“There it is,” Eli panted, stepping carefully down the path, feeling the dirt give beneath his feet as they moved downhill. “At least, it looks like it.”
Arras looked downward, seeing a body of water, speckled with browning lily pads and stabbed through with shoots of grass. More dirt pathways lassoed the pond, enclosed by rows of towering trees. There in the middle of the water was a white, wooden walkway, a small pier leading out to an enclosed pavilion—their destination, but she couldn’t see Danny.
“Remember what he told you,” Arras said to Eli, “keep your weapon close.”
“Actually,” Eli said, stopping at the side of the path near a group of trees, out of sight from the rest of the world, “I think you should take it.”
Eli carefully placed the revolver in her hands. She looked down at the gun, already knowing it was loaded; she would just need to pull back the hammer.
“Why are you giving this to me?” she asked, taking the gun.
“Because, from your display yesterday,” Eli explained, “I gather that you’re much more capable with it than I am. Besides, I trust you to keep us safe.”
She looked back at Eli, not sure if she should say anything, then back down at the revolver.
“Actually,” Eli went on, “it was Danny who suggested it, when he called with the directions. I thought it was a good idea.”
Eli continued down the path, followed by Arras once she had stuffed the revolver into her coat pocket. They made their way to where the wooden walkway began, finding someone else making their way toward the same pier. It wasn’t Danny; just a man with a cane. Moving down the white wood walkway to the pavilion, Eli and Arras noticed the man was following.
Damon studied the two them closely, recognizing the one with glasses quickly enough—Eli Vale. That would mean his companion, the woman… He felt beside himself for the first time in a while. Could that really be her? As he followed them, he surveyed his surroundings, making sure not to tilt his head too much in the process. There was no one else around, not even Danny.
As Eli and Arras reached the pavilion, Eli’s phone started to ring.
“Hello?” Eli said into the receiver, not sure if he would need to keep his voice down for the man staring at them from just a few feet outside the pavilion’s entrance.
“Eli, it’s me.”
“Danny. Where are you?”
“Close. Put me on speaker again, please.”
“Are you sure about that?” Eli said, this time whispering, looking out the corner of his eye at the man leaning on the rail. “We have company.”
“I know. Put me on speaker.”
Eli did just that, putting the phone on the bench between himself and Arras. A moment later, they heard the ring of another cell phone; they watched the man with the cane answer a call of his own.
“You don’t want to join us for our meeting?” Damon asked, still looking over at Eli and Arras.
“I’ll be around soon enough,” Danny assured him. “For now, go introduce yourself. Oh, and feel free to hang up—they know you’re coming over.”
Damon hung up, realizing he was on a party line with Eli’s phone. He turned his head and met eyes with Eli and Arras. Sighing, feeling a little played, he made his way to the pavilion and sat across from the young woman and man, resting his cane against his shoulder. He showed them his phone with a smirk.
“Your friend’s pretty snarky, isn’t he?”
Neither Eli nor Arras answered; they stared back at the man, not sure what to make of him.
“Get to know me a little more,” Danny answered over Eli’s phone. “I’m much worse. Like I said, Damon, introduce yourself.”
“Who is this?” Arras asked, looking down at Eli’s phone as if it were Danny.
“My name is Damon Hale,” the man said with a smile, looking rather whelmed by the sight before him. “And you’re Arras Enqelin.”
Arras tensed up, as did Eli.
“Please don’t worry,” Damon said, trying to assuage the two. “As I’ve told Danny, I’m not a threat.”
“What are you, then?” asked Arras, keeping her hand close to the pocket with the revolver.
“I am the last surviving descendant of Asael Mack,” Damon replied, watching Arras freeze at the name. He smiled a little more. “And I’m here to fulfill a promise he made to your father more than two centuries ago.”
The conversation remained rather one-sided from there, with Damon doing most of the talking; Eli wasn’t sure if he should even speak, Danny stayed silent, and Arras seemed speechless herself. Damon showed them the video feed from yesterday, of the three of them in the fountain and driving away in Danny’s car. And he showed them the picture, seeming to magnetize Arras from her seat as she leaned in, examining the spacecraft behind Kenneth Hakes.
“He told me a little bit about this promise,” Danny cut in as Arras took her seat again. “About Asael. Not much, though. I thought it might be best to hear it from you, Arras.”
