Chapter Four: Many Meetings

I hinted at 'action' in this chapter...alas, unless you count characters thinking a whole lot as action, you'll be severely disappointed.^^; But since I love character interaction, well, you people will just have to deal with all the dialogue and thrilling introspection. :D This chapter is, btw, the longest revised chapter to date, isn't that exciting??-_-
The title is such rip-off from Lord of the Rings. Sorry about that, but my LotR craze has bitten me and won't let go.^_^ (As usual, standard disclaimers apply. The Sentinel and Charon are not mine, but everyone else is.)

*Note (5/11/02)*: Hiya, everyone. The last part of this chapter just went through a third rewrite, this time a more significant one. Might want to reread it (the part where the Sentinel thinks about Charon), since the Sentinel's attitude is markedly different.^^

“All’s well today?” The Head of Nemesis’ Angels of Vengeance stretched his dark raven wings wide, making him look much larger than he truly was.

“There has been no disturbance,” his subordinate replied, his wings folded neatly behind him to show his lesser rank.

“No intruders?”


The Head allowed a small, satisfied smile to cross his face. “Very good. Continue your rounds.” Placing his arm across his chest in the customary salute, the other Angel lifted his powerful wings, beat them once, twice, and was soon in the air, flying toward the back of the palace. Watching him go, the Head felt a surge of pride for his fellow Angels—though he would never admit this to them—who were all so competent, so thorough. Those qualities were necessary in order to protect the Vindicar from unsavory ‘visitors,’ individuals who came either to harm their Lady or waste her time.

Or, thought the Head spitefully as he sensed a familiar, strangely cold aura, to be a bad influence. Even as he finished the thought, he felt the aura intensify—the temperature around the area dropped—then the God of Death, spiked hair, deep purple cloak and all, stood before the steps. Looking up and meeting the eyes of the Angel, Thanatos smiled jauntily—as if trying to provoke him!—and walked up the wide staircase to the main entrance where the other stood. The Head forced back a grimace of annoyance as he nodded in acknowledgement politely, if stiffly.

“A good midday to you,” Thanatos greeted when he reached the landing.

“What is your purpose here, my lord?” The Head didn’t bother with niceties and went straight to business. It was his duty to question visitors, even if (especially if!) they were the Lady Nemesis’ friends. As loyal and unwavering as he was, the Head still had to concede that his mistress’ choice of companions were suspicious at best, and downright criminal at worst. Being mere servants, it was not their place to criticize, but what he and his Angels could do was make sure those ‘friends’ did not corrupt their beloved Lady. All of the Angels of Vengeance had breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Guide of Souls and the Sentinel of Lost Souls had left Upperworld for their workplaces, but the God of Death was a different matter. That insolent immortal just had to be another Chosen, and all Chosens worked in Upperworld, whether the Angels liked it or not. The fact that he could not stop ‘Lord’ Thanatos from visiting galled the Head to no end, and his subordinates expressed like distaste.

“You know my purpose,” Thanatos shrugged.

“Lady Nemesis is busy and has no time for games today,” The Head replied. Perhaps, for once, this arrogant, lazy, good-for-nothing immortal could leave the Lady alone…

“You misunderstand me. I come on business,” Thanatos grinned. “Though your assumption isn’t without grounds. I do seem to come for fun very often, don’t I?”

Fun isn’t the least of it, the Head thought, and proceeded to bury his thoughts in a string of unflattering words about the God of Death.

“Now this is very important business,” Thanatos was saying. The Head snapped back to attention. He didn’t like Thanatos, but for some reason others did, and it wouldn’t do for rumors to spread about how the Angels of Vengeance were remiss in their treatment of a Chosen. “I suggest you don’t delay me any longer.”

His dislike for this immortal increased exponentially. “I was not trying to delay you, my lord.” The Head gritted out between clenched teeth and somehow still made his words unslurred. “This is merely my duty.”

