I could hear the endless thunder as I slept that night. Its deep, drawn out voice rolled constantly across the sky. And though I was unnerved by everything, the elongated sound of the booming voices calmed me down. It was rare that my emotions got thrown out of balance, and yet, this one day had somehow made it so. I did not like the feeling it brought upon me, but it was one I had to deal with.
The sun rose across the eastern sky the following morning. The storm clouds, which seemed to be settled now, were painted stunning shades of pink and orange. My eyes slowly opened to a beam of sunlight directly aimed at my face. It was not often that I slept on the couch, an event I always regretted the morning after. My body ached. It was something Guardians normally did not have to deal with. I assumed the aching I felt was a result of the mental torment I had previously suffered. My head also seemed to reflect the day prior—it was pounding relentlessly. I lay there trying not to think too much about the day before, but it was something I could not avoid.
The world I once knew now seemed to be a blur. I wanted to be wrong. A majority of myself wanted all of what had happened in the previous twenty-four hours to be a dream—a terrible, terrible dream. But it was hard to ignore the fact that I knew it was not. My mind began to wonder and finally stumbled across the one thing I had not seemed to focus on fully as of yet: my charge. I felt ashamed that I had only been worrying about myself. What kind of Guardian had I become? Had the world of Man taken such a toll on me that I allowed the irrational behavior of selfishness to affect me? I felt a surge of guilt shatter against my body.
The time had come for me to stop thinking of my troubles, just for a bit, and start thinking about my charge. I needed to find her. I needed to protect her. Above all, I needed to save her from an unfortunate fate that I believed was the result of the Council. Once again I hoped they were not involved in such a thing. And in all truthfulness, I had no proof.
Peridis, I thought to myself, please hurry. In some way I knew he would hear me. It was always said that Shadows were always around, always listening, always watching. It was a slightly fearful thought if one were to dwell on it too long. Thinking of Peridis made me think about the Records and how he would get past the Record Keepers.
The difference between Record Keepers and Shadows was simple, and very obvious. Record Keepers were hired, loyal servants to the Council. They were the only ones privileged enough to know every piece of Daemon history that existed. Shadows were normally once high ranking members of the Teriosec society that defied the Council in some way. As a rebellion they seek to find out whatever information they can to destroy the Council’s power over the Teriosec Empire.
How long I would have to wait for Peridis to show up, I did not know. My mind started to get to me. I had been left alone with my thoughts for too long. I once again questioned why I was relying so heavily on a Shadow. Did I feel so betrayed by everyone that I did not have a choice? In truth I knew not enough information to justify anything. I had no proof that anything was truly wrong; I only had my own suspicions. For once, I needed to trust my own feelings on this.
I knew the longer I lay there, the more my thoughts would consume me. I pulled myself into a sitting position. My body sat there, heavy, almost lifeless. I had not felt such bodily exhaustion since… I did not want to let my mind think of what once was. I could only hope to move forward with thoughts of my charge and my charge alone. I snapped my fingers and let my heavy hand drop back down beside me. It was strange to think that I was experiencing something that was so…so…human. The balcony doors swung open.
A breeze danced its way into the dungeon-like room. The smell of rain previously falling filled the air. The calming sensation sent a wave of healing over me. Oddly my body felt lighter, better. I never understood the calming effects of storms on me. I never questioned it though. The sensation of feeling so peaceful made me not want to question that which I found incredible.
I stood up and wondered slowly over to the balcony doorway. Once there I stood still. I let my arms hang at my side and closed my eyes. The breeze was again danced its way through. I smiled as I felt it caress my face. My hair intertwined with the breeze and danced with it. I felt myself smile a genuine smile.
I walked to the edge of the wall-less balcony and peered down into the cloud abyss. I wanted to know what it would be like to just fall through the sky. I just wanted release everything and drop to the world of Man below. I stood there and began to clear my mind. I knew that I had not much time to waste.
