Atricio cursed under his breath as he searched his stone cottage. He had been thankful that there were no rats living with him, but now he wished otherwise. He tore apart any nook or cranny that would be a suitable place for vermin, but everything was immaculate. Even his large pantry showed no signs of life.
“I’ll have to draw out those things a different way,” he hissed. He took out a hunk of stale bread and crumbled it up on the floor next to his front door frame.
“Ator,” he whispered over the crumbs.
He transformed himself into a black puma and slunk out of his cottage on his daily rounds to look for Lucio or any signs of the Guardians. The search was in vain, as usual. When he came back to his cottage and transformed back into a human, he smiled when he saw a large rat lying dead next to the pile of crumbs.
“Excellent.” He picked up the rat and set it on his work table. “Sundorland fléan.” Hundreds of fleas hopped off the rat’s body and collected themselves into a small pile. He tossed the rat’s body into his fireplace and turned to the fleas. They squirmed in place, but could not jump away for cover. The Dark Magician picked out one of the fleas and set it apart from the rest on the table.
“Setl mec gyfylness ic ágéniernan min aaron, ðu ætfyligan hine. Hwonne hine edcierr cuman mec ond spell hwa æalá.” The flea stopped squirming. “Very good, now come along.” Atricio held the flea up to his black, slicked-back hair, and it obediently crawled onto his scalp.
“I’m ready for you, brother,” said Atricio.
“Aurora, Lucio, come quick!” said Lothlorien. Aurora sat up from the nest she and Renato slept in, while Lucio was under all their blankets nearby.
“What is it?” asked Aurora.
“It’s The Island of the Moon! Come see what those falling stars left behind!” She galloped back up to Glacial Heights’ summit before anyone could ask questions. Aurora and Lucio lazily got up and collected their things. Renato was still asleep, but Aurora managed to put him in his sling without waking him up. They walked up to the summit in a daze because of the altitude.
“I can’t wait to get back to normal ground,” Aurora grumbled while they made their way up the stairs. “Any little movement takes so much effort!”
“We’ll head back down after this,” said Lucio. “Our last stop is the Sea Guardians living in the ocean on our way back home.”
They emerged from the massive cloud onto the summit, and the sight immediately woke them up. The cloud floor of The Island of the Moon was covered in hundreds of small white lilies. Their stems and centers were a dark grey, and their petals were long and slender. Hundreds of Air Guardians lazed around eating the delicate blooms.
“They must have grown overnight,” said Lucio.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” The Flyer said as she walked up next to them. “The stars fall on The Island of the Moon every night, and they turn into seeds for these delicious flowers. We Air Guardians are well fed from them every morning.”
“Excuse me, I have to get my sketchbook!” Lucio said before he dashed from the summit. They spent the next hour taking in the beautiful sight while the Air Guardians ate their fill. A Floater was even kind enough to give Lucio a small bouquet of the lilies to take back to his cottage.
“We call them Star Lilies,” said the Floater.
“A very appropriate name,”said Lothlorien. “We thank you very kindly for the gift.” They bid the Air Guardians farewell soon after, and they headed down the mountain. Going downhill was much faster and easier than uphill, and they found themselves walking between the edge of The Hills and the ocean in just a few hours. The plan was to head back to the Western Sparkling Forest on the other side of Treomynd, skirting along the ocean’s edge in the hope of meeting the rest of the Water Guardians.
The sound of the rushing waves on the seashore entranced Aurora.
“I’ve never seen an ocean before.”
“Me neither,” said Lothlorien. “There’s something calming about that sound.” The wind brushed her long white mane every which way over her neck.
They walked along the thinning grass of The Hills with their eyes scanning the ocean’s surface for signs of life. It would take them about two days to head back to Lucio’s cottage if they didn’t get too sidetracked by any Earth Guardians. Nothing out of the ordinary broke the ocean’s surface on the first day, and it was halfway through the second day when they started to worry.
“Do you think they fear us,” asked Aurora. “Or are they very good at hiding?”
“I would think both,” said Lucio. “Water Guardians endured almost as much abuse as the Guardians around my cottage at the hands of my brother. Men would set sail across the oceans of Earth just to spear one of them. They would stuff and sell their bodies, or just keep their horns as a trophy. All sea Guardians were almost gone, to my understanding.”
