“The End of something, the Beginning of a new Beginning.
Hidden Truths revealed.
The Choices that determine a New Direction.
The Courage to face the True Path.”
- The Prophet of Truth
And they left me alone! With this mad monster!, she thought in panic, but the sudden decrease in the almost palpable tension surrounding her told her that them leaving had probably been for the better. So … what do I do? How do I get him to release me?
Taking a deep breath in search of courage, she tried to raise her shaky hands, placing them on the arms squeezing her painfully, as if she were nothing but a rag-doll in the arms of a lonely child.
”Alexis…?” she muttered in her hoarse voice and felt him move lightly. His heavy head fell over her shoulder and his warm breath against her skin made her recoil instinctively.
“Give me a second …”
The trembling in his voice didn’t go unnoticed and Sarah stood still, waiting in silence, feeling his emotions slowly returning to normal, becoming less chaotic and intense.
She looked around once more, unable to ignore the piles of black dust on the floor where she knew once there’d been two couches. In fact it was past time she stopped trying to ignore the things happening around her just for the sake of keeping her logical world in one piece. That house was real. Her wounds too. And the same had to be said about the arms holding her tightly.
Sarah took a deep breath and gently patted the strong hand squeezing her left shoulder.
“Everything’s fine, Alexis,” she told him as softly as she could, allowing herself to tune in with his emotions. “I’m okay and there’s no one else here.”
Slowly, his embrace started to lose its strength, as the tension blocking his muscles disappeared, until he finally released her, leaving her dizzy without his support. She felt him take a step back, breaking any contact, and Sarah took a deep breath of relief before she dared turn to face him.
“I’m sorry,” was the only thing he told her, looking too embarrassed to face her, and crossed the room towards the windows, opening the panels to mask his awkwardness.
Sarah followed him with her gaze, lightly massaging her arms in the places he’d squeezed her too hard. He seemed to be back to normal, she thought, once again in complete control of himself.
With uncertain steps and with the world around her threatening to turn upside down at any second, Sarah made her a way to the armchair she’d occupied before and sat down. She had decided to wait until he ran out of excuses to avoid facing her, but after a few minutes of silence it became clear that he’d rather spend the rest of the night with his face glued to the glass than talk to her, and so she she had no choice but take the initiative.
“I’m listening,” she informed him, trying to sound firm even though her aching throat only produced dissonant sounds, and he was suddenly tense again, as if she’d startled him. “The truth is that I’d much rather just get away from here,” she confessed. “But since I’m guessing you won’t allow me to leave anyway, I can only listen. What’s going to happen to me?”
Alexis sighed deeply and finally gathered enough courage to face her. His eyes fell over the small, frail woman, sitting in his living room, facing him with her head raised tall. The pale artificial light coming from the street lamps outside illuminated her face, allowing him to easily distinguish the dark bruises all over her skin but, even so, her eyes were bright alive, showing a strength he’d never expect to find in someone like her. He knew that expression all too well. He’d seen it time and time again, in the faces of his Brothers as they readied themselves to face certain end; a mix of dignity and acceptance. The least he could do was try to answer her with an equal amount of honesty.
“Aaran tells me I should choose. But I rather you do it,” he told her softly and saw her frown. “Although none of the choices are what you can call fair.”
“Choose between what?” Sarah pressed on, making complete use of her rational mind. There was no use allowing herself to drown in her own emotions. Screaming or crying her eyes out wouldn’t help her in the least. The only thing she could do was to try and understand exactly where she stood and, from then, who knows, maybe find a solution … or not.
“Between truth and lie.”
She sat still for a moment, the speed of her thoughts showing only in the intelligent glow of her eyes, and then she faced him again, keeping her head high.
“Consequences. I can’t just choose without knowing the consequences of my choice.”
Alexis smiled and crossed the room, looking much more at ease.
“As I’ve told you, none of the choices are fair,” he reminded her and sat on the arm of the sole surviving couch, at her left, crossing his arms over his chest. “There are things that neither of us can avoid.”
