The day was just beginning to draw to a close when Rawlin and Ajay neared the village where Father lived. His father lived on the other side of the valley and Rawlin often felt as though it was never far enough way. That he could walk the entire distance there in such a short time was sometimes still too close for comfort. It was almost as if even across that distance he could still feel Father’s judgement and expectations.
Ajay had taken the chance to explain some of what he could expect from being paired with her or at least what she knew of it. Apparently there wasn’t much that had been recorded about how pairings worked or even what a pair was capable of doing. Certain things like the telepathy had been noted however. Mostly this was because there were some pairs in the past who had preferred to speak to each other with their minds more than anything else. Such Guardians would often have large gaps in conversations with other people and not realize it.
To an extent Rawlin understood why they would do so. Ajay demonstrated that they could often times communicate far better with their minds than they could with speech as they could share their emotions and thoughts without necessarily having to use words. It ultimately lead to a greater level of clarity that was otherwise impossible.
“What is your father like?” Ajay asked, breaking Rawlins mind free from his thoughts.
He shrugged, a mixture of emotions ran through him at the thought of seeing Father again, “He takes tradition and custom very seriously.”
“Doesn’t sound as though you like him much.”
“I’ve just never enjoyed his company much.”
“You don’t even live in the same village. Is that typical, do all kids move out?”
Rawlin took a deep breath, almost wanting to ask Ajay to stop asking him questions about his childhood. They were not memories he liked to visit very often. “Let’s just say that I wasn’t typical. Moving away was very much a break in tradition.”
Ajay regarded him with a strange look, “I always thought that being able to know who my parents were would have been one of the best things.”
“You don’t know who your parents are?”
She shook her head, “I was raised with all the other children at school.”
Rawlin stopped walking, he could see the first house just up ahead through the trees. It occurred to him that while his father might like to meet Ajay he didn’t know how the rest of the village would react. He could fight on her behalf, but he couldn’t fight everyone and Ajay was in no condition to be trying to defend herself.
“Ajay, I think it best if I bring my father to you.”
“Why? Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?” She asked with a grin.
“No, not that. I am just worried that people might not react well to you.”
Ajay frowned, “I don’t like hiding from people.”
“Would you rather they try and kill you? I might be able to talk some people out of it, but not everyone listens to reason the same.”
“Fine. But only this once.”
“I will be right back with him. If you see any people coming down the path, try to avoid them.”
Ajay nodded, stepped off the trail and settled down in a shaded patch of grass, “Any other rules for me?”
Rawlin frowned but didn’t say anything.
“Well what are you standing there for? Your father won’t fetch himself. Go. I’ll be fine. If Rex comes around I’ll skin him for you.”
Rawlin worked his jaw for a moment but decided it wasn’t worth a response. So without egging her on any further he turned and returned to the path.
It only took another few moments for Rawlin to reach his fathers house. It looked just as he remembered, slightly run down and larger than it had a right to be. His father would likely be inside sitting in a wood chair pushed up against a wall with a view out a window reading a book or carving something into a small wooden post.
For a moment Rawlin lingered before the door, mentally preparing himself for the encounter, for a moment he felt Ajay brush against his mind, exuding curiosity about the village and Rawlin’s father. He brushed her presence aside, he would need his focus if he was going to be able to convince his father to come with him.
Not wanting to wait any long, he raised his fist up and knocked once on the door. A moment of silence passed and Rawlin knocked once again, knowing that Father would wait a few moments before answering in hopes that whoever was at the door would go away.
A third knock brought up Father’s obstinate voice, “Alright, fine, come in.”
Rawlin stepped into the dark room and closed the door behind him. “What do you want? Better not be about those damn chickens again Farrok, I already made myself clear.” Father said.
Quietly Rawlin made his way to the room where Father’s voice was coming from, making sure not to step on the floor boards that creaked. It was a habit he had picked up when he was a child from trying to sneak around the house without Father yelling at him.
