Xena, Gabrielle and the Amazons do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance.
Part 16 of The Guardian Series
I n the woods, the teams went their separate ways and after walking a few miles, Myas said to Exl:
“Exl, we were very surprised to hear that you'd be competing with us. We didn't know you're part of the tribe.” Exl turned to look at the others and said with taking her glance away from them for a few seconds:
“Well actually I'm not.” The young ones didn't understand. Exl explained:
“When Eponin was injured, she was going to tell you herself that you couldn't enter the Race, but I couldn't let that happen. When Xena and I gave those lessons a while ago, you and I can all remember how unsure and “unskillful” like you said you were. But then in just this last week, Eponin has seen how much you‘ve improved. She has never seen anyone improve so fast, she almost thought it was impossible. I know how hard you've trained and if Eponin was going to make you three her team for this important event, I knew you had to have a chance to show everyone that you're not weak and that you can compete against the best teams these three tribes have.
I told Gabrielle, Eponin and the others that there had to be some way for you to enter the Race. Then Gabrielle, being the mastermind that she is, got the idea that I should be your team leader and thus we could enter the Race. We knew that Queen Dionis wouldn't accept the fact of me being a team leader of an Amazon competition. Ephiny and Gabrielle said they'd think of something to say and here we are.
If I'm correct, the rules state that all competitors must be real members of the tribe, meaning real Amazons, not a part of the Queen's family and so on, like I am.”
No-one said anything for a few minutes, the youngsters were baffled by what Exl had told them and Exl was waiting for the youngsters' response. Fenci smiled and said:
“I don't really care whether you are or aren't an Amazon, the important thing is that we're in this Race together. Thank you Exl for being with us so that we can compete. We won't let you or Queen Gabrielle and the others down.” Exl winked and said:
“I know you won't. I know we won't.”
Together they looked at the map and saw that the first amulet was somewhere in the Woods of the Giants. It was a forest with the tallest trees in all of Northern Greece . When they arrived at the Woods of Giants, everyone started to look up since they assumed that the amulet would be somewhere high up in the trees. The Amazons were famous for fighting and climbing in trees, this was another fact that verified their assumption. Myas noticed something blue up high in one of the tallest trees in the middle of the forest. They gathered by the tree and Exl asked:
“Who'll climb up and get the amulet?” It only took a second for Tiuwi to volunteer, she put her bag and chobos on the ground and looked up the tree. Exl walked to her and gave her some advice:
“I know you're all good at climbing trees, but be careful. See those lighter colored branches, they're very dry and could snap even with the slightest weight, avoid them if you can. Take your time.”
Exl didn't want to tell Tiuwi what to do, she just wanted to give some advice that could be useful.
Tiuwi took a deep breathe and started climbing, she moved with agile and to the others it seemed effortless. When Tiuwi reached the dryer branches, she was careful not to grab onto them, she didn't want to break any of them and plummet down. She finally made it to the amulet, it was a wooden pearl the size of an eye and it was painted blue. She took the amulet from the branch carefully and smiled when it was firmly in her hand. She showed it to the others and shouted:
“I got it!” The others smiled on the ground and told her to come down.
Tiuwi started to climb down, but she wasn't looking at the branches carefully enough. She accidentally touched a large branch and it started to crack under her weight. Exl, Fenci and Myas all heard the crack and shouted Tiuwi to get off the branch. The branch was big and firm, but because it was so dry, it snapped like a small twig. Tiuwi almost lost her grip when the branch fell and Exl told the others to run away from the tree before the branch would hit the ground. On its way down, the branch broke all the branches below it, the tree was left bare on the side where the branch had been. Exl looked up and shouted:
“Tiuwi, are you alright? Can you get down?” Tiuwi was holding on to the tree for her dear life and she was going to answer that she would be fine. But then she felt her feet slipping from the branch she was holding to and she looked down. When she saw how high up she was and that there weren't any branches to climb down with, a feeling of panic started to rise inside of her.
“I… I can't. My feet are slipping, if I loose my foothold, I'll fall”, Tiuwi answered with a tone of fear in her voice.
Exl tried to think, they had to do something quick or Tiuwi would come crashing down. She saw Myas' bow and the ropes they all had hanging from their bags. She knew they had to try something, so she told Fenci to tie the ends of their ropes together to form one long rope and Myas to tie the other end to one of her arrows. Then she shouted up to Tiuwi:
“Tiuwi, listen carefully! We're going to shoot an arrow over the branch above you. Take the rope from the arrow and tie it around your waist. Do you understand?” Tiuwi nodded hoping her friends would do something quickly. Exl said to Myas:
“Myas, can you see that branch just above Tiuwi? You have to try to shoot your arrow above it.”
