By the Light of Day

The next morning, they got up before dawn to greet the day at the family altar in the sitting room.  After dawn, while Opa was making their breakfast, Frieda and Liesel got Konrad’s attention and then slipped outside to the patio.

As Konrad joined them, he frowned.  Looking from one to the other, he said, “What’s going on?”  He kept his voice soft enough that Opa wouldn’t hear and Liesel appreciated that.  After all, she wasn’t quite certain about letting him know yet.

Frieda glanced at Liesel and, at her nod, she said, “There was a fairy in the garden yesterday – except that it wasn’t a real fairy and it definitely wasn’t nice.”

“A tainted spirit?” Konrad breathed.  He adjusted his glasses.  “Were either of you hurt?  Did Johannes take care of it?”

“No and yes,” Liesel said, nodding firmly.  “We found a portal too and, last night, he closed it.”

“Mostly,” Frieda murmured, which Liesel echoed.

Konrad heaved a sigh.  “Setting aside for a moment that you should have told me at the time,” he said.  He shook his head.  “Why are you bothering to tell me at all, seeing as it sounds like you’ve taken care of everything already?”

“Because…” Liesel started.  She grimaced and glanced at Frieda.  It was one thing to break the rules and tell her twin her secrets.  She really wasn’t meant to tell anyone exactly how her gifts worked.  She heaved a sigh and then looked back at Konrad.  “I know that it’s not over,” she said.

Frowning, Konrad said, “What do you know?”

“We need to beware of the dark ones,” Liesel said.  Then, she shook her head.  “The problem is that we don’t know who the dark ones are, Brother.  You’re the Sword… do you know who the dark ones might be?”

For a moment, Konrad just frowned at them.  Then, he heaved a sigh and nodded.  “It’s something we’ll all need to be together to discuss, though,” he said, his voice soft.  He looked from Liesel to Frieda.

Then, he crouched down so that he was level with them.  Putting a hand on each of their shoulders, he said, “I know that the Elders and the other crosses seem to thrive on secrets, but… that’s exactly why Muti and Vati pulled away from the Haven community.”

“I thought it was because the Elders didn’t want them to be married,” Liesel said, frowning.

“That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back,” Konrad said, shaking his head.  “They were already having friction with the Elders over all the secrecy.  We’re family.  Families don’t keep secrets from each other.  If something like this happens, you need to let us know.”

“Should we tell Opa that there’s a portal in his garden?” Frieda asked, frowning.

Konrad gave a weak chuckle and then nodded.  “I’m really tempted to say no, but that would contradict what I just said about keeping secrets from your family members,” he said.

Straightening, he beckoned to the girls and they headed back inside the house.  As the family gathered at the table, Konrad arched a brow at Johannes.  Their youngest brother grinned and promptly blessed the meal.  However, Konrad nodded and said, “That was a nice blessing, Hans, but it wasn’t what that look was for.”

“They told you about the fairies and the portal?” Johannes said, his voice soft.

Even as Konrad nodded, Opa scowled.  “What fairies,” he said, looking around at them.  “What portal?”

When his gaze fell on Markus, he just shrugged.  So, he looked at the other four children.  “Does one of you want to fill us in?” he asked.

That was all it took.  Frieda explained what had happened with the first fairy and how they’d taken care of a second one last night, as well as closing a portal, so that no more could come through.  Then, she heaved a sigh and looked over at Johannes.  “After we went to our room… I was thinking about where the portal came from.  I mean… how would something like that just appear in Opa’s garden, so I asked Liesel to see if she could find out.”

“All I know is that we need to beware the dark ones,” Liesel said, shrugging.

Konrad nodded.  “They figured… I’m the Sword and that means I’m in charge of the family’s Defenders,” he said, his voice soft.  “The Elders love their secrets.  We even keep secrets from each other.  I’m not supposed to tell anyone how my gifts for seeing work, for example.”

“You each have pieces to this puzzle,” Opa said, nodding.  “You need to put those pieces together in order to see the full picture.”

“Yes,” Johannes breathed.  He took a deep breath and looked over at his sisters.  “The dark ones can only be the members of cross families that have fallen to the darkness.”  His brows furrowed.  “They’ve been tainted – corrupted.”

Konrad nodded.  “Either them… or servants of the Dark One,” he said, his voice soft.  He grimaced when Johannes looked at him sharply.  “You know about what happens when a True Cross is corrupted.”

“The taint is passed on to their Defenders,” Johannes said, nodding.  “He becomes a Dark Cross and they are his Dark Defenders.”

Nodding, Konrad said, “Our gifts are given to us by the Stormbringer, but… we aren’t the only ones that have been given such gifts.”

“The servants of the Dark One have gifts from him,” Opa said.

Shrugging, Konrad said, “The Elders call the Dark One by feminine pronouns, but… these are deities.  They don’t have genders the way we think of them.”

“Even we don’t have genders the way we think of them,” Markus quipped.

“Exactly,” Konrad said, smirking.  He sighed before continuing.  “Anyway, portals are opened by the Dark Ones, but… that can mean the servants of the Dark One.”

“Or it can mean tainted crosses,” Opa said, nodding in understanding.  He looked around at the other three kids.  “Have the Elders let you three in on any other secrets that might fit into this puzzle?”

“If a portal is sealed,” Markus said, his voice soft, “there’s a group that comes along and opens it again.”  He looked over at his brothers and added, “I’m guessing it’s these dark ones.”

“Which is why we’re told to leave a tiny opening,” Johannes said, rolling his eyes.

Konrad rolled his own eyes and turned to his sister.  “See why we shouldn’t keep secrets?” he said, his voice soft.

Frieda and Liesel nodded.  “If the Elders just told us all everything, we’d already know what we were dealing with,” Frieda said.  “This… it puts us one step behind whatever we’re fighting.”

“Exactly,” Konrad said, tugging gently at one of her braids.  He glanced around at them.  “So, my guess is that somehow one of the dark ones opened the portal in Opa’s garden,” he said.  “Even though Johannes left it a tiny bit opened, they may be able to check on it.”

“In which case, they can open it again,” Johannes said, nodding.  His eyes widened and glanced over at Opa.  “It makes you wonder though: why did they open it in the first place?”

“Either to get a way to harm you kids or because, for some reason, they’re after me,” Opa said, frowning.  He nodded.  “If they were after me, for whatever reason, now they know you’re here.  Either way, you kids are in danger now.”

“Which is why I’m getting warnings to beware the dark ones,” Liesel said, nodding.  Opa was right.  Now that they had all the pieces, the whole thing was beginning to make more sense.

Frieda frowned.  “What do we do about it, though?” she asked, shaking her head.

Johannes set his hand over hers and gave her a weak smile.  “Tevas would say that forewarned is forearmed,” he said, his voice soft.  “We know that there’s danger.  That will make it harder to catch us off-guard.”

“Now,” Opa said, “we can start trying to figure out who opened a portal in my garden.”  He looked over at Konrad.  “Starting with the party tonight.  I don’t want to think that any of my friends is tainted by darkness, but… it’s not like just anyone can walk into my garden.”

“Right,” Konrad said, nodding.

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