The Final Rescue

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Chapter Two

Half-way around the globe, Fale and her friends were on the island of Everligne in a giant cavern filled with blue orbs of light. They remained standing at Lisle’s grave.

Fale couldn’t believe—even after everything Izzy had done to hurt her—that she would actually try to kill her. But Lisle’s sacrifice brought out a side of Izzy that no one knew existed. She’d succeeded in stabbing right through Fale’s arm. She squeezed the bandage Keron wrapped around her bicep, feeling some relief from the pressure.

None of them would have ever guessed that the key meant to start the machine, would in fact, turn it off. She looked up at the huge tarragon behind her. She’d never have guessed the machine would have turned out to be a biomechanical animal. What good were her powers, if she couldn’t save the tarragon herself? When they discovered it must be restarted by the transfer of another life the queen treasured, Lisle knew the sacrifice was his. She wondered if he was in there now?

At the waking of the monstrous metal creature, Fale began to cry in relief. Keron didn’t know how to ease her pain. No one could bring Lisle back, the only thing they could do was move forward. She had to speak to the tarragon.

“Fale?” Keron put an arm around her shoulders. “You need to ask the tarragon if it will help us.”

She looked up at the great beast covered in silver plates that shifted as it moved. The scales spread as it inhaled like a balloon, and slid closer together when it exhaled like bellows. It was an amazing machine, alive and yet mechanical.

When its chest panel popped open to expose the beast’s golden heart, a parchment drifted to the floor with instructions on how to give it life once again. The parchment had called the tarragon “Argyntus,” which she thought was a fitting epithet. Her legs shook as she craned her neck up to see its massive head swinging around to judge the situation. She didn’t know the difference between a huge winged reptile and a tarragon, but she wasn’t sure there was one. It was like nothing they’d ever seen before. Not even in studies. It was the biggest animal in the world, in her mind. Massive wings, though folded, touched the cavern ceiling, showering her with pebbles.

She covered her eyes and stepped forward in trepidation. Though she could hear the animal telepathically, she spoke aloud in Tarra Song, the language of reptiles, “Hello? We have come a long way to find you; we need you to help us open a dimension to Garrith to rescue the people trapped there. Can you do that? Do you know where it is?”

“Mother?” She understood the thick accent as the animal cocked its head. “Is that you? You’ve changed.”

She stood in shock. Of all the scenarios she had anticipated, this was not on the list. Technically she, as Queen Effailya, created the tarragon as her child, but that was lifetimes ago. Could the ancient tarragon recognize her in a new body? “Hello Argyntus. Um, I guess it’s me, but I’ve changed, and I don’t have all my memories,” she said in the language of reptiles.

“It’s okay. I’d recognize your magic anywhere. You said you’d come back for me.” If a tarragon could smile, that’s what it looked like with eyebrows raised and tongue out like a dog. “And you’ve always called me Argy. I like that best.”

“Can you help us, Argy?” she asked.

“Indubitably,” he answered, and Fale heard the echo of Lisle’s voice. Tears gathered in her eyes and she reached up to touch the scales, imagining Lisle in there somewhere.

“Is that my father?” the tarragon asked. “I will help you and him. But the other lady is dangerous.”

“He is not your father … yet.” Fale sighed. “And you don’t have to help Izzy, but she’s not really dangerous.”

“She’s not? She cut you.”

“Izzy’s only angry from love and fear, she doesn’t understand why what she does is wrong,” she said. “She’s traumatized.”

“Can you teach her?”

“I can’t, but maybe someone on the island can,” she replied.

“What’s it saying?” Keron nudged her with his shoulder.

“He thinks I’m his mother,” Fale said and introduced Keron and Argy to each other.

“What do I call him?” Argy asked.

“Just call him Keron for now,” she said. And to Keron, “Let’s get ready to fly our stuff down to the beach.”

“You can’t just leave me here,” Izzy yelled from her place against the wall.

