The White Goddess

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Serafina was sketching alone in her room when she heard the fuss outside her open window. It was just over a week since she’d healed Javier and she was still weak and coughing up black once in while, but doing way better than she had been at this point the last time. Maybe Javier’s cancer hadn’t been as bad as it seemed, or maybe Serafina was just getting stronger. She’d been only eight the last time. Now she was nine, going on ten years old.

What’s going on? she asked Ian.

His reply came almost immediately. King is here. Everyone is losing their shit.

Lucifer King was the Church’s patron, described by Elder Macklin as a rich and powerful businessman from the North who supported the Church’s mission to serve and protect the White Goddess and fulfill the prophecy. He came for the weekend every few months, to see what the Church was doing with his money, Serafina had overheard Conrad say.

He was just here, though. Right before Javier arrived.

Yup, Ian replied. That’s why everyone’s losing their shit. Oh, man! He coughed back a laugh. Elder Macklin looks like he’s about to cry.

Serafina huffed. Why? What’s happening? Where are you? It was so unfair she was stuck in here, literally attached to her bed.

Hold on, Ian said. I’ll bring you in.

Serafina closed her eyes and waited. No one knew they could mindlink—Ian’s name for it—or see through each other’s eyes. She’d been a toddler the first time it happened. Ian said he’d been standing in the Church kitchen one day when he was suddenly transported outside and heading out the open gates of the compound. But he was walking all weird, and the gates were huge, way bigger than normal and so was everything else. That’s when Ian figured out what he was seeing and ran to stop two year-old Serafina before she made it onto the road.

When the Elders had asked seven year-old Ian how he’d known Serafina was in danger, he told them he ‘just knew’. As her blood-bonded Guardian everyone accepted that. Mindlinking was their secret, their hidden rebellion against the control the Elders exercised over every aspect of their lives.

When Serafina opened her eyes again the walls of her bedroom were replaced by a view of the front of the compound from behind the corner Ian was peeking around. Elders Macklin and Vera stood on the pavement, whispering to each other furiously.

Where are the others? Serafina asked Ian. There were four elders in total, with Elder Macklin being the leader.

Hiding, probably, Ian said. He turned his head so Serafina could see the shiny black SUV coming up the drive. The heavyset Elder Vera practically dove behind rail-thin Elder Macklin as it pulled up to the curb. Don’t make me laugh, Ian threatened Serafina when she snickered.

But why are they freaking out? Serafina wondered. Just because they didn’t know he was coming?

King doesn’t know about the healings, Ian said.

Serafina frowned. He knows I heal people. I fixed his eye, remember?

King had shown up one visit last year with a pirate’s patch. He’d been in a fight and the eye was still there but it was damaged. Serafina had offered to fix it for him. The Elders had told him she was a healer but King hadn’t believed it until then. For all he was the patron of the Church, King didn’t seem to buy into Elder Macklin’s preachings or take him particularly seriously at all. It was one of the things Serafina liked about him.

He knows you can heal, Ian said. He doesn’t know the Elders are bringing people in to be healed. I’m not sure he even knows about Friday services.

And they think he’ll be mad? Serafina asked. She didn’t enjoy doing healings but she did like helping people, and whether or not she was actually a goddess, she felt like she owed it to them.

I guess so, Ian said.

They fell silent as the front passenger door of the SUV swung open and King stepped out. He was a huge man, the biggest man Serafina knew or had ever seen, with a chest like a brick wall and biceps the size of Serafina’s head. As least they used to be when she compared them once when she was younger. It was easy to see why people were scared of him. King wasn’t just huge and super strong looking but he also had a mean look on his face most of the time. The way the Elders and the Church members acted, he could control them by just staring, which was too bad for them. King was extremely bossy.

“King, an unexpected honour again so soon!” Elders Macklin’s strident voice carried to Ian easily.

“I was in the area.” King looked past them up to Serafina’s window. “Is Serafina at her lessons?”

