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She wasn't sure what had her more shaken -- nearly getting caught, yet again coming close to dying from the shifting portals, or how close she had to get to both men. Perhaps she should have taken the time to explore a few romantic relationships instead of being solely focused on her gate before entering the House of Portals. Her past deprivation clearly made her current reactions even worse.
Best to concentrate on Ama and distract herself from the pathetic flutterings in her chest. "What happened back there?"
Bishop settled on the edge of the bed, but Damian still stood at the door, hand poised over the knob, and staring at nothing particular.
The gate he'd backed into... Perhaps it now called to him as insistently as Turmoil still did to her. "Damian. Come back to us."
He spun and shook his head. "Sorry. Bear emerged from what I can only assume is the entrance to the lab. Luckily, he'd forgotten something and had to go back, which gave me a chance to escape. Now, I at least know how to get in. A hidden door in the floor behind the council desk."
"Luck." Bishop stroked his chin. "Something that can turn rotten without a moment's notice."
"So when do we get Ama?" Sid didn't want her friend to be the Guardians' prisoner any longer than necessary.
"Unfortunately, it's not that simple. We have no clue how many Guardians are down there. If we saunter in, we chance getting captured immediately, especially if we're outnumbered. I've never known a Guardian to bear arms, but I'm not about to declare they won't be armed with surety anymore."
Poor, Damian. His whole world had been rattled. A bit of guilt wormed its way through her -- it truly was her fault.
"I might be able to help with that." Bishop's familiar grin melted across his face. "Another trick I learned can incapacitate people."
"Define incapacitate." Damian narrowed his eyes. These two really needed to start trusting each other more.
"Just sleep magic, that's all."
"Since you haven't used it on us yet, I assume it's just as rusty as your lie detecting trick?" Sid realized any advantage was beneficial, but she worried about relying on such things.
Bishop shrugged. "All magic in Turss can be unstable at times, unpredictable. This spell takes a lot of effort, so it would tap me, but I could always practice on you if you'd like." Oh, that grin.
Sid felt the urge to both slap him and kiss him. "And make that headache of yours worse?" Yes, she'd noticed how often he was rubbing his forehead and pressing at his temples. That hadn't started until he'd pulled out his secret sensing trick.
The smile dropped off his face. "An unfortunate side effect."
"How positive are you of executing this magic successfully?" Damian pressed a finger to his lips. He seriously seemed to be considering using this supposed trick.
"Maybe eighty percent sure I can pull it off. But likely on two people, maximum, or you'll be dragging me out as well as Ama."
"That could at least help with whatever guard they have set and Bear if we run into him." He was considering it.
She wanted to be sure they could save Ama. "Isn't it risky?"
"Now you're prudent? Not when you opened the Turmoil gate, not when you found the gate and book on your land. Now?"
Well, she couldn't fault Damian's logic. He had her. "Fine, fine. You're in charge." She squirmed -- she still didn't like it. Compulsion had overtaken her when opening Turmoil, but all of her other plans had been carefully thought out and calculated. She gripped the edges of the chair when she realized how very Guardian-like she'd acted to reach the House of Portals. No wonder she'd passed the tests. And she hadn't seen it clearly until now.
"Wait, you found a gate? Is that what you were hiding before?" asked Bishop.
"Partly." Speaking of finding gates... "Since I'm guessing it won't be wise to come back through the same portal after we reach Turss, I was wondering, are there any other gates that lead to Nect?"
"To Nect? No."
Sid deflated. Her resolution seemed less solid. It meant she'd have to sneak back through the gate in the House of Portals. Talk about risky.
"But there are gates to other worlds."
And like that, ideas buoyed her again. If she traveled to yet another world, then perhaps that world would have a way into Nect. Though she couldn't be sure that way would lead straight back to the courtyard, it gave her small hope.
"I think it's time we wrap it up for the night." Damian opened the door and motioned toward it. "I'll walk you back to your room for now. Then breakfast and going about our day per usual."
She rose and trudged out of the room. "That means I have to read the precepts. Ugh."
"The life of a Guardian." His statement sounded sad and lost, and he closed the door.
They headed for the stairs, this time not caring if others were about, as plenty of other dedicants and Guardians had begun to stir for the day.
"No need to be. Eyes open and gates closed."
"I agree with part of that."
Damian stopped halfway up the stairs. "No more, Obsidian."
She skipped back down the few extra stairs she'd ascended, unsure what he meant, but intent on keeping the conversation to themselves. "What?"
"No more worlds." His voice dropped low. "Entering Turss is risky enough. A world torn by war. We can't be sure the next one we enter won't be crumbling to dust. So we prepare best we can in Turss, and then head back here through the same gate. That prudence you showed earlier, this is what it should be applied to."