Thanatos’ answer was another agonizingly cocky grin as he breezed past the Angel of Vengeance. “And you do such a fine job protecting the Vindicar. Nemesis certainly can’t do without you.” Then with a backwards wave, he disappeared into the palace, leaving the Head wondering suspiciously if those last words were a veiled insult.

* * *

Alright. I think I’ve got it now. The Sentinel was crouched low behind an enormous clump of dense bushes, peering out from a crack where the leaves had not managed to mat together and blot out space. Three Angels make rounds constantly, two stand guard in every cardinal direction, and once in a while one of them leaves to the front, probably to report. Which means the Head is in front.

Very carefully and quietly, the Sentinel stood and slowly moved sideways, keeping himself in the shadows. Looking around, he finally located a suitable place to set down the little ‘distraction’ he had planned for the guards of the Vindicar. Stooping down on his haunches, the Sentinel cupped his hands together and whispered a soft word. Wisps of dark mist instantly gathered, swirling in miniature eddies until it finally coalesced into a small, calm pool of black. He let go of it, and it drifted to the ground like a raven’s feather, nestling against the underbrush.

A few moments later he was back behind the clump of bushes, waiting, biding his time. Right about…now. On cue, one of the Angels guarding the back of the Vindicar turned to his companion, spoke a few words, then flew off to the front of the palace. The Sentinel dared a quick look out. Two of the Angels circling the Vindicar were elsewhere—that was more luck than he’d expected. He murmured a quick command.

Back where he’d planted it, the black pool of undiluted Daitra energy he’d gathered while walking through the forest churned, swelled, and finally—exploded. Surging upward, it burst out of the Minor’s canopy with a silent roar that thoroughly alarmed every Angel of Vengeance in the vicinity—which was, of course, exactly what the Sentinel was hoping for. He watched as the remaining Angel behind the Vindicar start, look toward the Daitra energy with an expression of grim determination, then take wing and shoot off, plunging into the forest. A split second later the Angel patrolling the air dove through the leafy canopy and vanished as well. The area was unwatched.

Leaping to his feet, the Sentinel was out of his hiding place even as the Angels flew into the forest, and was dashing for the vine-covered alcove which concealed the secret entrance to the Vindicar. Its appearance clear in his memory, he reached a section of tangled greenery which seemed impenetrable, and without hesitation, tugged at the vines. He sprang into the sudden opening with only seconds to spare. As the tendrils of green closed behind him he heard the voices of the Angels of Vengeance.

“What was it?!”

“Sire, someone had planted Daitra energy near the Vindicar!”

“Any discernable energy signature?”

Of course not, the Sentinel thought dryly as he turned to search for the carving that triggered the opening of the trapdoor. I wouldn’t leave something with my energy signature written all over it!

“No, sire, I can sense nothing—stem its flow! Stop it from destroying the forest!”

“You and you! Go around the palace! Search for this vagrant and—”

Whatever it was the Head wanted his Angels to do with that ‘vagrant,’ the Sentinel never heard, for he’d already located the carving, pressed it, watched the hidden door open, and slipped inside without a sound.

* * *

“My Angels are going insane outside,” Nemesis murmured, crossing her arms thoughtfully as she stood looking out one of the windows in her private chambers.

“Well, you know what that means,” Thanatos, who’d chosen his customary seat in a pile of large silken pillows, barely glanced up, though Nemesis, looking at him, could see the tell-tale glint of a hidden smile in his eyes.

“You’re very unkind to servants who serve me so diligently, Thanatos,” she mock-scolded. “Having so much fun at their expense.”

“I’m not the one having fun at their expense,” Thanatos retorted, the grin appearing on his mouth now as well. “From the looks of this, I’d say it’s probably one of our colleag—”

He was interrupted by a curt knock on the door.

Nemesis turned, and Thanatos saw her expression transform from his friend to the aloof and proud Goddess of Vengeance. It never failed to give him a little shiver of appreciation—somehow he always gave others the impression that he was secretly smiling at something, no matter how serious he was. “Come in,” Nemesis commanded.

