A GLINT OF LIGHT
Bridge & Sword Prequel Novel #8.5
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Everyone said to let her go.
To let the devil and her dark masters have her.
But he can’t do that.
He just can’t.
Everyone told him Cass couldn’t be saved.
All of them, even Allie and Jon, Cass’s childhood friends, believe she’s too far gone.
She chose the darkest of dark paths, betraying everyone who loved her, nearly killing her best friend, Allie, and destroying Allie’s mind in the process. After Cass became a minion of the dark being, Shadow, she nearly killed them all. After everything she put them through, the rest of their team mostly wants her dead.
But Balidor can’t bring himself to let her go.
Using his vast abilities and psychic training, he leads Cass through the darkness of her own mind, trying desperately to bring back the woman he loved before Shadow broke her.
In the process, he is forced to face a darkness in himself, something he thought he'd left behind long ago.
This story was previously published as part of the Allie’s War series under the same title – this version has been heavily revised and more than doubled in length.
From USA TODAY and WALL STREET JOURNAL bestselling author, a psychic warfare adventure set in a gritty alternate version of Earth. Contains strong romantic elements. Apocalyptic SciFi. Psychic Romance.
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CHAPTER 1: BALIDOR OF THE ADHIPAN
She looked up when he walked in, just as she always did.
Just as they always did, her coffee brown eyes flattening as she recognized his face.
He could not help but see her exhale impatiently.
He could not help but notice the plume of hotter anger, annoyance, impatience, even disbelief at his persistence that left her light.
Not the most auspicious of beginnings.
Then again, he’d expected the reaction, more or less.
He’d been getting similar reactions from her for weeks now––truly, months.
She did not hide her view of his coming here.
She did not hide her contempt. She did not hide her irritation at having to deal with him and his questions. She did not hide her anger that it was always him who came, never anyone else. She did not hide that she hated him for that, that he was never one of the people she’d once cared about, from her old life.
It was never Alyson.
It was never Dehgoies the Sword. It was never Lily, or Jon.
It was never even one of her human friends who came to visit her, many of whom were now living on the aircraft carrier with them––Angeline, Jaden, Frankie, Sasquatch, or any of the others whose names he did not know.
It was only him, Balidor.
It was always him.
He was the only one who came here now.
Balidor himself wondered if the others in their team sometimes forgot Cassandra was even here, or even that she was still alive. After Allie herself seemed to decide there was nothing left worthwhile to be gleaned from Cassandra’s mind, the rest of them appeared to follow suit.
Turning their backs, they dismissed her existence as though the being “War Cassandra,” had simply ceased to be.
Balidor strongly suspected everyone assumed he had done the same.
Certainly no one had come down here, asking him what he was doing.
Well, one person had.
That person now sat at the security control booth outside the cell, running interference for Balidor while he worked inside, and watching his ass to make sure she didn’t kill him on a day he fucked up and had his guard down at the wrong time.
No one even thought to check on her most days.
Apart from the regular rotation of guards, who kept things to the bare basics of keeping her alive. They fed her, checked her health through the collar’s sensors, hosed her off if she stopped caring for herself… which she had done a few times, during low points in her captivity… made sure her restraints held.
Other than that, they left her alone.
No one outside the security team asked for those reports, and Balidor himself oversaw the status summaries for all prisoners above a certain security designation.
Forgotten or not, Cassandra was still held under the highest of those designations.
She was definitely the most dangerous prisoner they housed.
He watched her stare at him now as he slowly crossed the length of the cell––which was a good size, despite the fact that she occupied maybe only a third of it.
He circled her, as one might a wild cat.
He gauged her aleimi.
More than any part of it, he looked at her heart.
Her heart, the structures of which were twisted into dark shapes, things he could see almost clearly after so much time working with her. His mind turned those black, twisted structures around her heart into a thorny tree, if one made of granite––or possibly petrified wood.
He could feel the stamp of the Dreng on those structures.
He could feel the stamp of Menlim himself, or “Shadow” as he was often called, the Dreng’s messiah here on Earth.
Even in here, inside the Barrier containment tank, whispers of Shadow’s presence lingered in her light, his fingerprints covering her, strangling the natural flow of her light currents with those black, hardened structures.
To Balidor, it looked almost like lightning had struck inside her chest, fusing her aleimi into a twisted sculpture of blackened glass, cutting off the flow of her light to every other part of her body.
In months and months of work, he did not think he had altered that structure in her aleimi significantly at all. Even now, it mocked him, protruding out of her chest like the extra limb of a cyborg, seemingly immutable, beyond time––beyond his skill and patience, despite his centuries of training as an infiltrator.
That heart was like a puzzle stone he was determined to crack.
So far, however, Menlim and the Dreng appeared to be winning.
It did not help, of course, that Cass was still on their side.
She did not want him anywhere near her heart.
She guarded that black, disgusting, choking structure in her living aleimi as though she thought she might die without it.