“Like the ones hunting you down.”
Sarah shuddered before the images that filled her mind and her stomach knotted making her feel sick. Those were memories she’d rather forget!, she told herself clenching her hands to keep the trembling under control, until she noticed Alexis’ deadly expression. He’d noticed her reaction as well and it was clear that the violent anger that now emanated from him had been caused by her. Once more Sarah forced herself to turn exclusively towards her more rational part. He was too unstable as it was. There was no need to unsettle him even more.
“You mean they’ll keep hunting me?”
She wished they could go back to the almost detached tone that had marked their conversation up till then, but the savage gleam that took over his eyes told her that wouldn’t be that easy.
“Until I hunt them all down, yes,” he told her dryly. A shiver ran down her spine. That had been more than a declaration. It had been a threat … a promise.
“So, what’s there for me to choose?”
“If you want to know about it, or not.” His tone was suddenly annoyingly haughty. “If you wish it, I can make it so you won’t remember anything that happened. Your life will go back to what it used to be.”
Brainwash. Mind control. False memories. Sarah had heard about those kinds of things among the scientific community. There were drugs that could attain similar results and leave a person unsure of if their memories were part of the real world or just another dream. And she didn’t doubt that someone like him had access to that and much more.
Mobsters, for sure!
“You’re telling me that I’ll still be hunted …” she tried to make sure, using his own words. “But that I wouldn’t know about it. And that you’d be out there, hunting my hunters down, until there’s no more danger. What if you fail?”
“The result is the same, whether you know about it or not.”
Sarah shuddered again and averted her gaze to better control her emotions. I’d be captured again … And be at those psychotic demented murderers’ mercy again.
“Why me …? I didn’t do anything …” she found herself asking aloud.
“You sure you want me to answer that?”
Sarah faced him again. His dark hair was tied at the back of his head and his stormy eyes reflected the pale light coming from the street lamps outside.
“Sometimes the truth is just too heavy to carry.” She took a deep breath. “Are you going to kill me, Alexis?” she asked and her hands trembled again while she waited for an answer that seemed to take forever to come.
“No? Because someone else will do it for you?”
“No, because I promised I’d protect you,” he corrected and Sarah felt the words disappear from her brain. Sure she remembered his promise, but the way he’d spoken those words … Promises were made and broken more times than she could count, but not for Alexis. The emotions coming from him reinforced in steel the strength of his word. He really did feel bound by the promise he’d made her.
“So, the question is if I want to know that you’ll be protecting me, or if I rather forget,” she concluded and he just sat in silence, as if waiting for an answer. “In the end you’re asking me if I want to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich,” she summed it up and her own analogy didn’t pleased her in the least. “Then I guess I’d rather know.”
“There’s another consequence in choosing the truth,” he warned her and Sarah faced him suspiciously. Hadn’t she already asked for all the consequences?
“And what’s that?”
“The world you know will be no longer. Everything will be different and you will never be able to put it back the way it used to be.”
She seemed to seriously ponder his warning for a moment.
“That I can foresee, yes.”
“The alternative is tempting …” she conceded. The idea of just being able to forget the last twenty-four hours was truly attractive. And who knows, with some luck, she might even forget the whole week! With a sigh Sarah forced herself to stop daydreaming. “However, the notion that I wouldn’t be in control of my own life anymore displeases me greatly,” she concluded and raised her head once again, with a decided expression. “I rather know the truth.”
Alexis took a deep breath and stood up, walking across the room, as if searching for the best way to tell her what she had asked. Sarah followed him with her gaze, anxiety eating at her. She felt a bit like a prisoner about to hear her sentence.
“So, what is it?” she demanded, unable to remain silent any longer. “Organized crime? Drugs? Weapons?”
He stopped abruptly and turned to face her, his intimidating presence breaking the nervous thread of hypotheses running through her head.
