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She slammed shut the damnable text, the resulting gust of wind tousling loose strands of her hair. Yes, she was supposed to be on her best behavior, to do what was asked of her so she wouldn't be punted out of the House of Portals. Or worse. But what point was there if she couldn't retrieve her book?
Her gate would continue to stand useless, forgotten by all but her.
That couldn't happen -- she had to convince Damian to give it back, or to at least keep it somewhere safe instead of destroying it.
Obsidian rested her head on her copy of the precepts, her mind tumbling. Her thoughts grew hazy and drifted, exhaustion dragging her down.
"The precepts are not a pillow." Damian's sharp tone yanked Sid from her nap like a cold bucket of water.
She sat up and wiped a drop of drool from the corner of her mouth. "I'm sorry. I haven't gotten much sleep lately."
"Guess I can't blame you." He plopped down in the chair across from her, as if standing on his feet was too much of a burden, then rested his elbows on the table and leaned toward her. "You were right."
Sid wiggled in her seat. She'd made a lot of declarations lately, but the one that initially came to mind was the Guardians killing washed out dedicants. "About what?" She squeaked and covered her neck.
Damian shifted, resting on the back of a chair, his frown stretching to all corners of his face and creasing his forehead. "The council is hiding something. They're using the precepts to cover up their secrets."
A shuddering breath escaped her. No doom. "And how did you come to this conclusion?"
"I spoke to my mother, and when I asked her if she'd ever heard of Guardians wielding magic, she nearly cut me with her gaze." He closed his eyes and shook his head. "How could I have been so wrong?"
"More importantly, how could you have been so stupid?" Perfect way for them to discover if she was also right about the dire consequences of crossing the Guardians. "Did you tell her what happened with Turmoil? Bishop?"
That eyebrow of his did its thing. "Of course not. I was careful about what I said. Have some faith in me."
"It's not that I don't, but if a single Guardian discovers what we've been up to, it's certain death." She actually had a heap of faith in him -- more than he'd ever know. After all, he still hadn't presented her to the council with a list of her crimes.
Damian rolled his eyes. "Enough with those ludicrous accusations. Secrets don't make anyone a murderer." He tilted his head. "Besides, a single Guardian does know what we've been up to."
"You're not like them." She'd been so wrong about him when they'd first met. True, he clung to the precepts, but it was all he'd known. "You question and dare to have independent thoughts. If you were one of those Guardians that I'm constantly deriding, I'd have been at their mercy the moment I stepped before the council."
He stared at her for a second, then blinked rapidly and found a fascinating spot on the wall.
Obsidian did trust him, which was why it was so hard when he clearly hadn't trusted her. He still might not. There was one way to rectify that. She hoped. "Do you want to know where I got the book?" She whispered, afraid the walls had ears. Who knew what magic the Guardians were hiding?
Damian returned his attention to her, eyes bright. "Where?"
Here it was. The moment she'd never expected to happen, had avoided for years. Confessing to her discovery. "Buried in a box on my family's land." Her insides chilled, as if she walked through a fiery portal. "Underneath the gate I found."
He stood so swiftly, his chair tipped over and clattered on the floor. "What? You couldn't have." He bit his bottom lip and nodded. "Of course. That's why all the gates hadn't affected you the first day. You'd already been near a portal. No. You'd already touched one."
Sid wanted to melt into her chair. She stared at the book of precepts so she wouldn't have to meet his gaze. And she thought she'd felt guilty for kissing Bishop -- nowhere near to the extent as she felt now.
"That's why you wanted to learn the script. But how were you able to open the Turmoil gate if your book was meant for the other gate?"
Her excitement got the best of her and she looked up at him. "The word on the front of the book changed when I was more focused on the new gate. It's as if it shifts depending on which portal you want to use it with. Fascinating magic. Unfortunately, it blurred the script of my gate in my mind, so I don't even remember what it looks like." It felt so good to finally share this with someone. She'd never realized how tormented her soul had been keeping all of this information in.
Damian planted his hands on the table and loomed over her. "It's not your gate. Get that out of your head."
"I know, I just..." Had she made a mistake telling him? A miscalculation?
"I have to tell the council."
Yes, a grave one. "No... But why...?" She tried to find clearer words, but they failed her. Damian planned to betray her, and it cut deeper than any loss she'd experienced before.
He straightened and paced the best he could in the tiny study room. "I can't believe this is what you've been hiding. And you called me stupid? Your actions--"
The chill within blossomed into a flame, and the fire spread rapidly. She stood and slammed her hands on the table. "I thought you realized the Guardians have been lying, to all of Nect, even to you. Your own mother. Yet you're ready to turn me in because of their absurd rules."
Damian skirted around to her side of the table and grabbed her arms. "I may be questioning what I've been taught my entire life, wondering where the truth ends and the lies begin, but there's one thing I'm positive about. The portals aren't safe. And you're proof of that. Have you forgotten the compulsion Turmoil drove you to already? Imagine what could happen to someone else who stumbles upon that gate. How would you feel if a family member found it and went mad?"
Sid had always dreaded one of her brothers discovering it. And now with her here, unable to steer them away from that section of their land, they had more of a chance to do just that.
And though she'd been driven to open Turmoil, she still believed the portals shouldn't be left to rot, mere relics moldering around Nect.
She wiggled out of Damian's grasp. "No matter what happened to me, I don't agree with you. I succumbed to a moment of weakness. That doesn't mean the gates are a danger to everyone in Nect. Just more Guardian lies."
"Obsidian, please see sense."
Sid planted her fists on her hips. "Why should I? Someone I thought was my friend is about to throw me to the wolves. There's no sense in that."
"No, no. I keep telling you we don't harm people, especially ones who find gates." He sighed, brow wrinkling. "But if you're so concerned about that, we'll find a way to tell them about the portal without implicating you or your family. I promise."
"Good luck with that. I mean, the gate's on my family's land."
"It might take time, but we'll figure it out." He appeared seriously pained, but she didn't care -- he planned to rip the one thing away from her that had been her sole goal for the past six years.
She stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest. "Perhaps I should just go back through the portal with Bishop. Then I'll be out of your hair forever and you can tell the Guardians whatever you want."
Until she said it, she hadn't actually considered the possibility of leaving Nect and going to Turss.
Forever. It would truly mean forever. She'd never hug her mother, never see her father smile proudly, and never get heckled by her brothers again.
But she'd live, and Damian would get exactly what he wanted -- he'd be rid of her and allowed to live the rest of his life as oblivious to the Guardians' true intentions as much as he'd like. "Do you really want to do that?" His voice escaped breathy.
Sid raised her chin. "What I want is for you to hand that portal book over and forget I ever told you about my gate. But that's never going to happen. So Turss sounds like a good second option." She couldn't believe what she was saying. Could she really do what she claimed?
The book in Damian's bag beckoned to her. And so did the Turmoil portal, whispering in her ear and begging her to open it once again.
Damian raised his hands in front of him, palms out. "Let's take a break. Cool down a bit. Relax in your room briefly and have dinner. Then perhaps we can talk about all of this more rationally."
So he thought she wasn't being rational?
Yes, Obsidian would go to Turss with Bishop.
Or she'd wrest the book away from Damian, no matter the cost, and flee the House of Portals.
Head home and open her gate. Perfectly rational.
Chapter 27 - Expected April 2021.