Myas said with doubt:
“I'm not sure I'll get it there, I don't think I can.” Exl reassured her:
“I know you can do it, just concentrate. Think of it as the small hoop back at the training field in the village, the one you shoot your arrows through when you practice accuracy shooting.”
Myas was really good at archery, but still unsure about herself and she knew Tiuwi wouldn't last much longer, she took careful aim and released the arrow. It flew through the air with great speed and it flew over the branch just as planned. Tiuwi took the arrow and tied the rope around her waist with shaking hands. When she was ready and prepared she said:
“I'm ready!” Exl, Fenci and Myas were all holding on to the other end of the rope and Exl gave the next instructions.
“Tiuwi, we're going to lower you down now. Stay calm and don't do any sudden movements.” Using the rope and the branch as a pulley, they started to lower Tiuwi down very slowly. They had no idea how strong the branch was, sudden movements could break it. It was still about 6 feet to the ground when rope was so short the others couldn't hang onto it anymore. Exl said:
“On the count of three, we'll let go of the rope and Tiuwi, you jump down. One, two, three!”
They let go of the rope all together and Tiuwi landed on the ground smoothly and she seemed happy to be on solid ground again. The others went to her to see if she was okay and she smiled showing the others the amulet and said jokingly:
“Well that was close, I want to do it again.” That was very typical of her, cracking jokes even after the most dangerous of situations.
After retrieving the first amulet, they decided that it would be best if they would make camp and after resting over night, they would get up early in the morning and head on to find the next amulet.
While the others were setting up camp and making fire, Exl went to catch something for them to eat. She came back in half a candlemark with some fowl she had caught nearby. They sat by the fire eating and everyone was silent again. It didn't take very long for the youngsters to start exchanging glances, they tried to signal each other that someone should say something. Fenci was the one who had the courage to ask Exl:
“Exl, why did you decide to become a warrior?” Exl had been waiting for that question to surface, but she didn't really know what to say. She sat quietly gazing at the stars in the clear night sky and said:
“In a way, I didn't really have much of a choice. I really didn't know what else there could be for me in life than being a warrior.” Exl started to tell them almost everything about her past; who her parents were and what happened to them, her grandfather who raised her and trained her to be a warrior and about what growing up training to be a warrior meant to her. Fenci, Myas and Tiuwi had heard things about Exl and her past from Gabrielle in her stories, but no-one in the village really knew much about this warrior. But now the three young warriors-to-be had learned a great deal about the one who was called the Loyal and they felt honored to be there with her.
“To me, the life of a warrior is the only life I know, I can't imagine being anything else but a warrior. I have the blood of a warrior running in my veins, many of my forefathers have been warriors. Being a warrior is my way of honoring the past generations of warriors in my family and also honoring my father and grandfather. When I was teaching you, it reminded me so much of the training I was given when I was about your age. Giving those lessons to you showed me what it must have been like for my grandfather to teach the same kind of things to me and my cousin. I'm proud that I had such a great mentor as my grandfather was, every day that goes by, I thank him for the wisdom and love he gave me growing up. He always taught me that a warrior must be honorable and trustworthy, a warrior must always use all his/her strength and abilities to do what is right. I hope that everything I do in my life, will honor him and make him proud”, Exl said with a calm and serene voice and her eyes were focused on a single bright star nearly this entire time. The others turned their gazes to the sky, the other stars seemed dimmer when compared to the one right above them. When they looked back at Exl, they saw that she was smiling and her gaze never left that particular star. Myas whispered to the others that they should get some sleep, the next couple of days would be long and rough. When they laid down on their bedrolls, Fenci took one last quick look at their team leader and saw her holding her closed right fist over her heart and her head was bowed down slightly. She also heard Exl whisper something what she couldn't understand, if she could have, she would have heard Exl say:
“ Thank you grandfather, for everything” , in her own language.
