Ell slept, the warm sun on her back easing her ever more deeply asleep. So deeply did she sleep that she was utterly unaware of the violent events transpiring around her. This was just as well, and just as it should be. The One watched over her as Ell dreamt.
Before her sat an enormous Guardian, tail gracefully curled around her foreclaws resting on what Ell thought of as the ground beneath her. The Guardian glimmered emerald, jade, and citrine as if the sun shone off every scale on her body. Yet there was no sun here but an ambient, glowing white light that infused the whole area.
The Guardian looked at Ell with golden, round pupiled eyes. She’s so beautiful, thought Ell. Ell did not question how she knew that the Guardian was female. Nor did she question who the Guardian was. She knew. This was Gran Bryl, her dam, and her teacher.
Gran Bryl looked into Ell’s eyes and Ell felt tingles starting in her hind quarters and traveling up and down the length of her body from tail tip to muzzle. It was delicious, ecstatic and filled with love and deepest acceptance. Ell breathed it in, taking in as much as she could possibly hold. Then letting out her breath quickly, she breathed in again and took in more and more still.
May the One bless you Gran Bryl! Thought Ell. May the One fill you as you have filled me.
Ell floated in that tingling, ecstatic state for she knew not how long, filled, wanting nothing but to be.
Ell… Gran Bryl’s thought voice was filled with love. It’s time Ell.
Ell opened eyes that she was unaware of having closed and saw that her vision had expanded. She was looking at crystalline walls surrounding Gran Bryl. The crystals throbbed with a sparkling, iridescent energy and she felt herself drawn closer, drawn in, felt herself enfolded right into the crystalline structure. It felt nurturing, reminding her of her time in the egg, held, supported and cared for. The energy of the crystals throbbed into her, filling her more full still, as if that were even possible.
Then she was pulled through the crystalline structure, out the other side, and out through thick, grey stone. She was aware of the rough texture of the black speckled grey rock even as she moved effortlessly through it. She found herself floating outside, hovering above a great, crater topped mountain. She could see that it was surrounded by foothills, looking like hatchlings gathered closely around their dam. As she turned her gaze to look further, she saw dense, green forest crowding the foothills on all sides. She felt a deep love for the mountain, and an aching longing in her chest.
Come home. Ell heard Gran Bryl’s thought voice.
Home, thought Ell. I want to go home. She woke.
When Lisle entered the Guardian’s clearing, she found Gareth, looking exhausted, dark circles under his eyes. She listened with increasing horror as Gareth told her of the events of that early morning. She knew he had been watching a man, even as the man watched them. She had followed Gareth’s guidance and pretended that all was as usual, going about her normal day with the Guardian, though inside she was shivering with apprehension. Now it was over.
She knelt beside the Guardian who sat upright now, looking at Gareth alertly, carmine head ridges erect. Her arms stole about the Guardian’s neck and she leant in close. The Guardian draped her head over Lisle’s shoulder and partway down her back in embrace.
“The Guardian is safe. That flier you call Moss is quite the little warrior.”
Moss appeared as if called, hovering over the Guardian and Lisle, chittering and patting first one and then the other.
“Th…th…thanks Mm… Moss.”
Lisle looked at Gareth then, “Th….th….th…”
“Just doing what I stayed to do,” said Gareth, not waiting for her to finish.
“Why did I stay?”
Lisle shook her head with annoyance.
“Why did that man try to hurt the Guardian?”
Lisle nodded her head, a tear slipping down her cheek.
“I don’t know, but I think we’d better move her someplace else.”
Lisle nodded again. She stood up. The Guardian stood as well. Lisle gathered together the few things she kept in the cave and started to march out of the clearing. The Guardian followed her.
“Rend and tear it Lisle, don’t you think we should make a plan?” called Gareth, sprinting after them.
Lisle and the Guardian turned to look at him, oddly identical stony looks on their faces.
“Right, no plan. Let me get my things.”
They stood and waited as he hurried to gather his pack together and sling it over his shoulder, grumbling all the while.
“No plan. No sleep. Just go, Gareth.”
He fell into step behind the Guardian. Moss flitted about them.
It was slow progress with the Guardian’s waddling walk. A half-sun later they managed to find a rock face and overhang that provided shelter, with a small clearing and water close by.
“This’ll do for now,” said Gareth. “I need to sleep some so I can watch tonight.” He unrolled his blanket. “Keep your eyes and ears open, both of you.” He looked at Lisle, small for twelve changes, brown hair curling in wisps about her face, and then at tiny Moss. Shaking his head as if at his own thoughts, he wrapped himself up and lay down.
