The ward of castoria, p.24
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       The Ward of Castoria, p.24
 

           Robin Silverglate

  *****

  Bryn wondered if she was somehow experiencing a hallucination. How else could the past few minutes be explained? Dane had picked her up as if she weighed nothing and climbed a tree with her hanging over his shoulder. She had seen him pull a sword out of his coat and had no idea how on earth it got there. The most shocking sight, however, was something she felt must have been a creature of her imagination. The six-legged monster, with the thick horns on its head, was unlike anything she had ever seen before or could have even conjured up in her worst nightmare. Yet, Dane seemed perfectly familiar with it. He even called it by its name—a xenther?—and knew exactly how to kill it.

  She watched Dane reach behind his back and pull out what appeared to be a bow. The moment he tugged on the string, a glowing purple arrow materialized. Dane released the arrow into the night sky and slung the bow behind his back again. Then, he walked over to the tree with that graceful tread she had come to associate with him. When he looked up at her, she found herself speechless. Not because she had nothing to say to him, but because she had too much to say. She had no idea where to begin.

  Dane jumped back up into the tree and climbed the last few branches so he was at eye-level with her. “May I help you down?” he asked with a voice full of concern.

  Bryn knew there was no way she could safely get down on her own. Logic told her if he had gotten her up here, he must know how to get her down, so she nodded and held out her arms.

  Dane scooped her up into his grasp and made his way slowly down the tree as if he was trying not to frighten her. Too late, she thought. When he reached the ground, he carried Bryn to a nearby park bench and gently sat next to her, watching her with cautious eyes.

  She allowed herself a glance over at the misshapen form lying on the ground. It was too dark to make out the details, but she was positive this kind of creature did not exist. Yet, there it was, defying her knowledge of the animal kingdom. Bryn turned back to Dane in order to get some answers. He, however, was staring down at her shaking hand. Bryn clenched her hand into a tight fist and broke the unnerving silence of the darkened park by asking, “What did you call that thing?”

  “A xenther,” he said quietly.

  “I’ve never heard of it before. Why was it attacking us?”

  “It was scared,” said Dane with a shrug of his shoulders. “It was very far from home and probably assumed that any other living creature was an enemy.”

  Bryn shook her head. “Where is its home? And how do you know so much about it?”

  He regarded her for a moment as if he was deciding exactly what to say. “Its home is in the Black Forest of Ghrindsmere.”

  “Where is that?” Bryn noticed he had not answered her second question.

  “Very far from here.”

  “Like on a different continent?”

  He turned to glance at the creature on the ground and said, “Yes.”

  Bryn placed her hands on her hips in defiance. “Well, how did it get here?”

  “I’m not sure,” he said with a sigh. “If I knew that, then you never would have been in danger in the first place.” Dane turned his head slightly in the direction of the park entrance and said, “Beck’s here.”

  Bryn saw Beck running into the park and wondered why he was here. He saw the creature lying on the ground and smiled. “Well, I guess you’ll not be needing any of my help tonight.”

  Dane turned to Beck and said, “I do need your help, actually. Can you please escort Bryn home while I take care of that?” He tilted his head in the direction of his kill.

  “Of course,” said Beck jovially. He made a motion for her to stand up, so she complied.

  Before Bryn followed Beck out of the park, she asked Dane, “What are you going to do?”

  Dane shook his head and said, “It is no concern of yours anymore. It’s best you go home now.” Bryn felt herself get angry at him all over again, but then stopped when she remembered he had just saved her life.

  Beck placed his hand on Bryn’s back in order to guide her out of the park. “All you need to know,” Beck said in a much kinder voice, “is that it will never be able to hurt you again.”

  She sighed in disappointment that Dane was not walking her home. She had so many more questions to ask him. While she was glad Dane was not going to be able to continue the argument they were having before the attack, she wished things had ended on a better note. She turned to look back at Dane and found him watching them leave. It was too dark to see his face, but she thought that his usually tall figure seemed a bit hunched over and dejected. She regretted that she had been so tough on him earlier in the evening. If he really did love her, then she was sorry for the sadness he must be feeling.

  As Bryn walked with Beck, she noticed he appeared to be perfectly fine with the whole situation. She knew Beck had seen the creature lying on the ground, yet he did not seem surprised by its existence. Instead of being worried about how this animal got here, he was walking with a light step as though he didn’t have a care in the world. She realized he was probably as familiar with the creature as his brother seemed to be. She decided to find out by asking. “Beck, have you ever killed a xenther before?”

  He appeared to be surprised that she knew the name of the animal, yet he said, “Sure. Dane and I have probably killed a half a dozen of them. They can get pretty feisty.” He laughed slightly as he said, “The first one I ever fought with actually nicked me with one of its horns.” He pushed up his sleeve and showed her a scar on his forearm.

  She could obviously tell it was a dangerous animal, but seeing Beck’s scar made her realize how lucky she was to be alive.

  Holy crap! she thought with a sinking feeling in her stomach. I almost died tonight.

  Her legs tripped over each other as the realization finally sunk in. Bryn knew without a doubt that she would have been killed if Dane had not been there to protect her. If he had not walked her home tonight, she would be the one lying dead on the ground and not the xenther. She had never even thanked him. Bryn felt horrible because she had just chastised Dane about how she could never trust him and now she knew she would trust him with her life. She would be forever in his debt.

  By the time they reached her house, Bryn’s nerves had caught up with her in full. She practically stumbled up the front porch stairs and Beck offered his arm to help steady herself. When they reached the door, Bryn gave Beck a trembling, but appreciative smile. “I’m sorry, but I wasn’t at my best back at the park. Please thank your brother for me. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been there.”

  Beck gave her a sympathetic smile and said, “I’ll tell him. Now will you do something for me?”

  “Of course,” she said.

  She heard his voice without seeing his lips move. “I want you to forget everything you know about the xenther. Do not ever think about the danger you were in. When you think of this night, you will not remember the creature or even how Dane killed it to protect you. Nod if you understand me.”

  Bryn nodded.

  “Goodnight, Bryn,” Beck said aloud this time. He opened the door for her.

  “Goodnight,” she said as she walked inside her house. Her stomach growled and she wondered if there was something to eat in the kitchen pantry because she was in the mood for a late night snack.
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