A Better Life Not Remembered

A Better Life Not Remembered

Part 1

I squeezed through the small opening while trying not to think about the hundreds of tons of Earth and rock pressing down from above my head just waiting for the slightest weakness in the geologic structure to collapse the void I was in. My sweat mixed with fine dust particles that I stirred up into the air turning into a thin layer of plaster-like material on my face and body. I could feel the grit between my teeth. My body ached from numerous bruises and scrapes as I pushed further towards the cavern I knew existed beyond. This was the stuff that I enjoyed, not the ten months a year that I sat in a dingy university office documenting the finds of the previous year.

When I went into the field of archaeology I pictured myself as a modern day Indiana Jones finding treasure around every corner, fighting off the enemies, running through trap infested ruins, and saving the girl. I admit I was more than a little naive about my chosen profession. Even though it wasn't all that I expected it to be, I forged ahead as the lure of what I might find was like an irresistible drug. Had my life turned out like I thought? Not in the slightest. After receiving my doctorate in geological science and archaeology I took a position on the faculty of a university in southern Texas. I eventually became a tenured professor and spent most of my days in research and teaching. Once a year I'd get to take excursions like the one I was currently on, spelunking through the depths of a Saharan cavern.

Over the years I was surprised at the level of politics within the university system. Grants were the lifeblood of the university and if you weren't bringing in grants, you were relegated to the fringes and often left to retire in obscurity. I wasn't a good grant person as attested to by my dark basement office. My integrity simply wouldn't allow me to falsify results to make the grant giver happy. To me science was science as was the scientific methods I used to produce results. If those results contradicted what everyone else wanted, then I didn't care. I valued honesty, truth, and loyalty even if those values went against the popular trends of the time. Sometimes I felt I'd made poor decisions and that my life could've been so much more significant.

At fifty-five years of age I was getting to the point where my students and fellow professors began calling me 'fossil'. My antiquated ways and strong moral beliefs caused them all to joke about me that I’d been found in some ice cave, thawed out, and continued my study of the world as if I was still hunting woolly mammoths. Perhaps I was just old-fashioned, but it was my old-fashioned beliefs that made me who I was.

Early in my life I found that working out and staying physically fit were good ways to eliminate the build-up of stress in my life. I might be a graying fifty-five year old man, but I was as fit as the twenty year old students I taught. My love for fitness had led me into a lifelong study of fighting techniques. My favorites involved medieval weaponry. For some reason fighting with swords and daggers resonated deeply within me. I focused on dual handed techniques, learning to fight well with either hand. Even though sword fighting was my preferred style that required skill and ability to win a fight rather than having a gun and blindly shooting from a distance, I was also an experienced marksman with handguns and rifles. I attributed that to my time living in Texas.

As far as my relationships went, I'd never married. I'd come close several times but I got cold feet at the last moment. It wasn't that I didn’t care for these women but that something in my heart kept me from making a commitment. The world would laugh at me if they knew I was still a virgin so late in life. Every time I got close I pulled away as if I knew there was someone I had to wait for. I hoped that someday I'd still meet my soul mate, although at this rate I'd be eighty-six when I finally met her and we'd be too old to make love anyways.

As I continued to crawl through the underground tunnel, I recalled my last date three months ago. I'd sat across from an attractive golden haired, blue-eyed woman. She was witty and charming and had a great sense of humor. For some reason I'd always been drawn to such women. Unfortunately, from the moment I laid eyes on her our relationship that hadn't even started yet was doomed. I didn't let our date go too far as I knew something was wrong with me and I wouldn't open my heart enough to get to know her. She wasn't my soul mate after all.

I sighed as I continued to push through the exceptionally narrow tunnel of rock. Pondering how I got here or my relationship failures was doing nothing to help me get into the larger chamber. I'd been coming to this area of southern Tunisia for the past five years. Using ground-penetrating radar I'd discovered a series of large chambers around one hundred feet below the surface. One chamber reflected what appeared to be a man-made object of some size. This area had been at the edge of an inland sea and several surface ruins indicated ties to ancient Egyptian society. I was looking for the mythical Hall of Records as the writings purported to be contained within it could prove to be an invaluable treasure to the world. Ever since I first heard about the Hall as a child I was drawn to the name and mystery. Why Tunisia and not Egypt where it was supposed to be located? My theory was that the Egyptians were smarter than most historians give them credit for. Much like modern day disaster recovery solutions, the Egyptians distributed their wealth and knowledge across vast areas. I'd stumbled upon surface ruins several years ago and found various references to people of extreme intelligence and beauty that had been located nearby. Historically, people described like this were the keepers of knowledge and wisdom and would have access to such a library like the Hall of Records.

It might have been a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but my radar maps were enough to persuade people to fund my trip here. A rope around my waist tugged twice. "I can't get through professor. You should return if you can and we'll try to find another entrance."

There was no place for me to turn around until I entered the chamber. "I've got to continue to the chamber before I can turn around anyways. I'll let you know what I find."

The rock tunnel was very tight and my students that came with me were inexperienced cavers. I didn't blame them for not attempting the tunnel as it was a long and technical challenge. I pressed onward and all but fell onto the cavern floor much like a blob of toothpaste being squeezed from a tube. The chamber was large and it was natural. The limestone walls showed no signs of human activity. My headlamp only lit portions of the cavern. I yelled back through the tunnel. "Give me about fifteen minutes. I'm taking off the lead rope so I can explore the cavern more."

I pulled a second lamp from a pack I'd dragged behind me. The extra light helped a great deal as I walked deeper into the depths. The floor of the cavern was quite smooth with the exception of scattered rocks that had fallen from the cavern ceiling over the years. No water had seen this place in many years, which wasn't surprising since the desert above might not see rain for years at a time. My light glinted off something reflective to my right so I turned and headed in that direction. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what appeared to be a large metallic building. I pulled out my camera and flashed a picture hoping the flash would expose more of the edges. The picture showed a vast object, extending hundreds of feet in all directions.

I moved closer and placed my hand on the metal exterior. I noted there were no rivets or seams that I could see. The metal was cool to the touch even though the air temperature in the chamber itself must have been close to ninety degrees. I moved down the side of the structure until I found a slight depression. I traced the edges and it appeared to be a door with no handle. I pounded on the door with my fist to hear if the structure was hollow or not, but I heard nothing except the echoes within the cavern. I needed additional light and to get more people down here. I turned to head back to the team when I felt a deep vibration within the ground. The ground began to shake and rocks started falling from the ceiling. As soon as it had begun it was over. I decided I'd better get out of there until a safer entrance could be dug.

I found the end of my rope and flashed my light to the tunnel entrance. The tunnel was gone. The little earthquake had collapsed the tunnel. I was trapped with no ability to communicate with the team. The tunnel had been over fifty feet in length. If it collapsed the entire way, I was dead. Getting the necessary people and resources to the site would take days if not weeks. I'd be gone in twenty four hours. I had some water and a little food, but that's all I had. I sat down on the cavern floor and turned off my flashlight and my headlamp. I needed to conserve what I had, even though the reality was that I wouldn't make it.

A thought came to me that I should at least see if there might be another way out. I'd leave a note at the end of the rope just in case someone got through to try and find me. I went to turn on my headlamp when a sliver of light appeared deep inside the cavern. In the utter darkness of the cavern, the light was blinding at first. I stood and walked towards the light. The structure door had opened! I pressed my hand against the metal door and pushed slowly, letting my eyes adjust to the brilliance of the light coming from within. I looked inside. This was no ancient Earthly structure. This was something alien. I stepped inside. The ceilings glowed and bathed the interior in a warm consistent light.

The structure reminded me of a recurring nightmare I had throughout my life. In my dream I was in a strange building with glowing ceilings much like this one. I was me, but it wasn't me. Suddenly I would feel this immense pain radiating from my chest. I'd look down to see the end of a sword protruding and covered in blood. That's when I'd wake up. This building reminded me so much of that dream.

I looked around the structure. A table and chairs of metal were positioned off to my left. A hallway moving deeper into the structure was to my right. Everything about the structure spoke of highly advanced technology, but it also looked to be designed for humans. The chairs were normal height as was the table. I turned to look back at the door, but it was gone. It had closed behind me without a sound and I couldn’t find anything that would open the door again. Was this an Indiana Jones temple filled with traps? The image of a giant stone ball rolling towards me as I ran through the structure's hallway caused me to chuckle. A little laughter helped to ease thoughts around my current situation.

As there wasn't much else for me to do I walked down the hallway to the right. I ran my fingers along the walls and marveled at the symmetry and simplicity of design. The hallway ended in a large spherical room. A chair, resembling something you might see in a dentist's office rested in the center. There was nothing else to be seen. To my left was another room. I went there and was stunned to see the remains of a human body lying on what looked like a bed. The body was fairly well preserved and still had long flowing clothing draped over it. It appeared to have been a human female. I carefully moved some of the clothing aside to see an elaborate and intricate design of decaying straps of metal, jewels, and a harness. I could almost picture what she could have looked like. The outer garment was more like a robe whereas the garments against her skin seemed perfectly molded to her body, showing enough skin to be tantalizing yet covering over her breasts and hip area. She would've been beautiful.

Her head still had dark black hair that must have been lush and long when she was alive. On her hip and attached to her harness was a stunning jeweled dagger. Long enough to be considered a small sword, but definitely designed for more than just looks. I carefully and slowly looked over her body. Below her left breast was what appeared to be an exit wound. Assuming she was human, this was likely the cause of death. Stabbed or shot from behind. I could be looking at a murder victim. I remembered my dream once again. The glowing ceilings, being stabbed through the chest from behind. I was starting to get creeped out by all of this.

I continued to look over her body. A beautiful and intricately carved ring rested on her left hand. It captivated and called to me. I pulled at it gently to get a better look. The ring appeared fused to her finger, but as I was examining it more closely, the metal warmed and the stones of the ring glowed. I watched as the ring began to slowly dissolve away. I was shocked as an archaeologist to have disturbed something of such historical importance only to wind up destroying it.

I stared at the corpse of the woman and backed away, not wanting to touch anything else for fear of damaging more when my wedding ring finger on my left hand started to burn. I brought my hand in front of my eyes and watched as the ring from the corpse began to materialize on my finger. My finger burned until the ring was completed and then it fused fast to my finger. I tried to pull it off but it wouldn't budge. It was stuck to the point it was more a part of me than not.

