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Rated: E · Novella · Emotional · #1549379
a girl's guardian angel turns out to be fallen. first draft, children's version.
         Not so very long ago, in a land not very far away at all, a little girl was born.  She was born near a small town that was just trying to get by to two caring parents who only wanted the best for her.  And the girl was born with a gift:  she loved the whole universe.  Everything she saw was beautiful and amazing to her, each new experience more intense than the last.
         She grew up  a farm like any other, and every morning she would get out of her warm bed and put on her clothes and step into her shoes.  She would eat a hearty breakfast, remembering that it was the most important meal of the day, and she would swallow every bite.  At eight she would do her chores as any diligent girl, for there are always things that need to be done on a farm, and everyone helps, and by nine she would be done and the day would be hers.
         On some days she would follow her father around while he did his work.  Her father was a big man and he worked hard.  He appreciated her help and she tried not to get in his way.  He would split logs into firewood and kindling, the axe head arching down in a mighty blow to cleave the wood along the grain and have the pieces fall to either side with a hollow plonk.  She would swoop in and collect the best sized pieces while he set up the larger ones for another chop.  When she was feeling strong, her father let the little girl chop the wood.  She would heft the axe above her head and bring it down with all her strength.  Sometimes the wood would split but a lot of the time the axe would stick in the top and her father would take the axe, still in the wood, and bring the whole mess down on the chopping block to finish it off for her.  She loved her father very much and she wished she could be as strong as him one day.
         Other days the little girl stayed home with her mother while she did her work.  Her mother was a good woman and she worked hard.  Sometimes she would be in the kitchen, making preserves and canning other foods.  The little girl would help cut fruit and run new cans to the pantry.  Her mother would make cookies sometimes, and she always wondered how the batter kept disappearing.  Other times she would set to her seamwork, hunched over her aging sewing machine with concentration in her eyes.  The little girl would sit beside her and practice her needlework and mending.  She would make new clothes for her dolls and repair tears and patch worn spots.  Her mother made many fine works, and would teach the little girl old tricks to make things easier.  Yet other times she and her mother would go on treasure hunts in the yard.  Her mother would show her how to find diamonds and rubies in the soil.  Really they were just red and white potatoes, but they looked nice and tasted like the treasure the girl pretended they were.  The girl loved her mother very much and wished she could be as skillful and kind as her one day.
         And some times the girl would go off on her own and play in the forest.  She talked to the trees and they told her how to climb in their branches.  She talked to the wolves and the foxes and they showed her how to slip through the underbrush unnoticed.  She talked to the bugs and the worms and they taught her what things could be eaten and which things she should avoid.  She found the stinging nettles the hard way, though.  And the time came where she could run through the forest like the wind through the branches and scramble up trees like the hungry squirrel and play in the brooks like the silly raccoons and she felt she was part of the forest, sharing in its beauty.
         But the girl was not happy.  At night, hungry things stalked, glistening fangs and glowing eyes and silent muscle beneath dark fur.  The shadows stretched and grew with the waning light, twisting into terrible shapes that reached for her when she drew too close.  And everything grew dark and she could not see or feel the world around her.  The girl was scared.
         And the girl was all alone.  As she lay in bed she could feel the hungry things stalking her, cutting her off from the rest of the world.  She looked around her room and saw the shadows move in the dark, strange wiry creatures twitching and dancing in jerky, halting motions, circling her bed.  Blurry, half-seen figures twisted and grinned in the corners of her vision, laughing silent taunts and disappearing when she turned to face them.  And the girl was all alone.
         Her parents were kind and strong, and she asked for their help.  “Don't you worry,” said her father, “Everyone has a guardian angel who watches out for them.  As long as you have your guardian angel, no one can hurt you.”  And she knew he was right, because she trusted her parents and loved them.
         One night, as the shadows danced and the things stalked, and terrors innumerable crept around her, she cried out to her angel.  She wished, wished with all her might for someone who would hold and protect her from everything around her.  And as she wished, a light shone at the foot of her bed and a figure slowly floated on alabaster wings up, up, until she was looking straight into his golden eyes.  “I will always protect you” the angel said.
         Wreathed in a pure, kind light, he was a vision of grace and wonder, and his wings pushed back the shadows.  And just for an instant, the girl felt safe.  Then the angel grinned a mouth of fangs.  His hair turned red, and tendrils of black flame squirmed their way out of his skin.  Waves of flames rolled down his flesh, writhing and twisting like eels, engulfing him as he sneered.  His wings seered and cracked, splitting into dozens of fiery tentacles, a cruel parody of angels' wings that lashed at the shadows that cowered in fear of their better.  The only light he radiated was his eyes, burning a chilly yellow that looked past her and left sickening afterimage trails as he floated.
