Chapter 15

Diana told us about her journey with halting words and long pauses. She described a place of stark beauty, of rolling hills dotted with low brush and a wind that felt like ice against bare skin. “He’s being held in a castle, or a fort, something that is made of great pieces of stone and is several stories tall.” She paused here, looking over at Kieren again, her face carefully controlled. “He is being guarded by someone that appears to be you. A doppelganger?”

But, looking over at Kieren and seeing the surprise just hidden under the surface of his blank expression, he caught my eyes, barely shaking his head, and I knew that the story was more complicated than someone who just looked like him. I refocused on Diana, pretending as if nothing about Kieren’s reaction struck me as out of place, knowing that I would need to speak with him privately so Colm would not become suspicious.

“How did you find him?” Colm asked. “Can you describe the method?”

The question was clinical, but I too felt the prickle of curiosity, also relieved that Colm had failed to notice the exchange of looks between Kieren and me. Diana looked down at her hands, long fingers intertwined with one another. They were pale with natural pink nails ragged along the edges, though perhaps due to recent events rather than a regular state. She flexed her fingers outwards and then inwards, closing her eyes for a moment as if thinking of a way to phrase the experience. Without opening her eyes, she took a deep breath in and then a slow breath out. “It is as if I can feel a thread of his being at the back of my head. It isn’t a physical sensation as much as it is a sense of presence. In the beginning, when I first realized the feeling, and really, when I thought I was going mad, the sense of him flitted about and I could rarely focus on it long enough to manifest it into anything. That is no longer the case.” She opened her eyes and stared above our heads seeing something that wasn’t there with us. “Now, the feeling is concrete and if I focus on the presence of it, the reality that it is Tirius, that creates a tether kind of mental image. It is a rope, or I imagine it is a rope, and I can follow that rope.” She smiled in Colm’s direction. “That really is the best way to describe it.”

“Can you speak to him?” I asked, thinking of my time in Rushiel.

She shrugged. “I can sometimes, yes, or I think I can, but this time he was under sedation, or at least I think so. He felt really sluggish, as if he was not altogether present, though I don’t think he was just sleeping.”

“They have him drugged,” Kieren said.

We all looked over at Kieren who sat forward on the edge of the couch, sinking in the old cushions, elbows on his knees, hands dangling between his legs. His face held the usual bland expression, but his jaw clenched.

“You know this by her small description?” Colm queried, clearly already knowing that was not how Kieren knew the information.

Kieren glanced over at me, green eyes catching and holding mine, asking me a non-verbal question that I couldn’t understand. When I didn’t answer, he looked back at Colm. “No, because I was the one guarding his room, though I didn’t know who it was at the time.”

Credit to Colm that he remained seated, only tensing at the information. “You know this for certain?” he asked Kieren.

Kieren sat up straighter, stretching his spine backward, focusing his gaze on Diana who watched him without comment. “Within a certain parameter, but yes. The description, the location as Diana tells it, fits with what I experienced. It is a northern coastal area of mainland Sideia. It is an old fort, abandoned until we moved the prisoner there.”

Diana frowned. “But, how does that work? I mean, how are you there and here? Did I go back in time?”

I answered for Kieren. “Not necessarily. I mean, perhaps, but where you found Tirius is in his now. The Masters or whoever took him could have moved him within any timeline, at any point.”

Diana frowned. “This timeline thing is incredibly confusing and doesn’t make sense. How do we know that it is the current Tirius? How do we know it is not some Tirius at some other point? How do you keep this all straight in a straight line?”

“Time is not straight,” Kieren said, which was not at all helpful.

I talked over him. “Time is not linear in the way that most individuals think it is, more like a circular construct. We know that the Tirius you made contact with is the current Tirius, in a sense of the word, because there is no other Tirius anywhere in any timeline.”

“Because Tirius cannot be found at any point in any timeline,” Colm added.

“And that is the part that doesn’t make sense. How did they erase his existence so completely? The only way we found him is through this bond with me?” Diana asked.

She directed her question to Colm, but she included Kieren in her glance.

Both Sideians shook their heads, unable to answer the question.

“Does it matter?” Colm asked after a moment, addressing all of us. “If you can locate him, and Wren and her partner can Travel us there, then we can put him back in this timeline and we can reconvene with Cana.”

Kieren caught the name and frowned over at me. I shook my head. I would tell him about Cana later, but Kieren ignored my reaction and gave Colm a look that I knew meant he wasn’t going to let go of the situation. “Who is Cana?”

Colm frowned back at the other Sideian. “My superior.”

I broke in, cursing internally for not making time to fill Kieren in on the situation. “She is the one that requested we find Tirius,” I explained.

“A leader of our people,” Colm answered, sounding a little closer to a fanatic then I would have liked.

“Your people?” Kieren queried, raising an eyebrow. “You are Sideian. Just because you no longer dwell on Sideia does not mean that you are not still of our people.”

For the first time since Colm took me out of my timeline, he looked embarrassed, bordering on something else that looked a lot like guilt. “I am for every species of every reality. That is what we are fighting for.”

Kieren wanted to pursue it, ask about the fighting, ask about the reasoning behind this war that Colm kept hinting at, but I needed to avoid that conversation, mostly because I knew that it would likely lead to an argument at the very least, and more likely a physical altercation.

“You know that location, then?” I asked Kieren, deterring him the only way I knew how; by asking him questions.

He nodded, though stubborn enough to keep staring at Colm.

“Enough to get us there with Travelling?” I confirmed.

He hesitated and I groaned.

“What does the groan mean?” Colm asked, following along with the disjointed conversation. Diana stayed quiet, watching the three of us interact.

“It means we need the coordinates,” I replied.

“How do we do that?” Colm asked.

I shared a look with Kieren and both of us knew that there were two ways to find those coordinates. Colm would not like either option.

I answered for both of us. “We either have to go to the Warden’s office and look up the coordinates for that particular mission, or we have to somehow detain an earlier version of Kieren and convince him to give us the coordinates.”

Colm worked through my explanation. “But if Kieren had the coordinates before, why doesn’t he have the coordinates now?”

“It was cycles ago. I can guess, but you don’t want guesses,” Kieren replied.

“What about this computer inside your head? The interface or whatever it is that you call it. Is it stored there?”

That Colm knew about our interface capability hardly surprised me, but it did surprise Kieren and I felt his edge. To once again redirect the potential aggression, I calmly explained that Kieren and I could not use our interfaces because they could be tracked.

