Yami No Oozora: Chapter Six

Chapter Six: Nakama (Comrades)

After more than a month of no time and sporadic attempts to write, chapter six is finally up and running.^^ Action arrives! (Aren't you proud?) And then it's back to contemplation, always contemplation.^_^;;
High school's almost over for me, btw, and then it's off to college! Woohoo!! And let's see...oh yes, standard disclaimers apply as usual.

The little field looked nothing like a place where an immortal had been kidnapped and possibly taken to his death. White wild flowers were scattered like pearls across the verdant green turf, and at that very moment, cool breezes were threading their way among the grass, carrying the clean scent along with them.

“Nice place,” Thanatos commented as they appeared in the midst of the field, he and Nemesis each with one hand on the Sentinel’s shoulders, having teleported him there.

“There’s the dwelling,” Nemesis lifted her hand and pointed to the cottage in the distance. She began to walk toward it, “Let’s go.”

A while later they were standing before the house, each critically looking it over in their own way. The door was closed, the windows unshuttered, letting in light from the Globe of Beryllus, and to all appearances, the owner had just stepped out for a little walk in the surrounding field. “Not very ominous, is it?” Thanatos commented, cocking his head and striding forward to peer into the windows. “I don’t see any overturned furniture or anything like that.”

“Let’s go in and take a closer look,” the Sentinel suggested, moving to the door and placing his hand on the knob. “We might find something that can shed a light on what happened to the immortal who lived here.” Thanatos nodded and stepped over to join his colleague. Nemesis hung back.

“You two do that. I’ll look around the house. Maybe the culprits dropped something, or maybe our captive left a clue.”

She waved and set off, cutting across the field. The Sentinel twisted the knob gently, pushed open the door, and let the two of them into the dwelling. “No lock,” he commented as they stood a little past the threshold.

Thanatos moved away from the door and headed for a dark wooden cabinet against the back wall. “Kind of gives the impression that this immortal just stepped out of his house for a while and then disappeared. Didn’t even protect his house.”

“I wonder if that’s how it really happened, or if it was set up so we’d think that way,” the Sentinel speculated as he let the door swing shut behind him.

“Guess that’s what we’re here to try and find out,” Thanatos replied, opening the top drawer of the cabinet, giving its contents a cursory glance, then shutting it. “Somehow, I don’t think medicinal herbs will be too helpful.” He gestured ambiguously at his surroundings. “This immortal was probably a healer of some sort.”

“I think you’re right,” the Sentinel answered, lifting the first piece of paper he found upon opening an ornate box. “This is a recipe for sleeping powder.” He began to rummage past the next few pieces of parchment, intent on finding something that might hint at the immortal’s disappearance. Thanatos went back to his cabinet and opened the next drawer.

Nothing of interest in there. He shut it again and opened the next one—all fabric. What in Upperworld was this immortal doing with these bolts of cloth? He pushed and pulled them aside to find nothing, except a creeping sense of ennui. Alright, he was starting to tire of this already, and they’d barely started. Somehow, Thanatos doubted the Sentinel would appreciate it very much if he said he wanted to give up because he was bored. Seeking a sort of distraction to revitalize his interest, Thanatos’ eyes settled on his colleague, finished with one box and now flipping through the contents of another, larger one. He recalled his own curiosity back at the Vindicar.



“Why does Charon listen to you?”

The Sentinel paused in his rifling through the box and looked up. Without turning around, he shrugged. “I suppose he respects me enough to do so. Or maybe it’s because he knows I can embarrass him.”

“So it’s like blackmail?” Thanatos drew the comparison rather skeptically. He was hoping for (and suspecting) something more than that.

Now the Sentinel did turn, leaning against the small table casually as he regarded the God of Death. “Not really. It’s nothing so terrible. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, no real reason. Just curious, I suppose,” Thanatos smiled a lopsided smile. “Charon just doesn’t seem to be the type to take orders.”

