Mad High: The Liberator

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Mad High:

 

Freshmen Year

 

Chere Lei

 

To my grandson, Caleb, who believes his grandmother can do anything.

 

The Liberator

 

A Prolog


On the planet of Xoegaia the vast Forest of  Tengar guarded the future of two worlds.  It consisted of trees with reddish hue foliage giving it a scarlet shimmer when viewed from the mountains surrounding it. This induced the people who lived there to name it for the red gem tengar.   The element transom, abundantly found in the soil of the forest, produced the redness of the trees. Nestled in the middle of the dense forest, a house with a modest kitchen vibrated with the voices of twin girls with bouncing golden curls, who played on the floor as their mother prepared dinner.They made their own imaginary food by mimicking their mother’s movements with a set of toy pots and pans given to them by their maternal grandparents on their last visit.

At the kitchen table a raven haired father bent over his curly, towheaded son of four. The children had inherited his wife’s enchanting wavy golden hair, instead of his midnight unruly mane, which delight him every time he gazed at his offspring. They worked on a kite they hoped to fly in the meadow tomorrow afternoon after all the morning chores. The young wavy haired son had drawn a likeness of a dragon on some paper before they had begun. He loved dragons. He had heard about dragons from his father ever since he entered the world. He fell in love with them from the very first story he heard. It had been about how Deagon the Invincible had helped the first Liberator, Vester, take down the tyrant, King Toggoman. That had been three thousand years ago. His Champion had been a young woman named Floura from a planet called Earth. Before The Liberator‘s third birthday, The Wise Ones took him and his parents to Earth to hide him until he grew into his powers and found his Champion. Together with the help of the dragons they defeated the king saving both worlds from his wrath. The boy Taran loved hearing how they fought with every ounce of their being to keep everyone free. The end of the story always made him sad. Each time his father would put on a sober face and whisper a silent thank you to the two brave warriors who kept them free. Although they defeated Toggoman, they suffered mortal wounds during the last battle in the Great Hall of the Kings. So severe were their injuries that The Liberator’s powers of healing became useless against death’s embrace. Just enough life remained in their bodies for them to stumble into each other’s arms for one last kiss as they entered the next life. Deagon let out a mournful roar as his friends left the world of the living. He sat there three days with his wing sheltering them from any more harm. Each time the priest of the dead came for the bodies to prepare them for their journey on the River of Transition, the dragon would spit fire at them, sending the priest screaming out of the castle with flames streaming behind them. To save themselves, they jumped into the fountain fed by a mountain spring on the west side of the castle. On the morning of the fourth day Zak, one of The Wise Ones, came to talk to the dragon. No one knows what The Wise One said to the dragon, but it caused him to scoop up the bodies of his friends and fly away to the great northern mountains, never to be seen again. All the dragons that fought for freedom followed him into exile never to be seen since that day. Some say the great beasts sleep in the mountains until the next Liberator needs or calls to them. Others say they all died of broken hearts that day and joined The Liberator and his Champion in death, but no dragons’ bodies were ever found, keeping hope of their return alive in the boy’s heart.

People who lived and worked in the Castles of the Kings said, sometimes when the air is still and the sun is just starting to set on a cool spring evening, The Liberator and his Champion reappear to hold each other as they did three thousand years ago. Anyone who sees them is overtaken by an immense sadness that lasts for four days. This is especially true on the day of the anniversary of their deaths. People come from all over the land for just a glimpse of the specters from the past on this day, hoping to be changed from the encounter. Claims of healing by some who gazed upon the two lovers last moments brought comfort to the oppressed land. Others came away so profoundly changed, their loved ones claimed a new soul occupied their bodies. Drunk, abusive husbands changed into kind and loving husbands to the delight of their wives. Cheating wives and husbands never cheated on their spouses again.

Other reports described how the wind sounded like the mournful cry of Deagon the Invincible on the day he lost his beloved friends. These stories are handed down from generation to generation. The boy hoped to tell them to his children and his sisters’ children one day. Each story telling ended with the reciting of the prophecy of the dragons return. Every child could recite this prophecy by heart before their third harvest. “When The Liberator once again walks the world, so too will the dragons fly again.” The dragon lover hoped with all his heart that The Liberator would walk again in his lifetime. He so wanted to ride a dragon. Every time Taran dreamed of riding a dragon pleasure engulfed his being until the realization of why The Liberator returned dawned on him. For The Liberator to reappear an incomprehensible evil like King Toggoman from the old tales would once again threaten their world.

Taran was the eldest at the age of four harvests while his twin sisters had only seen two harvests. Identical physically, but as far as spirit, Zerran the younger of the two by three minutes, were the more lovely, sweet and caring. Zerran had a smile constantly on her face, which brightened everyone’s day, while her twin, Tempest, screamed and cried most of the day. Relief came only when she cried herself to sleep every night. A storm brewed in her that when released seem to bring emotional storm clouds into the house. Tempest had more than once visited her wrath on her brother for preferring Zerran over her.

Once as Taran played on the floor with Zerran, Tempest threw a wooden toy catching the boy in the forehead just above his right eye. Tempest came and stood over him with a crooked, menacing smile on her face. She reached down and touched the blood seeping from the wound. “I’m so sorry brother- it slipped,” she apologized as her fingers played with the blood on them. Delight danced in her eyes and a small smirk touched her lips when she retrieved her toy and skipped off with her fingers in her mouth as if she could taste Taran’s pain though the blood on them. On this day he discovered his sister Zerran had a gift that made her different. She reached up and touched his forehead where it had been wounded. A warm tingling sensation that radiated from his sister’s delicate, tender fingers permeated his whole being. The pain receded as his sister touched him. With horror he saw the wound appear on his sister in the same spot. He touched his head discovering his wound healed. Zerran began to cry silently. She uttered one word, “Food.” Taran went into the kitchen and brought back some bread with butter. As she ate the offering, her wound began to disappear. Afraid they would take his beloved sister from him, Taran told no one what happened that day.

“Okay, you two, clean up your mess so we can eat.” The mother commanded as she smiled at her two men.

The father carefully hung the kite on a peg on the back screened-in porch. Rubbing his hands together with a hungry expression, he took a seat at the end of the table. “Okay wife of mine, what’s to eat?”

“Roast beef with potatoes, carrots and gravy with yeast buns,” the wife responded as she set a platter down, brimming with food. Before she went back to retrieve the bread she laid a knife and fork by her husband.

“My favorite,” he said as he grabbed the utensils his wife had placed on the table and stood to carve the meat. As he carved he dished out the food.

“Honey, this looks delicious as always. And you always cook my favorite all the time.” The children giggle as he dragged his wife into his arms and kissed her.

“That’s because everything Mom cooks is your favorite,” Taran informed him with a giggle. Taran loved both his parents, but he idolized his dad. His dad never failed to make Taran feel like he was the reason his dad loved life. He told him every day that his life became brighter the day his little man made his appearance.

Just as they finished dinner, a knock sounded on the back screen door. Taran’s dad pushed away from the table to answer the door.

“Stay here, I’ll be back,” turning to his wife, he continued his commands, “Tamara keep the children in here.”

Taran didn’t like the tone of his father’s voice. He heard a touch of fear in it as shivers went down his spine. When his mother herded them to the other room, the boy broke free and peered out the back window. In front of his father stood the tallest man the four-year old had ever seen. He towered two feet above his dad, who stood six feet himself. Taran’s mother came up behind the boy.

“Taran get away from that window and come with me to the other room.” The mother glanced out the window and gasped. “No, it can’t be. It’s too soon. We had until summer. She’s only two and you’re only four.”

The confused boy looked up at his mother’s terrified face. “Mom who is that man?” Taran asked with hate growing in him for the tall white man because of the anguish engulfing his mother’s face.

“Zak isn’t a man- He’s a Wise One and he has come for you and your sister.” Tamara told him as she stroked the back of his hair. “Oh god! Taran run to your room and pack as much as you can. I will pack up the girls.” The four-year old stood there as if he didn’t understand her words. “Run!”

The urgency in her command spurred the boy to his room to fulfill her demand. Before heading to his room, he checked on his sisters. The brother found Zerran happily playing with her rag doll, while Tempest watched the window. A thud against the window made a scream flood from Zerran like he never heard before. Tempest stood looking at the grotesque creation at the window with a gleam in her eye and an unnatural smirk on her face for a girl of her years. Taran snatched his sister, Zerran‘s hand to drag her out when his mother appeared in the door.

“Take your sister and run to your father and Zak. I’ll get Tempest” He felt his mother tremble with fear.

