Disclaimer: Touched by an Angel is not mine.
Author's Note: I hope this works this time. The people who run this place took the story off before I got back from camp to even find out something was wrong. (Sigh) Next time I'll check the story right after I upload it. Sorry about the wait, y'all. Completely my mistake. Hope this one works.
One Our Hope in Despair
"So, exactly, where are you two going?" Andrew asked.
"We have to be somewhere else, baby; you'll do fine," Tess assured him.
"You said this would be a tough assignment."
"It will be, but you can handle it. Now get in that classroom, Angel Boy."
"You didn't even tell me which one's the assignment," the bewildered Angel of Death protested.
"You'll figure it out," Tess smiled as she and Monica walked down the hallway.
Andrew nodded as he walked into a classroom full of ninth-graders. Great.
The teacher, a friend of Tess', introduced him to the class and explained that he was a guest. Then she explained to Andrew that they were reading Romeo and Juliet, and handed him one of the books. "Where did we leave off?"
"Third act," one of the students answered.'
"Page 372," another called out.
"Okay, we'll have the same parts as yesterday."
The play flowed smoothly, with the teacher constantly interrupting, of course, until it came to a swordfight. One of the students began to laugh at a picture in the book.
"Hey, Rob, cool it," a girl insisted. "It's not funny!" Andrew was glad she'd beat him to it.
"You wanna do something about it, Mercutio?" the boy demanded, apparently still in the play's world.
"Leave her alone." Andrew stood up. "She's right; it's not funny. People used to get killed like that."
"Oh, really? And you would know how?"
"Look, just drop it," the girl insisted.
"You started it in the first place," the boy accused.
"Can we just get back to the play?"
"You're just mad because you die in this scene."
"Uh, that would be a reason for me not to want to get back to the play."
"Morgan, Robert, settle down," the teacher said, to no effect.
"I'll show you what I think of getting back to the play!" Robert threw his book at Morgan, narrowly missing her head. Then he picked up the pencil sharpener and threw it, ripping the cord out of the wall. This time, his aim was perfect. The other student crumpled to the ground. Andrew rushed to her side while the other students jumped up into a wild fight.
The teacher was busy trying to settle the fight down. As much as Andrew wanted to stay with Morgan, he knew he could help best by getting the teacher some backup. He rushed out of the classroom and down to the office.
"Mr. Connor! Mr. Connor! There's a fight in room 402! Please, you have to come help!"
The principal sighed. "Oh, for the love of Pete, that's the second time this week! Can you believe that's an Honors English class? Come on, let's go." The two ran back into the hall.
By the time they got there, the room was a wreck. The teacher was standing by the door, ready to give up. "Quiet!" the principal yelled. Everyone immediately stopped.
The teacher looked around, did a head count. "Where's Morgan?"
Andrew looked to where she had been. A table lay there, toppled over. He ran over, set the table upright, and knelt by the teenager's side. "Morgan?"
"A plague on both your houses," Morgan mumbled, feeling her forehead. Andrew smiled gently. Tess had been right; it had been easy to find his assignment.
He felt her side where the table had fallen on her. "We'd better get you down to the nurse."
"Are you okay?" the teacher asked.
"Ay, 'tis a scratch, a scratch. 'Tis not as deep as a well, nor as wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve to get me out of this class."
Everyone smiled, even though few besides Andrew and their teacher could recognize the quote. "Okay, straighten this room up!" the principal ordered as Andrew helped Morgan out of the room.
"Who are you?" Morgan asked once they were out of earshot. "I saw some kind of golden light around you when you were beside me. What was that?"
Andrew looked surprised. Morgan shrugged. "Or maybe it was the lights. They go dim and bright sometimes; they need new bulbs." But Andrew could tell she knew that wasn't all.
"You really weren't surprised by this?"
"No," Morgan laughed. "When Rob takes out a sword and challenges me to a duel, then I'll be surprised, maybe. But a book? An electric pencil sharpener? Nay, good heart, 'tis of no matter. Thou saw how calm the principal was."
"Do you always talk like that?"
Morgan grinned. "Only when I'm trying to keep my mind off something else," she answered honestly. "I wouldn't be shocked if I bruised a couple ribs there."
"Neither would I; those tables aren't light."
Soon, they reached the nurse's office. A tenth-grade boy was also there with a hurt leg from gym class. The nurse was on the phone.
Morgan plopped down by the other teen. "You okay?"
"Coach says I probably strained it."
"Let me have a look."
To Andrew's surprise, the sophomore didn't laugh. "Go ahead, le Fay." He rolled up his pants leg. Morgan felt around."
"Good news; nothing's broken. Hey, Andrew, there should be some of that tape stuff in the drawer over there. Hand me some, would ya?"
Andrew quickly did as she said. "I don't see how that'll help, though," he shrugged.
"Trust me." Carefully, she wrapped the boy's leg up with the tape. As she did so, she probed around lightly with her fingers, and Andrew was sure he could see the other teen relax. "There," Morgan said at last. "Any pain?"
The teenager stood up. "No. How'd you do that?"
Morgan shrugged. "Medical tape. Amazing thing."
The sophomore left. "It wasn't the tape, was it?" Andrew asked.
"Hey, you have your light show secret, and now I have mine," Morgan smiled.
The nurse set down the phone. "Nice to see you, Morgan. I see you handled my other patient. Thanks."
"Hey, no problem."
"It should still have hurt him to walk."
The nurse smiled. "Still won't tell your secret?"
"Must be the Indian blood in me."
"So what's wrong with you?"
"Pencil sharpener fell on my head, table fell on me."
"Baloney. Who started the fight?"
"Call him what you will. Mercutio escaped death this time."
"You're strange." She came over, felt her forehead. "You feel dizzy?"
"Hogwash, le Fay."
"All right, so it hurts. There's nothing you can do."
"Won't work, and you know it."
"Take some, anyway."
"As you wish."
Next the nurse felt around her ribs. Morgan tried hard not to wince in pain. "You'll be all right," the nurse nodded after a moment as another student came in. "What's the matter with you?"
"My stomach hurts. Can I go home?"
"You eat breakfast?" Morgan asked.
"Can you handle this, le Fay?" the nurse asked.
"Sure thing. Come on, Dave; I've got food in my locker."
"You didn't hear that," the nurse instructed Andrew as the students left. "They're not supposed to have food. Morgan means well, but no respect for rules."
"She didn't start the fight."
"Oh, I don't doubt her there. But you saw how she tried to cover up for Tybalt . . . Robert . . . whatever. Not that I believed her for a second. That girl's not typically accident-prone. Could you pass me that tape?"
"You know, first time she came in here, she had a twisted ankle. She never would've come down, except her gym teacher had insisted. Now, the nurse over at the middle-school had warned me about her, said she was stubborn, uncooperative, tight-lipped. And she is, when it comes to herself. But you saw those boys, what she did. She couldn't have cared more.
"Anyway, Morgan Baker comes in with a twisted ankle, and it's really killing her to walk, I can see that, even though she's doing her very best not to limp at all. I've got this other girl in here, a senior. Someone dropped somethin' heavy on her hand in theater class. Morgan comes over, has a look, feels around, and suddenly her hand feels all right. No pain. The broken wrist is still there, but no pain! It's amazing!"
"She has a gift."
"Uses it, too. She comes down here all the time during lunch, when she's not over at the Christian club thing they have on Wednesdays and Fridays. She helps out with everything from broken bones to sprains to stomachaches to filing physicals. Amazing girl."
"May I ask you a favor?"
"Stay with her, make sure she takes it easy. She's hurt worse than she'll let on, but not from the table. I don't know what's happened to her, but look out for her, please."
"Why didn't you just tell her to take it easy?"
"She won't listen. She thinks she can handle it herself. And I'm not so sure."
"I'll give it my best shot."
"Thank you . . . I didn't catch your name."
"Thank you, Andrew. She deserves help, with whatever it is. She's done a lot for me."
Andrew headed out the door to see Morgan coming his way. "Candy bars work wonders," she grinned.
"All right, Morgan, your rules. Keep your secrets."
Morgan smiled gently. "It's for the best. If I told anyone where I learned this, they wouldn't believe me."
"I'm not so sure. You mind if I hang out with you?"
"Not at all. Is today Friday?"
"You want to come to First Priority with me at lunch?"
"I'd be delighted."
" . . . And that is why we must go out into the world! We must proclaim the Good News! We must save others, bring them to Christ!" The bell rang. "Goodbye, everyone!"
"That was . . . interesting," Andrew commented as they left.
Morgan smiled. "Meaning the fact that he covered everything from miracles to salvation to creation in less than half an hour? Or that he completely lost everyone while he was doing it?"
"Both, I guess."
"Don't get me wrong; he means well. He couldn't have better intentions. But he's used to preaching to adults. And he thought he had to cram everything into a half-hour speech."
"Are your guest speakers always like that?"
"Oh, no, not at all. One time we had my science teacher do it; he was great. And Mr. Connor's come in. And another teacher -- I forget what subject; I don't have her." She paused. "I know the nurse asked you to keep an eye on me.
"I'm not even going to ask how you knew that."
"Good. How far did you plan on taking that?"
"As far as you're comfortable."
"You want to come home with me?"
"You wouldn't mind?"
Morgan shook her head. "Not at all. 'A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship.'"
"Strider, The Fellowship of the Ring."
"You did a good imitation. The feeling was there. But that's not all, is it?"
"There's something about you, Andrew. I don't know what it is, but I have a feeling that if I can get you to stick around long enough, I'll find out. Besides, I think you'd like my family."
"What're they like?"
