A/N: Hi everyone. It’s been a while. Had to finish a few projects … Rushed this one today since I can’t work on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Good news is it’s lengthier than Chapter 37. Here is the new (roughly encoded) chapter. 🙂
One step into the room and he knew. His sister wasn’t inside. The room was cold despite the summer heat. A proof that she was alive. His sister. Electra. But where had she gone? Louis stomped down on the panic.
She promised. Look, Louis. Look, he commanded himself. Sis wouldn’t leave without a word. Louis scanned the area for a note. He glanced at the table near the door.
His sister always left one when she went out.
The window seat.
Sis never broke her promise that she’d be back.
Only once it had been broken. She was run over by a car and left for dead.
The night table. A white sheet of paper was propped on it. The writing was loopy and elegant. The signature affixed at the bottom was Cheska.
Louis sat on the bed. He wondered at its meaning. His sister hadn’t looked very happy back in their father’s study. She had caught them arguing. Not a great welcome for someone who just regained her memories. Perhaps, it was to be expected. Who in their right mind would smile after being told about the person responsible for the attack on them. Cheska’s face was blank.
The doctor had reassured them she was still in shock and needed time. Louis breathed out. Maybe, he was reading too much in Cheska’s behavior. He opened a portal that would take him directly to her.
Gods, he still couldn’t believe he was now a guardian. Louis frowned. It was his sister’s birth right. She must be upset to have lost the position. He closed the doorway and took the traditional path.
The way to the garden took three turns down the corridor. At the last corner, Louis found Cheska and her guard talking, oblivious of his presence. For a second, he was furious with the man’s negligence. The guard was paid to protect his sister, not babble. Plus, failure to notice someone creeping up on them was unheard of in the security department, especially staff assigned to protect their family. Louis was about to advance on the guard when the latter half-turned and greeted him. He wasn’t surprised to see the Roucan heir behind them.
“Louis,” Cheska called. He swiveled toward his sister. Her arms folded and brow raised, she subtly jerked her head to the guard.
“What?” Louis frowned.
“Good afternoon, Louis.” Cheska rolled her eyes.
“Good aft—” his eyes flickered to the guard. Louis coughed in his hand. “Afternoon to you, both.”
The guard blinked at the acknowledgment. Cheska smiled ruefully at the reaction.
“I need to speak with you in private,” Louis said to her.
The guard moved at a discreet distance.
“Alright. You’ve gotten Buzz out of hearing range. What is it?” She strode out of the arched doorway.
“Buzz who?” Louis glanced at the guard. “Never mind.” He followed Cheska out to the garden.
“What do you want to talk about?” she asked. Eyes closed, her face was tilted up to the sky. The canopy of leaves above them swayed. The shadows it created danced on her face. The expression was almost serene. He could tell she was anxious by the rigidity of her posture. Louis debated if it was the right time to discuss what was in his mind.
“I met the other guardians,” he began. “And the Uruimethian king.” Louis let his gaze take in the array of colors from the flowers in the garden. He hadn’t thought it beautiful until now. It was different. Everything seemed changed now that she was back.
“An assembly,” Cheska breathed, a slight tremor in her voice. “Of course,” she shook her head. “How did it go?”
“It was—” he glanced sidelong at his sister. The twin set of his eyes stared back at him. “They want someone to replace Libya’s guardian until she’s well enough to return to her duties.”
“Who will take her place?”
“They haven’t decided yet. There’s a guardian in South Africa who could take the slack, but with the plague and the Libyan President-General…” He shrugged. “The guardians think it would be better to have another fill in the position. Zafeera – she’s Libya’s guardian – has a brother, but he’s untrained and underqualified.” Cheska’s face drained of color. A million thoughts whirled behind her searching gaze. “They want Fred to be Libya’s temporary guardian.”
“What?” Her eyes widened with disbelief. Cheska’s mouth opened and closed a few times. Then she started pacing. Louis could empathize with her. He had the same reaction when the subject was brought up during the assembly.
“I know it’s a shock.”
“A shock?!” Cheska’s voice rose. “Have they all gone insane? They can’t send him there.” She paused and pointed at him. “Neither you. You’re both untrained.”
