Krakkaka slowly rematerialized into the flickering crimson lights of the Red, the enormous dorsal fin that made up the bulk of her body solidifying gradually. With a sigh of relief, the Giant Silth sank gratefully into the nearest stream of Fire energy.
Ah! This feels good! Krakkaka thought as she basked in the warm radiance of her natural element. The lava of the real world had been coarse and soupy, grating against her tender underbelly, especially at the speeds her master had been urging her to meet.
She sighed, having mixed feelings about her most recent excursion to the real world. Barak was a brave magi, and she was honored to be a part of his retinue of dream creatures, but he could be a gruff master at times as well. He had been oddly different this time, however. She had never seen him so…driven…by an urgency that had nothing to do with one of his endless little wars. There’s just no understanding magi sometimes! She leaned into a broad turn as the Fire energy flowed across a broad plain of sizzling sparks on its way to the great Fire Node.
Just then she was nearly run over by a stampeding flame rudwot, crashing its way gracelessly through the Fire flow. “Say! Watch where you’re going!?Krakkaka scolded the rude beast. The flame rudwot paused momentarily in her mad dash to look over her shoulder at the much larger form of the Giant Silth. “What? Oh…Oh my! I’m sorry! So sorry! Gotta go, gotta go!?Then she turned to scrabble up the bank, heading toward the Node towering in the distance like a massive pillar of flame.
Krakkaka watched as the little rudwot tripped over her own legs in her haste. Rudwots are clumsy beasts, she thought. Especially hot-headed flame rudwots! Always in such a hurry, scurrying around like maniacs and tripping over every third leg! She slid closer to the shore and called up to the little beast, “Where are you headed in such a hurry??/div>
The flame rudwot paused again, having slid all the way back down to the flowing energy. Her tail drooped into the flow, as she turned to look over her shoulder again. “What’s that? Oh! Umm…er…I gotta get to see Skorch! There’s trouble and my magi needs me!?/div>
“If your magi needs you, they will invoke you. Until then, there’s nothing you can do.?Krakkaka considered herself imminently practical, and she was always ready to share her practical observations with those who were less clear-minded than she.
The little rudwot cocked her head. “Huh? Oh…you mean…but no! No! That isn’t it at all! Oh! I gotta get to Skorch!?She resumed her frantic scrabbling up the slope.
“What’s Skorch going to do for you??Krakkaka asked in exasperation, suddenly suspecting that her pragmatism was going to be wasted on this silly beast.
Without halting in her efforts to climb, the rudwot replied, “He’s gotta get me to my magi! Tryn needs me! Oh I gotta find him! Gotta find him quick!?/div>
“Tryn??Krakkaka had been about to continue on her way, but mention of that name caused her to hold her place against the flow. “Did you say Tryn??/div>
“Tryn! Tryn! She needs me!?The little rudwot gave up trying to ascend the slope and slumped back down to the energy flow.
Tryn! That’s the name of Barak’s friend from Naroom. She’s the reason he was so agitated and needed to leave Aragonar in such a hurry. He mentioned that she was in terrible danger! Krakkaka slid closer to the exhausted rudwot.
“I see,?she said, although she wasn’t sure she understood at all. Still, if this had something to with Barak? “Well, perhaps asking Skorch’s advice wouldn’t hurt after all.?She was feeling generous now. “How about I give you a ride? We can make it much faster if we go through the fire flow.?/div>
At that, the flame rudwot’s head shot up, sending sparks flying in all directions. She looked into Krakkaka’s multiple eyes, cocked her head a moment as if in thought and then proclaimed, “Okay!?The she turned and leaped onto Krakkaka’s stony fin, digging her claws in to scrabble her way up to the pointed top.
“Ow! Hey! Watch it!?Krakkaka grumbled as she steered back into the middle of the Fire flow.
“Let’s go! Let’s go! Gotta go!? crooned the flame rudwot atop her perch. She hopped and bounced, full of nervous energy as the two unlikely companions began to pick up speed, heading for the fiery Node and Skorch’s usual haunts.
Skorch listened to the little rudwot’s frantic ramblings, his eyes rolling back in his head, arms crossed, foot tapping rapidly. Finally, he could stand it no more, “Stop!?he roared. “I think I understand. You want to get to your magi, but she hasn’t invoked you. You want me to send you to her.?/div>
“Yes! Yes! Yes!?cried the flame rudwot, bouncing up and down hysterically.
