The Clock Tower Guardian Chapter 20
I was slow in coming to. The darkness of sleep covered me like a blanket and I was lost in the folds. My first awareness was simply that I didn’t mind being lost. It was so peaceful and quiet and comfortable here. Who would want to leave?
Next came the awareness that someone was holding my hand. I think I slept for a long time because sometimes my hand wasn’t being held and then whoever held it would come back.
Sometimes quiet voices spoke around me. They were worried, tense and low. They talked about their worry, asking all the time,
“How is she?”
How was I? I was wonderful. How could I not be, wrapped in such a peace as I was? What a silly question.
But then, why were they worried? Perhaps I slept too long.
Oh, but what a lovely sleep!
The two conflicting ideas pulled me one way and then another. Much time passed as I debated whether or not I should wake and if I even wanted to.
Then, I heard the person holding my hand finally speak.
“Etti,” he whispered, voice quiet and broken. “Etti, come back. You’re needed here. You have to wake up.
He squeezed my hand then and I knew he was right. I had to wake up. They needed me. There was no one else to be the Northern Guardian.
Slowly, languidly, I untangled myself from the blanket of sleep. I was sorry to leave it, but I knew I had to. For the first time in my life, I was needed and I knew I couldn’t disappoint them.
As I became more aware of my body, I felt that I was laying in a soft bed, pillow under my head and blanket laid gently on top of me.
My body hurt. It was a healing ache, but pain regardless. Nearly every part of me could feel it.
Carefully and slowly, I opened my eyes. The room was dark except for a low glowing lamp to my right. It illuminated Aaron’s sleeping face, his head resting on the bed beside the hand he held. He looked haggard and worn, as though he hadn’t been sleeping well or maybe enough, and there were worry lines creasing his forehead even in sleep.
I couldn’t help the little smile that found my lips. What in the worlds did he think he was doing?
Reaching over with my left hand, I gently smoothed down the worry lines. His eyes flew open and he stared at me, momentarily frozen in surprise. My smile grew just a bit.
“Get on off to your own bed, you big lug,” I said, a grin in my voice at his dumbfounded expression.
“Etti!” he exclaimed as he sat up like he was spring loaded. “You’re awake!”
His expression had now gone from surprise to pure delight.
“No, you’re still asleep,” I shot back teasingly.
His face instantly fell from happiness to deadly serious and worried. Before I could question the change, he had reached forward and grabbed my face in both hands, making me look straight at him. His hold was gentle, but firm and I realized he was doing it on purpose to not hurt my head any more than it already was.
“If you’re thinking of kissing me, I would advise against it,” I said, trying to joke in the face of Aaron’s sudden seriousness.
His gaze didn’t waver and I suddenly felt a strange heaviness in the situation.
“Why?” whispered Aaron.
I swallowed hard and tried desperately for some lightness. I wasn’t sure where this conversation might go, but some sixth sense shrank away from finding out. I forced an easy grin.
“I present the last man who did as exhibit A.”
Aaron sighed and let go of my face. Then he sat back in his chair with a chuckle.
The sudden heaviness dissipated and I felt like I could breath again. I looked at the MAGI more closely. His suit was wrinkled, as though he’d been wearing it constantly for too long. There were dark circles under his eyes and he looked terrible.
“Did we win?” I asked, deciding that was probably a safe question.
Aaron gave me a small smile.
“Yes, we won. I knew fifty MAGI could handle that army.”
His face fell.
“We lost three and most were wounded, but they did it.”
I bit my lip.
“I’m sorry, Aaron.”
He sighed and looked back at me.
“The price of war,” he said simply.
“What about the other Guardians?”
“Not nearly as bad off as you’ve been. They’re all well now and so are you. Finally.”
He whispered the last word, as though speaking to himself, and I frowned.
“What do you mean? How bad was I?”
“You’ve been in a coma for the past week.”
Aaron nodded solemnly. I looked away from him to the dark ceiling.
“And you? You don’t look very good yourself.”
My gaze shifted back to the MAGI as he glanced down at himself and chuckled ruefully.
“Yes, I suppose I’ve looked better.”
He stood stiffly, stretching a bit as he did. How long had he been sitting there?
“On that note, I’ll take your advice and find my own bed after I let the others know you’re awake.”
He turned and moved to the door, closing it gently behind him. It seemed only moments later that Razana and Quir came flying into my room. The two pulled up short, staring at me for a moment. Then Razana ran to the bedside and grabbed me up in a hug.
“Oh, girl, we were so worried!”
“Whoa, easy on my head,” I said, dizzy from the sudden movement.
She released me and I touched my head, feeling it wrapped in a bandage. I looked past Razana to see Quir beaming at me.
“Glad to see you awake,” he said, even his voice smiling.
“Glad to be awake... I think,” I replied.
“I still can’t believe what you did,” said Razana. “Aaron told us the best he could. Did you really Seal Lotan on the Aether Plain? After everything he did to you?”
Her eyes were wide with wonder. Slowly, I nodded.
“Yes, I suppose I did,” I replied quietly.
