Aurora walked with Renato still in his sling through hundreds, if not thousands, of Earth Guardians. She held onto a piece of Lothlorien’s mane; she didn’t dare let go and lose her in the sea of colorful creatures. Some Guardians were small, like the pygmy she saw at the creation. Others were larger than the average horse, and they pranced through the grass like foals. But their colors were so vast, Aurora hardly saw any two Guardians the same. The colors of their hides ranged from deep brown to green to a light tan, and their horns looked to be made of either stone or wood. Only occasionally would the familiar white hide of the Guardians from Lucio’s meadow appear in the masses.
“Are all these Guardians connected to Earth?” Aurora asked over the noise.
“Oh yes,” shouted Lothlorien. “Some of the oldest known Guardians are connected to the element Earth, so we tend to have the most variety. See that one over there with the red face?” She pointed with her horn a few yards to her right. Aurora squinted in that direction, and saw she was right. There was a Guardian with a white body, but his head and neck were a deep blood red. His mane was black and short like a donkey’s. In fact, his whole body looked like a graceful copy of the donkeys she saw back home. His horn had a slight, graceful curve upwards, and started with the same red color at the tip, which faded into black in the middle, then ended with white at the base.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Aurora shouted.
“Few people have. They are one of the first Guardians. No one knows where they came from, or even if they belong to an element. They prefer to identify with Earth, though, because they claim they are as old as it.” Aurora gazed at the creature, who stood still in the chaos and looked around in confusion. All at once the puzzle pieces clicked in its head, and it let out a celebratory noise that made Aurora think of a war bugle. All the other Guardians within a 50 foot radius jumped up and looked at the Guardian, and let out their own musical whinnies of laughter.
The sudden noise startled Renato, who began to cry loudly in his sling. Aurora whispered assurances to him and rocked him a bit.
“We need to find the cottage,” Aurora told Lothlorien.
“Climb on then, we don’t know how big this place is yet.” The Guardian knelt down so Aurora could climb on. She continued to calm down Renato and feed him her small food supply while Lothlorien trotted slowly through the crowd to the forest ahead. The island seemed small, but it took them about half an hour to get to the forest’s edge. They had to stop and gaze at the trees before going any further.
“I thought I saw something sparkling in the leaves earlier,” said Lothlorien.
“This can’t be real,” said Aurora. The trees were tall; much taller than the ones back home, with their deciduous trunks and leaves. What made them different were the vines that grew over everything like a natural net was thrown over the forest. They made intricate patterns on the trunks, with little leaves sprouting from them on every side. But the most wondrous part were the massive flowers that grew within the leaves overhead. The blooms were about the size of Aurora’s head, with layered multi-colored petals in combinations that created an explosion of dreamy color schemes. In the bloom’s centers were jewels about the size of Lothlorien’s hoof. They also bloomed in every color, from deep blue sapphires to light colored ambers.
The gem flowers didn’t seem to phase the other Guardians, who darted into the forest happily like children exploring their new house. Lothlorien eventually came to and trotted into the forest. The vines hung loosely between the branches like party streamers. When they were a little ways in, she managed to ask directions from a few Guardians on the meadows whereabouts. Most of them didn’t know, but one Guardian with a tan hide and marble horn told them that he saw the meadow about 15 minutes northwest of them. Lothlorien tore off in that direction, asking more Guardians to be sure as they got closer.
“Look!” Aurora shouted and pointed up.
There were a few Orbs of Feor posed high up on the branches. Lothlorien whinnied and sped forward at the sight of them. A moment later they burst into the meadow, looking just as they left it. The only differences now were the surrounding trees with their jewel flowers, and the small stream with its bridge had disappeared. It looked like it was early afternoon, and the sun shone happily over the wood cottage. Lucio was standing just outside his massive wood door. He smiled and waved to them. Lothlorien whinnied and let Aurora and Renato off her back. She pranced and galloped through the meadow, shaking her long thick mane. She made her way up to Lucio, who hugged her neck and laughed.
