The Niteo Chronicles: Lies Undone

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Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Present

The walk back to Luke’s truck seemed much shorter this time than any of the other times. I knew it was because this was the last time I would have to make this walk. My case was over, my attacker was on his way to prison and for the first time in ten years, I was able to relax, and have nothing to worry about.

Luke squeezed my hand tight as we approached his truck. I could tell by the expression on his face that he was beyond thrilled to have the trial over. He had been so concerned this past month about how this whole case was affecting me, but now, he no longer had to worry. I started to turn away from him to get into my side of the car, but Luke held my hand tighter as if to stop me.

“Cassie, I am so happy right now. I cannot even begin to tell you how relieved I am that this is all over and you can put this part of your life behind you.” Luke spoke strongly.

“I am just as relieved as you are. Every second of being in that horrible courthouse was just pure torture. You could never tell what anyone was thinking or how anything was going to turn out because everyone was just serious all the time.”

Luke pulled me close to him and pressed his soft lips against mine. I couldn’t help but wrap my arms around his waist and stand up on my tiptoes. As the kiss ended, Luke wrapped his arm around my shoulder and smiled down at me.

“I want to take you somewhere, Cassie, to celebrate.”

“Okay. Where?”

“It’s a place I’ve been saving for a special day. It’s kind of a secret.” Luke’s voice took a peculiar turn as he spoke. He sounded as though he was on the verge of telling me something he wasn’t supposed to, at least not yet.

“Okay, so you want to take me to some secret place that you know of, but you’ve never told me about in almost five years of being together?” I was getting confused. But then, I started to put a few things together.

“Does this secret have anything to do with what happened a couple of weeks ago? When my flashback and migraine suddenly ‘cleared up’ when you touched me?” I asked with eagerness.

Luke sighed. “It might. I just need you to trust me on this. Can you do that?”

I nodded with caution. “Of course, I can. I trust you.”

“Good, but before we go, I need you to put this on.” Luke reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a long, black, satin cloth.

“You want to blindfold me?”

“Yes, it is a secret and a surprise, Cassie. Please, just go along with me, I promise this will be worth your while.”

I could tell by Luke’s voice that this was clearly something he had been planning for a long time and that he really did want me to play along with whatever he had planned for the day. Reluctantly, I agreed to let him put the blindfold on me.

“Thank you, Cassie. I promise you, this will be a day that you will never forget,” Luke said as he started the truck and began our drive to this mysterious place.

“So, how far away is this place?” I assumed that I was at least allowed to ask questions.

“Well, it’s a bit of a drive. Just relax and we’ll be there before you know it.”

“Okay…what kind of place is this? A restaurant?”

“Well, let’s just say it’s sort of like a hangout. But, enough questions, I want this to be a surprise. Besides, you’ll never be able to guess.” Luke was getting cautious about what he said to me. I knew there had to be more to everything than he was telling me, but I could also tell he was not going to give me any more information.

I decided to keep quiet for the rest of the drive. After a while, my head began filling with my own ideas of where Luke was taking me. I started thinking back to the last night of trial when I had asked Luke about us getting married. I remembered him saying that there was just one thing that needed to happen first. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about, he could have been referring to so many different things. Suddenly it occurred to me, he must have been talking about the end of the trial. His whole excuse for us not getting married was that he felt I was too stressed out with the case not having been settled. Now that the case was settled, I was almost certain that he was taking me to a secret place to propose to me. Luke always had a classic style of being romantic, something I had always cherished about him. He was known for his little surprises, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t put it together right away.

The more I thought about my new realization, the more excited I was getting. I kept imagining different scenarios of how Luke was going to do it. I couldn’t think of any places he could be taking me to, but knowing Luke, it was going to be somewhere beautiful. He was probably going to take me to some secluded area, near a bunch of trees or by a river seeing as he knows how much I love nature. I could just picture everything happening, and how happy I would be to finally say yes to him. I knew he would do it somewhere where it could be just the two of us because he knew I wouldn’t want to be in the center of a big crowd. I had once told Luke the only person I would ever want to be there when he proposed, if anyone had to be there, would be my mother…

I started thinking about her and remembered that she had been missing from the sentencing hearing this morning. Luke had said she was probably back at the house setting up a surprise for me. If that were the case, why was Luke taking me to a secret place to celebrate the end of the trial? Would he really skip out on whatever my mother was doing so he could propose? That did not seem like Luke. I was starting to feel confused. Obviously, Luke knew what my mother was up to, so why wasn’t he wasn’t just taking me home to see whatever kind of surprise she was setting up? This was starting to seem like another one of the little things between the two of them that I did not understand.