"They're great. Mom and Dad are a little too protective, but that's understandable, considering what they know, or rather what they don't know, about what I do when I go off alone. Avanwe's a sophomore. I imagine she'll be pretty quiet, usually is around visitors she doesn't know. But once she gets to know you, she'll be okay with the idea that I invited a perfect stranger to our house."
"You didn't need to get to know me."
"Well, I'm different. Besides, you helped me out, and I don't forget something like that. Anyway, Sam is five; he's really cute; you'll just eat him all up. He has the sweetest little blue eyes that look just like our mom's. I look like my dad; you'll be able to tell when you see him."
"Just one question."
"What am I supposed to tell them I'm doing there?"
Morgan thought for a moment. "Here, I'll make you a deal. You don't tell anyone about the fight in English, especially my parents, and I don't mention your light show and I'll handle my family. You won't have a single problem; I'll do all the explaining."
"Sounds pretty good."
"Deal?" She offered her hand.
Andrew thought for a moment. Then he shook it firmly. "Deal."
The day passed quickly. Soon the bell rang for the end of school. Andrew and Morgan headed for the bus. They were soon joined by a girl Andrew guessed from the look of her was Avanwe. Both girls had brown hair, although Morgan's was darker, and both were fairly short.
But for the Angel of Death, the resemblance ended there. Avanwe seemed a fairly normal teenager - normal hairstyle, typical clothes, not as revealing as most, but pretty normal style.
Morgan was different. Her hair was a mess; she hadn't bothered to fix it after the fight. Her clothes were loose, a little baggy, dark-colored. She blended in and yet stood out. Andrew eventually realized it was the background she blended in with and the people she stood out from. Another thing that caught him was her eyes, a deep, dark brown, a thoughtful glance, a piercing yet gentle stare. It was hard to believe such a look belonged to one so young.
Andrew didn't hear all of what Morgan said to Avanwe over the clamor of the other people on the bus, but he gathered that she had convinced her sister that he could stay. As if it were up to them.
The bus finally reached their stop. They got off along with a couple elementary school kids. "It's not far," Morgan smiled, and Andrew noticed that she kept up perfectly with Avanwe in spite of her encounter with the table. "Our mom's out picking Kiddo up from school, and our dad's at work, so you'll have some time to make yourself at home before they show up," Morgan explained as they turned into the driveway.
"You know they won't like this," Avanwe sighed.
Andrew remembered Morgan had described her parents as 'overprotective,' because of 'what they know, or, rather, what they don't know'. What could that mean? He was more sure now than ever that Morgan was hiding a secret, and he was as determined now to learn hers as she was to figure out his. Would she be able to figure out that he was an angel? An Angel of Death? What he was doing there? Even he didn't know that yet.
Avanwe opened the door, and they took off their shoes inside. Two birds - a parakeet and a cockatial - chirped their greeting. "The parakeet's Melody; the cokatial's Elessar," Morgan explained.
Avanwe popped a tape in the VCR and turned the TV on. Images filled the screen. "Star Trek episodes?" Andrew asked, surprised. "That's different."
Morgan grinned. "We're different. We are not as other Men of this time, and whatever be our descent from father to son, by some chance the blood of Westernesse runs nearly true in us."
Avanwe sighed. "Look, if you're gonna quote Gandalf, at least don't compare us to Denethor."
"Would that be the Indian blood you mentioned earlier?" Andrew asked, ignoring Avanwe's comment.
Avanwe just smiled. "Call it what you will; it still means she's insane."
Morgan grinned. "Have a seat, Andrew; this is a good one."
It was good, Andrew agreed after a while, but no sooner had Spock been attacked by some huge single-cell creature than a car pulled into the driveway. Morgan pretended to check a watch that didn't exist. "Freckle past a hair. They're early."
The scene was typical: Mother and Son walked in. Son saw the stranger and ran back to Mother. Mother's eyes got wide.
"Who is this?" Mrs. Baker demanded.
"Andrew's a friend; he needed a place to stay," Morgan explained, undaunted by her mother's surprise.
"Morgan, I never would have expected this from you!"
"Well, what was I supposed to do?"
"Ask us first!"
"I just met him today, and you weren't here, so there'd be no point in calling."
"I keep telling you we should get cell phones," Avanwe shrugged.
Mrs. Baker sighed. "Morgan, I know you have good intentions, but you need to learn to think things through. Don't be so impulsive. I mean, inviting a total stranger to our house without so much as a word to either of us? What am I supposed to do?"
"Well, for starters, say 'Hi.' Mom, this is Andrew. Andrew, this is my mom, and that's Sam hiding behind her leg."
"Pleased to meet you," Mrs. Baker said, turning off the TV. "Goodness, Morgan, you bring someone home and just turn on the television. I'll bet you didn't even offer him anything to drink."
Morgan grinned. That was more like it. Even though she hadn't been the one to turn on the TV.
"Honestly," Mrs. Baker sighed. "You're not usually the one to bring friends over on such short notice."
Morgan shrugged. "No one's perfect."
"So what do you do, Andrew?"
"This and that."
"New in town?"
"Will you be staying long?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, you're welcome here."
Morgan grinned. Score. Her mom liked Andrew. Now she just had to convince her dad, when he got home.
Andrew, for his part, was relieved. He'd only had to answer three questions, none of which had been entirely difficult.
Somehow, that made him uncomfortable, but he wasn't exactly sure why.
Suddenly, there was a noise downstairs. It was quiet, but Andrew could hear it even over the TV that Avanwe had turned back on. Otherwise, only Morgan seemed to notice. "Be right back," she said, getting up and heading for the basement door.
Andrew was curious, but courtesy kept him from following her. He was a guest; he didn't want to push his limits.
"Don't mind that," Avanwe advised, noticing his interest. "She goes off all the time. She'll be back."
Andrew nodded, but he was still curious. It was no coincidence, that noise right before Morgan decided to excuse herself. Still, just as Avanwe had said, she came back up momentarily, but Andrew thought she looked a little worried. Her mom didn't notice, though, and went right on making dinner.
While Dr. McCoy, Spock, and Kirk were trying to find a way to destroy the creatures, which had taken over the system, Morgan leaned over to Andrew. "There's a man outside the door," she whispered. "I think he wants to talk to you."
Andrew looked up from the video. "Would you excuse me for a moment?" Since he heard no objections from Avanwe or from the remote corners of the kitchen, he slipped his shoes on and hurried outside. "Henry! What are you doing here?"
"I was sent in case you have trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"Beyond what you've worked with before, Andrew; be careful."
"What could be so dangerous? They're one family."
"Our assignment goes beyond this family. It reaches to many people, many places, places you've never been told exist. And the link," Henry nodded inside the house, "is that one little girl."
"Henry, is she in trouble? Is she being threatened? Does someone want to kill her? Is that why I'm here? Why is she so important to this?"
"You'll find out soon enough, Andrew, if you stay here. You've formed a connection with her already, a common bond of interest and trust. What escapes her parents won't escape you."
"Neither does this: for some reason or other, there are two Angels of Death here, and we're the only ones. Why, Henry?"
"We're not the only ones. Adam is handling something in the basement at the moment."
"Adam? Three Angels of Death? Henry, what is going on?"
"You'll find out, Andrew, when Morgan decides she's ready to tell you."
Andrew nodded and headed back in. He would have to earn her trust, even though Adam said that trust had already started to form. But how much time did he have? How long before something happened?
Morgan didn't ask what Henry had wanted. She obviously knew that some things should be kept secret. But how long would she keep hers?
The trio on the television were debating properties of the sun when a car drove up. Morgan's father came in, a tall man with wavy black hair. He took one look at Andrew and raised an eyebrow, an action that reminded the angel of Spock. "All right, which of you two invited him?"
Avanwe pointed at Morgan, who whistled some random tune from Lord of the Rings. "Dad, this is Andrew. Andrew, this is my dad."
"Pleasure to meet you."
Mr. Baker smiled and plopped down on the sofa to watch what remained of the episode. "Hello, Andrew. Hope you like spaghetti."
Andrew was silent through dinner, and Morgan's parents asked him nothing. To his surprise, this again made him feel even more uncomfortable than a million probing questions would have. They were polite enough, but not suspicious. They trusted that Morgan had a good reason for bringing him home. It didn't surprise them that she hadn't said a word about what it was. They trusted her, completely.
Thoughts popped into Andrew's head as the relative silence ran on. What couldn't this girl get away with? Could she be doing drugs, drinking? Could she be part of a gang? What did her parents not know? Did she put up a good enough act that they would overlook the possibilities?
Yet they seemed like a wonderful family, friendly, open. They shared jokes and seemed to get along well enough. Whatever danger Henry had spoken of, Andrew was convinced it didn't come from within the family.
After dinner was over, Mr. Baker left to go to a meeting. Mrs. Baker and Sam started coloring pictures of trucks. Avanwe went to do her homework. Morgan looked around to see that everyone was occupied. Then she headed for the basement door. Andrew followed. Morgan turned around and sighed, but didn't protest as she led the way.
"Hey, Kenobi," came a voice as they reached the bottom of the stairs. "Who's with you?"
"A friend, Noka; it's okay."
"Your friend has a light step."
"And you have good ears," Andrew smiled. The speaker looked about nine or ten, but something other than sight told Andrew he was older.
Beside him on the couch was an older man, who was watching Andrew closely with dark brown eyes that reminded him of Morgan's. He smiled warmly. "Any friend of Morgan's is a friend of ours. I'm Peter; this is Noka."
Andrew looked around. He could see no sign of Adam. "Was there anyone down here earlier?"
