“Now, I know so much about you,” Sunja told Armando.
The architect was sweating and shaking slightly. For the past four hours, the two of them had sat in a room that held nothing but two woven straw mats on the wooden floor. Armando had mirrored Sunja’s position, sitting with his legs crossed, hands clasped and mind open.
Sunja had read him thoroughly, tracking into his mind, seeing and processing various choices he had made throughout his life. She had seen him break his mother’s favorite figurine at the age of seven, causing Olivia to cry with sincere regret. The figurine had been a family heirloom from a long-dead relative. The individual had traveled on the ship that had brought the humans to Kaved. While crying, Olivia had explained what the figure represented. She had helped her son understand that some things should be cherished, that some things were simply irreplaceable.
Mentally traveling with Armando through his life, Sunja had also seen him become filled with hate and rage, unable to channel his grief over the death of his parents. She’d read his thoughts on the night he’d been pulled out of the car, separated from his parents by those who had taken him and Kiana to safety. She saw the images of the ten-year-old boy who had lay crying in his parents’ bed, hugging his mother’s shawl to him. Eventually the tears had faded and he’d focused on taking care of his sister and, in the process, becoming quite overprotective.
Sunja absorbed many more scenes of Armando as he grew through the years, learning about how his experiences had shaped him. Armando’s role was to sit quietly as she worked. He had to resist the urge to fight against her as she came to know him, even when she found out something he’d wanted to remain hidden.
“You really should tell Izdahl.”
“What?” Armando asked, guardedly.
“Many things,” Sunja told him. “However, you haven’t let him know that he dies in your dreams.”
Armando became livid, angry that Sunja had discovered something he hadn’t even wanted to admit he’d been dreaming. He’d convinced himself that his dreams hadn’t included the death of his lover. By her finding it locked in his mind, it was clear to him just how deep she was able to go.
“I can’t tell him that!” Armando exclaimed. “I don’t even want to believe it myself.”
“There’s no need for that kind of separation between the two of you. You have to trust him more. He’s the key to the many changes you’ll undergo in the next few years.”
“How am I supposed to tell him I saw him die?” Armando demanded, getting up and moving away from Sunja. “That’s not a conversation you casually start.”
“Sit back down and stop being so damn dramatic,” Sunja told him, drily. “His death in your dream isn’t what you think it means. See, this is exactly why you should have talked to me about it sooner.”
Sunja shook her head at Armando’s stubbornness. Even Izdahl’s many descriptions of the depth of Armando’s belligerent nature hadn’t prepared her for dealing with the architect. Trying to read Armando had worn her out, as diving into his mind was a more taxing experience than she usually had with others. There were few individuals she’d met who were so determined to close others out, even when they were trying to help.
“From what I’ve noticed, the dream sequences have started,” she continued, realizing that she now had his full attention. “You are accessing some of the dreams Zaitis is having, while he’s in stasis. His dreams are meshing with yours and you’re very confused by all of this. So, you’re hiding from the complexity of what’s happening. Once you make peace with this ability, once you stop fighting it, you’ll be able to access the dreams of the Core Guardians.”
Armando’s face lit up with curiosity and Sunja laughed at the charming expression.
“Perhaps you’re making faster progress than I thought,” Sunja said, laughing.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you weren’t incredulous over what I just told you. Your only interest is in how this can help you with your lover.”
Armando’s face reddened in embarrassment and he grinned sheepishly.
“He can be difficult to read, especially when he’s moody,” Armando admitted. “Any help I can get is welcomed.”
“Izdahl loves you very much but neither of you truly know the depths of his feelings for you. Eventually, you will learn and everyone else will be affected by what happens.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll go more in depth about that another time. For now, I want to talk about your connection with Zaitis.” She motioned for Armando to sit in front of her again and then began her explanation. “You are the second human to carry the key. The first was Kendrick Crane, who, along with Solvan Amasi, had engineered the Shield. Zaitis is referred to as the Architect. The title is given to him, as he is the architect of this planet’s freedom from the Basheil.”
The events that that happened with Zaitis were foretold in a prophecy from the Ziyad Clan, which had been revealed almost 4000 years ago. This prophecy was connected to another one which described the arrival of humans on Kaved.
“The Nitelge are to be liberators of the universe and humans will play a role,” Sunja stated.
Armando stood up again, walking around and processing what she had told him.
“Now this is beginning to sound ridiculous,” he finally stated. “What’s the likelihood of that being true?”
“I’m sure that’s what many of you humans said about thousands of situations,” Sunja replied, laughing. Then she delivered her next remark in a matter-of-fact detached tone. “That’s why you all almost died off.”
“You can be pretty cold-hearted, you know that,” Armando grumbled.