“Sis, I’m a guardian now,” Louis chuckled drily. “I know the tunnels,” he lifted his eyebrows, “and you’re well aware I can defend myself, so can Fred – well, except when your best friend hit him with an iron skillet.”
“Self-defense doesn’t make you qualified for the position.”
“Sure they are. These extra sensory gifts are what make us good in that area.”
“It’s more than that,” she snapped. Cheska marched toward Louis and shoved him by the shoulder.
“Ow.” He rubbed the spot where her hand made contact.
“Didn’t see that coming, did you?” she said, smirking with arms akimbo.
“Do you have to go that far to prove your point?” he complained.
Her forehead creased, mouth pressed into a thin line. “Did Fred say anything?”
“I was going to ask you about him, actually. Thought he’d be with you. The guardians want to speak to him.”
“He went back to the study after leaving me in the ivory room.”
“Fred did. I thought he followed me to the Assembly hall. I swear he was right behind me when we crossed the portal.”
“Keep your voice down, Louis.” She moved closer to him and in a hushed tone, said: “Not many know that these doorways exist much less it can be conjured. Almost everyone thinks they’re just stories.”
Louis snuck a glance at the silent guard. What was his name again? Buzz, she said. The guard hadn’t budged from his spot near the ferns.
The ways of the guardians were kept secret. It was to protect them and humanity from power-hungry individuals. A number of security personnel, however, already knew about the guardians’ preferred mode of transportation. They had witnessed people from different parts of the world pour into the conference room earlier. Louis didn’t dare contradict her; not when she looked like a string stretched taut and about ready to snap. Cheska took a calming breath. Once, twice.
“Did you go back to the study?” she asked.
Cheska nodded curtly and became thoughtful. “Have you call his mobile phone?”
He shook his head. “Battery’s dead.”
She called the guard and asked him to contact one of his colleagues assigned to Mr. Alfred Roucan. A brief moment later, the response they received was negative.
“Try calling James’ house,” Cheska suggested to Louis. “Don’t tell him about the guardians yet. Just,” she paused, “make sure he’s safe.”
Louis frowned. He couldn’t figure out her instructions.
“Do you have his number?” she asked impatiently. “If you don’t, I can contact Diana.” She extended her hand toward the phone he held. “Louis.”
The world spun around him, moving faster and faster. He heard Cheska calling his name again and again. There was a trace of alarm in it. Or, was it concern? Too distant. The vision was sucking him in.
Letting go of the present, Louis allowed his thoughts free rein. His sister. Always the worrywart. The protective one. He wanted to reassure her – tell her he was fine and it was only the visions taking him – that it’ll pass. But he couldn’t.
He stood in an unfamiliar office. A green flag hung on a wall behind a dark-skinned man seated at the desk. His beady eyes were calculating and the closed moustache failed to hide the smile bordering on contempt. Louis recognized the Libyan President-General Omar Hassan Zayed from photographs featured on the news. He was in the tyrant’s office. Across Louis sat Mr. Roucan who he had never seen so furious and afraid in all of his twenty years. He followed the direction of his father’s gaze. A live feed on-screen showed Fred strapped to a bed in what appeared to be a laboratory. Two individuals in in bio suits worked on the machines attached to the ill-looking doctor. Fred’s hair was plastered on his sallow skin. He breathed through his chapped lips. Suddenly, Fred turned to the edge of his bed and vomited. Louis looked away, feeling dizzy and sick. Firm hands held his upper arms and shook him gently.
“I’m alright.” Louis knew he was back in the present, though vertigo lingered. His vision swam. It focused and unfocused on Cheska’s face. He took a step back and his knees almost gave out on him.
A muttered curse then he was led to a bench. Her hands left him, but Louis could still feel Cheska hovering over him.
It was quiet in the garden. The only sound he could hear was his own breathing. He blinked a few times to make sure his Sight wasn’t about to take him to a different timeline. Louis remembered his recent Vision and bile rose to his throat. He swallowed and concentrated on his surroundings. His sister sat beside him. Her hand reached out to him. Cheska’s fingers laced through his. Her thumb rubbed circles on the back of his hand. She hummed an old lullaby. The song his sister sang when he had a nightmare.
