Disclaimer: I do not own the Animorphs. I do not own the Yeerks.
My name is Tobias. I am a hawk.
Specifically, a red-tailed hawk.
I wasn't always a hawk. I used to be a human, just like you. I used to go to school and to the mall. Now, I can only be human for two hours at a time, in morph.
That's the one weapon we have -- our ability to morph. To change into any animal we touch, to actually become that animal. It's a power that was given to us by the Andalite Prince Elfangor before his death at the hands of Visser Three.
Since then, we have used our morphing powers to fight the Yeerks, slug-like parasites that enter the brains of other beings and take over. Everything. They have total control. A Controller -- that's what they're called when a Yeerk takes over -- can't so much as blink or turn their head unless the Yeerk in their head wants them to.
That's what we're trying to save the Human race from. Six of us. The fate of the Human race rests with four Humans, a bird, and an Andalite.
You can scream now.
But that wasn't on my mind. I'd seen a flash of light in the forest I was flying above, like the sun reflecting off metal. And then there was the sound, a clashing sound that I couldn't quite place.
I flew in closer. Soon, I could see what was going on, but it took me a few seconds to believe it. There were two humans there, fighting with swords.
I might have guessed that they were practicing for a play or something except for two things. One: there weren't any plays going on that I knew of that involved swordfights. Two: the swords seemed real. Now, I'm not an expert at swords, but I can certainly tell the difference between two plastic swords hitting each other and two real swords hitting each other.
I settled onto a branch. This was odd. Very odd.
One was a man, who looked quite normal. He looked maybe in his thirties. He had shoulder-length hair, either brown with black streaks or black with brown streaks, whichever way you want to say it; he had the same amount of each color. He had light skin, but not exactly pale. He was wearing jeans, a dark green t-shirt, and brown tennis shoes, like it was his day off from work. He was about medium height, not tall and not short, not fat and not skinny, just normal. If he had been anywhere else, doing anything else, I would've probably ignored him.
The girl was the same way. She looked about my age, or the age I would be if I was still human. She had shoulder-length very dark brown hair and skin about the same shade as her opponent's. She had glasses, a brown t-shirt, black pants that were a little baggy, and grey and black tennis shoes. She was a little short, but, other than that, very normal-looking.
Suddenly, the man saw me. I didn't think he would notice me; red-tails are common enough birds. But he looked startled, like I wasn't something he'd expected to see there.
He didn't stare for too long, though, because he had to keep fighting. The girl had used his distraction to attack, whereas before she had only been blocking his strikes. But he still glanced up at me when he got the chance, his light brown eyes looking at me like they could see through me. I was almost ready to leave, it made me so uncomfortable.
But then it happened. He was driving her backwards, and she didn't see the root behind her. She tripped, lost her footing, for a grand total of maybe one second. But he used that second to his advantage, and made his move, plunging his sword deep into her right shoulder, then dodging the instinctive blow from the sword in her left hand as she fell to the ground. He hit her on the head with the broad side of his sword and she went limp, motionless, on the ground.
I couldn't just sit there. I swooped down, angry enough to start ripping at him with my talons. I'm usually not that violent; I would've been able to see Rachel doing that, but not me. But this was different. I didn't want him to have the chance to do anything to her.
He saw me coming out of the corner of his eye and ran. I could've followed him. Rachel would have. Maybe I should have. But I didn't. I was more concerned with helping the girl.
I flew over and landed on the tree root that she had tripped over. Now I was convinced that the swords were real; blood flowed from the wound in her shoulder, and blood stained her hair where the sword had hit her. Whether it had come from a wound or from the sword, which had already been coated in blood, I didn't care to know.
I knew what I had to do. I had to morph, to human. I couldn't help her at all in hawk form. What, exactly, I thought I could do, I wasn't sure. Call 911? Not unless she had a cell phone on her. Bandage the wound myself? With what?
But I did it anyway, without thinking. A mistake. While I was still morphing, the girl slowly opened her eyes. I started to demorph back to hawk, but it was to late. She'd seen me. "How are you doing that?" she asked.
I was almost fully hawk now. Anything I told her would have to be in thought-speak. So I didn't say anything. She just watched, her dark brown eyes studying me carefully, as I demorphed.
She tried to sit up, but as that would involve putting pressure on her wounded arm, she didn't make much progress until she let go of the sword still clutched in her left and used that arm to sit up, still wincing in pain, though only enough for a hawk's eyes to see.
"Thanks," she said at last, looking at me closely. "You must've scared him away. I guess he could tell you weren't a bird."
Now that startled me. Of course, it explained his reaction, but how could he tell? Okay, maybe I was a little out-of-place just sitting there watching them, but still . . .
I had to say something. I couldn't just sit there. But I couldn't reveal that I was human. The Yeerks believe we're a group of Andalites. Unlikely though it seemed, this girl could be a Controller, or could later be taken my the Yeerks. If she knew we, or even I, was human . . .
I could morph something else, but what good would that do? I had to be human to call an ambulance, or take her to the hospital. I had to.
(Yes,) I said in thought-speak. (I am not a bird. I am an Andalite.) She looked confused. Andalite was probably not a word she had heard. She was probably now a Controller.
Probably. She could be putting up a good act.
(I am going to change my form now,) I continued, hoping I was speaking enough like an alien. (I am going to take Human form. I will not be a hawk anymore.) I was trying to talk like I thought she might not understand, like my knowledge was a little above hers. Like an Andalite.
She nodded. "Okay." I couldn't help thinking she was being too calm, acting too normal. A bird was talking to her. A bird that was about to become a human. I don't know what I was expecting, but "Okay" wasn't it.
But I morphed, anyway. She watched with obvious interest as my wings became arms and my beak a mouth. If I'd been thinking, I would have realized a Controller would be able to figure out just from that that I was not an Andalite, that I couldn't just go from one morph to the next. Any Controller would know I would have to be either a bird or a human, and bird would not we their first choice. Lucky for me, but not for the others.
But I wasn't thinking about that. I was focusing on becoming human. Soon, I was standing there in the woods, barefoot, in skintight clothes, the only kind we can morph.
Just as I finished, a bird came swooping down -- Jake in morph. (Ax said he saw you fly off this way,) he explained. (Then I saw a man running away from here, fast. What happened?)
I told him. Now that I was in human morph, the girl could hear every word I said, so I had to be careful. Fortunately, she couldn't hear what Jake said, as long as he didn't want her to.
(So she knows?) he verified once I finished.
(She saw you go from hawk to human?)
Again I nodded.
He realized what I hadn't. (Tobias, don't you realize what this means? If she's a Controller, she knows you're not an Andalite! You couldn't just go from one morph to another, bird to human! You'd have to change to Andalite in between!)