“The first thing you have to believe is that I’ll do my best to keep you safe. You have to trust me, Sarah. If I was going to kill you, or even hurt you, I would have already done it.”
Sarah swallowed hard. Sure he had a valid argument there, but hearing it like that, in such a direct clear way, made her feel vulnerable, as if her life or death depended soly on his will. As if she were no more than a defenseless child left in the care of a grownup with a tendency to go insane.
“And why is that important?” she asked unable to hide her defensive tone, and Alexis ferocious expression became softer and somewhat sad.
“Because I don’t want you to fear me.”
Her primary impulse was to immediately deny that affirmation. Not to appease him our even please him, but because admitting she was afraid was the same as showing him a weakness she didn’t wish to share with him. However, faced with the honesty she knew filled his words she just couldn’t lie to his face. How could any sane person that had seen what she’d seen not be afraid?
Alexis sighed, defeated, and released her from his intimidating bright eyes.
“The world you know is just one space, but in truth there are others,” he told her. “You’re a scientist, right? I’m sure you heard talks and theories about such things.”
“Other spaces?” Sarah questioned trying to follow his explanation. “Like in other dimensions?” she suggested in a mix of incredibility and censure. Well, if his arguments were going to use that as justification he really was in serious need to be committed to the closest psychiatric ward. Alexis smiled softly and gently caressed one of the night escapes adorning his wall. Longing …?
“Maybe it won’t be that hard to convince you after all,” he told her and Sarah decided to take that chance and call his bluff.
“It’s quite easy to convince me of pretty much anything. All you have to do is show me some physical, concrete evidence,” she told him, trying to challenge him to counter her, but he just nodded, as if agreeing with her.
“I can do that. But first the theory.” He leaned against the cupboard, electing her once again as the main target of his strange gaze. “Aaran, Hale and I, and also the men that attacked you. None of us are from around here. And when I say from around here I’m literally talking about this physical space. Not countries or cities,” he firmly assured and Sarah had to blink a few times so she wouldn’t keep stupidly gaping at him. She could have sworn he suffered from some form of paranoid delusion, if not for the fact that the night before had been frighteningly real, and that there were a lot of things about what she remembered she couldn’t, for the life of her, adequately explain. So, no matter how crazy he sounded, she decided to play along, hoping that amongst all the craziness truth would eventually come to the surface.
“Hum … not from here … What do you mean? Aliens?”
Alexis smiled again, this time looking truthfully amused.
“Not aliens. To tell you the truth, the only aliens on Earth are you, Humans.”
The tone of despise with which he spoke that last word, as if proudly setting himself apart from everyone else, somehow irked her, making her act defensively again.
“Not aliens. What then?” she demanded, suddenly lacking the patience needed to play along with all that nonsense, and Alexis crossed his arms, proudly raising his head.
“We are Araphel. And we come from another space, another dimension as you put it, called Tzel.”
A few minutes went by until Sarah realized she was gaping at him again. Because he wasn’t lying, or joking. His mind trully believed what he’d just said.
“This planet you call Earth is not the watery stone you think she is. Gaea is a living being, like you and I, just a bit bigger. And, like all living beings, she possesses what you can call organic systems. You can call them dimensions, if you want. And Tzel is one of them.”
“Tzel …” Sarah repeated to make sure she was hearing correctly. Alexis’ expression remained unwavering in the certainty that what he’d told her was the complete truth. “And you come from Tzel.” She tried to organize her own thoughts, and ended up deciding not to oppose him. “So, why are you here?”
“The ones that attacked you are what you can call rebels. They escaped to this dimension.”
“And you came to hunt them down?” she easily concluded and couldn’t avoid a nervous laughter. He was completely insane, and there she was, in the same room as him, weak, tired and hungry, and ultimately completely at his mercy. “This almost sounds like one of those sci-fi movies …” she added and massaged her pulsing temples with the tips of her fingers, trying to alleviate the aching that accompanied her since she’d woken up. “I can almost tell you the rest of the plot. You were their prisoner, and without knowing any better, I helped you escape. And now they’re after me for revenge.”
