was nodding. “Total quagmire. Good luck with that, crazy Othersphere demon.”
“But why kidnap Amaris?” Caleb said to his father. “How does that help him with his plans? Is it her healing ability?”
“No.” Ximon paused. I could hear his uneven breathing. “His plan was to possess me long enough to capture either Amaris, or you, and then to hold one or both of you captive in Othersphere as hostage for my good behavior.”
“Extortion,” said November. “Maybe not such a crazy demon.”
“Why—because you care so much for us?” Caleb's voice dripped sarcasm. “This demon of yours isn't very bright.”
Ximon didn't answer right away. When he spoke, his voice was bleak. The light shining on his left eye showed that the white was shot with red. “Regardless of what you think, I love all my children. You may not agree with how I act upon that feeling, but in your heart you know that's why I have strived to save you, to keep you from falling victim to evil. This demon is proof of what I have always thought—that Othersphere is just another name for the abyss of Hell. And I may have given the devil himself a ticket out.”
Caleb shook his head. The bruises from his concussion stood out like smears of blue-black paint against his skin.
Next to me, Lazar spoke, his voice clipped. “He believes what he's saying. That's how twisted he is.”
“To be honest,” I said to the shadowy form on the monitor, “I don't give a damn how much you do or don't love anyone, Ximon. Why come to us? Don't you have other Bishops or Cardinals, or whatever you call yourselves, to help you? Personally, I'd recommend a dose of antipsychotic meds.”
Ximon raised a bottle of water to his lips and drank, swallowing hard twice. Then he said, “I think . . . I think the demon fears you, Desdemona. Perhaps because you're from Othersphere, too, but I can't be sure. That's why I called you.”
Goose pimples pricked all over my arms. The soft, undramatic tone in his voice only underscored the strangeness of his words. I still didn't believe him, but the tone of his voice made me uneasy. “I've never understood how you knew more about me than I did, Ximon,” I said. “How do you know I was born in Othersphere?”
“The signs are written all over you to one trained as I've been,” he said. “The Tribunal has records going back two thousand years, and in all that time, no shifter ever echoed the frequency of the demon world so strongly as you. We did a series of tests on you when you were first captured. They made it clear you could only be a creature from Hell. And not just any creature, but one of the higher devils, the rulers of that world. They are the beings who have been manifested through weak or tired objurers in the past, revealing themselves briefly, only to be exorcised. They call themselves the Amba. And you're one of them, the only one I've ever known to come bodily through the veil whole. Probably thanks to that vile teacher of yours, Morfael. ”
The Tribunal had been around long enough, and was obsessed enough with record keeping for all of that to be true. And they had captured me not long ago, the very first time I shifted.
“But now you've sent Amaris bodily through the veil, whole,” I said into the phone. “How?”
“It was not I who did it!” Ximon's voice rose, and the cords on the side of his neck stood out. “The demon made me go to the oak tree, the one whose shadow is a perpetual storm, and there he pulled some strange rope here from Othersphere. He said that whomever it touched would be able to go through the doorway he created. He just needed you to be there as well. Somehow with you there, the doorway was possible.”
“And how would he know I'd be there?” Damn, Ximon was good. He'd come up with a very elaborate series of lies to justify himself, but they didn't explain everything. Caleb opened his mouth to say something, but I shook my head at him, still speaking to the man on the monitor. “You're the expert at manipulating me, Ximon. You're the one who predicted I'd help Lazar escape from you. You knew that would lead me to your trap at the accelerator. Tonight was a trap exactly like that. One made by you, not some alien.”
BOOK: Othersphere
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