An Angel of Vengeance opened the door and swept in, his wings opened in a menacing shadow behind him. “My Lady!—and Lord Thanatos,” he added as an afterthought, too concerned to lever the usual look of masked disdain at the God of Death. “There is someone hiding in the surrounding woods of the Vindicar. The immortal or immortals had just set off an explosion...”

“What kind?” Nemesis interrupted.

“It appears to be signature-less Daitra energy, collected from the occasional wells which can be found in the forest.” The Angel reported, abruptly folding his wings back, for it was considered impolite for winged immortals to show off their feathers in closed buildings, especially before a person of rank.

“Was it a powerful explosion?” Nemesis continued her question without seeming to notice the ‘adjustments’ in her servant.

“Yes, my Lady, quite—I believe if any of us were unfortunate enough to be flying over it, the force would have taken off a wing.”

“Then it must be a trickster of much discipline, if he or she could control such power so thoroughly.”

“Yes, my Lady, our leader has come to the same conclusion,”—referring to the Head, “And we are making every effort at finding this trickster—if indeed that is all there is to this incident.”

Nemesis chose to ignore the not-so-subtle hint. “Continue your efforts, Angel. There is no need to report again unless you have caught the individual.”

“Yes, my Lady,” the Angel began to turn away, but then he hesitated. “If I may be permitted to ask—” Nemesis’ silence indicated acquiescence, so he forged ahead, “What of the inside of the Vindicar?”

“Surely you are not hinting that I cannot deal with this intruder myself?” Nemesis arched her eyebrow skeptically.

The Angel’s eyes bulged out. Then he bowed and rapid apologies were streaming out of his mouth as he moved toward the door, finally making an exit that was markedly speedier than the entrance.

For a moment neither Nemesis nor Thanatos moved. Then a noise that sounded suspiciously like a suppressed snort of laughter burst from the Goddess of Vengeance, which not surprisingly elicited the same reaction from her companion. And before long, both of them were doubled over in uncontrollable laughter.

“Did…did you see…that look on his...face…?!” Nemesis gasped as she hugged her sides, feeling as if they would split if she didn’t give them proper support.

Thanatos didn’t answer: he was too busy wiping the tears streaming from his eyes.

* * *

A few moments later, they finally settled down, although Nemesis was still getting over the occasional giggle or two. “One day they’ll catch me laughing at them, Nemesis, and then I’ll be in trouble.” Thanatos pretended to sound worried, though a grin he couldn’t wipe away was still hovering on his face. “They’re so uptight they have no idea when you’re joking, and they’ll think I was insulting your ‘prowess’ or something.”

“I’m sure they’ll do a lot of damage when they attack you, since you’re so weak and defenseless,” Nemesis said, loading heavy sarcasm into her voice. Thanatos replied by widening his broad, crooked smile.

A moment of silence.

“So which one’d you think it was?” Thanatos finally asked, lacing his hands together and putting them behind his head. It was a rhetorical question, because just from the nature of the diversion, he already knew the answer. But still, his best friend was fun to irritate.

Sure enough—“Are you being dumb to just annoy me?” Nemesis snorted, grimacing. “Who else could it be but—”

A knock on the door interrupted her, but neither of them had felt an energy signature come close. The two immortals exchanged glances, then, without rising, Nemesis called out, “Come in, door’s unlocked.”

Immediately the door swung open, revealing the Sentinel standing outside, looking—strangely enough—a little pale. Thanatos sat up. Nemesis’ mouth snapped shut, then she opened it again, either in greeting or inquiry, but the Sentinel interrupted before she could say a word. “Someone, shield, quick…” he said, stepping into the room and shutting the door.

To anyone else that cryptic statement would’ve been completely puzzling. But Nemesis’ eyes lit in realization, and instantly she made an arcane gesture in the air. A mist of gold seeped out of her fingers and soared to the Sentinel, surrounding him in an intangible flurry of light. Thanatos leaned back again.

