"Hello? Is anyone there? If you're there, say something. Show yourself.
"Thus do the voices of mortals plead, ever hopeful proof of our existence…" mused my master, the Celestrian Aquila. "For how long now have we watched over their realm...? For how long have we Celestrians existed…?"
As he spoke, my eyes drifted across the village of Angel Falls. A young boy chased a dog out of a house; women gossiped by the well; a man sat fishing by the stream. All was well in the village. "You have come far, Zera," Aquila said, turning to me. I looked at him with surprise. My master was grudging with his praise; to receive a compliment from him was like watching the rain fall back into the clouds."
I must confess to having had my doubts when you became Guardian of the village in me stead. But its inhabitants' continued peace and safety is proof of your devotion. When Apus Major bade me, 'Aquila, take Zera as your apprentice,' I never imagined I would see you bloom so. You are worthy of your title indeed, Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls." I smiled. "I thank you, Master."
Then my master's attention was diverted. "Hm!" he said, stiffening as he looked beyond the borders of the town. I followed his gaze to see Erinn, a violet-haired girl of perhaps fifteen walking along the road towards the town, followed by her grandfather, an old man named Flinn.
"Hahh…" Flinn said, "hahh…don't ever get old, my dear Erinn. You don't ever want to get old." Erinn turned. Even from this distance, hovering by the falls, I could see the smile upon her face. "Oh, Grandpa," she said. "It's not much further now. I'm sure you'll make it."
As they spoke, my attention was diverted. A cruelcumber and two slimes, common monsters in the Angel Falls area, leapt out of a bush. They spotted Erinn and Flinn up ahead, and ran to a rock in their path.
"These wicked creatures must not be allowed to ambush innocent members of your flock, Zera," Aquila said. I nodded. "Come, Guardian of Angel Falls," he continued. "It is time to fulfil our duty as Celestrians!" We flew from our position above the town to land beside the monsters. At the sound of our landing, they turned to face us. My master and I drew our swords, and we engaged them.
I struck first. The slime squealed as I sliced it, and exploded into purple dust. The cruelcumber rushed me then, stabbing me in my right arm with its spear before I could dodge. Aquila blocked the remaining slime's attack with the flat of his sword, and stabbed it. It, too, exploded.
I sliced at the cruelcumber's front. Rather than sticking around, it ran away before Aquila could finish it. I looked over and saw that Erinn and her grandfather had stopped by the rock.
"See, Grandpa!" Erinn said. "There's Angel Falls up ahead." Flinn sighed. "Aaah… I honestly believed I'd set my tired old eyes on the place again. But here we are at last. Home." Erinn put her hands on her hips, smiling. "Oh, don't be so melodramatic, Grandpa!" she said. "The village Guardian will have been watching over us all the way. Nothing could ever have happened to us!
"She clasped her hands in front of her and bowed her head. "Benevolent Zera, thank you for protecting us on our journey." As she straightened up and began back along the road, a softly glowing blue crystal appeared where she had stood. I glided over to retrieve it.
"Behold, Zera," Aquila said. "Benevolessence. The crystallisation of the mortals' gratitude towards we who watch over them. As Celestrians, our cardinal duty is the offering up of this sacred substance to mighty Yggdrasil, the Great World Tree. Come, Zera. Let us return the Observatory, that you may make your offering.
"I nodded, and we took off, straight up into the blue sky. As we rose, the Observatory came into view: a great, tall palace in the sky, green and full of Celestrian life. Crowning the Celestrians' great home was Yggdrasil, the Great World Tree. She stood tall and strong, proud and beautiful. My heart soared.
We entered the Observatory through the portal in the bottom floor. As our feet touched the floor, Aquila said, "The first task a Guardian must perform upon returning from the Protectorate is to report to Apus Major. As unchanging as the North Star, you will find him in the Great Hall." He turned away.
"Master, will you not be going with me?" I asked. He turned back. "Nay. I have other matters to attend to. You must excuse me." Then he turned away and left. I saw his direction and realised he was going to visit the grave of his own master, Corvus, who had disappeared many years ago in the Protectorate.
I ascended the stairs to the Great Hall. Apus Major stood upon a raised dais directly ahead of me. "Greetings to you," I said, kneeling before him. "Well met, Zera, apprentice of Aquila," he replied, gesturing for me to rise. "Welcome back. I trust your absence has not been so lengthy that you forget your old master, Apus Major!"
I smiled. "Nay, sir. How would one forget you?" Apus Major laughed. "My congratulations on successfully completing your first task as a Guardian, Zera," he said. I smiled and nodded, accepting his praise. It flowed far more willingly from him than from Aquila. "You have performed your duties well thus far," he continued, "albeit under Aquila's watchful gaze. However, the time has come for you to spread your own wings. What say you? Are you ready to undertake you duties alone?"
I felt a smile spread across my face. "Aye!" I said. Apus Major laughed. "Ho ho ho! I see you are a confidant apprentice. Very good. The young have confidence where the old have experience."
And so we come to the next of your duties. I believe you have acquired a crystal of benevolessence, have you not?" I nodded. "The essence of mortal gratitude. You must offer it to the Great World Tree, Yggdrasil, who shelters us with Her nurturing boughs from atop the Observatory. She will soon bear fruit at last. Go now, and do as I have instructed."
I bowed once more and took my leave. I turned his words over in my mind as I ascended the many stairs to Yggdrasil's lofty position. Was the Great World Tree truly to soon bear Her fruits, as the legends said?
At the foot of the great Tree, I kneeled and raised the benevolessence crystal above my head. I felt it leave my hands, and looked up as it rose. Slowly, the Tree absorbed it, and began to glow."Behold, Zera…" came Aquila's voice from behind. I rose and turned to him. "Is Yggdrasil, to whom we offer the benevolessence we gather, not truly beautiful?" I nodded in agreement. "She is even lovelier when She glows," I said. Aquila looked up to the Tree. "Gathering and offering up benevolessence is the most sacred duty with which we Celestrians are charged," he said. "I trust you will perform your duties well, Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls."
"I shall, Master," I said. As I made to descend the stairs, Aquila said to me, "I have been thinking, Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls…" I looked to him. "Yes, Master?"
"To address you as 'Guardian of Angel Falls' is both convoluted and inconvenient. You will henceforth allow me to use this form of address only when formality dictates, I take it?"
"Of course, Master," I replied. Aquila did not smile- he was not one who ever smiled- but he nodded. "Good," he said. "It is well that you succumb to my recommendation so quickly, my pupil. As you are aware, the law forbids a Celestrian to oppose a superior. Now, go to Apus Major and tell him of the successful completion of you task."
