Protect What Matters

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Chapter 1: The Horned Rabbit

I was only 10 years old when they started to train me. The class above and below me also started their training as it was about 10 years out before a successor was to be chosen. Joren always told me I had the heart and bravery to lead our people as the Protector. He told me that life wasn’t always like this, but before our time there was a better people who could cooperate and thrive without the boundaries that separate us all now. He said with power comes lust for more power and that only the pure souls can be the ones to bring the people together.

The strong sense of judgement instilled on me by my mother yearned to succeed Joren and be that pure soul that he so desperately hoped for. I had to give it my all to be able to take over this dream and bring everyone together. I didn’t know what the people outside the zone were like, but I assumed they were nice. I liked to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they didn’t have a good first impression. I always smiled, even when I wasn’t happy, as long as it made someone else feel better. Joren knew for a while that I would be the one to take his place, but kept that to himself. I decided to take my protector training more seriously and train at home as well. Mother told me that I needed to take more breaks but breaks were boring. I would lounge around doing nothing but swirl the energy around inside me eager to let it out again. The forest around the town was filled with endless adventures. Animals thrived in the boundary between zones and the closer you got to the Edge, the more animals you’d get to see. Big Bro Joren said that the lizards didn’t always have wings and that the deer didn’t always glow white like the mushrooms at the base of the trees. He said it had something to do with the shift in nature around a hundred and fifty years ago. That’s when the Protectors showed up. The elderly know some stories of the world before the shift but often refuse to tell the younger ones out of hope for different paths to be chosen. They say this was humanity’s way of a fresh start. On that particular day I decided to hunt down and catch a horned rabbit. I wanted to practice kicking off the trees to keep my momentum during the chase. I was the only one in my class who was fast enough to move through the trees like that. It would eventually be a huge advantage in battle.

I also wanted to spend more time with my friends. I feel like my classmates got further and further from me every year. I was definitely more invested in training than anything else. My grades weren’t the best but it wasn’t an issue for those who were interested in training to be hunters or succeed the Protector. Mother told me to cherish the time with my friends when I was young, you only get to be a kid once. I liked my friends but I felt like none of them thought the way I did. I can’t really tell what was different but I guess my head just works different from the rest of them.

I heard a rustling by a tree about 20 meters out. I stopped and closed my eyes to try and pinpoint the sound. The rustling made it sound like the animal was about the size of a rabbit. The horned rabbit was the fastest animal in the woods and today I was going to finally catch one. I readied my stance about to leap. I took four deep breaths, opened my eyes, and took off. The moment I took my first step, the horned rabbit appeared and took off. They can make sharp changes in direction at any moment so I had to be light on my toes. It swerved right and I followed kicking off the dense bark on the damp tree. I tailed it for another 10 meters slowly closing the gap before it took another sharp left. This time I used both feet to bounce off the closest tree swinging myself left towards a large branch that sprouted low, grabbing onto it to propel myself forward even quicker. The gap between us was about 5 meters now. I was close. The chase continued straight for another 50 meters towards the Edge. I knew I had to get to it before it got past the boundary. I had to close the gap and make a final jump for it. A small creek lay ahead of us. I could tell I would catch up to it right before as long as it didn’t swerve anymore. The heavy crack of a twig signaled my final effort to go straight for the horns. I dove hoping it would try turning left and as I flew over it I would grab its horn for the catch. As my body glided through the misty forest I readied my hands. For a split second the horns were in reach. Just as I was about to grab them, it made a sharp turn right bolting off into the mist leaving me sliding through the dirt with empty hands. I was frustrated. I had never been this close. If only I had decided to predict it going right, it would have finally happened. Would it have known though? Maybe the slight bias in my movements taking my body slightly left gave gave me away. I’ll never know, but it still frustrated me.

“Who are you?” came a voice from across the creek.

I nearly jumped at the sound of a voice this deep in the woods. I stopped and stared into the amber eyes of another boy about my age standing at the edge of the water. For a while we both stood completely still sizing each other up. I almost choked on my dry throat before the words came out.

“My name is Aerith. Who are you?” I asked somewhat politely.

“Are you an outsider?” he asked with a slight defensive tone.

“I’m not an outsider to me. Where are you from?”

He pointed behind him, opposite the town and said “The village.”

It hit me that he was most likely someone from another zone. I didn’t know if I should be scared, aggressive, or friendly. The elders always told us not to go near the Edge in case hunters from another zone were nearby. No one knew if they would be friendly due to circumstances from long ago. I remembered Joren telling me about how all 11 Protectors from each zone need to come together to fix our broken world. I thought that this was a perfect opportunity to start a relationship with another zone.

“I don’t bite, unless you bite first.” I said trying to keep a playful tone.

“What are you doing here?” he asked toning down his defensiveness.

“I was trying to catch a horned rabbit.”

“They’re faster than anything else in the forest, it’s a waste of time unless you trap it.”

“Well, I don’t know if you saw but I was pretty close there at the end.”

“I don’t think so.”

His tone kinda pissed me off. I figured it was probably best to let it go for now.

“How about next time, after I catch it, I’ll come back here and show you.”

“You won’t, so good luck.”

I loved a good challenge. If anything his snarky remark made me want to do it even more.

“Thanks! I’m gonna need the luck next time. What are you doing out here?”

“I don’t think I should be talking to you.”

“Rude. I give you my name and my reason for being out here, the least you could do is tell me your name.”

“Tairoh. I’m somewhat interested to see if you can actually catch the rabbit, even though I know you’ll fail. Meet here three days from now, rabbit in hand, no traps.”

“My people don’t use traps on animals. It's unfair.” I said realizing there was so much different between us than I initially thought.

“The world isn’t fair. The quicker you realize that, the better.” he said as he turned away slowly disappearing into the mist. I was always under the assumption that when two people from different zones met, a fight would break out. I was glad it wasn’t an adult that was there, I didn't realize how far out I had gone. As I head back, I noticed the scratches in the bark signifying the edge of our zone. I guess I had slightly gone past the Edge. Joren would kill me if he knew I went out this far. It’s not like anyone would ever know.

“Don’t act like you didn’t just totally disobey me and go past the Edge.”

I stopped in my tracks feeling even more scared than when I met a stranger from another zone.

“Joren! What a coincidence seeing you out here! Just enjoying the fresh air or are you out hunting?” I said trying to act cool and casual.

“You know I saw you, right?”

I panicked. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was in contact with people from outside our zone. Joren wouldn’t tell on me but I know how cautious he is about people outside the zone.

“I can explain…”

“How close were you to catching it.”

“I missed it by a hair. But—”

“Be careful when you’re out here this far. If someone from another zone were to see you, you could be in serious danger.”

A sigh of relief fell over me. Judging by that remark he was unaware of my interaction with Tairoh.

“I will! I’m sorry, next time I will be faster and I’ll get it before even getting close to the Edge, I promise!”

“I just want you to stay safe bud, I worry about you sometimes. Also don’t think you can pull something like that again with me out here, you know how Nature’s Vision works.”

Nature’s Vision was the gift given to our Protector. Joren was able to sense anything within a fifty meter radius of himself. He could feel the trees breathing. He sensed the changes in the wind as the leaves brushed their bark. He could see through the eyes of the animals as if they were his own. He could sense the animals instincts telling them the area was safe or if it was in danger. As long as there was life, he could feel it and give or take energy from the life around him. He didn’t take the energy from the nature around him too often because he said it would sometimes kill plants or small animals, but he could give the energy back most of the time, as long as it wasn’t too late.

“Come on bud, let’s head home.” he said as we headed back towards the town.

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