Riverindra begins her final quest to become a Guardian of Bayou City
| River looked at the line of bodies in front of her and felt the growing fear rise in her stomach. She wasn't afraid for herself, she was ready for this, she always had been. But she was afraid for him. Caspian. She glanced behind her quickly and saw he was three people behind her. He caught her eye and winked. Even in his nervous state, he made her smile.
"I love you." He mouthed to her. She whispered the same back. Riverindra turned around and faced the front. The line of people fidgeted in front of her, anxious to get started, or perhaps finished was a better term, since this was the finale to their years of training.
Drayna Baysun stood at the front of the line. Her shoulders shot back with a rigidity only brought on by years of training and discipline. She was the Head of the Facility of Guardians, who had looked after each of the new trainees since day one. River had thought she was extra tough on River because of her disposition, and her Father. Drayna marched down the line, her gloved hands hidden behind her back, her thick thighs solid as her boots slapped off the sturdy ground. She epitomised everything the Guardians wanted to be, everything the People of the Water were.
Drayna cleared her throat and the line stood in uniform. "Today marks the start of the end." She walked back up to the first person in the line, a young plucky girl with fiery red hair, an unusual colour for the People of the Water, but not unheard of. "You've been briefed on the mission, so I won't hold you any longer than necessary. I shall remind you of our ancestors, those that have gone before us in the pursuit of preservation. We all come from the same man, a humble man, Brad. He travelled far and wide on his tiny canoe, overseas and oceans until he arrived here, in Sanctomia. On his tiny canoe, Brad began to cross our Great Lakes of Ak'quan when a storm came upon him. He tried to stay on course, but the gigantic waves overcame him."
"Brad drown in the Great Lakes. The air left his body and he sank to the bottom, and just as his body touched the Lake floor, the Great Water Spirit came to him. No one knows what the Water Spirit looks like - some say it is a water dragon the size of Bayou, others say it is the smallest fish in the world, but the most powerful - but that doesn't matter. What matters is that the Spirit took pity on the mighty warrior Brad."
This is the origin of the People of the Water, River thought. It was the most common story told in their people.
"The Water Spirit took the water from inside Brad and expelled it out. She gave Brad a tail and lungs that worked in water, and Brad came back to life." Drayna said, touching her heart as was tradition. "Brad thanked the Great Water Spirit and vowed to live in service to him. Brad became the Great Water Spirit's apprentice, and lived out the rest of his life being taught by the Spirit."
"When Brad was working on the land near the Great Lakes, he came across a woman so beautiful he fell in love with her, and her with him. Brad asked the Great Water Spirit to be allowed to marry her, and as a gentle and loving spirit, he was allowed. The Great Water Spirit gave Brad the gift of a beautiful blue Gem for the wedding. A long time passed and Brad had lived his full life, before he rested in the presence of the Spirit, and the Gem was lost forever."
"This is the origin of our People, remember it, and live by Brad. He is within each of you. Remember that everything you need to survive shall be in your packs, your knowledge and your skill. Each of you will choose a key, that key shall give you your predestined starting point. We shall begin now."
Drayna stepped aside as two Guardians opened two boxes each filled with different keys, all with exotic and ornamental handles. This final task was repeated for each group of Guardians that were graduating. River could see the key hanging around Drayna's neck. It was common practice to keep the key you choose as a reminder of your oath, your bond and your experience. River had waited to get hers, so she could wear it just like her Father had.
The first girl chose her key and moved into the open pod waiting for her. The door closed behind her as she strapped herself in. Her face was emotionless, the Guardian in her had awoken. After her, the line began to dwindle as each person chose their keys. Finally, River stood in front of the open box. She looked at the empty shapes of each of the keys chosen already before scanning over each key.
In that moment the words of her Father had come back to her. She was only a little girl, his hand ruffling her hair and pulling strands out of her ponytail. She had been huffing with him for taking away the key. It was grey with the symbol of crashing waves wrought into the iron. River had adored it, so much that she often took it from her father's study.
"River?" He had called. His voice weak and raspy. "River?"
She had been hiding in the bottom of his wardrobe, somewhere she thought no one would ever be able to find her. Little did she know it was the place she always went when she was hiding. Her Father found her quickly and slowly knelt down, his breath heavy as he did.
"River, you know you can't play with my key." He would say, a sigh between every word. "It's very important. We need to keep it safe."
She protested and cried that it was her key, as little kids did. But ultimately, her father was more protective of that key than anything else. So protective, he left it to her in his will, marking it with a scribbled delusion of "Protect with your life, little River." She knew it was only the delusions of a sick man, but as she looked at the keys in front of her, she felt the weight of it around her.
A shine on one of the smaller keys gleamed and River's eye was drawn to it. It was a small key, not as shined and buffed as the others, but it still held a charm that River couldn't resist. It was plain black with no jewels, but eight hexagons in its handle. She picked it up and moved to the next available pod.
It opened and she stepped inside. She strapped herself in. From her pod, she watched the next people obtain their keys before moving to their pods. As Caspian passed hers, he touched his lips and then the glass of her pod. She reached out and their fingers were separated by the cold glass.
River could see the fear in his eyes, the panic that had been years in the works. A secret he had only ever revealed to her after she had revealed her own secret. They had been together for the first time, and afterwards she revealed her truth. He was her first, and she was utterly enveloped by him, afraid he'd leave her. But he had done something she had not expected. He kissed her gently and told her she would always be his. In return for her truth, he told her his own. Caspian, a Guardian-to-be, a Person of the Water, a confident athlete, was terrified of water.
As the last person chose their key and entered their pod, a hush seemed to fall over them. Drayna's voice came through a speaker within the pods. "Remember, your deadline is one week's time. Fail to return, fail to become a Guardian. Place your keys against the pressure board."
River placed the key up against the board and heard it whirring as it read the key. The key was not just ornamental but provided you with an advantage or disadvantage. She hoped she had chosen one that would land her close to the Great Lakes, or if not, at least close to Caspian. The scan was completed, and River added her key onto the chain around her neck, her key now rattling beside her father's.
The pod lurched backwards, and River breathed out, her heart raced. Drayna stood in front of them all. As she spoke her final words, she pressed the button that released the pods into the maze of tubes that raced deep underwater and out passed the boundary of Bayou City and into the marshy swamps and the Great Lakes of Ak'quan.
"Good Luck." She said.
The pod dropped down and River let out a quick squeal. She was plunged into a darkness so black she couldn't see anything. The pod rattled against the tube and changed direction. The straps kept her from knocking about too much, but even then, it was a rough ride. But she would endure anything for her mother. She would find the Great Water Spirit, and she would retrieve the cure. That was her duty as a daughter.
A burst of light shot into the pod as she was shot out of the tubes into the depths of the water. The longer she was in the pod, the closer she would be to the Great Lakes, and the closer she'd be to the Sea Serpent and getting the vial of Sacred Water. The pod began to ascend slowly, and River groaned. "Not as long as I'd hoped for."
The pod hit the surface of the water, opened and the sudden rush of cold air hit River. She unstrapped herself and climbed out of the pod, stopping for a moment to see where she was before diving into the water. It was icy cold, but she swam through it until she reached land. Clambering out, she threw off her bag and opened it up. She unzipped the waterproof lining and took out the map of the swamp lands. She marked where she was and tracked with her finger how far away she was from the ruined tower of Itzal Dorrea. That was where she was to meet Caspian.
River took off her wet clothes and changed quickly. She scanned the area around her. No sign of life. That was good. She grabbed her bag and jogged off into the swamps and the mangroves, and as she did, behind a tree, someone lurking moved off after her.