Frightened, I backed further away from the bed and almost tripped over my pack that I'd placed on the floor behind me. As I tried to regain my balance my hand went out to support myself and it touched the wall. A light glow from the ring was followed by a portion of the wall disappearing. The ring had activated and opened a hidden recess. Inside was a replica of the outfit the woman had worn, down to the last detail, except this clothing appeared to be all new. I went back to the bed and stared down at the female corpse. How long had she been there? There was something familiar about all of this and about her. I reverently reached out to touch her hair, my mind numb to all that I'd seen. The ring, my ring now until I could figure out a way to get rid of it, glowed again. The body and belongings of the woman began to dissolve away. I gasped at my complete foolishness and stupidity for destroying what might have been the most important discovery of all humankind. In mere moments, the bed was pristine with no hint the woman had ever existed.

Overwhelmed and suddenly very tired, I felt drawn to the bed. It looked so comfortable. My eyes began to close heavily. Just a little sleep. That's all I needed. I lay myself down on the bed and within moments I was fast asleep.

Part 2

When I woke, I'd no idea how much time had passed. I felt completely refreshed. I then remembered the collapse of the tunnel and the strange alien structure. I opened my eyes to a gray darkness, but soon more and more light appeared. I realized I was still inside the room and it hadn't been a dream. I sat up and immediately felt that my body wasn't right. Weight had shifted on my chest and I looked down to see a pair of breasts. I looked beyond them to my long smooth legs and flat stomach. I jumped off the bed as if it was a hot flame only to land with my now long lustrous black hair falling across my face. I stood up and brushed the hair from my eyes. I looked myself over in complete disbelief.

In an effort to establish some continuity with reality, I looked around the room. My pack was on the floor where I'd left it, but nothing else remained of me or the clothing I'd been wearing. At least with the pack still there I knew I really had been here before as me. I brought my hands to my face. They looked so delicate. The ring was still there, now appearing to fit my now smaller finger perfectly. I remembered the recess in the wall when my ring came in contact with it. How many other things were there like that? I ran my hand along the wall. Several recesses opened and one wall segment became a mirror. I stared at myself in the mirror. I was beautiful. Amazingly so. My rich, dark black hair flowed down to the small of my back. Bright blue eyes, more brilliant than any I'd ever seen blinked back at me. My lips were full. I'd been a fitness buff my entire life and I knew what a fit woman looked like. This body was exquisitely formed with toned muscles and almost no fat. I had a perfect hourglass figure. I raised my hands to my breasts, my smaller hands unable to hold them. They were full, supple, and incredibly sensitive. My legs were long and lean. My new womanhood was smooth and hairless.

My hand drifted lower but I stopped when a searing pain tore through my chest. I dropped to my knees, my hands clutching at my chest. I could see nothing yet the pain was beyond comprehension. My eyes swam with images and my head burned with a feverish pain. I held onto my head and collapsed onto the floor. I shook violently until after a few minutes the pain began to subside.

"Guardian."

My eyes went wide when I heard the voice. I was frightened and feeling very vulnerable.

"You must get up and get dressed, Guardian."

I shook my head and looked around the room. "Who are you? Where are you?"

"I am the Keeper. I reside within the building at the moment."

"What happened to me? I've got all these strange memory fragments in my head."

"All in good time, Guardian. Get up and get dressed. You must always be ready."

I was dazed and perplexed. "Ready for what?"

"To protect yourself first, and the universe second."

I glanced over at the wall where a copy of the female corpse's clothing rested. I stood and ran my fingers over the items and material. "You want me to wear this?"

"That's a female Guardian's clothing. You're a female Guardian. There's no other clothing in case you're wondering."

"Why do you keep calling me Guardian?"

"Get dressed first. I'll not respond more until you're fully dressed."

"What about my team?" Nothing. Of all the situations I could be in; I'd been transformed into a woman, locked in some alien structure, buried a hundred feet beneath the desert, and I get stuck with a sassy computer that has an attitude.

I looked back over the clothing, belts, harnesses, and the long dagger. I sighed and began putting them on. If the computer had answers for me and wouldn't tell me anything until I was dressed, then I'd get dressed. I fumbled with the belts and clothing, having never had breasts to contend with I now had a new respect for women. I looked back at the mirror and the effect of the clothing on this female body was enough to make a man weep. Every curve was enhanced. It was revealing, yet also presented an authoritative look. The robe was more like a fine silk dress that could be wrapped around my body. It felt warm yet also seemed to breathe well. Perhaps an alien version of Gortex? I also found a pair of shoes that I strapped to my feet.

I stood and look around the room again expecting to see come male holographic image that I'd speak to. Unfortunately there was nothing but blank walls. It felt awkward trying to speak to a building. "I'm dressed. Now will you answer my questions?"

"Yes, Guardian."

"What happened to me?"

"Before or recently?"

"That's a confusing response. I came in as a man, I touched the dead woman's ring, I fell asleep, and woke up as a woman."

"You seem to have the facts accurate."

"But that doesn't tell me what happened. How did I become like this?"

"When you first touched the shell of the structure from the outside, the essence of who you are was sensed. The structure responded by allowing you to enter and eliminating the possibility of anyone else coming to find you. Only Guardians may enter this structure. The ring is the mechanism that controls the structure and submits the denizens of the Universe to your authority. When you touched your ring, it transferred to you and you were placed in a prolonged stasis for the transformation into yourself to be completed."

I looked around the room even more confused. "You said prolonged stasis. How long is prolonged stasis?"

"Approximately five Earth months."

"I've been asleep for five months?"

"Not asleep, in prolonged stasis."

"What's happened to my team in all that time?"

"The structure has safety mechanisms to avoid contact with the people of Earth. They attempted to access the cavern for several months, but every avenue was blocked by the structure. They gave up and left believing the caverns too dangerous to continue the search."

"They think I'm dead."

"Dead is a relative term. In a way, you never truly existed in the body you believed you had."

"Why do you have to make your answers so difficult to understand?"

"My answers are perfectly logical. If your mind is incapable of understanding that's not my concern."

"You said it was my ring and the stasis transformed me into myself. You're saying the ring always belonged to me and that I was always this Guardian you're speaking of?"

"Yes, that's what I said." If I wasn't mistaken I almost felt like the computer sighed. "You've always been the Guardian. For the past one thousand nine hundred and thirty-six years, you've been waiting to be restored. You spirit actively sought this place and the ring."

"I'm fifty-five years old, how can I have waited so long?"

"When a Guardian dies, which almost never happens, the spirit of that Guardian selects a person that would allow for the possibility of restoration. That person was you."

"If I'm supposed to be this Guardian, why don’t I remember?"

"You will. You've already begun the process. The memories you've been seeing are memories of your pre-existence."

"What happened to the woman that was here? It appeared as if she'd been stabbed in the back."

"You mean what happened to you one thousand nine hundred and thirty-six years ago. Yes, another Guardian stabbed you in the back."

"Why?"

"You'd have to ask them that."

"What do I do now?"

"You're a Guardian. You can do what you want."

"What does a Guardian protect?"

"Guardians protect the universe from malevolent entities, most notably, the Reckoners."

"You're saying I'm supposed to protect the universe from bad guys?"

"Why did I get sent to Earth of all places? Bad guys... Yes, you're protecting the universe from bad guys. I'll try to keep my communications simpler with fewer syllables and speak slower for you."

"You're pretty annoying for a computer."

"Please... I'm not a slow pondering disgusting computer, I'm a sentient intelligence."

"When will I remember more?"

"Forty-two. The answer is forty-two."

"Forty-two what?"

"Don't you pay attention to popular Earth culture? According to the fiction story, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, forty-two is the answer to everything, or, it can be the answer to a stupid question which yours was. How am I to know when you'll regain all your memories? It could be in the next nine minutes or over the next nine months. The average time is roughly three days."

I looked at myself in the mirror again. There was something natural and comfortable about this body to me. Most of my life I dreamt I was female. I'd thought perhaps that's why I had such a hard time in relationships. I'd never been interested in men and wasn't gay. If what the 'keeper' said was true, then this was my natural state.

"What's my name?"

"You're name is Ayala."

"Ayala... Ayala..." Flickers of memories came to my mind as I spoke my name. Scenes, battles, and pain. Intense pain as I recalled the point of a blade passing through my body. A kiss from a woman. A name, 'Kira'.

"Who's Kira?"

"She's a Guardian and your partner."

"My partner? As in we work together?"

"Your mated partner. And yes, you also work together."

"I'm married?"

Another computer sigh. "Marriage is an Earth contract. You have a mated partner, a permanent covenant."

"How long have we been partnered?"

"Approximately ten thousand Earth years."

"Ten thousand years! How old am I? Why was I here on Earth?"

"You are young. Approximately eleven thousands four hundred Earth years old. Earth was the scene of an intense battle. Malevolent entities, the Reckoners... bad guys... were attempting to enslave Earth's human population in order to secure resources. You came here to stop that from happening."

"Where's Kira?"

"I don't have that information. I'd recommend you travel to the Hall of Records. From there you should be able to find her."

"As in the Hall of Records from Earth's mythology?"

"Earth never had a Hall of Records, but it's possible legends of the Hall persisted from your prior interactions with the local population."

"I've always had a desire to find the Hall of Records and now you're telling me that I might have been the person to introduce the knowledge of the Hall of Records to Earth? How do I get to the Hall of Records?"

"Yes, very likely. To get to the Hall of records, you use the teleportation system."

"The chair at the end of the hall. Is that a teleporter?"

"I can't tell you how nice it'll be when you get your full memories back. Yes, the chair is the teleporter. I don't recommend you travel anywhere until your memories are more intact. You're in danger."

"Why am I in danger?"

"You're a Guardian. You fight against bad guys. You were killed by another Guardian. I suspect you'll be in danger until you can figure out who killed you. Did you notice how I adjusted to your thinking patterns and used the term 'bad guys'? A computer wouldn’t be able to do that."

"Why is it you don’t know who killed me?"

"I was disabled at the time and my sensor logs removed."

"So I'm not the only one with memory problems then."

I pulled the dagger from my hip and stared at it. "So, let's see if I have this correct. My name is Ayala and I'm a Guardian of the universe. I fight malevolent entities, notably the Reckoners. I have someone that wants me dead. I have a partner named, Kira. I'm sitting in an alien structure beneath the surface of the desert. My life up until now was not my real life. Everyone on Earth that knew me believes me dead."

"This isn't an alien structure. This is your Earth residence. Your Earth life was real but it may help if you consider your life as a man on Earth as a temporary holding facility for your true spirit, guided by forces to bring you back to your natural state."

"Okay, that clears everything up." I said facetiously. "How do I use the chair?"

"I recommend you stay here in stasis until your full memory returns for your own safety."

