Faith's hand curled into a fist and she tucked it under her thigh. "I'm changing, Sascha. I want to fight it, but the change is happening on a level I can't seem to stop. And I'm not sure that's a good thing."
"I'm an F-Psy, valued and protected among our race. Out here, I'd be nothing."
"That's not true." Sascha attempted to use her empathic gifts to soothe the bruised pain inside of Faith, pain she could feel like a rock on her heart. "If you can learn to utilize and manage your gifts in a different way, you'll be as valued here. Imagine, you could warn of disasters and violence. You could save so many lives."
Faith looked away. She didn't want to see the other side of the ledger, didn't want to consider the deaths on the conscience of every foreseer who'd chosen an easier path. Like her. "Do you have any idea why my normal shields might be failing? These protections are specifically designed to guard F-Psy during visions, but they can't protect me against the darkness. They can't keep me safe."
Only Vaughn could do that, and she wondered why he bothered. If the foreseers hadn't withdrawn into Silence, perhaps his sister, too, would have lived.
"What do you feel during these visions?" Sascha asked, not forcing her to face the issue as Vaughn would've done. "There's no one here but us."
"And a cat with very good hearing." Faith couldn't see him, but she knew he was out there pacing, protecting.
"Actually two," Sascha corrected. "A result of Lucas being overprotective is my guess, though I wouldn't put it past the sentinels to do it on their own." Her laugh was both amused and exasperated.
"Two?" She could bear Vaughn hearing her confession, because no matter what she'd said in the car, she trusted him. But another cat?
"Don't worry. Vaughn would never allow him within hearing range."
Something in the other woman's tone made Faith go still. "What?"
Sascha smiled. "Nothing. So, what do you feel?"
"Rage, pain, malice, fury, bloodlust." She couldn't bring herself to list the sick pleasure felt by the sadistic sexuality of that raping mind. Because during the visions, she was him and the pleasure was her own.
It made her want to vomit, to tear out her own mind. No wonder F-Psy had chosen the coward's way out and surrendered to the clean commerce of Silence.
"The worst possible way to snap out of the Protocol." The renegade cardinal's face softened. "I think emotions are the key to why your shields are failing. Psy in the past would probably have fought fire with fire, shoving up blocks powered by the depth of their horror at the acts."
Faith was startled by the echo of Vaughn's earlier comments. "Go on."
"It's speculation on my part, but I know my shields cracked because I was crushing emotion when emotion was my strength."
Faith didn't ask more about Sascha's abilities. Faith was linked to the Net. The PsyClan did monitor her. On top of that, the Council was now paying her an unusual amount of attention. "But my ability isn't based on emotion."
"I think you're wrong. If emotion wasn't at the heart of foresight, F-Psy would never have seen the things they once did, never have seen murder and disaster. They saw those things because they were people who cared about others, who were driven to try to stop the evil."
Faith couldn't begin to imagine the strength it must've taken to be a foreseer in the time before Silence, to see death and pain in an endless sequence of what could be. "You're saying it's possible that Silence left the section of my mind that has the capacity to see darkness, the emotional center, unprotected. To even accept the existence of such a center would go against the conditioning. Following that logic, I can't shield that which doesn't exist." Leaving her totally exposed to the malicious power of a killer in need of an audience.
"Exactly." Sascha's eyes flashed bright and Faith almost imagined she saw colors. Impossible. "I think that's why Vaughn can pull you out - his touch awakens that buried center."
Faith's stomach clenched at the mention of the cat who'd somehow become integral to her life. "Even if you're right and I find that area of my brain and reinitiate the protections, it won't stop the visions, just make them easier to escape, correct?"
"Faith." Sascha sighed. "If you continue to try to block your gift as it's been blocked for twenty-four years, you'll destroy yourself from the inside out."
And go insane, Faith finished silently, hands clenching into rigid balls under her thighs. "If I accept these visions, it'll be the same as accepting emotion and I won't be able to hide that for long. I'm too closely watched. The end result will be the same - incarceration in a mental health facility." Another trap with no way out.
"You always have choices. The question is, are you willing to see them?"
Or are you a coward hiding behind the convenient shield of Silence?
Words Sascha would never say, but Vaughn would in a heartbeat. He wasn't gentle like the cardinal beside her. He was a predator and he went for the throat. And she watched the forest for him until he appeared for her in a flash of gold and black - a jaguar circling her, protecting her, perhaps caging her. She should try to run, try to escape, but of course, there was nowhere to go.
Not when the real threat was inside her own mind.
Vaughn did another sweep of his range and confirmed that the second sentinel in the area, Dorian, was keeping to the outer boundary. Only Vaughn was allowed so close to Faith. Even having Dorian in the same wide range made him want to react with brutal violence. The jaguar suddenly understood the extreme possessiveness that gripped DarkRiver males during the mating dance, understood why some of them turned close to feral.