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BRINGER of BALANCE - Book II of THE LAND series

By smatusky All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 7 - Hope for the West

My grandmother came to Devin midday and asked to see Riley and me one last time. She knew that I did not want to spend any more time in her cursed home. My sights were set on leaving as quickly as possible.

“My Lady,” said Devin, rushing up to us while we packed the horses for our journey north. “Your grandmother would like to speak with you before we leave. She believes there is a way to lift the curse over the city. However, she says she’ll need your help.”

“Look at this place,” I said to Devin, tossing a blanket over Sesha’s back. “It’s completely desolate, and even if we did lift my great-grandfather’s curse, who would want to stay here and clean up this mess?”

“I would,” said Devin.

“Why would you be the least bit interested in the West?”

“I saw what your father did to the people of The Land. I was one of the men who suffered his curse, but thanks to you I’m here now. Your devotion to your kingdom has helped it to grow even when everything seemed hopeless. Because of you The Land is a home for many people once again. Sometimes there is hope when all else is lost, and you must start again and rebuild. We can rebuild what was lost here, including relationships. That’s worth doing, . We can combine our strengths for the sake of good people. It would make me proud to be like you, to take care of many lives and strive to protect them, especially now.”

“But no one lives here,” I protested.

“They’ll come back. I know people from all over will come. Once this place is free of its dreadful curse I’m sure it will be beautiful. It will be a great city where people can finally live in peace.”

I was surprised at how often the unexpected had colored our travels despite my ability to foresee the future. I had never expected to find my grandmother in the city, nor had I foreseen Devin’s wish to stay behind and rebuild a part of my past.

“You’re right,” I said, thoughtfully. “My hatred for this place and my family’s connection to it has caused me to turn a blind eye. I guess it’s the past that I fear most and I must face it. I agree, Devin. There is hope.” Devin had changed my mind about this place that had caused so much pain. I could not see anyone better suited to stay behind. But first we would have to lift the curse.

I found my grandmother in her room upstairs hunched over in a large cushioned chair. She looked feeble, though her presence was powerful. She motioned for me to sit across from her.

“Will you help?” she asked. I nodded and Rose explained what had to be done to lift her father’s curse on the City of the West. “I spent most of my elder years searching for something to stop this cruel weather, but it requires treacherous work. Many loyatees have died helping me. They do not reproduce like mortals so I can ask no more of them. I do believe you can help me though.”

I nodded. “All right, what needs to be done?”

“First, Sabastian Elderbee’s remains must be incinerated with the bodies that perished in the cells many years ago. If we do not do this, our efforts to lift the curse will be worthless. Once that is completed you must take the pure waters we’ve collected from the mountains of Noore Continent and disperse them into the atmosphere. I can extract the cleansing powers of the waters, but I could never release them into the wind. You can do it, . You can release the healing waters and cure this place!” My grandmother was hopeful for the first time in many years. I could not refuse.

“What waters are you talking about and how do you know they’ll work?”

“My loyatees traveled to the mountains of , Bear Ridge, , and . Many of them perished in the harsh terrain, but they too are suffering so they decided to dedicate their lives to help restore our home. I learned from my studies of magical objects that combining the pure waters gathered from these mountain glaciers will correct the impurities conjured up by my father. The ice from the glaciers has been collected in small canisters and brought here. They have been sealed and are waiting to be combined into this.”

My grandmother stood from her chair and walked over to a large porcelain pitcher behind her. The shiny white pitcher had images of royal blue mountains encircling its center. “We’ll use this to combine them,” she said.

“All right,” I stood up before continuing. “I’ll have my men exhume Sabastian’s remains. We’ll start at once.” Though I could not read my grandmother’s thoughts, her emotions emanated gratitude, and I left her to prepare.

We started right away, tying a rope around the heavy marble lid covering the tomb of my great-grandfather. With two horses pulling the rope and Gullane pushing against the lid, the ornate slab slid off and crashed onto the ground, breaking into two pieces. It was at that moment the loyatees left their protective cover to investigate our actions.

They were the size of children, most of them looked about six or seven years old, though we knew they were immortal. They must have watched Rose and came to her when she was their size, not realizing she would grow into a giant. Their faces were smooth like those of children, but they also had uniformly round features and unblemished skin, giving the loyatees an appearance of being simultaneously ageless and otherworldly. Bright amber eyes gleamed like jewels from their soft, mystical faces.

The loyatees wore dark green tunics tied with leather cords. The garments covered them poorly, although the freezing temperature did not seem to bother them. I could not distinguish male from female or if they had different sexes. They all had coarse shoulder-length brown hair that sparkled in the firelight. They resembled wild children with dirt smudged faces, and they wore leather shoes caked with city dust.

Gullane turned to the little people and must have looked terribly imposing. Even for fellow humans he was massive, but for the loyatees Gullane was colossal.