“No.” Elder Macklin cleared his throat. “She’s, ah, a bit under the weather and we left her to sleep it off.”

King frowned. “What’s wrong with her?”

Elder Macklin trembled under the force of King’s stare. “She’s a child, she becomes ill occasionally.”

“Hm.” King’s voice was a low rumble.

Boone was driving as usual and got out to stand behind King, looking around the compound like he was expecting an attack. Also like usual. Serafina gasped as Boone looked directly into Ian’s eyes, then leaned over to King and whispered something.

Uh oh, Ian said as King pinned him with a look and gestured for him to approach.

Back in her room, Serafina wriggled on her bed in suspense. Ian glanced at the Elders, who looked concerned and relieved that King was focused on someone besides themselves.

Ian was taller than Serafina so King and Boone didn’t seem quite as big when he walked up to them, but they were still pretty gigantic.

“You’re her Guardian.” King’s eyes were hard, with none of the warmth or humour Serafina was used to seeing there. “Ian, right?”

Ian nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Where is Serafina right now?” King asked him, eyeing the Elders.

“In her room.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

Ian flashed a glance at the Elders. “She’s sick.”

“What kind of sick.” King sounded annoyed.

Ian lowered his eyes. “I’m not a doctor, sir.”

There was a pause, then King said, “Has she seen a doctor?”

“Yes, just this morning. She’s under closely supervised care,” Elder Macklin said quickly before Ian could reply.

“I want to see her,” King said.

“No—” Elder Vera began, then squeaked and hid behind Elder Macklin again.

“Excuse me?” King’s voice was a roar.

I think Elder Vera just pissed herself, Ian said when his own shock had passed. Serafina clapped her hands over her mouth, laughing and embarrassed for Elder Vera.

“N-no disrespect intended,” Elder Macklin stammered. It was hard to believe this was the same man who could speak fluently for hours on Church doctrine and silence congregation members with a look. “Elder V-vera was just c-concerned about disturbing the God—er, Serafina’s rest. W-why don’t one of us go check on her—”

“Stay,” King commanded, pointing at the Elders like misbehaving dogs. “Boone?”

Boone ducked into the back seat of the SUV and brought out a large paper shopping bag. King snatched it from his hand and strode angrily to the Church doors.

Get ready for a visitor, Ian said, watching him go. The heavy glass and wooden doors nearly came off their hinges as King flung them open. If it were anyone else Ian would be standing under her window right now ordering her to jump out into his arms.

I can hear him stomping up the stairs. Serafina felt a flutter of excitement. She liked King and wasn’t afraid of him at all. I better go.

Serafina broke off her connection with Ian and blinked a few times to focus back on her room. She had just set her sketchpad aside when King’s heavy footsteps stopped abruptly in front of her door. She watched it open slowly, his dark bearded face peeking into the room.

“You’re awake,” he said when he saw her sitting cross-legged looking back at him.

Serafina nodded. “Some big grumpy person was yelling outside.”

He shut the door behind him. “You heard that, huh.”

Serafina nodded again. “And then a herd of elephants came up the stairs.”

King narrowed his eyes at her. “Did you just call me fat?”

Serafina giggled. King winked at her, but his eyes went to the IV pole and the tube running into her arm.

“Why do you need an IV?” he said, frowning.

“I’ve been throwing up a lot. The doctor says I need fluids.” Serafina’s eyes fell to the bag in his hand. “Is that for me?”

“No, I just thought I’d carry a bag of paints around,” King teased, approaching the bed.

“Paints?” Serafina squealed the word. She squirmed in excitement as he put the bag down in front of her. “What colours?”

King pulled out the wooden case and opened it wide. “All of them.” His stern face creased into a smile as her sparkling eyes grew wide. “Picked up some brushes, too.”

“King,” Serafina breathed, taking in the rows and rows of colourful tubes. “These are awesome.” She raised glowing, liquid eyes to meet his. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart.” King moved the case of paints aside and sat down at the edge of her bed. His weight on the mattress sent Serafina’s small form pitching towards him. “Careful,” he murmured, grasping her narrow shoulders and gently setting her back.