         She shook, terrified, cowering under her covers, seeing but unable to process the figure that lay above her, speaking words she could not understand from a grinning face that would not move.  In her mind she screamed for him to go away, and she knew that she was truly alone.  She had asked for a savior and had been given a horrible being with eyes like the hungry things and wings that made the shadows cringe; a demon.  And so the girl wept terrified, sorrowful tears, and she knew her parents were wrong:  there was no guardian angel for her, just a grinning visage that left her alone in the dark.  So she gave up on the world.
         And when she did, something stirred in the universe.  A thousand points of light flickered for a moment, and and unbelievably slow movement by an invisible hand set in motion a future unknown perhaps even to the powers that be.  And a boy was born, not so very long ago, and not very far away at all. 
         For an instant his eyes glowed a powerful golden light, reflecting a thousand thousand years of knowledge, and then they darkened.  A black film spread from the corners enclosing his iris, turning his eyes black.  Inside the little boy dwelled the soul of the girl's guardian angel; hurt, broken, and fallen, but in this child hopeful.  Of a thousand identical futures and a thousand cycles past, in this boy the angel had a chance to pick up the pieces and start over.
         The boy was born in an ordinary hospital and grew up in a small house just outside of town to two caring parents that only wanted the best for him. And the boy was born with a gift:  he cared for everything.  He wished he could keep the whole world from harm.  Everything he saw was important and amazing to him, each new experience just as significant as the last
         And in the morning he would get up and out of his warm bed and put on his clothes and step into his shoes and he  would eat a hearty breakfast, remembering that it was the most important meal of the day, and he would enjoy every bite.  And then for half of the day he would go to school and listen to the teachers and talk with his friends and read books.  He would return home and unlock the door to an empty house, and he would make himself a snack and go outside, for that was the place where he felt most at home.
         His mother was art and chaos and disorder. from her he learned to take joy in the world around him and to appreciate the gifts life gave him. he learned to adapt and change with the world. When he went outside to play, he would sit in the yard and imagine worlds and stories, imagine himself a mighty hero. In his hand, a stick became a polished sword, flickering in the light, that he alone wielded.  And as he imagined, the shadows crept from beneath the trees, skirting the sunlight and tearing across the lawn like lightning.  And the boy would feel them coming and strike them back with mighty blows.  He spun and danced, twirling his weapon with grace and skill, until the shadows retreated back and the wind blew for his triumph.
         His father was logic and rules and order. from him the boy learned to respect the boundaries of others and understand the give and take of life. he learned to understand the problems that presented themselves.. And when he went outside, he would pretend he was a firm but fair king, sitting regally in his throne but not resting, answering calls to aid and passing fair and just judgment on his subjects and ruling his country as no king had before nor would any again. And as he sat on a stump, commanding his subjects, thin, wiry shadows would come out and present themselves.  They would speak in his mind, trying to convince him of their plight and cause, but the boy saw past it all.  He denied the shadows and brandished his kingly authority with on wave of his sceptered hand.  The shadows hissed and recoiled, then shrank back beneath the branches, defeated.  The boy followed his own rules, bending and testing them often but breaking them rarely and so he sharpened his mind and body.
         And out the back of the house and across the yard, through the blackberry patch and beyond the gate was a great forest.  And he watched the swift rabbits race each other, and learned how to speed through the world on strong legs.  And he watched the ungainly possum move gracefully through the trees and brush, and learned how to meter his movements and control his body.  And he watched the birds of the forest live out their watchful lives, and he learned vigilance and mindfulness from them.  And the time came where he could almost keep up with the rabbits as they dashed through the fields, and he could almost catch the mother possum as she fled through the branches, and he could know where the birds would build their nests and where the safest spots were.
         But the boy was not happy.  Even though he had great strength of both mind and body, no one took him seriously, not even his mother and father whom he cared for most.  There was always a space between The boy and others.  He never could show just how much he cared.  And for all his strengths, there was always someone better, and always a way to catch him off guard, and he was scared.  And the boy hardened his heart and his soul, and fought the world to make himself stronger and erase any weakness.  And so the boy looked for the answers to life with a passion, and he became obsessed with discovering the truth behind everything, peeling back layer after layer of the universe with his strong mind, though he always found more falsehoods. 
         And the boy and the girl grew older, and they became more of what they already were, as people tend to do as they age.
         The girl deepened her love of nature and the forest and learned nature's languages.  She spoke to the mighty oak tree and learned the strength for standing alone.  She spoke to the salmon and learned of swimming against the current.  She spoke to the sparrows and learned of keeping a nest in a storm.  And she felt alone, even as she spoke to more and more things, because there was no-one to protect her but herself.