I n the morning, the team got up early because they had 3 amulets to find and they didn't have time to waste. After studying the map, they decided the best thing to do would be to get the amulet which was farthest away, then get the others on their way back. They walked and they walked until they reached a river. The young ones told Exl they had been told that the river had once been raging rapids, but because a dam had been built upstream, the rapids had died down to a river. They walked down the river to find a large boulder that was on the riverbank, the boulder was a mark to help them find the amulet. Exl looked at the map once again and saw that the amulet was located in the middle of the river. Everyone tried to look carefully if they could see the amulet, but because no-one saw a trace of it, it had to be deep under the surface. Exl asked whose turn it would be to retrieve the amulet. Myas stepped forth and said she would swim to get the amulet. She laid down her things, took off her boots and undressed the topmost layer of clothes. Fenci and Tiuwi patted her back telling her to be very careful, which she promised and she then went to stand next to Exl by the riverbank. Myas looked silently at their team leader, waiting for her advice. Exl turned to look at Myas and said:
“I know it's old news if I tell you to be careful, I know you'll be. Try to look under the surface for any obstacles, there can be anything waiting for you there. When you see the amulet, don't rush to get it, always remember to look around you. If anything turns up, we'll be ready to help.” Myas nodded and smiled, Exl responded with a smile of her own. Myas looked at the river and jumped into the cool water. She rose to the surface for some air before diving in to look around, just as Exl had advised.
She saw the bottom was covered with smaller and larger rocks and even some pieces of driftwood.
She rose to get more air and turned to look at the others, they were keeping a close eye on everything and then Myas went under again. She swam towards the middle of the river and saw something that she knew didn't really belong in the bottom of the river. It was another blue amulet tied to a branch of a small piece of wood that was stuck between two large rocks. She returned to the surface and gave the others a sign that she had found the amulet by pointing down towards the surface. Exl, Tiuwi and Fenci all gave her a thumbs-up and Myas took a deep breath before disappearing under water. She looked around and after seeing everything was safe, she swam towards the amulet and began to untie the knot around the branch.
By the riverbank, Fenci and Tiuwi were happy and very proud of Myas that she had found the amulet. If everything would go as well as now, they would have all the amulets well before the time would be up. Exl had been confident in Myas and the others since the beginning, she knew Eponin had made the right choice when gathering her team. Tiuwi heard something upstream, it sounded like the water would be flowing much faster.
“Can you hear that?”, she asked Fenci.
“It sounds like the current would be much stronger than before”, she continued. Fenci just ignored the notion:
“It's impossible, the current can't get any stronger because of the… dam!” Fenci looked upstream and so did Tiuwi and what they saw made their hearts jump up their throats. A large wave surged from the direction of the dam and large logs and branches were drifting right towards Myas. Their yell alarmed Exl who took her eyes off of Myas' location for the first time since she had jumped in the river. She saw the logs drifting downstream very with great speed, Myas could be crushed under them.
Myas had finally untied the knot and rose to the surface cheerfully showing the others the amulet, but the moment she saw them, she saw worry and panic on their faces. Exl shouted to her:
“Myas, quickly, swim ashore! Hurry!” Myas heard the masses of water that were coming her way and saw the danger she was in. She tried to swim as fast as she could, but the current made it hard for her to keep her head above the surface. She dived down to avoid being hit by some branches and escaped them narrowly. Fenci and Tiuwi were worried, they feared for Myas' life more than ever. Exl tried to keep the two calm and stay focused on the situation at hand; trying to warn Myas of anything she might not see for herself. Myas was starting feel exhausted from all the swimming in the raging current and she was losing her focus. She didn't see the half emerged log which was right next to her and it was too late when the others warned her. When she turned her head, she was hit hard and knocked out instantly. When she sank out of sight, her teammates cried out for her as loud as they could. Exl knew Myas wouldn't have much of a chance in the rapids being unconscious; she threw off her gear, weapons and boots and dove in after the young Amazon. It took Tiuwi and Fenci a few seconds to realize that Exl was now also in the dangerous waters. Exl's first few dives under the surface were very quick, she had many things to observe and consider at the same time. She had to watch out for the constant drift of logs, she had to swim with all her strength to fight the current and she had to get to Myas. She saw branches coming her way and avoided them by going under water, but then she didn't come back up. Fenci and Tiuwi ran downstream trying to see any signs of their teammate and team leader.
“Come on Exl, come on Myas”, Tiuwi said quietly as she scanned the water.
