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Chapter Twenty-Three

My spirits were lifted after having seen the meadow and whenever I had a quiet moment I tried to visualise the roses in my mind. I found this had a calming effect and made me feel less divided about the Pisces condition, which was a name that I thought was appropriate. It wasn’t close to what I had experienced during the deep trance, but it did at least keep any unhelpful thoughts in their proper place.

Over the next few days I also pulled myself together and started messaging Anna again. Our last meeting had gone wrong and I felt guilty about acting so withdrawn. It wasn’t right to keep her in the dark but I knew that for as long as we were seeing each other her life was linked to mine, and that might cause problems for her in the future. There was no chance I was willing to risk her safety because of what I was.

I didn’t know what to do and wished that I had someone I could talk to, but there wasn’t anyone who sprang to mind. Before university I had made a few friends, but they weren’t people that I’d talk to about my relationships, and I certainly couldn’t tell them that I was a descendant. One way or another I thought it was only fair that I tell Anna the truth, even though that might mean we would have to cut all ties. What preyed on my mind was facing the reality that there simply might not be another way.

A dark blue shirt was lying on my bed when I walked in which brightened my mood a little, a smile coming to my lips. I’d been talking to my foster mom about the night out with my society and she hadn’t let the subject die. She’d insisted that I go and enjoy myself, claiming that I worked too hard for a young twenty something. Maybe she was right. I had already messaged Anna to confirm I was going, but my mom had clearly wanted to be doubly sure.

I dressed and was patting aftershave onto my face when she knocked on the door, asking to come inside. My answer had hardly left my mouth when she came in anyway and started mothering me, as if I didn’t know how to look after myself by now. She straightened out my collar and then looked at me with big, proud eyes, even though I hadn’t done anything special at all.

“You look very smart!” she said, smiling. “A bit shy with that aftershave, though! Go on, put more on…and stop being so fussy!”

“I know, mom,” I said, fighting back the urge to roll my eyes like a teenager. She’d always been a bit overprotective. I think it was partly because she’d never had a boy of her own. “It’s just a night out. Nothing to make a song and dance about.”

“Always so serious!” She said, though not without amusement. “You need to lighten up a bit and ask that girl out properly,” I looked up at her in surprise, while she nodded her head knowingly. “I’ve seen you on that phone a lot lately…I know there’s someone, Jack.”

“It’s nothing,” I said, trying to hide the underlying sadness in my answer. I wanted there to be more, but I doubted it was possible now. “I’m trying to make some friends and show them I do actually exist, that’s all.”

“Well, it’s about time. You’re a wonderful lad when you come out your shell a bit. You’re just like your dad was when he was younger…I soon changed that. It’s a shame you won’t be able to drink properly, though.”

“Should you be encouraging me to get drunk?” I said, laughing. “Besides, it might be better to keep a clear head.”

“So sensible!” she said fondly. “She’ll change that, I think.”

“Really!” I said as a challenge. I brushed my shirt down and then walked out of the bathroom with my mom right at my heels. She seemed intent on following my every move, and I wondered to myself if I would ever make it out the house. After checking my bedroom and seeing that I hadn’t forgotten anything, I went downstairs and headed into the kitchen. She was still there while I looked around for my car keys.

“You’ll do,” my dad said. He was scrubbing the pots and looked far less interested than my mom. “Anything special tonight, then?”

“We’re going around a few bars I think. My course mates like to meet up twice a term, or something like that. I thought I’d show my face for once.”

“So you should. It’ll do you good to be sociable,” he washed his hands under the tap and wiped them with a tea towel. He then saw that I was looking for my keys and grabbed them from behind the kettle, without failing to hide his large grin. “You would lose your head if it weren’t screwed on – and sometimes I worry you’d find a way around that, too!”

“Don’t tease him.” my mom said, though her smile told another story. I took the keys out of my dad’s hand and threw on my coat with an exaggerated sigh. They were both rounding up on me tonight and acting even more mischievous than usual. It made me nervous.

“By the way, what was that letter all about?” my dad asked, his expression becoming attentive. His eyes were studying me as if I were up to something I shouldn’t.

“Just an old friend from the past. Nothing to worry about.”

“Well, you wouldn’t tell us either way. Young men always have secrets.”

“So do the older ones,” my mom said, with a sharp glance at my dad. “You will keep safe, won’t you, Jack?”

“We always have this discussion. Of course I will. I’m not in the habit of throwing myself into trouble. Don’t wait up, alright?”

“No chance of that,” my dad said. He was already rubbing his eyes tiredly. “I wish I was young again. Well, have fun!”

