Authors: Leigh Michael
The progress I’d made so far didn’t please me. I feared the others would wake up. In a matter of seconds they’d realize I had escaped and would come in fast pursuit.
Upon reaching the double doors, I needed a free hand and for Tristyn to wake up.
Not like this was too much to ask after knocking him out cold…
His body floated downward once freed from my grasp. Rapidly, I tapped the back of my hand against his cheek..
Much to my relief, his eyes fluttered. A groaning noise escaped from his lips.
“Tristyn. Tristyn, can you hear me?”
He groaned again.
“Come on, Tristyn. You’ve gotta wake up.”
His eyes fluttered once more, then locked onto my face.
“Where am I?”
“I got us out, away from the others.”
Slowly he turned his head to examine the interior of the church. Then methodically, he moved it back to me. “What happened?”
“I had to knock you out. I’m sorry.”
“Nevermind. Look, can you swim? Are you all right?”
“I think so.”
Not wasting another moment, I grabbed his elbow and pushed him threw the doors. “Okay, let’s go.”
He didn’t object. Side by side, we exited the church into the courtyard. While he swam, I glanced at his face every couple seconds. Recollection from what happened slowly came back to him.
The last time I looked away, my eyes caught sight of one of man’s earliest inventions, causing my heart to drop. The clock tower read twelve fifteen. It was no longer New Year’s Day.
Tristyn sensed my unease. “What? What is it?”
“Nothing. How you holding up over there?”
He gave me a knowing look. “You shot us with a water current, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I’m so sorry. I didn’t have time to pick people out. I sent a big blast.”
“Prince Adrian told me you had powers, but that’s downright awesome.”
I had to shake my head as a smirk crossed my face. Only a thirteen-year-old boy could be amazed from something that left him unconscious. Still, I welcomed the distraction while we escaped from the town.
“So what else did Adrian tell you?”
He looked at me sheepishly.
“Okay, okay… don’t look at me like that. He said you were stubborn.”
“Oh he did, did he?”
“Yeah, that you wouldn’t listen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I told Wyn to bring you to him. But Prince Adrian said he knew you’d do your own thing. He knew you were going to come here.”
I gave him a sideways glance, rolling my eyes.
“What? Was he wrong?”
He grinned back at me. I liked him just as much as I liked his sister.
“So what happened back there, before I showed up?”
“It started okay, but things got out of control.”
I turned my head toward him, encouraging him to go on. We were back on the main street now, cutting through the town. The shutters were still pulled tight, not another fae in sight. I prayed we’d be able to return to the shores, and not be trapped inside.
Adrian had given him very straightforward orders: Plant the flower. Get the shell. Get out. Bring it to the channel.
Tristyn shrugged while he talked. “He didn’t seem overly thrilled with giving me this task, but he mumbled something about a lack of time and no one else being available.”
“Wyn told me how brave you are.”
This seemed to boost his ego a bit. He jumped back into his story with a little more zest than before. Planting the flower was the easy part. Adrian had told him exactly where to find the trapdoor and what to do.
Things got trickier after he plunged beneath the island. He wasn’t quite sure where to look first, but he had a game plan. The Guardians told him to start in an area where it’d be guarded. The prophecy was known long before Achillios took the flower. Meaning, the Fae of Elfin Lake knew the shell would one day be hidden in their midst. When you had centuries to find it, it made sense they would. Because of this, the Guardians figured it’d be protected.
There were a few general rules for hiding such a thing. The first was to make sure it wasn’t hidden in a place that was difficult to access. Although it could make it harder to safeguard, it also made it easier for the defender to well, defend it. The other piece of advice given to Tristyn stated that things were typically concealed out in the open, in an obvious spot.
Of course, these rules could be debated all day long. Still, it gave Tristyn an idea of where to start. He decided on the wealthiest part of town, figuring the best security would be in this area. That left him with the main street and the buildings that made up the “petals” of the town.