“You guys have to make it, you have to”, Fenci said being very worried. Then, almost out of nowhere, Exl emerged and she was tightly holding onto the still knocked out Myas, trying to keep her above water. They had drifted dozens of feet downstream and the current was somewhat weaker there. Exl swam ashore and told the youngsters to pull Myas to safety. When they got her to dry land, they patted her back to get the water out of her lungs and to wake her. Luckily, only a few pats on the back made Myas cough and she spat out at least a mouthful of water and took a few very deep breaths. The young Amazons sighed in relief when Myas came to and started breathing normally. Exl was exhausted from the rescue; she crawled to the others and coughed out some water as well. She lay down on her stomach propped up by her elbows and looked at the young ones.
“Are you okay Myas?”, she asked while Tiuwi and Fenci brought her and Myas a dry blanket to keep them warm. Myas tried to steady her breath and nodded saying:
“Yes, thank you Exl. I wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for you.” Exl got up and said:
“I'm sure you would have, your friends wouldn't have let anything happen to you. Besides, it's my duty and responsibility to keep you alive and safe, I've promised it and I never go back on my promises.” Myas showed the amulet she had put around her neck and despite what had happened, everyone was happy that they now had two of the four amulets.
Upstream, by the broken dam, the team of Scythian Amazons had been keeping a close eye on the whole event. None of them, especially the team leader wasn't happy to see that Exl's team had survived the rapids. They thought breaking the dam would mean the young team's fall and they would complete the mission their Queen had given them. One of the Amazons asked:
“They survived the trap, they're too gutsy to give up. What now?” The team leader kept her eyes locked on the courageous Northerner and said with a deep and dark tone:
“There's still plenty of time to finish them off, we mustn't fail.”
A fter recovering from the ordeal at river, the Blue team took a course which would eventually take them back to the village after they would retrieve the last amulets on the way. They walked to cliffs which were a half day's walk away from the village. As they climbed up the rugged mountain wall, Fenci volunteered to go and scout ahead. Exl agreed and after Fenci had climbed another 10 feet higher, she reached a safer spot where to look around. She looked up and tried to find the amulet but it was only after she lowered her gaze and glanced at the next ledge to her right when she saw the small blue amulet on a leather string. She ignored it and held out her hand for the others and helped them get up to the cliff she was on. When Exl got up with the rest, she asked Fenci if she had seen the amulet anywhere. Fenci said:
“Well I'm not sure if my eyes are deceiving me, but I think it's over there” and pointed to the amulet's direction. Exl and the others looked towards the small item and saw exactly the same as Fenci, it was their amulet. Exl thought something about this was odd, she took the map and examined it closely.
“Well according to the map, it should be much higher, it should be nearly at the top”, she said and took turns looking at everyone. None of them had any idea why the amulet was where it was until Tiuwi said:
“Maybe the wind blew it down here or a bird grabbed it and then dropped it when realizing it wasn't food.” Neither explanation seemed probable to any of them, but no-one had anything better in mind. Exl stood next to Fenci and said:
“Alright Fenci, it's your turn. I don't like this, something just isn't right. Watch your step and…”
“Be careful, yeah I know”, Fenci finished Exl's sentence, since she knew it was going to be the thing she would say next. Exl smiled, was she somehow repeating herself or were her words just so predictable? She patted Fenci's shoulder and Fenci started to approach the amulet very slowly and carefully. Exl stood by Myas and Tiuwi and told them to brace themselves since the conditions were suspicious. Fenci concentrated on every step she took and finally she reached the amulet. She knelt down to pick it up and after she was holding it, everyone was waiting for something dramatic to happen. But everything was just as it was a moment ago, no earthquakes or rocks falling from above. Fenci took a glance at Exl who nodded as a sign that everything was fine and that she could return to them.
When Fenci got back to where the others were, she showed them the amulet and said:
“Well that was easy.” Myas and Tiuwi thought maybe the challenge in retrieving this amulet was the climb up the side of the mountain. But Exl mind still wasn't settled, this task wasn't as difficult as the others had been and by what they had been told about the Race, none of the tasks would be easy.
“All too easy, let's get down and back on the road. We still have to find the last amulet”, Exl said and was about to take a step closer to the edge when suddenly someone was standing in front of her. It was as if from nowhere the team leader of the Black team had appeared and was now only a couple of feet away from Exl.
“My, my, what do my eyes see before me? If it isn't the little losers and their tough outsider team leader. How did you like our little surprise by the river?”, the tall and fierce Scythian said.
“By the river? It was you, you broke the dam”, Fenci said.
“Clever deduction, you didn't really think that it would have broken on its own”, the Scythian said with an evil gaze.
