As he spoke, Eran's eyes cautiously swept to the side, to where I alone stood. Not only did I see the movement of his head but I felt his awareness on me, solely me, as if he were waiting for my reaction.
"It has been decided that you," Daniel announced, tipping his head at the messengers, "are too significant to be left in the perilous position of defending yourselves. Rather than take the risk of making you rely solely on your personal abilities to preserve your lives, guards from Eran's legion have been selected for the responsibility of looking after your wellbeing. In light of this new role, they have been given a new name. They will be known forthwith as your guardian and you will be known as their ward. One has been designated for each of you and will commence with their responsibilities directly."
My mouth fell open in offense. I stepped forward, ready to argue against it, but promptly before anyone else could speak, Eran bellowed a command, which was swiftly followed. "Guardians, pair with your ward."
Apparently, the guardians had done their research. They knew their "ward" by face, which I learned as several dozen of them dropped without delay from the circle that had formed overhead and landed precisely beside the messengers they would guard from this point on.
As they lowered, I noticed unifying traits among them. Each was built with heaps of muscles and shared the same observant watchfulness and stern glower, a result of whatever they had endured while serving in their previous positions.
Once in place, they did not address their ward. Instead, they stood with hands clasped at their waist and appendages folded behind them to wait for their next command. They looked odd in comparison to their messengers, towers of muscles in contrast to shorter, thinner pillars.
As the clearing grew still again, I made the only movement, approaching Eran with a different kind of command in mind, one that he wouldn't like very much. Daniel, however, stepped in to block me.
"The judgment has been made," he warned.
I began to argue but Daniel took my shoulders. "It is done, Magdalene."
I caught sight of Eran noticing my objection, waiting for me to react further. I did, with a narrowing of my eyes.
He ignored it and began to walk between the newly formed pairs of messengers and guardians. He stopped beside a girl who chose a body no older than me. She was blonde and was known for her bubbly personality.
There was one element about her that stood out to me immediately…She was the exact opposite of me.
The subtle sensation of loss crawled up my arms and flushed my face. This type of emotion wasn't often experienced in the afterlife, but there seemed to be no stopping it now. Its reasoning was immediately clear to me, and knowing it only intensified it...Whatever attraction between Eran and me had once been was now gone, affirmed by his actions and by the anger boiling in my stomach.
While his ward was eagerly awaiting his attention, it remained fixed on me.
The heat now pulsed from my skin. I could feel it searing up my neck and across my cheeks. It had to be visible, but I would not look away. When I tipped my head up in a show of defiance, I thought I saw the faintest flash of a smile form at the corner of his lips.
Intentionally looking away, I scanned the clearing and the pairs standing side by side, taking in the new arrangement. That was when the notion came to me, rising from my core, in an absolute denial of what Eran was insisting. We did not need their help. And I was going to make it clear.
Taking another step forward, I opened my mouth.
Eran, who had remained attentive to me, abruptly announced, "The messengers' training will not be interrupted." His voice was louder and hastier than before.
I started to speak again, and again he stopped me.
"Nor will we enforce further changes to the routine you have established."
I took another step forward and made another attempt to speak only to be interrupted by Eran again.
"Your training will not hinder nor help my men or women in their defense of you. You may continue as you wish, if you wish. "
I made another effort to oppose him and then Eran did something that stunned me to silence. Sighing irritably, he snapped his head in my direction and sent me a look of appalled frustration.
"This has been done," he said firmly and deliberately directed at me, "for your own good, for the good of the messengers, and for the good of those who the messengers serve."
Several realizations hit me at once then. First, this man was not accustomed to someone opposing him. He found it exasperating, almost as much as I did being countermanded. Second, in that moment, as he struggled to convince me of the value in this judgment, it became clear that Eran was the one who had influenced it to be made. He had seen something in our training that had made him determine another course of action was needed. In his eyes, we had failed. Third, he understood me more than anyone I'd ever known. Without ever having exchanged a word, without having spent time alone in private discussions, somehow he knew me, my intentions, my desires. It was clear to him that I would oppose him and this decision until I was convinced it was the best course for the messengers', which he had just proven to me.
I closed my mouth but did not break our stare, which quickly became apparent to others. Eran's ward began sending confused looks at me and then back to Eran. Others were doing the same.
Knowing that Eran was waiting for my response and that it had better be concurrence to the judgment he had initiated, I answered in such a way that he could not possibly misunderstand my unwillingness.
Having heard of how those in the other realm bid agreement to their assumed superiors with a certain gesture, I let this be my answer.
Sweeping my arms back, I bent at the waist in a slow bow.
Instantly, a reaction swept through the clearing. Some laughed, some looked appalled. Eran did not stir, not even his gaze, for a long duration of my gesture. Not until just before I shifted my feet did the corners of his lips turned up, almost undetectably, and humor slipped into his eyes.
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