Four thousand seasons shall pass while our swords grow rusty.
Where once one chose to divide, another shall be chosen to unite.
One changed the past, the other shall change the future.
One must emancipate the other to allow the Light its dominion.
The realm, now torn, allows the Shadow to abide, as humanity lies blind to its peril.
The bond of friendship must endure, for the Army of Shadows awaits another tear.
Dust off your swords, Unite the realm, and Destroy the strongholds.
Foretelling of Didasko Gnome Digdeep
Off and Running
You don’t need them, a voice hissed in her ear, Escape. Run away.
Scorching sand burned her feet and bitterness ate at her heart. Mellie pumped her legs as fast as they would go. Her pounding feet beat out a tempo with the crashing waves. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Run-a-way. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins, quickening her step.
Why did I have to be the youngest? Only 12 years old. Never smart enough. Never athletic enough. I just wish they loved me.
Once, just once, she wanted to do something that would make her sisters see that she wasn’t the stupid, awkward, ugly, little baby sister.
As she ran, she wiped away some tears with the palm of her hand. Her fingers settled on her large nose, a gift from her dad’s Hungarian ancestry.
Chelsea got the ski-slope shaped nose. I had to get Half-Dome. It just isn’t fair.
Her hand dropped to her side and she pinched at her stomach. It still had some of its baby fat.
Ugh, why are my sisters so perfect? What happened to me?
Pushing her short bangs from her forehead in disgust, she mumbled, “Maybe I’ll find treasure. I’ll be the rich one and then they’ll have to accept me.” But she knew better. California didn’t hold any more unfound treasures.
The sand, hot and coarse, cut at her feet. I wish I had remembered my shoes. She wore only a black, one-piece swimsuit and a San Jose Sharks sweatshirt tied tightly around her waist.
Breathing rapidly, she began to tire. She slowed her pace to a walk and looked back across the beach. The sand was so hot that waves of heat rose from it and blurred her view. A lone seagull screeched overhead.
Her sisters were nowhere in sight.
Man, I thought for sure that Chelsea was going to chase me down and kill me.
She had to admit that it was a little gratifying to see the sand fly from her foot, covering Chelsea’s sub-sandwich and freshly oiled stomach. Grinning slightly, the tears stopped flowing. She rubbed her eyes.
Mellie looked in the direction of her sisters. “You guys can never take a joke.” Flipping her golden hair, she turned her head back toward her chosen path. She no longer smiled as she stomped her feet in the cold surf, remembering the hateful words that had been said.
“ Oh, waa waa, you stupid cry baby! Go tell mommy! Maybe she’ll feel sorry for her ugly, fat baby. Why don’t you grow up? We don’t want you near us. Can’t you understand English? You are so dumb. Look at her mouth open. Oh wait, here she goes…come on baby…cry!”
Mellie knew she couldn’t go back. They would only ridicule and torment her further. Her mom would never believe it was Chelsea’s fault. No, the evidence was on Chelsea’s side. Who was the one with the sand all over her oily, coconut-smelling body? Who was the one who had a sandwich full of sand? Mellie walked on.
After her temper finally cooled, it occurred to her that she had never walked so far alone.
How far have I gone?
A shadow passed over her, and she looked up. Nothing was there. A cool breeze from the ocean created a stark contrast to the scalding sand. She shivered but kept walking, lost in her loneliness.
Not until she stubbed her toe on a large broken clamshell did she look at the beach. A chill snaked up her back. Nothing appeared familiar. The sounds of the surf were still there, yet something was decidedly different. She felt dizzy. Looking around, she could not quite pinpoint the change. Then it struck her.
Where did everybody go?
Even though she could see no one, Mellie felt eyes staring at her.
She looked inland across the sand, saw movement near some eucalyptus trees, but decided that the wind must have caused it.
Trees? So close to the beach?
Something shook the trees again, causing goosebumps to stand out on Mellie’s arms. Alarmed, she checked the skyline. The sun was close to setting. She hoped that the police weren’t out looking for her.
Suddenly cold, she pulled at the arms of the sweatshirt still tied around her waist. It fell to the sand. Bending to pick it up, she once again saw a blur of movement, except this time it came from a rocky outcrop by the waves. She shook the sand out of the sweatshirt and hurriedly tugged it over her head.
“Okay, I’m seeing things.” Mellie yanked at her hair, pulling it out of the sweatshirt. She stared at the sinister rocks. “Hel-lo?” Her voice cracked as she spoke louder. “Is someone the-ere? Hello?” No answer. The shadowy rocks seemed to quiver with excitement, beckoning her closer.
Hmm…probably just a seagull.
Even if it was a bird, she did not want to see it.
There’s no way I’m going over there.
The wind picked up and blew her hair into her eyes. The sand spun with the wind.
Yes, definitely time to move. I need to find a road.
She turned back toward the sweet smelling, oddly placed trees.
When Mellie arrived at the base of the first eucalyptus, it was colossal. Without warning, one of the branches fell in front of her, then seemed to get up from the ground and pose its bottom stems in a military-like stance.