“You almost had Myas killed! I should give you just what you deserve”, Tiuwi said and almost ran to attack the much bigger and stronger Amazon, but Myas and Fenci were both holding her in place and Exl placed herself between her team and the other team leader.
“But why did you break the dam? We are competing in a Race of peace and sisterhood between the tribes”, Exl tried to ask but was answered with a furious shout:
“Don't talk to me about sisterhood, you're not our sister, you aren't even an Amazon! I can't believe your weapons master was going to compete with these puny, useless little kids. You're a disgrace to your tribe! We're doing exactly as our Queen commanded, we were ordered to make sure you wouldn't finish the Race, to finish you off. We nearly succeeded by the river, but you had to play a hero and save your little friend. But this time we won't make the same mistake.”
Exl's team mates were at the same time devastated by what they heard but also ready to defend themselves. Myas looked up at the Scythian and said defiantly:
“You won't get away with this.” But the Scythian just laughed and replied:
“That's where you're wrong you little weaklings, you're just where we want you. It was easy to get you here, all we had to do was bring your amulet from up higher and leave it here so you'd find it on your way up. And that's not the only surprise.” She looked up to where all the Blue team's eyes then focused on, about 15 feet above them was the rest of the Black team looking down at them. Before Exl or the others could notice, the Black team leader had ripped the map from Exl's hands and torn it in half.
“Say hello to Hades or whoever rules your underworld”, she said before jumping up and grabbing hold of the rope which she had used to climb down. The moment she took hold of the rope, her team members started pushing boulders and large rocks over the edge of cliff and down on Exl's team. The young Amazons and their warrior team leader were frozen for a few moments when they realized they would be crushed under the falling rocks. Exl told everyone to press themselves against the mountainside and to hold on. Like a miracle none of the rocks hit any of them, a few came close and scrapped their skin but otherwise they were unharmed. The weight and impact of the boulders on the crag was another thing, with each falling rock the ledge broke piece by piece until the last boulder hit the shattered ledge which broke underneath the young team. The Scythians watched as they started plummeting towards the ground. All they could see from where they were standing was a cloud of dust and nothing else. The Scythian team leader smiled, they had finally succeeded in their task. They had eliminated the young Blue team, just as their Queen had ordered them. One of the Amazons helped their team leader to get up to the ledge they were on and then said:
“Let's see them get out of this, no-one can survive a fall like that, not to mention all the rocks.”
The tall team leader didn't want to take her eyes of the place where Exl and her team had fallen.
“No, not even that Northerner can have a trick up her sleeve to save them. Now we just have to return to the village and inform the Telaquire Queen of the tragic accident their young team faced”, she said and held the pieces of the Blue team's torn map.
A while later, there was some movement down on the ground, amongst the trees and bushes.
Slowly all the young Amazons woke up from a short state of unconsciousness, with cuts and bruises all over their bodies. The fall would have been fatal, but for their luck, the bushes and trees had broken their fall. After they had gotten up, they looked around and Myas said:
“Where's Exl?” Frightened of what might have happened to their friend, they called out for Exl and tried to look for her. Then from somewhere very close, they heard Exl's voice:
“I'm over here.” They ran to her and helped her up.
“Exl, are you okay?”, Tiuwi asked their team leader. Exl looked up the mountain side to see the place they had fallen from and how high it was. She nodded and said:
“Yeah, unbelievably.” The others also looked up and Fenci said:
“To think that we survived that fall. But how?” Exl looked at her friends and said:
“Maybe Artemis had your back.”
They were all tired and sore from the attempt on their life, so they thought it was best to make camp and regain their strength. Myas couldn't believe all that had just happened:
“It's unbelievable that members of our sister tribe just tried to kill us. And that it was a command from their Queen.”
“It's my fault, if I hadn't entered the Race, you would have been safe from these attempts to annihilate you. It's me the Scythians and their Queen hate. They think I'm some sort of barbarian”, Exl said lowering her head.
“You, our brave and fearless leader, a loyal and courageous warrior, would be a barbarian? They must have their warriors mixed up”, Tiuwi said with a smile.
“I'd love to teach those dirty, good for nothing backstabbers a lesson”, Fenci said with her fists tightly clenched. Exl stood up like she gained new strength from something and said:
“That's exactly what we're going to do. We only have one amulet to find and now that the Scythians think we're dead, they won't try to stop us. So in the morning we'll get up early, find the last amulet and return to the village before they do.” But none of her friends were enthusiastic about the plan.
