By Sheri L. McGathy
(As is, And I really mean that 🙂
Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)
"Dione Amber Clancy Blume–'Rest in Peace'"
The sun seemed dazzling, nearly blinding, after the dim light provided in the portals, causing them to shield their eyes against the glare. The warrior, Lance Davenhawkes, his stance menacing, scowled as he scanned the unfamiliar terrain stretching out lazily before him.
Colan, with the agility of youth, jumped to his feet and moved to the older man's side, and then stood rocking back and forth on his leather-clad soles. The man eyed him skeptically, yet nodded. "The area appears safe."
With a joyous shout the young prince ran down the hill and plunged deep into the beckoning waves of endless, cool grasses. His twin, Callie, caught up in the pleasure of his infectious mood, laughed as she quickly joined him, anxious to release the tension she had carried since entering the portals.
"Ah, youth." Aldous sighed as he watched their reckless play, grateful that he had arrived in time; thankful that they were still able to laugh and embrace life. One second later and they might not have managed so well.
"What now, Wizard?" Lance asked quietly, neither demanding, nor doubting.
The Sun Wizard, Aldous Ja Aval, looked expectantly to their other companion, standing apart from them, sniffing the air with interest while cradling a small globe within his large, hairy hands.
"What say you, Ovid Calador? Why has the Orb directed us here?"
The OrbWard turned steely yellow-flecked eyes toward them. Shaking a shaggy head, he shrugged as if to say, "Who knows," and then smiled sheepishly.
Mouths gaping open at his matter-a-fact reply, both Aldous and Lance turned stunned stares toward him, but it was the wizard who found his tongue first and erupted into the prevailing calm.
"You don't know? I thought you were attuned to that sun-deprived Orb. Are we now lost, adrift in the dimensions?" he complained, stretching silk clad arms outward away from his frail frame to encompass all, and nothing. His voice took on the tenor of a whine and his mouth swooped down in a horrendous scowl as he stared the OrbWard down.
Lance remained silent, massive arms folded across his broad chest, mouth held in a stern line.
Ovid whimpered and tugged nervously on a shaggy ear while mumbling, "Only the Orb knows why it has directed us here. As yet, it has not deemed me worthy of sharing its knowledge. We must wait and trust in its judgment."
"Phugh! Poppycock and balderdash," Aldous spat. "Give me a good incantation anytime over this nonsense of divine guidance. This whole affair sours my stomach." He raised his albino eyes upward in woeful agony, the blue tint to the irises clashing soundly with the fiery red of the pupils, and added, "After all, I am an old man. Too old for this foolishness!"
Davenhawkes allowed a small, skeptical grin to crack his disciplined composure.
"So," the wizard concluded, "I guess I'll just sit here and anticipate that silly Orb's audience," and lowered his lanky frame toward the awaiting ground, silk robes floating regally about him as he crossed skinny legs beneath him. Propping his chin stubbornly over the mound of his linked hands, he sighed expectantly and murmured, "Phugh and poppycock!"
"Please, Aldous? You really should not insult the Orb. All will be revealed in time. You must learn to trust in the light!" Ovid Calador implored.
"Poppycock, balderdash, and phugh!" the wizard mumbled again, content to ignore the large OrbWard.
"Ovid, where are we?" Callie suddenly called up to them, effectively breaking up some of the building tension. She pushed her auburn locks away from cheeks already ruddy from the winds constant bite, her small hands fighting gallantly with the tresses as they danced carelessly in the open breezes.
"Ah, I can say with a confident certainty that we are now standing on a planet so named Earth, a remote place really, with the natives proving too suspicion for us to establish an outpost," Calador replied smugly, showing a small measure of his former confidence.
Aldous mumbled louder, but didn't elaborate.
The OrbWard, likewise intent on ignoring him, straightened his spine and puffed his chest out far in front of him as he continued, "This is a planet that does not believe, nor rely on," he directed down at the slumped form of the wizard, "magic. Hardly anyone ventures here."
