Author’s Notes: A part-speculative, part-descriptive, part-dialogue short concentrating on how the Sentinel and someone else first met.^^ Here we catch a glimpse of a Sentinel who does not always seem to know everything!
Globelight filtered through the treetops, turning jade-green as the new leaves caught its white radiance. Amidst the soft cooings of forest-birds and a constant, gentle breeze, a young immortal with flaxen hair leaned his head against the smooth bark of a tree for a momentary rest. Soon it would be off to training sessions—off to dealing with competitive, calculating, and madly jealous immortal trainees, though what they were jealous over the Sentinel could never guess or understand. Everyone had their own unique talents, he thought. This one just happened to be his, and it was not vanity or arrogance which prompted this statement, but observation and repeated testing. He could, after learning something new, do it easily and then, almost as easily, come up with ways the technique could be improved or altered in different situations. The instructor, from the Sentinel’s examination of him, seemed both proud and intimidated by his success—though once again, why the full-grown immortal was intimidated by an afinis like himself was beyond comprehension.(1)
But the fact of the matter was that his instructor was intimidated (slightly) and his fellow trainees were jealous. The former at least did not let it get in the way of his teaching. The latter, however, tried to make his life miserable and disliked him even more when their attempts uniformly failed. Just yesterday, Daphne tried to goad him into a race, because she was much faster than he was and knew he would make a fool of himself if he were against her. The puzzling thing was that he knew this too, and she knew that he knew, so he couldn’t understand why she was so miffed and irritated when he refused her bait.
The breeze ruffled his hair fondly and he sighed with it. Daphne proved his point about unique talents; she was the fastest immortal he’d ever seen, though not by far the most innovative. She really chose the wrong profession to train for—she should’ve tried out for the Guide of Souls. The Sentinel was certain she would’ve passed the preliminaries with more than flying colors.
As for himself—the Sentinel couldn’t help but smile—he would’ve been laughed off the testing field if he’d been foolish enough to try. It was really a pitiable arrogance, to think of yourself as better than you were, and to aim for the Guide of Souls when your speed was only a little above average? You might as well go home. Besides, that post was a wandering one, with no set work area save “the mortal world,” and the Sentinel would much rather stay in one place. So the post in the House of Lost Souls suited him perfectly. He was resolved to try his best for it.
His determined thoughts were cut short when he looked up at the Globe of Beryllus again and noted with some amazement at the passage of time. What had been a detour through the forest had turned into rather inexcusable lazing around among trees. Definitely time to go, he thought, a little ruefully, and moved away from the trunk before he could be tempted to stay longer than he ought. After all, if he wanted to sit in his favorite place at Rose Fountain, he needed to hurry before it was taken by other trainees, who would only be too glad to do something that might dampen his spirits.
But a sudden, loud, and very inventive curse to his left arrested his attention. For a second he started, but the brief feeling of alarm faded away into curiosity, and the Sentinel moved quietly in the direction of the voice, hoping to find its owner. He hadn’t noticed an energy signature, which at the distance his hearing seemed to imply was puzzling. That immortals outside the forest would have difficulty discerning energy signatures of those within the forest, he knew, but surely that didn’t apply to two immortals close together in the forest? Or perhaps the owner of the voice was not an immortal at all?
All the speculation only heightened his curiosity. The Sentinel ducked silently behind a large fir as he drew closer to the place he thought the voice came from (yet another curse confirmed it), and cautiously peeked around.
A figure clothed all in loose black robes stood amongst the trees, apparently glaring at them, though it was hard to tell with the hood covering most of his face. From the figure’s posture and feel he seemed very much immortal, and the prospect of being able to see some rare sentient being faded. The Sentinel felt rather disappointed. That is, until he sensed the energy signature—or more accurately, realized he could sense an energy signature.
