Succubus Revealed Chapter 13

Roman was impossible to live with after that.He refused to tell me any more details, only that Seth needed to undergo hypnosis and that more would be revealed once that happened.

“But don’t you think I should know now?” I demanded, for what felt like the hundredth time the following day.

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“I don’t want to influence either of you,” came the response.“Just in case I’m wrong.”

“I thought you said you’d figured it out! You’re saying now that there’s a chance you might be wrong?”

“There’s always a chance,” he said pragmatically.

“But I don’t think I’m wrong.”

And with that infuriating response, there was nothing I could do except wait and speculate. I couldn’t figure out what exactly Roman planned on doing with hypnosis, but at least it seemed relatively safe. I wouldn’t have put it past Roman to say, “Let’s stage a trap for some demons and use Seth as bait.” There were worse things than being hypnotized into clucking like a chicken, I supposed.

It took a number of days to get an answer. The delay came from finding a time when both Seth and Hugh were available. Despite his many formidable skills, hypnosis apparently wasn’t in Roman’s repertoire. It was, however, in Hugh’s, which I found kind of surprising. When I asked him about it, he explained that he’d once been at a medical conference, during which participants were required to take a certain number of seminars. He’d chosen hypnosis because he thought it would be a blow-off class.

“It was actually harder than it seemed,” he remarked. “I did some more follow-up on it after the conference. Dabbled here and there. Haven’t put it to much use since then, aside from an ill-fated date last year.”

“Are you going to be able to do what Roman needs you to today?”

I nodded toward my living room, where Roman was pacing like a caged animal. We were all waiting on Seth to show up, and Roman kept obsessing over small details necessary to create “the perfect hypnotic environment.” He was constantly adjusting the lighting and moving the recliner. Sometimes he’d put it in the center of the room. Other times, he’d drag it to the side, where there were more shadows. We’d given up on trying to advise him. He was too irritable and wound up.

Hugh frowned, watching Roman. “I don’t know. What he asked me to do . . . well, it’s pretty basic, as far as technique goes. It’s what he wants me to do with it that’s kind of wacky. I’ve read up on it a little this week, and honestly . . . I don’t know if it’s going to work.”

I still didn’t know what “it” was and had resigned myself to patience. Seth arrived shortly thereafter, mood bright and optimistic. Andrea’s improvement after Carter’s visit had been remarkable, and it was affecting everyone in the household. I crossed my fingers every day that Hell wouldn’t send someone back to undo what Carter had done. Seth gave me a half hug and kissed me on the lips, a further sign of his good mood since he was usually so reserved in front of others.

“You missed a good time,” he told me. He was wearing a Princess Bride shirt today. “I took Kendall and the twins Christmas shopping. They got Ian some used copies of The Metamorphosis and Candide.”

“He’s into those?” I asked. “I mean, they’re great books, but I just never thought of them as his thing.”

“Well, they aren’t mainstream best sellers – like some people’s sellout books – so he’s into the elitist appeal. He likes to go to coffee shops – obscure ones that you’ve never been to, naturally – and pretend to read counterculture literature. He’ll be glad to have the new material.”

Seth’s amusement faded as he took in the living room, with all its drawn shades and Roman carefully arranging the recliner (again). Noticing our attention, Roman paused and glanced between the three of us. “I wasn’t sure what background noise would work best, so I loaded a few different things onto my iPod. I’ve got ocean waves, wind chimes, and white noise.”

Hugh shrugged. “Makes no difference to me. I’m not the one being hypnotized.”

“I’m still not sure I can be hypnotized,” said Seth. “But if it doesn’t matter . . . hmm, are there seagulls with the ocean waves?”

“Yes,” said Roman.

“Then let’s go white noise.”

Roman obligingly started it up, filling the room with what sounded more like faulty radio reception than soothing neutral sounds. “Maybe you should keep it at a low volume,” I suggested delicately. “You know, you don’t want it to be so soothing that Seth falls asleep.”