"Well done, Zera," Apus Major said when I told him of it. "And how did might Yggdrasil appear to you?"
"She was truly beautiful," I replied. "When I gave Her the benevolessence, Her glow was bright beyond any I have seen from Her before." Apus Major nodded. "She was fiercely aglow?" I nodded in response. "Ho ho ho! It seems the time may soon be upon us. As I am sure you are aware, it is we Celestrians' duty to tend to mighty Yggdrasil until such time as She bears fruit. It is to this end that Guardians watch over mortalkind and gather benevolessence."
He smiled. "And now, Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls, I believe you know what you must do next. You are to return to the Protectorate and gather benevolessence…this time without Aquila to accompany you. Make ready, and then speak with the female Celestrian who stands guard over the great portal in the floor below. May all the bodies of the heavens watch over you, Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls."
And I descended once more to perform my duties.
It was dark when my duties were complete. Aquila had come on his rounds of the Protectorate, and had assisted me in sending a spirit to the light. It was a duty I found I enjoyed.
As I prepared to return to the Observatory and Aquila to continue his rounds, a glowing golden train streaked across the sky. "The Starflight Express…" murmured Aquila. "Indeed, it has been unusually active of late." He returned his gaze to me.
"I have changed my mind," he told me. "I shall accompany you to the Observatory after all, Zera."
When we arrived through the portal, Aquila said, "I have important matters to discus with Apus Major. Please, excuse me." He took his leave, and I began my journey up the stairs to Yggdrasil. To my surprise, Aquila and Apus Major stood at her foot.
"Well met, Zera!" Aquila said as I joined them. "Truly, you have chosen a most fortuitous moment to join us." He turned to the Tree. "Behold Yggdrasil. She is ready to burst into bloom with all the benevolessence we have offered up to her." I felt my heart leap in my chest. "Truly?" I asked. The Tree was glowing softly.
"Ho ho ho!" laughed Apus Major. "Yes, she is but a hair's breadth now from bearing fruit. 'Fyggbloom hails the opening of the heavenly gates, and sets the Celestrians on the path to salvation…'"
Aquila continued the words of the ancient legend. "'And lo, it shall be in the celestial carriage that we, the chosen custodians, journey unto the Realm of the Almighty.'…" He turned to me. "It is time, Zera. Offer up the benevolessence you have gathered unto mighty Yggdrasil. Do so, and She will surely bear fruit at long last."
My heart raced as I stepped forward and raised the benevolessence above my head. As Yggdrasil absorbed it, She began to glow, far brighter than ever before. Seven beautiful golden fruits bloomed in Her branches, and I heard gasps from all around- for the entire Observatory had come to the outside.
"Behold!" cried Apus Major. "The sacred fyggs bloom!" The Starflight soared towards us. "And the celestial chariot appears…praise be! All is as it was foretold!"
As he spoke, the Starflight landed on the rim of the Observatory. As I took a small, slow step towards it, a dark violet beam of light suddenly speared it and it fell away from the Observatory, its carriages breaking apart from one another. More beams began to shoot up, rocking the Observatory. I fell to the ground and gripped the stair to keep from being blown away.
"What is happening?" cried Apus Major over the cries of the other Celestrians. "Were we…deceived?" Suddenly, the Observatory rocked again, and I was ripped from the stair. "Master!" I screamed. "Aquila!"
"Zera!" he cried, reaching for my hand. But I was already too far away, and our hands missed. I was flung out into empty air.
I could not find the composure to right myself and flap my wings. I could feel my feathers being ripped off as I fell, and I saw the seven golden fyggs falling to earth. "No!" I cried, but my breath was ripped away. I fell faster and faster, my feathers ripping away at an incredible pace. Then, I saw the pool at the base of the falls below me. I crashed into the water, and knew no more.
The passage of three days found me standing before the Guardian statue of Angel Falls. I had come to appreciate the place as a good spot to think.
For there was much to think about. When I had awoken, it was to find Erinn leaning over me. My wings had been ripped away completely, and of my halo there was no sign. But the oddest part of all was that Erinn and the others of the town were able to see me.
They should not have been able to. Mortals did not have the ability to see or hear Celestrians; it was something we were all taught. I knew not if my sudden visibility was due to the disappearance of my wings and halo. But matters such as that often took the backstage in my mind.
Far more often, I thought of Aquila, Apus Major, and the others who had been in the Observatory. Had they, too, been knocked to the Protectorate in the chaos? Or was I the only one? I most worried about Aquila. He had always been a good master, a great teacher- strict at times, but still excellent. And in a way, he had also become my only friend.
Not a night since I had fallen had passed without dreams of falling. It was understandable after a fall such as mine and the loss of my wings. I had had difficulty in falling asleep, as well, and so I was rather tired.
The inscription upon the Guardian statue caught my eye, and I smiled slightly: Zera, Guardian of Angel Falls. The day Yggdrasil had bloomed, Ivor and Hugo, two village boys, had been arguing over the inscription. Ivor had insisted that it had not always said Zera upon it, but rather Aqui-something. Hugo had replied that it had said Zera for as long as he could remember. A young boy had prayed that someone teach Ivor a lesson for being as full of himself as he was; I had gladly obliged and smacked Ivor in the back of the head. He deserved it; he had claimed in front of me that he had no belief in Guardians.
But my thinking was interrupted. "Hey, it's that Zera character who turned up just after the earthquake the other day," said a voice from behind me. I turned. Ivor and Hugo had ascended the small rise to where the statue stood. "Oi! Wakey, wakey!" Ivor said. "What are you doing there, staring off into space?"
Without waiting for an answer, he continued speaking as though I were not present. "I don't know what Erinn thinks she's doing bothering with the likes of her. She won't tell us where she's from, her clothes are all weird…I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her!"
"I bet it's her name that's got Erinn so keen," Hugo said. "It is the same as our village Guardian's, after all." Ivor snorted. "Huh!" I doubt it's even her real name. I bet she's just some no-good wandering minstrel taking on a Guardian's name to get a free lunch." Then he began speaking to me again. "Well, listen to this, oddball! I won't let you get away with any funny business on my patch."
"Yeah, watch your step!" Hugo said in a teasing tone. "Ivor doesn't like Erinn giving all her attention to you." Ivor turned to him. "Shut up, you idiot!" he said. "Why would you say that!" Then he looked around. "Uh-oh!"
Erinn was walking to join us. "What's going on?" she asked. "What are you two bothering Zera for?" Ivor appeared flustered. "Er…hi, Erinn! Nothing's going on. Just teaching Zera here a few village rules. Anyway, we were just leaving. Come on, Hugo." They left very quickly. I struggled to restrain a smile. Ivor was very obviously more than a touch fond of Erinn.