Amazing, the Sentinel thought, leaning forward a little in intense excitement. I didn’t notice it at all until I was this close! The immortal’s energy signature (there was no doubt now that the figure was an immortal) was so subdued and low-key that it might as well be invisible. Even the Sentinel, whose senses were keen, though not fully honed due to his youth, had to strain his mind to catch a good glimpse of the immortal’s unique identity. Completely intrigued by this new presence, the Sentinel worked on finding out more about his quarry, who was currently pacing around aimlessly as if trying to remember something. Hm. Male, high-class, and around my age, judging from his aura. That looks like white hair from beneath the hood, but I can’t see his face! The immortal seemed disinclined to turn in his direction for him to get a better look, so finally he stepped out from behind the fir. The other immortal jerked around as the Sentinel purposely crunched a twig beneath his shoe to catch his attention. A flicker of surprise flashed past his face, but was quickly replaced with a suspicion that made his clear eyes glitter like light upon ice.
“Are you lost?” The Sentinel asked, not feeling the least intimidated by someone who was physically taller and certainly (from the black look on his face) not the friendliest lost immortal he’d ever encountered.
“No,” the other snarled angrily. “No, I am not lost. And if you know what’s good for you, you’d stop asking questions.”
“I only asked one question,” the Sentinel replied, trying to keep a straight face. Apparently his quarry was the sort who didn’t accept help when offered, no matter how dire the straits were.
“It’s one question too many,” the black-cloaked immortal retorted, glaring at him with hard steel-blue eyes that shone beneath the shadow of his hood.
As the very uncooperative and stubborn immortal turned away, the Sentinel’s mind quickly analyzed the situation. It was obvious that the other needed help but was too proud to admit it, and as a result he would get hopelessly lost. Which wasn’t a particularly good thing, considering he was young, didn’t act like one of those afinis without ambition, and thus had to be a trainee for some duty. Pursing his lips in thought, the Sentinel tried to place the immortal into a suitable slot—very graceful despite the height, smooth, quick movements, confident … Logically that would mean he was trying for Guide of Souls, Sages’ trackers, or scourers. But what if he were like Daphne, whose talents leaned one way but whose choices went another?
No, wait, the Sentinel realized. There was one other trait: the immortal was obviously very anti-social, meaning he’d want a duty that gave him solitude. If he surmised all this correctly, then he had ruled out the trackers and the scourers. So that left only… “If you’re headed for the Field, you’re going in the wrong direction.” He spoke to the rapidly retreating figure.
His abrupt jerk to a stop told the Sentinel that his reasoning had been correct. “How did you know I was headed for…?” He began incredulously before he caught himself. Making a sound that was remarkably like an animal grunt, he said, “I’m taking the long way.”
The long way that takes you deeper into the forest? The Sentinel thought, forcing back a grin and said, with a very straight face, “Well, I’ll go with you.” So you won’t be wandering around this place for the rest of eternity.
“Why?” The immortal was snide. “I thought you knew the way out.”
“Are you saying that you don’t, then?” The Sentinel countered smoothly.
The other immortal blinked in a very undignified fashion, then with a sound of profound disgust he turned on the Sentinel, “Mind your own business and stay out of mine! Are you a fool or do you have such confidence in your skills that you think I can’t elude your pursuit?”
“You make me sound as if I’m stalking you,” the Sentinel replied with raised eyebrows. “I don’t even know your name.”
“And you won’t ever know my name,” the black-cloaked immortal shot back. “Now get away from me.”
“But you’re lost,” the Sentinel protested, fighting back a smile and working his expression into something that would be a bit more neutral. “I know the way back.”
“Look!” The other suddenly exploded, rounding on him with a fierce glower. “I neither want nor need your help! And I’m sick and tired of talking to you!”