“Find her,” a whisper came to my ear. I spun around to try and see who was there. No one stood near. The soft, feminine voice had gone as quickly as it came. I began to think all that had happened within the last day made it so that my mind could not rest. And as such, the words I thought now seemed so real to me. Exhaustion and confusion plagued my mind. They were feelings I did not enjoy getting used to.
I ran my hands over my face, rubbing my eyes in the process. I walked to the very center and stopped, staring at the ground. I pointed my index finger and began slowly spinning in a circle, my finger drawing symbols on the ground. To the north I drew the symbol of the Council. To the east I scrawled the symbol of the Navis. To the south I placed the symbol of the Fortuna. And to the west I drew the symbol of the Guardians. Each symbol was required for the ritual of finding. Finally, I drew a ritual circle enclosing the symbols and binding them together.
I stood there slowly spinning around. I gazed down at each symbol as I twirled passed it. I knew I needed to proceed with the ritual but thoughts of what Peridis might discover filled my mind. I had never felt so distracted and disoriented in my life. I could not help but wonder when I would hear from him next.
“A Guardian,” I heard a disgusted voice from behind me. I turned to see a sickly-like figure standing before me. His eyes pierced into mine the same way Peridis’s had. Something was much different than that of Peridis though. It took a moment for me to realize what it was: he was not afraid of me. His stance was cautious and shocked. I could tell that he was struggling hard to not let me see what he was thinking in his eyes; I could not read them.
I pulled my hands behind my back and concentrated as hard as I could to conjure a weapon. My thoughts were all over the place and lacked the concentration I needed. It felt like an eternity had passed before I felt a dagger appear in my hand. I stood my ground and maintained a calm appearance. I wanted to make sure whomever this was did not sense danger.
“Who are you?” I questioned as I tightly gripped the weapon. I was ready to throw it at any instant. I considered the option of summoning the other Guardians in case something were truly about to happen. I needed to step with caution as I played out my next few decisions.
“I am O’inzahn,” the man spoke in just as chilling a voice as Peridis had. His tone was laced with no respect—disgust was clearly there. His appearance, like Peridis, was terrifying. Though unlike Peridis, O’inzahn appeared much cleaner and more put together. His hair was a as dark as the night; he had it pulled back so that you could truly see the terror in his face. His eyes were a dark red, almost evil in their appearance.
“And why are you here O’inzahn?” My tone was harsh. “It is quite obvious as to what you are. And apparently you know what I am.” His glare did not stir from my eyes. “Why are you in my presence?” I could feel a look of disgust light my face as I played the part of a Guardian towards a Shadow. I did not know if he was trust worthy, and as such, I did what I would normally do in such situations.
He showed no fear as a Shadow should towards a Guardian. “I was told by another to come to his call. I did not realize it would be to the repulse of a Guardian.” His tone became harsher than mine.
“I would watch my tone and words if I were you!” I was trying to gain his fearful respect. I had yet to make such a point though.
“Should I fear you?” he raised his eyebrow while asking. “Lucky for me, I am not you. You’re just another spoiled Guardian waiting for any chance you can to rid this realm of us ‘lowly’ Shadows. If you wish to kill me, go ahead. But do not insult me by hiding your weapon behind your back.”
My eyes widened. How could he have possibly known? Conjuration of a Guardian was silent, stealthy. It was more than apparent that my knowledge of what Shadows were capable of was extremely limited.
“How dare you,” was all I could seem to muster up in response. I clenched my jaw tight and made the dagger disappear.
“How dare I?” his tone specified further insult. “You know nothing of the Shadows but what is whispered in your ear by your precious Council. Your thoughts are given to you and you fight for a cause you know nothing about.” I’d never seen a Shadow so courageous in front of a Guardian. Not to mention that I had never heard of one speaking their mind so fluidly.
His opinions were just. Had I been any other Guardian he would have been dead for his tongue by now. Perhaps that made me weak.
“Well then, perhaps you should check with Peridis again about this Guardian before you continue with your overly formulated opinions.” I stared more intently into his eyes. I could tell his irritation with me was rising.