         She learned the ancient histories of mankind, the spells and potions that were lost to time so many hundreds of years ago.  She willed her spirit by her command, honed her second sight and her hindsight, and learned to keep herself well in the worst of conditions.  And always, she searched for friends, for people to support and protect her.  And she talked to people and they were wonderful, but they would always move on, they were never solid and could barely support themselves.  She met spirits from the spirit world that knew and trusted her, but they could only watch and advise.  When she learned words of protection, she would memorize them and make their strength her own, but they would only shut her off from everything else and make her more alone than ever.  And she saw through the fibers that made the words and saw the true spells, and she cast them but they were no better.  The girl learned to control other spirits and she tried to connect to them but they were empty from her influence.  And so the girl was convinced that she would always be alone.
         The boy expanded his wisdom and his strength, always pushing to rid himself of his weaknesses.  He consumed knowledge and ascended beyond his schooling.  He expanded his ability to see the future and corrected the flaws in his judgment  He read books on the body, and understood his own better.  He devoured the books on the mind, and he smoothed the rough patches and hangups and made it as an efficient machine.  And as he became stronger, he felt more and more without purpose, that his wisdom and strength had no direction or focus, and that there were no challenges he could not surpass, and that nor was there any end to them.
         And so he read the ancient histories of mankind, and to better his skills he unravelled their mistakes and flaws, and erased them from himself.  He gained control over his body and his mind like the warriors lost to time so many hundreds of years ago.  And always he searched for a way to become stronger, because then people would trust him.  But the people he met only showed him the weaknesses he had yet to strengthen and he drove them away single-mindedly.  He read the great thinkers and made his mind like theirs, understanding and comparing views, each one contradicting the last and challenging his mind to a philosophical obstacle course.  He studied the ancient military secrets and banished disease and injury from himself, and he learned sciences and their secrets, scraping beneath the surface of the universe to uncover the rules and laws by which it ran, but each new theory contradicted the last and showed itself incomplete, and he began to make his own.  And so the boy became convinced that there was nothing important and that everything was lies.
         The two traveled the paths that life laid before them, drifting, interacting with the people around them then abandoning them when nothing new came of it.  And then one day they met, and they talked and sized each other up.
         The boy was single-minded in his pursuit of truth.  His expansive knowledge gave him insight into many things, but his wisdom and strength had made him arrogant.  He felt that there was nothing he could not do, and little yet left to learn.  And yet he was all alone, with many ways to protect but no one to care for.
         The girl was scattered and unstable, connected to many things and pulled in many directions.  She guarded herself and kept her power secret, but for all her abilities she felt scared and alone.  The people she met faded away and experiences never lasted and she though that nothing was reliable.  And yet she still loved everything in the universe, and just wanted to express it.
         And they knew these things about each other, and themselves.  He found her untrustworthy, and she found him annoying, and on these traits, through some divine connection, the girl and the boy became friends.  Thaey talked and played and worked together, and from time to time, they would think about each other.
         In the boy's mind, the girl was a mystery.  Practicing powerful rituals and speaking to voices he could not hear, she challenged his perceptions and beliefs.  She had made herself strong and he respected that.  For all his arrogance and ego, she lived up to every standard he applied to himself.  He followed her and listened, learning new and fascinating things, and practicing her arts.  Over a long time, he grew to respect and admire her.
         But he never let her close, for that would invite weakness.  For all his respect and admiration, she was an ally, no more.  He would not trust anyone, nor let anything effect him
         In the girl's mind, the boy was an exception.  Though obviously lost in the world, the boy was competent and open-minded.  He respected her views even when he disagreed with them, and he was there when he was needed.  He listened when no one else would and she respected that.  Over a long time, she grew to understand him.
         But she saw how guarded he kept himself and she thought he was just another passing person.  He listened but he was dead weight dragged her down.
         The girl didn't understand why she kept him around, really.  He was negative and gruff, generally unpleasant.  Yet still something pulled her, tugged at the curious bit in her mind and made her stay.  Some feeling deep inside told her that this was important.
         One night, the girl embarked on a journey through the aether.  Her mind left her body and floated free through the world.  She found the boy and plunged into him. 
         Before her stretched an expanse of rolling, grass-covered hills, gracefully drifting into the horizon.  Scattered and crossing the landscape were hundreds of hundreds of walls, broken and crumbling, lacing the hills like a long abandoned labyrinth.  A mighty wall, maintained and grand, ran across the fields and hills, guarding with all its strength absolutely nothing.  She drifted, taking in the sights. 
         In the corner of her vision, she saw a little child wandering the green wasteland.  She flew down. “what's wrong, little one?” asked the girl.
         “I'm lost,” said the little boy, “lost and scared.  I don't know what's happening.”