"La-de-da! Then I vote we leave. Now!" Aldous put out.
Lance sighed, resigning himself to the prospect of watching over not two, but four children. When he saw that the wizard was about to launch yet another volley of barbs, he quickly moved to intercept, his deep voice effectively silencing them. "We must wait, Ja Aval, Calador, for our questions to be answered. In the meantime, I suggest we find food, and mayhap, shelter. It appears we have no contacts on this world and have no way of knowing how long we'll be made to wait."
"Always the sensible one, Davenhawkes," Aldous chimed in, his tone less sarcastic. He rose stiffly, grunting as old bones popped, complaining of recent misuse.
Lance nodded once for answer before turning to march down the hill to join the children, his long legs quickly eating the distance that separated him from his charges.
The tall, wild grass rubbed against his exposed calves, the soft, silky caresses seemed somehow soothing to his taut nerves. The gently swaying stalks gave him silent comfort. The open fields seemed to dance at the winds command, beckoning even to his walled-off soul.
"Lance, isn't this place fantastic?" Colan called out, giggling as he spun his slight frame in small circles, arms held away from his sides in lighthearted abandonment. "It's so fresh, so untouched!"
So unlike Egressus, the solemn warrior thought ruefully.
"I believe, my young prince, that we have emerged in what is known here as the country," Ovid supplied, raising his voice to be heard from his lofty position at the top of the hill. "This particular planet has large pockets of civilizations…very large…it is fortunate that we emerged here in this tranquil valley instead."
"Well, Calador, I'm impressed," Ja Aval said, allowing the OrbWard to puff his chest out before adding, "it eases my fears some to know that you have a bit of knowledge hidden in that thick skull."
"Wizard, why do you persist? You know that all OrbWards are required to learn about civilizations that lay beyond the portals, just as you know that all apprentices, who would be wizards, must learn the spells that open the portals to those worlds. None dare risk the portals without the consent of the Bloodline, a learned OrbWard and an adept wizard. Why should you assume that I have not the required knowledge? Why do you call me different?" a wounded Ovid finished with a snarl.
Ja Aval, nonplused by the show of impassioned emotion from the otherwise gentle OrbWard, answered, "Hee, because you've not even experienced your first dual moon!"
"I may be young, but I am capable! You may count on that," Ovid retorted proudly.
"Oh, I shall. I shall indeed," Aldous Ja Aval replied cryptically. "You may count on it." Standing, he took his lanky frame down the hill to join the others.
For Ovid Calador, a noble-ranked Guardian of the Orb Order, there was nothing else to do but follow. Cradling the Orb Key against his chest, he waded down through the sea of grass to come up alongside Lance. Young Callie skipped over and eagerly grasped his hairy hand, granting him one of her brilliant smiles as she did so. He squeezed her hand and smiled back. Looking down into deep, brown eyes sparkling with heightened emotions, he forgot the sour comments of the dried-up old wizard. Her mood captured him; her excitement was highly contagious.
"Why, Princess Calliena Valathorn," he teased, lightly tapping the tip of her nose with a dark fingernail. "You appear mesmerized!"
"I am, I truly am," came her breathless reply. "Such pleasures!"
Before Ovid could comment, Colan's voice sang out, his small frame jumping up and down excitedly. His arms, raised above his head, lashed the air wildly before reversing to point downward into the tall grasses.
Lance was at the young prince's side immediately, sword drawn, pushing the overly curious lad back behind him, his body becoming a shield between Colan and the unseen something. The muscles in his forearms bulged as he held the sword steady above him, ready to swing in an instant.
The wizard stood apart, fingertips aglow with calm preparedness, no hint of emotion revealed on his ancient face. Yet all Ovid Calador felt was panic, sure that Lord Daytus had found them and had set his Spirit Raider upon them.
Callie pulled on the OrbWard's arm in an attempt to drag him forward, even as Lance held up a hand, silently ordering her to stay put.
