A brisk wind blew across the sloping valley, surrounded on both sides by tall, snowcapped peaks. The yellow sun shone down upon the tall green grasses, which rose up to a sky almost painful in its blueness, as the land itself was equally dazzling in its natural mountainous beauty. It could be a scene taken from the earliest prehistory of Scandinavia.
Set down in the heart of this valley was a large farmhouse, more like a lodge, built in the contemporary Scandinavian style, no ramshackle ancient affair but a comfortable modern dwelling that would not look out of place in contemporary Sweden or Norway, or anyone familiar with the novels of Steig Larrson.
Yet this valley and this home were not in Scandinavia nor anywhere remotely close to anywhere on Earth, for a million million miles.
Standing in front of this home was a blond-haired man of rather serious mien, dressed in a three-piece, colorless grey suit that seemed to match with the chillness of the weather and his blue eyes. The farmhouse's upper-story contained an outside balcony; upon it was a tall and slender woman, beautiful in a timeless, classic way, clad in blue, her blonde hair ruffled by the wind. They both intently watched a third person, a young boy, who appeared no older than perhaps 7 or 8 at most. He was also as pale and as blond as they, and would not have looked out of place at Eton or some other English boarding school which made children to appear much older and serious than they were.
The boy's attention was not focused on the adults, but on a suspended ball of brilliant crystalline light, which bobbed a few feet above his head. He stared at it intensely, and the ball seemed to sway and bob according to the boy's ability to maintain his concentration. It seemed that if the focus disappeared, the ball might fly off into the blue sky altogether.
Steel watched his child's progress in the lesson carefully. Every last detail in his education had to be prepared for the maximum output. There was not guarantee that they had enough Time before the next assignment. He had ensured that the child was kept on a steady track of training and correction, ever since he and Sapphire had arrived at the Sanctuary.
This was something that had become a bit of an issue between himself and his partner. Steel was only mollified by knowing that Sapphire also shared his urgency, that the child be prepared as best as he could be.
"Concentrate!" Steel demanded. "Focus all your energy on the center of the sphere."
The child did not reply, but the ball of light seemed to slow its periodic bobbing and swaying, and remain relatively still.
"Good. Now...raise it to a distance of 10 meters above and to your left."
The ball pulsated, then - very slowly - began to move. The child's pale blue eyes followed its every moment. It began to bob again, up and down.
"Focus! You must try to focus your mental energy so that you can control a physical object!"
The boy's brows furrowed, as he tried to follow his father's instructions. Yet the ball of light did not cease its movements. On the balcony, Sapphire observed her son more closely than the practice ball.
"Harder!" Steel shouted. "You must concentrate harder!"
The boy's small hands clenched at his side, and his eyes narrowed even more. The ball began slowing, then gradually moved higher and away, but started pulsating, and its color started to change, grow darker. Steel watched it gravely. "Keep your concentration on it, now you must-"
There was another sound, a very faint tinkling sound, as if of wind chimes. The distraction was enough, however. The ball flew wildly away, and then popped like a balloon with a loud bang.
"You've lost it!" Steel exclaimed. "Never let distractions affect you! You must-"
"That's enough for now," Sapphire had left the balcony, crossed over to Steel and her son, but the boy wouldn't look at her. He stared down at the ground, seemingly in a mix of disappointment and resentment. "William...go into the house. We'll review your lesson shortly."
"Sapphire, we hardly have the time to waste-" Steel protested, but Sapphire laid a restraining hand on his arm as the boy ran into the house.
"You're pushing him too hard. You can see he's trying."
Steel was almost angry. "He has to try harder! While we have the time to practice. We do not have time for any other distractions," Steel looked around. "What was that infernal noise?"
"We have a visitor. Come, let's go in." Sapphire turned and followed the boy back towards the lodge. Steel, having some resentments himself, followed her a moment later.
Within, the lodge-house was warm and bright, and comfortably appointed as if it were the country residence of a wealthy, professional human family. It took Sapphire and Steel only a moment to see that William, as soon as he had run in, had gone back to his principle pastime, his video games, similar to what any privileged human child would own in the early 21st century, totally ignoring the guest standing in the living room, who turned to Sapphire and beamed.
"Ah, Sapphire! So wonderful to see you again, and looking as beautiful as always."
Sapphire reciprocated with a warm, inviting smile. "Silver! Yes, it has been too long." She stepped forward and clasped his hands, which he squeezed. She noticed how relaxed he seemed from the last time she had seen him, and how different. He was wearing a darker suit than his usual one, almost a charcoal gray, and of a much more elegant cut. His full ginger hair was cut a bit shorter, and swept back gallantly from his forehead. He looked like a man who had received a promotion, which in a way he had.
Steel's attitude, however, was something that had stayed the same. "Silver," he said as mildly as he could. "Is there an urgent reason for your unannounced visit?"
