WHAT GOD DID I PISS OFF?
See chapter one for disclaimers.
Theresa Cook had stopped only briefly on her way out the door. There were a few things she wanted with her when she caught up to her daughter. The drive to the Silver Dragon was quiet and uneventful, as both worried about Taranee.
They arrived a little before 9:00, and the place was crowded. Asking after Hay Lin led them to her grandmother, who took them into the manager's office where they could talk privately. At first, they said only that Taranee had taken off unexpectedly with her boyfriend, and asked if Hay Lin was around and might know where they were.
"I'm sorry. Hay Lin isn't here right now. She is out with some of her friends. I don't believe Taranee is with them, though."
"Do you know where we might find them? It's urgent."
"I am sorry Mrs. Cook, I don't know precisely."
"She's 13, it's going on 9:00, and you don't know where your granddaughter is?" Yan Lin bristled at the tone and the presumption. "Taranee... may be in trouble. We need to find her, and her friends may know something. Do you know if they're at one of the other's houses? Maybe at Will's or Cornelia's?"
"Probably," Yan Lin allowed. "I don't know whose home they are gathering at." She frowned in concern. "What sort of trouble? What has happened?"
Theresa Cook was reluctant to go into details, but Peter spoke up. "Mom, if she knows how serious this is she'd probably be more helpful." His mother nodded, knowing he was right.
"Earlier tonight, we were having dinner with Nigel, Taranee's boyfriend.... A woman arrived unexpectedly. She just barged in without knocking, ignored the rest of us and started talking to Taranee." Yan Lin leaned forward, frowning in concern. "She was dressed very strangely in robes with a gold circlet on her head, carrying a scepter of all things."
"Taranee recognized her and went over to her, so she noticed the blood first."
"Blood?" Yan Lin's eyes widened.
"Yeah," Peter nodded. "She was hurt. Hurt bad. She told Taranee that... well it didn't make alot of sense. She said the defilers had returned, and that Taranee needed to hurry. Started talking about hearts and something called Zamballa. We-" He broke off. "Are you all right?"
"Kadma... is she well? Which hospital?" Yan Lin had risen to her feet and was preparing to leave.
"I.. You knew her?" Yan Lin stopped in her tracks, looking sick.
"I'm sorry. She...she's dead." He watched as the old Asian woman collapsed back into her chair. "She was hurt really bad."
"O-oh." She covered her face with her hands for a moment. When she had regained a measure of self-control, she looked up at them bleakly. "What happened? Tell me everything, and I think I can help you find Taranee."
Mother and son looked at each other, and Peter said,"okay. I'm sorry about your friend. I didn't mean to break it to you like that."
Yan Lin made a dismissive gesture. "It is all right. Please continue. Tell me everything, no matter how strange it may seem."
They told her about Kadma's arrival and what had followed, word for word as best they could recall. What had seemed to be babbling hadn't been as important as trying to keep her alive till the ambulance arrived.
Finally, Yan Lin sat back looking stunned. "'Long live the queen?' Are you sure?"
"Yes, but why is that important? It doesn't make any sense."
"It is an odd choice," Yan Lin allowed. "Taranee's particular abilities would seem to make her unsuitable, but I'm certain Kadma had her reasons."
"Kadma referred to her as 'fire Guardian' for a reason. It would be better, for you to see for yourself, though." She rose to her feet. "Come with me." She led the way to an upstairs room and adecorative cabinet, which she unlocked, with a key from her pocket. "Travel to Zamballa will be a bit tricky with both Will and Blunk away, but I knew I might need a way to travel on my own someday."
"Why not just take my car?"
"You can't get to Zamballa by car," Yan Lin answered with afaint smile. "Locals wouldn't appreciate it even if you could."
"Where is it then? If we can't get there by car..."
"Mom," Peter interrupted. "Taranee disappeared into thin air. I don't think there's going to be much that's normal here."
"Too true, Peter," Yan Lin agreed. "Although, 'normal' is a relative term. Ah, here we go." She pulled out an ornate wooden box. "I hope Taranee and the others are there, because this is a one way ticket."
"What is it?"
"A means to open a spatial fold to Zamballa, but, as I said, it is one way. If they are not there, we may be stranded. Zamballa itself may also be dangerous right now."
"All the more reason to go, but what's a spatial fold?"
