All current and previous chapters for Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession can also be found on Wattpad. And for an easy to access list of all chapters that have been posted to Born to Write, please visit the Table of Contents.
A new chapter is planned to be posted to Wattpad every Friday, and that chapter will then be posted on Born to Write on the Saturday after.
The tests were only part of it, though. Anyone could give the right answers if they were so inclined--the final vetting took place here, and it was his responsibility as her mentor to decide whether she had the mettle.
He studied her back, straight black hair falling to her waist--clearly where she got her namesake--entranced by the portal nearest her. Her demeanor during the tour of the inside was a definite mark in the no column. However, he couldn't fault her for latching onto the sight of the gates. Everyone felt the pull of them, and some of the new dedicants had to be dragged away after seeing a portal for the first time.
Obsidian seemed to look at it differently, though. He couldn't put his finger on it, but she still seemed more aware of her other surroundings, not fully caught up in the magic. Still drawn. Not consumed. And the portals had a way to consume even the most determined dedicants. They'd lost a few to madness over the years, according to his parents. He'd never witnessed such a sight--he didn't want to either.
All of those thoughts weren't what bothered him most. No. She intrigued him. Something inside of him stirred when she smiled up at him--a desire for something other, something more than his cloistered life had allowed him. And such a desire could get him into trouble, steer him off of the proper path, following the precepts laid down by the Guardians. It could cloud his judgment when the time came to give his decision on whether she should move from dedicant to full Guardian.
But he had years before he had to worry about that. Why was he fretting now? He'd disciplined himself to not allow his mind to wander, and here he was, following paths, wondering what ifs that had no meaning in the present.
The past is gone and the future unclear--neither hold value over this moment.
Damian shifted from one foot to another, unable to bring himself to break Obsidian's gaze on the portal. He'd have stood there watching her back, stray hairs getting tossed about by the breeze, if she didn't turn to him, ending the enchantment on her own.
"Where to next?" The smile made her face shine.
He didn't answer her at first, merely observed her radiant features, in awe that she so readily dropped the connection to the gate. Like someone who had grown up around them, grown used to their presence, knew how to quench the desire. Like him.
"Is everything all right, Damian?"
He'd pondered too long. This girl had him thinking and wondering more than he had since he was a child. "Sorry, yes." He clasped his hands behind his back. "It's a bit of a hike to the center, but it's time to present yourself to the Council."
Her smile faded. "Already? I didn't think I had to do that until after my studies were complete, when they make the final decision on whether I'm to become a Guardian or not."
"They see all new dedicants upon their arrival. Tests and Guardians in the field can only assess so much--the council members have a tendency to see things that may have been missed." And if they saw what Damian did, she'd be turned out immediately. No reason to worry about his future decision, just as the precept dictated. Why fret over something that may never happen?
But part of Damian hoped the Council would miss what he saw, would approve of Obsidian as she was, so he'd get to know her better, have time to unravel the puzzle that stood before him. It was a hope that went against too many of the precepts. He knew it would be better for him and everyone within the House of Portals if she no longer graced the halls. But he didn't want to accept that.
A couple hours with this girl, and his mind was addled. She had him not thinking straight, not thinking proper. It was as if she carried a magic of her own. Like the portals.
"Well, then," Obsidian said. "Let's go."
Damian nodded, afraid to open his mouth. He had to stop thinking so much.
She walked by his side as they made their way to the central building, weaving around the gates. Knowing the path around the portals better than the lines in the palm of his hand, he was able to watch her, taking occasional glances so she wouldn't catch him staring. And what he saw unsettled him even more.
Most dedicants would gaze at each gate they passed, feeling the tug of each and every one of them, trying to listen to the call. But Obsidian looked straight ahead, likely at the council building, ignoring arch after arch.
And she slowly changed from the person he greeted at the door and guided around the main building. She stood up straighter, her chest more prominent under her white blouse, and her pace became smoother, as if she was gliding, her multi-colored skirt shifting with her step like it was part of her.
No hint of a smile played on her lips. She wore the stern and confident look of a Guardian, not a mere dedicant. If possible, her eyes grew darker, full of power.
In this shift of bearing, Damian saw the woman that had been hiding underneath the girl. And now he wondered which facade was her true form. He walked next to a shapeshifter--the change seemed so distinct that that was all he could think of to describe it. The puzzle only grew more complicated with this revelation.