Erinn was watching them go. "I don't know why Ivor's so full of himself these days," she murmured. "He never used to be like that." Then she turned back to me. "Anyway, you must be feeling better now if you're out walking around, Zera. Coming up here reminds me of when I first found you."
She looked off over the pool. "I was so surprised. You must have got caught up in the earthquake and fallen from the top of the waterfall. You're lucky you survived…." Then she looked back to me. "Anyway, I'm heading home. There's nothing more to do at the inn for now. Enjoy the rest of your walk, but make sure you don't overdo it, okay? I'll see you back at the house." She turned and returned to her home.I stayed still for a moment, not thinking. Then I turned back to the Guardian statue and , protect them, I beg of you, I prayed. Keep them safe from harm, wherever they may be and whatever may have happened to them. Especially Aquila, please. Keep my master safe. Then, slowly, I rose and returned to Erinn's.
She stood with her back turned to the door, facing the stove. As I entered, she turned. "Oh! Hello, Zera," she said. "You're back much sooner than I expected. I'm preparing a meal at the moment, so can you wait a little bit? Now you're so much better, why don't you take a stroll around the village and say hello to everyone?" I nodded and took my leave.
I did not speak to anyone. I knew that they had no desire to speak to me. Some of them believed me to be the cause of the bad luck that had befallen them after the earthquake- the increased monster threat around the village and the landslide that had blocked the nearby mountain pass. So I wandered.
As I passed Mayor Litlun's home, I heard voices from inside. My curiosity was piqued, and so I paused by the open window to listen.
"Isn't it about time you did something useful with yourself rather than just hanging about the place causing trouble?" asked Mayor Litlun's voice. "You'd do well to take a leaf out of Erinn's book. She puts in a lot of hard work at the inn, that girl."
"Huh!" said Ivor. "What's Erinn got to do with it?" I smiled. Ivor jumped as though someone had stuck him with a pin every time Erinn's name was mentioned. It was rather amusing. "I am trying to find something I want to do, anyway. And when I figure out what that is, I'll work my socks off! …Probably…"
Shaking my head, I took my leave. Perhaps supper would be ready. Erinn was an excellent cook, and I was hungry.
"Hello again, Zera," said Erinn as I walked in. "I've just this minute finished preparing the food. You look like you've had quite a long walk. I expect you probably just want to eat your dinner and turn in for the night, don't you?"
"Aye," I said. Erinn smiled. "Then let's eat!" she said. "Can you help me lay the table? You can have a rest as soon as we've finished eating, don't worry." We ate, and soon after I lay down to sleep.
The next morning, I woke well before dawn from yet another nightmare. No one else awoke until hours later. "Good morning, Zera!" Erinn called, perhaps an hour after dawn. "Come on, get up! You have a visitor. Ivor's here. He's got something or other he wants to talk to you about. He knows you're here, so I can't very well turn him away. Just give him a few minutes of your time, okay?" I heard her footsteps recede as she left the room. I groaned and sat up.
Ivor was waiting in the doorway downstairs. "Hey, Zera," he said. "Don't look so surprised. There's something I wasn't to talk to you about, that's all. We can't talk about it here, though. Come outside a minute.
"We left the house. Ivor led me around to the side, where there were no windows. "What did you wish to speak to me about?" I asked him. "So, here's the thing," he said. "You've heard about how the pass has been blocked by a landslide, right? Well, that pass is a lifeline here in Angel Falls. We're totally cut off if we can't use it. It's a real problem for Eri- a real problem for everyone, I mean. So I was thinking: what better time for Ivor to come to the rescue? I'm going to clear the landslide and make it passable again. I know Erinn will be pleased as well. There's just one hitch with my perfect plan. Since the earthquake, there have been lots more monsters about, and it's pretty dangerous to leave the village now. That's where you come in. I was thinking that maybe you could tag along. You minstrel types are generally pretty handy in a scrap, right? Can I count on you to help me out?"
"Certainly," I said, after a moment's hesitation. I needed to get out of the village for a time. Angel Falls was lovely, but I needed to go somewhere. "Knew it!" he exclaimed. "Right then, you lead the way, Zera. It's easy enough to find. You just head out of the village and follow the road east. Oh, yeah, and let's keep this to ourselves okay? We don't want everyone sticking their beaks in."
I agreed, and we left the village. Hugo stood by the arch over the road out of town. "Here comes another lamb to the slaughter!" he said. "You can't go out there, you know. There are monsters about."
"Stop trying to scare people!" Ivor said. "We're leaving the village and there's nothing you can do to stop it." At that moment, Hugo appeared to realise that Ivor and I were together. "W-wait a minute!" he said. "What are you dong with her, Ivor? Since when were you best mates?"
Ivor rolled his eyes. "You are a pain sometimes! We're just going to clear the landslide, that's all." Hugo paused. "Oh, right…but there really are monsters around, you know." Ivor sighed loudly. "Nothing I can't handle," he said. "Just let us by, would you? Hold us up any longer and there'll be trouble!"
"G-go, then," Hugo said. "I'm not stopping you." He moved aside, and we started out of the village. "But if you get tired or hurt, you'll come straight back to the village if you know what's good for you," he warned. "A quick rest should be enough to get your strength back up again. There's no need to be a hero!"
We exited the village. I could hear birdsong, but also monsters- many more than usual. Fortunately, they didn't seem to be paying attention to us. We walked for nearly an hour before anything exciting happened.
We had entered a small wood. "Finally!" Ivor said. "We're here at last. The landslide's somewhere in these woods, apparently." But I was paying little attention to him. Something in a clearing up ahead had distracted me.
Up ahead, no longer glowing gold but solidly there, sat the Starflight Express.
I approached it slowly. "What are you staring at?" he asked. Evidently, he could not see the train. "It's just a fallen tree. I don't get what's so fascinating about it. You can be properly weird sometimes, you know that?" He turned along the path, which led northeast. "The landslide's this way. I'll go on ahead!"
He headed off along the trail as I stared at the Starflight. Why was it no longer glowing? And why was it sitting in a clearing? Could it no longer fly?I shook my head and turned up the path. As I walked, I thought for a moment that I heard someone speaking behind me, but I continued walking. Five minutes later, I found Ivor standing in front of a great mass of dirt, rocks, and broken tree limbs.
"This is worse than I thought!" Ivor said. "Is this it? But it's so much bigger than I thought…" He turned to me. "You and I will never be able to shift this on our own. Stupid landslide!" He turned back to face the wall of dirt and sniffed. "And I was all ready to see the look on Dad's face when I came back to the village a hero…" He sniffled again, and punched the dirt. "Waaaah!"
