Lisle stood at the side of the clearing. Moss perched on Lisle’s shoulder; iridescent wings draped gracefully down her back. Both watched the Guardian avidly. She trotted about, flapping wings grown surprisingly long, spreading thrice her height when she opened them. The Guardian stood with her head as tall as Lisle’s now, carried on an increasingly graceful, elongating neck. Lisle was surprised to realize that her Guardian had grown prodigiously in just this short time. Her tail had grown too and now looked proportionate to the rest of her length, tapering to a delicate, crimson ridged curl at the tip.
Over the past seven days the Guardian had been increasingly active about her clearing. She ran with her wallowing gait in one direction as far as she could, flapping her wings, with tail held stiffly out behind her. Then she turned and ran back again, flapping all the while. After several days of this, she started to lift off the ground in short hops, flapping hard.
It’s a beautiful day for flight practice today, thought Lisle, as a gentle summer breeze wafted through the leaves and carried the fragrance of sweet bush to her. The sky was pure sapphire, with just a trace of wispy, white clouds high overhead.
Here she comes again! Lisle could feel her Guardian’s growing excitement as each hop went a little higher, a little further.
The Guardian reached the end of the clearing and turned, starting off on still another attempt, only this time she flapped harder still and lifted right off the ground. Deep wing sweeps lifted her higher and tucking up her legs, curled talons against her belly, she flew gracefully in the air all the way to the other side of the clearing. When she landed, hind claws now outstretched in front of her, she dug long gouges in the ground.
Lisle was jumping and yelling and clapping her hands, triumph filling her. Maybe it was hers or maybe her Guardian’s, it didn’t matter. Moss, having leapt off Lisle’s bouncing shoulder, was turning joyous somersaults in the air. The Guardian bobbed her head up and down and flapped her wings, turning full circle. An influx of multi-hued flier folk suddenly surrounded her, flitting about, patting and touching her, their high, bell-like laughter carried on the breeze.
The Guardian turned several more triumphant circles, wings waving and head keeping time, then folding her wings neatly to her sides, she waddled over to a sun-drenched spot in the clearing and lay down. Raising her head, she looked at Lisle, blinking and nodding as if in invitation. Lisle was happy to oblige and sat in her accustomed place, leaning against her Guardian’s side. The flyer folk drifted away on gem-like wings, the excitement now past. All except Moss who chose to sit upon a branch above the Guardian’s head, tiny legs dangling down, looking out over the clearing.
The Guardian turned her head, her neck now long enough to allow her to look directly at Lisle even as Lisle leaned back against the Guardian’s side. Lisle was surprised as the Guardian moved her muzzle just in front of Lisle’s face. She could see the large, developing teeth in the Guardian’s increasingly powerful scaled jaws, and her crimson crown ridges standing upright, huge golden eyes looking deeply into her own. Lisle felt no fear.
The Guardian moved her head closer still, then gently touched the center of Lisle’s forehead with the very end of her muzzle. A light tap.
Lisle blinked and her eyes closed as peace suddenly descended upon her, washing away the triumph of the morning and indeed, any thoughts at all. She felt herself drifting slowly downward, comforted and relaxed. It was a delicious sensation, like floating deeper and deeper through an ocean of warm water. It was silent here and so peaceful.
She drifted down until she found herself in a place infused with light. The light filled her, dissolving into every part of her being.
She gradually became aware of a bright web of light stretching out in all directions, above, below and surrounding her. It came to her that these were the Pathways of the One. Under other circumstances she would have been terribly excited to see what she had only heard of in Ma-Marn’s stories, but here she was so deeply peaceful that it seemed natural that she should be able to perceive the Pathways.
Somehow, she knew that she, Lisle, was a part of the Pathways, a bright spot on the web. Looking about herself, she could see that her light shone out from her a clear, light blue.
Her Guardian, Ell… Her name is Ell! Realized Lisle with delight. Ell was a part of it too, another bright spot on the web, closely linked with Lisle’s. Ell’s light shone a deep, indigo blue.
It was all so beautiful and perfect. She looked to see a lovely spot of gem-like green off to her left. She knew this was Mina, though she didn’t know how she knew. And there was Gareth, a light, spring green. Moss was there too, sparkling opalescent amidst a closely gathered pattern of many similar lights. Looking further she saw Jessamin, a garnet-hued red. Near Jessamin she saw Farn and then others, many, many others stretching off into the distance.
The colors all danced, pulsing and alive, blending into a stunning, moving pattern. It reminded her of the weaving of individual threads in one of Ma-Marn’s woven tapestries that together made a whole. Each thread in its place. Each thread essential to the whole and to every other thread. It was indescribably beautiful.
As she continued to gaze about, she saw places where the spots of light glimmered more darkly, the hues muted with grays and blacks and browns, though no less beautiful for that. It was just as in Ma-Marn’s tapestries, the dark colors setting off the light.
The thought occurred to her that the real beauty was in the contrast, the balance of dark and light.
Her awareness drifted to an area down below her, where a dark cloud, like the black smoke of the tar burners she’d seen in Greystone, obscured any light that might be within. Within that darkness there was no contrast and no beauty. There was no balance or perfection there. She felt an ominous sense of wrongness about it. It scared her, and she quickly turned her attention away from it, slowly drifting upward.
The scene changed, and fear forgotten, she saw a large, crater-topped mountain, surrounded by forest. Lisle felt and heard a word spoken in her mind, “Home,” and knew it was her Guardian speaking. Lisle felt such love and longing associated with this place and knew that Ell wanted to go home.
Lisle focused more closely until she hovered right over the crater, looking down into the mountain. There she saw crystal glittering on every wall of the cavern, diamond bright where the sun touched it, and glittering still, even in the shadows. She longed to go within and touch the sparkling surfaces that she saw. She felt a strong impulse to breathe in all that diamond brightness, but she felt herself drawn backwards and up.
Lisle sat, feeling deeply peaceful, as she gradually became aware of the cool hardness of the ground upon which she sat. She felt a slight cramp in her legs and stretched them out in front of her. She smelled the light, floral scent that she associated with her Guardian and felt the warmth upon her back where she leaned against her Guardian’s side. Lisle opened her eyes. The Guardian watched her with gold flecked, round-pupiled eyes. Lisle leaned forward and threw her arms about her Guardian’s neck, saying, “Ell. My Ell.”
A short while later, Lisle saw Gareth enter the clearing with several fat ground fliers strung over his shoulder. Waving to Lisle and giving a slight head bow to the Guardian, he set to preparing them for cooking. Lisle got up and joined him at the fire pit he used for cooking. She stood silently watching him until he looked up at her.
”E…Ell,” she gestured toward her Guardian, “wh…wh…wants to go h…h…h…home.”
Gareth looked at her, squinting his eyes, then looked up at the Guardian. “Ell, huh, that’s a good name.” He absently continued preparing his meal.
With a jerk of his head, he looked back at Lisle, his eyes opening wide. He stood up, hands on his hips, “Home? You mean Guardian Mountain?” He looked over at the Guardian, resting quietly in the sun, head and tail curled about her. Then he glared at Lisle. He threw an arm out toward the North. “Spines of the Guardian, Lisle, how are we supposed to get her all the way there? She’s not even flying yet.”
Lisle looked at him, a smile tugging at her lips. She too, looked over at her Guardian. Pride and awe filled her chest with a sudden intake of breath. Exhaling, she shrugged her shoulders and walked back to plop down beside Ell, giggling.
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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 Chapter 13 Chapter 14