On the bed Tempest eagerly crawled toward the creature who had his face plastered against the window showing his mouth filled with sharp uneven teeth arranged in two rows along its top and bottom gums. The dull yellow teeth with streaks of red seem too numerous for his wide mouth, but somehow they all fit. A strange combination of a putrid green mixed with specks of dirty yellow painted the irises, which took up most of the eye with a wide, vertical saucer like pupil in the center. On top of the head jutted two horns that curved toward each other and on each side of the head hung two big cauliflower ears. The ears would have given the creature a comical appearance if it hadn’t had such fierce eyes, mouth and horns. The tightly stretched skin curved over muscle and bones and seem to have a frog or salamander type quality to it. Goose bumps ran over Taran’s small body, making him shiver as he wondered what the creature considered food and hoping small children didn’t fall into that category.

The animal jerked its head back and rammed the window with its horns sending glass flying everywhere. The shards of glass flew around Tempest without harming her as if her admiration for the creature protected her. Tamara reached for her daughter as the thing did the same. The mother got there first. Tempest let out an ear-splitting scream and bit her mother’s arm. Through the pain she held on to her daughter until Tempest rammed both feet into her mother’s stomach. The woman’s load went flying onto the bed, bouncing twice on her face, Tempest jumped to her feet and ran to the vile beast. It locked both of its slimy hands around her waist as she reached for its neck. The mother made one more attempted to save her daughter, but the toddler kicked her hands away. Tamara stood in disbelief as she pulled back empty hands after the beast vanished into the darkness with her daughter.

“Mom, Mom. Where’s Tempest?” her son asked with her other daughter in tow.

Taran’s voice jolted his mother out of her incomprehensible fog. “The grentchen took her,” the mother said with disbelief, “and she seemed more than willing to go with it,” she add in a low voice to herself as she stared at the empty broken window that mocked her.

Another one of the creatures appeared at the window. Its eyes shifted to the small girl standing behind her brother. A toothy grin ran across its face as it locked eyes with the girl. The mother sidestepped in front of her children to conceal them from the beast. With her left hand behind her, she waved her son back. “Taran take your sister and run to your father.”

Not wanting to leave his mother alone to face the loathsome beast, the boy hesitated. Sensing his hesitation, his mother growled her next words to her son, “Go now! Run!”

Before leaving, the boy and his sister glanced back at their mother one last time. A small metal rod in their mother’s right hand jetted out from both of its ends, turning into a long staff with sharp knife like points, in reaction to being hammered down with great force. The woman started spinning it in front of herself. The beast leaped toward her. The lance jabbed the creature in the ribs, sending it sprawling on the bed. Never seeing their mother like this, the two children’s eyes grew twice their size. Dark green grentchen blood drenched the bed eating the bed as it seeped into it. Although green vile liquid poured from its wound, the thing regained its footing and kept advancing, dripping corrosive liquid with each step. The mother backed away slowly with her eyes glancing from side to side and her weapon poised to strike again if the creature went for her children until she bumped the door. She slid her left hand to the handle, stepped out of the room and quickly slammed the door. As she held the door, she leaned down and kissed Taran and then Zerran on the top of the head. “My babies, I love both of you more than life itself so please run and don’t look back.” Turning her attention to Taran, she continued her instructions, “Tell your dad the grentchens have come for your sisters”

The look of terror in his mother’s eyes caused Taran to take a deep breath as if somehow he could breathe in the courage he needed to help his family. He had never seen her so frightened. Not even the time they came face to face with the bear on their daily walk in the forest. The boy tightened his grip on his sister’s hand, but she wiggled out of his grip and wrapped her arms around one of her mother’s legs. The door kept being yanked by the grentchen. It would have succeeded in getting it open had Tamara not had both of her hands on the knob holding it shut with all of her strength. “Taran go get your dad!” she ordered. Taran went through the house screaming for his dad. His dad and The Wise One rushed to meet him in the kitchen. Frighten for his mother and sister the boy gasped for air before speaking.

“Grentchen,” Taran managed to wheeze out in spite of his fear as he pointed toward the girls’ room. The boy followed the two men back to the bedroom. On their arrival, the door to the bedroom gave way, sending the woman head first into the grentchen. Her weapon leaning against the hallway wall fell with a rattle beside her and the grentchen. It pushed the mother aside to reach for the child still hanging on to the woman’s leg. Ignoring the pain of being burned by the blood on her shirt, the mother reached for her weapon on the floor. Just as she raised her spear to defend her daughter again, Zerran let out a high pitch scream that no one but the grentchen could hear. It sent the beast into a fit. Covering its ears, it roared with agony as it backed toward the window it had come in. The father picked up his daughter. As he handed her off to the tall, long white-haired man he had talked to on the porch he kissed her on her round pudgy cheek.

A tear dropped from his face. “Zak take them. I will see to my wife. We will hold them off until you are safe.” Putting both of his hands on his son’s shoulders he bent down to speak to him. “Taran, remember that your mother and I love you. Go with Zak. He will protect you. We will try to come get you as soon as we can. Then we will go to our new home in a very special place. You are Zerran‘s protector now. Nothing can happen to her. Keep her safe – the future of two planets depends on her surviving.” He hugged his son to him and kissed him on the side of his head. Knowing this could be the last time he saw his son, the reason his soul rejoiced and his life had meaning, he lingered a second longer than he should. The front door blasted open, sending splinters of wood toward the group. Searing pain distorted the father’s countenance. As Waylan straighten up and turned to fight the beast coming toward them, the boy gasped in horror at the sliver of wood sticking out the father’s back. Zak yanked him toward the back door as the boy, with tears running down his face, screamed for his father.

The man reached behind him and broke the splinter off, leaving just enough of it to plug his wound until he could get to a safer location to take care of it. Not having time to acquire his own weapon, he rammed the wood in the advancing grentchen’s eye sending it reeling backwards. Yellowish green blood sprayed the house and the father. Blisters began to form on the man’s face as the blood ate at his flesh. The wife ripped the covering from the couch to wipe her husband’s face before the green blood seeped into his eyes and blinded him.

On the wall above the couch a round picture frame with a rather boring picture in it swung back and forth from the commotion in the house. The husband snatched the picture from the wall in mid swing, cracking it into two even pieces on his knee and handed his wife half after removing the torn picture. They each pushed on the sides of their half of the picture frame which caused them to turn into protective eye glasses. The glass of the frame flipped down and curves formed at the end of the frame, forming perfect ear pieces. When they placed the glasses over their eyes, they sent a beam of energy that spread out like an umbrella before cascading down their bodies to form an invisible shield around each of them. The shield wouldn’t stop claws, teeth or other weapons, but it would keep the grentchen’s blood from blinding them, which proved crucial to survive a grentchen attack. Many a fighter fell to the grentchen by getting the beast’s poisonous blood in their eyes. A person blinded by the beast’s blood could have their head removed by one swipe of the grentchen’s claw before regaining their eyesight

“Where are the children?” she asked as she eyed the wound on her husband’s back and the whelps on his handsome face. The sight of her husband like this made her cringe and love him even more.

The man scanned his wife for signs of injuries while he answered her. “With Zak.”

She nodded. “Then I guess we’re on our own.”

They knew this day would come, but weren’t expecting it until Zerran had her fifth birthday, still three harvests from now, by then they would be relocated to their new hiding place far from the queen‘s reach. They were scheduled to leave next year during the summer equinox when there would be two suns in the sky, hiding them from the queen‘s seers. At five Zerran‘s soul would begin to manifest itself differently and the forest would no longer be able to shield her from those who hunted her. Having compassion for someone by taking their pain into her soul triggered her transformation sooner, which alerted the queen to her location. The husband and wife looked at each other and smiled. Together they proclaimed, “That’s our girl.” Each of their hearts swelled with pride, joy and undying love for the future Liberator, their little girl. They so wanted to watch her grow up into the beautiful woman she would become, but knew their duty now was to make sure she grew up even with adoptive parents.

Tamara took two metal plates off a shelf on the wall and handed one to her husband as she reached over and kissed him. “I love you. Always have and always will- even into the next life.” She started to break away, but Waylan pulled her back gently by her head and returned her kiss. “Even into the next life.” The brief glance between them, let the other know they were in this together and neither one would leave the other to face the coming battle alone. They each pressed their hands on the back of the plates making the plates grow ten times their size and form a handle on the back. Standing back to back, they braced for the on slot of beasts. One came from the back door and one from the front searching for their prey. As the beast from the front door, rushed the man, he swiped a metal rod from his pocket. While he whirled it back toward the grentchen, the rod lengthened into a blade on one end and a handle on the other. With one smooth movement of the blade the head of the beast separated from the body and went spinning toward the wall. It squirted blood everywhere, coating the room and everything in it with another layer of slimy grentchen blood. The blood sizzled as it ate its way through everything it landed on.

