Cole’s laughter rang through the study door and echoed into the grand foyer as he leaned back into his master’s chair and stretched his hands high above his head in jubilation. The image of Lord Dressen above the Utopian closed Anna’s door and then as if by second thought reopened it and head down the hall. Anna’s confused face dimmed as Cole waved his hand over the scene.
“That couldn’t have gone better if I planned it myself.” He looked toward the ceiling with a chuckle and shake of his head. “Thank you, Arylin. This had to be a love intervention.”
Vincent scoffed but smiled at him. “Go ahead, give a goddess the credit. But, I could have done it better, if you’d just let me.”
“No, you’d destroy half the house and set the entire court of Grand Marshals against us.”
“Okay, maybe I would.”
James smiled and leaned back in his seat. “As much as we’d like to call vengeance on Dressen, this has to be handled with care.”
Cole swiveled his chair to set a foot on his desk. “This needs to be done my way, Kid. Promise me you’ll let me call the shots here.”
Vincent nodded and leaned on the door jam. “This is your baby, big brother. But I’m right there when you need me. Anything to get your love life back on track.”
Cole looked back at his younger brother. The countless years of standoffs had promised a showy confrontation between the two when Vincent learned of the reason behind the kiss. But instead, he seemed genuinely pleased.
“I remember how you used to be, Cole. You weren’t always a brooding self-centered prick.”
Cole brushed at his pant leg and grinned. “Right.”
“You know what I mean.” Vincent’s voice softened. “Mianna’s death did something to you. You never moved on. You used to love life. Take in every moment. If there’s a chance to get that back, I’m willing.”
“Well, getting it back is how it’s meant to be.”
“Where reincarnation is a known fact and connections are easily recognized. Father never found Mother. He said he’d tried countless times.” Vincent glanced at the Vignette sitting on the desk. “I accepted that Cornerstone Deep didn’t allow rebirth.”
James lowered his gaze. “We all did.”
“Why would he mislead us? He had to know.”
Cole picked up the Vignette. “I don’t think that was his intention. He mentioned it was possible that he couldn’t find her because we were Meridian in a foreign realm. It may just be that the Utopian can’t trace souls from across dimensions. Mianna’s native to Terra.”
Vincent furrowed his brow and frowned. “So, Mother could be out there somewhere? Here on Terra? Or would her soul have returned to Champaign? The portal was still operable then.”
The thought unsettled Cole. “I don’t know, Kid.” He looked at his brother. With the marked age difference in the three’s souls, their mother was often the one to guide Vincent while he and James took on responsibilities beside their father. Of course, he’d hold a more tender spot for her memory.
James chuckled again, and the air lightened with his humor. “Surely, she went back to Champaign. I think we’d have picked up on a five-hundred-year-old witch hanging around.”
“So,” Cole slid the Utopian across the desk toward the youngest. “Anyone you wanting to look up before you take vows with this girl of yours? You might find Rachael or Abbey. Out of the twelve, you seemed particularly close to them.”
Vincent looked down at his feet and sighed. “I can’t do that to Elaina.”
Cole nodded and pursed his lips. In all honesty, finding a soul mate was rare at Vincent’s soul’s young age. For most, several lifetimes passed before finding their true match. His question was meant as a respectful gesture to a fellow Meridian if not an attempt at kindness to his brother for showing support. “So, she’s a special one.” He upped his brow. “You’re putting a lot of trust in her. You proposed, and she accepted. She should be under our roof right now.”
James nodded but his sentiment seemed to be with Vincent. “She accepted the promising.”
“A promising only goes so far. You both know that.” Cole kicked his foot to the floor and leaned on the desk. “It may not allow her to speak openly about us, but it doesn’t instill the loyalty of a Chalice ceremony. She could easily skirt around the subject and relay the same message.”
Vincent folded his arms and leaned his head toward him, accentuating his words. “I trust Elaina.” He straightened. “But I ordered a car to pick her up in the morning. If I know her at all, she’ll have convinced her father to allow it.”