Roman looked dubious, but at a nod from Seth, the volume decreased. I might not understand how hypnotizing Seth was going to play into Hell’s greater plans, but so long as Roman believed it was necessary, Seth got to call the shots. Seth gave me a quick hand squeeze and a smile that was meant to be reassuring. He didn’t like immortal affairs but had accepted this crazy venture for me. Following Roman’s direction, Seth settled himself into the recliner and eased it back. Hugh pulled up a stool near Seth, but Roman and I sat on the periphery of the living room. Hypnosis required a minimum of distractions, which we clearly were. I’d even had to lock the cats up in my bedroom earlier, to make sure Aubrey and Godiva didn’t decide to jump on Seth’s lap mid-session.

“Okay,” said Hugh, after clearing his throat. “Are you ready?” He took out a small notepad, filled with his illegible writing. It was the most low-tech thing I’d seen him use in a while.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” said Seth.

Hugh glanced at Roman and me briefly, perhaps in case we had a last-minute change of heart, and then returned to the notepad. “Okay, close your eyes and take a deep breath. . . .”

I was familiar with some of the basics of hypnosis, and the exercises that Hugh began with were pretty standard. Although Seth had been joking, I too honestly wondered if he could be hypnotized.

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Part of his nature as a writer was to focus on all the details of the world, making it difficult to hone in on one thing sometimes. Of course, he could also show single-mindedness for his work, and that was the attribute that soon came out. After a few minutes of guided breathing, it became clear that Seth was definitely growing more and more relaxed. I almost thought he’d actually fallen asleep, until Hugh began asking him questions. Seth responded, eyes closed, voice perfectly steady.

“I want you to go back,” said Hugh. “Back in your memories. Go past your thirties, into your twenties. From there, think about your college years. Then high school.” He allowed a pause. “Are you thinking about high school?”

“Yes,” said Seth.

“Okay. Go further back in time, back to middle school. Then elementary school. Can you remember a time before then? Before you started school?”

There was a slight delay before Seth spoke. Then: “Yes.”

“What is your earliest memory?”

“In a boat, with my father and Terry. We’re on a lake.”

“What are they doing?”

“Fishing.”

“What are you doing?”

“Watching. Sometimes I get to help hold a pole. But mostly I just watch.”

I felt a knot form in my stomach. I didn’t fully understand Roman’s strategy here, but there was something terribly personal and vulnerable about what we were doing, listening to these memories. Seth rarely spoke of his father, who had passed away when Seth was in his early teens, and it seemed wrong to “make” him do it in this state.

“Go back even further. Can you remember anything before that? Any earlier memories?” asked Hugh. He seemed uneasy, a sharp contrast to Seth’s utter calmness.

” No. “

“Try,” said Hugh. “Try to go back further.”

“I . . . I’m in a kitchen. The kitchen at our first house, in a high chair. My mom’s feeding me, and Terry’s walking through the door. He runs to her and hugs her. He’s been gone all day, and I don’t understand where he’s been.”

School, if I had to guess. I tried to put an age on this memory, using what I knew of the age difference between the brothers. How long did kids stay in high chairs? And how young would he have to be to not understand the concept of school? Three? Two?

“That’s great,” said Hugh. “That’s really great. Now keep going even more. Go back to something even earlier.”

I frowned, thinking they were kind of pushing it now. I was no expert in human memory, but I thought I’d once read about how two was the age when memories really began forming. Seth seemed to struggle with this as well, frowning despite his otherwise calm exterior.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ve got one.”

“Where are you?” said Hugh.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you see?”

“My mother’s face.”

“Anything else?”

“No. That’s all I remember of that.”

“That’s okay,” said Hugh. “Now find something else before that. Any memory. Any image or sensation.”

“There’s nothing,” said Seth.

“Try,” said Hugh, not looking nearly as confident as he sounded. “It doesn’t matter how vague it is. Anything you can remember. Anything at all.”

“I . . . there’s nothing,” said Seth, the frown deepening. “I can’t remember anything before that.”

“Try,” repeated Hugh. “Go further back.”

This was getting ridiculous. I opened my mouth to protest, but Roman caught hold of my arm, silencing me. I glared at him, hoping I could convey all my frustrations at what they were doing to Seth in one look. Roman simply shook his head and mouthed Wait.

