Burai walked up to the entrance of the school at exactly the stroke of noon, as the Canadians counted the hours. He pulled his feet from his shoes, picked them up and stored them in his satchel before opening the door.
However, he was blasted back as the double-doors flew open in a hurry, followed by a portly sour-faced young woman, her dark blond hair bouncing after her. From behind her, he could hear a familiar voice yelling after the woman.
“Do you hear me, Kayla? Never again! You stay the hell away from this school or its students, or next time the cops will be dragging you out!”
“It’s public land!” the young woman called Kayla replied. “The cops won’t do anything!”
“This isn’t public property anymore. Don’t come back!”
“You think we’re going to stand for this kind of treatment? You’re infringing our rights, Lily, and this isn’t the last you’ve heard of this!” Kayla finally said, then turned on a heel and left.
Lily stood there, watching Kayla leave and heaving angrily. She looked over to Burai.
“It appears I have come at a bad time,” Burai commented innocently.
Lily shook her head. “Kayla Winder,” he said. “Resident dumb bitch.”
“Ah yes,” Burai said. “I’ve heard her name. She speaks for the Muggles, does she not?”
“She’ll tell you it’s a harmless ideology,” Lily explained. “But it sounds a little too much like some other so-called ideologies I’d thought we’d left behind on Earth. It’s just another terrorist group waiting to happen.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry you had to see that, Burai. I’ve been under some stress today.”
“Ah, yes. I had heard of the Halish withdrawal from the area this morning. I had assumed Lieutenant Wicket had been called back as well.”
Burai saw the effect his statement had on Lily, as much as she tried to hide it, he knew she was disappointed.
“He was,” Lily explained. “He was part of the last group to leave.” She turned around and gestured for Burai to enter. If she were going to say anything else, she made no indication. She led Burai down a long hallway with curious designs and drawings on the walls. Burai could recognize their source anywhere. They were drawings made by children. They were pinned to boards all through the halls of the academy, but eventually he was led to a door marked Office, and inside through another door. Lily’s name was written on a piece of paper on the door. She gestured for Burai to sit.
Burai bowed graciously to Lily and withdrew a corked bottle from his bag. “I have something for you, Lily. A gift. It is customary amongst the Caeden to bring a gift for our host.”
Lily raised an eyebrow. “That’s not necessary, Burai, I–”
“Oh, but it is. Refusal of the gift means a refusal of the person. If you were to refuse the gift, I would be forced to leave.” He looked her in the eye. “It is our way.”
Lily sighed. “What is it?”
Burai passed her the unmarked bottle. “There is a particular kind of fruit that grows on the southern coast of Caede,” he explained. “We call it the ananae. It is an often sour fruit, but when sweetened and fermented, makes the most delicious wine.”
“It’s not magick wine, is it? The last time you gave me something, it turned out being a little more than just a bauble.”
“Oh, no. It is just wine. I promise you.”
Lily reached out and took the wine from it. The look she gave it was one of suspicion.
“Oh,” Burai said suddenly. “The gift has offended you somehow? What is it? I will make amends.”
“What?” Lily asked, her eyes wide. “No, no. It’s not that. It’s just… I haven’t been drinking in a while. Alcohol, I mean.”
Burai understood. He’d seen the effect wine had on people a thousand times over. Each person was unique, but the story was often the same. “Men and women can become lost to the drink, Lily,” he said. “But the fact that you are sitting where you are speaks volumes of your ability to overcome it. You should be proud of that, but you should never fear the drink. To deprive yourself of a little tickle every once in a while should be a crime against yourself.”
Lily laughed. “Oh, no,” she said. “I got a little too tickled for a while there. I did some stupid things.”
Burai suddenly fell over laughing. Lily looked on in shocked confusion. He took a moment to regain his composure and quickly apologised. “I mean no disrespect, Lily. But you are still young. Barely into adulthood and yet you choose to shoulder the responsibility of… well, I’m not sure what to compare it to. It’s truly unprecedented for one so young to be in such a position.”
“I believe you may be overestimating my position, Burai,” Lily brought to her defense.
