Quote of the Moment

"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession - Ch. 34

DISCLAIMER: This is rough draft material. Don't be surprised if you fall into plot holes, trip over inconsistencies, and get hit in the head with direction changes. I've done my best to read through several times before posting, though, to make sure most spelling and grammar errors are corrected. Any constructive comments are welcome for when I revise this novel. Thank you for reading!

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 will be posted to Born to Write and Wattpad about one month after it's released to my newsletter subscribers. If you'd like to see the posted chapters a month sooner, please consider signing up for my Author Newsletter!

Chapter 33

* * * * *

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession

Chapter 34

Bishop had to find information. To help Turss. To end the war.

After he heard Sid exclaim over Ama, he continued down the hallway, frantically opening each door on the outer ring. He'd yet to come across one for the inner portion, which he feared might hide what he was looking for, and could only be entered by yet another secret door.

One room contained tables with several beakers and different colored liquids. Yet another, animals in cages, all alive yet eerily quiet.

Eventually he stumbled on a room filled with file cabinets and boxes clearly containing paperwork. This, this might help.

However, he didn't know where to start, his limited time pressing at his temples and exacerbating the beginnings of a fresh headache. So he grabbed the nearest box, which like the others wasn't labeled.

Most of the papers appeared to be detailed information on gates, not from the courtyard but other spots in Nect. And detailed was a tad of an understatement. Whoever jotted down these notes covered every crack and crevice, dimple or dent.

Useless. Completely useless. He moved onto one of the file cabinets, and the papers here were more interesting. They seemed to extensively explore the Ancients. This could be of use.

But then he realized all of it was conjecture, only some of it based in the faintest of truths. The Guardians had truly destroyed everything they had on the Ancients. Wait, no. He scanned another passage again. The Ancients had destroyed all the historical texts, and the Guardians were trying to recover it.

He skimmed more of the pages, hoping to find the why buried in the words.

Then Damian barged in. "What are you doing? We've found Ama, and we need to get out of here."

"Why didn't you just leave without me?" Bishop growled.

The Guardian glared and clutched the bag still strapped across his chest. "For the same reason I didn't let you go when we stepped through the portal."

Ah, curse the light that blinds the Eye. The man actually did care. This complicated things. "I need more information. Supposedly, the Ancients were the ones that burned all your portal books and histories."

Damian released his grip, his arms falling to his sides. "Truly?"

Bishop nodded. He knew he could have lied again, or simply omitted anything he'd actually found, but the man had decided not to leave him behind, and he owed him for that. "I'm trying to find out why."

"The name's Sid." Her voice was distant, but full of determination.

He cursed. A couple days ago, he would have gladly sacrificed another to focus on his own objective. Now, he couldn't leave her to whatever Guardian monster she faced.

"Give me those papers and go. I'll be right behind you." Damian opened his bag.

Bishop shoved the files at him. "What do you want to bet she'll claim she doesn't need saving?"

Shoving the papers in his bag, Damian chuckled.

But Bishop didn't wait for an actual answer -- he zipped out the door and back up the hall, side-stepping Damian's still unconscious father. He was still pleased his spell had worked a treat. Well, on the third attempt.

A hulk of a man faced Sid, and another woman who he could only assume was Ama sat on the floor, appearing bewildered. The man advanced.

"So Bear, what's your deal with Damian? That first day when I had to go before the council, I noticed something between you two. What's the story?"

Bear paused, eyebrows drawing together. A Guardian that clearly was more muscle than brain, but Sid also knew how to apply questions that made the most thoughtful brain pause.

As Bishop approached her, though, he realized that wasn't all she had on her side. The little pocket knife in her hand glowed, a silver-blue to rival the afternoon sky of the Iris Meadows of Turss. And he felt the power humming off of her, stronger than ever before.

Part of him wanted to see what she could do with that power.

The cautious side of him, though, realized she likely didn't know what she was doing at all, and if whatever coursed through her failed because he didn't act, it would be his fault.

Bear took another step forward.

"I don't think so." Bishop summoned the magic deep inside of him, directing it into his right arm, reaching to the tips of his fingers. He raised his arm up and slashed it down with all the focus and determination he could muster.

