OPENED MY EYES as the cool, damp air caressed me in a fashion I haven’t felt in years. There wasn’t much around but trees and bushes. Sitting up I noticed a small fire going in the pit at the center of the grove. Wait… Grove? I shot to my feet and surveyed my surroundings. Two benches, a small fire burning low in the pit, a canteen of water, some bread, and a chunk of meat on a wooden plank by some other small stuff on the bench. I was looking at the row of trees for any movement but the forest beyond the grove looked still as still as a painting. The bushes sealed the grove off from the rest of the forest as they were planted perfectly between each massive tree trunk to form a perfect circle. They were groomed to a flat appearance on the sides while the top remained wild and free. This looked oddly familiar. Realization set in the moment I turned back to face the fire and saw a man standing there. He was bald and his robes would have made anyone else think he was a monk from a corny B rated movie, but this man was most definitely not a monk. My heart picked up speed as I remembered whom this man really was. A priest. A very powerful Druid priest. As if he knew my thoughts, he smiled and bent forward leaning his face down in a gesture of greeting. When his face became level with mine again he wasn’t so amused to see me. “Bryce Marshall.” He said my name in a chiding tone. “Please come sit with me Bryce.” He walked around the fire and lowered himself to one of the benches, then patted the other to indicate where he wanted me. I wasn’t sure what to think, to be honest. His smile was reassuring but there was an undertone of despondency I almost didn’t catch. I slowly made my way to the bench and sat next to him. He sat and watched the flames dance slowly as they licked at the wood in a hungry frenzy. The only light came from the small fire and reflected off his face in a soft orange hue. Taking his lead, I sat and stared at the fire. When he finally spoke it made me jump. “Bryce. Can you tell me why I brought you here?” He asked in a low voice as he sat watching the flames dance. I was at a loss for words so I remained quiet as I followed suit watching the display the flames provided before me. “No idea? I figured as much.” He was being borderline rude. He sighed heavily as he stood up and walked to the opposite side of the fire. I was now staring at him through the flames. “The Divine allowed me to guide you in the journey to save your son, your bloodline but you chose to ignore my wisdom and carry on like a pigheaded Roman soldier. Can you tell me why this is?” His words hit me like a wrecking ball to the gut. I had no explanation for him. “Nothing huh?” Shaking his head he started to make his way back around the fire towards me. “One person in your current lifecycle has changed the stars for you all. This person has been tasked with breaking the cycle your bloodline has been stuck in. The phases of change have been set in motion, Bryce. None of which you have been aware of.” Again, I was at a loss for words. I continued to stare at the flames as they hungrily licked at the wood like demons feasting on the souls of those sent to the underworld. A soft chuckle emanated from his mouth as he made his way around the fire. “You know better Bryce. The underworld, as you call it, does not exist. Rather, it is a different plane in which the negative energies are allowed to flourish and gain power from those who feed it with their own negativity.” He stopped in front of me blocking the fire from my view. “This plane was your destiny until I stepped in. I believed in you when the Divine were willing to banish you. To stick you in an equally dark plane of existence that matched your soul. I gave up my existence as a mortal to help you and your son.” I looked up into his eyes. “Stubborn, naïve Bryce.” He scolded, shaking his head. I held his gaze as he continued to watch me for any reaction other than the blank look I was giving him. “You truly do not understand the magnitude of what is happening here do you Bryce?” I finally got annoyed. “I am a forty year old man, goddammit! How dare you speak down to me like a child.” I shouted as I stood and stared him in the eye. He never once lost his gaze, nor did he show any fear to my aggressive advancement upon him. He simply stood his ground and continued to weigh and measure me. “Your aggression does nothing for you here Bryce. It does not alter what is and what will be. It only lends more reason for the Divine to take you as they wish and deposit you in your rightful plane of existence. The darkness within you is building once more. This worries the Divine.” The heat in his eyes wasn’t fueled by anger but passion. Passion for what he believed in… Me. “Something I refuse to allow.” His eyes squinted slightly as he spoke and I recognized the determination behind the man. I can’t say I missed Erwin Orr all that much; he was rather pushy when he chose to be. Everything came flooding back to me in a rush of pictures in my mind. All the events of the past lifecycles and the feelings flooded over me from all those years of frustration and anger. “Yes, Bryce. I fought for you and put my existence on the line for you and your son. I believed you could change, that you could help Aubrie break this curse. It hurts me to see what you have become.” He spoke with a soft, slightly defeated voice. “The Divine took your free will away the moment they marked you with darkness in your soul. Their actions were unjustified and created doubt in me of their intentions for us all.” He shook his head and his demeanor changed to solemnity. “Paige could very well have taken your life and sent you to the plane you were destined to be so many years ago.” He stood barely two inches from me but he seemed worlds away. “I’m not the same person I was when I was younger Erwin. People change.” I spat the last bit at him. It was laced with enough vehemence to get the point across. I looked at him as he continued to search within my eyes. “Stop that.” I looked away from the priest."
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