“You tried to kill me,” Fale said, nonplussed.

“The mules will carry the packs for you Izzy, and we’ll leave the food and supplies. It’ll take you three days or less to get back, and we’ll send someone after you,” Keron said.

“I guess I can stay awhile with Lisle.” She sniffed. Fale gripped the beads on Lisle’s necklace hanging around her own neck. Part of her wished that Izzy would challenge her for it. She still had adrenaline left over in her blood.

“Argy, we need to get our bags from the camp,” Fale said, shaking herself out of the pain and preparing for the next leg of their journey. Now, the fight would really start. Leaving Izzy and Lisle behind, Argy carried Fale, Keron and Argy’s armor out of the cave, to the campsite. She didn’t know how, but she’d win this war. She had to. She was already down two men—already losing.

~*~

Fale and Keron packed their duffels and threw them outside the tent. “Should we take the tent and the bedrolls, just in case?” Fale asked.

“Might not be a bad idea,” Keron said. “At least we can return them to the mountain mages when we get home.”

“I need to get something of Lisle’s. I’ll be right back.” Fale disappeared into Lisle and Izzy’s tent and returned with his spell book. Lisle had called it his Grimoire.

“Why do you need that?” Keron asked.

“Lisle and I were working on a spell … and because it was Lisle’s.” She shrugged and hugged the book to her chest. The tarragon cocked his head at her loving gesture. She motioned with her hand and Argy lay down. Using the handholds in the machine’s side, she climbed up onto Argy’s back to the ruby saddles. Keron handed her the bags, then they tied them on. There was a perfect place behind the saddles, in between spikes on Argy’s back, that made a shelf with hooks to tie down and knot the rope.

“Can you fly us down to the beach, where our boat is?” Fale asked Argy. “We need to talk to the sage before we can leave.”

“Yes,” he said.

Keron reached up to grip the handles and ascended the tarragon, sitting in the second saddle.

Argyntus rose unsteadily into the air with several flaps of his immense wings and flew majestically on the ocean wind, Fale could taste salt in the clouds. He pumped his wings and they dipped, before bursting forward with immense power and speed. Fale threw her head back and laughed as Argy passed easily over the mountain they had climbed the entire first day, circling downward and coasting to the beach with grace, flapping his wings to land. The island people of Everligne came running from their homes and work to see Argy and crowded around him, touching his legs and tail.

The sage met them, too.

“Did you tie the mules?” he smiled. “We will send someone for them.”

“Izzy will be bringing them down,” Fale said somberly.

At Udalrazak’s puzzled expression, Keron explained, “The tarragon required a sacrifice.”

“The young man,” the sage guessed.

“Yes, and Izzy tried to kill Fale,” Keron said. “The animal wouldn’t bring her down.”

“Tarragons are fiercely loyal,” said Udalrazak.

“You know what he is.” Fale’s anger flared.

“So should your sage, when she sees him.”

“But why did no one know what the machine was?” Fale asked.

“Real tarragons have been long extinct for more moons than some rivers live.” The old sage had spread his hands up to the sky in dramatic fashion and stopped to grin at Fale with a twinkle in his eye.

She blew the hair out of her face and crossed her arms, unimpressed.

He continued, smiling, “When Effailya made this tarragon, no layperson would know what it was, only someone with old books on magic. The same would go for today. Only Grand Sages, Bone Sorcerers, Source Wizards, and such, would have access to records of magical beasts that old,” Udalrazak said.

“Interesting.” Keron squinted an eye, and Fale’s eyes misted over thinking of Lisle and how often that was his response.

“Will you fly back or sail?” Udalrazak asked. “It is a long journey for the tarragon.”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” said Keron.

“I’ll ask,” said Fale, switching languages. “Argy, do you want to sail back to Algea on the ship, or fly? It will take us twenty-five days to sail. There are only a few islands to land on between here and there and I don’t know another way. I guess we could try to teleport there.”