They moved onward for the rest of the day, and stopped for the night on the shore directly south of the Western Sparkling Forest. The moon was nearly full that night, so they decided to wade in the ocean’s waves. Lothlorien went out until the waves crashed against her belly, while Aurora tied up her skirt and held Renato upright. She would lift him up in the air whenever a wave came their way, letting out a little shout of excitement as he came back down into the shallows. Lucio discreetly stripped down to his underwear and went out the farthest, and dove under for several minutes.
“I didn’t know he could swim,” Aurora told Lothlorien.
“He has many hidden talents,” said the Guardian. “I don’t know all of them myself.” She walked out of the shallows and stood next Aurora. They stood there talking about the wonders of sea shells and the reflection of the moon on the water’s surface.
“Lori!” shouted Renato. “Lori! Lori!” He wriggled in Aurora’s arms and reached out in the opposite direction of Lothlorien.
“You silly boy!” said Aurora. “Lori is right here.” She held him up to face the Guardian, but the child craned his head around and squirmed.
“Lori!” he shouted again.
They turned to where he was looking, and Aurora nearly knocked Lothlorien over in surprise.
A deep blue Sea Guardian was hovering in the shallows about 20 feet away from them. It’s body was covered entirely in shiny scales that reflected the moonlight every which way onto the coming waves. It had no mane, and its horn was a deeper blue than the rest of its body.
“Greetings, land dwellers,” said the Sea Guardian. “I mean you no harm. You can tell your Magician he can come out from the waves behind me.” Lucio must have heard, because he swam up to shore soon after. He sat on the sand about a few feet underwater.
“Greetings, dear Guardian,” said Lucio. “Are your kind adjusting well to this new ocean?”
“Yes, very much so. The coral here is so much livelier and abundant than the reefs we inhabited on Earth. We have been following your trek along the shore for days, but when we realized you were the humans that created this world, I was sent to offer our gratitude.”
“It is very much obliged,” said Lothlorien. “All Guardians on this island we call Treomynd are happy to their heart’s content.”
“We also want to deliver a message that we have spread all over this new world,” said Aurora. “Lucio has cast a spell over Treomynd that, if you stomp your right hoof on the ground three times, he will know that you sense danger approaching.”
“I’m not sure that will work for you in this ocean,” said Lucio. “Shall I modify it for you?”
“You must not know our speed, Magician.” The Sea Guardian said while she lifted her tail out of the shallows for a moment. It was over ten feet long and scaly, finished with a wide set of tail fins. “We can be at the ground before you blink!”
“I’m glad,” said Lucio. “Can you pass this information to the rest of your kind? It may save a life. I promise you there are no looming threats here, but you can never be too careful.”
“Of course, Magician.”
“And do you have a name for your realm of Treomynd?” asked Aurora. “Every Guardian’s domaine has a name now, except for your ocean.”
“Names are a tradition that we find too human,” said the Sea Guardian. “But I can tell you that the coral reefs surrounding this island you call Treomynd end a few miles out, and it is endless ocean and sand after that.
“Then why don’t we keep it simple, and call it The Endless Ocean?” said Lothlorien.
“I think that’s practical,” said Lucio.
“Call it whatever you please,” said the Sea Guardian. “But I am already missing our ocean’s depths. Is there anything else you wish me to know?”
“No, that is all. Thank you for showing yourself to us,” said Lucio.
“Then I shall share the news to the other Sea Guardians.” With a slight flick of its tail, the Sea Guardian was gone.
The rest of the journey home went without incident, and Aurora was glad to finally be back in a solid dwelling on a regular routine with Renato. Slowly, they got used to life in the Western Sparkling Forest with the Earth Guardians. Renato soon grew big enough to ride the Pygmies, and they were happy to teach him the manners of riding a Guardian. His vocabulary grew day by day, until he could almost speak full sentences. He still couldn’t pronounce Lothlorien’s name, and preferred to call her Lori.
“I think it’s time that I make a brief visit back to Earth,” Lucio said one night in the meadow. Aurora and Lothlorien looked at him with terror. “It will only be for a day or so, I promise. I need to see how Earth is faring without the presence of Guardians. More importantly, I want to see how much damage my brother has done. My presence has prevented him from doing many evil deeds.”
“Then I hope you will return quick and unscathed,” said Lothlorien.
“Agreed,” said Aurora. “I know you keep your promises.”
“Thank you. I’ll leave tomorrow morning and return the next day.”
True to his word, Lucio went to the edge of the meadow and chanted until a bright flash of light burst from one of the trees. He stepped into the light and disappeared, leaving Aurora, Lothlorien and Renato behind.