“What are you talking about?” He moved several steps closer to me. A small trail of Shadow mist lingered behind him for a moment before disappearing. “How do you know Peridis?”
My eyes looked at him confusingly. Was it not Peridis who sent him? I thought to myself. “Was it no he who sent you?”
“If it was, why would I ask how you know of him?” His gaze was just as confused as mine.
Fear struck me hard. If it was not Peridis who had sent him, who was it? I knew nothing good could come of this. I tried to not let my thoughts stray. Staying focused on O’inzahn was my current priority. If I did not—well I did care to think of the alternative.
“Before you decide to question my spoiled thoughts, you should speak with whoever sent you since they so clearly know me. And as for he who sent you, tell him this: do not send someone in his stead. Now leave my presence.” O’inzahn bowed his head and allowed the Shadow mist to take him from my sight.
I collapsed to the floor as soon as I knew he was fully out of my presence. My body trembled in shock. Someone other than Peridis had sent O’inzahn to me. This meant that others knew of my request of him. I began to feel fear course through me. If others knew of what I had asked, whether it be others Shadows or not, it meant the chances of the Council knowing were far greater than I had suspected.
My thoughts fell on the conversation the evening before. My memory flew through moments in which the other Guardians had told of their assignment: to watch me. Such a request of the Council would never be made so lightly. Something about this charge had sent everyone out of their normal balance. What was I so clearly missing that everyone saw? The only clue I had was the Fortuna. And even with that, the clue was small and almost non-existent.
A small breeze came and danced over me. I sat there and tried to calm myself down. There was nothing I could know for certain until Peridis returned. And though I knew I needed to search for my charge, I also knew that waiting to hear what Peridis found out was a far better option.
“Have you lost your mind?” Peridis asked in an irritated salutation. “Are you trying to shock every Shadow in the Daemon realm?” He stared down at me with his hands up in the arm out of frustration. I had been so focused on wanting him to return, I did not even realize he had returned.
I stood up and glared back into his eyes. “Is every Shadow in the Damon realm trying to get me killed?” My reply was quick and terrifying. I placed my hands on my hips and waited for his response.
“No my lady,” he bowed to me the same way I bowed to the Council. It was the same robotic bow that was always seen, but always ignored. “I sent O’inzahn to deliver a message. I did not, however, tell him that my lady was a Guardian. I suppose it goes without saying that he was a little shocked.” His last statement had the underlying tone of sarcasm.
“Shocked? Is that what you would call it? I was more leaning towards rude beyond all reason.”
“Yes well, O’inzahn has quite the opinion where the Immortals are concerned. You do not even want to get him started on his outlook on the Guardians.”
It was odd how O’inzahn had labeled us: the Immortals. It was a term that had been used over the years to refer to the Council, Guardians, Fortuna, and various others. It struck me odd when he said it though. Almost as if he himself was judging us. It was a title that made us seem arrogant, conceited--elitist in a sense. It was a title that I ultimately fell under but did not like.
“Yes, I picked up on that little fact.” I felt my body surge with anger. It was unexpected and I could not seem to stop it. Was I really allowing O’inzahn to hit my nerves in such a way? “Look, I summoned you for a reason I ne—,” I felt myself stop as if I could not finish my sentence.
A strong wind came rushing from the north, almost knocking me onto the ground. A feeling poured over me as it came. My heart stopped for a few moments. My stomach felt twisted and out of sorts. My eyes opened wide—I could sense my charge. I could feel her as if I were standing in front of her. But something was off. Something was different. Something felt wrong about finding my charge this way. I glanced down at the ceremonial circle. I had not even started my search and yet I had found her. Something was wrong.
“Let me guess,” he began as he strolled over and sat in a chair close to the doors, “you found your charge?” His tone almost seemed smug.
I tilted my head a little incuriosity and walked over to Peridis, folding my arms in the process. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Every Shadow has their ways of discovering information,” he responded curtly. I could sense him withholding the truth.
