The last Guardian has been killed.
The forest is dying.
The Tree of Life will prosper no longer.
This is the beginning of the end of the world.

Or so they thought...

**This is my entry for the Unexpected Adventure competition! Hope you like it!**


9. Chapter Eight (Final Chapter)

There is no celebration at first.

Cassidy turns to me, breathless, wiping away her hair from her face. Reveling in the feat she has just accomplished.

She beat the Tree. Overcame it's defenses. Every Guardian has done that at some point in their lives, but Cassidy is the youngest. And she escaped without a scratch.

Then, one clap resonates throughout the empty field. Then another. A third. And finally, Cassidy is glorified as the millions of creatures clap for her, appearing one by one.

Cassidy is lost in the crowd of creatures welcoming her to the Tree. I propel myself towards Ari, offering my hand to him. He uses it to pick himself off the ground, then whistles. A few forest creatures come carry Theros away, where they will tend to his leg. 

"We did it," Ari says softly. "We saved the forest."

"And the Tree," I remind him. We walk, hand in hand, towards the party that ensues at the Tree of Life.

The sky is already starting to lighten. It is now that joyous amber color that envelops the sky during a sunset. A perfect color for our party. It will be Cassidy's ceremony. Not only acknowledging her as a formal Guardian, it also recognizes her heroics in protecting the forest and all that live in it.

Cassidy stands on the platform in front of the Tree. She reaches a hand out and strokes its thrumming trunk. The Inductor glances towards her, and Cassidy steals her hand back with a jerk. The Inductor smiles. "It's fine to touch it," he says companionably.

I give Ari's hand a squeeze, letting go of it and floating up to stand behind Cassidy. The Inductor doesn't notice me. He is different from when I was a Guardian. He never knew me; therefore doesn't know I'm gone.

The Inductor reaches out a hand and strokes Cassidy's face. She manages to keep it neutral, though I can tell she's uncomfortable.

"You are...the spitting image of your father," he says softly, so only we can hear.

Cassidy starts. "I saw him," she whispers. "I saw him, with you...He was different. Not like I remember."

"Death changes people," I murmur to her.

"It didn't change you."

I smile slightly at that, but do not reply, as the Inductor motions for the ceremony to begin.
It is a simple ceremony, comprised of a promise and a crowning, but a strong ceremony all the same. In this forest, a promise is the biggest thing you'll ever give.

"We're ready to begin," says the Inductor, his gentle but eloquent voice ringing out over the millions of upturned faces. He looks sideways at Cassidy's pale face, giving her a reassured glance. "Cassidy Greyson, everyone. The daughter of one of our greats. Alas, he is gone now, but she is ready to take his place."

Turning to Cassidy, he looks her in the eye. "Cassidy. Repeat after me. Ich schwore, zu schutzen."

"I-ich schwore, zu schutzen," Cassidy murmurs, stuttering a bit. I swear to protect.

German. The language of the first Guardian.

"Ich schwore, zu schutzen," I murmur over Cassidy's shoulder. The Inductor's eyes flicker up to where he hears the sound, but he says nothing.

I protect Cassidy now. I am no longer living, but I am a Guardian in my own right.

The next part, with the medal and scepter, is a part I have seen many times, and experienced once. The jewels in the scepter change for everyone. Mine were diamond shaped, and mint green. Cassidy's are circular, and a deep purple.

"Congratulations, Guardian. The ceremony is complete." The Inductor breathes the words, but they still resound over the fields, as everyone is deathly quiet.

Cassidy is swarmed. By people who know her; know her father; or just want to catch a glimpse of the new Guardian. I feel no need to rescue her. She is enjoying this.

I catch up with Ari, clasping his hand. "You were perfect," he says to me, smiling.

"I didn't do anything," I tell him.

"Gaia. The Guardian saved the forest, but you saved the Guardian. More than once," he reminds me.


"And you were perfect," Ari concludes. I laugh slightly. "You were perfect, too."

"Want to go to the party?" Ari asks me.

I shake my head slowly. "Someplace quieter."

He points out a place, and we start to walk there. I turn back once, glancing at the party. It is wild; all forest parties are. Cassidy will have fun there. And if she doesn't, I will be there to protect her.

I take Ari's hand. His living, warm, pulsating hand in my cool, nonliving, ghostly one, and we walk into the setting sun.

Perhaps I'm not so normal after all.





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