Resting his palms on the edge, Sheron visibly collapsed with relief. "You don't have much time."
"Time for what?"
"Time to make it to the lake before your absence is noted."
"Explain," Aidan ordered curtly.
"You want to cross over." Sheron reached back and lifted his hood, once again hiding behind the veil of shadows. "Your increasing dissatisfaction has been obvious to us for the last few decades, and your infatuation with the Dreamer has been whispered about for weeks. Your actions today can mean only one thing—you want to be with her rather than do your duty here."
Lifting his arm, Aidan slipped his glaive into the scabbard that crossed his back. He released a deep breath, wondering if Sheron suspected the true reason he wished to leave. Without the benefit of reading the Elder's facial expressions, there was no way for him to know. The toneless, emotionless voice revealed nothing. "What do I have to do?"
"Search your conscience, You are our best warrior. Your loss will change the balance between Guardians and Nightmares considerably. Morale will plummet. A selfish choice, wouldn't you say?"
"Fuck you." Aidan crossed his arms. "I have given more than enough. I refuse to feel guilt for wanting something for myself. You hold no hesitation in sucking me dry, yet I'm selfish?"
The quick rise and fall of Sheron's chest was the only sign that he'd struck a chord.
"You will have to travel past the Gateway," the Elder rasped. "Beyond the rise you'll find a lake."
"Yes, I've seen it." Aidan felt his mentor's smile.
"Why am I not surprised? You were always overly curious."
"Go on. I don't have time to reminisce."
"When you get to the lake, dive beneath the surface.
You'll see light emanating from a cave. There is a grotto there, tended by two Elders."
"What are they doing down there?"
Sheron held out both hands, palms parallel, just as he once used to do. "In the space between waking and dreaming, there is the place where some humans come by force. They hover here, more awake than asleep, but not cognizant enough to comprehend. Once we thought the Key would come to us this way. Now we simply guard them from coming too far into this conduit. Nightmares are predators. They would use that tenuous tie if they could."
Aidan frowned, and then his eyes widened. "Hypnosis!"
"Yes." Sheron nodded his approval. "That is what the Dreamers call it."
"Is that how we entered here to begin with?"
Something in the Elder's tone gave him pause. "There is more than one way to make the journey?"
"There is only one way that will allow a lone Guardian to make the journey," came the evasive reply.
"How can I trust you to tell me the truth?"
"How can I trust you not to kill me now that you know?"
There had been occasions when he'd had to act based on faulty or suspect intel, but Aidan never liked it. This time he hated it. If he was sent in the wrong direction…
He caught the Elder by the elbow. "You're coming with me."
"Yes. I can." He dragged him out of the room and down the hall, making a quick stop at the private Elder library.
"What are you doing?" Sheron snapped, when Aidan went straight to the historical volumes that were omitted from the entirely electronic public Hall of Knowledge.
"Taking answers with me." His fingertips drifted over the spines until he reached the spot where he should have found the text chronicling the two years preceding and directly following their discovery of this conduit. "Where is it?"
"It was lost."
"It is lost to me," Sheron said dryly. "I have no idea where it is."
Aidan reached up, gripped the hilt of his sword, and withdrew it with quiet deliberation. "I need you alive, but I don't need you healthy."
"You throw aside centuries of living with Guardians who admire and respect you for a few hours spent with a Dreamer?"
"You allowed my discontent to fester with your secrets." Aidan pressed the tip of his blade into Sheron's chest. "Now tell me, Master, where did the Elders hide the volume I seek?"
"Never. You may have abandoned your people, but I will not."
"As you wish." Aidan grabbed Sheron, and dragged him out into the hall and back toward the control room.
"What are you doing?"
"We're going to bang on the console a bit, get those lights flashing and alarms ringing. Then we'll head toward the lake."
"You cannot do that!" Sheron began to struggle, his eyes wide. "You will destroy everything."
"Hey, you're the one who said I abandoned my people. What do I care if you all blow up like a supernova or whatever the hell it is that's going to happen? I'll be on Earth with my Dreamer."
Aidan's brows rose. "What'll it be?"
Sheron inhaled harshly, then he gestured back at the library with an impatient jerk of his hand. Once returned to the vast room, the Elder moved to a case of ancient medical texts and withdrew several, exposing a small door . behind them, which, when opened, revealed the volume Aidan sought.