“Fine, fine,” the Sentinel held up his hands in a placating gesture, slipping a complaisant smile on his face, though he was secretly startled by the vehemence of the other immortal’s reaction. Was he really being that annoying by offering help to someone who obviously needed it? He thought not. So either the strange immortal was stubbornly proud, or there was something about the Sentinel in particular that he didn’t like. Or he was just anti-social. After taking another look at the scowling immortal, the Sentinel decided that it was probably a bit of all three. “I’ll go now before you burst and rejoin Daitra…”
With the most scornful snort the Sentinel had ever heard in his relatively short immortal life, the black-cloaked afinis whipped around and began to stalk away…in a direction that was different than the one he’d taken before. The Sentinel fought back another urge to grin. “You’re still heading the wrong way, if you want to know.” He saw the immortal almost pause, but then with a pigheadedness that frankly astonished the Sentinel, he continued walking away. “Try one more time—you only have two directions left to choose,” the Sentinel couldn’t resist calling out. “Or do you really want to stray so deep into the Greenmyst that you never find your way out again?”
For the briefest of seconds the Sentinel wondered if he had pushed the other immortal too far. In the next instant his suspicion was rapidly confirmed, because the immortal started overreacting. Suddenly the muted energy signature he had barely noticed before flared up in a dark and oppressive wave—the immortal was powerful, and he knew it… No wonder he wasn’t used to people bothering him! They probably never stayed long enough to exchange more than two words! Instinctively the Sentinel took a step back, feeling the immortal’s heavy energy dropping over his body, threatening to press him flat against the ground. His senses, keen and aware of possible danger, surged forth, calling upon his well of considerable power. Instantly the weight became lighter, more bearable, as his invisible shield surrounded him and pushed away the dark wave. He could breathe freely again, and he looked up with challenging eyes at the cloaked immortal. “You’re biting the hand that feeds you, my friend,” the Sentinel said quietly, lifting his chin in a proud gesture to show that he was unintimidated.
A flicker of surprise passing through those steel-blue eyes told the Sentinel that his own show of strength had been unexpected. Probably judging me by height again, he thought wryly, I wish I were old enough to have a fully developed energy signature so people would know to stop pushing me around before I’m forced to enlighten them… He felt the unsociable immortal withdraw his threat, and accordingly, he let off as well. “Don’t call me your ‘friend,’” the other muttered sullenly.
He’s trying too hard to get people angry at him, the Sentinel decided inwardly. Maybe something happened to make him really hate other immortals. I wonder what it was? Yet even as the question crossed his mind, another memory surfaced of his brother telling him, exasperated, but with a fond smile nonetheless: “You’re far too curious for your own good, Sentinel.” He frowned a little as the other immortal practically spun away in his eagerness to leave. Certainly wondering about things wasn’t that bad of a trait; he could count many times when his “nosiness” had actually helped someone. Why not make this one of those times?
“What are you staring at?” The Sentinel almost started. The other immortal had stopped and was looking back at him with a deepening scowl. Apparently he had felt the gaze on his back and didn’t like it any more than he had liked the attempts to help. The expression on his face was clearly meant to drive well-meaning immortals off, nasty as it looked.
Well, I refuse to fall into your little trap…whoever you are. I’m going to help you whether you like it or not. Now, I just need to do it in a way that doesn’t make it sound like I’m insulting him… “The Field is to your left, just so you know.” He said flippantly, making his tone so casual it sounded as if he’d just commented on the color of the sky. Then, without looking to see if the immortal listened, he turned and headed back in the direction from which he came. After a few moments, overcome by curiosity (again), the Sentinel dared a glimpse back toward the strange immortal. A small smile flitted across his face, and then he turned away, speeding up his steps.
Already far in the distance, the black-cloaked immortal was running, faster and faster…faster than even Daphne…nothing more than a streak of night against the forest green. This time, though, he was heading in the right direction.
(1) Afinis (A’ fin ee)—“youngling, young one.” Directly translated it means “incomplete; not finished.” This is the formal way to call a child-immortal because their development is “incomplete” and they have not reached their full potential. Sometimes full-grown immortals who are born earlier than other full-grown immortals will affectionately call the latter “child,” but they would never call them “afinis” unless they were trying to be really insulting.