"You tell me I have a partner out there somewhere..." I gestured wildly in all directions, "… that I haven't seen in nearly two thousand years and you think I should sleep again?"

"Prolonged stasis..."

I interrupted the keeper. "I have a single memory of a kiss from a woman I assume is my partner. I've felt a longing all my life for someone that was never here. I'm drawn to the face I see in my memories." I replaced the dagger on my hip and walked from the room towards the chair.

"If you must do this Guardian, I urge you to be careful. I'll travel with you as it's my responsibility to guide you. You can't assume another Guardian is still your ally. Not even Kira. When I travel with you, I'll be able to speak to you and you to me from within your mind. There'll be no need for you to speak from your mouth. Sit in the chair and tell the teleporter where you want to go."

I pulled my filmy robe around me and sat in the chair. I hesitated a moment as I was about to leave everything I knew behind. My ring glowed as I spoke the words. "The Hall of Records."

Part 3

I felt the immenseness of space envelope me. It was cold and empty. Light seemed to stream in colorful ribbons on the edges of my vision. I blinked and then I was in another room. I exited the chair and stood on a stone floor. Walls appeared to be made of carved rock.

"Are you there, Keeper?" I thought in my mind.

"I'm here Guardian."

"Is this the Hall of Records?"

"It is. Go through the door and into the great hall beyond."

I walked forward and into the room beyond. It was definitely a great hall and I'd seen nothing like it before. Enormous stone pillars supported the glass ceiling hundreds of feet above the floor. Rows of elevated seating surrounded the circular open floor. Hallways opened in all directions from the room. My steps echoed as I walked to the center and stood transfixed by the sight.

"Ayala!"

I turned in the direction of my name. A man with a greying beard and a large stomach was walking quickly towards me. My hand went to the dagger on my hip which caused the big man to pause in his place, his hand raising towards me as if in a plea for me to stop.

"Guardian. This man is your father. He should be safe."

"My father?"

"Most humans have fathers. You shouldn't be surprised."

I removed my hand from my hip. "I don't remember you."

He frowned. "You've been missing a very long time, my daughter." He took a step forward and paused again. "I'm Gaylor, your father."

At the sound of his name and voice a wave of comfort washed over me. I struggled to comprehend I had a father in this context. He held out his arms, urging me to step into them. I looked carefully at his face and took a tentative step towards him. There was something about him I recognized. Another step forward. I could reach out and touch his hand. My mind was conflicted, but my heart was driving me forward. I remembered a time when my father on Earth had been deployed for a long time when I was young. When I saw him again, my heart all but exploded in my chest. I'd been overwhelmed with a mixture of love, yearning for his embrace and comfort, and loss at having not seen him for so long. I looked a Gaylor and touched his hand, my heart was fluttering like wounded bird. He quickly pulled me into his embrace and cradled my head to his chest as he kissed the top of my head.

I breathed in, his scent overwhelming me with small fragments of my 'real' life. I'd never felt such loss and such absence. What I felt with my earthly father was nothing compared to the emotion coming forth from inside me. "Father..." Was all I could speak and my words choked in my throat.

"Ayala, my beloved daughter, returned to us after so long. You remember?"

I looked up into his eyes but stayed in his arms. "I know you're my father, but I don’t remember much else. I hope it'll return to me. I don’t even know what happened other than I was killed. I feel I was betrayed."

"By whom?" The look of intense anger and frustration appeared on his face. A determination of protection.

"I don't know. My Keeper insists it was a Guardian but its memory was erased. I was stabbed through the back. Father? Where's Kira? I feel I must find her."

"There's been changes within the ranks of the Guardians. I'm afraid they no longer hold the trust of the Council. Your return may help us regain what's been lost. Kira's been missing for a long time. Come, you need to reunite with your mother and sister."

I've got a mother and a sister. My heart soared at hearing that, even though I couldn't remember them. But Kira? Missing? My knees buckled as I collapsed to the floor. A wail escaped my lips. A love I could barely remember was gone. My heart was rending inside me. I felt her loss so deeply and yet I couldn’t remember what she looked like.

My father scooped me up off of the floor and carried me out of the great hall. I sobbed as he carried me.

"Keeper? The pain is so great! How can I hurt so badly for someone I barely remember?"

"One thing I've learned on Earth is that life there is so fleeting. Humans there don’t understand the depths of love that comes through living much longer. You've only just touched your feelings for Kira."

"What if I never remember everything?"

"You're a Guardian. A Guardian is selected for the strength of their character. You'll stand and you'll be strong, as always. That's not to say you don't fear and you don't hurt, but you use those emotions to strengthen your resolve. If you don't get all your memories back, then you'll make new ones. Your heart and your spirit will always be connected with those you love. Those are bonds that even death cannot separate."

"I was wrong about you, Keeper. You're not totally annoying."

"I'll take that as a compliment, Guardian."

My father was still carrying me. I'd settled down, my tears drying. The Keeper was right. I needed to get on with life. My first task would be to find Kira. "Father." He paused and let my feet touch the floor.

He lifted my chin with his hand and looked into my eyes. "That's the determined Ayala that I know. I pity anyone that gets in your way of finding Kira. I know the loss you must feel is great. You've always been the greatest fighter throughout our history. If anyone can find Kira and restore the Guardians, it's you."

"I don't remember my mother or sister. I can't remember Kira's face. I don’t even know who I am anymore. How can I find Kira and do what you suggest?"

"Because I know your spirit, Ayala. Nothing will stop you from finding and protecting those that you love. I believe most of your memories will return but that can take time. Come, your mother and sister need to see you. We can eat, you can rest, and we can help you make plans."

We walked through hallways that seemed endless. Massive windows brought light in from the outside. I paused periodically to look out at the wilderness that spread out to the horizon. Never In my wildest dreams would I believe I'd be somewhere else in the universe.

We stopped at an intersection of hallways. My father pointed down the left hallway. "If you continued straight down this hallway you'll come to yours and Kira's home. You can go there later. Perhaps it'll help you with your memories."

I looked down the hallway he'd pointed at. It appeared to go on into the horizon. Somewhere down there I once had a home and a life. I fought the urge to go right away and walked further with my father. We came to another intersection and turned to the right. After a few hundred yards a large intricate arched double door blocked our entrance. My father touched the door and a similar ring to mine glowed on his hand. The great doors swung outward towards us. We stepped inside. The rooms beyond had a comfortable homey feel to them. I struggled to piece together any semblance of memories of the place but couldn't.

A slightly older looking woman entered from another room. She had dark black hair, with a touch of gray on the edges. Deep blue eyes. She was beautiful. My eyes locked with hers. She started to cry. I recognized something. Similar to my father, but an even deeper connection. I'd been cherished by this woman. She was my mother. There were no memories yet, just recognition and a name, Serra.

"Mother?"

She ran to me and enfolded me into her arms. She clung to me as any woman would that had lost their child and found them again. "Where?... Why?... It doesn't matter as long as you've returned to us."

Gaylor stepped forward and hugged us both. "Ayala was killed, Serra. Likely by another Guardian."

"Ayala!" A younger woman was running towards us. She had lighter hair and favored my father's looks. She had an air of joy about her. Her name came quickly to my mind.

"Rune." I said as she tackled me from the side.

She kissed my cheek and held me closely. "It's been so long!"

I looked to my father pleadingly and he seemed to understand. "Ayala's been restored. She doesn’t remember much but it should come back over time."

Rune looked at me sadly. "You don’t remember me?"

"I remember your name, and the joy you bring to me. My memories of everything are jumbled or missing."

My mother did as mothers do and recognized I was being overwhelmed. "When was the last time you had something to eat?"

"I guess it was five months ago. In all fairness I was in prolonged stasis."

"Stasis makes everyone hungry. Let me get some food organized and we can talk as we eat."

I wasn't sure what to expect, but within minutes food materialized on a table. Rune had latched onto my arm and talked nonstop. I'd never had a sister before, at least one that I could remember. I was enjoying her animated and loving way about her. I felt comfortable here with these people. I guess that no matter where my parents lived, it would always feel like home.

We sat down and I watched everyone carefully as to what and how they ate. I followed their lead and sampled the fruits. Some of the fruits triggered small memories for me and helped me recognize what I was eating was something I'd eaten before.

It was all so surreal to think this family of mine hadn't seen me for nearly two thousand Earth years and the way they acted was like I'd been gone a month.

"Keeper? Does time have the same meaning here? I don’t understand how I'd not be completely forgotten by now."

"When a life spans many hundreds of thousands of year, a few thousand years doesn't seem so long. I can sense they missed you a great deal."

"Is there a way you can communicate what you know since I was last here to them?"

"I've already sent all history I've accumulated to the Hall of Records sentient intelligence so they have access to it."

"Is that wise? Wouldn't another Guardian now know that I've been restored?"

"They already know. Guardians are linked to each other in a way that defies understanding. Do you feel that Kira is alive or awaiting restoration?"

"I sense she's alive. Does that mean she's truly alive?"

"Yes."

A wave of relief washed over me. I looked at my family, a family I had a lifetime of memories that I couldn't access. What was I like, who was I really? Who am I to them?

"I've got much to think about and my lack of memories is weighing heavily upon me. I'm hoping if I spend some time alone and get some rest that more memories will come back."

My father looked at me with understanding. "We're so glad you're back with us. Go home and rest, then tomorrow you'll need to make plans. Promise me you'll be back with us tomorrow."

"I promise."

We stood and I hugged them all then turned and left. I retraced my steps to the hallway intersection and turned right down the hallway my father had indicated was Kira and my home. A set of doors similar to my parent's stood before me. I placed my hand on the door and they opened. I stepped inside my home.

Part 4

The structure seemed to rise above the outdoor landscape with floor to ceiling windows that soared thirty feet in height provided an incredible view of the world outside. A large waterfall poured itself into a crystal blue water lake and snow-capped mountains could be seen in the distance. A thick forest, meadows, and rolling hills went on untouched for miles. This place felt like home to me with one exception. Kira wasn't here. She'd made it a home. I felt like her presence should be here, but her absence left a void. I walked through the first room that appeared to be a main sitting area. I ran my hands over the furniture and objects in the room and struggled with not knowing anything about them.

"Keeper?"

"Yes, Guardian?"

"Is there a way I can see pictures of Kira and me?"

"Of course. The windows are multi-function and can cast a recording into the room. You don’t need to touch things with your ring, it's enough to wave your hand in the general direction. Speak what you want them to show you."

I waved my hand towards the windows. "Show me the last time Kira and I were together."

