“I know everyone is exhausted, but there is a lot to talk about,” Mom said.
“What is Blake?” If we were going to talk, I wanted answers.
“I believe he is a Cipher.” Mom’s voice was quiet but deliberate.
Monty sat up in his chair. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. I do not see any other explanation.”
“But that is just stuff of legend,” Theodore said.
“Most legends are based on truth.” Monty sounded slightly annoyed. I was surprised until I remembered that Theodore had doubted my mom before—and in a very important way.
“What the hell is a Cipher?” Kevin asked, breaking the tension building between Mom and her brothers.
“It is the polar opposite of the Essence,” Monty explained. “As the Essence has the power to control everything natural and living, it has been said that the Cipher can control that which is unnatural and dead.”
“That sounds pretty crazy,” Liam said.
“It is. And it is most dangerous for Charlotte.” Mom reached over and squeezed my hand.
“Why? Why is it more dangerous for Charlotte?” Kevin asked.
“Because if the legends are true, the Essence and the Cipher are connected. They can both use one another’s power and gain access to each other’s minds.”
“What? Gain access to my mind?” I asked, terrified.
“He may be able to manipulate your mind, Charlotte. He may already be planting thoughts.”
“Do you mean he could make me feel something I don’t actually believe?”
“Exactly. Have you experienced anything like that?”
Mom and Calvin exchanged a serious glance as I tried to remain calm.
“I kept having all these doubts about James, questioning whether he was really with Blake.” As scary as it was that Blake could do it, it was somewhat of a relief to know that I hadn’t really doubted James.
Kevin got up and started pacing. “Can it get any worse? What else can he do to her?”
Samantha went over to calm him. It was really nice to see them together. I had never liked any of Kevin’s girlfriends, but Samantha was cool.
“The implications are endless.” Calvin put his arm around me, pulling me toward him as if trying to shield me. “But we will protect you. I promise you are safe.”
“If he has access to my mind, why did he have to come here to kill me?” I asked.
“You figured it out, too?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah. It’s the only explanation for why he retreated so easily. He wanted to get rid of me, and when he failed, he left.” I let out an involuntary laugh. It was all so crazy that it was almost funny.
“Umm, Charlotte. Are you okay?” Liam asked.
I tried to regain my composure, but looking across the table at Liam made it all seem even funnier. On top of everything, the guy I had been crushing on forever finally liked me, but I was already in love with someone else. Calvin’s arms tightened around me as my laughing fit got worse. It was a relief when Kevin’s low laugh joined mine. Maybe we were more alike than I thought.
“Okay, Emma, what is wrong with your children?” Theodore’s question just set us off more.
“You think there’s only one thing wrong with the Calloways?” Liam grinned as he fell back into his familiar ribbing.
“All right, that is enough, you two. Charlotte’s question is serious. Why did Blake have to be physically present to hurt her if your theory is correct?” Monty’s question brought us back down to reality, and we stopped laughing.
Mom held up a hand. “He seems to have the ability to enter her mind, but Charlotte is strong enough to prevent him from doing too much. He is still much stronger when he is present.”
“Wait, Mom. Were you implying earlier that I can get into Blake’s head, too?”
“Yes…” Mom hesitated before continuing, “But it would be very dangerous.”
“Then it is not up for discussion.” Calvin’s arms tightened around me so much that I had to struggle to get him to loosen them because I couldn’t breathe. “Sorry, I just want you safe.”
“We all want her safe,” Liam said softly.
“It is going to be impossible to shield Charlotte from all risk. The sooner we accept that, the better,” Theodore stated.
Monty nodded. “Stan was right. I thought he was out of his mind, but he was the one who understood.”
“Stan? You mean Dad?” Dad seemed so far away, it felt strange to hear his name in Energo.
“What are you saying, Monty?” Mom sounded as surprised as I was.
“You know how Stan was so interested in the old stories about Energo?”
Mom released my hand. “Yes. He used to spend hours translating the old books.”
“He was convinced he knew how Blake was able to overpower you, and he kept telling me over and over how it was playing out like an old story. That is why he went to Alaska and now Siberia. He is trying to find a way to stop Blake.”
No one said anything for a few minutes. Monty’s information had more implications than I could handle. My dad hadn’t been trying to distance himself from memories of Mom; he was trying to save her. His actions made more sense, but they also forced me to accept that I could no longer view my life in two pieces—the real world and Energo. There was no turning back.
In that moment, looking at the faces around me, I knew that I would stop at nothing; I would sacrifice everything to protect the people I loved.