24. Rescues and Reunions
Bridget! How could Rowan keep something so important from me! He knew that I would jump into any rescue mission – particularly if anyone in our gang was involved… Which, now that I thought of it, was probably why he hadn’t told me in the first place. I would have rashly abandoned the others in a single-handed attempt to rescue Bridget. No matter; I knew now and I was going to help them whether Oceania deigned to give me permission or not (I was going to guess not, but she didn’t have any authority over me and I’d given her fair warning of my rash decision making skills).
A pounding headache was starting to build behind my eyes as I slowly came back to the waking world. As I opened my eyes, I realized it was the overwhelming efforts of several Nymphs, including Oceania trying to break into my thoughts. With a grimace, I sent prongs into each of the would-be violators and saw several Nymphs recoil as I opened my eyes. My mouth set as I noted the hostile faces throughout the hall and realized that Rowan’s decision to contact me over a trivial note could have resulted in fatal consequences for me.
Naïve, inexperienced Aquamarine broke the frozen ice crackling in the air. “Aurora?” she asked brightly, “Can you hear me? You’ve been…” her voice trailed off as she too noticed the growing tension and hostility within the dining hall.
“Who contacted you?” Oceania demanded in a powerful voice cutting through her daughter’s remarks.
“No one,” I said calmly, undisturbed. I would not let her intimidate me. Under my calm demeanor, I squirmed under her gaze guiltily. I couldn’t blame them for the hostility on display – not after what they had suffered at the hands of humans in the past.
“Do not lie to me,” she warned, “I can tell by your expression. Someone contacted you! I need to know who!”
Calmly I raised my hand and blew on my fingernails. “What happened to all that trust we talked about earlier? Or the legendary twins who will free us all?” I asked coolly, raising my eyebrows. I knew exactly why she wanted to know. She could barely conceal her terror under the angry mask she had slid over her features. To be fair, I was being unreasonable but I disliked having beliefs imposed upon me and being subjugated to other people’s whims.
“That means nothing. We know nothing of your intentions here and the safety of my people trumps all other concerns I might have. So, who were you speaking with?” Oceania snarled.
My own tone took an acidic edge. “It’s unfortunate when all your hopes hang on the good-will of a human girl and boy,” I replied caustically. Oceania jerked back as though I’d slapped her. Of course, I wasn’t being particularly generous… I knew what was at stake – what had always been at stake – but I was a part of that battle. I had been for a long time and these people knew that… I didn’t understand why they couldn’t at least give me the benefit of the doubt. I knew they’d been following and watching me for years. I glared at her and she glared back. For a few minutes we battled with only our eyes. The staring contest spread the icy tension spread throughout the room. Finally, Oceania lowered her eyes. I smiled slightly and turned back to my food, now eating hungrily.
“I’m sorry,” Oceania finally said, “We have never seen you act in any fashion that would jeopardize our cause in the past. But if there to be trust between your Liberation and the other Races there must be some transparency between our motives.”
I nod. “I’m sorry as well. As I told you earlier, I do not take well to intrusions of my privacy… I have had too little of it in the past and am protective of what little I have won,” I looked up and met Oceania’s gaze. The ice in the room began to thaw a bit as we smiled slightly, and everyone around the great table visibly relaxed as the tension abated. “As it happens, what occurred when I was contacted concerns you,” I continued, a peace offering of sorts. “As you may have known a group of my friends is coming to rendezvous with me. Unfortunately, one of them was captured a few days ago and they have become slightly sidetracked in meeting me. I need to go meet them and help rescue my friend.”
“No!” Oceania’s voice thundered through the hall. “I will not allow it.”
“If you are to stop me from leaving, I will refuse to help you. Besides I would trust the people I am meeting with my life – with the exception of the Magician they captured a week ago,” I threatened calmly. Yes, I was being petty, but I finally knew what course I needed to take. For the first time since Francesca had exposed my espionage I had a clear course to achieve my goals. “They’re going to rescue my friend tonight - and I will be there to help.” I paused wondering how I knew that – Luke and Rowan certainly hadn’t told me.
“Names?” a delegate inquired.
I glared at him and ignored his question. Oceania sighed, realizing I would not answer any questions that she herself did not ask. “What are their names?” she asked.
“Rowan, Jesse, David, Reynold, Cathy, Carla, Bridget,” I started to list off names, counting them on my fingers, “Luke, and Francesca Medici – my previous employer.”
“Fine,” she sighed after a moment of contemplation, “You can go - but only because you give me no choice. Eleven warriors will accompany you.”
I smiled slightly. “I thought you would say as much.”
Oceania clapped her hands and eleven figures stood. One of them was her daughter. “Go safely. Bring the other travelers back here when you are done.”
I stood and bowed to her. “Many thanks,” I replied earnestly. I was in the mood to be sarcastic but held back knowing this was not the time, nor the place. I turned swiftly and walked from the room.
When I exited the room, I broke into a run and only stopped when I reached the entrance to the Water Nymphs Realm. I was barely aware of the Nymphs who jumped towards the blue-ish walls of the hallways as I rushed past them. Time was of the essence right now, even a second of wasted time could cause me lose my chance at helping my friends and I knew they would fail without me. Looking behind me, I saw the Nymphs drawing close to me again and I started to plunge through the barrier.
“Wait!” Aquamarine cried, “You can’t cross the threshold of our Realm without serious injury to yourself. Nor can we let you rush into danger – you must think this through!”