"Um . . . oops," I tried, not wanting to give anything away to our companion.
(Oops? This is a big mess!)
Jake usually doesn't erupt like that, but I guess he had a good reason to. If this girl was a Controller, I'd just given us away.
"I don't think she is," I said, careful not to use the word Controller.
(But you can't be sure.)
"Unless . . ."
(We'd have to watch her for three days.)
"But it would work." Yeerks die after three days without Kandronna rays. If we kept her with us for that long, any Yeerk in her head would die.
Jake nodded, a funny think to see a bird do. (I should go get the others. Explain to her what we're going to do.) He flew off.
"That was another . . . Andalite, was it?" the girl asked.
"Yeah," I said, then, realizing I was supposed to be an alien, "Yes. He has gone to find the rest of us. We must decide what to do. You have stumbled on our secret, the ability to morph. We must make sure you are not an enemy."
"How are you going to do that?" she asked, and I thought for a moment that I caught a hint of fear in her voice, but then it was gone, and only curiosity was left, so much curiosity.
"We will discuss that when the others arrive."
She nodded. "Fair enough." Her voice was even, her face calm.
I didn't see how that was possibly fair enough. Maybe the fact that I'd saved her made her think we deserved her cooperation. "Maybe you can tell me something while we wait," I said.
She shrugged. "What?"
"That man you were fighting. Who is he?"
"He's one of them Rangers. Dangerous folk they are, wandering the wilds." She laughed at her own joke. "Well, never mind, if you're an alien, you probably didn't get that one," she added once she saw my expression, which was unchanged. I haven't had to make facial expressions for a while how. It helped, since I actually did get the joke, even though it wasn't that funny. "But really?" she asked. "His name's Athos."
Athos. I was trying to place the name when she did it for me. "Yeah, he's named after the one in The Three Musketeers." Blank stare from me. "Well, you probably haven't heard of that."
"Why were you fighting?" I asked.
She fell silent. "I'm . . . not sure I should tell you, at least right now."
"Fair enough." It was my turn to say it. "We'll both keep our secrets. But here's something you can tell me. What's your name?"
"Morgan. What's yours?"
I'd thought of that before I'd asked her the question. "Saibot." It sounded alien enough, though more Vulcan than Andalite. In any case, if she was a Controller, I'd already given away the fact that I wasn't an Andalite, and if she wasn't, she wouldn't know the difference between Andalite and Backwards.
She held out her hand. "Good to meet you, Saibot."
I shook it, careful of her shoulder. "Likewise."
The others arrived quickly. Ax, Jake, and Marco were in bird morph; Cassie and Rachel came as wolves. Cassie carried some cloth in her mouth, and Ax was trailing some rope from his talons. Apparently Jake had told them she was hurt, and that she might be a Controller.
Cassie took one look around, got out of sight, and demorphed to human. That's what I should have done, of course, but I hadn't thought of it. "It's all right," Cassie said, holding up her hands as she approached. "We're not going to harm you. We're here to help."
Morgan nodded. "You're Andalites, too?"
Cassie nodded and knelt down by Morgan. She ran her hand over her head. "No cuts, but you'll probably have a bruise there." She turned her attention to her shoulder. "Ax, I'm going to need another pair of hands. Demorph." She could have asked me for help, but she didn't. She wanted Ax to show himself so Morgan would believe we were Andalites. Ax flew to the ground and demorphed.
I knew everyone was watching Morgan's reaction. I was, too. Her eyes widened, but in a weird way, almost as if she was faking surprise. I wasn't the only one who noticed. Cassie gave me a look. Maybe this girl was a Controller.
Morgan studied Ax with the same curiosity as when she had watched me demorph. Her dark eyes took in everything, from his extra eyes to his scorpion-like tail. Then she smiled. "Wow," was all she said.
Cassie, Ax, and I soon had Morgan's shoulder bandaged, the others watching closely. Then Cassie motioned to me to come with her.
Once we were out of sight, I demorphed and she morphed a wolf again. Then we went back to the others. Ax stayed in Andalite form because he could still use thought-speak; Andalites don't have mouths.
Our problem was obvious; we had to make sure this girl wasn't a Controller. But the only way to do that was to watch her non-stop for three days. That left us two options. One: send someone home with her. Two: have someone else morph her and keep her where she was.
But before we even got that far, Marco was convinced that she was a Controller. (What else would she be doing fighting in the middle of the woods? What business would anyone else have out here? It has to be a trap.)
(If two humans were going to fight like this, would they not try to find some place that was isolated?) Ax volunteered.
(That aside,) Cassie said, turning to me, (you said you told her we were Andalites. But then, later, she said something like, "If you're an alien, you wouldn't know about that.")
(How would anyone but a Controller know that Andalites were aliens?)
She had me there. (Lucky guess?) I suggested feebly.
(I don't think so,) Jake said. (I'm sorry, Tobias, but we're going to have to assume your friend is a Controller.)
(I never said she was my--)
(Which leaves us two choices,) he went on. (We could let her go and follow her, in some small insect morph, something that wouldn't be noticed, and make sure she doesn't visit the Yeerk Pool for three days.)
(And if she tries to, then what?) Rachel asked. (What are we supposed to do to stop her in insect morph?)
(And we'd have to find a way to demorph every two hours without someone noticing,) Marco added. (Oh, hello, Morgan's mom, your daughter decided to stay in the kitchen for two hours so now there are four humans, a bird, and an Andalite sitting in your house. I don't think so.)
(The only other option,) Ax said, (is to keep her here. One of us could morph her and--)
(And hope that for some reason she decides to tell us where she lives?) Marco asked. (If she's a Controller, good luck.)
(Let's test that,) I said, probably a little too sharply. Despite a little suspicion, I really didn't think Morgan was a Controller. Before, when I was a bird, morphing to human, she could've cut me in half with that sword of hers, or knocked me out and taken me to the Yeerks. Instead, she'd let me help. But they could be right. It could be a trap. A rather elaborate trap, having her get hurt and all, but a trap nonetheless.
(Morgan?) I asked in thought-speak. She looked up, directly at me, instantly. (Morgan, where do you live?)
"I . . . I actually don't live around here. I'm visiting my cousin." She gave us an address. "We're going home in a week."
(See?) I asked.
(She could be lying,) Marco pointed out.
"Why would you aliens want to know where I live?"
Ax turned to her suddenly. (How do you know we are aliens?)
"He told me." She nodded up at me.
(I told you we were Andalites,) I corrected. (How did you know we were aliens?)
She looked surprised for a moment, like she'd realized her mistake. But when she spoke, her voice was as calm as ever. "I just assumed. I'd never heard of Andalites. And you . . . you sounded like an alien."