“I don’t have time to coddle you. Now be quiet and listen…We needed someone with a unique and strong energy to be the guardian for Zaitis, someone whom few would suspect. No one ever believed that any child, human or Nitelge, could handle a part of the shield, let alone a replica of the entire thing. Inside of you is what we call the Architect’s Orb. It is made from the blood of Zaitis and provides the blueprint for the Shield. It is also the gateway to his true location. That orb is the beginning and the end. By carrying it, you serve as the Architect’s Guardian.”
Sunja told him that when he had been tested as a child, his results were incredibly unexpected. Once they were confirmed as being valid, Xersa had spoken with Armando’s parents. Ramon and Olivia agreed to let their son carry the orb, which had been transplanted into him at the age of seven. Unbeknownst to Armando, he had ingested the Orb while consuming an innocuous-looking piece of chocolate his mother had given him.
“It appears that Zaitis’ spiritual energy is resonating with you more than with any of the previous carriers.”
“Do you think I’m experiencing the effects from that?”
“Yes. All the other previous carriers, at most, were affected by up to 15% of his spiritual energy. However, the connection with Zaitis and you is quite unique. No one else who carried the Orb has ever been able to link with him as you have. I believe your dreams are driven by your connection with him.”
Armando thought back to the first time he’d been at the Ymir Briger. It explained why he was so drawn to the statue, why he’d become obsessed with learning everything he could about Zaitis. Even now, he continued his research, despite Izdahl’s growing concerns. He intended to explain to Izdahl the reasons why, now that he understood more about what was happening.
“I have seen Zaitis in his chamber,” Sunja continued. “It is one of my responsibilities to tend to him, to monitor his signs. He has remained in the dreaming state for several hundred years. Usually, his dreams are quite peaceful. However, for the past few years, he has become more agitated, which alerted me that someone had begun to search for the gateway.”
“Who do you think it is?”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s anyone. I know it’s Dagmar. He’s good at hiding the evidence, using some of the Teradas to shield his activities. However, he doesn’t understand that this works to my advantage. Before you ask how I’m sure I’m right, I’ll tell you more all in good time.”
“Why do both you and Xersa have to do that?” Armando complained. “Why do you have to measure out information?”
“Because we can,” Sunja replied cheekily. Then she became serious. “We’re in uncharted territory. I’m going to do something with you that has never taken place with the other carriers. I will make the arrangements to open the gateway and take you to see Zaitis.”
Izdahl had no concept of what time it was. He assumed he’d only been waiting a few minutes. However, inside the Resonance Chamber, the concept of time was difficult to measure. The participants were not allowed to wear any time keeping devices and neither were there any clocks in the room.
Izdahl paced back and forth in front of the large table that was covered in an assortment of food. Meats, breads, vegetables and fruits were displayed in a tantalizing fashion on a series of large, embossed, silver platters. Next to the food were carafes containing water and wine.
The setting was ideal for a lover’s retreat. Izdahl wished Armando was with him in the room. To him, the perfect plan would have been to consume the food and then consume each other. Instead, Izdahl was reading the file of Avila Nieri again. He flipped through his digital tablet, reading about her physical characteristics, hobbies, etc.
As she was one of his two matches, he was able to access virtually everything about her. She had a tall, athletic build with brown hair a few inches past her shoulder. Her profile picture featured her with a small smile on her face, a glint of mischief in her brown eyes that were flecked with green at the center.
While Izdahl was in the middle of reading her file, the door slid open and Avila entered the room. Seeing pictures of her on a computer was nothing compared to having her right in front of him. Still, despite how attracted he was to her, he was reluctant to become too open with her. After all, she was the wife of Lorne. There was no telling what she would share with her husband, possibly giving Lorne leverage against him. Izdahl put up his guard the moment she began speaking.
“Hello Izdahl, I’ve heard so much about you already,” she said, reaching to grasp his hands in hers.
Izdahl gave her a small smile.
“I see you’re not going to be particularly open with me,” Avila noted. “This attempt at matching will be especially difficult but I’ll give it a serious try if you will. After all, it’s not really about us, is it? We have a duty.”
Izdahl appraised her slowly, as she settled in an armchair, crossing her long legs and looking at him.
“Well, I appreciate your honesty,” Izdahl said, going to sit across from her. “Of course, I will be as open as possible. If we are to make a connection, I shouldn’t be so belligerent.”
“Good, we’re of the same mindset. I’m sure you’ve read all the data on me, as I have with you. However, I’m curious about one thing in particular. So let me be bold. How is it that you are with a human? Remember, we’re making a serious attempt to be honest.”
“He’s the type of lover I want in my life,” Izdahl replied stiffly. He had not expected her to ask about his relationship with Armando, at least not that quickly. “I’m not concerned that he isn’t a Nitelge.”
“Are you in love with Armando?”
“That’s a very personal question,” Izdahl responded.
“At some point, you and I might be sleeping together,” Avila reminded him, tilting her head towards the large, comfortable bed on the other side of the room. “What’s wrong with getting ‘naked’ before we get naked?”
Izdahl smiled sardonically at her.
