I told Darren everything that happened from the beginning, except that he might be my uncle, I knew he would tell me when the time is right…and all the kissing Calelon and I did.
"Anika, I am very sorry to hear about Noah…and your house. That must be so awful," he said sympathetically. "But I actually got you a little something for your birthday. It's very late right now, though, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow. It's my bedtime," he said with a grunt as he got up.
"Night, Darren," I said smiling.
"Goodnight, Anika. I'm glad you're back," he said. I sighed and leaned back in the chair. Calelon stood up and made his way to the door.
"Where are you going?" I asked him.
"To let my mother and father know I am in Falkron again, although I'm sure they sensed it. Also, I am going to retrieve the things of yours we brought to Aelmere. You might as well have them here," he said.
"Thank you," I said and gave him a hug. He left and I took the backpack to my room. I unpacked the things Sarah had given me and put the clothes in my closet. I tucked myself into the bed and sadly gazed at Noah's. It would remain empty forever. I fell asleep crying to myself.
When I woke up the next morning I instinctively checked the alarm clock beside me. It was nearly eleven so I got up and showered. When I went back to my room I noticed a pile of folded clothes at the foot of my bed. There was also a small box of jewellery that had been left in Aelmere, as well. I smiled to myself as I hung the dresses up in the closet. I put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and then I went to the kitchen.
"Morning Anika!" Darren said jovially.
"Hi!" I said back. I sat down at the table and Darren put a plate filled with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast in front of me. The smell reached my nostrils and I smiled. "Oh how I have missed your real food!" I said as I shoveled it into my mouth. He watched me eat with a concerned look on his face. "Is something wrong?" I asked.
"There's something I need to tell you. I should have told you before but I didn't know how you would react," he said.
"Did you know my father?" I asked him to take some of the weight of his shoulders. I saw him tense up.
"How'd you two know each other?"
"Do you know?" He asked. I nodded.
"My mother told me that my father had a brother named Darren. The only thing that threw me off was your last name."
"Ah, yes. I should have known Joanne would have told you. I am so sorry I did not tell you, Anika. But yes, I'm your uncle. You will always have a family here," he said.
"Thank you, Darren," I said. I finished my breakfast then Darren took me outside to the barn so I could take Bandit out. I rode along the river, which I now knew was called Northborough River and then became Southborough River, eventually running into Norburn Lake. We didn't go as far as the lake, though. That was too close to Dellyn. We rode back and I left Bandit in the barn and then went inside to meet up with Darren.
There was a long box lain across the kitchen table. Darren came out of his room and jumped at the sight of me.
"You're not supposed to be back yet!"
"Why not…?" I asked suspiciously eyeing the box.
"Well, there's no use hiding it now! This is your birthday present," he said as he guided me over to the table. "And sorry, this is the only box it would fit it!"
"What is it?" I asked.
"Well come on! Open it!" I opened the box and felt a piece of wood. I pulled it out and found out that it was a longbow. My mouth fell open.
"You got me a longbow?" I asked.
"Yes! I knew you got frustrated with that old bow I had lent you, so while you were away I went and visited a friend who got me this for you!"
"Oh my god Darren, wow! Oh thank you! I love it!" I said. I strung the bow then tested its poundage. "Can I take it out?" I asked.
"There should also be some custom arrows and a quiver in the box," Darren said smiling. I pulled them out and gave him a big hug. "While you were out I set up a small range in the field we train in," he said.
"Thank you again," I said as I rushed out to get Bandit.
The only thing that sucked about getting a new bow was getting accustomed to it. I missed the target more times than I hit it, but I knew getting frustrated wouldn't help so I tried to keep calm. The bow was beautiful, and it shot the arrows beautifully, no matter what they hit. Eventually I became used to the bow and I could once again hit the targets. I smiled to myself after every arrow hit the target with a thud.
"You want to try on dummies yet?" Darren asked me.
"No, not yet," I said. He nodded and continued firing his own arrows. I looked to the edge of the clearing as someone emerged from it. "Darren," I began.
"I see him." He said. We both readied ourselves with our bows. I nocked an arrow onto the string and aimed. Darren and I released our arrows at the same time but the person seemed to vanish. "Who the hell is that?"
"I don't know…let's just hope it wasn't sent from Daechir," I said.
"I am not Daechir, nor one of his minions." A voice said. The person appeared again but right in front of us. It was Erthor in the form of a middle-aged man.
"God dammit Erthor! You scared the hell out of me!" I said as I punched him in the shoulder.