Collecting it from Sheron's outstretched hand, Aidan slipped it into the pouch strapped to his thigh and sealed it. "Right. Let's go."
Together they walked out to the haiden, where he sent out a low whistle that rose and fell in deliberate rhythm. A moment later, the same sound was returned to him. Connor would follow at a discreet distance.
"There are more than one of you," Sheron said flatly.
"Nope. Just me." Aidan reached the outer courtyard and leaped into the upper Twilight, pulling the struggling Sheron behind him. Gliding rapidly through the mist, he put every ounce of power he had into achieving the fastest possible speed.
The sky was beginning to darken when they reached the lake. Aidan dived straight down, into the icy water that didn't heat even though he wished it to. Beside him, Sheron stilled, allowing them to slice through like a blade. It took a moment to find the grotto, and then they emerged, gasping.
Aidan's first impression was of moss-covered black rock, but a closer inspection showed there was no subterfuge here. As he crawled up over a shallow ledge, he pulled Sheron out of the water after him, his gaze moving swiftly over the circular console manned by one very startled Elder-in-training. At a nearby desk, another trainee leaped to his feet. Above their heads, scenes flashed like movies, glimpses into the open minds of thousands of hypnotized people.
He stood, his hostage dripping, and moved to the other men with rapid, near running strides. Aidan shoved Sheron into the man at the desk, effectively knocking them out of the way, freeing his arm to swing forward with punishing force.
The sickening crack of his fist to the jaw of the trainee at the console was loud and echoed, causing the other to cry out and lunge at him. A quick crouch and upward thrust of his body threw the man back and into the rock wall, where he was rendered as unconscious as his partner.
Rolling his shoulders, Aidan straightened his tunic and caught Sheron with a steely glare. "Get to work."
Unfazed, the Elder moved to the console and sat in a metallic swiveling chair that was anchored to the stone floor. "We have to catch a medium when they are at their deepest state. You will attach yourself to their subconscious, and ride the slipstream into their plane of existence. Once there, the temporal disturbance created by your appearance should cause a… hiccup in time. A brief pause that will allow you to leave the area undetected. That is the theory, anyway."
"The theory?" Aidan arched a brow. "That's the best you can do?"
"It is not as if I have done it myself," Sheron pointed out.
Nodding grimly, Aidan asked, "Is there any way to choose a medium who is near to her?" If he arrived on the other side of her world, it could be days before he reached her. He would not get to her before she fell asleep again. The thought of Lyssa dealing with the banging at the door and sinister-minded cajoling infuriated him and aroused possessive feelings he never knew he was capable of.
"Where is your lauded patience, Captain?"
"Running out," Aidan warned.
Sheron shook his head in silent chastisement. "Lucky for you, the Dreamer you want lives in an area of eccentrics. There is a high concentration of mediums in California. Understand: once you go, there is no known way to return."
"Quit talking, and do it."
Aidan began to pace, his hands clasped at his lower back, his gaze wandering. Scattered across the nearby desktop were loose-leaf papers and open-faced books. He was about to turn away when an odd glare caught his eye. Wedged beneath the corner was a slim volume boasting a jeweled cover that betrayed its position. A quick glance at Sheron showed the Elder occupied and unaware.
Summoning the book, Aidan flipped through it silently, recognizing the handwritten language of the ancients. He was rusty, but was able to make out enough words to know the book was one he wanted to take with him. One page in particular gave him pause, the reference to "pausing abbreviated space" one of vast interest. Collecting a makeshift bookmark from the desk, Aidan saved the page and slipped the volume into his waistband where his tunic could hide it from view.
"Here," Sheron murmured. "You can catch this stream." He swiveled and set both hands on his knees. With his cowl thrown back, and his white hair wet and sticking out in all directions, he was an odd sight. But his facial features were familiar, despite their lack of coloring. The sight of them reminded Aidan of the time when they had been mentor and student, and he had been an idealistic youth with great hope for the future. That boy could never have foreseen this event.
"I beg you to reconsider, Captain, You are not the first Guardian to grow an unnatural attachment to a Dreamer. It can be resolved with time."