The windows darkened and the outside world vanished. The room shifted slightly and I saw myself and Kira talking. We were sitting together on what I would call a couch. It looked so real, almost as if I could touch them. I walked over to the copy of myself and reached out to touch my hair but my hand passed through. I looked at Kira and my heart pounded within my chest. I had an instant connection when I saw her.

Kira was slightly taller than me. Her golden hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back. Deep blue eyes, high cheekbones, and full lips. She looked like the women I had preferred to date. All these things in my life had driven me back here, back to Kira. Kira was wearing a similar outfit to mine. We sat facing each other, our knees touching. Her hand held mine and her other was gently stroking my cheek. My real hand touched my own cheek as I felt the emotional bond between us. Watching this showed me just how much we were bound to and loved each other.

"Kira, my love. Duty calls me to Earth but I don't want to go. We should be together. I don't want to leave you." I watched as tears fell from my eyes. Kira, crying herself, wiped the tears from my face with her thumb.

"And I don't want you to go either. We're one, you and me. Separation tears at my heart. I'm being sent to Altarin with Davin. Pallas and Thane are being sent to Rivenor. It's the first time we're fighting on three fronts. You can handle Earth on your own as you're the best of us all. Your hair matches the people in the region on Earth as well. We must be strong for each other for I can't bear the thought of being apart from you for one moment." I watched as she leaned forward and kissed me. I recognized that kiss from my memories.

A wave of pain and nausea swept over me. I fell to the floor with my hands to my head. Wave after wave of searing heat spread through my body. Fragments of memories felt like they crashed and collided within my mind. I shook violently, feeling feverishly hot one moment then intensely cold. Slowly it subsided.

"Guardian? Are you alright?"

"Her kiss... It triggered more memories. In a way it's more painful than not having them."

"I don't understand."

"Without the memories, I was blissfully ignorant to all that I'd lost. Now, the pain of loss is much more intense. I've never experienced anything like it before. Even when my Earthly parents died, the pain then was nothing like I feel right now."

"Do you have all your memories now?"

"No. I'm still missing much, but I remember Kira, my father, mother, and Rune much more. I've got many memories of Kira and me together."

I started weeping uncontrollably. "I... I should have never left you..."

I knew where our bedroom was. I ran to the bedroom and found Kira's clothing. I pulled a bunch of her clothes to me and I fell into wracking sobs on our bed, my face buried in her clothing as I inhaled her scent. "I'll find you..."

Part 5

At some point I must have cried myself to sleep. I woke in the same position I was before. I breathed in Kira's scent and began crying again. More memories had filled in as I slept. I still couldn't remember much about my role as a Guardian or my time on Earth but I recalled my years of training and being chosen. Eventually I got up and went to our bathroom. It wasn't unlike many Earthly bathrooms with the exception that the shower didn't use water. Light and sound were used to rid the body of dirt and sweat. I could walk in wearing clothing and walk out a minute later clean and dry. It was rather remarkable technology.

The incredible pain I felt continued. It wouldn't leave me until I found Kira. I used the pain to fuel my anger. I'd been betrayed by one of the Guardians. Pallas, Thane, or Davin. My mind focused on Thane as I recall him expressing his love for me and I'd rejected him. He'd been furious. I waved my hand over an empty spot on the floor. A circular section of the floor I was standing on descended outside to a large forest meadow below. I stepped off the panel and breathed in the fresh air of the forest.

"Keeper. Set up my training program."

"How many attackers would you like, Guardian?"

My anger was getting the best of me. "All of them."

"Yes Guardian. Forty attackers are ready."

"Set the thresholds to maximum pain, speed, and strength. I want it to hurt if they hit me."

I drew my dagger. Now that I had much more of my memory back I realized it was more than a simple blade. Each jewel on the hilt modified the dagger to meet whatever needs I had. My thumb brushed a sapphire-like jewel and the dagger instantly became a three foot long sword. It was light, designed for quick movements, and lethally sharp.

I started running forward as twenty humanoid and another twenty non-human attackers raced forward to meet me. Several launched projectiles at me. I dodged the first wave of them but the second wave headed straight for me. My left hand raised and a shield of light projected from my ring caused the projectiles to bounce harmlessly away. By now the first attackers were upon me. The non-humanoid creatures were incredibly fast and reminded me of large lion-like creatures with six legs. My sword wove in and out of them as I ran cleaving heavily clawed paws, legs, and heads from their bodies. I twisted and turned from side to side, dove, rolled, and continued. I pictured Kira in my mind and drove myself even harder.

A massive humanoid crashed into me from my left side sending me twenty feet to the ground. He plunged a huge glass sword towards my chest. I rolled and blocked his attack then scrambled to my feet and dove towards his midsection. As he fell backward my thumb rolled over a another jewel on the hilt reducing the size of my sword to the size of a twelve-inch long knife. I twisted the point towards the back of the humanoid just as we crashed together to the ground, the knife forced into the creature's heart.

I extricated myself from the pile of flesh and let out a scream of frustration and pain. I extended my blade again and tore through the remaining attackers. I looked back over the field and saw the carnage. I couldn't recall ever having left so much damage. I fell to my knees and wept some more. All these years I'd lost. The soul mate I'd longed for turned out to be missing. I'd make whoever did this to me pay. There'd be no restoration for them, I'd see to it.

I went back into my home and cleaned myself up again. I determined I'd not be back to this place until Kira was with me. I headed back to my parent's home. My mother greeted me with a warm hug. "How are you doing my sweet daughter? Oh how we've missed you!"

"Many more memories have returned but with it the incredible pain of loss. I never should have gone to Earth. None of this would have happened. I can't stay long. I must find Kira."

"Spend the day with us. Take time to be with your sister. She's missed you so much."

"I will. I need to understand what's happened since I left. I don’t even know where to start."

"Go see your sister for now. Your father will return shortly. Over the years he's been trying to piece together what's happened for you."

I gave my mother another long hug. "I've missed you all so much."

I went down a hall to my sister's room. "Rune?" Not all my memories had returned yet, but I had flashbacks of me playing a type of hide and seek with my sister. I looked around her room and couldn't see her anywhere. My hand waved over a space on the floor and I descended to the forest. This had been one of our favorite places. A crystal clear pond with a small waterfall was off to my right. It was such a beautiful spot. I moved to the pond's edge. "Rune? Are you here?"

I knew where she was. I'd always beat her at our little game but today I'd let her win. I felt her presence behind me. "Rune?" I heard a giggle then I was tackled from behind sending us both headlong into the pond.

"I got you, Ayala!"

"You did, sweetheart. You're just so quick and stealthy now."

"You remember me now?"

"Yes, I'm remembering more and more."

We swam in the pond and splashed each other then climbed out of the pond and laid in the sun to dry ourselves.

"How come you were gone so long?"

"I don’t know everything yet. I was sent to Earth to protect them against our enemies. While there, I was stabbed from behind. I don’t know who it was. It took a long time to become me again." I reached over and stroked Rune's brown hair gently. "I've missed so much!" I started crying again. It was such a common occurrence these days.

"What matters most is that you're back. We never forgot about you and we'd never stop loving you. We left a chair at our table for your return. No one was allowed to sit in it until you returned. We knew you'd come back to us."

I sniffed as my breath caught in my throat. "You kept a chair for me all this time?"

"Of course, silly."

I messed up her hair as I smiled. I never realized what I'd been missing having grown up as a boy with no siblings. I was enjoying my place in the universe as a woman. If my life on Earth had any benefits to me it was to remind me what I loved so much about being who I truly am.

As I relaxed and enjoyed my time with Rune a feeling of cold dread washed over me. I was on my feet in seconds with my dagger drawn, standing over Rune protectively.

"Thane." I'd recognized Thane, but I was still missing much of my memories around him.

"You always were the fastest amongst us. I felt your restoration and decided I needed to see for myself."

He walked forward slowly but with an air of confidence. I extended my dagger to a full length sword.

"I'm in no mood to play games, Thane. Where's Kira?"

He chuckled. "You and Kira. I still don’t know what you ever saw in her. Not when you could've had me instead. In a way, I was glad you've been gone so long. It helped me get my life back together."

I leapt over a log and pressed my sword to his throat, pushing him back up against a tree. My hand reached to pin his hand back and keep it from his dagger. When I touched him I screamed out in pain as new memories flooded me. As before, the pain was so intense I fell to my knees in convulsions. I was completely incapacitated as Thane kicked my sword from my hand and bent over me.

"Sweet Ayala. I always heard recovery from restoration is a painful thing. I brings healing to me to see you suffering like I did when you broke my heart."

"Stay away from her!"

He drew his dagger and pointed it at Rune. "Know your place, Rune. I'll not hurt Ayala, but I'll also not help her."

The shaking was beginning to subside. I pushed my left hand out toward Thane and activated my shield. The shield formed across Thane's chest and threw him backwards a dozen paces. I scrambled to my feet and grabbed my sword. Before he could get to his feet I was on top of him, his dagger hand held by my foot and my sword at his throat.

"Don't you ever threaten my family! I could end your miserable life right now. You know I can beat you so don’t even try. I'm going to let you up so you can tell me what I need to know." I let him up and pointed to the log. "Sit!" I placed myself between him and Rune, my sword at the ready. "Where's Kira?"

"I don't know where Kira is. She's been missing since Altarin." He was rubbing his chest where the shield had hit him.

"What happened after Rivenor? You were with Pallas."

"Rivenor was a ruse. There was no attack. Pallas stayed on in Rivenor and I returned to the Hall of Records. Nothing indicated Davin or Kira had returned. I personally went to Altarin and there was no sign of either of them. I've not seen Davin or Kira since."

"So then you travelled to Earth and stabbed me through the back because I spurned you?"

He looked at me like I'd slapped him. "You may have spurned me, but I loved you. I'd never do something like that. I was in pain, I admit that. I was in Altarin searching for about a month. It was then that I sensed your death. I came back to the Hall of Records, intent on finding Davin and Kira but when I got back here, everything was in chaos and I gave up my search."

"What was more important than finding Kira and Davin?"

"After Kira and Davin disappeared and your death, the Council was overthrown and the Guardians disavowed. I don’t know the politics involved. It was all done by the time I returned."

"Who's in charge of the Council now?"

"You should know. Ask your father."

"What does my father have to do with this?"

"He's now in charge of the Council and he's the one that ordered the Guardians disavowed. I'm pretty sure it runs in your family. First you, then your father. Like two daggers in my back."

"I don’t believe it. If that's the case, then where's Pallas? What were you doing for so long?"

