Sarhea had spent the past three days cooped up in Aleena’s apartment. The overprotective Kalatian had demanded that she stay so she could keep tabs on her healing. In a way, Sarhea was grateful. It had been much safer for her to be in the company of a friend and not alone with her thoughts. It had also given her the opportunity to judge Aleena’s reaction to her revelations and the continued information she divulged during their regular long chats. Sarhea had not meant to drag her friend into her secret life, but she’d had no other choice. The encounter with the drones and the subsequent interaction with Lyle had significantly depleted her energy reserves and had left her severely weakened. She’d lost too much blood and had barely made it to the vent shaft over Aleena’s apartment.
Aleena had taken the information as well as could be expected. Her friend was overwhelmed and skeptical, and she’d done her best to give demonstrations despite her weakened condition. In the end, Aleena could no longer deny the existence of some form of energetic presence, though she still could not swallow the idea of living energy beings. It was a start, and for the first time since her world was destroyed, there was someone who knew just about all there was to know about her. Sarhea still had her secrets, such as where she’d been living, and there was no need for Aleena to know about the still hidden amulet or its purpose.
Today would be the first time she’d been back in public since that night. Aleena was making her go to lunch, said that she needed some real movement to help loosen up her stiff joints. She was not quite ready to rejoin the general population. Aleena had found her some proper fitting clothing and a new cloak, but she was still afraid someone would notice her healing bruises and pained movements, prompting questions to be asked. Aleena had simply dismissed her concerns.
“Hey, it’s time to go. You ready?” Aleena called as she headed toward the door.
Sarhea sat on the sofa with her knees held to her chest.
“Not really, but you’ve already made it clear that I have no choice. Just…keep watch. I feel my energy’s still quite unpredictable and my healing’s still in process. I have no idea how I may react if anything catches me off guard.”
“Don’t worry. I feel I have your little quirks down fairly well these days. Now get up and let’s go. I’m hungry.”
Sarhea sighed as Aleena walked over and offered a hand to help her stand. She grumbled under her breath as she slowly accepted the offered help.
She was nervous as they neared the main dining hall. Aleena had chosen this one because it was closest to her apartment. The room was fairly packed by the time they arrived. She felt Aleena’s chiding gaze when she nervously began to rub one of her still sore bruises.
“Don’t worry so much. No one will ever be able to tell you are injured unless you keep acting like you are. Even the bruise on your head is nearly gone. I wish I had that healing talent of yours.”
Sarhea tried to grin at her as they joined the slow moving food line. She began to pick up on the somber mood that most of those around her radiated. She cast a quick glance around to see more downcast gazes and even the chatter was quieter than normal.
“Aleena, what have I missed?”
Aleena hesitated before sighing quietly. “They had a citywide memorial service for Lyle yesterday. I didn’t mention it as you were in too much pain to make the journey. As you can tell, it was fairly emotional.”
Sarhea suddenly wanted to shrink into the shadows. Her gaze found the usual table where many of the soldiers sat, and all of them were eating in silence. Two places were noticeably empty among them. She turned back to Aleena.
“I really don’t want to be here right now,” she whispered.
“Come on, we’re about to have our food. We’ll eat and leave. Then I’m taking you to the rec center.”
“The rec center?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, but I’m taking you to the hot springs. That warm water has healing properties of its own.”
Sarhea’s apprehension immediately faded. Sitting in the hot springs actually did sound like a nice idea. She silently took her plate and followed Aleena to a few empty spots at the back of the room.
They were almost done with their lunch when a shadow fell over the empty seats across from them. Sarhea’s eyes widened as Askar silently set his meal tray down and took an empty seat. He was dressed in haphazard civilian clothing and looked as if he’d not slept in a week. He didn’t look at either of them as he began to pick at his food. Sarhea shot Aleena a worried, questioning glance. Her friend could only shrug and offer a similar reaction. Sarhea briefly watched the broken man before her. She could feel his emptiness, his hopelessness, and it broke her heart. She couldn’t stand to see him like this and had to do something.