“I remember . . . I remember faces. Faces looking at me. Everyone’s so much bigger than me. But they’re mostly shadows and light. I can’t see . . . can’t comprehend much detail.” Seth paused. “That’s it. That’s all there is.”

“You’re doing good,” said Hugh. “You’re doing great. Just listen to the sound of my voice, and keep breathing. We need to go back even earlier. What do you remember before that? Before the faces?”

“Nothing,” said Seth. “There’s nothing there. Just blackness.”

Roman shifted in his chair, going rigid. He leaned forward, eyes bright and excited. Hugh glanced over questioningly, and Roman gave an eager nod. Swallowing, Hugh turned back to Seth.

“I need you . . . to go past the blackness. Go to the other side of it.”

“I can’t,” said Seth. “It’s a wall. I can’t cross it.”

“You can,” said Hugh. “Listen to my voice. I’m telling you, you can. Push back in your memories, past the memories of this life, to the other side of the blackness. You can do it.”

“I . . . I can’t – ” Seth cut himself off. For a moment, there was no other sound save the white noise on Roman’s iPod, though it was a wonder I couldn’t hear the pounding of my own heart. The frown that had been intensifying on Seth’s face abruptly smoothed out. “I’m there.”

Hugh shifted awkwardly, disbelief registering on his face. “You are? What are you doing? Where are you?”

“I . . .” The frown returned, but it was different in nature. It was distress from the memory itself, not the effort. “I’m bleeding. In an alley.”

“Are you . . . are you Seth Mortensen?” Hugh’s voice was a whisper.

” No. “

“What’s your name?”

“Luc.” The frown smoothed again. “And now I’m dead.”

“Go back to the alley,” said Hugh, regaining his courage. “Before you . . . before, um, Luc died. How did it happen? Why were you bleeding?”

“I was stabbed,” said Seth. “I was trying to defend a woman. A woman I loved. She said we couldn’t be together, but I know she didn’t mean it. Even if she didn’t, I still would’ve died for her. I had to protect her.”

It was about that point that I stopped breathing.

“Where are you?” Hugh reconsidered his question. “Do you know the year?”

“It’s 1942. I live in Paris.”

Roman reached across me to a stray catalog on a chair. Producing a pen, he scrawled something on the catalog’s cover and then handed it to Hugh. Hugh read it and then gently placed it on the floor.

“Tell me about the woman,” he said to Seth. “What’s her name?”

“Her name is Suzette.”

Someone let out a strangled gasp. Me. I stood up then, and Roman jerked me back down. A million protests sprang to my lips, and he actually had the audacity to clamp a hand over my mouth. He shook his head sharply and hissed in my ear, “Listen.”

Listen? Listen? He had no idea what he was asking. He had no idea what he was hearing. For that matter, I wasn’t sure either. All I knew was that there was no way this could be happening. Much like the night I’d gotten into bed with Ian, I had the surreal feeling that the only way any of this could be real was if I’d accidentally stumbled into someone else’s life.

“Tell me about Suzette,” said Hugh.

“She has blond hair and blue eyes,” said Seth levelly. “She moves like music, but none of the music I make can compare to her. She’s so beautiful . . . but so cruel. Not that I think she means to be. I think she believes she’s helping.”

“Go back now,” said Hugh. “Back to your childhood, Seth – I mean, Luc. Go back to your earliest memories as Luc. Are you there?”

“Yes,” said Seth.

“What do you see?”

“My mother’s funeral, though I don’t understand it. She was sick.”

“Okay. I need you to go back again, younger and younger, back until you hit more blackness. Can you do that? Can you find it again?”

Again, the rest of us held our breath, waiting for Seth to respond. “Yes,” he said.

Hugh exhaled. “Go to the other side of that blackness, back before Luc. You can cross it. You did it before.”

“Yes. I’m there.”

“What is your name now?”

“My name is Etienne. I live in Paris . . . but it’s a different Paris. An earlier Paris. There are no Germans here.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an artist. I paint.”