“It’s no matter,” Burai said, continuing. “My point is that you may only be young once. It is your privilege to go out and let the drink rule your night every once in a while. Be wary of getting too tickled, mind you.” He shook his head, smiling at Lily. “The point is that just from meeting you these past three times, Lily, I can see from you a lot of signs. You looked upon the wine in fear, but you need not fear it. You throw up a wall of confidence, but you forget the confidence within you.”
“Is this what this visit is going to be about? You psychoanalyzing me? You obviously haven’t met Boomer,” Lily suddenly interjected. She leaned back in her chair and looked at the wine. “But you’re making pretty much the same points he’s made. I shouldn’t stop drinking, I should respect drinking. I shouldn’t put up such a front, I should let my guard down and rely on my inner confidence, yadda-yadda-yadda.” She turned the wine over in her hand. “I’m sorry. Thank you for the gift.”
“You are upset. Would you like to speak about it?”
“I barely know you, Burai. Let’s keep this professional for now. Can we?”
“If you insist,” Burai said. “You have a question, then?”
“Why did you give me the Eye of Lychon?”
“Why did you buy it?” he returned.
“Please stop answering my questions with other questions. This isn’t a philosophical debate, you’re here to tell me what you promised to tell me.”
Burai looked to the floor. “Yes. Of course. I sold it to you, Lily, because I had to.”
“Why did you have to? Who told you to?”
“I had to because I was told to. A very long time ago by a very important person.”
“Explain,” she said.
Burai leaned forward. “When I was young, my family lived on the edge of the desert. I remember our village being raided several times. I remember when my sister was raped by rival tribes, and growing up hearing the legends of the Dunngast. What you may have heard tell as the Daemon.”
Lily nodded. She heard the stories about what had been going on in Anastae. About the girl from Stone’s Mouth being used as a host for a demonic entity of some kind. It freaked Lily out.
“So a Daemon told you to give it to me?” Lily asked.
“No. It was a man. But a man who had the ear of the Highest of the Daemon, one of the White Choir. She is named Eiden, Tiamat. She has born the names of Lilith and Eve. She has held the titles throughout our history. Always a different name, but always the same face.”
“So this man told you to give it to me? How did he know I was even going to be here? The only person who could have known with that kind of accuracy would have had to have been Wendael Maer, and that’s impossible. Because that’s a thousand years ago.”
“Actually, it occurred over a thousand years years ago.”
Lily blinked. “Wait, you’re telling me you’re over a thousand years old?”
“A thousand and fourty-nine, actually.”
Lily stared at him blankly. “And you expect me to believe this?”
“There is more than one Eye of Lychon, Lily. That one in particular was meant for you. And through you, to come to the presence of your Green Seer. She had a vision of it, did she not?”
Lily stared back at Burai in shock. “Christ. You’re serious, aren’t you? How could you know that?”
“Because I was told. I did not expect, however, for the Eye to be tied to a soul before the Green Seer might ever lay her eyes upon it. We are all tied together, you see. The people bound to the Eye.”
“Tied together? What do you mean?”
“We come from the same source,” he explained. “Do you know what the Eye of Lychon truly is?”
“Arie said it was kind of like… solidified magick.”
“That’s a… poor assessment. While the Eyes are inextricably attached to the Veil, they are not slave to it. The Eyes are powerful. So powerful, in fact, that most of the world believes there is only one.”
“So why are you telling me about this?” Lily asked. “Why do I get to know the truth?”
Burai sighed. “Six Dreams before your arrival in these lands, we felt the first of us go silent,” The next dream, another. Five more during the next two dreams. I imagine that was Allara and her four men. Someone has learned how to take us. It has been silent for a while, but if they can take seven of us, then there’s no doubt in my mind they know the secret.”
“Hold on,” Lily said. “What are you saying here? How many Eyes are there?”
“Ten,” he replied. “But only three of us left. Myself. Tam and one other.”
“Who’s the other?”
“I don’t know, Lily. But not all the people of the Eye were as… friendly as I. And whoever it may be, they are drawing closer to us.”
Lily leaned back in her chair and stared at the ceiling. “This is really heavy,” she commented, and looked over to the wine. “Now I see why you brought that.”
“No, I’m telling you,” Eric explained. “This place, from what I’ve seen, is entirely without God. God brought us here to save these people. To spread His word. It has to be. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”
“Don’t kid yourself,” Cree replied. “None of the explanations make any sense. I think we all died back there. Somewhere back on Earth, all of our bodies are rotting away while the cops in Nanaimo try to figure out what the hell happened.”