"Hello Steel, well, I hope I wasn't interrupting anything-"
"In fact you were-"
"But I did want to drop in, it's been such a while, just a bit of catching up, you know, old friends and all that." He beamed again at Sapphire.
Steel stiffened ever so slightly, which Silver of course noticed. "We don't have time for useless talk," he grumbled. "We have important tasks to complete."
"And that reminds me! How is your boy?"
"He's doing very well," Sapphire said. "William, come here and greet our guest."
"So, you've finally given him a name! 'William,' eh? Like the Prince of Wales!" Silver chuckled, and turned to the child, who had come obediently over, staring emotionlessly at Silver. "William, come say hello to your Uncle Silver!"
The child only looked at him. "I have a present for you," Silver made a show of hiding his hands behind his back, pausing dramatically, and then brought out a large teddy bear to present to him. "It's a common present for human children, his name is Teddy!"
William took it carefully, turned it over in his hands. He tugged on its head, and it popped off with a puff of fur and stuffing. William blinked, looked at Silver wordlessly again, then at Sapphire.
"William," Sapphire said.
The boy looked at Silver, blinked again, then took his bear, both the head and the body, to the couch. He picked up the video game controller and his attention was diverted again.
"Hmm...fascinating child...does he, um, talk at all?" Silver wondered.
Sapphire shook her head thoughtfully. "He's never spoken."
"Doesn't this worry you?"
Steel dismissed his concerns. "He understands us. That's what matters. He's not a child to be wasting his time playing with toys and useless games."
Silver quickly glanced at Sapphire, noted the look in her eyes. "No," Silver agreed. "No, he's not. He's not a human child, of course, he's something else altogether, I'm well aware of that. However, I do suppose that it raises certain questions," Silver looked pointedly at Steel. "If you had been present at the council meeting, you could have heard some of them for yourself."
"So that's why you are here?" Steel crossed over to the couch and TV, firmly took the game away from the boy, who stared up at him in dismay. "William, go to your room now."
With obvious unhappiness, the boy took the two parts of his bear and did so, climbing up the stairs to the upper level of the house. Steel glared at Silver. "Sapphire and I don't have time for your 'council's' useless talk. We have extremely important tasks to complete, if we are going to face the Transients and their masters again."
"And when we do, isn't t best to face them as a united front, don't you think?" Silver realized he had to make Steel understand that he was not fighting this war all by himself. "You can't do that by yourself, or with Sapphire alone. Or with your boy William...by the way, the others want to meet him, you know."
Sapphire crossed her arms, and looked uncomfortable. "That...might not be safe."
"For who? You know they would never harm the boy."
"I meant for them," Sapphire replied. "William is used to you, but to the others? Remember when you saw him for the first time? He almost attacked you. That's why he has to be trained first."
"You agree with Steel on this?" Silver was startled.
"We are in complete agreement," Steel emphasized. "And we would appreciate it if we could be left alone to get on with our training!"
Silver sighed. This new job was much more difficult than he'd realized. "You can't hide out here forever. You'll have to come out eventually," he looked at both of them pointedly. "Or they will come here."
Steel was silent for a moment. "Just...give us some time, Silver. William is not ready yet."
"How will you know when he is?"
"How will we know if any of us are ready," Sapphire murmured, rubbing her arms. "There are so few of us left."
"Sapphire," Silver tried to reassure her. "We may be few, but we are still here, and that is why we must stick together."
"I know Silver," Steel said. "Please...we just need the time."
"Time is something we may not have much of," Silver said ominously. "There are reports that the Transients are active and on the move. Not far from where we last encountered them. Many of them. It could be another offensive. If it is-"
Steel nodded slowly. "We'll be ready."
"I hope so," Silver paused and pointed at Steel. "You know, Steel, I didn't approve of this plan of yours from the beginning, but, well, now that's in the past, and I've seen what William is capable of. The others haven't. You may have to convince them. I will do my best to convince them that what you did may be our salvation."
"Or...I will have no choice but to expel you from the Sanctuary."
"Silver!" Sapphire stared at him. "You wouldn't!"
"Sapphire, I will have no other choice! I don't want to do it, but the others are afraid. They are even talking of making peace with the Transients."
Steel clenched his fists. "That is foolishness. You may expel me, but Sapphire stays here."
"No!" Sapphire pleaded with Silver. "There must be a way you can prevent this!"
Silver shook his head grimly. "There is only one way. We triumph against the Transients. And if it comes to that...well...I'll be there with you too."
Steel considered this. "Silver. Find out where you think the Transients will strike again. We can pre-empt them perhaps. If we can show the others that there's still a chance...?"
"I'll do what I can. Silicon and Salt want to fight on...I will get back to you. Just see...what you can do with the boy. I'll be back as soon as you tell me you are ready."
Steel nodded. "Thank you, Silver."
Silver turned to Sapphire, but she wouldnt' look at him. He was distressed that he had upset her but he could do nothing about it. "Sapphire," he squeezed her shoulder, and departed.