Chapter 7: Temptation
I steadied my legs and drew in a deep breath, listening to the celestial voice sing, its words so sad and longing. These powers draining my energy was getting old. They’d better be right about gaining endurance, or controlling my abilities would be pointless. And I was beginning to feel like a complete wuss.
Kat took hold of me again, relieving Asa once more. Asa wore a proud, satisfied smile as she watched my amazement.
I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the beautiful town square. “Why’s it called Winter’s Edge?”
“Because of our location.” Asa’s British accent made even mundane phrases sound interesting. “It’s always winter on the snowcapped mountains nearby. Our city’s at the edge of the mountains, underneath the foothills. Thus, we are always at the edge of winter.” She looked out over the park. “This is our town square.”
The beautiful song stole my attention away from Asa for a moment. “If the singer’s half as beautiful as her voice, she’s gorgeous.”
“Don’t go getting any ideas.” Asa glared at me. “That’s Abby.”
Images of levitating metal blades chasing me flew through my head giving me second thoughts about liking Abby. I hadn’t known Asa very long, but I knew upsetting her was a bad idea.
She cooled her protective-mother tendencies with a deep breath, then pointed to the ceiling’s rim. “The sound comes from a resonance chamber, through small passages that open at the outer edge of the ceiling.”
I marveled at the ceiling for a moment, the sound seemingly floating down from the painted clouds. “It’s like the ultimate surround sound system.”
“Joseph,” she said, biting off the name, “has been known to use the resonance chamber to make announcements at times. He uses a separate one in his quarters. Abby thinks the resonance chamber she uses is contained and just for acoustics. She doesn’t know we can hear her out here.” She raised a finger. “And if you tell her, a lot of people will be upset with you for taking away their music.”
What? That was just wrong. How could they keep that from her for so many years? How had she not found out by now?
Asa looked at me with eyes that said, Talk and you die. I’ll do it myself.
I nodded slowly, a stirring conflict in my gut.
Kat moved me to the right toward a large passage. “Come on, wobble-legs. Let’s get you to the commons.”
The next day, Abby and Kat showed me around some of the city. They had a beautifully-painted aquaponic farm they called the Gardens that produced a ton of food and money for them. Fiber-optic cables filtered out shortwave radiation from the sun, allowing the plants to grow far longer and produce a much greater quantity of huge vegetables. And that wasn’t even their most lucrative money source. They had gold mines whose profits dwarfed that of the aquaponic farm. In short, they were loaded. And yet they didn’t use money in Winter’s Edge, Kat had said. Apparently, it had just caused problems for them in the past. But when they worked, they made money to spend on supply runs. It was an interesting system.
After the partial tour, I was put to work at Murph’s Tavern. Serving food wasn’t really my forte, but it was a small price to pay to stay and train for a while. Luckily, I wasn’t stuck with the job. The pink-haired load of sarcasm actually had her own restaurant called Kat’s Kitchen. Southern food with a German flair, she’d said. I’d try working there eventually just for something a little different. After all, anything sounded better than the mines.
By mid-afternoon, my shift had ended and Murph handed me a hefty lunch before he vanished back inside the restaurant to clean up. I sat alone with my thoughts in the massive vacant commons area. It wasn’t quite the size of the town square, but it wasn’t a whole lot smaller either. Its centerpiece was an exquisitely-carved, three-tiered fountain filling a large portion of the center. An aqueduct began at the second tier of the fountain and disappeared into one of the passages heading toward the town square. Quite a distance from each side of the annular fountain sat empty café chairs and tables. Calling this a room wasn’t doing it justice. It was more like a banquet hall for Goliath.
The sound of falling water unraveled knots from my muscles as I finished the last bite of my meal. Curiously, my hair stood on end as footsteps approached from behind. A strange sensation rose within, drawing me to whomever it was.
“Hello.” It was a sultry voice with a seductive French accent.
I looked up to see a beautiful girl with long, layered dark hair and sharp green eyes—the sunbather from yesterday. She was easily seven or eight years older than me, but something in me didn’t care at that moment.
“Mind if I join you?” she said.
Sweat slicked my palms. “Please.”
