But they could be hidden. Just like the gate she reached up to now. Vines entwined around it and dirt caked the etched stone, so it looked part of the wooded hillside, no matter the season. Which was why no one knew this gate was here.
Not until she tripped over it.
Sid retraced the symbols, wondering what they meant. Only the Guardians knew the runic language, though. The word at the pinnacle of the portal gave a hint to what lay on the other side, she knew that much. But no one had opened one for centuries to even see. The Guardians kept the secret of how to do that as well. They kept that secret and refused to use it.
This particular gate stood about the height of an adult female, but Sid was only twelve, so she had to stretch still to feel the etchings. She imagined the beauty under all of the dirt and grime. Oh, how the stone would shine if cleaned up. How the portal would beckon.
It already beckoned to her. Touching it felt right, like she was part of it.
Sid's grandfather had claimed his father had come from a portal, that her blood wasn't wholly Nectinian. But those were silly stories meant to entertain. Weren't they?
The surge of contentment from the stone on her fingertips made her wonder. No, those tales had to be just that, tales. No one had passed through a gate in ages, let alone someone coming from another world here to Nect.
Perhaps the portal just called to her to be opened. It had laid here hidden for so long that it craved to be used, to be entered and have the world on the other side rediscovered.
This is why the Guardians refused to let commoners near the portals. Strange magic held them together, and that magic could turn a person mad. Some people claimed the Guardians didn't even know the extent of the magic, which is why they never stated exactly what kind of danger just touching a portal could cause.
Obsidian didn't care about the possible dangers. She knew she was meant to find this gate.
And she'd keep it to herself.
Her arm grew tired and she pulled it back, then sat down cross-legged in front of the hidden stone arch, staring at the runic word. Yes, all hers.
If she told anyone about it, the Guardians would descend on her family's property and claim this section as their own. There'd be a permanent guard on the portal, and her mother, father, and brothers would be scrutinized, watched, until they were pretty much bullied to leave their ancestral home behind.
Sid had seen it happen to a friend in two sanctions over. At least those Guardians were far enough away so as not to catch wind of her portal. As long as she kept quiet. No one could know, not even her mother. And she'd make sure to steer her two younger brothers away from playing near it. Their land was large and half wild, so it wouldn't be a big problem.
No saying what would happen to her if the Guardians found out. The whispers of what happened to people who actually discovered a portal tended toward the gruesome.
Sid pushed herself up from the ground, intent on feeling the word again, but something in the ground scratched her palm, drawing blood. Too many rocks around.
"Ouch." She brought her hand to her mouth, sucking on the wound, which made it sting even more. Stupid.
She shook her hand, trying to brush the pain off. It wasn't that deep, but the shallow cuts always seemed to hurt the most.
The setting sun shone threw the trees and a glint from the ground caught her eye. Perhaps it wasn't a rock that had scratched her. She crouched to get a closer look. Metal. It had to be. She tried to dig around the object with her fingers, but she needed something stronger to loosen the dirt.
Sid hunted on the hill for a strong fallen branch and lucked out after a short search.
Then she dug. The branch scratched her hands up even more with her frantic motions, but she didn't care. She had to unearth this thing--it had to be connected to the portal. Perhaps even a hint at how to open in.
Once the dirt was loose enough, she bent over and yanked out the item, falling back onto her butt with the force of her pull.
A metal box about the size of a cat. And one that was rusted nearly beyond recognition. She hoped whatever was in it was still intact. Sid turned it around in her hands, looking for the latch, and heard the contents bang. Ah, there it was, as hidden as the gate itself. A push lock. She needed both thumbs since there were two mechanisms, each on opposite sides, and she ground them into the push locks until her fingers throbbed. Open, come on, just open.
And when she thought the box would refuse to obey, she heard the tell-tale clicks. Yes.
The lid slipped off, revealing an inside in much better condition than the outside. As if the same magic holding the portals together made sure the black metal lining remained pristine. Or the book that she revealed had its own kind of magic.
Sid plucked it out of the box and turned it around in her hands. The cover was made of leather which smelled as new as the day the book was bound, and on the front were the same runic letters as on the gate. She paged through it--all the same, written in a language she didn't know.
A language only the Guardians knew.
Well, then, she'd just have to become a Guardian.
Sid placed the book back into the box and locked it. She removed her jacket and wrapped the box in it, so as to hide her discovery when she returned home. Finding a hiding place for it in the house would be necessary. Or the barn--that would be even better.
The sun had nearly dipped below the horizon. She imagined her mother's voice calling to her just out of reach. "Sidi! Dinner is ready. Sidi!" Time to get home before her parents began to worry.
Obsidian clutched the wrapped book to her chest and ran, thinking of all the steps she needed to take to become a Guardian in the next six years.
Then she could finally read the word etched into the portal. And the book in her arms.
Obsidian successfully plays the game expected of her, passes the tests, and is accepted as a Guardian. Though she jumps through the hoops, she doesn't want to follow the precepts at all, to guard the portals but never open them. She believes its a waste to not explore the worlds within, like her ancestors had. How can they protect themselves if something comes through the portals if they don't know what's in them?
Obsidian's appointed mentor, Damian, is a straight-laced young Guardian, who can't contain the young dedicant. He's always believed the laws are in place to protect all of Nect, but Obsidian starts to make him question his own principles. She doesn't allow him any time to examine the possibilities, though, and he has to decide between reporting her or standing by her side to protect her from whatever horrors she stirs up.
Will the Guardians end Obsidian's life, or will something from another world get to her first?
NEXT UP (July 29): Magic Is Reality, Reality Is Magic: Lughnasadh