Next, he honed in on the second piece of advice given to him: concealed in an obvious spot. This led Tristyn to the courtyard and later the church. In the olden days, and even still today, a town wasn’t classified a “town” without these two structures.
The thought process this boy had developed impressed me. His age was clearly but a number.
“So did you go straight to the courtyard?”
“Pretty much. It was easy to spot it from above. I swam down to this main street and went in that direction. It was weird because I hardly saw anyone in the streets. Just a few fae. As soon as they saw me, they raced to their homes and slammed their doors.”
“Well, I imagine New Year’s Day is always an anxiety-ridden day for the fae here. Being unsure if the trapdoor was gonna be opened or not.”
“Yeah, I guess. Didn’t think about that.”
He reminded me of my sister. She was incredibly smart and could piece together a mathematical equation in seconds. Now common sense, that was the part she struggled with. She wasn’t naive or even simple-minded, but she often overlooked simple answers in the grand scheme of things.
“But anyways…” he continued. “I looked in the courtyard area first. I tried to do it as fast as possible, but I couldn’t figure out where it’d be concealed there. So I moved on to the church.”
He then paused, looking over at me again with a guilty expression. “You’re not going to get me in trouble, are you?”
“Well, I broke two windows.”
I laughed to myself. Perhaps I needed to rethink my stance of “age was but a number.”
“Of course, I’m not. So tell me, what happened next?”
“Well, I did a quick lap and saw that there were stained glass windows in the bigger part of the church, but also windows toward the back. It wasn’t logical for the shell to be in that big part, so if it were going to be in the church, it’d be the other part, ya know?”
“Yes, I’d agree. That makes sense.”
“Right, I thought so too. So I took a rock and threw it through the stained glass window then swam over to the other window, broke that window, and went inside.”
“You broke both windows?”
“Yeah? I’m not in trouble, right?”
“No, no, no. Why did you do that though?”
“The first was a diversion, in case anyone was inside.”
“Well aren’t you clever…”
It wasn’t really a question, but he answered anyway. “I know, right! I was too slow to find the shell though. By the time I had grabbed it off the podium, the guards had come back. Just a few minutes later, they brought in that Tracker dude.”
At this point in Tristyn’s story, we had reached the trapdoor. As we stared at each other, the beauty of the garden surrounded us. Just like so many times before, my nerves shook me to the core. We needed this thing to open, but I didn’t want Tristyn to sense my apprehensive. Adrian conveniently left out the part about the Guardian’s uncertainty around if the door would remain opened or not.
Thankfully, Tristyn saw my unease as doubt about something else. “Do you think the door leads back to the shores?”
“I don’t know.”
“Only one way to find out,” he said, then reached for the handle.
I held my breath. Closed my eyes.
Seconds later I heard Tristyn’s voice again. “You coming?”
I apparently had gotten myself worked up over nothing.
The next thing I knew, I stood on the banks of the Bristol Channel. Going from the banks of the lake to the channel was simple with Tristyn’s direction.
Much to his dismay, I told him he couldn’t come any further. He wasn’t happy about it, but he begrudgingly gave me instructions on how to navigate through Crowe’s Crossing.
When I first learned Wyn and Tristyn were all alone, I worried for them and how they survived. Tristyn painted a completely different picture in my mind now. Of course, I thought they should have a real home and not wander from place to place. But after meeting Tristyn, I had renewed faith in the fact that they’d be okay.
Just thinking of Tristyn and his antics would forever result in a shake of my head and a half smile.
Like now, that thirteen-year-old thought he could pull a fast one on me. I knew he had trailed me and hid behind a nearby tree. I figured, after all his help I wouldn’t make a fuss.
Too bad for him, the channel was salt water. It’d be the end of his journey.
For me, there was more to come. And something felt off. There wasn’t a single Guardian in sight. I’d suspected that they’d be waiting on the shoreline, hands itching to get Triton’s shell.
Instead, there was no one.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all.
My unease forced me into the water at lightening speed.
Before leaving, I’d planned to look behind to give Tristyn a knowing look and a playful grin. That plan had gone by the wayside.
