Part 2: Chapter 7
I was under the waterfall again. But this time, I was completely alone. The Shapers were around me, issuing out orders through their links. They were attacking the Lake Shrine this early in the morning.
It took a good part of the early morning hours to gain some insight into the Shaper link. I had to listen for particular people’s voices that were familiar to me. Mir hadn’t shifted, so it was harder to link directly into it.
Hasten’s voice opened the Guardian’s Circle link to me once I established the connection with the Shaper line. It was a new experience as I meditated on turning the links on and off. Before I was Marked, the links across the Shaper connection were always open and sometimes uninviting.
Now I could listen in whenever I wanted, sort of how Mir and I used to do with our family link. And if I didn’t want them listening in to me I could shut off my mind, and they wouldn’t get through. Several times Asper had to shift out of hawk form and snap me out of my reverie. I had been blocking everyone out. He stated that I needed to be able to hear Hasten at all times. He reminded me that I needed to act like a student still.
I kept the Shaper link open, but just barely. Instead, I focused on listening to who was connected to the other line that Hasten mentioned. I was finally learning about the Guardian Circle.
Branella and Panter were also a part of the circle. Branella started it several years ago. She brought in members every year. There were connections I felt that were from our tribe in the northeast, though I couldn’t hear them. I wondered who all was a part of the group. She explained that one had to be Marked to be able to join it. She wanted people who would protect Aralisa no matter the cost. Seeing as how I was intimately connected with her previously and hopefully in the future, I was trustworthy.
What surprised me was when I learned that there were Guardians who were members of the circle as well. Hasten explained to me that they didn’t necessarily hear our thoughts and voices, but they were in close contact with Shapers who could.
Our tribe, the one where Aralisa, Branella, Hasten, Mir and I were born had always been friends and allies with Guardians before the war. It was after the war, where our bond of friendship had been broken. But that was mostly due to the fact that the Ancient council broke it. As far as I knew we didn’t have contact with that village ever again. It seems I was wrong. There were discrepancies from the history I was taught. I knew then that the Ancient council was hiding a secret.
I was so engrossed into my thoughts and into the conversations taking place that I almost missed the hurried footsteps coming towards me at an alarming speed.
I opened the channel to the circle and probed their thoughts.
Hasten intruded upon mine. What’s going on? He sounded a bit annoyed. I see you’re using the channel finally.
You guys near the waterfall? I asked, ignoring his comment.
The response was delayed. I felt hesitation from some of the others, but Hasten finally answered. No. Why?
I hear someone coming towards me. They’re going really fast.
He paused. A Guardian, maybe?
They shouldn’t be down here, I answered back. It was on the outskirts of the Shrine. They wouldn’t have an advantage from being below it.
Where are you?
I’m in the waterfall, hidden.
Stay put. I’m sending some of the others to surround you. If the Guardians are there, they’ll distract them. They shouldn’t attack you. His voice began issuing out orders to some of the others.
I focused back on the footsteps, blocking out the circle. They were closer, the person who was coming near to my location. They were almost upon me. I opened my eyes and stared out the curtain of falling water. My eyes rested on the location of where the figure would emerge from the forest. I was surprised when I realized who it was.
Aralisa stopped at the river bank. She stared over at the waterfall, where I was hidden. She began to move towards me at a slower pace. I panicked slightly. What was she doing out here? And why?
If the Guardians caught her, she could be in serious trouble. Hasten! I yelled into the link.
He was immediately back again. What? he questioned.
Aralisa is right in front of me. It was her that I was hearing. I don’t know why she’s here. I can’t shift in front of her.
It was quiet between us. Stay put. We’re coming towards you.
I heard several things, animal or human, possibly both coming towards us.
I felt that she might be in danger, as the sounds were becoming louder. She was sure to have heard them. I didn’t want to see her harmed in front of me. Instinct took a hold of me and I leapt out of my hiding spot and landed before her.
She froze from my sudden presence and stared at me.
It took me a second to realize that I must have scared her. But she still didn’t run from the sight of me. I was almost as tall as her height, and much bigger than she was. We just stared at each other for several minutes, but they seemed like long hours.
The approaching footfalls from behind and above me grew louder. I cloaked myself, not wishing to be seen by others. I opened the link to the circle and bellowed into it. Anyone on top of the waterfall?
No, we’re in the forest, came the replies.
Even the Shapers? The ones attacking? I asked again. I needed to be sure.
They’re away from us. The second you heard footfalls we sent Asper, Darson, and Prie towards you. Hasten’s on his way. It’ll take a moment before we can all get there, Nola’s voice responded.
You need to hurry. Someone just saw her on the riverbank atop the waterfall. I cloaked myself. I sent them an image of Aralisa standing before me.
Great. Someone head up to the school and see if Branella is hearing this, Hasten grumbled along the link. He was still too far away from me but close enough to check in on what was transpiring.