“What's wrong?”, Exl asked the others, who seemed very down about something.
“What's the point? We won't make it back in time”, Fenci replied.
“And we don't have the map, how are we supposed to find the last amulet without it?”, Tiuwi continued.
“We can't let a few setbacks stop us. You're Amazons, you can't give up just like that”, Exl responded.
“No, that Scythian was right. Who are we kidding, we haven't got a chance to beat them. Maybe we're not meant to be warriors after all, we're just a disgrace to our tribe, our Master and our Queen. We're just useless kids”, Myas said looking at Exl. The warrior of the North couldn't believe her ears.
“She said all those things to discourage you and I think she almost succeeded. Don't believe a thing she said, they were all lies to get you to give up. Let them say what they want, the only people you have to believe are yourselves. If you have faith in yourself, it doesn't matter what others think of you. From the very beginning, when I heard you were going to enter this Race with Eponin, I've had faith in you. And when I was made your team leader, my faith in you only got stronger. You're not warriors yet, you're still in-training and you have a lot to learn. But you've learnt that a warrior's life isn't easy and it's not only about fighting evil and helping those who need help. Being a warrior is about protecting those you love and care for, standing by their side and standing by what you believe in. Real warriors aren't the ones who are the biggest and strongest, but the ones who are loyal and brave and strong in heart. So please, I'm asking you, not for my sake or the sake of winning this Race but for your sake and only yours, have faith in yourselves. Don't give up now, stay strong. We can show everyone that we can make it, I can't do it alone”, Exl tried to do her best to encourage the down struck youngsters. But none of them seemed to be cheered up even the slightest bit. Exl could see on their faces that they were ready to give up.
“I understand. I respect your decision. Tomorrow morning we'll head back to the village straightaway. This Race is over for us”, Exl said with sorrow and untied the team band from around her arm. She dropped the band and the others' gazes were drawn to the falling piece of blue fabric.
“Try to get some sleep, we had a rough day today”, was the last thing Exl said before walking to her gear and getting her bedroll. She rolled out her bedroll a bit farther away from the fire and lay down on it with her back turned to her friends. She felt like she had failed her team, she had nearly gotten them killed and she was afraid that they hated her now. Trying to hide her tears, she said a silent apology in her mind before drifting off:
“I'm sorry my friends, I never wanted you to get hurt. I'll make it up to you, I swear it.”
T he Sun shone brightly behind the trees and right into Exl's eyes. She sat up and thought to herself keeping her eyes closed:
“Morning, I never thought I would be so afraid of it. I'd better wake the others, the walk back to the village will take almost half a day. But what's the rush, there's no need for us to hurry back.”
She turned around and was about to stand up when she opened her eyes and saw the three young Amazons standing right in front of her with all their things packed and smiles on their faces.
“What's going on?”, was all the very baffled Northern warrior could say as she looked at her team mates. The smiling youngsters took turns looking at each other and then finally, Myas said:
“Exl, we talked last night and this morning we woke up very early and talked some more. We came to unanimous conclusion. We don't care what everyone else thinks about us, the only thing we care about is that you believe in us and that gives us the strength to finish this.”
“We want to show all the others what we're really made of, the real us only you have seen so far. A wise warrior once said: “A warrior's life isn't easy and being a warrior is standing by what you believe in”. We believe in our leader and we're ready to see this through with you”, Tiuwi continued.
“We can't do this without our leader, we can't do this without you Exl”, Fenci said and handed Exl the team band which she had taken off the previous night. When Exl looked into the eyes of the same trainees she had taught only a short while back, she saw how much everything meant to them now. They didn't care whether they would win or not, all they wanted was to show everyone who had doubted them that they weren't the weaklings many thought they were. They had grown so much over the past few days, in her eyes they seemed like real warriors now. They had trusted Exl to guide them through everything they would face until the very end, she couldn't let them down now. Exl finally responded with a smile of her own, took the band from Fenci, tied it around her arm and stood up to receive a huge bear hug from her team. She felt a new kind of energy inside of her and it was warming her heart. She released herself from the bear hug and said:
“Okay team, let's go and find that last amulet.”