It didn't take him three attempts this time. Bear fell with a thud, vibrating the floor with his heft.

A debilitating pain lanced through Bishop's head. He pressed a hand to his forehead, moaned, and dropped to one knee.

Through blurry eyes, he saw the blue glow on Sid's knife snuff out. She tucked the blade back into her cloak. Then she knelt down and pressed her fingers to the fallen Guardian's neck.

He knew what she was going to say before she said it.

"He's dead." She turned to him, the shock on her face swimming before him, doubling then tripling. "You killed him."

"I didn't... I didn't mean to."

Damian bounded up to them. "We can't worry about it right now. My father's stirring, and Liss may be on her way if she's not waiting for us above already. Obsidian, help Ama. I've got him."

Bishop's vision flashed in and out, the pain still stabbing him behind the eyes. Curse of the Eye. He'd betrayed his world, and now he was being punished.

More importantly, he'd killed a man.

Damian tucked an arm under him, and he stumbled up the stairs next to the Guardian.

One look back. Bishop had to. Bear's corpse burned into his mind. Yes, he'd seen dead bodies before. But he'd caused this one.

He'd wanted to end the war so he never had to do something like this. The will of the Eye laughed at his desires, the echo following him up the stairs and out of the council building of the Guardians.

Damian felt sick over Bear's death. Even with how the gruff Guardian had treated him growing up, he didn't deserve that. This wasn't how he wanted things to unfold.

There is no return from death. But we must allow the dead to sleep. The precept had a couple layers of meaning -- it not only referred to true death, but also the past. It always bothered him that the rules had so much repetition. Now, he realized it made it better to impress certain beliefs onto people.

Not that he had time to ruminate over the precepts of Bear's death. No telling when Liss would appear.

And though the anger attempted to tug at him, to accuse Bishop of being so careless, the man clearly hadn't intended that result, nor was he handling it all too well, and it took a lot of effort to pull his gaze away from the body.

"Do I press this button?" Obsidian was ahead of him, and they're reached the top of the steps. "Well, here goes nothing."

The door whooshed open. Damian feared Liss would swoop down on them, blocking their exit, but they entered an empty council room with no sight of her. Perhaps Bear had rushed down to the lab without telling her, confident that he could handle the situation himself.

Either way, they had to hurry.

They crossed the council room and headed down the hall, far too slowly for Damian's liking, but with two of their group needing assistance there was no possibility of speeding up. Finally, they stepped into the night.

The power from the gates swirled in his brain like a miniature cyclone more than usual. Especially the Destiny portal. Not that it called to him -- it still held its disturbing silence. Unfortunately, he'd have to leave it behind. Hopefully he could return one day and explore it.

And now he sounded like Obsidian. He'd told her not to do just that. A big, old hypocrite. "Let's get to Turmoil and get out of here." His declaration failed to extinguish his guilt.

Obsidian nodded, and he noticed she was trembling, eyes darting from gate to gate. Perhaps the power of them was also heightened for her, clawing at her mind.

Just as she ducked into the hill with Ama, Damian spotted Councilwoman Liss exiting the building he'd visited a couple days ago to visit his mother. He practically dragged Bishop into the safety of the misshapen hill, and left him leaning against it, heart seemingly thudding in every corner of his body, from his toes to his fingertips.

He peeked out to observe Liss. Her face maintained an unreadable expression, but she hastily strode to the council building. So he stepped back to the others, removing his bag from his shoulder. "We have to hurry. Once Liss finds Bear and my father in the lab, she'll come searching for us, likely starting with any hiding spots in the courtyard."

"Hand over the book, then." Obsidian had lowered Ama to the ground, who at least appeared more alert, and extended her arm.

It would have been easier if he allowed her to do it again. After all, she'd already broken the precept.

But Damian knew he needed to do it, for nothing less than to solidify his resolution to buck the precepts. He tugged the book out of the bag. "No, I'm opening the gate this time."

She lowered her arm and tilted her head, her brows briefly drawing together before she schooled her face. "Fine, then."

Yes, no denying she wanted the book back. He hoped she'd eventually realize while it had started out as hers, it had become so much more. It represented all that had been lost to Nect, and the hope that some of that could be restored to the world again.