They were always exchanging weird looks with each other, and it always seemed as though the two of them shared some kind of secret that they were not letting me in on. I knew there was something going on between them; I just didn’t know what it was. I knew my idea had to be crazy. But still, I just couldn’t seem to shake it.

The more I thought about my mom missing from the hearing this morning and Luke’s weird excuse for her, the more I felt as though Luke wasn’t taking me out to celebrate the end of the trial or to propose. I started feeling more like he and my mom were in on something together. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t realize when Luke stopped the truck.

“We’re here, Cassie,” Luke said with caution in his voice.

“Where is here?” I asked anxiously.

Luke didn’t respond. I heard him open and close his door and open mine. He helped me out of the truck and walked down what felt like a stone path. I knew by the smell in the air that we were in the woods, close to a river because I heard it in the distance. After we took a few steps forward, Luke stopped me.

“Okay, Cassie, I am going to take your blindfold off. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” I was beyond anxious at this point.

I could not believe what I saw when the blindfold was off.

I was in a wooded area, just as I had suspected. There were dozens of trees around me that had to be at least twelve feet tall if not taller. They were all so beautiful, each had different colored leaves and the branches served as a sort of canopy over the entire area. I was right about there being a river too. I looked out past a few hills and saw the streams of water coming from a small waterfall and leading into a river. I felt as though I was standing in a dream. I was afraid to blink and make this amazing place disappear.

I continued looking around, taking everything in and then I saw it. The most beautiful building. It looked like an old Victorian style mansion with light tan bricks making up the entire exterior. There were two rounded towers on either side of the center door, which gave it a look like a medieval castle. Each of the towers had flat sides making up the round shape giving them an even more eloquent look. The whole building was incredible. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The main entrance was two tall doors with handles in the center. It was a dark shade of green that reminded me of a pair of emerald earrings I used to wear all the time. The handles were made of silver that looked like it had lost a lot of its shine, which told me the building had been there for quite some time.

Beyond the main entrance and the two towers on either side, I could see that the building continued on for several yards. It looked as though it were big enough to house over fifty people comfortably. The whole building was the same tan color as the towers, although there were some darker bricks randomly mixed in to the walls. The roof of the building, at least as much of it as I could see, was made of shingles placed in the neatest of rows. The roof was a deep brown color, so beautiful against the tan color of the rest of the building. I found myself unable to look away, I’m not sure how long I continued staring at the building and everything around me but eventually, I heard Luke’s voice.

“Cassie? Are you okay?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah…I’m more than okay.”

“So, do you like it here?”

“Like it? Luke, I love it. Everything is so beautiful. The trees, the waterfall, and river, this building…how have I never seen any of this before?” my voice was lower than I expected it to be, I was still in awe at everything I was seeing all around me.

“Well, I wouldn’t expect you to be traveling anywhere near where we are, Cassie,” Luke said with a bit of a sarcastic tone to his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re almost three hundred miles away from your house.” I was surprised that he actually kept a straight face when he told me how away from home I was.

“Are you serious? What state are we in? How could I…How did you…” I couldn’t finish my thoughts, I was preoccupied with the realization that I had been spaced out in the car for the better part of a three-hundred-mile road trip.

“Yes, Cassie, but the distance isn’t important. I need to ask you something.”

“Yes?” I turned to face Luke, so I could study his expression closely.

“I know you haven’t been here long, but do you think you might be happy staying here?”

I didn’t answer right away. I looked away from Luke and took another glance all around me.

“Luke, this is all beautiful. Of course, I wouldn’t mind staying here for a while. How long? A couple of days? A week or two?”