"Hellooo!" called a voice from the other side. "Is somebody there? Hellooo! If you're there, say something!"
"Huh?" Ivor said. He turned to me and said, "It sounds like there's someone on the other side!" I rolled my eyes- had he thought I had not heard the voice? - but he had already turned back to the wall."Hey! I'm over here," he called. "It's me, Ivor from Angel Falls. No doubt you've heard of me!" I could not restrain a snort. "Jings!" said the voice. "Someone from Angel Falls! We're soldiers sent from Stornway. King Schott sent us to clear the landslide."
Ivor turned to me. "Blimey!" he said. "The King of Stornway must really rate Angel Falls to bother helping us out like that."
"Aye," I agreed. "I suppose that means we're not really needed here, then," he continued. "Huh! Now I wish we hadn't bothered coming all this way." As we turned to leave, one of the soldiers called, "Wait! There's an urgent matter we need to ask you about." We turned back. "What is it, sir?" I called. "Do you know if a lass called Patty made her way to your village just after the earthquake? She works at the inn in Stornway, but she took off one day for Angel Falls and we've heard nothing of her since."
"Patty?" Ivor said. I could only shrug. "Nope, doesn't ring any bells," Ivor said. "Why would she come to Angel Falls anyway?" I could imagine the soldier shrugging as he replied, "Aye, well, rumour has it that that she was on her way there through the Hexagon. The path there's been blocked too, though, so we've no way of finding out where she is."
Ivor turned to me. "The Hexagon?" he said. "That old ruin we had to go traipsing all the way through before this pass was built? No one goes there anymore. It's jam-packed with monsters and falling apart so badly it might come down on your head!"
He turned back to the soldiers behind the landslide. "There's no way a woman would go through there alone," he said. "The rumours must be wrong." I heard a sigh from behind the wall of land. "Alright, well, perhaps you could just relay to your village the fact that the road will be open again soon. And if you could ask around about Patty while you're there, that'd be grand."
"No problemo!" Ivor responded. "Just leave it to me. You can always count on Ivor!" He turned to me then. "Come on, Zera," he said. "Home time! I reckon they'll be pretty pleased to hear the news." And we returned.
When we were nearly halfway back to the village, I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my rear. "Augh!" I cried, turning. A teeny sanguini fluttered behind me, a small scrap of my top on its teeth. "What is it?" Ivor asked turning. "The monster bit me in the rear end," I muttered. Ivor tried and failed to restrain a laugh. I smacked Ivor in the back of the head, hoping to make him stop, but I only succeeded in making him laugh harder.
Then, suddenly, the teeny sanguini lunged at me. I drew my sword in an instant and I struck out as the monster attempted to bite my neck. Ivor's sword was now out as well, and as the teeny sanguini reeled from my attack, he finished it off with a stab through the gut. It exploded into dust, and Ivor and I split the coins it dropped.
I cocked my head to the side as I had an idea. There was a healing spell Aquila had shown me…. Feeling rather embarrassed, I put a hand behind me, palm facing where the monster had bit me. "What are you doing?" Ivor asked. "Trying something," I replied. I closed my eyes and motioned gently with my hand. My hand, as well as the area where the monster had bit me, went pleasantly warm. A moment later, the twinge of pain from the teeth faded. I smiled, and we set off.
"It bit you in the butt!" he laughed as we continued walking. I put my left hand on the handle of my sword. "I can send you down the same path as that monster," I warned him. After that, he tried slightly harder to restrain his amusement.
We went to Ivor's home before any other and explained what we had heard. "I see," he said when we finished. "So the soldiers from Stornway should have the pass cleared for us before long."
"That's right," Ivor said. "Everyone will be so pleased to hear the news. Ivor saves the day, eh?" I sighed. Was there no way to make him more humble?"
Don't be ridiculous!" Litlun said. Ivor jumped. "You were foolish to go all the way out there, just the two of you. Utterly foolish!" Ivor seemed exceedingly confused, and flustered as well. "B-but!" he said. "Why are you so angry? If we hadn't gone to the landslide, you'd never have known it was about to be cleared."
"So what?" Litlun said angrily. "If I didn't know now, I'd have found out soon enough. Knowing a little bit sooner is hardly worth risking your life for. That's why I'm angry. That's why you're foolish."
"…Gah! Fine!…" Ivor said. Then he snapped his fingers. "Oh, yeah, there was something else. Something I heard from one of the soldiers. They want us to find some girl called Patty who went missing on her was here."
Suddenly, I heard footsteps outside, and Erinn raced into view. "Wait a minute!" she said. "Is that true?" Ivor very nearly leapt out of his skin as Erinn joined us around the table. "Erinn! What are you doing here?" he asked. "What do you think?" Erinn retorted. "I'm here because I heard you whisked Zera off on some silly adventure!" I began to protest, but Erinn continued speaking.
"Anyway, never mind that," she said. "Is it true that Patty from Stornway has gone missing?"
"Ah, yes," Litlun said. "You're from Stornway originally, aren't you, Erinn? Do you know the woman?" Erinn bit her lip. "I seem to remember my dad talking about someone called Patty from his days in Stornway. Oh, dear! Maybe she didn't know he'd passed away and she was coming here to see him." I could see the shadow of pain on her face as she spoke of her father, but it vanished the next moment.
"Hmm…" said Litlun. "Well, I can understand everyone's concerns, but we can't very well send off a search party with no lead to go on."
"Actually," Ivor interrupted, "the soldier said something about how she might've been on her way here through the Hexagon." Litlun's eyes widened. "Is that so?" he asked. "Well, even if that is the case, we still can't be of any help. The Hexagon is far too dangerous nowadays." He turned to Erinn. "Erinn, why don't you take Zera home now? Try not to worry her too much." He turned to fix Ivor with a steely glare. "I'd appreciate a bit of privacy so I can talk some sense into this pig-headed son of mine."
"T-there's no need for that, Dad!" he spluttered. Erinn and I left the house as Litlun began berating Ivor. When we returned to the house, Erinn led me up to her room. "I was so worried when I'd heard you'd left the village, Zera," she said. "You seen to be unscathed, though. You're obviously a lot tougher than I thought." I nodded in acceptance of her praise.
"Speaking of which, um…I wondered if I could ask you a favour, Zera," Erinn said. "Certainly," I replied. "What do you wish to ask?"
"You see," she said, "I'm quite worried about all this talk of Patty going missing. So I was wondering if you could-" She broke off, then, shaking her head. "Oh, never mind!" she said. "The Hexagon is really far too dangerous. I couldn't possibly ask that much of you." She sighed. "I'm obviously worried about Patty, but it's far too dangerous to go off to the Hexagon looking for her. All we can do is pray to the Almighty to keep her safe."