"I apologize," he said completely unaffected. "I thought I should inform you that Daechir has been quiet this past week. He hasn't come out of his stronghold and he hasn't sent any of his minions out either. It is strange. Normally he'll just go for a simple walk, but he hasn't even done that. I fear he is planning the worst."
"Where is his stronghold?" I asked.
"It is not in Falkron. I feel that is all you need to know right now," he said.
"But if it's not in Falkron, how can you sense these things?"
"You forget, my child. I am the Guardian of Dracmere, I merely reside in Falkron," he said with a smile before turning into the Golden Wolf and leaving us.
"I think it's time to head in," Darren said.
"Okay," I said as we gathered our things and rode back to his clearing. We left our horses in the barn and made our way back into the cabin.
"Where's Calelon?" Darren asked and I felt heat rise in my cheeks.
"Why?" I asked.
"Did he not volunteer to guard you at all times?" He asked. "I don't want anything to happen to you. I'm not saying I wouldn't protect you if the time came, I just don't know what I could do against the Firi's Shadow Lord," he said.
"Thank you. But during the battle when he was charging me, something stopped him. I don't know what did, but Calelon and Caleleth knew this would happen somehow…all I know is when he saw Menedhil, he seemed scared." I said.
"Then it is important that you carry it with you at all times."
The next month went by nearly the same every day. We would train a bit, watch our backs, but nothing happened. Calelon would drop in and stay for a while, but he always left. Darren started to notice the way I looked at him and how he wouldn't look at me. Could his parents sense the way Calelon changed when he was around me? Is that why he pretended not to care? It was early May when something finally happened.
I had decided to go to the Grove and see it in full bloom since I hadn't been there since my date with Noah. I rode Bandit because I knew the way well enough that I wouldn't need to follow the black stones. I dismounted Bandit a few feet away when I heard voices coming from the Grove. I slowly crept over to the entrance – which had been recovered with the branches – and began to remove them slowly. After, I carefully crawled through, but not all the way. I peeked my head around the corner and recognized the Golden Wolf's gleaming fur coat right away. But there were three other wolves with him: a white one, black one, and a brown one. I shuffled backwards to leave, and my hand crunched a stick beneath it. Typical. In under a second they were surrounding me, yapping and baring their fangs.
"Erthor! Help me!" I said. They all stopped when they heard his name. He transformed into the middle-aged man and finally came towards the other three.
"You told a human our secret?!" One of them said, a female.
"She is important," he responded coolly.
"Oh, aren't they all?" The same voice said sarcastically. The White Wolf then transformed into her human form. She was beautiful, even when she was glaring at me and Erthor, with long snow-white hair and lilac eyes. He reached for my hand and helped me out of the little entrance opening. He said something, too quiet for me to hear and in a language I was almost certain wasn't English. The other two wolves also changed into human form. One was a male with jet black hair and eyes bluer than the sky and the other was a female with long brown hair and eyes as green as the forest.
"How is that possible?" The one with black hair said with an astonished look upon his face. They were all looking at me…no, they were looking around me.
"Now you all see why I asked you to come?" Erthor said to them.
"Yes," they all said back in complete unison. I looked at my hand. There was a faint golden glimmer of little lights coming off of it, less than a quarter of an inch.
"Is that my aura?" I asked Erthor breathlessly.
"Yes, it is."
"How is it visible? It has never been before," I said.
"Well, to the four Guardians," he said motioning to the other three and himself, "all auras are visible. I must apologize though; when they saw you they just thought 'human' and charged you without a thought, not even recognizing your aura. But it is visible to your eyes because of the words I just spoke, and it also made it stand out more for them. It should wear off – ah, yes. See there, it is gone now."
"What are their names?" I asked Erthor.
"I," the female with white hair said, "can speak for myself. I am Eredil. I am the Guardian of Snowdell, previously known as Antarctica," she said.
"I am Arveldir," the male with black hair began, "I am the Guardian of Dornesse, or Australia as some still refer it to."
"And I am Aeneth, Guardian of Estermere, the largest joined land mass on earth; Europe, Asia and Africa," the brown-haired female said.
"Oh you just love throwing that in there, don't you?" Arveldir said.
"Might as well when I get the chance!" She responded.
"Enough!" Erthor said. "You are on Dracmere now, so you abide by my rules. First off, enough bickering, it is tiresome. But I also must let you know the other reason I have asked for this reunion. As I said, this girl is very important, but also, some of the Light Firi have become Dark creatures."
"How long ago did they turn?" Eredil asked, suddenly serious.
"Centuries ago…" Erthor said with his red eyes downcast.
