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Chapter 17 – New Guardians

Alver, Lana and Anny followed the directions given to them by the strange man in the woods and finally found their way out of the forest that had them ensnared for most of the day.

“Ugh!” grunted Anny. “Finally! I haven’t seen civilization in days!”

“You really need to work on your sense of direction,” said Alver.

“Hey, you were lost, too,” she pouted back.

“I guess so, but I don’t think I would have been for days.”

“I bet you would have starved to death.”

Alver tossed his shoulders. “So, where are you gonna go? It’s too late to register for the tournament right now. Do you have any idea where you’ll stay?”

“Nah, I’ll just sleep in the woods somewhere.”

“Great way to get lost again.”

“But it’s free.”

“Why don’t you come back with us to the hotel we’re staying at?” asked Lana.

“I’m not sure Jeffrey would like that idea very much,” counterargued Alver.

“Who cares what he thinks. We can’t let her sleep outside.”

“If you’re willing to deal with it, it’s fine by me.”

“Then it’s settled. Anny, you’re coming with us.”

Anny had twinkles in her eyes. “Is there free breakfast at the hotel?”

“Yeah, there is.”

Anny jumped in Lana’s arms. “Yes! Then I accept!”

Simple girl,” thought Alver.

The trio went to the hotel, which was thankfully close-by already.

Outside, near the entrance, Jeffrey stood alone, leaning against a tree. When he saw his friends approach, he went to greet them. “Where have you guys been? I’ve been waiting for you all day.”

“Sorry about that, we got lost and had a little bit of an adventure,” answered Alver.

“I see. And who’s that, a friend you made along the way?” he asked, pointing at Anny.

“I’m Anny Mahog, winner of the upcoming fighting tournament!” declared the red-haired girl with conviction.

Jeffrey eyed her up and down. “Yeah, I doubt that.”

“Just you wait! You think just because you’re stronger than me that you’re stronger than me! I’ll show you!”

“Where will your newfound friend be staying exactly?” asked Jeffrey, already dreading the answer.

“With us,” replied Lana. “And no objections! She was lost and has nowhere to stay until the tournament starts, so you can’t even say no.”

“I can say no all I want, but I know you won’t listen.”

“That’s right,” proudly said Lana.

The friend group, now a quartet with the addition of Anny, regained the comfort of their simple, yet cozy hotel room.

Muchatcho, who had politely been waiting for Alver to return, revealed himself by waddling from under a bed. However, as soon as his small yellow eyes met with Anny’s, he hid himself twice as fast as he had come out.

Anny crouched and reached under the bed. “Oh my god. Whose cat is this? I want it.”

“Uh, that’s Muchatcho, and he really doesn’t like it when new faces try to force themselves in his bubble. He’ll warm up to you if you give him time,” answered Alver.

“But he’s so cute. Look at his little twisted body. A strange cat for a strange boy. What happened to him?”

Jeffrey had already had enough of their new roommate, so he waltzed to her impatiently and grabbed her by the ankle. “Alright, you heard him. Let the cat be. Behave yourself or I’m throwing you off the balcony.” He then dragged her away, her face smearing on the carpeted floor.

“I’m definitely not sleeping in the same bed as you! You big jerk!”

“Hell no. You’ll sleep in the bath.”

“Jeffrey, stop being mean,” ordered him Lana.

Jeffrey gave the situation no further provocation and sat on his designated bed. “So, what happened on your adventure exactly? Anything I should know?”

“You’re never gonna believe this!” happily exclaimed Lana. “We met a strange old man in an abandoned cabin, and he showed us magic!”

“Seriously, again? Another old guy in the forest? You need to stop going in forests.”

“Jeffrey, I’m serious. He had a creepy box in his basement, and Alver went inside it and disappeared.”

“Really? What was inside?”

It was Alver who continued to retell the events. “The man told us what was inside was what we desired the most in our hearts. I didn’t really understand what I saw, though.”

“So, there really was something inside, then?”

“Yes. At first, it felt like I was walking through an infinite stretch of nothingness, just a pitch-black corridor. Eventually, I stumbled inside a house in which I saw a young family happily dining together. It was a nice house, but I can scarcely call that my heart’s most burning desire.”