(And what does an alien sound like?) I asked.
"Like . . . like you didn't speak English, or wasn't sure I'd understand it," she explained.
But that moment of surprise after I'd corrected her had convinced me. At least enough to go with the others' idea. (Morgan,) I said slowly. (We have to act on the assumption that you are an enemy.)
She let it sink in, lowering her gaze. Then she looked up, fixing her dark eyes straight on me once again. "Are you going to kill me?"
She caught all of us by surprise. (No!) six voices answered at once. How could she have even thought of that? Who was she that something like that had even crossed her mind? If we were going to kill her, wouldn't we have done it already?
She nodded, a little surprised at the quick answer from all of us. "Very well. What is it you want?"
I looked at Jake, who nodded. (We're going to have to keep you here for three days,) I explained.
She raised an eyebrow, something she did very well. "What good will that do?"
I looked at the others. They all nodded, and I explained it all to her. About Yeerks. About how they take over people's brains and control their actions. About how they have to return to the Yeerk Pool every three days. If she was a Controller, she knew it already. If not, she had a right to know why we were holding her.
She listened intently, her eyes fixed on me the whole time. When I was finished, she nodded. "I understand." She looked around. "I really do. I understand your suspicion. And if keeping me here for three days is what it's going to take to convince you that I'm not one of these Controllers, these Yeerks, okay. You want it, you got it. But can I at least send a message to my family, tell them not to look for me? Because this is the first place they'd look; they know I like the woods. They'd have a search team out here in an instant, assuming I'd got lost."
(We can do better than that,) Jake said, obviously suspicious of the idea of allowing her to write to her family, among whom might be other Controllers. (One of us can morph you. We can go to your cousin's house and pretend to be you.)
Then she realized what none of us had. "Then you do need my help, my cooperation. You need me to tell you about my family, their names, things like that."
(You're right,) I realized. (Are you going to tell us?)
"Yes. Who is it that's going to be pretending to be me?"
(We need to decide that.) Then, in private thought-speak to the others, (That's a good question.)
(Rachel and I would be obvious choices; we're girls,) Cassie pointed out. (But either of us would be missed. So would Marco or Jake.)
(That leaves us,) I said to Ax. (What do you think?)
(Prince Jake's family did not discover me when I morphed him.)
(Yeah, but you knew Jake,) Rachel pointed out. (You knew what to act like. More or less. I say send Tobias. He spent more time with her before we got here; he knows her better. Not to mention, he's a little better at being a human.)
(I don't know. I've never been a girl before,) I pointed out. But it was no good. Neither had Ax.
I flew down to the tree root near Morgan. I don't know why I did it, maybe a strange gesture of trust. I didn't want to believe this girl was a Controller. But I also didn't want to be keeping her here for nothing. (I'm going to be morphing you,) I said. She nodded, as if that was what she'd expected. Maybe she figured what we did: that I'd been with her the longest, so I'd know her best. (I'll need a way to get some of your clothes. What you're wearing isn't tight enough to morph.)
"One of you can fly to my cousin's house where we're staying," she suggested. "The window on the western side of the house should be open; that's my room, the one nearest the south-western corner. There should be another pair of pants there. They all look pretty much alike; grab any of them. And if you feel like looking around, you'll find another brown t-shirt. If you don't, pick any of them except the dark purple blouse. That's for church on Sunday. I never wear it otherwise. You can say I fell in a creek or something and changed; they'll buy it."
Marco and Jake flew off. (One more thing,) I said.
"Only one?" she laughed, the first time she'd laughed since the others arrived.
(Well, one right now. I can only stay in your morph for two hours at a time. In between, I need to demorph. Where could I go to do that?)
"Practically anywhere. The bathroom. The basement. Outside." She thought for a moment. "What are you going to do, sleep for two hours at a time?"
(Will your family notice if I come back here at night?)
"Come to think of it, no. Just leave the window open; they might hear you if you use the door. And be back there before sunrise. I'm sharing a room with my sister, and she wakes up that early. She's nuts."
She proceeded to brief me on her family. She had an older sister named Avanwe -- weird name, I thought -- and a four-year-old brother named Tommy. Her cousin was four years younger than her, and her name was Mary. Her dad, she said, had a terrible sense of humor, so she told me not to laugh at all his jokes or they might think something was wrong. She also said to just say uh-huh whenever her aunt was explaining something and we'd get along well enough. Then she warned me that "my" family might want to play a game, and went over the rules for Canasta, Chess, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, and about half a dozen other games, with a few interruptions from Ax, who was curious about all of them.
It had been such a long time since I'd played a game like that, and by the time she was done, I wouldn't have been able to tell a concealed red canasta from a meld or a castle from a stalemate. I made a note to, if asked, avoid Canasta and Chess. Too many rules to remember, I was sure to mix them up. She laughed when I told her and said at least she wasn't trying to teach me Poker. Her younger cousin didn't know how to play that, she said, so the chances of the family wanting to play that were about "six billion, seven hundred thousand and forty-two point three to one." I think it was supposed to be funny, but even with those odds, I was still nervous about the pawns and knights.
Then, in the middle of a lesson on how the strategies of Sun Tsu could be applied to Canasta, Jake and Marco returned to rescue me from "He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight." Since they came in in the middle of the quote, they were rather confused, and thought she was trying to teach me how to swordfight. Marco said so.
Morgan laughed. "No, hopefully you won't need to know that." Then she asked the question she'd asked about a hundred times. "You won't have my memories, right?"
(Morgan, if I was going to absorb your memories along with your DNA, my mind wouldn't be hurting now trying to remember what en passant is.)
"That's the one with the pawns in the fifth row."
(Great. Anything else?)
"Yeah. My sister, Avanwe. She might be able to figure out what's going on. The others won't, no matter how bad an act you put up, but she might. I'd tell you to avoid her, but that would look even more suspicious. Just don't spend a long time talking to her alone. And don't mention phase space; you're bound to use the term wrong, and then she'd have you right there."
(Phase space? Is that the human name for Zero-Space?) Ax wanted to know.
She looked at him blankly. "I doubt it." Then she turned to me again. "And don't mention Chaos Theory, unless by some chance you know what you're talking about."
(No such luck,) I told her. (Please tell me it's simpler than Chess.)
"Just don't bring it up. And, by the way, over the course of three days, Lord of the Rings is bound to come up. Just go by what you know; I don't have time to give you a crash course on the entire trilogy."
(I see.) I've only read bits and pieces when someone happened to be reading one of the books on a park bench, but I'd also seen the movies once, so I figured I was set.
"Okay," she said at last. "There's really nothing more I can tell you. Oh, wait, if they want to watch a movie, just let someone else pick. And don't mention the swordfight; everyone except Avanwe would freak."