“Hmmph,?snorted Skorch. “The laws of the Dream Plane/Reality boundary do not allow such things. I cannot help you!?/div>
“No! No! Tryn’s not in the real world! Tryn’s here! Here! Now!?The rudwot’s agitation was becoming extreme. She raced in circles, unable to control her nervous energy. “I feel Tryn!?/div>
Skorch lowered his eyebrows in consternation. “That’s not possible! There have been strange things afoot in the Dream Plane these past days, it’s true.?Skorch looked to the horizon where a mysterious storm of white energy had been raging for the past day. “But surely you are just confused by these strange occurrences. Perhaps the storm is meddling with your connection to your magi.?/div>
The rudwot again began a series of protestations, but Skorch did not hear them. A most unusual thing had just occurred. His body had tingled all over and his vision blacked out momentarily. In that single moment, he had seen the form of the Dreamkeeper, calling out to him and all the other Guardians. Calling for a Guardian Council—a very rare occurrence indeed. But more than that, in the vision beyond the Dreamkeeper, dimly seen but there nonetheless, a small female magi stood with arms crossed beside a group of Life creatures and the Life Guardian, Trunnk. The vision passed swiftly, but Skorch had seen enough to convince him that something totally new and unprecedented was happening. He must leave for the Council at once.
He glanced back down at the frantic flame rudwot, and held out a flame-colored hand to cease her endless protests and pleas. “I have changed my mind. We leave at once!?/div>
Krakkaka watched in shocked surprise as Skorch raised his staff, instantly enveloping both himself and the flame rudwot in a sparkling mist. With a fiery explosion of vivid orange sparks, the two were gone from sight. The Giant Silth let herself slide backward into the energy flow once more—confused and astounded at this bizarre turn of events. Oh! I just can’t wait to talk to Barak again! This is getting stranger and stranger!
She sloshed her way through the energy, resigning herself for a possibly long wait until her master invoked her once more. Until then, there was nothing else she could do.
Barak strode out into the broad plaza at the crossroads. This was surely the way Tryn must have traveled to return to her homeland of Naroom. He glanced around hastily, but of course there was no sign of Tryn and nothing to suggest that she or anyone else had passed this way. Perhaps the Boatman will remember her, he thought. The Warlord quickened his pace, heading for the well-worn path leading to the docks.
The sun had crested the rocky peaks of the Teeth and was beating down unmercifully upon the stony surface of the crossroads. Barak, beginning to sweat in his heavy armor, ground his teeth impatiently and looked forward to the shadowed trail just ahead. Just as he was about to pass into the welcoming shade, a golden gleam caught his eye.
There, upon the ground, lay a large ring. Barak stooped to pick it up and examine it. His heart began to race in panic once more as he clearly recognized the ring. This was Tryn’s flame rudwot ring! He remembered how she had been so pleased with it! She had bonded deeply with her new creature almost immediately. Surely she would not have cast it aside, no matter how angry she had been with him.
Barak looked around once more, hoping to find some additional evidence as to what may have happened to Tryn. He knew, without knowing how or why he knew, that this was the place where something terrible had befallen her. But what? Where could she be?
“Tryn!?he called, his deep voice booming back to him from the stony walls of the Teeth. There was no reply. He looked back to the ring and a daring thought came to him. He closed his eyes, realizing he was about to break one of the codes applying to each magi’s rights regarding their personal dream creatures. Refusing to think further on the propriety of the matter, he fell back on his warrior’s impulses and allowed a small trickle of his own energy to descend into the ring.
Tryn was standing in a large gray space, not unlike the place she had first seen just beyond the shelter of Dathka’s dwelling. Trunnk had swiftly transported the group to this place as soon as the Dreamkeeper had sent out the calling for a Guardian Council. Now she watched in wonder as Guardian after Guardian began to appear before them. Each Guardian resembled a strange hybrid between a magi and the hyren of their respective regions. Tryn had never even guessed at the existence of such beings. Then again, taking a look around, she had never imagined any of this stuff!
Then, to her amazement, a smaller form materialized along with the latest Guardian arrival. The creature’s narrow head whipped back and forth in agitation until her gaze locked onto Tryn.
“Tryn! Tryn!?the little flame rudwot yelped in delight, loping toward her mistress as fast as her six legs could carry her. With an ungainly crash, the creature bowled into Tryn and the two of them went rolling backward through the pervasive grayish mist.