"Just Morgan," Noka shrugged. "I didn't see anyone." He and Peter burst out laughing, and Morgan soon joined them. Andrew just watched, thoroughly confused.
"Sorry 'bout that," Noka said, catching his breath. "Blind joke. You'll have to forgive us; we take what humor we can find."
"Even if we can't see it," Morgan added, sending the three of them into an uproar. Andrew was confused. How could her parents not know about this?
As if on cue, there was a pounding on the floor. "Quieter down there, you two!" called Morgan's mom. Peter and Noka silenced immediately.
"Sorry!" Morgan called back. "I was just telling Andrew a joke!"
"Yes, I could hear you. Go outside and tell jokes."
"Okay, mom!" She turned to the others. "You're lucky she thinks there are two of us down here. No way I'm that loud by myself."
Peter grinned. "I don't know . . ."
"Morgan, is this what you're hiding?" Andrew asked. "There are two people living in your basement?"
"Oh, goodness, no," Morgan laughed. "They don't live here. I'm hiding more than that."
Now Andrew was even more confused. What had Adam been doing down there? What were these two doing down there?
Peter looked at Andrew. "Morgan, now that he knows we're here, you're going to have to tell him."
"No, I can just leave it as a mystery."
"And hope I won't tell your parents?" Andrew asked.
"Why would you?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because telling them would risk a: their lives, b: my life, c: your life, and d: probably a lot of other people's lives, too. I'd call that reason enough."
"Because if they find us, they'll find out who we are, and where we're from," Noka explained.
"And . . ."
"You'll just have to trust us that that wouldn't be good," Morgan nodded. "Let me ask you a question: Have we ever given you reason not to trust us? Andrew, don't do something you'll regret just because you were curious."
"Morgan, there is something going on here. Another adult, your parents, may be able to help you solve whatever it is." He headed for the stairs.
"No, Andrew!" Noka stood up suddenly. But it was an effort on his part, and he immediately collapsed back onto the couch, breathing hard.
Morgan caught him expertly. "Noka, I told you to take it easy. It's okay. I trust Andrew. Enough to know he'll make the right choice. He won't judge the situation too quickly. Because --" She got up and turned the stair light off "--I'm going to have to give him reason not to. Andrew, this is your choice. You'll be safer if I don't tell you what this is about, but if you want to know, you've got it."
Andrew looked them over. Could he trust them? Morgan had obviously lied to her parents. Why would she tell him the truth? Him, who she had just met? What made him different?
"Because you're one person, Andrew," Peter answered, as if he had read the angel's thoughts. "If Morgan told her parents, it wouldn't be just them, but her brother, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone. You're one person. The only one you're taking this risk for is yourself."
"You didn't mention her sister. Does she know?"
"She knows," Morgan nodded. "She hides the same secret, though her burden, thank goodness, is not as great. She took the same risk. What about you?"
Andrew looked hard at the young teenager who stood before him. Older she seemed now, older beyond her years. "Knowing what you know," he said at last, "what would you do?"
Morgan thought. Would she do it again, take the risk, learn the truth? What would she say? "I'd say yes," she finally answered. "Yes, I'd want to know the truth, even if it cost me my life. Which it might."
Andrew stared. Was that why he was here? Was she going to die? He had to know what this was about. "I want to know."
Morgan nodded. "Then come with me and get your shoes on. Peter, Noka, we'll meet you outside, with the others."
"The others?" Andrew asked, but Morgan was already on her way upstairs. He had no choice but to wait.
"I'm showing Andrew the woods!" Morgan called to her mom.
"Put your coat on!" her mother called back from the table, where she and Sam were still coloring. Morgan obediently threw on a long dark green coat, even though it wasn't very cold outside. Andrew slipped his shoes on, surprised that Mrs. Baker had bought the excuse. It wasn't like he'd never seen trees before.
When they got outside, however, he believed it. The leaves were just beginning to show, the first traces of spring. The snow had melted only recently, and the earth was a soft brown.
"Follow me," Morgan smiled, removing a tall stick from the porch. She led him down a path through the woods, and up a hill. They could barely see the house now, and no one from there could possibly see them. Morgan took off her coat and laid it on a stump.
"Hey, Morgan!" a voice called. Peter and Noka were there, with several others.
Andrew raised an eyebrow. "Morgan, who are these people?" All but one besides Peter were about Noka's height, no more than four feet tall. Still, something told Andrew that these were no children.
"We're called the Woodland Wanderers," Morgan grinned. "You can come closer; the weapons are only for defense." Andrew noticed for the first time that all except Morgan were armed with swords and bows; Peter and Noka must have left theirs with the others. "Y'all, this is Andrew," Morgan smiled, addressing her friends. "He's staying with me for a little while."
"And you immediately decided to tell him everything under the sun, le Fay?" the taller man joked. Andrew noticed he used the nickname much more easily than the people at school; it was probably some sort of joke between them.
"I didn't have much choice," Morgan shrugged. "He followed me downstairs. If I'd objected, someone would've suspected something. Then he saw Peter and Noka, so I figured the cat already had a paw out of the bag. He wanted to tell my parents that there were a couple of weirdos living in my basement, so I decided to show him the truth rather that risk both of us being sent to the loony bin when the police couldn't find signs of anyone living there, let alone live evidence."
"Logical," one of the shorter ones nodded. "Spock would be proud."
"Thank you, Rona," Morgan laughed. "I try."
Andrew was staring, in spite of himself. How could Morgan hide this from her parents? Was this a gang, as he'd feared? They seemed close, and were obviously fighters.
Peter caught the look in his eye, but said nothing of it. Instead, he introduced the others to a now very confused Angel of Death. The short one who had spoken before was Rona. She had dark skin, light blonde hair, and brown eyes. 'Oh, well,' Andrew thought. People did stranger things to their hair than dye it blonde.
The tall one was Eric, a man maybe in his forties, but with no trace of grey or white in his night-black hair. He had piercing blue eyes whose stare made even Andrew uncomfortable.
A shorter one with long light brown hair was Balo. She had lighter skin than Rona, but still darker than Eric's, and grey eyes. Her uncle, Latano, was also among the group. He had black hair down past his shoulders, medium brown skin, and shared his niece's grey eyes.
The last, Tandro, had dark brown hair, though not as dark as Morgan's, that ran to his shoulders. He had skin a little lighter than Latano's, and medium brown eyes.
Andrew also got a better look at Peter and Noka, out in the light. Noka had brown eyes that, despite their sightlessness, were fixed on Andrew. He had wavy brown hair that hung loose about his shoulders, and from his smile none could tell he was hurt.
Peter, like Eric, looked tall among the group, but was really a little shorter than Andrew, unlike Eric, who was a little taller than the angel. He had long grey hair and a short grey beard. Like Morgan, he now had a tall walking stick, as well as a long grey cape. Andrew smiled. All he needed was a longer beard and a pointed hat, and he'd be the next Merlin.
Morgan certainly looked different, surrounded by these people. She was short for her age, but only about a foot taller than most of the group. She was the only one with glasses, and, most noticeably, she was armed only with her walking stick.
Yet, somehow, she fit in. Something told Andrew she was one of them. She belonged. What had impressed him at first about her was how she mixed a rugged, rough appearance with a gentle nature and a genuine care for others, successfully. With her simple, baggy, out-of-style clothes, her unkept hair, and her dark stare, she wasn't a normal teenager. But with a closer look, at the way she handled the fight, what she did for the nurse, even the way she spoke of her little brother, she was even more different.
Except for here. It was a quality the others shared. Their clothes were simple, worn, weather-stained, their hair wild and long and unkept. But there was a closeness, a trust about them, so that they seemed less like the gang he had suspected and more like a family.
Andrew caught himself smiling. These people were welcoming in their own way. They were hiding something, to be sure, but they were doing it with a sense of humor and trust. They hadn't attacked, hadn't questioned either Andrew about why he was there or Morgan about her decision.
They trusted her. But it wasn't the same blind trust her parents had. This trust had been earned, not only kept. It had been rewarded.
"Well," Noka said at last, "if this is going to be a big long discussion and explanation to Andrew of what this all is, can we sit down?" Everyone was already seated by the time he finished the question. Andrew took a hint and sat down next to Morgan.
Everyone was silent for a moment. "Well?" Andrew asked. Something told him that he was in for a long tale, probably Peter's to tell. To Andrew's surprise, it was Latano who at last spoke.
"We're not what you think, Andrew," he said slowly, his gaze fixed on the angel. "I know you don't trust us yet, and you have no reason not to suspect us, but I would ask you to listen. Just listen, not judge. Hear us out."
Andrew smiled and leaned back against a tree trunk. "I think I can handle that."
Latano smiled back. "We're not gangsters, Andrew, and we're not criminals. Morgan's family is in no danger from us."
"But they are in danger? Somehow related to you?"
"And yet they know nothing of it."
"Are you going to listen or what?" Balo asked, annoyed.
Andrew looked around, and back at Morgan. He realized he'd made a mistake - he'd dwelt on the topic of her family being in danger. Peter had a gentle arm around her. "I'm sorry," Andrew said. "I said I'd listen."
"It's all right," Morgan said, lifting her dark eyes. "It's true. My family is an a danger they know nothing about. What you don't know can hurt you. But if you listen, you'll see it is not the rest of this group's fault. If anyone's, the blame is mine. I took the risk; I've kept this from my family."
"With good intentions, no doubt," Andrew smiled.
"The best," Latano nodded. "But in order to explain everything, I have to go back even farther. We're from an island in the Pacific Ocean. Noka, Rona, Tandro, Balo, and I are elves --"
"Look, if you're going to interrupt every two sentences, this is gonna take all day," Noka sighed. "How else do you explain that we're so much shorter?"