(I meant why not Avanwe?)
"Because she's like me; she's not easily surprised." I could tell there was something else going on, but I didn't press it. I needed her help. "So what do I do?" she asked.
(Hold out your arm,) I told her. I needed to acquire her DNA. She held out her left arm towards the root, and I stepped on. I focused on her, on acquiring her, and she relaxed, went into a kind of trance. I hopped back onto the root.
Then I took the clothes in my talons and flew off. The others didn't follow, and I was grateful for that. Like I said, this was the first time I'd morphed a girl. Thank goodness either Marco or Jake had thought to grab some, well, underclothes, though I noticed once I morphed that they had neglected socks.
The clothes fit well, and, to my surprise, didn't feel all too different from what I'd worn as a human. If I hadn't known otherwise, I'd have guessed she'd had an older brother and these were handed down; they didn't exactly look like she'd bought them at the mall.
The terrible thing was my vision. At first, I didn't notice it, because human vision is always terrible compared to a hawk's. But then I realized it was really terrible, everything really blurry. I could barely make out the outlines of trees ten or twenty feet away, let alone the twigs on the path as I walked, barefoot, back to the others.
I was ready to call the whole thing off. But Morgan just smiled. She took off her glasses and gave them to me, along with a cross that had been around her neck. I put them both on. What do they do? Ax asked. Do they assist your terrible vision? Now that I could see again, I realized he was standing very close to Morgan, as if he expected her to try to run at any moment.
"Something like that," Morgan laughed, not at all disturbed by an Andalite standing that close to her. "Oh, here, you'll need my shoes, too." She took them off, and her socks, too. I sat down to put them on, and she looked at me thoughtfully.
At last, she nodded, satisfied. "You have the same eyes as me," she concluded.
"Shouldn't I?" I was a little confused.
"Well, even with the same DNA, eyes don't always look the same. Our eyes reflect our lives."
(Are you saying you two have had the same life?) asked Ax, now as thoroughly confused as I was about Canasta.
"Hardly," Morgan smiled. "Merely the same attitude towards life. I didn't expect that from an alien. You should have no problem fooling even Avanwe."
Huh? The same attitude towards life? I'd expected to feel something like anger and tell her that she couldn't possibly know what my life had been like. But I didn't. Looking closer, here eyes did kind of resemble a hawk's. But I wasn't so sure about being able to fool Avanwe; she'd sounded like she was trying to give a pep talk to a losing team.
Jake flew down and landed on my shoulder. (Morgan, I want you to understand. We have no intention of mistreating you. But we cannot allow you the opportunity to escape.) He was doing it, too, trying to sound like an alien. Only instead of simplifying things, he was using bigger words.
"I understand." And, again, I got the impression that she did. She could see our side. "Whatever you're going to do, do it."
Jake flew off, and returned shortly in human morph. He picked up the rope Ax had dropped and motioned to me to help. He tied one end around a tree. I took the other end uncertainly. Morgan nodded to me and held out her wrists, one crossed over the other. Careful of her shoulder, I did my best to tie them together. I am proud to say I am still an amateur at such things.
Eventually, Ax came over to help, and tied her a lot tighter than I would have. By then, I was confused, looking at my hands. Something was wrong.
"What?" Morgan asked. She'd noticed, of course. Even without her glasses, she didn't miss much.
"Nothing. It's just . . . I'm not sure which hand to use. I thought you were left-handed, but . . ." I trailed off, still fiddling uncertainly with both of them.
She laughed. "I suppose my DNA is right-handed. I only learned to sword-fight left-handed out of necessity."
"What do you mean by that?"
"My teacher was left-handed. Trying to learn swordfighting right-handed from a leftie is like trying to learn how to hit a baseball from a left-handed hitter. It's easier to just try to do it left-handed."
I nodded. "So . . . which one do I use?"
"Just use whatever feels right. If you ever need to write, use your right. Anything else, just go with whatever feels more comfortable. They won't notice. I switch which one I use so often, even Avanwe won't care."
(What is baseball?) asked Ax. (A sword? What is a sword?)
I picked up the weapon I'd seen Morgan using. It felt good in my hand, my left hand. "This," I told Ax, "is a sword."
(Ah. And do some humans carry these around? What are they used for?)
I swung at the branch of a small tree. It severed the branch neatly, cleanly. Morgan smiled. "Are you sure you haven't got my mind?"
(No, Tobias has always been strange,) Marco joked.
I put the sword down. How did I know how to use it? Sure, I'd seen people use them in the movies, but I'd never tried it myself. "I'd better go," I told Morgan. Then, kneeling down to her height, "I'm sorry about all this."
"Don't be. You've done what you had to do. To be completely honest, I expected a lot worse."
"Then why didn't you run?"
She looked around. "Six Andalites versus one human, and a hurt human at that. Hmmm, why didn't I run? I wonder." She smiled. "Good luck, Tobias."
Only when I was out of sight did I realize she's used my real name. Marco had said it, of course, but still . . .
About an hour later, I reached Morgan's house, or her cousin's house, actually. I'd had to walk all the way, because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of carrying her clothes and her shoes and everything else. I wasn't even sure I could, and I certainly would have been noticed.
Morgan's sister, Avanwe, and her cousin, Mary, were sitting on the porch, talking. "Hey, Morgan!" Avanwe called. "Where've you been?"
"Oh, nowhere," I answered as casually as I could. She'd told me to say that. I was sure Avanwe would ask more, but she didn't. Morgan's advice passed the first test. "What're y'all doing?" I asked. She'd told me to use y'all.
"We were gonna play Canasta. You want to?" Mary asked.
Drat. Canasta. What did a red three do?
I didn't get a chance to answer, because Avanwe did it for me. "Of course she does. Have a seat, le Fay." She'd warned me I might be referred to that way, and had told me to respond to it. It was a nickname, from Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's half-sister. I sat down, Morgan's advice running through my head. "Know your enemy and know yourself, and you need not fear the results of a hundred battles." Well, I didn't know Avanwe or Mary and I didn't really know "myself," so those hundred battles were looming over me.
If you've never played Canasta, consider yourself lucky. It's a great game if everyone knows how to play, but when you don't, it's torture. Twos are wild and eights and up are worth ten points except for aces, which are either fifteen or twenty, depending on how you play. You meld either fifty, ninety, or one-twenty, depending on how many points you have. Red threes are a hundred points either for or against you, depending on whether you have a canasta, and black threes freeze the deck for one turn. Like I said, it's nothing short of torture.
After only three hands, Avanwe was creaming us 3126 to 1200 to -475. I headed to the bathroom to demorph.