“She is right,” a male Nymph with a deep resounding voice stepped forward. “No doubt you are thinking of crossing through the forest by the shortest route possible. You are forgetting that we have difficulty moving over land and that it is easier for us to travel through Water.”
“But that will make the journey twice as long! It’s fastest to get to Bridgeton from here by cutting through the forest!” I protested. They were slightly west of Bridgeton - maybe an hour’s ride between the two.
“You’re forgetting that Water is our natural element – we can travel through it much faster than on land. If we travelled through Water we can be there within an hour or two,” Aquamarine asserted. “Besides, the river is almost at the very edge of the forest near Bridgeton. We practically wouldn’t have to travel by land at all.”
“Fine,” I grumbled, reluctantly seeing sense, “We’ll go your way.”
“Good,” Aquamarine erupted in relief. “Hang on to me.” Stiffly I went over to her and grabbed the liquidy fabric of her cape. “Here put this in your mouth.” She passed me a small orb that I reluctantly placed in my mouth. She then turned and plunged through the Realm’s borders.
I squeezed my eyes shut before I remembered that I was with the people of the element we were travelling in. I slowly opened my eyes to a magical underwater world. There were leafy green plants and exotic flowers of every color. The Nymphs looked completely at home under the water. Gills flared at the sides of their necks and webbed fingers and toes helped them swim swiftly through the water. If anything, they were even more beautiful in their own element than in their Realm.
I slowly released my grip on Aquamarines cape. She swam a few feet ahead of me and then turned to look back at me. “Do you like our gardens?” she asked, her voice echoing through the water like ripples. She gestured around us to colorful coral formations and leafy seaweed forests that covered the river floor below us. Nymph gardeners flitted in and out of the formations, tending to their underwater gardens.
“They’re gorgeous,” I breathed, awestruck. The orb in my mouth allowed me to breath under the water.
“And to think Humans almost destroyed this when they tried to destroy us,” the male Nymph with a deep voice said, “As it is, these may be the only true Water Gardens left in the world.” He turned and started to swim down the river. Grasping a Nymph’s hand, I followed.
We exited the water two hours later about a day’s travel by foot southwest of Bridgeton. We were now about an hour’s hike from where Bridget’s captors were spending the night. I was relieved - Water travel wasn’t for me - after all I was of the Earth element. Besides travelling by water made me feel awkwardly cold… I spat the orb from my mouth, trying to get rid of the sickly sweet taste it left lingering at the back of my throat.
“Let’s go,” I declared, “We’ve got two or three hours until dusk and we need to be near the kidnapper’s camp by nightfall… preferably before that.”
Three hours later we peered through the trees around the abductors’ camp. There were four tents pitched – three tents in a triangle around the fourth tent. It was dusk and the forest looked dark and forbidding. I had already Probed the clearing with my mind to make sure there were no magic-users. Luke was right across the clearing. I knew he was just as aware of my presence here as I was of his. But, like me, he had chosen not to disclose that information to the rest of the group. I slowly reached out with my mind to him. < Luke? > I asked tentatively.
< Yeah, > his reassuring answer echoed through my head.
< I think we’re positioned right across from you, > I said.
< I noticed, > he replied.
< I’m going to tell the people I’m with that you’re there, > I warned.
< I’ll tell Rowan, > he responded, half laughing.
I turned back to the Nymphs that were crouching around me. “My friends are just outside the clearing, waiting for dark,” I informed them.
The male Nymph with the deep voice… Ren, I thought… nodded. “When do they strike?” he inquired.
“Just after dark,” I responded authoritatively, wondering, again, how I knew all this. Luke, I thought, We’re so connected with each other that we just know each other’s thoughts. We’re so bonded that the only way to explain it were if we were tw— I broke my thought off hastily, not wishing to give into the Nymphs’ crazy ideas.
We waited there for about half an hour while the woods around us darkened and the sharp edges of the trees blurred into one dark mass. Finally, it was dark enough to attack. I tensed as I felt Luke readying himself. “Get ready,” I whispered. “Go!” I yelled.
We charged from the undergrowth just as Luke’s group did the same. Bridget’s abductors immediately besieged me. I whipped out the two short swords the Nymphs had provided me with and whirled around blocking their attacks while trying to do as much damage as possible without actually killing anyone. The fight felt like it went on forever even though it couldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes.
Suddenly Luke called out with his mind. < Francesca! > he yelled. I whirled around looking for her. The kidnappers had surrounded her. We had rescued Bridget a long time ago but they weren’t going to leave without at least one captive. I rushed forward trying to get to her. It was pointless. The next second darkness swallowed the bandits.
“Let’s get some rest,” I gasped in exhaustion, “We’ve got a long trip ahead of us tomorrow.” I collapsed to the ground and watched as everyone else settled down. Luke went over to Bridget and kissed her. I felt my stomach twist jealously. Wrapping an arm around her back, they sat down against tree to rest. I looked at Ren. “Could you and another Nymph stand guard for the night?” I asked, wondering how he would react to the suggestion. “Someone from my group can take over after a while. I just think we’re too exhausted to do a watch right now.”
He nodded. “I will post a watch. You and another one of your race can take over in the morning.”
“Thank you,” I gushed, relieved. I fell back against the ground as Rowan came over. He pulled me up and twirled me around, pulling me into a tight embrace.
“Don’t ever do that again,” he murmured, his lips brushing my cheek. “Don’t ever just rush off without telling me ever again. I worry so much.”
“I won’t,” I promised softly, feeling my heart beating hard against my chest.ns 220.127.116.11da2