Aurora stood where she dismounted and looked at the floating Orbs.
“Are you here Christopher? Can you tell me somehow?” she lowered her head. “Tell me you’re here,” she whispered.
One of the Orbs descended from the tree branches and hovered in front of her face. Aurora looked up and smiled.
“I knew you’d still be here,” she told it. “I love you.” The Orb bounced up and down, then floated down to the ground and quickly rose up in spiraling circles around her and Renato. It paused for a moment above her head before floating back up to the trees. Aurora smiled and kissed Renato’s head, a single tear streaming down her cheek.
Other Guardians native to the meadow began to find their way in, and they too began to dance and whinny through the thick grass and purple flowers. Aurora made her way to the cottage and managed to calm Renato down before setting him in his cradle for a nap. He just barely fit. Aurora made a mental note to have Lucio make a bigger cradle for him when everything calmed down.
She went back outside to find Lucio sitting in the grass with Lothlorien grazing next to him. He was eating a hunk of bread with some cheese while he watched the Guardians come in and out of the meadow. Upon sight of Aurora he pulled a portion for herself out from a small bag.
“I couldn’t resist bringing a celebratory meal,” he said.
“I’m glad you did, that looks divine!” She was starting to miss things like bread and cheese with her current diet of meat and berries. They sat and ate in silence while taking in the scene around them. When they finished, Aurora sat back and took in the sunshine.
“The sun feels brighter here,” she said. Lucio and Lothlorien nodded. “I feel like I should go about my routine from back home, but it doesn’t feel right. I’m not sure what I should be doing right now.”
“I feel the same,” said Lucio. “We are completely welcome to go about our business here, but I want to explore this place. I want to add a new map to my collection!” Aurora and Lothlorien agreed. “Then why don’t we wait until tomorrow, so we can let all of the Guardians settle in to their new homes, and we can go exploring.”
“I want to find that lake in this forest,” said Lothlorien. “Maybe meet some new neighbors?”
“I think that’s an excellent start,” said Lucio.
The trio emerged from the forest at the edge of the lake the next morning. Aurora had Renato tied in the sling again, and Lucio carried a small bag of food for lunch.
The lake itself was shaped in a clumsy oval, and was just large enough that Aurora could barely see the shore opposite them. The edge of the water was a clear blue dream, with medium-sized boulders dotting the grassy shore, and bright green lily pads with purple flowers floated with the warm breeze. But the farther everyone looked into the lake, the darker the water became.
Aurora walked up to the water and peered in its depths. The lake’s floor gradually sloped downward, and its bottom was covered in a natural mosaic of small stones that could fit in her palm. The stones were a light pink color, and small patches of green algae added to the speckled beauty. There were no Guardians in sight.
Renato squirmed in his sling and Aurora walked back to the group to let him out.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “But I don’t see any Guardians down there.”
“I’m sure they’re around. They’re probably watching us right now,” said Lucio. “Water Guardians are masters at blending in with their environment. It’s in their blood to only lurk in the shadows. Let’s have lunch and explore a little. If we’re lucky, we might get some visitors.”
Lucio and Aurora sat down in the shade with Renato in Aurora’s lap. She wasn’t letting him go near that water on his own, especially since she never learned how to swim. The child squirmed a little in his holding, but he was happy to eat his lunch. Lothlorien preferred to graze in the sunlight, and she drank from the lake’s edge.
“This water is so refreshing,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever tasted something so pure.”
As Lothlorien said this, Aurora noticed the surface break toward the center of the lake. It was too far off to be distinguished, so Aurora stood up and handed Renato to Lucio. She walked up to the edge and squinted into the water.