A moment later the Sentinel relaxed visibly, taking in a few deep breaths as he did, then poured like a melting candle into a convenient armchair.

“Point zero too much?” Thanatos asked sympathetically.

“Too many things to worry about at the same time,” the Sentinel half-gasped by way of explanation. “And I’m out of practice.”

“Well, it’s crazy trying to suppress your power to point zero for any period of time when your aura feels and acts like phoenix-fire,” Nemesis snorted. “No wonder you’re falling over.”

The Sentinel tried a smile, couldn’t quite manage it, and gave up, leaning his head back against the armchair. “It was when I stepped out of the passageway,” he said reflectively, looking without seeing at the darkened ceiling. “Suddenly my chest just constricted, and for a moment I seriously thought I was starting to turn inside-out... And, you know, it occurred to me that I hadn’t attempted point zero in eons, and maybe trying to do that and concentrating on my diversion at the same time was not a particularly good idea…” The Sentinel closed his eyes. He was feeling horribly drained, and when the dark world began spinning behind his eyelids, he firmly made a resolution. From now on, he would practice suppressing his energy signature at his workplace. This disgusting sensation of giddiness was never going to never plague him again—at least not so badly.

“Sweet Daitra, what kind of explosion was this?” Thanatos demanded, arching an eyebrow at the ungraceful way his usually-elegant colleague was slumping in his seat. “Tell me so I can remind myself not to try something so exhausting.”

“Honestly,” Nemesis agreed, looking completely puzzled. “This can’t all be caused by point zero…can it?”

Opening his eyes, the Sentinel shook his head to clear it of his weariness, and sat up straighter. “All I did was find a natural well of Daitra energy some distance from the Vindicar—you know how those are always lying around in forests—gathered some, sealed it so it wouldn’t go off prematurely, and took the energy with me.”

“But that’s easy!” Thanatos blurted out before he realized how rude that sounded.

“Not if you happen to be me,” the Sentinel retorted with good-natured sarcasm, more embarrassed than he was offended.

“So it was all point zero!” Nemesis sounded incredulous.

“Well, I had a lot of waiting to do while maintaining point zero. Besides which, compacting my power to one tiny point is a bit trying when my energy signature’s like siren-song. Or phoenix-fire…whichever.” The Sentinel defended himself, shrugging as if to add that there was nothing he could do about his disadvantage.

“I know you have to confine your power to an even smaller point than the rest of us to keep the Angels from noticing, but you used to do that before you left and I don’t remember you getting this tired,” Nemesis pointed out with a frown.

“He did say he was out of practice, Nemesis,” Thanatos reminded his colleague, deciding that the Sentinel didn’t exactly look up to explanation at the moment. “I imagine the boundary between life and death isn’t a place one would need to practice point zero.”

The Sentinel responded with an almost wan half-smile, though he was looking considerably better than when he’d first come in. Nemesis’ warding shield was doing its job, hiding even his unique energy signature from the acute scenes of the Angels of Vengeance. Now that he was not under the strain of keeping his aura unnaturally suppressed, the tired softness left his eyes and turned them bright again. It was the familiar sharp gaze that Thanatos remembered, and though it might unnerve others, to him it was oddly reassuring. Memories he’d put away swirled into his thoughts like autumn leaves, old and beautiful and softened with fond longing.

“Uh, Thanatos? Why are you staring at the Sentinel like he’d just declared himself satyric?” Nemesis was looking at him strangely; the Sentinel seemed a bit bemused but was otherwise taking his gawking in stride.

“I was just thinking of the old days, when we used to get together,” Thanatos explained with a crooked smile. “All the…ah, adventures you and I pulled the Innocent One into.”

A snort of laughter burst from Nemesis. “The ‘Innocent One’ was the mastermind behind practically everything we did after we met him.”

“Excuse me,” the Sentinel interrupted with false indignation, “I was innocent. I only accompanied you two on your misadventures out of the goodness of my heart. Who knows what sort of trouble you would’ve gotten yourselves into, if I hadn’t been there to bail you out?”