After morphing back to human, I ran into Avanwe in the hall on the way back outside. "Who are you?" she demanded. "Where's my sister?"
"I don't know what you mean. I am your sister."
But she was confident. "Morgan never plays like that. Even when she's pretending to be a philosopher. 'He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight,' not, 'He will triumph who holds all their cards in their hand and discards high numbers and never picks up the deck.'"
"It's a new strategy."
"You can't fool me. Where's Morgan?"
I looked into Avanwe's eyes. Confident. Sure. Convinced. And totally in control. Her, not me. I was freaking out, but I didn't show it. Her eyes were good for that. Dark and mysterious. But Avanwe saw through that. "Where is she?"
Avanwe nodded. "Okay. Now who are you?"
"I'm an Andalite."
"And I'm an amoeba. You play human too well to be an Andalite." Suddenly, we were interrupted by a noise in the basement. "That'll be your friends now," Avanwe sighed. "Go on, whoever you are."'
My friends? In the basement? Maybe one of them; most of them would still be watching Morgan. Unless she'd escaped. My heart raced. How could she have escaped?
"What about her family?" I asked. "The game . . .?"
"I'll take care of that. Believe me, I'm more than an expert at it. Go!"
I raced downstairs. "Hello?"
"Morgan?" asked a voice I didn't recognize. I turned the corner.
Standing there was an old man, with shoulder-length grey hair and a short grey beard. He wore a torn pair of jeans and a green t-shirt. But what I noticed first were his eyes, the same dark brown as Morgan's. At first I thought he might be a relative, but Morgan hadn't mentioned him. "Hey, Morgan," he grinned, but then noticed the confused, or at least neutral, look I was giving him. He looked closer, directly into my eyes.
I took a step back. "Who are you?"
"Who are you?" he replied.
I noticed the door was open. Without thinking about it, I ran, straight past him. I didn't look back. I could hear him behind me, but only so far. He didn't want to catch me. He wanted me to lead him.
I couldn't lead him to the others. I'd have to lose him.
It was getting dark out, but everything was becoming clearer. The girl, Morgan, was a Controller, and so was the old man. She'd told me I could go in the basement to demorph; somehow, she'd known he'd be there. Maybe a preplanned trap. Had she meant to get captured by us? Had everything that had happened been done on purpose?
And Avanwe. She was the odd piece of the puzzle. She knew I was not an Andalite. Yet she knew I was not Morgan, so I obviously had the ability to morph. Was she a Controller, as well? If so, why didn't she attack me? If not, how did she know enough about Andalites to be able to tell I wasn't one?
I kept running. It had taken me an hour to reach Morgan's house, but then I had been walking. Now I was all but sprinting, hoping to lose him. But I didn't. He stayed ten feet behind me all the way to the forest. Three miles!
By the time I reached the forest, I was exhausted. I needed to find a way to demorph, to fly the rest of the way, faster than he could run. But if I stopped long enough to demorph, he'd catch me.
(Tobias?) came a voice. Cassie. (Tobias, is that you?) I managed to nod while I was running. (I'm going to come down and give you a hand.) I heard a bird screech behind me, then a yell from the man. I kept running until I was out of sight. Then I demorphed and flew to the others, not bothering with the fact that I'd left Morgan's clothes behind.
(It was a trap!) I called to the others as soon as I could see them. (She's a Controller, and there's another on the way!) I landed in a tree. Cassie could only hold the man off for so long in bird morph.
Sure enough, she soon came flying in, awkwardly, as if she'd been hurt. She demorphed before I could tell, though. Injuries don't follow you from one morph to the next, but exhaustion sure does.
Jake was about to say something about revealing that we were human, but I cut in. (She already knows. She saw me morph, and then Marco used my name, so--)
I was interrupted by a faint cry. "Morgan!" called a voice, obviously the man who had been following me.
"Peter!" Morgan yelled, but before she could say one more word, I was on her shoulder, close to her neck.
(One more word, Yeerk, one move to escape, and you'll regret it,) I warned, tightening my grip on her injured shoulder. She winced in pain but didn't respond. I didn't care. I wanted to cause that Yeerk as much pain as I could.
(You're sure, then?) Jake asked.
I had to think. Was I sure? (There's no other explanation.)
(And now this other Controller is looking for her.)
(Yes. We'll have to move.)
(I agree. But we also can't let him go back and tell the other Yeerks where, about, she is.)
(So we go get him?) Rachel asked.
(Not all of us. Ax, you and Tobias stay with Morgan. Cassie, go get some ore rope; we'll need it. Marco, Rachel, come with me.)
Cassie morphed back to bird and flew off. Marco morphed to gorilla, Jake to tiger, after demorphing back to human, of course. Rachel was already in wolf morph. (Let's do it!) she called, and they ran off.
"No, wait!" Morgan called. She'd obviously guessed our plan.
Ax moved in closer. I dug my talons in deeper. (You were saying?)
"Please," she gasped. "He . . . he's not a Controller. Neither am I. He doesn't have anything to do with this. I didn't even expect him to show up, especially not at our cousin's house, where he could be seen. Please, leave him alone! He's done nothing to you!"
She was now struggling furiously against her bonds. Amazing. She hadn't fought for her own life, but this man was important. Maybe . . .
I didn't have time to think about it. At that moment, everything turned to chaos. Her rope snapped. Ax swung. I barely dodged in time. Morgan fell to the ground.
Just then, Cassie returned. (What happened?)
(She tried to escape,) Ax started to explain, but got only that far before Marco, Rachel, and Jake returned with the old man, who was struggling like crazy, but to no avail, against a gorilla.
When he saw Morgan, however, resistance gave way to sheer surprise. "What did you do to her?"
(You know, that is a good question,) Marco agreed.
"Let me help," the man interrupted, recovering quickly from his shock. "Let me do something. Please."
I took a better look at him. For the first time, I noticed he was wearing a long grey cape. He had found Morgan's clothes, along with her glasses and her cross. "Let me help," he repeated.
(Let him go,) I told Marco. (He won't get far if he tries to run.)
Marco let go. The old man knelt down by Morgan and took some cloth out of a pocket in his cape. I noticed he had a sword, but he didn't make so much as a slight move for it, so I left the matter alone.
(Who are you?) I asked.
"My name is Peter. I'm from an island in the Pacific Ocean. Most of the others are, to."
(The others?) Jake asked.