“Is there a woman in your life? Girlfriend? Wife?”

“There’s a woman, but she’s none of those. I pay to be with her. She’s a dancer named Josephine.”

I began to feel ill. The world was spinning, and I lowered my head, willing everything to settle back to its rightful order. I didn’t need to hear Seth next describe Josephine. I could’ve done it down to the last curl.

“Do you love her?” Hugh asked Seth.

“Yes. But she doesn’t love me back.”

“What happens to her?”

“I don’t know. I ask her to marry me, but she says she won’t. That she can’t. She tells me to find someone else, but there is no one else. How can there be?”

Hugh had no answer for that, but he had his rhythm now. He kept repeating the pattern, pushing Seth back further and further through impossible memories, always crossing that black wall, always asking Seth’s name and location, where he was, and if there was a woman who’d broken his heart.

“My name is Robert. I live in Philadelphia, the first of my family born in the New World. We run a newspaper, and I love a woman who works for us. Her name is Abigail, and I think she loves me too . . . but she disappears one night without a word.”

“My name is Niccol??. I’m an artist in Florence. It’s 1497 . . . and there’s this woman . . . this amazing woman. Her name is Bianca, but . . . she betrays me.”

“My name is Andrew. I’m a priest in southern England. There’s a woman named Cecily, but I can’t allow myself to love her, not even when the plague takes me. . . .”

On and on it went, and with each step Hugh helped Seth take back, part of my heart broke. All of this was impossible. Seth couldn’t have lived all these lives and times he was describing – and not just because of the obvious problems of life and death as we knew them. Seth wasn’t just describing his lives.

He was describing mine.

I had lived every one of these lives that Seth described. I had been Suzette, Josephine, Abigail, Bianca, Cecily . . . They were all identities I’d assumed, people I’d become when Hell had transferred me to new places over the centuries. I would reinvent myself, take on a new name, appearance, and vocation. For every one of my identities Seth mentioned, I had lived a dozen more. But the ones he talked about . . . the ones he claimed to know as well, they were the ones that stuck out to me. Because although I’d had countless lovers, in countless places, there were a handful who had struck some part of my soul, a handful whom I had truly loved, despite the impossibility of our situations.

And Seth was touching upon every one of them, checking them off like items on a grocery list. Only, he wasn’t just talking about these men I’d loved. He was talking about being them. Whereas I had created these lives, he was acting as though he’d been born into them, born as these lovers I’d had, only to die and be reborn again in some other place with me. . . .

It was impossible.

It was terrifying.

And eventually, it stopped.

“That’s it,” said Seth at last. “I can’t go back further.”

“You know you can,” said Hugh. “You’ve done it before. Are you at the blackness again?”

“Yes . . . but it’s different than before. It’s not like the others. It’s more solid. Harder to cross. Impossible to cross.”

“Not impossible,” said Hugh. “You’ve already proven that. Cross back to the next life.”

“I can’t.”

The thing was, I was beginning to agree with Seth. I didn’t think there was anything else he could go back to, not if he was paralleling my lives. I’d jumped ahead of him at one point and made some educated guesses on what he would say, and I’d been right each time. I knew how many great loves I’d had as a succubus, and there were none left. Before Seth, there had been eight.

“Push through,” urged Hugh.

“I can’t,” said Seth. “They won’t let me. I’m not supposed to remember.”

“Remember what?”

“That life. The first life.”

“Why not?”

“It’s part of the bargain. My bargain. No, wait. Not mine. Hers, I think. I’m not supposed to remember her. But how can I not?”

It was another of those rhetorical questions, and Hugh looked to Roman and me for help. The imp had been confident there for a while, once the lives began rolling off so easily, but this was something different. Seth wasn’t making a lot of sense, not that this had all been particularly crystal clear so far. Roman made gestures that seemed to be both encouraging and impatient, with a general notion that Hugh should improvise.

“Who’s this bargain with?” asked Hugh.