“Uh huh,” Nemesis said dryly. “Sure. This is, of course, the same person who said to me after we hid half the artifacts in Sagacity Hall, ‘What a shame we couldn’t stay long enough to hide the other half!’ Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy our practical jokes.”

“That was complete sarcasm. You were just too heady with success to note my dry and obviously ironic tone of voice,” the Sentinel replied, demonstrating by using the same exact ‘dry and obviously ironic’ tone he claimed to have used in the past. Then they all laughed, not because the conversation was particularly funny, but because they suddenly felt so comfortable together. Friends in the same room laugh about nothing at all, forgetting what it was that had been so hysterical in a few days, but the sense of belonging which rang in the laughter is never forgotten. And for the moment, as the three friends laughed over their trifles, troubles receded into mist and ceased to be a solid weight on their shoulders. For the moment, they enjoyed each other’s company, and belonged.

* * *

They didn’t realize he’d arrived, and was standing outside the door at that very moment, listening to them laugh over something stupid. But that was a common thing; Charon was used to people overlooking him. In fact he would’ve been surprised if one of his colleagues in there did notice him—surprised, and irritated, because that meant he had been careless and underestimated their sensitivity.

He prided himself on knowing the weaknesses of others—not that his colleagues had many of those, actually. But the eons he’d spent in their company had attuned him to their respective abilities to detect hidden energy. Now, especially since they were distracted with each other, Charon felt certain that none of them knew of his presence, and he hadn’t even needed to use point zero.

Then he wondered why he cared.

“…epistle to Charon?” That was the Sentinel’s voice, asking a question about him. It startled him for a second before he leaned forward a little to listen, without realizing that he was doing so.

“Yes, I sent one,” Nemesis was replying. “To be honest though, I have no idea why I did something as pointless as that.”

“Charon can be very helpful, if he’s in the mood,” the Sentinel sounded as if he were smiling indulgently as he defended him. The tone and the words made Charon indignant before he wondered, again, why he cared at all.

“Key part of what you just said was ‘if he’s in the mood,’” Nemesis retorted, apparently unmollified and still puzzled about why she’d sent the epistle. The veiled insult didn’t upset Charon, as it would have many others, but reassured him instead. He had been right; Nemesis couldn’t stand him, and this invitation wasn’t because her feelings had changed any, but because she was being her usual fickle self.

“I think Charon will probably come,” the Sentinel’s reply was casual, like he was stating some offhand fact everyone knew. Some perversity to prove his colleague wrong almost made Charon turn around and leave again, but then he recalled that the Angels of Vengeance were still milling about outside, making it hazardous to his duty if he should venture out so quickly. He chose not to think about how easily he had slipped into the Vindicar, owing to his practically invisible energy signature and the preoccupation of the Angels. That wasn’t important.

Charon suddenly noticed a lull in the conversation, and entertained the thought that perhaps now was the time to teleport in and give his colleagues a decent shock. But even as the idea crossed his mind, Thanatos spoke up, “You sound so certain, Sentinel.” His voice was colored with mischief.

The silence after that comment grew decidedly uncomfortable. “You mean neither of you think he’ll show up?” The Sentinel finally countered with a careful question. “I was just going on past observation here. Every time you invite him, he eventually decides to help out.”

“I wonder.” Now it was Nemesis who sounded sly. “Could it be possible that he comes up because he knows you’ll be here?”

“What do you mean by that?” The Sentinel’s voice was neutral and betrayed nothing, but Charon, listening outside, suddenly wondered if Nemesis and Thanatos knew to look at the Sentinel’s eyes when he talked like that. His colleague had a harder time disguising the emotions which came through his eyes… But wait a minute. How did he know that, and more importantly, why was he letting them sit around discussing him behind his back??

“Oh, Sentinel, you’re smart. You know what we mean,” Thanatos rejoined, a definite smirk in his voice and most likely on his face as well.