Just as he thought, Father sat in a chair pushed up against a wall with a clear view out the window to the center of the village. On the floor before him was a thick layer of wood chips left over from carvings that now sat collecting dust on shelves or crammed in between books.
Father’s Atie sword and blue sash hung like ornaments from the left corner of his chair, and on the right hung a buckskin vest that marked Father as an Elder of the village. Both the sword and that vest were among Father’s most treasured possessions. Rawlin was glad at least he hadn’t been living with his Father when the man had become an Elder.
Father looked up and let out a sigh, “Oh, it’s you.”
“I don’t believe that is how fellow Guardians should greet each other.”
“No, but it is how a father should great a son who left for an entirely different village.”
“That was almost ten years ago.”
“Doesn’t matter, you broke tradition and made me look like a fool. It was bad enough that your mother left but what you did is almost unforgivable.”
Rawlin opened his mouth to retort but Father cut him off, “No, I don’t want to hear it. Whatever you are here for I am sure you can handle it, you’re a Guardian now so man up and be one.”
“You wouldn’t even help if I said it had to do with the something completely out of the ordinary happening at the Ceremony?”
“Shouldn’t you be going to the Elders from your village? Or better yet other Guardians?”
“You are a Guardian, are you not? I at least followed that family tradition.” Rawlin shot back.
Father fell silent for a moment. Rawlin took the moment to draw a deep breath and try to relax. “Listen, no one else I know of understands the Gate as well as you. I could really use your help.”
“Fine, what is it?”
“The Gate opened.”
Father stood in a rush and seized Rawlin by the shoulders shouting, “What do you mean the Gate opened! Why didn’t you just start with that?”
“Tell me everything that happened. Right now.”
“Well, Father, I’d actually like you to meet someone. She knows more than I do.”
Father nodded eagerly, “Well where is she then?”
“She is just outside the village. I thought that with what Elder Rex already did to her, discretion would be best.”
“Rex might have rocks for brains but he wouldn’t do something without reason. Did this woman get caught up in the Ceremony? There have been a few times that side affects from the magic have been less than desirable.”
Rawlin let out a sigh, “It’s a bit more complicated than that. You will understand when you meet her.”
Father grinned like a child, strapped on his sword and sash and then threw his vest on on. “Lead the way then.”
When Rawlin got back to where he had left Ajay by the road he reached out to her with his mind and said, Alright, I am back, where are you?
To your left a ways, there is a creek just a bit off the path. Ajay said as she sent him an image of the creek.
Father crossed his arms and asked, “Well? Where is she?”
“I didn’t leave her by the road. She’s this way.”
Ajay was stretched out on her back by the creek, eyes closed, soaking in the sun. As Rawlin drew near she sat up and watched as he pushed through the branches. You know there was an easier way to get here, she said with a snicker.
I wasn’t looking for the easy way, just the fast way. Father is impatient.
Rather than respond she gave him a strange smile and stood. Father broke into the clearing just behind Rawlin. He froze solid when his eyes fell upon Ajay and his jaw fell open.
“This isn’t some sort of joke is it Rawlin? Did Dain put you up to this?”
Rawlin shook his head, “Father, this is Ajay. Ajay, this is my Father, Dicen.”
Ajay bowed slightly, “May Saelu’s light bless this greeting.”
Father closed his mouth and touched two fingers to his lips.
What is that supposed to mean? Ajay asked.
It is how people great Guardians. It means that they won’t lie. Or at least that’s the idea.
Ajay smiled and responded in kind, touching two of her fingers to her lips.
“When you said that something out of the ordinary happened at your Ceremony I never would have imagined this.” Dicen said.
“Like I said we could use your help.”
“But how did she get through?”
“After I was selected in our Ceremony, I went to the Gate and used my magic to activate it.” Ajay said, “All it took was for someone on this side to do their part. Rawlin here is responsible for that. And well, here I am.”