“Hey Askar,” she finally said quietly.
For a minute, he didn’t look up from his plate, but when he did, she could see the tears in his eyes. She mustered her most convincing caring smile.
“How are you holding up?”
“I…I don’t know,” he finally whispered as a tear made its way down his cheek. “I was forced to come here, but everywhere I look, I see that Lyle is no longer here,” he choked and tried to hide his emotion behind a trembling hand.
Tears found their way to her eyes as well. She was very familiar with his pain and seeing him like this drug up the painful memories of her own losses that she’d tried so hard to keep buried. She felt a buildup of energy in her right hand and glanced down to see a hint of blue haze rising off her fingers. Her eyes widened briefly as she cast a quick glance to Aleena, nodding to the hand. It was her way of asking if her friend saw anything. Aleena shook her head.
The force she felt was not reactive; it was gentle…peaceful. She realized she was being led to impart peace to him. Sarhea hesitated, unsure if it were wise to transfer any of her limited energy, but she felt the prodding again and quietly sighed. She slowly reached across the table and placed her right hand over his. Askar flinched as the transfer began. He finally removed his face from his hand and tried to wipe the tears from his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I…I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
Sarhea allowed a weak smile as she struggled to contain her own tears. She felt the energy’s prodding again.
“You do not have to apologize. You have suffered a terrible loss. I know this pain and it is not easy to bear; it hurts,” she replied.
His blue eyes locked onto her and she could see the questions. She felt the prodding yet again and suddenly realized that she was being presented with an opportunity to help him. She turned to Aleena.
“Aleena, I think I’m going to go for a walk. Askar, would you join me?”
Aleena shot her a concerned glance.
“I…I suppose I could…” he replied quietly and stood.
He seemed as eager to leave the room as she was. Aleena grabbed her sleeve as she started to stand. Askar had already started to slowly head toward the rear exits.
“Sarhea, be careful. You both are in a vulnerable position right now which can make you both unpredictable. You yourself already stated that you would be. Askar is a hurting, emotional man. Make sure you stay around others, just in case he loses control again. There was a reason he was sedated that night, and I’ve heard it has had to be done a couple more times since then. Now may not be the best time for this.”
“I have to go, Aleena. I feel the energy’s leading and I cannot ignore it. I have to believe something good will come of this for both of us.”
Aleena sighed quietly. “Alright, but please be careful, and keep your sat-com on,” she replied.
Sarhea nodded her understanding as she stood and headed to meet Askar at the exit.
Sarhea’s mind was at peace for the first time in a long while as she stared up into the morning sky. She sat in a small cubby notched out of the stone at the very top reaches of the city. The entire ceiling of the small space had once opened up to the elements beyond, but now was covered with a protective glass barrier. She had never known this place existed as no vent tunnels ran this high. Askar had brought her here; he’d called it the observatory. Similar cubbies lined the exterior corridors that ran the entire perimeter of the upper most level. At the center of the space sat a large concealed complex that Askar claimed housed equipment that scanned the dark expanse beyond their small world.
Sarhea had chosen to stay in her cubby last night after Askar had left. Aleena had protested, but finally let her be when she’d come up to confirm she was alright. When the Kalatian left and the hallways beyond grew quiet, she’d allowed herself to relax while watching the beautiful colors of the Taloan aurora dance across the night sky. She’d fallen asleep there, and it had been one of the most peaceful, satisfying night’s rest she’d had in a very long time.
Sarhea allowed her thoughts to drift to the events that transpired yesterday. Her afternoon and evening with Askar had been one of mixed emotions and experiences. She’d not known what to expect and so had abandoned all expectations. She’d discovered that she had more in common with the young Cassarian than she’d originally suspected. Both of their parents had been killed, both had lost friends and loved ones. Both felt lost and abandoned in this new world they’d been thrust into to…
Their journey after leaving Aleena in the dining hall had taken them all over the city. They had meandered in silence at times, had chatted endlessly at others. They visited areas that Sarhea had only seen from above, including places she would normally not have been allowed access to. No one stopped them. It seemed that their concern was more for the grieving Askar than worrying about keeping her out.
