Zev’s Encounter with Guardians
Zev never reached Gen.
Strong hands gripped his jacket at the shoulders, lifted him up, and dropped him on the grass. Zev found himself lying flat on his stomach, his mouth filling with the taste of grass and dirt. He turned his head to the right as strong hands held him down.
“Stay put,” a gruff order came from above him. “Alpha team, we have five targets surrounding the compound, unknown casualties in the cottage, one alive and in our custody. We need a suppression team.”
“My brothers,” Zev said, struggling against the strong hands holding him down on the grass. “My brothers are behind the house!”
“Possible survivors at the back of the house,” the gruff voice continued. “How old are they?”
“Seven and five,” Zev said, trying not to eat more grass. “They are with their best friend who is six.”
“The survivors are very young,” the gruff voice said.
“Let me go and I’ll help find them,” Zev insisted, struggling against the hands holding him down.
“We let you go, and you’ll go running into danger,” the gruff man said. “Your ax will accomplish nothing.”
“How do you know?” Zev asked, annoyed by the cold voice talking at him.
Zev was lifted up in much the same way they dropped him down. He found himself kneeling, his gaze on the house as he watched five men in green armor take on the ghost wraiths.
Theria Guild Guardians, he thought. Their suits were hard to miss.
Eyes wide, Zev watched one of the guardians jump on a ghost wraith’s back, the silver sword the guardian held crackled with lightning. The guardian sunk his sword deep into the ghost wraith’s neck. The attack was swift, faster than Zev could imagine. The ghost wraith dropped to the ground unmoving when it was over.
Ghost Wraith’s Fight
“Do you think your ax can manage that?” the gruff man asked, and Zev sank back on his haunches, trembling.
The death of one of their own had all the ghost wraiths in the compound screaming their anger. Lightning danced across the sky, thunder rolled and the theria guild guardians fought a pile of angry ghost wraiths.
Zev found himself with a first-class ticket to a gory play. Green blood flooded the compound from wounded and dying ghost wraiths. The thunderous cries of ghost wraiths were accompanied by screams from unlucky guardians who got their limbs crushed between powerful jaws. Five minutes of absolute violence ensued until abrupt silence reigned.
The hands holding him in place disappeared. Zev had no strength to get up. He stayed kneeling on the grass. Afraid to move closer to the house the guardians were now investigating. He refused to imagine what Gen looked like. He worried they would find his brothers.
“Kijana,” the gruff man called from Gen’s front door. “We need identification. Kuja hapa.”
The man calling him had his helmet in his hands. There was dark war paint around his eyes, and the red cloak clasped to hooks on his shoulders and falling on his back over his armor had ripped edges.
Zev swallowed down his fear and pushed himself to his feet. Anxiety had him breaking into a run. He reached Gen’s front door faster than he wanted.
The gruff man placed a strong hand on Zev’s left shoulder. Zev’s first instinct was to shake it off. But then, the guardian pushed him deeper into the house not giving him a chance. Zev stopped in the small hall that flowed into the living room. Gen’s living room was painted a sunny yellow, which made it look bright in the daytime. This afternoon, all Zev could see was rubble on the furniture and wood floor. The curtains were ripped. Glass shattered, and bloodstains were everywhere including on the damaged ceiling.
“W-where is Gen?” Zev asked, his voice shaky even to his ears.
“I’m sorry,” the gruff man said but did not elaborate more.
Zev still did not understand why the gruff man would be sorry.
“Why—?” Zev started to ask.
“Ghost wraiths leave nothing to claim for a funeral. Today is an exception,” a second guardian said, pointing to the small hallway leading to the kitchen.
The second guardian wore his helmet. All Zev saw was the black body armor stained with green ghost wraith blood. Zev followed the pointing finger and a shout wrenched out of him. He saw small sneakers, bright green: Silas’s favorite color.
Zev forgot the guardians and jumped over broken dining room chairs, his boots crunching glass as he entered the kitchen. He fell to his knees when he saw Grey lying still over Silas and Gen’s son by the open kitchen door. His brothers…there was blood…
Zev picked up the bright green sneaker, as a keening cry escaped his lips.