She didn't speak a single word on their trek. No more endless questions, no more prying into his personal business. The bored look she had during the tour had been replaced by pure determination. This was a woman who had what it took to be a Guardian. Or so much more.
They reached the council doors, and Damian opened them, motioning her inside. "After you."
"Thank you." Obsidian stepped inside and vanished into the shadows.
He took a deep breath and followed her in.
The council building was designed much like the main one. It was circular, a hallway, which included several chairs along the walls for those waiting for a meeting, wrapped all the way around the circumference. They had to walk halfway around the circle to reach the entrance to the central council chamber.
Bear stood guard at the door, a middle-aged Guardian who Damian disliked. He'd overstepped his authority with his parents on more than one occasion, which is why he now was stuck with the boring duty of watching the council room door.
"Greetings," Damian said. "I'm here to present Dedicant Obsidian to the Council." He'd prefer not to be civil with this man, but he ranked higher. Those below must respect those above.
"It's about time you got here. You shouldn't have dallied." Bear opened the door and sneered at them as they walked past.
Damian had only done as was expected of him--no dallying involved. He suppressed the desire to accidentally tread on Bear's foot in passing. His name suited him all too well.
They entered the stuffy meeting room, no windows to allow the breeze in. The worst room in the House of Portals. And the last time Damian had been here was during his own raising from dedicant to Guardian. It was torture then, unsure if he'd be accepted or tossed out of the front doors to deal with the entirety of Nect on his own, the stuffiness had made him feel like he was choking.
The five council members sat on the other side of the room behind a long desk, shuffling through papers. He didn't know how they could stand to be shut in this room for extended periods of time. Perhaps they'd gotten used to the sense of claustrophobia.
"Ah, perfect timing." Councilwoman Liss stood from her seat in the middle and beckoned to them. "Guardian Damian, you may stand off to the side, back by the chairs. Dedicant Obsidian, please stand before us." She sat back down.
Obsidian didn't hesitate. She glided across the room, situating herself before the now intent council members, papers before them forgotten. It was as if all five gazes bolstered her strength instead of making her quiver as they should. She bowed her head in respect. "Welcome to the House of Portals," Liss said. "You wish to become a Guardian, Obsidian?"
Such a simple question, but one easily stumbled over. Damian was never asked--he was born here, and he was expected to follow in the footsteps of his parents. And he was raised with the need to help fulfill the precepts, to protect all gates from the commoners. No good would come if someone found a way to open one, if they didn't go crazy first.
"To maintain the order set down by all Guardians before me," Obsidian said. "To protect those in Nect who cannot protect themselves from the magic." Words expected of a dedicant, but the strength was in the delivery. She spoke with conviction, as if it was an affront that the question even had to be posed of her.
An amazing transformation indeed. The caterpillar who had chattered in his ear existed no more.
The five council members watched her, gazes boring deep into her soul, looking for any twitch, any indication that she wasn't sincere, that she might crumble in her attempt. Damian was just glad they weren't looking at him like that--it had been all he could do to stay firm when they did the same to him at his graduation.
Liss turned her stare to him, as if she had heard his thoughts. "And you, Damian? You've spent a short time with Obsidian. Any observations? Do you think she belongs here?"
Acid climbed up his throat. Her gaze was hard enough to bare, but he hadn't expected to answer such questions. This was his first time as a mentor, having only become a Guardian a year ago. And how should he answer?
He should tell them what he'd seen. A silly, giddy girl who didn't seem to be serious enough for the task. Then the metamorphosis, as she shifted right before his eyes, preparing to show her best face to the Council. Yes, he should tell them.
Obsidian looked across the room at him. He tried to find pleading in her eyes, but there was none, only a distant consideration. Her fate was in his hands, sooner than he expected it to be, and she didn't feel the need to beg for his blessing.
Damian swallowed the bile pooling under his tongue. "As you see here, she'll make a perfect Guardian." His heart thudded in his chest, faster and harder than he'd ever felt it beat before. He'd just lied to the Council. Well, a lie of omission. Surely the woman before them would make a perfect Guardian.
But he couldn't push down the need to learn more about her, to figure her out, to discover just what it was about her that made his mind unravel. To discover her magic.
The truth in all things.
Didn't that also mean he should find the truth about Obsidian? He had to convince himself of that, or he'd have to admit that he just took the first step in the opposite direction of the precepts.