         And the child scrunched up his face and curled into himself.  “it's alright,” said the girl, hugging him, “it's alright.”
         Slowly, she became aware of a presence above her.  She left the child and drifted up, staring into the bright sun.  she began to make out a man.  Every aspect of him radiated a brilliant white light that soothed her and filled her with warmth.  He floated effortlessly, the folds of purple cloth draping themselves gracefully around his form.  And as she looked deep into his dark eyes, she realized that this was what the boy was hiding from the world, what he pushed back and made hard.  And she realized what it was that drew her to the boy.  She saw the powerful compassion he held, that he cared so much for the world and everything in it.
         The boy was stubborn and overconfident still.  He would not listen to her if she pushed him but she resolved herself to help him.  If she could not make him walk a path, she could at least show him a direction.  And so it was that late one evening, the boy arrived at the house where the girl lived.  He didn't quite know what to expect.
         What a night it was.  The sky was blacker than tar, blacker than death.  High above, the moon was white and radiant, casting its full ethereal glow over the grayscale landscape.  Shadows, sharply outlined in the unearthly light, twisted into impossible shapes and pawed at the edge of the house where the girl lived.  The wind tore through the trees, screaming long, low moans and striking the house again and again.  It drove sticks and leaves against the walls and rattled the windows.
         Inside, the boy and the girl sat, unaffected by the gale outside.  For hours they had talked about what they knew and didn't know, what the felt and what they could not feel.  And slowly, as the boy opened up more and more, the girl realized he could not love.  In his blind rush to perfection, he had abandoned so much that he perceived as weakness, so much that was strength.  The boy was tired and confused, lost in his mind.  And the girl put her hand on his chest and, in every way but words, told him she loved him. 
         But her silent words could not touch his hard heart, and they sat and rested for a moment.  “let's take a walk” said the girl.
         Outside, the bitter cold crept into the boy's bones.  Cold like his heart, and he took strength from it.  The night was black, black like his eyes, and he took strength from it.  The moon was bright, bright like his mind, and he took strength from it.  The wind was strong, strong like his body, and he took strength from it.
         The girl hugged her arms close to herself.  She was weary, and the shadows were reveling in the moonlight.
         They walked silently.  The boy stopped and looked at the moon.  He felt the wind and the cold, saw the night and the shadows, and he looked the girl in the eyes.  Ten thousand words swam in his vision, emotions he did not know he had and feelings he did not understand, and he looked away.
         And the girl realized he was not strong enough on his own, and, drawing on everything she had, she pushed her will under his, lifting as much of his heavy load as she could bear.
         Then the boy turned.  He took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes.  And deep inside the boy's mind, a thousand year wall, perfectly formed and without flaw, split neatly in half releasing the waters it had kept at bay for lifetimes.  The boys eyes grew strong, his grip firm.  His heart soft.  “I love you” said the girl.
         “I love you, too” said the boy.
And they smiled, and just for a moment the world stood still.  The wind did not blow and the cold did not chill.  The moon's light turned soft and the shadows crept back, calm.  Then the girl, exhausted from the efforts of the night, collapsed in his arms.  “Don't worry,” the boy said, “I'll carry you.”
         And he swept her off her feet.
         The girl held close to the boy, ragged and exhausted from the events.  The shadows sensed her weakness and, ignoring the boy, crept from the treeline, closer, anxious for a feast.  They gathered around the boy's feet, catching and clawing, dragging him back and climbing towards the girl.  He took a step with a confidence he had never felt before, planted it solidly before him and shook the shadows from his leg.  One foot in front of the other, he scattered the vile creatures as he walked.  Never underfoot but unable to grab hold again, the creatures hounded him, taunting and threatening every step.
         Drawing on all his strength the boy straightened his back and pressed on.  They had walked far, and he would not leave her now.  Slowly he made his way towards the house.  He ignored the shadows grasping at him, for the task before him required all his concentration.
         At last they reached the doorstep.  The boy set the girl gently onto the steps, than sat down heavily beside her.  They were both exhausted in every aspect possible.  The wind was calmer now, and the shadows kept back, humbled by the power of the boy and the girl, observing cautiously. 
         The girl and the boy sat there for the longest time, silently.  Then they looked at each other.  In the boy's eyes, the girl saw ten thousand years of betrayal and torment, a being whose existence had been tearing himself apart.  She saw loneliness and sorrow, jaded emotions hardened and callused over.  And behind the sadness and self-loathing, behind the bitter hate and rejection, she saw the little boy.  And in the eyes of the little boy she saw a glimmer of hope that had not been present for a very long time.  One little split seam in the black fabric of the boy's mind, a flaw in the walls that criss-crossed his internal landscape.
         In the girl's eyes, the boy saw only love.
