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She sprang up to help him, snatching one of the trays and setting it on the desk.
Only after talking to Bishop, she realized why she felt so damned guilty. Almost everything she'd done since she stepped into the House of Portals had made Damian's life... more complicated. She'd been terribly selfish, just like Bishop. Her only saving grace was that she never tried to kill Damian.
Unless she counted thunking him with the book. Again, compulsion.
No, she shouldn't make excuses. Especially since Damian could have ended this charade anytime he wished. By the Ancients, he could have revealed her that first day in front of the council members.
He hadn't, though. Even when he'd assumed she'd touched the gate and broken the first precept, he hadn't run to tattle on her. No one shall touch the gates without permission.
Obsidian had done so much more than that, and instead of turning her in to save himself, Damian had stood by her. Endured her.
So yes, feeling guilty for sneaking about behind his back and giving into a foolish attraction by kissing Bishop made complete sense.
And it was definitely a foolish attraction. Bishop had manipulated her, starting with rescuing her from certain death at the bottom of a gorge. She couldn't believe she'd allowed herself to gush over his heroism and good looks. From now on, she'd focus on getting them all out of this mess. Then on her gate back home. No more distractions.
Damian set the other tray on his bed next to Bishop. "Help yourself." After grabbing a pear, he leaned on the door, as if to make sure neither Bishop or Sid escaped. "What happened while I was gone?"
How much he clearly distrusted her hurt and infuriated her at the same time. "Nothing." She swallowed her fury down with a cashew butter and fig preserve sandwich that she found on the tray she'd grabbed.
Bishop gobbled up a similar sandwich -- his adventures this morning must have stirred has appetite.
"I doubt that." Damian tapped his leather bag. "Ever since you brought this book into the House of Portals everything but nothing has occurred."
He wasn't going to let it go. Obsidian missed his quiet, observational demeanor. No one to blame but herself. "Bishop may be ready to talk. Perhaps even starting with an apology."
Bishop coughed as if choking on his bite of apple. He composed himself and stared at Damian. "I wasn't going to kill you."
So much for an apology. She'd held out too much hope.
"The marks on my neck say different."
These two weren't going to make any progress unless she prodded them along. "Neither of you like each other. We get that. Now can we move on? Or we'll be stuck in this room trying to figure out our next step for several years."
"I already know the next step." Damian placed his pear core on the tray and grabbed a sandwich of his own, then returned to his spot blocking the door. "Tonight, we send Bishop back."
Bishop pursed his lips and balled his hand into a fist, then he sighed, releasing his tension, and shook his head. "Honestly, I want to go home. But..."
Damian chewed his sandwich, studying Bishop, not responding. That was as close as he was going to get to encouraging the otherworlder to continue.
Obsidian gritted her teeth and set the remains of her sandwich on the tray. These two. "What's the deal, Bishop? What exactly do you want from us? From Nect? The Guardians?"
He turned to her, mouth parted. "Nect?" His brows drew together. "Never mind." He rubbed his hands on his breeches and sucked in a deep breath. "Honestly, I came here to find something to help save my world. Knowledge, magic, technology. Anything that might stop the war that's torn Turss in two for centuries."
"Since the Guardians left?" She couldn't resist her fascination with Bishop's world. So different from Nect -- though she hated history texts, she'd likely happily consume any about Turss without nodding off as she was wont to.
"Yes." A sadness descended on him. It reminded her of the fog surrounding the gate and chain. "The Guardians brought magic to Turss. They agreed to exchange their knowledge of magic for the secrets to our technology. And they did teach us. It was as though the Ancients who built the gates had returned with a precious gift. But once they'd taken the tech they wanted, they abandoned Turss, fleeing to their own world and not leaving the key, a portal book, behind to pursue them. You see, though they taught us the magic, they didn't fully teach us how to control it. This led to many disasters, which included casualties. Then two factions formed. One supported tech and the other magic. And more casualties."
Bishop's hatred toward Guardians -- this was where it stemmed from. In essence, they'd slaughtered people in his world with their actions. Or inactions.
Damian stared at the remains of his sandwich. "But that doesn't make sense. Guardians don't know magic. Only the Ancients did."
