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So I knew everything around me was most definitely not my shabby, cheap, furnished apartment in a crappy neighborhood.
I just didn’t know where I was.
Or how I got there.
She set one glass of wine on a nightstand by the bed and seated herself probably like a ballerina would take a load off (not that I’d ever seen that, but still). She slowly crossed her legs and her knees dropped to the side but her back and shoulders stayed straight so she looked like she was posing for a picture, not relaxing for a chat.
“Fleuridian wine,” she murmured, tipping her head slightly to the glass on the nightstand all the while lifting hers close to her lips. “Have some. It’s superb.”
I’d never heard of Fleuridian wine.
I didn’t ask. I also didn’t reach for the wineglass.
I held her eyes.
She took a sip of wine not releasing my gaze.
Then her hand slowly fell so she could rest it against the arm of the chair and she continued to hold my eyes.
Finally, she announced, “I am Valentine Rousseau. Like you, I’m not of this world. I live in New Orleans. And I’m a witch.”
I stared at her, feeling my lips part and thinking one word.
Deep to Extremes
“Not of this world?” I asked quietly when she didn’t continue.
She nodded her head but said, “I would advise, beautiful Ilsa, that you listen closely and quickly come to terms with all I’m about to tell you. I have little time before Ulfr gets back. He’ll want to make certain you’re seen to, but he’ll not want to be separated from you for long.”
I ignored that and repeated, “Not of this world?” Then I kept at it without giving her a chance to respond. “What is this world? And you’re a witch? What does that mean?”
“We’ll start at the beginning,” she offered.
“That’d be a good idea,” I replied, pushing myself up in the bed so my shoulders were against the headboard and I managed to do this only flinching a little bit at the pain.
She watched me as I moved and her eyes narrowed slightly, like I’d surprised her.
But she didn’t mention that.
She started from the beginning which should have been a blessing but it turned out to be somewhat of a curse. Or, if not a curse in the strictest sense, it was definitely bizarre, confusing and maybe not so good.
“I am a witch from a long line of witches,” she began. “And when I say that, chérie, my people have practiced the craft in New Orleans for centuries, and before that we practiced in France. Before that Rome. And before that…Egypt.”
Visions of faces forming out of sandstorms and massive armies of huge-ass beetles crawling all over the place a la the movie The Mummy collided in my head even as I blinked in shock at what she was saying.
Then I made the best decision I’d made in a long time. I reached out to the wineglass, nabbed it and took a big old sip.
As I did so, Valentine continued. “Therefore, the craft being passed through my line for millennia, I am powerful. Very. This power gives me the ability to move between worlds, which is very difficult and consumes an enormous amount of magic. And with the strength born in me through countless generations of witches, I can not only move myself at will and as often as I like, I can also move others.”
Move between worlds.
I was already ready for her to be done but, alas, she kept going.
“And you will see, of course, looking around you, that you are no longer in our world. You’re in a parallel universe. Specifically Fleuridia, my favorite of the countries in the Northlands. Though, saying that, I have no favorite in the Southlands.” She gave a delicate shudder that was barely a movement but said it all about whatever the freaking Southlands were. Then she finished. “And you will have noted that in this parallel universe, we have twins, as you’ve already met your husband’s.”
How hard had Pol hit me with that gun?
“I see you don’t believe me,” she stated, telling me I was not hiding my reaction in the slightest. “And this is what I wish for you to come to terms with quickly, for I speak the truth.”
When she quit talking, I held her eyes and laid it out.
“Let me get this straight. Twenty minutes ago, I was running from my husband, a really not very good husband I’ve been running from for years. He caught me, started to do what he does best, that being inflicting pain. Then you and that other Pol show up, coming from another dimension. The other Pol wears romance novel guy clothes and he also doesn’t hesitate in cutting off the Pol of my dimension’s hand and whacking him upside the head with the flat of his sword. After that, you spirited us to wherever-we-are-now which is someplace that has twins of people in our dimension, very comfortable beds and really lovely wineglasses.”
“We are not in another dimension, chérie,” she corrected. “We are in a parallel universe.”
“There’s a difference?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” she answered. “There’s only one parallel universe but there are many different dimensions and you don’t want to go to any of those.” Her lip curled in a refined sneer that, no matter how freaked I was, I had to admit was all kinds of cool. “The creatures there…” she trailed off as she shook her head.
“Well, thanks for not taking me to another dimension,” I muttered and sucked back another healthy sip of wine.
She leaned slightly forward, again catching my eyes and her smooth voice was deadly serious when she stated, “Ilsa, this is not a jest. This is not a hallucination. This is not a dream. This is real. All you will experience in the coming days and weeks will seem very strange to you and you must prepare for it, accept it and adapt to it. Quickly. That said, you are here now, you’re safe, and you’re not going back. But with what is to come, it’s important that you adjust swiftly to your new circumstances.”
That didn’t sound great. None of it did, to be honest. But that really didn’t.
“With what’s to come?” I inquired when she didn’t explain.
She threw out her hand not holding her wineglass. “That’s not for now. What you must understand for now is that you’re safe here, you must learn to trust in that, and,” she leaned deeper toward me, “the man who just left this room is not the Pol you know. He’s Apollo Ulfr of the House of Ulfr of the ice country of the north—Lunwyn.”