“Hello. I’m Gullane.” He spoke in his deep voice, addressing the little people. There was a moment of silence and the loyatees froze in place, staring at the giant. Then they screamed. Their unison shrill made us jump involuntary, and we watched them run into the shadows. Without doubt, they were not used to visitors. Gullane shook his head, puzzled. Then he looked to us for answers and everyone laughed at our befuddled giant.

Riley shrugged and we turned back to the task at hand. We were more than happy to help clean up this place and dispose of the decaying bodies in the cells. I was certain that the souls of the people had been trapped here by my great-grandfather’s magic – it was time for them to leave. Soon the loyatees came out again, creeping slowly from their hiding place like curious animals, and this time they were ready to help. We had found torches and I began lighting them with my magic. A loyatee came toward me, stepping carefully while holding an unlit torch. My senses told me it was a female, though there was no visible way to tell. From her dirty face, sparkling eyes flashed like those of a fox or wolf. I knelt down and concentrated on the tip of her torch. Flames began to rise. From across the flames her expression changed to astonishment. She offered me a huge smile then ran toward the others.

Our small group of humans followed the loyatees to the dungeons where we burned all the bodies. Soon the wretched stench of burning flesh filled every building in the city. We decided to stay another night before trying to dispel my great-grandfather’s curse and hoped that the bodies and the smell would be gone by morning. Staying would also give us time to learn about the little people living here.

Now that they sensed no threat from us, the loyatees were kind and accommodating, bringing us food and water. They also began to show their curiosity. One loyatee walked up to Gullane when he sat down to eat and spoke to him in a squeaky, high-pitched voice.

“What is that?” the ancient being asked while pointing to the tattoo on Gullane’s head.

Gullane patiently explained the meaning of the mark in his culture, as he had to us.

“You are Rose?” another loyatee asked me.

“No, Rose is my Grandmother. We look very similar, or at least Rose looked like me when she was younger.”

“So, you are younger Rose?”

“No, I’m . I’m not Rose at all.”

There were no young loyatees, so when I asked about children I noticed a blank stare. These immortals did not really understand children becoming adults. Like the protectors they would not age and did not reproduce, but unlike the protectors their bodies could become injured and perish.

“Where did your people come from?” I asked

“Why here, of course,” And the loyatee gestured around the room.

“What do you mean here?”

“Underground. We are from here, under the city.” He touched my hair while staring intensely at me, “You are Rose, younger,” he said then ran off to ask the rest of our party a multitude of questions.

Our lives were so different from theirs, but we shared a common goal. Both humans and loyatees wanted their homes to be safe. It would be up to me and my grandmother to reverse Sabastian Elderbee’s terrible spell.

The next day our party checked the cells. We decided to perform the lifting of the curse that day since all the bodies were thoroughly burned. We waited until late that afternoon to disburse the purifying waters. That was my problem. Only I would be able to lift the water high into the harsh sky above us and somehow release it into the atmosphere.

“The waters must be released at one time,” Grandmother Rose instructed. “High above the churning winds. Brace the pitcher while lifting it slowly above the clouds and do not let any liquid spill, or we risk contaminating the water. Then you have to destroy pitcher in one swoop, allowing the cleansing waters to spread rapidly over Grandfather’s curse.”

We would need help from someone in our party to break the pitcher while I kept the magical container in place. We needed a person with just the right talent.

The chill air howled as it did every day in the city but that afternoon seemed especially loud. I could sense the souls of the burned bodies had been trapped in the atmosphere and were screaming for us to set them free. Our entire group went outside into the foul, swirling dust, led by my grandmother. The loyatees followed Rose as though she were their queen. My alliance followed close behind, huddled together and bundled in as many clothes as possible. Rose led us to a circular marble table in the center of the city. We could barely stand up with the strong winds swirling about and shielded our eyes the best we could from the sand and flying debris.

“Riecka del anio. Es Ulaa. La ney musticia es ta maorientaion.” My grandmother shouted in the ancient sorceress language though her words were merely a whisper in the dust storm. She motioned for Gullane and he walked forward and placed the pitcher on the marble table. As soon as he put it down, our hearts raced as the wind almost swept it off. Gullane caught it and I trapped it in place with my power. I looked at him and nodded. With some hesitation he stepped back and joined the others huddled around the table. My grandmother and I stood across from each other: two women who were so alike, yet different in their interpretation of the world.

It was difficult to hold the pitcher of water in place while being pushed by the wind and I suspected that I struggled against more than wind.

“Es tonwh wenah. Leytoola!” My grandmother cried with all her might while raising both her arms forcefully toward the turbulent sky. That was my cue to raise the pitcher so I concentrated on holding the vessel steady while elevating it slowly into the air. The higher it rose, the harsher the winds blew, and everyone strained to see the pitcher in the whirl of dust. I shouted for George to get his slingshot ready, and I levitated the pitcher until it was almost out of sight.

“Now!” I shouted and the small stone shot through the air. But the winds took it in another direction.

“It’s too light. The wind blew it away!” shouted George.

“Again! Do it.” I said, straining to keep the water in the pitcher.

