I am here to witness the event. I cannot be seen. I cannot interfere. I must only bear witness.
The Chevalier strode through the forest of massive eastern white pines with purpose. I kept my distance flitting through the trees, far east of him, keeping pace. Instead of the light-weight white dress I wore on the island, I was fitted in a pair of dark green pants, a tan tank top, and a heavy brown jacket.
My shoulders continuously shrugged of their own accord, as if the movement could shed the uncomfortable weight. I wasn’t used to wearing this much clothing, especially pieces that were so heavy, but it did keep the cold air at bay. Here, my skin felt tighter and my lips were dry. I wished I was home. I wished I was sipping tea and listening to the continuous crash of the ocean waves. I pushed away my desires for a familiar landscape and focused on my mission.
The man took the long, focused strides of a soldier. The Chevalier was tall and lean, with short crop of brown hair. He wore heavy boots and a long black trench coat, the hood of it pushed back between his wide shoulders. He was hunting and had been hunting for days, while I had only arrived a couple hours ago. The pine needles stuck through the soft soles of my brown slippers. “At least it isn’t snowing,” Yolanda had said when she opened a gateway. The High Priestess gently kissed my forehead and blessed me before sending through the temporary door to another place in the world.
I’d never been away from Haven before. The pine forest was as different to me from my home on our tropical paradise as the sky was different from the ground. The smells here were fresh and sharp, leaving a stinging sensation in my nose. I was used to the warm, sweet, floral scent of hibiscus and the salt of the ocean.
The Chevalier stopped abruptly, and I stepped behind a tree trunk. My heart thudded so hard against my ribs; I was certain he could hear its pounding even from a distance. I did not know how the watchers were able to come and go, witnessing events without ever being seen.
I was sent here to observe the event seen by one of our fold. Jacoby couldn’t foretell whose death I was supposed to witness, the creature’s or the Chevalier’s. Jacoby merely told the High Priestess, “The event required a witness, and that witness was pre-destined to be Diana.” The High Priestess deliberated on sending me for as long as she could. Sending me out into the world was never the plan. But visions sent by the Gods to our Order must be abided.
A few minutes passed, and I still hadn’t heard the Chevalier move. I dared to peek out to see what he was doing. The tall man’s brow was furrowed as he searched the surrounding trees. As his eyes scanned in my direction, I jerked back, trying to stifle my heavy breaths. I didn’t know what he would do if he found me.
Though I had only briefly glimpsed the Chevalier’s face, I was surprised to find his countenance was pleasing to look at. An inner voice urged to me to take another look. I was surprised by how young he was, probably only a few years older than I, and I had only turned eighteen last summer solstice. It wasn’t at all what I expected the Chevalier to look like. I expected them to be large hulking figures with empty eyes, perhaps dragging a large stick behind them for bludgeoning evil creatures.
The Chevalier’s eyes weren’t empty. His narrowed eyes were a deep brown, full of intent. An understated power lurked in those depths, waiting, at the ready, until the need arose to call upon it and wield it like a weapon. The set line of his mouth had a softness to it that intrigued me. His nose was large, and further attributed to the power and masculinity of his handsome features. He was young, but his eyes told me he was an old soul. From the downturn of the corner of his lips, I doubted he knew that’s where his maturity stemmed from.
I was used to reading people in the Order. I could gaze upon them and read their deepest desires, their motivations, and the color of their aura. This was the first time I’d ever seen anyone outside of the Order, and it left the aftertaste of an unfamiliar blend of brown packing paper, steel, and something else soft and spicy underneath. A muted gray surrounded the Chevalier, but I saw twinges of a different color struggling to emerge from the murky malaise of his aura. I had never seen a gray aura before, and stranger yet, it hugged tightly close to him, as if it was binding him.
The high priestess explained that Chevaliers were brainwashed soldiers from the Order of Luxis who were trained to defeat the demons and malevolent spirits that crossed over from the Stygian and onto our plane. I wondered how many dark beings this Chevalier had destroyed or banished back to the Stygian?
I had never seen a creature from the hell dimension. At the prospect of having to soon witness a dark one from the hell dimension, my stomach churned hotly despite the chilly bite of the mountain air. I longed to be home with my own Order, safe from the dangers and unpredictable world, and from the man’s confusing allure and mystery.
After what felt like forever—though it probably wasn’t more than five minutes—I heard the Chevalier resume his path through the forest. I closed my eyes and swallowed hard, taking a moment before I continued following, trailing behind him even farther back this time. His body was lithe with muscle born of violence, while the most activity I’d engaged in was either gentle yoga movements or walks around the lush tropics of the island. If he was anything like the beastly, brainless warrior that had been described to me, he’d attack me on sight, and I had no way to outmaneuver or outrun the mindless brute.