"And you only just thought to mention this to us?!" Eredil yelled.
"No good will come to us fighting. Yes, I should have gathered you all centuries ago, I know this. But there wasn't a human on earth who possessed the gold aura. And Daechir, the leader of the Dark Firi, hunts this girl. His reasons are unknown. Another thing you all should know: at his right hand is a man with the red aura."
"Please tell me this is a joke." Aeneth said.
"Noah died," I said to Erthor. "When I went back to Dellyn after the bite incident he exploded my house with himself inside!" I said. He shook his head at me.
"Noah is not dead."
"But," I tried. My voice caught in my throat.
"What are we supposed to do if he has found the red aura?" Eredil asked.
"Have any of the Firi in your lands changed?" Erthor asked them. They all shook their heads and said no. "That is good. But it makes me wonder what corrupted the ones on Dracmere."
"It was my brother's blind need to be in power, to have absolute control over my race," Calelon said as he emerged from the entrance. I was shocked to see that his hair was cut short.
"Who's this?" Eredil asked.
"This is the prince of the Firi," Erthor said.
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," she said. "But why are you here?"
"I volunteered my services to protect Anika from my brother and whatever he might send after her. As I am sure you are aware, he needs her captured," he said.
"Well if she needs to go with you, I won't stop you," she said.
"Eredil, I can sense your anger. Calm down. We need your help and I will not let your moods get in the way," Erthor said to her coldly.
"Yeah, fine," she said rolling her eyes.
"Do you need Anika for something?" Erthor asked Calelon, turning towards him.
"Yes, if that is alright?" Calelon said.
"That is fine," Erthor said with a small bow of the head.
"If you – any of you need her, Erthor knows where she can be found," Calelon said as he guided me out of the Grove.
"What are you doing?" I asked him once we were on the other side of the thick hedge of trees.
"I can tell you did not need to be in there," he said moving forward, avoiding my eyes.
"Calelon, wait! Didn't you hear him? Noah is alive! I need to know how! You were there with me when my house exploded!" I said as my eyes watered. He continued walking forward so I grabbed his arm and pulled, making him face me. "Why can't you even look me in the eyes anymore?" I asked quietly.
"Because when I look into them I fall in love with you all over again. I know we cannot be together because I am an immortal Firi, and you are a mortal human. And now you hear this revelation that Noah is still alive and I see in your eyes the love that you have for him! And that is the worst part: you love the both of us! I can see this and sense this. But the thing is you cannot decide. So I am doing my duty to protect you as I have sworn to do because no matter how much you love him, he could bring you harm…and I would kill him for that and lose you forever," he said as he turned away from me again.
"But what happens if I do decide?"
"Then I want you to make sure you have made the right choice. I do not want you to make a forced rash decision. I will love you for my whole life, as a Firi, we are capable of loving only once. That is why I have been avoiding you. My father does not want it wasted on a mere human…but he does not know that I already love her. I have since I first saw you in the Grove. And I do not want you to choose me just because I am right in front of you. If you still love Noah, please do not decide yet," he added quietly.
"But I don't love Noah anymore. Yes, I feel pain when I think about that night when he punched me, and how I lost my best friend to the other side…but Gollor healed my heart. Somehow, whatever he did, he healed me in all the places I needed to be healed," I said.
"Gollor did that? I did not know Grand Healers were capable of such a feat. They created a proverb, 'Heal all wounds', I just never took it literally," he said.
"He did," I said as I walked up to him and threw my arms around his neck and kissed him. He lifted me and I wrapped my legs around his torso. I ran my fingers through his newly cut hair as he held me close. I broke away from his lips for a moment to whisper in his ear.
"You are my choice," I said. He brought his lips to mine again and we kissed until the stars appeared in the sky, kissing us with their own light.
"Darren, it's starting to get hot!" I exclaimed as I sprawled myself across the cool wood of the kitchen table.
"Well of course! It's already late May!" He said. "Summer is almost –" he stopped himself.
"It's okay Darren. I know that Daechir wants me captured before the summer ends in September. And I promise I will not let him kill the Light Firi just to get his hands on me. I would give myself up before that."
"Anika, we don't need a martyr. You are a fighter."
"Hey, I didn't say anything about giving up without a fight!" I said with a smile. He smiled back. "But what if what Daechir has been planning is the attack for the end of the summer? Then what? I don't want any harm to come to you or anyone I love," I said.
"Then we will stand by you and fight; when that time comes you will not be on your own," he said.