“Circumstances put us together, Avila. This was not of my choosing. I’m sure you feel that your very existence is a favor to the world but—”
“Are you sure you’re not responding to me like this because Lorne is my husband?” Avila asked
“Well, who you choose to be with is a living embodiment of what you value,” Izdahl stated.
“And you fell in love with someone who used to hate Nitelge.”
“Yes, he used to.”
“And do you feel confident that he will not change his views again?”
“I really don’t want to have this conversation.”
Izdahl looked towards where he thought the exit to the Resonance Chamber was. It had disappeared; the technicians who watched the interaction had hidden it. This was all part of the process of enforcing to the two occupants that their sole purpose was to be with each other. They were to avoid having any other goal besides getting to know each other, first connecting their minds and then their bodies.
Izdahl let out a long, frustrated sigh. Avila laughed and got up out of her chair. She went to the table and selected some fruit, placing them onto one of several plates. Then, thinking of her next tactic to reach Izdahl, she walked about the room, enjoying her snack. When she had eaten the last bit of fruit off her plate, she admitted to Izdahl what she had learned from one of her relatives.
“Hmm, Paltra said you would be a tough one,” she teased.
“Oh? Really?” Izdahl had not been aware of the connection between Avila and Paltra, who usually announced the final round of the Nakra Hein competition.
“Yes. She’s my sister-in-law. When she found out I was paired with you, she was ecstatic. She has fancied you for years and wants to know all the delicious details.” Avila laughed softly. “I’m surprised she hasn’t started a fan club for you.”
“I’m aware of Paltra’s feelings,” he admitted, smiling, his ego receiving a boost. “However, the time for us to be together passed over a decade ago.”
“Oh, you mean someone else besides Armando has had your attention?” Avila joked.
“Yes but he always came back into my thoughts.”
Izdahl looked down at the floor, thinking of Armando. He wondered if his lover was struggling with the process he was going through with Sunja. He hoped it would help Armando in the end, giving him some relief from the dreams and anything else that plagued him.
Avila studied Izdahl’s face, realizing how mentally far away he was. She sighed and pulled him out of his daydreaming.
“Can you focus please?” she asked, her voice a bit testy.
“You don’t understand how—”
“I’m newly married Izdahl,” Avila reminded him. “Do you think this isn’t difficult for me? It’s even worse for Lorne. You’re not the only one who is conflicted. Even if it turns out we don’t truly resonance, shouldn’t we give it a genuine try?”
“This whole situation is different for Nitelge,” Izdahl reminded her. “We’ve grown up understanding this process much more than humans. Armando has already been through so much…” Izdahl’s words trailed off when he realized the depth of what he was confessing.
“The best way you can take care of him is to make sure that you take the resonance process seriously,” Avila replied gently. “We can’t form a great connection if you’re not willing to try, if your mind is not present.”
Izdahl let out a frustrated sigh.
“Technicians, I really don’t want to do this now!” Izdahl shouted. “Open the door.”
“You have not stayed in there for the required time,” one of the technicians informed him. “You two must remain in the chamber for at least an hour.”
“Open the door before I burn down the facility,” Izdahl said, allowing a ball of flame to grow in his left hand. “I’m sure you can see my power levels on your damn machines.”
“Sir, your great-grandmother won’t think highly of your actions,” another technician reminded him.
Izdahl hated hearing the disembodied voices direct him on how to spend his time. However, he knew his threat was ultimately an empty one. Xersa was indeed likely to be furious if he cut short this session, or any other, especially by destroying the facility. Though he could easily curry favor with her and get away with a great deal, he knew that his great-grandmother’s indulgences had their limitations.
“You’ve met my great-grandmother right?” Izdahl asked Avila, as he put out the flame.
“Yes, we’d better stay in the chamber for the rest of the time,” Avila said. “She is the only Kelcho who truly scares me.”
“Imagine being directly related to her,” Izdahl said, laughing loudly.
Their sharing of the joke broke down some barriers and they continued to chat casually.
“We’re experiencing something a small percentage of the population will ever have to handle,” Avila said. “I don’t feel particularly special because of it, though we have received perks. The strain it has put on Lorne and me is not worth it, even if I know it’s to protect others. Sometimes I feel selfish for thinking about it like that but I can’t pretend.”
“I understand,” Izdahl told her.
The two talked about how to handle their circumstances. They became engrossed in the conversation, initially unaware of how much time had passed, until the chamber’s door appeared again.
“You and I might not resonate in the way they were hoping,” Avila told him, as she rose to leave. “But I think we can at least be friends.”
“I’d like that,” Izdahl responded, following her out the door. “However, won’t that bother Lorne?”
“He’ll be fine. He’s not as unreasonable as you believe. Like you, he takes pride in his clan. Your insults have stayed with him; that’s all.”
“I can finally admit it was badly done of me. I shouldn’t have acted that way.”
“Or goaded him about how you’d be sleeping with me…”
“Well yes, that too,” Izdahl admitted sheepishly.