“He isn’t,” the Sentinel replied flatly, going back to searching through the box. The God of Death, seeing the conversation about to draw to a close, fixed his eyes on the Sentinel’s back. If he stared long enough, he figured he could distract the Sentinel enough so that his colleague says something just to get the topic over with. Sure enough, after a few minutes of staring pointedly at one fold in the sky-blue fabric, the Sentinel shut the box, “Thanatos, are you going to stand there ogling or are you going to help?”

Ogling would not be his choice of words for what he was doing. “Excuse me,” Thanatos corrected, “I was observing, not ogling.”

“Fine,” the Sentinel almost snapped, but then toned his voice down to an exaggerated patience. “Why don’t you go on over there to that chest, open it up, and observe the contents? I think that will help our cause a bit more than my shirt.”

Thanatos obliged, glad that the movement hid his smile from the Sentinel. He reached the chest, tugged at the lid, and found it sealed with a lock spell. Not feeling like dealing with the intricacies of unraveling it, Thanatos opted for force. “Hope the immortal who used to live here won’t mind too much,” he murmured as he touched the top of the chest. There was an audible tinking break heralding the dispersion of the lock spell, and Thanatos hefted open the lid. Behind him, he heard the Sentinel move to another part of the cottage. He looked inside the chest—these were obviously more personal belongings, mementos of some sort. Feeling a bit uncomfortable going through such things, Thanatos sat back on his haunches and sought for a diversion once more. Thinking on how the Sentinel had skipped around the topic of Charon, the God of Death thought it was time to bring it up again. He really was very curious. “Hey Sentinel?”


“You know Charon?”

A wary pause, and finally—“Yes?”

“Do you two...that is to say, how well do you…hmm…” Thanatos paused, decided that his hedging was stupid, and forged on recklessly. “I’m getting the feeling that you two are getting really close. I mean…” He hastily waved his hands before him when the Sentinel turned and gave him a scandalized look. “Not like that! I know that’s not possible, I just… Look, what I’m trying to say is: is Charon your friend?”

Thanatos could see the Sentinel frowning as he replied. “Thanatos, is that even important? Charon’s my—our colleague, and despite some…flaws in his personality, he’s essentially a decent person. He’ll help us if we need it.”

“That…uh, doesn’t answer my question.”

“Yes it does,” the Sentinel turned back to his open box.

“No, it doesn’t,” Thanatos insisted stubbornly. “I’ll bet you’re avoiding my question, and you actually have a real answer.”

“Well, if you think so,” the Sentinel murmured, sounding distracted by his current examination of a piece of parchment. “What is my real answer then?”

“’Yes’?” Thanatos guessed. “He’s stopped being such a jerk around you, at least.”

The Sentinel chuckled. “Where did you get the impression that Charon isn’t a jerk around me?”

“Hey, he played taktika with you today.”

“He was bored, he couldn’t leave, and he had nothing else to do,” the Sentinel shrugged, dismissing the game as a possible suggestion of their friendship completely. “Charon…does a lot of things on whim. And trust me, he’s just as rude to me as he is to Nemesis. I just don’t let it bother me.”

“Whim? Is that all you think it is?” Thanatos arched a skeptical eyebrow. “You’re not…growing on him or something?”

“Thanatos,” the Sentinel put down the parchment and looked over his shoulder, a vaguely irritated expression on his face, “this is not the time to—”

A blood-curdling scream cut him off in mid-sentence. Thanatos froze to the spot, uncomprehending in his horror, but the Sentinel was already making for the door. “That was Nemesis, Thanatos! Teleport out there!” The sharp command snapped him back to reality, where the long, shrill scream was still hanging in the air, and Thanatos obeyed.

His robes swept grass, and the God of Death found himself behind the abandoned dwelling, head swiveling wildly around like some mechanical doll gone haywire. This was where his senses had taken him when he’d searched for Nemesis, but where—?? An instant later his eyes located her, but it was a horrible sight. Thanatos felt his body numbing in shock again, because that simply couldn’t be his best friend, shrieking, suspended in midair by the column of cruel white light surging toward the sky.