“I mean to live here.” Luke made his last statement cautiously, waiting for my response.

I paused another minute to process what Luke was asking. Did he really want both of us to give up our lives back home to come live in some place I had never seen before? This seemed so unlike him, he was spontaneous but not crazy. How could he ever think this kind of idea would be a good one? What would my mother think of this? Or his parents? How could we ever afford a place like this? There were so many questions flooding my mind. I wasn’t sure where to begin asking. I let out a deep breath and just started talking.

“Did you say live here? Luke, are you crazy? I mean, this place is so beautiful, and I love it here even after just standing here for a few minutes, but seriously? How could we just uproot ourselves like that and move here? I have a home, you have a home. What about our lives…” I would have continued giving him my side, but Luke pulled me close to him and gently placed his hand over my mouth.

“Cassie, I know it sounds crazy, but believe me there has been a lot more thought put into this than you realize. This place is special to my family.”

“Luke, I don’t understand. Why is this place so special? Have you and your family been making these plans without me since we started dating?”

“Not exactly. Cassie, I am not the one who should be explaining all of this to you.”

“Well then just tell me this, why have you kept it a secret from me all this time if it’s so important to you?”

“Cassie, it’s much deeper than just keeping a secret from you. As I said, I am not the one to tell you.”

“Then who is?”

“John.”

“Your father?”

“Yes, I promise, Cassie, this will make a lot more sense after you talk to him.”

“Will you at least tell me where we are?”

“Yes. Cassie, welcome to Castellum,” Luke said as he motioned his arm toward the beautiful old building.

“Cast-what?”

“Castellum. It’s Latin for shelter.”

“You want to move us in to a shelter?”

“Cassie, believe me, this will all make a lot more sense soon. Why don’t we start by going inside? I think you will be pleasantly surprised,” Luke said as he started leading me toward the building.

“Alright fine, lead the way my man of mystery,” I said with a hint of sarcasm in my voice.

Luke took hold of my hand and led me to the main entrance of the building. The doors looked as though they would be loud when opening but instead they were completely silent.

Once we stepped inside and the doors closed behind us, I was once again mesmerized by the sight before me.

Luke and I stood at the top of a small flight of stairs, which led to a long hallway, lit only by candles sitting on tall torches along each side of the walls. There was a dark maroon carpet laid out from the door all the way down the hallway. The hall continued further than I could see. I could not believe that this building was just as beautiful on the inside as it had been on the outside. The idea of coming to live here with Luke was starting to sound less and less crazy.

Luke led me down the stairs and down the hallway until we reached a doorway. The hall was so big I hadn’t even realized that there were doorways every few feet on each side.

He took me through the door and into a room that was smaller than I would have expected it to be considering the size of the rest of the building. The walls were a light brown color, made up of bricks, similar to the color of the outside of the building. The floor of the room was cement but the dark maroon carpet continued into this room and covered a good part of the floor.

The room and whole building for that matter seemed mysterious like it was meant to be a secret, for only a few people to know about. I looked around and saw that there were rooms connected to either side of the room I was in. Luke walked me to the center of the room and motioned for me to sit in a wooden chair. Suddenly, I was captivated by the sight before my eyes.

Sitting before me, all in a row, in chairs much nicer and bigger than mine, were four people. Four very special people in my life, all people that I recognized, if not knew well. There in front of me sat my mother, Mrs. Millson, Mr. Millson, and Luke’s sister, Emily. I could not believe my eyes, I hadn’t seen Emily in such a long time and yet here she was sitting not five feet from me. I thought my mother had been at home setting up some sort of ridiculous surprise but instead, I find her here in this secret place? Maybe now I would finally get the answers I had been searching for. Maybe now I would finally find out this big secret that Luke and my mother seemed to share.

Luke joined the four of them in a chair at the end of the row. I couldn’t take my eyes off the five people that now sat before me. I was so confused as to what was happening.

Before I could even say anything and begin asking any of the hundreds of questions that were now flooding my mind, Mr. Millson began speaking.

“Welcome, Cassie. We have been anxiously expecting your arrival.”

“Expecting me for what? What is this place?” I wanted to continue spitting out my questions, but I held myself back.