"Morgan and I are part of a group called the Woodland Wanderers. A group of creatures called the Gleems are trying to take over the world. They believe human beings are a violent, primitive race and want to try to enforce peace. But peace maintained by force isn't peace. It's a cease-fire, and it won't last. Like I said, we're from an island, and that's where they've been attacking first, to try to secure it as a base. For four years the Elves and Dwarves there have held out against the Gleems' attacks. Then, in a battle, the Gleems' leader was captured. We, those of us who would become the Woodland Wanderers, knew that if his second-in-command were to take over the attacks, as she surely would, the Gleems would simply attack and destroy everything on the island, instead of trying to keep us alive and under their control. So we freed him. For that, we were banished from the village, made outlaws. Eight of us. Morgan, myself, another human named Eric who used to be Athos' second-in-command, and five Elves."
(Wait,) I interrupted. (Athos?)
"The Gleems' leader."
(He's the one Morgan was fighting before.)
"I don't doubt it. A few hours ago, Athos came to me and told me that they had been fighting when something that looked like a hawk but wasn't tried to attack him."
(That would be me,) I agreed.
"I guessed when I saw you. He wouldn't tell me what it was about, but I figured I should check to see if Morgan was okay. That's when I saw you. You didn't recognize me, of course, so I realized you weren't Morgan."
I stared. If he was telling the truth, Morgan had been right; they didn't have anything to do with us. This was a different matter entirely, a different war. But how could we be sure?
Suddenly, there was a rustle in the trees. I turned towards the sound. It was Athos, his hands held up in a gesture of peace. "I mean you no harm. I'm here to help," he said quickly.
Peter didn't look up. He didn't need to. "Then come over here and give me a hand; this wound is terrible."
"I can't do anything for her here. But the Gleems can help, if you'll let me take her to the tower."
"I'm not the one you need to talk to. We're being held here by whoever these people are."
"Five -- the birds, the gorilla, the wolf, and the tiger -- are human. The other is as he appears. But that's unimportant right now. Who is your leader?"
We all turned to Jake. (Not again,) he complained.
"We don't have a lot of time," Athos said, ignoring his complaint. "I can save her life, but I don't have what I need here. Please. Whoever you are, she's of no use to you dead. Let me help her."
(I thought you were enemies,) I objected.
"That doesn't mean I want her dead! Please! We're wasting time!"
"He's right," Peter agreed, looking up for the first time. "There's nothing more I can do for her here, and I can guarantee that what I've already done is not enough. Will you let us help?"
(I vote yes,) I said. (On the condition that one of us keeps you in sight at all times.)
(Yes,) Rachel agreed.
(Yes,) Cassie echoed.
(Yes,) Marco nodded.
(Yes,) Jake said.
We all looked at Ax, who was looking at Athos. (Yes,) he said at last, (but we watch all three of them.)
(Where are we going?) I asked.
"Close your eyes," Athos replied.
(What?) Rachel demanded.
"Close your eyes."
We did. There was a brilliant flash of light and then complete silence.
"Open your eyes," Athos instructed. I did, and had to look around twice to believe what I was seeing. We were directly outside a large white tower in some very rocky, snowy mountains. "The others are waiting for us inside," Athos explained. Peter raised an eyebrow but said nothing as he lifted Morgan in his arms. Athos knocked.
A woman opened the door, a woman with long curly golden hair and ice blue eyes. She wore a white blouse and khaki pants. She looked at us strangely but then turned to Athos. "Welcome back."
"We have a little problem."
"I noticed. Bring her in."
(Let's demorph,) Jake suggested as we entered. (He can tell what we are, anyway.)
So they did. It was quite a sight -- a wolf, a gorilla, a tiger, and a bird all turning into humans in the middle of a hallway. The woman, who I'd figured out was Athos' second-in-command, looked stunned, and even Peter raised an eyebrow, but Athos just smiled. "I'll take her," he told Peter. Then he turned to us. "One of you coming with me?"
(I'll go,) I volunteered. I was curious, and a little worried about Morgan. Could they really do anything? Besides, I was the smallest, the least likely to get in the way. I flew over to Athos' shoulder.
We entered a room, and the others stayed in the hall. Athos set Morgan down on a bed in the middle of the room. Inside with us were five or six Gleems. They're a little bit taller than humans and have huge purple wings. They have dark green horns -- two of them -- and bright red eyes. Any little kid would think they were scary. Probably most adults, too. And I'm sure they are when they want to be, but right then, they were doctors, and superb ones at that. Their speed, their coordination, everything. And right at the head of it was Athos, not even having to give orders; they knew from a look exactly what he needed, what he wanted. It was medicine, but it was more than that. It was the army without all the shouting and the saluting. It was an art.
I'm not sure exactly what they did; I was watching Morgan, watching for any sign of movement, of alertness. And finally, I got it. She only moved her head slightly, but my hawk's eyes caught it. Athos saw it, too. "She's awake. Good."
(Will she be all right?) I asked.
"Yes," Athos replied, certain, determined. "Yes, she'll be all right. At this point, strength of will and spirit matter more than physical strength, and you'd be surprised how strong these people really are. Amazing."
(For being enemies, you sure have a certain respect for each other.)
"Is that so strange?"
(And you're trying to save her life.)
"She's my friend."
"I know. I know it sounds strange. But . . . there's no other way of saying it." Morgan groaned softly and her eyes slowly opened. "There we go," Athos grinned. "Welcome back, Morgan. Lasto beth nin talo dan na galad."
"Work on the accent," Morgan smiled. "You still come off more like Aragorn than Elrond; you're mumbling."
"She's fine," Athos laughed. "Here." He handed her her glasses and her cross. "Peter rescued these. Oh, I'm sorry. Let me help you." He helped her sit up, with a gentleness that surprised me after what he'd done during their battle.
Morgan looked up at me. "Hey, Tobias."
(Morgan, I'm sorry. It's just--)
"It's all right. You did what you thought was right. No one can blame you for that." She held out her left arm. I flew over and perched on it, then slowly moved up to her non-injured shoulder.
Athos smiled. "Come. The others are waiting for us." We headed out into the hallway. There, with the other Animorphs and Angelica, were a man and five Elves.
Elves. After everything we've seen, Elves are rather normal-looking. They're around four feet tall, with long hair for the most part and simple clothing. There were five of them, to whom I was quickly introduced. Three -- Noka, Latano, and Tandro -- were male, and two -- Rona and Balo -- were female. So Peter had been telling the truth about that much.
As far as hair, skin, and eyes, Elves are much like humans, and also as diverse. Balo, Noka, and Tandro had light skin. Rona's was dark. Latano's was somewhere in the middle. Rona had short blonde hair, Balo light brown, Tandro dark brown, Noka brown with a shade of red, and Latano black. Noka, Rona, and Tandro had brown eyes. Latano and Balo had grey.
The other man, I learned, was Eric. He was standing uneasily next to Angelica, as still as a statue. He had straight black hair almost to his shoulders, light skin, and, like Angelica, ice blue eyes. He looked a little uneasy, and who could blame him? Peter had said he'd used to be Athos' second-in-command. Being back her put him in a terrible position.