“My wings aren’t very strong yet. I need some practice to strengthen my muscles, especially if I’m needed to fly in a rescue,” he said.

“It’s very possible you will be needed for a rescue, and for a fight,” she said to Argy. To Keron she said, “He needs the flight practice, but not so far. Should we take the ship and let Argy fly over the ocean and land on the deck while we travel?”

“Let’s ask the captain what he thinks,” said Keron.

Captain Kit, although terrified of Argy upon first meeting him, was amenable and agreed to the idea. So Keron, Fale and Argy boarded the Santavina and set sail for home. Fale gripped the railing and waved goodbye to the round-faced children; and to aged Sage Udalrazak and his wife, Jesselsyn. She would miss the faces she had met on this journey, most of all the people she had left behind. Fale had expressed her concern to Udalrazak.

“You will grow from each person you have learned from,” he said.

“I guess,” she admitted. “It’s just so hard on my heart.”

“It is good to keep a pliable heart with some callouses on the outside. The thickness protects us from being so easily hurt the next time, and the soft inside helps us to remain kind.”

“Take care of Izzy for me. There is so much she needs to experience about love and kindness. Lessons that she won’t get in Algea.” Fale took his wrinkled hand in both of hers.

“She will change here, or she will fester until she rots inside,” he said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

“She is not yours to worry about. Just like yesterday and tomorrow are not yours to worry about, you must focus on yourself, focus on today.” He patted her hand and they let go.

“You’re right.”

“Of course.” He grinned at her.

“What if she ever wants to leave Everligne? Are there other islands with people on them on this side of the globe?” Fale asked, genuinely interested.

“Why wouldn’t there be?” the sage asked with a wink.

“Well, twenty-five days back again,” Keron’s voice brought Fale back to the present. She left her thoughts with the waves and pushed away from the railing, walking over to sit in a deck chair.

Once back on the freighter, the first thing she did was take a hot shower. After all the camping, she had learned to really appreciate the amenities. Just the memory of their time on the boat with Lisle and Izzy was painful, though. Swimming in the saltwater pool, eating in the dining galley, working out in the weight room and doing laundry, they’d had some fun together. Things would be different this time. She’d lost what childhood she had left. Now it was time to face the future.

“Yes,” she said, inhaling. “Twenty-five days to prepare for the biggest fight of my life. Twenty-five days until I must have a plan to defeat Gasten. My mind is so full. I just need a break.” She held her head.

“Would you like me to get your book for you?” he asked.

“Please,” she said. “I think I’ll read until dinner. I feel so useless on this boat. I want the plan to move faster. I want to know I’m strong enough for this battle.”

“Relax. Enjoy this trip. Recuperate from the drama. We have plenty of time to train.” He kissed the top of her head and moved toward the doors to the hallway. Fale pulled up her feet and hugged her knees while the tarragon sat on top of the shipping containers on the deck behind her, watching her.

“Mother?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” she replied, letting the ship rock her back and forth.

“Why are you so sad?”

“I miss my friend,” she said vaguely, not knowing how much Argy understood about his animation.

“What happened to them? Did they go away?” he asked.

“He died, Argy. Do you understand death?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s when your parts stop, and they won’t restart.”

“Something like that.”

“Was your friend in the cave?” he asked.

“Yes.” She looked out at the sea through the railing and watched the horizon move up and down.

“Did the wicked lady kill him, too?” Argy asked.

“No, Argy, he gave his own life to save a lot of people. He’s a hero.” A tear slid down her face.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of people in the cave.”

“Argy, you are the only one who can get to Garrith. You will save a lot of people soon, and your heart stopped,” she told him. “When I didn’t know how to wake you up, I used the key, and it turned off your heart.”

“Did he die for me?” he asked.

“Yes.” She hugged her knees tighter, but gave Argy a watery smile to show him that she didn’t blame him.