“Yes and no,” he replied and Sarah faced him with a hint of impatience, waiting for a better explanation than that ambiguous answer. “Yes, I was their prisoner, and yes, you helped me escape. But it’s not really you they want. They want to recapture me. You’re just a useful pawn that was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told her scratching his tattooed face. “It was never my intention that things would turn out like this.”
“Hum … is that suppose to make me feel any better?” she grunted and he smiled again. It was strange seeing that expression on his face since. Besides being rare, it granted him a softness she knew he didn’t possess.
“I guess it’s time to give you some of those proofs you mentioned?” He stood straight and Sarah followed him with an interested gaze. If nothing else she was curious to know what he was going to make up in order to support all that crazy talk.
Alexis briefly looked around and picked up a small crystal figurine that had been resting on the cupboard. In his firm stride he walked up to her, leaving her immediately alert, and crouched in front of her. Sarah had to stop herself from pulling her feet up and cringe against the armchair just to get a few more inches between them. Even though she hadn’t been able to clearly tell him she didn’t fear him, at least, no matter what, she wasn’t about to openly show it. He had more than enough physical advantages over her as it was, without her giving him a few more of the psychological area.
Alexis held the crystal object he’d brought with him on the palm of his opened hand, and Sarah noticed that it was a crystal sea snail, its spiral shell reflecting the pale light coming from the windows. Just like his eyes, she noticed unable to stop herself from giving them a closer look, since they gleamed unlike any eyes she’d ever seen. At first she’d thought he was on drugs or something like that. But now, looking at them from up close, she could see the small crystal-like particles embed in his gray irises that strangely reflected the soft light of the room. His face, now so close to hers, was almost perfect. And what were those silver lines all over his left cheek? She’d never seen a tattoo like that, in that metallic silver color. It was almost as if someone had painted them with a soft brush, the elegant swirls and curls climbing up to his forehead, surrounding his left eye. She almost raised a hand to touch them, just to make sure they were as unnoticeable to the touch as they seemed.
“Gaea, like all living beings, has different aspects - creative, rational, emotional, physical … Tzel is Gaea’s shadow, and that is our basic nature as well,” he went on in a warmer, softer tone, and Sarah had to try hard not to lose herself in his voice’s melody, or she’d completely stop trying to make sense of what he was saying. “Like shadows that we are, we can touch and change everything that casts a shadow,” he added and his stormy gaze fell upon the small crystal object he held in front of his face.
For an instant she could almost swear she was allowing herself to be led by that mysterious ambience he’d created and that she was just imagining things. But eventually the phenomenon took on undeniable proportions, and, incredulous, she watched as the translucent crystal was filled with dark clouds that were progressively devouring the light. Her heart jumped and her hands were moist again. For an instant she almost screamed at him to stop, hoping she was still in time to change her mind about that knowing the truth business. But she immediately reprimanded herself for her own cowardice and forced herself to watch that surreal spectacle in silence.
“We can always make the shadow devour the matter,” Alexis went on, as if he’d forgotten all about her presence. The darkness that had invaded the crystal became dense, looking almost liquid, and suddenly the seashell structure broke down into a small pile of thin, dark dust that slid between his fingers, pilling up on the floor at her feet. “However, destroying a material object also implies destroying its shadow as well. After all a shadow is always the result of an object exposed to light.” He tilted his hand and the rest of the dust fell on the white carpet.
When he raised his eyes to look at her Sarah was trembling. But his expression, that told her he was expecting a nervous breakdown or at least some panicking and screaming, made her keep herself strongly under control. She would act like the scientist she was, not the frail woman she felt like, she told herself even though she was clenching her fists so hard that her nails were biting into the palms of her hands.
“Proof enough?” he asked with a slight tone of irony and she just nodded, unsure she’d be able to control her voice enough to make it sound natural.