Chapter 23 - Shawn, Tilly, and Gene
Shrealock held me tight and flew us over a plume of smoke in the forest.
“Make a pass and I’ll put out the flames.” I concentrated on the clouds and within minutes heavy rains drenched the canopy.
It was heaven to be free of my seeping evil magic. Shrealock skirted the trees, searching for our party. From out of nowhere four Nocteens joined us. They could not figure out who this young male was carrying me through the woods. Yet, they guided him to my alliance. Daylight was quickly fading and I could not believe so much had happened in one day.
“There!” I heard Devin shout. “I see her!”
I saw the giants when we passed through the trees. Everyone came close, forming a circle around us and Shrealock lowered me to the ground. Riley and Sir Edward ran up, both holding me tight as though sharing a treasure. Their smothering affection made me laugh until I noticed Shrealock standing a few yards away, smiling.
“Here, I have someone you should meet.” I broke from their embrace and walked over to him. “This is Shrealock.” Sir Edward nodded when I introduced him as the leader of the free-roamers and they shook hands. “And, this is King Riley.” Shrealock stood, gazing at my husband.
“Thank you for helping.” said Riley, holding out his hand. “We are in your debt.” Gradually Shrealock took his hand, shaking it while staring at Riley with awe.
“I have searched all my days to glimpse a protector.” Shrealock said. “I’m aware of your transformation. Yet I imagine this will be the closest I’ll get to actually meeting a protector. Even though you are of mortal flesh, you’re popular to mortals and immortal alike. I’m glad to be of service, King Riley of The Land.” He bowed low.
“What do you mean popular with immortals?” asked Riley.
“You shall see.” Shrealock replied then turned to Bahoyia. “And I assume you’re wondering how this happened, considering my age when you last saw me at Zureel. Thank you for your service Bahoyia, but I believe I can take care of myself for awhile.”
“H...how?” Bahoyia stuttered.
“By the magic of preservation, I presume. Quite a fluke actually. Come, I’ll tell you the story.” Shrealock eyed two females standing close and waved them over. “Join us.” He said and placed his arms around the women. His thoughts told me he would take advantage of his youth by flattering the females. He was not about to be the old man on the mountain anymore.
Now that our present task had been accomplished, it was time to return to and to the rest of our waiting party. We would not return to and decided to travel south around Miserlain territory. It would be long and the trek would be dry and rocky, but we would be safer.
That night I stayed up with close friends to explain my story: the threat of my powers, the swinging of the pendulum, visualizing my broken tube, the seed still buttoned in my pocket. They stared at the tiny seed between my fingers as it glowed in the firelight. Indeed, my captivated party believed the Scarlet Ribbon Tree to be a myth. People living today had never seen it, but Riley remembered. In his mind the tree had fallen from the greed of humans, animals, and insects just recently.
Once everyone left, Riley and I rested under the stars.
“Riley?” I asked. “Shrealock told me I should talk to you about our future and ask for guidance. He seems to think you have answers. Do you know what he means?”
“No, not really.” he said. His thoughts drew a blank.
“Tell me again why you saved me at Bear Ridge,” I pressed. “What did you see that made me different from the other humans you trailed? Why did you risk your life to save me?”
“Well, I actually followed you once you left your aunt’s castle. You were riding Sesha. I noticed that you read the thoughts of your horse, but didn’t actually speak with her. When you reached the lions I was sure you could speak to the big cats, but you didn’t. That’s when I decided to test your abilities. I came to you as the owl, curious to see if you would learn from my guidance.”
“I still don’t understand why you found me different from others.” I replied. “People like Sir Edward can read minds. Why did you risk everything to help me?” Riley must have forgotten something. After minutes of contemplation he continued.
“I think I remember!” he said enthusiastically. “It was at the Lion pit and I was looking over your shoulder, perched in a tree. It was hard to read your brother’s writing with my animal eyes, but I saw what he wrote. Don’t fight them. Help them. He told you to help the lions rather than fight them, so I watched you load dozens of fish into your skirt. It was very amusing.” I giggled and was embarrassed that he watched my awkward struggles.
“That was it.” He quietly continued as past thoughts flooded his mind. “No one else had ever looked for an alternative. The humans I had followed before resorted to fear and often lashed out against their prey or attackers. You were the first human to help the opposing party rather than kill. Although your first attempt did not work, it led to success. I could not let a unique individual die, and you needed my protection to stay alive.
“Perhaps you should trust your brother’s words once again. The protectors have no right to kill humans, but they fear the changing world. Maybe we should find a way to help the protectors just like the lions in the pit. It might be a better alternative than fighting.”