Argy cocked his head. Fale could tell from the thoughts she heard in her head that he felt emotional about her reaction, but his mind was twisted with confusion.

Keron brought out Fale’s book and looked at her face but didn’t say anything. They both knew that if she wanted to talk, she would. She appreciated him letting her think on her own, sitting next to her and opening his book, silently lending his support. He put his arm around the back of Fale’s chair.

“Mother?” the tarragon called quietly, but she heard it.

“Yes, Argy?” Fale answered.

“I’m sorry about your friend. Someone should have told you that you only had to whistle our tune to wake me.” The tarragon sang a five-note tune that Fale recognized as a childhood lullaby her father had taught her. She’d hummed it all her life. But how could she have known it was in preparation for this journey? The irony of it choked her. Emotions so strong that they were nearly corporeal, squeezed like hands around her throat. She wanted to disbelieve him, but she knew it was the truth. If she’d listened and remembered, or if her father had lived, she would have known to whistle and wake Argy instead of using that damned key.

And Lisle would be alive.

The pain speared through her chest. It hurt so much. Fale couldn’t handle it. She broke down into gut wrenching sobs, letting the pain pound against her heart. Her chest expanding, growing in pressure, she doubled over and rocked in her chair.

Keron looked at Argy with a questioning glance. “What did he say?”

“Did I say something bad, Mother?”

“N-hic-no, Argy, I’m just … very sad,” she told him in song, it was easier than speaking to Keron.

“Talk to me, Sprout. I can’t help if you shut me out,” Keron pleaded. “Don’t let anything come between us again.”

She tried to tell him, she wanted to, but the more she said, the more she felt like a murderer. “I never had to use the key, all I had to do was whistle a tune that I learned when I was little to wake him up…” Her voice caught on the word.

“Oh Fale. Baby, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know. None of us did,” Keron said.

“I should have,” she replied. “I didn’t even try it.”

“You tried everything we could think of.” Keron put his arms around her, but she just sat there, unresponsive to him and crying.

~*~

During the first week at sea, Fale existed in a fog. She ate very little of the tasteless food, talked to no one, pretended to read her book, stared out at the ocean, took long naps, and floated in the pool. By day she followed Keron around and lay passively in his arms at night. The biggest difference between the trips to and from Everligne, however, was that Fale began to have memories of Effailya’s life.

Keron his gathered clothing while she sat on the bed watching him.

“I know this is going to be a problem and I’ve put it off, but I really need to do laundry,” Keron said. “I know that was our thing with Lisle and Izzy. Do you want to come with me, or do you want to sit on the deck?” He didn’t really expect an answer, just a shrug of Fale’s shoulders and a shuffle of her feet as she left, but this time she stayed.

“I’ll come with you,” she said in a small voice.

“Good. I’ll be glad to have the company.” Keron stuffed his clothing in a bag. “Do you have anything? We can do it together?” He wiggled an eyebrow, something that would have made her laugh a month ago, but she only smiled weakly at him.

She could tell he wanted to shake life into her, but she couldn’t force herself to “get over it.”

“I have a bag of things.” She pointed to the corner where she had thrown all her dirty laundry on top of a canvas bag. “I’ll get them.”

Collecting the supplies they needed, the two of them went to the laundry room. Keron threw the first load in the washer while Fale sat on the table and pulled her feet up underneath her.

She was unexpectedly pushed into a memory, sitting cross-legged as she was, on a four-poster bed draped with gauzy material. She had been packing an overnight carpet bag. Getting up, she dressed herself in the figure-flattering gown of red silk laying on the bed and waited. When her love came to call, she put a blindfold on him. Again, Fale couldn’t see his face, just a blindfolded man with a tattooed hand. She whispered to him that she held a surprise and took him flying on Argyntus, still blinded, to Everligne for a romantic getaway. It was just like Fale had seen on the mountain side; Effailya had brought her secret lover to the island. Fale was attempting to see his face behind the mask as it came off… when Keron shook her to consciousness.