"Some people are short."
"Okay, you two," Latano interrupted. "We could sit here and debate this all day, but in the large scheme of things, when you look at the big picture, it doesn't really matter. Right now, it's not all that important if you believe we're elves or not, Andrew. But be warned, some of what I'm going to say is even more unbelievable than that."
"As long as you don't say monsters are going to pop out of a kid's closet and destroy the world, go ahead."
Morgan burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," she said, catching her breath. "I'm sorry. It's just that you're so close, Andrew. So close, and yet so far."
"Morgan, just this once, no lectures on the difference between destroying and conquering," Rona suggested.
"Drat." Morgan snapped her fingers, grinning.
Latano rolled his eyes and smiled fondly. "Anyway, as Morgan said, or was trying to say, close guess, with a few minor problems. Obviously, monsters are not popping out of people's closets. They're from another island. And, as Rona pointed out, they're not trying to destroy the world, or the people in it. Just to conquer it."
"A word, Latano, if I may," Eric interrupted. "The reason they want to take over is that they believe humans are too violent, too aggressive towards each other. They essentially want peace, but peace achieved by war is not peace; it's a cease-fire, and it doesn't last."
Andrew held up his hands. "Wait. Are you trying to tell me that there are monsters out there in the Pacific Ocean that want to take over the world."
Rona nodded. "Essentially correct."
"And the reason they haven't attacked is . . . ?"
"Athos," Peter answered. "He's their leader. He wants to be sure they can do it. So he's testing the gleems' strength on one island. Our island."
"Why this one particular island?"
"It's isolated. It's not connected with any country; none even know it exists. Its people are, to say the least, unique: determined, and, most importantly, warriors. The gleems have been attacking for years now, and still haven't defeated us."
"And what were they doing before that?"
"Looking for it."
"How'd they even know about it?"
"Aramis. He was Athos' brother. But he managed to keep the location of the island a secret."
"That's a lot to believe," Andrew sighed.
"It gets easier from here," Latano assured him.
"These monsters - what are they called?"
"Okay. Gleems. How did they find the island?"
"A long time ago, there was a whole group of humans living on the island. But they were beginning to develop what you would call 'modern technology.' They wanted to build cities, roads, factories, everything. The elves didn't want that, so they drove the humans from the island, to one nearby, where they were free to do whatever they pleased.
"Which they did. And, eventually, it was their factory smoke that the gleems saw. They attacked without warning, destroying everything on the island. From there, it wasn't long before they found us.
"Since then, we've fought ceaselessly. The gleems do not attack to kill, so our numbers have dwindled only a little. But our will to fight has diminished.
"During one of the battles, over a year ago, the elves managed to capture Athos. We freed him."
It was Eric who answered. "Angelica, his second-in-command. His capture would leave her in charge. She wants to forget about the island and let the gleems attack the rest of the world."
"You know this for sure?"
"She's my sister, Andrew. On top of that, I worked with her and Athos for a time. I know what they are planning, where they stand. Tandro was a spy for the elves; he'll tell you the same thing."
Tandro nodded. "We have a better chance with Athos leading the gleems, but the elves couldn't see that. So they banished us."
"And what about Athos' brother? Aramis? Where's he?"
"He died a long time ago," Peter answered, "before the gleems even found the island. Athos and the gleems tried to get him to tell them where the island was. He refused. The gleems killed him."
Andrew blinked. He was an Angel of Death; wouldn't he have heard about something like that? Yet he had never heard of any of this. He looked around. None of them showed any sign of a lie. They were all either mad or . . .
Could this be the truth? Could this be Morgan's secret? The reason they all had weapons? Could this be happening?
He noticed Morgan watching him intently. "So this is what your family doesn't know."
"I don't know whether to believe you or not."
Morgan nodded. "We have a spy working with the gleems; his name's Tom. We know they're planning to attack tonight."
Was that why he was there? But Latano had said they didn't attack to kill, that they wanted to 'control,' not 'destroy.' Would tonight be different?
Andrew nodded slowly. It had to be true. What else could Henry have been talking about? Adam had been down in the basement in case something had gone wrong with Noka, which it hadn't. But what about Henry? Where was he?
"What can I do?" Andrew asked at last.
"This," Morgan smiled, slipping her hand into his. The others joined hands around the circle. Latano scooted over to join hands with Andrew.
"Father," Peter said slowly. "Once again, we're here, ready to do your will. Another of your children has learned of us. Help Andrew to find the truth for himself. Give us all the courage to keep fighting, keep trying. Not our will, but yours, now and forever. Amen."
"Amen," everyone echoed.
Andrew looked around. They were all serious. This was the truth, he realized. Suddenly, he knew. This was true. This was happening. And he was part of whatever it was.
"Don't be afraid," Peter smiled. "We're not asking you to do anything, Andrew. We only ask that you don't tell Morgan's parents anything about us."
"Why?" He looked at Morgan. "Wouldn't it be better if they knew? The rest of you wouldn't have to hide when you're here. You'd be welcome. You have a good family, Morgan."
Morgan turned her dark eyes to the ground. "It's not that. I know they're good people. And after a while they would accept it, believe it. They might even decide to help. But . . . it isn't possible."
"But why? They took me in so easily."
Morgan looked up. Tears filled her eyes, tears the teenager had kept in check for a long time. "I know." She buried her face in Peter's shoulder. The whole group wrapped her in a hug. Only Latano lingered on the edge.
After a moment, he motioned to Andrew to come with him. The Angel of Death followed him down the path without hesitation.
"You had to do that, didn't you?" the elf asked once they were out of earshot.
"I don't understand," Andrew admitted. "Why did it upset her so much?"
"Have a seat; we need to talk." Andrew could sense in his voice a protectiveness. He cared for Morgan the way the others did, like brothers and sisters. Andrew did as he said.
"Morgan often has it harder than the rest of us," Latano explained. "She has a life, a family, school, band, sports. She has friends; she even has a boyfriend. Nothing really serious, because she can never get really close to anyone. People don't trust her because she's secretive, mysterious. They don't understand that there's a reason for that."
"Why doesn't she just tell them?"
"Have you ever heard of a nuthouse?"
"But if she showed them . . ."
"She can't, Andrew!" the elf exclaimed, still somehow managing to keep his cool. "You want it straight? It's Athos. If she ever tells anyone what's going on, what this is all about, he'll kill them."
Andrew was shocked. That explained everything. "But why would he do that?"
"You're just full of why's, aren't you? He doesn't want people to know. If they know, they'll be prepared, and if they're prepared, they may be able to form a defense, perhaps enough to withstand the gleems in the event that our island falls."
"That's why she didn't want to tell me."
"That's why she arranged it so that, technically, it was us telling you, not her."
"The threat doesn't affect you?"
"Who knows? Athos is sometimes a mystery even to Eric and Peter, and they're human."
"About that . . ."
"If you want a complete history of the elven culture, you got the right elf at the wrong time. We have to go, soon."
Andrew smiled. "I just wanted to know something. At the school, Morgan helps out the nurse. She seems to have some kind of special talent. Did she learn that from you?"
"Morgan's a healer by nature, Andrew; it's in her blood. We simply helped her learn how to use her gift. Most of it is mental. She has a gentleness that helps people relax, if they let her. The rest is hard to explain. It's a gift few humans have, and even fewer ever learn how to use. If she hadn't met us, she probably would've never discovered it."
"How on Earth did she meet you, anyway? I get the feeling you didn't exactly just bump into each other on the street."
Latano laughed. "No, but that story's Peter's to tell. In any case, we'd better get back before they realize we're gone. And, uh, don't ever ask Morgan that again."
"Hey, Andrew. Hey, Latano," Morgan called as they came back up the path.
"Morgan, I'm sorry--" Andrew started.
"No, I'm sorry. I should've told you from the start."
"I should've been able to figure it out."
"You meant well. You just wanted to find a solution where none was possible."
"Nothing is impossible."
"I'm not going to waste time debating that one with you."
Andrew smiled. Morgan was definitely very down-to-earth about what was possible and what wasn't. And she had recovered quickly.
Now he knew what he had to do. "I want to help. Take me with you."
No one looked surprised. Peter smiled. "Close your eyes."
Andrew did as he said, and immediately a breeze started to blow around them. It got faster and louder, circling the small group. Then it died down, and all was quiet.
"Open your eyes," Peter said. Andrew could tell immediately that they were in a different forest. Peter grinned. "Welcome, Andrew, to the Undiscovered Island." Andrew noticed Peter now seemed completely relaxed. Among all the group, even Morgan, the formality and uncertainty seemed to have melted away. They were home.
"I just have one question," Andrew said.
"Shoot," Eric shrugged.
"You were banished from the village, right?"
"That's where the gleems are attacking?"
"Then you're going back there?"
"You're going back to a place where you were banished from. How are they going to react?"
"Well, they'll probably pelt us with arrows and then try to throw us into prison."
"I see." But he didn't really get it at all. From the tone in his voice, Eric was not kidding one bit. But how could getting thrown into prison help at all?
Suddenly, there was a bird call from over in the trees. Another answered it, and another. Elves leapt out from behind trees, surrounding the group, their bows pointed inward.
One of them stepped forward. "Why have you come back? You know the law. And who is this?" He pointed an arrow at Andrew.
Suddenly, to the elf's surprise, a light surrounded Andrew. Tandro didn't waste the opportunity. "He is one of the Sandromas of old. Once more they have come among us in our time of need. Let us go; we are under his protection."
