“A Last Secret Revealed.
A Test of Faith, Love and Trust.
Intuition, Wisdom and Courage.
The Waxing Moon in the Sky.”
- The Prophet of Truth
Sarah stopped by the door, for an instant, lost between fear and disbelief. Selena and Aaran were sitting side by side, playing some computer game. By their talk, Selena was losing and it wasn’t the first time. The girl fought as ferociously with her hands as with her tongue, spitting threats and dark promises that, apparently, she was unable to fulfill. Aaran just kept smiling, his fingers looking like they weren’t moving at all. When the fight was finally over Selena almost jumped from the couch in a fit of frustration that only made Aaran’s victorious expression look even more arrogant.
“A fair fight,” he declared with his usual indifference and Selena stuck her tongue out in a childish gesture. “What? You’re not going to accuse me of cheating again, are you?”
“No,” the girl replied pouting, folding her arms over her chest. “Not this time, anyway.”
Aaran smiled again and raised his controller in the air.
“Why don’t you try it, Sarah? This is rather amusing.”
Sarah felt her cheeks catch on fire and severely reprimanded herself for having forgotten about Aaran’s keen senses. Selena immediately knelt on the sofa to look at her, greeting her with a bright open smile.
“Oh, look. Another spy,” she teased and Sarah gave her a threatening glare.
“Oh, your sister is an expert at hiding behind doors,” Aaran shared in the same tone and Sarah couldn’t help stare at him dumbfounded. How was it possible that the relaxed being sitting at her sister’s side was the same that had just psychologically tortured her to tears just a few minutes ago?
“That may be so. But as games go, Sarah is a terrible gamer,” Selena declared, turning back to the TV screen, and it was Aaran’s turn to peer at her over his shoulder.
She clenched her fists into tight balls at his clear challenge and, raising her head, marched across the room with the same resolve with which she’d picked up his dagger just a moment ago.
“You never know until you try,” she declared and Aaran smiled an approval, moving a bit more to Selena’s side so that she’d have a place to sit.
“That’s exactly what I expected you would say,” he confessed, handing her his controller. “I won’t misjudge you again, Sarah Wilson,” he added, lowering his voice, and Sarah peered at him by the corner of her eye, before focusing her attention on the bright screen.
“Good to know,” she replied, trying hard to ignore the sensation of eminent danger that his proximity gave her, and Selena quickly scrolled down the menu.
“Ready to be totally annihilated?” she asked with an audible dose of malevolence and Sarah held her controller firmly.
“Just do your worst, little sister!”
As to be expected, Sarah spent the rest of the night being consecutively defeated by Selena and Aaran alternately, no matter how many tips she received from either one of them.
It was already late when Selena finally succumbed to fatigue, falling asleep against Aaran’s shoulder as if he were a comfortable pillow.
Sarah couldn’t help shudder at the sight of that strange picture and, to her surprise, Aaran didn’t seem to mind it at all.
“Thank you,” she simply said, relieved at finally being allowed to put down the controller once and for all, and Aaran arched and inquiring eyebrow.
“Looking out for her. I imagine you have other, much more important things to do,” she replied.
“Does that mean you no longer want to pluck out my eyes and have them for breakfast?” he asked and Sarah averted her gaze, trying to hide her embarrassment, since she clearly recalled the idea having crossed her mind at some point, when he’d attacked Alexis.
“Not necessarily,” she grunted and Aaran took a deep breath.
“No matter what you may think, Sarah, I have nothing against you,” he declared. “Quite the contrary in fact. If anything, I’m deeply grateful to you for being who you are. And, if I would only dare, I’m sure I’d actually like you a lot,” he declared and Sarah couldn’t help giving him a doubtful look. “In many ways you’re very much like Alexis. You know who I am and you're able to capture part of my nature. I know your instinct tells you that you shouldn’t trust me and I won’t say that you’re wrong. Even now, although Alexis has you by his side, he is still rather unstable. I, on the other hand, can’t even stumble. I can only imagine that, as far as you’re concerned, my proximity isn’t all that pleasant. If most Human Beings tend to avoid me, no matter how attractive I may look to them, for you, who can see a bit beyond that, the sensation must be even less pleasant. And yet you still address me with simplicity and neutrality,” he concluded and Sarah gave him a tentative smile.
