Sebastian gazed around the map-covered table at the people he had worked closely with, some for mere decades, others, centuries. They had weathered many storms together, but too many of the blue lights on the map had winked out in the last few days. His claws scored the edge of the table as two more winked out: two more Star Guides missing…or worse. He searched the familiar faces for even a small glimmer of hope; a possible solution or a memory of a crisis like this somewhere in their past. Ariadne resembled a used cotton swab, her face wrinkled and pale beneath a froth of snow-white hair. Though she met his gaze, her eyes remained blank, concealing her thoughts.
As blue lights continued to wink out, he met the same poker-faced expression as he directed his attention at first one, then another of the Council members. They were no closer to determining who was responsible than when Tess had thrown a virtual hand grenade into their midst, forcing them to wake up to the fact that their visions of a smooth transition were naïve at best. Sebastian clenched his jaw to keep from grinding his teeth. His icy glare hid his frustration over the lack of a single suggestion for the current crisis. Without a plan, they couldn’t avoid the loss of lives or further damage to the already fragile Earth from a malignancy they’d neither anticipated nor understood. He winced as a worst case scenario picture filled his mind in which Earth was a blackened husk and the progress of humanity up to this point, lost forever. It would mean the Star Guides had failed and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
Sebastian cleared his throat, startling several people whose minds had wandered far from the room, both in terms of time and distance.
“To say this turn of events is unexpected would be to state the obvious.”
A short bark of mirthless laughter met his words.
“I think we can agree that our own resources have yielded little information which might aid in determining who is behind the missing Star Guides.”
“A blessing, in its own way.” Ariadne remarked with a frown.
“Perhaps, but it gives us nothing to draw on.”
“There is that.” Ariadne replied.
“However, humanity has a…colorful history of inflicting horrors upon itself. That is where we might find clues about this foe who has, I suspect, remained hidden for quite some time, and is only now choosing to reveal himself.”
“Or themselves, Sir.” Sebastian’s assistant, Claude, spoke from behind him.
“True. In fact, it’s likely this is not the act of a single person.” Sebastian paused to study the faces watching him. He knew they wanted guidance, but he felt ill-prepared to give it.
“So many events to choose. Where do we begin?”
“Who knows wars and atrocities best?” Claude asked.
“I suspect that would be the Guardians. They’re the ones who have protected the Star Guides for centuries. They’ve had no reason to confide in us concerning the actions they deemed necessary to fulfill their responsibilities.” Sebastian gestured for Claude to join the group around the table.
All eyes returned to the map, searching out the red lights which represented the Guardians.
“Have we stopped training Guardians too?” someone asked.
Sebastian pulled his mouth into a tight line.
Until recently, the Council had focused on training and preparing all Star Guides to facilitate the Transition. According to the map, there were only a few trained Guardians, which supported the apparent complacency bred of centuries in which the Star Guides went about their business unmolested. They camouflaged themselves by seeming unremarkable, simply blending in or keeping to themselves. Star Guides weren’t meant to interfere as humanity slowly progressed to a point where the Transition was more than just a concept they’d taught their children so future Star Guides would understand their purpose and role once people began to acknowledge their connectedness to all other beings.
Sebastian stroked his muzzle while he gazed at the sparsely scattered red lights. The coarse, white hairs around his nose and mouth were the only outward indication of the toll his tenure as Council head had taken on him. As caretaker of certain sensitive information, there were few he could completely trust and fewer he could confide in. He shared the knowledge with only a couple of others that the red lights didn’t represent all of the Guardians or even a fraction of them. Their only real purpose was to give approximate locations for the Commanders and certain high-ranking officers. Should defensive or even offensive measures be required to ensure the safety of those who were predominantly peaceful, he only needed to contact one of those Commanders. Given the need to both locate the missing Star Guides and ensure the safety of children the Council had chosen to leave untrained, he had arranged a meeting with two such men to work out a plan. He was beginning to notice a pattern to the disappearances, though he wasn’t ready to share it with those present, at least until he could determine who was trustworthy. Their unidentified foe was targeting the Star Guides who possessed the strongest and most diverse skills.
Sebastian dropped his head into his hand as he realized only someone who knew the Star Guides and the Council well could possibly identify such individuals. He shuddered at the implications of a mole inside the Council. Ignoring the curious looks, he blocked his thoughts and addressed the assembly.
“I’ve scheduled a meeting with two Guardians who have had the dubious honor of witnessing, first hand, some of the worst moments in human history. With their assistance, I will work out a strategy for locating our missing Star Guides and their captors.” His white-knuckled grip on the table belied the confidence in his words, but nobody dared mention how much rested on knowledge the Guardians might or mi...