"This." Yan Lin opened the box and there was a bright flash. "Come with me. Quickly, now,"she encouraged as Theresa Cook started to back away in alarm. Peter took her by the arm and pulled her through with him.
They emerged onto the steps of what looked like a Mayan pyramid.
ONE HOUR EARLIER
They flew over the jungle looking for signs of the attackers, but all they found was evidence that Nerissa's knights had been there. "This is awful!" Hay-Lin fretted as she spotted yet another hibernating Zamballan.
"We'll make it right," Will answered, "like last time. For now, focus on finding them."
"There!" Cornelia pointed. Below them, where the burned out area ended, a moving tree caught her attention. The Guardians landed nearby.
"Guardians," the tree greeted them with relief. "We are glad you are here. The queen has been most anxious. She awaits you at the palace."
Will nodded and they took off again. Ironwood waved them in from the steps. "Welcome Guardians. The defilers have fled before our queen, but they may return at any time. They did agreat deal of damage. The queen hopes you will help to repair it."
"Of course. Where is the queen now?"
"She is meditating. I will send someone for her." A gesture to one of her aides sent a smallish Zamballan hurrying from the room.
"Meditating?" Will asked.
"Yes," Ironwood, replied with some hesitation. "It is hoped that it will aid her in controlling her abilities." He moved off, leaving the Guardians to puzzle over this odd statement.
"Kadma doesn't seem like the type who would need to meditate on control," Will frowned. Cornelia shrugged.
"Guess we'll find out soon enough," Hay Lin ventured.
Only a few minutes had passed when a side door opened and afamiliar voice called out, "Man, am I glad to see you guys!" They had turned at the sound of the door opening, but could only stare at Taranee in the ill-fitting clothes she now wore. "You wouldn't believe what's been going on."
"What are you doing here?" Will asked.
"What are you wearing?" Cornelia snickered.
"Why do you have the Heart of Zamballa?" Hay Lin asked.
All three questions, asked at once, left Zamballa's new queen non-plused for a moment. "Ah... Maybe I better start at the beginning." She led them all into what passed for a small room on Zamballa. Kadma had had it arranged as an informal reception room, and there were several couches and chairs fit for humans. "I'm really glad you guys are here. The last couple of hours have been crazy." Nigel joined them then, much to the other Guardians' surprise. Together they told the story.
Will sat back when it was done, staring at her friend. "So it's Queen Taranee now, huh?"
The Guardian of fire winced and shook her head. "Don't call me that. I still can't help but think this is some kind of huge mix-up. The Zamballans feel the same way, I think, even though they're all callin' me 'majesty' an'such." She shook her head. "They haven't had time to really accept that Kadma is dead, yet and..."
"It's all happening a bit fast?" Will finished. "Yeah, I see that. You have had a weird night."
"Not as weird as mine," Nigel opined. "At least she had some idea what was going on." The others nodded, acknowledging the point. "Guess the question is,'what now?'"
"We fix the damage Nerissa did and wait for her next attack," Will answered decisively. "Two Hearts to her one. We'll never have abetter chance of beating her." Taranee nodded, thinking hard. "I suppose we'd better get started on the clean up."
"I counted more than a dozen Zamballans in hibernation,"Taranee said, putting aside her brooding for a moment. "They should be the priority."
"You sure?" Cornelia asked with an impish grin. "'Cause those clothes?" her eyes ran over the ill-fitting robes. "You look kind of silly."
"Don't fit, I know. It's out of Kadma's closet," Taranee answered. "My own clothes... they're covered in blood." Cornelia looked stricken at the answer and none of them mentioned it again.
They left the palace soon after that, heading out into the jungle to begin repairing the damage and reviving the hibernating natives. They missed Yan Lin's arrival by only 15 minutes.
Theresa and Peter Cook stared up at the pyramid and then out over a jungle the likes of which existed nowhere on Earth. "Is this really... another planet?" Peter asked.
"It is," Yan Lin confirmed.
"How," his mother demanded. "How is this possible?"
"Very well. Find your own explanation, and please don't scream when you meet the locals." Yan Lin nodded toward a large shape moving out of the pyramid.
"'Locals?' Good lord!" Theresa Cook stared wide-eyed at the huge walking tree coming toward them.
"Arrowroot! Good to see you again," Yan Lin stepped forward to greet the thing. "I only wish it were under happier circumstances."
