The sun dimmed to a subtle orange glow as it drifted below the tree line, marking the near end to another day in
. That meant
trouble for the present guardian of Copia. He pulled his sweat-drenched cap off his head, exposing his dirt crusted reddish brown curls. The shadows cast
from the trees were like giants looming over him. Copious
He glanced around and found comfort in the birds chirping, indicating the area was safe. “Another journey is almost complete, and this will be the best one yet.” The guardian reached into his pocket and eased a medallion adorned with intricate carvings out by its leather strap. “You will be safe with me for the rest of my years.” He rubbed his fingers along the surface.
The forest fell silent. “Who’s there?” The guardian shoved his hat on his head. He peered into the shadows. The surrounding trees trembled as an eerie breeze blew through. A bitter chill shot up the guardian’s spine. Snap! Twigs and other bits of forest crunched a short distance away. “Show yourself!” The surrounding trees rumbled and the echo of vicious snarling closed in on him.
He raised his trembling hand to the branch in front of him and shifted it over. As he peeked through the gap, hundreds of squinty green, glowing eyes stared back. He tried to scream but no words came out. His body froze as they slowly crept toward him. “Shadow jumpers!” He glanced around for an escape. Before he could make another move, the beasts pounced.
Razor-sharp claws and teeth engulfed his body, pulling him to the ground. He wrestled and kicked as claws tore through his clothes. The medallion was yanked from his grip; but the strap tangled around his wrist.
A sliver of moonlight pierced the trees and its reflection bounced off the medallion. The shadow jumpers hissed and pulled away. Seizing his opportunity, he leaped to his feet. Claws ripped at his back as he weaved through trees. He felt the medallion being grabbed and pulled repeatedly.
The guardian burst through a thicket of branches into a small, sparse pocket where the moonlight shined through, unobstructed by tall trees. The vicious beasts squealed, and with in seconds, disappeared back into the shadows.
Breathless and battered, the guardian collapsed to his knees. “Well, this is a fine mess.” He examined his torn, blood-soaked shirt. The medallion still dangled from his wrist. “Some guardian I’ve turned out to be.” He untangled the strap and slipped the medallion into his pocket.The trees in front of him rustled. “Oh, not again…”
A pudgy green creature with long, gangly limbs and bulgy eyes stumbled into view. “There you are! What kept you? How much time to you think I have to twiddle my fingers around waiting for you?” The frog-like creature tapped his foot with fisted hands on his hips.
“Oh, am I late? Sorry about that, Ferdinand.” The guardian grunted and groaned as he struggled to his feet.
“What happened?” Ferdinand’s eyes bulged even more.
“Oh… this?” The guardian held out his arm, revealing his wounds. Scratches and cuts covered the symbol on his arm, making it unrecognizable.
Ferdinand inspected his arm. “Your guardian symbol – I can’t even make out the feathered wings under all of your blood. Clearly you tangled with something in a nasty disposition.” Ferdinand narrowed his eyes to a suspicious squint.
“I can’t get anything past you. Yep, that bush I fell into was terribly angry with me. It chewed me up and spit me out… so to speak.” The guardian slid his torn sleeve over his cuts. “I suppose my guardian wings have been clipped. It is time to go home and nurse my wounds, wouldn’t you say?” Telling Ferdinand about his encounter with the shadow jumpers would only cause him to panic.
Ferdinand huffed. “Well, since you are late and have kept me waiting, I’d say the hour has come and gone. Now follow me; let’s get this over with.”
He followed Ferdinand to the thick base of a beautiful tree dripping with emerald leaves. Specks of twinkling light popped off the trunk until a portion of it dissolved into a hole large enough to hop through. “This is it.” He shielded his eyes from the intense light bursting through the trunk.
Ferdinand lunged into the hole and disappeared. The guardian clutched the medallion sitting nice and tight in his pocket. “If this works, Copia will be safe forever.” He took a deep breath and backed up to get a running start. At full speed, he dove headfirst through the hole. The light embraced him as he traveled through before shooting him out the other side. He took a tumble into
and lay on his
back, staring at the night sky. Fern
“Until next time, my friend!” Ferdinand shouted. The guardian gave him a hearty wave and watched him leap back through the tree. In seconds, the trunk closed up and all that remained were a few lingering specks of light.
“It is so good to be home.” A broad smile spread across the guardian’s face. He rolled around on the forest floor, absorbing the familiar smells. “Oops, I almost forgot…,” he chuckled and shoved his hand into his pocket. “Oh no!” All that remained in his pocket was a bit of dirt and a few tiny lint balls… but no medallion. “It’s gone – how could it just… just disappear?”
He scoured the ground for hours with no luck. “What was I thinking… trying to take something that sacred out of the realm? Azra’s Pith is doomed.”