Part 1: Chapter 18
I met Trayen downstairs, leaving Caiden alone in my room again later that day. I had found the section of my closet where my clothes hung for Guarding duty. I wasn’t ready to wear such tight-fitting clothes. Caiden was of no help when I appeared out of my closet in them. He didn’t quite make fun of me, but he did give me a look over before laughing silently to himself. But I left my room in good spirits after he apologized with a swift hug and kiss.
Trayen and I walked out together towards the Moon Shrine. He stared over at me several times before saying anything. “You look happy,” he stated, casting his eyes on me again.
I was happy, extremely happy. “I am,” I answered back.
“A day ago, you weren’t. Yesterday, you were one second away from a meltdown, and now you’re fine. What happened?”
Caiden. His name spun around and around in my head, although I wasn’t about to divulge that I was secretly dating a Day class student. “I’m happy that you’re talking to me again, and not angry at me anymore.” I did tell him a part truth. There wasn’t a need to reveal my secrets right now.
He didn’t buy my excuse, but he didn’t say anything more about it.
“I hope you remember the rules about Guarding while we’re at the Shrine. Staefan will be watching you closely.”
Great. I wasn’t about to let him get in the way of my blissful state. I would just have to concentrate on my task and avoid staring at the Guardian.
We reached the river behind the Shrine of Essence and crossed it. On the way to our post, we met up with two other Night students headed towards the Shrine. I didn’t recognize either one of them. One of the two was a girl taller than me with long red hair and green eyes. A bow with a quiver of arrows was strapped to her back. She smiled at me before running on ahead of us. I expected the guy who was with her to follow her lead, but he didn’t run on ahead. He carried a sword and shield with him, but as he fell into step with me and Trayen, he greeted us with his blue eyes.
“Morning Trayen, Mallie.” He nodded to us both. His voice was rich with an accent, but I didn’t know from where.
Trayen responded first; I would have to thank him later for I did not know who the two were. “Morning to you as well, Sventer. I see that Esmerla went on ahead. She seems in a hurry.”
“She didn’t sleep well last night,” Sventer responded. “She’s worried about the upcoming competition. Although with Aralisa gone, she might as well have the trophy.”
Trayen smiled. “I would’ve liked to have seen her compete though. I heard her skills were unmatched.”
Sventer nodded, agreeing with Trayen. “I think everyone would have. It’s unusual for a Day student to be that proficient in a Guardian trait. Sometimes I wonder just how good she is. But at least this way, we’ll get the trophy.” He glanced back at me, for I had hung back a bit to let the two men talk. “So it seems that you escaped from several Shapers last night.”
I stumbled. How did he know I was in the forest? Let alone, how did anyone know about what transpired that night?
“I take it you heard about Mallie’s adventure into the forest?” Trayen asked him nonchalantly.
“Yeah. Staefan was furious when he arrived at the Earthen Shrine. He explained the rules again to us all and asked us to pass on the information to our friends. We found out from Darsilla, of all people, what happened. She was talking as though Mallie was in severe danger.”
“There was nothing there. I was fine,” I interjected before anything else was said on the matter. I didn’t like the way they talked about me. I was never in any danger, not even when I was grabbed by Staefan. I knew danger; I knew the way it felt to be in danger as I remembered the arrows flying at me in fencing class.
Trayen sighed as we climbed the hill to the Shrine. “Darsilla was ordered to stay at the Shrine while we went to discover where the Air currents went. There was no way she could have witnessed seeing Mallie on the river bank. If she did, she would’ve abandoned her post.”
“I knew that some of what she was talking about was a lie. She stated that a huge panther was growling at Mallie readying itself to pounce.” Sventer laughed. He glanced back at me. “From what Trayen told Staefan about your dodging abilities that would’ve been an interesting fight to watch.”
Inside, I panicked. I must’ve hid it well because no one asked me what was wrong when we arrived at the Shrine. I didn’t like the fact that Darsilla had seen me with the panther on the riverbank. This was not good. But, at least no one believed her. She would have to admit that she left her post at the Shrine and disobeyed orders for anyone to believe her and I knew that she wasn’t willing to risk her reputation for the truth.
To take my mind off of the events from last night I stared up at the Shrine, for my memory had not remembered this structure. It was a huge open gazebo. Atop the roof, a small opening allowed the moonlight to stream in, landing on the circular white stone embedded in the ground. I wondered where the Ancients kept the artifact if the building was open to the outside world.
Staefan was there with Esmerla when we arrived. He nodded to each of us upon greeting. He didn’t look as angry from yesterday when I last saw him. Esmerla took up a post near the southern end of the gazebo facing the school. Trayen went north, Sventer headed to the eastern post, leaving me to take up the western opening. I stood there gazing out along the forest line that was several thousand yards away from me.
The Moon Shrine was atop a small hill, in the middle of open grassland. I wondered how the Shapers would be able to attack something like this with no hope of being able to hide their movement. Cawing sounded from above as I saw a bird fly into the sky.