“That simplicity and neutrality you’re talking about should probably be seen as a grave offense …” she guessed, remembering that Aaran was supposed to be the King of an entire dimension; idea that every time it crossed her mind simply sounded almost ludicrous.
“There was a time where there were many who’d have agreed with you. Now, those who are left only act on ignorance and fear. Beings like Alexis and Hale, that are still ruled by their own thoughts ignoring echoes from the past, are truly rare. Reason why I try so hard to keep them by my side. Certain … positions, can be very lonely,” he added and Sarah found herself actually seeing eye to eye with him, which had never happened before.
Now that she thought about it she couldn’t begin to imagine the weight Aaran carried on his shoulders. Besides being the leader of a dying Race, he was still personally responsible for capturing and destroying many of his own kind. And if Alexis’ light had almost died out after three hundred and fifty years, what to say about his, since he’d been living for so much longer.
“And then there are those who don’t even have a basic instinct,” Sarah added, trying to lighten the mood, and nodded towards Selena, tranquilly sleeping leaning against his shoulder.
Aaran looked at the young girl for an instant and smiled again.
“She’s just a child. And children are naturally over trusting,” he replied, and for the first time since she’d met him, Sarah actually thought she’d seen him really smile. And so she decided it was best to just keep quiet, instead of shattering his all too innocent view of her little sister. “And Alex?” he asked, facing her again, and Sarah folded her arms in a small pout.
“Did you have a fight?”
“We disagreed,” she corrected. “And he ran away.”
“Alex ran?!” Aaran sounded incredulous, but at the sight of her severe expression decided it was best to just take her word for it. “I hope the reason wasn’t our little … chat.”
“In part, but not directly. I told him he can’t possibly want to try and protect me all the time, and he simply disappeared,” she vented.
“I see. Once again it all comes down to instinct,” Aaran explained and she looked at him with a critical expression.
“I get that you guys blame everything on instinct.”
“It is rather strong, in our Race. Instinct and emotions are basically the center of our lives. That’s why we all have to learn to control them since a very young age. But there are still some occasions when it’s practically impossible to refrain them. When I kissed you, for example, was one of those occasions,” he declared. “The same happens whenever he feels you might be in danger. Honestly speaking, I was rather surprised when you actually managed to stop him from attacking me, just then. But in the end I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore, and that’s why I had to immobilize him.”
“I understand that he wants to protect me, for more than one reason. If nothing else because my life now determines the length of his. But he also has to understand that there will be many moments when that just won’t be possible, unless I never leave this house again.”
“Which is basically what happens with the females of our Race,” Aaran added and she looked at him in disbelief. “Well, not exactly what you’re thinking. It’s just that in our Race females are much frailer than males, and much less in quantity. They’re existence is closely connected with the earth, and the sky, and to our world as a whole. They feel things differently and suffer when the earth suffers. Because of this, they’re closely guarded and protected inside the Territory of the dominant male of the family or clan they belong to. Of course our Territories aren’t mere squares of land like the one we’re in, right now. They are large zones, some of which would probably take more than three days to cross, and usually there are whole villages safely living generation after generation inside them.”
“Because no one can enter someone else’s Territory without being invited,” Sarah recalled, her scientific curiosity reawakened, and he just nodded in confirmation.
“Of course this was before … Now our females are all but almost gone. Their connection to Tezel’s energy made it so that they were the first ones to get sick and disappear. The land too, is less and less every day, as it simply crumbles away. And the last child to be born and survive has now eighty five of your years and is a boy. The last female to be born was one hundred and seven years ago and her life was extinguished just a few moments after she took her first breath,” he told her without the slightest hint of bitterness or sadness, and Sarah found herself trying to swallow the knot squeezing her throat.
