Hleo

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Chapter 22

I stepped into the front hall and glanced around. What we had to talk about—my life, my destiny, my future—felt too private to discuss in the openness of the downstairs. I wanted somewhere more private. “Can we go to my room?”

He raised an eyebrow and studied me for a moment. “Wherever you’ll be the most comfortable.”

I was relieved that he seemed to understand my need to be in my own space, and hoped being in the privacy of my room wouldn’t be too awkward.

We got upstairs and I flicked my light on, dropped my backpack on the floor and flopped down on my bed. Wait Hannah, that could be sending the wrong kind of signal. I sat up straight again and waited for him to sit down too, but he wandered around my room. He looked at the pictures of my family and friends, studied the posters of different artists I admired on my wall and the books on my shelves, and picked up little mementos I had scattered about my room. I was glad I’d had the foresight to tidy it up a bit during my weekend in. Eventually he settled in on the window seat, apparently waiting for me to begin our discussion.

“Okay, so if the Hleo don’t control the future, who does?” I held my breath, was I about to have my mind blown again?

Ethan laughed. “You’re really jumping in there, aren’t you?” His face grew serious as he looked at me, and then out the window. I could tell he was processing, trying to figure out the best way to respond. Finally he turned to me.

“That is a very hard question to answer. I’m still not completely sure how it all works, and I have my own unanswered questions, but I’ll tell you what I know. There are six Hleo headquarters across the globe that The Three divide their time at, each on a different continent. Under each one is a room, set deep in the earth, probably about half a mile down. These rooms are absolutely alike in every way. They are perfectly circular in structure, with walls made of a smooth stone as black as the darkest night, but somehow it radiates in an almost luminescent way. The opening of each room is at the top, with a small platform looking down into the open area, and stairs that hug the wall. In the middle of each room is a cylinder platform about four feet in diameter that rises a foot or so off of the ground.” Ethan used his hands to try to show what he was explaining.

“Each member of The Three goes into whichever room they are staying near at a different time during the month, in step with the phases of the moon, and stands on the cylinder. The door is locked behind the one that has gone in, and he or she is left completely alone. Then, the most brilliant light you’ve ever seen somehow floods the room. I only know this because it’s so bright it can be seen coming through the cracks around the door. I don’t know exactly where it comes from since there are no lights built into the space, and there are no other openings or exits out of the room. The one of The Three whose turn it is stays in the room for a day, an entire twenty-four hours from midnight one day to midnight the next. When they come out, they’ve been given the information ordained to them, and they share that information with the other two. Miriam will have seen the next set of protecteds; Victor, knows who should be reassigned and if a new Hleo is to join the ranks; and Gabriel, knows which protecteds have made the decisions they were meant to, and the next few steps the world is headed in.

“Who controls the room? Well, it’s known as The Metadas by the Hleo, which translated means the power or authority that creates and reigns. Some say it is the earth’s soul communicating with humans, others say it is God or a higher authority of that kind, while other Hleo believe it is an alien being. I come from a traditional, God-fearing, farming family, so I tend to have a more conservative view about The Metadas, but I’ve never been given any sort of definitive answer. What I do know is that whatever controls that room, controls the future. I’ve seen it time and time again. The world moves on the path that it is meant to follow, and if it is sent off course I’ve seen steps taken to shift events to nudge it back on track.”

I blinked several times. Ethan had blown my mind again, and now I was absolutely speechless. I couldn’t even think of another question to ask. I realized my mouth was hanging open and I closed it, swallowing hard.

Ethan ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry, that was probably incredibly hard to take in. I still don’t fully understand it; I just know what I’ve seen, and I trust in my choice to be part of this life. I decided a long time ago that me comprehending what exactly is going on in that room, and what The Metadas is, would be like an ant comprehending what a human is all about: impossible.”

I exhaled slowly. “Wow. So this Metadas being or thing, they just decide how everything is going to be? People have no say in it?”

Ethan’s forehead creased. “No, not exactly. From what I’ve witnessed, life seems to be a lot like traveling in a car to a specific destination. There is a precise location where you’re going to end up, but there are countless paths you could take to arrive at that destination. It seems that the world is moving towards an end, but the way in which it will get there is constantly being altered by the decisions and choices people make. The choices are always ours to make, but sometimes we feel led, or compelled, to make one choice over another, or to make that choice at a particular time. As far as I can tell, this compulsion is The Metadas. It acts as a force pulling the world and the people living in it in a particular direction. When a protected is able to follow through, and make the decision the Metadas wants them to make, the world continues moving along the most straightforward path, but when they choose differently, or are kept from making their choice, the world is sent on a detour and a different path must then be constructed to help the world get back on track again.” Ethan’s face was fixed deep in concentration.

“So, it’s a little like when those GPS systems in your car are giving directions; if you miss a turn or something it will recalculate your route.” I outlined an imaginary track on my bedspread with my finger to accentuate my point.

Ethan looked pleased. “Yes, exactly.”