Lisle nodded as she sat down close beside the Guardian. Moss took position in the crook of the Guardian’s elbow, leaning against her scaled forearm. Moss crossed her arms in front of her chest, looking serious. She looked at Lisle and nodded once, then looked out at the surrounding woods, scanning with slanted, green-flecked eyes.
Lisle couldn’t help but smile. Who would have thought that a small being like Moss could be such a stout defender? Maybe it’s not about size, she thought. Maybe it has more to do with how fierce you are.
Suddenly her twelve changes and body of a human younger didn’t seem so powerless. Maybe I can be fierce. Fierce like Moss. Lisle assumed what she thought of as a fierce expression, gritting her teeth and narrowing her eyes. She tossed her brown braid back behind her shoulder, grasped her stone shot in one hand, crossed her arms in front of her chest just like Moss, and stared intently out at the woods.
Moss flicked a glance in her direction, looked back at the woods and smiled, a surprisingly feral expression.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12
Lisle stepped into the clearing, long, brown braid swinging down her back, holding a burrower by the hind legs. She smiled to see the Guardian, lying in the warm sun on the rock where she'd left her. Shimmers of light danced about the hatchling. The flier folk are busy today, Lisle thought with amusement.
The Guardian was looking intently at the other side of the clearing. Lisle turned to see what she was looking at and saw two men standing, side by side. The wind came up then as if aimed, blowing through the leaves about the men, casting pale undersides upward, and lifting the dark hair of the tallest man away from his face. Lisle saw a scruffy, earth-toned beard dangling from his chin, and a bow held down by the side of his much worn and stained leggings. His head was cocked to the side as he studied the Guardian, a frown line between graphite dark eyebrows, and uncertainty written on his face. The other man, shorter, stockier, held a crossbow aimed directly at the Guardian, clear intent in his small, puffy eyes.
“Noooo…!” screamed Lisle.
She dropped the burrower and launched herself at the Guardian.
The tall man reached to knock his companion’s crossbow upward just as he released the bolt. It shot harmlessly into the air.
”What’d you do that for!” Demanded the shorter man, turning angrily, his brow beetling over squinting eyes.
“It’s no lizard for our dinner, it’s a Guardian, you fool. Can’t you see?” Said the tall man gesturing at the hatchling and not taking his eyes off her. He fell to his knees, unheeding of the dried twigs crackling beneath them, and dragged his companion down beside him.
Lisle landed on top of the Guardian. Her speed knocking the Guardian over backward and forcing a growled "Umph," from the hatchling. Lisle scrambled up and off her, patting and touching the Guardian all over.
“Are you unhurt? Are you safe?”
The Guardian righted herself on her sunning rock, pushing up onto her haunches, shaking out limp wings and wrapping her tail about her. A rumbling purr sounded from her chest, as she glanced at Lisle. Then she lifted her head, haloed now as chittering flyer folk descended to surround her and stared the men.
Lisle leapt to her feet, pulled her sling from her belt, and ran at the kneeling men. She stopped just in front of them, trembling all over.
“What’s the matter with you? That’s a Guardian! A Guardian! Do you realize what you almost did? Would you have shot her? Are you crazy?”
The words poured out of her. She kicked at the man still holding the crossbow, who scrambled up and away from her, eyeing her like she was some avenging angel. She turned to kick at the other, who was getting to his feet and putting his hands in prayer position in front of his chest, staring at the Guardian a short distance away.
In a clear, carrying voice he addressed the Guardian directly. “We didn’t know. We were hungry. You looked like a big lizard…” He grimaced. “Forgive me. I mean we didn’t recognize you. Guardians are big and green and live in Guardian Mountain. How could we know you were here?” He fell back to his knees.
Refraining from kicking him, Lisle said, “Go on get out of here you st…stupid men.” She kept her eyes on them as she went to sit near the Guardian, putting her arm around her protectively. The Guardian was staring now at the man who had spoken. Lisle felt the deep rumble in the hatchling’s chest. How could she be purring? She questioned, incredulous. They just tried to shoot her!
The shorter man scooted backwards still on his knees trying for the cover of the trees.
“I’m staying,” the tall man, said to his companion.
“What do ya’ want to do that for? We’re lucky that Guardian don’t eat us. I’m getting out of here and not coming back.” The shorter man answered.
“What if some other hunter makes the same mistake? I’ve got to stay and make sure that doesn’t happen. You’ll be alright on your own.”