"And if we're never prepared?"
"Then we're stuck."
Not words she wanted to hear. No matter, Damian might have sway as to what she did now, but once they entered Turss, she didn't need to stay by his side.
"Whatever you say." With all she'd dragged him into, she felt guilty for lying. It was a necessity, though. She trudged up the stairs, unable to meet his appraising gaze.
Obsidian resolved to leave both Damian and Bishop behind, taking the book with her. She'd find a way home to her gate, no matter the risk.
Bishop had lied. He was only about fifty percent sure he could successfully incapacitate someone. And two would possibly knock him out as well. Not to mention there was a slight chance of fatality for the person he cast on. However, he wanted to make sure Damian allowed him into the lab, so he had to appear useful.
The Guardian returned to the room, hands full of food, which he set on the desk. "I raided the kitchens. Though I got a few odd looks, you should be set for the day. I recommend getting some rest, if that headache's as bad as Obsidian seems to think it is."
Worse. It was worse. He hadn't even moved from the edge of the bed once the others left. It had been far too long since he'd used any magic.
"I'll even let you sleep on my bed for now. I won't need it until later."
Bishop grunted, tempted to roll over now, though he really should eat something.
"That bad?" Damian tossed him an apple. "Eat. Sleep. I'll keep my questions about Turss to myself until later. Perhaps best after we succeed at this rescue attempt and escape."
He stared at the apple he'd caught, only taking a bite once the Guardian sat down at his desk and pulled the book from his bag. "Why are you suddenly being so nice?"
Damian paged through the book. "Ah, here it is." He muttered under his breath, then turned to Bishop. "Contrary to your belief, I'm not an unkind person. And if we're to rescue Ama, using your magic as aid, you need to be well enough to execute it."
"So it's because you want something from me. Got it." Kindness was a gesture freely given, not offered to expect something in return. He quickly ate his apple.
The Guardian shook his head. "Whatever you want to believe. I still don't like you, but I won't allow my feelings toward you to hinder my inclination to treat everyone as a human being worthy of basic consideration."
A lot of words. Bullshit words. Bishop finished the apple and figured it best to eat more later. His head throbbed behind his eyes, blurring his vision. So he tossed the core and rolled over.
"I'll be back later." The Guardian's words were echoey, as if he heard them from underwater.
He allowed himself to drift, for true sleep to pull him down. If Damian had spoken true, he wouldn't consider harming him while he slept.
At one point, he vaguely remembered Damian entering the room again and pulling a candle from his bag, commenting about preparing for tonight and having retrieved the candle from when Sid had first opened the gate. The guardian smoothed out the script already etched into the wax -- they needed to reuse the candle.
Blackness took him again, and the next time he woke, he was alone. The headache had finally released its hold on him, and his mind felt clearer than it had since before he found Sid dangling from the chain.
And he was ravenous. He helped himself to the food still on the desk, studying the candle sitting there. This must be what they needed instead of the lantern. More proof of how primitive Nect truly was, and how the world shouldn't have things like the little alarm clock.
Damian and Obsidian entered the room.
"Such a waste of time today. Those precepts. I wish I would have had time to decide what to pack, instead." Sid's mouth twisted.
"Taking a whole day to pack a single bag is a waste of time." Damian sighed and closed the door. "And keep your voice down."
"We doing this tonight?" Bishop resisted using his secret-sensing magic to see if anything new had developed while he slept. That would have been a horrible idea, though. He needed to stay fresh and keep the headache away lest the fifty percent chance drop to ten.
"Good, you're awake. And look much better." Flat words from a matter-of-fact Guardian.
"Here, I brought this back for you." Sid placed a plate with a small dark brown square and a fork on the desk.
Bishop leaned over and sniffed it -- it smelled sweeter than fruit.
"Don't tell me you don't have chocolate cake on Turss. How horrible. I was actually shocked they had anything so decadent in the House of Portals."
He took a taste, and then he was sad they didn't have anything like it on Turss. "We should pack some of this."
Sid beamed. "Good idea."
"We're not packing chocolate cake." Damian opened his wardrobe and pulled out another bag. "This isn't a pleasure trip. Back to your room to prepare, Obsidian. I'll come fetch you around the same time I did last night."
She nodded and left.
"Headache gone? You still sure you can knock out a guard or two?" The Guardian's brow furrowed.
"Don't go second guessing the plan now. And I'm still eighty percent sure." Fifty, but what Damian didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
Bishop intended to discover exactly what the Guardians had been hiding and what other technology they'd stolen from Turss.
Chapter 33 - Expected August 2022.