As I watched, she bowed her head. "Guardian Zera," she prayed, "please watch over Patty and see that she comes to no harm."
I shivered and left the house.
Soon I stood before the Guardian statue once more, trying to push the mental sounds of several prayers to the back of my mind. They were all the same: the people of Angel Falls were praying for Patty.
I kneeled before the statue. I know not what I am to do, I prayed. Show me the way, Almighty, please. Where can I go from here? I have no way of returning to the Observatory and my brethren, and I know not if I have the strength to see to Patty's safety. Then the memory of the Starflight Express filled my mind. Perhaps I could return to the Observatory inside it! But first, I needed to fulfil the prayers of my flock. Tomorrow, I decided, would see me in the Hexagon.
"See you later, Zera," Erinn said as I left her house the next morn. "Don't push yourself too hard, will you?" I struggled to restrain my laughter as I replied, "Do not worry about me, Erinn."
I decided to first visit the village shop. I wished to purchase a new shirt, as my Celestrian top now had a hole over the rear.
I found a knee-length, sleeveless blue top with an attached hooded cape. It looked rather simple; however, I was sure it would serve. Then, something caught my eyes.
It was a feathered fan. I had never used a fan as my weapon; but looking at it, I felt rather attracted to the idea. So I purchased both items. I changed in the back, tucked my new weapon into my belt, and left for the Hexagon.
It was a fair, warm day, but when I entered the ruins a half-hour after leaving Angel Falls, the temperature felt as though it had dropped ten degrees. I shivered and pulled the cape of my new shirt over my bare shoulders and pulled the hood over my head. As I walked forwards, I drew my new fan and opened it up. The ruins had a dangerous feel to them.
Directly in my path, blocking a doorway, stood a stone. I approached it to read the inscription. Path ahead sealed due to beast-related fatalities, it read. Suddenly, I felt a chill and turned to look.
A ghost stood behind me, one I recognised well: Edwinn, Erinn's father. He said nothing, but turned and walked away. I followed him, sure that he was showing me something. He led me up a side passage. At the end stood an odd statue. Edwinn stopped to the side. When he spoke, it sounded as though each word took terrible effort. "On the…back of…this statue…" And upon saying this, he faded away. I examined the back of the statue, and found a button upon the back of its neck. When I pressed it, I heard a loud grinding sound from the area of the stone. I rushed back out to see that the stone had moved away from the door.
Beyond it, there were two descending staircases- one to the left, and one to the right. I first took the left, but it led to a dead end. So I ascended the stairs and took the right.
As I moved through the chilly passages of the ruin, I could see vaporous monsters hovering in the shadows; but many of them vanished as I approached.
Finally, I reached a large chamber. In the centre, a young woman sat, struggling to shift the rocks that pinned her to the ground. I rushed to her. "Oh, my- I never expected to bump into anyone all the way down here!" she said. "Hey, sweetie, you couldn't be a hero and shift some of this rubble for me, could ya? I'm not badly hurt or anything, but I'm kinda stuck here, ya know? And I don't fancy being around when that beast comes back."
As I moved to shift the rubble, I asked, "What beast?" Before the woman could answer, I felt the chamber shake. My head snapped up to see a dark shape in a cloud of dust. "Oh, brother!" the woman said. "It's back!"
As the dust cleared, the figure of a large pinkish-hided beast appeared. "What is this thing?" I asked the woman, my voice shaking slightly. "It's a Hexagoon," she told me. "I got trapped trying to run away from this guy and not looking where I was going. Watch your head, sweetie!"
I stepped around the woman and the rubble, holding my fan before me. I needed to keep the woman safe as I fought the beast. After a second's pause, I charged the beast and sliced down its flank. It snarled as it turned to follow me, and swung its head at me. Its horns caught me across the right arm, and I gritted my teeth.
I cut it next across the nose. It roared- mainly in anger, it seemed to me. Rather than charging as I expected it to, however, it reared up and crashed its enormous feet to the floor of the chamber. I looked up in alarm as several large rocks fell from the ceiling. I dodged to the side, but one of the smaller rocks hit me on the head. I cursed softly as I charged the beast once more.
The battle dragged on for what seemed to me an age. I felt myself lucky that I had remembered Aquila's healing spell when I had been out with Ivor; had I not been able to heal myself several times, I doubtless would have perished.
The battle finally ended when I delivered a critically strong blow to a soft spot on the Hexagoon's neck. The beast reeled back, whimpering; then it fell to the ground. It soon grew completely silent.
I turned back to the woman, suddenly exhausted. The woman now stood straight and tall- evidently, she had freed herself. "You're tougher than you look," she complimented me. "Thank you," I replied tiredly. The woman smiled. "Thanks for saving my hide there. You're a doll. Ya know, I managed to shake myself free in all the chaos. So, let's get outta here, huh? Being attacked by monsters is such a drag!"
She turned to leave, and I followed her from the ruins. When we reached the outside, she turned to me. "Phew!" she said. "We're safe now, I guess. Ya know, I'm just not a dark ruins type of gal! I'm Patty, by the way. I run the inn over in Stornway. And you are?"
"My name is Zera," I told her. "I live in Angel Falls for the moment." Patty's eyes widened then. "Ah! That reminds me," she said. "I've got to get to Angel Falls right away. See ya, sweetie! And thanks a bunch for your help!"
She turned and headed down the path to the village. I stood before the ruins for a moment longer, then decided to follow her back. I would be able to rest in the village, and at the moment, a rest was exactly what I needed.
When I reached the village nearly an hour later, I decided to first check at the inn to see if Patty and Erinn were speaking there. Perhaps I could discover what had prompted Patty to come to the village through such a dangerous route.
Patty stood before the desk, arms crossed, looking around. "Uh-huh, this is Edwinn's place, alright!" she said. "No one else knew how to do it quite like he did. The original host with the most!"
"Did you know my father, then?" Erinn asked. Then her eyes brightened with comprehension. "Oh! You must be Patty! I was so worried about you. I heard that someone called Patty had gone missing on their way here."
"Yup, that's me, honey!" Patty said. She was smiling. "You were worried, huh? That's sweet. And I can't believe you remembered my name. You were so tiny. So…where's old Edwinn hiding, huh?" She looked about the inn then, as though expecting him to be hiding in a corner. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I realised Erinn had been right: Patty did not know of Edwinn's demise.
Erinn looked down. "Ah," she murmured. "I thought you were probably coming to see him. I'm afraid that he's no longer with us…. It was two years ago now…" I could see a tear in her eye as she said the words.
