(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Cathal was written by Brandon O’Bryant.)
Cathal pushed aside his braid of brown hair as he moved down the row of planter beds. Eirias said he should expect a guest today so he’d hung a sign on the door saying he was in the greenhouse. While the old man was rarely forthcoming with details his ability to predict events was uncanny even for someone cursed with precognition. Still he had work to do, there were projects in the forge he hadn’t touched in days but it seemed a bit rude to expect someone to talk to him in the oppressive heat of the small shed while he hammered on steel, and he’d already finished repairing the last computer for a client yesterday and hadn’t bothered to accept any new jobs since returning from his last bit of work as a Guardian.
He’d settled on tending to the garden and hoped whoever the mysterious guest was they wouldn’t be offended by the smell of fertilizer and compost. He spooned another trowel full of the mushroom fertilizer into the box and worked it into the soil around the diminutive tree. He frowned as he noticed leafs starting to brown around the edges and used a tendril of energy to strengthen the mango tree. He’d need to increase the insulation and see about getting a better heater for the greenhouse. It would be a shame if any of the delicate plants were killed by the cold weather of the Colorado Rockies after two years of work. The greenhouse was wood frame Quonset hut with double layers of thick plastic sandwiching a layer of insulation and glass panes overhead to let in natural sunlight. He pulled out a wood bin and began picking the fruits carefully while he waited for his mysterious guest.
“Are you sure you don’t want me around?” He nodded his head to the large spirit that had walked through the door. Khan could have just as easily come in through the wall but the enormous tiger spirit insisted on using doors even if he couldn’t open them.“Dad says the person just wants to chat. Says it should clear my head, Go ahead and head to my sister’s house for a while, I’ll call for you if you’re needed.” Cathal waved his hand in farewell as the last of the white fur passed back through the door and he was left alone again.
Kelly came to the house, found the sign indicating he was in the greenhouse, so she found her way to it. “Hello?” She made her presence known as she glimpsed around. He had quite an impressive garden here.
She came to the greenhouse and knocked on the door. “Hello? Cathal?” She saw him tending to some plants there and smiled. “Hi, I’m Kelly. I believe you’re expecting me. I love your plants. Maybe you can tell me the trick of how not to let plants die…of course, I suppose watering them on a regular occasion would help.” She had a tendency of getting to busy and forgetting to water her plants, which was unfortunate because she liked them, but she shifted the subject when Cathal turned to look at her. “How are you doing today?”
Cathal frowned for a moment at the woman before answering, It wasn’t impossible just rare for him to encounter someone whose energy and emotions he couldn’t feel. “Dad said someone would be along today. I’m doing fairly well, enjoying a few quiet days between jobs and unwanted visitors that I need to send away from earth.”
Kelly smiled. “Can I have one of those days? It would be nice.” But she chuckled as she made her way around the greenhouse, taking in all the different kinds of plants. “So, Cathal, I know you’ve had past lives, but does that mean you’ve died and come back? Or are you basically immortal or something?” She tilted her head to a side as she regarded him across the way.
He gestured towards the back of the greenhouse. “I’ve just about finished with tending the plants if you want to sit. My situation is a bit unusual for most people I guess. I have died and come back a few times. My memories aren’t exactly complete so I can’t say how many times but I know of at least three lives other than this one. The immortality thing though is a bit over rated from experience. There’s always something that can kill you.”
Kelly nodded as she made her way to the back and took a seat. “Understandable. I bet living that long can be tiresome. What do you remember of your first life?”
“Bits and pieces really. I had a family of sorts although I don’t think you could say any of us where the eight of us just. I guess appeared works, language isn’t always that great at explaining stuff like this I guess.” He plucked an apple from the collection of fruits he’d gathered and took a bite. “I don’t know where the other elementals like me are anymore. The last memories I have of them are from during a war but the me back then was a lot different than my first life. I started out way to soft hearted for my own good trying to take care of everyone and fix everything.”
“Sounds familiar,” Kelly muttered under her breath but then locked eyes with him. “So I’m assuming you’re hardened over time?” She lifted her brows but then leaned forward. “Did your soft-heartedness get you killed in that life though?”
The rooms temperature dropped quickly as Cathal’s emotions spilled over while he thought about those memories. “I got killed because of what I was really. Someone thought they could take the power I had by killing me. The next life around I wouldn’t say I’d hardened so much as I was callous about things. Memories from that particular life time still haunt me when they surface, That’s when the war I mentioned started and I did a lot of things I don’t think anyone should. That time around I had the sort of mindset that anything was okay as long as it accomplished my goal, if it meant wiping out a planet then it was worth the price. There’s lines people shouldn’t cross and then there’s lines even gods refuse to cross and during that part of my history I ran screaming over all of them.”
“You wiped out an a planet to reach your goals?” Kelly asked softly. She noticed the temperature change but tried not to show it. Instead she focused on him.
Cathal frowned at the memories dropping his hand to his side where Khan would normally sit during meetings before catching the gesture.