I closed the link and paid more attention to my surroundings and to Aralisa. If she was in danger, I was going to protect her from the ones who would harm her. She was breathing in deep breaths as though she couldn’t get enough oxygen into her lungs.
She reached out towards me, slowly. I couldn’t help myself; I wanted her to know that it was me in this form, that I would never hurt her. I padded forward and put my head underneath her outstretched hand.
It took her a moment, but she started to stroke my fur. It felt good. It had been a long time since I had felt her touch, even in my animal form. She never used to touch me at all when I shifted. But that was the old Aralisa. This was the new Aralisa, the one that I loved.
I did love her. I realized that now. She didn’t toy with me. She didn’t manipulate me. She was different. And I liked that. As her hand brushed across the top of my head, I began to purr. I wanted her to know that I liked it when she was near me, that I wouldn’t harm her in any way. I couldn’t harm the one I loved.
A new noise in the forest made me stop what I was doing.
The link in my head opened. Guardians to your left, Caiden! Darson was somewhere near us.
I took a step backwards away from her. I was still using my cloaking ability, but I wanted her to run away suddenly. I growled at the intruders, the ones who were ruining this perfect moment between us. I wanted to charge them. But I didn’t as Staefan slammed into Aralisa and picked her up to carry her away.
I wanted to charge after him, and get her back to me safely, but her two friends Trayen and Isla ran out of the forest after him. I stayed put, trying to reign in my feelings. I was almost out of control. Darson padded out of the forest behind me and came around to my face.
That was too close. I’m glad they didn’t see you. Don’t worry, Branella will take care of it. She won’t be suspended or anything.
I didn’t believe him.
Nola’s bringing your clothes, by the way. We know that you will want to make sure she’s safe. We can all feel your emotions right now. You’re radiating them through the open link.
I breathed and stopped. Which link was I using?
Nola appeared in her lioness form. She was a beautiful pale mountain lion. My clothes were strapped to her back. She stopped and lay on the ground.
I shifted, not caring who was there to watch as I pulled on my pants and shirt. I didn’t bother to put on shoes, because she didn’t carry any with her. I nodded at them and ran off into the direction where Aralisa had been carried.
I found her, but I had to stop and wait. Staefan was drilling her for questions about why she entered the forest. She didn’t look happy. Isla and Trayen were silent and still. Isla tried to say something at some point but Staefan cut her off. He was yelling at Aralisa now.
Don’t! The words came through the link suddenly, stopping me from emerging from the forest. You cannot be seen by them. They will know you were there if you show yourself! Darson was the one speaking. I heard him as his animal form padded up beside me.
Nola was behind him. They both waited beside me, in case I charged into the courtyard.
Aralisa was frustrated now. She looked hurt and angry. She yelled at Staefan, mostly because she was telling him the truth and he was refusing to listen to her. The scene was getting uglier. Staefan looked worse than Trayen did earlier. He was being rather harsh to her. Of course, it didn’t help that he was a full-fledged Guardian, where Trayen was still a student. Guardians could be condescending and horrendous when they’re upset.
Branella’s going to intervene, Hasten spoke across the link. Darson and Nola relaxed beside me, but I didn’t. Aralisa clearly was not handling this well. She looked almost destroyed. She was trying to be strong, but no one was helping her. I knew the feeling.
She felt alone. Her two Night class friends wouldn’t even break rank for her. I guess they couldn’t. I couldn’t at one time either.
I needed to get to her and fast. She was looking more frantic as the minutes ticked by. If she cracked, it wouldn’t be good. I always wondered how she was coping with not knowing who she was and the extra emotional baggage that came with it. Due to this circumstance, I knew she wasn’t handling it well and it was causing her psychological trauma. She was barely hanging onto herself at the moment.
Finally, Asper arrived with a note. He handed it to Staefan quickly. I noticed that his Markings were hidden from the make-up they all carried with them. He had Marks of talons on the sides of his neck. “Headmistress Pemberly saw you carrying the girl from the forest. She asked me to give this to you.” He turned away and disappeared.
He’ll leave her alone, she sounded to me from within the ring link.
But he didn’t. He questioned Branella’s thoughts in the note directly to Aralisa. She answered them truthfully, but he didn’t look convinced. Instead, he lectured her on the rules that she needed to know before she set foot on the grounds again. He bade her to leave towards her dorm. He disappeared into the forest without waiting for her to respond.
I knew that Staefan was a strict instructor, but I never realized that he was mean about it. Trayen didn’t stay to explain, he headed off into the forest after his leader. Isla remained briefly, as she tried to explain but didn’t. She disappeared after the other two as well. I ran towards the east as they were heading towards us, retracing their steps.
Darson and Nola ran to the west to lead them off my trail.
I heard Aralisa running towards the Night side of the building. She had left as soon as they were all gone. I picked up my pace, making a wide circle before coming near the school. The Night class should be in their respected dorms. But some were coming back from the Guarding of the Shrine, so I had to be careful.