“Nemesis!” The gasp of alarm from somewhere behind him sounded familiar—the Sentinel, he recognized, and turned…his movements felt as if he were wading through mud. “What in Daitra’s name…” Jerking to a stop beside him, the Sentinel’s stricken question melted away to be replaced by another: “A geyser…how did she get caught in a geyser…?”

It didn’t matter. All he knew was that his best friend was in pain, and he had to free her of it. Thanatos took a step forward, then another…

* * *

The Sentinel wasn’t prepared for the sight that met his eyes when he’d rounded the corner of the house. He’d registered the screams, he knew she was in danger, but…nothing could have prepared him for this.

How could she have gotten herself into a geyser?! A part of his mind was yelling—the part of his mind that never stopped, that kept working on even though he tired of finding explanations… Someone must have laid a trap! She’s not stupid enough to jump into a geyser of Beryllus energy, she would’ve known, therefore someone tricked them all into coming here and…

And Thanatos began to move toward her, murmuring something inarticulate, but with a rhythm he recognized: an incantation for a barrier. The telltale ripple of darkness rushed around Thanatos’ body and wound up, coalescing above his head, forming a shield. But it wasn’t strong enough—if he tried to pull Nemesis out, inadequately protected as he was, neither of them would last. “No, Thanatos, stop!” The Sentinel cried, rushing to block his friend’s path.

“Out of my way,” Thanatos growled, even as Nemesis’ long, continuous scream suddenly rose in pitch and urgency. “NOW!”

“You can’t, you’re not thinking—” Before he could finish, the God of Death had vanished from sight. Cursing under his breath, the Sentinel turned to find Thanatos behind him, the barrier flickering from his speed as he raced toward Nemesis. He couldn’t teleport without announcing his illegal existence up here to any immortal who might be near by, so he ran, calling out Thanatos’ name, hoping he could penetrate the unthinking fog that had swallowed his friend’s mind. But even as he pursued Thanatos across the field, he knew he couldn’t make it there in time—a split second more, and Thanatos would plunge into the geyser in a desperate attempt to save Nemesis. Only it would fail, and he would trap himself in the burning, white-hot Beryllus energy…and perish along with his best friend. Just as the sickening realization shrouded his mind, the Sentinel felt Nemesis’ shield around him waver and weaken. She was fading…he could break her shield with ease.

In a flash of clarity, the Sentinel saw two realities: he would watch his friends melt away in the fire of Beryllus and keep his presence unknown…or he would help them, and be discovered, and stripped of his precious duty—the duty so important he had sacrificed his brother for it.

Thanatos was two steps away from Nemesis and the geyser. The Sentinel closed his eyes, and snapped the shield hiding his energy signature. There had really been just one choice.

* * *

His field of vision was the diameter of that column of Beryllus energy trapping Nemesis within it. Make for it…make for it, and get her out. It was the only thought running through his mind. His barrier shifted slightly, changing shape as a result of his speed. He was almost there…

The grass before him stirred, bending before some invisible force. Thanatos saw the movement, but it left no imprint on his mind…until he slammed brutally into a solid barricade of what was fire, but felt as impenetrable as stone.

The flames didn’t burn him, though the impact was strong enough to send him flying backwards. Jarring pain shot through his consciousness, finally lifting the half-crazed dimness that had settled over it. Thanatos hit the ground and stared in blank astonishment at the wall of fire that was even now converging upon him. For a confused moment he thought the geyser had somehow maliciously conjured this barrier to stop him, but that made no sense… Tendrils of flames reached hungrily for Thanatos, vanishing into the dark shield he had erected earlier. He felt a rush of strength pour into his barrier, making it stronger than anything he could possibly create himself. There was no time to wonder about this gift from Providence; Thanatos jolted up from his supine position with feline agility and prepared to brave the geyser again.

