"It's so nice to finally meet you!" she was saying. "Rachel has gone on and on about you for weeks now over the phone," she said, her accent endearing and sweet. But even with that, I could barely concentrate on what the woman, from the Martineze clan of Prague, was saying.
I stared Marla down in absolute confusion and disgust as she chatted with someone. Had she said what I thought she said before? It couldn't be. We'd only been at the 'palace' for less than twenty minutes and I already had a new enemy. Though I guess Marla wasn't new, she'd been working behind the scenes, playing tricks and toying with our minds.
Caleb's hand shaking in mine brought me back to my reality as the woman waved and said her goodbyes to me. I looked over to calm him, but had to stop my breath from catching out loud. He wasn't shaking with fright or confusion, he was shaking with fury. I followed his gaze to Marcus, who was standing and smirking behind Marla. Caleb's mind ran through the multiple times that Marcus had injured or hurt me; the latest being, cutting my hair when I'd fallen asleep at the beach house. His fingers squeezed mine a little too tightly and I flexed them to get his attention. He jerked his gaze over to me and rubbed my fingers gently in apology before turning back to the raven haired traitor and her family.
Marla laughed as Caleb pulled me behind him as she made her way to us once more.
But she was headed to someone behind us. "Donald!" she sang and lifted her hand in greeting. "You're looking very fit."
"Oh?" an older man said in surprise and smiled, showing a mouth full of perfectly straight, white teeth. "Why, thank you, Marla dear. It's been too long since you've graced us."
"It really has," she answered. "I'm here to remedy that."
"Well, good. And your Champion?"
Marla turned and hid her frown in her hands. She shook her head and lifted her face to him. Her tears might have looked real to him, but we knew otherwise.
"He passed on. A terrible accident just yesterday."
"Oh, my…that is terrible. Poor Sikes. Could we have been notified, we would have held a memorial for him. But as you know there are no phones here."
"Yes, well, his wife wouldn't have wanted the attention anyway. She's quiet and though she did come with us, she's grieving in her own way."
The councilman nodded as if he knew exactly what she meant. Then he said, "I see. It's hard, I know."
"As a matter of fact, I'd better go check on her now," Marla spouted and waved to him as her entourage followed her quickly out some double doors that led into a large hallway. "It was so good to see you," she called over her shoulder.
"You too, dear." Then he turned to us and he saw me for the first time. Correction - he saw the Visionary. He gasped and fell to one knee in front of me. He took my hand, kissing the backs of my fingers and pressing them to his head before looking back up to me. His eyes took a long time before they left the mark on my neck. I tried to be still and portray the object on display that he apparently thought I was.
Finally he spoke.
"Oh…Visionary. We are so glad you've come. We've waited… long and hard years for your return."
I swallowed my sarcastic response. Waited? Long and hard years? For my return? None of that seemed right. For one, they didn't seem to be waiting. And for two, they sure weren't in hard times. I looked him over. He was wearing what had to be an expensive suit. His shoes were shinier than the marble floor we were standing on, and his eyebrows were perfectly aligned and trimmed. He looked severely pampered. And as for the third thing, the thing about my return? What did that mean? Did he think I was reincarnated or something?
"It's nice to meet you," I said lamely.
"Donald, this is Maggie Masters, soon to be Maggie Jacobson," Caleb explained. He looked over at me and smiled. "My significant."
I had my mind closed off like Caleb had told me to. He had said with all the worshipping going on my mind would overload for sure in this place. I tried to open up a little to hear the councilman's thoughts. All I heard and felt was disgust. It wafted over me…almost like when Marcus' mind was open to me. Like slime.
I figured I must not be focusing on the councilman right so I backed away from his mind and settled back on Caleb.
"Maggie," Donald tested my name on his tongue. He didn’t sound as though he was impressed. "Is that short for something? Margaret, maybe?"
I almost sighed. Almost. "No, sir. Just Maggie."
"Hmm. And Peter," he said clearly, but with a little inflection. He peered around Caleb, and I did too. Peter was standing there with a smile pasted on his handsome face, a big fake smile with tight crinkled eyes. The councilman and Peter stared at each other.
"Donald," Peter said. He folded his arms over his chest, the material bunching and twisting with the tightness, his head turning ever so slightly to the right. "How…nice to see you, as always."
"I'm sure," Donald rebutted with equal amounts of sarcasm. I felt seriously uncomfortable and fidgeted with Caleb's sleeve. "Why don't we get started on the introductions. The Visionary needs to get to know her people."
My heart jumped in my throat. "What?" I squeaked and Caleb eased his arm around my waist.
"It's ok," he whispered. "He just means that he'll announce you to everyone."
"Yes, dear. Unless you'd like to say a few words?" Donald hedged.
"No. No, that won't be necessary," I answered quickly and tried not to gulp.
"As for the rest of you," Donald addressed the rest of our family who stood behind us. "It's so good to see you all again. Please, come in." He lifted an eyebrow and pursed his lips in disapproval. "You don't have to just stand in the doorway like that."