Flashes of light. Murmurs of voices. Screaming. The rival in her hands. Her senses pounding to her aching head. With effort, someone tried to release her from the power surge. She fought back, clutching the boomerang, limbs flailing. The hidden rival slipping from her grasp to the cave ground. Tukamog blinking his twelve eyes at her. Then she remembered only sleep as a jewel was pressed to her wrist. Calmness.
“Brave child,” whispered a new voice, a deep loving voice. “Rest now. You have accomplished your mission. I am very proud of you. Relax, allow yourself rest. Stay strong, Syrene. I will send a guardian for you. For now, sleep.”
And she did. Waves of weariness poured over her thoughts and eyes, and she slept.
After hours of her isolated state, her ears detected spoken words.
“Shwo em ot ym fadiht!”
“Seh neesd rets,” the voice of Difelt Orve replied in Lyred.
“The jewels of tears are secured and under protection of Winter and Delta Rivkibe,” Jaclyn Sard’s voice added. A pause. “Seze! Come back!”
A moment later something small and wet landed on Syrene’s stomach. Her eyes flew open to see a forked tongue racing up her nose. “Hey Seze,” she said, wincing as her voice croaked. She cleared her throat, scratching the dragon’s ears.
Difelt and Jaclyn peeked into her room, and seeing her awake, entered.
“You’re going to be okay,” Jaclyn the prophetess said, smiling.
Syrene smiled back. “Thanks. What happened to me?”
“Well,” Jaclyn began hesitantly. “You had the Boomerang of Knowledge and started screaming, and it was like lightning ran down your arms. Tom tried to grab it from you, but you kicked him in the chest. Then Tukamog slid it from your grasp easily with his invisible talons, and you blacked out, exhausted.”
“That seems to happen to me far too often,” Syrene replied. “Although I wonder why Tom would risk his life to save me.” She paused, the truth rushing through her mind like a river as she remember. “Maybe because he’s my father,” she said, her voice volume dropping. My father is Tom. I can’t believe it. Numb acceptance flooded her, and she sighed, although anger could be easily accessed as well.
“He is?” Jaclyn asked, as Difelt nodded.
“Where are we? The FadithRiders’ base? Did they win the war?”
Jaclyn fiddled with the end of her red braid. “We are on Fopa Island,” she said slowly. “This island belongs to Rilqua Risksleet, guardian of Plasmacid and Gemuna. The FadithRiders’ base is now under the control of maloster and Vatyn. Rilqua allowed us shelter here, to regroup. Rumor has it that Qasdre will be attacked next.”
“Did my mother survive the war? Is the Valley of Tears Maloster’s too?”
“Karmae Pectar is here, but currently speaking with Taein and Risnu. The Valley of Tears is still under protection of Mira Trel the cherub, but Rhuvear agreed to stay and train the Defenders.”
“I’m not an orphan anymore,” Syrene realized. “I have a family. A mother, a father, and a twin brother.” She lay in awe for a moment. “I would like to see them.”
“Not now,” Jaclyn insisted.
“As soon as you’ve recovered, Jaclyn says we have a new mission from Lord Havom Himself!” Difelt exclaimed, excited.
“Then I will complete it or die trying.” Syrene waited, then burst, “may I at least see the other Defenders?”
Jaclyn seemed amused. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt. Everyone! Syrene’s ready to see you now!”
At her signal, all but Taein entered, a grin on every face.
Plasmacid and Gemuna, the only power-wielding creatures among the Defenders, a raingburre and a grimfoetivee, were just able to squeeze through the door. Gemuna blinked her blind white eyes and dipped her reptilian head, while Plasmacid saluted her with all four wings, his injured one now completely healed.
Of the elves, Ari Grene and Desolate Xalph were chosen as Defenders, both females with long hair, Ari’s brown, Desolate’s black. They nodded, and stood together against the side wall.
Scythe, Winter, and Risnu arrived next.
“How’s it going?” Scythe asked, grinning like a fool.
“Fine,” she replied.
“Syrene,” Risnu said, kneeling at her bed. “I’m glad to see you’re alright.”
She smiled. “You know me, I can survive anything, brother.”
I am also pleased to see you well, Winter added, mindwhispering to her. Delta and I switched guarding shifts.
Delta! Syrene thought back to him urgently. Where is she?
“Delta!” Syrene sat up and embraced her friend. “Already done the research of the new mission, I suppose?” Syrene asked when Delta pulled away.
The FadithRider flashed her a smile. “You guessed correctly! I know mostly everything and everywhere we are travelling.”
“Who else is coming?”
“All twelve Defenders of Lord Havom.”
“Even . . . even Taein?”
“No, Taein. Tom’s true identity. My Irtaa Kertgo father.”
“Yes. When did he reveal that to you?”
“In the Cave of Tears.”
“Oh. He probably thought the best time to tell you would be in case something went wrong, huh?”
“Something like that.” Then Syrene became aware that the others were still in the room with her. “I’ll discuss your research with you another time.”
“Need rest, protector of rivals,” Desolate said in her strong Lyred accent.
“Alright. I will rest.”
“Wait,” Ari interrupted, stepping forward. “You should have this back.” She held out the Locket of Appearance.
Syrene bent her neck so the elf could replace the hidden rival around her neck. “Thank you.”
Ari smiled and nodded, stepping back. Desolate brought up a candle, and Syrene was pleased that no screams or images struck her as she watched the flame leap back and forth. She was mastering her fire power quickly.
After thanking them all once again, she closed her eyes and allowed sleep in.
* * *
Zej prowled across the barren cliff, pacing as she travelled her thoughts of the day. Waiting to her felt like standing really still then staying put for a decade or two. Zej was sick of it. Her whole life she had waited, but the reply would be never what she expected. Her moonseak fadith on her shoulder, she felt his small breaths rile the hairs on her neck. It felt soothing after her barefooted hunt for yaks and mountain lions. With each blow bits of mist peeled off her until she could close her eyes in peace.
The most irksome part of living in the mountains had to be the mists of shame. It’s affects on her had left her rattled for hours upon hours, and Zej tired herself often fighting back the memories of old. Besides, they would never repeat again.
She sighed, fingering her short handled double-headed axe. Although knowing patience was an important life lesson to master, it seemed impossible when in motion. She ran a hand along her matted orange hair, feeling twigs and dirt rain from her head to the rocky ground. Zej withdrew a twisted stick, and after removing it, shook out her hair. Then she bundled it up and replaced the stick, which held the nest of hair in place. Conscious her silver eyes had shifted to lilac again, she focused and turned them back.
Being a mountain loner involved much waiting, but she still wanted to find what she longed for. Would anyone come looking for her? No, she told herself, she was too young to be considered important and worth finding, being only sixty-eight seasons old, or was it now seventy-two? Zej wasn’t sure. She lifted her hand, which the moonseak scuttled onto, and brought him to eye level.
“Arhisp,” she murmured. “Arho kho ihou nuhink See’s irending nuo edeet ede?”
The moonseak shrugged. “Seis khefenders, edaybe?” he answered in Scapondel.
Zej nodded. Of course she hadn’t considered that option. The only Defenders she knew of were trembling Taein, kind-hearted Karmae, and murderous Maloster. She cleared pointed stones and sat by the cliff overlooking the mists of shame, and the rope swing Zej had constructed to bypass it safely.
Staring off into the distance, she waited. Longing for a sign or message to reveal itself to her.