Before his eyes, he saw Nemesis, suspended like a dark star in an inverted sky of white…then he saw a blur of black covering her abruptly from sight. Thanatos reeled to a stop, blinking in confusion. Nemesis was no longer trapped in the geyser. With an uncanny, stretched slowness, the roar in his ears faded away, leaving behind a field suddenly devoid of sound. Feeling drained and sluggish, Thanatos turned away from the geyser, noticing—truly noticing—for the first time that his weaker barrier had been reinforced with astonishing skill, especially since there had been so little time.

He knew only one immortal that talented in defensive spells. A feeling of deepening dread began churning in his stomach, and Thanatos’ eyes fell on the Sentinel—who looked remarkably calm—reaching out a hand toward him, as if beckoning something. A second later Thanatos felt the reinforcement on his (extremely pathetic, he realized) barrier lift, and with an arc of blue fire, disappeared into the Sentinel’s out-stretched hand. He wondered how he could have missed his colleague breaking through Nemesis’ weakening merge-shield, how he could have possibly overlooked the unique power that was even now invading upon his senses, begging to be noticed…

The Sentinel moved; Thanatos’ eyes followed him on their own accord, Thanatos himself too stunned and guilt-ridden to do much. What will he say? How could he explain his complete loss of reason to the Sentinel, whom he had just forced to compromise his position? What will Nemesis say to that? And Nemesis…whose screams had stopped and was presumably safe…where was she? Wait, and who rescued…

“You just gave yourself away.” The curt voice addressing the Sentinel was all too familiar. Thanatos gaped as his eyes landed on Charon’s back; the Sentinel had been walking toward the Guide of Souls, and Thanatos’ temporarily narrow vision hadn’t been able to take in more than one person at a time. A split second later he saw Nemesis…secure in Charon’s arms. The breath he had not realized he was holding rushed out of him, and Thanatos almost staggered in his relief, though the guilt within him rose as well. The Sentinel’s sacrifice had been needless—Charon would’ve saved Nemesis anyway…

“Is she alright?” The Sentinel asked, avoiding Charon’s statement.

“She’ll live.”

“Maybe you should put her down.”

“Maybe you should get a hold of your energy signature so it’s not screaming and giving me a headache.” Charon said flatly as he bent and, with more care than Thanatos would give him credit for, set Nemesis on the soft grass.

“It won’t accomplish anything,” the Sentinel replied with a quiet dignity that only made Thanatos feel worse. “What I did was more than enough to alarm the Sages.” Charon turned then, obviously looking for the fourth member of their party. The Sentinel’s eyes shifted as well, and he and Charon found Thanatos at the same time, their gazes pinning the God of Death to where he stood.

“Hn,” Charon snorted and looked away, “Idiot.”

“Thanatos, Nemesis is fine,” the Sentinel called out. “Come away from the geyser.” There was no blame in his voice. As Thanatos moved to obey the request, he wished almost that the Sentinel would lose that damned self-control and scream at him, be bitter or angry or something. He certainly deserved it, for being a blind fool. This placid…fatalism, almost…was nearly too much to bear. What if the Sentinel lost his duty? Thanatos would never be able to look any of his friends in the eye again.

He had reached Nemesis—the Sentinel, and even Charon, moved back to give him space—and now he stood looking down at her pale form. She was very definitely alive; Thanatos could sense her energy signature, weakened, but not in any danger of giving out. For an irrational moment he was angry at her, now that she was safe. If she hadn’t gotten herself into trouble, he wouldn’t have lost it, the Sentinel wouldn’t have had to help him, and everything would be fine. Then he fiercely wiped away the thought, more ashamed than ever. Look, he argued with himself, it happened, and if you think about it, there was nothing any of us could have done to prevent it… Wouldn’t you… wouldn’t you think less of the Sentinel if he hadn’t helped? And Nemesis getting hurt, that’s certainly not her fault! Surely, if we explain it to a reasonable Sage, nothing too horrible would happen, right?

“Charon, you should go back,” the Sentinel was suggesting, still very quietly. “There’s a chance that you haven’t been discovered.”

A pause. Thanatos looked over his shoulder to see Charon glance to the sky. “Too late,” he said flatly, making a minute shrug. “Trackers are coming. If I teleport back now, they’ll sense me.”