It passed over us and flew off to the west. No one moved. Staefan patrolled around the gazebo. The minutes passed by. Soon, an hour passed since we started standing here. The sun rose, casting shadows around us. Boredom seeped in. How did Guardians do this all day long? If nothing was going to happen, I would hate to stand near a Shrine and not do anything.
It was almost time to leave when the attack happened. Several birds flew out of the forest to the west. They were heading straight towards the gazebo. They were almost upon us when I realized that they didn’t mean to just fly over us, like the last hawk had. I wasn’t carrying a weapon so I called out to Trayen. “They’re coming at us from the air!”
He glanced up in my direction to see the birds approaching us at an alarming speed. They were getting bigger as they neared. Esmerla scowled as she drew an arrow to fire it at the hawk that was nearing me. I glanced around looking for other signs of Shapers nearby. I didn’t have to look too far, for all of a sudden Trayen was fighting a huge bear that appeared from nowhere.
Sventer ran to aid him, leaving the eastern end open. Seeing as how Esmerla was facing my direction, I scanned the area for more intruders. A herd of lions were rushing at us from the south. One of them was particularly big and golden. I wondered briefly if Caiden was among that pack.
Something heavy knocked me to the ground. I hadn’t sensed danger near me, so I was surprised when I saw Staefan standing above me. “You going to fight or just stare?” he barked.
I swallowed and nodded my head before standing back up. He turned around and charged at the pack of lions. I summoned Air in the hopes of using it to sweep my enemies away. I held the magic in check and waited to see what the others were doing before I acted. Esmerla was firing arrows right and left. She hit two targets, and they swerved away from the gazebo, flying towards the forest. Staefan was a beast against the pack of lions. I watched as he pushed against one so hard that the lion was thrown back several feet. It looked like it might’ve hurt.
“Mallie!” Trayen shouted from behind me. He was staring at Esmerla. “Protect her!”
I turned my head to see two huge felines heading straight for her. They were separated from the pack. One of them was black, the other was white. The black one looked strangely familiar to me. He rushed up and pounced upon Esmerla, knocking her to the ground. Her bow and arrows fell out of her hands as she went down.
I didn’t want to hurt the cat, but I didn’t want it to get away with harming my comrades either. So when I sent Air to sweep it away, I sent the magic with all of my strength to push it as far away from me as possible, to keep it from receiving harm, whether the source came from me or the other Guardians.
The Air currents around me obeyed. Sweeping into the black panther, they caught it and carried the animal back towards the school. It was the first thing I thought of in my head as a far enough destination, specifically my dorm room. It looked surprised as it was carried away from the battle.
That left the white panther to deal with. Esmerla had been knocked out, so there was no chance of her getting up and fighting alongside us. I went to grab her bow and arrow as I had no other form of weapon on me, half realizing I might not be able to use it since I was learned in the art of fencing and not that of archery. The sudden rush from using the Air magic made me lose my balance. I tripped forward and landed on my stomach. I felt sick, mostly because I was drained from using too much all at once.
I focused my eyes, staring around me. The bow and arrow lay near me, several inches from my head. I pushed myself up and began to inch forward. I could shoot a close target if I had to.
A growl made me pause in my efforts and look up. The white panther was growling at me, even from such a distance I could distinguish its face. It looked angry, really angry that I had sent the black one away from here. It was a threatening look. The feline stared at me as though I endangered someone close to them, someone they loved. I didn’t have much time to think about it for the cat charged at me.
I reached for the bow and arrow and grabbed it. I notched the arrow into the bow, as I’d seen the archers do in class, only this time it felt strangely familiar to me, like I’d done this many times in the past. Instinct took over as I quickly aimed and fired. The arrow flew forth from the bow and embedded itself into the chest of the cat. It fell to the ground and didn’t move.
I stood up and notched another one. I was afraid I had injured the animal enough to kill it. I didn’t really want that as I knew that these creatures were Shapers, students. But I also thought that the feline could be faking, waiting for the right time to strike at me.
Several howls of pain and anger rose up from the southern end of the gazebo. The mass of lions that were gathered there all turned towards me and charged. Staefan stopped fighting as he turned to look right at me in alarm.
The golden lion, the huge one, was quickly running in my direction with supernatural speed. He would reach me soon if I didn’t act. I raised the bow and fired another arrow. The mark would’ve landed if he hadn’t shifted and caught the arrow in his human form. He ran towards me then, not bothering that I had almost killed him with an arrow that was aimed for his heart. The pack of lions stopped where they were and waited.
I heard a voice behind me, one that I recognized.
“Mallie, put down your weapon.”
When I turned around, Hasten Quickend was standing next to Trayen and Sventer. They were breathing heavily but were no longer fighting the bear. I realized that Hasten was the bear as he had shifted into his human form. It made sense why he had markings of claws down his arms now. I lowered the bow and arrow, but I did not drop it.
“What are you doing with Esmerla’s bow?” Sventer asked. He stared at me and looked down. His face went white from the mess on the ground.