"Come, my friends," Athos smiled. "This is no place to talk." He led us down the hall and into a large room. Couches and chairs were arranged in a circle. "Please, sit down," he gestured, sinking into a rather large comfy brown chair. Morgan sat down in a chair to his right, and I hopped down to the arm. One by one, the others followed their lead, until the only ones left standing were Ax, who had positioned himself between and slightly behind Morgan and Athos, as if unsure of which to expect an attack from first, and the Elf named Noka.
"Come, sit here, Noka," Athos motioned to the seat on his left.
Noka shook his head stubbornly and crossed his arms. "No, Athos. I can get a better idea of where everyone is if I stay here."
I looked up at Morgan. (He's blind?) I asked so only she could hear. She nodded slightly, not enough to give away that I'd asked a question.
"Very well," agreed Peter, who was on Morgan's other side, and was easily one of the most relaxed people in the room. "As you wish, my friend."
Athos looked around. Surely we were a strange lot -- four human children, barefoot and in skintight clothes, an Andalite, a girl with a bird on her chair, five Elves, an old man, and two humans who were sitting so still and silent next to each other that they could have been statues.
Then Athos began, in a voice that was loud and clear; I'm sure even Noka way on the other side of the room could hear him perfectly. "A while ago," he said, "I was in a small town when I saw something . . . the only way to describe it is strange. There were people who weren't people, people who no longer had control of themselves. I could see . . . they were almost like grey slugs, in their brains, controlling them."
That caught all our attention. "You can tell if a person is a Controller?" Jake asked.
"Yes, if that's what you call them. It's a gift I've always had, to be able to see through disguises. That's how I could tell you were human." He turned to Ax. "Except you."
I looked at the others, and I knew we were all thinking the same thing. If this guy was telling the truth, he could be a big help to us.
"So you see both the truth and the mask," Cassie verified. "And you could tell that even Tobias was human."
"Yes." He turned again to Ax, as though fascinated. "And I have seen one of your kind before, and yet not one of your kind. One of those grey slugs with a body like yours, disguised as a human."
(Visser Three,) I said. (You saw Visser Three, in morph.)
He turned to me expectantly. "Please, tell me what's going on. I can only tell you what I've seen, what I've guessed from it. You can tell me what it means."
So I did. We told him everything. Even Morgan, who had heard it before, listened closely. A few of them -- Noka in particular -- looked surprised at first to hear Ax and me speaking in thought-speak, but everyone was even more amazed by what we said. When we finished, everyone was silent.
"Well," Athos said at last. "That explains a lot."
Peter nodded. "It would seem all of us here have a mutual enemy, an enemy which threatens all of us."
"So it would seem," Athos agreed. "Humanity needs us -- together. As allies. As friends."
Peter stood up and looked around. "He's right. Protecting humanity must come first. Our differences, no matter how great they may seem, are secondary." He walked over to Athos and extended his hand. Athos stood up and shook it, drawing Peter into a hug.
Morgan couldn't just sit there. She ran up and threw her arms around both of them. She didn't have to say anything; her smile said it all. She had been wishing, hoping, praying, for this moment. Now that it had come, no words could do it justice.
One by one, they all stood, shaking hands all around. Eric and Angelica stood, but their gazes remained fixed on each other. "Then that's it?" Angelica asked. "Everyone's ready to work together as if nothing has happened?"
"No," Eric said slowly. "Not as if nothing has happened. It's cards. These Controllers, these Yeerks, they're ahead, and they have the better hand. Only by cooperating do we have even the slightest chance."
"And after that, brother?" she asked, and I finally realized. Brother and sister. That's why they were so uncomfortable. This war had torn them apart. "After that?" she repeated. "If we win? If these Yeerks are beaten? Humanity saved? Do we go back to fighting this war?"
"I don't know," Eric admitted, and I could tell he was thinking through his answer carefully. "Maybe this battle, this war, is what humanity needs. What Athos has always said is that his goal is for humanity to unite. What none of us ever thought if that they could unite with us, that we could all work as one." He looked over at Athos, who was grinning from ear to ear. "Maybe this is what we've all been waiting for."
Angelica held out her hand. "Then united we stand."
Eric threw his arms around her as if he would never let go. "Now and forever."
I looked around. If only this could be the end. If only this were the happily-ever-after. But it was only the beginning, a new beginning.
Then Noka caught my eye. He was still standing right where he had been, arms crossed, stubborn, defiant. I fluttered over, quietly, but he still heard me. "Tobias, was it?" he asked.
(Yeah,) I answered. (What's wrong?)
"Just listen to them. How can they act as if everything is okay? As if no wrong has been done? Especially Peter."
(Why especially him?) I asked, resting on his shoulder.
"He didn't tell you, did he. Well, he wouldn't have. The Gleems killed his family, Tobias. He was five. They had no reason, no motive, for wanting to kill them. But they did. That's when he came here. He was raised by the Elves. Then, when he was ten, he found a father, a man who took him in and treated him as if he were his own son. You know who he was?"
"Father Aramis. Athos' twin brother. Aramis took him in, took care of him, but one day, the Gleems captured them both. Peter managed to escape, but not before Aramis was killed."
I was shocked as I looked over at the man who was now smiling as happily as if he and Athos were old friends. How? How could he possibly look past something like that? That was like asking me to make friends with Visser Three. Could I do that? Ever? (But that's impossible,) I said at last. (Athos would have to be . . .)
"Even older than Peter," Noka finished. "He is. I know. He doesn't look it. He's not a normal human at all. Well, I guess that was obvious from the way he can see through your disguises. And either he or Peter brought you here, so . . ."
(Peter can do that, too?) In all the chaos, I'd forgotten our strange trip.
A smile crossed Noka's face. "Then I take it Athos brought you." People were beginning to sit down again, still talking. Even the other Animorphs seemed to have been drawn into the excitement.
There was something I wanted to ask, something I'd been wondering since his first sign of resentment towards Athos. On an impulse, it came out. I had to know. (You haven't always been blind, have you?)
"Ah, you figured it out, did you?"
(That's why you don't trust him.)
"I lost my sight four years ago, in the Gleems' first attack on our village."
(How did you . . . adjust?)
"I'm surprised you have to ask. You went through a harder adjustment than mine. At least I'm not trapped as a bird." He sighed. "Must seem a stupid reason, with everyone else acting all happy-go-lucky."
(No,) I said. (No, not at all. True, I've adapted, but if someone were to tell me to go make peace with the Yeerks, like they're asking you to do, I don't think I'd exactly leap at the idea.)
Noka nodded, and I knew he really understood. Slowly, he let out a deep breath. Then he made his way over to the chair on Athos' left.