“Hm. Still, this is very weird. Who knew you’d find magic so quickly?”

“Apparently, because of my cardboard bag, which is full of powerful magic, I was drawn to the cabin. He said magic attracts magic.”

“Yup!” nodded Lana. “So now we know Alver’s bag is bound to his head by magic.”

“And did this man give you any information on how to get it off?” asked Jeffrey.

“Sadly, no. He seemed kinda senile. He didn’t even know his own name.”

“Oh. Then we can hardly count on his word as proof of anything.”

“Maybe, but what we experienced in those woods was no trick. I’m convinced magic exists, now. I just need to learn more.”

“That’s all well and good, but we should probably keep it down. We don’t want anyone overhearing us talk about this.”

Alver and Lana agreed silently, while Anny kept watching them in confusion, feeling like an intruder amid their quest.

Not long after they had all shared stories of their day, the group went to sleep, Alver relegating himself to the couch as usual, whereas Anny slept face first on the ground between the two beds, instantly succumbing to sleep despite the apparent lack of comfort in the way her body was positioned.

It was late at night, and Lana once again could not fall asleep, despite the ambient cricket chirps outside the inn and the rustling of the leaves in the trees. Since the events in Saint-Tacos, sleep had become a rarer commodity for her. Unable to rest more than just her eyes, she subtly dragged herself outside for a walk, forgetting the danger she was putting herself in. In her pocket sat the marble she had taken from Jonathan Arky’s tomb. She walked along the many pedestrian paths of the city, loitering about, thinking, when she found herself on a familiar path.

She must have been walking for a while because she was quite far from the hotel. She stood on the beaten dirt, facing the dark forest. Her hand was buried in her pocket, her fingers fiddling with the marble.

Upon realizing what she was about to do, she swallowed her courage and headed inside the blackness of the forest. She soon lost proper use of most of her senses, venturing deeper in the forest, yet not wandering aimlessly. She felt guided, like someone or something was pushing her, egging her on.

As she had expected before leaving the path, she now found herself in front of the amnesic old man’s cabin, which looked somehow more desolate in the dark. She climbed the rotten stairs of the front porch and knocked on the door. A few seconds passed, and the man opened the door warily. Upon seeing Lana, he fully opened it.

“How did you get here?” he asked, as confused as her.

“I’m not sure…” responded Lana, still rolling the marble between her fingers in her pocket.

The man noticed. “What have ya got there?”

“Oh, i-it’s nothing. Just a souvenir from the family.”

“Show me,” he instructed her sternly, surprising her.

“W-why?”

“You already know you couldn’t have found this place on your own.”

Lana knew but was hesitant all this time to show the strange man her earliest ancestor’s treasure. Nonetheless, she slowly took it out of her pocket. “I think it guided me here.”

The man’s face suddenly changed. He pulled Lana inside and sat her down on a dirty chair. “Where did you find this, girl? Tell me the truth. This isn’t something to lie about.”

Feeling the pressure and seeking answers, she agreed. “In Saint-Tacos, where I grew up, my friends and I found a buried mausoleum. It belonged to my ancestor, Jonathan Arky. In it, I found this. I took it because I felt I had to. I’m sorry if I wasn’t supposed to…”

The man sat still, his eyes unblinking, staring blindly at Lana.

“A-are you okay?” she asked him.

“Jonathan Arky…” murmured the man.

“Do you know something about him?”

The man only repeated, over and over. “Jonathan Arky. Jonathan Arky…”

Lana was unsure if the man had gone insane. Her attempts to snap him back to reality all failed as he continued to whisper the name of Jonathan Arky.

Finally, the man spoke to Lana. “I knew him.”

“You- You knew him?” asked Lana in incredulity. “But how? He died hundreds of years ago, long before any of us were born.”

“It was a long time ago. A very long time ago. Back then, I was still young. This land was still young. I believe… he was my friend.”

“Sir, you must be mistaken. Jonathan Arky died over fifteen hundred years ago.”

“The item you have, girl. Do you have any idea what it is?”

“No, I don’t.”