“Right, the Ceremony activates the Gate for a short time. But that doesn’t explain why you are here?”
“That’s not a question easily answered.”
Dicen crossed his arms, “Try me.”
Ajay took a breath, “Emperor Draxan is gathering the necessary supplies to open the Gate. He intends to return the Trax to Otium.”
“About time the Trax make a move to come back.”
“It isn’t exactly our choice.” Ajay said, “My people are fading. With each passing year we fade a little more, less are born and more die. Draxan, however, believes that your kind will not allow us to return and has vowed to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the Trax return unimpeded, even if it means killing everyone in the valley.”
“And you are here to, what try and stop him?”
Rawlin watched as his Father nodded, wondering what the man would say. After a moment Dicen said, “You realize your success might come at the price of destroying the possibility of your people returning to Otium.”
Again Ajay nodded, “I do not wish for the Trax to die, but nor do I want Draxan as my Emperor.”
Dicen nodded slowly tapping his fingers on his arm, “You are of the Kixlan
family aren’t you?”
“How could you tell?”
Dicen shrugged, “The Kixlan’s have always been peace loving. If I remember right it was the Kixlan family that was originally overthrown back before the Trax were sent through the Gate.”
He does know much about the Gate and my people, Ajay said.
Rawlin gave a slight nod, This is but a minor detail to him, he knows much more.
Dicen cocked his head, eyes darting between Ajay and Rawlin. “Orbin curse me,” he said, “You two completed the full Ceremony didn’t you?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Rawlin said, prickling at the comment.
“That’s not what I said Rawlin. Does any one else know about this?”
“No, Rex was there when Ajay came through, but I asked him to leave after he became a little unruly.”
Dicen nodded, “I am assuming that Rex is also the one that beat her?”
Both Rawlin and Ajay nodded simultaneously. Dicen let out a bit of a sigh, it was one of the rare times that Rawlin had ever seen his father show remorse. “A damn shame that the first Trax to walk in Otium in countless years receives that kind of treatment. Why did he do it?”
“He demanded to know how I had opened the Gate and why I was here.” Ajay said, “I overheard Rex and some others arguing about how I fit into their plans to either kill my people or destroy the Gate.”
Rawlin spoke up, “Like I said Father, we need your help, you are the only one who would know anything about this and whether the Gate could actually be destroyed.”
“Have you not learned that anything dealing with the Gate is not that simple Rawlin? Did you not learn that much from what I taught you? The Gate is a thing of magic, destroying it would be like trying destroy a river. You might be able to change where the river flows, or even stop it momentarily, but it can not be destroyed.”
“So then what?” Rawlin asked.
“Well, they could shatter this version of the Gate but with enough time another will simply manifest elsewhere in the valley. It is much more likely that they would try and kill the Trax as they came through the Gate. I am sure Ajay knows very well how disorienting such a journey can be.”
Ajay gave a little nod before Dicen continued, “That is most likely their plan then.”
Rawlin frowned, “So what are we supposed to do then?”
“Well there are a few things you could do. For instance you could go through the Gate and warn the Trax of what is being planned. You could also just kill Rex and his followers but that might not be reasonable. There’s also a chance for you to prevent them from opening the Gate when they plan to do so by simply stopping any one of the many steps they must take to open the Gate. Or lastly, you bring the Trax here before Rex and the others are prepared to act.”
Rawlin frowned. It couldn’t be so simple as Father was making it out to seem. They could keep the Trax alive by preventing them from returning to Otium, but that would only be a temporary solution. Yet on the other hand if they allowed the Trax to travel through the Gate before Rex was ready, Draxan’s ambitions and goals would then become problematic and they would have to deal with what problems that might cause.
At the moment Rawlin felt as though keeping the Trax out of harms way was the best solution at the moment. He wasn’t willing to bet on Draxan’s cooperation nor did he feel comfortable with betting that Draxan would be civil when he arrived in Otium.
