Lisle felt tears tickle along her cheeks and drip from her chin as she stood up and eased her back. She had been staunching the flow of blood from Ell’s many wounds as best she knew how with only her small tunic as a cloth. She looked now at Ell as her Guardian lay stomach down on the ground. Her long neck stretched out before her and her jaw rested on the rocky earth beneath her, her wings were splayed unnaturally. Ell’s eyes were closed, and she seemed to be sleeping or unconscious. Lisle wasn’t sure which and it scared her.
Ell was covered with wounds, deep gouges on her sides, bite punctures along her spine, and scratches all over her neck. If not for her scaly hide Lisle was sure she would not have survived the attack. Lisle had managed to stop most of the bleeding, though the wounds looked raw and open, still weeping red on the deepest gouges along Ell’s abdomen.
“T…Terris, uh…uh…I st…st…stopped the bl…bleeding.” Lisle looked over at Terris to discover him slumped over sideways, his head tilted at an uncomfortable angle, eyes closed. She had been so focused on tending Ell that she hadn’t seen how badly injured he was.
What do I do? She thought frantically, Ell and Terris needed more tending than she knew how to give them. Maybe someone at Guardian Cavern can help? She was reluctant to leave her companions. They would be alone and injured, defenseless. What if that awful Guardian came back? But there was nothing for it, she had to go.
“I’ll guh…get h…help, Ell.” Ell’s eyelids flickered slightly. Lisle thought Ell had heard her; she hoped so.
Lisle made Terris as comfortable as she could by repositioning his head. She touched Ell’s jaw gently and leaned over to give her a feather-light kiss. Then she took off at a run up the path toward Guardian Cavern.
To her vast relief she soon met Gareth hobbling down the path towards her, using his bow as a crutch. She was so happy to see him alive and upright she ran at him and threw her arms around him, almost knocking him over.
“Easy there, Lisle.” Gareth grit his teeth as she jostled his leg, but he hugged her back with one arm. “I’m glad to see you too. Where‘re the others?”
Stumbling over her words, Lisle gave him a shortened version of all that had happened.
“I’ll get down there and stay with ‘em. If that big Guardian comes back, I’ll… well, I’ll keep it busy.”
Lisle shuddered at the thought of that enormous, dark Guardian, and an injured Gareth trying to hold it off. The sooner she got to the cavern and got help, the better.
Then she had an awful thought. What if Ell’s attacker had come from Guardian Cavern? Would she be running right into it’s jaws? It had flown off in another direction entirely. Maybe it hadn’t come from the Cavern at all. She desperately hoped that was true. All their lives depended on it, because she had no other way to get help but to continue on to Guardian Cavern.
Her stomach in knots she waved at Gareth limply, and was about to start up the mountain again when she realized that Moss wasn’t with him.
“Gareth, wh…where’s M…Moss?”
“Moss? She went with Terris up the cliff. She’s not with him?”
Lisle shook her head, no. Feeling more frantic than ever, she turned and continued her headlong rush up the mountain, pinning her hopes on finding help for her companions.
Her race up Guardian Mountain felt like it took hours, though in fact it was much less. Still, she was exhausted by the time she stood at the entrance of the tunnel which she thought might lead into Guardian Cavern. Having only seen the mountain from above in her vision with Ell, she had no way of knowing if this was the right entrance.
Lisle looked into the perfect oval of the opening. As she stepped inside, the rough stone of the tunnel stretched overhead in a ropy formation. The surface reminded her of the cheese Mina sometimes purchased on market day in town, though the color was considerably darker. She walked in, sunlight stretched into the tunnel for a short distance and then the light in the tunnel got dimmer the further she moved from the entrance. I wish Mina was here, she thought, as the dark surrounded her. Mina would know what to do right now. Even more Lisle wished she had brought a torch. She hadn’t thought, there was so much light in her vision. Yet, the tunnel just got darker and darker as she walked deeper into the mountain.
Soon it was so dark that she reached up with her fingers to feel if her eyes were actually open. She couldn’t see anything, not even her fingers right in front of her eyes. Her imagination went wild, picturing that huge, dark Guardian looming before her, many toothed jaws waiting to grab her. Still, she forced herself to put one foot in front of the other and kept moving. With one hand on the wall of the tunnel she had some measure of the space around her. The tunnel wall proceeded straight ahead, inclining slightly. She didn’t know what else to do but follow it, wrestling with the vivid scenes of terror in her mind and hoping it would lead her to the cavern she had seen so clearly in her vision.
Gradually, she realized that up ahead she was able to see the oval of the tunnel outlined in the faintest sparkling of light. With intense relief she moved along faster, though she still kept one hand on the guiding wall of the tunnel. Faster and faster still, as the shimmering light guided her, she began to trot. The light grew brighter until looking down the tunnel she could see a complete circle of light. It shone out reflecting bright sparkles from the walls and ceiling of the passageway. She ran faster, letting go of the wall and making for the bright circle ahead with a feeling of desperation as if the dark behind might grab her and pull her back.
She burst out into a large opening. The intensity of the light was too bright for her dark-adjusted eyes and she squinted her lids almost shut against the glare. As her eyes slowly adjusted, she opened them wider and was able to make out a huge cavern, with walls covered in twinkling light. It curved up to a domed ceiling ending in a bright, circular opening at the top. She could see a veil of sunlit green leaves partially covering the opening. The total effect of the cavern was stunning. This was the cavern of her vision, the one that Ell had shown her.
As her eyes traveled back down, she was startled to realize that there was an enormous Guardian, lying prone on a shelf of rock at the far side of the cavern. Lisle breathed out a sigh of relief to see that it was not the dark Guardian. This Guardian was colored like Ell, with slight variations in the shadings of olive, yellow and red. It held it’s runner-like head high on a long, sinuous neck and stared at her fixedly. As Lisle took in this startling sight, she was aware of movement from all around the cavern. Other, smaller Guardians were lifting their heads, turning graceful necks towards her. Ten pairs of golden eyes looked at her, unblinking.
One help me, thought Lisle. She had to trust they would help her. Her knees felt wobbly. Gasping in a halting breath she took a tentative step into the cavern. Then, without allowing herself to think about what she was doing, she sprinted forward, right up to the biggest Guardian.
“Y…You’ve got to help us. Ell and Terris are hurt, so’s Gareth. I d…d…don’t know where Moss is.”
Lisle was young and frantic enough not to realize that this Guardian might have no idea who she and her companions were. Tears rolled down Lisle’s cheeks as she looked up into the huge Guardian’s eyes. “We n…need…” Lisle knuckled her eyes to stop the betraying flow. “We need help!”
Lisle stared upwards. She had the strange sensation of falling up and into the Guardian’s golden orbs. The Guardian seemed to understand. Lisle knew suddenly and without doubt that everything was going to be alright and felt her knees go weak again, this time with relief.
As she started to sag, she felt strong, sure hands supporting her at the elbows. A woman had arrived and now stood at her side.
“You’ll be alright now, young one,” the woman said, quietly.
Lisle could feel her nurturing energy, so much like Mina’s. She allowed herself to lean toward her, resting in her strong hands.
A cloud of flyer folk lifted off from every corner of the cavern and swirled in an enormous, colorful tornado of clattering wings over Lisle’s head.
“Can you lead us to your companions?” Asked the woman.
Lisle’s lips curved upward. “Y…yes, b...bless the One,” she said, eyes closing as she sagged against the woman.
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 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28
Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37
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.