“I don’t think I’m ever going to understand this, but I’m guessing it will probably be easier for me if I just try to accept it. If I’m going to do the right thing regarding the future, I mean.” I rubbed my hand across my forehead to push back a headache, and to brush the hair out of my face.

“You shouldn’t worry too much about doing the right thing, Hannah. I don’t know what’s in store for you, but if you’re anything like all of the other people I’ve protected, when the time comes for you to do whatever it is you are supposed to do, the moment will probably have come and gone before you even realize it. It’s usually a very simple decision that doesn’t seem at all important, like I said before. There is no way of knowing what that decision might be, but once you’ve made it, it will be time for me to leave and you’ll know you’re free again.”

“Okay, so how many times has it been more than a decision?” I shifted to get more comfortable, although my discomfort had more to do with everything Ethan was telling me than with the bed. “I’m not trying to suggest I’m more important than anyone else you’ve protected, but there must be some reason that I’ve found out who you really are.” I sent him a pleading look, hoping he would give me some idea of what significance I could possibly have. I needed to know why I mattered.

Ethan thought for a moment before answering. Was he even going to? But then he said, “Two times, and I’ve protected seventy-seven people in the time I’ve been doing this, including you. I know it’s hard, but you have to try to accept that things will just happen as they should.”

I tried to process what he was saying, but when he mentioned how many people he’d protected another question popped into my head. One I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know the answer to. “How many of those seventy-seven have you …” I paused and looked down at my hands. How do I phrase this? “… been unsuccessful with?”

“Five.” Ethan turned to look out the window again. The brief glimpse I’d caught of his eyes revealed pain and regret. From what I understood of Ethan, failure would be a hard thing for him to accept.

I bit my lip. Five people had been killed under his watch, but that meant seventy-two hadn’t. Probably better to focus on that number instead. A hard silence stretched between us as I fiddled with the stitching on my bedspread. After a minute, I decided to abandon that train of thought, no need to keep hurting him by dredging up old painful memories.

“Okay,” I said lightly. “Why don’t we take a break, order a pizza or something?”

Ethan turned back to me. “That sounds good.” A grateful smile crossed his face as he stood up and walked toward my bedroom door.

I pushed up off the bed, ready to join him, but my foot caught on the strap of my backpack and I stumbled forward, falling against the old wooden hope chest at the foot of the bed. An old sketchbook that had been sitting on top of it toppled to the ground, sending a bunch of old loose sketches scattering across the floor.

“Are you okay?” Ethan hurried over and held out a hand.

“Yeah, I only hurt my pride,” I muttered. Come on Hannah.

I allowed him to pull me to my feet.

“It happens to all of us.” He let go of my hand and stooped to help pick up the myriad of drawings that littered my bedroom floor.

“I’ll bet it doesn’t happen to you.” I bent down and began gathering up the papers closest to me.

We were almost finished when Ethan tensed. I glanced over

at him. He held a drawing in his hand and studied it closely. “Where did you see this girl?” he demanded, whirling around to look at me. A strange intensity tightened his face as he held up a sketch for me to look at.

My forehead wrinkled in confusion as I looked at the picture. A girl about my age ran through a field of wild flowers in a long, flowing mid-nineteenth century dress. Her back was to the viewer but her face was turned, gazing over her shoulder like someone was behind her. Her dark hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back, and she had a big smile on her face, as though she was genuinely pleased by whoever was following her. I had always felt drawn to the girl in that image; it was one of my favorite sketches. I’d toyed with the idea of painting it, but in my mind I’d only ever been able to picture it in black and white, so I’d left it.

The force of Ethan’s voice caught me off guard, and I didn’t know what to say.

“I … well, I drew it,” I stammered, not understanding what he was asking me.

“I know you drew it.” He sounded completely shaken and upset. “I mean, where did you see her? In one of your father’s history books?”

How could I explain that the girl came from my head? I somehow knew that answer wouldn’t satisfy him.

“I saw her in my mind.” I bit my lip, watching him carefully for his reaction.

“How … how is that possible?” His voice leveled off, he sounded more confused than upset. His brow creased as he turned the page to study the girl again.

“I sort of get these images in my mind from time to time. Katie calls them flashes of inspiration. They’re just pictures of people that pop into my head and I feel compelled to draw them. The day of our car accident, when you asked me about being overly focused on my thoughts and I told you I was daydreaming, I sort of lied to you. I’m not daydreaming exactly, I’m seeing a picture in my mind and committing it to memory for when I can actually sit down and put it on paper. This picture is one of those flashes, that’s all.” I waited for a second before I added quietly, “why?”

Ethan looked at me for a moment, as though trying to wrap his mind around what I was telling him but wasn’t able to, before he slumped down on my bed, holding the picture gently in both hands. He stared at the face of the girl, completely transfixed by the image.

I was so surprised by his behavior I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. I just stood there in the middle of my room, uncomfortable in the silence. What is going on?

After a long time he looked up at me, profound pain in his eyes. “Because she was my sister.”

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