“Sparkle!?cried Tryn in delight, laughing at her newest creature’s crazy antics. How did you find me??/div>
“Skorch brought me to you! I knew he would! Knew it! Yes! Yes! Yes! Skorch is good!?/div>
Tryn shook her head in amazement. This was all so strange! She disentangled herself from the flame rudwot and stood to see her other two creatures watching her in silence. Sparkle saw them too. Warily, head down in the customary rudwot stalking pose, she approached the timber hyren and the forest rudwot. Drawing near, she sniffed each of the Life creatures thoroughly. Brilleon bore it with an air of disdain, but Flash wasn’t so gracious. “Hey, watch where yer sniffin?youngster! Who d’ya think you are??/div>
Sparkle replied, “Me?! Me? I’m Tryn’s flame rudwot! Who are you??/div>
Brilleon was rolling his eyes, and Flash opening his mouth to speak, when Tryn turned back to the assemblage of Guardians. She thought it best to let her creatures sort out their introductions for themselves. Too bad they have not yet had a chance to battle together with me in the real world! Tryn thought ruefully. She was sure that Brilleon would help keep things civil and moved to stand next to Dathka, who was addressing the Guardian Council.
“…and so, you see, the real question is to discover how Tryn might find an anchor in the real world so we might send her home,?Dathka was saying in conclusion. There was much mumbling and murmuring from the gathered Guardians—none of whom seemed very comfortable in this gathering. Finally, the shortest of the Guardians, a stout furry being with a lantern-like staff, stepped forward and cleared his throat for attention.
“Yes, Fosfur, speak.?Dathka nodded in acknowledgement of the Earth Guardian.
Fosfur, leaning heavily on his staff, made his way to Tryn. “Young lady, forgive me if this question seems impertinent, but it just may be critical. I mean, I do not wish to pry into your personal life, but…um. Ahem…” Fosfur seemed flustered, clearing his throat in apparent embarrassment.
“Out with it! Speak up!?growled Skorch. Mumbled agreements from the other Guardians met Tryn’s ears. Dathka nodded at Fosfur encouragingly.
“Ah…yes, well…ahem.?Fosfur drew a little closer to Tryn, lowering his voice, “That is, my dear, do you have someone who…ah…um…cares very deeply for you? A…um, special someone??Fosfur’s cheeks were reddening beneath his short gray fur.
Tryn felt her own cheeks beginning to flush as the question sunk in. Her ears burned, as unbidden, an image of Barak flashed in her mind’s eye. Anger surged protectively to the surface. “That’s none of your business!?she roared angrily, unable to stop herself.
Fosfur dropped his gaze to stare in shame at the misty ground. He nodded once and began to shuffle back to his place in the circle. Dathka, placing his gentle hands on Tryn’s shoulders, turned her to face his stubby muzzle. His liquid brown eyes stared down at her with great compassion, his voice very gentle as he spoke. “Tryn, I think I see what Fosfur is hinting at. It may be that someone who has strong feelings for you back in the real world could act as an anchor for you to return to. It would have to be someone who is more than a friend—a parent or a sibling, perhaps—better still, a lover. Isn’t there someone in your life who fits this description??/div>
Tryn’s eyes were burning with unshed tears. “No,?she whispered. “My parents are…gone. I don’t have any brothers or sisters and…and…” she faltered. Dathka squeezed her shoulders. “No one else cares that much,?she finished, her lower lip trembling.
Dathka closed his eyes and shook his head, his fluffy mane flowing back and forth across the front of his tattered robes. “Then we shall have to see what other ideas we can come up with.?He turned back to the Council and began speaking.
Just then, a strangled squawk from Sparkle turned all eyes in her direction. Her form was becoming transparent. “She’s being invoked!?cried Skorch, running protectively toward the Fire creature. “But her magi is here!?/div>
Tryn gasped, watching helplessly as Sparkle vanished before their eyes. “What…what happened??she asked.
Dathka turned to Tryn with some urgency. “Think, little one…did you leave Sparkle’s ring behind by chance??/div>
She started to shake her head no, but then she remembered that she had been holding the flame rudwot ring, attempting to invoke her at the crossroads, when the strange light had swept over her and brought her to the Dream Plane. “I…I don’t know for sure,?was her answer. She looked up at Dathka. “I…may have dropped it.?/div>
The Guardians all began speaking at once. Dathka tried to calm them down, but his own voice was lost in the uproar. In the midst of it all, Sparkle abruptly rematerialized. As soon as her shape was solid, she leaped on Tryn, knocking her over once more.
“Tryn! Tryn! It’s the big guy! Big guy! Warrior!?/div>
Tryn’s eyes opened wide, not daring to let herself imagine who the big warrior her creature referred to could be. Her mind was suddenly full of conflicting emotions, memories both bitter and sweet clashing noisily through her brain. She struggled out from under Sparkle’s scaly bulk.
