In this excerpt from Chapter 2 of Kate Stradling’s Eidolon, Aitana Sigourna comes face to face with her abrasive sister Anjeni, the intimidating Dima, and a delinquent with a serious chip on his shoulder.
Murmuring voices carry from the kitchen. I pause just short of the threshold to take a couple of deep breaths. If she’s here, I can’t avoid her forever. It’s better to get this first meeting out of the way.
I steel my nerves and push forward.
But my feet stutter to a halt before I’m two steps into the room. My sister sits in profile to me, allowing me full view of the angry, writhing scar that twists up her neck onto her face. She wears her hair high, with no attempt to conceal the mangled flesh where the shell of her ear should be.
My throat squeezes shut. Why can’t she hide her deformities? Why does she have to display them in all their grotesque detail?
Her conversation partner, the stoic, primitive man she brought back with her from another world, is so much a part of her that it doesn’t merit thinking of them as separate humans. She won’t tell anyone where she went, and speculation abounds because of it. Half the population now believes her to be the goddess Anjeni incarnate, and half of those claim she dragged the inconstant Demetrios back with her instead of letting him jilt her for my namesake.
The truth is anyone’s guess.
Her head is bent toward him as they whisper in a strange tongue. He’s the first to glance my direction, and my sister follows his lead.
A smile quirks up one corner of her mouth. “Oh. It’s the golden child. Did Mom send you in so she could hide in her room?”
Wrath incinerates my previous fear. This cavalier, devil-may-care attitude of hers has always grated my nerves. I drop my book bag onto the table, my lips pressed into a thin line. “How long are you here?”
Anjeni shrugs. “An hour or two, maybe?”
We’re only fifteen months apart in age, but she seems decades older than me, calm and in control where I’m a mass of jittering nerves. But why shouldn’t she be in control? She knows the secret between us, and she can betray it at any moment. I’m at her mercy.
It’s the reason she didn’t rat me out when she reappeared through the Eternity Gate. She will lord it over me until she sees fit to drop the ax upon my head.
I force my voice to work. “So you’re just passing through?”
She glances to her husband. I didn’t attend their private wedding, and it’s still strange to think of her as married. Whatever she communicates in that look escapes me.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be in town,” she says. “We’re staying elsewhere, though, so don’t worry about sharing a bathroom or anything.”
“Where are you staying?”
Frustration chases across her face. With a fake smile she answers, “Wherever the security detail puts us. Probably the diplomatic housing down the hill.”
“Oh, are you a diplomat now?”
She laughs—actually laughs—but there’s a dangerous light in her eyes. “No. I’m a national security risk. Or Dima is.” She pats her husband’s hand. He catches her fingers and holds them tight, maintaining eye contact with her.
What joy is mine to witness such intense and shameless adoration. “What’s the Dean of Magic want with you?”
Her sardonic smile kicks up a degree. “He wants me to make a volcano erupt, I’m sure.”
And that’s my sister in a nutshell: spouting nonsense with a sarcastic lilt.
I scoot past the table to the refrigerator and focus my attention within as I battle the dancing rage she so easily invokes. Why do I ever expect a straight answer from her? She’s always been sarcastic, flippant, difficult.
The doorbell intones its somber cadence. Anjeni stands, and so does her companion. I snag a bottled water from the fridge and follow them.
My father’s greeting to the Dean of Magic floats back to us. My sister and her husband cross the hall to join my parents. I should probably retreat to my bedroom, but since no one seems to remember my existence, I linger.
“Jen, so good to see you.” The Dean of Magic extends his hand. My sister accepts it with a cool expression. An equally false pleasantry rolls off her tongue.
Behind the dean, almost hunched against the exit, a second, sullen figure examines the entryway. His torn jeans and scruffy shirt look distinctly out of place in the pristine order of Helenia’s presidential residence. The jacket has seen better days, threadbare at its seams and loose on his slender frame. His black hair, chin length and wavy, probably hasn’t touched a comb today. Our gazes lock, and his sharp brown eyes narrow in contempt so strong that it sends a jolt of fear up my spine.
The moment breaks when the dean introduces him to my sister. “You know the Drezda family, don’t you? This is their second son, Kiran.”
Surprise ripples through me. The Drezdas, prominent in politics and magic both, have half a dozen children, one of whom was in my year at high school. Everyone knew of her older brother Kiran, the delinquent, though no one ever saw him.
He tips his chin at Jen in acknowledgment. She doesn’t bother proffering a hand.
“Shall we sit?” the dean asks my father, who gestures to the open front room.
The group passes to the sofas within. Since no one has bothered to acknowledge me, I slink behind them and settle in a corner chair, with a perfect view of the whole group. Kiran alone spares me a glance, his eyes caustic and his shoulders stiff.
My father clears his throat in the stifling atmosphere. “Jen, you might remember Kiran from the academy. He was there when you and Tana first enrolled.”
Sheer and utter cynicism rolls across her face.
“She wouldn’t remember me,” Kiran says before she can reply. “I dropped out young. That’s what most duds do.”
“Now, Kiran—” says the dean. He reaches with a reassuring hand, but the delinquent jerks away.
“This is a waste of time. I know my parents are desperate, but just because Scarface here finally sparked doesn’t mean the rest of us failures—”
He doesn’t get any further. Like lightning, my sister’s husband lunges from one sofa to the other. He clamps an iron grip around Kiran’s throat and drags him forward, their noses within two inches. A guttural growl rumbles through his lips.
“What did you call my wife?”
Silence smothers the room. Kiran, his eyes bulging, can’t speak. The rest of us stare, aghast.
My sister recovers from her shock. “Dima,” she says, and nothing more. Her husband spares her a glance. His mouth twists in discontent, but he shoves his victim away. Kiran lands in his seat with a cough and a sputter, one hand at his discoloring neck as he gapes at the otherworldly brute who yet towers over him.
The Demetrios of legends, a powerful warrior, may well stand in our midst. Never could I believe it more than in this rigid moment.
“Watch your mouth, runt,” Dima says in accented menace. “You owe your very life to Anjeni.” He returns to his wife, ignoring the awestruck, stricken stares fixed upon him. An amused smile trembles upon Jen’s lips as he settles beside her, and when he plants a kiss upon her jaw, she barely suppresses a laugh.
No one moves. Who knew the muscled barbarian even spoke Helenaic?
If you missed Chapter 1, you can read it here. Eidolon lingers at the Chapter 12 mark while Kate winds up another project.
Its predecessor, Namesake, is available in print and eBook on Amazon.