After saying goodbye twice more to my mom, who followed me right into the hallway, I got into my car and drove towards Sheffield. The journey went by smoothly enough and I must’ve slipped into autopilot because I wasn’t all that aware of what I’d been thinking about when I reached the city centre. I listened to the radio in the background and focused more intently while following the one way system, which wasn’t as busy at night. After finding a space to park I text Anna and headed towards the student bar.

When I arrived there were already a crowd of students I recognised so I slowly walked towards where they were seated. Some of them were in several of my seminars while others I knew from sight. There were two hubs for us all to sit in with not enough space so quite a few of us had to huddle around the tables. A few shook my hand and made an effort to talk while others nodded amicably towards me, though there were some who showed no interest at all.

Though I was nervous I kept up my side of the conversation well enough and listened whenever I could. From my experience I’d always found people were more than happy to talk about themselves, so it was no different tonight. I was talking to a man with strawberry hair and a black jacket when I felt a clap on the back. I turned around and saw my lecturer with a pint in his hand and a big grin on his face.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” I said, straining my ears so I could hear him over the loud music. “Are you part of the society, too?”

“Unofficially, at least,” the lecturer said, his voice booming. I shouldn’t have worried. “I still remember my own student days and never really grew up, to tell the truth. You have to grab life by both hands sometimes! Besides, I like a drink.”

“He certainly does,” the strawberry haired man said. “He was buying us all shots last time. I don’t know how he managed to look so bright and awake the next morning.”

“It’s all in the mind, Nathan!” the lecturer said. He drank a few more mouthfuls as if to prove his point. “It’s about time we got young Jack out with us, don’t you think?”

“That it is!” a voice I recognised said. I turned my head slightly and saw Adam carrying several bottles in his hand. He squeezed by and pushed the drinks across the table, to the delight of the girls closest to them. “Good to have you out, Jack! It was cracking working with you.”

“I really enjoyed it, too. How are you feeling now?”

“Better than ever,” Adam said, turning to face us all so that we formed a small circle. He didn’t quite meet my eyes, though, and he seemed keen to change the subject. “I’ve got something for you, actually. Still interested in mediation? I have a business card.”

He dipped into his pocket and brought out a white card with a number and address on the front. I took it gratefully and looked at it for a moment. Then Adam added: “I spoke with him and he said you’re more than welcome to do some shadowing and help out a bit.”

“That’s great thanks. I think I’ll give him a ring next week and get something started, especially with the end of term not being so far away.”

“You’ll all be flying the nest before I know it,” the lecturer said. I told him that I’d considered staying on for more education and he nodded without surprise. “I always know the thinkers. That’s why you’re losing all your hair.”

“That’s true, but you still have most of yours!” I said, laughing.

We talked generally for a while and I asked Nathan a few questions to get to know him more. He told me about his modules and said that he wanted to be a journalist. I nodded and spoke when necessary, though for the most part I was just going through the motions. There were other things on my mind and I could still see the black aura hanging around Adam. He was in high spirits but every so often he would go silent and give off a pained expression, as if he was still fighting back the convulsions.

My lecturer seemed to notice that I was distracted because he whispered in my ear: “You can see it too, then?”

There was no hiding my surprise and I whipped my head around to face him fully, my eyes widening with full effect. “How do you know?”

He gave nothing away except for a knowing smile which told me that he understood. Moments later he finished his pint, placed the empty onto the table and tapped his nose mysteriously. “Keep an eye on him, alright.”

Before I had time to give a reply he had already wandered towards the bar so I could do nothing but feel even more distracted while the others talked. Several more from the group joined us by this point and introduced themselves, with two of them already looking to be a little worse for wear. I had only just finished my first pint when Anna arrived at our table and gave some of her friends a hug, before wrapping her arms around me as well.

We hugged tightly and perhaps for a little too long as the ones closest to us let out a wolf whistle. Anna shrugged them off and humoured them for a few minutes while I stood there feeling awkward. Then she turned back to me and jumped straight to the point.

“You look a lot chirpier now!” she said. “I was worried about you.”

“We might have to talk somewhere a little more private.” I said in her ear. She looked at me with a fixed expression and without saying anything grabbed a shot glass from the table. Then she grabbed another and drank that one, too. I found myself laughing in spite of myself while the others shouted her name in encouragement. Eventually the chatter died down and we excused ourselves from the crowd.

We made small talk and moved over to the bar to get another drink before sitting down somewhere else. I took a leaf out of her book and drank several mouthfuls while she looked at me expectantly. Then I tried to pluck up the courage to tell her what was on my mind.

“Anna, I’m sorry for being hard work. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and a few things have changed since we went out,” I said. Her eyes flashed with worry so I quickly saved the conversation from going in a direction I didn’t want. “Not in the way I feel about you, I mean, nothing like that. There have just been some changes and it’s made everything a bit complicated.”