“I have a present for you, too.” Serafina reached for her sketchbook and handed it to King shyly. “It’s not done yet, I only started it this morning.”

King’s pleased smile turned to shock, then amazment as he stared down at the picture of himself and Boone in the front seat of the SUV. Drawn from the perspective of someone looking in through the windshield, it showed Boone glowering like a sulky cub and King’s lips curled in an undeniable smirk at his second in command’s expense. There was a hint of desert landscape outside the windows and a cell phone could be seen laying in the centre of the dashboard.

Serafina’s heart sank as King continued to stare down, probably trying to think of something nice to say. It was kind of stupid, just him and Boone sitting in the car together. What a dumb thing to draw about. She flushed with embarrassment.

“I’ll make you something better,” she mumbled, thrusting her hand out to take it back.

Gold flecks glinted in King’s black eyes as they rose to meet hers. “What made you draw this? I mean, what gave you the idea?” he asked, ignoring her outstreched arm.

She let it drop to her side and picked up the stuffed unicorn from the pillow beside her. The Elders didn’t know she still had it—Ian told them he gave it to one of the kids in the congregation.

“I don’t know. I was looking through a magazine and pictured you in the car with Boone. It’s dumb, huh.” Her last words were a mumble.

“No.” King used a long, calloused finger to raise Serafina’s chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. “Nothing you create is dumb. This picture is...” He breathed a short laugh and shook his head. “It’s amazing.”

Serafina’s eyes shone with pleasure. “Thanks. But it’s not finished,” she added firmly, snatching back the sketchpad. “You can have it when I’m done.”

“Has that ever happened before?” asked King. “You just—picturing me doing something?”

Serafina’s curls bounced as she shook her head. “Usually I just remember you from when we’ve been together. Or seen you when you don’t see me.” Her golden eyes sparkled mischievously.

“Spying on me, eh?” King’s smile broadened, as wide as she’d ever seen it. “I must be fascinating.”

Serafina shrugged. “Well, nothing much goes on here and I don’t have TV or wifi so...”

“You little...” King captured one of her curls and gently tugged, switching on her smile like a lamp cord. Serafina liked it when he touched her like that, for no reason except that he wanted to. He rubbed the soft curl between his fingers. “You’re beautiful, you know that?”

“Uh-huh.” People told her that all the time.

King’s laughter rang out, startling a group of birds in the tree outside her window. Leaves rustled noisily as they flew away.

“Do people ever tell you you’re handsome?” Serafina asked.

A deep chuckle rumbled through King’s chest. “Not really, no.” His eyes were sparkling again and creased with amusement. “Do you think I’m handsome?”

Serafina nodded. “Hairy, though.”

King smirked, running a hand over his dark beard. “It runs in my family.”

“My mom says I look like my aunt Fallon when she was my age,” Serafina confided innocently. “Except her eyes are blue.”

King stilled. “Does your mother talk about your aunt very often?” His tone was casual, but his gaze was intense, boring into her.

Serafina nodded. “I have cousins, too. In Canada. That’s where they live. I wish I could meet them.” Her words ended on a wistful sigh.

A deep ‘V’ appeared between King’s brows. Serafina frowned as he stood up abruptly and walked to the window.

“What’s wrong?” she asked the broad expanse of his back.

King took a deep breath and turned around. “Nothing, sweetheart. Ignore me.” His eyes fell on the stuffed unicorn in her lap. “Cute toy. Looks like you got some paint on it.”

Serafina looked down at the black splotch on the unicorn’s white fur. “It’s not paint.” She made a face. “I got puke on it. Ian cleaned off the rest but that spot wouldn’t come out.”

King’s brows snapped back together. “Your vomit was black?”

“I know,” Serafina agreed disgustedly. “It’s gross, let’s not talk about it.”