He didn’t hear anything else the guardians said, too lost to grief.
His family did not survive the reckoning meted out by the ghost wraiths in their Gathu Village. Zev forgot the voting exercise happening in the village hall, too lost in their family’s loss. Gen’s son and his two brothers were gone, just gone. The ghost wraiths took his brothers’ lives. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he watched the guardians manage the scene.
They moved Zev outside as they called in the policing department and the medical officers. Zev could not bring himself to explain the loss of his brothers to his parents when they arrived at Gen’s house. The Theria Guild officer in charge had to do the talking.
After Elina Mablevi screamed for hours as she held her two dead children, not even her husband could make her stop. Worried for Amare, Luca asked one of the policing officers to take Zev home.
Zev moved in a daze as he entered the Theria Guild utility vehicle. He had no strength left to show surprise when the officers stopped him in front of his house without direction from him. The only thing he managed was panic at the discovery of the broken front door of their home. He remembered locking the door and warning Amare not to come out.
“Amare!” Zev said, fear coloring his voice. He forgot to remove his shoes and ran deeper into the house. “Ama!”
“What’s wrong?” One of the guardians asked, standing at the front door.
“My sister is not here,” Zev said, shaking as he dashed into her room. He switched on the overhead light and panicked when he didn’t see Amare in her bed. “She’s not here. Amare is not here!”
The guardian behind him alerted his fellow teammates, and a search began.
Amare was gone.
Zev rushed outside into the darkening evening, heartbeat speeding with fear. His gaze returned to the damaged front door. The roof of their house was intact. The front door was broken…no, hacked to pieces. It was clearly damaged by a human…someone had taken Amare. Amare’s bag was still on the floor where Zev left it.
A long search began.
A search for Amare Mablevi who disappeared after a great reckoning visited Gathu Village. There were no signs of a ghost wraith attack in the Mablevi compound. Amare’s disappearance was suspect, but not critical, so the Theria Guild Guardians handed the case to the Gathu Village Police Station for investigation.
Profound loss seeped into the Mablevi home.
Despair took over Elina, Luca, and Zev. Each one of them felt devastated by the loss of Silas and Grey. The family buried the two boys three days after Amare’s disappearance. Many families held funeral services that day. The ghost wraiths left tragedy in their wake, and the Gathu Villagers were steeped in grief.
A New Elderon
In the Mablevi home, the added weight of Amare’s disappearance filled the house.
Unable to be at home with his parents, Zev camped at the police station in the village center, hoping the investigators in charge would find a breakthrough that would lead them to find Amare.
Two weeks after the election, Zev sat in the lobby at the police station waiting for the officer in charge. He stared at the large glass screen mounted on the wall opposite. The screen was lit up with a live coverage coming from the National Stadium in the capital city, Kirit.
All local media stations were running the swearing-in ceremony of the new Elderon and his Chancellor: Izra Taj and Kakura Jafar. Izra Taj had made a special tribute to the victims of Gathu Village after the reckoning. He had pledged to increase Theria Guild Guardians in the Swala Oasis. Zev wondered how that would help them now. His family was down to him and his parents. The thought made him feel sick to the stomach.
Zev watched as Izra climbed up to the podium. Izra placed his right hand on the oldest charter book the empire owned. He looked at the Head of Justice standing before him.
“I, Izra Taj, do swear with honor that I shall guard the founding charter of the Empire of Afrotheria…”
Standing behind him was a woman Zev assumed was Izra’s wife, and a young lady about his age. She had to be Izra’s daughter. Her long dark braids were in a tight ponytail. She was dressed in black as though mourning her lot in life.
Zev wondered what the Elderon’s daughter would have to be sad about. Her gaze was not on her father, but on the crowd of people watching the ceremony.
The electronic doors to the inner offices of the police station opened.
Zev forgot the new Elderon and his daughter. He focused on the officer in charge of Amare’s case.
“Have you found anything?” Zev asked, standing to meet him.
“Not yet, Zev. It’s been two weeks since your sister’s disappearance,” the officer in charge said, shaking his head. “We’ll keep looking, but the trail has gotten cold. We don’t have the resources the Theria Guild has to handle this case.”