Frantically, I searched the water. Moving a few strokes in one direction, stopping, and moving in another.
The fact that something had gone wrong replayed in my head like a broken record that I couldn’t turn off.
I willed myself to breathe slower. I tried to convince myself that there was a reason why the Guardians weren’t here. They could’ve moved further from the shoreline, out of the channel and into the deeper waters of the sea. Perhaps they didn’t know how long it’d take to get the shell. I had to convince myself that this was true.
Forcing myself away from land, I set out toward the sea. I moved higher, then lower in the water to make sure nothing was missed outside my bubble of light.
After one drastic descent, I followed the sloping sand back upwards, nearly brushing it with my belly. When I reached the top, my free hand propelled my body from the peak to the other side.
At the sight in front of me, my arms and legs instinctively stopped moving, my momentum the only thing that carried me forward.
Long ago there was a battle between the Guardians and the Trackers. Many lives were lost, many were left battered and wounded, but after all the sand had settled, neither side came away victorious.
From my vantage point above, my gaze fell on the hundreds of sprites who warred off below. I felt like a general from the Revolutionary War. I had an aerial view of round two of Guardians versus Trackers.
This time, I wouldn’t allow a repeat of the first outcome. There’d be a victor. I wouldn’t watch from the sidelines, removed from the action. It wasn’t something I’d stand for.
As I swam toward the fighting sprites, the shell remained safely gripped in my right hand, nestled against my body. My left hand led the way, palms facing out, trying to pinpoint a Tracker to blast. My mind boggled at making sure I didn’t send a current at a Guardian. It was nearly impossible to tell the sides apart. It wasn’t like the Guardians wore blue and red distinguished the Trackers.
The hesitation I felt continued as I stopped at the outskirts of the battle. The clinking of swords, the wrestling of bodies, and the firing of nets muffled my thoughts. One body fell lifeless—then another—the attacker moving on to the next fight.
I recognized a sprite I’d seen from the frontlines of our army before I left for the fountain. I quickly sent a current at the Tracker he challenged.
My focus shifted to another I recognized, then another.
I strained to pull all the faces of the Guardian army from my memory. I spotted one more and launched a current at the Tracker he was warring, immobilizing the Tracker and allowing the Guardian to easily attack.
Then, I saw him. I didn’t know how I was able to pick him out in the chaos before me. Or how at that exact moment he also turned his head toward mine. But my eyes latched onto Adrian’s from across the battlefield.
He gave me a suggestive look, something that sparked another memory inside: of that night we saw the play together. It reminded me how the boy used the shell to save the encantado from the onslaught of Trackers.
Without hesitation, I brushed my fingers over the outside of the shell at my side. I knew what I had to do.
As I raised it to my lips, I kept my eyes trained on the person I’d grown to trust most. Adrian’s focus remained steady on my face, willing me to send a current from the shell.
I took a deep breath, prepared to release it, and was hit in my ribs. My breath ripped from my lungs, knocking the shell from my grasp and twisting my body within the water.
The spear that was meant for my head never reached its destination. Instead, it grazed the underbelly of the selkie who had risked his life for my own.
In a heartbeat, I sucked in a fresh breath of air. More times than I’d like to admit, I froze at the sight of danger. Now, I demanded for myself to lunge for the sinking shell. My hands found it, bringing it back to my mouth without a second of delay. In one fluid motion, I rolled onto my back to bring the panoramic view of the war into sight and blew with all the air I had recovered.
I felt the air as it left my lungs, filling the shell and breaking through the other side. The roaring sound cut through the battle like a runaway train unable to stop. Swords halted in their tracks. Heads snapped toward me. Fists paused in mid water.
But more importantly, the intensity of the current whisked each and every Tracker away from the battlefield. Not a single one was left behind. It was as if a huge net came down from the surface of the water to entrap all the malevolent sprites, allowing the Guardians to slip through the holes. A school of Trackers, tightly bound together, quickly disappeared into the distance until they became a small dot then nothing at all.