An eye full of blinding blood from his fellow animal welcomed the next beast bursting through the front window. It clawed at its eyes, screaming with pain. A sword to the belly silenced its screams. Waylan finished the beast, at the end of his sword, by yanking upwards causing the guts to spill on the floor and it to teeter toward him. He knew if it fell on him, he would perish. Without hesitation, he sent the beast the other direction with a sideways kick, sending it colliding with the beast his wife battled, ending the stalemate between the beast and the woman allowing her to sever its head with the shield she held in both hands as it struggled to free itself from the body-trap. The chilly evening in the forest of Garnet didn’t keep the couple from being soaked with sweat from their battle. Having grentchen blood all around them didn’t help matters. The smell of it made both of them dry heave. They caught their breath as much as possible, knowing another group of grentchens could be on them within minutes. The parents hoped they had stayed off the attack long enough for their children and their guardian to make it to safety.

Waylan raised his fist and sent it through the front room wall. He pulled out a silver ball that took up most of his palm. His wife glared at him with frightened eyes. “Is it really time for that?”

“I’m afraid so my love. My strength is failing me.”

This was hard for her to believe, that her husband, the strongest man in the area, couldn’t continue the fight, until he turned and faced her. Tears filled her eyes when she saw the gashes across his left side. Blood streamed down his leg into his boots like a red river. She ran to support him when he stumbled and slumped onto the couch.

“Kiss me my love and leave. Our children should at least have their mother.”

Her words came in sobs. “I can’t,” she rubbed her sleeve across her face clearing the tears from her eyes, “live without you. You are my heart, my love, my soul.” Her heart ached for her lost love.

“You must. Our children need you.” He twisted the top portion of the silver sphere making it glow and float from his hand.

“Not without you. Why didn’t you use your shield to protect yourself?” She asked as she pressed the towel, she retrieved from the bathroom, onto his wound. His blood turned the towel a crimson red as it slowed the flow of the life liquid.

“I did- but I could only protect one of us. You didn’t see the thing coming up behind you.” He coughed. A fine mist of blood came with the cough spraying the front of his wife. With love in his heart and eyes, he uttered his last words to her, “Please leave. I will love you always and forever. Even until….” The man’s head fell to his chest in silence.

The woman screamed as she cradled her husband’s lifeless body in her arm’s. Ten grentchens stormed the house. As soon as they were all gathered in the house, but before they could kill her, with rivers of tears streaming down her face, she shouted out in her native tongue, “Domfreus, ferous zoeous tey tellusmen ah tey neumas!” “Freedom, long life to the Liberator.” Enraged by her words, the grentchens leaped at the woman to silence her.

A flash of light in the night sky consumed the house and everything within one mile around it. A sound wave headed toward the sleeping town of Jasment. When it made contact, it rattled windows and shook pictures from the walls. A few citizens stirred in their beds, only to turn over and continue their slumber as if nothing happened. In the morning a few would notice cracks in their walls and would shrug it off to go about their quiet little lives, oblivious to the sacrifice of the two fallen heroes just a short distance away.

On Zak’s way back to help his friends, he shielded his eyes with his arm when night turned into day. A sudden hush fell over the forest as if every sound had been sucked from the world. The Wise One leapt for shelter behind a fallen tree to brace for the wind that followed the blast when he saw trees ripped from the dirt by their roots. The log he hid behind rocked and bounced up and down as the wind passed by carrying with it helpless animals one after another that sailed over the old man. Brushing debris from his glowing white robes as he stood once the aftershock ended, The Wise One scanned the area where the blast came from hoping the children’s parents, his friends, had somehow escaped alive. He tapped his head with his staff covering himself with a glimmering protective substance before pointing to the distance pillars of smoke. The staff took off in the air toward the destruction, dragging the man with it. Zak drifted down to the edge of where the house once stood with the rod held over his head in both hands. Nothing living stirred from the ashes. Smoke snaked up into the air, bringing minute particles of everything vaporized in the blast area with it. The smokey cloud over head continue to grow, stretching its fingers of deadly smoke outwards infecting the forest with its un-breathable air. Every animal in the forest tried to escape the smoke by any means possible. Burrowing animals went deeper into their holes hoping the smoke could not reach them but it did. They took one sniff and died. Aided by the wind, the smoke engulfed the sky so fast it rained birds wherever it traveled.

The town of Jasment lay to the south right in the path of the lethal cloud. Zak knew he had to contain the poisonous waste before it drifted down to the town or Lake Horsehead, so named because it resembled a horse’s head when viewed from the mountains surrounding it. Even if the smoke didn’t reach the mountain town by wind, people would still die or become seriously sick if the lake they drew their drinking water from, became contaminated. The people of this town and towns like it could blissfully continue with their happy little lives because of The Wise Ones who watched over them. Only a select few people had ever met a Wise One. These people were like Taran and his sister Zerran and their parents. They were major players in the game of life who protected the unknowing masses from the underlying destruction that would be unleashed if the chosen few were destroyed. People like these were special in that they set aside their wants and desires for the good of the many. They had an undeniable attraction that caused others, with the same love for life and freedom, to follow them even in death.

Bending back his head, Zak opened his mouth to admit a loud humming noise from deep within him. In response to his hum, three more Wise Ones appeared in front of him. Facing in four different directions, they each flew in the direction they pointed their staff, landing just in front of the billowing cloud they each sent a blanket of light from the end of their mental rods. When the blankets of light met they joined creating a seamless force field to contain the poison until it settled after a year. The field would keep everything in and out until the area could be naturally cleansed of its death.

Zak brought Taran and Zerran to the hollow tree Taran ‘s father and he had hiked to many a time. They called it the mother tree because the bulge on its one side made it look like a mother ready to give birth. Many smaller trees grew around its base that looked like tree children adding to the illusion of the tree being a mother. The two children fit nicely into a large hollow at the base of the tree. The Wise One bent down, giving Taran instructions before he left to help his parents. “Taran, look at me.” Once he made sure he had the four-year old’s attention he continued. “Don’t leave this spot or let your sister leave under any circumstance until I or your parents come for you. I will put a camouflage shield around you, to hide you from the grentchens. They will not be able to see, hear or smell you so don’t move if they come by. You will be able to see out, but they will only see the trunk of the tree as solid. Do you understand?” With a frighten expression the boy nodded yes as he reached for his sister’s hand. Zak knew Taran was young in years, but old in his spirit and soul. In spite of his few years he would keep his sister and himself safe. Zak pointed his staff at them covering the base of the tree with the shield. He then turned, heading back to the house. The ancient tree now stood guard over the little girl and boy who would keep Xoegaia and Earth free to grow and develop as The Wise One knew they should.

A brilliant flash of light spread across the sky when The Wise One stood a few feet from the tree. The children saw him jump behind a log as a bright light erased night from the sky over the forest. Zerran buried her head in her brother’s chest while Taran bowed his head over her back to protect his eyes from the blast.

Complete silence followed the light as thunder follows lightning. The boy had thought he had gone deaf until the wind came. He and his sister held each other hoping the mother tree could withstand the powerful wind. They watched as uprooted trees, rocks, small and large animals sailed by. A grentchen sunk its claws in their tree trying to keep from being flung over the edge of the cliff beyond the rise. It let out a hideous scream as it repeatedly clawed at the tree, hoping to anchor itself to it. The wind won the struggle and ripped the beast from the tree. In his effort to save itself, the grentchen left a set of claw marks across the tree’s trunk three feet above the children’s head. Three of its claws clinging in the bark also testified to its lost fight with the aftershock of the blast. Each of the children felt the other one shiver when the beast howled his death scream.

Being worried and frightened for themselves as well as their parents, didn’t keep fatigue from overtaking them. Zerran‘s head bobbed and nodded as she tried to fight sleep off. Soon her droopy eyes could no longer resist the sandman’s call to slumber. Taran drew her head down to his chest. The melody of his heart pumping soon sang her into a slumber. Laying his head back against the tree Taran soon followed his sister into sleep as he whispered a goodbye to his parents with tears streaming down his face, he gave into his fatigue and uneasily entered the land of sleep.