"You know as well as I that we're appointed as Guardians. It's in our blood. I did what I had to do. I went planet to planet working as a mercenary. I've not seen Pallas since Rivenor. What happened to you?"

I glared at him. "As if you don’t know already."

"You still think it was me?"

"There's only three people it could've been. You had the motive. My Keeper says it was a Guardian."

"If that's true, then you're forgetting it could've been Kira."

I slapped him across his face. "Kira would never have done that to me. She's more honorable than all of the rest of us put together."

Thane wiped a trickle of blood from his mouth. "I forgot how hard you can hit. Listen, I know you're not going to like this, but you have to consider all options. Something or someone was playing us all. It could've been one of the Guardians or other influences. I've racked my brain, but once I was disavowed I was no longer welcome in the Hall of Records. You don’t realize it yet, but neither are you." He started to get up. I stood and followed him with my sword. "You don't remember everything yet do you?"

My eyes narrowed. "No."

"I'm not your enemy, Ayala. I pity the poor person that has Kira, if that's indeed what has happened. Just be cautious." He turned and walked away.

"Wait!"

Rune came to my side, grabbed my arm, and held me back. "Let him go Ayala."

I sat back down and Rune sat next to me. She pulled my head to her shoulder. "When you got some of your memories back, it looked so painful."

"What hurts the most is having lost so much time with you, Kira, mother and father. Let's go. Father has some explaining to do."

Part 6

Back at the house I sat at my honored chair as we ate.

"I just saw Thane, father. When were you going to tell me about you disavowing the Guardians?"

He hesitated, then stood. "Walk with me, Ayala."

I followed him back out into the forest. He took my arm in his. "Ayala, some of what I'm about to share is for your ears only. Your mother and Rune don’t need to know about it. I wanted to wait until your memories were fully restored before telling you these things as you wouldn't understand all of this before that. When you left for Earth, we'd been told that Altarin and Rivenor were also under attack. Those two planets were never under attack. They were distractions to get the Guardians out of the Hall of Records. With all of you gone, the Hall of Records fell under attack."

"Attacked by who? Why would anyone want to attack the Hall of Records?"

"Many years before you were appointed Guardian, there were other Guardians. Tamal, was like you, the leader of the Guardians. Miah, Galen, Kaidan, and Selim completed the roster. They all went to Teradoon and came back changed. They'd become evil and demanded the council be disbanded. There was a battle and Galen, Kaidan, and Selim were destroyed completely. There was no chance of restoration for them. Talam and Miah got away. It was at that point when the Council appointed the five of you as the new Guardians."

"For years I've thought through the timeline of events. You'd left for Earth. A few weeks later, Davin and Kira headed to Altarin. Pallas and Thane headed to Rivenor. Kira and Davin disappeared, then shortly after we felt your death. That was around two months after you left for Earth. Right after your death, the Council was attacked. Tamal and Miah had returned with a small army of the Reckoners and new technologies. Before we could prepare for a battle, half the council were killed. This time they demanded the removal of the Guardians or they would kill every family and person here. I was the most senior member of the Council left and it was my decision. With you gone and two other Guardians missing, I had no choice. Ever since then the Reckoners have been moving from planet to planet enslaving the population to harvest the planet's resources."

"I have a theory but that's all it is at the moment. Talam and Miah knew that the Guardians were still a threat to their plans. By capturing Kira first, they would be able to leverage her to gain an advantage over you in case their assassination attempt failed. Once Kira was captured, they killed you. I'm not sure how that could've happened, but it did. With you gone, the remaining Guardians would be no match for them."

"They must have had inside help, father. At least one of the Guardians was a traitor and I think I know who. Reconvene the Council and reinstate me."

"Reinstating you as a Guardian puts us all at risk."

"Then I'll take care of this on my own, without the approval of the Council. I'm going to find and get Kira back, then I'm going to do my job."

"What can I do to help you?"

"I need new weapons and I'm going back to Earth for a short time. Earth is still primitive, but it holds resources that are scarce in other parts of the universe."

"What could they possibly have?"

"Gunpowder. A mixture of chemicals that together make an explosive powder. It's possible weapons made with this will be effective against the Reckoners."

"On the new weapons, what did you have in mind?"

For the rest of the day I worked with my father in the weapon's room, grateful that the our technology was such that we could modify existing weapons fairly easily. I said my goodbyes to Rune and my mother promising them I'd see them soon. Father walked me to the teleporter.

"I've got one more item for you." He took my right wrist and wrapped an ornate silver bracelet around it. Fine chains connected the bracelet to a ring on my middle finger and it held a small red jewel in the middle.

"What's this?"

"By placing your hand on a person and speaking the word 'burn' it will utterly destroy the body and the spirit making restoration impossible. In the case of a Guardian, only their ring will be left."

"This is what you used to destroy the other Guardians?"

"Yes. The Council doesn't know I've given this to you. If you do encounter Talam or Miah, it could come in handy."

I hugged him and kissed his cheek. "I won't let you down. You've no idea how prepared I am to take this fight to our enemies."

I sat in the teleport chair and with one look back at my father I spoke the word, "Earth."

Part 7

Moments later I was back where this all began, the strange structure under the Tunisian desert.

"Keeper, how do I get out of the cavern and into the world?"

"The teleporter can take you to any place in the world you need to go. Your ring can teleport you back here."

"I'll need money and clothing that matches what people wear in the world today."

"That will be a bit of a problem. We have gold in this structure. This is what you used to purchase clothing and items when you were last here. If you wrap your robe differently, it could pass as a type of dress. You'd need to find somewhere that converts gold to local currency."

"I sort of grew up in Texas, I'm pretty sure I know where I can exchange the gold. Can you connect to the Internet here?"

"You mean that rudimentary pile of computers? Yes, if I must."

"Can you display it on the wall for me? I'm looking for a gun show in Texas."

"There appears to be quite a number of them right now."

"That's Texas for you. There, that one in San Antonio. I lived near there for a while and I think there is a gold buyer in a nearby strip mall. Can you set the teleporter coordinates near there?"

"Done. You might want to consider leaving your dagger here, Guardian."

"Yes, a wise decision."

I sat back on the teleporter chair and a few moments later I was standing at the back of a strip mall in San Antonio. I was definitely looking a little strange, but once I got some money I could stop by a store and get some clothing. I walked around the mall and at the front was the gold exchange buyer. I walked inside and the fellow behind the counter nearly choked on his sandwich. I forgot that my beauty would have that kind of effect on a man.

"What can I help you with, ma'am?"

"I have some gold to exchange."

"How much do you have?"

"Five ounces." I passed him the five tiny bars of pure gold.

"It'll just take a moment to verify its quality. Are you in town for the Comic Con convention? You're dressed a little odd."

"Yes, that's what I'm here for." I lied.

"You have a strange accent. Where are you from?"

"I'm from another galaxy."

He chuckled. "I should've expected that answer from a Comic Con visitor. I can get you one thousand per ounce."

"That's a little low for the quality, but I'll take it."

He shrugged. "It is what it is."

Luckily there was a a little clothing boutique a few doors down. I found two pairs of jeans, a pair of blouses, a couple cowboy hats, and some flat shoes. I bought two of everything in case we ever needed to come back to Earth. I put my clothes into a bag and left the store dressed in proper Texas attire. I walked the half mile to the gun show. If you've ever been at a gun show in Texas, you'd realize it is quite the cultural experience. At the door they carefully checked my bag and let me in for a modest fee. I squeezed myself through the crowded aisles. Even with the local clothing I was still drawing lots of attention, attention I really wasn't looking for.

I finally spotted a table with a pair of handguns that I was looking for. "How much for the pair of HK45's?"

"That's a lot of firepower. You sure you need two?"

"One's for my partner so we can train together. I'd also like to get eight hundred rounds of ammo and two thigh holsters."

"Eight hundred rounds?"

".45 caliber bullets are hard to come by where I live."

"I'll make you a deal. $2,500 for the works."

"That seems fair. Is cash all right?"

I took my weapons to the bathroom after stopping by a booth to purchase a few hot dogs. From the bathroom I teleported back to my Earth residence. I moved quickly gathering what I needed and storing my new clothes and money in case I ever needed to come back. I sat in the chair and spoke "Hall of Records."

Fifteen minutes later I was sitting down with Rune eating the hot dogs. They were a little cold, but I enjoyed watching her smile and her eyes widen as she bit into it. "I'm going to look for Kira. I'm not sure how long I'll be gone, but I'll be back."

"I know you have to go, but I'm a little selfish in wanting you to stay. We only just got you back."

"She's most likely being held against her will. I have to find a way to get to her."

I left Rune and my mother that day, unsure of where I was heading. I stopped off at the armory and added my guns to my outfit. I carried two daggers, one on each hip, the two .45 handguns on my thighs, and my new inventions were two bracelets that were fitted below my elbows on my forearms that could extend two foot long swords when needed.

"Keeper?"

"Yes Guardian."

"Can you review all the teleporter logs to and from the Hall of Records for Kira, Davin, Pallas, and Thane?"

"The logs show consistent use by all of them leading up to the point when the Council was attacked. After that I see no logs for any except Thane. Thane was here several times after the Council was attacked, then just recently when he came to see you."

"Can you gather the logs from the other planets and correlate them?"

"No. I'd need to be at each planet to gather those logs."

"Did Kira and Davin go to Altarin?"

"Yes."

"Then that's where I think I should start. If they left Altarin there should be a log as to where they went."

"Did anyone leave from here to Earth after I was there and before the attack on the Council?"

"No one, but that doesn't mean they didn’t leave from another teleporter."

"Do you see teleporter logs from Tamal or the Reckoners?"

"No. They likely used an alternative technology."

My next stop was to meet my father in the teleporter room. "You're not taking any chances I see. You've got more weapons on you than I've ever seen on anyone before."

"I don't know what I might run into, so I'm prepared for just about anything."

I was holding my father tightly when the rest of my memories returned to me. This was the most painful occurrence yet and I screamed out in agony. My father held onto me during my convulsions. At some point I shifted from pain from the memories returning to pain from the memories themselves.

"No!!!" I shouted as my heart began to break.

"Ayala, what's wrong?"

I couldn't breathe and I just wanted to die. Through my tears and sobbing I looked at the destruction device on my right wrist. I held it to my heart and said "Burn." Nothing happened and I cried even more.

"Ayala, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what's wrong. The destruction device won’t work on yourself. Why would you want to destroy yourself?"

"I know who killed me now."

"Who was it?"