I wondered how long I would have to follow him before he met with whatever horrendous creature had escaped from the Stygian. My heart sank at the prospect that it could take days. No one told me how long I would have to be out here. I touched the charm on my necklace that lay at the hollow at the base of my throat.
The Chevalier stopped again, this time his eyes were set on the ground in front of him. My hand raised to my heart as if I could stop it from beating so hard. He must have found the creature’s trail.
The High Priestess’s words echoed in my mind, “Diana is too tender an age, too sensitive at heart and mind to be let out into the world.” She had tried to provoke Jacoby into revealing another more suitable witness, but the vision had been clear. Then the High Priestess went on to warn me of the technologies of the modern world. I was not to indulge curiosity for anything. She hadn’t known then that I would end up in a remote forest land and was in no danger of being stimulated by things such as televisions, music cassettes, and VHS videos that many in this region of the world had become a slave to. Though Haven was remote, we had extensive knowledge of the world and its cultures at wide which allowed us to make better sense of our visions and helped the watchers blend into the environment when they needed to witness an event.
The Chevalier spoke again, but I was too far away to hear. Taking a chance, I darted forward from tree to tree until he was in ear-shot. His voice was deep but clear and for some reason it struck a chord in me. My heart suddenly yearned to hear it again.
Being outside of Haven was apparently making me a little crazy. I may have never visited the outside world before, but of course I had heard men in my own Order speak before. Why should this man matter one iota more than them?
When he spoke again, something in me purred.
“What are you doing out here?”
My spine snapped straight. Had he seen me? Fantastic, my first watch and I was already made. Stupid, Diana, you are so stupid. I dared to peek out behind the tree again and found he was still staring at the ground in front of him.
He slowly crouched; hand extended toward what was on the ground. I couldn’t see what it was. Taking a chance, I stepped out, exposing myself entirely, creeping forward to see what he had found. I was coming dangerously close to him, only a couple of yards away, but I felt unable to resist the magnetic pull of the Chevalier.
At first, it looked like he was simply staring at the ground, but then something wriggled at his feet.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you,” the Chevalier said in a soothing voice, cupping his hands down and around the small ball of brown fluff. It was a baby rabbit.
The Chevalier jerked his head in the opposite direction. I ducked out of sight, just as it snapped in my direction. I’d only barely caught his expression which was a mixture of guilt and nervousness, as if he were worried about being caught. My back pressed against another tree, I clenched my eyes shut, as I tried to steady my breathing. The rough, dry bark dug into my soft hands. Sweat had beaded up and rolled down between my breasts and down my back. Had I lost my mind, trying to get so close? I waited to hear the crunch of footsteps rush in my direction, but they didn’t come. Despite their discomfort, I was grateful for the dark, neutral toned clothes that helped me blend into the scenery.
Carefully, I stretched around the tree trunk again. I’d found the perfect vantage point at which to hide but also see what he was doing.
“Did you hurt your leg, little guy?” the Chevalier asked in a quiet voice. The animal squirmed from where it easily fit in the man’s large palm. The tiny bunny sat at an awkward angle as if it was trying to avoid putting weight on one side of its body.
“I wonder…” the man said his voice trailing off. He covered the bunny with his other hand, and it began to softly glow.
Panic tightened my throat. What was he doing to that bunny? Despite his soft tone, and his handsome face, I reminded myself he was a ruthlessly trained exterminator. Was he killing the helpless animal? I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t turn my gaze. I was going to be sick. The high priestess was right, I was too sensitive to be around such treachery. I should have never left Haven.
A large part of me demanded I rush in and try to save the animal, but I knew that was forbidden. I could not interfere. I could not be seen. I could only watch. My hands tightened into fists at my sides and I clenched my eyes shut, willing away the vehement desire to disobey my Order. I moved through the emotion until it no longer controlled me. Forcing my hands to relax and opening my eyes again, I resumed what I came here to do. Watch.
The Chevalier pulled his top hand away and the bunny blinked. Then it shifted and squirmed on the man’s palm. After a few experimental movements, the bunny got up evenly on its feet. My mouth dropped in an ‘o’ as the man lifted the small rabbit closer to lightly scratch just above the bunny’s tiny twitching nose. The bunny’s eyes half-closed as it pushed its head up toward the man’s gentle ministrations. The Chevalier’s mouth curled up into a smile, and my heart suddenly felt overloaded with feeling. I couldn’t even say what the feeling was, crashing into my chest in waves, but it was intense, warm, and I felt hungry despite the fact I’d eaten recently.
Confusion swirled around me. This was the brainwashed soldier I’d been warned about? I turned around and slipped my hand under my heavy coat to press against my heart again, this time trying to lessen the emotion that was closing in around my throat.
Suddenly, I didn’t want to watch the Chevalier die. I sent a prayer up to the Gods, asking that the Chevalier successfully slay the demonic entity lurking in these woods. My face scrunched up against the overwhelming feelings, and then tightened further against the pungent stench of rotten eggs.