The Hollows series
Hammering my fist against the back of my closet wasn’t one of my more pleasant dreams. Actually, it hurt. The pain broke through my comfortable sleepy haze, and I felt the primitive part of me that never slept coolly measuring my slow gathering of will as I tried to wake up. With an eerie feeling of disconnection, I watched it happen, even as in my dream I tore the clothes off the rod and threw them to my rumpled bed.
Something, though, wasn’t right. I wasn’t waking up. The dream wasn’t passively shredding into hard-to-remember bits. And with a jolt I realized I was conscious but not awake.
What in hell? Something was really, really wrong, and instinct sent a pulse of adrenaline thorough me, demanding I wake. But I didn’t.
My breath was quick and ragged, and after I emptied the closet, I dropped to the floor and tapped my knuckles on the boards for a secret compartment I knew wasn’t there. Frightened, I grasped my will and forced myself awake.
Pain reverberated through my forehead. I sprawled, all my muscles going flaccid. I managed to turn my head, and my ear stung instead of my nose breaking. Hard wood pressed against me, cold through my pajama shorts and top. My cry came out as a gurgle. I couldn’t breathe! Something…something was in here with me. In my head. Trying to possess me!
Terror smothered me like a blanket. I couldn’t see it, couldn’t hear it, could hardly sense it. But my body had become a battlefield—one where I didn’t know how to win. Possession was a black art, and I hadn’t taken the right classes. Damn it, my life isn’t supposed to be like this!
Utter panic gave me strength. I tried to mobilize my legs and arms under me and push. I managed to rise to my hands and knees, then fell into my bedside table. It crashed to the floor and rolled to the empty closet.
My pulse hammering, the fear of suffocating overtook me. I managed to stagger into the hallway, looking for help. My unknown assailant and I found common ground and, working together, we took a breath that escaped in a choked cry. Where the devil was Ivy? Was she deaf? Maybe she hadn’t yet come in from her run with Jenks. She’d said they’d be late.
As if bothered by the cooperation, my attacker gripped harder, and I collapsed to the floor. My eyes were open, and the red sheet of my hair stood between me and the end of the dusky hallway. It had won. Whatever it was, it had won, and I panicked as I found myself sitting up with an eerie slowness. The thick scent of burnt amber hung in my nose, rising from my skin.
No! I cried in my thoughts—but I couldn’t even speak. I wanted to scream, but my possessor made me take a slow, sedate breath instead. “Malum,” I heard myself curse, my voice carrying an odd accent and a sophisticated lilt that had never been mine.
That was the last penny in the jar. Fear shifted to anger. I didn’t know who was in here with me, but whoever it was, was going to get out. Right now. Making me speak in tongues was just rude.
Falling into my thoughts, I felt the barest brush of someone else’s confusion. Fine. I could build on that. Before the intruder could figure out what I was doing, I tapped the ley line out back in the graveyard. Stark, foreign surprise filled me, and while my assailant struggled to break me from the line, I formed a protection circle in my thoughts.
Practice makes perfect, I thought smugly, then braced myself. This was going to hurt like hell.
I opened my thoughts to the ley line with an abandon I’d never dared before. And it came. Magic roared in. It overflowed my chi and poured into my body, burning my synapses and neurons. Tulpa, I thought in agony, the word opening the mental channels to spindle the energy. The rush would have killed me if I hadn’t already burned a trail of nerves from my chi to my mind. Groaning, I felt the power sear anew as it raced to the protection circle in my thoughts, expanding it like a balloon. It was how I spindled ley line energy to use later, but at this rate it was like diving into a vat of molten metal.
An internal yelp of pain resounded in me, and with a mental push that I mirrored with my hands, I shoved away from myself.
A snap reverberated through me, and I was free of the unknown presence. From the church’s belfry above came the sound of the bell tolling—an echo of my actions.
Something rolled and bumped down the corridor to crash into the wall at the end of the hall. I gasped and pulled my head up, then groaned in pain. Moving hurt. I held too much ley line power. It felt as if it had settled in my muscles, and using them squeezed the energy out.
“Ow,” I panted, very aware that something at the end of the hall was standing up. But at least now it wasn’t in my head. My heart beat, and that hurt, too. Oh God, I’d never held this much power before. And I stank. I reeked of burnt amber. What the Turn was going on?
With a pained determination, I squeezed the protection circle in my mind until the energy slipped back through my chi and into the ley line. It hurt almost as much as taking it in. But when I unspindled the ever-after from my thoughts to leave only that which my chi could hold, I looked up past the snarls of my hair, panting.
Oh, God. It was Newt.
“What are you doing here?” I said, feeling coated in ever-after slime.
The powerful demon looked confused, but I was still too out of things to appreciate its shocked expression: either a smooth-faced adolescent boy or a strong-featured female. Slender of build, it stood barefoot in my hallway between the kitchen and the living room. Squinting, I looked again—yeah, the demon was standing this time, not floating, its long, bony feet definitely pressing the floorboards—and I wondered how Newt had managed to attack me when I was on hallowed ground. The addition to the church, where it stood now, wasn’t sanctified, though, and it looked bewildered, wearing a dark red robe that looked somewhere between a kimono and what Lawrence of Arabia might wear on his day off.
There was a soft blurring of black ley line energy, and a slender obsidian staff as tall as I was melted into existence in Newt’s grasp, completing the vision I remembered from the time I had been trapped in the ever-after and had had to buy a trip home from Newt. The demon’s eyes were entirely black—even what should be the whites—but they were more alive than any I’d ever seen as they stared at me unblinking down the twenty feet that separated us—twenty tiny feet and a swath of hallowed ground. At least I hoped it was still hallowed ground.