"It was Kira! I remember her coming to Earth. I greeted her then when my back was turned, she wrapped her arms around me. Her face was against my neck, her right arm across my chest. It was an intimate embrace. Then the pain. Agonizing, intense pain as her blade passed through my heart and protruded from my chest. Why would she do that? I just want to die. I can't live with this pain."

"Yes, Ayala, you can and you must. I don't understand how or why Kira would do such a thing, but it's not like her to do such a thing. I've never seen two people more devoted and committed to each other than the two of you. Maybe she was under duress? You owe it to yourself to confront her. Don't choose the easy way out. What if she had to do it?"

"The pain of the sword passing through my heart is nothing compared to this pain I now feel."

"Then channel your pain, Ayala. Use it."

I clung to my father. I felt more vulnerable than ever before. I had no idea what I'd do now. I realized my father was right. I had to learn the truth. If I found Kira and she truly wanted me dead, then I'd give her the destruction bracelet and let her utterly destroy me as I don't believe I could live without her. I let go and stood having a hard time composing myself.

"You're right. I have to get closure. The Guardians need to be restored. I'll track them all down and those that are not in league with Tamal or the Reckoners I'll bring back here to be reinstated. Pass the word to the Council members they need to be ready."

"Where will you start?"

"Altarin. The teleporters each maintain logs of who travelled where. I might be able to trace where Davin and Kira went." I winced as I said her name.

My father wiped some tears from my eyes. "Come back very soon, my daughter."

Part 8

I'd been to Altarin before. It was a beautiful forested planet, much like the one the Hall of Records was on. I wasn't there to visit, however. Once there I had my Keeper gather the logs from the teleporter.

"Guardian. I see entries indicating that Kira and Davin left Altarin shortly after they arrived and have not been back. They went to Rivenor."

"Do you think they went to Rivenor to meet up with Thane and Pallas?"

"Unknown."

"Are there any recordings of them while they were here?"

"Yes."

I waved my hand at the Altarin teleporter room wall. "Show me the last time Kira and Davin were here."

"I can't believe the Reckoners weren't attacking Altarin, Davin. Our intel has never been wrong before. Perhaps we should split up. I'll go to Earth to see Ayala and find out if that was also a ruse. I bought something special for her while we were here and sent it home already. I can’t wait to see what she thinks of it." As I watched Kira, my pain was intense yet there was nothing about her that indicated any evil intent.

"No! We can’t split up. Ayala can handle Earth but if Rivenor is truly under attack, we should go there first."

This was not to protocol. Typically we'd head back to the Hall of Records first. Davin seemed adamant they go straight to Rivenor.

I watched as Kira nodded then headed to Rivenor.

I sat in the teleporter chair and headed to Rivenor.

Rivenor's teleporter was in a room with glass windows all around that looked over the lush, humid jungle.

"Are you seeing anything in the logs, Keeper?"

"I see the arrival of Pallas and Thane. Thane then left for the Hall of Records and Kira and Davin arrived shortly after. I see Pallas had come and gone several times to Rivenor in the months leading up to Pallas and Thane's arrival here. Davin also seemed to make those same trips with Pallas."

"That's odd. I wonder why were they coming to Rivenor when there was no indication anything was happening here? What about departures? Anything to or from Earth?"

"No one left from here and went to Earth."

"Kira, Pallas, and Davin all left at the same time to Teradoon."

"Teradoon? That's the planet where Tamal and the previous Guardians came back from changed."

"Teradoon is now fully under Reckoner control."

"Are there any recordings?"

"None, all destroyed, just like on Earth."

"Is the teleporter still working in Teradoon?"

"It appears to be online. A word of warning, Guardian. If Teradoon is under Reckoner control then you might arrive in the middle of a Reckoner army."

"The way I feel right now, that's the last of my worries."

I sat back in the teleporter and spoke the word, "Teradoon."

Part 9

I blinked several times as the room I teleported to was dark. Slowly lights came back on, but I was a little disoriented at first. The room seemed closed off from everything around it.

"Keeper, can you access the logs?"

"They're badly damaged. I see the arrival of Pallas, Davin, and Kira. I see Pallas departed after that to Sanwall. There is an entry to and from Earth at the right timing for your death but there is no name associated with it. There are several entries where it appears Davin went back and forth from Sanwall. There are also unregistered entries to and from Sanwall."

"Unregistered?"

"Names that are not registered within the sentient memory banks."

"Are there any teleport logs for any of them to other locations on Teradoon?"

"I don't see any."

"Do you have an updated geography map of Teradoon?"

"I have an old one, but historically, the Reckoners never removed existing infrastructure. You should be in the middle of the original capital city. Perhaps if you could find an access point to the older sentient system, I could interface and try to locate people within the city."

"As far as you know, both Davin and Kira may still be here?"

"Yes, excluding other technologies they may have used to leave the planet."

"I am seeing one other thing that's rather odd. This teleportation room has been sealed for only Guardian use."

"So, you need a Guardian ring to access it? No Reckoners can use it then."

"Yes."

I waved my hand at the walls until one of them formed a doorway. I placed my hand on the door and pushed. I peered out into what looked like an alleyway. Teradoon had not been very high on the technology scale. Higher than Earth, but not much more. I stepped into the alley which was a filthy, dirty mess. I saw no signs of people. The Reckoners looked like regular people with the exception that they were larger and generally didn't have any hair. Instead, they embellished themselves with piercings and tattoos.

I cautiously walked towards the main thoroughfare. So far the city appeared dead.

"Are you seeing any signals?"

"Nothing, but I think I've located where you are within the city. I recommend heading towards capital buildings about two blocks west of here."

I moved to the corner and looked both ways. No life anywhere. Many of the buildings looked to be in a state of deconstruction or decay. I moved a little quicker through the silent streets of the city. As I approached the capital building I noted some activity. Reckoners. Two on the roof of the building and two at the entrance. They were obviously guarding the place which meant there may be others on other buildings out of my view. If they were on guard at least that meant there was something worth guarding inside.

"Is there a way I might be able to approach the building without being seen?"

"There's no reason to. They already know you're here. I've been able to access a Guardian sentient intelligence. They were alerted to your presence from the moment you arrived here. Kira and Davin are both here as well as an unregistered."

"There's that word again. I guess I'll find out what an unregistered is soon enough."

"You don't have to continue."

"Yes, I do. Can you activate my forearm swords?"

"I believe so. Would you like me to deploy them now?"

"No. Wait for me to tell you when."

I pulled my thin robe-like covering to the side so that it wouldn't interfere with any fighting I might have to do. I made sure I had rounds in my two handguns loaded and ready. If nothing else I knew that Reckoners were rather fond of females. I'd used my looks against them before. If it gave me a slight edge then so be it. They tended to think of females as weak and underestimated us. I walked boldly to the front door. The two Reckoner's there opened the door for me and then followed me inside where they grabbed my arms to keep my hands from my daggers. A long hallway stretched before me. Approximately twenty Reckoners lined the hall and Davin stood facing me at the opposite end.

"I felt your restoration. It took longer than I expected. I hear it's painful."

"Pain only fuels me at this point. So you turned? You're with the Reckoners. I suspect Tamal and Miah are part of this as well?"

"You've done your homework." He kept his distance, letting the other Reckoner's move around me slowly. "I guess I'm not surprised you tracked us here."

"Where's Kira?"

"It's always about Kira. Kira is upstairs. I suspect you really want to see her after all this time. Unfortunately, the only way to see her is if you surrender now."

I looked around and made sure I knew where every Reckoner was located. "This is all you brought with you?"

"These are the Elite from the Reckoner force. I'm positive even you couldn't get through one or two of them."

"Why did you do it? Why did you turn?"

"Tamal is a very persuasive individual. We pretty much rule everything now. I lack for nothing except Kira. She never did like me that much."

"It was money? You turned on the Guardians, let the Council be slaughtered, and the Reckoner's rape and pillage through the universe for money?"

"That about sums it up. Yes. We knew you'd never turn. We needed you out of the way for a while so that the tide couldn't be turned back."

"So you sent Kira to kill me?"

He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yes, I guess we did."

"All of you turned? Pallas and Thane too?"

"Pallas, yes. Thane? He'd blindly follow you anywhere. Once the Council disbanded the Guardians, he went into hiding. He's of no concern to us. So you want to see Kira then? All you have to do is surrender."

"Now, Keeper!"

My swords extended from my forearms back towards the two Reckoner guards. One sword caught one in the neck, the other in his chest. They both let go and I spun in a circle letting the blades slice through their abdomens. I let them drop to the floor without giving them a second glance. I then I grabbed my daggers and extended my right hand one into a sword length. Davin looked a little stunned but held his ground.

"Get her!"

The Reckoners closed their ranks on me as Davin backed away. I dove to my right, rolled, and plunged my sword through the breast of the closest Reckoner. I fought quickly and without mercy using my forearm swords, sword, and dagger to good use. It was over in a few minutes. I hadn’t even suffered the slightest cut.

"Keeper, retract my blades."

Davin watched in disbelief as my forearm blades disappeared. "You never knew how to fight dual handed before."

"I learned a few things in my death. You have two options, Davin. Surrender now and relinquishing your ring, or be destroyed with no hope of restoration."

"You can't do that!"

I held up my right hand showing him the red jewel on my wrist bracelet. "I'm afraid I can."

Now he looked really worried. "We'll kill Kira!"

"Why would you killing Kira mean anything to me? She was the one that plunged her sword through my chest."

He started to run. I threw my dagger at his hamstring to slow him down. I was on top of him in an instant, my sword to his chest.

"Surrender your ring and I'll let you live."

"I'm a dead man if I surrender."

"So you're choosing death?"

He looked around, his eyes wide. "No... I'll surrender."

"Assume the position on your knees and relinquish your ring."

He struggled to roll over and get onto his knees. "I, Davin, hereby relinquish my ring and swear fealty to the Guardians and their decree for my life. I remove my ring voluntarily, knowing it can never be put back on." He pulled on his ring and it fell to the floor in front of him. He slumped a beaten man.

I reached down and picked up the ring, placing it in a small pouch on my hip. I was preparing to render Davin unconscious and tie him when a glass bolt shot through his chest. I looked up to see that more Reckoners had just entered the hallway and Kira holding a bolt thrower in her hand. She tossed it aside casually.

My heart leapt and was crushed in the same moment. Her stance was different. She had an evil look to her face. I was heartbroken and weeping as I stood. "Why?"

"I got tired of you. Tamal's a much better lover."

"This is between you and me. Call them off."

Kira shook her head. And nodded to the Reckoners. They moved forward towards me without hesitation. I put my sword and dagger away and drew my .45 handguns and began firing. The Reckoners dropped in their places one by one. I holstered the guns and walked forward to meet Kira. I was still weeping.

