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BRINGER of BALANCE - Book II of THE LAND series

By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 11 - Stranded

On the eve of my twenty-first birthday I stood on the bow of the lead ship. The salt mist sprayed my face and sparked a memory from my past. I was riding the giant swan, Taelen, to and dreamt of a dolphin racing alongside a ship while fierce waves splashed onto the deck. I had foreseen this moment, the moment humans would band together to confront the protectors.

“I see it!” Wolfe shouted from atop the mast. “It’s ahead, to the right.” His keen eyes had spotted the Protectors’ . Captain Drischoll swung the wheel clockwise while long, heavy sails pushed from astern, propelled by winds controlled with my magic.

After three months of travel, two by land and one by sea, the alliance had finally reached its destination. I could not believe the journey to the Protector’s Island had taken so long – I had traveled to the island in less than a day when riding the vultures from the east, but this second trip was a massive undertaking involving thousands of people.

“Scouts, stay together and remain in my clouds until close enough to view the island. Jonas, take the lead. Tell us what you see.” I signaled for the youngest of our alliance to leave the ship. “Stay with your group and be careful!”

Our fleet of twenty ships dropped sails and my young pupils flew into clouds with the giant swans, eagles, and condors from the east.

“I guess this is it.” Riley stood beside me and took my hand.

“No, actually it’s not. The battle does not begin here even though this is our immediate destination. I foresee that we have many more trials ahead of us and our future is closely linked to our past.” I sighed. “There’s still a long road ahead.”

Riley was relieved that our true battle with the protectors would be delayed, but we wanted our quest to end. We had enough of grueling journeys that kept us from our kingdom. After everything we had been through we yearned for peace.

After a long time waiting for our communicators, Riley pointed to the sky.

“Look!” he shouted. The birds dropped down from their cover and landed on the deck of the ship. A flurry of wings brushed our heads.

Jonas was now fourteen, the oldest of our animal telepaths, and he raced up to me.

“What did you see?” I asked.

“Some of us noticed a pod of whales along the west side.” Jonas panted. He caught his breath and continued. “We saw no birds above the clouds or below. We dropped at different times but saw nothing moving on the island. Everything looks clear.”

“Thank you, Jonas, and thank your friends for me,” I gestured to the numerous birds landing behind him.

“Where shall we dock?” Captain Drischoll grumbled. He had a permanent scowl on his wrinkled face.

“East side of the island, Captain. Leaders, telepaths, and healers will come ashore first. We need to investigate further before allowing the alliance to disembark.”

Once again I doubted my abilities, as I had done before other momentous events. Despite our triumphs and the brave support of my companions, my enormous responsibilities weighed heavy on my mind. How had I come to this place, this time?

Our long journey to the island gave me time to reflect on my life, which was not very beneficial because I kept grappling with a recurring thought: I do not belong in this world. Ever since leaving The Land I had cheated death, almost too many times to count, and I began to ponder my own existence. As time passed, the feeling that I should have died long ago had burrowed into my mind. It became my deepest fear.

As the last person from each dinghy stepped onto the beach, we followed in rows toward a towering mountain of rock. Eagerness and fear pulsed through our veins as the sight of the stone fortress loomed above us.

“This feels sickly familiar,” Riley said and his body trembled. Horrible thoughts invaded his mind as he recollected our prior meeting with the protectors.

“Telepaths!” I commanded. “Sound the alarm if you meet an animal or person with no thoughts. They can take the form of any one of us, and if you see a green mist, shout out right away. Stay together.”

Everyone waited silently, a chilling breeze swept by as Sir Edward pressed forward. The others took his lead and climbed toward the opening I had discovered on my second trip to the island. I used my magic to crumble the rock, creating an opening in the stone wall large enough for at least ten people to enter at one time.

“Lanterns. Torches.” People piled through the hole, and my magicians began igniting flames for those who entered the black abyss.

“Follow me. Stay close,” Riley said and led the way. He knew the fortress better than anyone else, and I heard his clicks bouncing off the stone. The shuffling of numerous feet almost masked his attempt at using echolocation to see the inside of the fortress.

A yellowish-orange glow flickered up dark walls as we trailed behind our King like a giant snake. Hours passed. We searched every nook of the interior, but we saw no sign of the protectors.

“Have you sensed anything?” I turned and asked Sir Edward while stepping over rubble.

“Nothing. The others have sensed rats and an occasional bat, though I haven’t sensed a living thing.” Edward raised his lamp and his expression showed concern. “Maybe they’re planning an attack similar to the one at Guesaviles when they infected you.”

I shook my head. “I don’t believe so,” I squeezed Sir Edward’s arm. “We’ll be all right here. My visions predict an attack somewhere, but not here. Not in darkness.”

We searched every corner of the fortress a second time until finally the group rested at the bottom of the chasm. I sat by Riley, beyond earshot of the others.