A low growling with a sniffing sound brought Taran out of his restless sleep. Darkness greeted his eyes when he opened them. The boy shifted slightly to see if he could catch a glimpse of the animal making the noise. The face of a badger appeared at the hollow of the tree. Taran breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t a grentchen. His mind drifted back to what had taken place at his home hours before. He could still see the grentchen reaching for his sister, Zerran, after it had forced the bedroom door open sending his mother tumbling to the floor. Its hideous mouth in a twisted grin that revealed two rows of yellow, red streaked teeth. The eyes made Taran feel like a stuffed pig that the grentchen wanted to eat raw in two gulps. Taran’s hope for his parents faded with every minute they didn’t come for him and his sister. The grentchen had taken his other sister, Tempest, Zerran‘s twin, through the window. Taran wondered if the beast had eaten his sister. If Tempest’s life had ended as dinner for one of these loathsome creatures, he hoped she left a bad taste in his overly huge mouth and upset his stomach for at least a week. He looked down at his other sister and smiled slightly. Being delighted that the creature took Tempest instead of Zerran seemed wrong to the boy, but he couldn’t help himself – Zerran was his favorite for good reason. Tempest made his family’s life a living hell even at two. She walked around life with a storm cloud for a personality. Even as a baby his mother said Tempest would cry and throw a fit any time she showed any interest at all to Zerran or Taran. His mother could only nurse Zerran after Tempest had fallen to sleep. Half the time she had to cry herself to sleep because she found no comfort in anything her mother tried to soothe her with. More than a few times objects had whizzed past Taran’s head barely missing his head while Tempest maliciously giggle as she toddled away. Two days ago the toy did find its target, his forehead, and left a gash across it. Enraged, Taran pushed himself to his knees to retaliate when Zerran touched his wound and healed it by taking it into herself. Taran shook his head as he thought how could his sisters look so much alike physically but be so different in their souls. If Tempest was a storm cloud, Zerran was the rainbow after the storm. She brightened everyone’s day just by her exuberant smile that made her eyes sparkle and her loving attitude.

The badger dug at the base of the tree now. Taran wished it would leave. He didn’t want Zerran waking up and wanting to pet it. His sister seemed to embrace all nature, even the dangerous ones like a badger. His mother checked her pockets every time she came in from playing outside or their house would have been overrun with all kinds of little creatures that found their way into Zerran‘s pockets. His mother nearly broke her neck when she reached into Zerran‘s pocket and came out with a snake wrapped around her hand. Although the snake was a harmless baby frogsnake, his mother still flicked it across the kitchen toward the back screened porch. The frogsnake, an amphibian, was called a snake because of how it looked in its tadpole stage. Like a frog it laid its eggs in water to hatch into tadpoles. The tadpoles were long and looked more like small venomous water snakes, which kept predators away from the young. The only way to tell them apart was by examining their mouth. The deadly water snake, Killer of Kings, had fangs and the frogsnake had no teeth at all. As they grew the two became more distinguishable – the Killer of Kings grew longer and never escapes the water, while the frogsnake developed four legs allowing it to run around on land. Killer of Kings acquired its name from a legend. The legend of the two great kingdoms of Oakash and Stoymite consisted mostly of battles that stretch across more than fifty years that ended with both kings dying while crossing a tributary of the river Basbic for another battle. Each king suffered a bite from a snake in the water. Just as they were to give the battle cry, they fell from their horses and were dead before they hit the ground. Closer inspection of the kings‘ bodies uncovered a small snake attached to each king‘s leg. Each son of the late kings went out to meet the other. They both discovered that each of them hungered for peace. Aaron of Oakash, loved Kesh the sister of Prince Eric of Stoykite. To seal their peace he asked for her hand in marriage and in return Arron’s sister, Beatrice married Eric. The two kingdoms have lived in peace ever since that day.

As the badger dug right in front of the opening of the tree, a long-fingered claw swiped it up. Taran heard a crunching sound as the creature bit into the animal followed by an agonizing scream. Within seconds blood dripped across the opening of the tree from above. Goose flesh crept over his four-year old body, provoking it to shake uncontrollably. His sister stirred, waking just in time to see the grentchen grinding the badger in its teeth. The toddler slammed the back of her head against her brother’s chest, preparing to let out an ear-splitting scream. A hand clamped across her mouth, stifling the scream. Even though the Wise One, Zak, said the containment field was sound proof, Taran didn’t want to take any chances with the grentchen, besides he wanted to save his ears from his sister’s scream. With them being this close, if she let out one of her high pitch screams she might lacerate his eardrums even if it was silent to his ears. He didn’t need that pain on top of the pain of losing their parents.

The grentchen hung there blinking its grotesque yellow eyes at them while it sniffed at the tree. It crouched there like a two legged spider, smiling its creepy toothy grin with a mouth full of dead badger. Suddenly it pulled its head back away from the tree to head butted the tree with all its strength. A rain of needles fell from the mother pine showering the grentchen. While it shook, trying to remove the needles, it also sprayed badger blood against the tree causing the children to cringe. Zerran buried her head in her brother’s chest, silently screaming for her mother. Taran held his sister as tight as he could without hurting her. Once again the beast reared its huge head back to ram the tree. This time he kept on hitting the pine over and over again. The tree shuddered more with each hit, sending a cascade of needles to the forest floor with every blow. Taran heard the tree crack from the unending head pounding. Across the top of the opening a crack appeared on the right and worked its way to the left. Taran braced for the tree to fall.

Still holding on to his sister, he turned her toward the grentchen. “If this tree falls. You scream, loud and long.” The brother spoke into his frightened sister’s ear. “You’re our only hope Zerran.”

The top of the proud tree gave way falling to the ground after a millennium of growth. In the town of Jasment, the town’s people were awakened from their restful sleep by what sounded like thunder followed by a slight rumbling of the ground. A few books, cups and plates rolled from their spots on shelves. Most of them just rolled over and continued their nightly slumber oblivious to the fact that their futures were being decided at that moment. Their freedom rested with two small children deep in the forest that surrounded them.

Taran and Zerran bounced when the tree hit the ground. Taran wrapped his arms as tightly as he could around his younger sister’s waist. The grentchen wasn’t going to take her without him coming with her. Badger blood greeted the siblings when they looked up. The grentchen sucked the badger the rest of the way into its over-sized mouth, swallowing it without chewing. Zerran ran her hand down her face, smearing the badger blood across it. Taking her hand away from her face, she saw blood covered it. Glancing through her hand, she saw her brother also covered in blood. The sight of badger blooded dripping from her brother took her voice away, putting her into a state of shock.

The grentchen raised its claw above its head and thrust it down toward Zerran catching her right arm to yank her up by it with Taran still holding her waist. “SCREAM ZERRAN, SCREAM!” her brother pleaded as he dangled from her waist.

Zerran took a deep breath and bellowed at the thing as a flash of light hit it squarely on its hunched back. It dropped both children as it grabbed at its ears just in time for a bolt of lightning from behind to sever the top half from the bottom half. With the hands still clamped to its ears, the upper torso went one way while the bottom half and the viscera went another. A sizzling sound filled the silence that engulf the forest as the beast’s blood ate away at whatever it landed on.

As soon as Taran realized what happened to the creature, he covered Zerran with his body protecting her by getting most of the grentchen on him. He could feel a tingling sensation all over his body. He knew it would soon turn to an unbearable burning sensation if he didn’t get it washed off of him. Taran stood up, placing Zerran on her feet in front of him and ripped his shirt off over his head. He found a clean spot on his shirt and wiped the few small spots of green gooey blood mixed with the dark red blood of the badger off her face.

“Come on, sister we need to get this stuff off of us before it eats down to the bone.” Taran told his sister as he took her hand and stepped out of the tree trunk, meeting a worried looking Zak running up to them.

“Good job Taran. I knew you could keep your sister safe.” Zak eyes ran up and down the children. “I think that was the last beast for tonight. Here, come over here so we can clean you two up.”

The boy stood looking at Zak and pointed the other way. “But Zak, the river it that way.”

“What makes you think you are going to be cleaned with water?” Zak opened his mouth with a clicking sound. A faint buzzing sound vibrated from a radiating light approaching from the east. As it got closer the boy realized the cloud consisted of tiny green fluorescent insects flying together.

“Be sure to keep your mouth closed. You don’t want to eat one of these blood bugs- it will upset your stomach and they taste a little bitter.”

Soon the two children were surrounded by the bugs. They both giggled, but tried to do it with their mouths closed. Done first, Zerran hopped up and down clapping her hands around Taran with excitement. Taran tried hard not to open his mouth until some of the bugs went to work on his nose causing him to sneeze. He sucked in about three of the little critters. The boy spat them out before he even thought about swallowing. It took a good ten minutes for the blood bugs to get Taran completely clean. Taran stood there for a few seconds, then he shook his head, making two more bugs exit from both of his ears. He took a step and shivered. He still heard buzzing in his ears and felt minute feet crawling over his body. Now three-times their size, the blood bugs gorged with grentchen blood retreated into the forest like a green ocean wave in midair.

“That sensation will go away after an hour,” Zak answered his unasked question.

Looking down at himself to inspect the bugs’ job, the boy saw that the badger’s blood was also gone. Taran shivered again at the thought of all those bugs on him.

Zak held out his long, large hands for the children to hold.