"But the law . . ." the frightened elf stammered.
"The will of the One is above the law," Latano said forcefully, picking up on his friend's act. "We came to defend you from the gleems, not ourselves from you. Let us pass."
The elf nodded fearfully. Andrew's light dimmed. The elves lowered their bows and departed.
Eric blinked. "What just happened?"
"An improv that would make even my sister proud," Morgan smiled. "Nice one, y'all."
"I don't understand," Andrew admitted.
"You did exactly what you had to," Peter explained. "You kept quiet."
Tandro and Latano exchanged high-fives. "You did good," Latano grinned.
"You caught on fast. Nice one."
"It won't last forever, but it worked."
"What worked?" Andrew asked. "What did you tell them I was?"
Tandro grinned. "An angel. By the way, the light was a really, really good idea."
Andrew was silent on the way to the village. Did they know? Did Tandro know he'd told the elves the truth? Probably not, but it was a strange coincidence. Still, it had worked.
Everyone was congratulating him, Latano, and Tandro for quick thinking. Latano just shrugged; it was Tandro's idea. Tandro did the same; Andrew had given him the idea. Again and again, the credit came back to Andrew. They walked close together, as one group, and Andrew felt like they'd accepted him, that they wanted to welcome him. It didn't matter to them if he had his secrets. They all had secrets. And they were one of the closest groups Andrew had ever seen, made stronger by the secret they all shared.
No one stopped them as they approached the village. "Oh, by the way, Andrew," Peter said as they got closer, "Sandromas are known for being great healers. You may want to come up with something or other."
"Oh, that won't be a problem," Andrew said confidently. "I belong in the hospitals, not on the battlefield, anyway."
"Will Morgan be there, too?"
"After the battle," Morgan answered. "During it, my place is on the field with my brothers and sisters."
"You're a soldier?"
Peter nodded for her. He took another sword out of his cloak and handed it to Morgan. The teen strapped it around her waist. Then she turned to Andrew. "I know; you're about to say I'm too young."
"No, I was about to say that the reason I came home with you was to make sure you took it easy. This is, uh, the opposite of taking it easy."
"If you're going to bug someone, bug Noka."
Andrew finally got the idea. "You're all soldiers?"
Balo grinned. "Be glad you're on our side."
Andrew only stared. Was the rest of their army like this, a group of ragtags without guns or armor or probably formal training? No wonder they'd accept any help they could get, even a young teenager whose real talent seemed to be playing Mercutio.
Morgan smiled. "Don't worry, Andrew; I'll be there after the battle."
But something in the tone of her voice, something concealed in the darkness of her eyes, told the Angel of Death she knew she would not.
Andrew shook the thought from his head. Someone would've told him if she was going to die. Henry, or Tess, or somebody. No, he was imagining things.
An elf ran out to greet them. "Noka! You're back! How did--?"
"Hey, sis!" Noka called back. "Andrew, this is my sister, Nora. Nora, this is Andrew, one of the Sandromas."
"Oh, really?" she looked suspicious. "Well, I'm not going to argue with anyone who can get these thickheads to let you fight with us. My thanks to you, Andrew, whoever you are."
"You're welcome," Andrew smiled. A very sensible elf. She'd obviously figured out what Latano and Tandro had done.
Nora quickly explained to Andrew that she was more or less in charge of what doctors they had. "Just follow my lead and you'll be able to keep up your act."
"It's not an act."
"Yeah, whatever. Just come with me."
Noka grinned. This was typical of his sister. Andrew followed Nora, and the others tagged along not far behind.
Suddenly, Andrew heard a voice behind them. "Andrew! Andrew!" Andrew whirled around. Henry was there, with Adam.
"Henry! Adam! What are you doing here?"
The two came up. Adam's eyes were wide. "Andrew, isn't this place wonderful?"
But Henry's face was serious. "Adam, stay here with the elves. Andrew, I need to talk to you, now."
"Who are you?" Nora asked.
"Sandromas," Henry replied without hesitation. "My name is Henry; this is Adam."
"Hello, Henry," Peter smiled.
"Greetings, Peter. Good to see you again. I . . . wish the circumstances were less urgent."
"Likewise, mellon nin. Andrew, you'd better go with him."
Henry and Andrew headed off into the woods. "What was that about? He knows you?" Andrew asked.
Henry nodded as he expertly led the way down a path. "Yeah, I met Peter a long time ago. I took his parents, his foster parents, foster brother, and another man who was as close to him as a father; Aramis."
"You catch on fast."
"Then you knew about all this?"
"Ever since the gleems became a threat."
"When was that?"
"A long time ago. See, you'd never guess it, but the gleems are very peaceful among themselves. When they realized just how destructive and violent humans were becoming, they decided they needed to stop it. But they'd need a human leader, someone the humans would listen to more easily and wouldn't shoot on sight. So they found a human child, left abandoned on the streets. They raised him as their own, taught him their ways."
"Athos. But if he was abandoned . . ."
"They found Aramis, as well. They left him on the doorstep of a church."
"Then one could easily have been in the other's place."
"Yes. Which is why, really, they always understood each other's point of view so well, why Athos still understands people like Peter and your friend, Morgan."
"Are you ever going to tell me what we're supposed to be doing here?"
"Adam will be handling the elves' forces on the field. You'll stay with the doctors, help out any way you can. You already know Nora; she'll help you out."
"And you? And . . . where are we going?" He could see the end of the forest, and a mountain range. In the mountains was a tower, all white and brilliant in the daylight. Andrew reminded himself they'd changed time zones.
Henry grinned. "Just follow me." He led Andrew up to the door and knocked.
The door was answered quickly by some kind of huge creature. It had large purple wings, bright green horns, and piercing red eyes. Andrew nearly jumped, but Henry only smiled politely, as if this were all completely ordinary. Then he bowed in greeting and said something in a language Andrew had never heard before. The creature looked a little surprised, if that was possible, but nodded and hurried off.
"Why was he surprised?" Andrew asked, still a little shocked himself.
"Not many people speak their language," Henry smiled as another man approached the door.
Andrew was instantly reminded of the Woodland Wanderers. This man, in dress, in appearance, in expression, was in every way their equal. He had loose brown pants and a dark green shirt. His brown and black hair hung loose around his shoulders, and his skin was a light brown. But what caught Andrew were his eyes. They were light brown, but had the same depth as Morgan and Peter's dark ones. Everything about him echoed what he had seen in the young teenager and the old man. Andrew knew at once who this had to be.
"Hello, Athos," Henry smiled, confirming the feeling in Andrew's heart.
"Henry! How are you?"
"All right. Yourself?"
"Seen better, seen worse. Can't complain. Who's this?"
"Andrew. He's a friend of mine."
"Good to meet you, Andrew. Any friend of Jekyll's is welcome here."
Andrew turned to Henry. "Jekyll?"
Henry and Athos burst out laughing. "It's a joke," Henry explained through laughs. "His name comes from a book, so he has to give everyone else a nickname from one. Just so happens that Dr. Jekyll's first name is Henry, so it stuck." He turned to Athos. "Mind if I show Andrew around?"
Of course not; feel free. I'd stay, but I have something I need to test right away. If this doesn't work right . . ." He mumbled something as he headed off.
"What's he testing? On who?" Andrew asked.
Henry laughed. "Oh, don't worry about that. He's always testing something. But only on himself. The only thing he tests on other people is his cooking. I really wish he wouldn't, but he hasn't got the heart to try it on anyone else, even though he'd get volunteers if he'd ask. Wonderful man."
Andrew just stood there, blinking, watching Athos leave. "Yes," Henry nodded. "What you think just happened did happen. You just met enemies who aren't really enemies: the Woodland Wanderers and Athos. All good people, all with nothing but the best of intentions." Athos disappeared into a room.
"Henry, which of them is right?"
"Both, from their own point of view," Henry smiled with a weird imitation of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
"Don't throw that Star Wars stuff at me; whose side are we on, Henry?"
"You, Andrew, are a doctor helping the elves. Period, for now. I'm here in case something--" He was cut off by a scream and a loud crash down the hall. "--happens," he finished as he rushed into the room where Athos had gone, with Andrew right behind him.
Athos had fallen on the floor, a small bottle in his right hand, a knife in his left. "I do wish he'd stop doing that," Henry mumbled, easily lifting Athos onto a couch. He knelt by his side and removed the knife and the bottle. Athos' right hand was bleeding a little, but Henry seemed more concerned at the moment with his breathing and his pulse. "Athos?" he asked calmly, steadily, as if this had happened a thousand times. "Athos."
Athos slowly opened his eyes. "You have good timing, Jekyll."
"Can you move anything?"
"Barely. I had a bad feeling about that try, but my instincts have been wrong before."
"Usually to the other effect."
Athos seemed perfectly calm. "It's all right. I was careful to use the right amount."
"Probably one drop short of what could've killed you."
"Two or three," Athos corrected with a weak smile.
"I take it the antidote didn't work."
"Sherlock Holmes had nothing on you."
"Elementary, my dear Athos." He helped his friend sit up. "Any better?"
"Yeah, I used a faster version than . . ." He stopped, and his breathing became hard. ". . . than . . . than normal . . ." he struggled to finish.
"Take it easy, Athos; I'll go get Angelica."
"Not a good idea. She's even more opposed to my doing this than you are."
"I didn't know that was possible."
"I'll be fine; just leave me alone for a little while."
"Don't try anything stupid," Henry cautioned as he and Andrew headed for the door.
"I'm not in much of a position to try anything, stupid or otherwise," Athos laughed.
Henry smiled warmly. "Watch yourself, Athos."