Ah, portals be damned, he couldn't stop her, or himself, from entering other gates -- they needed to, to piece together the past. To figure out why the Ancients left and burned almost all of the portal books before they did so.

Damian approached Turmoil and looked down at the book. The script for Destiny peered back at him. He touched the cover. "One day, but not now." His conviction growing inside him by the moment, he pressed his palm to the gate before him, watching the script on the book shift and shimmer until Turmoil emerged.

The cool stone against his skin felt right, proper. Not what the precepts declared. It pained him to remove his hand, but opening the portal was imperative.

He picked up the candle. "Knife please."

Obsidian held the blade up and squinted at it before handing it over.

Questions burned on his tongue, but they'd have to wait for later. He sliced open a small cut on the top of his wrist, and he gritted his teeth against the pain. That didn't stop him from etching the script into the wax flawlessly. He placed it in the well under the arch once he was done and handed the knife back to Obsidian after he'd wiped it on a cloth he'd brought along just for this purpose. Unlike her, he'd considered and prepared everything before he'd leaped into this madness.

Yes, either way, it was still madness.

Then Damian lit the candle. "One of your pins now, please."

She obliged, her hair tumbling down her back. He still thought it looked better that way.

Just as eloquently as on the candle, he traced the script in the dirt with the pin. Now the words, the ones he hadn't heard when Obsidian had first spoken them, similar to Bishop's words when they'd returned to Nect. "Chains connect to other worlds like a web, tugging them toward the center. Nect calls -- the core, the heart, the nexus. The life of one world feeds the life of all. I cry to one of the limbs, one which sustains the heart. A world with its soul torn in two. Turmoil."

And nothing happened.

The power didn't jump, and the portal didn't swirl with brilliance. Damian's words hung in the air, ineffective. "What?" He felt useless, empty. Rejected.

If he couldn't be a follower of the precepts or a person who sought redemption for the treachery of his fellow Guardians, what could he be? Where was his place?

Bishop snorted. He must have recovered slightly if he had the energy to be so derisive.

Obsidian frowned, but then her face lit up in a sudden realization. "I know!" She yanked the hairpin out of his hand and studied it closely. "I accidentally pricked my palm with one the other day."

And the book detailed how an object to write the script in the dirt shouldn't have drawn blood. A small sliver of hope kindled inside him. Though he knew there was still a chance he'd fail again.

"Go, Seth! Look for them in the House of Portals. Find your son!" Liss's shouts jolted Damian. She was near.

"Give me the other pin."

"Are you sure you don't want me to do it?" Her confidence in his abilities clearly flagged.

He'd prove to her he could open the gate just as she could. "We have no time. You'd have to start over with the candle."

She plopped it into his palm, nose wrinkling.

Damian quickly obliterated the script in the dirt to begin again. He took a keep breath, willing his hand to remain steady. This time, when he completed the word, a power zapped his fingertips.

Yes, this was how it was meant to feel. He repeated the words, the power and call of the gate growing inside him with each utterance. "Turmoil." He released the word too loudly, the excitement building in him pushing it out.

Liss was sure to have heard it.

The portal blossomed, a fiery rose, eager to swallow them up. "Hurry, before she finds us."

Obsidian and he gathered their things, Bishop and Ama finding their feet on their own and stumbling up to the gate.

"Should we be doing this?" Ama's jaw dropped, hypnotized by the swirling flame. "It is beautiful, though, isn't it?"

"Link hands, everyone, and remember to hold on tight." He considered the possibility of losing anyone in the in between, especially after they'd just risked so much to save Ama. A horrible, disparaging thought.

First, Obsidian stepped through, hand gripping Ama's. Bishop went third, and finally Damian.

Just before he slipped into the coolness of the portal, he caught sight of Liss standing in the opening of the hill, hands clasped behind her back. She made no move to stop them, and instead of the shock he'd expected on her face, a pleased grin graced her lips.

The chain strong, Bishop tugged, and Damian was gobbled up by the gate, Liss's form gone.

But the look on her face followed him, poking at his mind. And he wondered if they'd just done exactly what she'd wanted all along.