From what he’d felt from her, in some of their more intense sessions together, she might actually believe that… that she would die without that black lock over her heart. It was a subconscious belief, of course, but if anything, that lent it more power, since the few times he’d brought it up, she’d acted as though he were completely crazy, that he was hallucinating things, and worse, deliberately fucking with her mind.
That subconscious fear that he would hurt her, even kill her if she allowed him too close, still guided her actions in here, however.
Fear certainly exploded over her light, rendering her entirely irrational, whenever Balidor got too close to that part of her light.
As he got closer now, the anger he saw on her aleimi intensified.
It wasn’t the only reaction he felt from her, however.
In that respect, things between them had definitely evolved. The change had been gradual, seemingly glacial at times, but he could not help but notice as their time together lengthened. Day to day, hour to hour, the changes were too subtle to be noticed, but over time, over days and weeks and now months, the shifts were obvious––even dramatic.
He tracked those changes in her, in how she approached him, in how she approached these sessions, in how she seemed to see him, almost as carefully as he tracked that black structure in her heart’s light.
Even now, he saw evidence of those changes.
Now that he was closer, the emotions swirling around her grew more nuanced, more multi-layered and complex, less easy to categorize using only one or two words in Balidor’s mind. As with everything to do with her, everything about her was mixed, contradictory, a bewildering maze of conflicting, sparring, and incompatible things.
Some of that was the brokenness visited upon her light by Menlim.
The dark being who recruited her into his ranks was not gentle with her, any more than he was gentle with any of his charges. Her heart was only part of what he’d done to her, if the most violent, and seemingly the most difficult to budge.
Menlim did everything in his power to bind Cassandra’s living light to his, to make her utterly dependent on him.
Now, with her cut off from Menlim and his dark army in here, that left parts of her light grasping and confused, lost without the stabilizing influence of her masters.
She hid behind the dark structures in her light, trying to feel safe.
But she didn’t feel safe.
He was beginning to wonder if she’d ever felt safe.
Even now, coupled with her hard stare, and that coil of anger he felt on the surface of her aleimi, he sensed ambivalence in her, even vulnerability. He even imagined he saw it flickering across the delicate planes of her face.
She was stunningly beautiful.
Her physical features were mesmerizing at times, even beyond the mathematical complexities of her light.
Neither thing helped, in terms of what Balidor was trying to do in here.
Her beauty confused him at times.
Even now, even knowing what she’d done, the choices she’d made after she was broken and recruited by the dark, he could look at her, and feel more confusion than resolve.
He’d been tongue-tied around her from the first moment he’d met her, back before her light had been fully awakened, when she still thought herself human and still called Alyson the Bridge her best friend.
His reaction to her in that time of their first meeting was something that hadn’t happened to him in years. Decades, if he were being honest––possibly centuries. It embarrassed him, and not only because it happened with a human, but because he found himself chasing after her even after it was clear the feelings weren’t reciprocated.
Since then, too much had happened for him to view her the same.
He could not even remotely view her the same.
Yet, frustratingly, that base, animalistic response to her never fully dissipated.
It persisted even now.
Even as he watched her stare at him coldly, even as he told himself she was a murderer, the worst kind of betrayer, an agent of the dark, a being who had deliberately chosen the wrong side, who as a result had killed or nearly killed people Balidor considered his family… he still felt confused, almost embarrassed in her presence.
He felt apologetic for being here.
He felt like he was impinging on her space, on her boundaries.
He fought with uncertainty around whether she wanted him here.
She’d already made it crystal clear she didn’t want his help.
She didn’t want him in her light, in her heart.
He knew that. He’d made the decision to do this anyway––not only for her own good, which he hoped for, of course, but because he feared they would eventually have to kill her if he didn’t, because she was too dangerous to leave alive like this.
She was dangerous.
He knew full well how dangerous she was.
It was baffling, his reactions to her.
Moreover, Balidor could hardly claim to be deprived at the moment. He lived with someone. He’d lived with someone, a sexual partner, for several years now. He had no cause to act like some kind of starved adolescent who could not control his light’s own reactions. He was in a monogamous, committed, adult relationship, with a beautiful female seer.
Balidor’s girlfriend, Yarli, was beautiful.
She was equally beautiful to Cassandra, likely more beautiful to many, depending on their specific tastes for physical bodies and aleimic lights.
Yet, he had been forced to confess to himself, if only in his most private thoughts, that Yarli’s beauty didn’t affect him the same way.
It was a thought that brought no small amount of discomfort, even shame.
It also told him it wasn’t Cassandra’s physical traits alone that compelled him.
There was something else there.
Whatever that something was, he still avoided looking at too closely.
Perhaps it was the simple fact that Cassandra, the seer in front of him now, wasn’t like other seers. Like Dehgoies, like the Bridge herself, Cassandra wasn’t of the same race of seers that Balidor himself came from.
Cassandra was an intermediary.
She might be an evil fucking being at her core, but she was an intermediary, just like the famed Sword and Bridge. She wasn’t even a normal intermediary being––she was the “Fourth of the Four,” one of the highest ranked and oldest-souled beings known to exist.
It was difficult to entirely dismiss the power of such a thing.