“There’s something else that you should know.” Ajay said, “About why I am here.”
Rawlin gave her an expectant look, she shifted slightly as though she was uncomfortable, “Draxan wishes to reclaim not only our homeland, but also Saelu’s Scepter.”
“Which is what exactly?” Rawlin asked.
Dicen let out an annoyed sigh as though this was something else that Rawlin should have learned when he was a child. It wasn’t as though he could possibly remember all of the things Father taught him. Besides he had only been a kid then. Rawlin almost opened his mouth to argue the point but thought better of it.
Ajay didn’t seem to notice Father’s sigh and said, “It is said that each of the four Gods left behind a single artifact in Otium when they finished their work of creation. Saelu, the creator of the Trax and the source of our magic, left behind a scepter which, as you can imagine, is immensely powerful. When my people were originally banished from Otium, Saelu’s Scepter was left behind and remains here in the valley. Likely it is amongst the ruins of where we lived.”
“The land your people left behind has become a dark place.” Dicen said, “The magic left over from the war has done strange things there and regaining the Scepter, let alone the land would be no easy task.”
Ajay frowned, “Draxan will stop at nothing to get the Scepter. His plans depend greatly on it. Whatever plagues there maybe in the land, Saelu’s Scepter could easily remove them.”
Rawlin took a breath, “It won’t matter what Draxan has planned if he never makes it through the Gate alive. I think we need to first focus on addressing whatever it is that Rex is up to.”
Dicen nodded, “I agree. Rex and those with him are the biggest concern right now and stopping them should be a priority. We need to think of some way to figure out what they know.”
“Do you know of anything that would be strong enough to kill that many people?” Rawlin asked.
“No, not necessarily. One of the other artifacts maybe, or perhaps Rex has his eyes on the Scepter as well.” Dicen said.
Ajay shook her head, “Humans wouldn’t be able to control the Scepter. Rawlin, you might be able to only because of the Ceremony, but beyond that, Saelu’s Scepter would be useless to humans. Why don’t we just kill Rex and be done with it?”
“We would have to be prepared to kill all of his followers. For all we know their plan can still succeed if only one person carries it out.” Rawlin said, “We don’t even know how many of them their might be.”
“Not to mention that we don’t know if Rex is at the head of everything.” Dicen added, “Given how most people view the Trax it is likely that there are others like Rex spread throughout the various villages around the valley.”
Ajay frowned, “People don’t like us?”
“No, they don’t, especially with the way many Elders choose to present the Trax in stories.” Dicen scowled and cracked his knuckles, “Rex is known for his vitriol. I’ll never understood why you moved there Rawlin.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment as everyone sunk into their own thoughts, mulling over what had been revealed.
Dicen finally broke the silence, “At the moment it doesn’t matter what you choose to do. It is beginning to get late and you don’t look nearly prepared enough to stay out during the night.”
Of course Father would say that, he might as well openly chastise Rawlin for not having thought to bring more things with him. He could almost hear Father say that Rawlin never planned ahead and that it would one day be the death of him.
“You both are welcome to come back to my house for the night. Most people here would love to meet you Ajay, and those that aren’t will stay out of the way.”
“How can you be sure of that? Did I mention what Rex did?” Rawlin said.
“I think I’d know a little bit about my own village Rawlin. Besides you have a sword, and I think you should know how to use it by now. Or do I need to swing it for you?”
Rawlin, Ajay scolded, I am in no shape to try and spend the night in the woods without any provisions. Whatever issues you have with your Father we need a place to stay tonight.
He couldn’t help but feel resentful of accepting Fathers offer. After all he had sworn to himself that he would never again live under his father’s roof once he moved out. So it was with great reluctance that he finally let out a sigh and said, “We would be more than happy to stay with you Father.”
Was that so hard to do? Ajay asked.
We still have the rest of the night to get through.