We were only a few yards away from the exit. I could already see the blinding daylight at the end of the tunnel. Plato’s orders were to stall a little before the exit so that the Crusaders had time to save Nick, Panos and Stratos from the Squad who would be on their way to get us, protecting another Gateway, extremely valuable to the League. I was sure that the Crusaders would already be waiting for us outside, disguised as local policemen, pretending to arrest the cavers for trespassing. Then, I would have to wait for no more than five minutes until the Squad would be here to get me.
I shivered at the thought of facing
’s cruel face, but this was the last
thing I cared about. I hoped that Christopher would be among them, that he
would have come for me despite his last warning. It had been so long since I
had last seen him. Plato had not neglected to warn me that I should control
myself when I would see him again, otherwise the whole plan would go up in
I stopped, pretending to be looking for something.
‘Damn!’ I said. Panos stopped behind me.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
‘I left my backpack at the last bent where I stopped for water.’
‘I’ll get it for you. You go ahead.’ he volunteered to help me.
‘No!’ I replied, a little too abruptly. ‘I can do it myself. I can see it from here.’ I pointed to the red bag with my flashlight. ‘You go ahead. I’ll meet you outside.’ Panos hesitated for a moment. Then he shrugged and walked past me. I was almost at the bent, when I heard voices arguing.
‘Stay here!’ Panos shouted at me as he ran to join the others. I was sure that the Crusaders outnumbered my friends. My ignorant companions would have to do what the “policemen” asked them. I knew the Crusaders were supposed to take them a few miles away, in a safe distance, until the Squad had finished with me. Plato had personally guaranteed that no harm would happen to the three cavers, sharing my persistence in keeping them safe at any cost. I did not want to be an accessory for another death. Somehow, Yannis’ blood still felt hot on my hands.
I ducked waiting, until the voices and the sound of the cars faded away. Then I stood up again and started walking towards the exit. Now it was a good time to start panicking. But, surprisingly enough, I was not panicked. I was extremely anxious to see Christopher, this was the only emotion that overwhelmed my whole existence at that moment and there was no room for fear and panic.
It was very silent outside. I looked around. I was all alone, or at least it seemed so, at the altitude of more than a thousand feet above sea level.
I was not ignorant of the place.
My father had told me stories about this mountain where you’re surrounded by the fairies of the source of the immortal water. The ancient gods took their oaths on this mountain. It was here that the deity of Soul went through incredible ordeals when she was searching for her sweetheart, Cupid. The legend is that she still wanders on the frosty peak, leaving her elf-tracks on the soft snow. The dreadful queen
lived on this sacred mountain, Zeus’ally in his war with the Titans. She had
the power to punish the Olympian gods if they broke their oaths. Her palace was
in front of the Gate of Ades, the gate to the Underworld, to death. It’s no
wonder why the locals had respected that place and considered the opening of
roads and the intrusion of technology on the sacred slopes that had been
protected by the millennium-lasting awe, a hubris, an abuse.
I wished my father’s stories had been true. I wished I could invoke the ancient spirits to protect Christopher and me. But reality was so uninspiring, so dramatic and terrible at the same time.
I walked to the jeep and got rid of the equipment I was carrying, aware of the fact that Tex might be hiding among the trees behind me, watching, waiting for the right moment to terrify me the most. My mouth felt dry and I looked for some water, as my thermos was empty. Stratos had left a spare thermos in the jeep but I could not find it. I bent down to look for it under the passenger seat. I stretched my arm to reach it.
Then I heard the cold voice behind me, the voice that had haunted my dreams for so long.
‘At last! We meet again!’ He spoke slowly, softly, and his voice was sarcastic as always, mocking me. My body stiffened at once but I tried to keep my temper. I did not care if he wanted to hurt me. I was dying to see the beautiful face I had been missing for so long. Was he standing there? Right behind me?
I turned around slowly, my face frozen, expressionless, but my heart was about to jump out of my chest.
You always seem to be in the wrong place, don’t you?’
’s cold voice mocked,
testing my reflexes. Threat was obvious in his tone. I was no more under any
misapprehension as to how dangerous this man was. But I couldn’t care less. My
eyes were fixed on the slim, tall man behind him. He was dressed in the Squad’s
typical black suit and he was standing still, his arms folded in front of his
chest. His dark sunglasses were hiding his eyes but his beautiful face and his
golden-brown hair left no doubt. It was him. It was Christopher. My
For a brief moment I felt like it was only the two of us in front of the ancient cave the Squad had come to protect. There was no one around, no sound, even the birds had stopped singing. Then, a gust of cool wind blew, scattering the leaves around us, bringing me back to reality. I was overwhelmed by the strong need to run to him, touch him, feel him, see if he was real. I wanted to lose myself in his warm embrace, tell him how much I’d missed him. But I couldn’t do that. Not only because my knees felt weak, making me feel I was about to faint, but also because I had strict orders from Plato. Susan had warned me several times that this would be a critical moment for my mission. So I had to control myself and avoid any impulsive reaction at Christopher’s sight. Plato had asked Susan to warn me about the chance that Christopher might have changed but I had found that hard to believe. Yet, watching him stand still, not even making the slightest move towards me, his face absolutely rigid, expressionless, as if he hadn’t recognized me, made me wonder if Plato was right. Then, the deepest fear I had been suppressing for so long started creeping from my knees to my spine and to my chest, trying to find a way to sneak into my heart. What if Christopher had really changed? Would there still be room in his heart for me?
From " Gate Deadlock : Starting over" by Urania Sarri for only 99 c.