“Why thank you.” Her body glided into the chair and she pulled her tight black dress up, showing more of her legs that seemed to go on forever. Her lips moved like silk as she spoke, her bright-red lipstick mesmerizing. “Ian, right?”
I swallowed hard and nodded.
“My name’s Lena.” Her mouth skillfully shifted into a half smile as she looked around the commons then back to me. “People around here are kind of boring, don’t you think?” She leaned in. “You don’t look boring. I bet we could have a lot of fun together.” She stared with sensual eyes, beckoning me closer, yearning for me. “A lot of fun.”
I’d never seen that look in a girl’s eyes before—not for me, anyway. This girl knew what she was doing, and she wasn’t subtle about it.
Normally, I was cautious. Guarded even. But my defenses were non-existent at that moment. Had the city really affected me that much?
My breaths shortened. “When?”
Her hand crossed the table, and I reached out for it.
Just before she took my hand, Asa came up behind her and smacked Lena with her palm. Lena’s head jutted forward with a muffled thud.
Abby stormed up beside her mother, fury in her eyes.
I expected to feel something when I saw Abby, but I didn’t. All I could do was think of Lena. Something wasn’t right.
“You have been warned about such things, girl.” Asa scolded Lena through clenched teeth. “Leave. Now.” Her flaring eyes were enough to send anyone running. “I’ll decide what to do with you later.”
Lena shot a slitted glare in Asa’s direction, then stomped away.
What horrible thing had Lena done? Were girls not allowed to come on to guys around here?
I stood to go after Lena, but Asa grabbed my shoulders and forced me back down like a ragdoll. “You. Stay.”
“She looks upset,” I said. “I really should go check on her.” I glanced back.
Asa eyed me. “You will do no such thing, child.”
Abby’s jaws clenched as she watched Lena vanish down one of the two passages leading back to the town square.
Asa sighed. “I suppose I should have warned you about Lena. Her power is…well…shall we say, seductive in nature.”
I cocked my head with a frown, my mind still having trouble processing things.
“She emits pheromones in high concentration. They affect only men, bonding them to her temporarily.” Asa grabbed my arm and hoisted me out of the chair as soon as Lena’s angry footsteps faded down the hall. “Now you can get up. We need to get you out of this pheromone-infestation and into some more humid air by the waterfall.”
“Is Lena gonna be okay?” Why was I asking after what she’d just explained?
Asa just nudged me toward the passage, probably refusing to take me seriously. “I hope not. That girl just will not learn her lesson.”
“We need to do something about her.” Abby’s leveled gaze toward the passage said she was still cooling down. Was she angry with Lena because of what she’d done, or because she’d done it to me?
“I have no idea what will get through to her.” Asa shook her head. “Punishment never seems to work.”
As we arrived at the waterfall, Asa asked me to breathe deep, then looked back to Abby. “I just don’t understand that girl. It’s not like she can get a boyfriend that way and keep him constantly infatuated using her ability. She’ll die of old age in a week…or go mad. Why does she even bother?”
Abby’s eyes tilted at the edges into a wounded look. “Maybe she doesn’t think she can get a guy without her powers.”
“That’s still no excuse.” Asa gestured at me. “Stay with him until this is out of his system.” She shook her head again, then turned to leave. “Kids today…”
Asa was slightly taller than Abby and nearly as beautiful. I caught myself staring at her as she left and felt just a little creepy about it.
“How do you feel now?” Abby said.
“Well, I just checked out your mom walking away, so that’s progress.”
Abby cracked up. “Really?”
My face flushed hot. “Did I just say that out loud?”
“It’s okay.” Abby wore a quirky, entertained smile. “Lena’s power lowers your inhibitions. Makes it hard not to say what you’re thinking.”
“Oh, great.” I did my best to clear my mind completely, humming a stupid, random melody in my head for distraction’s sake. The last thing I wanted to do was say something else stupid to Abby. “Is it normal to feel nauseous?”
“Only if you take in a large pheromone dose and come down off of it quickly.”
“Why would Lena do that to me?”