“You are in Castellum, the meetinghouse of Niteo. Our hope is that you will join us.”

“What are you talking about? What is Niteo?”

“Niteo is a ministry of the Lord and we are the founding members,” Mr. Millson said as he motioned his hand toward the other four sitting with him, “and we hope that you will join us in our cause.”

“Is this a cult? I don’t think I want to be included in this.” I started to get up from my chair but Mr. Millson put his hand up as if to motion me to stop.

“Please stay with us, Cassie. Let me explain this to you,” he said as he rose from his chair. He began pacing around the room as he told the story.

“As I said before, we are Niteo. Niteo is not a cult, it is a ministry. A group of people just like you who have been through something just like you have been through. We have all been through a trauma in our lives and because of that, we have been genetically altered by our experiences. Each of the members you see sitting before you possesses a special gift which they obtained because of the trauma they endured in their lifetime. Now, it is your turn to become a member and inherit your gift.”

“Okay, let me get this straight. You’re telling me that I am supposed to become a member of this society and get some supernatural gift because of what I went through with my stepfather?”

“Yes, Cassie, that is exactly what I am saying.”

“And you believe all of this is based on your faith?”

“Precisely.”

I was tempted to ask if this was all a joke and they were really planning on killing me before nightfall, but I refrained from asking that and chose to ask something else.

“So, all five of you have been through something? And you all have a gift?”

Mr. Millson had returned to his seat. They all nodded their heads. There were so many things that were finally making sense. Emily’s life being such a secret all these years, Mr. and Mrs. Millson always being so generous to me, my mother disappearing during the hearing today; it was all coming together now. The list of questions in my head was growing at an even faster rate. I wanted to know everything there was to know about this Niteo, and I wanted to know now.

“Well, I know most of my mother’s story and I know Luke’s story from the trial, so what is everyone else’s story?”

“The time for everyone’s story will come. Right now, I want to explain more about your special place here,” Mr. Millson explained.

“What do you mean?”

“Cassie, Niteo was founded long ago by my grandfather. He kept a journal for the better part of his life and documented everything about his transformation into the first member. That journal has provided us with guidance as to how to make this society one that honors God and his purpose for our lives. There is one entry I would like to show you,” Mr. Millson said as he pulled the journal from underneath the table.

“What is the entry?”

He flipped to a specific, dog-eared page and began reading.

“I feel as though I have been given this gift for a reason. I feel a need to use it for the good of the people that reject me…. I have met no others that have the same healing touch I seem to have, but I know it is my duty to use this gift and use it wisely for the good of the rest of society. The Lord has given me this gift, and I will use it for his glory alone.”

“My grandfather was a wise man. Beyond his years. His thoughts and actions in his lifetime have driven this society into its current existence,” Mr. Millson explained.

“Clearly,” I said trying to process. “So, how did the society actually get started then? If your grandfather never met anyone else like him?”

“I am the founding member of Niteo because my change was the first to occur in this group and to anyone, aside from my grandfather, so far as we can tell. When I went through the process of becoming what we now call members, I did not understand what was happening to me. To be honest, the whole process was terrifying.

“My change was a slower process than everyone else’s here. It started shortly after the trial of my father ended. I slowly started noticing little things about myself that were changing.

“The first thing I noticed was my immunity to cold and sickness. My father’s trial finished in the fall and by the winter of that year, I was ready to get out and enjoy my life again. I had forgiven him and felt the desire to put it all behind me. The pastor at our local church helped me a lot. One day, a major snowstorm had come through our town and left close to a foot of snow on the ground. I woke up early that morning and ran outside to enjoy the snow and after about a half hour, I looked around at the other people on the street and realized I was missing something, a coat. I had been outside in near-freezing temperatures for a half hour without a coat on yet, I did not feel the slightest bit cold. My skin was even warm to the touch.

“I decided to see if it was just a weird coincidence, but I soon discovered that no matter what temperature it was outside, I was always the same temperature.

“As the months following the trial passed, I realized another change in myself – I was no longer getting sick. There was a time when every single person in my family was ill with a fever, but I stayed healthy as ever. In fact, there has not been a single time I have fallen ill since my father’s trial.”