And just when did orders stop either twin? Ovid wondered, before addressing the immediate tugging on his arm. "I swear, child, when will you and Col learn to show fear?" Although he was sure he felt enough for all of them. "Do you not think it would be prudent to remain here until Davenhawkes determines whether there is danger?"
She looked up at him. Amusement lit her eyes as she gave him a lopsided grin. Ovid knew at that moment that as determined as he was to keep her with him, Callie's determination would be stronger. Managing to break free, she ran to Col's side. Lance moved slightly, adjusting his body to shield them both. His scowl deepened, but his sword never wavered.
Ovid shrugged apologetically toward the warrior. He sniffed the air warily; every nerve in his body afire, yet his nose told him there was no danger. Deciding to join them, he moved cautiously, his hands still cradling the Orb Key where it rested against his chest, one hairy hand shielding it from view.
Drawing nearer, Ovid could see that the grasses had been beaten back and forced into a crude shelter of sorts. Closer still revealed what had formed it.
Ja Aval, standing behind him, looked down at the prone form and smirked loudly, "No need for magic here," and released his hold on his flow. "Phugh and poppycock!"
"Wizard," Ovid snapped, turning to confront the old man. He was tired of his complaining, and was about to tell him so, but was halted in mid-sentence as the Orb flared to life, bathing the sleeping form in a brilliant blue light.
All present knew what it meant, but Ovid proclaimed it out loud anyway. "The Orb has chosen. Here is the one we have been sent to collect."
"Phugh and poppycock, poppycock and phugh!" Aldous spat as he studied the sleeping form. "Doesn't look like much of a match for Xenos Daytus!"
Ovid nodded his shaggy head in nervous agreement.
"Regardless, Aldous," Lance said, giving his own doubtful look at the lithe form, "the Orb has chosen. I, for one, do not choose to doubt its wisdom…nor its selection," and lowered his sword.
As if on cue, the figure stirred, struggling sluggishly from deep sleep to restless slumber. It would only be a matter of minutes before arriving at the point of fully awake.
Moaning softly, she rolled from her back to her side, and back again, causing her face to suddenly become framed with an unruly mass of bobbed, ebony tresses. Completely awake, large, expressive eyes opened to the bright sun overhead . . . and the strange man standing above her.
Lance could see the alarm mirrored in her near black eyes, but her movements refused to show it. She sat up and yawned, acting as if his presence meant little to her. Extending her lean body into a long, relaxed stretch, she eyed him covertly through dark lashes.
Here is a shrewd one, Lance thought, discovering that he was being drawn to her in ways he did not yet understand. Carefully, she allowed herself a cursory glance about. Her eyes mirrored how quickly she summed up her situation, even as they betrayed her urge to bolt and run.Lance moved to block her.
Midnight orbs locked with the determined gray of his own, and he knew she understood flight would not be easy. With a sigh, she relinquished that scheme. He grinned in appreciation as he watched the birth of a new one cross those dark pools. It seemed that she shared his survival philosophy: If one portal closed, look for another . . . quickly.
He kept his gaze locked with hers, and waited for her to speak. He could tell she was tall, almost of a height with him, taller than any woman he had ever met. Her body fit her frame, firm but lean, exuding strength and power, even motionless. She seemed of an age with him. For that, he was grateful. The last thing he needed was another child to watch over.
Perhaps the Orb really did know what it was doing, he silently admitted. He never would have doubted its judgment openly, but in his mind, he often wondered.
Lance recognized the stubborn tilt of her chin, and the challenge that was building within her stare. Again, he felt drawn to her.
Slowly, almost casually, she rose to her feet, never once taking her gaze from his, and took one cautious step forward. Lance grinned, and brought his sword up. He gently palmed the blade, allowing the sun to gleam off its polished metal.
He heard her sharp intake of breath. Watched as she struggled inwardly to compose herself, and again felt that tug of admiration.