“I think we have a visitor,” she said. Something swam into the shallows a moment later. At first she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. It only looked as if the stones rippled beneath the surface. Then a white horn pierced the water a few yards away, and Aurora’s eyes managed to make out the head and body that came with it. She was looking at a Guardian like the one that climbed out of the stream on Earth before the creation. Its body was white and covered with translucent scales that reflected a rainbow of colors and provided its watery disguise. Its mane was short and thin in comparison to Lothlorien’s, and appeared to be woven into dreadlocks, but they were actually thin fin membranes that could act as a rudder. Where its hind legs should have began, a light blue fish tail about four feet long sprouted out. It swam up to Aurora and Lothlorien, and didn’t stop when the water was too shallow for it to swim properly. When it was a few yards away, it lay in about six inches of water with its tail smacking the stones. Its tail fins split into two fins, and they began to take on the muscular form of Guardian legs. When it was finished, it stood up in the water and walked up to them. Its legs were still light blue, but its scales looked more transparent, with patches of a regular Guardian hide poking out.
“Greetings,” said the Guardian. “Are you the ones responsible for bringing this world to life?”
“Yes, but not without the help of your kin,” said Lucio. The Guardian smiled.
“Thank you for your kindness, Magician. Us shapeshifter Guardians were almost wiped out from men hunting on boats, but now we are free. We have more space to roam than we know what to do with!”
“I’m glad,” said Lucio. “We came here to explore, and admire the new scenery.”
“If you wouldn’t mind some company, my kin would like to come out and thank you properly.”
Lucio was about to reply when everyone noticed Renato toddling toward the Guardian, mumbling happily. The Guardian lowered her head to his level. He walked as far as the water’s edge, and marveled at his own reflection. He gingerly stepped into the lake, and Aurora started to reach out to him, but Lothlorien made her stop. She started to shout at her, but she gestured with her eyes to watch. Renato had made his way out to the Guardian, and stared at her with curiosity.
“Hello little one,” said the Guardian. “Do you like the water?” Renato squealed and surged forward to hug the Guardian’s face. He petted its skin with his chubby hands, and hung onto its horn for balance.
“He’s never been in a lake before,” Aurora interjected.
“Well, I hope he learns to swim soon,” said the Guardian while Renato hung onto its horn with both hands. “Our lake is so beautiful.”
The two Guardians laughed while Lothlorien lured Renato back to shore. The Guardian stomped her hoof in the shallows three times while Aurora scooped him up. She hugged him for a moment, then she gasped when she looked up. Hundreds of shapeshifting Guardians were rising from the shallows now. The water’s surface shimmered as they flapped their tails that turned into legs.
Each one came up and bowed to the trio, and began what Aurora assumed was their version of a celebration party. Some of the Guardians stayed on land and ran around the lake, chasing each other. Others turned back and swam along the surface, racing and winding between themselves to form mesmerizing patterns. Aurora and Lucio watched as they finished their lunch, and Aurora even took Renato to walk in the shallows, her skirt tied at one side just below her knees. They got deep enough that Renato could just get the feel for treading water while Aurora held him up.
When the sun was starting to sink low in the sky, the Guardians bid them farewell and returned to their watery home.
“We will not be so cautious now,” said a shapeshifter Guardian. “If you ever seek us and find no one in the water, smack the surface three times, and we will come. Thank you again, my dear friends, we at long last have freedom.” With that the the Guardian disappeared into the lake.
The trio returned to the cottage that evening very tired, but happy. Aurora went on about the beauty of the shapeshifter Guardians while she got Renato ready for bed. Lucio called a meeting with her and Lothlorien that night in his study, so she went into the next room once Renato was asleep to find Lucio and Lothlorien enjoying each other’s company. Lucio sat in a worn armchair with Lothlorien’s head poised over his shoulder. The Magician hugged her head and stroked her nose while Aurora got herself ready on another chair across from them.
“And now to business,” said Lucio. “You may be wondering why I’ve called us together, because the creation went so well. And it did! It could not have gone any better. What we need to discuss is our next steps to settling into this place so it doesn’t become tainted. I want to propose that we, or at least I, should travel to every region on this island to see if the Guardians are settling in properly. This place may echo Earth, but I’ve got a feeling that this place is not like Earth at all. I don’t want the Guardians to rebel and demand to be taken back home. I want them to trust us. I also want to map this place out properly and give names where they are due.”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” said Aurora. “I would love to go, but I’m not so sure it would be safe to take Renato.”