“You’ve had them turned off this entire time?” Colm verified. “Even when we were ambushed?”

I knew what he was implying; I just stared at him. After a moment he put his hands out as if to placate me. “Fine I get it. You had nothing to do with the ambush. I believe you.”

“Which one is it, then?” Diana asked, bringing us back to the reason we were all convened in some gamer’s cottage in Sideia, following her question up with another: “Which one is easier?”

“Neither,” Kieren and I said at the same moment.

I continued. “One is breaking into the Citadel. Not easy. The other option includes trying to get a prior Kieren alone and have him trust one of us enough that he provides the information, but making sure that he does not interact with this Kieren. Bad things could happen, or at least that is what they tell us.”

“That sounds more like the time travel I’ve heard about,” Diana chimed in, causing me to smile at her because she was right. The idea that two versions of the same person could never meet did fit more with popular movies and books in the human timeline. I had started to wonder if that was even true.

The two Sideians barely noticed her side comment.

“We could torture him,” Colm offered, smiling slightly.

“I wouldn’t give up the information even if I was under torture,” Kieren deadpanned.

Colm turned his smile towards me, pointing at Kieren as if my partner had just proven something.

I scowled, irritated. “We are not going to torture any version of Kieren.”  Looking down at my hands that lay still in my lap, I sighed. “We are going to have to break into the Citadel.”

“Is that even possible?” Diana asked. “I don’t know anything about this Citadel, or this Warden, but I’ve seen you two fight. How are we going to get through without being caught? Or killed?”

“You’re not,” I said immediately.

She looked offended, pushing a strand of blond hair behind her ear.

I explained. “You are the only way we can contact Tirius. If he is moved at some point and we can’t trace him, we can rely on you to show us where to go. But not if you are dead. This is going to be nearly impossible. You need to stay safe.”

“We’ll take her to Cana first,” Colm said.

All eyes turned to him.

“You are in contact?” I asked, slowly.

Colm again looked embarrassed but resolute. “Yes.”

“You’ve given away our location?” Kieren asked.

“She isn’t a threat to you unless you make it so,” Colm immediately countered.

Diana was the one to cut in this time. “Then we contact her. I stay with her. The three of you go and retrieve the location.”

“Three?” Kieren asked.

“Yes,” Colm replied.

“Where is Cana? Can we Travel there?” I asked.

Colm hesitated. “It is possible. It might take her some time to get there, but we can just Travel, or whatever you call it, to the point that she would arrive.”

I nodded. “Let me guess, the place that you took me when you kidnapped me.”

Diana snorted a laugh. “They kidnapped you too?”

I gave her a look that made her smile grow, eyes lighting up.

Kieren shook his head, bringing us back to all business. “This plan would work considerably better if it is just me and Wren. We can at least pass for Guardians.”

Colm started to reply but I cut him off by standing up. I was tired and the debate would go on between the two Sideians for as long as the night held hours. Also, it was going to be Cana’s decision of whether Colm was going to go with us, though I doubted that Colm realized that small tidbit yet.

Stretching arms up and over my head, I couldn’t contain a face-splitting yawn. With blurry eyes I looked at the other three. “I’m going to bed. Tomorrow we’ll Travel wherever we need to go to meet up with Cana, and then we can take it from there. Colm, do what you need to do to ensure we know her arrival time.”

I left them. Diana followed me, leaving the two men to do whatever they needed to do to hash it out.

“Are you worried they’ll kill one another?” Diana asked, catching up with me on the stairs.

I glanced back down the stairs and shrugged. “Honestly, it might be easier.”

She smiled. I was pleased to see some color had returned to her lips and cheeks.

“They are not human?”

“They are not from the human timeline, no. They are from this timeline. Sideian is their timeline name.”

“They appear human,” Diana continued as we came to her room.

I nodded. “There are a lot of individuals that have similar characteristics to humans, only differing in social terms. Sideians are a combative people, in which there is little law but that which is fought over, and held only until replaced with a more powerful group.”

Diana sniffed, glancing back towards the stairway. “Well, that explains some things.”

I nodded in agreement, wished her goodnight and then wandered off to another room, sleep dragging at my step.

I woke with dawn glittering through the dirty window. My back muscles were sore, not because of the bed but because of the workout I’d had with Kieren. I grumbled, wiping sleep from my face with a hand. The fact I felt sore showed me that I had most definitely lost an edge I shouldn’t have lost. Though no longer a Guardian, at least officially, I shouldn’t have let my training fall to the wayside through all the random kidnappings and moving about from timeline to timeline.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I closed my eyes against the light and breathed in deeply, holding the breath down low in my solar plexus before letting it go with a slow exhale. Standing, I did a series of quick stretches then pulled on my boots, strapping on my weapons as I headed for the door. I knotted my hair as I walked, not hearing anyone else moving around as I made my way downstairs.

I found Kieren in the kitchen, poking around the supplies with a frown on his face. His hair was pulled back as well, highlighting high cheekbones. His face looked thinner than I’d ever remembered it. I knew he felt a great deal of turmoil over the situation; I saw it in the way he held himself and interacted with Colm and Diana. But I also felt it in that connection I wasn’t even sure existed. It was a pull of wariness. I doubted the feeling, but seeing him in the morning light, the connection strong and insistent, I couldn’t deny something existed there, even if he didn’t believe it himself.

 “Good morning,” I said, startling him, which was weird. “Anything for breakfast?”

Kieren nodded towards the fruit laid out on the counter. I stuck out my tongue, not wanting fruit, but contained my complaint and took an apple-shaped fruit from the pile. I took a stool and watched Kieren continue to poke around as I took a bite of the apple-thing. It tasted sweeter than an apple, the juice spilling down my chin. I grabbed a random piece of cloth to wipe at my face.

“The other two are not awake yet?” I asked, taking another bite, though more careful to eat over the counter and let the juice fall there instead of onto my shirt or face.

Kieren nodded. “Colm slept in Diana’s room. Something about keeping her safe.” He paused then, glancing up at me. “Do you believe that she can actually contact the Archivist in the way she described?”

I shrugged. “You more or less verified it.”

Kieren nodded and then looked down at the pile of goods. “There is a lot here that I don’t understand,” he said, a confession I know he would have rather not made.

“I know. Me too.”

He shook his head, taking the stool next to me though not looking at me. “There’s more at play than just Tirius and these others.”