“I told him you were here! The big guy! He says for me to come and get you! Get you now!?/div>
The Guardians had all gone silent and were watching Tryn keenly. Dathka held out a paw-like hand to help her to her feet. “Perhaps the Guardians can help us take a look.?He turned back to the assembled Council and asked, “Could one of you do the honors??Immediately, both Trunnk and Skorch stepped forward. Their eyes met briefly, a tiny spark of conflict glittered there but was soon gone. They nodded respectfully to one another, having reached some silent agreement, and then reached their clawed fingers into the empty air between them. They began pulling simultaneously, their claws somehow piercing the emptiness and finding a purchase there. They pulled their hands back, ripping the air open to reveal a blinding crack of light. The light soon faded and what was left behind, hanging in mid-air, was a jagged hole through which could clearly be seen the bright sun-lit vista of the crossroads.
Tryn gasped in astonishment, taking in the scene. Her heart leapt into her throat, as her eyes soaked in the warrior’s figure standing there in the sunshine. He was not standing tall. He was not standing proud. His head was hanging low, his gaze fixed upon the ring he held in his large fingers. His shoulders were stooped beneath the heavy armor. To Tryn’s tear-filled eyes, he had never looked stronger or more handsome than at that very moment.
Everyone’s eyes were on her, but her gaze was riveted to the humbled form of the man before her. “Barak,?she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion. As soft as the words were, somehow the warrior heard her, and raised his shining eyes to meet hers. His face transformed in that moment, becoming a vision of happiness. She saw his lips move as he called out her name, but could not hear his voice. He ran toward her, drawing near to the opening made by the Guardians, but he could not seem to enter it. His fists beat the air before him as he tried to reach her.
“No one who cares for you, little one? It seems you were mistaken.?Dathka’s voice was gentle, not mocking. He nodded toward Barak. “There’s your anchor. Even I can feel his pull! He must be very powerful!?Dathka placed his arm around her shoulder and gently pushed her toward the opening. Suddenly, Brilleon and Flash were there too, touching her and saying goodbye—as if they were never going to see her again. She looked up at Brilleon questioningly and the she remembered—sudden horror breaking into her already battered emotional state. “Oh no! Your rings! I lost them!?/div>
Brilleon nodded sadly. “You did.?/div>
“But…how will I be able to call you??she asked, dreading the answer.
Brilleon shook his head, “You won’t,?was his sad reply.
“No! I can’t believe it! There must be a way for me to find you again!?Tryn had lost all sense of pride. Tears were now streaming down her face.
“It’s okay, T.?Flash looked up at her from below, his head nuzzling her leg. “We’ll be just fine. You go on, now. That young man looks mighty anxious to see ya!?/div>
Brilleon nodded, his huge wooden talons gently caressed her tear-stained cheek. “Yes, go on now. You belong in the real world.?/div>
“I…I…” Tryn stumbled over her words, her throat constricting with emotion. “I’ll find a way…somehow…I’ll find you again! I promise!?Her creatures nodded sadly. Flash nudged her from below, pushing toward the opening back to the real world.
“We’ll be waiting for ya, T. Now go on home where you belong!?/div>
This was all so sudden! Tryn had gone from despair to joy to crushing heartbreak in the span of only a few moments. It was overwhelming. She stooped to hug the rudwot tightly about his leafy neck. Then she reached up and Brilleon took her in his wooden arms, holding her tightly for a short moment. He looked her in the eye and said quietly, “We will be waiting, Tryn.?Wiping the tears from her face, she nodded, unable to say more.
Dathka was there, waiting patiently. He reached out and took her hand once more, this time in a firm handshake. “It has been my pleasure to meet you, little one.?Tryn nodded in agreement, still not trusting her voice to say more. Dathka nodded in the direction of the opening, where Barak had stopped pummeling the thin air and now stood watching the scene in anxious anticipation. His eyes met hers, and suddenly that was all she could see. His hands were upon her then, rugged and gentle all at once—just as she remembered them. She fell into his arms and sunlight showered down upon them both.
After a long time, she pulled away from his embrace and looked up into his eyes. There were words to be said—many words, but there would be time for them later. She smiled tentatively. Barak’s face broke into a wide grin and we swooped her up, spinning her through the air as he whooped in joy.
Tryn noticed that there was no sign of the opening the Guardians had made for her. Her last contact with Brilleon and Flash, cut off for good. She determined to find a way to invoke them again. Looking down at her warrior, she realized that it didn’t have to be a solitary quest. Still silent, the two walked hand in hand into the shadows of the trail leading down to the boat dock.
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