Vincent cocked his head. “Her father’s a bit difficult.”
“Is he protective or just stubborn?”
“Haven’t figured that out yet.”
“Well, I plan on having Mianna here by the end of the week. If she worked for her father, chances are your girl has at least met her. She needs to be where we can keep tabs on her doings.”
“You mean Anna.”
“You plan on having Anna here by the end of the week.”
Vincent looked at Cole with a stern gaze. “She might hold Mianna’s spirit, Cole, but she’s still Anna.”
“Vincent’s right.” James looked at him with the same regard. “When we unbind her soul—gods be willing we can unbind her soul—she’ll have her own personality back. Tell me you’ll accept her like that and not expect her to be someone else.”
“I know how it all works.”
Vincent’s jaw set. “Even though reincarnation exists here, these people don’t live by the same customs as Meridian.”
Irritation rippled up Cole’s chest. “And you know all about Meridian union customs?” Grabbing the Utopian, he held it up to emphasize his words. “Soul mate, Kid. Dressen said she was waiting for her soul mate.” He set the instrument down with a clunk and leaned back in his chair, eyes narrowing. “She was looking for me. She never married in all those lifetimes. That’s five long lives of loneliness, Kid. That’s proof of a souls’ union.”
“She wasn’t looking for you. She was waiting for a man she felt right with. It’s how they think.”
“Vincentor Shilomacj.” Cole glowered as he spoke, emphasizing the fact that Kid had one forename to represent his single lifespan. “You’re implying that in your whole first life cycle you’ve learned all about a soul mate’s love.”
James grimaced, and Vincent looked away.
A twinge of regret hit Cole for throwing such a low blow, considering his brother’s support. Vincent couldn’t help he’d only lived one life. He shouldn’t have used it as a weapon.
Then, again… Cole blinked and cocked his brow. That weapon had always been a good one.
Vincent heaved a breath. “Okay, look. I know you’ve lived an accumulation of over twenty-eight thousand years in your three lifetimes and found your soul mate, just don’t expect her to be like Mianna. Let Anna be herself.”
“Worry more about your own woman.”
“I told you. I trust Elaina. Completely. She’s as close as I’ve ever come to knowing a soul’s love, brother. If she’s not the one, I don’t want another.”
Cole looked at him and then over to James. His own surprise reflected his eyes. Was it truly possible that Kid had found his match? For Vincent, the brother who eagerly moved from the death of one wife to adding another to his life, this was a serious statement.
The air thickened, and the room quieted. The thought of eternal union swirled in Cole’s mind, heated his neck, and swelled in his chest. Soft white light enveloped them, creating an ellipse within the study. Atmospheric motion ceased, and he immediately recognized the God of Life’s spiritual presence within the aura. Taravaughn had stretched forth his immortal hands, and it meant one thing; they were being prepared to communicate through The Triad of Purpose.
Sugar air permeated Cole’s being as the Goddess of Love entered the hallowed circle. Arylin’s amber wisps gently swirled, spreading warmth, pressing on his soul with each pass.
Vincent moved to stand beside James. His jaw slacked, and brow relaxed with a look of awe. Recognition flashed in James’ eyes, and he squared his shoulders, lifting his chin. Their bodies washed out like weak holograms in the bright void.
For the gods to call upon the Trinity to communicate at that moment, the message had to encompass the topic their hearts had turned to—eternal union… or perhaps reincarnation? There had to be more. Cole widened his perception to channel the manifestation of truth.
In a voice so deep it rattled Cole’s soul, pure communication entered his mind as Gryffin spoke. “Rebirth is not unique to the central realm, but common throughout the spectrum.”
Cole directed his internal response to the God of Conformance. “Yes. As it is in Meridian, it is here. If so here, it must be in the other mirror dimensions.”
“All life is sacred.”
“Yes. This was never questioned. Throughout the planes, life is a gift never to be taken.”
“Agency must be upheld.”
“Yes. Agency must be upheld.”
“Agency must be upheld.”