Her thoughts drifted to the defining moment of the day, the moment she knew she had been meant to share with him. They had found themselves standing outside the Temple of Light deep in the heart of the city. It was a place that Sarhea had only heard of but never been to. The strength of the energy radiating from the place was stronger than anything she had ever felt beyond her home world. It had frightened her and she’d not wanted to enter.
But then Askar asked her about her thoughts on energy and Guardians. It had taken her off guard, had distracted her concentration on her fear. It was then that she began to understand the energy’s earlier prodding; this was the moment she had been meant to share with him.
They had slowly entered the temple and avoided the small groups of mainly oldsters who occupied the sizable cavern. The ones kneeling at a strange platform at the front had intrigued her.
Sarhea smiled fondly as she recalled the conversation that followed.
“What are they doing?” she’d asked.
He’d remained silent for a moment before replying quietly. “Praying.”
Such an absurd notion had confused her.
“The Guardians are not a deity to be worshiped,” she had replied.
Silence had fallen between them as they stood gazing up at the red and blue flames that burned from two pillars at the very front. She’d felt Askar’s confusion and waited for his question.
“Then what are they? Most around here think this is all a bunch of nonsense fabricated to help the gullible feel better about their situations, safer.”
The question had caused her to pause. How was she to describe the Guardians when she still was not entirely sure what they really were? She’d decided to be as honest as possible.
“The Guardians are energy, pure living energy, energy which is a part of every living thing, including you and I. The Guardians do not wish to be worshiped-their only desire is for us to live in unity with the energy around us. Without unity, chaos will take root, and chaos leads to destruction.”
Askar had fallen back to careful thought. “And if we live unity, then what?”
Again, Sarhea had not known exactly how to answer. She’d not seen the fruit of the supposed benefits of unity in a very long time.
“If the unity is maintained, then peace and prosperity will rule the land.”
“So…in a way, they are kind of a deity. We keep their unity and in exchange they give us peace and prosperity?”
His logic had stopped her cold. How was she to argue with that? She’d decided to change the topic.
“May I ask where your beliefs fall on all of this?”
He’d simply sighed and shook his head.
“I used to think those who believed anything about the Guardians were all quite foolish. I believed this way up until the night Lyle died. I saw things that night that I could not explain. I saw lights, much the same as these strange flames burning from those pillars. That creature’s hands were burning with blue flames. When I saw the creature touch Lyle with the fire, I saw his pain flee, saw peace flood over him. And then I watched his spirit leave his body in a ball of light the creature created and offered to the heavens. It actually reminds me of that carving up there, now that I think about it.”
Sarhea had noticed the carving. It had been eerily familiar to a carving that had adorned the walls of a cavern she had grown up playing in.
“I suppose you could say that I’m also conflicted on what I believe concerning the Guardians. My experiences with their teachings have been mixed. Where I grew up, it was taught that the Guardians were apart of everything. Anything that happened would have an explanation that involved some connection to them. My elders would say that the blue flames bringing peace to your brother made perfect sense, as blue represented peace.”
“What about white and violet?”
She’d hesitated once more.
“There were two elements to the Guardians’ energy-blue represented peace, while red represented life. When the two were in perfect unity, they combined to make violet. This was when one would supposedly find peace and prosperity. I…I’m not sure about white. I can only imagine that it somehow represents purity.”
Askar had gone quiet once again before turning to her with a curious gaze.
“I saw what appeared to be reddish energy in my brother. When the creature touched him with the violet energy, his energy turned white. What do you think that meant?”
“I can only guess that what you saw was his spirit being purified. In my culture, when one died, their bodies perished, but their soul, their spirit, would be reunited with the Guardians in the energy realm. Only pure spirits were accepted.”
“So…this creature made my brother pure so he could live as a spirit? As living energy?”
Sarhea remembered smiling at the sudden hope that had entered his gaze.