And he sat down.
Everyone knew that was it. That was final. He didn't have to say anything; no one did. We all knew.
I flew over to Jake. (Amazing.)
"This changes everything. We're not alone any more."
Athos grinned. "You're right. You're not alone. But not everything has changed. You still have your special powers, all of you. And I'm not exactly sure how we can help."
Latano spoke up. "Use your strengths. You've proven on far more than one occasion that the Gleems are more than experts at capturing people."
Athos' eyes brightened. "And these Yeerks only live for three days without returning to their Yeerk Pool. Perfect!"
"You'd have to do it a few at a time," Jake pointed out. "If Controllers start disappearing like crazy, the Yeerks will figure out what's going on."
Athos nodded. "Don't worry. We know what we're doing. And we won't take them all from the same area, either, or even the same country. Like Latano said, we're experts."
(Prince Athos?) Ax asked. Athos' eyebrows shot up as he whirled around in surprise at being addressed like this, especially in thought-speak. Jake was hiding a laugh. It's funny when it happens to someone else.
"Well, that's something I've never been called before," Athos laughed. "What is it, Ax?"
(If one of the people who has been freed were to be taken by the Yeerks again, your secret would be out.)
"Well, we'll just have to watch them very closely," Athos nodded. "I assure you, that is something the Woodland Wanderers excel at." Laughter erupted from several of them, even though I'm not quite sure what was so funny.
(There's still some risk,) I pointed out.
Peter nodded. "Risk is something that never goes away."
"Look," Marco said. "I really didn't have to be the one to say this, but no one else is going to. What if this is all a trick? What if you're making this all up?"
Eyebrows shot up all over the place. The bubble had burst. What proof could they offer? Sure, the Gleems existed, but were they working with the Yeerks? Athos could identify Controllers, but could that be because he was one, as well? What if this was all a lie? An extremely well-concocted lie, but a lie nonetheless.
Morgan was the first to recover from the shock of the question. "The answer's pretty simple, really. Do what you were doing. Watch me for whatever's left of three days."
(But Avanwe--) I started.
"She knows?" Morgan laughed. "Well, you can't slip past her. But she'll help. And the rest of my family, they wouldn't notice if a log tried to impersonate me for three days."
(Was that meant as a joke, or are you serious?) Ax wanted to know.
"Oh, I'm completely serious," Morgan assured him. "You and Tobias, or even all six of you, could switch off every two minutes and no one but Avanwe would notice. That's just the way it is with my family. They're good people, but they're not exactly Sherlock Holmes."
(Then the stuff you told me earlier . . .) I started.
"Was only so you could fool Avanwe," she nodded. "If she's covering your back, you won't need a word of it."
(And you're sure she's not a Controller?) I turned to Athos, the only one who could really be sure.
He smiled and shook his head. "No. Avanwe is many things, some of which I don't really care for, but she's no Controller. I'm sure of it."
I nodded. That was good enough for me. (Jake, Cassie, Marco, and Rachel have to go back home,) I reminded everyone.
(Are we taking Morgan back to the forest?) Ax asked.
"You don't have to," Athos said. "I have a dungeon here that would serve your purpose quite well. Would you like to see it?"
I nodded. As Athos and I left the room, everyone started talking again. Morgan followed us, and soon caught up. She seemed to know the way almost as well as Athos. We went down hallways and down stairs and up stairs. At last, we came to a door, which Athos opened with a key.
The dungeon was simply a large stone room. From the door, the only entrance, there was a two-foot drop to the stone floor. There was a small window high up on the far left-hand wall. Other than that, it was solid rock. (It's perfect,) I said. (If Morgan doesn't mind, that is.)
Morgan nodded. "Don't worry; this is practically a second home for me." It was only halfway a joke. She leapt down lightly, looking around. "I don't think you cleaned it since the last time," she teased.
Athos smiled at the joke. "I'll go see if the others are ready to leave." He closed the door behind him.
Morgan lay back and stared up at the ceiling. I looked around curiously. I could smell something odd, but it was not death; I know that smell. I didn't know what to call it.
Morgan nodded when I told her, and sat up. "No, death has not yet touched this place."
(Something still feels wrong.)
"So you can feel it, then. Pain, Tobias. Suffering."
(And yet . . . not despair.)
"No, never. Not from us. Hope. Always hope. And courage. Courage to push past the pain. The kind of courage we've needed during this war."
I nodded. I didn't need to say anything. She knew I understood.
Suddenly, the door swung open. Morgan sprang up, very suddenly and very fast. Athos came in first and saw how startled she was. "I'm so sorry," he apologized quickly. "Old habits die hard, I guess."
"Like the old habit of turning the doorknob very quietly and then flinging the door open really fast?"
"And the old habit of jumping to your feet, ready for a fight, every time the door opens?" He stepped down, and after him came Ax.
(With your permission,) Ax said, looking at both Morgan and me, (the others have suggested that I morph Morgan this time. They thought you might want to keep her company here, Tobias. And if they are lying and Avanwe is a Controller--)
(It would be better for them to find an Andalite than a red-tailed hawk?)
(And it would be easier for me to demorph to defend myself than it would be for you to demorph and then morph again.)
He had a point. In fact, he had several points. Morgan nodded, and Ax came over and put a hand on her forehead. Soon, she was a little drowsy, and Ax had acquired her DNA.
He didn't morph her right then, but she did give him her glasses and her cross. She was still busy explaining both when the others came in.
"Ready to go?" Peter asked Ax.
(Yes, I am ready,) Ax replied. I almost laughed. This was all so strange, and we were all acting as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
They all left, all but Morgan, Athos, and me. Athos closed the door, reached into his pocket, and pulled out two decks of cards. I morphed to human so I could play, too.
We played a couple hands for practice, open-handed with Morgan and Athos coaching me, explaining everything. Then we decided to play a game, to five-thousand, the way you're supposed to play. Twos wild. Aces twenty points. Wild cards and red threes freeze the deck.
I told them not to go easy on me, and I got creamed. But not as badly as I'd thought. Morgan won, with Athos close behind. 5125 to 4860 to 2785.
Three days, in and out of morph, with Ax coming to take over late at night. Nothing happened. At last, at midnight on the third day, we were all convinced. Nothing was going to happen.
None of us were really surprised. We'd all wanted to trust these people, to not be alone.
That was a week ago. Morgan and her family left town, and I haven't seen them since. But I know they're out there, fighting just like us. Hoping, just like us.
We're different, and yet so much alike. We're three armies united in battle against a common foe. "He will triumph who knows when to fight and when not to fight." They knew it was time to stop fighting each other. This is our time to fight as one.
And we're ready.