“Oh now, that’s a gruesome thought,” Grace suddenly interjected.
Eden only listened. She was too busy relaxing, something that she had missed out for almost a week. She sat on a cushion, rested her back against another, and closed her eyes, listening to everyone. She wanted to change into her yoga clothes, but opted against it. She didn’t want to cause a commotion. They were, after all, in a public lounge. They had rooms upstairs. Better rooms than Eden had anticipated. As it turned out, goods from Dunsmith were not only in demand, they were in high demand. Jim had probably made the equivalent of five thousand dollars worth of sales in the space between Arronay’s gates and their Inn.
Eden listened over the din of the chatter while the rest of them went through what they thought could have caused Dunsmith’s arrival in the Pactlands. Eric thought it was God. Cree thought that they had all died. Nico had a crazy theory involving aliens and pocket universes, while Jim and Grace both agreed that it was a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey event in spacetime.
“What is your thought on the discussion, Eden?” Basil’s voice suddenly broke through. Eden opened her eyes and looked to the others. They were all staring at her.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. There’s no evidence of anything yet. I just don’t see a point in speculating on it. It happened, and now we’re here.”
“Oh, come on,” Grace said suddenly. “Where’s your sense of imagination? Romance?”
“Indeed,” Basil agreed. “Surely you must have some thought on it.”
Eden looked to Basil. “You know,” she said. “I’d be more interested in hearing your thoughts on it. We’re all from Dunsmith, but you… you’re from the Pactlands. You must have some idea unique to our own.”
Basil smiled. “I… had considered a few options.”
“Oh, this I have to hear,” Jim commented. It earned him a playful smack across the chest from his wife.
“Be nice,” Grace warned.
“I didn’t mean any offense. I’m serious. I want to hear was Basil thinks.”
“No offense was taken,” Basil replied. He smiled, then looked over to Eden. “I suppose then you’re aware of the stories behind our creation?”
“Something like that,” Eden replied. “Something about Eiden and her daughter, right? She was dismembered somehow, and the pieces left became Myr and the Azure Dream?”
“Yes, but there is far more to the story than that. There’s an old myth in the Pactlands, one that predates the Pact, and perhaps goes back even further. Before Eventide, perhaps. No man knows how old our world truly is.”
“I’d have to say pretty damn old considering you’ve still got dinosaurs,” Nico added.
“Our world is only six thousand years old, and we had dinosaurs,” Eric commented.
“That’s debatable,” Nico countered. “Very debatable.”
“Hey now, we’re not getting in a discussion of religion here,” Jim warned. “I had enough of that when I lived in Kansas, and it never turns out pretty.” He turned his head back to Basil. “Go on, son.”
“Right,” Basil said. “It is said that for every light, there is darkness to swallow it. For every ocean runs a river of magma, and for every life there is a death. Eiden was hope and goodness and represented life itself in our world. But she could not exist without a counterpart. She found that counterpart in Solifir. The stories say that Solifir and Eiden were lovers, once. Each took their responsibility to day and night, and they soon bore a daughter, Kallini. Kallini so loved her parents, but as she grew older, she saw her mother turn more away from her father, and saw that her father was growing more angry with each passing day and night.”
“But those are Pagan beliefs,” Eric commented. “They have nothing to do with reality.”
“What, and a boat manned by eight people managed to carry millions of species to safety after it rained for a month?” Eden shot back. “Let him speak.”
Eric scowled at her, but remained silent.
“Kallini grew concerned for her parents, as she saw them become increasingly hostile with one another. She watched as each tried their best to undo the deeds of the other. Eiden raised forests, while Solifir burned them away. Solifir caused men to war, while Eiden brought them peace and love. It wasn’t long before their love for one another faded into legend, and they turned their sights on one another. Kallini saw this, and knew that if one managed to destroy the other, it would unmake reality.”
“Light can’t exist without darkness,” Jim said, nodding. “I get it.”