“Riley,” I whispered. “Where have they gone?”

For some time Riley sat silent, deep in thought. Then he leaned close, the warmth of his breath filled my ear. “They might have returned to the main Continent of Noore, although that seems unlikely. One thing I feel sure about: they’re not hiding here.”

“We’ll have to make a decision soon. Should we stay here or head back?” I asked. We had traveled too far to be left empty-handed. A part of me was relieved while another felt as though I had failed my alliance.

Riley appeared downcast. “I see no evidence that the protectors have left for Noore.” He sighed and continued. “They could be anywhere in the world and I don’t know how to find them, not as a human. Protectors have migrated many times on this planet. I even followed a group here long ago, leaving others on a distant continent.”

“No other ideas then?” He shook his head. We were at a loss. “Let’s go back to the ship and discuss this with the others. Maybe someone will have a useful idea.”

The discussion later that day led to no alternative plan except to scour the island. After a week of searching we finally gave up. Although deeply troubled by our unclear destination, I asked Captain Drischoll to set sail for the mainland early the next morning. I was sure the protector’s island had something to do with our future, and I was reluctant to leave. But I could find no reason to stay.

Riley stepped up behind me as I looked out over the sparkling waters. Dolphins raced alongside the front of the ship.

“They’re watching,” he said. “The protectors, as they had watched us before, injecting those two men with the potion.” I knew he was right but my mind was on something else.

Soon after setting out on our journey from Farmoore a man had been bitten by a snake and we wasted no time in trying Uncle Ally’s mix of Elderbee blood on the man. He was still alive when we left the City of the West, healers at his side along with our mix of healing blood. Another man had wandered to relieve himself in the woods close to the . He never saw what had injected him but had healed quicker with our antidote than the first man.

“What are you saying, Riley?”

“I’m saying the protectors are best at hiding and gathering information. They have a plan, . They have studied predators in the wild for ages. They’ll be ready to strike, sneaking up from the shadows when we least expect it. After watching our path, the protectors will strike when we’re most vulnerable.” I looked at Riley with worried eyes and he hugged me. “You’re cold,” he said softly. My uncertainty increased. Am I leading these people to their deaths? The protectors were such a mystery. I could not fathom their actions as my husband could and his words scared me.

I tried to take a nap while waves rocked the boat. Although I rarely slept while traveling by sea, I suffered nausea far less than most people. Sir Edward, our most hardened free-roamer, always looked queasy and stood on deck for most our travels on water. Hours passed while the ship creaked and a lantern hanging over my head swayed, lulling me to sleep.

“Aiee!” I heard a wretched scream echo from somewhere above. I jumped out of bed and headed to the top deck. Sir Edward lifted me up faster than I could climb.

“It’s one of the other ships. They’re under attack. We need those powers of yours!” he said, leading me to the ghastly scene. A whale had nearly capsized the ship next to us and a giant squid began to wrap its long, gelatinous arms around the back of it. People had fallen out, swimming helplessly in the rough ocean waters while dragon-like sea monsters bit into the sides of the ship.

“Scouts!” I shouted. “Pick up those people. We must rescue them.”

“It’s them,” said Riley, catching his breath after running up to me. “The protectors are attacking. I knew they would.”

“Cannons! Load’em quickly! I’m going to take us in close.” Captain Drischoll yelled to his crew. He turned the ship toward the one under attack. “Aim low, into the water! Maybe we’ll scare’em off.”

One of the whales came up to ram the side of the other ship. “Now!” roared the Captain. A group of us watched from deck as the cannons shot out, the sound was tremendous, and the water around the whale splashed. The huge mammal vanished and reappeared next to a nearby ship.

“This is impossible!” I said. “How can we fight them if they just disappear? Get Uncle Ally up here and all the archers on this ship.” I gestured to Sir Edward and Wolfe. “We need to test his potion on the protectors.”

“How can we inject them?” cried Riley. “They’re too big. The arrows might be fast enough to hit them before they transform, but we’ll run out of the potion!”

The other ship was being destroyed. I had to do something, so once again I relied on my magic to save us. The huge squid was pulling the ship under, but I concentrated. The ship gradually began to rise out of the water, the squid clinging to it, determined to sink its prey. At last, the entire ship levitated nearly fifty feet above the water.

Suddenly a jolt knocked me down. Screams came from every direction and a heavy, reptilian limb whipped over my head.

“They’re attacking us now!” shouted Sir Edward. The ship that I had levitated now barely floated, bobbling in the ocean. It was badly damaged.

“Archers, to the left,” Edward yelled. “Hit that whale headed for us. Quick, fill those arrowheads with the potion!” Uncle Ally stood on deck holding a large bowl of his very own potion that would hopefully make a protector mortal. The archers stood poised on the side of the ship, waiting for the whale to rise above the churning waters.

