Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(36) by Connie Suttle
A mobile home behind Ashe was hit and tossed high into the air, exploding with a resounding boom that flung Ashe to his knees and forced him to cover his ears. Michael Caldwell dragged a weeping, bleeding Jackie Raymond toward the shelter as the battle continued around them. Another mobile home blew apart as Ashe struggled to stand. The remaining homes were hit and exploded while Ashe watched the battle between Dark Destroyers and Bright Jewels. He ducked flaming debris as it blasted outward and rained from a smoke-filled sky. A fireball was aimed directly at him and he was prepared to turn to mist when everything slowed and then stopped in midair.
"What the?" Ashe could move, but everything else had stopped where it was. Ducking away from the fireball that had almost reached him, Ashe studied it in terrified curiosity. He could have walked between other fireblasts if he'd chosen to do so; the fireballs hung in midair between combatants.
"We must hurry; there is little time. If I suspend everything for more than a few of your Earth minutes, others might suspect and attempt to undo what I have done."
Ashe nearly jumped at the eight-and-a-half-foot blue giant that appeared at his side. "Ren?" he whispered, stunned at the sight of his friend, who was now an adult.
"I have always been your friend, Ashe, and always will be," the adult Ren smiled, flashing brilliant white teeth at Ashe. "But we have little time. Bring your friends out. You are going to save them."
"But how?" Ashe stared at Ren. "How are you here and doing this? And how can I save everybody?"
"Adult Larentii are quite powerful, Ashe, but even they might not do this," Ren swept out a hand, indicating the suspended action surrounding them. "You might say I've grown past their expectations, although time holds no constraints for any of my race." He smiled again. "Come, you will do this. We must hurry."
"Do what?" Ashe still didn't understand.
"Open a gate, young Ashe. I believe you concentrate on making the gate, while sweeping your hands like this," Ashe watched in wonder as Ren imitated the very movements that Elizabeth's ghost had been making for days. "And no other living Elemaiya is capable of making a gate anywhere they please; only you have that talent. The others must rely on fixed gates that exist upon certain worlds. There are two of those on Earth. Come now, time is ticking away. Make the gate Ashe, and call the others out of the shelter. We will send them away tonight."
"Send them where?" Ashe asked as he attempted to do as Ren instructed.
"Trust me, friend. All you have to do is open the gate. People will be waiting on the other side to take these to safety."
"All right," Ashe drew a shaky breath, concentrated as hard as he could, mouthed the words "Open Sesame," and pulled his arms up in an arc over his head. Shocked beyond comprehension, Ashe stared as a bit of light formed and then spread until a twelve-by-twelve portal opened before him. Even more shocking was what he saw beyond that portal—several people waited there expectantly, one of them a woman made almost entirely of light. She shone so brightly that Ashe couldn't make out any features; he could only see a female outline.
"Call them, Ashe. Command all inside the shelter to come out. Tell them it is safe," Ren instructed.
Come, Ashe sent mindspeech. You will be safe. We will send you to a safe place, he added.
In twos and threes, the families came forth, led by Edward. Stunned parents were helped along by determined half-Elemaiyan children, all of whom seemed to recognize the gate Ashe had created. A beautiful woman; perhaps the most beautiful woman Ashe had ever seen, with black hair and piercing blue eyes stepped to the line where the gate stood, the edges of it glowing and crackling with energy. "Hurry, come quickly," she said, her voice musical as she beckoned the children and their parents forward. Two more who stood behind the woman quickly took adults and children aside as they crossed over. Ashe, watching his friends leave, noticed for the first time that behind the people on the other side stood trees, seemingly planted in neat rows. They reminded him of photographs he'd seen of lemon groves.
It didn't take long for the children and their parents to walk through the shining gate and stand among those trees. Luanne, Macy, Keith, Edward and Bryce turned to wave at Ashe. Ashe lifted his hand in farewell when Director Jennings' voice spoke behind him.
"Wait! Wait," Ashe turned to watch as the aging Director, with blood soaking his white hair and covering the side of his face, reached out a hand toward the gate. Ashe was worried at first that the Director wanted to stop the others from crossing to safety. That wasn't the case. The shining woman stepped forward and held out her hand. Bill staggered the last few steps through the gate to take it, and the two embraced.
"They are old friends," Ren said softly. "She came for him. Close the gate, Ashe."
Ashe was about to close the gate, making the opposite gesture and reaching high over his head to create a sweeping arc downward, when two things happened. Elizabeth's ghost ran lightly through the portal, closely followed by the ghost of Philip's mountain lion. The beautiful, dark-haired woman watched silently as the ghosts swept past, and then sent mindspeech as Ashe's gate closed between them.