The man’s blind eye seemed brighter than the last time Lana had seen him, almost as if it shone ever so slightly in a yellow hue. He brought his hand to it and slid his cracked fingers underneath his eyelids. Lana looked away in disgust, but the man demanded she look. He held his eye in his hand; at that moment Lana realized it was not an eye. It was a marble, like the one she had, which also emanated a faint light, this one greener.

“These orbs are rare and powerful magical items,” said the man.

Lana’s eyes drifted to the one she held, mesmerized. “You remember something, then?”

“Yes, I do. I told you, didn’t I? I will always remember what destroyed my home.”

“These marbles?”

“Yes. There were a few of them. They were used to power up the most destructive weapons mankind has ever known.”

Lana gulped and felt her hand tremble. Knowing she held this much power in the palm of her hand made her queasy.

The man continued. “Girl. I am old, older than you thought was possible. I knew Jonathan Arky. I was there for his funeral.”

“But how…”

“Magic has the distinct characteristic of making the ones it affects live for a very long time. I’ve lived a very long life; I’m nearing the end, I would say.”

“Please tell me more!” said Lana, clenching her hands on her thighs.

“I wish I could, but that’s all I remember. I don’t know how many orbs there are but be very careful. You might attract unwanted attention. There will always be people who seek the power to destroy.”

“I know.”

“So, you’ve already seen it. I’m sorry to hear that. Jonathan was a very good man, the best person I knew. You made me remember his memory. I wish no harm would ever come to his family. People like the Arkys are rare.”

Lana smiled warmly. “Thank you, sir.”

The man held out his hand with the orb inside. “My days are numbered. If old age doesn’t get to me, they will. I can no longer protect myself. You’ve seen how weak the barrier around my home is.”

“They?”

“The ones who seek the orbs. You’re young, clever and have a good heart. I want you to take the one I hold. Protect it and never let it fall in the hands of the corrupt.”

Lana hesitantly took it. “Why not destroy them if they’re so dangerous?”

“That, unfortunately, is impossible. The amount of pure concentrated magic stored within those orbs has made them indestructible. We can only hope good people are intrusted with their care. With my life soon to end, I choose you as my successor. From today forward, you are the guardian of the light orb, as well as Jonathan Arky’s orb.”

“Guardian…” gulped Lana as she stared at the enigmatic marbles. “I’ll do my best.”

“You will have no other choice. It is a colossal responsibility I’m giving you.”

“I’ll do it. You can count on me. I’ll keep them safe.” She headed for the door, ready for the long walk back to the inn.

As she opened the door, the man asked her, “What’s your name?”

“Lana Arky.”

“Lana Arky. I will try to remember it.”

Lana had made it back to the hotel a few hours before the others woke up. Anny, who paid no mind to the drowsiness of the others, was the first one up. She was quite boisterous in her search for something to eat.

“Will you keep it down?” grunted Jeffrey as he pressed his pillow to his ears. “Why did you guys have to bring her back? She’s a person, not a stray dog. She can find her own room.”

“Don’t be so rude,” said Alver, also in the process of waking up. “She’s just a little… energetic.”

“Exactly. I don’t need another Lana to deal with.”

“Except Lana seems sound asleep to me. That’s strange. I guess she can’t sleep too well nowadays.”

Her friends’ chatter had woken her up from her brief slumber. She sat up on her bed with her eyes barely opened, adorned by dark bags underneath.

“Are you okay?” asked Alver. “You look tired.”

“Yeah, don’t worry. I just need time to wake up,” she yawned.

“If you say so.”

The foursome went to get breakfast at the hotel’s cafeteria after getting dressed. Anny’s eyes lit up in ecstasy when presented with the innumerable options of delicious, steaming breakfast foods. She built herself a plate large enough to feed her three companions and scarfed it down within minutes. In spite of her petite physique, she had a voracious appetite, especially after being left alone in the woods for two days.

After breakfast, they headed for the Woodburt Stadium for Jeffrey to train and observe other fighters before the tournament. Anny ran to the registering station, as today was the last day to enter the tournament, which started in under a week. Anny cemented her place in the tournament, letting out a scream of relief, joy, and war.

“Can we go put her back in the forest?” asked Jeffrey. “That’s where animals belong.”

Lana smacked him on the arm as Anny gleefully came back to her group.

“Now, don’t go picking fights with the other competitors,” said Jeffrey. “You need to wait for the tournament to start to get destroyed.”