As he placed his hand into Zak’s hand Taran asked, “Mom and Dad aren’t coming are they?”

Zak bent his eyes toward the orphan boy looking up at him with watery eyes. “No, my boy. I’m sorry. I didn’t get there in time to save them. They gave their lives for you and your sister’s safety.”

The tears collecting in his eyes trickled down his face and dripped off his chin as he spoke. “What will – what will happen to us now?” The four-year old asked between sobs.

“I am taking you to your new home on another planet, where you can grow up in peace and have a childhood like you should have. Your parents wanted so much to come with you, but they knew that you and your sister were more important than they were.”

“They were important to us,” Taran let out another sob. “My dad might not have been much, but he was the world to me and my mom brightened that world with her smile. My dad always told me that about me. I was his world and my mom and sisters brightened it with their smiles.”

Zak stopped, squatted and stared into the sobbing boy’s eyes after he lifted his head up. With a soft sincere voice that shook a little from the night’s events, Zak reassured the boy, “Your dad was a great man and your mom was a great woman and don’t ever feel like they weren’t. The two worlds they saved may never know it, which makes their sacrifice even greater because they gave their lives, they loved so much, for the love of freedom and for the love they had for you and your sisters – not for fame and recognition.”

Taran buried his eyes in Zak’s leg blubbering, ‘Thank you for saying that Zak.” The boy lifted his eyes toward the man towering over him asking, “What will become of us on this new planet?” Sniff.

Zak placed his over-sized, elongated hand on the boy’s back to comfort him. The hand covered his back entirely, leaving only a little of the boy’s shirt peeking through. “Another family will be your family now. You will have an older brother and sister to grow up with. They will love you like you are their own because that will be what they think until your sister comes of age.”

Sniffing up his tears, Taran took two steps back from The Wise One so he could see the man’s face. To Taran, Zak seemed almost as tall as the trees they were traveling through. If The Wise One held his hands and fingers just right, he could have very easily been mistaken for a leafless tree in the dead of winter the boy thought.

Zak answered Taran’s anticipated question before his lips parted to ask it. “Don’t worry about how it will happen, just know that it will. We prepared for this many years before you or your sister were born.”

“Zak?”

“Yes.”

“Why is my sister so important?” Taran asked with a wrinkled questioning brow.

A grin spread across the tall, skinny man’s face. “She is the future Liberator little one, and you are her Brother Protector. Now…,” Zak turned the two children around grabbing both of them by the hand, “lets take you to your new family.”

Taran’s eyes widened and he seemed to grow two inches when he realized what the implication of his sister being the new Liberator meant. In spite of the lost of his parents the young warrior smiled a little. “Does that mean the dragons will fly again?” Zak nodded his head with a smile. “And will I get to ride one?”

“Only if you are found worthy by one of the dragons,” The Wise One answered as he ran his hand over the boy’s head and winked at him with a touch of a smile.

Taran determined from that moment on he would be worthy of riding a dragon, even if it was the smallest of all dragons. He would be the greatest Brother Protector of all times.

Zak sent an umbrella of light around the trio by jabbing his staff on the ground. Another jab of the staff made the light vibrate into swirling splashes of effervescent patterns. “Hold on and don’t let go of my hands.”

Taran grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the Wise One’s staff. Both children gripped the Wise One’s hands with both of theirs. The two children gazed in amazement as the particulates in the light danced rapidly until they too began to vibrate in unison with the light. With saucer eyes, Zerran let out a surprised but joyful gasp as her feet lifted from the ground. She clutched the man’s hand tighter when she briefly let her gaze fall to the ground that rapidly become more distant. Taran also stared in wide-eyed amazement at the ground below them and squeezed the hand he held with all his strength.

They cleared the trees, then streaked across the burgundy sky. The landscape below became one big blur. With a slight jerk they stopped in midair. Each of the children, let out a long breath of relief. Zak slowly brought his staff down toward his feet, causing the group to descend. The tall man’s feet touched down first on the blue sand of the beach, followed by Taran and Zerran.

Their first glimpse of the ocean stirred a sense of awe within the children. The vastness of it seemed to swallow them with each wave that raked the shore. The unending, noisy calls of pink seagulls overhead welcomed them to the beach. Out in the ocean the white seals stopped their play to observe the creatures who had invaded their home. Zerran mesmerized by the white heads bobbing up and down on the gentle waves, let out a gleeful giggle of a two-year old. The kind that makes even the hardest hearted person smile.

Zak marched them to a rock outcropping and lifted them to the top of it. “Sit here until I find the transdimensional door.

Here,” The tall man handed Taran what looked like an oval elongated rock. “If something dangerous approaches you aim this at them and yell shoot.”

Taran cocked his eye at Zak in an unbelieving expression. “Seriously?” Zak let out this strange low noise, which Taran thought was his laugh.

“Yes, seriously. It doesn’t matter which way you hold it. It will always shoot away from whoever is holding it.”

The top of the boulders the children stood on were flat as if something with a laser saw had taken the top of the rocks off to form a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the ocean view. The excited children swung their legs over the edge while they waited for Zak. As they sat there enjoying their first visit to the ocean, a greenish-yellow cloud formed behind them. It slowly began materializing into two big yellow eyes with an overcrowded mouth forming into a toothy smirk. Along side it another hideous creature swirled within a cloud. Within minutes the two creatures were almost completely formed. The hairs on the back of Taran’s neck stood on end, compelling him to jerk his head around just as a claw reached out toward his sister. He slid the rock gun out of his right pocket and yelled fire but nothing happened. A high pitch scream streamed from his sister. It had no effect on the creatures. As one turned his head, Taran saw that wax, a lot of wax, protected their ears against Zerran‘s screams.

A gleam came into Taran’s eyes as the distance between his sister and the claw disappeared. He yelled, “Shoot! Shoot!” The gun’s explosion, magnified by Taran’s determination to protect his sister, knocked the two creatures backwards off the rock.

Dragging his sister to the middle of the rocks, the boy kept pivoting from side to side. On his third pivot he saw two pointed ears at the edge of the rocks. He waited for the face to become completely visible and shouted. “Shoot! Shoot!” The beast let out a snarl and fell back, clawing at the air as he fell.

When the boy twirled around, he met a slap that knocked him into a backflip. He smacked the rock so hard it drove the air from his body and bounced the rock gun from his hand, sending it rolling to the edged of the rock plateau. The four-year old dove for it only to have it slip over the side while he grasped for it.

NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Taran whaled. Remembering his sister, the boy turned to discover a grentchen, with a hideous grin, as delight danced in his ugly huge eyes, holding his sister with his claw wrapped around her mouth. Zerran‘s eyes pleaded with her big brother to help her.

“Taran, I believe in you, son, you can accomplish anything or be anything you chose. When you have a job to do, do it well and give it all you have.” His father’s words echoed in his mind.

“I will Father,” the boy answered his father’s voice in his head under his breath through clenched teeth. Without a hint of fear or concern for himself, the brother stood with the determination of a full-grown man ready to do battle to the death. Unwilling to concede victory to his opponent or to let his dead father down, Taran ran toward the grentchen with both hands formed into fists. He was his sister’s protector and nothing, not even a foul creature three-times his size, vertically and horizontally, was going to keep him from being there for her. He didn’t care about her destiny. He did this for the pure love he had for his sister and nothing else. He had already lost enough that day and he refused to lose any more.

Before he made contact, the creature’s expression went from delight to sheer surprise and terror. A pale elongated hand with its palm facing Taran materialized in front of the grentchen as it stood frozen in time. Zak twisted, landing in front of the child and her captor. The two-year old was gently and carefully removed from the embrace of the creature. She clung tight to her rescuer, as he shoved his free hand into the grentchen’s chest. The head separated from its body toppling one way while the body plummeted the other.

Zak felt a bump on his leg from behind. Taran peeked out grinning ear to ear at their guardian.

Zak held Zerran out to inspect her. “Good, just as I planned, no blood on you. We don’t have time for another visit from the bloodbugs.” Zak had cut the head off with his staff, which cauterized as it did its job, saving the girl from suffering another grentchen bloodbath. Zerran giggled at the man.

“Come on little Liberator let’s get you through the portal so they can’t find you until you’re ready.”

Taran stood with his head bowed down to his chest, He didn’t want to see the disappointment in the Wise One’s face. He had let his sister get captured by the grentchen.

Putting one of his long fingers under the boy’s chin, he raised his head. “Taran you lived up to your title today.” Zak told the boy as if he read his mind.

“B-But they caught her?” He sniffed with a quivering disappointing voice.

“Yes, but you were still fighting when I got here. You kept her safe until I could help you. Taran, you did fantastic for a four-year old. Stand up straight and puff your chest out. Be proud of what you did today. I have no doubt you are the right brother for the job.” The proud boy did as instructed.