“What?” she asked, irritated at him.

“Are you okay? You’ve been vacant for like, five minutes. I couldn’t get through to you,” he said.

“I was inside one of Effailya’s memories,” she answered.

“What was it about?”

“The queen’s secret lover.” She hopped down from the table and then leaned her hip back against it. “Someone she didn’t want anyone to know about.”

“Was it Gryndoll?” he asked.

“No, I have memories of him, too. They’re different,” she said.

“How so?”

“The big difference is the tattoo. The secret lover has a large tattoo on the back of his hand that makes it look like a bird claw.” When she made her hand into a claw to show Keron, a ball of fire grew in her open fist and burst from her, booming into the wall with force. The hole in the wall was small, but the charred area around it was huge, and still flickering with tiny flames around the edges.

“What was that?!” Keron spun around.

Fale didn’t know. Her wide eyes stared at her hand.

“What just happened?” Keron whispered.

She had no idea, so she shrugged at him. The scene made her want to laugh. She knew it was a big deal, but she couldn’t make herself care. “Beats me. Where’s the fire extinguisher?”

He reached behind the dryer and found the red canister, pulled the pin, and blasted white foam at the fire.

~*~

They had been on the ship for thirteen days, and the water was smooth. The cook held a barbeque on one of the top decks for supper. Wait staff had planned the party for dusk, but the sky already bloomed purple like a bruise. Tablecloths flapped in the balmy breeze. Argy happily dove for giant tuna nearby and beat his massive wings to lift both his body, and that of an enormous fish, into the air. He rose then, gaining speed, and turned loops.

Music played and colored lights pulsed while the ship staff drank and danced, enjoying themselves. Keron rested his shoulder blade against a support beam to the top deck. He smiled at Fale, his arm around her shoulders, a beer bottle in each hand. She took one from him and nursed it, handing it back. He kissed her temple.

“Having fun?” he asked.

“Mmm hmm,” she answered, giving him a half smile. He frowned.

Fale watched Argy dipping beneath the waves like a first-place diver. When he came up, he flew straight into the clouds, and she found herself remembering a long-ago flight through the clouds on his back.

“He’s magnificent,” Gryndoll said loudly over the wind rushing past their ears, like the shushing of a mother to her child.

“Isn’t he perfect?” Effailya shouted back. “The product of great minds.”

“He may have been my idea, but you made him possible. I didn’t have the skill or the magic to do it,” he said.

“Keep pumping up my head like that and you’ll be able to fly me around.” She laughed lightly.

He smiled at her and Fale saw when he turned that he had long dark hair, caught in a ponytail at his neck, flying in the wind as they rode. His eyes were emerald green and his jaw was strong but sharp and tapered with a light covering of growth. Wow, too bad he’s evil, Fale thought. She got the feeling that Effailya cared very much for him, maybe loved him, like she loved Lisle. Fale felt like she was suddenly falling out of the sky, falling to the ground … still falling…

“Mother, are you alright?” Water sprayed her face and Argy’s worried voice reached her. Fale opened her eyes. She lay in a heap at Keron’s feet, and Argyntus hovered over the party, his huge wings agitating the party goers and dripping saltwater everywhere.

“I’m fine, Argy, go have fun. I was just lost in a memory and fell. It was a lovely memory of flying with you. I’m alright, I promise,” she said.

“If you wish it.” He flapped his wings twice, hard, and was in the sky once again. Keron stepped to the nearest table, set down the beer bottles and came back to offer Fale a hand.

A nearby waiter came rushing over and crouched before her. “I’m so sorry. Did you fall?” He held out his hands.

“It’s okay.” She chuckled and waved him away but when she did, magic flew from her fingers and turned the poor guy invisible. She heard the thump of him falling in front of her.

“Wha—what did you do to me?” his panicked voice called out, though no one could see him.


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