At first, he thought the flash didn’t work and that they were still in the tow truck plummeting to the bottom of the bay. But there was no truck and they weren’t in salt water but fresh water. Max knew this because he sucked in a mouthful.
Trying his best to maintain his last lungful of air, he scissored his feet and swam to the surface. Santiago was already there, breathing heavily.
“You alright, boy?”
“Yea, I’ll be fine. Where are we?”
“I told you, Tourmaline,” Santiago’s voice repeated off of the walls and dissipated into the deep silence.
Max took a moment to take in their surroundings. They were in a large lake encircled by white beaches lit by glowing blue lights coming from the ceiling far, far above.
“Are we in a cave?”
“Yea, it’s about a thousand feet underground.”
His mouth dropped open in awe and a splash of water nearly choked him again. Coughing, he looked closer at the strange blue luminescence above. They were crystals, thousands of them and all various sizes, forming a dense web of intricate formations. How was this natural beauty possible?
“Come on, there’ll be time for gawking later.”
Max swam behind Santiago to the beach. It was eerie to know they were so far below the surface of the world, cut off from the living. Their breathing and splashing were the only noise in this pristine environment. Somehow, Max felt guilty for even making noise, like they were in a library. When they reached the beach they trudged through the bright sand a few feet from the shore before Santiago declared they stop to rest.
In low blue light, Max examined himself and then Santiago. They seemed to have survived the car chase unscathed. Santiago’s chest heaved up and down and a small whirring sound followed each exhale.
“What’s that sound?” Max asked, exasperated.
“My heart working.”
“Sounds weird like it’s machine.”
“How does it keep you alive?”
“Another story for another time, Max.”
“You promised you’d give me some answers,” Max began, harnessing his frustration, “now tell me everything. I don’t want anymore surprises.”
“Hah,” Santiago wheezed, “everything is going to be a surprise.”
“Where is Mia?”
“She’s a prisoner, held by the Reapers. My guess, they probably have her half way to Castle Kargen by now.”
“The Reapers, the guys the Tekagi work for, the guys who want you dead,” Santiago said, still panting. “A Reaper attacked you and your family with the sole purpose of capturing Mia and killing the rest of you, it would have succeeded had it not been for one of the Guardians stepping in.”
“Why my family? What does any of this stuff...” Max stammered gesturing toward the cave ceiling and above, “have to do with us?”
“Will never told you anything, did he?” Goosebumps spread across his skin and all the way up into the insides of his ears. His father’s name uttered from Santiago struck him hard. It added another pound of truth to the heavy reality he still couldn’t face--his parents were gone. “You aren’t from Earth.”
Max listened as the words played off the walls and slipped into the darkness. It’s as if his brain just took an electric jolt from a defibrillator. Not from Earth?
“You were born on Siros, what you call the Moon. You are a descendant of the Harlins, or as some cultures say, Star-people. Max, you and your family are sort of a big thing were I’m from.”
“Okay, so I’m an alien from the Moon--great.” Max quipped.
“Don’t look so confused boy. This is why I didn’t tell you earlier. It’s easier just to show you.”
“Then show me.”
Santiago smirked, a gesture that enhanced the lines around his eyes and cheeks. He sat up while drawing a hand to his metallic chest. He twisted a dial and a pressed a concealed button and a golden glow emanated from his front. Max watched as a hole appeared, deepening several inches into the old man’s thick chest directly into the space that a heart would normally occupy.
“I keep the most important things in here,” he began reaching into the hollow area delicately with his fingers, “such as this,” he said removing a metallic tube covered in a neon yellow goo. Strings of the gelatinous substance followed as Santiago brought it from his body. He gave the tube a shake, flinging globs of the substance everywhere. Max was simultaneously astonished and disgusted by the action. A familiar stench accosted his nose, the same stink that he encountered when he first met Santiago. He watched as his uncle twisted the tube, separating it down the middle, revealing a a dark brown cigar. “Ah, nothing like a Sculoro,” he said smelling the wrapping.
Max gave Santiago a sardonic stare. Sensing Max’s impatience, he put aside the cigar and reached back into his chest.
“Okay, okay. The other important thing I keep in here has been here since you were a chubby baby about 18 years ago,” his face contorted with concentration as his fingers worked inside him. Max couldn’t see much more than the glowing gold light, but he could hear machinery inside Santiago hum and click, much like a computer buzzing with electricity. “Got it,” he exclaimed and smirked.
The object Santiago withdrew, covered in yellow slime, looked similar to a wrist watch or a bracelet.
“Here, this belongs to you,” Santiago said, placing the item in Max’s hand.
Max brought the important thing closer to his eyes for inspection. It was, as he had thought, very much like a watch with bands that looked as if they could be fastened together. The material felt like rubber, but more flexible. At the center, where a clock face or digital display would normally be, Max discovered a peculiar crystal. It wasn’t bigger than a dime and so stayed within the confines of the thick band. Scrutinizing the centerpiece further, he saw movement. Something was alive inside the crystal, some sort of black swirl that rotated slowly. Whatever it was, Max was sure it wasn’t anything normal to Earth.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Probably the single most important thing that was ever entrusted to me. It’s called Arcon. It is the oldest of the Guardians.”
“What, you mean something like this saved me?”
“What you hold in your hand is a sort of, capsule or container,” he began searching for terms that Max could understand, “it is bound in that crystal, called a cinis, and the person wearing it can harness its power and control it, like a pilot controlling a machine. Whoever rescued you undoubtedly was wearing one of these.”
“Yes, Arcon is a Guardian, an ultra-terrestial, a being with incredible power.”
“I don’t get it. You’re saying in this little shiny rock there is a super-powerful creature and it can somehow be controlled whenever. You’re saying this is a Guardian?”
“Basically, yes. You see Max, you have to suspend your understanding of reality. You have to accept that there are other technologies and laws of science besides the ones you are familiar with on Earth. It may not seem significant, but thousands of lives have perished in pursuit of that little rock.”
Max surveyed the cinis again, watching closely as the dark swirl made its continuous cycle.
“Why are you giving it to me?”
“It was your father’s, now it is yours. Only someone from the Harlin descent can control it. It’s hard proof of your true identity. If you want more proof just wait here a little longer and the Tekagi will gladly take care of you.”
“How can they find us here?”
“There are only so many doorways to Siros, they’ll quickly figure it out if they haven’t already.”
“This is too weird. I still don’t get why they took Mia.” Max said shaking his head.
“Mia has a code they want. A code that unlocks a very dangerous gateway. If they get it, Siros is done for and then Earth will quickly follow,” Santiago’s demeanor changed from serious to dire, “this is the real-deal, life and death...save your sister, and save the worlds.”