“She supposes she did!” exclaimed Razana, looking at Quir as she threw up her arms. “She supposes she did! Girl,” she continued, turning back to me. “Do you have any idea what you did?”
“Apparently not,” I said, giving her a confused smile.
She grabbed my shoulders, her excitement bubbling over.
“You created a Seal!”
“Razana,” I said, gripping her shoulders in return. “Seals are what I’m supposed to do. What’s so special about me making one?”
The Battle Gnome shook her head.
“No, no, no, you don’t understand!”
“Clearly. So can you be more specific for me?”
“Razana,” cut in Quir, still grinning. “Take a breath.”
The Eastern Guardian pulled away, closed her eyes for a moment, and took a deep breath. As she let it out, she opened her eyes.
“Alright, it’s true that Seals are your area, but you’re the Keeper of the Seals, not the maker,” she explained, slower now. “Anyone with a moderate amount of power can make a small, weak Seal, but to Seal a person, and on the Aether Plain no less, takes an amazing amount of power. That kind of Seal borders on the power it took to make the original Seals that keep the worlds separate. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
She paused and I let the meaning of what she had said sink in. Oh my.
“If I’m getting this right,” I said slowly. “You’re saying...I’m almost as powerful as... the original Guardians?”
Razana grinned excitedly.
“Exactly. At the very least, you’re the most powerful Guardian in centuries. With some experience and practice, you’ll probably only get even more powerful.”
I leaned back into the pillows, a little overwhelmed at the thought.
“Wow,” I said quietly.
Soon after that I insisted they find their own beds again. They both looked almost as worn out as Aaron had. Eventually, they went.
I laid awake the rest of the night, rolling over what Razana had said in my mind and replaying my time in the tower. I wasn’t as sure about my power as the Battle Gnome seemed to be, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. Whatever power I had was what it was. If I was that powerful, it would be that much easier to defend the worlds. If not, I would do what I could with what I had.
As for the tower, the memories were far from pleasant and the darkness didn’t help the shivers that ran up my spine at some of them. However, after sifting through them I found a few questions left unanswered. I resolved to have that changed come morning.
When I saw the light creeping over the horizon to peek through the curtains, I realized I was in my Master’s old rooms. Slowly, I sat up and crawled out from under the covers. I let my feet rest on the floor for a moment, testing my muscles before I stood. Though stiff and sore, I was reasonably fit and able to walk.
I gently ran my hand over the desk, recalling the words of my Master’s letter. With a sigh, I moved on. I opened the closet door and gasped. Tears came to my eyes as I covered my mouth.
Who had dared? Who had dared move my things in here?
I threw the door open and flew down the stairs, ignoring the protests of my muscles at the sudden activity. I stomped into the kitchen, caught between anger and tears.
“Who did it?” I demanded.
The other three Guardians were sitting at my kitchen table. All three looked up, surprised and confused.
“Do what?” asked Grundur.
“Who moved my things into that room?” I elaborated, swallowing the tears as I pushed down the anger.
Razana stood, a bit alarmed, and moved across the room to me.
“None of us have touched a thing,” she said gently. “We assumed that was your room.”
I shook my head.
“No, that was my Master’s room. How did my things get in there?”
Razana looked at the other two helplessly, but they glanced at each other, just as confused as she. I turned abruptly and headed for the front Door.
“How are my things in my Master’s room?”
“Well... Mistress... it is the room where the Master or Mistress resides and this is a magic House,” said the Door. “I would imagine it was the House’s doing, though that’s only speculation on my part since the House never consults me before it does something.”
I shook my head and held up a hand.
“Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me the House is sentient? And just... does things as it sees fit?”
“Well, yes, sometimes.”
I sighed, my hands dropping to my sides.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“I’m sorry, Mistress,” said Cahir, apologetically. “I didn’t think to.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” I said absently. “No reason you should have.”
I turned and went back up the stairs.
“Girl?” Quir asked.
I paused halfway up and looked down at the Salamander.
“My name. It isn’t girl anymore. It’s Etti Antti.”
Then I headed to my room. It was my room now, not my Master’s. I paused at the door to brace myself to that thought. With another deep breath, I opened the door.
The first order of business was a bath, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It felt as though it had been centuries since I had had a good one and it was simply divine.
Once out, I dried quickly, plaiting my hair in a simple braid down my back, which showed off my ears.
Moving to the closet, I opened the door and ran my hand through the soft silk robes within. I closed my eyes and let my fingers find the one that felt right. Grasping it, I pulled it out and opened my eyes. I couldn’t have chosen more perfectly. It was a full black robe with silver under robe and patterned by shimmering silver stars. I put it on with the matching slippers and then made my way back downstairs.
I ignored the three Guardians sitting in my kitchen and instead moved to the coffee pot. Silently, I made the coffee, prepared my cup, and slowly drank it down. I prepared the second cup before I turned to the others who were watching me.
“So, what’s the easiest way to the tower?”
The other three glanced at each other.
“Why do you need to go there?” asked Quir.