I fell to my knees in front of Kira. "If you no longer want me, then I have no desire to continue living."

"You make this too easy." There was a hardness to her voice. She drew her dagger and extended it to sword length. She pressed the point to my chest.

I looked down the length of the blade to Kira's hand. Her left hand. She had a device attached to her wrist. I saw these things but didn't registering their meaning. "I mean this little to you?"

"You were only a means to an end."

Left hand... Left hand... Kira was always right handed. "You bought something for me on Altarin. May I ask what it was?"

A flicker of confusion crossed over her face. Suddenly a scream arose from the stairway. "No!!!! Ayala, run!"

It was Kira! I looked up to see her tear herself away from a Reckoner guard who lunged after her. I reached for my dagger and fell backwards away from the sword at my chest. The Kira in front of me pushed forward, her sword cutting into my left shoulder. I extended my dagger to a sword and slashed across her left wrist. The bracelet she wore stopped my blow but shattered. Before me now was another woman. It must be Miah!

I rolled to my feet ignoring the blood and pain coming from my shoulder. Kira was running down the stairs with the Reckoner closing in. "Kira!" I tossed her my sword which she deftly caught and turned towards the Reckoner with it. My left arm was too painful to use and now I had no sword in my right hand.

"You should've stayed dead! It won't be long until you're dead again." Miah pressed forward and kept my hand from coming close to my handgun. She was so fast. I caught glimpses of Kira and saw she was holding her own.

"Keeper, activate my right forearm sword."

Instantly my sword extended. It was difficult to use in this situation, but I managed to block Miah's next attacks. I intentionally let Miah get close. I painfully thrust out my left hand and activated my shield inside her reach. Her sword got tangled between my shield and me as I dove forward. She fell backwards but her sword became a dagger and dug into my side. I was in serious trouble as she pushed me aside and stood to her feet. I reached for my gun but it had fallen out of its holster. Miah smiled and moved slowly forward.

"The great Ayala on her knees before me. I wish Tamal could see this." She raised her sword high and hesitated. A look of pain and fear fell upon her as the tip of a sword pressed through her chest then pulled back letting Miah fall to the floor. Kira stood behind Miah, my sword in her hand.

She dropped my sword and ran to my side. "Ayala! My Ayala! I fell into her arms as they encircled me. Her lips pressed against mine. We both shook and wept. "It's been so long!" She wailed.

We lay there in each other's arms for many minutes until the urgency of our predicament pressed itself on our minds. "Forgive me, Kira."

"Forgive you?"

"When my memories returned I saw it was you that killed me. I tried to kill myself but failed. I came here thinking you had betrayed me. I'm not worthy of your love." I looked down and away.

She pulled my face back up to look into her eyes. "When they captured me, Miah took my blood which empowered her device to make her look like me. She wanted your pain to be as great as possible. She had the guard holding me so I could hear her kill you when you came today. You told her if I no longer loved you that you wanted to die. It's me that's not worthy of your love. That you would willingly give your life because of me. What love exists in this universe that is so true as yours?"

"Never again will I willingly leave your side. It was wrong of me to go to Earth without you."

"And I'll never leave your side again. I'm afraid we must hurry. There are still guards about and your badly injured."

"Get my things and her sword and belt so you can have them. I need to do something to Miah."

I rolled Miah onto her back and spoke these words over her. "For the injustices you have done to me..." I looked at Kira who was staring at me with eyes full of love and passion, "… and mine. For renouncing the oath of the Guardians, I stand in judgment of you." I placed my right hand on her chest. "Burn." The red jewel flashed and Miah's body disintegrated leaving only her ring behind. I picked it up and placed it in my pouch.

"What about Davin?"

"He renounced his ring. I'm not sure if he can be restored. There's no way we can bring him with us, but at least we can let his family know he surrendered with honor. Let's go."

Part 10

Kira supported me as we walked back to the teleporter. When we returned to the Hall of Records, she became unstoppable. She screamed for help and true to her word she never left my side. It was times like this that I truly appreciated the level of technology we had for healing. Within a few hours, I was ninety percent healed. Not even a scar remained. Only the aching and pain that would go away over the next few days.

We had a lot of catching up to do, but our first stop was to see my family. My father greeted us warmly and led us into their home. We provided the abridged version of our story and they were relieved that Kira hadn't actually killed me. She was as much family to them as I was.

"Father, I want you to gather the Council members. The Guardians need to be reinstated. I want their full support for taking the fight to Tamal and Pallas and pushing back the Reckoners."

"But there's only two of you left."

"Of course it would be nice if we had more. I might have misjudged Thane. He should be reinstated as well."

Rune stepped forward. "You have me as well."

Rune will always be my little sister to me and yet she has the fastest reflexes of anyone I'd ever seen. I thought back to when I was chosen and realized she probably is more experienced than I was back then. I turned to my father. "If she passes the Test of the Spirit, she'd be eligible to be appointed. That would bring us to four."

"I'll think about it. I'm not sure I could handle two daughters as Guardians. It's bad enough having one. I'm always worrying about you."

I started taking the wrist bracelet off to give back to him. He put his hand on mine to stop me.

"You've earned the right to keep that. I trust you'll use your judgment. Now, you two need some time to yourselves. I don't want to see either of you for at least two days."

We were grateful to see my family, but we needed our time alone and so we graciously took our leave.

Part 11

Kira and I practically ran to our home. When we got there we sealed the door from the inside and fell into each other's arms, tripping over various furniture items in the process of trying to get our clothes off each other. Our urgency was tangible and our passions insatiable. It was a time of rapidly changing heightened emotions as we moved between crying in loss for each other to screams of passion.

Several hours later we were lying in bed facing each other. Our fingers entwined with each other's. With our intense emotions satiated and our energy depleted we finally had a chance to really talk.

"What was it like for you Ayala?"

"When you're killed, your spirit will eventually find a new host. Mine found a home in an Earth human. Their lifespans are so short compared to ours, but I remember my life well. I was a different person, but much of what made me who I am was also there. I loved fighting styles and spent my life learning them. I never had a relationship. I had no knowledge of my life here, but in my heart I knew I was missing my soul mate. I could never commit to anyone. My job led me to my old body and when I touched my ring, I was restored."

I continued. "I started out with very few memories. I recalled the pain of my death. My Keeper was there and I tried to understand what had happened to me. Eventually I learned about you. In my memory I had an image of you kissing me before I left for Earth. You were my entire focus. Without memories all I had left was you. I had to find you. I was lost and unsure of myself. I came here to the Hall of Records and met my father and family. I was so confused as I'd no idea I had a family."

"The hardest part came when I found our home. The Keeper helped me to recall our last time together. When I saw you and saw our kiss together, I was devastated. My memories of you returned and it was so very painful. To know what I had but to suddenly be fully aware of what I lost shattered my heart. I was so angry at what had been done to me and how it affected both of us."

"I prepared to go look for you when my final memories were restored. I remembered you came to visit me on Earth. I was so happy to see you. I turned and in my memory you wrapped your arm around me and pushed your sword through my chest. When I saw that memory the pain was unbearable. I took the destruction bracelet and put it to my heart and asked it to destroy me. Thankfully it didn't work. My father convinced me I needed closure and still needed to find you. I didn't want to live. Eventually I managed to get myself together enough to try and track you down." Kira was sobbing and I pulled her into my arms.

"I can't imagine what it must have been like for you. I'd gone to Altarin with Davin but as you know, it was all a ruse. We then went to Rivenor, but as soon as I arrived Pallas captured and bound me. He was with Miah and Tamal. I had no chance to fight back. They took me to Teradoon and told me I was insurance in case they couldn't persuade you to join them. Miah took a sample of my blood and I saw her use her device to transform herself into my likeness. She then told me how she planned on making love to you and killing you. She was such a terrible person. Every word she spoke was carefully designed to inflict emotional pain."

"I tried to escape and to fight them, but I was locked in a room with no way out. When..." She began crying again. "When... I felt your death... I went crazy, suicidal. Every opportunity I had I would attack and fight them. Finally they put me in prolonged stasis. They knew someday you'd return and when you did, I'd become the insurance they wanted. The stasis saved my life. Without it, I would've found a way to kill myself."

"When they woke me and told me nearly two thousand years had past, I was shaken badly, but in my heart I knew you were alive and I rejoiced. Miah and Davin told me you'd recently returned and I was needed. It was several days later that you arrived on Teradoon. They were ill prepared for you and they forgot what a fighter you'd been. Miah had kept me upstairs with a guard but she wanted me to see you surrender or be killed, which was her preference. I watched with joy as you took down the elite Reckoners and you got Davin to surrender. Miah was so angry, but I could see she was also scared. She used the device to become me, knowing you'd never fight me."

"When I saw you willing to let Miah kill you I snapped. Nothing in the universe would've kept me from reaching you. The guard didn't know what hit him. Then you tossed me your sword, putting yourself in danger to protect me."

We were both crying now. "It's over now and we're together again. In a way, I'm glad at least we both didn't have to spend two thousand years without each other, or even one of us living that long without the other. The stasis and my death helped us skip an eternity of pain and loss. I'm not ever going to let that happen again. Like it or not, I'm not leaving your side ever again."

We held each other like we'd never let go.

Part 12

"Ayala, come here." I rushed to our living room. "When I was in Altarin, I bought this for you. I didn't realize it was here. I send it through the teleporter before we went to Rivenor. It's been sitting here all this time." She held up a dress that was incredibly beautiful and intricate of design.

"It's beautiful, Kira."

"You must try it on!"

"Only if you put on a nice dress well. I've got something planned for you."

"Mmm. A secret plan?"

I grabbed her hand to took her back to the bedroom.

I put the dress on and looked at myself in the mirror. The fabric was sheer and you could see everything through the thin fabric. I looked over at Kira who had put on an incredibly sexy black dress. She was biting her lower lip as she looked at me. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her.

We descended to the forest floor and we walked towards the lake hand-in-hand. I had a blanket and a picnic lunch down near the water. This was something that we'd never done before.

I Had Kira sit down on the blanket and I kneeled facing her. I placed my hands on her face and kissed her deeply and passionately. "My beautiful and beloved, Kira. One thing I gained from my time on Earth was a heightened sense of priorities. Their lifespans are so short compared to ours there is a sense of urgency to their lives. We've given ourselves to the Guardian lifestyle and because of that we made decisions that came before you and me. Never again. The universe will not be protected in a day. We have all the time in the world and we must take time to spend dedicated to each other. I love you and I never want to be away from you ever again."

