Securely Tucked Away

Annoyed further by my own tantrum, I kicked half of the useless thing to the side. Azita did not flinch. It reminded me of how well I’d trained her. The strength and respect she displayed calmed me. I concentrated on my breathing, calming myself further. “You were volunteered to come in and handle me?” I asked.

I ported into camp and found myself standing in a crowd of women. Still fuming from finding out that someone sent a Minotaur to wreak havoc on an innocent community, I was impatient with everyone in my way. Indifferent to the knowledge that my reaction was petty, I pushed my way through the crowd, and I stomped to my tent.

I swept my arm across my desktop, sending everything to the floor, and stood breathing heavily from anger. Azita silently slipped in, quickly scanning the room and my expression. She stood perfectly still, stoically at attention, and waited. An experienced warrior of her caliber could have remained there all day. I knew this was a sign of respect, but I wanted to scream at her to get out. Instead, I bent over and slammed my fist on the desk, letting out a growl. The wood cracked and my desk broke in half.

Annoyed further by my own tantrum, I kicked half of the useless thing to the side. Azita did not flinch. It reminded me of how well I’d trained her. The strength and respect she displayed calmed me. I concentrated on my breathing, calming myself further. “You were volunteered to come in and handle me?” I asked. 

Azita raised an eyebrow and said, “I called them cowards all the way to your tent. Then I heard your growl.” Still looking at my destroyed desk, a smile tugged at the corner of my mouth, and she visibly relaxed. At that moment, I was reminded why family was important.

I slipped a hand in my pocket and pulled out a vile of the liquid and the skeleton key I’d found on the minotaur’s body. I held the objects out for her to see and said, “I found these on our monster.”

A look of realization crossed her face. “It would seem the hunt has more than one trail to follow.”

She leaned closer and examined every detail, drawn by the pull of power emanating from it. She reached out to pick up the key, but paused halfway there. Her hand tensed, and her face pulled into a grimace as she struggled against the power. The internal battle won. She snapped her hand to her abdomen and stood up straight. “What is that? I can feel something.”

“The vial has a potion that obscured our senses and hid the minotaur from us. The key has power of its own or someone else’s power tied to it, I can’t tell. An antidote for the potion allowed us to find and kill the minotaur. I think the key somehow interfered with my abilities, preventing me from placing a mark on my target. It feels,” I paused for a moment, trying to articulate what I was experiencing, “fuzzy. I can’t seem to get a good feel for it.” 

I realized after a moment that we were both mesmerized. There was a slight disorientation as I dragged my focus away from the key. I knew better than to direct my focus inward. Eyes closed and my head turned away, I could feel my thoughts settle when my fingers closed around them. I concentrated on putting up a mental barrier between us and the key. 

Azita’s eyes widened, and she took a step back in the effort to pull herself away from its power. Centered again, she suggested, “Noor?”

“Good idea,” I said. “I will have Noor look at this. Maybe she knows something about it or can sense something off of it. Commander Siva’s team should be back soon. We will meet with Noor when they arrive.” I decided. “This will be our next hunt.”

After a moment, Azita shook her head. “Right. What is to be done with it now? That key has my head…it’s like when kids play video games for hours and have to stop suddenly. Maybe it’s like being high.”

“That is what this type of enchantment does. It steals your focus by clouding your mind to anything but itself. On the trail, it was not this strong. I’m surprised at the difference. Perhaps that is because it was on a moving target, so I was never with it for long. Or perhaps the minotaur was able to direct its power?” I wondered aloud.

 She shook her head. “That’s a fine thing to work out, but where will it be stored until these questions are answered? It is dangerous and should not be left out for anyone to find. For that matter, we can’t afford for your head to be clouded,” she said passionately.

I tried not to smile. Azita hated to be out of control as much as I did. I was not surprised that her first instinct was to regain control. Perhaps it was time for everyone to let off some steam. Being wound up around this type of enchantment was a bad idea. She was right, though. We had to be cautious with such magic around, and I would not leave it any other place. She was one of the most disciplined mortals I knew, and I’d seen how it affected her.

