Adrenaline still coursed through his veins as he stepped out of Sinta Lake, more commonly known as the Lake of Mirrors, for the second time in a week. All his senses sharpened that he could identify each organism his eyes rested on, hear the sound produced by its frequency, and smell or taste its scent. This capability had made him a competent Gate Keeper and constantly served him well in his missions. In the past, he hoped, but now he prayed that it would not fail him.
The events of the other night remained stark in his memories. Sola, his foster father, and Sara were right about Karina and with everything.
After Sola had debriefed him, Arturion returned to Karina’s house and found himself engulfed in thick smoke and his surroundings in flames. A groan from the ceiling was the only warning he had of its subsequent collapse. Instinct kicked in, he ducked sideways, the falling wooden beam narrowly missing his leg. He landed near the burning staircase, his face mere inches from the flame. Its tongue licked at him and singed several strands of the hair that covered his forehead. Then, he saw the hazy gray shape on the wall, which was neither shadow nor soot.
The moment seemed to stretch as he and It appeared to take each other’s measure. A tale meant to frighten children from staying outdoors came back to haunt him.
Man fears the unknown.
A shadow is a shadow if known,
an unknown shadow is not a shadow,
it is feared.
The Others dance with unknown,
the Others play with fear,
they consume it…
And with it goes the mind,
until man becomes a puppet to be played with and
a servant to do Their bidding.
A trickle of fear crept into Arturion’s heart that he could almost smell it leaking from his skin. The gray matter, a Zertan creation, perceptibly grew an inch.
All his years as Gate Keeper should have prepared him for this possible confrontation. Yet, he was not ready.
It loomed above him.
“Kriss-tii-naa.” A collection of voices sibilantly whispered in his mind.
“Tina!” Someone screamed outside, snapping him out of his panic. A tendril of It shot out to grab him. He clamped his eyes shut and willed himself to initiate his Merkaba.
The air smelled of earth and green things, a home away from home. He lay sprawled on the grass, his breathing coming out short as he inhaled the clean air. His mind worked double-time, trying to reassess the situation at hand and how to salvage it.
Sara’s prophecy rang in his ears. The Zertans would return for Karina, he was sure of it now. They would use leverage to get to her. It was no longer Karina’s life at stake, but also her family and friends.
A small plan began to form and with it his heart ached, making him gasp sharply. He would lose her friendship, he realized. No. The mission is more important. She – her life is the mission. Duty comes first before personal feelings. I’ve taken an oath. I must finish this. To see her safe and alive should be enough. It will have to be enough.
His feet moved on its own taking him to where Sola had said she would be residing. His stride lengthened with urgency and slowed only when he caught sight of the house at a distance. Light shone through the windows invitingly. He resisted the urge to let himself be known to its occupants, unsure of how she would receive him.
He laid his palm on a nearby tree and asked its spirit the permission he needed. Without further ado, he climbed it and found a position where he could have the best view and still remain unnoticed. Securing himself on a branch, he watched the two women by the window. Arturion felt relieved at the sight of Karina. Kala proved to be good company when he saw his friend smile at something the girl had said.
Worries about prophecies, the future, and the plan he had put into motion crowded his mind. He concentrated on the scene before him. Gradually, the tension in his shoulders eased and trivial thoughts replaced his other concerns. He had been so preoccupied in making sure of their escape that he had not had the time to notice his friend’s change of appearance. Her hair was longer now and her features sharper. She had considerably lost weight since his last visit to Karina’s home.
The fear in her eyes during last night’s Merkaba had pained him. Arturion had lost control of the situation. It was his fault for underestimating the Zertans. He had not anticipated that They would make their move so soon.
At this distance, he could already smell the change in her aura, a subtle scent of lavender. Its density was almost indiscernible to those sensitive enough to feel it that she could have been mistaken as a member their community. The transition has long been underway.
It should have been next to impossible for the Zertans to find her. How had they learned about her?
Karina’s head turned to his direction. Unconsciously, he leaned back into the shadows, bumping against the tree, and shrank his aura in fear of detection. The size of her aura had grown considerably; it covered most of the forest. If she was more adept with her abilities, she would have immediately sensed his presence and, possibly, pinpointed his exact location.
At present, his heart raced at the possibility that she might have felt him nearby. His misgivings remained unrealized as Kala distracted her with a crystal tablet. They were both in deep conversation as they shared the object between them. At some point, Kala met his gaze and he knew that she would not give him away.
Arturion descended from his perch and thanked the tree spirit for granting his request. When he asked if he could repay the kindness, the tree spirit appeared. She had taken the shape of an ethereal young woman with dark almond-shaped eyes.
“Answers in return for the favor.”
“Why do you hide, Gate Keeper?”
“Because,” he gazed past the spirit. “I am afraid.”
“She is light and air and of earth. You have nothing to fear.”
“Yes, but I have failed her. I fear losing her friendship.”
The tree spirit smiled wanly and shook her head, retreating within her tree.
Arturion had turned to leave when he heard the spirit’s whisper through the rustle of her leaves. “I will be your friend, Keeper. I am Mira. Call my name and I shall heed it.”
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©MC Babasa 2014
A/N: Feel free to post your feedback as this is the first book. Your comments and suggestions may influence the story as it progresses up to the second book.
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