“What if I want to talk about it?” King came to stand at the end of her bed.

Serafina rolled her eyes. “Why are boys so disgusting?”

“We can’t help it,” he said. “What made you so sick? Was it something you ate?”

Serafina hesitated, remembering what Ian had said about King not knowing about the healings. She didn’t like the Elders much, but she didn’t want to get them in trouble. Especially not with King. But she didn’t want to lie to him either.

His eyes narrowed. “Serafina.”

She looked down at the rainbow unicorn, stroking its velvety nose with one finger. “I’ll tell you on one condition.”

King didn’t like that. “Why is there a condition on telling me why you’re sick?”

“Because there is. Yes or no?”

“What’s the condition?” He sounded annoyed, but she didn’t care.

“You can’t hurt anyone,” Serafina said.

She could feel his anger rising. “Why would I hurt anyone?” he said darkly.

“Because you don’t regulate your anger very well,” Serafina said, repeating something she’d heard Conrad say. “It’s okay, Ian doesn’t either.”

“I mean, why would I hurt anyone because you got sick?” King was trying hard to be patient.

“You might not want to hurt anyone, but you might, and you need to promise you won’t, or I’m not telling you,” Serafina said stubbornly.

“I can find out another way,” King said after a moment.

Serafina shrugged. “So go do that.”

They stared at each other for a moment.

King shook his head at her the way he did sometimes. “Okay so, if I do get mad at whatever you tell me, what am I allowed to do about it?”

“I don’t know, make it stop, just without hurting anyone.” How else was Serafina supposed to explain it?

“Fine. Deal,” King snapped. “I promise not to hurt anyone. Now tell me what the fu—tell me what’s wrong with you already.”

Serafina smirked. He almost said a swear word. “Sometimes when I heal people, I get really sick,” she said simply.

“What?” King’s brows lowered in a frown. “Since when?”

“Since always.” Serafina shrugged and hugged the rainbow unicorn closer. “The bad stuff has to go somewhere, I guess.”

“Did you get sick after you healed my eye?”

Serafina shook her head. “No. My fingers were kind of numb for the rest of the day, but that was it.”

“So you healed someone and it made you sick enough to throw up black?” King curled his hand around the tall wooden bedpost. “What did this person have?”

Serafina swallowed. “Cancer.”

There was a loud crack as the bedpost snapped. King barely glanced at the broken post in his hand before he tossed it aside. “The Elders allowed this?” His voice was deep and scary.

Eyeing the jagged stump at the end of her bed, Serafina nodded cautiously. She knew King’s anger wasn’t directed at her but she scooted back instinctively. “They bring people here...”

Serafina clapped her hands over her ears as King let out a roar, even louder than he had outside. The window rattled in the frame and her sketches fluttered on the walls.

She stared at King with wide eyes as he closed the window with a bang. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t want you to hear what’s about to happen outside.” King’s voice was a dangerous rumble.

Serafina’s heart gave a hopeful leap. If anyone could stop the healings, it was King. She knew he wasn’t a good man, but next to Ian, no one was more caring or protective of her. Not the White Goddess, but her, Serafina.

“But you’re just going to yell at them, right?” she said worriedly as he stalked to the door. The last time she’d seen King this angry, he pulled someone out of their car...through the windshield. King’s arm bled like crazy and the man who almost ran her over died on the way to the hospital.

Serafina didn’t want anyone else getting hurt because of her. If there was one thing about the Church’s teachings that made sense to her, it was that pain begat pain and as Elder Brandon liked to say, the buck had to stop somewhere. That somewhere was her.

King stopped short, the air around him vibrating with fury. “You promised, remember?” Serafina said to his back. “King?” she prompted when he didn’t respond.

King let out a long breath. “Yes, I remember,” he said over his shoulder. “I promise, I won’t lay a hand on them.”

“Or let Boone, either,” she called as he flung open the door.

King’s steps halted, then resumed through the doorway trailed by a string of curses. She knew him too well.


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