Chapter III: Unnerving

I stood on a beach, the rain soaking the sand and myself.  The clouds were almost black, the darkest I’d ever seen.  My hair dripped icy water.  I looked out towards the ocean and could see the water undulating out of control.

“Vahl!” I heard my name shouted.  I spun around, my hair whipping me in the face.  I could tell the person who shouted was female, but she was a blur to me.  I could not make out her face and her voice was unfamiliar to me.  I went to move towards her, thinking it must have been the rain creating such an illusion, but I realized that I could not move.  I was stuck in place, as if the sand had trapped me.  An odd sound came from above my head.  I could not distinguish what it was.

“You must help her,” an elongated, seductive whisper said.  “The choice will be yours.”  The odd sound was heard again.  I felt myself falling.  Falling farther than it seemed possible.

The ground was hard, not soft like sand should have been.  I opened my eyes and saw a dark room, with myself lying on the floor.  A dream, it was a dream.  A knock came at the door, and I realized, that was the sound that I heard in my dream.  The knock came once again, this time it seemed softer.  I pulled myself off the ground, my eyes still adjusting to being awake.  Once again a knock came; whoever was there was clearly impatient.

I got to the door finally and slowly pulled it open.  I did not open it more than a crack.  My foot was braced behind the door.  I peered out into the night to see four hooded figures.

“The world of man has fallen far,” said one of the figures.  His deep voice seemed almost unrecognizable.

“And it is from this falling that the world of man is in chaos,” I replied without hesitation.  They all lowered the hoods and I suddenly remembered that Loki, Darion, Malachi, and Xandar were coming over tonight.  I could not believe I had forgotten.  “Please come in.”

I ushered them in with my hand.  They all entered and I shut the door quickly.  Loki had greeted me with a password we rarely used, one we made up years ago in case of an emergency.  Normally the guys found it necessary to tease me with the password; never had they used it in such a serious manner.  It almost had me worried.

“Could you keep it any darker in here Vahliana?  It’s like a dungeon in here,” Xandar was more than happy to point out.  Darion snapped his fingers and the room was lit.  My eyes squinted, I had just gotten used to the dark.

“So,” I switched the subject from Xandar’s humor, “capes and passwords, huh?  Is everything alright?”  I had to ask them.  Something was evidently wrong, no matter how they tried to hide it.

They all looked at each other.  Their gazes avoiding mine like the plague.  “No,” Loki said finally clearing the silence.  “Everything is not alright.”  His tone held a large amount of worry, one I’d never heard in his voice before.  Loki was known for being the calm one in the group.  If something was worrying him, it was probably worth something to worry.

Seeing the look on his face, and hearing his tone unnerved me.  Was this the something wrong I had sensed earlier?  It must have been.  A large clap of thunder sounded, I jumped and gasped.  Darion snapped his fingers again and shut the doors to the balcony.  I held my hand out, signaling for everyone to move into the living room.  They removed their capes and placed them on hooks behind the door.

They walked into the room at what seemed like a microscopic pace; it irritated me.  Malachi, Xandar, and Darion all sat on the couch closest to the door.  Loki stood by them like a statue; his stance and posture were perfect.  I sat in the adjacent couch, trying to mimic Loki’s posture.

“Care to fill me in?  Because if we’re being honest, using passwords and barely audible knocks has me a little worried.  Not to mention you telling me that something is wrong.”  Worried did not even scratch the surface of how I felt.  I did not feel the need to let any of them in at that moment.

Looks were once again exchanged between the four of them.  “We may have a small problem Vahliana,” Malachi spoke up.  He spoke my full name, something he’d only done a handful of times.  The normal, playful tone that existed between us was pushed aside.  The atmosphere was filled with thick tension—I did not like it.

“What problem?” I questioned, my eyes wide open.  I could feel the look of shock painted on my face.  It was obvious by the way they came here I knew a problem existed.  Did they think I could not see such a thing?

Darion shifted his position a bit and leaned forward to look at me.  “You already know that we were summoned by the Council today,” he spoke; clearly the only one of the four brave enough to tell me what was going on.  “Before we even got there, we could tell the situation was a bit off.  It was not hard to figure that much out.  I mean if you think about it, the last time more than one Guardian was summoned before the Council, was when we were all made Guardians.”

Darion was right.  The Council did not summon anyone on a whim.  If anything, they pressed to keep everything a secret.  To call upon anyone, especially the Guardians, without obvious knowledge to the Empire, was astounding.

“But,” Xandar decided he would speak now, “what really sent up a red flag for us was the fact that you had not been invited.  And we know, no matter how much you and the Council may but heads, they’d still invite you to the oh-so-wonderful staff meeting.”