         Days ticked by.  Overwhelmed by the new thoughts and feelings saturating his brain, the boy passed through his life in a daze for a long time.  Inside his head, an epic battle raged.  A mighty warrior stood, clad in perfect armor and wielding a sword of no thickness, guarding the mightiest of walls that split the landscape in the boy's mind.  The warrior was perfect, invincible, and unbeatable, the pinnacle of the art of war.  In battle he had never fallen and he stood ready to face any enemy, no matter the form.  But he was caught unprepared for the first time in his existence when the flood happened.  An indescribable torrent of gray-blue water crashed down on the green hills, churning and boiling and brimming with power, launching great white plumes of spray over the mounds and walls.  It covered the land in an instant, building momentum as it went.
         The warrior collected himself.  He was the guardian and protector, and this enemy would fall to his sword and everything would be the same again.  His faith resolute, he raised his sword.  The flood rushed, a thousand thousand curled waves bearing down with the force of change.  It collected its fury and brought the full weight of the water down towards the mightiest wall.  The warrior turned his blade and struck the deluge with all the skill he could bring to bear.
         Everything stopped.  In an instant, the flood was paralyzed, unmoving and stagnant.  The warrior did not press his attack.  He left his blade resting on the headwaters and focused his mind on the extent of his enemy.  Though its body was unmoving, the essence of the flood roiled and fought  with great force, and the warrior found it a far more impressive foe yet.  He worked his mind into the spaces between, trying to head off the essence, but it would predict him and writhe away, to lash at another place.  Slowly, he worked his mind around it until he had almost encircled the whole mass.  And then, all of a sudden, the essence was gone.  He withdrew his influence and searched for it.
         And at the wall, in the edge of the ice sheet enclosing the headwaters, a tiny crack formed, imperceptibly.  And the moment the warrior returned to his form and withdrew his blade, the essence of the flood exploited that crack.  It had calmed itself and waited for a mistake and it had found one.
         The glacier shattered.  A thousand thousand gallons brought its full force down on the wall, taking the warrior and dashing him against the very thing he swore to protect from any change.  The flood poured for the longest of times, then slowly waned to a trickle that settled into the valleys.  The wall was in bad shape.  A hole had been torn through its center.  It was small, but just large enough for a small child to crawl through.  And when the child in the boy's mind came across the hole, that's exactly what happened.
         On the other side, the child saw the warrior and knew him.  “You were amazing, but I don't need you anymore.  Thank you.  I'm sorry.”
         And the child shed tears for the warrior, who sat motionless.  He knew his time had come, but he would shed no tears, for though he could do many things, the warrior could not cry, no matter how much it hurt.  And slowly, as if sighing, he faded away.
         And steadily the child worked in the boy's mind, pulling pieces of the largest wall out and kicking down the smaller ones.  What did the boy need with these?  They protected very little and hindered much.  And even as the days turned into weeks, still the child worked.  Soon enough the scars from the old walls healed over and green grass grew where before there was white stone.  The mightiest wall was in pieces, still towering over the land, but a shadow of what it once was.  And it was with this mind that the boy decided to go on a journey.
         For a long time, the boy had felt wanderlust in his heart.  The house he lived in was not a home and he wished to see more of the world.  With new feelings in his heart, he felt he could view the world with open eyes for the first time in his life.  And so it was that he packed up everything he called his own into a dozen boxes and left.  He left behind the forest, and the house he grew up in.  he left the yard that was his world and the people he knew and loved.  He traveled south and settled in a tiny, forgotten corner of an incredible city, secreted away from the teeming streets.  He unpacked his things and spread himself around his new house.  Finally, he sat down in his favorite chair and looked at the walls of his home, and he was happy.
         It never occurred to him that he had never said goodbye to the girl.
         It never occurred to him that he had never thanked her. 
         The girl watched as the boy left.  She helped him pack and wished him well, and watched him grow slowly distant.  And though she was sad, she understood that this was important for the boy, and he would only be held back if he stayed.  And the girl was used to people fading from her life.  Sooner or later, everyone she knew drifted away for whatever reason, leaving her once again alone.  But deep inside her, something had changed.  Hidden away in a dark corner of her heart of hearts, a silent face shed a single tear as she watched the boy go, and the love she felt for him grew just a little, drawing strength from the distance between them.
         Months went by.  The boy explored the city and found the secret paths and hidden spots, back alleys that led to meeting places and networks of tunnels that run under the city like veins.  He met new people, and they came and went as people do and he lived his life as best he could, always sorting out the new emotions that came up.  But in the back of his mind, something just didn't sit right.  Something he had left behind, something he had forgotten that he just couldn't remember.  It wore at him from the inside, clawed and tore at the back of his mind.