“I thought we were still in the rose-tinted glasses stage,” Anna said, smiling in a self-conscious way. “What’s happened, Jack? You seem troubled by something.”

She looked at me with such concern that I almost convinced myself that everything would be alright if I just didn’t tell her and pretend nothing had happened. There were words on the tip of my tongue that I wanted to say but letting them out was the most difficult part, because there was no going back afterwards.

“It’s…it’s hard to tell you, really. I don’t know how to put it. You see, Anna, I’m not normal. I know that sounds odd, but I’m not. I’m a descendant. Of the Zodiac, I mean.”

“Right,” she said, not quite registering what I’d said. She stared at me with a frozen smile and moved her hand away from my leg. “You’re…what? How much have you drunk tonight?”

“I’m serious, Anna,” I said indignantly. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, by the look on her face, but I persisted all the same. “I’m Pisces. I know that’s mad, but that’s what I’ve been told by others. If I’m not, then it’s all big one joke. You can see how that’s changed things a bit.”

“Well you certainly don’t drop bombshells in halves, do you?” she said, stunned. I didn’t know what else to say. “I can see in your eyes that you believe it, at least. But…look, I really don’t know what to think. What am I supposed to say?”

“Nothing. I just needed you to know, because I didn’t want to lie to you. I’ve always tried to be honest. Anna…I really like you but my life has changed these past few weeks. There’s been a lot to take in and I’ve found out a few hard truths that make it hard for us to be together.”

She looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and bewilderment but that didn’t stop her from kissing me on the cheek. Then she held the side of my face with her palm and said: “I don’t mean to act so childish about it. I like you, and that’s enough. There’s no need for that to change.”

“I’m glad,” I said, without hiding my sadness. I grabbed her hand and gently moved it away from me. She looked hurt but I couldn’t drag it out or I’d never find the courage to tell her what was going to happen next. “I wish it could be different, Anna, but I’m not safe to be around anymore. More people are starting to find out who I am and that means those closest to me are going to be targets. I won’t let you be hurt because of me.”

“What are you saying?” she said, her eyes growing larger. My voice quivered but I forced myself to go on regardless.

“There’s not been a Pisces descendant for centuries. I’m not going to be able to live a normal life. Everywhere I look there will always be the threat of someone else watching me, Anna. I can’t bring you into it. I won’t. You have to understand. It’s not just the government. It’s the Dark Ones, too. Evil. You don’t deserve that.”

“I’m a grown woman, I think I can decide what’s good for me,” Anna said stubbornly, though I could tell she was shaken by my words. I was touched by her loyalty all the same. “You can’t face this alone. I’m not leaving you.”

“Anna, please…” I said, feeling weak. There was nothing more comforting than having her sat next to me, her eyes looking sweetly into mine, but I would never forgive myself if something bad happened to her. And likely it would, if we stayed together. “I must go. I’m sorry.”

As I moved to go her hand clamped down on my wrist and I met her eyes almost pleadingly. There was so much to read in that expression that I wondered if a part of her hated me for what I’d done, too, though I couldn’t bear to think of it like that for long. After a few moments it must have dawned on her that she wasn’t going to win this battle because eventually her hold loosened as she let me go.

“Be careful, Jack,” she whispered.

“I will,” I said, my voice faltering again and tears almost ready to spill out of my eyes. I hadn’t ever felt like this before and I hoped I never would again, because I was going against everything I really wanted. I was walking away from the only woman in my life that was perfect for me.

A hundred thoughts swirled around my head as I weighed up everything that I’d just done. I felt divided and worried that I’d made a terrible mistake, though I was certain I’d acted in her best interests. I knew I was going to have to leave the party early after what had happened but before saying goodbye to the others I headed to the toilets. I walked up the stairs and was just about to turn the corridor when suddenly I found myself being pulled away into a smaller corner. As a natural reaction I tugged defensively at the large hands that wrapped around my throat but it was no good – I couldn’t get a strong grip.

“A fish is no good out of water, you little shit,” Adam said. The surprise at hearing his voice caused me to shake violently. For a moment I was too shocked to resist at all. “I think it’s better to gut you before you start becoming a serious problem!”

“Wh-what’re doing,” was all I managed as the room started to spin and my legs turned to jelly. It had been painful at first as I fought desperately to bat his hands away, my nails digging into his fingers without much success. Gradually, though, I began to feel nothing but dizziness and my eyes were watering so much that I knew I’d be passing out soon. There wasn’t too much time to think about the reasons why I was being attacked, and I could feel my hands dropping down in resignation as all my strength fell away.