Still, Balidor knew he used her status and light to rationalize what might be, at its base, a purely irrational pull on his side. He used the excuse of her unique soul classification to try and make sense of the utter stupidity of his coming in here every day, trying to reach her, when no one else believed she could be reached.
But Balidor had more or less stopped arguing with himself about that, too.
He was here.
He would do what he could.
Stupid or not, he had committed to this thing.
His eyes never left hers, as he thought through his motives, his irrationality––maybe for the hundredth time since he’d started this thing.
He watched her carefully, peeling back the layers of what he could see.
Within those first few seconds of her watching him enter her cell, her emotional reactions had already morphed through several iterations. He watched now as they continued to shift in front of him, see-sawing between annoyance at him for staring at her, fury that she couldn’t read him with the sight-restraint collar around her neck, anger at him for being behind the thoroughness of her organic cage, frustration with him for not being Allie or the Sword, frustration with him for being there at all…
…and something else, a part of her that seemed almost happy to see him.
He knew that flicker of being glad to see him had zero to do with him, personally.
He knew that.
He knew it so well it was nearly a mantra in his living light, well before he steeled himself to enter her organic-walled cell.
Even so, he still had to fight not to let a reaction hit his own light or face once he read the ripple of pleasure on hers. He questioned why he continued to take such things personally when he knew they were likely calculated to hurt him––to lower his defenses, at least.
She was smart.
Disturbingly smart, at times.
The Bridge smart.
He was embarrassed to confess he had been slow to realize the extent of her intelligence.
It was only mildly reassuring to remind himself that he was hardly the only one.
Every one of her old “friends” seemed to have underestimated her in this area. They continued to underestimate her, from what Balidor could tell. They still assumed Menlim to be the mastermind behind Cassandra’s short stint as “War.”
Balidor himself, after spending months getting to know his way around her light and mind, was no longer so certain that had been the case.
She was exponentially smarter than she pretended to be.
She dumbed down her language, her demeanor, even the things she pretended to be interested in and her hand gestures somehow conspired to make her seem less intelligent than she was. She pretended not to notice things she definitely noticed, pretended not to draw conclusions she definitely drew, pretended not to care about things she definitely cared about.
She almost reminded Balidor of Dehgoies the Sword in this, too.
Perhaps less Dehgoies as he was now, but definitely the darker versions of Dehgoies Balidor had met over the years––including the one they’d chained in a cell not unlike this one.
Both Dehgoies and Cassandra had a tendency to wield their emotions and their sexuality more as diversionary tools than as sincere expressions of desire or feeling.
That was exponentially more true when they found themselves behind enemy lines.
In any case, Balidor was learning not to underestimate her.
He had learned that the hard way, especially in the beginning.
He could tell himself her intelligence made this game between them more dire, in that at some point, they would be faced with the question of what to do with her.
They couldn’t keep her locked up in here forever.
If they didn’t kill her, eventually she would get out.
When that happened, there was a good chance Dehgoies would hunt her down and kill her anyway.
His wife, Alyson, would likely help him in that.
Which brought Balidor back to the truth of things, of why he came here, day after day, without telling anyone, knowing full well they’d mock him as a fool if they knew.
If he didn’t come, no one would.
He knew that.
Cassandra knew it, too.
If he didn’t come here, no one would come, and eventually she’d either escape, be executed, or be lobotomized by inducement wires or seers within the Council.
For the same reason, he looked at her now, and told himself he had no choice.
If not me, who?
If not now, when?
No one else would come in here.
Certainly no one would come with any real desire to help her.
Not even Alyson would––and from what Balidor could sense, Alyson still loved her friend, although she might hate her in equal amounts.
Maybe one day Alyson would make the effort, but for now, the betrayal was too fresh. Even if Alyson could forgive what Cassandra had done to her, meaning Alyson herself, Cassandra kidnapped her daughter––then attacked Allie’s mate. Worse, Cassandra gave Allie and Revik’s daughter to Menlim, possibly damaging her light and mind permanently.
Moreover, Alyson had other things to worry about at the moment––like an ongoing apocalypse for one, and trying to get her daughter, Lily, the help she needed. As the leader of their small resistance army, Alyson had too much on her plate to prioritize helping out someone who showed no indication of wanting that help.
As for Revik, meaning Dehgoies the Sword, the thought was laughable.
There was no doubt in Balidor’s mind that Revik would have killed Cassandra by now, if his wife hadn’t already stood in the way of his attempts.
No, there was no one else.
Balidor was it.
Moreover, it was his job.
Balidor was head of the Adhipan, the oldest guardians of the light within this current historical wave. As such, he was responsible for the Adhipan’s charge, at least what of it remained, at least to the extent that he served those beings whose light shone greater than his.
Like it or not, that included War Cassandra. Evil or not, betrayer or not, murderer or not… she was War, the Fourth of the Four, and one of his beloved intermediaries.
He would not abandon her.
He would not, not until he was forced to do so.
Almost like she heard him, Cassandra met his gaze from where she knelt on the organic floor, her wrists shackled with semi-organic chains…
…and burst out in a full-throated laugh.