“This won’t work if the whale doesn’t surface.” Sae’ka shouted.

“Now!” Sir Edward cried once the shiny gray blubber became visible. Arrows raced toward the whale, but every arrow bounced off.

“Those are too small!” yelled the captain. “You need something larger.”

The entire ship was jolted by the whale’s impact. Then, the giant squid that had abandoned our sister ship wrapped its long arms around our ship, pulling us down. A pole hit Uncle Ally on the head and Ashelle crawled to him.

“He’s hurt!” she yelled to me.

“Ashelle, get below. Now!” I commanded although I knew she would not leave his side. Riley hacked at one of the squid’s tentacles with his sword. People began sliding off the deck. As the boat tilted onto its side Ashelle let out a frightful scream. I slid toward a massive black eye as the body of the squid lifted onto the ship.

I grabbed the mainmast and screamed. A huge beak protruded from the middle of the squid and it chomped wildly at the deck. “Help!” I screamed, paralyzed by fear. Wood cracked into huge chunks as the beak crushed the deck, coming closer toward my dangling feet.

“Hold on, !” Sir Edward tied a rope hastily around his waist, a huge spear in his grasp, and he swung by Uncle Ally who remarkably held the bowl of potion upright. Fortunately, the ceramic bowl was unbroken although I could not see its contents.

Like an acrobat, Edward snatched the bowl from Uncle Ally, spun around my post, and then tossed the potion directly at the squid’s beak.

“Take that you green ghost!” he shouted as he thrust the huge spear into the potion-smeared squid. A deafening screech came from the squid.

The potion must have splashed into its mouth, then entered its body once the spear pierced it. The injured creature did not transform into a green mist. It released the ship and flopped around the surface of the water, hopelessly trying to transform.

The ship slammed into the water and bobbed upright.

My body hit the deck hard. “Are you all right?” Sir Edward asked, gently lifting me.

“Yes,” I said, catching my breath. “Thank you. You’re really incredible. I owe you my life, again!” He smiled, embraced me and kissed my cheek.

“Come on,” he said, guiding me to the front of the ship. “Let’s see what we can do to save our alliance.”

Monstrous sea creatures attacked the remaining ships. I acted quickly. First, I lifted our ship from the water’s surface, hoping I could concentrate without being knocked over again. Next, I lifted each ship one by one from the water until the entire fleet hovered a hundred feet above the ocean.

“Riley, what do I do now?”

He stood by me in awe.

“I can’t levitate the entire fleet forever. Help me!”

“Can you move the ships through the air?”

I did not know. I tested my magic abilities and imagined air currents pushing the sails of our fleet. We seemed to gradually drift in the air while I held us in the sky.

“Yes,” I replied. “But I can’t hold us all the way to the coast. If I stop for a moment, I’ll probably lose my concentration. We can’t take another attack. We must go back to the island and figure out what to do. It’s our only option.”

Riley nodded. I noticed Ashelle sobbing when I turned to face our new direction. She was on her knees and Uncle Ally lay crumpled in front of her.

Riley ran to him. “Healers!” he yelled, and a group of talented healers rushed over to help. “Will he be all right?” Riley asked. They assured us he would survive even though his injuries were severe.

Birds from the east swooped down and rescued our shipmates who had been dumped overboard. My winds pushed the sails of our levitating fleet giving us a smooth ride. It took time and I had to concentrate throughout the night. At last, morning arrived and the island appeared along the horizon. I had to concentrate even harder to lower every ship onto the island. Five ships out of the fleet were almost completely destroyed, including our own, so we were stranded.

Something seemed familiar as I watched the sun rise, reflecting upon the water’s surface. It was a vision I had noticed several times in my dreams. “This looks familiar.” I said. Riley thought I was talking about our recent stay at the island. He did not know about my vision.

“Riley, what do you think the protectors are doing? Couldn’t they have killed us if they wanted?”

“Yes, they could’ve easily killed us.” He guided me below deck to rest. The interior of the ship was a wreck and Riley helped push items off my bunk.

“So why didn’t they kill us?” I lay down and Riley placed a damp cloth over my swollen eyes.

“Just a small number of protectors attacked us. They wanted to stop us from reaching other humans, which they’ve done. We’re stranded here. The protectors who attacked expect us to starve to death so that the knowledge we’ve gained about them will die along with us. They’re right, too. Our supplies will run out soon enough, especially the water, and no one will rescue us here.”

As I lay there I thought about everything that had happened. What would we do next? I had led my alliance to their doom, a slow and painful death, stranded on the protector’s island. The fortress would become our tomb and humankind would be wiped out. Green ghosts would take over the world, springing from the shadows, and the only knowledge of the protector menace was now trapped on the island.

I fell asleep. In my dream sunlight rested warmly on my face and the ground trembled beneath me.

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