         Inside the girl's mind, strange things were happening.  She had been alone before, and so this was nothing new, but each day that passed left a larger and larger doubt in her mind.  Slowly, her heart of hearts ached more and more and her feelings grew.  She missed the boy, and her feelings only grew.
         And finally she could bear it no longer.  From her heart of hearts tumbled a voice of a thousand years, old as the earth, emotion clinging and saturating every bit of its essence.  She called out to the boy , so far away, so distant, with this voice of no words, and in his room, sad and alone, the boy heard her.  His ears perked up and a shiver crept slowly down his spine and in an instant he understood.  The girl who had set him on the path he had enjoyed so long, the girl who gave him respect when no one else would, the girl who was his friend was calling out.  He had never thanked her.  He had never said goodbye.  And now, on top of all that, he had never said he was sorry. 
         He reached out to call her back but he could not find the words.  The way was beyond him.  He sat back, defeated.  Deep inside him, a spark lit.  for hours it smoldered and jumped, twisting to reach what it could and speak, and then it caught.  From the center of his chest grew a fire that lit the boy's eyes.  He walked outside onto the street and he caught a bus.
         It carried him through cities and forests, over great bridges and along humble farmer's fields.  It took him along the vast, stretching highways and down the lost, dark backroads.  He sat patiently, his excitement calm but vibrant, and he watched the many views pass by the window.  People would get on the bus and some would leave, but by the time he reached his destination, none were left but him.  He thanked the driver and stepped onto the sidewalk in the smallest of towns with smiling faces and friendly shopkeeps sweeping the dust from the floors.  He walked along the main road towards the house where the girl lived.
         The girl lived away from the town, on a hill blanketed by an ancient forest.  The road to the hill turned to gravel, then dirt, then just a path through the woods.  The trees stretched their branches out and brushed the boy, feeling him as he passed, watching him warily.  The brush put its thorns to his ankles, testing his patience and reactions.  The forest floor crept over his shoes.  The boy pressed on patiently.  Hello, forest, he thought, hello plants, hello earth.  And the brush and leaves and branches and dirt pulled slowly back, showing the way as he walked and revealing a little house with a sloping roof and neat windows.  Hello, house, he thought.
         He walked up the tall stairs that led to the door and knocked.  The girl poked her head out.  “Hi!” she said.
         “Hi,” said the boy.  And he grabbed her and hugged her and she hugged him back, and a tear crept from his eye.
         “I missed you,” he said, and really meant it.
         “I missed you, too,” said the girl, and really meant it.
         They sat down and had lunch, a big bowl of hearty soup.  They talked about things past and future plans.  The boy watched the girl dance to enthralling music, and the girl listened to the boy's stories and ideas. They laughed and played and had a wonderful time catching up.
         And as the evening waned into darkness and the moon shone heavily through the windows, the girl and the boy sat beside each other.  “I need to tell you something.” the girl spoke the words softly and carefully.
         “I know.”  the boy spoke his words as if he didn't quite believe them.
         “You're my guardian angel.”
         And the boy stopped.  His thoughts ceased.  His breath ceased.  Maybe, for just an instant, his heart skipped a beat.  And he began again.  He lowered his head and curled into himself.  Prickles ran down his back and his shoulders burned.  Hugging himself tightly, his mind raced a thousand miles and hour, tearing through chains and bindings, unleashing memories forgotten in time.  Waves of emotion shot through his body, making him shiver and twitch, and every muscle in his body pulled tight. 
         At last, he raised his head.  The girl saw the tears that poured down his face.  But when she looked in his eyes, she saw so much more than sadness.  A history.  Seriousness.  Power.  Kindness.
         “I know,” he said, “I know”.
         She hugged him and he broke down, sobbing.  He wept in her arms until he had no more tears but he kept crying, eking out sad whimpers and heaving great sobs and trying to open his pinched, tearless eyes.  His soul raced through his human mind, changing the way he perceived the world, leaving a thousand thousand years of memories and taking the sorry wants and angers he had built over the years and casting him away.
         After a time, his sobs subsided.  Exhausted, he released the tension in his body and crumpled.  The girl laid him down.  “I love you,” she said.
         The boy turned his tear-stained face to meet her gaze.  His eyes were clear and shone.  “I love you, too.”
         and the boy stood up.  He breathed deep, collecting himself, and then he looked back and smiled.  Reaching down, he lifted the girl up off the bed in his strong arms and held her.  She was startled and confused, and then slowly she relaxed.  A warmth spread over her, around her.  It kept the world at bay without cutting it off from her.  It felt soft and powerful in his arms, and for the first  time in her whole life, the girl felt safe.  “I feel so small”, she said.
         “Don't worry,” the boy told her, “I will always protect you”.
