Part 1: Chapter 17
I walked into my dorm and dropped my bag on the floor by the wall. Caiden wasn’t in the sitting room. I traveled into my bedroom to find him sound asleep in my bed. I didn’t want to wake him up; he looked peacefully asleep, lying there. Knowing he could use the rest, I went to change out of my school uniform and into something comfortable. I needed to rest myself for Guard duty in the morning. I found my pair of pants and shirt I wore from earlier and put them back on. I decided to go read my journal about Guarding, since I was expected to know something about it when I showed up later at the Shrine.
As I was headed back into the sitting room to retrieve my journal from my bag, I glanced up towards the dresser that held the foreign objects on it. I hadn’t paid much attention to it lately, but now I froze. One of the objects resembled the one Dayona held for us to see in class. I remembered now where I had seen the strange object; it was here in my room.
I walked over to where the object sat and stared down at it. What was I doing with a replica of the artifact from the Shrine of Essence? It did not make any sense to me. I glanced at the other objects. They looked nothing like the ones on Dayona’s desk.
Reaching out, I picked up the orb to study it. It was only a second or two before my vision was gone, and I was seeing something else. I put it back in place quickly. My vision returned. I was still standing in my room near the cabinet.
I reached out again to touch it. Nothing happened right away so I picked it up again, and waited to see if I would lose my sight again. I did as soon as it was cradled in my hands. The scene of my room was gone. Instead, I saw myself standing in my room holding the object in both hands chanting unfamiliar words. I didn’t understand this. Was I watching myself? Was I talking to myself?
I looked closer and saw that I wore something completely different. I didn’t have on the clothes that I was wearing now. I was dressed in one of those frilly nightgowns that made me blush on sight. My hair was down as it fell in waves from just waking up. And I was chanting a spell at the object I held out in front of me like a book I was reading from.
What was this I was seeing? I completely freaked out and dropped the orb. I stumbled backwards and breathed for air as my current room returned to my sight. The orb didn’t break as it hit the floor; instead, it rolled away from me before stopping in front of the dresser. I stood there not understanding what it was I saw. Was it a memory of myself performing the spell to store my memories into that orb?
Was that orb the key to knowing who I was? I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t know what was in that orb, what I had stored in that orb. The question was, did I want to know that person in there? I liked myself at this moment, but I wasn’t ready to know the one in the orb. She looked strange, different. She didn’t look like me, even though she was me.
Gentle arms wrapped around me, pulling my body close. Caiden was awake. Had I awoken him when I panicked? He bent his head to kiss me on my right temple and sighed into my ear. “Are you alright?” he asked.
I breathed easier now that he was there. I nodded to myself, not knowing how to form the words to what I had witnessed. There wasn’t any way he would believe me. What if in that life I didn’t know him? That I liked someone else? I wouldn’t have the courage to explain myself to him.
“I was just admiring some of the objects on my dresser. I never paid them much attention before. I didn’t want to wake you.” I turned around in his arms to face him. He was so beautiful standing there holding me. His hair was a bit messy, but I liked it like that. I could see his eyes clearer now, and I realized that there were tiny specs of gold in them. I hadn’t noticed those before. They were even more mesmerizing up close.
I forgot about the orb behind me. He smiled down at me, as he bent to give me a welcome home kiss. I wrapped my arms around him and deepened it, giving my thanks back to him.
We pulled away, still staring at each other.
“Did your friends forgive you?” he asked me.
“Yes. They’re not as mad anymore. I think they were afraid, when I ran out of bounds yesterday, for my safety.” We walked towards the couches. He sat down on the one facing the windows. I curled up next to him. The curtains were open, allowing the moonlight to stream in, providing some light to the room.
“I’m surprised that you aren’t enjoying your time in recreation. I didn’t expect you back until later.” He stroked my hair gently.
“Trayen reminded me I have to Guard later this morning. He thought it best that I get some rest. Isla had class so I ended up back here. Besides, sitting with you here is recreation enough for me.” I closed my eyes.
“I see. I have to meet my Instructor this morning as well. We don’t Guard like you do. We are the reason you Guard.”
He sounded playful, but at the same time I tensed up, a bit afraid of what that actually meant. “What do you mean?”
He chuckled. “Guardians guard the artifacts of the Ancients, right?”
“Yes,” I responded, knowing that much. “Shapers are the warriors of the Ancients.”
“Indeed we are. But at school, Guarding fake Shrines, the students wouldn’t get much instruction on what to do if the Shrines were attacked. So the Shapers, the students of the Day class, hunt the Shrines. We don’t Guard them. We test you and our abilities.”
“That sounds cruel.” The logic of that statement was true. “What if you hurt someone?”
“It does happen from time to time. Although Guarding with no purpose isn’t fun, just like hunting with no purpose isn’t any fun either. That’s why you defend the Shrine from us. And you develop your skills in the process. We develop our skills in trying to take the Shrine from you. Think of it like capture-the-flag.”
I didn’t know what that was. I couldn’t remember what capture-the-flag was. “What is capture-the-flag?”
“I’m sorry, I forgot about your memory. Don’t worry. It’s the same thing. Capture-the-fake-artifact is more like the term though.” He chuckled to himself. He kissed my head in the process.
“So, how do you attack the Shrines as students?” I had to admit I was curious. “Trayen and Isla have Guarded twice now, but they never mention which Day students they’ve come across.”
“We don’t attack as students. We’re shape-shifters.”
“But you can’t shape-shift unless you’ve been Marked.”
“No, but we’re in the process of learning. It usually means we’re trying to find which animal shape best represents us. I’ve gone through a whole myriad of animal shapes.”
“Which one do you like best?”
He was silent. Maybe my questions strayed too far. He wasn’t ready to tell me. I pulled away and stared into his eyes.
He glanced down at me and smiled. “When we’re in our animal form, we tend to give in to instincts. It’s not in our nature to be nice to Guardians. We don’t think about trying to protect them.”
I thought about the panther I saw yesterday in the forest. It didn’t attack me; it wasn’t at all mean in any way. It allowed me to touch it, and liked my touch. Caiden’s description of the Shapers, shifted into animal form, didn’t mesh with what happened yesterday at the river. Was it a real panther I had seen? Or was it something else altogether?
Caiden reached out and lifted my chin to meet his gaze. I was clearly disappointed and he noticed. “I don’t ever want to hurt you, in that way,” he spoke softly.
I knew he meant it. That’s why he didn’t want to let me know what he was in his animal form. I nodded, understanding why now.
He kissed me then. I kissed him back. The conversation was at a close now. I only wanted to keep on kissing him, and stay within his arms.