“More than one unfortunately, the knowledge that most of those souls have been reborn by now doesn’t easy my conscience though. I’d like to say I did it for a good cause but honestly looking back on things I’m not sure what we were fighting for was worth it. We wanted to keep the position of power and authority we’d claimed even though we weren’t actually doing the things we should have. The military group I founded back then developed it’s reputation during that time and even though the First tactical mostly stays inactive on a lot of planes of existence just mentioning them can send people into panic.”
Kelly nodded when she heard this, and she rose to her feet to move around a little. This helped her think. Pausing, she turned back to him, tilting her head curiously. “Who is ‘we’? And who gave you the right to have the power and authority you claim to have?”
“I don’t have it anymore which I’m glad for, as for the ‘we’ that would be what some people call the Prime Elementals. We represented the core energies that are in just about everything that exist- earth, air, water, fire, and their balances ice, mist, lightning, and metal. In hindsight it’s probably for the best that we lost that war. My student and his compatriots took over. As much as I disagree with the High Council of Magic and we have our disputes for quite a while they did a decent job of running the universe. If not for them I imagine the laws of physics would be much less rigid.” He frowned as he finally noticed the frost forming around him and pulled the energy back in. “Sorry, I’ve only had some of my old abilities back for a few years and there’s been a bit of a learning curve in controlling them.”
Kelly smiled. “Understandable.” She paused to look at a plant as she asked her next question. “Why do you hate Quertas so much?” She glanced back at him to see his reaction.
Cathal’s eyes shifted from their human brown to an otherworldly grey containing small snowstorm as his hands clutched into fist. Just how much did this woman actually know? “Setting aside the fact that the man is an arrogant, pompous, and obnoxious twit? He has no respect for others he views beneath and doesn’t feel the need to honor traditions such as being a proper host, or keeping his word.”
“I could forgive that all. My issues with him though originally stem from the war between my family and the Council. He felt that as the current First Seat’s former teacher a good way to declare their intentions to remove us from the position they wanted by open war was by trying to assassinate our families. He started with mine, Unlike my siblings I’ve never been particularly promiscuous and discovering everyone in my household dead made an impression on me.”
“I trust Horlet and we have a good relationship again given recent events but that man and I will never see eye to eye on anything.”
“But why? Other than more power and such, why would he do that?” Kelly narrowed her eyes, turning to face him fully. “Did he have something against you personally?”
“You would have to ask him to know for sure, I avoid spending time in his company. If I had to hazard a guess though it would be because of the elementals I’ve always been the most inclined to learning. We each had our strengths My Brother Kenaz is a brilliant fighter but his strength lays in creating art, Laguz was a healer, Cevahir was good at building things. I was driven to learn and study and it made me well suited to developing tactics in battle, it’s possible Quertas realized this before I did and tried to eliminate the threat. That and while he was also one of Horlet’s teachers I was the first one to find him and show him there was more to the universe than the simple village he’d been born in.” Cathal stood and opened the small cooler tucked under a planter and withdrew a bottle of beer. “Drink? I have juice and water as well.”
“Water would be fine, thank you.” Kelly nodded her thanks. “Tell me about Carena. Which life of yours was she your wife?”
He sighed as the memories brought an ache to his heart. and set a bottle of water on the small card table. “Has anyone told you your entirely to perceptive? Those memories are a bit fuzzy. I’ve been told that sometimes with traumatic memories that can happen but I can tell you what I’ve pieced together. From what I understand my union ceremony with her took place when I was named Bran after I’d been born as Eirias son. I’d gotten involved in a battle over something I don’t really recall the details of. She found me on the field with a busted wing, my arm had been slashed open and I’d taken a spear through the side of my chest.” He frowned in concentration as he sipped at the cold beer. “I woke up in her village she’d dragged me back to her village and patched me up, I spent about two years with them recovering.”
“We got to know each other and after a few years of courting we had a union ceremony. I got called off to another fight and told her to stay behind and she ended up following me. somehow in the midst of the fight without realizing what happened I ended up stabbing her through the heart. Ironic, the gift I was given for our union let me craft a protective energy shield that would protect her from anyone and anything but me.”
“I don’t mean to bring up bad memories, but…part of healing is acknowledging what happened. However, tell me about her personality. What was she like? What’s your favorite memory of her?” Kelly asked softly as she twisted open the bottle of water.
He smiled at her comment. “I’m not sure if that particular wound can ever heal entirely. but I appreciate the thought, If I had to describe her I would say warm, she was kind to people. I suppose the modern way of putting it is she’d give you the shirt of her back if you needed it, but she also knew when to take care of herself, and clever she was always able to figure out what was going on before it happened if I tried to surprise her. My fondest memory though isn’t anything major. It’s from before we were married shortly after I was well enough to move about on my own her village was celebrating the new season and like always they had drums and dancing. It was impossible for her to dance without being the center of attention I think. It wasn’t a matter of style or anything like that. When she danced it was more like the music followed her.” His grin was broad enough to make small lines at the corners of his eyes as he lost himself in the memory. “So there I was still hobbling around needing to sit down every dozen steps and I see the woman whose been changing my bandages every day spinning about on the dirt of the stones of the village square kicking up little swirls of dust with each steps and I swear it was the most captivating sight I had ever seen, Degas would have weeped to have seen her after painting his dancing girls to realize what he’d missed.”