I frowned, examining the side of his face. The sparring yesterday had reminded me of our partnership in the past, before the secrets and the realization of this awareness. Before Rushiel. “Do you know more?” I asked, yearning for those days when we were just Guardians; for the simplicity of our relationship and the missions. I’d walked away from being a Collector because I wanted simplicity. The irony felt heavy on my shoulders.

Kieren remained silent, staring out the window.

“Kieren?” I prompted.

He refocused on me. “They’re at war with one another,” he said quietly.

I frowned, not catching his meaning. He felt my confusion, refocusing on me, green eyes darkening in response to whatever he saw. “The Masters are at war. I don’t know all the details, I am only privy to some, but they are killing one another.”

Blinking, I tried to process the information. “Killing, as in murder?”

He nodded. “It’s hard to do apparently, but yes.” Tilting his head, he studied my face and the gaze felt physical. “What we are doing, this situation with Tirius, Colm, Diana, us; it’s just a small piece, barely a blip in the real situation, almost insignificant.” He waved a hand towards the door. “Even the existential threat, just a small piece.”

Tirius had hinted at the same thing and I had suspected that was the case for a while, but to hear it from my partner seemed to solidify the information. “Do you know what the bigger picture is? Do you know why they are going after one another?”

Kieren shook his head and then stood up, rolling broad shoulders under his black t-shirt. “No, just bits that I’ve put together.” He looked down at me. “You know more than I do.”

I put my halfway eaten piece of fruit down and stared at him, my stomach flipping with sudden nerves because here it was, the moment when we were alone, Kieren in a mood of self-reflection and my own frustration of not knowing rising up into my chest. I caught and held his gaze, though it was difficult because in his face I saw vulnerability and that vulnerability tore at me.

I cleared my throat slightly, forcing my hands to relax, letting go of the fists that I’d curled my fingers into. “I know some things, but other things, like the reason you wanted another partner, are not as clear.”

Perhaps the partner situation was not the most important thing we needed to discuss, but it was there and had been there, lingering, pressing on my consciousness, demanding.

My words caught Kieren in a grip that physically moved him backward with a jerk, his face turning away so I only saw his profile stark against the morning light. I pushed. “Kieren? I heard the conversation, I heard what Master Ral said. I know that we are not as compatible as other partners, but why? I thought we were, are, a team.”

For a moment I believed he wouldn’t answer, or else stall so long that Colm would appear and interrupt, but a few breaths later he looked over and caught my gaze with his familiar one. “When you made the move from Collector to Guardian, the Warden assigned me to be your partner not because of any connection, like other Guardians, but because he didn’t trust that you truly wanted to be a Guardian.”

“He believed I was a spy,” I said, not entirely surprised when Kieren nodded. It fell in line with what I had started to learn about Tirius and the Warden’s relationship, though hearing Kieren confirm the information shifted my foundation of reality. “So, this,” I said, waving a hand between us. “This is not a pairing.”

He shook his head. “No. As I said, those partnerships are never across timelines. They are always within the same kind. There is a predetermined connection between a Sideian and a Sideian or human and human, Diax and Diax.”

I got it, though the fact I understood only intensified the sick feeling in my stomach, the tightness wrapping around my throat, contradicting the very real feeling I had at the base of my skull connecting me to the man that stood next to me, close and far all at once.

Pushing through the hurricane of threatening emotions, I continued. “I understand. But you were requesting a new partner. Had I not proven my loyalty to the Warden? Something else? Why?” I managed to keep my voice steady, but just.

The sudden emotion that crossed Kieren’s face startled me so completely that it took a moment for me to identify it as grief. The sickness in my stomach intensified. “Kieren?”

He refused to meet my gaze, looking down at the counter, jaw clenching and releasing. “I felt it was time that I broke off the partnership.”

I pressed. “Why?”

“A Warden does not have a partner,” he said, voice flat.

This line confirmed many things, though did not answer my question. “Master Ral said you requested reassignment,” I replied. “Not just getting rid of me because you were becoming Warden. You requested another partner.”

Kieren ran a hand down the front of his face as if to erase his reaction, but when his hand fell his face still held grief, something else, and my own emotions broke through the tightness in my throat. I felt tears. I blinked rapidly to try to dispel them. Instead of making them disappear, they fell, and I wiped a palm angrily against my cheek to erase the evidence of my emotions. It shouldn’t matter that Kieren wanted to walk away. It shouldn’t matter because what I had started to feel for this Sideian standing before me shouldn’t exist.

“To be Warden is to have no connection,” Kieren said after the silence held like glass between us. He looked up finally, meeting my eyes with his own, holding them. “The Warden has no connection,” he repeated, his voice heavy with the meaning behind the words. He took a step toward me. We were close physically, but I felt the distance between us, the wedge that had developed over the last while.

“Did the Warden do this, demand this of you?” I asked, voice far away as I looked up at Kieren, at the scar on his chin, at his lips, avoiding his eyes.

“It’s my duty,” he answered. “There is more at work here than us, Wren, threats that are bigger than us.”

He was right, of course, he was right, but I still couldn’t stop the ache that seemed to press down on my chest, the vice-like grip on my heart. Kieren’s face seemed to mirror what I felt, the pain an echo across a bond that might just be a figment of my imagination.

“And what happened on Rushiel?” I asked, whispered more because I couldn’t find the volume.

Kieren stood above me now, looking down at me. I tensed then stilled as he brought a hand up and wiped away the moisture on my cheek. The touch jolted me, feeling it in my toes, in my stomach. Such a simple touch, but I felt it everywhere and saw that he did as well, his jaw clenching, his eyes darkening.

“I heard you,” he said, touch lingering against my face.

“I called you,” I replied, not breaking the contact.

He cupped my face then, his palm rough against my cheek, warm, familiar without being familiar. “Pieces that we don’t understand,” he said.

I leaned into his hand, closing my eyes for a moment, hearing his breathing change. “Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

“I know,” he agreed.

I opened my eyes and caught his gaze, the gaze that flickered down to my lips and back up again. I felt more than saw the hitch in his breath, the rapid pulse in his throat.

“You feel it too,” I pressed.

At first I thought he wouldn’t reply, thought maybe he would stop the conversation with a kiss, and I wanted him to, just as much as I wanted him to answer me.

He brought a hand up to the back of his head, to the top of his spine. “Here,” he said.

I nodded. “Yeah.” I searched his eyes, looking for answers and found only the same confusion, uncertainty.

The same desire.

“Do you think…” I started.

“I don’t know,” he interrupted.

“But duty,” I reminded him, wanting him to take the step back, wanting him to make the separation because I very much knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it.

