A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 13
“ETTI!” I heard Itzel screech behind me.
I kept my eyes closed, feeling the water rushing around me, helping gravity pull me to a watery end, but then I slowed down. The water kept rushing around me, past me and down, but I slowed until I was floating slowly downward, in no danger of being crushed to death at the bottom.
It felt right.
I opened my eyes to see my skin was still faintly pulsing with light and, though I was completely submerged in the water, I was breathing just fine. That was probably the thing the scared me the most. I had to keep myself calm so I closed my eyes once more, feeling the pull of my mother’s mind and reminding myself that it would be alright.
As I reached the bottom of the waterfall, I opened my eyes again and let myself be pulled down into the water. Then, calmly, I swam up and away from the falls, still breathing normally.
I broke the surface and looked around, seeing nothing but more trees on the surrounding banks. A smaller river ran down from where I was, much gentler than the one above, and I closed my eyes again, feeling for where my mother was.
I pulled away from the Aether Spirit, who was hovering next to my ear, enraged.
“What were you doing?! What were you thinking?! How did you survive that?! Why didn’t you warn me what you were doing?! You could have died! You can’t die! There’s a lot of things I can do, but bringing you back from the dead isn’t one of them! You can’t die before the Contract is up! How could you scare me like that?! Don’t you ever do that again!”
“Itzel!” I said, holding up my hands as though they could stave the verbal onslaught. “Calm down! I’m sorry. I should have said something.”
“Yes you should have!”
“And I’m sorry. Please stop shouting. You can see I’m fine. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Well you did!”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
Her rainbow eyes drilled holes into my head as she glared at me, lowering her voice dangerously.
“You better be. Don’t you ever pull a stunt like that again without warning me.”
I saluted her a bit awkwardly since I was treading water.
“Scout’s honor. Won’t do it again.”
She narrowed her eyes at me.
“You’re not a scout.”
I gave her a playful grin.
“I know. That’s the point.”
With a laugh, I swam toward the river and followed the call I could feel coming from my mother.
I had never met a Nixie before, even though I was half Nixie myself. As a child, I had nearly killed myself trying to be accepted as one of the Elves, even though each passing year brought the realization more into focus that they could never and would never accept me. I had shunned anything to do with my mother or Nixies. I tired with all my might to pretend that I was a full Elf. I thought that would make things better for me, if I could just get them to forget what my mother was, so I had avoided anything non-elvish like a plague.
Perhaps that was one of the reasons I never asked about her after my father had told me how to contact her. It wasn’t long after I had asked him that, that I began to strive so hard for acceptance.
Slowly, I swam, enjoying the feel of the water around me and the warm sun shining down on my head. I knew Aaron and Lolani were in trouble. Hopefully they hadn’t been killed. Most likely they had simply been captured. That would be more Taliya’s style. Besides, Aaron was a MAGI and I was sure that none of the Wizards or Elves wanted the full power of NORTH’s fist brought down on their heads.
“Do you think they’re alright?” asked Itzel quietly.
I glanced up to see her floating about a foot from me, above my head. I let out a breath and looked ahead again.
“They won’t kill Aaron. That would bring NORTH’s full fury down on their heads and even the Elves aren’t stupid enough to do that.”
I shot her a glare and saw that she was smiling.
“Funny,” I said, deadpan. “You know I didn’t do that on purpose.”
She just kept floating and smiling so I let it drop.
“Anyway, NORTH would annihilate them if they killed a MAGI so I seriously doubt that the Elves or Wizards will be dumb enough to kill him.”
“What about Lolani?”
“Aaron will take care of her.”
“You sure of that?”
“If he doesn’t, I’ll take care of him when I see him again, and I’m sure he’s well aware of it,” I said darkly.
“Oh, I’m sure he is.”
I turned onto my back, eyeing her suspiciously.
“What exactly are you trying to imply?”
“That you’re a terrifying person to cross.”
“That’s true enough.”
Suddenly I sobered, frowning and turning back onto my stomach as I continued swimming.
“It’s too bad the Elves and Wizards didn’t think about that. There’s going to be some major reckoning to be done when we go back.”
“To be fair--” began Itzel.
“Why would I want to be fair?” I cut in.
She gave me a look for interrupting and then continued.
“To be fair, you are in disguise. They couldn’t have known it was you.”
“That’s no excuse.”
Itzel laughed and we swam and floated on in silence for a while. It was good to have her back with me. I always forgot how lonely it could be when she wasn’t by my side. Every time I brought her back, I felt the weight of a loneliness I didn’t even notice until that moment lift from my mind. I think it was from all the time I spent by myself as a child. Being by myself was an ingrained part of my being and so when it was suddenly filled in again as it should have been, I realized how keenly I had been feeling it the whole time.
I let the water do most of the work, mostly just keeping myself afloat on the water. After a time, I began to see signs that something was changing, something was different and new. The water began gurgling happily as it flowed and the leaves of the trees seemed to wave at us as we passed. There was something different in the air and I knew what caused it, if not exactly what it was.
We were close. We were close to the Nixies.
I stopped swimming all together and just let the happy water take me where it would. The river flowed to a quiet inlet with calm water and past it, but I knew that the inlet was my destination. I swam out of the river’s gentle current and into the quiet water, carefully picking my way up the bank and seating myself on the edge of the water.
I was absolutely soaking wet and I didn’t care. I began shaking a bit with nerves. She was coming. My mother was coming. Finally, after all these years, I was going to meet the creature who had birthed me. I swallowed hard and closed my eyes, willing my hands to stop their shaking and my heart to stop its suddenly frantic race through my chest.