"Mmmmm." Kira melted into my kiss. "I completely agree." She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me down onto the blanket with her.

Part 13

The next day Kira and I sat in the seat looking down on the Hall of Records. The Hall had been transformed into a gauntlet of obstacles designed to test skills, abilities, and force the challenger to face their fears. We sat holding each other's hands as we watched Rune maneuvering through the course. I was still torn about the idea of Rune becoming a Guardian, but I admit I was impressed by her skill and courage. She'd make a fine Guardian and proved herself by obtaining the second fastest time ever, second only to mine.

We walked down and hugged Rune to congratulate her on passing the Test of the Spirit.

"You were incredible, Rune."

"I have you to thank, Ayala. I practiced against your recordings. In a way you taught me everything I know."

We heard someone clapping and turned to see Thane standing there.

"Nice job Rune. Good to see you Ayala. Kira, I'm happy you've also returned to us."

"Thane, I misjudged you. I'm sorry."

"You had every right to believe I was involved. After I last saw you I realized how badly I treated you. I'm sorry as well. Yes, I loved you, but I threw away our friendship in the process. You found Kira. I knew nothing would stop you. Davin? Did you kill him?"

"I didn't have to. Miah killed him after her surrendered. Kira killed Miah."

"You have your memories all back now?"

"Yes."

"So what now?"

"The Council has agreed to reinstate the Guardians. The four of us if you want to be."

"I'd like that."

The next day the Council met and requested the four of us to attend. My father led the proceedings.

"It's good to see that we have four eligible Guardians returned to us. It was a sad day when we disbanded them. The Council has voted and we have unanimously decided to reinstate the Guardians. Ayala, please step forward and enter the light." I stepped forward into a circle of light and looked around the great hall at the Council members. I knelt down as I did so many years before. "The Council recognizes you as the leader of the Guardians. Go with our blessing." A wave of light washed over me signifying the new status.

This was repeated for Kira and Thane before they called Rune forward. "Rune, you have passed the Test of the Spirit and found worthy of becoming a Guardian. The Council has appointed you Guardian. May you be blessed."

When the ceremony was over a feast was held. The Council members took time to greet each one of us and wish us well. My father came by and asked me what our next steps would be. I told him we needed to return to Earth to get more weapons and to practice with them. We'd return in a week and then head to Sanwall.

Part 14

The next day at the Earth residence Kira and I had changed into our Texas clothing and went back to the gold exchanger to get additional cash and clothing for Rune and Thane. Kira looked so cute in jeans I had a hard time keeping my hands off of her. Luckily she also found it difficult to keep her hands off of me. Once we had clothing for Thane and Rune we headed back to the gun show. Rune was all excited about being on Earth and wanted to make sure we got some hot dogs. I kept them all close to me as we got additional handguns and some AR-15 rifles. We kept the caliber of the handguns the same so we could share bullets.

Once we had everything we needed and Rune had her hot dogs, we brought the weapons back to the residence and headed into downtown San Antonio for the evening out. It was a warm summer evening. I had Kira's arm in mine and Rune and Thane walked close behind us. None of them had ever been to Earth before so this was an opportunity for me to show them a few sights. I took them to the Alamo and explained the significance of it. "What happened here may be similar to what we can expect on Sanwall. A small group of fighters held off an entire army for several days."

"It's inspiring. Of course, they never had any of us here."

"Rune, are you hungry?"

"Always!"

"Then I hope you're ready for some good Mexican food and margaritas."

"Just show me the way!"

We walked down to the Riverwalk and found a cute and lively little Mexican restaurant. Luckily they never asked for ID as none of us had any. The music was loud and the food was excellent. I enjoyed watching the three of them bite into the spicy food. Kira and I held hands under the table and watched Rune get more than a little tipsy on the margaritas. By the time we arrived back at the residence, Rune was being half carried by Thane, who interestingly enough didn’t seem to mind.

Over the next week we went and shot the guns and rifles so that everyone knew exactly how they could be used. Being highly skilled fighters, none of them took long to get used to the weapons. Rune was fascinated by the food on Earth and had us try something different every day. From time to time I noticed Rune and Thane flirting with each other.

By the time we headed back to the Hall of Records we felt we were ready to bring the fight to Pallas and Talam. After a brief reunion with my parents and a trip to the Armory, we all congregated in the SanWall teleporter location. Our arrival wouldn't come as a surprise to Pallas and Tamal since the Reckoners would have notified them of what happened on Teradoon.

Part 15

The Sanwall teleporter was a building located in the middle of a green meadow. We stepped outside into the brilliant sunshine and looked towards the nearest city on the horizon to our west. Our view was short lived as from the North we saw several hundred Reckoners approaching. At their head was Pallas and someone else that must have been Tamal.

I had everyone fan out as I walked forward. The main army held back as Pallas and Tamal walked towards me. They stopped about twenty feet from me.

"Ayala. Why did you come back?" Pallas had taken up a defensive posture. Tamal looked unimpressed and bored.

"I couldn’t let you get away with it. Besides, you all made it personal. Not only did Miah kill me, but you took Kira. You had to know I'd be back for her no matter what."

"We planned on it. Obviously we didn’t plan well enough. As you can see we're far more ready for you. And who's that? Rune?" Pallas laughed. "You actually got the Council to appoint her?"

"She's got more skill than you ever had, Pallas. You failed to introduce me to Tamal. I have something for him." I reached into my pouch and tossed Miah's ring to him. "She wasn't a very nice person. I'm glad to say she's gone forever."

Tamal's rage got the better of him and he drew his sword. I drew both of mine. Pallas surprisingly held Tamal back. "They can still be turned. With all of them, we'd be unstoppable."

Tamal was hearing none of it and slugged Pallas. "They all die! You too if you don't help me." He swung a vicious blow at me which I blocked easily. From my peripheral vision I could see the Reckoner Army rushing forward. The meadow's peaceful silence was broken by the sound of three AR-15s opening fire. I had my hand's full. Tamal was a masterful fighter and had several thousand years of additional fighting experience over me. Pallas ignored the army which was now hesitating as their fellows began dropping one after the other and turned on me as well. He lunged towards my left side. I blocked with my left sword then countered with my right grazing Pallas across his chest and opening a slight cut. Talam tried to take advantage and sliced down with his blade towards my right shoulder.

"Keeper. Extend my right blade!"

I spun letting the blade the protruded backwards from my right forearm deflect Talam's sword. I continued my spin just in time to catch Talam's second thrust with my right sword. My left parrying Pallas' next swing. I could hear the gunfire slow and more sword fighting begin. I pushed myself to get into an offensive position and focused my attack on Talam. I began beating him back by weaving a net of my swords in front of me.

"Keeper, retract my blade."

Pallas took advantage of my focus with Talam and slid in behind me. I was close to getting a chance to put an end to Talam and ignored Pallas. The next thing I knew, Kira was at my back and blocked Pallas' attack that would have put his sword through my left side.

"Stay away from my partner!" I could hear Kira scream as she launched her attack on Pallas.

I breathed a sigh of relief and continued my attack on Talam who was beginning to falter and lose his confidence. This made him desperate and dangerous. My brief glance at Kira and Pallas cost me a cut across my left shoulder. Talam was backing into the remnants of the Reckoner army hoping to pull them into our fight. Having heard Kira's voice and the stinging pain from my shoulder helped me refocus. A Reckoner attacked from my right trying to give Talam a chance to get further away. I blocked the attack and buried my second sword into the Reckoner's chest. The interaction took less than a second as I continued to move toward Talam.

He swung low towards my legs which I blocked with my left sword, my right swinging in and stopping at his throat. "Drop your sword Talam and surrender." I pushed my blade to the point where the skin on his neck was about to be punctured. He dropped his sword. "Turn around and put your hands behind your back."

"This isn’t over. If you think I was in charge of all of this, you're wrong. The Guardians have no idea what we first encountered on Teradoon." I registered what he was saying and stored it away in the back of my mind. I pulled out a pair of what could only be described as Guardian handcuffs. I bound his hands and feet and turned to continue the fight.

Rune was amazing. She was so fast and wove her way through the remaining Reckoners. Kira had Pallas bound and Thane was enjoying the handguns so much he reminded me of an old-time western cowboy. The Reckoners were on the run. I called the Guardians together. Kira hugged and kissed me and began tending my shoulder. Rune was breathing hard but had a beaming smile. I watched as Thane kissed her for the first time. I saw her eyes widen with the recognition of what he'd just done. She smiled and kissed him back. Pallas cringed on the ground. "That's all the universe needs is another Guardian couple."

We dragged Pallas and Thane back to the teleporter and then on to the Hall of Records. The Council convened and sentenced Pallas and Tamal. Tamal would say nothing more about his comments at the end of our fight. They'd both be placed into prolonged stasis, but a variation of the destruction gem was used first to eliminate portions of their memory, specifically in regards to their fighting abilities. Never again would they be a threat.

Later that evening my parents put together a feast to celebrate our victory. Father was a little concerned about Thane and Rune, but mother was ecstatic saying it was long overdue.

Part 16

The next morning I stood on our deck looking over the sunrise with the waterfalls and lake in the distance.

"Keeper?"

"Yes, Guardian?"

"I guess I need to release you into the wild now. Is there a place you'd like to be?"

"I've grown rather fond of you, Guardian. My life as a Keeper has never been so exhilarating. If it's alright with you, perhaps I could stick around. That way I'll always be guaranteed of being in the thick of things and taking the battle to the 'bad guys'."

"I'm happy to have you along as long as you keep your eyes closed when Kira and I are making love."

"Consider it done, Guardian."

I contemplated my life up until now. With my full set of memories my life back on Earth was a tiny fragment, but for some reason it was so fresh and strong in comparison to the rest of my life. "Indiana Jones..." I whispered to myself and chuckled. In the past weeks I'd found treasures, fought off the bad guys, avoided traps sprung upon me by the enemy, and saved the girl. Indiana Jones had nothing on my real life.

A pair of arms wrapped around me from behind. "Good morning, my love."

I turned into Kira's arms and kissed her. "Good morning."

"So what happens now?"

"You and I need to make up for the last two thousand years. If my calculations are correct, that means we need to make love about 730,000 more times."

"Mmmmm. I like the sound of that. We could start on that this morning."

"I suppose after that we need to help undo the damage the Reckoners have done and look into what Talam hinted at on Teradoon. We'll likely have a wedding to go to as well."

"As long as we're together life is good."

I kissed Kira once more. "With you, life is better than good." I led Kira back into the bedroom.



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