She brushed her hands against the sides of her hips and then she began her own curious study of Lance. If she was alarmed at his great stature, she no longer let Lance read it in her eyes. Satisfied, she allowed her gaze to wander away from him, and saw Aldous and Ovid. Alarm shown openly in her eyes as she swiftly swung her wide-eyed gaze back to him.
"Who are you guys?" she demanded. He could hear a slight quiver to her voice, but that was the only clue to her nervousness. He doubted if the others noticed. Her eyes were ablaze with questions, and some unknown emotion that Lance could only compare to relief.
It made no sense, but the woman seemed glad that they were there. Glad, but angry, too.
Lance wondered who had scared this woman so badly that she actually showed relief to be confronted by him and his unlikely crew. What monster did she flee that brought her proud being to cower within a field out in the middle of nowhere?
He found himself growing protective, wishing to face this unknown reprobate and ease her pain. At the moment, all he wanted was to see joy leap into her dark, liquid eyes.
Lance mentally shook himself. What was wrong with him? He shifted his stance and pushed such fancies from his thoughts.
Lowering his blade, he remained silent. Keeping his features bland, he waited, allowing her to show him how she wished to be treated. Women were not something he knew a great deal about.
A bird could be heard singing eloquently some distance away, its song blending sweetly with the soft breeze. The grass hissed, its voice answering the bird's melody as the stalks gently swayed to its tune.
The sun felt warm . . . comforting . . . but Lance noticed nothing but the strange, alluring woman before him. She stood with arms tucked neatly beneath her breasts, one leg slightly cocked with defiance, staring back at him.
The warrior aped her, folding his arms across his chest and carefully bringing his sword up to rest against a strong shoulder. He expected to hear, at the very least, another sharp intact of breath, or an unnerved hiss, for he was use to such reactions when he struck this pose, but wasn't prepared for the slow, lazy grin that spread effortlessly across her face.
"Who have we here?" she practically cooed, shifting her body to peer around Lance's bulk. "Are you two the reason the big guy here is so agitated?"
The wizard's cackle wafted through the air, joined by a muffled snicker that could only belong to Ovid. Confused, Lance followed her gaze.
"What the . . ." Sticking out from beneath his left elbow was Col's youthful head, while Callie mimicked her brother's actions beneath his right elbow. Two pairs of large brown eyes ogled the woman with unbridled curiosity, not a hint of fear present.
Her smile deepened.
Reaching out quickly, Lance grabbed the Twins by the scruff of their necks and hauled them away from the stranger.
With exasperation, he asked, "How have I instructed you to behave in matters such as this?" But gave them no time to reply before answering his own question with yet another. "Haven't I always told you that first I see to your safety, appraise the situation for danger? Then, when I say that it is safe, and only then, is not that when you show yourself?"
Two auburn heads nodded in unison. Lance did the same. "Am I not your Protector?" Again bowed heads nodded. "Good, then see that you remember these things before you reveal yourselves in the future."
Davenhawkes turned, half expecting the woman to have fled while the feeble OrbWard and cackling wizard looked on. She remained where he had left her, smirking at his discomfort.
Mumbling about children, women, and fools, he ordered, "Stay put!" before shouting, "Aldous, to me!" Giving the Twins a warning glare, he raised his finger in admonishment. "I mean it, little ones. Stay put or I'll tan your royal hides!" Then he stormed away.
"Phugh and poppycock," the Wizard muttered, hiking his silk robes up around his knees to reveal white, skinny shanks and rather large, awkward looking feet. "What am I now, a wet nurse?"
Lance ignored his complaints as they passed each other, and set his sights on the woman casually awaiting him.
As he neared, she extended her slender hand. Lance accepted absently, continuing to mumble about errant children and sour old men.
"Strong, silent type, right?" she said as she withdrew her hand. No reply. "Your kids, big guy?"
"Yes, they are my burden, my cross to bear," he grumbled.
She laughed, the tone rich and vibrant. "Kinda an odd way of putting it," she replied, eyeing him queerly before shrugging away any further questions she may have wished to ask.