The reminder didn’t work, Kieren moving his hand just enough that he could touch my lips with his thumb, his body angling closer, inches separating us. His touch intensified the heat coiling in my belly, the tension in the center of my person.

“Duty to what though?” he asked, leaning down so all I saw was him. “Do you trust me?”

I nodded without thinking because despite everything I did trust him. Perhaps we weren’t paired, but there was something else, something that created this tension between us, that allowed us to find each other when we were apart, an undeniable bond of some sort. Right then I was done believing the bond was something of my imagination. I could feel the man in front of me. I could feel his reaction to the situation as if it was my own reaction, but separate too, as if another being had entered my consciousness. And perhaps it was like that, perhaps that was the pairing that Tirius spoke of. I didn’t know, but standing there looking up, feeling Kieren’s breath across my temple, I started to believe.

Colm clattered into the kitchen, asking about breakfast. Kieren took a step back and I turned away, wiping at my face. In a split-second decision, I decided that wiping the tears would not erase the evidence of them and so got off my stool and went for the back-kitchen door. I heard Colm ask after me, and Kieren’s reply that I needed a moment.

As I stepped outside into what was once a kitchen vegetable garden, the ice-like air hit with knife precision. I only wore the sweater and slacks that Diana had provided me, and I shivered violently, wrapping arms around my middle. I looked up, eyes wide, letting the cold erase the emotions, letting the chill descend over me, breathing deeply of the frigid air until the tightness in my throat eased and my stomach stopped rolling in waves of nausea. Only when I felt as if the ice had entered my bloodstream did I look down from the sky.

If we survived the Masters killing each other, Colm and Cana attacking, and Kieren becoming Warden, we would have to figure out our relationship. I knew my partner and knew that he would withdraw after such an emotional display, but there was something there, something that needed to be explored, some kind of partnership that I needed to understand.

But not yet, maybe not ever. Though I absolutely trusted Kieren, I didn’t trust the Warden, and I knew that Kieren would adhere to his duty no matter what that would entail. This meant that, at some point, Kieren would be forced to take sides, and though I trusted him, I didn’t know which side he would be on.

This was not the time to dwell though. I needed to move on, and I took one last deep breath to do just that, letting the air settle in my lungs and then turning to reenter the kitchen. All three were now present, three pairs of eyes looking at me as I entered. I brought in a wave of cold air and Diana, who sat nearest to the door, shivered at it.

“Are we ready?” I asked, directing my question to Colm, intentionally ignoring Kieren who sat in his corner of the kitchen though I felt his green eyes on me.

Diana pointed to one of the duffel bags we’d brought with, large on the counter next to her. “I packed the clothing, though I’m kind of sad we have to leave. I like it here.” She tried for a smile, understanding something that I had not voiced, and I smiled back at her attempt.

I looked at Colm.

He nodded. “Yes. We have a rendezvous.” He told us the date and time. I did the calculation in my head and then finally looked over at Kieren. He confirmed my calculations and I nodded, unemotional and proud of the fact.

“Then, we’re ready,” I said, moving further into the kitchen to pick up the duffel Diana brought down with her. Colm picked up the other duffel that I hadn’t noticed on the floor. The three of them came to me and as before we held hands. At the contact with Kieren, I saw a flash of something in his eyes before he closed them, enveloping us in a field. I closed my eyes in response, briefly panicking, wondering if he was going to go somewhere else with Diana, fulfill his mission, whatever that might be, and I braced for the tearing sensation that would indicate that he was breaking the Travel field.

Nothing came and when we Arrived, all four of us Arrived, wind whipping at us, the sound of the sea a flowing awareness, the smell of salt in my nose and on my tongue. The sun momentarily blinded me, but it took only a moment to blink away the change. I immediately glanced over to check on Diana, but she looked better than she had the first time she’d Traveled and instead of throwing up in the dune grass, she looked around in curiosity.

“I’ve been here before,” she said to no one at all.

“Physically?” I asked, instinctively knowing what she spoke of.

She shook her head, confirming my thought. “Only in dreams,” she replied, somewhat absently, then started walking off in the direction of Tirius’s house.

We followed her.

The way that Colm described it, we would not have to wait long to get into contact with Cana and indeed within moments of letting ourselves into the house, Colm indicated that he’d received information from his boss.

“They will be here in a matter of minutes,” he said, looking around the interior of the house with some curiosity. Diana had crossed the threshold and immediately walked towards the living room, falling slowly on the white couch and staring absently at the fire she’d turned on as she walked by the switch. I let her be, though Colm kept looking over at her with questioning glances, not yet connecting Diana’s mood with the fact we were in Tirius’s home and how that might be jarring for the woman.

“I’m going to go see if Tirius’s notes are still in your room. Maybe Diana can make sense of them,” Kieren said, already moving towards the hallway. The me from yesterday would have followed him, taken the opportunity to be alone, to speak to him quietly, but after our conversation earlier, I was not in the mood and I let him disappear down the hallway without saying anything at all. Instead, I went to the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulling out water in glass canisters. I took two and brought one over to Diana who was still sitting very quietly and staring at the fireplace.

“What notes?” she asked as I sat next to her.

I glanced over my shoulder towards where Kieren had disappeared. “Notes from Tirius. Maybe with your connection, you can figure out what he is alluding to.”

Diana studied me and I tried not to squirm under her scrutiny. “Something is wrong between you and your partner,” she stated, not making it a question.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I replied.

She left it alone, and once again I was struck by her kindness as well as her underlying wisdom. Though she was not at all like Tirius, the feeling of her was similar, as if she was a lot older than the 50-year-old body she currently inhabited.

There was a slight beeping sound and we both turned to where Colm stood in the kitchen. He held a communication device and was checking over whatever it was displayed on the screen. There was a moment of silence and then someone knocked on the front door.

The door opened before any of us could move and Cana walked into the hallway, long dress flowing about her, looking around even as Colm moved towards her with a swift step. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said, urgently, voice pitched low though Diana and I could still make out the words from where we sat on the couch.

Cana waved one of her hands, the movement still off, still not altogether right in the way of things. She stepped further into the house, glancing around as she did. Perhaps she hoped Tirius would be with us already.

Kieren emerged from the hallway, stilling when he caught sight of Cana. His face showed no emotion, as usual, but I felt his tension, seeing it in his shoulders and that feeling again at the base of my skull. It was like a pressure, informing me of his tension, of his weariness in the face of the leader of this coup.

