Chapter 9

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"DAD," A VOICE CALLED TO DOMINIC from the passage behind him as he and the others walked the bluish corridor toward the entrance of Otzar and the White Gate.

There were at least a dozen among them who could claim the title, but Dominic faced the owner of the voice knowing it was meant for him. His companions, Alex, Joel, and Zaajah, patiently waited, also knowing the source of that call. His eldest child, a reflection of his bygone youth, brought his twin khata and Samuel with him to see their father off. Gragrafel stood near, protective escort of the brood. The four younglings looked as mournful as their grandsire. It reminded him of days long lost and his mind filled with the anxieties of what failing them would bring.

"Dad, we've come to bid you fair journey," Ian spoke again. His features softened and he smiled.

Dominic went to him and put his arms around his son in a firm embrace.

"I'll bring her back," Dominic promised.

"We know," Ian said, trying not to sound forced.

"Listen to your granpitarau. They're truly wise."

Ian nodded.

Samuel frowned at his father, but Dominic gave him a hug anyway. The younger boy melted against him, needing the affection more than the others. He could feel the fear running through him, along with his constant emptiness. His daughters eyed him reluctantly and he laid a kiss on both their foreheads, squeezing them to each of his sides. Much like their mother, they were selfless free spirits who never seemed too jarred by any happening until now. They bore a smile almost always, but today their faces were grim. Surrounded by his children, he felt weak in his resolve to go, but his desire to succeed grew keen. It wouldn't be enough to just bring her back. There was a change to be made once that happened. He shut his eyes a moment and swore to his heart he would only endeavor to repair the damage he'd done.

"I'll be back soon. Take good care of the little ones and don't leave it to your khata. One day you'll have children and you'll need to know how to care for them," Dominic told them. He paused, holding the girls and trying to imprint them on his mind, a charm to gird his resolve. "Listen to your granpitarau and matula Corabael while I'm away. They know a thing or two."

"Uncle Zacharius was going to have a svarg give us instruction," Chaiel whispered.

"Don't learn too fast. I want to be here when you're raised," Dominic told her.

"Dominic, we haven't much time," Joel called to him.

"We'll be vigilant with the twins," Amaiel promised him.

"Us as well," Ian said, putting his arm around his younger brother.

Samuel didn't look so convinced and Dominic smiled.

"Be good," Dominic said, tousling Samuel's hair.

They whispered I love yous; letting go tore a hole in Dominic's center. He pushed himself to continue. Even if he didn't see rest for another three thousand years in the Pits of Acheron, he had to go right now. He turned toward the White Gate with all the strength he was capable of mustering. The others preceded him and he spared his children a brief glance over his shoulder.

"The ways are confusing and a guide is necessary to find where you're to report. None but the muses and dominion alders charged with this duty know the passages and halls of Otzar. Please be patient in this sacred place. As you know already, it is full of travelers, but Otzar also contains the doors to direct interface," Alex said, a tremble in her voice hinting at the unrest within her. "For this journey you'll be sent into the Samsara as you are. We can't spare the time to grow a vessel. There'll be no cords to hold you here. You must be very careful and listen to your guardian."

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