Tim sat in his favorite, sunny spot on the moss-covered ledge of grey rock which overhung Fal’s cave. For a time, he was mesmerized by the tiny flashes of crystalline white which sparkled in the rock beside him. Then, he leaned back into the spongey mat and rested on his elbows, lean, brown legs crossed at the ankles in front of him. The sun trickled down through the leaves of the scrubby trees surrounding the cave, a warm blanket of light flowing over the front of his body.
It felt so good to relax, at least for this moment. Fal had been increasingly edgy and irritable, pacing about the cave, whip-like tail lashing back and forth. When he got like that Tim had to watch out for himself. Fal was not careful about where his tail connected, and Tim had more than once been thrown against the wall. Better to sit out here in the sun and allow the Fallen to work through his temper.
Tim tilted his head back, breathing deeply of the sun-warmed air. He brushed a black curl out of his eyes and gazed idly at the wispy clouds drifting in the sky over the mountainside. Then his attention was caught by movement. He picked out a dark flier against the cloud’s fluffy white. Another Guardian! It had to be. No other flier would be so large at this distance.
It was only the second Guardian Tim had ever seen. Even though he now lived here in the base of Guardian Mountain, the only Guardian he ever saw was Fal. Beautiful as his Guardian was, Tim was thrilled to see another.
Over the past weeks he had seen Fal flying in the air, though it was an unusual occurrence. This one looked smaller than his Guardian. He strained his eyes to see it as it drifted closer, riding the wind with motionless wings extended. Now he could see that it was a rusty green, lighter than Fal’s deep emerald. As he stared, he saw flashes of ruby red along the ridges of a long, graceful neck and tail. This one was as stunningly beautiful as the Fallen, though lighter in color. Just then, it turned its head and looked right at him. He felt that glance move like a shock through his body and burst into his heart. Tim was astonished to feel tears trickling down his cheeks. Then the Guardian dipped down and disappeared behind the trees.
He was stricken at losing sight of it. So, he watched, his heart pounding, feeling desperate to see it again. He searched the mountainside above Fal’s cave, hungry green eyes traveling up to the summit and back, looking for any sign of movement.
One corner of his mind noted that all was still from inside the cave. Perhaps his Guardian was sitting now, lost in his inner world. Thank the One, thought Tim.
He continued to scan the mountainside and the sky above. Finally, he caught sight of a large figure which he knew must be the other Guardian. It was at the head of a line of smaller, human-shaped figures, moving up the side of the mountain. He stared avidly, drinking in the sight of the small Guardian.
A short time later he saw a fourth figure moving fast at an angle behind the three, and climbing up above them. The others didn’t seem to be aware of their pursuer, but it looked as though he was getting into position to attack them.
The Hunter, realized Tim, horrified.
Without conscious thought, Tim was off the ledge and racing up the side of the mountain. He had to stop him.
“Gareth is hit!” Yelled Terris, turning to aid his friend. The path was narrow. On one side was a sheer drop off. On the other a rock wall and an overhang. Gareth lay under the overhang, an arrow imbedded in his thigh.
Moss, wings clattering with anxiety, landed beside Gareth, and watched as he held his leg, eyes squeezed shut, teeth gritted against the pain.
“Bloody claws,” said Gareth, “not again.” He looked up at Terris, face pale, “You’ve gotta keep going, Terris.” He moved his leg experimentally and grimaced. “I’ll catch you up. Guard them Terris! You too, Moss. Go!”
Agonized, Terris looked at his friend and clenched his jaw against whatever he might have said, knowing Gareth was right. Then he extended his hand to Moss and turned to catch Lisle as she charged back down the rock-strewn path toward them. Ell, golden eyes focused upon Gareth, trotted close behind, sending pebbles rattling down the hillside in her wake.
“We gotta get you n’ Ell up there. Gareth’ll be along. Move now," said Terris, holding Lisle's arm with one hand, as she strained toward Gareth.
Terris reached his other hand up to offer Moss his shoulder, but she took to the air, hovering above them. He then turned Lisle around by her shoulders and made a waving motion for Ell to turn as well. He gently and firmly pushed Lisle ahead of him up the path, as Ell ponderously negotiated the tight turn and moved into place to lead the way once again.
Terris scanned the rocks above them for the shooter, even as Lisle stumbled on the path, her head turned, looking back over her shoulder toward the overhang. He caught her and they climbed steadily. There was no sign of their assailant. The sun beating down was hot, the unmoving air getting thin and hard to breathe. They didn't dare stop to rest.
The path continued, narrow and treacherous with a sheer drop off down the side to their right. Terris’s eyes blurred with strain as he scanned the rocks ahead of them. Perspiration dripped down his face and into his panting mouth, tasting salty and rank.
A slight movement above and in front of them caught his attention. He saw a stealthy figure duck down behind a boulder just behind another overhang of rock. They would never be able to pass that overhang safely. Terris had to do something, but what? I’m no bowman, no fighter. All I got's a cooking knife.
Slowing his pace, Terris called to mind the only fighting he had ever done, wrestling matches with his brothers when he was a younger. He had spent many of his early days pinned to the ground by one enormous brother or another. The only way he ever had a chance was to take one by surprise.
Suddenly, he knew what he had to do.
Terris tapped Lisle’s shoulder. Moss whirred down to hover beside him. As Lisle turned to him, he said softly, “You keep comin’ along slow with Ell.” He slipped his pack off and handed it to Lisle. “I’m gonna climb up and git behind that bowman, and fer One’s sake, stay behind Ell and keep yer head down.”
Lisle nodded assent with a forehead wrinkled with anxiety. Taking the pack, she hurried up beside Ell, and pulled back on her wing. Ell slowed her pace, as Terris began to scale the wall of rock bordering the narrow path they trod, his lean muscles straining with effort. Moss zipped up beside him, shining wings a blur, landing on the rocks above, alert and watchful.
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