Arras looked back down at the phone, then at her feet. She seemed to have calmed completely from before, feeling secure enough to think her way through this situation.
“I told you my father was in charge of observing the eastern side of North America,” she began. “In that vein, he encountered the American Revolution. However, he didn’t just stumble upon it—he was introduced to it.”
“By Asael Mack,” Damon added.
“My father’s closest friend,” Arras continued. “Asael was the one who walked my father through the history of the Revolution, of its philosophies and various motivations. He even put him in contact with some of the most key figures of the Revolution among the colonists.”
“Never as Aurin Enqelin, of course,” said Damon, still smiling, as if listening to an old story he had heard many times before. “He never wanted to interrupt our society.”
“Through all of that,” Arras went on, “Asael and my father became very close, to the point that my father even let Asael into our secret—first, that he wasn’t from this world. Then, eventually, he even told him about our own plans for revolution.”
“Asael didn’t find all of that alarming?” Eli asked her, leaning forward to look at Arras, bracing his arms against his knees.
“Alarming?” Damon cut in. “According to Asael’s journals, he was positively enthralled with the idea. This was a man who had spent much of his life fighting what he saw as a tyrannical empire after all!”
“And, with that enthusiasm,” Arras explained, “he made a promise to my father. He promised that he would protect the rift where I would hide; and that, when the time came, that he would help me off the planet and back to Coalition territory. He would ensure I was armed and give me my transport.” She wove her fingers together in a tight grip. “But Asael was told it would be no more than a few years before I would wake up. Never this long.”
“My family never forgot you, though,” Damon said softly, meeting Arras’ eyes. He lifted the cane from his shoulder, holding it at the midsection, showing the carved marking at the top—the zodiac symbol of Aries, two swooping horns cut into the wood of the cane. “Asael believed in your war just as much as your father did. He was never sure why you didn’t reappear, but he never gave up your father’s hope.” Fixing his eyes on the mark of Aries, his tone grew serious. “He always had an affinity for gods of war when war was necessary, and gods of harvest when war was gone and the weapons were stowed in the temples. He was sure you were to bring wholeness to your people.”
“Teleios,” Arras breathed.
“Teleios,” Damon repeated with a solid nod. “Your story and your ship were handed down in secret to Asael’s children, and their children’s children, all the way to me. My mother and father taught me the story, gave the ship to me for safekeeping. This was in part, Arras, why Asael built up Teleios as much as he did. He believed that one day you would indeed return, that your mission would still need to be accomplished—he wanted to fulfill that promise he made to your father. After Asael passed, his son Thaddeus built the house you were found in. The point was to keep anyone from somehow discovering you; even if supposedly only you or one of your family could access the rift, neither Thaddeus nor anyone after him was content to leave you in the open.”
“And then you removed it from the map entirely,” Eli realized, looking back at Damon, remembering the offbeat path they had taken to the old home.
“My own special touch,” Damon confirmed before turning back to Arras. “Though the ship Aurin left Asael served to remove all doubt, still, my family’s patience was a matter of trust in the face of our own uncertainty. I always believed you would awaken, though I never dreamt I would be the one to see it.”
“Is he telling the truth, then?” asked Danny through the phone, reminding the three of them of his presence. “Arras?”
“He is,” Arras said, looking down at the phone just as the call ended.
“Danny?” Eli said, picking up the phone, seeing that Danny had hung up.
“Looks like he’s decided to join us,” Damon said, looking down the white pier.
Eli and Arras followed his line of sight, seeing Danny walking down the pier. He stopped at the pavilion’s entrance.
“Sorry for the cloak-and-dagger stuff,” Danny said. “I had to be sure Damon was telling the truth.”
“Very clever,” Damon said, this time with a smirk to match Danny’s own. “Make sure the suit is safely out of reach of any potential enemies, and send in Arras and Eli—armed, of course.”
Only Eli looked taken aback by this. Arras rested a hand on the pocket with the revolver.
“Judging by the impression from your pocket, it’s a snub-nose,” Damon said, looking at Arras. “A revolver, most likely, going off of the shape alone.”
“You saw it in the video from yesterday,” Danny cut in, still smirking.
“Oh, come on,” Damon said, feigning offense, “weapons are everything to do with my life’s work.”