The Magician of Light emerged into what was once the meadow where his cottage belonged. Now all that remained was a clearing of dead grass in the forest. The long, bright green grass, the purple flowers, the Guardians, the Orbs of Feor, it was all gone. The sun said it was the middle of the day, but everything seemed darker than he remembered. Perhaps the Guardian’s presence really did make the forest thrive. The sight nearly brought Lucio to tears.
“This could have been the end result if we hadn’t taken action,” he thought. He took a step forward and froze. A presence was near, and coming fast. A list of defensive words in the Original Language sprang to his mind, and his muscles tensed.
Atricio emerged from the forest in front of him and stood in a casual stance with his hands clasped in front of him.
“Hello, little brother,” Atricio said. “Have you come to give pity to your old world?”
“Nay, only to see if there is any cleaning up I should do.”
“Oh, you think that I would take advantage of you being gone?” Atricio said with a shocked expression. “That would be correct! But I’ll tell you a secret, little brother. I have hardly had to lift a finger since you and those Guardians left! The world has become a place of gloom. Desperate people often turn to desperate measures. And those desperate measures are almost never good ones. I could have the village eating out of my hand! But I have been patient. I know that something better could always come along.” He walked closer to Lucio as he spoke.
“What could possibly be better than a whole town at your mercy?”
“You, of course. Astingan!” A burst of energy came flying at Lucio while the Dark Magician flew forward in an attack.
“Gemearr!” Lucio shouted while he threw up his right hand. Atricio instantly flew backwards and landed against a tree trunk. His dark grey blouse was torn, and his neatly combed hair was a mess. Lucio was ready for a fight, but Atricio didn’t throw another blow.
“Go, look at the village. There’s enough trouble in there to occupy you for days. I’ll see you again soon enough.” With a smile, Atricio’s body became covered in black hair. His form blurred and writhed in place, until he changed into a black puma. He slunk out of his torn clothes and disappeared into the trees.
Lucio sighed and ran up to the village. Unfortunately, Atricio was right. The Atrumnus were no longer terrorizing the estate, but they had suffered even worse from the absence of Guardians. The crops grew small and withered, the water was murky, and disease loomed at every doorstep. Lucio walked through the village square unnoticed, and witnessed people that were once joyous cling to life by a thread. It was only a matter of time before Atricio could make them his slaves.
“I must get back and figure out a way to help these people!” he told himself. He shuddered at the thought of what Atricio had done to Barnama and the other Atrumnus. Once he had his fill of the village, he ventured out far into the forest, running as until he thought it was getting time for Aurora and Lothlorien to worry about him. He decided he was far enough away from Atricio, and opened the portal back to Treomynd.
He stepped back into the meadow, where his cottage and small misfit family was waiting for him. Lothlorien came galloping up to him first, and nearly knocked him over. Aurora came out of the cottage with a sleepy Renato in her arms a few moments later.
“What was it like back on Earth?” Aurora asked.
“Gloomy,” said Lucio. “Apparently the Guardian’s presence in that forest made the village as lively as it was. But now it is slowly dying at the hands of my brother.”
“Were you attacked by him?” asked Lothlorien.
“Yes, but he knows better than to start a fight with me,” he said with a laugh. “Now I have much to do. I want to find a way for the village to thrive without the aid of Guardians.”
“We’re always here to help,” said Aurora. “Were there any signs of the Atrumnus?” Lucio shook his head.
“I believe my brother disposed of them somehow. What he did, I do no know.” Aurora nodded and sighed as she tried to hold herself together for Renato. Lucio placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Let us not dwell on these things. I am back and safe, and you can leave everything about Earth behind. Including helping me with the village.”
“No,” said Aurora. “I want to help. No one should be at the mercy of your brother.” Lucio nodded gravely.
“I agree, but we should rest first before we start to make any plans. That way we can reflect on what is to come.” Everyone agreed and went about the rest of their day on Treoymnd.
Atricio crept back into his cottage and transformed into a human. Once he was dressed in a fresh blouse and trousers, he sighed and felt around his scalp before brushing his hair back into place. The flea he placed the spell on had disappeared.
He let out a deep laugh and ran to his cauldron in the middle of his main room.
“Scéawung mec ærworuld!” The liquid in his cauldron shimmered to show Lucio standing in the meadow of Treomynd with Lothlorien and Aurora holding Renato. He saw at least 20 other Guardians of all colors grazing near them.
“I like this new world of yours, little brother. Soon I shall pay you a visit!”