“Why would you say that to me, Officer Kwaro?” Zev asked.
“I’m being honest with you. I shouldn’t be telling you this, but…,”
Officer Kwaro looked around the open hall in the police station. Zev was not the only one waiting for information. There was a family sitting on benches a few feet away, and an old woman in the corner. Their gazes were on the screen, even though one of the men in the family was watching Officer Kwaro with expectation.
Officer Kwaro took Zev’s right arm and led him outside to the parking lot. He did not speak until they were a safe distance away from the main hall.
“Zev, I know you love your sister. You showing up here every day, almost sleeping in the police station is a testament to that love. I understand your pain. I really do. So, I want to be honest with you,” Officer Kwaro said, his gaze filling with pity. Officer Kwaro’s pity filled the pits of Zev’s stomach with fear and a tight knot.
“Four girls have disappeared in our village, same as your sister, this year,” Officer Kwaro said. “They were home alone. The front door was hacked open, and there was no clue left to help us find them. We do not know how the culprit discovers they are alone…”
Join the Theria Guild
Officer Kwaro trailed off, and let out a soft sigh.
“Zev, we have not found them.”
“Are you saying Amare is one of those girls now?” Zev asked, his heart dropping to the endless pit of fear in his stomach. “Why is the Village Head not doing more? Why has Malachi said nothing?”
“It’s not my place to judge what Malachi is doing or not,” Officer Kwaro said. “I’m only telling you there is an open case in this station of four missing girls. Your sister makes the fifth. We have found none of them to date.”
Zev closed his eyes and shook his head, fighting panic.
“If you can’t find her, who should I turn to? I—where else can I go to ask for help with this if not the policing force?”
“The Theria Guild,” Officer Kwaro said his gaze hardening. “The policing force only has what we need to manage a small village. The guardians in the Theria Guild are different. They have access to resources that can help you track down your sister. I—”
“Zev, I’m not trying to scare you,” Officer Kwaro said, after a moment. “I promise I won’t stop looking for Amare, but—”
“You think I should join the Theria Guild,” Zev said in horror.
He was supposed to report to his Santi Corp Apprenticeship in a few days. He was a Tech Class student.
Zev thought of Grey. Grey wanted nothing more than to join the Theria Guild. It didn’t make sense that he was gone now. There was Silas who had not gotten a chance to decide. He closed his eyes and fought down the cry of pain filling him. Fates, his siblings ripped away from him, one by one.
“The Theria Guild is the only way for us to find Amare and the missing girls,” Officer Kwaro said, placing a hand on Zev’s shoulder. “I’ve tried to reach out to them with no luck. Our village has had no volunteers for the Theria Guild. We have no allies in their ranks. You know how wary everyone in the village is with Guardians. The Guardians are not comfortable working with us, or us with them. We’ll gain an advantage if you join. It will be different with you, Zev. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry this is the best our station can do. You think about it. Meanwhile, I’ll keep working on the case. I will keep you informed if anything comes up.”
Zev thought about Officer Kwaro’s advice on his walk home. Everyone he met stopped to pat his shoulder, saying words of comfort to soothe him for his family’s loss and hoping for Amare’s swift return. Zev could see in his fellow villagers’ eyes that they did not think Amare would be back.
Most of them thought she was lost to the ghost wraiths that wrecked their village. Lost in the wild reckoning the ghost wraiths meted out on their people. He refused to think of Amare gone like Silas and Grey.
His little sister was alive. She had just disappeared. They would find her.
Back at home, Zev sat in the kitchen listening to his mother cry. She was in Grey and Silas’s room. His father sat on Amare’s bed in her room, not moving at all. His parents’ grief was so tangible that it filled the house. Zev could barely breathe at the pressure of it.
His grandmother, from his mother’s side, had moved into their house after the funeral. She moved around the house in silence too, tidying up and cooking.
Zev had no energy to find her and ask how his parents were doing. He drank a mug of warm milk in the kitchen and then decided to hide in his room for a while.
He logged into the Pink Piggy in the Luna VR.
Weru was waiting for him in their workroom.