Lance had no time to acknowledge her, nor introduce himself before Ovid appeared and neatly ensconced himself between them.
"Pardon, pardon," the OrbWard said, keeping his back pointed to the larger man. Straightening his immaculate waistcoat with one hairy hand while extending the other toward Dione, he bowed. "Let me be the first to welcome you into our little fold."
Practically oozing charm, Ovid took one of her hands within his own and gently licked the top. "It is a pleasure to meet one so highly regarded by the Orb. I am at your service, dear lady."
Dione's features went from amusement to frank astonishment. Pulling her hand back, she wiped it against her leg, before demanding, "What's going on here?" Frowning at the creature before her, she continued, "You guys miss your costume party or something? Or do you always run around dressed like lunatics?"
"Oh, no, no," Ovid stammered. "Dear lady, you do not understand. We come not to harm, but to ask aid. We are here to serve you.""Speak for yourself, Guardian, I serve no one!"
"Wizard!" Lance warned.
Aldous mumbled, "Phugh and poppycock, Lance, you know it's true."
"Wizard, it may be true, but please, leave Ovid to his musings, he does no harm."
Dione grew silent, her stare long and steady. The silence was growing near unnerving. Then, with a shake to her head she said, "Sorry, chum, you've come to the wrong place if you're looking for help. I'm the wrong gal." Bending down, she groped for something hidden in the tall grass.
Lance moved before the OrbWard and drew his sword.
Looking up, Dione grinned at the large man with his very serious looking weapon. Showing her backpack as she stood, she said, "Easy, big guy, everything's cool here."
Lance raised an eyebrow, saw what she held, and then slowly lowered his blade.
"Well, look gang, I've gotta go. It's been interesting."
"No, no! Lance, she cannot leave us!" Ovid howled. "She is the one, the Orb has spoken! Wizard, do something…"
"Phugh and poppycock," Aldous mumbled. Eyeing the OrbWard acidly, he raised his hands as if to do as Ovid bid, seemed to think better of it, before spouting, "Oh, balderdash!" and hiked up his silk robes and ran after the retreating woman. "Madam," he huffed. "Really, will you not at least hear us out before rejecting us?"
Slinging her pack across one shoulder, she shrugged, "Talk."
"Can we stop? After all, I am an old man."
"Yeah, I'll give you that. Okay, let's go back; I'll hear you out, but only if you make it snappy." She then turned and scanned the area with a weary eye. Nodding, as if what she saw satisfied her, she followed Aldous back to where the others waited.
No sooner had she returned then Col and Callie erupted on the scene, each begging to be allowed to sit upon her lap.
"Children…to me. Now!" Lance's voice thundered, rising easily above the din.
Bowing their tiny heads, the children retreated to end up balanced, each upon one of the warrior's crossed legs.
Shrugging, Dione sank down into the tall grass and, folding her arms across her chest, waited.
"Thank you, dear lady," Ovid stated as a large toothy grin spread across his hairy face.
"Oh, do quit simpering, Ovid," Aldous spat. "She hasn't agreed to anything except to listen!"
"And your times running out," she reminded sternly. She looked over her shoulder, once again studying her surroundings. Turning back, she licked her lips and prompted, "Well?"
"Tell her, Wizard," Lance's deep voice gently intoned. "Let this matter be decided here and now."
"Phugh and poppycock! Always me . . . always," Aldous complained. Then drawing his robes about him, he sank down amidst the grass with a sigh. Folding his bony arms around even bonier knees, he said, "Ah, where to begin . . . well, first introductions. I am Aldous Ja Aval, Supreme Wizard of the High Sun Fellowship." Turning his strange eyes upon her, he nodded. "Now, the fellow holding the clear ball is OrbWard Ovid Calador, a noble-ranked Orb Guardian."
Ovid stood and bowed.
"Oh do sit down, Ovid! That big fellow is Lance Davenhawkes of Lolpaw Isle–the children's sworn Protector for life, and the two slips upon his lap are–stand, children, for your introduction…Lance, I thought you had taught them better–Prince Colan Valathorn and his twin sister, Princess Calliena Valathorn, affectionately called Col and Callie, for short."