“I . . . I don’t know. They’re just there, waiting for me in the blackness. After the first life. I’m supposed to go on to the light, but I can’t. There’s something missing. I’m incomplete. My life has been incomplete . . . but I can’t remember why. . . .” Seth furrowed his brow, straining with the effort of remembering. “I just know I can’t move on. So they make a bargain.”

“What’s the bargain?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Yes, you can,” said Hugh, surprisingly gentle. “You were just talking about it.”

“I don’t remember the details.”

“You said it was about you being incomplete. Something was missing.”

“No . . . someone. My soul mate.” Seth’s breathing, which had been so steady throughout all of this, grew a little shaky. “I’m supposed to go on with her, into the light. I can feel it. I wasn’t supposed to live that life alone. I wasn’t supposed to go to the light afterward alone. But she’s not there. She’s not anywhere I can get to now. They say they’ll give me a chance to find her, a chance to find her and remember. They say I can have ten lives to be with her again but that one is used up. Then I have to go with them forever.”

“This life that you can’t remember,” prompted Hugh. “You said it’s your first life, right? The one that’s on the other side of this, uh, extra thick wall of blackness? The life they say you’ve already used?”

“Yes,” said Seth. “That’s the first. The one I’m supposed to forget.”

“You can remember it,” said Hugh. “You’re already remembering parts of it, things you aren’t supposed to. Go to the other side of the blackness, before the bargain, before your death. What do you remember?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you remember a woman? Think about the bargain. The soul mate. Can you remember her?”

Seth’s silence stretched into eternity. “I . . . yes. Kind of. I feel her absence, though I don’t understand it at the time.”

“Have you made it back yet?” asked Hugh. “To the first life?”

“Yes.”

“What is your name?”

“Kyriakos.”

“Do you know where you are? Where you live?”

“I live south of Pafos.”

The name meant nothing to Hugh, but it meant everything to me. I began to slowly shake my head, and Roman gripped hold of my arm again. I’m not sure what he was afraid I’d do. It seemed to be an all-purpose attempt to keep me from interrupting the nightmare unfolding before me, either with word or movement. He needn’t have worried. The rest of me was frozen.

“Do you know the year?” asked Hugh.

“No,” said Seth.

“What do you do?” Hugh asked. “What’s your job?”

“I’m a musician. Unofficially. Mostly I work for my father. He’s a merchant.”

“Is there a woman in your life?”

” No. “

“You just said there was. Your soul mate.”

Seth considered. “Yes . . . but she’s not there. She was, and then she wasn’t.”

“If she was, then you must be able to remember her. What’s her name?”

He shook his head. “I can’t. I’m not supposed to remember her.”

“But you can. You’re already doing it. Tell me about her.”

“I don’t remember,” said Seth, the faintest touch of frustration in his voice. “I can’t.”

Hugh tried a new tactic. “How do you feel? How do you feel when you think of her?”

“I feel . . . wonderful. Complete. Happier than I ever believed possible. And yet . . . at the same time, I feel despair. I feel horrible. I want to die.”

“Why? Why do you feel both happiness and despair?”

“I don’t know,” said Seth. “I don’t remember.”

“You do. You can remember.”

“Roman,” I breathed, finding my voice at last. “Make this stop.”

He only shook his head, eyes riveted on Seth. Roman’s entire body was filled with tension and eagerness, anxiously straining forward for the last pieces of info to fill out the theory he’d put together.

“She . . . I loved her. She was my world. But she betrayed me. She betrayed me and tore my heart out.”

“Her name,” said Hugh, catching some of Roman’s excitement. “What was her name?”

“I can’t remember,” said Seth, shifting uncomfortably. “It’s too terrible. They made me forget. I want to forget.”

“But you didn’t,” said Roman, suddenly standing up. “You didn’t forget it. What is it? What is the woman’s name?”

Seth’s eyes flew open, either because of his own inner turmoil or from Roman breaking the trance. Either way, the calm state of relaxation was gone. Raw emotions played over Seth’s features: shock, sorrow, hate. And as he gazed around and reoriented himself to his surroundings, his eyes – and all of those dark, terrible feelings – focused on me.

“Letha,” he gasped. “Her name is Letha.”

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