         The next day the boy and the girl said their goodbyes, gave each other a great big hug, and went about their lives.  The boy went back to his home in the city where the walls were hung with bright colors and the lights were mellow and friendly.  And the girl went back to her home in the forest where the trees rejoiced at her return and the sunset played silly games with light through her windows.
         They saw each other often after that.  The boy would take the long journey to the house where the girl lived, climb the hill and enter the forest, and he would feel at home and at peace when he saw her.  The girl would find her way into the city, and would stop and knock on the boy's door, and she would feel safe and welcome when she saw him.  And life was well.
         But then one night, the girl returned home and found something amiss.  An odd scent in the air, a movement in the corner of her eye, a strangely-colored shadow cast by an odd tree, something intangible was different.  And as the evening grew late, she felt less and less at ease.  She found herself thinking of the boy more and more, and wondering what was creeping beyond the light where none could see.
         In his home in the city, the boy felt a chill up his spine, and he heard the girl.  He said goodbye to his house and packed some things and walked outside and caught a bus.  He could feel something in the air, a force, a pressure.  His patience kept him calm, but he fidgeted nervously, worried.  Things were moving.
         The sun was setting as he climbed the hill where the girl lived.  The light trickled through the leaves of the forest casting orange swords on the ground that danced and clashed.  The shadows grew black and tarry, amassing in corners and nooks and elbows where the light could not reach.  They watched the boy carefully as he walked, biding their time, growing.  He climbed the steps of the girl's home and looked back at the sunset.  It painted the heavens crimson.
          The girl hugged him tight as he stepped into her home.  They sat down and talked for a while, watching the last slivers of light creep across the floor and up the wall, burning orange and slowly shrinking until they crept away and the sky turned a deep blue.  As they talked, an uneasy feeling formed and grew in the boy's chest.  He could feel something unknowable tugging at his instincts. “something's not right,” he said.
         “I know” said the girl.
         And as they spoke, the shadows crept through the spaces in the window frames, under the door, through the floorboards.  They came, a dark, heaving tar that cast the whole house in black.  The boy felt a chill and spun to face them.  His eyes turned dark and serious.  He focused his will and with a mighty swing of his arm, cast the shadows back.  But they were strong, now, and they surged back again, like the waves on the seashore.  And again the boy pressed his will against them and forced them back.  He stood his ground and dashed great numbers of them away, and yet still more came, endless, dark. 
         The girl was petrified.  She shook with the fear she had felt for so many years, but she kept her eyes open, and she believed in the boy.  The few shadows that made it to her she pushed away but it was exhausting.  She watched the boy with hope in her eyes.
         He was fighting a losing battle.  A thousand thousand shadows came from all sides and for every wave he cast aside, ten more rose up and crashed against him.  They reached up from the floor and grasped his feet, made their way up his legs and crawled across his chest, seeking a weakness.  He cast some off but he was tired and his will weak now.  The shadows leapt to him, surrounding and covering him, clawing and tearing.  And the boy was overwhelmed.
         And deep inside, he realized he could not win as he was, and he admitted his defeat.  He wanted nothing more than to protect the girl, but all his strength was just not enough.  I'm sorry, he thought, I'm so sorry.
         And when he did, a light shone from within him.  A bolt of white lightening shot through his body, saturating every aspect of his being.  It tore down his legs and crashed through his feet.  It shot down his arms and enveloped his hands.  It careened around his head and filled his mind.  Swirling and churning, it pooled at his back and in his heart and suddenly it released.
         He threw his hands in the air and radiant light poured forth from him, throwing off the shadows.  And two mighty wings, white as the driven snow, spread behind him.  He looked with golden eyes to the right at the teeming mass of black tar.  He swept a wing across it and they dispersed like dust in its wake.  He looked to the left at the shadows there and swept a wing across them, sending them scattered and defeated.  And then he looked at the girl.
         She lifted her gaze to meet his.  She saw his eyes burning with a light like never before, and behind them, clear for the first time, ten thousand years of sorrow laid out in front of her.  The soul of the angel speaking perfectly through the young body.  His wings stretched to the high ceiling and filled the room with a soft glow.  Feathers drifted on unseen currents and faded before they landed. 
         And he walked to her, each movement full of grace and restraint.  He swept her up in his strong arms and held her.  Suddenly, the girl realized that the angel was hurt from the battle.  A black mass had encircled his leg, and she could feel the shifts and inconsistencies in his light.  He was tired and hurt.  She looked up at him with concern in her eyes.
         He smiled.  “I am your guardian angel.  I will always protect you,” he said.
         And then he wrapped her in his wings.
         The girl felt safe and protected and warm and weightless and content and many other things all at once.  Her world was simple and complete.  She smiled and held close to the angel.  Finally she said “Put me down.”  He looked confused, but he set her down carefully anyway.