Patty appeared shocked in the extreme. "Huh? No longer with us…? You mean he's passed away?" Erinn nodded. "Sadly, yes."
"Wow," Patty said. "I, I can't believe it…so the Inncredible…that's…gee, what does that mean for my old inn, then?" She looked to be at loose ends for a moment. Then I saw a flash of something in her eyes. "I guess if Edwinn's gone, that mean's you're running this place all on you own, huh?"
"Um, well, yes," Erinn said. She looked distinctly confused. Patty turned away, scanning the room. "It's not the biggest inn in the world, but it's so quaint. I bet the guests here feel more welcome than in their own homes!"
Erinn smiled, though she still looked confused. "That's very kind of you. I try to do my best to honour my father's memory by keeping the place running smoothly." Without turning around, Patty said, "Hey, I wouldn't expect anything else from the daughter of the Inncredible Inntertainer, honey!"
"Um," Erinn said cautiously, "about his 'Inncredible' thing…?" Not seeming to hear, Patty turned around. "Hey, I don't suppose you'd wanna give running an inn in Stornway a shot, do ya?"
"Um…I beg your pardon!"
"Follow me, honey," Patty said, heading to the single bedroom of the inn. "I've got some stuff to tell you." She looked at me as she passed. "You come along too, Zera," she said. Erinn and I followed her into the room.
As we gathered around the small table, Erinn said, "So when Dad was in Stornway, people used to call him the 'Inncredible Inntertainer'?"
"You better believe it, honey!" Patty said. "He was the best of the best! He was only a young guy back then, but he set up hid own inn from scratch and totally put his rivals out of business!"
"Goodness!" Erinn said. "I can't imagine him being like that." It took effort to keep from nodding in agreement. Erinn did not know I was truly their Guardian, after all; it would seem odd to her that the strange minstrel knew of her father. Erinn continued: "He always seemed so unadventurous to me, and he said he was happy to run even the smallest of inns as long as we were together."
"Yeah, that's the funny thing…" Patty said. "Why would a guy like Edwinn choose to ship out to a hick town like this?" Erinn said nothing. Nor did I; I had no more idea than she or Patty.
"Well, I guess that's water under the bridge," Patty said. "The thing is, his old place in Stornway is in real trouble right now. We were all kinda hoping that the Inncredible Inntertainer would make a comeback and get things back on track again…" She sighed.
"I just can't believe I didn't know he died two whole years ago," she continued after a moment. "I mean, gee! I'm so sorry, honey," she added, looking at Erinn kindly. Erinn shook her head. "Not at all," she said. "I'm just sorry that you came all this way for nothing."
"Hey, no apology needed," Patty said, waving it off. "I mean, I got to meet you instead, right? You're coming back with me to Stornway." Erinn bit her lip. "Um…" she said hesitantly, "I don't think that's possible. I have my hands full with this place as it is. And I just find it hard to believe that Dad was some kind of legendary innkeeper."
"Hard to believe?" Patty asked, obviously incredulous. "You can't argue with the facts, honey. And I can see you're a chip off the old block, too. I've got a knack for seeing people's strengths, ya know."
Erinn looked around- a bit wildly, it seemed to me. "Oh, dear," she said. "It's getting late and I really need to get started on supper. Excuse me." She turned to the door. "And I can't go to Stornway with you, so stop trying to persuade me!" With that, she raced out the door so quickly that I felt my cape move slightly in response.
Patty moved to the doorway and leaned against it, her arms folded. "A stubborn one, huh?" she said, seemingly to herself. "Don't worry, sweetie, you'll see sense before long!" Then she turned to face me. "Hey…" she said. Then she smiled. "Yeah, I thought I recognised you. You're the girl who helped me out back at the ruins, right?" I nodded. "I am glad to see you made it here safely," I said. Patty nodded. "Well, thanks again for that," she said. "You know, while you're in the helping mood, honey, you couldn't try to twist Erinn's arm, could you? I can't let that kind of talent go to waste. It'd be good for her too, you know?"
"I suppose I could try," I said doubtfully. I rather believed that Erinn wished to go, at least deep down. However, I could imagine how the prospect frightened her. It would be difficult to convince her to follow her heart rather than her head.I left the inn for Erinn's home. But, blocking the door stood Edwinn. He faced away from me, looking at the door. "Greetings to you," I said, and he leapt into the air. "Waaah!" he cried, turning. "You g-gave me a fright! D-don't do that again, will you?"
"Gladly," I said. Then Edwinn seemed to realise something. "Wait a minute!" he said. "You can see me?" I merely nodded. "But I'm dead!" I nodded again. After a moment, he appeared to calm and looked at me curiously. "I had a feeling that you could see me back at the Hexagon, too," he said. "That's quite a strange talent you've got there. Sorry, I haven't introduced myself yet, have I? I'm Erinn's father, Edwinn. I fell ill two years ago and died suddenly. But as you can see, I still haven't managed to leave this mortal realm entirely. And you are?"
"I am Zera," I told him. His eyes widened, and he looked towards the Guardian statue. Then he looked back at me. "…Really? R-really?" he asked. "B-but…Zera…isn't that…? Aren't you the village Guardian?"
I merely nodded once more. Then suddenly, a feminine voice from my right called, "Hey! Hang on a minute!" Edwinn and I looked over to see a blond faerie flying towards us at top speed. Before I was able to move, she flew into my shoulder. "Ow!" I cried.
"Ouch! Oi, watch where you're flapping standing!" said the faerie indignantly. "I may be skinny as a rake, but I still need a bit of room for manoeuvres! Never mind, I forgive you. Now, old man! What was that rubbish you were just sprouting?"
She said all of this extremely fast.I could do naught but blink, and could not blame Edwinn for seeming a bit nonplussed as he responded, "I, er…I'm not sure what you mean."
"You were on about Celestrians, right?" asked the faerie. "I wondered the same thing at first, but this mess of a minstrel hardly foots the bill! I don't see a halo, do you? And I don't see any wings, either. Bit odd for a Celestrian, that, wouldn't you say?"
I understood the faerie's line of thinking. "I suppose you're right," Edwinn said. "Though, while we're on the subject of odd, who and what are you?"
"Ha! Wouldn't you like to know," said the faerie. She looked at us for a moment. I raised my brows. "…Yes, I suppose you would," she said. "Then I'd better introduce myself. Wait for it…I am the supreme, stupendous Stella, stunning skipper of the sky-soaring Starflight Express! Ta daa!"
And ever so humble, as well, I thought. "Er, I…see," said Edwinn. He was evidently nonplussed. Stella ignored him and turned to me. "Right then, your turn," she said. "Time to fly your true colours and tell us who you really are. You look like a regular mortal to me, so how come you can see the Starflight Express and ghosts like this old bloke?"
