part IV

Dry, cool air filled Eder’s lungs, as he descended the stone steps leading into the Temple’s lower levels.

It had been years since he last visited the halls of the Sages’ quarters, and such spans of time between visits to other parts of the Temple was not uncommon due to the sheer size of the structure.

While any physical remains of the Creta had yet to be discovered, the aliens were believed to be at least eight-feet-tall based upon the rare depictions etched in various artifacts, and the Temple reflected such approximations with its cavernous halls, high ceilings, and wide passageways. General consensus regarded the odd lack of Cretan remains as evidence supporting the widely accepted “Way-station” theory, which speculated that the Creta simply used Mars as an interstellar pit-stop of sorts without ever establishing a permanent presence on the planet. But the Adarai suspected otherwise, believing that the Creta’s burial practices utilized mystical means which would leave very few if any physical traces behind.

Eder had always envied that notion of disappearing and had wished at many points in his life for the ability to do just that. Though, as he rounded the last landing leading into the Sages’ quarters, he only wished he hadn’t finished that second glass of wine before excusing himself from the dinner table moments ago.

He knew what he was doing was most likely a bad idea, but the slight tingle in his head and warmth in his chest only propelled him onward through his better judgment.

He continued past the fragrant storerooms and resonant chambers, greeting those he saw with a small nod or a wave, before arriving at his destination: the Sages’ personal chambers.

The stone doors lining the long hall were each marked with a Roman numeral spanning I through IX. What would she think? Eder wondered as he made his way down the passageway toward the last door. How long had it been? Six months? A year? He couldn’t remember, his usually sharp memory dulled by the wine.

“Young Mister Mirela...”

Eder was torn from his thoughts by a silky voice and turned to find Danya, the third sage of the Adarai, standing outside of the door marked with a III dressed in her long, crimson gown. “Our Wielder,” she said dreamily with a smile.

Eder bowed slightly, “Ms. Danya.”

She considered him a moment, her ethereal green eyes gazing through the glowing light, before finally speaking. “Do not fret, young Mirela, for they will find their peace... in the end.”

Eder wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the cryptic nature of the sages, so he politely nodded through his confusion and replied, “Uh, thank you, I’ll--”

“--And, although her path is unclear,” Danya continued, giving no indication that she had even registered his response, “You can help her find a way.” Her gaze shifted toward the end of the hall before returning to his.

Again, Eder nodded, thinking he might have actually understood that one, “I’ll try.” Then, speaking before his mulled mind could stop him, “Because I wasn’t sure if I should--”

But the sage interrupted once more, “May the stars light your way,” before turning and walking away, her gown gently swaying with each step.

Speechless yet somehow reassured by the sage’s words, Eder proceeded down the hall and stopped in front of the door marked IX. He raised his hand to knock, looked back up the empty hall, and rapped it three times on the smooth stone surface.

After what seemed like a long moment, Tanith Govend opened the door, her eyes wide in surprise at his sight.