Aphelion Issue 246, Volume 23
December 2019 / January 2020
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by Walter G. Esselman

Gideon ran into throne room and skidded to a halt. He looked around quickly for her, but no luck. Someone barked and Gideon followed the sound.

In the middle of the room was a small pool and in front of it was an otter fashioned out of water and magic.

"SOS? What's wrong?" asked Gideon. SOS, the spellotter, just barked again as Gideon ran over to the edge of pool. At the bottom of the pool, he saw a delicate redhead lying on the bottom.

Gideon knelt by the water and dunked his head in.

"Dinnertime!" cried out Gideon.

The boy pulled his head out of the water and shook it off like a dog. SOS came to stand next to Gideon and barked at the girl. The redheaded water nymph looked up at Gideon. He could see her sigh. She stirred and drifted toward the surface. Breaking the water, she looked at Gideon sadly.

"I'm not hungry," she said.

"What's the matter Brianna?" asked Gideon of the girl, but she just shrugged. He lay down on the edge of the pool to get more comfortable. He looked into Brianna's sad, green eyes.

"Nothing," said Brianna. She put her arms on the edge of the pool and let her legs float out behind her. SOS came up and nuzzled her arm. She absently reached out and petted the blue fur on her back. The spell otter made a happy noise.

"Uh-huh," said Gideon unconvinced.

"I'm hungry!" called out a voice from out in the hallway.

"Over here!" called out Gideon. "I found her."

A seven-foot long dragon came into the room with a petulant look.

"Hungry," repeated Pavataro the dragon.

"You mentioned," said Gideon.

"Well, get Brie and come on Lunchmeat," said Pavataro using his old schoolyard nickname for Gideon.

"She's not hungry," said Gideon.

"Well, then let's go!" said Pavataro.

"I mean, she's not hungry," said Gideon pointedly and he looked at Pavataro with an expectant look.

"Oh? Oh!" said Pavataro and then he came over suddenly concerned. He looked down at Brianna half in the water.

"Hi, Pav," said Brianna softly, sadly. Pavataro settled down next to Gideon and looked at her in concern. Then he glared at Gideon as his triangular ears flattened against his head..

"What did you do this time, Lunchmeat?" asked Pavataro.

"I didn't do anything!" cried Gideon with indignation. Pavataro looked back at Brianna as if he did not believe the boy.

"Don't blame him too harshly. He's young and stupid," said Pavataro.

"Hey!" said Gideon.

"It's not Gideon," said Brianna.

"Then what's wrong?" asked Pavataro.

"You can tell us," said Gideon.

"It's just..." started Brianna. The boys looked at her with concern. "Did you hear about the war council this morning?"

"We left to avoid it," said Pavataro.

"What happened?" asked Gideon.

"Nothing, really," said Brianna. "It was really just in case of some military problems. Preparing for the worst. There's nothing to worry about."

"Then what's wrong?" asked Pavataro.

"It's my magic," said Brianna.

"What about it?" asked Gideon.

"Do you remember when we were fighting those weretigers?" asked Brianna.

Gideon smiled. "I still have dreams about them!"

"Nightmares?" asked Pavataro.

"No, Nightmare Town is taken up by spiders," said Gideon as he shivered.

Pavataro rolled his eyes and looked back at Brianna. "Anyway!"

"Well, when the weretigers attacked..." started Brianna.

* * *

Weretigers moved swiftly through the throne room of Bon Su Pear after a young boy named Rolly who was soon to be crowned king. Pavataro took out one of the weretigers but two more moved past the pool of water. Brianna moved swiftly sparking the magic in her. Her hands glowed blue showing the bones inside as she touched the water.

Suddenly, several large men made of water lurched out of the water. They grabbed one of the weretigers and pulled it helplessly toward the water. Brianna left just its face out of the water as Gideon fought off the last weretiger and saved the future King Rolly.

* * *

"That was fun handing them their furry little butts," grinned Pavataro.

"It was..." started Brianna, who was raised in high society. "Very satisfying to put them in their place."

"So, what's the problem?" asked Gideon.