“I will come along too, and all three of us can watch over him,” said Lothlorien. “I think we’ve done a fine job with him so far.”
“Then it is agreed,” said Lucio. “We should leave no later than tomorrow afternoon.” He started to get up when Aurora interrupted him.
“Lucio, there is one thing that bothers me. Is it possible for your brother to find us here?” Lucio sat back and scratched his chin.
“I’m not sure. My immediate answer is no, because he would have to go through all the other worlds first until he stumbles upon ours. But he is cunning. I plan on watching him from this world as best I can to see his plans.” A small smile stole across his lips. “I’m sure he’s been in quite the whirlwind since we left.”
“Good. That will certainly help me sleep better at night. But what should we call this place? I’m not talking about this forest, but this whole world?” They sat in silence for a moment.
“That chant you said that started the creation,” Lothlorien said to Lucio. “What did it mean?”
“That is a hard chant to translate fully,” Lucio said with a sigh. “But some of the words I repeated centered around the word memory, or ‘ingemynd.’ There was ‘hal,’ meaning secret, ‘scacleas’ meaning safe, and ‘treowlic’ means true or trust worthy.”
“What about Island of Treomynd?” said Aurora.
“It’s a nice combination,” said Lucio. “And to my knowledge, it shouldn’t set off any spells. Yes, I like it. What do you think Lothlorien?”
“It has a nice ring to it,” said the Guardian with a smile.
“Then that will be the name of this place,” Lucio. “And we’ll travel Island of Treomynd to unite it as a safe haven for all Guardians!”
“Agreed!” said Aurora and Lothlorien.
A storm was brewing back on Earth. Barnama paced his newly built house while what once was his latest Guardian horn lay as a pile of dust on a table. The number of Atrumnus had grown considerably high; he had lost count of them months ago. But now it was clear that all Guardians had disappeared suddenly. The poor man tried desperately to think of an alternative to the horn when a new presence in the room made him jump.
Atricio had appeared in front of him with a displeased expression on his face. Barnama composed himself and gave the Dark Magician a slight bow.
“You will be pleased to know that the Guardian is no more,” said Barnama. Atricio was silent. “But now I no longer have my horns to keep me powerful. I would like to request an alternative.” Atricio was still was silent. Barnama was about to say something when he rushed at the widower and pinned him against the wall with his right arm.
“You think I can just give you an alternative?” Articio said with a snarl. “I, dear sir, owe you nothing!” he stepped back and turned away to fix his silk blouse.
“I did what you wanted! There are no Guardians, we are a group formed in honor of you! We deserve to be respected!” Barnama shouted. He strode up to the Dark Magician and took out his black stone knife. He raised it above his head, aiming it at Atricio’s chest. Atricio looked him up and down with a glum expression.
“Fréosan,” he said in a casual voice. Barnama stopped mid-step, unable to move. Atricio started to circle him.
“I will admit I liked the name of your little group, the ‘Atrumnus,'” he said in a mocking tone. “But flattery only gets one so far!” He stopped his circling and looked Barnama in the eye.
“You did not kill every Guardian, my broken friend. Oh no no no, they are still alive and well. You drove them and my brother away! Because of this, I no longer have use for you,” Barnama managed to make a face of confusion. “Don’ worry, I have just the place for you and your Atrumnus.” He stepped back a few paces and whispered “Acwínan orwénnes.”
Barnama’s image became a stretched distorted string that swirled in a large circle around the room that slowly grew smaller. He screamed in fear as he spun faster and faster, until he disappeared into a small black dot. The black stone knife fell out of the air and onto the table. Atricio picked it up and put it on his belt.
“I have much to do,” he said to himself. He disappeared in a flash of black smoke, leaving the house to quiet darkness.