Thanatos had knelt down next to Nemesis. Now he spoke, his head bowed and his eyes shadowed. “I’ll explain everything to them. I’ll make sure you two see a just Sage.”

He heard a rustle of movement, and the Sentinel was next to him, putting a reassuring, comforting hand on his shoulder. “What happened wasn’t your fault. Don’t blame yourself for it. And I have very little worries, you know: I trust your judgment in finding the right Sage.” Then he laughed slightly. “As long as it’s not the Decider, I’ll be happy.” Thanatos managed a small grin; the Decider hated the Sentinel.

“They’re here,” Charon informed them roughly.

The hand on Thanatos’ shoulder tightened for a moment as the Sentinel stood up. It was a gesture of comfort that Thanatos felt he really didn’t deserve, because if anyone needed comfort right now, it was the Sentinel himself. And Charon too, he realized belatedly. Charon had risked just as much, coming here and saving Nemesis’ life. Remembering suddenly the map that the Sentinel had made them leave on Nemesis’ writing table, Thanatos almost started to laugh.

The arrival of four trackers, though, wiped away any thought of mirth from his mind. Thanatos took one look at the leader of the group and cursed Providence, because she obviously didn’t exist.

“If it isn’t my sister’s little friends... I might have known the lot of you would be the ones causing trouble. And what’s this…All four of you!” The Head Tracker’s eyes, shifting from one immortal to the other, had landed on Charon. He flicked a lock of hair away from his face carelessly, “We had only sensed the illegal presence of the Sentinel of Lost Souls, but I see that even the Guide of Souls wants to join the fun, eh?”

“Stop wasting your breath, Themis,” Thanatos bit out from where he knelt.

“Temper, temper, Thanatos,” The immortal named Themis arched a golden eyebrow. “Is this how you treat the brother of your cohort in crime? Speaking of which, what is the matter with her? Making a nuisance of herself again, I see…”

“Your sister is severely wounded, Themis,” the Sentinel said before Thanatos could make a reply, gesturing toward the still raging Beryllus geyser behind him. “She was unfortunately caught in that.”

“Typical.” Themis shook his head in unmasked disdain. “Only she would be silly enough to find her way in the path of an erupting geyser.”

“Listen, you…” Thanatos shot to his feet and whirled to face Themis.

“She requires the attention of Elusius,” the Sentinel interrupted, noting that the three trackers under Themis’ command were covertly preparing to attack Thanatos if the latter so much as took a step toward their leader. “As does another member of our party.”

“Thanatos looks healthy enough to attempt a confrontation,” Themis drawled nastily. “Don’t tell me someone’s harboring a secret wound? I really can’t tell, you know, what with your…ah…unusual energy signature clogging my senses.”

“I apologize, then, for the inconvenience,” the Sentinel replied as Thanatos stood fuming, and his eyes darted over to Charon for a brief second. “My colleague over there is suffering from burns caused by braving the geyser to save Nemesis. He also needs to be tended.” Charon started and gave the Sentinel a narrow look out of the corner of his eyes.

Themis gazed at Charon skeptically. “He looks fine to me. Nemesis we’ll take to Elusius, but since you and the Guide of Souls have blatantly broken a major law, I regret—” He didn’t look very regretful, “—that I’ll have to escort the two of you to the Dungeons.”

“Not until someone takes a look at him,” the Sentinel drew himself straighter and said firmly.

Charon apparently didn’t appreciate people talking about his welfare with him in plain sight. He strode forth—Thanatos noticed for the first time that Charon was moving somewhat stiffly—to stand a little in front of the Sentinel, “I’m fine. Stop wrangling and do your job.”

“I don’t like your tone, and I don’t need you to remind me,” Themis growled, even as he waved his three subordinates forward. “I arrest you, Charon Guide of Souls, and you, the Sentinel of Lost Souls, for knowingly breaking a sacred mandate of Sagacity Hall.” Two trackers surrounded the condemned immortals before Themis was halfway through his declaration. They each produced a pair of thin silver bracelets, and proceeded to place the cuffs on the wrists of their prisoners. When the bracelets touched Charon’s skin, he couldn’t restrain a hiss of pain. The tracker in charge of him took one look at the exposed hand and wrist, and turned to Themis—

“My Lord, I am afraid he is wounded and requires attention.”