I took a breath to steady myself before launching into my tale. As I spoke, I felt my worry for the others-especially Aquila- overwhelm me once more. I struggled to control it as I continued.
"Sounds like a bit of a tall yarn, if you ask me," Stella said when I'd finished. "If you lost your wings and halo, how is it that you can still see ghosts and the like? Bit neither here nor there, isn't it?" Before I could speak, she continued: "I know! If you're a Celestrian, then prove it. Send someone's spirit up to the heavens. You've got nothing to lose, and this old bloke here just happens to be in need of a shove in the righteous direction."
"Wait!" Edwinn said. "Are you talking about me? I'm not exactly happy as I am, but…" He spread his hands apart, obviously uncertain how to express his thoughts. "Let me guess, you're only a ghost because you've got some unfinished business to put to sleep, right?" Stella asked. Edwinn nodded.
Stella turned to me then. "Alright then, help this spook here to tie up his loose ends and then send him on his way," she said. "Then I'll believe you're a Celestrian, and I might even give you a ride back up to the Observatory on the old Starflight Express. Can't say faerier than that, right?" At her words, I felt excitement rise within me. I would soon be returning to the Observatory! Perhaps Apus Major would know how to assist me in regaining my wings and halo. And- I would discover if Aquila was safe. I nodded enthusiastically.
"So I'll tag along with you for a while until the job's done," Stella said. "While we're at it, I should probably warn you that I'll be keeping tags on you while I'm tabbing along." I nodded in agreement, and we both turned to face Edwinn.
"Well, this is all rather strange," he said. I smiled. "Indeed," I agreed. He laughed once. "Still, I appreciate your willingness to help." He looked into the distance. I was stuck by how much he resembled Erinn when he did that. "Hmm…" he said. "I wonder what unfinished business is stopping me from going up to the heavens. I don't suppose…I wonder if it's something to do with that thing I buried behind the inn."
He didn't appear to be paying any more attention to my new faerie companion and me. "Shall we search behind the inn, then?" I suggested. "Sounds good," Stella said. "Lead the way!"
There was not enough space behind the inn itself for anyone to go, so I decided to search upon the grassy ledge by the falls. A small bump beneath a bush caught my eye, and I dug there. Perhaps an inch below the surface, I uncovered something golden. "Would you give me some assistance, Stella?" I asked. She fluttered down and assisted me in uncovering the whole of a large golden trophy. I rubbed away some dirt on the base to see an inscription: Awarded to Edwinn by HRH King Schott of Stornway for Inncredible achievements in Inntertainment. "This must be it!" Stella cheered. Clasping the award to my chest, I sprinted back to where Edwinn waited. Breathing heavily, I showed it to him."That's it!" Edwinn said. "That's my Inny! Goodness, that takes me back a bit." He smiled, but the smile faded as he continued speaking. "The truth is, I hid it away when I came back to Angel Falls. I didn't want Erinn to know. And I didn't want to spend my whole time being reminded about Stornway…" He sighed.
"Erinn was very weak as a child," he told us. "I came back to live in Angel Falls for her sake. It was what my late wife wanted- what Erinn's mother wanted. So I brought the poor thing here just after her mother passed away, and I hid the trophy where no one could find it. I wonder how she'll react when she sees it." He sighed once more, and Stella and I entered Erinn's house. I found her up in her room, standing before the small table. She looked up as Stella and I entered. "What's up, Zera?" she asked. "What's that trophy you've got there?"
By way of explanation, I handed her the Inny. She read the inscription, mouthing the words. "An award for being an Inncredible Inntertainer…from the King of Stornway? To my father? I don't believe it! Patty's story was all true!" Then she lowered the Inny.
"I don't understand, though," she murmured. "Why would Dad have given up all that to come here to sleepy Angel Falls? What in the world was he thinking of?"
"I may be able to shed a little light on that," came a voice from behind us. I turned, and Erinn looked up. Flinn stood in the doorway. "Grandpa?" Erinn asked, surprise colouring her tone. Flinn walked to the table. "Edwinn made me promise not to say anything, so I've kept it a secret all there years, but I don't see that it matters now." He sighed.
"Dear Erinn, you must remember how sickly you were as a child," he began. "Your poor mother was the same. In the normal course of things, you would have become sicker and sicker as you got older. Eventually, you would have died. We lost your mother at a young age to the same fate."
"But I'm perfectly healthy," Erinn protested. "I hardly even remember being sick anymore."
"That's because you were brought up on water from the falls here in the village," Flinn told her. "Angel Falls' water is famous for making people healthy and curing their ills." Erinn looked down at the table. "So…what you're saying is that Dad gave up his inn in Stornway and came back here for my sake?" she asked softly.
"That's right," Flinn said. "Saving his daughter was far more important to him than his own ambitions." Erinn looked up. "But that's terrible!" she cried. "I stood in the way of my father and his dreams."
"He knew you'd feel that way," Flinn said. "That's why he didn't want you to know. But you're mature enough now to be told the truth." Erinn nodded, looking off towards the wall. "You know, I always wondered why he sometimes had that faraway look on his face," she murmured. "Now I know…he did all that for me…"
She turned to me then. "Um, Zera," she said. "It looks like I'm going to be leaving for Stornway. I don't know if I can be of any help to Patty, but I have to at least give it a try!" She smiled as she said it, and left the room. I followed her a moment later. Edwinn stood in the hall. "You there, grandad?" Stella asked. "I'm here," Edwinn said. "I heard everything. I can't believe Erinn is going to follow my ambition in my place. She really has grown up. Now I have no regrets. I know that she'll succeed. She doesn't need me watching over her shoulder."
His form began to glow softly. "It looks like I'm ready to leave," he said, beginning to rise. "Than you so much, my honoured Guardian." He closed his eyes, and tilted his head back. Joy suffused his features as the glowing grew to an unbearable brightness, and I shielded my eyes. A moment later, the glow faded. Edwinn had gone to the heavens.
"He's gone!" Stella said. "Indeed," I murmured, smiling. She turned to me. "You did it! So you are a Celestrian, after all. Well, a promise is a promise. I'll give you a lift back to the Observatory like we agreed, as say thanks to your lucky stars."
She fluttered to where Edwinn had stood. "Hang on to your horses a minute- shouldn't you be picking up that benevolessence?" she asked. I looked. "What benevolessence?" I asked her. There was nothing there but floor. "You can flapping see it, can't you?" Stella asked. "Don't tell me you can't see benevolessence anymore!"