John’s last comment made an impression on me. I couldn’t imagine how wonderful that must be to never get sick. And to think that I could be enjoying that luxury soon, that thought made me happy. I broke away from my thought when I heard John continuing his story.

“The next change I noticed in myself was the change in the aging process. Day to day I didn’t really notice that I wasn’t aging nearly as fast, however, one day about ten years after my father’s trial ended, I happened to get one good look in the mirror in our house. I noticed that my face literally looked exactly as it had the day I walked out of the courthouse. I wondered if it was connected in any way to the other changes, but I had no way of finding out. I decided to talk to my mother about our family history. I knew there was no way I could be the only one in my family to ever have these things happen to them.”

“After I talked to my mother, she gave me something she had been keeping for several years. It was an old journal my grandfather had written from the time he was a young boy until he was on his deathbed. I remember pouring over that journal for countless hours. I was searching for an answer to these changes, any kind of answer. I read through that whole thing probably ten times with no luck, so I thought.

“All I found in that journal were a bunch of stories my grandfather had written about people in our family either going crazy before they died or killing themselves for various reasons, nothing that could explain what was happening to me. I decided instead to start keeping my own sort of journal. I recorded every change that had already occurred to me and every day I made myself write something about what was happening. I kept up with the journals until the day I was forced to leave my town for good.”

“Why were you forced to leave?” I was surprised by the sudden turn John’s story had taken.

“It happened when the final change occurred when I developed my gift. I started noticing my abilities when my family fell ill again. The whole town was hit hard, but my family seemed to get it worse. No one was sure what was wrong with them, besides the fever. Eventually, my younger sister fell ill, worse than the others. The doctor told my mother she would be lucky to make it through the next few days if they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her and how to treat it properly. I remember being concerned about her and spending almost all my time thinking about her. Suddenly, it just hit me. I knew what was wrong with her. I ran downstairs and told my mom that she had an infection, she needed penicillin. My mother thought I was crazy, but she was desperate to save her youngest daughter, so she told the doctor to try it and by the next day my sister was starting to improve.

“Seeing the results, my mother instantly started asking me questions about how I figured it all out. I told her I honestly didn’t know because I really didn’t. After a few more similar incidents around town, people started assuming I was using evil magic or that I belonged to some weird religious group, but either way, they didn’t want me among them anymore, poisoning the minds of their children. So, I packed my bags and left. I never saw my mother or family again.”

I took a minute to process John’s story before I spoke. I didn’t think I had the strength he possessed.

“Wow, so where did you go?” I asked trying to mask the shock in my voice.

“Well, I set out not entirely certain of where I was heading. My family lived in central Ohio at that time and when I left I started heading North, hoping to find a new home. I continued making my way north until I met my wife.” John’s voice started to trail off as he finished speaking. He wrapped his arm around Clara and pulled her close to himself.

“Whoa, so you met Clara on the road? How?” I was suddenly even more interested in this story.

“I say it’s fate, she says it’s simply being in the right place at the right time, but I just happened to be passing through her small town the day she walked out of the courthouse after the trial for her first husband. She was now left on her own, and I was traveling alone, so, we decided to stick together. We ended up hitting it off and decided to stay together. We were married six months later.” John said with a big smile in his voice.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The story of how John and Clara met and stayed together in their toughest times was so romantic.

“Then how did the society get started?”

“Niteo was started a few years after Clara and I were married. Over time, I began to notice some of the same changes I went through in Clara. One day I approached her about them and she told me a story that sounded nearly identical to one of my own changes. When I heard her story, I knew there was something happening here, that I wasn’t just some fluke case. I had still been writing every day and decided to show Clara my own journal. She was amazed by what she saw in my writing. She told me it sounded like she was reading a description of what happened to her, except for the final change, because Clara’s gift is different from mine.

“After showing her my journal, I was reminded of my grandfather’s journal. I hadn’t read it in many years because it didn’t make sense when I read it the first few times. I pulled it out again and read it with Clara. Now, mind you, I’d read this journal cover to cover many times and never seen anything of true value. That wasn’t the case when I opened it this time. Within the pages of my grandfather’s journal, we discovered that these types of changes had been occurring through several generations in my family. And the entry I just showed you was suddenly in there too.

