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The Protector – by Morgan
I lowered myself to the ground in front of my commander, mentally groaning as my knees found their familiar positions on the packed soil. Silky-white walls rose around me, somehow emitting a light of their own. I began to empty my mind and think only of the person I was bowing before. No, not a person. Something more than a person. I thought of the strong but small wooden box that encased it. I thought of the holy hands that had put it in wood and created this place for its protection and safekeeping.
Adjusting the sword at my hip so it wouldn’t get in the way, I twisted my waist to that my shoulders were almost parallel to my kneeling legs. While pulling my right leg up, I began to croon the words of my title to the melody I knew would most please my commander, “I am Calipha, priestess of the Sacred Sanctuaries, and Protector of the Hymn, a charge given to me by the order of Lysandra, may her Song ever be in our hearts.” I repeated this verse a few more times, then knowing I met the requirements, stood and strode over to a chest made of the same wood the Box was.
There were some who believed that all the wood in a sanctuary came from the same holy tree, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I could sense that while the box is sacred, the chest is not. There were only three types of materials in this place: those made of wood, silk, or dirt. Nothing else. Sometimes, it begins to wear on me, but once I pick up an instrument and start to strum or blow or key, all those feelings drift away.
Lifting the lid, I peered in at the jumble of wood and strings and pulled out my favorite, a harp. Though it was about the size of my body, I pulled it out easily and with practiced hands. While closing the chest, I fluidly turned my body to sit on it. My arms adjusted to set the harp down in front of me. As my fingers found the strings, they easily began to play a slow, calming melody. I shut my eyes and reveled in the bliss of the music. This is what heaven is like – white light and the sweet sound of music playing in my ears. If only more people could experience this paradise. But it could not be so. My commander forbids it. Only the holy ones, it said. And we agreed.
I let those thoughts slip away and focused on the music. Unbidden, a hum escaped my lips. More came until my whole body was responding to the song; voice humming, fingers strumming, body swaying. I was captivated. Then suddenly, an abrupt, deep sense of unease broke my spellbound mind from its peace and brought me back to full alert. It was one of the many alarms that surrounded the sanctuary to alert me of anyone approaching. Irritated, but curious, I gently set down my harp and quickly bowed to the Box, knowing I’d have to come back later and ask for pardon. As I exited the chamber, I walked down the hallway made of the same dirt and silk as the rest of the structure. No one was supposed to come here. No one ever came. I almost drew my sword there, but then I recalled the last time I had drawn it inside; some of the walls had been accidentally shredded.
Instead, I left my hand in the ready position, prepared to draw if need be. Getting closer to the exit now, I began to wonder what the sound might be. I am alone here, why would there be such a loud noise? Could it be intruders? Then a horrible thought hit me. My heart sunk with dread. Could it be The Queller?
I crouched in the shadows of the trees surrounding the imposing white structure. It looked almost like it was made of spider web, with maybe a dozen spires towering impossibly high. I’ve heard it described as a ghost-castle. That’s accurate.
I glance over my shoulder at my partner to make sure she’s still there. Her short-cropped hair stuck up in the shadows and I could see the soft curves of her face from where I was sitting. She really was stunning. Jerking my mind back to focus, I peered at the entrance to the structure. So far, our approach seemed to go unnoticed and all was going as was planned. Our mission was simple: capture the Box. I wasn’t sure what was in the Box. At this rate I’ll never know. All I know is that I’m dead if I don’t get it. That’s enough for me.
I looked at the cloth-like wave of the so-called “sanctuary,” looking for any signs of alert. Seeing none, I motioned to my companion to continue. Receiving a curt nod in response, we proceeded.
We left the edge of the tree-line and sprinted out into the open, deftly dodging rocks, sticks, and holes to make our approach as secret as possible. We were getting closer. Two hundred feet. Now, draw your sword. One hundred. Now, jump over that rock. Fifty. Now, keep running. Almost there. I heard a yell. Confused, I looked at my partner. I can’t move my neck. Wait, why did I stop? I was running. Only then did I process the yell I had heard.
“HALT!” it said.
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