Then his fingers were no longer pressing into my windpipe and I could breathe again. My body was twisted while I moved over to the wall and took a moment to come to my senses. The room was still blurred but I could make out enough to see Adam holding his head as if in pain and screaming at the top of his voice. He looked like he might start strangling himself, too.

I didn’t have much time for conversation and moved my hand over to my throat, massaging it gently while still feeling concussed by the sudden attack. Adam was almost kneeling with the black aura surrounding his body fully now, which was completely different to the faded hues I usually saw around others. Then he was looking at me with wide, terrified eyes.

“Jack, I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, his voice high-pitched and scared. “You’ve got to…I,” he didn’t have chance to finish what he was going to say but his eyes turned and I knew something else was wrong. He was back on his feet and moving towards me, his expression now neutral and unforgiving. I moved back and knew there was no running away from him; I had no choice but to go right through him like a brick wall.

His body was much thicker and round-shouldered than mine, so it was like a large shadow was looming over me as I analysed my options. I was still recovering from his attack when I stepped backwards, dodging his first lunge, and threw a well-timed punch at his stomach. He didn’t have time to react as I aimed another throw at his face, which knocked him back a few more steps.

I edged in closer and hoped that it was enough to surprise him but he recovered much quicker than I expected. I wasn’t a great fighter and had little experience in self-defence but I had managed to throw two successful punches which should’ve slowed him down a lot more. He was already gaining on me and was about to throw in a devastating attack when suddenly he stumbled forwards and let out a small cry. There was no time for him to swing back as a glass of beer came smashing down onto his head.

Adam fell down without a word and landed with his face meeting the ground. I looked up with confused eyes and saw my lecturer staring back at me, his expression no longer humorous. I had never been so pleased to see him.

“Are you alright, my lad?” he asked, his eyes now fixed on Adam.

“I think so.” I said, still numbed with shock. There was a ringing in my ears and it hurt to swallow but there was no lasting damage that I could see. I stepped forward and noted the dribble of blood spilling from down the side of Adam’s head.

“He was acting strange downstairs so I thought I’d follow him, just in case. I knew there was something wrong with the boy but I never thought he’d try something like this,” the lecturer said, his brown eyes tightening and regarding Adam solemnly. “We’ll have to ring the police immediately.”

“Wait. I don’t know if that’s necessary.” I said calmly.

“You must have been knocked quite badly. He just tried to kill you!”

“I know that, but he also saved my life as well. I know how strange that sounds, but he stopped halfway and could’ve killed me otherwise. It looked like he was possessed, or something. If we phone the police, we could be sending an innocent man to prison.”

“Right,” the lecturer said. He moved his curly white hair through his fingers and then placed his hand on his hip, as if trying to buy some time to process his thoughts. “That’s not something I expected, so I’m a bit lost for words to be honest. Do you think it’s something to do with…that,” he pointed at the black aura.

“Without a doubt,” I said. We stared at one another in thought and then I crouched down to check his pulse. He was still breathing but without rhythm and I worried if he’d been knocked too hard. For a moment there was silence and then suddenly I felt a flash of inspiration and placed my hand on his forehead. I could feel the warmth leaving his skin as my touch cooled him and watched as the dark shapes slowly evaporated into a smoky haze.

“That’s incredible,” the lecturer said, studying me as if I was one of his projects. “I’ve never seen anything in all my years.”

“Neither have I,” I said softly. “I don’t know how I’m doing it, but it seems to be working…“. Another minute passed by and his aura had changed into a dull grey, though I could see all of his chakras were still working. There was nothing else afterwards so I safely removed my hand and stood up, eyeing my lecturer with slight bewilderment.

“You and I have much to talk about, I think. Still, we haven’t got long. Someone will come up sooner or later, and we’re going to struggle to give a good explanation.”

“I’ve taken away whatever possessed him for the time being, at least. I think we’ll have to leave him in full sight and wait for someone to find him. That way, he’ll look like a victim of an attack and will be given the right help. I don’t want to press any charges until I’ve spoken with him.”

“Yes, I think that’s wise.” the lecturer said, sighing. We bent down and picked Adam up from the floor, being careful to lay his body gently along the stairway. There would be someone who would walk past him in the next few minutes, so we had to leave it in their hands for now.

We moved down the stairs quickly and walked back into the main room. There were still crowds of people and it looked like it would take some time to get back to our tables. I turned around and told my lecturer that I had to go. He nodded and seemed to understand.

“We will get to the bottom of this, one way or another. I just hope we haven’t made a mistake in letting him off, Jack. Be careful.”

“I will,” I said, with more reassurance than I felt. In truth, I’d never felt so uncertain in all of my life.

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