After all, as Bear had said, Liss had grand plans for Damian. Those plans might have included him breaking the precepts and traveling to another world.

An intense cold, stronger than that of stepping through the portal, settled in Damian's chest.

* * * * *

Chapter 35 (The Final Chapter!) - Expected October 2022.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession - Ch. 33

DISCLAIMER: This is rough draft material. Don't be surprised if you fall into plot holes, trip over inconsistencies, and get hit in the head with direction changes. I've done my best to read through several times before posting, though, to make sure most spelling and grammar errors are corrected. Any constructive comments are welcome for when I revise this novel. Thank you for reading!

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 will be posted to Born to Write and Wattpad about one month after it's released to my newsletter subscribers. If you'd like to see the posted chapters a month sooner, please consider signing up for my Author Newsletter!

Chapter 32

* * * * *

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession

Chapter 33

Damian couldn't stop his heart from thudding in his throat. He knew the only way to calm it was to exit the council building and return to his obedient blindness as a Guardian.

But that was impossible, from a moral and logistical standpoint. His heart would suffer a lot more if he were to ignore the lies. And the bag with the book and tools to open Turmoil, along with two packs stuffed full of his and Obsidian's clothes and supplies plus the book of fairytales, was already safely tucked away hidden behind the hill that shrouded the gate.

They'd crossed the courtyard without notice, and now the council building seemed as deserted as it had the night before. This time, they'd risen earlier -- it wouldn't be good if they ran out of time to open the gate, and there was no telling how long it would take to get in and out of the lab with Ama.

Damian entered the council chamber, the others close on his heels. At least they all remained silent, though Obsidian appeared as if she might pop a blood vessel in her forehead if she had to stay quiet much longer. He directed them to behind the desk.

"Are you sure the entrance is here? I don't see anything." Bishop knelt down and swept his palms across the floor, shaking his head.

"Positive." Damian groped under the table, attempting to remember just where Bear had touched. Right when he was about to ask for help, his fingers brushed over an obvious circle carved into the wood. "Here it is. Are we ready? Once I press this, I'm not sure what we'll face."

Bishop stood. "Just do it before you think better of it."

Obsidian nodded and squeaked.

Yes, before he thought better of it. He sucked in a breath and pressed.

The door whooshed open slowly, as before. But this time, he could see down it. The light pouring from the opening was as bright as the sun, and stairs spiraled into it. Always a circle, or something similar to one.

"Guess you were right. Me first." The other-worlder descended the steps before Damian could object.

All he could do was follow, and Obsidian behind him.

When they reached the bottom, he wasn't surprised to find they stood at the entrance of another circular hallway, almost exactly like the council building itself, though it looked much bigger.

"How does the shrinking and expanding of the courtyard affect something like this? Same as the other buildings, it just doesn't? Like it's exempt?" She clearly couldn't keep it in anymore.

Damian turned to her and pressed a finger to his lips.

She pressed both of her hands over her mouth.

"I knew it." Bishop whispered and peered up at the ceiling.

The source of the bright light -- exactly like the bulbs in Turss. Yes, he had been right.

Were the Guardians simply thieves? But then why had they stopped going to other worlds to steal this technology? Unless they hadn't...

Dark thoughts of breaking the first precept. Damian needed to shake himself out of this and concentrate.

He slipped past Bishop, who was still transfixed, and glanced down the hallway, left and right. No sign of other life, and just as quiet as it had been above. All he saw were solid gray walls only interrupted by closed black doors. "Let's head left first."

"These walls feel like stone, but in one solid piece." Obsidian tapped her fingernails on the gray.

And Damian touched the first door in front of him, cold like steel. Metal. He turned the knob and pushed it open.

The light in the large room was just as glaring as the hall, and similarly empty, aside from all the dozen odd items lining the back wall. They looked like the reflective box in Bishop's cabin, yet not as square and bulky.

"Computers." The other-worlder shoved Damian aside and entered the room, then spun around. "Come in. There's more."

Obsidian sneaked past first, and Damian finally entered, wary and full of dread. The Guardians' secrets seemed unending. Once in, though, he turned to the wall with the door, and saw it lined with shelves and an array of curious boxes with buttons, knobs, and screens. "Are all these from Turss, too?"