“I’m really sorry, Aaran …”
“This world’s rhythms are just like that,” he replied in an irrefutable matter of fact tone. “All has its beginning and all has its end. And if Gaea has determined that our time is over, who are we to fight the will of the one who gave birth to us, who gave us a world to live in, who kept us and fed us all these millennium?”
“But if it’s all happening because of us …” Sarah argued and Aaran’s gaze fell on Selena as she moved in her sleep, hugging his arm against her chest.
“Yes … And your turn will come too, sooner or later. Tzel’s disappearance will be to Gaea like one of us losing an arm, or a leg. All will have to change. Gaea will have to adapt to her new structure and fight to regain her balance. Something like that changes everything. And there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s just the way things work. Rhythms are followed by new rhythms, most of the time in chain reactions that, once put into motion, no one can stop or change.” Sarah sat in silence, pondering on his words, admiring his calm acceptance, his deep wisdom. He had lived and seen so much of a world she just met the other day, that she couldn’t help feel suddenly small and insignificant. “I should probably take her upstairs. She’ll be more comfortable in bed,” Aaran said, changing the subject, his attention still on the girl sleeping beside him, and Sarah sighed, nodding as she got up to turn off the TV. He carefully lifted Selena from the couch, trying not to wake her, and they both went for the stairs, with Sarah leading the way towards the girl’s bedroom. Once inside he placed her gently on the bed and Sarah gave him a grateful smile.
“Aaran?” she called as he was walking towards the door and he stopped to look back at her. “Alexis …he didn’t really mean what he said.”
“But of course he did. And we both know it,” he replied with his apparent indifference and Sarah felt her heart beat painfully faster for him.
“Okay, so he meant what he said. But it’s not like it’s the truth … He said it himself, no one controls their emotions and what we feel doesn’t define who we are. What I mean to say is that …”
“I understand,” he cut off her desperate search for adequate words. “Either way I have no regrets regarding what I did. You are his partner now. And it is indispensable that he trusts you completely. Even if that means he has to hate me from now on.” Sarah lowered her gaze, wishing she could assure him that Alexis would end up forgiving him, and Aaran sighed deeply. “Which brings me to another matter that I think you should know about.”
“What?” she asked, anxiety eating at her at the uncertain tone of his voice, almost as if he wasn’t sure if he should be telling her this.
“His eyes … they won’t just heal by themselves. Not any time soon, anyway,” he declared and Sarah felt her heart sink. “His body has been receiving damage after damage and some of it relatively serious. Although we do have the ability to heal and recover faster than the average Human Being, it still takes time; time he hasn’t given himself to properly heal, ever since he escaped from that place. The exposure to daylight on its own causes deep damages that, although unseen, are even more dangerous than any bleeding gash. And Alexis was exposed to daylight for several days in a row. His last foolish act brought him such a huge overload of fractures that his senses have started to fail him. I fear what might happen if he refuses to just sit still for a couple of weeks, allowing himself the time to heal completely.”
Sarah squeezed her hands together and faced him anxiously.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked, her heart beating on her throat. “I’m sure you know better than anyone that I’ll never be able to force him to just stay still, at home.”
“No special reason. I just thought you should know about his true state, that’s all,” he answered indifferently and Sarah fought to control her nerves. It was almost as if she were back in that room, facing his tests.
“No. If you’re telling me this is because you believe that there’s something I can do for him. Right? Right?” she insisted, unable to hide her impatience, and he gave her one of his fake smiles.
“Maybe,” he conceded. “Something that only his Hridaya can give him without incurring the risk of other, undesired effects. And that, in your case, even has some extra special qualities.” Sarah took a defensive hand to her neck and he smiled again. “Of course he’ll probably be furious at the mere mention of something like that.”
“If I do this … I won’t be hurting him, right?” she wanted to make sure and Aaran shrugged.
“We’re back to the initial question. Are you or are you not his Hridaya? If you truly are his Hridaya then nothing in you will ever be able to hurt him,” he declared with absolute certainty and, slightly bowing his head, left without another word.