Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved. Anselm of Canterbury
As Oracion was leaving the home of her estranged sister, the home where she sensed she was no longer welcome, where she had found not hospitality but the remains of an evil priest’s poisonous flowers in a window box, there was an instantaneous change in the atmosphere.
Though there was no apparent reason for it that Oracion could intuit, no breeze or wind shifting hair about her face, or tossing dark branches of trees across a moonlit sky, the temperature had plummetted suddenly, from sixty to about thirty degrees.
Oracion instinctively wrapped her cloak more tightly about her, and pulled its hood further down over her face not so much to disguise her appearance, for it was night anyway (and when traveling, she found night was best) but because it was so cold. It was also as if to shelter herself from something yet unknown, advancing behind her.
Indeed from somewhere behind Oracion, down the cobblestone alley through which she hurried like a silent vision to some and a disturbing nightmare to others, below many shuttered windows and many bolted doors, Oracion become aware of a possible second hurrying presence, although she had heard nothing audible.
Strangely, her companions Alacrity, Velocity and Joy had not become aware or alerted by the presence of a stranger behind them approaching stealthily, or if they had, they made no show of it.
In fact this evening her godmothers had cloaked themselves as a Great Dane, a German Shepherd and a mischievous frolicking alley cat, solely for Oracion’s pleasure and amusement. The first two now flanked her side, and the latter was casually distracted by a single, dry leaf tumbling rebelliously across well-swept cobblestones like the last laughing hold out against order, high society and sophistication.
This thought, this odd leafy analogy, passed through the back of Oracion’s mind so half hazardly (just like the leaf) she made a casual, mental note to examine it later when she wasn’t being stalked by a possible executioner.
Yes, it was a very strange night indeed, so unusually silent, motionless and now cold, but the canines continued to stride in undisturbed sleek formation right next to her, their soft velvet fur as unruffled and smooth on their backs and their necks as when Oracion first buried her face in it and kissed them as dogs a few hours previous.
The suddenly incarnated “dogs” had seemed to smile at her in return, in deep reciprocated love, devotion and obedience, but now their wide canine grins and lolling tongues seemed to express only idle amusement at their sister cat’s antics.
If they were undisturbed by the stalker, could it be because the mysterious stranger was not an enemy, but a friend?
She remembered the lessons Father had taught her as a child centuries ago, about the meaning of the weather, when Oracion had bent down to carefully place precious, tiny, pearl-like seeds into holes Father had dug in rich, chocolate brown earth with his well worn, much larger, and much stronger hands. Dropping temperatures and silence could mean many things, he had told her, but two she recalled now were someone imprisoned, or someone being sacrificed.
As Oracion halted and turned around to look she let her hood fall back, boldly exposing her easily identifiable pale face and features. She would not be afraid this evening.
And there he was.
He was a lone dichobot, not advancing upon Oracion and her animals aggressively, but looking rather startled himself. In fact the robotic dichobot looked frozen, frozen in the street – and frozen in time.
The smooth, heavy, all concealing body armor had revealed his presence to Oracion out of shadows when it reflected the moonlight and now he stood motionless, in the middle of the street facing her, uncertain whether or not he should move forward, approach or even if Oracion were friend, foe, or perhaps illusion.
Slowly he removed his mask, and when their eyes met and she read the sadness in those ancient eyes of yet another time, it almost moved Oracion to tears. But in another dimension, it would never have come to this. In one, they would have embraced, and in another, Trock and her would have valiantly fought side by side, and been willing to die for one another.
In another yet to come, perhaps they would.
Quickly, Oracion redrew the hood back down about her face and started running away from Trock as swiftly as she could, because having seen her, he would obey his vows he made to his master to kill Oracion, or be killed.
And if he tried to kill her, how could she obey her vow to her own father to help set Trock free, without hurting him in the process, while defending herself?
As all the possible scenarios and possible outcomes of this unfortunate meeting played themselves out in Oracion’s mind, as unexpectedly and randomly as a leaf – passing over sterilized cobblestone upon some mysterious air current – Oracion felt herself reaching for her sword just to make sure it was still there. Instead, she found herself grasping the coarser hair of horse’s mane as she herself was lifted high, and swiftly carried away from all danger, on the back of a giant destrier stallion, escorted by two noble canines that now barked excitedly at its side.