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  1. SkyGirl

    Integration: The Protector Rises

    LIGHTBEARER: THE PROTECTOR RISES Chapter 1: Integration I was walking home through the crowded streets from work, my hood pulled up over my head to shield me from the light rain. The town was loud with rattling wagons, people shouting to each other over the rain, doors slamming and gleeful children running out to get wet. In the last few months I had developed a kind of dance to get through the streets quickly without colliding with anyone - now in the middle of the dusty path, now twisting between taller people to duck into the shadow of a building, now weaving between wagons and keeping my step light as I danced homeward. Today I was watching for rainbows in the half-lit sky when I heard pounding footsteps approaching in the distance. The town was busy and I assumed it was someone late for an appointment; but as I continued to wend my way off the busy streets and toward the side paths that led to my home, the footsteps did not slow and they were closing in rapidly. Without breaking stride I turned abruptly off the path and back toward the market. I doubted the person was chasing me, but it never hurt to be cautious. This time, however, I was wrong. The person came over the crest of a small hill, paused and lifted his hand to his brow to stare in my direction, and when our eyes met, he flung his arms down and broke into a dead run, straight toward me. Fear shot through my system and I ran for the nearest building, a blacksmith's shop closed for the day. Deftly I slid through a gap in the shaky wooden gate and paused briefly behind the wall, but just as quickly slipped out the back and ran back toward the heart of the market street. I needed to be back with other people and lose myself in the crowd. "Silver Archer!" The man's shout slowed my steps. Was it someone I knew? "Silver Archer! Please wait! I need to talk to you!" I hesitated, and turned to look. I only caught a glimpse of the man's red, bulgy-eyed face before he pounded the last two steps down the hill and threw himself at my feet, his body heaving with gasps for breath. "Silver Archer, I need your help," he cried, his voice a half-sob. "I've come to you - because no one - no one else would - help me. I -" he sat back on his heels and looked desperately toward the sky, his shaved head and face glistening with pouring sweat. "I didn't know who else to ask!" I took a step backward and kept my hand on my Bow, but didn't leave. "Who are you, and what do you want?" "I've come on behalf of the families that live outside the village," he gasped. "The government has ruled that we can't live in this district anymore and we have to leave. But we've built our homes here and we have nowhere to go. We've asked over and over for them to give us help, give us time, but they won't listen. They say we're a danger to the citizens and we have to leave in two days." He lunged forward as if to grab me and I dodged backward in alarm, but he prostrated himself on the ground at my feet. "Please, Silver Archer, won't you please come and fight for us?" I froze completely still and stared at the stranger as a dozen emotions leaped up inside me like competing flames. I had heard about the forced evictions - everyone in town had. "Such a shame," we said, and continued on about our business. It wasn't right to force families to leave their homes just because they were different from the majority population of Temple Island. But it was the government's decision and there didn't seem to be anything we could do. Certainly, a few other archers had discussed looking for better lawyers or ambassadors to make a stronger case for the families. But no one was serious about doing anything. We liked our government jobs and didn't want to waste our efforts on a hopeless cause. But reading about an injustice happening in the evening bulletins was quite a different story from finding someone in need of help just a short distance from my own front door. This wasn't a nebulous member of a distant group in writing. This was a human being who needed a voice. Who needed justice. "I can't get involved in this," my logic spoke first. I took another half-step backwards. "One archer fighting for you won't do you any good. And I'm not important enough for my voice to make a difference." "But you're the Silver Archer!" The man sat up and looked at me, his small eyes red and weary in his face, which was quickly losing its redness and becoming pale. He lifted his hands imploringly. "We heard rumors that you're really the Dark Elf - that you can kill and destroy with ice powers. If that's true, you could come to our camp and fight for us when the guards come!" I flushed deeply and automatically reached behind me to pull my hood back up around my face. The last thing I wanted in the whole world was to put myself in a situation where I could lose control of my ice powers and hurt someone. "That's not true," I said gruffly. "Even if it isn't, you've taken out whole squads of dark elves with your Silver Bow. With your help, we could fight back and protect ourselves." This wasn't my problem. I had no responsibility to this man. If I got involved in this, no matter my own feelings that it was unjust and wrong, I could lose control and risk everyone seeing that I was the Dark Elf deep down. What would become of my job and my place in the Movement then? "I'm sorry," I said, and hurriedly backed away. "I have to go." I nearly stumbled as I pounded back up the hill, away from the strange man, back toward the safe bustle and anonymity of the crowded