“You’ll have to forgive me Peridis, but I refuse to believe that. Especially considering I only just sensed her. How is it that you knew?” Respect and patience filled my question. I did not want him to withdraw and not tell me.
“Settle down there Guardian,” he instructed mockingly. “I asked for a favor from some—well let’s just call them higher Immortals, shall we?”
His answer did not please me in the slightest. The only higher Immortals that existed were the Council and at one time the Fortuna. I quickly eliminated the Fortuna from his favor. Though both Shadows and the Fortuna were hated by the empire, it was a safe assumption the two would never associate with each other. There was also the small fact that it had always been said the Fortuna lost their high Immortal status when severing ties from the Council.
“Higher Immortals?” I sighed. “Peridis, in the last twenty-four hours I have been told my new charge is female, The Fortuna still bless the Navis, the Council apparently wants me watched, Fading is being tracked, and some Shadows do not fear Guardians! I am not exactly in the mood to guess or get more confusing information. So you’ll tell me who it is you asked a favor of or so help me I promise you will regret becoming a Shadow.” I was out of breath. I tried to say as much as possible without gasping for air. Perhaps threatening Peridis was not the best of ideas, but I did not care. I was mentally exhausted with all the puzzle pieces not fitting together.
“Lady Vahliana,” he leaned towards me, “the more information you know, the more trouble you will be in. Please trust my word on this. Sometimes it is alright to know less than one wishes to.” His point was well made and without a doubt disregarded.
“And I understand that Peridis, but I do not care how much trouble I get into right now. That point alone should not need to be stated considering my association with you over the last day.” My tone was rude as I spoke this. It was quite rare that I was so abundantly rude. This was one of those times, and being this rude was the only way to get my point across.
“I cannot tell you, my lady,” he spoke somberly. The look in his seemed as if he wanted to tell me more than anything.
“What do you mean you cannot tell me? Who did you ask a favor of Peridis!?” My voice grew in irritation.
“All I can tell you is this: those that I work for are not quite ready for you to know who they are. When the time comes, you will know.”
“Work for? Shadows work for themselves.” Peridis belted out a laugh at this statement. “What?”
“Contrary to popular you belief,” he began correcting me, “Shadow do not operate on their own. We have always answered to one source since the beginning of our governmental existence.”
This knowledge took me by surprise. Every story ever told about the Shadows told of them working alone. So much so that Shadows did not even work together. Were they all lies meant to throw the Council off from knowing who they truly worked for?
“That is just not possible! Even the Council says you work alone.” I was trying my best to make him hint anything that would give me an answer.
“Well,” Peridis chuckled a bit, “that is what we have allowed them to think. My bosses have been very careful over the years. It is far easier for us Shadows to take the plunge for our work then let them fall. The reason there is any sense order is because of them. And when the time comes, you will find all of this out.”
Once again another puzzle piece had been added. And once again I was left standing at a dead end. I kept wondering how many more times this was going to happen to me. The annoyance of it all was beginning to wear on me.
“Why do I bother with questioning any of this?” I looked at Peridis in dismay. “All it does is lead to one dead end after the other.” We both were silent for a time. “I would like to ask you one last thing for now that I think you are able to answer. Are your bosses the ones that did me this favor?”
“Yes, they did.” He smiled gently as he said this. For a moment I could see past the terror of the Shadow façade. “The time will come soon when you will meet them. But you are not quite ready to see their faces. There will come a time when you will be much more willing to listen to them. When that day comes, they will tell you what you need to know.” With that he disappeared into his black mist and left my presence.
I stood there not knowing what to think. I attempted to list off all that could possibly be involved with the Shadows; I came up empty. I felt more confused than I ever had in the last day. I realized it was pointless to try and think too long on the matter. In the end, I needed to come to the realization that I was learning more about my kind. It was all coming to the surface now. All of the lies, all of the secrets, so many tangled webs of hidden truths laid before me.