“There is the legend of the Games. The Great Games, the Match of Extremes. It is said that it was Kallini who, with her control over both the forces of light and darkness, created to prevent her parents from destroying what had been made, but they would not play. So she imprisoned them, forcing them deep within the Veil, so deep that they could never escape– only play the Games. I believe it’s possible that these legends are true, and the Dunsmith was merely a movement in that game.”
Jim laughed. “Interesting,” he said. “But whose move?”
“Well, it’s clearly going to be Eiden’s move, right? She’s the good guy,” Nico added.
Cree laughed. “That’s a hasty assumption, don’t you think?” he said, putting his cup down. “We’re automatically the good guys? That’s what the Europeans thought when they went to North America. They were the good guys, there to save the land from the Indians. Them savages, they were the bad guys. We figure that Vector are the bad guys here, but would they have killed so many people if we hadn’t gotten involved? Who knows, maybe they’d have made great and fair rulers over the Freemen.”
“That’s a horrible thought,” Grace interjected. “Of course we’re the good guys.”
“I bet that’s what the Nazi’s and the Japanese believed during World War Two,” Cree replied. “And the Catholic Church during the inquisition. Truth is, I don’t believe in limited concepts like good and evil. We’re capable of both. Just varying shades of grey.” He took another drink from his cup.
Eden was surprised. She didn’t expect Cree to be very capable of higher level thoughts… he was still a creep, but he wasn’t as stupid as she initially gave him credit for. It just meant she would have to be a little more careful around him.
“Yes, I firmly agree,” Basil said. “I think myself a good man, but I am forced to do things many would consider evil in carrying out my duties.” He looked to Eden. “I am certain all are guilty of it from time to time.”
“Jesus said that no man was without sin,” Eric commented. Eden looked away from Eric toward Basil and rolled her eyes. Basil returned a little smirk.
She suddenly stood up and stretched her legs. “It doesn’t matter in the end,” she said. “We’re here now, and we’ve got the right idea. We came here and we don’t know how. Until we find proof of how we came to be here, we can’t waste our time and energy on speculation.” She looked to Eric. “Even faith-based speculation. We’ve drawn our straws and we’ve got to stick with whatever lot we were handed and try our best to survive through it.”
“So, you are saying to hold no hope that you will ever return to your Earth?” Basil asked.
“I didn’t say that,” she said. “Of course I have hope. But I’m also a realist. It could be happening right now. Another Blacklight Event could be going off as we speak, and everyone in town, Freemen, Halish and Canadian alike are about to be introduced to network television and wireless internet, and we’re stuck where we are. Or it may never happen. If this was nothing more than a move in some game played between deities, or a random event in space-time, or that we’re all characters in some kind of fantasy novel, all I can say is that we can only face what we’re presented with. Until we find out, why speculate?” She shook her head. “I need to go get some air,” she said. She looked to Basil. “Join me?”
“It would be a pleasure,” Basil replied.
“Don’t go too far,” Jim announced. “We’re still in alien terrain here. Keep that in mind.”
Eden nodded and started walking out toward the courtyard she had seen from the window of her room upstairs while Basil followed closely behind. It was odd to see him out of his breastplate, but still he wore the wings of the Swift on his collar. He ensured nobody would mistake him for anything other than what he was. Eden still wasn’t certain if it was pride or duty that disallowed him from laying low, but she didn’t really mind, either. For some reason she felt safe around Basil, and that wasn’t a trait she regularly associated with the men in her life.
The late afternoon sun was beginning to drop down past the rooftop of the inn, bringing a slight chill with it as she sat on a wooden bench near a pond. Fish swam about in the pond and one of the many rare kinds of bird she had seen since arriving in the Pactlands looked down at them from the tree.
“You are an interesting person, Eden Drew,” Basil suddenly commented. “Smarter than most of the women I’ve met. Even those I met in Dunsmith.”
Eden raised a brow. “Been spending a lot of time with Dunsmith women, have you?”
“No moreso than I spend with Dunsmith men,” he replied, innocently. That was one of the things that drove Eden nuts about Basil. She knew with a certainty that he was a dangerous man, capable of fighting with little regard for his own life, only his duty to defend his charge. But he also had a naive innocence to him, something that, if she’d seen on a man from Earth, she’d never have believed in a thousand years. He didn’t look at women like sexual objects like most of the men she knew. He didn’t treat them any lesser than he would a man. He was respectful and kind.