“Use a bigger rock this time,” Devin shouted to George. George pulled out a larger stone and eyed the basin while pulling back hard on the slingshot. It popped back and the stone flew through the air and it slowed down, hitting the basin with only enough force to tap it. I worried that I would not be able to keep the container suspended if I lost sight of it.

“George,” I yelled. “Do it again. Get the largest stone you can find!”

“But it won’t make it. A big rock will slow down.”

“I’ll help. Do it again and get the largest one. Quick, I mustn’t lose sight!”

While George dug into his pack seconds seemed like minutes. I saw him from the corner of my eye and felt his tension when he pulled back on the slingshot. Just as he released the stone I focused my power to push it harder toward the target. I threw my hand into the air as though throwing the stone at the pitcher. I used all my force and the stone smashed against the pitcher, breaking it into numerous shards of porcelain that became part of the whirling atmosphere above us. The cleansing waters turned to a white mist that hovered atop the poisoned atmosphere.

I heard cheers from everyone and we all sighed with relief, although our troubles were greater than we had anticipated. Something was trying to contain the waters and push them downward. As the air above us cleared from the purifying waters, a powerful force knocked my grandmother and me to the ground.

“You will not take this place,” grumbled an unearthly voice from the sky. I could see a face in the turbulent clouds above us. My grandmother was terrified. But I felt as much rage and anger as the voice above us. I remembered the boney features of my great-grandfather Sabastian from the memory stone and his image stared down at me, so I stood up to face him.

“You will leave us now!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. He was trying to push the purifying waters back to the ground so they could not dispel his curse. However, I had enough clear air around me to fight, and fight Sabastian I would.

The hatred I harbored for this image staring down at me caused my own power to pulse fast and furious within me. He reached out from the clouds to strike us down again, but I was too quick and the sky above opened wide. I formed clouds faster than I had ever done in The Land and the winds swirled, making a funnel that carried the purifying waters into the air above the debris.

I landed on my back a second time, knocked down by Sabastian’s hand of wind, but the funnel had already shot straight through the opening. The waters spread out over the city, above the cloud of evil, and the murky atmosphere began to clear. The howling voices faded and the malice that was once the spirit of my great-grandfather melted before our eyes. It began to rain over the entire town and the sand that had thrashed the buildings for decades washed away, scouring the curse that had plagued the city.

I helped my grandmother up from the ground. She stared at me with fear looming in her glossy, tired eyes, but as the rain touched our faces everyone began to laugh and yell. Elated, we ran through the town embracing, and we lifted joyous loyatees into the air as though playing with our own children. The curse was over after many years and this strange city that I had been eager to walk away from changed before our eyes. Colors returned to the stone and marble walls, and the air warmed around us.

We stayed in the city that night and it seemed a completely different place. I knew that Devin was grateful for my efforts to resurrect the Central City, and at last my grandmother fully understood my struggles with the powers I possessed. She had followed much of my life through the memory stone, but that day she saw firsthand what fears came with my most powerful gifts. Once the others had turned in, I sat down with her in her room

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Rose said. She did not look directly into my eyes nor did she appear comfortable. I could sense her emotions just as I did the protectors. She was uncertain.

“Are you all right?” I asked. She stood and walked to the window.

“Yes, but I was scared.”

“I was also until I saw him. Then I became angry from his selfish desire to keep the city a desolate place.”

“I know. It was your anger that frightened me,” she said as she turned to look at me. “Not my father’s. I never knew before how much of Father you carry within you.”

I lowered my head, extremely uneasy that I had exposed a part of myself I did not wish to have.

“You understand why it is so hard for me to stay here, don’t you?” I said. “This place haunts me, reminds me of what I can do if my own anger takes control.”

She nodded. “Yes, but I’m also grateful you stayed to help, and I know that if it were not for the evil of our family you would not have lifted the curse. I cannot imagine what you must go through every day with such conflicting good and evil inside you.”

“I try to see my power for what it is – a balance that must be maintained or others may suffer for my lack of responsibility. I have also learned that magic cannot compare to the love and devotion of friends…and family. I’ll never let them down, or allow anyone to hurt them, especially the protectors.”

“You’re right,” she said. “Unfortunately my father never believed that family or friends were more important than magic. Even though you have great power, it is your love for humanity that rules your will and the love for your King.” She smiled at my expression of surprise. “That’s right, I know all about your King. What he was and has now become. When I see him I think about my time in the east woods when Orielle kept following me. He was stubborn and would not leave me alone. I can see it in his eyes you know. He’ll do anything for you, just as your friends would. You are more powerful than anyone I’ve known, but you’re also loved by scores of people and that has nothing to do with magic. Such love is found only in the trust and respect you earn by how you use your powers. will be your first example of that. It will take time, but they will come to see you as you are.”

“Thank you.” I paused. “Will you ever leave this place?”

“No,” she plainly stated. “This is my home and I will not leave. There is nothing more for me to see anyway and besides, I’m too old.”

Grandmother Rose and I talked long into the night about past, present, and future events. We shared more that single night than we had during my entire time in the city.

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