Louis sighed. She was back. She was really here. Not a hallucination but in the flesh.
Her lips were pursed as she gazed at him anxiously.
He loosed another breath and said, “You can ask.”
Cheska considered it for a moment. She shook her head.
“After all these years, you’re still superstitious,” he teased, bumping his shoulder against hers.
“If I listen to it, it’ll be like I’m sealing their fate,” she answered seriously.
“The future isn’t set in stone.” He squeezed her hand.
“There is power in belief, Louis,” Cheska said gravely. “You See a vision – one of the numerous possibilities that can happen. You talk about them. At first, you doubt them. Next, you’ll be asking yourself if it’ll occur. It can even be easy to be indifferent. That isn’t always the case. Can you be unconcerned when it involves people you care about? Can you just stand by and watch?”
“I suppose not”. He grudgingly admitted, thinking about the incident in the columbarium.
“You can’t help believing it may come true. When that happens, you acknowledge it and the future – once an idea becomes a reality.”
“Look. It’s inevitable if it’s really in their destiny, Electra.” Cheska became guarded. Her fingers curled underneath his hand. What had he said? They were having an old argument – one that left him exasperated in the past. How much had changed since then. Louis never thought he’d missed it.
“You shouldn’t call me that,” she said softly, her eyes dropped to their joined hands.
“I can’t even call you by your name.” Frustration bubbled up inside him. This is all his fault, he thought.
“You can’t blame Father for everything.” Cheska frowned.
He was about to argue when his smartphone rang. James’ private number flashed in the screen. Louis spared another glance at his sister before accepting the call.
“Louis, is that you?” Fred said over the speaker.
“It’s me,” Louis replied. “I thought you followed me to the Assembly hall.”
“I did. I couldn’t get in. It led me to Hathor’s Hall instead. The boy took me back.”
“Noriden?” The redheaded boy from before was the crowned prince of Uruimeth, Louis discovered during the assembly. Most guardians recognized Noriden by sight and some by description. Louis hadn’t having taken up the post recently. He discovered Noriden occasionally interacted with outsiders, mostly Serrans or surface dwellers for reasons beyond curiosity and friendliness. “What did he want from you?”
“I think the Messenger contacted him too.” As if that simple explanation was enough, Fred changed the subject: “Anyway, we need to ask you a favor.”
“We need to borrow a few things from you.”
“Like what and for what reason?” Louis asked, deciding to let the topic about the prince go for the time being.
A pause. He heard muffled voices over the line, then: “James wants to speak with you.”
“I think it’s going to rain cats and dogs, Louis,” the novelist said.
Huh? What’s he talking about? Louis surveyed the sky. Not a cloud in sight to imply a storm brewing.
“Bring an umbrella on your way and a spare. Some music will be nice too.”
Louis pulled his phone away and stared at it. Umbrella and music? Was James going to do a rain dance? Then it dawned on him. A code: Rain for trouble. Umbrella for help – no, a sanctuary? Music meant rain_dancer513 was back in business.
rain_dancer513 was legendary for his hacking skills. No one knew his real identity or where he was located. Hackers and netizens alike had given him the name because of the chaos he left behind in the virtual crime scene. rain_dancer513 flooded servers with bits of machine code that simulated rain on-screen. When he was done wreaking havoc, slush funds and criminal activities were revealed to the media the next day. At the peak of his career, the mysterious hacker managed to expose a lot of corrupt politicians and crime lords. Then two years ago, he retired.
James was a hacker. Could he be rain_dancer513?
“Bring an umbrella, alright?” the novelist repeated. “We’re checking leaks too.”
“I’ll—” Should he ask? No, talking on an unsecured line wasn’t an option. He couldn’t risk endangering James’ family. The novelist had retired his secret life when he married Diana a couple years ago. His reasons for returning to the field must be important. “I’ll send Allan with an extra umbrella.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: We’re back to Fred’s POV in the next chapter. If you haven’t read the author’s note at the end of Chapter 37, I’ll be posting chapters whenever I have more free time. Am not a full-time writer yet. There are other responsibilities I have to take care of before I can immerse myself in this world…
Anyway, thanks for reading and/or folllowing this story. I hope you tune in for the next one. 😉
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