Chapter 2

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Damian wasn't sure what to make of this new girl. True, she wasn't raised within these walls, but no other dedicant coming from the outside acted as she did. How had she passed the tests? She seemed too willful to become a Guardian.

The tests were only part of it, though. Anyone could give the right answers if they were so inclined--the final vetting took place here, and it was his responsibility as her mentor to decide whether she had the mettle.

He studied her back, straight black hair falling to her waist--clearly where she got her namesake--entranced by the portal nearest her. Her demeanor during the tour of the inside was a definite mark in the no column. However, he couldn't fault her for latching onto the sight of the gates. Everyone felt the pull of them, and some of the new dedicants had to be dragged away after seeing a portal for the first time.

Obsidian seemed to look at it differently, though. He couldn't put his finger on it, but she still seemed more aware of her other surroundings, not fully caught up in the magic. Still drawn. Not consumed. And the portals had a way to consume even the most determined dedicants. They'd lost a few to madness over the years, according to his parents. He'd never witnessed such a sight--he didn't want to either.

All of those thoughts weren't what bothered him most. No. She intrigued him. Something inside of him stirred when she smiled up at him--a desire for something other, something more than his cloistered life had allowed him. And such a desire could get him into trouble, steer him off of the proper path, following the precepts laid down by the Guardians. It could cloud his judgment when the time came to give his decision on whether she should move from dedicant to full Guardian.

But he had years before he had to worry about that. Why was he fretting now? He'd disciplined himself to not allow his mind to wander, and here he was, following paths, wondering what ifs that had no meaning in the present.

The past is gone and the future unclear--neither hold value over this moment.

Damian shifted from one foot to another, unable to bring himself to break Obsidian's gaze on the portal. He'd have stood there watching her back, stray hairs getting tossed about by the breeze, if she didn't turn to him, ending the enchantment on her own.

"Where to next?" The smile made her face shine.

He didn't answer her at first, merely observed her radiant features, in awe that she so readily dropped the connection to the gate. Like someone who had grown up around them, grown used to their presence, knew how to quench the desire. Like him.

"Is everything all right, Damian?"

He'd pondered too long. This girl had him thinking and wondering more than he had since he was a child. "Sorry, yes." He clasped his hands behind his back. "It's a bit of a hike to the center, but it's time to present yourself to the Council."

Her smile faded. "Already? I didn't think I had to do that until after my studies were complete, when they make the final decision on whether I'm to become a Guardian or not."

"They see all new dedicants upon their arrival. Tests and Guardians in the field can only assess so much--the council members have a tendency to see things that may have been missed." And if they saw what Damian did, she'd be turned out immediately. No reason to worry about his future decision, just as the precept dictated. Why fret over something that may never happen?

But part of Damian hoped the Council would miss what he saw, would approve of Obsidian as she was, so he'd get to know her better, have time to unravel the puzzle that stood before him. It was a hope that went against too many of the precepts. He knew it would be better for him and everyone within the House of Portals if she no longer graced the halls. But he didn't want to accept that.

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