Riley made sense. I always knew we could never defeat the ghost-like protectors. We had attempted to inject them with their own potion while they still held a mortal form. So far the plan proved a failure. Riley thought we could scare them into stopping the plague, but the protectors were still killing us. Our other options were sparse at best. Helping them seemed a better alternative. But what could we offer them? Maybe if we offered the protectors a chance to learn about humans they would no longer fear us.
I curled into a ball, cradled by Riley, and thought for hours. As morning brightened I woke to find Sir Edward standing over me. He helped me up and handed me a long, light sword.
“What’s this?” I laughed while sure he was playing some type of joke.
“I spoke with your flying friend, Shrealock.” said Edward. “Before he flew away with his clan he told me what you needed most.”
“What? What do you mean?” I was confused. What did Shrealock tell him?
“He called it therapy. If you don’t fight, you might break again. I believe his words were, ‘She must release her pain.’ Now hold that up in front of you before you get hurt.” Edward swung his sword. I held the sword loosely and it flew from my grasp.
I began laughing hysterically. Me, fight with a sword? I did not even need a sword. Sir Edward walked over to the sword, picked it up and thrust the hilt at me.
“No,” I said, still laughing. “I don’t need therapy. Now take this thing and give it to someone who can use it.” I handed it back, but he did not take it so I jabbed the soft soil with its sharp steel blade. The sword jiggled back and forth in the dirt and I turned to walk away.
Suddenly, I hit the ground, pushed from behind.
“Get up and start again.” When I turned around Edward stood over me with his sword in my face. “Never turn your back on anyone with a sword, even someone you consider a friend!”
I had enough of this so-called therapy. I concentrated and instantly Edward’s sword turned bright orange. He cursed, throwing the burning blade to the ground.
“What if you had no powers? How would you get out of this?” He snatched me up from the ground and spun me around. His arm was around my neck. My anger began to rise with his action and without thinking I stomped on his foot.
I was ready to rush off in a huff when he let go, but before I could even take a breath my face hit the dirt again.
“What are you doing?” I cried. I spun around and noticed Devin standing over me this time. He was in cahoots with Sir Edward and Riley watched from behind.
“I’m sorry, my Queen,” said Devin standing over me while holding out his hand. “But we all need to take our medicine, no matter how foul it may taste.” This time Devin had his arm around my neck. Edward stood slowly, rubbing his foot.
“Let go!” I insisted. “Riley!” He shook his head and looked more worried than me.
“So, how will you get out of this one?” Sir Edward limped over and grabbed one of my flailing arms. My attempt at stomping on Devin’s foot did not work this time. My anger rose higher after being trapped and I acted instinctively. I swung my free arm around Devin’s head and tried to throw him over me. Instead, we both fell to the ground. At least I was free, and I snatched Edward’s hand as he held mine. With his hand firmly grasped, I grabbed him tight with both hands. My foot kicked up into his stomach and I threw him over my head.
“Umph, Argh,” Was all I heard as Edward landed on the ground behind me. I jumped up, spun around and braced for another attack. Devin was standing over a pile that must have been Sir Edward and started clapping. My breath was heavy and labored – I did not remember working so hard. Now that it was over, I felt good. Riley came up to me and asked if I was all right.
“What do you mean is she all right? What about me? Here I thought we’d use swords and she resorts to dirty fighting.” Sir Edward was clearly upset. “If this is what it takes to help out, I’ll be dead!”
“What are you all doing?” I asked.
“We were told that combat without magic would be the best way to keep your destructive side happy.” Devin spoke while brushing the leaves from his hair. “Shrealock said you needed to vent your energies or you may blow your top once again.”
“Such a way with words that man,” Edward cut in. “Or whatever he is. Sure like those women though. Never seen anything like that in my life.” I did not have to read Edward’s mind to know he was referring to the Nocteen women with four breasts.
“Well, thank you.” I said. “And sorry, Edward.” I grasped him by the hand to help him up. He flinched, afraid I would hurt him again. Instead, his badly burned hand and bruised foot were healed even before he stood.
“Now, you can’t go on hurting me and then healing me, thinking that’s just dandy.” Sir Edward said. He turned to pick up both swords on the ground. “It’s painful and besides, I’m too old to be doing battle with you young people.”
“All right, teach me then,” I said. I grabbed a sword from him. “Perhaps I’ll refrain from hurting you.” I held the sword tight and flashed Edward a sarcastic grin.
“Just you wait, little lady. Do battle with me and I’ll wipe that little sheepish smile smack off your royal face.” Edward laughed and swung his sword at me. He began telling me what to do with the weapon and how to move my feet. It was an hour before I realized I had not yet eaten breakfast.