“I was just—” the Sentinel began.

Charon had had enough of the conversation and teleported into the room before his colleague could finish. Thanatos, who was facing the door, gave a violent start and yelled in a most undignified manner. A split second later, the Sentinel and Nemesis turned, and their identical expressions of shock when they saw him were so rewarding that he had to forcibly bite back a laugh. He chose to smirk instead.

“Ch…Charon!” The Sentinel stuttered, apparently at a loss for words.

Ah. Success is sweet, Charon thought.

“Well, well, he finally decides to honor us with his presence,” Thanatos said dryly, recovering from his surprise and now a bit miffed that he’d been so embarrassingly caught off-guard.

“When…ah, did you get here?” The Sentinel asked, to all appearances nonchalant, but not meeting Charon’s glance toward him as he spoke.

“Just now,” Charon shrugged. “I teleported in.” His colleague seemed relieved, which made no sense, but he was given no time to ponder that strange reaction as Nemesis burst in—

“You teleported? You didn’t use the passageway??!”

One thing he couldn’t stand about Nemesis, among others, was her annoying habit of jumping to conclusions. Did he say he didn’t use it? “Of course I did. I teleported to your room after I got out of the passageway.”

“You shouldn’t have teleported at all,” Nemesis frowned, irritated. “My Angels aren’t exactly dense. They could’ve sensed you!”

“Not likely,” Charon’s reply was full of scorn. “None of you sensed me, after all. Unless you’re telling me your senses are inferior to your servants.”

Nemesis’ irritated frown rapidly degenerated into a furious glower. “You think you’re so—” She growled, stalking toward him and pulling out a dagger in the process.

The situation might have turned ugly—for Nemesis, thought Charon—and the Sentinel moved to stand up, clearly intending to intervene. Thanatos beat him to it. “Charon, we were just talking about you before you came,” the God of Death dropped innocently.

Charon noticed the Sentinel stiffen in…what was that? Surprise? Dread? It was even more alarming when Nemesis abruptly lowered her dagger and smiled too-sweetly. “Oh yes. And it was such an interesting conversation.”

“You two…” the Sentinel began. Charon’s mind went on a fast rewind through the conversation he’d overheard earlier. There was nothing he was bothered by, so what was the trump card Nemesis thought she held? Could it have been before he came?

He might as well ask. “What are you talking about?”

Nemesis grinned wickedly as she took a step toward Charon. “The Sentinel was telling me that…”

“I stopped two Beryllus immortals from severely wounding a Daitra low-class,” the Sentinel cut in. Nemesis stopped short; Thanatos raised a skeptical eyebrow. As for himself, Charon thought fleetingly that the Sentinel must be thinking of a conversation different from the one he’d eavesdropped in. Then he leveled a discreet but slightly questioning look at his colleague and waited for him to explain this blatant lie.

Nemesis apparently had the same idea, because she forgot about Charon and whirled around to face the Sentinel. “You didn’t,” she insisted, but there was a peculiar strain in her voice that was at odds with the half-threatening, half-teasing mood she had just been in a moment ago.

The Sentinel noticed this change as well—he looked at her with a slightly furrowed brow when he answered. “Actually, I did have to teach two Beryllus immortals a lesson in humility. Why? What’s the matter?” Nemesis’ dagger vanished from her hand. Whatever method of torture she had planned to use so she could teach Charon a lesson, it was clearly forgotten in light of this new information.

Thanatos stirred from his seated position on the cushions and asked the question that was also on Charon’s mind. The Sentinel, probably figuring all would soon be explained, stood quietly, clear eyes fixed on Nemesis. “I’m guessing it has something to do with why you planned this happy little reunion, m’lady?”

“Don’t call me m’lady,” Nemesis retorted automatically, a habit Charon remembered from eons ago, before he left to work in the mortal world.

Sweet Daitra, he’d known this maddening Goddess for that long??