He looked to me, eyes seeking me out and I suddenly realized with a clenched stomach, tensing myself on the couch, that Kieren posed a threat, something that hadn’t gone unnoticed by Colm who placed himself between my partner and Cana’s swaying form.

Diana got up, sensing something but instead of bringing attention to it, smiled at Cana. “I am going with you apparently.”

Cana replied in kind, moving around the couch to take Diana’s hands. “I’m so glad that you were able to find him. His help is invaluable, and so are you.”

There was a shift of air as if something shimmered and I knew that feeling even as I instinctively grabbed at my staff, bringing it to the front of my body with a smooth movement, elongating it with a flick of my wrist. In the amount of time it took me to do that, Cana had taken another step towards Diana, wrapping her arms around her and disappearing. Whether in protest of her departure or something else, Colm moved towards the now empty space where the two women had stood moments before.

Guardians burst through the front door, the large door ricocheting back toward the wall. There were two of them, tall and lean, clad in their familiar black uniforms, blond-white hair pulled back from sharp features. The Guardians were Lexion, my mind whirling at the implications even as I went to intercept them, Colm positioning himself to cover my back. There was a loud ping as something hit the back windows, cracks appearing. The glass shattered even as I turned to engage the two Lexions, my staff coming up to block the long sword coming down towards my head. Lexions always used swords, which was an advantage for me and my longer and more versatile staff, but as I twirled out from under the reach of the first one, the second one closed in on my side.

Colm met the second set of swords with a long metal staff that he’d pulled out of somewhere, though I’d never seen him use anything of the sort. The staff clanged loudly against the sword’s steel; the crash swallowed up by a cacophony of sound as another two windows shattered behind me. I took a step away from the Lexion, putting a wall between myself and whoever was coming through the windows, wind whirling into the house with the sound and smell of the sea. I leaned away, a bend towards the wall as the sword came up to catch me lengthwise, the steel a hair breath from cutting across my clothing. I dropped into a sideways crouch, my staff whipping low, catching the Lexion’s ankles. An involuntary yelp of pain from above my head sounded as my staff’s sharp edge cut tendon. The Lexion fell and I leaped out of the way, looking over to where Colm engaged with the other Lexion. Behind them, a Guardian vaulted the couch, knife in hand. Without thought and on instinct, I reached for the knife at my boot and in the same motion brought my arm up and threw it. The shot turned lucky, the angle off, the timing off, but my knife still catching the other Guardian’s shoulder. The Guardian, a human, dropped to the ground, putting a hand at the knife in his shoulder even as he struggled up, leaping with strength towards Colm, intent on stabbing the Sideian in the back.

My other knife was in my hand and then it was embedded into the eye socket of the Guardian. He fell, disappearing behind the couch.

A hand grabbed at my leg; the Lexion at my feet. He tried to get up even with the injury to his Achilles making it nearly impossible. I brought my staff up, around, and across his neck, the blood spraying out and away.

Another shift in pressure indicated that more Guardians had arrived. I looked around, Colm still engaged with his Lexion, and I realized with a tightening throat that Kieren was not there fighting with us.

The fourth Guardian caught me with her whip, the long leather wrapping around my arm. She jerked the whip towards her. I fell that way, stumbling as I tried to gain hold of the whip so I could use it as leverage. But she knew what I did and kept jerking me forward, knife in her other hand as she twirled the whip along her forearm. I tried to scramble backward, tried to angle my body and gain control but the jerking movement kept me off balance and her knife was ready as I came within arm’s length of her.

Colm popped up behind her and struck her across the temple with his staff. The Guardian crumbled to the floor.

“We have to go now,” he said, breathing heavily, his hair a mess around his face, sweat at his temples.

“Kieren,” I managed, looking around.

“As I said,” Colm replied, waving a hand through the broken windows. I saw my partner then, tall and lean in the sunshine, hair perfect, face precise and composed, without weapon, without violence, talking with the Warden who had bent his large head to listen. As if sensing my gaze, both men turned to me. The Warden gestured, saying something, and four more Guardians appeared from behind him.

I stared at Kieren who watched, face without emotion, not moving even as the four Guardians ran towards the broken windows.

“Wren,” Colm said beside me, urgent.

Not taking my eyes from Kieren, I nodded, grabbed his hand and Traveled.

We arrived in the United States, circa late 20th century, in the middle of winter, in the middle of an alley in a city I’d not visited in a very long time. Cold winter rain fell in a mist, chilling me to the bone within moments. I retracted my staff, placing it in its holster and started for the alley’s entrance.

“Where are we?” Colm asked, hurrying behind me as I made my way into the flow of morning foot traffic. The city had its share of homeless, as such the mass population gave us a wide birth, not looking at us directly though we both were covered in blood, me more than Colm, the red turning to a rusty color against my pink sweater.

“Hurry,” I said, which was not entirely an answer but all I was going to give him at that moment in time.

I tried to avoid the main streets, taking the alleys as I could, but there were not a lot of options and I hoped that we could make it to the three-story brick house before someone realized we were covered in blood and called the police on us. Colm kept up with my clipped pace but as we took a giant hill he lagged and when I turned to look, saw that he was holding his side, his face ashen, his lack of color apparent even with the overcast skies.

“The sword,” he said as a way of an explanation when I went back to him.

“It’s only a little bit further,” I said, coming up close and carefully wrapping my arms around his sturdy torso. Supporting him, the two of us continued up the hill, creating a different kind of spectacle and people were even more inclined to look the other way. Cities were good that way, and Seattle was one of the best when it came to people minding their own business. I knew it was only a matter of time before the Warden thought to check this place, but I was running out of options and this place was better than any other I could think of, especially as I was intimately familiar with it.

Down a side street and another, the rain soaking through our clothing, icy against our skin. I lead us into a small back garden area, sided by large hedges, the ground entirely bricked over. I found the heavy black iron key underneath the planter that lined the tiny porch right outside the backdoor. Fitting the key in, for a moment I thought it wouldn’t work, but the lock groaned in protest and then clicked.

Halfway dragging Colm inside, I flipped on the kitchen light, illuminating the space with a calm artificial glow. The kitchen was small, dark wood and tiles creating a cozy, cave-like space.  The dim light wouldn’t do however, and I brought Colm through the kitchen into the dining room, depositing him into one of the upholstered dining room chairs. I flipped on the lights there, the chandelier casting a considerably brighter glow.

