Breena was out of patience. She had sat beside Gabriel for days waiting for any sign he was getting better. So far, he hadn’t moved. If he was even breathing, it was beyond her to see how. The only indication he was still alive was the gift. Every time she touched him, the blue sparks danced across his skin as Gabriel’s gift interacted with hers. Except for the occasional bathroom break, Breena never left his side.
It was a lonely vigil. Yellow-mane and Azura had left for America. Apollo came and went, but it seemed as though he was busy getting to know Sable better. He had informed Breena on his last check-in that the beautiful black wolf with the golden eyes was named Sable. Leonidas was sticking to the treetops around the village and keeping an eye on both Breena and Gabriel, but he wasn’t comfortable being seen by the other villagers.
The other villagers were bringing Breena food and checking on her and Gabriel. It was nice that they were trying to tend to the elders, but it was easy to see they were uneasy around Gabriel. No one knew what would happen if or when he woke up. Would he remember what had happened? Would he revert to his dragon form and once again threaten the world? No one seemed to know the answer to any of those questions. Right now, Breena just wished he’d wake up and hold her. She was so lonely. It was almost as bad as before she met Grandfather.
There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Breena said just loud enough to be heard outside.
In walked Rayna. She was one of two villagers who had been bringing Breena food and checking on her. She had already proven herself special even before Yellow-mane departed. Azura had taken a list of all the females who wished to be considered for switching to Yellow-mane’s village in exchange for some of those females joining Gabriel and Breena’s clan. Almost every female in the village had put their names on the list. All but a small group of six, led by Rayna and Raven. The two had been close friends of Azura, but they were loyal to the clan. They wished her well and promised to stay in touch but were adamant that it was important that they stay and help heal the rift between the villagers and the new elders.
It was also important because they were two of the strongest villagers. Both were birds in their animal forms; Rayna, a giant eagle and Raven, a silky black, giant crow. In their elemental forms, both were water elementals and able to hold either forms for great periods of time. It was a sign of just how strong their will was. As Breena thought about it, she suddenly realized that every one of the six females who had decided to stay in the village were all birds in their animal forms. Was it just a coincidence?
“Tell me Rayna, why is it you chose to keep your name off the list for possibly going with Yellow-mane?” Breena asked.
Rayna looked at the elder and hesitated. She might as well tell her the truth, she would eventually find out.
“We…that is all of the women that kept our name off the list, were compelled to stay here,” Rayna answered.
“Compelled? By who?” asked Breena.
“That’s just it, we don’t know. Ever since you returned with Gabriel, we’ve been drawn to the two of you. Its like the gift is calling us, controlling us, making us feel like we must stay here and serve you,” Rayna replied.
“But we will never require you to ‘serve’ us,” Breena exclaimed.
“We know that, but it’s how we feel. All of us. Raven is the only one of us with child and she said it is the same feeling she had once her baby was brought into the world. It’s like we are being compelled to watch over you and to keep you safe. I know it’s ridiculous, you are much stronger than all of us combined, but it’s how we feel. We don’t understand it any more than you do, but we can’t ignore it,” Rayna explained.
“I’m not sure I’m as strong as all of you combined, but I can say I feel much safer knowing some of you are willing to look out for us and to support us as your new elders,” Breena said.
“If I’m going to be honest elder, we didn’t feel this way until the moment Leonidas landed outside the cottage with Gabriel in his arms. It was like a magnet, we are drawn to him and none of us know why. I mean no disrespect and we all want to learn to accept the two of you as our new elders, but the reality is, we don’t seem to have a choice,” Rayna added.
Interesting…very interesting, thought Breena. Was it the appearance of Leonidas that was causing this reaction or was it as Rayna suggested, the gift that was influencing the women? Breena felt like she needed to speak with Leo about this matter. In his own way, he seemed even more knowledgeable on Scythian matters than Grandfather had been.
“Rayna, do you think you could keep watch over Gabriel for me, for just a little while?” Breena asked.
Rayna was touched. The elder was going to trust her to look after Gabriel! It was the greatest sign of trust Breena could have shown to the young woman.
“I’d be honored. I’ll guard him with my life,” said Rayna.
“Thank you,” said Breena as she headed for the door, “I’ll be back within the hour.”
As she stepped outside, Breena let out a deep sigh. It was early evening and she’d be able to speak with Leo without having to go very far. She walked quickly to the small bridge and crossed it. Once on the other side, she ducked under the first massive oak tree and stepped into the small clearing on the other side. As soon as she stepped into the clearing, she felt the rush of air around her. Without a sound, the giant gryphon landed in front of her. As soon as the rear feet of the massive beast touched the ground, the gryphon was gone, and Leonidas was standing in its place.
Without a word, Breena fell into his arms and began to cry.
“Now, now…what is all this about?” Leo asked quietly.