Mellie sceamed and jumped back. “Branches don’t stand.”
“They do if they are walking sticks.” The eucalyptus branch chuckled, stretching to its full height, considerably taller than Mellie’s meager five feet.
She gasped, grabbed the branch, and threw it like a javelin, as hard as she could.
As she took off running, she heard a bark and halted. Turning, she saw a golden retriever bounding toward her with the stick in his mouth. The dog dropped it at her feet. She watched the dog run into the grove of trees and disappear before she fearfully turned back to the possessed stick.
It had already gained its footing again and stood over her.
Mellie was too frightened to move this time.
A face emerged from the skinny twig and took on the characteristics of a male human, but none that Mellie had ever seen. He had hair made up in rolls like a powdered, green-silver wig, the same color as the leaves that grew all around his skinny body. His face was long and his forehead high. The twiggy man smiled and said in a distinctly British, albeit breezy, accent, “Do not worry, you are safe.”
Mellie couldn’t answer.
“Ahh…I love new recruits. They are so easily addled.”
Feeling more confused than threatened, Mellie found her voice. “What? What do you mean, new recruits?” She rubbed her eyes, shaking her head. “Okay, I’m talking to a stick now. Yes, I have lost it. I have gone totally mental.”
“Oh, I say, am I to understand that I am the first to be revealed to you?” With round, leathery leaves, the branch resembled a toddler toy with rings stacked on one another.
She dropped open her mouth and nodded.
“Well, let me do this properly, then. Ahem. Mortal, made of clay, you have been Chosen to join the Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous Emancipation Squads.”
“What? What are you? You look like a stick…but you can talk.”
“Yes, child,” the stick replied with a sigh. “But, I think we are quite past that by now. Have you not heard me? You have been chosen.”
Mellie opened her mouth wider. Closed it. Frowned. Opened it once more. “Chosen? For what?”
“You did wish to be different? To change who you were? ’Twas an especially strong desire, yes?” The branch crossed its arms and tapped its twiggy foot.
“Dear me, this is highly unusual. You made a choice to run away from a miserable life and asked to be set free? Correct?”
“Well, I, ah…yeah. I guess so. What did you say about recruit for some squad?”
“Humph. I see that I was not understood. Yes? Let me elucidate. The F.A.I.R.I.E.S., or shall I say, the Fantastical, Aerial, International, Reasonably Inconspicuous, Emancipation Squads, have accepted you into their organization. You asked. You were answered.” The branch attempted a smile, but looked impatient instead.
“Fairies? I don’t believe in fairies.” Mellie winced, half expecting him to fall down and writhe in pain until she clapped her hands.
“Quite right. You are not supposed to. If humans truly believed we existed, we would never get anything accomplished.”
Mellie laughed and looked around for a hidden camera, thinking this must be a joke. “Right. Ahh…heh…okay, bud, brilliant costume,” she said, imitating the branch’s accent. “Where’s the zipper?” She reached toward him and touched a soft leaf.
The branch slapped her hand away and stamped its foot with a loud cracking noise. “I beg your pardon. I have not been a bud for over 800 springs!” He paced, his leaves crumpling, mumbling to himself about humans and why, in the One’s name, did he listen to the confounded gnomes who told him that he needed to stand gate duty, with his rank.
“I’m sorry I upset you. Please, I’m very confused. I’m lost and I just want to go home.” Mellie bit her lip.
The branch stopped mid-pace. “Home? Earlier, did you not wish for a new life? And riches? I know you wished for treasure, hmmm?”
“How do you know that?” Mellie furrowed her brow. “Have you been reading my mind?”
The twig man didn’t answer her questions, asking his own instead. “Ahh, so, you admit this, yes?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Yes, but…well, this really isn’t what I had in mind.”
The branch threw up its twiggy fingers. “Oh, well, of course you did not have this in mind. After all, we are Reasonably Inconspicuous, especially to humans. How could you have this in mind? However, is it not superior of the One to think that this is what you would have chosen had you known about us? Anyway, ’tis irrevocable now. So, if you would just follow me, we shall get you signed in and enrolled for training.”
The branch marched off between the trunks of two large eucalyptus trees.
Mellie slid uncontrollably after the walking stick. She planted her feet firmly, refusing to budge, but she slid after him anyway. Grasping at branches of nearby trees, she panted heavily as she struggled to resist following the branch. Some kind of invisible tie connected her to him. He seemed to pull her along with his every step.
Out of nowhere, Chelsea’s voice called, “Mellie? Mellie, where are you? You are in so much trouble.”
I’m dead meat if she finds me. Mellie quickly gave up her battle and ran after the eucalyptus branch, barely keeping up with his stride.
# # #
The sand changed to coarse dirt, with pebbles and sticks. More and more trees filled her vision. Bushes scraped against her bare legs and slapped her face as she moved deeper inside a forest of eucalyptus and redwood trees. She winced in pain, as a razor-sharp rock sliced her foot. She stopped to nurse it, wishing once again for her forgotten shoes.