Charon jerked his arm from the other immortal’s hold, scowling. A satisfied expression briefly crossed the Sentinel’s eyes before he and the tracker beside him vanished for the Dungeons.

The Head Tracker did not look pleased, but he knew better than to deny treatment to an immortal in need of it. “Very well then. You’ll bring him to Elusius. And you, see that my foolish sister makes it there as well.” He watched as the tracker dealing with Charon grabbed a hold of the Guide’s cloak and disappeared with him. His eyes then settled on Thanatos, who, to his surprise, readily relinquished Nemesis to the tracker assigned to carry her, without even a longing glance at empty space when his sister was teleported away. Interesting. He had thought the God of Death would put up more of a fight, or be more concerned... Themis kept his gaze trained on Thanatos as the immortal walked steadily toward them.

“I will be going with you, Themis,” Thanatos said with a tone that booked no arguments, when he reached the Head Tracker.

Themis frowned. “I should arrest you too, Thanatos, for assisting lawbreakers.”

The God of Death suddenly smirked. “Too bad certain stipulations regarding Chosens stand in the way.”

“Damn those stipulations,” Themis snarled, narrowing his eyes in anger. “You’re lucky helping them isn’t considered a major crime for a Chosen! Otherwise I have every right to arrest you, along with those criminals you call friends!”

“I could do worse. I could be your friend, for example,” Thanatos shrugged. “Now, I’ll be off to Sagacity Hall, Themis, where you should be reporting to. Feel free to come with me.” He started to turn away.

Themis’ outraged expression smoothed itself out into something malicious when he heard Thanatos’ words. “Ah, I see. You’re off to plead a case for your unfortunate colleagues, aren’t you? That’s why you weren’t saying anything when my tracker touched Nemesis. Funny though, I had thought your lust for her would overpower any other em—”

Thanatos had whipped around so quickly, his scythe blurring on its way to a hair’s breadth away from Themis’ neck, that the latter had no time to finish his sentence. “Lust?” Thanatos repeated in a terrible, low voice. “Have you forgotten what kind of immortal I am?”

“Attacking a servant of the Sages is a capital crime, Thanatos,” Themis warned, his face hard. “You get arrested, and there’s no one to help your poor colleagues.”

Thanatos hesitated, then pulled back his scythe, eyes glittering with fury. Themis glared back, refusing to be daunted. “Watch your mouth, Themis, or you’ll find it cut off.” He turned again, and vanished. Left alone, Themis felt an involuntary shiver run through him that he dismissed with impatiently. Off to Sagacity Hall, that was it. Ignore the imprudent immortal who corrupted his sister and dared to threaten him...

The scythe blurred on its way to his neck, and he didn’t even have time to blink…

Themis bristled at the memory and hurriedly teleported to Sagacity Hall, lest Thanatos think his delay was due to fear. Ha! Themis, the Head Tracker of their Eminences, afraid of that worthless idler? Not likely!

If Thanatos wanted to, the scythe could have taken my head…


* * *

It didn’t take too long for Charon to decide that he hated this. After the Healers at Elusius had taken a thorough look at his burns—which were, he was proud to say, healing fairly rapidly on their own—they had completed the process, restoring his body to its prime condition…and promptly sent him to the Dungeons, in accordance with the orders of that officious fool. Daitra, he’d always disliked Healers and their holier-than-thou attitudes. Having those strange white eyes stare at his body—never mind that they were only probing for the seriousness of his injuries—was...humiliating! And it made him uneasy, because their eyes always seemed to see past his clothes, his skin, as if trying to bare him to the world…

His feelings of annoyance had only increased when he arrived at the cell in which he was to bide his time, until a Greybeard could be procured to deal with them. There, sitting on one of the benches, unruffled as ever despite the glint of silver warding bracelets on his wrists, was the Sentinel. It was like it wasn’t even an enormous insult to be placed in common cells like they were no more than the average hooligan. Charon settled himself against the opposite wall from where his colleague sat and brooded, completely aggravated by the turn of events. He should’ve just dropped Nemesis after he pulled her out of the geyser and teleported back to the mortal world before the trackers came. He was such an imbecile! Charon mentally smacked his head against a proverbial wall. Why hadn’t he left??

