Read Guardian of the Gate Online
Authors: Michelle Zink
Copyright © 2010 by Michelle Zink
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: August 2010
For Kenneth, Rebekah,
Sitting at the desk in my chamber, I do not need to read the words of the prophecy to recall them. They are embedded in my mind as clearly as the mark that brands my wrist.
Even still, there is something solid and reassuring about holding the cracked binding of the book my father hid in the library before his death. I open the aged cover, my eyes coming to rest on the slip of paper inserted at the front.
In the eight months since Sonia and I have been in London, reading the words of the prophecy has become my bedtime ritual. It is in those quiet hours that Milthorpe Manor is at its most peaceful, the house and servants silent and Sonia fast asleep in her chamber down the hall. It is then that I continue my attempt to decipher the words of the prophecy translated by James’s careful hand — to find any new clue that might lead me to their missing pages. And the path to my freedom.
On this summer eve, the fire hisses softly from the firebox as I bend my head to the page, reading, once again, the words that bind me irrevocably to my sister, my twin — and to the prophecy that divides us.
Through fire and harmony mankind endured
Until the sending of the Guards
Who took as wives and lovers the woman of man,
Engendering His wrath.
Two sisters, formed in the same swaying ocean,
One the Guardian, One the Gate.
One keeper of peace,
The other bartering sorcery for devotion.
Cast from the heavens, the Souls were Lost
As the Sisters continue the battle
Until the Gates summon forth their return,
Or the Angel brings the Keys to the Abyss.
The Army, marching forth through the Gates.
Samael, the Beast, through the Angel.
The Angel, guarded only by the gossamer veil of protection.
Four marks, Four keys, Circle of fire
Birthed in the first breath of Samhain
In the shadow of the Mystic Stone Serpent of Aubur.
Let the Angel’s Gate swing without the Keys
Followed by the Seven Plagues and No Return.
Open your arms, Mistress of Chaos, that the havoc of the Beast will flow
like a river
For all is lost when the Seven Plagues begin.
There was a time when the words meant very little to me. When they were nothing more than a legend found in a dusty volume hidden in Father’s library before his death. But that was before I discovered the serpent blossoming on my wrist. Before I met Sonia and Luisa, two of the four keys, also marked, though not exactly like me.
Only I have the “C” at the center of my mark. Only I am the Angel of Chaos, the unwilling Gate to my sister’s Guardian, a consequence I blame not on nature, but on the confused nature of our birth. Nevertheless, only I can choose to banish Samael forever.
Or summon him forth and bring about the end of the world as we know it.
I close the book, forcing its words from my mind. It is too late an hour to think of the end of the world. Too late an hour to think of my part in stopping it. The sheer burden of it has made me desire the singular peace of sleep, and I rise from the desk and slip beneath the coverlet of the massive four-poster bed that is mine at Milthorpe Manor.
I turn out the lamp on my bedside table. The room is lit
only by the glow of the fire, but the simple darkness of a firelit room does not frighten me as it once did. Now it is the evil hidden in places beautiful and familiar that brings terror to my heart.
It has been a long while since I have confused my travels on the Plane with a simple dream, but this time, I cannot say for certain which one has claimed me in sleep.
I am in a forest that I know instinctively to be the one surrounding Birchwood Manor, the only home I had ever known before coming to London eight months ago. There are those who might say all trees look alike, that it is impossible to tell one wood from another, but this is the landscape of my childhood and I know it for what it is.
The sun filters through the leaves that rise on branches far above my head. It creates a vague sense of daylight so that it might be morning or evening or anytime in between. I am beginning to wonder why I am here, for even my dreams seem to have purpose now, when I hear my name called from somewhere behind me.
“Li-a… Come, Lia…”
Turning, it takes a moment to place the figure standing just beyond me in the trees. The girl is small and still as a statue. Her golden ringlets glimmer even in the dappled light of the forest. Though it has been nearly a year since I saw her in New York, I would know her anywhere.
“I have something to show you, Lia. Come quickly.” The
girl’s voice is the same youthful singsong that it was when she first handed me the medallion that bears the same mark as my wrist and is with me wherever I go.
I wait a moment, and she holds out a hand, waving me toward her with a smile too knowing to be pleasant.
“Hurry, Lia. You don’t want to miss her.” The little girl turns and runs ahead, curls bouncing as she disappears amid the trees.
I follow, stepping around the trees and mossy stones. My feet are bare, yet I feel no pain as I make my way deeper into the forest. The little girl is as graceful and quick as a butterfly. She flits in and out of the trees, her white pinafore drifting behind her like a ghost. Hurrying to keep up, my nightdress catches on twigs and branches. I swat at them as I go, trying not to lose the girl in the forest. But it is too late. Moments later, she is gone.
I stand in place, turning in a circle to scan the woods. It is disorienting, dizzying, and I fight a surge of panic as I realize I am utterly lost among the sameness of tree trunks and foliage. Even the sun is obscured from view.
A moment later, the girl’s voice returns, and I stand perfectly still, listening. It is unmistakable as the tune she once hummed as she skipped away from me in New York.
I follow the humming, goose bumps rising on the skin of my arms even under the sleeves of my nightdress. The fine hairs lift at the nape of my neck, but I am unable to turn away. Winding around tree trunks large and small, I follow the voice until I hear the river.
That is where the girl is. I am certain of it, and when I step through the last cluster of trees, the water stretches before me, and the little girl comes into view once more. She is bent over the other side of the river, though I cannot imagine how she crossed such a current. Her humming is melodic but with an eerie undertone that makes my skin crawl, and I continue toward the bank on my side of the river.
She does not seem to see me. She simply continues with her strange song as she runs her palms over the water. I do not know what she sees in its pristine surface, but she stares with singular concentration. Then she looks up and her eyes meet mine as if she is not at all surprised to see me standing before her, across the river.
I know her smile will haunt me even while she offers it. “Oh, good. I’m glad you’ve come.”
I shake my head. “Why have you come to me again?” My voice echoes through the quiet in the forest. “What more could you possibly have for me?”
She looks down, running her palms over the water as if she didn’t hear me.
“Pardon me.” I try to sound more forceful. “I would like to know why you called me into the forest.”
“It won’t be long now.” Her voice is flat. “You’ll see.”
She looks up, her blue eyes meeting mine. Her face wavers as she begins speaking again.
“Do you think that you are safe within the confines of your slumber, Lia?” The skin stretching over the small bones of her face shimmers, the pitch of her voice dropping a notch.
“Do you think yourself so powerful now that you cannot be touched?”
Her voice is all wrong, and when her face wavers yet again, I understand. She smiles, but this time, not as the girl from the woods. Not anymore. Now she is my sister, Alice. I cannot help but be afraid. I know well what that smile hides.