“I’m sorry about your brothers, Zev,” Weru said, pulling him into a hug. “And Amare missing sounds unreal. How are you guys doing?”
“Not good,” Zev said, pulling away from Weru. He sat down at the work table and stared at his best friend. “How is school?”
“We are all doing final checks and balances,” Weru said with a shrug. “Miss Leya is waiting for you to show up to finalize the paperwork for your apprenticeship.”
Zev let out a shaky breath.
“What?” Weru asked, studying him.
“I don’t know,” Zev said, staring at the worktable he had developed over three years as he built the Pink Piggy. “I might need to find a different course for the future.”
“Zev—,” Weru said, his eyes wide.
“I can’t talk about it right now,” Zev said, not about to voice the decision dancing on the fringes of his mind. “When do you leave for KISTech?”
“Next week,” Weru said.
Weru grinned and let out a soft sigh.
“You should have let me visit your house instead of meeting like this,” Weru said.
“My house is…,” Zev trailed off, thinking about his parents and their varying degrees of grief.
It was hard to describe the level of pain in the Mablevi home. All he knew was that he needed to find Amare to ease the burden.
“I have to do something,” Zev said, wiping a hand down his face. “Look, I have to go. It was nice to see you. I will not be online for a while. I’ll call you.”
Zev waved at his friend and logged out of their shared space. Removing his Luna VR glasses, he found Dahlian’s UserID and sent her a message.
Pink_Piggy to Dahlian: Are you free to talk?’
Dahlian to Pink_Piggy: Now you show up. I’ve sent you several messages and you’ve refused to respond. WTH?’
Pink_Piggy to Dahlian: I’m sorry. I had…personal stuff going on. Do you have time?’
Dahlian to Pink_Piggy: Sure. Should I meet you at the pink piggy?
Pink_Piggy to Dahlian: No.
Zev glanced at the finished code on his tablet. He completed it the night before the elections. He had wanted to do more with the code, but the decision he needed to make now would mean he would not get the chance to develop it further.
The only person he thought might have use for it was Dahlian.
Pink_Piggy to Dahlian: Invite me into a private room. I have something to give you.
Dahlian to Pink_Piggy: Ok. I’ll send an invite.
Dahlian sent him a link to a private room right away.
Zev wore his Luna VR glasses and entered the private room. It surprised him to find the room modeled like a small café, complete with tables and chairs. Dahlian sat at a table by the windows showing off the busy streets of Kirit.
“Fancy,” Zev said, slipping into the chair across her, as he took in the café.
Dahlian glanced at him and chuckled.
“I wondered if you would keep the pink piggy mask. I’m glad you didn’t disappoint me. It’s nice to see you again.”
“You’re not wearing a mask,” Zev said, staring at the beautiful young woman sitting across him.
Her brown skin was warm in the artificial light. Her eyes were light brown and her braids fell down to her shoulders. She smiled at him, and he remembered the punch in his gut at her beauty clearly.
“This is my private space,” Dahlian said. “No one to discover what I look like and use it against me.”
“Aren’t you afraid of me?” Zev asked.
“No. If you were the type to sell gossip, your true face would have already been discovered.”
Zev chuckled and sat back staring out the windows to the artificial depiction of the capital city, Kirit.
“It must be so crowded,” Zev said
He stared at the number of people walking the streets and the MobiGaris clogging up traffic.
“It’s home to me. I would probably miss the vehicles and noise if I went somewhere quiet,” Dhalian said. “Are you not in Kirit?”
“No,” Zev said, returning his gaze to Dahlian. “I live in the countryside.”
“I would never have guessed it,” Dhalian said. “What did you want to tell me?”
Zev held out the digital card with the code.
“I’m sorry. I’m late giving you an answer,” Zev said, placing the card on the table when Dahlian stared at it in surprise. “I updated the code you want. I’ve added more to the original code in the database. I told you it was a work in progress. I’m giving you permission to use it in your research.”
“Oh,” Dahlian’s eyes widened and she picked up the card with visible excitement. She kept the card away and studied him. “This feels like a goodbye, Pink Piggy. Why?”