Cole hesitated. Surely the great god of judgment heard his thought’s voice. It pressed harder on his mind, and he repeated the covenant allowed as well as in thought. “Agency must be upheld, yes.”
“Agency must be upheld.”
Confused by the reiteration of the statement, Cole paused to ponder.
Heat rushed up his neck and bloomed through his cheeks so hot that he knew his whitewashed image must have tinged red. Who had accepted the role to harvest the meek and lowly for the tyrants? As Head of the Sentinels, he’d conformed with each new law passed, coloring the meanings of their call as overseers of the Cornerstone realm since his father had died. How ever dressed in good intent, he’d strengthened the spells to gain more control over those harvested. From the simple calming draughts used by their father, to total compliance ordered by Lord Dressen, he had conformed. To make it worse, he’d adapted the roll to echo the nobleman’s greed and charged for the service, a needless gesture sighting money was meaningless and as plentiful as the dust surrounding them. He resisted the urge to spit the bitter thought from his mind.
Cole’s own words struck his mind like a blunt sword. “This falls under keeping the Grand Marshals placid. It’s their bid.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat. How could he forget such a basic part of the covenant? What gave him the right to question the rights of a being? And what would possess him to believe only their dimension held the blessing of rebirth? Regardless of his father’s inability to find their mother, how could they surmise that spiritual progression was withheld from souls of the other planes?
Cole pressed his palms to his brow and wiped them down his face to relieve the intensity of the revelation. They’d digressed to the point of defiling sacred rights. How could it take the situation with my love to open our hearts enough to call on the Trinity through the Triad of Purpose?
With deep conviction, Cole accepted the covenant anew. “Yes. Agency must be upheld.”
As soon as the thought passed his mind, words as sharp as a razor’s edge sliced through his heart. “Gryffin knows of this by now. His silence on the matter proves this is no different from any other duty we perform.”
Remorse clenched Cole’s stomach as his pompous comment plunged deep into his soul. Strength abandoned him in gelatinous waves. He dropped to his knees. His core burned like a lake of lava, and he snatched a short intake to relieve his lungs. His chest heaved a sob to be rid of the acidic reality of his actions.
“Gryffin, God of Conformance, strike me now! I had no right to assume thy judgment.”
Warmth enveloped his body and caressed his skin like a downy blanket. Cole lifted his gaze to the blinding aura that surrounded them, and Arylin’s ambrosia essence lighted on him. How could he be comforted, forgiven of such an offense? He longed for punishment in the face of the gods’ spiritual presence.
As the air sweetened more, Cole recognized the next step in the holy communication and quickly stood. He inhaled a deep breath to brace himself for the God of Love’s overpowering reinforcement of truth.
Wisps of gold swirled around them as Arylin’s spirit touched theirs. His heart pounded against his ribcage, and heat poured through him. Clenching his fingers, he concentrated on slow deep breaths to maintain control of his instinct to flee. The atmosphere grew thicker. His skin seemed too tight for his soul.
Another deep breath. He swallowed hard.
Vincent gasped and doubled over. James braced his shoulders and spoke in a hushed, reverent tone. “Arylin’s bearing witness, Vince. Don’t fight it.”
Nodding, Kid straightened and heaved a deep breath. His hands trembled as he forced them into fists.
James looked at Cole. Conviction was clear in his countenance and the venerations that poured from him. “Changes will be made,” he whispered.
Cole’s nostrils flared as he forced composure and then nodded. “Changes will be made.”
At his words, the air lightened, easing the pressure that filled the ellipse. The brilliant halo faded, color returned to their forms. The golden mist ebbed.
Cole looked from one brother to the other. Neither spoke, but emotions emitted from them in a torrent—James, shame and determination, Vincent, a mix of shock, awe, and pride.
He looked at his youngest brother with regard. Vincent had never experienced a Triad of Purpose communication. Their father always deemed his soul too young. A new light dawned in Cole’s heart. A soul mate and a Trinity revelation in his first life? Perhaps Kid wasn’t the best nickname for him after all.