When she’d been taking a bath in a small lake during their travels, he insisted on keeping watch for her, and not once did he steal a peek at her. To be honest, Eden was almost disappointed. She respected that he’d done it, but a part of her, as ashamed as she was to admit it, wanted him to take a peek. And then perhaps even join her in the lake.
But he hadn’t.
Eden found her mind wandering as Basil sat with her, looking into the pond. She was usually very reserved when it came to men. She’d been hurt before, and she’d broken a few hearts in her day, so she tended to be conservative in her actions. But in her thoughts, anything but. Earlier, she had watched Basil as he helped to unload their things. She thought about his eyes, his arms. The way his biceps showed through the thin cloth of his shirt. She’d spent more than a few moments on his lips.
Basil looked back at her, and she realized she was staring at him, so she quickly looked away.
“Is there something on your mind, Eden?” Basil asked.
Busted. She shook her head quickly. Perhaps too quickly. “No,” she said, recovering. “I just… it’s all kind of surreal to me, you know? Here I am in Arronay. A city that, if you had told me about six weeks ago, I’d have tried to have you committed.”
“Committed to what?” Basil asked.
She laughed. Another example of naive innocence. “It doesn’t matter. Point is that it’s funny how easy things are to accept when it’s right in front of you. That bird there, for instance.” She motioned to the bright blue and pink bird with the long beak in the tree above. “It doesn’t look like anything back on Earth. I mean, I suppose there’s something similar to it, maybe in Costa Rica or something, but for Canada?” She shook her head. “Nothing like it.”
“I understand. Your gooses, for instance. They are strange birds. Large and clumsy, but loud and colored as the bark of trees.”
“Geese,” Eden corrected. “Canadian geese.”
“You said gooses. The proper plural form is geese,” she said, waving a hand. “It doesn’t matter. At least we have a guide here. You’ve been amazing so far.” She blushed a little after having said it.
Basil smiled. “I do what I can,” he said. “It’s not unusual for a Swift to transport people, and it is our job to ensure their comfort. It has been an honor escorting your group. And I must say, Eden, an honor escorting you.”
Now Eden was really blushing. She turned away. She was feeling vulnerable, and the last thing she needed was to fall for Basil. Especially considering that he’d be leaving her in two days, when they finally arrived in Cilasia.
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “What is the matter?”
She sighed. “Look, Basil. You’re cute,” she said. “I mean… no, not cute. Not that you aren’t cute or anything, it’s just…” she stammered. She was growing frustrated with herself. For all the work she’d done to steel her emotions, all it took was a nice set of eyes and pair of innocent lips to make her completely forget it. She didn’t like feeling vulnerable, but a huge part of her wanted to.
“I was thinking, Eden. When I have completed my charge… would you care to go on a date?”
Eden blinked. She looked back at him in shock. “On a date?”
“I apologise. Did I not use the word correctly? Courting is difficult enough here in the Pactlands for one such as I. When I consider all the many words you Canadians use for it, I admit I get lost.”
“No, no,” Eden said. “You used it correctly… I just. I didn’t expect. I didn’t think you–”
“Would find you fetching?” Basil asked. He smiled. “Your beauty is very pleasing to my eyes, Eden. But I believe it is your mind I find most fascinating. I would very much like to know you better. I had thought that perhaps a date would allow me the chance to understand you as I want to.”
Eden’s heart was pounding now. A part of her wanted to resist. She shouldn’t fall for Basil. Not after Greg, her last boyfriend. He’d had little ambition, a cocaine habit and cheated on her three times before she found out. She’d been hurt badly by the break-up. But an even larger part was nearly leaping out of her skin in rapture. Yes, she wanted to go on a date with him. She wanted to know him better. She wanted to feel the touch of his skin against her face. She wanted him to breathe into her ear. She wanted–
“Yes,” she said, nearly autonomously. “Yes, I’d like that.”
Basil smiled. “As would I, Eden Drew.”
“But I have one rule,” she said.
“Name it, and it shall be done.”
“My name is Eden. Just Eden. I’d like you to call me Eden,” she explained.
Basil gave her a knowing smirk that melted her heart. “Of course, Eden,” he said. “It shall be done.”