“Shut up!” pouted Anny. “I don’t care if I’m small, I have to win!”

“You have to?” asked Alver.

“Yes! My town depends on me! I need the prize money!”

“What for?”

“Because-! I’m sorry, I don’t wanna involve you in this mess. Just know that I need to win.”

“Fine by me,” said Jeffrey as he walked away, happy not to hear her talk any longer.

He only had time to take two steps when a man, shorter but more muscular than him, approached him. “You look tough, kid. You and I are gonna have a fight.”

“In five days, maybe.”

“No, right here, right now,” insisted the man.

But Jeffrey simply kept walking, continuing his observation of the competition, as if he had not heard the man,

The man put his hand firmly on Jeffrey’s shoulder. “I’m talking to you, punk.”

Jeffrey tossed the man’s hand aside. “And I’m ignoring you. Go bother someone else.”

The man’s face turned red, his blood starting to boil in annoyance.

Marcus appeared dramatically behind him. “I’ll fight you,” he said with a big smile.

“Get lost, shrimp! I only fight tough opponents,” retorted the muscular man.

“In this tournament? Tough luck, you won’t be fighting very much then.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying most people here aren’t strong, you included. Care to prove me wrong?”

Marcus was a master at taunting simple-minded opponents. He once again managed to pick a fight using only verbal provocation. As he and his opponent were headed to a fighting platform, Anny ran off in the crowd to look for some action for herself. Meanwhile, Alver and Lana found a bench to sit on, content with being bystanders.

“Alver,” said Lana with a serious tone.

“Is something the matter?”

“Yesterday, I snuck outside the hotel at night.”

“You did? Why?”

“I just wanted to walk, but I ended up at that weird man’s cabin in the woods without even realizing it.”

“How? I thought magic was necessary to see it.”

“It is. It turns out-”

“It’s the marble, isn’t it?”

“Why did you have to ruin my big reveal like that!” she glowered. “It was supposed to sound really cool…”

“I’m sorry,” laughed her friend.

“The old guy, he called them orbs, just like the thugs in the motel on the Western Road.”

“Them?”

“Yeah, he gave me another one. His eye was one all along. Pretty disgusting if you ask me. That can’t be sanitary. Anyway, he said there were only a few in the world, and that they were dangerous items used to power up weapons that destroyed his home.”

“That doesn’t sound weird to you?”

“I don’t know, does it?”

“What you’re describing would be a war, or at least a severe conflict. Weapons that destroyed his home, that sounds pretty serious to me.”

“I mean, I guess.”

“This strengthens the theory that a lot of crucial information was lost, or buried, at some point. Just like Jonathan Arky’s existence.”

“Hey, you’re right! Does this mean someone did it on purpose?”

“Well, yeah. It’s not like they accidentally lost a portion of history.”

“That’s not all! He knew Jonathan, somehow. Can you believe it?”

“I can. We’ve seen crazy stuff before, so it doesn’t sound farfetched anymore that someone could live so long. It’s because of magic again, I presume?”

“You’re hard to impress, you know that?”

Alver tossed his shoulders nonchalantly.

“Anyhow, after giving me the light orb-”

“Woah, the light orb?”

“Yeah, cool name, huh?”

“So, we have the wind orb and the light orb. At least, the thugs in the motel called it the wind orb.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Anyway, the old guy called me a guardian. I don’t really know what that means, but I know I have to keep the orbs safe. Both the light orb and my family’s. People have come after us before, and they will again. I’m resigned to the fact that I’m in danger. But Al, you’re my best friend and I care about you a lot. I don’t want to see you get hurt. If you want to leave somewhere else after this tournament is over, I won’t blame you.”

“You’re silly.”

“I-What! I just made a heartfelt speech, and this is your response!”

“What people want in those orbs is their magical properties. My head is literally made of magic. If magic is what they want, I’m a target whether I’m close to an orb or not. Besides, you have two orbs now. Won’t you need another guardian to help you?”

Lana smiled, a tear rolling down her cheek. “Yeah... I guess I will, huh.”

“I’ll never ditch you.”

“Thanks, Al…”


Submitted: June 01, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Thomas Vlasblom. All rights reserved.

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