* * *

It was probably silly and illogical, but the Sentinel felt relief wash through him when the subject of “why Charon comes to Upperworld” was dropped for graver matters. How to explain to Nemesis and Thanatos that Charon, a.k.a. the anathema of friendship and camaraderie, had been periodically visiting him in the House of Lost Souls? If Charon hadn’t taken to coming every other century, then the Sentinel can shrug it off before Nemesis and Thanatos, declaring the visits were rare, chalking them up to duty. After all, the Mortal Division of the Souls Immortals were supposed to help each other out if difficulties arose while working. But the problem was, there simply wasn’t a lot of trouble serious enough that the Sentinel or Charon couldn’t deal with it by himself. So it became harder and harder for Charon to explain his own visits—in truth, the Sentinel didn’t really know why Charon kept coming either. Some strange curiosity about his work in the House of Lost Souls? Complete and utter whim? (That was what Charon used as an excuse when he came without a soul for the Sentinel to deal with.) An inexplicable loneliness, welling up from the depths of his soul, which causes him to…Nah.

Maybe he ought to tell Charon how often his drop-ins were becoming. The Guide had probably forgotten that the visits, already frequent, seemed even more so to an immortal who worked in a place with no time. Being famed for his anti-social rudeness, Charon would probably be mortified and then severely cut back on his random and apparently aimless wanderings to the House of Lost Souls. Then the Sentinel wouldn’t have to cover up for Charon, should Nemesis and Thanatos become curious about exactly what was going on between their two colleagues. He can just imagine the squirming, crawling humiliation Charon would go through if the duo declared that he was becoming the dreaded “f” word to the Sentinel. “Are you two best friends now, Charon?” They’d ask, all smiles. And then Charon would shrivel up (inwardly) like a flower on the wing of a phoenix, his reputation as a mean and terrible immortal irreparably shattered. Oh, the tragedy…

Strangely enough, the Sentinel himself didn’t actually have a solid answer to that “friends” question either, but he suspected that he was growing on Charon, in some subtle way. He didn’t know why. Certainly his own interest in the Guide of Souls had grown out of a detached curiosity—he first noticed Charon because the immortal was trying his best to be completely disliked by all the afinis. It was intriguing behavior, especially after the Sentinel recognized Charon as the hostile immortal he’d helped find his way out of Greenmyst Minor.(1) And when he tried to introduce himself, certain that Charon would remember him from the forest, the reaction was so immediate—and so unfriendly—that he was quite taken aback. Why was this immortal merely indifferent to other afinis, but downright antagonistic with him? Immediately the Sentinel decided that there was more to the story, and being a little inquisitive (his brother would’ve called him downright nosy), he set out to discover—nicely—what Charon’s problem was. It would take finesse, it would take skill, it would take a certain amount of carefully disguised questions, but eventually he’d find out, and his burning curiosity would be satisfied.

Well, he hadn’t gotten very far, to tell the truth. Things kept happening to get in the way, but he had time, so he didn’t mind too much. What he did mind was that Charon—who made a point of not caring—kept accidently finding out about things the Sentinel would rather nobody else knew. Typical ironic situation. His brother always used to say that—Hmm. His brother seemed to be popping up in his train of thought more than usual. Come to think of it, Charon had been there when it happened, and then afterwards…(2)

Charon seemed less hostile in general afterwards. The Sentinel frowned inwardly as the implications sank in. Pity changed Charon’s attitude toward him, was it? Pity, and not something inherent within the Sentinel that Charon had glimpsed, and liked?

To say that he didn’t like the turn his musings have taken was a definite understatement. And there was business at hand, so the Sentinel firmly, emphatically, put the matter out of his mind. When Nemesis called out his name to get his attention, he looked up with a small smile. “I’m listening,” he said.

* * *

(1) See short story, “Snapshot.”

(2) See short story, “Might Be” for hints to what “it” was. Though the events reflected upon in “Might Be” took place before YnO, the story itself took place after YnO, hence the subtle shift in where people stand regarding relationships.