"Are you going to tell me what that was about?" Andrew asked once they were out of earshot.
"You won't like it."
"I already don't like it. What is 'it'?"
"Well, the good news is Athos basically just convinced himself not to use a new poison in the battle tonight. The bad news is he nearly killed himself trying to find an antidote to it so that he could."
"You lost me."
"He doesn't use any poison he doesn't have an antidote for."
"And, as I'm assuming one of the Woodland Wanderers has told you by now, there's a difference between 'destroy' and 'control.'"
"Morgan seemed like she wanted to do a whole lecture on the topic."
"She would. That's a little joke between her and anyone who's read Jurassic Park and can understand what Ian Malcolm is trying to say."
Andrew shook his head. "Remind me to find time to read that. And Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
"You'll like them. And if you ask Morgan, she'll give you a whole list of others."
"I take it you're staying here?"
"Someone needs to keep an eye on that man. But you'd better get back to the others, Andrew."
Andrew made his way back to the forest. "Father, what is going on?" he pleaded. "What am I supposed to do? Why am I here?" He remembered the tone in Morgan's voice when she'd talked of 'after the battle.' What did that mean?
His world was changing so quickly. How could he know what was right?
As Andrew approached the village, he could see the elves gathered in a circle. The Woodland Wanderers were in the center, along with Adam. As he got closer, Andrew realized they were singing.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home.
Oh, swing low, sweet chariot,
Comin' for to carry me home.
Everyone got quiet as Andrew came closer. Morgan started up another song.
Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus.
Steal away, steal away home.
I ain't got long to stay here.
Realization flooded into Andrew. She knew. "I ain't got long to stay here." She knew.
My Lord, he calls me.
He calls me by the thunder.
The trumpet sounds within my soul.
I ain't got long to stay here.
Andrew smiled, but a sad look was in his eye as the song continued. She was so young. She'd seen so much. He joined in on the last chorus.
Steal away, steal away,
Steal away to Jesus.
Steal away, steal away home.
I ain't got long to stay here.
Morgan came over to Andrew as a song started in a language he didn't know. It was livelier, not quite joyful, but lively. "Where ya been?" Morgan asked casually.
Andrew found himself unable to hide it from her. "Henry and I went to see Athos."
Morgan nodded. "I thought so. You had that look on your face."
"An indecisive one. You're not quite sure who's right. And you're relieved you're not doing any of the fighting."
"I didn't think I was that obvious."
"You weren't, for most people. I'm different. All I need is one glance, and I can tell."
"What can you tell?"
Morgan smiled. "That you're exactly what Tandro and Latano said you were."
Andrew blinked. She could tell that?
Morgan smiled. "You don't need to worry. I won't tell the others. Peter recognized Henry, though, I could tell, and I think Latano did, too."
Andrew sighed. "I have to ask you something."
"What is it that makes you and your friends right and Athos and the gleems wrong?"
Andrew had thought she might get upset at him questioning what they were doing, but the teenager only smiled. "An old Jedi proverb."
Andrew groaned. "More Star Wars stuff? Henry already hit me with the whole 'point of view' thing."
"Means equal ends."
"That's it. Means equal ends."
"You lost me, Morgan."
"Athos believes that the end justifies the means. Don't believe that for a second, Andrew. Peace held together by strength of force is not peace. It's a cease-fire, and it doesn't last."
"Yes, Eric said that earlier. But that's not the only thing, is it?"
"No, it's not. But I'd rather not talk about it right now. Let's join the others." She joined in their song, her deeper alto voice blending perfectly. Her words and pronunciation were a little shaky, but she kept it up, and eventually Andrew joined in.
They went on like that, covering everything from Red River Valley to We Shall Overcome to more songs that neither Andrew nor Adam knew, until the sun set below the trees.
Finally, everyone joined hands for one last song. The ones in the middle spread out so that they formed one large circle. Peter began, in a low but loud voice. Soon the others joined him.
How many roads must a man walk down
Before they call him a man?
And how many times must the white dove sail
Before she can rest in the sand?
And how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they'll forever be banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
'This doesn't look like a group that was just banished,' Andrew thought as he watched the Woodland Wanderers, now spread out among the other elves. They seemed at ease, relaxed. There was a harmonious feeling among them. 'The deep breath before the plunge,' Andrew couldn't help thinking.
Andrew was suddenly not surprised Morgan had mentioned she had some Native American blood in her. The oneness with nature was there, with her, as surely as it was with any of the elves. Andrew joined in as the song continued.
How many years must some mountains exist
Before they are swept to the Sea?
And how many hears must some people exist
Before they can finally be free?
And how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
The breeze whirled around him. Andrew had known the Father sometimes spoke through the wind, but never had his plan been clearer than now. He knew why he was there.
And how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
And how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
And how many deaths does it take 'til he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
The answer is blowin' in the wind.
Andrew caught the look on Peter's face. 'How many deaths does it take?' He remembered what Henry had said, about Peter's family. Had to many people died here already? And Peter's was just one story. There were others, to be sure.
And not all were stories of death. Morgan's was a tale of secrecy, of innocence lost far too soon, of a child who should never have seen battle, but who was now a soldier. Andrew had heard this kind before, but never quite this way.
Morgan smiled up at him, that look in her eyes, a look that told him she knew what he was thinking. "It's okay," she said in a whisper only he could her. "I have a vague idea why you're here. Even if you have some doubts that this is worth it, I want you to know that I don't have any. I don't have any regrets, Andrew. None of us do. This is the life we chose to live. It is the risk we all took."
Andrew was shocked. She knew. She had to. He looked hard into her dark eyes. "If that's true, then I don't have any doubts, either."
"You'd better go with the doctors," Morgan smiled kindly.
Only then did Andrew notice the elves were splitting up. "We shall see each other again." He found Nora and followed her.
Morgan smiled as she watched him go. "I don't doubt it."
Peter came over. "You know who he is, don't you?"
"We both do. But as far as the others are concerned, they're Sandromas, and they're just here to help. Hey, Balo!"
The younger elf came running. "Yeah, Morgan?"
"It's Klingon for good luck."
"Well, literally, it means 'Today is a good day to die,' but basic idea."
"How is that good luck?"
"Because it means if you died today, you wouldn't have any regrets. None. So it would be a good day to die. Do you have any regrets?"
"Not a one. You?"
Morgan beamed, but tears were in her eyes as she and Peter pulled the young elf into a huge hug. "Not a one."
Nora didn't lead Andrew far, only to a thicker part of the forest. Five or six elves were there. "Not nearly enough to handle something like this," Andrew thought to himself, but decided not to say it. "Isn't it a little dangerous to be this close to the battlefield?" he asked instead.
Nora mistook his meaning. "If you're worried about getting hurt, you need to go soon, like ten minutes ago."
"No, it's not that; it's just . . ."
"I get what you're trying to say," another elf volunteered. "But it has to be close. People need to be able to get here easily and fast. These attacks happen very quickly. Don't be surprised if the whole battle only lasts about half an hour, at the most."
Andrew was surprised. A half-hour battle? "Then . . . this happens often?"
"Once or twice a month for about three years now," he replied. "And for three years, nothing really decisive has happened. You've probably already been told that the gleems aren't trying to kill us. Goodness knows they could if they wanted to. They're trying to wear us down, beat us into submission. They attack from the sky, sometimes come down to fight. Soon all of our people are hurt, not dead, but certainly unable to fight for a time."
"What would happen if you didn't fight?"
"The exact same thing. Except instead of an attack on warriors in a certain area, an attack on the village, where all the children are. They've seen enough of war already. They don't need it brought to them."
"You don't seem so old yourself."
"I'm not. That's why I'm here instead of there. That and they say I have a talent for healing. Personally, I'd rather be out there."
"What's your name?"
"How old are you, Tova?"
Andrew shook his head sadly. "Believe me, Tova, you do not want to be out there."
"Oh, but I will be a little bit."
"I don't understand."
"A few of us go hide in the trees, help the wounded people get back here. I've seen what battles are like, and, trust me, that's where I belong. Forgive me for saying it, but why are outlaws allowed to fight for our people when elves like me are not? And there's one of their group - Balo - She's only three years older than me. Morgan's only four years older."
"Five; she just turned fifteen." It was one of the bits of trivia he'd picked up during dinner.
"Whatever. The point is, I'm as good as they are. Better, because I follow the law."
"Hey, Tova!" Nora called. "Quit complaining and come with me! It's started! Andrew, stay here. We'll be back soon!"
Andrew watched them rush off, thinking to himself that this was the weirdest way ever to fight a war.
They came back almost as quickly as they'd left, helping along an elf who looked badly hurt. His face was pale, and his side was bleeding. Andrew rushed over, thinking he may have his hands full.
But the elf was alive. He was in a great deal of pain and was lingering on the edge of consciousness, but he was alive. Tova and Nora sent him down gently, with the greatest of skill. This time Nora stayed while Tova rushed off with another elf.
The battle wore on. Andrew was sent to fetch a number of things, from water to a special kind of leaf. Each time he returned, there were more wounded than before. Elves and Woodland Wanderers alike were helped in with care and speed. All were hurt, some badly, but none had received a fatal wound. Andrew was relieved to see he may not have much work to do after all, but he was beginning to feel useless. Anyone could do what he was doing - running errands for a couple of doctors. Why was he here? Still, he saw no sign of Peter or Morgan.
At last, the sounds of battle died off in the distance. Adam came rushing up. "Andrew! Andrew!"
Andrew ran up to meet him. "Where are they?"