         The girl put her hands on his leg and concentrated.  She felt the earth and the sky and the forest all around her, and she asked them for help.  A trickle of energy grew to a torrent as the world moved through her, up through her chest and down her arms and out her hands.  From her fingers, invisible wisps of green curled and grew, working into the black that engulfed the angel's leg.  The tendrils of green split and divided it, separated and isolated it, weakening.  They sent themselves deep into his wound, pulling at the black roots that infected and drained, pulling them and removing them.  Bits of black fell off and shriveled to nothing as the girl worked, concentration in her brow and love in her eyes.  At last the green faded away, and the girl sat back, exhausted. 
         The angel smiled.  “thank you,” he said, closing his eyes.  And slowly his great wings folded themselves neatly behind him, and the radiant light grew less intense and finally disappeared.  The boy opened his eyes.  “Thank you”, he said.  And then he fell down.
         The girl sat next to him.  “you're tired, huh?” 
         She helped him into bed and he fell asleep before his head hit the pillow.
         The boy was away from the girl a long time after that.  Sometimes he would feel things eyeing her hungrily and he would reach out his will and push them away.  From time to time they'd talk on the phone and she'd thank him for protecting her.  He'd smile and laugh.  “It's what I do,” he'd say. 
         When she could, the girl stopped by the boy's home in the city.  He had filled it with his presence and she felt safe and protected.  They talked for hours, catching up and trading stories.  They were always sad when they parted but they knew there would be another time.
         At long last, the boy made it out to the girl's home.  Hello, town, he thought as he walked through the nearby town.  Hello, visitor, the town said.  Hello, forest, he thought as he walked through the forest that surrounded the house where the girl lived.  Hello, protector, the forest said.  Hello, house, he thought as he walked up the steps.  Hello, friend, the house said as he entered.  “Hi!” the boy managed to squeak out as the girl ran up and wrapped her arms around him.  “Hi!” she said as he hugged her back.
         Together they walked through the forest, marveling in its beauty.  They practiced with staffs and showed each other the things they had learned.  As the sun began to set,  The girl watched the boy dance to enthralling music, and the boy listened to the girl's stories and ideas.  They spent hours catching up, as they did each time they were together.
         But as the sky grew dark, the boy noticed the girl change.  Slowly she became less herself and drew inwards, ever so slightly fearful.  She glanced at the dark in the windows and jumped at noises.  “what's wrong?” asked the boy.
         The girl shook her head.  The boy thought about this for a moment, then said, “You are safe here.  I won't let anything harm you.”
         “I know,” said the girl.  She sighed and shifted her weight.  The boy could feel that his words were not as comforting as he'd intended them to be.  “I will always protect you,” he said powerfully.
         And the girl heard his words, heard them truly for the first time.  They reached deep inside her mind, far back into her past, to one night.  A dark night when shadows danced and things stalked, and terrors innumerable crept around a little girl, huddled under the covers of her bed, frightened and alone.  A little girl who saw her guardian angel.  And for the first time, the girl heard the words the angel spoke that night:  “ I will always protect you.”
         She looked at the boy.  He smiled and nodded.  She smiled back, then walked out the door as the boy followed.  Out into the dark, cold night.
         All at once the shadows came.  Lying in wait, gathering their strength for weeks, they had become the night, a wall of black tar beyond which nothing could be seen.  The girl looked at them with pure eyes and saw them for their true selves.  We are dark, we are black, we are loss and fear and pain, they told her as she walked into their midst.  “look,” said the girl, pointing to herself, shaded from the moon by the shadows' bulk, “I'm dark, too!”
         The boy watched the girl disappear into the blackness that saturated the forest.  Even in the moonlight his sharp eyes could not follow her, but he felt no foreboding, no sickness in his gut that something was wrong, and so he waited.  And waited.  He looked around and kicked a few rocks.  The boy felt very awkward.
         And then, all of a sudden, he felt a presence where the girl had disappeared.  He turned to see a black figure coalesce from the mire of the forest, take form and walk towards him.  The figure seethed with power and intensity, and waves of energy swept past the boy, stirring his instincts into a flurry.  Almost every part of him told him to run, save for one voice, from his heart of hearts that said simply, stay.
         And stay he did.  Terrified, he watched the figure approach, dripping shadow, black falling off in great long streams from its body.  And only when the figure was just a few feet from him did the black part and the girl step out from the tar.  She smiled.  “I think I'm okay now,” she said.
         The boy's eyes teared up as he hugged her.  “I'm glad,” he choked out.
         They held each other in a tight embrace for a long time.  They walked up the stairs and into the girl's home and sat down.  “I think things will get better from now on,” the girl said.
         The boy smiled.  “I think so, too,” he said back.
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