“I’ll get the first aid kit,” I said, walking through the dining room and into the hallway that led to a small bathroom under the stairs. The medkit was in the same place I’d left it and I grabbed it along with pain medication from the cabinet above the toilet. I brought everything back to Colm who had stripped out of his shirt. Goosebumps littered his skin, but I barely noticed as I caught sight of the gash in his side.

“Well,” I said, kneeling so I was eye level with the wound and then opened the medkit. It was the 20th century, but the medkit was from the 22nd and I quickly cleaned the wound with air antiseptic. This caused Colm to hiss out in pain but like before he made no other noise, taking the cleaning with a clenched jaw. The sword gash was a lot longer and nastier than the bullet wound from last time, but the method was the same and I soon had the wound closed with the stitches. He sat up slowly from the chair so I could wrap bandages around his middle, circling his torso several times, securing the pads of gauze over the wound.

I sat back on my heels, looking down at my bloody hands. “You got to stop getting hurt around me,” I said, trying for wry amusement.

Colm wasn’t having it, his silence and gaze both heavy on the top of my head.

I sighed. “I know what it looks like.”

He cut me off. “No, Wren. Not what it looks like. What it is.”

I got up, wanting to rub at my face but my hands were still covered in blood. I shook my head once. “I’m going to go get cleaned up. You should too.”

Leaving the dining area, I walked slowly and with measured steps down the hallway and then up the stairs to my old room. Opening the door, I stopped at the threshold and looked in. My father had bought the house in the early 70s when Seattle was not yet the booming town it would become in the late 20th century and well into the 21st. When he had to sell it because the new wife had demanded it, I’d been the anonymous buyer who had purchased it, with Tirius’s help of course. Everything had stayed, the new wife wanting all new things and nothing to do with any of my father’s unfortunate past. That had included my 16-year-old self and it was at that 16-year-old’s room that I now stared. The room had a single bed covered with a faded quilt and a raggedy stuffed dog guarding the pillow. The blinds were partially open, but the gray day was stingy with light and I turned on the desk lamp, glancing over the pictures and quotes stuck under the desk’s glass surface. Nothing there caused me to smile, rather inducing a deep wariness. I sat down on the side of my old bed, the mattress sinking under my weight. I stared at my reflection in the mirrored closet door.

I looked like hell. My sweater was ruined with slashes of Lexion blood, my hair falling in lanky strands on either side of my too pale face. Bruise-like smudges created racoon circles around my eyes and my skin seemed strangely tight across my cheekbones. I looked as if I was barely holding it together, and with that thought came unbidden the image of Kieren as I last saw him.

Standing up quickly, I swayed for a moment, blinking away the darkness that edged across my sight, walking towards the bathroom in the hallway while taking deep and steady breaths.

This time the shower was clean, the towels plentiful and I knew I would find a change of clothes in the closet. I put the water on as hot as I could stand it and then stood under the spray and watched as the red pooled at my feet, disappearing down the drain. When the water ran clear, I reached for the shampoo and soap, scrubbing my skin raw, trying to wash off the feelings that were threatening, stuffing down the thoughts, the worry, the uncertainty, the sense of betrayal.

“You don’t know for sure,” I said out loud. “You don’t know.”

I turned off the water, wrapped myself in a towel and stood in the steam for a moment, closing my eyes until the shakes went away and the tightness in my throat lessened. Then I opened the bathroom door and went back towards my room where I found clothing that fit. Pulling socks on I heard the shower in the master bedroom start up and I briefly wondered if Colm needed help, but the image of the Sideian needing help was enough of an oddity that I left him to it. Leaving my weapons on the bed, I made my way back down the stairs and into the kitchen where I started the coffee pot. I would have preferred tea, but I’d yet to become a tea drinker when I’d walked out of the house at 16 so there was only herbal in the cupboard. The memory of trying to make tea the first time in Tirius’s cottage made me smile, in a desperate kind of way.

“But coffee. There is coffee. I know how to do coffee,” I said out loud as I filled the pot up with water from the sink’s faucet.

By the time Colm joined me in the kitchen, clean but wearing his dirty and bloody clothes still, the coffee was almost done, and I had gotten down two mugs, adding two small containers worth of cream to each one. Without asking, I poured Colm’s coffee out and handed it over, then did the same for me, wrapping cold hands around the warmth of the mug. I walked through a small hallway to the living room area at the front of the house. There was an old brown leather sofa there and two matching leather chairs, all well-worn in and covered in soft-looking throws. I’d added the throws when I’d purchased the house, the memory of Tirius and I standing in the living room a strong one. He’d surveyed the room. “Make it your own,” he’d told me, eyeing the shelves of books, the antlers on the wall, the heavy wooden furniture. “We all need a place of our own,” he’d went on to say. I’d gotten rid of the antlers and added the throws but everything else was as my father had left it.

It felt like home, which was why I’d avoided it up to this point. There were no secrets from the Warden, and the Masters would look for me here soon. It was only a matter of time, but both Colm and I needed rest.

Taking in the room, I nodded to myself. We would stay for a bit and hope it wasn’t too long.

I sat in one of the large chairs, pulling the cream-colored blanket up and around my shoulders. I wore black leggings, a big sweatshirt and socks but still, the cold seemed to permeate my bones. I knew it likely was shock and had nothing to do with the temperature of the room, but I chose to ignore that as well, snuggling deep in the blanket and sipping at my coffee.

“This is delicious,” Colm said, putting his mug up in a kind of salute. He’d taken the couch, his large body making the normally large couch seem smaller.

“How was the shower? Your wound?” I asked.

He shrugged and then squinted at his coffee, clearly running ideas for conversation through his mind before he decided on tackling the most obvious. “We were set up.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Seems pretty apparent.”

I shook my head, stubborn, looking out the front window at the grayness. “The place was likely under surveillance. We’d used it too many times.”

I knew Colm studied me, but I remained impassive under the scrutiny.

“He was speaking to the Warden. Not fighting. Not negotiating under duress,” Colm continued.

“I know,” I bit out, pausing and then sighing. I looked over to meet Colm’s gaze.

“I know,” I repeated, a little more civil because there was no use arguing with the Sideian. I refused to believe Kieren had betrayed me, but I was not going to be able to convince Colm, so instead of pursuing that line of conversation, I changed the subject.

“Cana and Diana are safe?”

It was Colm’s turn to look out the front window. He took another sip of coffee before answering. “I don’t know. I left the communicator on the counter.”

Adrenaline spiked through my system. “Can it be used to track Cana?”