market. "Won't you at least tell others about what's happening to us?" the man's voice floated behind me. A pang struck me in the stomach but I kept running, and soon he was out of sight and I was back amongst the stalls and buildings of the city. I realized I was crying as I blindly followed my feet back toward my office, the small building behind the Chief Scientist's office that I shared with the other writers and spokespeople. No one was there and I collapsed on my stool, pressing my hands against my eyes, wondering what about this felt so wrong. It wasn't my fault that he was homeless. It wasn't my place to go out of my way to help him. I couldn't risk everything I had worked so hard for to start criticizing and pushing back against the Temple government. This was foolish and unfair. And yet you don't believe any of that, a tiny voice whispered deep within my heart. You're the Silver Archer - you were brought here to be a voice for the voiceless and a healer of the hurting. If you find someone hurting and voiceless on your own doorstep, how can you say you have no responsibility for him? "Sky! Are you crying?" I jumped and gasped as Irwin stood frozen in the doorway, his black eyebrows raised high over his concerned black eyes. "What's wrong? What happened?" I gulped and quickly scrubbed the tears off my cheeks, trying to laugh. "It's okay, I'm all right," I quavered, and jumped up and began brushing imaginary dust off my skirt. "I just - had a long day, and I'm tired." "No, really. Sit down." Irwin grabbed another stool and slung a leg over it, plopping to a seat and drilling my eyes with his piercing, knowing gaze. "Talk to me. What happened?" I slowly sat back down and put my face in my hands, and told Irwin about the strange encounter. He was quiet for a long moment, and when I looked up, his bearded jaw was working back and forth and his brows were knitted tightly. Twice he looked like he was about to speak, but he still sat quietly. "I don't know what to do," I finally broke the silence. Irwin pressed his lips together and looked up at me out of one eye. "What if Katherine and I went with you?" he asked gently. I clasped my hands at my chest. "You don't mean to go fight those guards?" I gasped in horror. "I mean ..." He shrugged. "We'd go with you if you thought that was the right thing to do. But I think you can do something even more powerful than that." "What do you mean?" Irwin stared pointedly at my hands, which were resting on my knees with the runes on my wrists clearly showing. "You were only telling that man half the truth. Maybe you don't kill and hurt people, but you are the Dark Elf, and you do have ice powers." He lifted his eyes to my face. "What if now is the time you finally see what happens when you integrate your two sides together? What if now is the time you figure out how to be afraid and courageous at the same time?" A strange feeling began to rise in my stomach - something familiar, and yet unexpected. It was neither the icy chill of fear and shame nor the confident warmth of the healing powers, but something that brought them together. Anger. Conviction. Focus. "Yeah. That." Irwin looked a bit fearfully at my wrists, which were beginning to glow a bright white. "What if you don't use that to fight, though. Look how bright that is. What if we use that to help others see what's happening to these families? What if you use that light to call the people who can make a difference for these people?" I stared down at my wrists as understanding washed over me. Of course. How clear it was - how foolish I had been. This rushing feeling like a strong summer wind was nothing new at all - I knew it as well as I knew my own name; I had just never felt it inside myself before. My ice powers and my healing powers came together to form the Bow's white light of clarity. This had been my power all along. The icy emotions of anger, fear, rage, and the warm emotions of compassion and empathy could exist together. I snapped my gaze to Irwin's face. "Every time I fire my Bow using these powers together, the arrow can go further than I can see," I blurted. "What if I could send it out like a beacon? Signal others in other regions who can come and see for themselves what's happening?" Irwin's eyes lit with eagerness. "We can find the other archers with powers to join you. By lighting the way together, your beacon will be brighter." I held the Silver Bow out in front of me, watching as the white light trickled through its carvings and lit it like a lamp. By firing an arrow - no; by firing two arrows, one white and one black - toward the sky, I could generate a burst of light like the ones I created with the Bow. Adding the light of other powered archers would alert people for miles around. Yet I hesitated. If I did this - if I raised my voice and started letting others see what I really thought, who I really was, that I did have anger and conviction and discord inside me, not just healing and warmth - things would begin to change. The way people thought of me would change. By embracing the powers of the Dark Elf, I would no longer be loved for my unwavering happy smile and agreeable benevolence. But if I were going to integrate my ice and my warmth, my compassion and my anger, my hope and my determination, my courage and my fear - then I needed to begin. I looked at Irwin, who had gotten to his feet and was watching me. "You promise you guys will be with me?" For the first time, his face creased in a brotherly, affectionate smile. "You know you can't get rid of us." "Then let's do this. It's time to show the world who the Silver Archer really is."