I stepped off the ferry and pulled my jacket tighter around my chest. “Angels its cold.” I cursed under my breath as the guy standing next to me shook his head and stomped off. The wind was blowing right through me and if I didn’t get inside I was going to become a meat popsicle.
A man a little taller than my own 6 ft stature with brown hair, vivid green eyes and looking to be in his early 40s, though he was probably 120-130 years old considering how people age here in Nalrin, walked up and held his hand out.
“You must be Cory James Mathewson.”
“CJ please.” I said as I shook his hand, not sure what else to say. Everyone would know who I was. I was the Angel Blessed Vernadali with no family history in Vernadali culture and most of all, the human, not Sangra like everyone else in this world.
“I am Vernadali James. Vernadali Samuel asked me to meet you and take you to his office.” He explained. “Do you have any other belongings on the ferry?”
“No sir. Julian said I should pack light.” I told him pulling my hands up under my arm pits to try to stay warm.
“Bit cold are ya?” James said.
“Just a little. I’m not dressed for this weather. If I had realized it would have been so cold, I could have brought my warmer jacket… and my gloves… and scarf.” I told him as we made our way toward the gate and I tried to keep from turning into the aforementioned meat popsicle.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it soon enough.” He said with a laugh. “Once you’re done with Vernadali Samuel I’ll take you to get your gear and set up your classes.”
“What exactly am I going to be learning in those classes? When Julian said I was a Vernadali he didn’t really give us much information as to what I’ll be doing here.”
“I bet that was some conversation.” James said.
“What do you mean?”
“With Julian. I mean, everyone knows what Lady Megan, you and the family have been done for our world.” He said as he walked up to the security gate, raised the sleeve on his arm where a scanner scanned a tattoo of a crest and beeped. The gates opened with a creak and squeal that if it were night, would have been the best set up for walking up to a haunted house ever. James motioned for me to catch up to him.
“We are of course eternally grateful of course, but even after everything that you guys have been up to, and then he says, guess what, The Five Angels blessed you and you’ve become one bad ass bodyguard.” He whistled. “What I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that conversation.
We walked in silence for a few minutes and I could tell James was trying not to say anything else. I sighed.
“Look, I know it’s all very crazy, but I really don’t want to draw attention to myself. I just want to come, learn what I need to learn and get back to her.” I said but then my thoughts were temporarily interrupted when we reached the edge of the cliff. “AHHH WOW.”
James smiled. “Yea. That’s what I said too when my Dad and Grandfather brought me here for the start of my training. Amazing isn’t it.”
“Ya.” I said looking out over the area. All the buildings were made of glass and stone, but deep into the ground. It was like the whole city and training area had literally sunk 300 feet into the ground. In the center you could see a large courtyard that I suspected was more for training instead of social gatherings. “How do you keep tsunami’s and flooding out?”
“The whole island has a variety of incantations cast upon it. Don’t worry, we don’t rely solely on our power to keep the compound safe. There is a very elaborate drainage system in place that recycles all the waste water.”
“So we drink our own pee?” I asked a little put off.
“Is it really any different in some parts of the Manusia where you recycle your water?” He said curiously.
Even after everything we have been through this last year, to hear of my home as the Manusia was weird. It had always been Earth, the United States, Chicago, etc. But no, since Megan dimension jumped, it was now the Manusia.
I sighed. Megan. I missed her already, but at least Julian was able to arrange for me to take some leave during the Manusian Christmas Holiday in a few months. I just have to keep it together till then. I’ll see her soon, and then once all this training stuff is done, we will be married and able to live our lives in peace.
I smiled at the thought as I continued to look out over the compound. A lifetime with the woman I love.
“CJ?” James asked pulling me out of my thoughts.
“Oh right. Sorry.” I said shaking my head. “The pee water. No, I guess it isn’t all that different.”
“The recycled water is filtered through that building over there to the right. Vernadali Kilian isn’t the most … hospitable of people, so I would suggest staying away from that area. The water system is very efficient. What water isn’t recycled back as drinking water is filtered through the fountains and used for the crops that grow on the outer parts of the isle.”
I nodded and James lead me down to the elevator.
Before stepping inside James turned to me and said. “After you get inside, there is no turning back. You must complete the Vernadali Training. You will then be assigned your Charge and protect your Charge for the rest of your life. Is that understood.”
Maybe he didn’t know after all and I sighed. “So you don’t know …”
“Know what?” He said.
“About my Charge?” I said hesitantly.
“You will be assigned your Charge after you complete your training and obtain your symbol.” He said as a few other people walked by. “Just like the rest of us.”
“What symbol?” I asked.
James lifted the sleeve on his arm and showed me the tattoo that he had shown the scanner to let us in the gates. Only the tattoo wasn’t a crest like I thought but three swords alternating directions vertically, surrounded by a laurel. Underneath the laurel was an unrolled scroll that was empty. “When you pass all your training you will get this symbol on your right forearm. Once you are assigned your Charge, their name will be put on the scroll underneath.”
“What happens if your Charge dies? Do they add another scroll?” I asked as we waited for the elevator to come back up.
“No, the name is removed and a new one replaced once you are assigned an new charge.”
“So finish training, and her name will be there.” I said looking down at my forearm and running my finger over it. I couldn’t help but smile slightly. A tattoo of Megan’s name. I never thought of myself as one to get a tattoo, but this was one I could stand behind… proudly.
“Or his name. No one knows who their Charge will be until after their training is complete.”
“Not exactly, but let’s go.” I said moving toward the elevator, but just as I was about to step past him he grabbed my arm.
“What do you mean, not exactly…” He said staring at me.
I didn’t say anything. Maybe he knew what we had done over the last year, but apparently he didn’t know that I was already sworn to Megan, and more than just intimately. People who walked by were staring at me. I didn’t want to be a freak show here. I just want to go and get my training done, get back to Megan, marry her, and spend the rest of our lives in peace.
“I already know my charge.” I said quietly and breaking eye contact.
“Oh WOW! I mean. Vernadali Samuel told me, you’re the Angel Blessed Vernadali and everything, but … WOW.” He said as quietly as he could so that everyone who walked by wouldn’t hear. His grip on my arm loosened slightly, and I pulled my arm back.
“Look. I don’t want to be special, or anything. I just want to get my training done and get back to her ok. Can we please not make it common knowledge. I’m already getting looks from eveyrone else.” I said looking around.
“I won’t say anything. Your secret is safe with me.” He said smiling. “It will cost you a drink though.
“Deal!” I said relaxing slightly. Maybe I wasn’t going to the outcast here. Then I laughed under my breath. Of course I was going to be. These guys have been doing this for generations. They are light years ahead of me in knowledge. Then I realized that even though it was rare, I do have something that they don’t. I have the comfort of knowing who my Charge is already.
And Megan is worth this. All of this.
“Let’s go” I said stepping into the elevator and looking at James, who followed me into the elevator. He slipped a key into a hidden slot and hit the bottom most button on the elevator.
“Welcome to the Curtails of the North Vernadali CJ.” James said with a smile as he turned the key.
Then I was free falling to my destination.
(I had previously posted another version of this story. I felt it wasn’t coherent with the greater story and needed expanded and clarified slightly. It takes place between Books 1 and 2 of The Megan Keller Trilogy, which I am currently writing and editing.)