"It was like a shadow sticking to her."
Faith had absently begun to propel the swing back and forth. "I don't understand. None of my visions have ever manifested like that and I've been monitored since I was three years old."
"But you've never had these kinds of visions," he pointed out, struck by the delicacy of her profile. She was so easily breakable. He'd never put a bruise on her, but others weren't so careful and the Psy Council was made up of monsters.
"No. That's why I came to you. I need to know how to stop them."
Vaughn glanced up and caught Sascha's pained expression as she answered. "Faith, I'm sorry, but I don't think you can."
Faith's hands tightened on the edge of the seat. "I have to find a way. If I don't, I won't be able to function at acceptable levels."
"You didn't come to us because you wanted the visions to stop." Vaughn waited until she looked at him. "What you want is the ability to control them - so you can see what it is that your mind's trying to show you."
She shook her head. "No. I don't have the capacity to handle the visions. Why would I want them to continue?"
Looking into those ebony eyes, he closed the gap between them. "Because then you'll stop feeling guilty about your sister."
Her body turned to ice and she stared straight ahead. "I'm Psy. I don't feel guilt."
"There was nothing you could've done." He pressed his thigh against hers, forcing her attention back to him. "You were never trained to deal with the kinds of things you're seeing now."
"I shouldn't be seeing them in the first place."
Faith opened her mouth to reply and realized she had no real answer. She'd been taught that because of the Protocol, the visions would always focus on the narrow subject of commerce. But she'd also been taught that predatory changelings were uniformly violent creatures to be avoided at all costs. And she'd been taught that Sascha Duncan was a failed Psy, when the other cardinal's power was a vibrant blaze.
"Faith." Sascha's voice was gentle, her eyes even more so. "Maybe this was what you were always meant to see."
She'd made the logical connections, but found herself hesitating to draw a conclusion. "Why would they lie to me about that?"
"Because there's no money in stopping murder." Lucas's harsh voice cut into the silence.
"No." She brought the swaying motion to an abrupt halt. "No one could condition that out of me."
"They didn't. You're seeing," Vaughn reminded her.
"I'm twenty-four years old. Why would the dark visions come now?"
"Maybe that's the point at which conditioning starts to break down in certain Psy," Sascha murmured. "I'm only two years older."
Faith stared at the other cardinal. "What did they condition out of you?"
"Everything." Sascha leaned into her mate's stroking hand. "They crippled me, told me I wasn't a cardinal. It almost drove me mad."
Madness. The demon that stalked Faith's every waking hour, whispered in her ear, and awaited her at the end of her life. "Is that what you think will happen to me?"
"If you don't embrace your gift, yes."
"It's not a gift. It's a curse." She didn't want to see horror and pain, terror and malevolence, didn't want to feel. "It might drive me mad by itself."
"You really think you're that weak, Red?" Vaughn's voice was a husky purr against her ear. "You climbed that fence and walked into changeling territory without pause. We have teeth and claws and you took us on. Compared to that, visions should be easy."
Faith turned and met those amazing wild eyes. "The only thing you could've done was kill me. The visions might leave me one of the walking dead."
"Why are you so scared of them?" Sascha asked.
"I don't feel fear." Faith jerked to her feet. "My PsyClan has always ensured I was taken care of. Why would they want to handicap me in any sense?" She knew, she could reason it out, but she wanted someone else to be the one to vocalize it.
Vaughn shifted and she caught the movement with the corner of her eye. "You know the answer to that."
She should've guessed he'd never let her take the easy way out. "Money." Her PsyClan had sold her out for money. "Why am I the first to ... break?"
"Maybe you're not." Sascha stood to face her. "Maybe you're simply the first one who hasn't been found out and silenced."
Faith saw the truth Sascha was too kind to point out. "You mean rehabilitated, don't you?"
"Or perhaps worse, given your value. Any strange disappearances in your family tree?"
"My grandmother was last seen shortly after she gave birth to my father. And five years ago, one of my cousins vanished - Sahara was only sixteen." She let herself think about what that might mean. "You think the Council or the PsyClan might be keeping them captive, working them when they're lucid and letting the dark visions ravage them when they're not?"
"I don't know, Faith. I'm not an F-Psy."
Faith felt Vaughn walk to stand behind her. Somehow that gave her the strength she needed. "I am. And I know that even in the madness, there are moments of clarity. My paternal aunt is held in a care facility - she went conventionally insane during her sixth decade - but she continues to make million-dollar predictions four or five times a year. More than enough to pay for her care." To make her comfortable in her madness.
The last time Faith had seen her aunt, it had been via a communication screen - Carina NightStar could no longer bear any kind of immediate sentient contact. What she'd seen would haunt Faith till the day she died. The icy Gradient 7.5 Psy who'd been one of her trainers, a woman with a record of almost eighty-five percent accuracy, had turned into a creature that no longer looked human. She'd chewed off her own lips and bitten and scratched herself so many times that they'd had to remove most of her fingernails and teeth. Her clothing had been torn, her hair matted. Something strange and wrong had skittered behind her eyes.