Glaring fiercely, Syrus was just about to bark at Valeria for disregarding his instructions, when the door slowly opened, revealing the tall, elegant form of a Messenger. The being was mesmerizing, from the alabaster face, so flawless it was impossible to determine gender, to hair of purest white flowing down the creature’s gossamer robes and trailing behind for several feet like the most exotic of wedding veils. Eyes glowing like amber, lit from within, gazed calmly at the two men before glancing out the window.
Syrus came around his desk and stood next to Taurin, then both bowed with respect. One of the Higher, beings so evolved they had risen to the pinnacle of knowledge and enlightenment to reside on the uppermost level in the Ethereal. They answered only to the Universe, though occasionally a select few were chosen to deliver communiques of importance or interest to the lesser planes.
Waiting quietly for the Messenger to speak, Syrus grew uncomfortable at the creature’s fascination with the view. He cringed inwardly, hoping the hills weren’t riddled with lightning-fried sheep. “How may we help you, Higher?”
Reluctantly, the creature looked away from the scenery, and smiled serenely at them. “For warden Taurin, I have the key.” The voice was low, soft, melodious, like a long-forgotten song whispered on the breeze. A slender hand emerged from the folds of the robe, and held out a golden chain. A small oval medallion, wings etched into the center, dangled between the creature’s fingers. “When you are ready, wear this around your neck. It will take you back to what you once knew.” The Messenger paused, stared intently into Taurin's eyes for a moment, then said gently, “You may find what is lost, though perhaps not what you seek.”
Replaying the confusing words in his mind, Taurin carefully reached out to take the medallion. As the thin gold chain slid through long, tapered fingers, the being murmured, “When the time comes, removing the key will return one to his rightful place.” With another curious look out the window, the Higher turned with a slight smile and glided silently out of the room.
Syrus and Taurin looked at each other, then stared at the necklace swinging in Taurin’s hand. “Did you follow that?” Syrus asked, shaking his head. “It’s all riddles and ambiguity with them.”
“The only thing I really care about,” Taurin said, lifting the medallion to eye level, “is that this will get me to Valentine and the book.” He narrowed his eyes at his boss. “Since it's clear they know about this mess, why aren't they handling it? This is a breach so unprecedented, I can’t fathom why they would let just a warden deal with it.”
“You’re not just a warden, you’re the best.” He clapped a hand on Taurin’s shoulder. “And believe me, even though we don’t have a clue what it is, there’s a purpose behind this.” Glancing out the window as he walked back to his desk, Syrus was relieved to see the landscape wasn't dotted with the blackened remains of a flock of sheep. Distractedly, he returned the scene to the actual glowing mists that swirled around the seventh level, muttering, “There’s always a purpose.”
Captivated by the ornament shimmering in the gilded light, Taurin stared, his hand trembling slightly as the medallion began to sway gently in a phantom breeze, the carved wings in the center moved gracefully as if alive and eager to fly.
“When do you leave?” Syrus asked.
Startled, Taurin tore his eyes from the charm and quickly dropped it into his shirt pocket. “Soon as I can clear my schedule and arrange a few things.”
“I’ll take care of your schedule. Just get ready, then come back here before you go.”
Taurin nodded, then hurriedly left the room, already cataloguing what he might need, discarding any lingering unease about what he was about to do.
Staring after his warden, Syrus frowned,. It was a rare thing to have a Higher come to his office, let alone provide tangible assistance—though stealing a book from the Library of Souls went beyond rare and into never, no doubt explaining the involvement. Right. In that case, why then did he feel this edgy concern for Taurin?
Spinning in his chair, Syrus scowled out the window. Sheep were suddenly running madly over lush green hills, dodging snowballs that rained like bombs from a clear, blue sky.