From that day forward I practiced every day to learn how to rely on my physical prowess rather than solely on my mental magical abilities. The physical exertion left me calm afterward and helped to clear my mind. There was still more needed to help me maintain my balance, although for now I was headed in a positive direction.
On the first full moon during our travels back to Tonada, Riley leaned against an ancient tree while staring up at the whitish-blue moon. The tree’s leaves swayed in the breeze, its form silhouetted against the gleaming moonlight.
“It’s so bright.” I said, standing close to Riley.
“Many creatures will be wandering tonight. They don’t always rest well in brightness such as this.” Riley gazed up. His thoughts told me he traveled far at night when he was a protector.
“You miss it?”
Riley looked at me. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Being a protector. Do you miss it?”
“No.” he said, but I could tell he did miss it.
“You’re lying. You just thought of how you flew through the moonlit sky, blending in with many animals and studying them.”
“I’m not lying,” he insisted. “I’m just remembering. I don’t really miss being a protector, just the autonomy I had as one. It’s hard to describe. I had so much freedom to travel as a protector, though I was never really a part of anything. I just followed.
“When I saved you I gave up that freedom so I could to be a part of this world, to be part of your life. I pity the other protectors who travel alone the way I once did. Being mortal makes me feel alive because now I can die. Protectors will never truly be alive and they are too afraid of humankind to become involved. They would never believe my story of following you and becoming a mortal man, nor would they bother to entertain my words.”
“What makes you say that?” spoke a voice behind us. Riley quickly turned and blocked me from three people. They were naked and walking toward us.
“Protectors,” I whispered. My invisible shield surrounded us. “Don’t move, we’re safe.”
“Who are you?” asked Riley. They stood a few yards away and it was bright enough to see their features. The man who spoke was slightly taller than Riley with dark hair and behind him stood an elegant woman with lighter hair. To her side was a man larger in height and girth.
“I am Shawn and this is Tilly.” he stepped away and gestured toward the woman. She nodded to us. “And that’s Gene.” The protector nodded to us just like Tilly.
“But protectors don’t have names.” I said.
“I can’t breathe,” Riley whispered to me. My arms were squeezing him so tight he could barely speak.
“Sorry, I’m sorry.”
“Why have you to come here?” Riley asked. “What do you want?”
“We have come to talk to you,” said Shawn. “We heard from others that you survived the transformation. Is it true you have returned to chase the protectors who kill humankind?”
“It is.” said Riley. “Why do you take human form?”
This time it was Tilly who spoke. “To honor these humans who were taken by the others. We watched them for a long time but were never as bold as you to make contact. We noticed that these humans, Shawn and Tilly, acted much like you and the female standing behind you.”
“Oh, well this is…” Riley stepped to the side of me. “Crystal, Queen Crystal my wife.” I nodded to them. “And I’m now Riley. King Riley of The Land.”
“So you are mates?” asked Gene. “You are like Shawn and Tilly?”
“Yes, we are mates.” Riley said.
“Ah, then you can tell them how to act. They have been trying to figure out the mating of humankind for quite some time.” Riley and I looked at Gene and then at Shawn and Tilly. This was truly an awkward situation.
“Stop, Gene.” spoke Shawn. “We must explain why we have come. It’s not for mating rituals. Riley of The Land, we have come to ask for your help. Since you have chosen to pursue the protectors that had separated from us long ago, they have now returned. Many of us disapprove of their actions. Nevertheless, they find it necessary to kill any being that resembles human form. We do not condone the killing and it is interfering with our observation of humankind.”
“We wish you to speak with them.” said Tilly.
“Would they even listen to a banished protector?” asked Riley. They looked at each other and their glances did not appear hopeful.
“We don’t know,” Shawn finally admitted. “But you have become an icon for all protectors, a being who has traveled into a realm where we are afraid to go. You are admired by most and feared by others. We believe that if they allow you to speak, you might be able to restore our peace.”
“Please, show them the error of their ways.” Tilly pleaded. “We have traveled long to find you, to find the mortal protector who risked everything to help humankind. Can you find it in yourself to help us now?” Tilly almost seemed human.
“I must consult my Queen.” Riley glanced at me. “If it is to be, we would do this task together.”
“You are given until tomorrow’s light. Once the moon has been shrouded in the harvest glow, we will appear. We await your decision.” Riley nodded to them. They vanished, their green mists raced into the distance, and I gave a deep sigh. After dropping my shield I realized I had been holding my breath for quite some time.