The other Shaper, in human form and completely naked, reached us. He bent down to examine the white panther on the ground. “We need to get her to the healer.”
Staefan appeared next to me.
I glanced down in shock, realizing that my arrow stabbed the cat very close to her heart. There was blood all over the ground.
“Take her, Panter; we have everything covered here,” Staefan stated from beside me. The Shaper Instructor picked up the great feline in his arms without any effort and turned back towards the school.
Hasten eyed me curiously. “Send everyone back to the dorms, Staefan.”
Staefan nodded. He turned around and announced to the mass of animals present on the grounds, “Everyone is to proceed back to the dorms. Guarding is over for the day.” He turned back to us. “Sventer and Trayen, please take Esmerla back as well.”
Oh great, I was in trouble. Sventer handed Trayen his weapon and shield as he reached Esmerla who was still unconscious nearby. He picked her up and carried her back towards the school. Trayen stopped by me. I handed him her weapons.
“I didn’t know you were good at archery,” he whispered to me before he left.
Neither did I. I wanted to reply to him, but it didn’t bode well for me at the moment. I’d have to explain later. Once they were gone, I was alone with two instructors, neither of which I was on good terms with.
“Well,” Staefan spoke up finally, “I see you managed to get your wits about you and attack for once, though you could have aimed away from her heart.”
I knew at that moment that I had greatly injured the white cat. “I’m sorry; I didn’t have time to decide where I was aiming the bow at. I only hoped it would hit the panther. I’ve never fired an arrow before. Who knew it was easy,” I explained myself. It was easy to fire an arrow, much easier than I first perceived.
“She’ll be okay,” Hasten spoke after several minutes.
I realized that he was communicating with the Shapers in the school.
“Staefan, would you leave us?”
Staefan stiffened at the question.
I personally thought it was odd behavior, though I didn’t react to it. Why would my Guardian Instructor leave me alone with a Shaper Instructor?
Staefan nodded, surprising me. He turned and walked away from the grounds.
Hasten didn’t move. He waited until Staefan was out of earshot before he spoke again. “I’m surprised that you even fired the arrow at her.”
I stared at him. What was he talking about? Why wouldn’t I fire at her? She was a Shaper. She wasn’t my friend. “She attacked me,” I defended myself.
“I know. She was angry because you sent him into danger. But I’m still surprised you shot an arrow at her. I thought I’d never see the day.” He smiled to himself like he was proud of my actions.
“What are you talking about?” I rounded on him, not knowing why he spoke about this being an odd behavior for me. “I don’t know her. She’s not my friend. And as for the black one, I sent him towards the school, not into danger.”
Hasten chuckled. “He ended up in the Night dormitory.”
He did? “Well, that was an accident. It was all an accident. I didn’t want to hurt the black one, which is why I sent it away. The school was the first place I thought of; well, my dorm, actually.”
“You mean to tell me you don’t know who that was?” he asked, shocked.
I stared at him. “Should I know them?”
“Surely you recognize…” he trailed off. His smile disappeared. “You don’t remember that either.” He raised an eyebrow at me.
I was extremely confused. Remember what? Know what? And to what was he referring? “What are you talking about?” I felt like I had stumbled upon something important that he was hiding from me. But what was it? Why did he keep his answers and statements vague? Couldn’t he just say who ‘he’ was and who ‘she’ was?
Hasten sighed. “Tell me, why did you attack the white one?”
“She was angry at me. I don’t know how I know that, but she was furious at me, like I attacked someone special to her. I had to defend myself, even though I hadn’t really attacked anything. She looked like she was about to rip my throat out.”
He nodded. “She was mad. I told her not to attack, him included, but she did it anyway. I think you surprised her by actually firing the arrow.” He shifted and tried to hide a smile but failed. “You’ve never done anything to them before. You’ve never defended or attacked at all either. It was a surprise to us all. It took everything I had to not shift form and watch with amusement.” He grinned at me.
Hasten talked about the panthers like they were my friends. In fact, he talked like all the Shapers were my friends. What was this about? I was a Night student.
“You should return to your dorm. I’ll escort you.”
He led the way from the gazebo towards the school. The entire time I followed him, I wondered what it was that he remembered about me. All of a sudden, I wanted to know exactly who I was in the past. I knew where the answer lay. I took off, headed straight for my room.
I breezed past him in a blur, as I didn’t wait for him to respond to my actions. I slowed down as I reached the school. I passed several Day students in the gardens. They all stared at me as I ran past towards the great hall. No doubt they were all talking about my actions at the Shrine. I needed to find out who I was fast.
Trayen and Isla were waiting for me in the dorm. I didn’t glance at them as I went up the stairs. Isla tried to question me as I breezed past them. I swiftly climbed five flights and entered my room.
Caiden wasn’t there, nor would he be for he was out around the grounds with his fellow classmates. The orb was still on the ground where I had dropped it. I picked it up and held it. It was time to find out exactly what I stored in the globe.