“Excuse me, sir?” Mellie looked around. She could not see the branch anywhere.
“Do not call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.” The branch peeked out from around one of the gigantic trees. “And please, try to keep up, we need to reach the gateway.”
Mellie limped up to him. “Sorry, sir…I mean…Umm, what should I call you then?”
“Oh, well, we did skip that, did we not? Yes, all right, an introduction then.” The branch man seemed to enjoy formal etiquette for he gave an elaborate wave and bowed. “My name is Regnans, family of Myrtaceae, born member of the F.A.I.R.I.E.S., Britannia Wing, rank of Master Nymph Dryad.”
“Nice to meet you, Reg…Reg?” Mellie chewed on the inside of her mouth. Never good at remembering names, she knew she would offend him with her lack of manners.
Sure enough, the dryad raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “Regnans.” He gave a hurt sniff, then drolly sneered. “If you find that a difficult name, you should meet the rest of my family, all two-hundred and fifty of them.”
“Sorry, I just…well, it is a lot to remember. It’s a nice name, though. My name is Maryellen Goodwin of Bret Harte Middle School, San Jose, California. But everyone calls me Mellie.” She stuck out her hand, intending to shake. Regnans stared at her.
“That is a strange curtsy. However, I guess ’twill do. We must get moving now. The Shadows abound, you know.” Regnans made an about face and marched off faster than before.
# # #
Another hour passed and still they strode along the forest floor. Mellie’s feet were now cut, blistered, and bleeding. She kept up as best she could with Regnans’s long stride. Whenever she tried to stop, he would pull her on with that invisible force of his.
Stupid, pompous, magical Star Wars freak.
She whimpered as she limped. Darkness and mist now covered the woods. As she was about to plead for a break, Regnans stopped. Except for her heavy gulps of air, all seemed quiet.
Regnans stiffened even more than usual. Nothing on him moved, apart from his eyes, which darted around quickly.
“All is safe, we may proceed.” He held up a twiggy finger to his woody mouth. “Please do not speak, and try not to breathe so abominably loud.”
Mellie nodded with a disgusted frown. Sweat dripped from her bangs. She tried to calm her breathing, even though her vision blurred and her legs wobbled. Her blisters had popped and oozed wetness.
Regnans moved again, yet this time he took slow, deliberate steps, all the while scanning his surroundings. He walked up to a massive redwood tree and stroked its bark.
A breeze stirred up, rattling the leaves, sounding almost like spoken words. Mellie thought herself crazy again. However, the longer she stood there, the more she sensed that it really was the tree’s language, as if she had never listened to trees properly before. It said, “If you love, you will say the one true love that leads the way.”
Regnans whispered in a leaf rustling voice, “Ah-gaw-pay.”
A loud grumbling sound, as if someone awakened after a long sleep, shook the grove. The redwood tree opened two eyes, each the size of Mellie’s head, and blinked. A great fissure erupted below the eyes in the shape of a crescent, and red-brown wooden teeth emerged. A long, knobby branch pushed its way out above the mouth and inhaled deeply.
The tree chuckled. Instead of the whispering leaves, a low, rumbling utterance of human speech came from the redwood tree. “Regnans? What brings you to my neck of the woods?” He blinked again. “And who is this? A new recruit? A human? A Chosen?”
Mellie knew she looked silly, standing there with her mouth in an ‘O’ shape.
“Yes, yes. Please open the gate, we must not dawdle here…they may be watching.” Regnans looked agitated.
A deep laugh resounded from the redwood. “Oh, Regnans. There are none who watch here.”
Regnans mumbled something about Hamadryads and their pride, then proclaimed in a slightly louder voice to the tree, “We must be sober, be vigilant, because the shadow walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour.”
The Hamadryad looked chagrinned. “You speak true, dryad. Forgive me for acting like an arrogant seedling.” He glanced at Mellie, and with a lowered voice asked, “And what is your name, little human?”
Mellie managed to squeak out, “Mellie Goodwin.”
“Ah, ’tis always nice to have a Good Wind.” The Hamadryad laughed heartily.
“Sorry to interrupt this lovely tete-a-tete,” Regnans said, “but would you please open the gate? I left Westside completely unguarded.”
An annoyed creak came from the base of the redwood, followed by a sigh. “Yes, Regnans. Agape you said and agape it is. Go with the Light, my friends.” The large, joyous eyes closed and the Hamadryad whispered in his leaf rustling voice, “Until we meet again, Good Wind.” His face disappeared and his roots lifted and pulled apart, exposing a tunnel within his trunk.
Regnans grabbed Mellie’s hand with his rough wooden one, and pulled her inside the opening. The tree closed itself abruptly and left them in total darkness.
Regnans cleared his throat and said, “Let there be Light.”
A burst of dazzling brightness sparkled from the tunnel’s wall. Mellie glanced around and noticed a long, winding stairwell leading down into the ground.
“Shall we, then?” Not waiting for a reply, Regnans started down the steps.