Abby shook her head. “I don’t know. She knows every Watcher in the city will notice if she uses her powers, especially as strong as she just did with you. Pretty sure she just does it for attention. It’s nothing new. I doubt we’ll ever figure her out.”
“So that’s how you and your mom got here so quickly? A Watcher warned you?”
“That’s right. Your mom mentioned something about that before.”
“Yeah, each ability has a unique quantum pulse it puts off that acts like a signature. The Watchers can sense the unique feel of each pulse.”
“What do you mean by ‘quantum?’“
“You know how all matter is made of energy?”
“That energy is the quantum field. The entire quantum field is interconnected. So a pulse sent out through it can be felt miles away or even across the universe.”
“How’s that possible?”
“Quantum physics works very differently than the physics you learned in high school. When we look at quantum particles, they act differently than when we’re not looking at them. They know they’re being watched.”
“Whoa, wait. They’re…conscious?”
Abby’s brow raised as she nodded insistently. “Ever heard a Buddhist call the universe God?”
“That’s because Ancient Eastern philosophy says that God made the universe out of Himself.” She smiled like the subject intrigued her. “Modern Buddhists tend to depersonalize God as the Universe, but originally, the Ancients—like the Ancient Hebrews—didn’t. They knew God was a person rather than an object.”
“So you’re saying that when scientists are observing these particles, they’re observing God?”
“Could be.” She shrugged. “Well, at least a part of God.”
I wasn’t even sure there was a God, but I had to admit, quantum physics had just freaked me out a little bit.
“The particles do things that only God can do. Like a single particle being in three-thousand places at the same time, then when we observe it, it vanishes from all of those places and chooses only one place to be.”
“Whoa. I’ve never heard that before.”
“Not a whole lot of people have,” she said. “Watchers are just tuned into the quantum field by nature for some reason. Everyone’s powers come from the quantum field, but we don’t really know how they work. There’s something deeper at play, something we know nothing about. All we do know is that a whole lot of stone seems to weaken the pulse. That’s partly why we’re down here underground—so the Hunter’s can’t track the pulses when people use their powers here.”
I smiled at her, losing myself momentarily. “Beautiful and smart. I could listen to her talk about this stuff all day.” And then I wanted to face-palm myself because I thought I’d only said that in my head.
Abby’s cheeks burned a deep shade of red, and she looked away for a moment, reflecting my own embarrassment.
“I, uh…” My words caught in my throat. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to be so forward.” I tried to laugh it off. “This is all your fault, you know?”
Abby’s blush quickly turned to incredulity. “My fault?”
“You seem to pull my thoughts right out of my head directly through my mouth.” I managed a playful tone. “Are you sure that’s not your power?”
“I’ll show you my power.” Abby pushed me into the pool of water, but not before I grabbed her arm, yanking her in with me. She screamed in surprise. Water exploded as we tumbled into the pool. I retaliated with splashing and Abby fired right back at me. We both died laughing.
Mid-splash, I tried to stand and lost my footing, toppling backward. I grabbed Abby’s arm for support and ended up pulling her to the shore with me. She fell onto my chest.
Our eyes locked as her breath brushed against my lips. Time stood still, my heart refusing to beat. Our laughter had faded to silent stares, and no one else existed in the world but us. I swore she drew me closer, but neither of us moved an inch. Her heart beat hard against my chest, her warmth against me almost too much to bear.
She broke away and stood, as if suddenly shy. Awkwardness hung in the air.
I took a breath, then got to my feet and brushed an unsure hand through my wet hair.
“Uhhh…you look like you’re feeling better now.” Her words shook slightly. “I should go get changed and get back to the gardens.”
“Sure.” I flushed, puzzled. “I’ll, uh…see you later.”
A quick glance around the town square revealed no witnesses to our little wrestling match. She’d shown me a side of her I’d never fully seen before, but it seemed like a surprise even to her.
“Yeah, uh—see you later. Be careful around Lena.” Abby turned and hurried away.
Her intoxicating scent still lingered, her warmth just beginning to fade from me.
I hated to see her go, but I couldn’t stop staring at her hourglass figure as she vacated the town square.
She turned for a second and caught me staring at her, but her only reaction was a slight smile.
And soon after, I was alone.