“Because I need to see it with my own eyes.”
They didn’t question me further. Instead, Razana suggested that a transportation magic would be quickest. I nodded and headed to the Door.
“You coming?” I called over my shoulder.
In short order, Grundur had transported the four of us just outside the tower. The ancient city showed the scars of the battle that had only taken place a week ago. It was hard to believe.
Dos met us at the tower entrance. He paused, bowing low.
“Masters and Mistresses, it’s good to see you.”
“And you,” I said, stepping forward and pulling him out of his bow. “So the army is gone then?”
“Indeed. I have been cleaning up the mess.”
“And what of your Master’s other apprentice?”
Dos sighed and shook his head.
“I have seen neither him nor his body, Mistress.”
“Oh,” said Razana quietly.
I glanced over at her questioningly.
“I had completely forgotten about him. So, he could be anywhere?”
Again, Dos nodded.
“Was he of the same mind as Lotan?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Lovely,” growled Grundur. “So we have a second madman on the loose.”
“We will all be watchful for any sign of him,” said Quir.
I nodded in agreement.
“So, the other question is, what do we do about this Guardian situation? I mean, we can’t truly function properly with only four of us.”
“Are you suggesting him?” asked Grundur, pointing to Dos.
I met the Central Guardian’s dubious gaze steadily. After a moment, he looked at Razana and Quir, who both nodded. The Dwarf sighed and looked to Dos.
“And what have you to say about it?”
Dos looked thoughtfully between us before speaking.
“My heart longs for my home and I was planning to find my cloak and return. However,” he looked at me with a small smile. “Your need for a Guardian is far greater. I will agree to be this for you, until such time as I have properly trained a replacement. Once that is done, I will retire and return home.”
I smiled, liking the sound of the deal, and looked to the others. Razana and Quir wore faces of approval, but turned to Grundur for the final decision. The Dwarf was silently thoughtful, thinking over Dos’s offer, and then he nodded slowly.
“Yes, that can be done. Your replacement must be well trained and you will need final approval, but I think those terms are acceptable.”
And so it was.
In short order, Dos was established as the new Guardian of the Clock Tower and was given a new name.
“How about... Sar Setal?” I suggested.
“I like it,” said Quir.
Razana grinned and Grundur nodded.
“What does it mean?” asked the Selkie.
I gave him a small smile.
“It means ‘He Hears the Sea’.”
The Selkie could only smile in return.
So he was named and we all returned to our own places. I went back to the House to take up where my Master had left off. I found it very quiet now though. After a few days, I took to taking long walks in the Garden, but found even the Guardians there very quiet.
Then, one of those days a little over a week after I had woken up, I decided to visit my Master’s pyre. I turned off the beaten path and went to the meadow.
At the tree line, I looked up and paused. The scars on the earth from the fire still remained, but that wasn’t what caught me by surprise.
It was a girl, walking in a slow circle around the spot, her eyes fixed on it. She had shoulder length, brown hair in hundreds of braids that had every color of feather imaginable woven into them. Her profile was sharp and her eyes a brilliant blue. She looked like a human, but there was something definitely magical about her. She wore a long, flowing robe that matched the feathers in her hair and seemed to be barefoot.
“He was a great man,” she said, in a cooing voice that reminded me of a bird.
She looked up at me then and I felt something familiar in her gaze. She cocked her head to the side in a very bird-like way.
“You will do well in his place, Mistress.”
“You knew him?” I asked quietly.
She smiled sadly.
“In my own way, yes, I knew him.”
“Who are you?”
She blinked in surprise.
“Why, Mistress, I am Lolani, the Bird of Paradise.”
She gave me the most graceful curtsy I had ever seen and another smile.
“The one who led me here,” I said, voice showing my surprise and wonder.
“You’re here. In the Garden.”
“Indeed, Mistress,” she replied, still grinning.
“But... my Master told me he could never lure you in here. Why would you come now?”
I saw a mysterious twinkle in the Bird’s eye then.
“I’m afraid that is one story I shall not tell.”
I nodded, remembering the shy natures of Birds in general, so I didn’t press her. I looked over my shoulder through the trees, a thought occurring to me then.
“Will you go back to the forest?”
“I will go where I desire,” was her smiling reply.
“Well,” I said slowly. “I have plenty of room. You’re welcome to stay here if you like. I find I’m rather starved for company here.”
Her grin grew it’s brightest yet and she stepped toward me, taking my hands in hers.
“I would like that very much, Mistress.”
I couldn’t help but match her grin then and we linked arms, heading back up the the House.
A/N: Thank you to my most faithful readers; writinglover, Becky Katz, Wr1t3r, and vkwok. It's finally done! And you have all been so wonderful to take the journey with me. I hope you enjoyed it half as much as I did and look forward to seeing this published as that is the next step I'm planning. :) I will be pulling this and A Rock And A Hard Place shortly since I will be submitting this one for publication. As soon as that happens, however it happens, I will definitely be posting about it on here.
Once again, thank you for being your awesome selves and I'm so glad you came along for the ride. :)