Though staff meeting was never a word I would use, I knew what Xandar meant.  I was not the most prized of the Guardians, but I was none-the-less under Council orders.  It was odd to call upon the Guardians and leave one out.  I could not decide how much of that should bother me.  Though there was obviously more I had yet to hear.

“And of course,” Darion piped in again, “considering the fact that you are currently the one with a charge.”  True I was the only one on assignment.  It did not make any sense to not call upon myself for such a meeting.  The day seemed to press on more confusingly; it was beginning to take its toll on me.

I did not mind the little introduction about how they felt, but I needed to know what was going on.  “So, what happened then?” I asked calmly.

“So like,” Malachi started in his annoying use of speech, “we got in the meeting right?  Blah, blah the woman announces us.”  Darion’s eyes stared at Malachi, wide open in disbelief.  Xandar burst out laughing as Loki shot Malachi a glare I’d never seen him use before.

“Come on Malachi!” Loki snapped.  “Now I see why Vahliana gets irritated with your speech.”  I covered my mouth with one, hiding my smile as I fought back laughter.  Loki was practically our leader, not to mention the fact that he and Malachi were the closest of friends.  It took quite a bit for Loki to snap at Malachi.  “Anyway, you could tell when we got there that something was wrong.  They did not tell us much about the new charge.  But that of course only made sense because the charge is yours, not ours.  However, we did receive an assignment.”

My eyes shot wide open.  “Excuse me!?  You got what?”  What on Earth was going on here?  Had I missed some sort of memo stating that today had in fact been Conspiracy Day?  I could not seem to add up any of the small bits of information I had.  I could not seem to come up with any kind of theory.  “What did they ask of you?” I finally mustered the question up.

“Are you sure you wish to know?” Loki asked.  His eyes looked into mine with great concern.  I had not seen such a look from him in a very long time.  My eyes started tearing slightly as memories came flooding back.  I stood up and turned away from them so as not to let Loki see.

“Yes,” I finally responded, trying to hide the emotions welling up inside of me.  “I would not have asked if I did not care.”

“We’re to watch you,” Darion said with slight fear in his voice.  I spun back around to face them.  My jaw was dropped.  My eyes pushed the tears away to replace them with flames.  I was hoping I had misheard him.

“What do you mean watch me?” I questioned, trying to hide the anger surging through me.  Being monitored was absolutely unheard of.  My mind immediately thought of Peridis—was this why I was being watched?  The thought was quickly discarded as I remembered I’d summoned him after the other had been summoned to the Council.

Loki walked over to me and placed his hand on both my shoulders, “We’re not sure wh—“

“Don’t!” I said just loud enough for him to hear.  My emotions kept changing rapidly.  It was almost unbearable.  “Please don’t Loki,” I whispered, pleading with him.  “Not now.  And certainly not after all this time.”  Loki’s eyes gazed into mine. 

The look was strong and compassionate.  It was a look I had never thought I would see from him again.  It was a look that I did not need adding to everything that was already going on.  I peered over Loki’s shoulder, Malachi stood within my view.  He gave a faint sigh and shook his head.  My eyes finally met his gaze, begging him to make Loki stop.

“All we know,” Malachi thankfully interrupted, “is that something is up where the Council is concerned.”

“We’re much more likely to watch the Council and figure out what is going on with them rather than you,” Xandar explained in a reassuring tone.  I stepped backwards, pulling away from Loki.  His arms fell to his sides, his face pained.  I did not have time to ponder on Loki in conjunction with the obvious state of madness swirling around me.

Loki lowered his head and took a deep breath in.  “Just know that we are on your side Vahliana,” Loki agreed, finally peering back up at me.  His eyes were filled with sadness.  “We’ll be monitoring the Council very closely.  If one false move is made, we’ll all plan what action take.”  His words surprised me; they were suspicious.  I began to wonder if the Council had been making suspicious actions for some time.  But why did I have this intense feeling as if something were being kept from me?

“Well for right now, that’s all there really is, Vahli,” Darion said nonchalantly.  His tone made it out like nothing was wrong.  “Besides, if we stay here for too long, we’ll be detected.  And we definitely do not want that to happen, now do we?”  It was sad to admit that Darion had a fine point.

Any meeting held by all five Guardians, outside of the public eye, could be considered treason and conspiracy.  If we were all detected in one place for too long, it would most likely lead to a punishment none of us dare to consider.

“I understand.  Please, be careful on your way out.”  Considering the day, I did not want to take any chances.  And with the Council acting as weird as they had been, I did not know if we all were being watched.  We all began to walk towards the door when a thought had crossed my mind.  “Gentlemen, I have a question before you leave.”  Why the thought had not knocked me over before, I did not know.

“What’s that Vahli?” Xandar responded with the obvious question.