To top it all off, the cool, unfeeling pressure of the ward-bracelets against his wrists was beyond irritating, and every time he looked to one side he could see the slight wavering of air that signified the invisible wall of a dungeon cell. Nothing in the cell moved—not the sparse furniture (although he would’ve been alarmed if they did), not his colleague, who might have been a statue for all that he didn’t even blink. And why was he so calm, anyway? Charon thought sourly, his mood worsening. It was the Sentinel’s fault that he had to be put through the shame of being examined by the healers, when he was perfectly capable of healing himself. What was withstanding a little physical pain?

Finally, out of sheer frustration, Charon stood up and began to pace on his side of the cell, just so he could make sure he didn’t somehow fossilize while he was sitting down. It was then he obtained evidence that his colleague was, in fact, not incapable of movement, because those disconcerting red eyes began to follow him as he made his back-and-forth journey. After only a few seconds of that, Charon found himself wishing his colleague would turn into a statue.

He wheeled around toward the Sentinel when the constant gaze became too much to bear. “Do you mind?” He growled half-civilly.

The Sentinel’s eyes flickered up, with a slowness that was almost disinterested, to meet Charon’s. “Excuse me?”

“You know what I’m talking about,” Charon snapped.

“I am watching,” the Sentinel shrugged minutely, “the only point of interest in this entire cell. Can you blame me for that?”

“One would think you harbor…thoughts for me,” Charon retorted, annoyed and knowing the comment would disgust most immortals of his kind to such a degree that they’d do anything but continue staring at him.

Not the Sentinel. He only raised one finely curved eyebrow. “That comment is dangerously close to being inappropriate, Charon.”

“So’s your staring.”

“You don’t understand,” the words came out on a sigh, and Charon had the feeling the Sentinel was teasing him, “I’m not staring. I’m watching, as I said before. ‘Observing.’”

“Big difference,” Charon rolled his eyes and turned away.

“I wanted to make sure you were really healed.”

Charon pulled up his sleeve and practically flung his arm in front of the Sentinel’s face. “Get an eyeful then. I’m fine.”

“Alright, alright,” the Sentinel dutifully looked away from Charon and stared at the invisible wall instead. “You get so angry at people who are only worried about you.”

Charon didn’t know where his next words came from. He had planned on not stooping to any sort of reply at all. “You’re not really worried—you know I heal fast and those cursed Healers at Elusius are efficient. You’re bored and trying to find a diversion.”

The Sentinel’s mouth curved in a strange smile. “Perceptive, Charon. Very perceptive. That is what I seem like, isn’t it?”

Charon couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so he silenced and kept pacing. The Sentinel never looked toward him a second time, staring fixedly at some point beyond the invisible wall. It should have made the situation slightly better, but Charon had the very disturbing feeling that his little comment had struck an ugly chord in the Sentinel, and it disturbed him even more to find that he felt somewhat ashamed.

It was…it was the tone of voice, the way the Sentinel had spoken, that bothered him. Charon thought he almost sounded self-deprecating.

But—and he darted a quick glance at the Sentinel as he walked—surely someone as confident as his colleague would be unaffected by such a comment. Considering the Sentinel always managed to turn Charon’s intended insults back on him, he was the last person Charon would think of as being troubled by any accusations of his.

“That is what I seem like, isn’t it?”

Or was the Sentinel really troubled? Something treacherous in Charon kept insisting it was so—all due to the one glimpse of suffering, long ago, that Charon could not forget—but if he thought about it again… Was that self-deprecation in the Sentinel’s voice?

Or was it relief?