Colm shook his head. “No. It is pass guarded, but even if they can get through the security measures, they still wouldn’t be able to use it to trace Cana or the fleet.”

I nodded. That was something at least, though how we would get a hold of them in the future was an entirely different matter. “Okay, so we keep to the plan.”

“Kieren knows the plan,” Colm said, words falling sharply between us. “You don’t think he’s going to have the Warden move Tirius as soon as possible?”

Gripping the coffee mug a little tighter, I tried to focus on the pressure and the warmth against my palms. “Maybe. But what else is there to do? We need to get to Tirius. The last location we have is the one that Diana gave us, and we don’t even know when and where that is without breaking into the Citadel.” I shook my head, once, hard, as if to try to dislodge my thoughts.

“We proceed without Tirius,” Colm said, quiet.

I frowned, looking over at him. “What do you mean?”

Colm sat a little bit forward. “We go to the fleet. We proceed as planned without Tirius.”

“I thought Tirius is essential for whatever it is that you and Cana are trying to do.”

“Tirius would make things easier but is not essential.”

“So, we just leave him to be tortured?”

“There is no saying that he is being tortured.”

I gave Colm a look and he put his hand up to stave off my words. “If we can get to the fleet, if we can proceed, there will be no need to rescue Tirius because the threat will be neutralized.”

He meant the Masters of course and I thought about telling him what Kieren said, about the Masters killing each other, but then any information from Kieren would be suspect, and I kept the information to myself. What I did know with certainty is that killing a group of people was not going to solve the problem, no matter what Colm and Cana said. Cut off the head and the body would keep whipping about, especially if there were others to step up and take over as Masters. Of course, perhaps Colm and Cana had already thought of that, and they planned to take over the Realm, though how they would do that was beyond my understanding. Unless, I thought suddenly, sipping my coffee, they had the Archivist’s help. But I couldn’t see Tirius wiping out an entire group of individuals, even if those individuals were corrupt Masters. That was the whole point of why he’d gotten involved. He’d said the game was no longer a game. Innocent lives.

 Hoping my thoughts were not too apparent, I changed the subject. “How would we meet up with the fleet? I thought your communicator was gone?” I asked.

Colm answered immediately, having not picked up on my thoughts. “It is, but I can give you an approximate time and place in relation to the dune house. We can make our way from there,” he said.

I wanted to find Tirius. I wanted to somehow prove that Kieren had not betrayed us, but as I sat there in the dim light of my childhood home, I realized that those things, though possible, fell outside of common sense. “Okay,” I agreed, standing up. “Let me gather some things from upstairs and then we can go.”

Colm sat back, his body relaxing. He’d been prepared to argue. His stomach growled and he flashed me a smile that created a dimple in his left cheek. “Food in the house?”

 I nodded, gesturing towards the kitchen. “There’s stuff in the kitchen. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Not waiting for his reply, I walked out of the living room back to the kitchen where I topped off my coffee and then headed upstairs. I had no reason to go back upstairs, to go back to my old room and sit on the bed, but I did anyway, taking the same position as before. My reflection looked much cleaner but still exhausted and frail-looking. To gain strength, I wrapped the staff holster around my middle, secure in its place, then cradled my staff in both hands, the contact building up my courage. My heart rate spiked at the thought of what I was about to do, and I closed my eyes against the tightness, against the flutter of dread, and inhaled and exhaled slowly. I gathered my stillness to me as if pulling the soft blanket from downstairs around my shoulders. I let the stillness envelop me, from my toes to the top of my head and only when I felt the calmness as a piece of my being did I focus on the pressure at the back of my skull. It had always been there, something I’d always felt, though never having realized it until Diana had described the sensation. When she had explained it, saying it was like a tether, like something connecting outwards, I knew exactly what she spoke of.

I focused on that tether, allowing my breath to dictate the pace as I moved along the connection. A part of me felt like this had to be my imagination, that what I did was entirely fake and not at all based in reality, words that Diana had also echoed, but as I moved along the tether, closer and closer, I knew there was something very real about what I did.

I reached across space and time.

Felt him, as a presence next to me, phased out and not at all solid for a moment but then suddenly very solid and very real. In my mind, I was in a room in the Archives. It was a study room and familiar to me. I zeroed in on Kieren, his tall form in the corner, his face lost in shadow. His eyes flickered towards me as if he sensed something and then flickered away to focus on what was going on. I turned my gaze to where his attention had gone and saw the Warden’s Lexions bent over a human male Collector, clearly interrogating the individual. It was the tall male from the lab, and I knew Kieren had been the one to bring him in.

My gut tightened, in nerves, in betrayal maybe, but the emotions were so intertwined I could make no sense of them, so I turned my focus away from the scene, not able to hear anything and not wanting to see anything. Instead, I focused on Kieren, on his familiar face.

“Kieren,” I whispered. I would have missed it, his jaw clenching, his fist tightening if I hadn’t been looking for those responses. I watched him, watched as his eyes glanced towards me and then away again. “Colm thinks you betrayed us.” I took a step towards him. “Did you betray us?”

His head turned more fully this time, but not enough of a movement that others in the room would notice. Though I was not there physically, I felt his gaze as if I stood directly in front of him, as if those dark green eyes grasped me and held me steady in the chaos that was reality. Warmth, assurance, something soft and vulnerable flowed along our connection. “Trust me,” he said not making a sound, but the words echoed between us, the warmth flowing between us.

He turned back to the interrogation, profile stark. Our bond existed, I felt it like a pulse, this tether and I watched him for a moment longer, studying him.

Trust.

A loaded word.

He knew my thoughts as if they were his own and he looked once more in my direction, catching my gaze and holding it. Through this gaze his presence intensified, consuming, but wasn’t the heated desire or the confusion, rather, his presence was gently familiar. A warm breeze. A soft blanket.

An understanding.

He mouthed one word at me: Sideian.

I frowned, wondering at the word. Kieren very slowly looked over at the Warden standing to the other side of the prisoner. Sideian. The Warden. Access.

I nodded, meeting Kieren’s gaze again.

Then a feeling of being pushed backwards, of Kieren physically moving me, and in my mind, I backed up, away from him, away from the scene. His voice echoed and echoed in my brain as I followed the tether back to my bedroom where I opened my eyes and stared at myself in the mirror. My face looked haunted, dragging down at my eyes. He asked me to trust him, and I did, despite everything, a trust that went deep into the places of my body and mind I couldn’t even access.