T he location of the last amulet wasn't very far away, that's what Exl told the others. She had studied the map thoroughly when the others had turned in for the night on the first day and it was lucky that she had. There were some large caves on the other side of the forest and that's were the last amulet should be found. Near the caves, all the trees were mostly very bare or had become snags, which wasn't a very good sign in a dense forest. Suddenly Exl stopped the others and signaled them to be quiet and hide behind some rocks. Tiuwi whispered:
“What is it?” and as a silent response Exl pointed towards one of the caves or to be more accurate, the area in front of the cave's entrance. It was covered with piles of bones, both human and animal, but the amount was much larger than an ordinary animal could have been responsible for.
“What kind of thing could have done something like this?”, Myas asked, but before anyone could react, some loud footsteps were heard from the cave. What ever the creature was, it was huge, judging by the loud stomps. Soon the Blue team saw what was behind all the devoured bones and the noise they had heard. It was a giant, not one the biggest ones there were but it was still big, standing about 13 feet tall. The giant had probably just woken up because it was yawning widely and scratching its back. And it was probably very hungry as well. The team observed the giant's actions for a while, when Tiuwi pointed at something that drew everyone's attention. On the top of an at least 10 foot high bone pile, was the last amulet, but unfortunately, the bone pile was right near the entrance of the cave. Retrieving that last amulet would definitely be the most dangerous task of all.
Exl tried to think of a plan, but only one would come to her mind. She knew the chances of succeeding would be small, but it was worth a try. She told her plan to her young friends, while trying to stay hidden from the giant's view.
“Listen to me and listen carefully. When I tell you to run, you'll run as fast as you can to those trees. And when you get to those tress, you'll walk that way until you'll find a trail. Don't look back, just keep going until you reach the trail. Fenci, your responsibility is to get the others back to the village before nightfall. Do you understand?”, Exl said showing them the right way to go and giving Fenci instructions if her plan would fail. Fenci was speechless like the others, but nodded to show that she had understood the instructions their leader had given.
“Good, remember, don't worry about me, just run”, Exl said as a last reminder before sneaking behind another rock closer to the cave. The others watched and wondered what the warrior had in mind, what was the plan she had come up with? Tiuwi was impatient and asked her friends:
“What did she mean by not worrying about her and that Fenci must get us back to the village? What's her plan?” Myas shrugged her shoulders and turned back to look at their leader. Fenci was trying to think of what Exl was doing, when like a bolt of lightning, it hit her.
“Oh no, I know what she's doing”, she said and Myas and Tiuwi both were eager to know what she had figured out.
“You can see all the bones, if we'd make a move, we'd be breakfast. Exl is using herself as a decoy so that we can get to safety”, Fenci explained. Myas gasped and Tiuwi nearly shouted:
“It's a suicide mission, she'll never make it!”
“I know, and so does Exl”, Fenci said keeping a close eye on what Exl's next move would be.
Fenci had guessed right, Exl would never endanger her friends like this, so to ensure their safe passage, she would feint the giant. Even if it would cost her her life, it's something she would do without a doubt for any of her friends.
Exl took a deep breath before jumping from behind the rock and running right up to the giant. She taunted the large being:
“Hey, big guy! How's about some FAST food? Or maybe I'm too fast for you.” The giant didn't react much at first to Exl's taunting but then it got very mad and when it started to growl viciously, Exl turned to look at the youngsters and shouted:
“Now, run!”, before sprinting in the other direction. Tiuwi, Myas and Fenci obeyed Exl's order and ran from their hiding place to the trees past all the caves, but when they got to safety, they stopped and watched what would happen to Exl. Exl was trying to run around in zigzags to get the giant's attention away from her friends. She even climbed up a tree and was jumping from branch to branch to find a place to hide from the giant. But there weren't any, so she stopped and tried hiding in the top of a tree. The giant stopped when it didn't see the pesky little human it had been chasing. But because it didn't see her, didn't mean that it couldn't smell her. Quickly it found the scent of the little human, in one of the tree tops. The giant took hold of the tree and with one push, tree was falling over and to not be injured, Exl jumped out before the tree hit the ground, exposing her location. She somersaulted when hitting the ground, and got back up on her feet in no time. When the giant spotted her, she ran off again, knowing one of them would eventually tire out and she hoped it wouldn't be her. The others watched the chase with fear in their hearts, but they couldn't do anything. Tiuwi didn't want to see their friend get hurt and she didn't just want to sit around, so she tried to persuade the other that something had to be done:
“We can't just stand here and watch Exl get herself get killed.” Fenci's gaze was focused on their warrior companion and she took a few steps from behind the trees when Myas took hold of her arm and said:
“What are you doing, Exl told us to stay here. We have to obey her orders.”
