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He didn't know what else to do. His entire life he'd had a purpose, a goal. And now he had nothing.
Once he returned to Turss empty-handed, the magic faction would surely condemn him, likely conscript him into battle. Because he'd failed his mission.
Not only had he failed, but he'd taken a risk by coming here... to Nect. He'd dreamed of a wealth of information and knowledge, enough to aid those in Turss. End the war.
Well, not just an end, but a slaughter -- magic trampling tech. That idea had always made him uncomfortable. But unless one side conquered the other, there'd be no end. There was no possibility for peace and compromise. The conflict had lasted too long.
Maybe he should simply turn himself into the Guardians. Whatever they'd do to him would likely be less dreadful than his people back home.
But then he'd also condemn Damian and Sid. While he still smoldered over the former, he couldn't bring himself to be so cruel to the latter. She had too good of a heart. And the magic that swirled inside of her... he was positive she had no idea, which was why he hadn't asked her about it. No point in mucking things up even more than they already were.
Bishop heaved himself off the bed and tidied the trays and remaining scraps of food. He always felt better when he was active, like when tending to his garden. A task he'd miss, maybe even more than listening to the call of the gate.
Once the room looked less disheveled, he dug out his clothes from where he'd stuffed them in the wardrobe and changed. His t-shirt was so much more comfortable than the button-downed shirt of Damian's.
He noticed the book Sid had pulled off the shelf was still on the chair, and he grabbed it to put it away, but the title on the cover intrigued him. Fairytales of Nect. Not something he'd expect a Guardian to have.
It also fascinated him that the language here was the same as on Turss. A fact that hinted that the people of this world were more connected to those of his than he'd assumed. Not that he'd ever find a text here that spoke of it. Wretched Guardians.
Bishop settled in the chair and cracked open the book. As he read through the stories, each one a fantastical, outlandish tale, something scratched at the back of his mind. It all felt oddly familiar. He'd read Turss fairytales as a child, but these didn't seem to match up. Maybe if he could get his hands on a copy back home he could compare. The familiarity bothered him, as though if he was so close to realizing the link, like when the words in the portal book felt just out of reach after they'd crossed into Nect.
Damian entered, shattering Bishop's concentration. He appeared disheveled and utterly exhausted with black smudges under his eyes. "Good. At least you're still here. I honestly didn't need another surprise to deal with today."
"Why do you have this book of fairytales?" Bishop lifted the text -- he didn't care about the Guardian's problems with too many surprises.
"Why are you asking silly questions?" He sat on the edge of his bed, removed his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. "If you must know. I enjoy them. That was actually one of my favorite books as a child, much to my mother's chagrin."
Bishop caressed the cover. "They seem familiar. I'm not sure how."
"There's bound to be many similarities between our worlds. The Ancients touched every world when they built the gates. I've even been considering that they created a common language that connects us as much as the portals. Well, at least since we ran into you."
"Can I take it with me?" He expected a no, but he still asked. Not only did the stories have meaning to Damian, but it likely broke some precept to take such an item from one world to another.
The Guardian put his glasses back on and stared at the book. "I suppose I can always get another copy. And though I can't help you with the war on Turss, I think I can oblige taking a little bit of Nect home with you."
Bishop pressed the book to his chest. For a moment, he thought Damian might not be as horrible as he'd thought. But then he considered how inconsequential a book of fairytales was compared to what he truly needed. The man claimed he couldn't help, however he might be keeping secrets of his own.
"I need to lie down for a bit. Can I trust you won't kill me in my sleep?" The previous kindness was obliterated by the harsh accusation in his voice.
"I won't touch a hair on your head. I swear on the gate back home to Turss." That didn't mean he wouldn't snatch the leather bag once the man was asleep.
Unfortunately, Damian situated it under himself before laying down.
Bishop sighed. Not that it would have mattered. There was nothing left here for him to do, and he couldn't use the book to get back on his own anyhow. It had taken him years to master the portal language in his world, and though he was sure he could eventually interpret the text here in Nect, it wouldn't be quick enough.
So, he went back to reading the fairytales and striving to figure out why they all seemed so familiar. It was the only distraction he had from thoughts of his future once he returned to Turss.
Obsidian wandered back to her room, the exhaustion tugging her down more and more with each step. Perhaps some sleep would be a good idea. That brief nap in the study room had only exacerbated her tiredness, and she hadn't had a solid night's sleep since before she entered the House of Portals.
She fumbled into her room, yanked off her dedicant robes, and collapsed onto her bed. Only when she rolled over did she realize something was off about Ama's bed.