“Now let’s get you two out of here before the queen sends more kidnappers.” Picking Taran up with his other arm The Wise One floated to the blue sand below like he was slowly letting hot air out of a balloon.

“This way children,” Zak told them as he put them on the sand.

Taran lagged slightly behind keeping an eye out for more grentches. The boy managed to quickly locate the gun rock at the base of the rocky plateau. He carried it in his right hand, ready to defend his sister. Zak led the children to a tall bluff with a sprawling three-story manor on top of it. A staircase hewed out of the rock’s face wound its way to the base of the cliff ending a yard from where Zak had taken the children. The middle of the stairs worn from years of use by people and animals had a groove down the middle that let water collect when it rained then stream to the blue sand at its foot. A chilly wind from the ocean blew on this winter morning, keeping the occupants of the house on the cliff from venturing out. Zak usually didn’t like cold weather, but today he appreciated it for keeping unwanted eyes away.

Facing the rocky cliff, Zak ran his hand over it searching for the correct location to place his hands. “Just give me a second children, while I discover the entrance again. Ah, here it is.” He placed both of his hands waist-high and pushed. A wooden door appeared. As his hand grasped the doorknob something dropped from the cliff and sent Zak to his back. His staff flew from his hand landing on the sand out of his reach. Taran aimed the gun rock and yelled, “SHOOT! SHOOT! ,” at the top of his lungs. The grentchen standing over the unconscious old man catapulted to the middle of the stone stairs where it sprawled dead Taran hoped.

Two more beasts dropped from the sky, landing between Zerran and Taran. One of them turned toward Taran, its claw raise in preparation to strike him. The boy saw it coming just in time to duck out-of-the-way. As the gangling arm swept over his head, Taran aimed for the beast’s abdomen. Taran realized when he shot, that the louder he shouted the more powerful the rock gun’s blast became. Taking in as much air as he could, he shouted with such force it blasted the creature’s stomach wide open splatting its blood on its partner in back of it. It barely reacted to the blood sprayed on its back. The grentchen kept its complete attention focused on the frightened, wide-eyed Liberator, who was walking backwards trying to keep out of death‘s reach.

Planting his feet firmly under him, Taran screamed a challenge to the thing hovering over his cowering sister. “Get away from my sister you filthy abomination before I take your head off!”

A frightening cackle spewed from the beast as the gigantic, green, slimy head turned all away around to face the challenger. Reddish-green slime dripped from the razor-sharp spikes that filled its mouth. The beast could easily take Zerran‘s head with one snap of its jaws. A shiver ran through Taran’s body as the realization that his sister could die within moments formed within him. Seeing the boy as harmless, the beast ignored him turning back to its prey. Before the over-sized head could complete its rotation back to the terrified girl, a blast hit the grentchen in the back, sending it flying over its victim to land on the sand five feet beyond. The brother made sure to hit it with enough blast to get it away from his sister without breaking its skin, thus keeping his sister from being bathed in its blood. Before the thing could recover, running, the brother climbed on its back and pounded it with another shot from his rock gun. With a second shot angle perfectly, the head exploded, spraying brains and green slimy blood all over the beach away from the boy.

The relief of killing all the grentchens drained from the boy when he turned quickly back to his sister’s location to discover she wasn’t where he had left her. Panic overwhelmed him, as vulture like birds circling above the battle began dropping onto the corpses with aggression. They could no longer resist the meal spread over the beach. Taran recognized them as Eaters of the Dead. They could eat anything that was dead- including grentchens. As soon as Taran left the green corpse the death eaters seized it, ripping the flesh from the bone as they fought over the parts. Within the gathering of death eaters Taran glimpsed the dancing glimmers of bloodbugs. A few swarmed around him, cleaning the drops of grentchen blood, he hadn’t noticed until the bugs began to feast on it. Although he tried to kill the creatures in such a way to keep their blood off of him, a few splatters landed on his clothing.

Every child of Xoegaia knew not to let a death eater near the body of someone you love because they are creatures condemned by creation and will carry the person’s soul to the underworld to torment it for eternity. The horrendous job of keeping the death eaters from devouring the body of the fallen after great battles was delegated to the lowest ranking soldiers. Soldiers a step above these had the gruesome task of digging a grave deep enough to protect the bodies until the soul reaper gathered them to carry them to their eternal reward or if the soul wished it, it could be re-born as any creature it chose.

Taran glanced at the grentchen on the stairs, only to find it galloping his direction with its arms scraping the sand as it advanced. Instead of waiting for it, Brother Protector ran to meet it shouting shoot with every step. The creature managed to avoid each shot. When the beast was in range of the boy it swiped its claw at him, hoping to tear his throat open but Taran fell backwards, landing on his back in the blue sand. Before the beast could attack a second time, the boy flipped to his chest and sent another blast from the rock gun that impacted at chest level sending the target somersaulting in the air. Out of the corner of his eye, Taran saw Zak running toward the lump of vile flesh prostrated on the sand. Taran didn’t wait for Zak. He hated these things for killing his parents and wanted his revenge on as many as he could kill. Taran delivered the killing blow as the grentchen sat up. A ten inch gaping hole in the creature’s chest revealed its heart on the  blue beach in the winter air where it pumped twice before it fell silent. Taran dropped to his knees and began to weep with his whole being. He wanted his parents back. He wanted his peaceful life back in the Garnet Forest. He even wanted his bratty sister, Tempest, back. For the first time since he realized his parents had been killed, Taran couldn’t stifle the tears. They refused to be dammed any more. His whole body shook with grief for what he had lost.

Hearing the boy crying, Zak decided to give him some time alone to grieve, while he went to check on Zerran. Although he felt for the boy, he knew without the death of his parents, he couldn’t have done what was necessary to protect his sister this morning. A spark of hope lit in the Wise One’s soul as his brain comprehended what his eyes drank in. What Taran had done while Zak laid unconscious went beyond what he or the other Wise Ones hoped he could carry out at his age. At that moment he knew the boy would grow into a great warrior and along with his sister they would defend freedom and win. His job was to get them safely to their new home on Earth, so they could grow into the champions Earth and Xoegaia needed to keep them free of the tyranny of the evil Queen Vanish. On Earth the third champion, The Champion, would be chosen on The Liberator’s eighteenth birthday. He would be chosen by the love he had for her and the love she had for him. Each would be willing to give their lives to save the other. And both would give their lives to save each other’s world.

Zak turned from the grieving boy to the stone wall, where the grentchen had dropped on him. To someone without powers Zak stared at a stone wall, not through a window at The Liberator swinging her legs as she rocked back and forth in a chair. “Amazing child,” The Wise One thought out loud with an almost laughing grin.

“Who’s amazing?” A renewed voice from behind him asked as the boy came to stand beside him.

Putting his hand on the boy’s shoulder, “You both are,” the tall man responded.

The boy smiled. “How did Zerran get in there?”

Zak gasped in disbelief and started to inquire about Taran’s ability to see his sister but the boy kept speaking as he walked toward the camouflaged house.

“Whose house is this? Why would anyone build a house down here? Doesn’t it get flooded at high tide?” Taran pressed his forehead against the window as he threw these questions at the man standing with his mouth open.

“Shall we join your sister inside before we get besieged again?” Zak’s words were prophetic. Just as Taran opened the door, green slime dripped on the Wise One’s shoulder. Without hesitation, he shoved the four-year old through the door, slamming it to prevent the two children from being discovered and keeping Taran from trying to help. The whole house vanished as the door slammed shut. Zerran squealed as her brother stumbled through the door barely keeping his footing. Regaining his wits, Taran yanked on the door knob shaking the door violently. Zak sealed the door to keep them in and the grentches out. Giving up hope of helping his new friend, the desperate boy ran to the window to watch. His sister stood on tiptoes. Her eyes barely peaked over the window sill.

Four more beasts appeared. It was now seven against one. Desperate to help, Taran pulled up on the window, hoping it would open. Frustrated when the window wouldn’t open, he pounded on it, hoping to break it but the window reacted like transparent rubber, bouncing the boy’s fist back at him with each blow. Panic engulfed Taran as he watched the grentches surround Zak. Turning, he picked up the heaviest object (a cast iron frying pan) he could throw.

Zerran stand back.” He commanded with authority, not found in most voices, let alone in someone of his few years. He waited until his sister hid behind a couch not far from the window, before he twirled around three times and hurled the frying pan toward the obstacle keeping him from helping his friend. Taran watched with wide-eyed anticipation as his hope flew toward the window. When the pan ricocheted off the window, Taran had to fall to the floor to keep from being smacked in the head. It sailed over him, bounced off the back of the couch protecting Zerran, causing her to squeal, and flew back over the boy, bounced on the floor in front of him and skidded to the wall under the unbreakable window where it finally rested. Taran curse under his breath.