I felt that voice in my mind again, like a ripple on a quiet pond.
I opened my eyes and I couldn’t stop my small gasp at the being which stood before me. She came up out of the water slowly, dripping wet, but beautiful because the water was her natural state. She had auburn hair just like mine, falling in waves around her face and deep green eyes that locked onto my bronze ones. A slow smile spread across her perfect lips, showing white teeth in a dazzling smile. She wore a simple, flowing green frock and her skin, pulsing underneath with a faint light, was as pale as mine. It was true, what my father had said about me having my mother’s face. They held the same shape, and the same angular softness.
Slowly, she moved out of the water towards me, one hand reaching tentatively toward me. I stood up, swallowing, and moved to the edge of the water to meet her.
She stopped within arm’s reach of me and gently caressed my cheek with a cool hand. Tears came to my eyes unbidden and I put my own hand over hers on my cheek. I saw tears in her eyes now and she spoke for the first time, her voice a rippling melody.
“Daughter,” she said quietly. “I’ve waited so long for you to come to me.”
I broke down then and threw my arms around her, sobbing into her shoulder. She held me tightly, shaking as she cried with me. We stood there for a long while, holding each other and crying, until our tears were spent and finally she pulled away a bit, but didn’t let me go. She looked intensely at my face, as though searching for something. Then she smiled and undid the amulets on my neck, revealing my true face to her.
“You don’t look much like your father.”
I laughed, brushing away the last of my tears.
“He always said I looked more like you.”
“He was right. You do have his eye though, and such beautiful eyes they are.”
She pushed back a strand of hair from my face.
“What do they call you?”
“Etti Antti,” I said.
She looked at me keenly.
“Not your real name then.”
“I haven’t gone by that name in many years and I have no wish to start now.”
“I respect that wish. So, Etti.”
“Amahine,” she said quietly. “But I would much rather you call me mother.”
Taking my hand, she led me back up the bank a few feet and we sat down next to each other, looking out over the inlet and the river beyond. After a moment of silence, Amahine looked over at me.
“So, Etti Antti. You called for my help. What can I do?”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out, I began explaining the situation to her. I told her about that I was a Guardian and that I was supposed to be acting as a liaison between the Elves and Wizards. I told her about the assassin and the failed negotiations. I told her about how we had escaped and then how I had fallen into the river. When I got the part about reaching the ledge, I looked over at her and shrugged.
“That’s when I remembered what father had said when I asked him about you. ‘If it’s help you need and there’s water nearby, follow your instincts and she’ll hear your cry’. So, I followed my instincts and called you.”
She nodded slowly, absorbing my story. After a moment longer she looked over at me.
“Then the question remains, what can I do to help? The Nixies won’t start a war with the Wizards and Elves just to get two friends of my daughter back.”
I shook my head quickly.
“I wouldn’t expect them to. That’s not what I need at all.”
“Then what do you expect?”
“I need a way back to my house as quickly as possible. I need to prepare. I’m going back to get Aaron and Lolani and settle this thing once and for all, but I can’t go in unarmed and I have to go back as myself, not Liaison Korina. I need all the authority and power behind me that I can muster.”
“A wise decision, my daughter. Perhaps I can persuade some of the others to come as a show of force, should you need it.”
I smiled at her and pulled her into a hug.
“That would be great. Thank you so much.”
She hugged me back for a moment and then released me.
“What else are mother’s for? Now, your transportation.”
She stood and moved back into the river. Sensing that I wasn’t behind her, she turned back and motioned me to follow. With a shrug, I waded in after her and began swimming in her wake. I followed her out to another inlet further down and then up onto the bank. She grinned at me and I looked at her confused.
“Sorry, but transportation?”
“Right there,” she said, pointing to the waters of the inlet.
I starred at it for a moment, still confused, and then looked at my mother again.
“I don’t understand.”
She gave me a mischievous look and poked my forehead.
“You’re back to using your Elf eyes to see. Focus and look again. Concentrate within and you’ll see without.”
With a nod, I closed my eyes and found my core once more, like I had on the ledge. It was all still there, waiting. I had unconsciously pushed it back because it was habit to use my old sight. When I had a firm grasp of it again, I opened my eyes and looked back at the water with a gasp.
The inlet wasn’t calm at all. It was a swirling portal, sparkling blues and greens and purples mixing together and disappearing into the center of the vortex.
“You... you have a portal?”
I looked over at her in astonishment and she laughed lightly at my expression.
“I do not have anything. It merely exists as it is. It is not owned by anyone.”
“Why do you think the Guardians were created in the first place, Etti? They were created to protect the things that are unseen by most. Such things can only be seen by those attune to them and people can’t simply be allowed to stumble on such things unsupervised. It wouldn’t be safe. But there are many, many such things, and this is one of them. The Nixie are attune to it, being made of water, and so you can attune yourself to it as well, but those who are not attune to it won’t see it, even if they know it’s there.”
“Oh,” I said in a very small voice.
That made sense, of course, and I suddenly felt very thick for not having thought of it that way. Amahine chuckled and hugged me tightly. I hugged her back.
“Come back soon. We will be waiting to help you however we can.”
I nodded and pulled away, but paused to take in her face once more. She seemed to be doing the same with me. Then, regretfully, I pulled away and waded toward the portal. With this kind of portal, all I should need to do would be to focus on the water source that I wanted to end up at and I should make it just fine.
With one last look behind me at my mother, my mother, standing on the bank behind me, smiling, I plunged into the swirling vortex of color and water.