“Why did you use the door?” I had to know.  Guardians had the ability to Fade.  It was a form of teleporting we used, but because of how it looked, we called it Fading.

“Simple,” Darion spoke.  “We’re trying to be discrete and not get caught.  I thought that was obvious.”  His tone was cheeky.

“Thanks,” I replied sarcastically.  “The discrete part was obvious.  What on Earth does that have to do with not Fading in?”  Clearly I was missing the simple aspect.  I felt stupid not being able to figure it out.

“Darion, she doesn’t know,” Malachi spoke softly.  It was almost as if he did not want me to hear what he was saying.

“Doesn’t know what?”  I placed my hands on my hips in an irritated notion.  I was becoming very tired of all the secrets—of all the lies.  I wanted answers, but it seemed in order to get any, I had to fight.

“The Council,” Loki started and hesitated for a second, “has been tracking Fading for some time now.”  These words seemed to hit me harder than anything that had previously happened in the day.

My body felt cold, terrified.  Everything around me seemed to pull out of my realm as my focus was now entirely on the fact that I was questioning everything.  In my head, I was in disbelief—I was completely unnerved.  The world I had clearly known for so long, was not what it had appeared to be.

“Vahliana,” I heard something in the distance call.  “Vahliana,” something called out again, my body was shaking now as I was pulled back to reality.  “Are you okay?” Loki asked in a gentle tone.

“Yes,” I answered sheepishly.  “Forgive me.  I have had an extremely long day.  And to be quite honest, I do not have time for this conversation.  I need this day to be over.”  My mind, my body, they were both beyond exhausted.

“We understand Vahliana,” Loki said sweetly while rubbing my back with one hand in consolation.  “Rest well.  We’ll try to find another time to finish this up.”

I nodded my head in agreement, but my attention barely lie with them now.  I opened the door for them.  They all began to walk out.

“Hey guys, I’ll catch up in a minute,” Malachi called out to the others.  He shut the door and stood there for a minute staring at me.  His presence made me feel uncomfortable.  Something about Malachi always did.  Perhaps it was his black eyes—they always seemed deceiving to me.  But since Loki had always trusted him, I did as well.

“Is everything alright Malachi?” I finally asked, trying to break the silence.  Malachi and I had always had a tenuous relationship.  His humor and lack of decorum irritated every fiber of my being.  Yet we still maintained a friendship, no matter how fragile that friendship was.

His eyes still just stared at me.  I felt like he was analyzing me.  “I know that things between you and Loki have been awkward since…well you know,” he finally spoke.  Malachi knew of what had once existed between Loki and I, unlike the others.  I was always thankful for the fact that I knew he would keep it secret.  “I noticed that Loki’s emotions kind of came through this evening and I wanted to make sure that you’re okay Vahliana.”

There it was again: my full name.  Once again Malachi had uttered it.  His sincerity still felt odd to me.  What was it about Malachi that I could never completely see past?  I always ignored what I felt about him.  I must have been wrong.  Loki always saw the true colors of others.

I turned away so as not to see his stare, but I could still feel it.  “I am fine.  Well at least, as much as I can be.  What he and I had…it no longer exists.”

“And yet you both crave it.”  My eyes shot open, pained, tear filled.  How could Malachi know what I craved?  Sure, Loki must have spoken to Malachi about things over the years, but I certainly never had.  I tried to keep myself reserved.

“I suppose our suffering is meant to be then.”  My pessimism was coming though.  It was another way for me to try and hide.

“I know Vahli,” he said almost condescendingly.  I wanted to throttle him for saying that.  He had no ideas what or Loki went through or felt—despite what Loki had shared.  “Just know that, no matter how our friendship is, I am here for you if you ever need anything.”  It was the most sincere I had ever heard Malachi.  Something about it still felt off to me.  Once again I ignored the feeling.

“Thank you Malachi.”  He nodded as if to say ‘you’re welcome’ and walked out the door.  I shut it behind him.  As soon as I heard the latch click, I slid down the door and put my knees to my chest.  I let my arms fall to my sides, my palms facing up.  I tilted my head back and closed my eyes for a moment.  “Why Loki?  Why, today of all days?”  Was all of today a dream?  Was all of this actually happening to me?

My thoughts were forming and fading fast; I felt lost.  Since my meeting with the Council earlier, to this very moment, every event was confusing.  Each new bit of information was more twisted than the last.  What was I to do?  I picked myself off the ground and walked once again over to the couch.  My body ached with fatigue.  I laid down, curling myself up, my thoughts still creating endless trails of worries and confusions.  I needed to stop thinking.  I needed to let my mind ease.  I needed to rest.  My eyes grew heavier and heavier with each passing moment.  I…just…needed…to…sleep…

The End

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