As Taran came to a kneeling position, he dusted the dirt from the floor off his pants, a gleam of delight came to his face. His hand had landed on a hard, elongated bulge in his pant pocket. His fingers pulled the rock gun out of his pocket like it was priceless. Crouching beside his sister, he bent sideways at the end of the couch and fired at the glass. He braced, with his arms protectively around his little sister, for the rebound that never came. He peeked cautiously at his target over the furniture and sent another blast toward it as he stood. Instead of shattering from the blast, the glass rippled like water that had just had a pebble tossed into it.

“Pretty!” Zerran giggled, jumping up and down while clapping.

A rainbow of color radiated from the center of the window and danced out to the edge of the glass dissipating as it reached the rim.

“Make it pretty again, Taran,”

“Okay.” The brother ran his hand down the little girl’s blond hair in a loving manner before he granted her wish. Not fearing repercussions from shooting the rainbow glass he stepped in front of the couch, bellowing “Shoot! Shoot!” as he advanced toward the window. With each contact the rainbows would fan from the center to the perimeter compelling Zerran to jump gleefully with each new shimmer. The brother bombarded the barrier numerous times before he realized it was absorbing the power of the rock gun’s shots. Becoming stronger with each shot.

No!” Taran cried out in frustration as he pounded his fist against his transparent opposition, only to have it throw his hands back at him as if silently mocking him.

Zak had killed four of the animals, but three were still circling him. Taran gasped in horror when more grentches materialized beside their brothers. They advanced on The Wise One with their claws ready to kill. Not wanting his sister or himself to see the gruesome, bloody, horrific, devastating death of their friend, he pulled her from the window and collapsed to the floor like every bone in his body had evaporated. With each screech of the beasts, Taran’s hope for his and his sister’s survival died. How would he find their adopted family? What should he do? They couldn’t go back to their world but how would they survive in their new world without Zak? The magnitude of his responsibility and the situation he and his sister were in, engulfed him like the sand from the sand cave he and his friends built one warm day.

It had collapsed on him. He would have died that day if his father, who came to find him for evening meal, hadn’t snatched him from the sand before he inhaled enough to do any damage. Taran remembered the strong, loving embrace of his father that day and yearned for that strength now. His father held him close to his chest all the way home. The boy reminisced about feeling his father shake with him in his arms as they neared their house and the tear running down his father’s face that dripped on him. He had never seen his father cry, not even when he lost his own father. He felt so ashamed. Guilt still visited him at this moment as the memories of that event raced through his mind. He expected to be severely punished for making his father cry. The youngster braced for the repercussions of his actions when his father lowered him down on the porch. He hoped for it to relieve some of the shame he felt. His father brushed some sand from Taran’s face and hair, then got on his knees to hug the boy. As the frightened man drew back, he whispered in his son’s ear with a tremble in his voice, “Don’t ever do that again. My heart goes with you wherever you go.” Taran felt his father shaking as he said this to him. “And it almost died today.”  The man’s watery eyes made the boy bow his head as he accepted the promise. His father kissed him and brought him into his mother.

Zerran‘s crying for him to let her go brought him back to the present. It was eerily silent. No grentchen snarls, no blast from Zak’s staff, no cries of the sea birds or the death eaters. Nothing but silence. It was so quiet, the silence seemed alive and growing. His sister resisting his embrace made him loosen his grip.

“I’m sorry little sis,” his voice sounded strange as it broke the empty, oppressive silence. He expected it to reprimand him for disturbing it. Turning the boy slowly raised his head above the window sill. Not sure what horror would meet his eyes, he shut them. On the whisper count of three, he opened them to narrow slits. The narrow slits turn to a wide awake stare, when he observed the death eaters fighting over the remains of all the fallen grentches. Taran scanned the bodies for Zak’s but no body resembling the Wise One‘s were among the corpses. Where was Zak? Just as Taran finished this thought the sound of the door being opened startled him. Still determined to fulfill his duty as his sister’s protector, he jumped in front of her and braced to attack whatever came through the door. His tensed muscles relaxed and a wave of relief swept through him as the person straightened up. The boy breathed out the breath he was holding with an elated whooshing. Standing before him was Zak. Before words ushered from The Wise One, four small arms entwined his legs.

“Children don’t tell me you thought I would lose against those foul creatures?” The man bent down to his knees to look each child in the face but he still towered over them. Seeing their tears he gently wiped them away with one of his elongated fingers on each hand simultaneously, then embraced the children. “You are safe now,” he reassured them as he stroked the back of their heads. His hand covered both heads completely.

Three more Wise Ones promenaded through the door with the same grace as the children’s friend. Being of similar height as Zak each had to duck their heads as they entered. Although they were all similarly built and dressed, they had subtle characteristics that distinguished them from each other. One of them had a feminine quality that Zak and the others didn’t share. The door banged shut after the last Wise One cleared the threshold, startling the siblings. Once again an unnatural silence settled on the cabin with the slamming of the door. None of the outside world could be heard.

“Well children,” Zak retrieved his staff he had placed on the floor while he comforted the children, “these comrades of mine came to see us off and to make sure the young Liberator and her Brother Protector live to grow up.”

With the smooth movement of a dancer, Zak returned to his full height to introduce his fellow guardians. He reminded Taran of the graceful Marack trees that filled Garnet Forest, when they righted themselves after a howling wind.

“This is Tandge,” Zak swept his hand toward the first being who entered after him. Tandge nodded his head toward the children. He was about two inches shorter than Zak but taller than the other two. Nam-Yaw was introduced next. He too nodded to the children, following it with a wink. Last introduced was the female. Her nod was quick and short. She added a smile to a wink to greet the children. Although she had finer facial features and body build than the others, she still possessed those haunting lavender eyes and white silver waist length hair of a Wise One. Chelami’s hair formed lockets of waves instead of being unnaturally straight like the others. This made the boy wonder if this was true of all female Wise Ones.

Zerran raced to Chelami with upraised arms, “Carry you?” The female gave Taran a puzzled look.

“She wants you to pick her up.” Bending down, the feminine Wise One embraced the girl like a priceless treasure.

“Chelami, maybe you should come with me to see the children safely to their new life,” Zak stated with consideration reflected in his voice, “The Liberator seems to like you.” Zerran was peacefully sucking her thumb, fighting to keep her eyes open as Chelami, a very powerful gentle being, rocked the girl in the her arms.

“I would be delighted to accompany your party to Earth,” She answered Zak as the girl in her arms surrendered to the sandman, entering the world of dreams.

The toddler would remember nothing of the events of the day until she was much older. Glimpses of it would invade her dreams, only to be chased back into a deep, dark room of her mind with the morning light.

“Then let’s be on our way,” Zak offered his hand to Taran. He was ready to escort his charges to Earth and their new lives, far away from the threats that end with the slamming of the cabin’s wooden door. Taran eagerly accepted Zak’s offer of his hand. The Wise One turned toward the far wall and began to walk. Seeing that he wasn’t slowing down as he neared the wall, Taran flung his free arm across his face. When he didn’t impact with the wall, the boy removed his protective arm, discovering they were in a completely different cabin. Twisting his head to see where they came from, he saw Chelami carrying Zerran through a solid logged wall. Not believing what he saw, Taran touched the wall and could not pass back through it. A lump developed in his throat with the realization that the door to his home had closed.

“The wall is a gateway between the two worlds. It’s programmed to only let certain beings through and grentches are not one of them. Anyone or thing that would intend you or your sister harm will not get through the dimensional portal, even if they do happen to find it. Tandge and Nam-Yaw will seal and relocate the passageway to Xoegaia on their end, and we will do the same on Earth‘s end. When you are ready, the seal to the cabin will be re-opened to the two of you.” Zak reassured the child. “But for now you will have a happy childhood on this wondrous planet,” this being said, his hand turned the handle to usher the children into their new world.

The escapees were greeted by the most majestic trees their mortal and immortal eyes had ever beheld. They stood over them like giants from a fairy tale that parents told their children. Taran’s eyes followed the trees as far up as they could see in the dark. The boughs of the trees seem to scrape the stars as they swayed in the wind. Zak even looked minute amongst these behemoths and Taran didn’t think anything could accomplish that. Although it was a full moon where they were on Earth, the forest filtered the moonlight causing a deep unsettling darkness to encompass the travelers below. As the trees softly swayed in the breeze, brief glances of dancing moonlight welcomed the visitors as they breathed in the earthy aroma of the redwood forest. Taran almost hated to step on the cushion of pine needles that felt like a sponge under his feet. He was afraid of disturbing the feeling of being insignificant compared to these towering witnesses of thousands of years of Earth‘s history, but at the same time a glorious feeling exploded within his soul as his eyes filled with such beauty. He wanted to wake his sister to share it with her even if she would not remember their first visit to such a magnificent place.