"I'm not lying." Bishop stood and growled.
The calm, calculating Damian had returned, his voice even and inquisitive. "I never said you were."
"The Guardians are a bunch of rule-creating overlords. They force the normal people of Nect to follow their edicts about the gates. But they definitely don't know magic." More and more, Obsidian wondered if the Guardians had been hiding more secrets than she had from Damian, though.
Her mentor snorted and hardened his gaze.
"Sorry." She'd just pretty much called him a rule-creating overlord. Oops.
Damian finished his sandwich and Bishop settled back on the bed to eat his apple.
The silence made Obsidian want to claw her eyes out. But the information Bishop had just shared did take time to absorb.
How could the Guardians have taught his people magic? Unless they kept their use of magic hidden. Then why wouldn't Damian know of it?
Too many questions. No answers. Bah.
Damian brushed his fingers off on his shirt. "Though I don't approve of your methods, I understand you're only trying to aid your world. Unfortunately, I don't think your answers lie here -- if the Guardians knew magic at one time, it's surely been lost. Passing years are the deftest thieves. Do not mourn that which has been lost."
"A precept?" Sid clicked her tongue. "Have you ever considered the precepts are simply a way to keep secrets? To stop anyone from questioning and discovering hidden truths?"
He shook his head. "That would go against another precept, then. The truth in all things. These rules are meant to avoid anarchy."
"They sound like a way to control the people of Nect." Bishop stood again, this time with less fervor at least. "Seems the Guardians are manipulating this world as they did Turss. And keeping the younger ones of their own kind out of the loop as well."
"No, I can't believe that." Damian straightened and pursed his lips. "Guardians have the good of Nect at heart, which is why they no longer allow travel to other worlds."
Bishop rubbed his forehead. "You're a fool."
"Not as much as you. You forced us to take you with us, and for what? Nothing. There's nothing here for you." Damian stepped closer to Bishop, and both of them balled their hands into fists.
Sid squeaked and wiggled in between the both of them. "Either you back down, or I'm going to knock both of you on the head with a book."
A corner of Damian's mouth twitched, but he stepped back and leaned against the door again. "What more do you want from us? What do you think we can give you? Even if your preposterous claim is correct and the Guardian council is keeping secrets from me and others, there's nothing I can do about that. Not unless I want to be excommunicated."
Excommunicated? Try put to death. Well, perhaps she was wrong about that. She hoped she was.
Bishop sighed and flopped on his back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. "I hate admitting defeat."
"Don't think of it that way." Obsidian sat next to him, Damian's ire be damned. "You came here to gather information, and you have. The Guardians are shadows of their previous incarnations. Weakened, inconsequential."
Damian cleared his throat.
She really had to stop insulting him, but he needed to lighten up. "Oh, you know I'm not talking about you directly. Stop getting so upset."
His lips twisted, and he looked down at Bishop. "Do you agree to go back? Tonight?"
The otherworlder closed his eyes. "Yes."
Damian's body appeared to relax, as if he'd been unimaginably tense. "Good. No more surprises?"
Bishop grunted and rolled to his side. Seeing him so crushed bothered her. Nothing like the vibrant, determined man who'd saved her from falling to her death.
"I'll take that as a yes. Now, Obsidian and I have other tasks to tend to. Please stay here this time, or I fear our luck with not getting caught will run out."
"Will do." The words were flat, unemotional.
"I'm sorry, Bishop." Sid wished she could help, to discover something, anything to heal him and his world. Obviously the gate seemed to think she could, with its maddening call. Stupid gate, what did it know?
Damian opened the door and motioned her out. "You have studies to get back to. More controlling precepts for you to memorize."
"Yeah, yeah." She slipped out the door.
Though Sid couldn't assist Bishop with Turss's war, she'd at least make sure he got home safely. But her determination was muddied. She knew it was another excuse to open the gate again, if Damian let her.
More importantly, she needed to figure out how to wrest the portal book from her mentor's hands once the gate closed again. She wouldn't allow him to burn it. Not before she had the chance to step through her portal back home.
No, he couldn't burn her book.
Chapter 25 - Expected November 2020.