Fenci's green eyes met Myas' brown ones for a moment before Fenci said:
“Even though Exl is our team leader, she still can't order me to leave her in danger. She helped us in all the other tasks and now we have to help her.” Tiuwi agreed with Fenci completely, a warrior would never leave a friend behind. Myas knew they should obey the instructions that Exl had given, but even more she wanted to help Exl, just like she had helped them.
“Come on, I've got an idea”, Fenci said and ran back towards the caves with the others right behind her.
Exl knew she couldn't run around forever, but there was nothing else she could do. But before she even realized, there was no need to run anymore. She had ran past the caves to the clearing and to her fortune and misfortune, the ground was full of large pits and each one of them deep enough to even annihilate the giant. When Exl saw that she couldn't go any further, she could only stand there and face the giant. The giant saw that its prey had stopped running and was practically waiting to be caught.
But Exl wasn't going to give up without a fight, when the giant crouched down close enough, she took a couple of throwing stars into both hands and threw them at the large creature's face. The sharp objects cut small but painful wounds in the bridge of the giant's nose, and for giants, the bridge of the nose is their weak spot. The giant screamed in pain and holding its nose with one hand, it tried to take a swing at Exl with the other. She was lucky to dodge the hit, but because she was near the edge of a pit, the dodge made her lose her balance. She barely got hold of the edge of pit, but the dry ground wasn't easy to hold on. The giant's nose was starting to be covered with blood and it was furious at the little human's attack. It was about to strike once again, but suddenly something was keeping it from moving its hand.
An arrow and some rope was wrapped around its wrist and the other end of the rope was tied around a large boulder behind it. The rope was tight so the giant couldn't move its left hand very much. A whistle was heard from somewhere very nearby, and the source wasn't hard to find. More of the little humans were standing in front of large creature. One of them said with not a single bit of fear in her voice:
“Why don't you pick on someone else for a change?” and twirled a staff taking a battle stance. The giant didn't like these little humans at all, they were proving to be a challenge to catch, a quality it didn't like about its food. The giant broke the rope and took a step closer to the three tough little humans, who didn't even flinch as the giant came closer. When the giant was close enough, Fenci gave the signal:
“Now!” and threw Myas the other end of her staff while holding the other end herself. Tiuwi drew her chobos and ran towards the others, then jumping onto the staff and when she was on it, Fenci and Myas boosted her up in the air. When Tiuwi flew threw the air, the giant never even realized what was going on. Giants aren't that bright, which was in the Blue team's favor. Tiuwi was high enough to level with the giant's eyes and with one quick move, she struck the giant's already injured nose heavily. The pain the giant felt was as bad as for a human to break both arms at the same time, it was enough to make the giant forget about its breakfast. Tiuwi landed next to her friends and all of them kept their weapons ready. The giant looked at the Amazons with fear and Fenci shouted to it:
“There's more where that came from, if you even think about laying a finger on us!” The giant understood that these humans were much too tough for it, it ran away like a frightened little rabbit would run after seeing a fox.
The trio was surprised that they had chased a giant away, the idea of them making something that big run away was astounding and humorous. They raced to the pit where Exl was only moments away from losing her grip, and when she saw them, she didn't no what to think. They pulled her out and Exl's first expression after catching her breathe wasn't the smile they thought, but an expression of fury.
“What were you guys thinking? I told you to get to safety and forget about me! You could have gotten hurt!”, she said in such a loud voice that she almost scared herself. The others seemed to be sorry about their actions, Exl didn't understand why she had shouted at them. She calmed her voice and continued:
“I would have never forgiven myself if something had happened to you.” Her team mates raised their heads and looked at her to see that the angry warrior had disappeared and the relieved and smiling Guardian was in front of them. Myas apologized for all of them:
“We couldn't just leave you, we're sorry that disobeyed your orders.”
“I'm glad you did. Sometimes you have to forget given orders and do what your heart tells you. That's something I confess doing several times. A warrior's heart always knows what's the right thing to do”, Exl said bringing her hand to her heart.
“We're a team and in a team, no-one is left behind”, Tiuwi noted. Exl nodded and replied:
“And I'm very happy to be part of this team.”
The team walked back to the caves and the bone pile where they had seen the amulet. Exl climbed up the pile and returned with the last amulet. They had faced four tough tasks and an unexpected attack by one of the other teams. The only thing they had to do was to hurry back to the village before nightfall.
End of part 2
Return to the Academy