“Arras,” said Danny, sounding more serious, more controlled than she had heard him before. “I know this isn’t what you planned. If it means anything, I’m sorry things worked out this way. But if we have Damon…” He sighed again, looking at Eli, then out over the water. “This may be entirely different, but you’re not out of options. If Rededication is still active… then we have to stop it.”
“And how would you propose we do that?” Arras asked, though she already knew what he was suggesting.
Danny looked back at her; he looked a little different from before. Something in his eye, something was different about him.
“Train me to use the suit,” Danny stated, “so I can help you destroy Rededication and accomplish your mission.”
Arras looked back at Damon, who could only continue to smile, then back at Eli who only shrugged.
“I guess it can’t be helped,” she conceded. “But you do understand that this won’t be simple or easy. I don’t even know if we can pull it off.”
“How do you mean?” Damon asked.
“He synced up with the suit, and then it shut down,” Arras explained. She looked back to Danny. “You and the suit connect first and foremost at the brain; the more fully you two synchronize, the closer you come to using the suit’s full potential. The only thing is, it wasn’t built for your brain; it was built for mine.”
“You can’t just say it’s hopeless,” Eli interjected, getting to his feet, holding out a hand to Danny. “Even if it was only for a moment, I saw him in the suit. He and the suit were in sync for that long.”
“That’s the thing,” Arras said under her breath, just audibly enough for the three of them to hear. “He shouldn’t have been able to do even that much.”
“Arras,” Damon said, “we obviously don’t know who led Danny to you, but perhaps their intentions aren’t malicious. What if that’s why Danny could use the suit, even if only initially? What if they intended for him to operate it?”
“That wouldn’t make any sense,” said Arras. “Why would they try to seal him to the suit instead of me?”
“Well, whoever did put you all into this mess clearly didn’t succeed in completely derailing your family’s revolution,” Damon replied. “Even if this wasn’t meant to help you… If Danny could sync with the suit to any degree before, perhaps he can do it again.”
Arras went quiet again, looking back at Danny as she mulled this over.
“Your synchronization ratio was too low,” she said to Danny. “That’s why the suit removed itself from you.”
“Help me get back into it, then,” Danny suggested, not backing down at this point, though lacking all his frustration from before. “Maybe Damon and Eli are right: if I did it once, even if it was only a little bit, maybe I can do it again.”
“You think it’ll be that easy?” Arras finally said, turning to all three of the men around her. “You think that kind of decision can come so simply? Rededication will demand everything of you; even trying to destroy it will bring you to the brink of death.”
“I understand that.” Danny didn’t budge; he looked as if he could not be convinced otherwise. “I’m not volunteering out of any delusion of grandeur. I get it. I might… I might die. But if I don’t do this, then everyone else might die anyway, right? Rededication might come for this world.”
“Regardless of what you may think of him, Arras,” Damon said, “he really is the only shot you have right now. At least he’s willing.”
Arras didn’t answer.
“There’s only one requirement I’m looking for here,” Danny added, stepping forward and sitting next to Damon. “Damon here came to me out of the blue, and I get he’s a surprise even to you. But if we’re going to do this, I need you to take me a little more seriously when I say you need to help me understand what’s going on.”
“There’s things you don’t need to know,” Arras muttered.
“Then keep them to yourself,” Danny shot back. “But tell me everything that I do need to know. I’m not asking you to bare your soul to me; I just need to know what’ll help me help you.”
Danny extended a hand to Arras, getting her attention but also silence.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know what a handshake is,” Danny insisted. “I mean, I get that all that online porn wouldn’t teach you how to do that with your hands—”
“Porn?” Damon asked, raising a brow.
“Fine,” Arras stated, seizing Danny’s hand in hers.
The two of them watched as veins of blue light circuited back and forth between their hands and up their arms.
Danny grinned. “Looks like something’s still kicking in me.”
“Let’s hope it’s enough,” Arras said, looking Danny in the eye, keeping his hand in hers. “Hope is all we have at this point.”
“Hope it is,” Damon said, clapping his hands together and pulling himself to his feet with his cane. “Shall we get started, then?”
“As soon as possible,” Arras answered, standing up as well.
This time the four of them made their way down the pier together, away from their previous stagnation and confusion—off to whatever the revolution that now belonged to all of them might have in store.