Sid shot up, now wide awake. The bed was stripped, completely bare. This of course could mean that Ama was laundering her bed linens, but the pillow was gone too, as was Ama's chest that had sat at the end of her bed.
To make sure that the dread rising in her chest wasn't just her tired brain making mountains out of portal hills, she got out of bed and checked the dresser. Empty. Every single drawer.
"No, no, no." Her words sounded like the muttering of a mad woman to her own ears. She sat on her chest, and stared at Ama's bare bed, striving to make sense of things, but her weary mind merely flailed.
Enid entered the room, looked at Sid, then glanced at the bed. "Oh, she must have finally given up and headed home." She made a derisive sound. "I told her years ago she wasn't Guardian material, but she wouldn't listen." A quick up and down appraisal of Obsidian and she shook her head. "You could do with a bit more composure, too, unless you want to end up like her." She humphed, grabbed a washcloth, and left the room.
Rude. But her brain caught up too late to throw back a biting response. "Ama wouldn't leave without saying goodbye."
And that was what broke through her scrambled thoughts. Ama had a month left to untangle the portal script. She'd never indicated she was on the verge of giving up. Her spirits had even seemed high this morning, when she'd assumed Sid was sneaking off with Damian for something other than studying. Sweet, kind Ama wouldn't wake up so damned early to study if she wasn't determined to succeed. And she surely wouldn't decide it was time to go home without saying goodbye.
The Guardians had gotten to her. They'd given up on her. Who knows where they'd taken her and what horrible things they had planned.
Obsidian imagined poor Ama, broken and bloody on the floor. She screeched, hurriedly threw a shirt and breeches on, and rushed out the door.
Once she reached Damian's room she pounded on the door, danced back and forth on her feet, then banged again.
Finally, the door cracked open, a bleary-eyed Damian peering out. "Obsidian? I thought we agreed to get some rest. And why aren't you in your dedicant robes?"
"Let me in. I need to talk to you. Now." She flapped her hands, the jolt of worry infusing a nervous energy in her.
He ushered her in and closed the door behind them. "It's safe to come out, Bishop."
The other-worlder slipped out of the bathroom, took one look at Sid, and cocked his head. "What's wrong?"
Was it that obvious? Of course it was. She was scared to death for the kindest person she'd come across in this den of vipers. "It's Ama."
"Your roommate? The one having problems with the portal script?" Damian rubbed his forehead. He appeared exhausted, and she felt guilty for interrupting his sleep, but this couldn't wait.
Sid nodded, vigorously, hoping to emphasize her upcoming point. "She's gone."
Damian quirked the eyebrow, though it didn't rise all the way this time. "What do you mean gone?"
"I mean her bed is stripped and all of her stuff is missing."
He sighed. "It happens. Not everyone has the wherewithal to succeed as a Guardian. She's likely on her way home."
Infuriating man. "No, she still had a month to decipher the portal language. And she never would have left without..." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Without saying goodbye. I'm sure of it. I think the Guardians have done something much worse to her."
Damian rolled his eyes. "Not this again. I'm telling you, even though I know the council members are keeping secrets, we're not exactly sure what they're hiding, but I assure you it's not something like this."
"Wait. You're positive they're hiding something?" Bishop stepped forward, nostrils flaring. "You never mentioned that."
"Oh, for the love of the Ancients. It's not information you need to know. All I know is that my mother reacted when I asked her about Guardians having magic in the past. It doesn't change the fact that you need to go home."
Bishop glowered at both of them.
"Hey, don't go directing your ire at me." Sid crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm just worried about my friend."
"You've only known her for a couple days." A corner of Damian's mouth twitched.
Sid back-handed his arm. "And she's the kindest person I've met since arriving here. I just want to know what happened."
Damian rubbed his arm, brows drawing together. "Fine. If it will settle your mind, I'll inquire of her whereabouts with the council tomorrow."
"Not tomorrow. Now." Tomorrow might be too late. Even now it might be too late. "If I'm right and they... Please, Damian."
He closed his eyes and nodded. "Now it is. If I can find a council member. They're usually quite busy. Stay here with him." His pointing finger had more anger in it than it ought to. She couldn't tell if it was due to her or Bishop.
Damian shook his head and left.
Obsidian hoped she was wrong. And yes, even if Damian asked a council member, they could lie through their teeth to him. Hopefully he'd spot it, though, like he had with his mother.
But if she was right. She'd do everything in her power to save Ama -- she was unwilling to leave the sweet woman to a dire fate.
Chapter 28 - Expected July 2021.