“After we read that entry, Clara and I knew we had a special mission before us. We continued to study my grandfather’s writings, gathering as much information as we could about the changing process and in 1915, we officially established Niteo. From then on, we began our research on the changing process. We started trying to find things in common between ourselves, things that triggered our changes and then compared them to anything we could find in the journal from my grandfather.”

“So, you’re saying that now, all the stuff you were just talking to me about is stuff you have figured out since 1915 when you started this whole thing with just the two of you and a journal?”

“Precisely, Cassie. Each time a new member joined us, we added their information to our research and now in almost 100 years, this is the point we have come to,” John said as he motioned his hand around Castellum.

“Wow,” I said amazement. I was having trouble finding the right words to fill the silence. “One quick question,” I said with sudden realization.

“Ask away,” John answered.

“How old are you? I know you said you noticed your aging slowed down, but you said you started all of this in 1915? How slow is your aging?”

“A year in the life of a member is equal to twenty-five years or so in the life of a nonmember,” John explained.

“Ah. Cool,” I whispered. I couldn’t help but start thinking about the fact that that had to mean Luke was significantly older than me. That would take some adjusting.

I couldn’t come up with much else to ask, and in my silence, John saw an opportunity to continue his spiel.

“Cassie, you have a destiny; a special place among us. Should you choose to join, we all believe you will do mighty things. You are an extraordinary person and that ought to be celebrated.

“Should I join? You mean, it is my choice? You’re not going to force this on me?”

“We would never force you into anything Cassie. Members need to join on a voluntary basis of their own free will, much the same way we come to faith in God.”

I was relieved to know that this was a choice for me and not another forced part of my life that I shouldn’t meddle in. But that also meant that I had a hard decision before me; one that I was terrified to make.

Permanency had never been something I did well up against. I liked having options to retreat if I felt cornered or threatened. This would not leave me that option.

“How long do I have to make this choice?”

“We will allow you to stay here at Castellum with us for thirty days. However, after that time has passed, if you haven’t made a choice or elect to reject this destiny, you will have to vacate and never return.”

John’s voice sounded dejected as he finished his statement. I knew that everyone wanted me to stay here with them, but I didn’t know if I could commit to that.

“Do you have any other questions for us right now Cassie?”

I had a million other questions I could have asked, but I refrained. I needed to process with Luke on a more personal level.

“Not right now. I just need some time on my own to think things over.”

“Should any other questions arise, we are all here for answers. Luke will show you to your room.”

“My room? I already have a room?”

“Of course. Your mother took the liberty of having your belongings moved from your house.”

I glanced over at my mother but opted against opening another discussion. I just wanted to be alone with Luke to talk privately. When we got upstairs, and I was settled into my own room, Luke wrapped his arms around me. I pulled away from Luke for the first time in a long time.

“Oh no, I am not falling for that. You are not getting off that easy, mister. You and I need to talk about all of this.”

Luke’s head sunk a little. “I was afraid you might say that. Okay, let’s talk.”

“I am going to change first, and then you and I are going to sit down and talk about all of this craziness.”

I walked over to the dresser that had been in my room at home and found my clothes neatly folded inside— they had definitely not been that way before.

“Who folded my clothes?”

“Your mother, she figured she would help you out with the cleaning a little.”

“Oh, how nice,” I said in a somewhat startled tone.

I grabbed a pair of sweatpants and a tank top and walked into the bathroom that was connected to my room. I felt as though I was staying in some sort of hotel or something; like I was on a dream vacation that had just gotten strange.

I emerged from the bathroom quickly and found Luke waiting quietly on the bed for me. I walked over and joined him on the bed.

“So, you wanted to talk?”

“Yes.”

“About what?”

“About what? Are you serious? Luke, were you not just in that room? What do you think I want to talk about?”

“Well, I know it is about all of this, I meant where do you want to start?” Luke said with a chuckle.

“Let’s start with the whole aging thing. How old are you?”

“I am twenty now.”