I love you sounded softly in Ashe's mind as the portal disappeared. Ashe gaped, openmouthed, wishing for another glimpse of the woman, but only the Oklahoma prairie surrounded him, along with suspended figures frozen in mid-battle.
"There is one last thing you must accomplish, young Ashe," Ren said, making Ashe jump. For moments, he'd been lost in the music of the woman's voice and the burning desire to know who she was. Ren pulled him away from that brief and lovely reverie.
"What?" Ashe looked up at Ren.
"Turn these to mist and drop them several miles away," Ren indicated the four Dark Destroyers and the Bright Queen's Jewel Sentinels. "I have removed the memory of this place from their minds," Ren added. "They will not find it again."
"Want to come with me?" Ashe shook himself and grinned at his tall, blue friend.
"Of course," Ren chuckled.
* * *
"Dang," Ashe breathed as he stared at the suspended battle between warlocks, witches and the community. He and Ren had traveled to Cloud Chief's entrance after dumping their other cargo in a field on the far side of Cordell. "What am I gonna tell them—about Edward and the others?" Ashe turned to Ren.
"You won't have to tell them anything. Do you recall your game—the one in which automobiles exploded?" Ren asked, his bright blue eyes twinkling mischievously.
"Yeah," Ashe nodded.
"Watch this," Ren held out a hand and each empty SUV exploded in a fireball, making no sound at all. Debris rained down without touching any Cloud Chief resident. It even missed the witches and warlocks—those that still lived, anyway. Only two of those remained at the moment, although Winkler was about to take down the witch while Ashe's father held the warlock in a stranglehold.
"All will believe that the others perished in these blasts," Ren said. "Including the Director. You must keep this secret to yourself, young Ashe, or the children might still be in peril and our work to keep them safe count for nothing. There is one last thing," Ren went on. "The next gate you open upon this planet will be the last gate you open upon Earth. Make sure it counts. Good-bye, friend." Ren bent down and embraced Ashe tightly before disappearing. Ashe stared around him as the action resumed.
* * *
Ashe and Sali watched somberly as the funeral procession was displayed on television. A journalist spoke about the service that Director Bill Jennings had rendered to the country before giving his life in the line of duty. Ashe's skin tingled slightly as the journalist mentioned Anthony Hancock, Director Jennings' predecessor, who had also died in the line of duty. Ashe pretended not to notice when Sali wiped his eyes.
Everyone in the community believed the children and their parents dead, and there were no announcements or news coverage of their demise. Even an altered account of Director Jennings' death was given—that he'd died in an explosion with his assistant, Vince Jordan. Ashe mourned with Dori, Wynn and the others, only for a different reason—he missed Edward and the others and had no idea where they'd been taken. He trusted Ren, though, and believed they were in a safe place for perhaps the first time in their lives. At first, it was difficult keeping the secrets from Sali and the others, but he held them inside and it became easier over time. And he found himself hoping that somewhere, someday, he might see the half-Elemaiyan children again.
After the battle at Cloud Chief's gate, the Cordell Fire Department had somehow been misdirected to a field west of town, where evidence of a grass fire was found. Fortunately, the fire was already out when the firefighters arrived. Ashe figured it was the aftermath of the battle between the strange men he'd dumped there before all disappeared.
Somehow, too, the body of Philip's father had disappeared. Deciding that Ren had somehow managed that in addition to many other things, Ashe thought he might be in the clear—at least for a little while. As to the reason and purpose behind the shield being taken down, Aedan and Nathan had questioned the only living warlock after the battle, and he'd spouted off some wandering tale of revenge against Paul Harris, saying that Paul had offered him money for services in the past and then had never paid. The warlock seemed much surprised to learn that Mr. Harris had perished a year earlier.
The warlock was turned over to the Spell-Caster's Consortium for judgment and punishment afterward, for violating their laws. And somehow, the witch's barrier surrounding Cloud Chief had magically repaired itself. The last thing to come about was Jane Scott and Nick Lawford's waking in an Oklahoma City hospital, with no memory of what had transpired in and around Cloud Chief and Cordell.
* * *
Two days before Ashe's fourteenth birthday, Ashe walked along the path where the mobile homes had stood. None survived the battle between the Dark and Light Elemaiya and Nathan, Aedan, Trace and Jason had all pitched in to clean up the debris. Ashe kicked at a few clumps of dirt and grass as he contemplated what had happened in such a short span of time.
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