It took several minutes before Breena could answer. All the emotions, all the fears of the past few days had welled up inside her and burst forth as soon as she had seen Gabriel’s father. He looked so much like Grandfather, it was like he was back among them. Breena needed her mentor now more than ever.
“Will he ever wake up? If he does will he even remember me?” Breena asked quickly.
“Oh Breena, the love you two have, knows no bounds. It was that same love and the gift Grandfather gave you that saved Gabriel from the dragon. As long as that gift resides inside him, he has a fighting chance. I can see no way that the gift would sustain him this long, just to let him perish now. No, the gift is only letting him rest. It’s letting him build his strength once again and when the time is right, he will come back to us,” Leo answered as the young woman sobbed into his shoulder.
“But how do you know? How can you be sure?” Breena asked.
“I don’t know Breena, I really don’t, but I do believe. I believe everything I just told you. There’s a reason why Gabriel is still alive. There is no way he should be, but he is. He might be barely living, but he’s living, and I believe there’s a reason for it,” Leo answered.
Just hearing him say it, made Breena feel better. She dried her eyes and then asked him about the other women.
“Leonidas, what effect does your animal form have on other Scythians? Primarily the ones that have birds as their animal forms?” Breena asked.
“When I’m in my gryphon form and they are in their bird forms, they are repelled by me. To put it bluntly, I scare the death out of them. I don’t know if it’s the giant eagle or my lion half, but either way, they can’t stand to be near me. Neither can the other creatures of the air. At night, even the bats steer as far from me as they can. Why do you ask?” Leo responded.
“It was something one of the villagers said. The one called Rayna, the eagle. She said that ever since you landed in the village, when you brought Gabriel back from the battle with the shifters, that she feels compelled to watch over us, to serve us. And she’s not the only one. All the women who turn to birds in their animal forms, feel the same way. I didn’t ask about the men, but I should,” Breena explained.
“That’s interesting,” Leo started, “whatever it is that’s making them feel that way, it’s not me. My gryphon has the exact opposite effect on birds. This is something that I should consult the scrolls about. Do I have your permission to visit the clan’s cave?” Leo asked.
“Leonidas, I believe I can speak for both of us when I say, you may visit the clan’s cave and all the things contained therein, anytime you wish,” Breena answered.
Without warning, Leo jerked his head back in the direction of the village.
“Something’s wrong with Gabriel! Breena get back to him now!” Leonidas yelled.
Before Breena could ask him what he was talking about, Leo was gone, and the giant gryphon was winging his way toward the tree tops. Breena was gone just as suddenly and in her place was a giant black wolf, already sprinting for the village beyond the trees.
As soon as she cleared the bridge, Breena knew what was wrong. The cottage she had left Gabriel in was ablaze. The flames were already shooting high into the night. As she neared it, she couldn’t see how to get inside to save Gabriel. She wasn’t sure how she’d survive it, but she had to try!
As the black mist floated toward the cottage, which was now fully engulfed in flames, a giant gryphon tried to find a way to land on top of the little house. The massive wings of the creature only seemed to fan the flames, causing them to rise even higher into the night.
So many thoughts were flowing through Breena’s mind. Had Rayna done this? Was she lying the entire time? Had Gabriel caused this, had he somehow transformed into his fire-being form?
Breena tried to enter the cottage, but it was too hot. It was evaporating her before she could get inside. How was it possible for the cottage to burn so hot? She tried to expand, to grow big enough to pull all the oxygen from the air to starve the fire out of existence, but to no avail. It was too large, she just couldn’t cover enough of it!
The villagers were all there by this point, and they were doing everything they could to put the fire out. Even some of the water elementals were using themselves to try to put the fire out, but nothing was working. How could this have happened? What would become of Gabriel still trapped inside the burning cottage?
After one more attempt to cover the entire cottage, Breena fell to the ground in her human form. She had failed. She just couldn’t take on such a huge fire. Leonidas landed beside her and held her as she screamed for Gabriel.
As they watched the building slowly collapse, the remnants of the front door slowly opened. Standing there was Gabriel’s fire-form. Or at least half of Gabriel’s fire-form. His entire lower half and his right side was the fire-being. His left shoulder and arm held the unconscious form of Rayna. Slowly, he glided down the steps and away from the burning cottage.
Once he was far enough from the burning building, Gabriel was suddenly there and all traces of the fire-being was gone. He gently laid Rayna on the ground and she was immediately tended to by one of the other women. All the villagers that were birds in their animal forms, not only the females, but the males too, gathered around Gabriel.
Breena rushed through the crowd to Gabriel’s side. He stared at her for several seconds and she was afraid he no longer knew who she was. She needn’t have feared. He reached down and kissed her gently on her quivering lips and then held her tightly in his arms.
“What happened?” Leonidas asked.
Gabriel looked up at the tall, strongly built man behind Breena and instantly knew there was something familiar about him. He was the spitting image of a younger Grandfather and he had the same eyes Gabriel saw every time he looked into the mirror. It took a second for it to sink in that this had to be Grandfather’s son…his father!