On the instinctive level of an animal, I trusted Kieren, I trusted the warmth I felt, the bond that existed.

“Where are you?” Colm called out in the hallway, causing me to jump, heart rate spiking in fear that Colm would realize what I’d just done. He was still out of sight though and I composed myself as he came to the doorway. He paused at the threshold and then leaned against the door jam, looking around my room in curiosity. “This is an interesting house. Whose is it?” he asked. His question was not at all what I thought he was going to say, and the comment stumbled me for a moment.

I answered truthfully. “I lived here with my father until I was 16.”

Colm looked around the bedroom. “It’s nice. Why’d you leave?”

I rubbed a hand over my face, wondering where Colm was going with his line of questioning. “I didn’t, not really. My father picked his new wife over me. Part of that was selling this house and moving to be with her in her house with her children.”

Colm frowned, not quite getting my tone. “He left you?”

I stood up. “Doesn’t matter. That was my life before transferring.”

“But that life informs who you are now,” Colm said, studying me with eyes that I felt were too much like Kieren’s but not enough at the same time.

I stared at him. “What are you getting at, Colm?”

Colm took a step into the room and then walked slowly towards the wall of bookshelves overflowing with books. “Tirius said you were a Collector when you first came over.”

I watched him put a finger to one of the books, a rather large space opera tome, the spine broken from the number of times I’d read it.

“And?” I asked, uncertain still, wary.

He turned to look at me and I felt the intensity of his curiosity. “I look around this house, at this room, at the living space downstairs, and there is evidence of scholarship everywhere. In a way, it is a lot like Cana’s home. She has a beautiful estate and one of the rooms that she most uses is covered in books, shelves and shelves of books.”

“A library?” I suggested.

He smiled halfway. “Yes, that is what humans call it, a library, and here too you have a library. A scholar. A person of words and stories.” He paused, again turning to the bookshelves. “But no weapons but the one that you now hold in your hand.” Taking out another paperback he leafed through the pages.

I remained silent watching him, not quite sure what to say in the face of his observation. When he said nothing else, I shifted on the bed, feeling my defenses coming up around me even as I tried to pretend that Colm’s words didn’t matter. “As I said,” I started, to fill the silence. “That was before, before the transfer.”

Colm replaced the book. “But yet, this is your home now, didn’t you say so?”

I stood up, taking my staff and replacing it in the holster at my back. “I don’t see the point in this line of questioning.”

Colm nodded slowly. “I know you don’t, which I think is probably the problem.”

“What problem?” I asked, edged, feeling irritation sparkle along my nerves.

“The problem of deciding what you’re going to do next.”

I frowned because once again his words caught me by surprise.

Before I could ask him to clarify, he straightened, filling the room. “I was thinking, why didn’t the Warden stop you from Travelling?”

Again, with the switch in conversation, my mind galloped forward to catch up. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it, and I shrugged. “From what I understand he can cut off my interface, but the ability to Travel is something gifted to us when we move into the Master Realm.”

Colm studied me. “I think you’re being tracked.”

I thought about the wound in my shoulder and Kieren taking it out. “I don’t have a physical tracker on me, or they would’ve arrived a lot sooner than that, probably while we were on Sideia.”

“Kieren was with us. Perhaps they didn’t need to track you. But Cana arrives and suddenly there are Guardians. And then, when we were on Kepler. It likely has to do with the way you Travel, the energy transfer. It probably has a signature that they can locate. And, I think you are being allowed to escape.”

He had a point. All evidence pointed to me being tracked, which would mean that I was being allowed to escape as well. But for what purpose other than to lead whoever was tracking me to Cana?

“What happened, after I Traveled with you and Diana?” I asked, thinking about Kepler, watching the Sideian as he answered.

Colm shifted from one foot to another. “Cana said they were able to neutralize the threat. It was only 10 pairs in total.”

“How many people, your people, died?”

I saw him hesitate and I pressed. “Colm. How many of Cana’s people died?”

“Over 50,” he replied.

 I nodded, pressing down the feeling of guilt that rose up at the number, staring past Colm at the blank wall, going through my options. I really only had the one.

 “I will get you wherever you need to go,” I said, thinking through the scenario. “Once there, I will Travel again, taking the tracker, if I have one, with me. You contact Cana when I am no longer around.” Colm opened his mouth to say something but I interrupted him by putting a hand up. “I don’t want to know. The less I know and all that, but Colm you realize this plan to somehow kill the Masters, assumes many things.”

“You know nothing of the plan,” Colm said, voice edged.

“You’re right, but I do know that you plan to go after all the Masters. Think though, what about the ones not involved in these manipulations, in these power games using individuals as pawns?”

“They’re all involved,” he immediately said with a voice that showed more zeal than intelligence.

“All nine of them? You’re so sure?’ I tilted my head, studying the man.

He answered right away. “There is enough evidence to show that the Master Realm is controlled by those who care nothing but for their desire to hold on to power, who willfully take lives because they believe they are superior.”

“And yet, isn’t that what you and Cana are doing by planning to take over the Master Realm?”

A storm crawled over Colm’s face but to his credit he didn’t launch himself at me. “We do not play those games.”

“The ones where you use people to do your bidding in order to gain power over something else? What are those individuals that serve under you then?” I was continuing to push the issue, but I wanted him to see, needed him to see. I felt as if this was the last time I would talk with him before Cana started her war. I had wanted to speak to her about it but hadn’t gotten an opportunity. I needed Colm to take my doubts to her, to present them as his own, though judging by the stubborn clench of his jaw, I had little hope that would end up happening.

Still. I continued, shaking my head. “We all play games for power, Colm, it is the one common trait across all timelines. We want to be in control of others. It is also some kind of inherent trait to believe that we are right and to stand stubbornly in our righteousness. I was not a Collector for long, but as you pointed out, I’ve always been a scholar, and it is greed and power that controls all things, overarching no matter what timeline or what people. You might feel justified in your actions, in your war, in your attempt to bring peace to your people that exist outside the realm, but in doing so, are you not just doing the same thing the Masters do? Aren’t you just attempting to take over so that Cana might rule?”

Colm looked away as I spoke, staring at something beyond my shoulder. “She would be a far better ruler,” he answered.

I shrugged. “Perhaps, but still a ruler.”

“You have to have rulers. People want to be told what to do.”

I looked over at my bookcase, at the books, at the small knickknacks and the stones I’d picked up along my life both before and after my transfer. “Yes, they do,” I said, quietly, to myself more than to the Sideian. “Yes, they do.”

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