“Will and Wisdom win over the Obstacle.
Willpower uncovers the Path.
The Will of the Soul over the Matter.
Simplicity, Fluidity and Honesty.”
- The Prophet of Truth
Sarah sighed, relieved when they finally allowed her to enter Selena’s room and remain by her side.
The doctor had told her that, fortunately, Selena hadn’t suffered any burns and that the reason why she remained unconscious was due to smoke inhalation. She was bound to wake up eventually, as soon as her oxygen levels returned to normal. She still had the oxygen mask over her face and the IV on her arm, but the machine controlling her heartbeat showed it beat at a calm, rhythmic pace.
Sarah sat by Selena’s bed, lightly caressing her golden-brown hair. Someone had washed her but there were still traces of soot in some places. Sleeping like that, on that white bed, she looked even more like a frail, vulnerable child. At least her lips had regained their color.
She knew the instant he arrived, even before he softly knocked on the door. His emotions invaded her mind immediately, in a mix of sadness, sorrow and regret.
“How’s she doing?” he asked in a whisper as if he feared he might wake her, and Sarah caressed her sister’s hair.
“The doctors say she’ll be fine. Selena is young and strong,” she answered with conviction and felt him unsure, somewhat embarrassed.
“I’m sorry …”
“It’s not your fault, Alexis. Believe me. If it were I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to blame this on you, just so I could get rid of this weight, no matter how much of a coward that would make me. But the truth is that I’m the only one to blame,” she declared and the bitter knot she’d been bravely keeping under control over the past hour squeezed her throat, filling her eyes with tears. Not that she could actually be blamed either, she thought, since it was practically impossible to resist the compulsion to help those who silently called her. And so it had to be destiny’s fault, that had made so she’d been born with that gift. And a bitter smile tore her lips. To what she’d stoop to, blaming destiny for her own mess. Her, that had never even believed in any of that stuff …
“Even so … I’m fully aware that my life isn’t worth your loss, and so I’m really sorry.”
“What are you saying?” She quickly wiped her tears before turning to face him. “All lives have value. And not a commercial one. You can’t just exchange one life for another.”
“You’re wrong. The Law clearly states that a Human life is more important than any other,” Alexis replied and Sarah turned her attention back to Selena.
“Well, that Law is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” she contested and gently held her sister’s hand between hers. “And yet … how am I going to tell her what happened? Selena will be so distraught. So little time has passed since all that happened. How am I going to tell her …” Sarah stopped talking as she noticed she’d started sobbing and fought to regain her self-control.
Alexis just stood there, in silence, unsure of what to do, feeling annoyingly divided; wishing he could somehow comfort her, offer her some support in that difficult time and, at the same time, all too aware he’d never be able to do that. In fact, all he could do was increase the weight she already carried, his own uncontrollable emotions constantly invading her mind. Her pain, the tears that slid down her cheeks, were like acid eating at his insides. And his mind turned towards the only language he could easily understand; a deadly, dark promise of revenge.
Aaran’s arrival brought him some relief. Aaran was like an immutable stone in situations like that, his inability to feel allowing him to maintain a cold and rational logic.
He walked passed by him in a firm, rhythmic pace, and approached the bed peering down at the girl lying there.
“How’s she doing?” he asked softly and Sarah took a deep breath, drying the last traces of tears.
“She’s stable, now. The doctors say she could wake up at any moment.” Aaran nodded, understandingly, and took a step back, as if he wanted to keep some distance between himself and the two Humans. “Aaran?” Sarah called him and he turned his attention towards her. “Thank you. In fact I’ll never be able to thank you enough!” she corrected anxiously, her heart burning in her eyes. “She means the word to me. So …”
“Sarah, you have nothing to thank me for.” He cut her desperate search for adequate words to express her feelings. “Alexis swore he’d protect you and I’ve accepted his promise, which makes it my promise as well. That girl is a part of you. Thus helping her was merely the logic thing to do,” he declared and Sarah just nodded, although she was clearly touched by his words.
“And Hale?” Alexis asked, noticing his absence.
“He’s at your place, awaiting my decision,” he replied, indifferently, and Sarah felt her heart jump.
“Please don’t punish him. He only did as I asked,” she confessed, pleadingly, and Aaran turned to face her once again.
“He disobeyed my command.”
“He was only trying to help me. Hale is still young …”
“Don’t be deceived by appearances, Sarah,” Aaran interrupted her. “Hale is far from being young!”
“That’s where you’re wrong! He’s just a kid trying to get your approval and recognition!” she replied and Aaran couldn’t avoid his surprised expression. As far as he could remember no one had ever been brave enough to tell him he was wrong right to his face.
“Sarah …!” Alexis reprimanded her, confirming he’d thought the same, but she didn’t seem to understand the reason behind his reproach.
“But it’s the truth!” she insisted. “He always behaves like an irreverent brat, but deep down he has a good heart. And if he hadn’t listened to my request Selena …” Her voice broke off before the words she couldn’t bring herself to utter, and Aaran took a deep breath.
“Alright, Sarah … I promise I’ll be lenient,” he conceded and she smiled briefly, although her hands still shook at the simple idea she might have lost her sister. “I have to go now. There are a few things I still have to take care of before daybreak,” he declared and Sarah squeezed her hands together in what Alexis had noticed to be a nervous gesture.
“Aaran …? The others …” she hesitated and swallowed hard, her throat burning. “The others inside …”
“Four victims. Two adults, two teenagers. All dead before the fire had started. All quick deaths,” he told her in his empty, emotionless voice, and Sarah swallowed the bitterness that filled her mouth, although his words had brought her some measure of relief. At least they hadn’t burned to death. She couldn’t even imagine how terrifying something like that might be.
“And Selena …” she asked in search of some logical explanation for that terrible event.
“Your sister was hiding in the basement, between to bookshelves.”
“Did she tell you anything?”
Aaran seemed to hesitate for a split second and ended up shaking his head.
“She was already unconscious by the time I reached her.” Sarah nodded and went back to straighten Selena’s wavy hair. “I’ll be going now. I’ll return by nightfall,” he declared and, in the next instant, he’d simply disappeared.
“And you …? Will you stay?” she asked without even turning to look at him and Alexis was silent for an instant, his gaze lost on how much frailer she looked now. Almost as if she could break with the slightest blow.
“I can leave, if you’d rather be alone,” he finally replied, ignoring his unreasonable desire to remain by her side. Which was ridiculous, he thought. Because not only was he unable to help her, his presence could only hurt her even more.
He’d stay somewhere inside the hospital grounds, he told himself, making sure they’d be safe, at least until sunrise. But he’d make sure to keep enough distance from her, so she wouldn’t have to constantly be assaulted by his chaotic emotions. However, as he was about to leave, her voice froze him in place.
“Stay.” Alexis raised his head and faced her in pure disbelief. Sarah looked beyond tired but her expression was still strong and resolute, her green eyes grounding him where he stood, as if she’d just cast some immobilization spell on him. “I need … I want you to stay,” she reinforced and Alexis merely nodded.
What else could he do? In all his life he’d never been the target of such powerful magic. And even after she released him from her intense gaze, the only thing he could do was just stand there, burning her image with fire into his brain; the lines of her face, the shape of her shoulders, the size of her fingers …