“Not exactly. The purity of one’s spirit is the responsibility of the individual; no one else can purify another’s soul. The only way I have heard for a spirit to be pure is to live in unity with the Guardians and their energy.”
Askar had scowled. “I never heard Lyle talk of Guardians or energy.”
“There is no rule for how long one must live in this unity. From your account, it would seem that something in your brother’s final actions allowed his spirit to be purified, allowed him to be taken by the energy to the realm of the Guardians.”
Silence had fallen between them. It had been strange how speaking about all of this had made her realize just how much she had chosen to ignore about her heritage, how much she had focused on all the bad things she’d been through because of it. Several minutes passed before Askar’s hopeful gaze found her again.
“Do you think I’ll ever see Lyle again?”
Sarhea had hesitated. The teachings on such matters had been vague.
“There are many thoughts on this. Some say we will be reunited with our loved ones when we die and our spirits are reunited with the energy realm. I…I have followed the belief that they are never too far away, watching over us, protecting us. I know your pain. I lost my parents, many friends…loved ones…Sometimes I feel as if my mother is standing by my side, guiding my path. I have been through so much, and it’s the only explanation I can come up with to explain how I’ve survived as long as I have.”
Her words had brought about an instant change in him. She felt his hope return, and not just temporary hope. The despair and anguish that had been in his eyes earlier was also gone. An overwhelming sense of unity had settled over her at the knowledge that she had served the purpose that she had been lead to do, and in the process, she had reminded herself of the simple things that were so easy to lose sight of amidst the chaos of life.
After leaving the temple, Askar had taken her to the observatory where she now rested. They had talked at length about what they saw for their futures. By the end of the evening, Askar was a different man. He was confident in what he knew he had to do. He would continue his duties within the military. Lyle had not saved him only to watch him throw his life away wallowing in self-pity and depression. He believed he’d been spared for a reason and that one day, he would see his brother again. Until then, he vowed to make Lyle proud as he watched over him from the energy realm.
They had parted ways that evening with a new connection, a connection forged through trial by fire. She’d always felt a kinship with him, but now she felt him to be the brother she never had. They had helped one another overcome the pain of their recent loss…
Sarhea smiled as warm sunlight filtered down through the glass ceiling. It was time to rejoin the rest of the world. If she did not show herself soon, Aleena would come looking for her, and she’d turned off the sat-com so as not to be disturbed. One day, her friend would learn not to worry so much.
The position of the sun in the sky told her that it was approaching noon. She would head toward the main dining hall and hopefully run into Aleena along the way. Sarhea cast one last glance around the small cubby as she stood. This had quickly become her new favorite place in all of Refuge City. The peace she’d found here seemed to help renew her healing reserves. She made a mental promise to come here much more often.
Sarhea was in high spirits as she made her way down through the city’s multiple levels. Everyone’s moods seemed brighter today, even those leaving the hospital as she passed by. She turned down the corridor leading to the main dining hall and prepared herself for the lecture she knew she’d be receiving from Aleena.
“Sarhea,” came a voice from somewhere behind her.
Sarhea froze, her peaceful mood fleeing. She hoped she’d not just hear what she thought she had. She cast a quick glance over her shoulder to see Raith quickly heading her way. She had no escape route and soon found herself backing against the wall with wide, worried eyes. Raith slowed his pace as he neared. His hurried expression faded as he arched a brow and scowled at her reaction. She forced herself to glance away.
“Commander Raith, I do not know what I have done this time, but I’m in no shape to endure yet another confrontation,” she started.
Raith’s gaze became cautious as he came to a stop several feet before her.
“Take it easy. I’m here about Askar.”
Her head jerked up, her questioning gaze locking onto him.
“Askar? What about him? Is he alright?”
Her sudden outburst seemed to catch him off guard.
“Do not worry-he is fine. Better in fact, than he has been since the death of his brother. He even showed up for training this morning, in uniform. I’m not sure what changed, but I saw you leave with him yesterday. What did you do to him?”
What did she do to him? Just what was Raith accusing her of now? When would she ever catch a break?
Her eyes quickly narrowed as her ears fell back.