Dione smiled as two brown-haired heads bowed in unison. She saw them exchange a knowing grin, and before they could completely rise from their formal bow, started to run toward her.
The warrior was quicker, grabbing each by their waist belts and hauling them back toward his awaiting lap.
"Ah, Lance," Col complained, stomping one foot defiantly.
The large man only shook his head and pointed back to his lap.
"Children, if you please, I am charged with telling this story and I would like to continue! Refrain yourselves from further antics," Aldous scolded. "Now, what next? Yes, the where and why. We have come through the portals to this planet, from our own world, Egressus, to beg you to lend your talents to aid us in overthrowing an existing plague upon our world–one Lord Xenos Daytus. You see, the Orb has picked you as our champion, so to speak."
"Okay, that's it! I'm outta here!" Dione said as she rose. "I don't believe in aliens from outer space, but, believe you me, if I did, you guys would fit the bill."
"Dear lady, it is all true," Ovid cried. "Just as the wizard has said. Please, we have great need of your talents."
"I don't have any talents, and times up! I'm outta here."
"But you do," Davenhawkes stated quietly, as he set each child on the ground next to him. He rose silently to stall her flight. "The Orb has chosen, it cannot be wrong."
"Look, you guys seem harmless enough. Well," she hesitated, eyeing the large man before continuing, "most of you do, but I've gotta go. You're not the only ones with problems, and mine ain't far, far away. Honestly, I'd like to help, but…"
"Oh dear," the OrbWard moaned, wringing his hairy hands before him as his champion walked away.
She turned and gazed back over her shoulder and waved farewell. Before her fleeting form a dust cloud could be seen rising, moving toward them at an ominous pace.
Lance hooked a child under each of his arms and ordered, "Open a portal, Wizard. It is time for us to leave."
Nodding, the wizard placed a thin, white hand upon the OrbWard's slumping shoulders and with uncharacteristic understanding said, "It cannot be helped, Ovid. Sometimes others don't hear a calling as clearly as we. Lance is right, we must go before Xenos locates us."
With one last, hopeful glance back toward the retreating woman, Ovid nodded. With both palms upturned, he held the Orb out before him and closed his eyes. At the same time, the wizard began to mumble as he took up a stance beside him. Ancient words, recognized, but their meaning unknown to the others, flowed from his parted lips and were quickly stolen from him to mingle with the howl of the now boisterous winds.
The Wizard's and the OrbWard's minds melded, allowing the Orb to become their consciousness. A light formed within the center of the clear ball, building in its intensity. Small waves of energy crisscrossed the smooth surface and flared outward, flashing into the empty air before them. A hazy spot emerged from the strike point, ripping the fragile air and solidifying it into a large quivering, gray puddle suspended above the ground. An opaque dot formed at its center and expanded, its touch melting the grayish veil, revealing a doorway at its core.
Lance shouldered aside lingering matter and stepped through, Twins in tow. In the distance, from the direction the woman had gone, he heard a loud popping, and then another. Someone screamed, but he was now too deep within the portal to see the land he had left. Aldous sprang through, followed quickly by the OrbWard.
Ovid turned to shield the Orb, and was practically knocked backwards by a figure leaping through after them.
Another loud pop cracked the air, and an object whizzed past them, its flight echoing deep within the tunnel.
"Quick, slam it shut!" Dione shouted.
Wide-eyed, the OrbWard moved quickly to comply, shielding the Orb completely. With its light extinguished, the portal sealed, leaving them standing between worlds in a dimly lit tunnel.
She looked around at her new companions. In answer to the large blond man standing before her, his brows raised in question, she shrugged, "I changed my mind. Never let it be said that Dione Amber Clancy Blume turned down an adventure!"
"No, never let it be said," Lance echoed dryly.
Copyright® – No part of this may be reproduced without permission)