The gray layers grew, more dense than any Maddie had ever seen. Once late at night she had come upon a bad car accident. The driver had been thrown clear and lay in a pool of blood. Maddie had tried to help him, but the glaze of death moved into his eyes, and he took his last, gasping breath as she knelt beside him.
The fog that lapped around him had been far less than what she saw now.
"Listen to me. We have to go. There's no time. The fog –"
He pulled her close, not in care or lust but only so she could hear his whisper. "What danger do you see? I sense nothing."
"I can’t explain, but it's here. I've always been able to see it." Maddie had never told anyone about the visions that had dogged her from childhood. "You have to believe me. We are both going to die if we don't get out of here."
"You have the sight?"
“Don't you understand? We have to go.”
She tried to pull free, but his hand locked like steel across her ribs. “We go nowhere. If they come, they must walk single file, in search of the gate. I will meet them here, on my ground.”
“Okay, sure. Whatever you say.” Maddie tried to sound reassuring. The man was definitely a whacko so she would have to talk her way out of this. “You can stay. That's fine with me. But I need to go. My friends are expecting me. They’ll be wondering why I'm late,” she lied. "My husband. My children too," she said in a rush. Why not pile up a few more lies to make her case?
His arm tightened. "You are wed?"
He nodded slowly. “Then you must forget. For your sake and for mine,” he said.
Forget what? But she didn’t ask the question, too desperate to escape this approaching death. “Fine. Consider it forgotten. I have a very adaptable memory, believe me.”
“I will ensure that you forget. This is the only way.” She felt his hand move, tracing a spot at the center of her forehead.
But the words snapped out of her mind as his fingers pressed in a slow circle. The air seemed to hum, and her vision blurred. When his fingers moved again, the touch seemed to burn deep into her memory, pulling up blurry images.
Signal fires on cold hills.
Pennants that snapped in an autumn wind. A line of tired horses and lonely riders, far from home.
“But hold. Is it possible?” His voice hardened. "You have lied to me. You are not wed."
"Of course I am."
“No.” He ignored her struggling as his hand pressed at her forehead. "You remember the towers. You remember our oldest vows."
"No." But more images stirred, whispered words by candlelight in the fear of discovery. Something about him touched her memory in a way that frightened Maddie. “Who are you?" she whispered.
His touch felt almost familiar—and his words seemed to cut through to some deep part of her mind.
“I am the one you must forget. And you…are the one I must always remember,” he said roughly. “I find my Rose and now must leave her. You are too small, too young for what would be asked of you,” he said harshly. “So forget.”
His fingers rose, gently tracing the skin along her neck.
Maddie shivered. The odd sense of familiarity grew. And then she felt her thoughts blur, lulled by that slow, masterful touch.
“Forget all this. Forget me,” he ordered. “I will seal the gate and release you. Once I am gone, none will follow. Nor shall we ever meet again.”
The words left her with an impossible sense of emptiness.
Suddenly he breathed a raw oath. He muttered low words in a fluid, foreign tongue as his fingers traced the skin above Maddie’s ear. “You wear the petal here on your neck. There is no mistake. You are the one I felt, the one I came to find.” His hands opened to cup her head gently. “Through the long nights I heard the whisper of your blood, calling to mine. A Rose returned,” he whispered. “Given as in prophecy.”
Maddie’s eyes fluttered. Sleep and memories seemed to engulf her as she was caught by the power of his voice. He shook her lightly.
“This changes all. You must remember. You are needed here.” As he spoke, the fragments of sleep fell away and what might have been her own past poured over Maddie. She struggled to understand, caught by a sharp sense of belonging and purpose. What had he meant about the rose mark? She had always known there was a sensitive ridge of skin behind her ear, but it was just a simple birthmark, nothing more.
She had to think. She had to stop dreaming and be logical. She was in a crypt, for heaven’s sake.