"Honestly, I recognize one or two things, but the rest is a mystery to me."

"I'm beyond curious about all this, but haven't we lost sight of our goal?" Obsidian approached the door. "We have to find Ama."

She was right, they'd all lost focus.

All of them returned to the hallway, and Damian secured the door behind them. "One door at a time like last night, but this time we stick together instead of splitting up."

Just then, a Guardian stepped out of one of the rooms further down the hall. He spotted them instantly. "Hey, what are you three doing down here? Restricted access."

Damian knew the face and the voice. All too well. His father, who was supposed to be off on a mission in Nect. Clearly his mission was closer to home than he'd let on.

Seth drew closer. "Damian? What are you doing down here? And who's with you?"

"Time to do your thing, Bishop. Now."

"You know him?"

Damian swallowed, a lump refusing to go down, and nodded. "My father. Do it now. Please." The trembling started in his legs and quickly traveled upward, until it took hold in his hands.

Both his parents had lied to him, hid things from him, but his father's betrayal stung more. Their relationship had still been distant, but a congenial one. He had entertained Damian's penchant for daydreaming and fairytales, saying not to tell his mother -- it would be their secret.

Secrets. To the Ancients with secrets.

Bishop raised his right hand straight into the air, then brought it down swiftly. Nothing happened.

"Well?" Damian's anger and resentment built. If he could knock his father out himself, he would.

"I said it was an eighty percent chance, right?" Bishop attempted his move again, with the same result. "Maybe that's more like fifty percent."

Obsidian drew her knife, which she was supposed to leave back with the supplies to open the gate.

Seth approached and tugged a black rectangle out of a pocket in his white coat. "Bear, intruders in the lab. Contact Councilwoman Liss immediately."

Damian snatched the knife from Obsidian. This was his fight, his treacherous father. If Bishop's spell wouldn't work, he'd knock his father out.

Though he'd never had a violent tendency before today, he yearned for Seth to reach him, to take his frustration out on one of the many who lied to him all these years.

And then Bishop did the arm motion again, Damian's father dropping to the floor in a heap. The body lay still, breathing not even apparent.

"Did you kill him?" Damian handed the knife back to Obsidian.

"Well, there's a slight chance."

Seth's arm twitched, and he rolled over, a light snort escaping him.

Damian breathed a sigh of relief and realized just how horrible it would have been if he had actually attacked his father. It wouldn't have been out of defense, but anger and a desire to harm.

After all, in the end, that would have made him no better than the rotten Guardians who kidnapped and experimented on the people of Nect.

No, he'd never stoop to that level. Never.

Obsidian took the knife back from Damian, relieved he hadn't accidentally cut himself -- he trembled like a leaf clinging to a branch in a gust of wind. She stowed it back in an inner cloak pocket.

"Now what, Boss?" She added the moniker in hopes of jarring him out of his stunned spell.

No such luck, though she could understand how unexpectedly running into his father in this place, followed by watching him tumble to the floor, would freeze him.

Her turn to take charge. "We don't have much time, since he contacted Bear. Let's start with checking the room he came from. Perhaps Ama's in there." After all, she was supposed to have a guard. Not exactly the kind of guard she'd expected.

Sid snagged Damian's hand, and he succumbed to her tug.

When they stepped around his father, he couldn't take his eyes off the unconscious form, and he almost stopped to stare until she shook his arm to get his attention. "Sorry."

She should have said the same. Instead, she dropped his hand and entered the room.

It looked similar to an infirmary, cots lining the far wall. And in the middle one, Ama lay, tossing restlessly in her sleep, wires all along her arms and coming from under her blouse, which hooked up to a couple machines at her bedside.

"Ama!" Sid knelt next to her bed, ripped off all of the sticky circles that held everything connected to her, and stroked the woman's forehead. "What have they done to you?"

Vials of blood sat on a table next to her. Damian's father must have taken it from her. Perhaps they'd already started their wretched experiments.

"We need to wake her up enough to get her out of here." Damian had finally rallied and started rummaging around in some cabinets on another wall. "What is all this stuff?" He shook some vials of clear liquid. "No smelling salts? Ah, here we are."