"Thank you. But this isn't what I was getting at…I don't have a lot here so I was wondering if I could have some money and go into Dellyn to buy some new clothes for the summer. Is that okay?" I asked with hope.
"Hmm…I don't know, Anika" he said with a hint of sarcasm.
"Please?" I asked with a pout.
"Of course! I don't see why not. I doubt Daechir would try anything in a human city. Will Calelon be accompanying you?" He asked with a smirk on his face.
I blushed, "I don't know. Well, I hope so," I said. "I haven't asked him. I only thought about it today because it's the first super hot day and it made me think of what the summer will be like."
"When do you want to leave?"
"I think tomorrow should be fine. I want to bring Bandit but I have no idea where I'd keep him…" I said.
"I think it'd be better if he stayed here. How long would you go for? And would you stay with your mother or Sarah?"
"Around three days, I guess. And I don't know. I'll call Sarah first. My mom would get all 'don't leave', again. It's like she doesn't understand that it's not safe for me there with the Authorities looming over my shoulder. And of course the whole Daechir thing kind of makes me want to stay away from Dellyn just in case he got that desperate."
"I understand where you're coming from, but remember that she is your mother."
"I know," I said. "Can I use your phone?"
"Of course," he said as he pulled his cell out of his pocket and tossed it to me. I caught it and walked to my room to retrieve Sarah's number. I dialed it and waited, hoping she'd be back from school already. She picked up on the fifth ring.
"Hey Sarah, its Anika."
"ANIKA! How are you? Ohmigod, we miss you so much! We've all been doing a lot of running and physical training thanks to you. You're our inspiration because of how insanely fit you are!" She said, then added as an afterthought, "but it's weird 'cause you don't have that athletic body type, you know? You have these like, awesome curves, jeez; you're just like the epitome of perfect or something! You look stunning in like everything that you put on!"
"Haha! Thanks, but no, I'm not perfect. But actually, I was wondering if I could come and stay with you tomorrow for a couple of days? I need to shop for some summer clothes," I said.
"Oh, for sure, Anika! We can go shopping together! This heat is awful! Didn't your parents set up that fund thingy when you were a kid? Do you have your bank card?"
"Wow, how do you remember these things? I totally forgot…but no, it was probably lost in the explosion. Could we make a trip to the bank so I could get a new one?" I asked.
"Well duh! Do you want me to check when the City Metro comes to the 'burbs?" She asked.
"Alright, gimme a sec!"
"Sure thing!" I said. I totally forgot about taking the Metro with my parents into the City. Living in the suburbs of Dellyn meant that the Metro going into the City came around four times a day, which sucked, but was also the only way to get into the City. If you missed the one going back to the suburbs a ride was easy to find if you were already in the City. People who lived in the suburbs often biked where they needed to go. Only really important people owned and drove vehicles to keep from polluting the air, even though most of the cars on the roads were run with electricity, just like the Metros.
"Okay, so it is the twenty-sixth of May today…do you want to go tomorrow, which is a Thursday…or catch an earlier one on Friday and spend more time in the City? Oh! And is that super handsome boy that you won't admit is your boyfriend coming along, too?"
"I haven't asked him yet," I said as I began to fiddle with the seam of my shirt.
"Would that be if you're dating or if he's coming?"
"If he's coming, of course!"
"Well do it! Call me back when you know, okay?"
"For sure, Sarah."
"Alright thank you, CAN'T WAIT! BYYYEEEEEE!" She said loudly into my ear.
"Bye!" I said before hanging up. I walked back to the kitchen and gave Darren his phone, "thanks," I mumbled. "Do you know where Calelon can be found?" I asked him.
"Well when he's not here, my guess is that he's at home in Aelmere."
"Okay," I said as I started heading for the door.
"Anika," Darren said.
"Yes?" I asked turning around.
"I want you to be cautious with your feelings about him," he said.
"Because the Firi are very different beings than humans and I don't want you hurt, whether it's intentional or not…bones are one thing, but a broken heart has its own ways to mend. And it takes a lot longer with the chances of it never being fully healed," he said. Darren loved someone and had his heart broken. That was so clear to me, why didn't I ever see it before? I walked over to him and hugged him.
"I know my father can never be replaced, but you are the closest thing to one that I have," I said. "Thank you." I shimmied out of his bear hug then went to the door and gave him a final wave.
Being inside was one thing but being outside in the direct sunlight felt like your skin would melt off…and for a day in May? I hoped it was just this one day for this week. I began to walk subconsciously in the direction of the Grove as I thought about what the summer might bring me.