Zev shrugged, his gaze going back to the busy street. He would have wanted to be able to visit Weru at KISTech. That would have been a sight to see.
“I’m going away,” Zev said, letting go of a lifelong dream. He let out a soft sigh and faced Dahlian. “I’m closing the Pink Piggy.”
“What? No!” Dahlian gaped. “Why?”
“I can’t avoid it,” Zev said with a shrug. “My family is dealing with some stuff. I won’t be able to maintain the shop.”
“What if I hold it for you?” Dahlian asked. “You’ve given me your code, taking care of the Pink Piggy is the least I can do. We’ll just maintain your code products, update them if necessary, don’t close it.”
Zev broke off, wishing he could give over the care of the Pink Piggy to Dahlian. She seemed like a good person.
Still, the Pink Piggy reminded him of Amare too much. She had wanted to see the shop turn into a physical shop, and the thought left him breathless with pain.
“I can’t,” Zev said in a whisper. “The Pink Piggy needs to stay dormant for now. I have a task I need to complete. If I’m successful, I’ll bring the shop back. Maybe even turn it into a physical shop.”
Dahlian studied him for a while, and then she nodded.
“If that’s what you want,” Dahlian said.
“It is,” Zev said. “I wanted you to have the code I’ve been working on. In case it helps you find a breakthrough in the fight against ghost wraiths. Promise to work on it.”
“I promise,” Dahlian said.
Zev pushed his chair back and got up.
“Then, I’ll see you around, Dahlian.”
“Wait,” Dahlian said, getting up too. She hurried to his side and touched his right arm. “Something bad has happened to you, hasn’t it?”
Zev swallowed hard, unable to keep the tears from falling in the real world. He could not explain the absolute tragedy ravaging his family.
“I’m sorry it’s hard for you,” Dahlian continued when he didn’t respond to her comment. “This room is open to you whenever you want to escape. I won’t change the link code I sent you. You don’t have to tell me when you log in. Deal?”
Zev smiled and looked to the glass windows and the virtual view of Kirit Capital beyond.
“I suppose staring at the MobiGaris packing up the street is soothing in a way,” Zev said.
“I’ll update the street view to match the actual street often,” Dahlian said with a grin.
“Okay, it’s a deal,” Zev said. “See you, Dahlian. Good luck with your research.”
“You too, good luck,” Dahlian said.
Zev logged out soon after. He spent the rest of his night shutting down the Pink Piggy’s virtual store.
In the morning, he woke up first, not bothering to find his parents. He left the house and made his way to school.
Miss Leya was in eternal shock the moment Zev turned in his Change of Class form.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Miss Leya asked, her eyes filled with tears. “Zev.”
“This is what I need to do,” Zev said, smiling at her. “My mother calls it the change of tide. Please help me make this change, Miss Leya.”
“But moving from the Tech Class to the Protector Class is hard, Zev. Your peers in the Protector Class will have had years of training on you—”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” Zev said, hating the tears stinging the backs of his eyes. “My brothers would still be alive, and my sister would be with us if I was stronger.”
“You don’t know that,” Miss Leya said, shaking her head.
“I do,” Zev said. “The guardians held me down as they fought off ghost wraiths. I need to be stronger.”
Miss Leya sighed and stared at the form on her desk.
“What about the apprenticeship with Santi Corp?” Miss Leya asked. “You’re a rare talent, Zev. I hate to see you throw it away like this.”
“I’m not throwing it away,” Zev said. “I’m repurposing my talent to the Theria Guild. I will be the best Guardian ever known in the protector class.”
Miss Leya could not help her heavy sigh as she picked up her stamp and authorized Zev’s migration to the Protector Class. He was effectively becoming a cadet in the Theria Guild.
“Zev Mablevi,” Miss Leya said, getting up. She held out her hand to him, meeting his gaze. “This is the last time you and I will meet as civilians. You will be in the guild, I’ll have to defer to your full authority.”
Zev took her hand with a nod.
“May the almighty creator guard your steps,” Miss Leya said.
“And yours,” Zev said.
Miss Leya nodded, let go of his hand, and handed him the authorized Change of Class Form.
“Good luck, Theria Guild Cadet Mablevi.”