“So, you really are twenty?”

“Yes.”

“How long have you been in the society?”

“Since 1947. I was nineteen when I became a member.”

“I thought you said you were thirteen when you came back to the Millson’s, or is the adoption story another alibi?”

“No, the adoption story is true. I was thirteen when I came back to live with them, however, John could see that I was not ready to enter the society when I came back. He spent six years talking to me about God and leading me to accept Jesus as my savior. I was seventeen when I accepted him and became a member a couple of years later when I truly forgave everyone.” Luke’s voice dropped at the end of his explanation. I wondered who he hadn’t forgiven.

“So when were you born?”

“In 1928.”

Lovely, I was dating, and madly in love with someone who was more than fifty years older than I was. That would be difficult to get used to.

“Okay. I want to know about your gift,” I said almost demanding but trying to maintain my composure.

“I am a healer. Meaning I have a healing touch. All I have to do is focus my energy and place my hand on whomever I wish to heal, and they will be healed from any kind of pain or injury. It does not matter how close the person is to death, I can heal their wounds no matter how severe.”

“Wait a minute, so I was right?” I asked as I shot my gaze at Luke.

Luke looked at me. “Yes, I’m sorry I lied to you, I had to. I couldn’t tell you about any of this until you got here.”

“So, you have been healing my headaches?”

“Yes.”

“And that day at my house, when I had the flashback, you did heal me, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Cassie. I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“I guess you didn’t have a choice.”

“No, I didn’t. You know I would have told you if I could, right?”

I nodded. “So, what can you tell me about my mom? What’s her gift?”

“Natalie is a seeker. She has the ability to control the mind of the person she sets her energy on in order to get them to reveal information. She is able to use her gift to force information out of a person or to help them when they need to say something but are having trouble finding the words.”

“Wait a minute. There were a couple of times in court that I felt a sudden rush of peace and clarity come over me. Do you mean that was because of her?”

“I don’t see any other explanation,” Luke said with caution.

“But, we weren’t even speaking to each other at that point. I thought she was still angry with me,” I said in shock. I suddenly felt the need to go hug my mother.

“Sounds like a conversation to have soon,” Luke suggested.

“Yeah,” I said allowing my mind to travel back to those moments in court. “So, is there any way to tell a member from a non-member?”

“Yes, we have all been marked.”

“‘Marked’?”

“Every member has a defining mark on their body that sets them apart from the world. It is different for every member, almost like a seal that declares you are a member. The seal you are given represents the gift you possess.”

“Can I see this seal?”

Luke turned around and parted the hair away from the back of his neck.

“A red handprint. Oh, because you have a healing touch, right?”

“Yes.”

“That’s cool. And there’s no way to tell what mine might be?”

“John has said that you had the faintest outline of something when you were born but he doesn’t know for sure. If you join, the seal will show up in full after you’re baptized.”

“So, what do you think my gift would be?”

“That’s impossible to say yet. John will be able to see your seal completely after you’re baptized and that’ll tell him more.”

If I’m baptized,” I said under my breath.

“What do you mean ‘if’ you are? I thought you were excited to join.”

“Well, part of me is. But Luke, this is a huge commitment. I don’t even know if I can make it in the thirty days John has given me. It sounds like an incredible opportunity but it’s also permanent. You know how I am when I have no options to change my mind.”

“Well, yes. But, this would be fulfilling your calling from God. That is the best kind of permanent decision.”

“I know. Believe me, I wish I could just run down and tell John that I was ready to accept right now. But, I just need some time to think about it. Is that terrible?”

“No, it’s not. Cassie, membership needs to be a voluntary thing. The changes that occurred in John and Clara happened after they’d made their commitments to justice, faith and helping others. But even they had the chance to ignore what was happening to them and move on. This needs to be your choice.”

“Thank you for understanding. I think I need to sleep on this. My head can’t take much more today.”

Luke leaned over and kissed me. “Goodnight, my love,” he whispered.

“Goodnight,” I said with a smile.

I didn’t know what to expect out of my dreams that night, but I knew they wouldn’t be normal by any means. How would I even begin to process everything that had happened in the last several hours?

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