"I have already said: I see nothing there," I told her. Stella sighed. "Now I'm starting to wonder again… are you really a Celestrian, or are you pulling my chain?" She picked something up off the floor and handed it to me. I could feel the crystal in my hand, but I could not see it."It does not matter right now," I said with a sigh. "I need to sleep." And thus saying, I went into my room and lay down. I was asleep the next moment.
Three days later, the pass was clear once more. Erinn, Patty, Flinn, Stella, and I were gathered outside of Erinn's house. I was tired; my nightmares had continued, and I had awoken before dawn, unable to return to sleep. Off to the side, Ivor paced back and forth, an angry expression on his face.
"I'll miss you, Grandpa," Erinn said. "You take care of yourself, won't you?" Flinn smiled. "You, too," he said. "It'll be hard work making a living in a new town. Make sure you don't go working yourself sick."
Patty smiled and put her hand on Erinn's shoulder. "I know you're worried about your little girl, but I'm gonna be around to help her out, so you just relax, okay?" she said reassuringly. Flinn nodded. "That's good to know, Patty," he said. "You've helped to set an old man's mind at ease."
Erinn turned to Ivor, who was still pacing. "Ivor! Can I have a word?" she called. Ivor turned. "What do you want to talk to me for?" he asked angrily. "You're leaving, so you obviously don't care." A shadow passed over Erinn's features, but it passed a moment later. "I was wondering if you might take over the inn here for me. I don't have the heart to close it down, you see. You'll do it, won't you? I know I can count on you!"
Ivor shrugged, but I could see eagerness in his eyes. "I suppose I'll do it," he said, "but only to get Dad off my back with his nagging about me finding a job. I'm not doing it for you! Anyway, I bet I'll be so good at innkeeping that I'll soon trump your place over in Stornway!"
Erinn smiled. "And I wish you luck with it," she said. "Not that I'll let you get the better of me, of course!"
"Oh, yeah?" Ivor asked. "Sounds like we've got a competition on our hands!" Erinn laughed, then turned to me. "Zera, I can't thank you enough for what you've done," she said. "It's amazing how you managed to find Dad's hidden trophy like that. You really are a mystery. I wouldn't be surprised if you turned out to be our Guardian after all…"
She shook her head then, as if to clear it. "Ha ha! Listen to me and my wild imagination! I suppose you'll be heading off to your home to your hometown now, will you? If your journey brings you through Stornway, make sure you come and stay at my new inn, won't you?"
"Of course, Erinn," I said, smiling. "I am sure it would be the best night's rest I will ever experience!"
Erinn smiled. "I'd better get going, then," she said, sighing. "Goodbye, everyone. And thank you for everything!" She looked to Patty, and they turned to leave. Patty's hand still rested upon Erinn's shoulder, and I smiled. I was certain Erinn would do well with her new inn. Flinn went back inside, and Ivor headed off- presumably to tell his father of his new job.
"Time for us to make some tracks, too," Stella said. I looked at her. "You remember where the Starflight Express is, presumably?" I nodded. "Of course," I said. "No need to look so flapping pleased with yourself!" Stella said. "I hardly expected you to forget. Come on, let's head for the pass!"
We set off through the village. As we went, Stella talked continuously, but I paid little attention. I was preoccupied by the thought of leaving the Protectorate. Oddly, it did not fill me with the excitement I had anticipated.
I had grown to truly like the mortal realm, and the people I knew in it. I wished to visit Patty and Erinn someday, to see how they were getting on with the inn. But I knew that if I regained my halo and wings, I would most likely become invisible to them once more, and I would be confined to Angel Falls. There would be no possibility of visiting Erinn, no chance to explore the rest of this realm. Truly, it was a bittersweet journey.
When we reached the Starflight, I could read the excitement upon Stella's face. "Here we are," she said. "All aboard!" And she pushed open the door. I followed her in, curious to see the inside of the celestial carriage.
There was much yellow, naturally. At the front of the car stood a console covered in many buttons. I did not envy the one who had to learn what they all did. "So here we are on the Starflight," said Stella. She sounded as though she were giving a tour. "What do you reckon? Pretty swish, isn't she?" She turned then to examine the interior.
"I'd like to jazz her up a bit more, actually," she said. "It's still a bit on the plain side, wouldn't you say? I'm thinking pink rhinestones with gold around them. That'd really make the place look stellar, don't you think?"
I personally did not think so. I had a liking for darker colours, and the picture she had painted had me overly dazzled. She looked back to me, and frowned, seeing my expression. "…What?" she asked. "Not bothered about my amazing interior design ideas, eh? I suppose you just want to get going, do you?" Before I could answer in any way, she continued: "Fine, fine. No more hanging about. I'm pretty keen to get back to the Observatory and see how everything is, myself."She fluttered up to the console, and I followed. I had fluttering of my own- in my stomach. I was eager to see whether Aquila was safe, and the others, but I was uncertain whether I was prepared to leave the mortal realm.
"Here we go, then," Stella said. "Iiiiit's TAKE-OFF TIME!" She slapped a button on the console. The train groaned, rumbled- and went silent.
"…Oh, flap," said Stella. "We have a problem. I thought it would fly if there was a Celestrian on board. I wonder what's wrong…" She sighed, then turned to me with a glint in her eyes. "Hey, you couldn't see that benevolessence before, could you, even though you reckon you're a Celestrian? That must be the problem!" She put her hands upon her hips. "I mean, it's a bit much to expect me to believe that Celestrians can just lose their halos and wings, isn't it?"
"I suppose so," I said. "I would not have believed it if it had not happened to me.""Ha!" Stella said. "Talk about being to honest-to-goodness for your own good!" She turned away then. "Anyway, we don't have time for this. The Almighty won't be best pleased if we hang around here while there's big stuff going on. "Ooooiiii, Almighty, matey!" she called then. "You listening? We're in a right old gherkin here, why don't you give us a flapping hand?"
I highly doubted she'd get her hand if she spoke to the Almighty- the Almighty! - in such an impertinent tone, though I kept that opinion to myself. There was a time and place to say things, and this was not it.
However, Stella seemed to realise something was wrong. "That's weird…" she mused. "He's probably too busy to notice us or something…" With that, she turned back to me. "Alright, then, Zera, here's what we'll do: we'll follow the road to this Stornway place. When we get there, we'll help lots of people and get loads of benevolessence. That should make that Almighty oaf prick his eyes up!"
My own eyes widened at the way she spoke of the Almighty. "Ha!" Stella said. "Look at your face! Not too swayed over by the idea or something? Well, tough turkey! I've decided that's what we're doing, so get moving!" She all but shoved me out of the Starflight before I could say a word. Secretly, I was rather pleased. I would be able to visit Erinn, after all!