"It was the strangest thing. Morgan was already hurt, several times, in fact. I'd tried to get her to come back here, but she refused. Then one of them shot her with an arrow. She fell, but even before she hit the ground, one of them picked her up and flew off. Strangest thing."
"Well, when that happened, he took off running down the path like a madman. You'd have thought the whole army was after him. My guess? It spooked him, freaked him out."
Andrew shook his head. That just didn't seem like Peter. "No, Adam. He wasn't running from something; he was running towards something. Stay here. The others are all here?"
"All of them, unconscious."
Andrew nodded and took off. As soon as he was out of the elves' sight, he disappeared.
He reappeared again in Athos' tower, just as Peter came running up. The door had been left ajar; he threw it open. "Athos!" he called.
Athos came rushing out of a room, furious, sword drawn. He lunged at Peter, who had his sword ready. But being angry worked against him; Peter skillfully had him on the ground in but a few strokes, then sheathed his sword. "Where is she?"
But Athos wasn't done. As soon as Peter let his guard down, a sword was driven into his chest, just as Henry appeared from a room, Morgan in his arms. Peter crumpled to the ground. Athos, startled out of his madness, flung his sword across the hall and threw himself to the floor. Henry placed Morgan gently beside Peter. Andrew came over and both angels knelt down.
Peter and Morgan were barely alive. Morgan clasped Peter's hand. The old man opened his eyes. "Kenobi . . ."
"I'm here, Peter." The girl's voice was barely a whisper. "I'm here."
Peter painfully turned to look at Henry. "I knew it was you. You're hard to forget."
"As are you."
"The others . . ."
"They're safe, Peter," Andrew assured him. "You have both done well. Now it's time to come home." A light filled the room.
Morgan smiled weakly. "So that's how you did it."
Andrew took her hand. "Nothing more complicated than the truth. Or more unbelievable. I learned that today."
"Thank you . . . for believing." Peter nodded his agreement.
"Thank you two, for teaching me," Andrew replied kindly.
Both humans smiled, and at the same time, their eyes closed, and their breathing stopped. At the same time, they were both at peace, together.
Tears came to Henry's eyes. Andrew was surprised. It was a rare thing to see Henry cry. Andrew put his arm around his friend. For a while, they knelt there, saddened, but peaceful.
Suddenly, the door was thrown open again. Andrew looked up. The Woodland Wanderers stood there, all of them, together.
Eric and Latano rushed forward. Latano fell to his knees, close to tears. Eric drew his sword. "What have you done?" he screamed.
"Put your sword away, Eric," Latano said, not even looking up as the others slowly came up behind them. "They have done nothing." He looked up at Henry. "You knew. That's how you found us. Somehow, you knew this was going to happen."
"We're angels," Andrew replied. "I didn't know, at first. I didn't even know about this place."
"Why did you come?" Balo asked through tears.
Henry looked into the young elf's eyes. "We came to tell you that God loves you. All of you. And to tell you you're doing the right thing. And . . . to bring Morgan and Peter home."
Latano looked up. "And Athos?"
"He's not dead," Henry answered. "He'll be all right."
Eric nodded, and sheathed his sword. "At least that's one piece of good news."
"Here's another," Andrew said gently. "Your friends are happy now. Their journey is over. They died with no regrets."
"Kapla," Balo said quietly.
"Huh?" Andrew asked.
"It's Klingon. Today is a good day to die. That was what Morgan was trying to tell me. She knew."
Andrew nodded. "Yes, she knew."
"Why didn't she tell us?"
"Because she loved you. She didn't want you to worry about her."
"But . . ."
"She knew God had chosen this day to call her home. She didn't want you to focus on trying to save her instead of doing what you should have been doing, what you did. She knew what she was doing, Balo, all the way."
"But what happened?" Tandro asked.
Eric looked around, at Peter and Morgan, at Athos, motionless on the floor, at a sword flung across the room, covered in blood. "I don't think it takes Sherlock Holmes to figure it out."
Tandro nodded, and there was a silence. But for once, it wasn't uncomfortable. It was peaceful. It was right.
Athos groaned and slowly opened his eyes. He looked around, but all he saw were the Woodland Wanderers. Andrew and Henry had disappeared, invisible now to all eyes.
He immediately got to his feet. "My goodness! What have I done?" He looked at Morgan and Peter and fell to his knees. "Do what you want to me. I care no longer!"
Andrew, watching silently, was shocked. Did their deaths mean that much to him? They were, after all, enemies.
It was Eric, to Andrew's surprise, who came over to Athos and put an arm around his shoulders. "Whatever you have done, my friend, I am sure you did not mean to do. I know you too well to think you meant for them to die. Many a time have our lives been at your mercy, and you have spared them."
"And vice versa, mellon nin. But for this I must accept full responsibility. The blame is mine. I should have made sure."
"That the new poison wasn't used at all. I didn't check thoroughly; I was still weak from testing it. One of the gleems, when they saw Morgan fall immediately when normally she would've been able to keep fighting, at least for a while, figured out what had happened and brought her here. I realized she was going to die, and I went mad with fury, at myself. Peter came after her, and . . ." He couldn't finish.
Eric wrapped his arms around him. "You didn't mean it. You have lost control before, as have I. You can't change what has happened here today, mellon nin. Morgan and Peter are at peace, a peace long-deserved. Athos, let their deaths mean something. Join us. End this."
"No," Athos said quietly. "Their deaths do mean something to me, doubt it not, Eric. They have renewed for me the horror of war, reminded me anew of how much this world needs peace."
"And you are still certain you can bring that about."
"Or die in the attempt, if need be."
Eric sighed as he held his friend close. "You choose your path anew, then. We have chosen ours."
"You are not to tell Morgan's family of this."
"Or else . . ."
"I understand. Her burden has become ours."
"It's what she would have wanted," Rona interrupted. "She wanted to keep them safe. If we tell them, their danger becomes greater. But their danger is gone now."
Eric turned to Athos again. "They're going to have to find out that she . . . Athos, I can't just let them think she was kidnapped or something when she doesn't come home. I can't. She cared about them, loved them too much to leave them with that kind of suspended grief. I can't do it."
"That decision, Eric, I leave in your capable hands."
Eric nodded as he helped Athos to his feet. "Take care of yourself."
"Same to you, Eric." He headed off, leaning against the wall.
Andrew and Henry appeared again as soon as he was out of sight. "Well handled, Eric," Henry nodded.
"I still can't believe it," the human said in a voice little louder than a whisper. "Peter . . . he was like a father to me. The father I hadn't had since my real dad died."
A sudden look of recognition came to Andrew's face. "You're that Eric? I remember your parents! A car accident, thirty-something years ago!"
Eric nodded. "I was seven."
"And your sister . . ."
"She ran away from home."
"And ended up in this great big mess, eventually as Athos' second-in-command, after I walked out on him."
"Which everyone is grateful you did," Henry nodded, and Andrew could tell they'd had this conversation before.
"Not too soon."
"But not too late," Noka added. He, Balo, Rona, Latano, and Tandro wrapped Eric in a group hug. It was a funny sight, since he was the tallest one. He knelt down and returned the gesture.
"We should go," Tandro said at last.
Henry lightly lifted Peter's body in his arms. Andrew took a hint and lifted Morgan's.
The sun had set outside the tower, but the stars were bright and the moon full. Slowly, silently, the group made their way back.
Andrew stayed back with Henry as the others went on into the village. "They're so calm."
"They're soldiers, Andrew. They've faced death together countless times. And elves . . . they understand death better than humans to. They're more accepting of the fact that it's not the end, and they fear it less. That's where Peter got it from, and Morgan."
"But Morgan's family . . ."
"I know. What do we tell them?"
"Exactly. We're angels. We're not supposed to lie."
"What Morgan's family is told, Andrew, is up to the Woodland Wanderers."
"I have to be there. I was there earlier today. They'll suspect something if I simply disappear."
Henry looked at his friend. "Then don't."
"I can't just show up and say nothing!"
"But you can't tell them about the island, and you can't tell them a lie, is that what's troubling you?"
"Is it a lie to tell them that you can't tell them."
"No, but . . ." He looked down at the body in his arms. "I guess that's the best thing to do," he sighed. "But I still don't like it."
"Morgan didn't like having to keep her secret, either, but she did it," Eric pointed out, coming up with the others. "But there may be another way, Andrew. That is, if Avanwe is willing to help us."
"Why wouldn't she?" Adam asked, joining the group.
Andrew shrugged. "I don't know."
Eric managed a smile. "You might be surprised the things she bases her decisions on." He turned to Henry. "The elves have offered to let us leave Peter's body here. When we return, they said, 'It will be honored according to elven custom.' It's what he would've wanted." Tears filled his eyes. "I wish we could bury them together. They were so close. But Morgan should be returned to her family."
Henry nodded and headed for the village. He returned shortly. "If I get called Mr. Sandroma one more time by one more elf . . ." The others burst out laughing. Andrew shrugged. Goodness knew the group needed a good laugh.
"Close your eyes," Latano said when they'd calmed down. "And let's hope Avanwe will listen."
Andrew closed his eyes, but he could still tell Latano was concentrating hard as the wind picked up. This had been Peter's job. Now, for some odd reason, without even a word, it fell to him. The wind got faster and louder. Andrew put a hand on the elf's shoulder. When Latano grasped it in his own, the elf's hands were icy cold, tense beyond what Andrew had thought possible. Slowly, the wind died down. Latano's grip on Andrew's hand relaxed. Everything was quiet.
"Open your eyes," Latano said, his voice still a little shaky. They did. They'd made it. Even in the middle of the night, Andrew could tell they were back in the woods by Morgan's house.
"How do we get Avanwe out her alone?" he asked.