The shorter man looked at his companion, “Aw, go on then. I’m not stayin’. You want to be that Guardian’s dinner, you go ahead. Jus’ don’t be thinkin’ I’ll be coming back for what’s left of you.”
He stood and trundled off into the woods, back the way they had come.
“One’s blessing go with you,” the tall man said to his companion’s retreating back and then turned to face the infant Guardian.
Lisle watched the shorter man retreat into the woods. He knew what he’d done. He wouldn’t be back. But the other one was still kneeling at the edge of the clearing. Lisle grabbed up her sling and a stone and stood up. She stalked up to him, holding her sling ready.
“W…wh…what do you w…want?”
The man looked up. “One hear me, what if other hunters should make the same mistake? I will stay to protect the Guardian.” Then the man just looked at her, waiting.
Lisle watched his face, considering. It was kind of a nice face, if she looked past the dirt. He had a good straight nose, a full mouth just visible beneath the dark, straggly beard, and clear brown eyes that looked up at her.
“Y…you think you c…c…can protect h…her better than mm…mm…me?” She stuttered, suddenly aware that she was talking to a grown man.
The man looked steadily up at her, then got to his feet. He stood a head and shoulders taller than she. Long, lean muscles were apparent under the hunter’s leggings and shirt. He shouldered his bow, straightened the belt holding a long, skinning knife.
“I know I can,” he said quietly and looked up at the sky where storm clouds were forming. “I’ll start by finding her some place safe and dry to stay.”
Lisle followed his gaze, looked surprised and said, “O…oh, g…good idea.”
The man looked at Lisle appraisingly for a moment. “Name’s Gareth.”
“Luh..Luh…Lisle,” she replied.
“Words don’t come easy to you do they Lisle? You didn’t do too bad back when you thought the Guardian might’ve got hurt.”
Lisle looked down at her toes.
“It don’t matter none. People talk way too much for my liking. I’ll take a look around.”
Gareth turned away from Lisle and headed back into the woods.
Lisle walked back across the clearing to the Guardian, the short, spring grasses under her feet, fragrant in the morning sun. The wind followed her, playful now, tickling the hairs at the back of her neck. The Guardian was nuzzling the dead burrower and looked up at Lisle beseechingly.
“I’m s…s…s…sorry. I’ll c…cut it.”
Lisle made short work of cutting up the burrower so the Guardian could eat.
She sat down on the hard, warm surface beside the hatchling as she ate, her mind a torrent of questions. Who is this man? This Gareth? Seems like he cared that his friend almost hurt the Guardian, but can we trust him?
Lisle looked at the Guardian as she ate hungrily. It was a messy business which might have turned some stomachs but mattered not at all to Lisle. She felt fierce love for the hatchling well up in her chest. I will take care of her. I will keep her safe. She had never felt anything so powerfully. Nothing will harm her!
Gareth returned to the clearing not long after he had left. Lisle watched him cautiously, fingering her sling. He knelt before the Guardian and waited with a hunter's patience for her to finish her meal and her fastidious ablutions afterward.
Then he addressed the Guardian directly, “There’s a small, dry cave not far from here. It’ll be shelter and protection. There’s a nice, flat rock out front where you can sun yourself. I’d be honored to show you the way there.”
Lisle watched, wondering, as the Guardian just looked at Gareth, a rumbling purr in her chest. He looked back at her, eyebrows lifted. The Guardian continued to stare at him. Lisle saw him sway on his knees toward her, a smile creeping up onto the edges of his mouth. He took in a deep breath as a tear slowly trickled down his cheek, seemingly unnoticed by him.
Lisle knew the love that made him smile like that, knew the emotion that triggered that tear, and she felt a twinge of jealousy.
Then the Guardian broke eye contact and rose awkwardly. Her brown mottled hind legs pushing up, forearms balancing. She shivered wings, increasingly olive-toned, into place at her sides. The smooth, dappled scales of her body rustled softly and she took several shaky steps using all four limbs to move. Lisle moved along beside her, hand on her back.
I guess we trust him, thought Lisle.
Shaking his head as though to clear it, Gareth stood up, swiping quickly at his cheek, and led the trembly Guardian and Lisle to the cave he had found.
Deep within Guardian Mountain. Gran Bryl walked the bright Pathways of the One and felt a surge of relief. For now, Ell’s safe.
She noted with pleasure the sparkling bond cord stretching between Ell and her Contracted. Safe, but still so fragile.
Her thoughts shifted. She turned away and cast her awareness back out, following the web of light through the black void, searching for the other.
The other, who would harm Ell if he could, who wanted to harm them all.