I looked around my tent for a place to store these curious objects. An intricately carved box of red stone stood out on one of the shelves beside me. It had been enchanted with a protection spell for a long since destroyed poisonous flower. I felt a pull toward the box and carefully placed the minotaur’s possessions in it. The spell seemed to pull the power from the room into the box as I lowered it into place.

Instantly, I could think clearly. I felt like myself again in a way I had not since entering the forest a week ago. It was a relief that I didn’t know I needed. I watched Azita to see if her reaction was the same. Her dark eyes narrowed in a sign that her mind was clearing. I saw when she became aware of herself. Her spine straightened, and she looked me in the eyes. With a curt nod of her head, she let me know the effects of the key were gone.

We stood in silence for a moment, both breathing deeply. I was happy to see the effects were gone and disturbed that they had been so subtle I had not felt their full power over me until they were gone.

She tilted her head and smiled. “This is not the first time you have had just the right thing at your fingertips.”

I chuckled, remembering a few other times I had gotten lucky. “I am a god, Azita. It has its benefits,” I said smugly.

She smiled at my playfully threatening tone, knowing me as she did. She was back to business with a curt nod of her head and gave me the welcome home report. “A team will go out for supplies tomorrow, and training is progressing as expected. The standards are being kept up nicely, and we are beginning the explosive ordnance disposal testing in the sands. Miss Imani would like to speak to you when you have a chance. She didn’t say why. Is there anything you need?” she asked.

I nodded as she spoke, not really paying attention. “No, that will be all,” I said and dismissed her. She bent her head to me and turned to go.

“Oh, yes, there is something. Get me another desk,” I said with a tiny bit of embarrassment.

She looked back at me. A flicker of a smirk was visible on her lips as she disappeared through the tent flaps. “We have a few left in storage.”

I sighed and tried to think of how many desks I had destroyed.

Glad to have the accursed objects in a safe place, I turned to look at the mess I had made and knelt to clean it up. The adrenaline from the battle had finally started to fade. I found myself squatting on the floor and staring at the box. Magic called to magic, but why did I only see that now? My thoughts were clearer with each minute. I had no idea they were not clear when I left the forest, only that I was upset. It was unsettling that the magic kept revealing itself in new ways.

Just then, with me still squatting on the floor in the middle of the evidence of my tantrum, two maidens knocked. They entered with a new desk. How close did they keep the supply of replacements desks for me? We worked together to clear the floor of my things and the jagged wood. They moved the broken desk from my tent and set up a new identical one. This was an embarrassing day. The work I’d done to quell my quick temper was lacking. Staying calm was truly exhausting.

There was a pile of paperwork waiting for me. My maidens knew how to run the camp and take care of themselves. Most have been with me for decades, if not centuries. The wildlife preserve I’d created when Father called on us to insert ourselves into the mortal world was a different matter. I had people running the day-to-day operation, but there were still many decisions to be made and customers to keep happy. Of course, I could bend them to my will, but I didn’t think that was Father’s goal. Convincing them to do the right thing was far more work.

It was work that I did not have the patience for at that moment. I decided that a run would help dissipate the uneasy feeling clinging to me. I walked out of the tent and spotted her, my most loyal maidan. The sight of her smile helped loosen the muscles that had been tightening all week. I let down a mental wall and called to her. Her head shot up, and her eyes were on me instantly. A ball of white and black fur bore down on me from across the field. My mind was filled with images and sensations of her trying to be good and waiting patiently for me from the second I’d arrived home. I knelt and prepared myself for the jolt of her leaping into my arms. Very quickly, she crossed the distance and knocked me over with enthusiasm. Wet dog tongue slid over my face, leaving saliva everywhere.

She was the only one who could make me giggle. “Okay, okay, Filos. I missed you too, my friend,” I let my hand sink into her thick, warm fur. “Yes, I know you have much to tell me. How about a run?” She leaped off my chest and was halfway to the trail before I stood up. I bolted out of camp, catching up to my favorite huskie. I was ready to be alone in the wild with my thoughts and prepared to let Filos calm me with her joy. 

Artemis (Shannon Clark)
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