“I woke up and the cottage was on fire. That woman was trying to carry me. I was still too weak to walk on my own. I told her to leave me, but she refused. She used her water form to soak me and to keep me safe until the flames were too much and she collapsed. Then I felt a surge of energy and I was in my fire-being form. I still don’t know how, but I knew to keep a part of me human, so I could carry her out with me. Is she okay?” Gabriel asked.
One of the woman looked up at him and answered with tears in her eyes. “Yes, elder Gabriel, you saved her! She will be okay, she just needs to rest,” she explained.
“I think it was she who save me,” Gabriel countered.
“But what happened? How could the cottage burn up so quickly?” Leonidas asked.
“Banchara,” came the answer.
They all heard it, but only Gabriel knew where it came from. As he looked at the corner of the burning cottage, Apollo and Sable came trotting toward them. There was blood dripping from Apollo’s muzzle.
He walked up to Gabriel and both the young elders knelt on the ground to greet him. On their knees, the massive wolf was able to look them in the eye.
“Banchara…gas…tried to kill brother,” Apollo explained.
“I’ll kill that witch once and for all!” declared Leonidas.
“No need,” Gabriel started, “Apollo already took care of that for you.”
“But what about her portion of the gift?” Breena asked, “Have we lost the lesser gift of the clan forever?”
“No,” Gabriel said, “look.”
Everyone followed his gaze and there, getting up off the ground was Rayna. As she looked around at all the clansmen, she couldn’t help but wonder why everyone was staring at her. She felt better. In fact, she felt great! What she couldn’t see was the blue sparks flickering in each of her eyes.
“There couldn’t have been a better choice,” Breena declared.
“Agreed,” said Gabriel and Leonidas at the same time.
As the villagers watched, Gabriel, Breena and Leonidas walked off toward the edge of the village together. Each of the clans-people understood the three would have much to talk about.
Ever since Leonidas had returned with Gabriel in his arms, there had no longer been any doubt about who Gabriel was. Grandfather had been right, it was his grandson and even the gift had recognized him as such. For the first time, the villagers felt like they were going to be okay with their new elders. Even those who had requested to be able to go to America and join Yellow-mane’s clan were suddenly thinking they might be better off staying here. Surely there could be no more powerful gift in all the world than the one contained within Gabriel, Breena and Apollo.
It was telling that not one of the villagers shed a tear over the death of Banchara. Not one of them even bothered to look for the body. That was good because Sable had already dragged what was left deep into the woods. She left it near a den full of badgers, after all it shouldn’t go to waste.
The small black wolf was fully healed from her encounter with the shifters. Somehow, Apollo had managed to not only heal her, but she was feeling stronger than ever before. She had always been fearless and a skilled killer in her own right, but since the healing, she was stronger and faster than ever before. She was also completely and totally in love with Apollo, as was he with her.
The two were a perfect pair. The only problem was, she was a wild animal and she would never be comfortable around humans or Scythians. Apollo wouldn’t subject her to that either. At first, he thought he would visit the village regularly and keep in touch with Gabriel and Breena on a daily basis but return to Sable every evening. He soon learned that wasn’t going to be possible.
The black wolf wasn’t about ready to let Apollo out of her sight. No matter how uncomfortable she was around the villagers, if Apollo came here, she was coming with him. As a compromise, Apollo had found a perfect den for the two of them, less than a quarter mile from the back of the village. It was close enough he could keep tabs on his brother and keep Sable comfortably far enough way from the Scythians.
It was there that the two of them had seen Banchara headed for the back of the village. They had followed her to see what she was doing. It was only too late that Apollo had realized she was spreading gasoline around the exterior of the cottage and was planning on burning Gabriel alive. She had just lit the match which ignited the entire cottage when Apollo attacked her. She had assumed her animal form, but the wolf was more than a match for any Scythian animal. As he tore into her, she attempted to assume her elemental form of a rock, but Apollo had thrown the rock into the fire at the rear of the cottage.
Even a rock will burst apart if it’s heated high enough and Banchara had to assume her animal form once more as she attempted to flee. It was then that Sable discovered just how fast she now was. She had pinned the animal to the ground in less than a second and then Apollo ripped the head from the animal before Banchara could change once more. Apollo had watched as the bolt of blue energy flew from the headless body on the ground in front of him and entered the side of the cottage.
The silver wolf would wait until Gabriel had time to speak with Leonidas and Breena before he explained he would be starting his new life with Sable. He planned to always be there for his brother when he needed him, but he also had to be there for Sable too. Like Gabriel, the wolf had started out as an orphan, but now his family was growing, and he was learning he could love many more than just Gabriel. He now had Breena, Sable and even that little man, Oz to love along with Gabriel. Apollo had finally found his family too.