I didn't realize where I was until I was standing in front of the wall of trees separating me from the Grove. I found the entrance and went inside and walked right up to the shore of the Mini Ocean. I slipped my feet out of the sandals and stood in the water. It felt so nice. I looked across the horizon, but not for too long, the sun blinding me. I put my hair into a ponytail and looked around then quickly took off my dress and waded into the ocean in my bra and underwear.
The saltwater soothed my hot skin and I soon found myself cooling off from the sun's intense heat. I floated on my back with the sun nicely warming my body, not suffocating it from the heat. All around me was the water and the reflection of the sun's rays creating thousands upon thousands of brilliant beautiful sparkles. This is what magic is...the beauty of nature and the little things that leave you speechless. That's true magic.
"ANIKA?" A voice shouted from the other side of the hedge, waking me from my snooze on the shore of the beach.
"Shit," I said as I heard the person shimmy through the opening while I threw the dress over my head and quickly got into it. I felt the burn before I noticed it. I looked down at my skin and saw that it was red. "Stupid sun."
"Hey, Anika!" Calelon said as he approached me.
"Hey," I said back trying not to move. He scooped me into his arms and kissed me full-on the mouth which made the pain disappear until he stopped. I made a grimace with my face.
"What happened?" He asked.
"I burned," I said motioning to the pink skin on my body.
"I think I can help," he said. "Are those the only spots you burned?" He asked.
"Well, no…I kind of went swimming in my undergarments then fell asleep on the shore," I said shyly.
"If you are uncomfortable I can take you to Aelmere and ask a female Simple Healer to work on you," he offered.
"No that's okay," I said. It's something I would need to be comfortable with at some point, anyhow. "It just really hurts, do anything that will help!" I said.
"Wait here, I will be back in five minutes," he said before racing off. I found a nice spot that was covered in trees, creating lots of shade. It was like a little grove within the Grove. I sat down on the cushiony grass near the edge of a little pond and looked around in amazement at all the different types of flowers in this one section and how green everything was. There were water lilies in the pond and daffodils contrasting against the green grass, as well as lotuses, daturas, tulips, and dozens of others I couldn't name. I breathed in the beautiful scent of fresh air. It felt so nice to be out of the sun finally.
I heard Calelon come through the entrance, stand up but not move. "Anika?" He called. I got up and looked where he was. My little area was well-hidden.
"I'm here, Calelon," I said to him. He walked over and looked at the spot I had chosen.
"Wow, it is beautiful right here," he said as he ushered me to sit in the grass.
"I know. I had no idea how beautiful this place would be when I first saw it."
"I need you to remove your dress if you want me to help you," Calelon said, rushing every word.
"Oh, right," I said then shyly removed my dress. "Is it okay if I lay down? The cool grass feels nice."
"Yes," he said as I lied on my back facing up. He looked down at me. "You were not kidding, you really did get a burn," he said as he took a little box from his garments and opened it. He took out some sort of gel and put some on both hands. "Beware, I am not a Healer, but as a prince, I have had some training in the field," he said to me as he put his hands on my burnt skin. It was cold and nice and relaxed me deeply. I dozed off to the sound of the waves and little whispers as Calelon performed the healing.
"Anika," a soft voice said waking me from my slumber. "The sun is setting; you need to get back to Darren's before it is dark." I sat up and realized I wasn't in my dress and quickly put it over my body. I noticed it no longer hurt to move.
"What did you do?" I asked Calelon while looking at my skin which was now a light tan.
"I healed you like I said you would."
"I know. But I mean…how does it work? What do you do?" I asked.
"I do not know how I would explain it to you...Firi are magical. It also helps being in a magical place such as this Grove."
"Thank you," I said as I stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. He smiled and took my hand leading me out of the Grove. "Calelon, would you go back to Dellyn with me? I need to go shopping…" I asked him shyly.
"Of course I will. I am here to protect you."
"Bye again, Darren," I said as we hugged goodbye early the next morning. We pulled apart, "three days, maybe four. That's it." I said.
"And Sarah knows that the both of you are coming?"
"Call me when you reach Sarah's."
"Of course," I said as I left. Calelon was waiting for me on the porch.
"Ready to go?" I asked.
"I am," he said, taking my hand as we headed east to the training field. As we reached Southborough River, Erthor showed himself.
"You are leaving again?" He asked me bluntly.
"Yes, but not for long," I said. "This is my home and I don't want to be away from it for too long," I added.
"It is best if you came back as soon as you can. The other Guardians want to speak with you, and I fear something is going to happen where you are headed. Be cautious." He said before shifting into a golden hawk and flying north.