He brought them over and ran them under Ama's nose, which caused her to toss more, but not fully wake.

"Come on, Ama, you need to wake up." Sid slapped her cheeks until they were bright red and encouraged Damian to use the salts again.

After he did so, her eyes flew open. "Wha? Where am I?" Her words garbled, whatever they'd drugged her with still had its grip on her. She glanced up, head weaving from the motion. "Sid? That you? Em all foggy."

"Yes, yes. They gave you something nasty. But you have to try to stand and walk. Here, I can support you." She offered her hand.

Ama gazed at it for a moment then offered a jerky nod and gripped Sid's forearm with a fair amount of strength -- a good sign.

Damian helped with guiding her up, and they successfully got her to her feet.

"'Member a bit now. Councilwoman Liss stuck me with something!"

"Rotten woman." Sid slipped her arm under Ama's and she helped her with a few tentative steps, until Damian could slip in on the other side to aid with the weight.

They all shuffled to the door and out into the hall. Damian's father had shifted, but remained asleep. She feared Bishop's spell wouldn't last long enough -- the image of him grabbing her ankle as they passed infiltrated her mind.

"Where's Bishop?" Damian's question yanked her from her mini daymare.

She looked around, and sure enough, the other-worlder was nowhere in sight, and he hadn't gone into the room with them. He'd sneaked off. How maddening. They had to get out of here -- Bear and Liss were on their way. "The Ancients help us. Leave the idiot behind?" She didn't want to, of course, but her mind insisted on flight, and time pressed on her chest like when her brothers rough-housed and sat on her to pin her down.

Damian grumbled and slipped out from under Ama's arm. "Can you try to get her to the stairs on your own? I'll quickly search for Bishop."

This was the Guardian who had originally suggested letting go of Bishop when passing through the portal. Yet now, he risked his own hide to save the other-worlder from his clear inanity.

And she'd considered abandoning him once they reached Turss. The compulsion to open her gate back home had overtaken her common sense and kindness. Something she'd have to avoid in the future.

Though Sid wouldn't allow him to dictate her fate, she wouldn't jump to such rash decisions. "I've got her. Go find him."

Damian nodded and continued down the circular hall.

"You've got to help me a bit more, Ama. Can you put more weight on your feet?"

"I'll try." The woman at least sounded a little clearer.

They wove around the unconscious form of Damian's father. Aside from a small stumble, they passed successfully, no hands shooting out to snag her ankles.

The further they walked, the stronger Ama seemed to get. They were almost to the stairs when a bleary eyed Bear emerged from above.

"Guess Liss was right to be worried. Pity, too. She'll be so disappointed you didn't work out as a match for Damian."

Match? What in the Ancients was he talking about? Well, definitely not what she should be thinking about.

She had no way of getting past Bear, her knife out of reach while supporting Ama. "Let me through." She wouldn't go down without a fight.

He laughed. "You got guts, Girl, I'll give you that."

"The name's Sid." She dipped her voice. "Sorry, Ama." Then she lowered the woman to the floor and pulled out her pocket knife as she rose.

It wasn't much, as small as it was, but it was better than nothing.

Obsidian gripped the bone handle hard, and felt a warmth surge from the tips of her fingers and into the knife. The blade glowed, a brilliant blue light.

"What the--?"

Even she couldn't answer him, shock settling in her stomach.

Whatever it was, though, she'd use it to get through this bull of a man and figure it out later.

* * * * *

Chapter 34

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession - Ch. 32

DISCLAIMER: This is rough draft material. Don't be surprised if you fall into plot holes, trip over inconsistencies, and get hit in the head with direction changes. I've done my best to read through several times before posting, though, to make sure most spelling and grammar errors are corrected. Any constructive comments are welcome for when I revise this novel. Thank you for reading!

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 will be posted to Born to Write and Wattpad about one month after it's released to my newsletter subscribers. If you'd like to see the posted chapters a month sooner, please consider signing up for my Author Newsletter!

Chapter 31

* * * * *

Chains of Nect: Obsidian's Obsession

Chapter 32

Obsidian plopped onto the chair once they returned to Damian's room and wiped her palms on her breeches. Sweaty.

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.

"I'm sorry."

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