"I too wish it were so, Yan Lin. Welcome back." He turned to face the others. "Who are your companions?"
"These are Theresa and Peter Cook, Taranee's mother and brother. Is she in the palace?"
"No. She has gone to tend the jungle and awaken those forced into hibernation. We will gladly provide accommodations and refreshment until she returns."
"Thank you Arrowroot." After a moment, she got the stunned mother and son to follow her. "We should wait. I don't think it a good idea to go looking for them with Nerissa and her knights on the prowl." She glanced up at their escort. "What news on that front?"
"The... queen arrived in time to drive off the defilers before irreparable harm was done. Her power is...frightening." Yan Lin paused, a bit taken aback. The Zamballans' were normally discreet and prided themselves on proper behavior. For Arrowroot to speak of his new queen in such a fashion was a shock and proof of how unsettled he was.
"I'm sure she is just adjusting. She means you no harm."
"I know," he sighed, and said no more, apparently embarrassed by his breach of etiquette.
Theresa and Peter had said nothing during this exchange, looking around at the grand scale of the palace. The room they were led too was small by the standards of the natives, but still larger than the entire ground floor of their house.
"When can we see Taranee?" Peter asked.
"She'll be back soon," Yan Lin assured him after athoughtful pause. If he hadn't picked up on who the queen was yet, she wasn't going to force it on him. Fortunately, a distraction presented itself at that point in the form of Nigel. Judge Cook gave him the look she generally reserved for the worst offenders brought before her.
"Nigel. Explain this."
The unfortunate boy watched his girlfriend's mother with adeer-in-the-headlights look. "I-I don't know. Taranee's not here right now. She went off with Will, Irma, Cornelia, and Hay Lin, something about healing the jungle. Said they'd be back soon."
"'Healing the jungle?' Just how are they doing that?"
"Magic, I think."
"Magic?" She was openly scoffing now.
"Ahem," Yan Lin broke in. "You were just transported to an alien world with walking talking trees, and no sign of Kirk or Spock. Maybe you should keep an open mind?"
"There is a logical explanation for this, not knowing what it is is not an excuse to call it magic." Yan Lin sighed. "I'm not denying what I've seen, but calling it magic is a cheat."
"What would you like to call it, mom?" Peter asked. "'Cause frankly? Magic works for me." His mother gave him a frustrated look, but didn't respond.
"Let's make ourselves comfortable while we wait for them to come back."
Peter settled on a couch with Nigel who kept a nervous eye on Judge Cook until she too decided to settle. "Nigel, you must know something?"
"Well... I could tell you what I saw, and what Taranee told me, but seeing is believing and it sounds a lot more convincing coming from her."
"Tell us anyway," the judge answered flatly.
"Well. Um. Taranee and the other girls are part of something called the Guardians. Each one of them controls one of the elements."
"Fire Guardian," Peter frowned. "That's what that woman, Kadma, called her."
"Yeah. Taranee is..."he glanced at his girlfriend's mother. "I guess you'd call her a pyrokinetic. She controls fire." He thought for a moment, "which might explain why the sprinklers at the sushi place went off when she got mad."
"She controls fire?" Peter looked at him dubiously. "Cool."
"Are you telling me my little girl runs around starting fires?"
"Not the way you probably mean," Nigel assured her. "I'm talking like... well that Stephen King flick, Firestarter? Like that."
"You say she set off the sprinkler when she got angry?" Yan Lin questioned, getting to what she considered the heart of the matter. "Was it deliberate or accident?"
Nigel shrugged. "No idea. I don't even know if that's what really caused it."
"Could be bad," Yan Lin sighed, leaning back on the couch. "Taranee has excellent control, but always thought she had a bit of a problem with repressed anger."
"Oh?" Theresa asked, in a mild tone but with narrowed eyes, automatically coming to her daughter's defense.
"Nothing against her," Yan Lin shrugged. "We all got issues, but Taranee carries the Heart of Zamballa now. That means that Nerissa will be after her. Any weakness, no matter how small is something that witch can exploit."
"Something like...repressed anger?" Peter asked, not liking the idea of some witch chasing his little sister one bit.
"No worries then," Nigel said, trying to suppress ashudder. "You didn't see her when she went after those knight guys."
"Meaning?" Yan Lin asked, not sure she wanted to know.
"She's not repressing anymore."
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