Kelly smiled when she saw his smile. “And what did she teach you most about life during your time together?”
“I think more that teaching me she improved on the things my father had been trying to get me to understand before I met her. To enjoy life, and not to worry about tomorrow at the risk of today. I’ve never been good at living for the moment and I’ll always worry about things but she showed me how to appreciate things as they are now and not worry about what can happen next. More than anything though because of her I understand the value of seeing the beauty in little things.”
“I’m glad she impacted your life as she did although I’m sorry it ended the way it did.” Kelly took a sip of water before shifting to another topic. “And who is Marisa? Why do you hide from her yet keep a picture of her above your fireplace?” She raised her brows.
He frowned and took a long pull from his bottle as he thought about his answer, He’d been been told to be honest with Kelly even though he’d made it a policy to avoid lying anyways. “She’s the woman I love. Unfortunately she’s not like me, she’s young not physically but spiritually, the longer a spirit is around the more strength and power it gets normally and she doesn’t have either of those. And because I care about her some of the people I’ve made enemies of in the past have already targeted her once already. I don’t think I can stand the pain of watching that happen again or worse yet having the other people she cares about hurt because of her connection to me. So I did the best thing I could think of, I made a deal with Eirias to have her memories of when me altered along with those of when she was kidnapped because of her connection to me, and arranged to have a few people I trust stay close to her.”
He sighed as he rolled his shoulders.
“I’m not really sure it was the right thing but I would much rather her spend her life thinking we were friends who fought and had a falling out than have her or someone she cares about get killed by some supernatural creature with a grudge against me.”
“That’s understandable.” Kelly nodded as she returned to her seat and drank some more water. “With your powers and all your experiences, it can’t be easy. Do you ever just want to give up on finding love? Because, if they’re not like you, you’re bound to lose them anyway.” She respected him for still having the ability to love after al his lives, but she knew it couldn’t have been easy.
“I can’t say the thought hasn’t occurred to me. I’ve never really fallen in love easily. I mean if you look at my history my first two lives I was essentially immortal, each of those lives lasted almost as long as human history and yet I can only recall falling in love a handful of times most of those as a human being before I got my memories back. Even my first marriage before Carena was more a matter of political power than actual romance. But if possible I’d rather find a way to give someone I love the knowledge to protect themselves, I just don’t have the skills necessary to do it and while there are ways to give them the same sort of power none of them are without risk.”
Kelly nodded as she heard this. “And what is the greatest lesson all your lives and all your experience has taught you?”
“Not to take things for granted. My first family became apathetic and took for granted the privileges and responsibilities that came with the position we’d claimed and as a result there were a lot of people willing to go to war to get rid of us. There are things I may never be able to say to old friends and family because I died or they died before they were spoken, things I wanted to do in those lives that I always put off because I assumed I’d have enough time later. I suppose that view has had an impact on me now even before I started remembering things though. I’d go out and do risky things because I wanted to rather than putting them off- climb mountains, go rock climbing, stuff like that.” He waved around the green house with his hand as he took another sip of beer and set the empty bottle down.
“Even my home as you probably noticed when you arrived. I garden, I have a forge to do blacksmithing in, I fix computers for a living and have an extensive personal library. I don’t know how long this life will last- given the nature of what I do for the High Council now I’d be lucky to make it to fifty- but I want to get as much out of it as possible.”
Kelly looked at her watch to check the time, and then she looked up at Cathal once more with a smile. “Our time’s almost up, and you won’t have to put up with me asking such pestering questions, but..if the world was to be as you wished it would be, what would be like that? If that makes any sense. I mean, what is your future for the world and all those you protect?”
He laughed a bit, the deep baritone sound echoing a bit in the greenhouse, He’d been thinking about that question a bit himself lately.
“I’d like Earth to be a bit more like some of the other worlds I’ve been to and remember where magic isn’t uncommon and is accepted as ordinary. I’d like to see an Earth where people like me don’t have to hide what they are or can do- imagine a doctor that can simply lay his hands on a patient and their fever is gone, or the therapist that always knows exactly what their patient is feeling? I think the world could benefit from that sort of thing, guardians like me were intended to make sure people didn’t misuse their abilities and hurt others not to keep the supernatural away from a planet like I am. But to do that we’d go though a lot of upheaval.”
Kelly smiled as she listened to the world he would like, and she nodded. “That does sound nice indeed. Maybe it’ll happen eventually….or maybe not. We tend to be a stubborn lot of people.” She chuckled but then sighed as she rose to her feet. “Well, Cathal, it’s time for me to go, but I really appreciate the time you took to talk with me, and thank you for being honest. I know it couldn’t have been easy. I hope you well in whatever your endeavors may be.” With a bow of her head, she left.
Brandon O’Bryant’s story, ‘Guardian’, has no release date set for it yet, but follow him on Twitter for updates!