“They are marvelous, aren’t they,” a familiar voice broke the spell the boy was under. “The earthlings call them Sequoias. They are the tallest and largest trees on this planet. They were named after a Cherokee scholar named Sequoya. He invented the Cherokee alphabet. He was also known by his white man’s name George Guess.”

“Who are Cherokee and white man?” Taran’s voice sounded so tiny among this gigantic company.

“Both of them are wonderful peoples with a few not so wonderful people mixed in. You will learn more about them as you grow on this planet.”

The boy thought Sequoya must have been a special person to have had these trees bear his name. He was just glad they chose to call them by his Cherokee name instead of his white man’s name. From the expression on Chelami’s face, this was her first view of Earth also. Even being immortal does not keep someone from being overwhelmed by the endless mysteries that comprise the incomprehensible universe that has given life to all things. She reverently inhaled the aroma of the exquisiteness that captured her gaze. Zak relished the look on others faces when they first encountered these exquisite testimonies of the power of life. He let his friends delight in their new experience until he could wait no longer.

“Chelami light your staff and follow the trail to the road. I will catch up with you as soon as I relocate the cabin.”

Still holding the sleeping child, Zerran, Chelami tapped her staff on the ground with her free hand. It sprung to life bathing the travelers with enough light for them to safely continue with their quest. She handed it off to Taran, instructing him to hold it out in front of them. The illumination from the staff, cast eerie shadows that reach out across the trail. They sent goosebumps over the four-year old’s skin.

Back at the cabin Zak twirled his staff clockwise in front of it. It began to shake as a swirling vortex formed before it. The faster the staff twirled the larger the vortex grew until it swallowed the cabin, leaving a gaping hole in the huge trees. Satisfied with the job, the tall man rubbed his chin which reminded him of another task that needed seeing to. He touched his head once with his rod. He began shrinking while his hair began to shorten and changed to a salt and pepper gray. The man was now a normal height for a human and could blend in with ease. His flowing robes transformed into a stylish business suit with shoes that polished off the look.

The Wise One caught up with his companions just as they arrived at the road. He tapped each one. They transformed into their human counterparts. Taran watched as his sister grew smaller in Chelami’s arms. Her beautiful curly golden hair was now a lovely shade of auburn red. She was now the proper size of a human two-year old. The boy cringed when the rod touched his head. Growing smaller engulfed his body with a strange, unusual sensation that flowed through him as a faint electrical charge. Taran found the clothing he was wearing very confining compared to his animal hide pants and shoes. They were so stiff. The boy tugged at the collar of the shirt to keep it from strangling him. He rarely ever wore a shirt at home and if he did the neck was loose fitting. The thought of home brought a longing to his heart. Would he ever return and be himself again?

Chelami now looked like a young woman in her late thirties. She now sported dark wavy black hair that cascaded around her shoulders, framing her face in an attractive way. Chelami’s attire transformed into what Zak called slacks and a blouse with pumps. She complained about the shoes hurting her feet and the tightness of the rest of the clothing. Zak reassured her that was normal. Every human woman insisted on wearing these uncomfortable shoes and complained about it. Her and Zak’s eyes were now a soft blue with a hint of green, depending on how the light struck them. They looked like father and daughter- the resembles to each other was hard to miss.

“Okay, shall we take you to your new family?” Zak held out his hand to Taran. Taran didn’t want a new family, he wanted his old one back. He didn’t want a new life, he wanted his old one. Having no choice he took the old man’s hand with both of his. Once again Zak pointed in the direction he wanted to go and they streaked across the night sky filled with millions of twinkling lights that Taran learned were stars. Zak told him the stars in Xoegaia’s sky were dim because of the two suns in his planet’s sky. Nights on Xoegaia were more like Earth‘s twilight. Night on Earth being very dark, allowed the stars to shine brighter than on Xoegaia.

They landed in front of a yellow wooden house with a screen in porch that wrapped around the entire house. The house was comparable to the children’s house back on their planet. The two females landed minutes after the two males. Zak walked to the door. Touching it, he passed right through with Taran holding his hand. Chelami did the same with Zerran still asleep in her arms.

“We’ll put Zerran in bed first. This way.” Zak motion the group forward with his large human hand.

The group walked through a simple furnished room to a door with a plaque reading Vicki’s Room. Along one wall, a girl of about eight with straight blonde hair falling across her face occupied a twin white bed. She slept with her mouth opened that allowed drool to drip on her pillow. Closing her mouth, followed by several lip smacks, the girl turned to face the wall. The invaders holding their breaths froze mid stride.

An empty bed stood along the opposite wall. Once the girl stopped her sleep mumbling and was gently snoring again, they continued toward the other bed. Zak drew down the covers so the still sleeping Liberator could be laid in it. Before leaving her there, Zak petted her head. Chelami did the same. Taran kissed his sister on the cheek. She was the only true family, he had in this strange new world of theirs, where lights dance in the sky and trees touched them. The trio reluctantly left their sleeping charge and traipsed to the bedroom next door.

Occupying the bed in this room was a boy of twelve. He sported bleached hair and golden brown skin from too much swimming in the hot summer heat of the valley . Like his sister, he drooled on his pillow. One arm draped over the side of the bed with his fingers inches from the floor. Taran studied his new brother and wasn’t very impressed. If his new brother and sister was the best Earth had, no wonder they needed their help.

“Before we leave you, I need to leave something in your care for your sister.” Zak placed three golden strands across the boy’s palm. A thin thread of gold in their middle attached them to each other. Zak continued, “You are to give this to your sister when you notice boys are attracted to her. It will protect her from them and them from Zerran. When she has this on, only the true seekers will be drawn to her. Keep it and your sister safe.”

Glancing at Zak with eyes pleading not to leave them there, Taran asked, “Where will you be?”

“We will be around, but you will not see us. You may glimpse us out the corner of your eye or just before you round a bend but we cannot interfere any more. We have done all we are allowed until you come of age unless your life is endangered. I will watch over you and Chelami will be here for your sister.”

Taran wrestled something from his pocket, “Here, you might want to take this back.” In the boy’s hand was the rock gun. He held it out with great reluctance.

The tall man curled the boy’s fingers around the gift that had saved the children’s lives, “No, keep it as a reminder of home and why you are here. You are the only one who can shoot it and only when you or your sister are in mortal danger.”

“I need no reminder of home or why we are here, but I have grown very fond of this rock.” Taran gently stroked the rock gun like a pet before shoving it back in his pocket.

“Before we go I need to place a translator into your head. We don’t want you speaking differently than the natives. Turn around.” He gestured with his hands for the boy to face away from him. “You will feel a small bite,” A small black dot sat on Zak’s thumb until it was close enough to the boy to jump on the nap of his neck. As soon as it landed, it began burrowing into the boy’s neck. The boy muffled an och. Zak continued explaining, “the translator will lodge itself into the language center of your brain. You will also be able to control certain human thoughts when it comes to protecting you and your sister. Remember to use it only for self-defense and nothing else. I will be watching. You will soon understand the language of this country and will no longer need the translator. But Earth, unlike Xoegaia, has many languages. You will be able to understand all of them after hearing them for a few minutes.”

“Did Zerran get one?” He asked as he rubbed his neck where the translator entered.

“Yes, when I patted her head, I released it on her neck.” Gesturing toward the bed with his hand, “Now get in bed, you have had a long and tiring day.”

The four-year old climb into the strange bed and pulled the covers up around his neck. “Can you stay until I fall asleep? I’m not sure if can.”

“We will always be near but never seen.” After hearing these words of his friend, the boy closed his eyes from exhaustion and entered the land of dreams where his parents waited for him and the events of the day were a nightmare soon forgotten.

Zak stroked the sleeping child’s hair from his forehead. “Sleep now young Protector. Enjoy the rest of your childhood. It will be over way too soon and then the real work begins, but for now, sleep, rest and be a child.” A line of light was left where the finger rubbed the boy’s forehead.

“What did you do, Zak?”

“I repressed the memories of today. He will be a normal child with a normal childhood. He will remember his parents pleasantly only in his dreams. At least until the day approaches when he needs to fight, then he will remember why and who he fights for.”

“What about the rock gun and Zerran‘s bracelet?”

“It is now a souvenir of his childhood on Earth. A reminder of a trip with his family to the ocean. As for the bracelet, he only knows it is for his sister and he will keep it safe until the time is right for her to wear it.”

“I understand.”

With a nod of their heads Zak and Chelami faded from the room in a purple misty vapor.

 

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