“What business is it of yours? What, am I now not allowed to associate with your soldiers? As I recall, Askar was not among your ranks yesterday-he had dropped out. Forgive me for trying to comfort a hurting friend,” she spat in anger.
Raith’s eyes widened and for a moment, he could only stand before her in shock. He finally scowled lightly before laying his ears back and sighing. He glanced away as he took several steps back.
“I didn’t…you…” he stammered in frustration before grumbling under his breath. “I suppose I deserved that considering our past encounters. I meant no offense and I’m sorry. It’s just yesterday morning, we feared we’d soon be burying another friend. We made him go to lunch so we could keep an eye on him. To see him like he was this morning, so full of hope, spouting nonsense about Guardians…which by the way, I’m curious about. I didn’t take you as one to follow such beliefs.”
Sarhea’s eyes narrowed once more and he was quick to raise his hands before him.
“Again, no offense intended.”
She huffed and crossed her arms before her. “That just goes to show how little you know about me. You are quick to judge me before even giving me a chance.”
She could see the frustration in his eyes.
“I cannot change what has transpired between us previously. Perhaps I was a little too quick to assume the worst and misjudged you; the jury’s still out on that. But I cannot deny that you have a unique talent, a talent that would be very useful and in demand by many in this city. Somehow, you are able to calm the emotions of all around you, able to engage even the most suspicious in civil conversation.”
Everyone but him, she thought spitefully as he briefly paused to consider his words.
“I still cannot fathom how you got the Rigons to cooperate, and young Finnick has never taken to a stranger so quickly. And Askar, crazy new beliefs or not, is damn near a walking miracle. Even Nakyla and Bud respect you despite my previous misgivings. If you are truly still looking for a place to contribute, perhaps I could point you in the right direction. There are those I could put you in contact with who would be better able to network you effectively with departments that would benefit from your talents.”
“Sarhea! There you are!” came Aleena’s worried voice from further down the corridor.
Sarhea was confused as she silently eyed him with skepticism. He truly baffled her. One moment he was confronting her, acting irritated at her presence, the next he was complementing her talents and offering assistance. His mood swings were highly unpredictable.
Her critical gaze was disrupted by Aleena’s cautious approach. Sarhea’s eyes widened as she finally turned her gaze to her friend. Aleena’s posture was ridged and her hazel eyes burned with resolve as she stood boldly before her former friend with a scowl.
“Commander, I do hope you are not once again badgering my friend. She has been under the weather and is in my care. She does not need to be stressed by another run in with you,” Aleena said protectively as she stood almost defiantly before him.
Sarhea watched as Raith eyed Aleena curiously before glancing around her.
“It appears as though I have worn out my welcome and must take my leave, but please, consider my offer,” he stated and began to turn. He abruptly paused and glanced back at her.
“And Sarhea…Thank you for bringing Askar back to us. It means more than you can ever know,” he added.
Sarhea nearly gasped in surprise as he dipped his head in gratitude before turning to head down the corridor. She and Aleena were left stunned as they stood in silence with wide eyes.
“What the hell was that about?” Aleena finally asked.
Sarhea shook her head.
“I’m not exactly sure. I think I just had a somewhat civil conversation with him, and I don’t know what to think about it. It feels…off. And what about you? I’ve never seen you stand up to him like that.”
Aleena shot her a nervous, half-hearted smile.
“I don’t know what came over me. I just knew I had to rescue you from a potentially bad situation.”
“Well, at least this time it wasn’t the case. But it’s comforting to know you have my back,” she replied with a coy grin.
Aleena allowed a hesitant chuckle. “I only hope it does not come back and bite me. But enough about this…I get hungry when I’m nervous-you heading to lunch?”
Sarhea grinned as she turned down the corridor. “Yeah, I could eat right about now,” she replied as they headed for the dining hall.
27 May 2014 at 11:42:08 MDT
Sarhea discovers that the best remedy for grief is to help a friend suffering from the same grief-
Really like how the cover image for this one came out ;p
CotL and characters (c) ME