"Her instincts are beyond what's . . . normal for humans," Rona shrugged. "She'll know we're here."
Sure enough, within minutes, a figure approached them. "Morgan?" she called from a distance. Then, coming closer, and seeing the body Andrew carried, she realized. "No! No! It can't be! What have you done! What treachery is this?"
Even as she said it, thunder rumbled, and lightning flashed across the sky. Andrew stepped back, startled. Clearly, this teenager had more than just good instincts.
"It was an accident," Andrew said kindly, trying to calm her down. "No one meant for this to happen."
"Liar!" Avanwe yelled. "I'm not blind, Andrew! I know who these people are! Where's Peter? No doubt he was responsible, and he's hiding! Where is he?"
"It wasn't his fault!" Eric yelled back without thinking. Avanwe turned sharply, and Eric fell back as though struck by the lightning that now filled the sky.
Rona knelt down immediately to examine him. "Not good. Not as bad as may have been, but not good."
"It'll be worse than that if you don't tell me what happened!" Avanwe interrupted. She raised her hands, and the thunder grew louder, more menacing. Lightning streaked across the sky. "Where is he? What did he do?"
"Nothing!" Noka exclaimed. Avanwe's hand shot up, and the elf was thrown against a tree.
"My goodness," Andrew whispered in amazement as Avanwe flew into a rage. Quickly, only the three angels were left standing. Adam approached Avanwe, and she threw him to the ground easily. Then she lashed out at the other two, hurling them in opposite directions. Morgan's body fell to the ground.
At that, Avanwe fell to her knees in tears next to her sister's body. "Why, Morgan? Why? Please . . . I'd do anything if I could bring you back. I should've been there . . . I could have done something . . . Why did it have to be you?"
Latano groaned, rolled over, and slowly got to his feet, leaning on a nearby tree stump. Avanwe noticed, but didn't care. She didn't even look up. The elf was no threat, not to her.
Latano sighed. "Your temper has not been the first to be unleashed without control today, Avanwe. Nor indeed the first to be unleashed by Morgan's death. There is another whom the accident touched dearly, and his following madness cost the life of one of our own, one of our brothers."
Avanwe looked up with recognition and surprise. "Peter? Peter's dead?"
She lowered her gaze again. "Is all without hope, then?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Do you think I could not see? All of you looked up to him, respected him. In his way, he was your leader. And now he's gone. Where now will you turn?"
Latano smiled gently. "In his way," he repeated. "Yes, in his way he was our leader. He never wished for command, only to help, to save. That is what brought him to follow Morgan this evening, when the gleems took her. In the end, he died because of his love. I would say that makes our hope stronger. Where now do we turn? We turn to their memory. Theirs are examples we are all willing to follow, to whatever end."
"To whatever end," Avanwe repeated.
"No one was at fault, Avanwe," Latano said kindly. "Your sister knew the risks when she joined us, when she became a part of this war. She knew with every battle that it could be her last. And today, she knew it would be."
Avanwe looked up. "How?"
"You think you're the only one in your family who's not entirely normal, Avanwe? It's a talent some humans have. Maybe it was her Native American blood. Maybe it was the time she spent among the elves. Either way, she knew. Believe me, she knew."
Andrew looked on, amazed. Avanwe was now completely calm, listening to Latano. Andrew smiled as the others slowly got to their feet.
Avanwe sighed. "Why didn't she tell me?"
"What would you have said?"
Avanwe thought. "That she was imagining things," she admitted at last. "But she's not usually one to overreact. She is . . . was . . . very, I don't know, down-to-earth. Very calm. She didn't lose her temper much, and when she did, she took it out here, to the silence of the woods, where she couldn't hurt anything, or anyone." Avanwe paused. "How long did she know?"
"I don't know," Latano admitted.
Andrew thought back. How long had she known?
Henry answered. "At least since I came to the door to talk to Andrew."
"Who are you?" Avanwe asked. "And you?" she turned to Adam.
"We're angels," Henry answered. "Angels of death."
Avanwe blinked. "You're angels."
Henry nodded. "That's why Andrew came home with Morgan."
Avanwe got the idea immediately. "I suppose you want me to cover for you with my parents."
"It would help," Latano nodded. "We don't exactly want them mad at Andrew, and we can't tell them about us."
Avanwe nodded. "I'll handle them. But, Andrew, I may need your help. The rest of you, scram. When my parents get out here, all I want them to see is Andrew keeling here. Andrew, put on some sort of Heavenly light display and then disappear. That should do the trick. You'll be in the clear, and you don't have to say boo. Good? Good. Now the rest of you, beat it. I'll be back."
"Typical of Avanwe," Eric mumbled as soon as she was gone. "Not so much as an apology for throwing us around like rag dolls, and then she tells us to scram. Figures."
"Let's just go down the path, fast," Henry suggested. "You okay, Andrew?"
"Yeah, go ahead."
No sooner were they gone than Morgan's mother and father came running up the path, followed closely by Avanwe. A light filled the woods. Andrew let them come close enough to see it was him and then disappeared.
Mrs. Baker fell to her knees, crying. "How . . . ?"
"He said it was an accident," Avanwe said, wrapping her arms around her mother even though she was close to tears herself.
"How could this be an accident? She was here in the woods," Mr. Baker insisted.
"I don't know, but angels don't lie."
Mrs. Baker nodded. "She's right."
For a long time, the three of them knelt by Morgan's body. Andrew watched silently as the sound of their crying drowned out the tears of the Woodland Wanderers at his side. Indeed, Morgan had belonged to both worlds, both families.
At last, Mr. Baker rose and gently lifted the body. He raised an eyebrow and felt the ground. "It's not even damp. But there's blood on her shirt."
Andrew's heart raced. They knew, then, that she hadn't died where they'd found her. They'd been left with a mystery, after all.
"We should call the police," Mrs. Baker agreed, staring at the ground and at her daughter. "Let's go inside."
"Go on without me," Avanwe said, and her parents went off.
Avanwe got to her feet and looked up at the sky. "Don't worry; I'll make sure they don't figure it out. I owe you that much, at least. Morgan, you meant more to me than you can imagine. You were more than a sister; you were an example. I'm sorry our parents will never know, but I know that's what you'd want. I promise you, Morgan, I'll keep them out of danger if it's the last thing I do. You have my word." She knelt down again, and added quietly, "Be at peace, Morgan le Fay. I'll always remember what you did for me, for them, for an island, for the world. I'll miss you, my dear sister. Oh, and, uh, tell Peter . . . I'm sorry. I shouldn't have blamed him. And I shouldn't have taken it out on his friends. I was wrong. He was the best thing that ever happened to your. I'm sorry, Peter. Thank you for what you did for us."
She rose again and headed down the path. "Did I hear that right?" Noka asked. "Did Avanwe actually say she was sorry?"
Eric nodded. "There's hope for the world yet. Come. We should go back to the island. We all need some rest."
"I could sleep here," Latano admitted.
Eric looked around. The whole group nodded. "Okay," he nodded. "But let's go farther away, at least. The police are going to show up, tonight, probably. We don't want them to find us."
They headed off into the woods, and soon, five elves and a human lay asleep on a farther hill.
Adam smiled. "They're rightfully called the Woodland Wanderers."
"That they are," Henry nodded with a laugh. "Who would guess? The heroes of this world are not all clad in the uniforms of some country, nor do they all march to the sound of drums and bugles. Not all of them observe the rituals and traditions of an army. On the contrary. They wear simple clothes and dance to traditional songs. They do not blindly follow the law, but, rather, find the center, the purpose of the law, and follow that. They receive no praise even among their own families."
Andrew nodded. "'If simple folk are kept free from care and fear, simple they will remain, and we must remain secret to keep them so. This has been the task of my kindred, while the years have lengthened and the grass has grown.'"
"Huh?" Adam asked.
Henry smiled. "Strider, The Fellowship of the Ring. This place, this city, is a far cry from the Shire, but the people in it are simple enough in their own way. Morgan knew this, knew they weren't ready. So even before a threat was present, she was resolved not to tell them, to remain secret. And now, for them, the immediate danger has passed, never touching any of them."
Andrew nodded. "But it's not over."
"Oh, no," Henry assured him. "It's far from over."
The sun was setting in the woods. The sky was clear. But the birds were silent. No animals scampered.
The three angels stood with what remained of the Woodland Wanderers. A pile of wood stood in front of them. Together, they placed Peter's body on it.
A chant began. Torches were lit and handed to each of them. Andrew looked over at Henry, who appeared to know exactly what he was doing. He had probably seen this ritual done many times.
A bell rang, loud and distant. A trumpet sounded. The eight of them took their places - one on each side and one on each corner.
Together, the eight of them lit the pyre. The wood burst into flame. Everyone knelt down. The elves were still chanting quietly. Eventually Andrew realized they were repeating the same thing. "What are they saying?" he asked Henry, who was next to him.
"They say, 'Peace be with all who have gone before us. We honor your memory, Peter; may your spirit find rest.'"
Andrew nodded as they watched the flames grow higher. Peace. Rest. The words seemed so distant, and yet so close. Andrew closed his eyes and smiled, listening to the chanting. Rain began to fall lightly though the sky had been clear only minutes before.
Somehow, it was beautiful. The chanting, the fire, the rain. It was right.
Later that night, Henry found Andrew reading. "What is it?" he asked.
Andrew held it up so he could see the cover: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. "It's good."
Henry smiled. "I knew you'd like it."
"Henry, thank you."
"I know you specifically requested me for this assignment. Thank you for trusting me that much. Thank you for showing me this. This is one assignment I will never forget."