"It started at the meeting when we were talking about defenses, and I started thinking..." started Brianna and she faltered. "I can create my Tiny Dancers by the dozens."

With hardly a thought, she touched the water and several little figures made of water jumped up. The water figures, Tiny Dancers, played across the water of the pool before melting back into it.

"But what if we come up against a serious enemy," said Brianna.

"But those big guys you created... ?" asked Gideon.

"That's the problem," said Brianna. "I can't seem to do that again. I'm trying and trying but they keep falling apart."

Gideon and Pavataro thought about this as Brianna sighed. Then Gideon looked up.

"Maybe you're trying too hard?" suggested Gideon.

"That's stupid," said Pavataro.

"No, at least, I don't think so," fumbled Gideon. "Sometimes when I'm having trouble, it's best to step back, take a deep breath and try not to put so much pressure on yourself."

Brianna shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt."

"Plus, you have us at your back," smiled Pavataro.

Brianna returned the smile and reached out to take their hands.

"Okay," said Brianna. "Let's try one more time."

Brianna let go of their hands and turned to touch the water. Gideon reached out and gently touched her back as a show of support and Pavataro did it as well. Brianna closed her eyes as her hands glowed blue, which quickly spread to the entire pool.

A large figure developed in the center of the pool. Its feature's formed a sharper image. For a moment, Pavataro looked up at the face of an older Gideon. This would be what the boy would look like if he survived to manhood, and had a growth spurt or twelve. The dragon looked at Gideon but the boy was concentrating on Brianna and did not see the water giant, but Gideon did notice the bright strands of red that began to shoot through the giant. He leaned forward and saw that Brianna's nose was bleeding profusely.

The giant was shuddering taking Pavataro's attention back to it. Suddenly it grew again, but its features were more misshapen. More arms appeared.

"Uh, guys," said Pavataro in worry. "I think something is wrong."

Gideon threw his arm around Brianna's shoulders and pulled her out of the pool.

The giant became huge and monstrous sucking up the water flowing into the pool. Stepping out of the pool, the giant wavered on three legs. The red blood from Brianna's spun into the giant's center. Pavataro jumped up. He moved between Gideon, Brianna, and the giant. The giant wavered and then moved toward the large doorway out of the throne room.

"Definitely trouble!" said Pavataro.

However, Gideon was focused on Brianna as he held his shirt against her nose.

"Brie? Brianna?" he called out to her but Brianna did not stir.

"She breathing?" asked Pavataro watching the giant leave the throne room.

"Yes, thank the Goddess," said Gideon.

"Good," said Pavataro. "Then we got to go."

Gideon looked up his friend angrily. "How can you even think that?"

"Because I can't corral that thing on my own!" said Pavataro. "I need your help, Gideon."

There were cries from out in the hallway and Gideon looked down at Brianna,

"Snail burgers," he said softly. He looked at SOS. "Take care of her."

SOS barked and curled up next to Brianna. The spellotter had a worried look. Gideon got up and ran toward the door but he stopped before he and Pavataro left.

"We'll send help!" promised Gideon to SOS and then he reluctantly ran after the giant. The boys followed the trail of water and cries. They saw people cowering in doorways, luckily unharmed.

"Stop, you!" cried a voice from ahead. Gideon and Pavataro ran around the corner to see Captain Doyle and his squad facing off with the giant. "Go back to where you came from!"

The giant looked confused and angry. It barred teeth and claws that seemed impossibly sharp. A guard, Rac, got too close and the giant swiped at his shield. The giant's claws tore off the top of the Rac's shield as he fell back in fear.

Gideon and Pavataro barreled past the giant on either side and turned to stand with the Doyle's squad.

"What took you so long?" asked Doyle with a soft smirk to the boys.

"You should move your squad back," said Gideon to Doyle.

"What the netherhells is it?" asked Doyle.

"I... I'm not sure," said Gideon, "but I think it's our problem."

"It's in on land, in my castle," said Doyle. "That makes it my problem too."

"Actually," said Gideon. "Brianna's hurt, can you send someone to the throne room to help her."

"Maybe get the wizard, too!" suggested Pavataro. Doyle sent two people off to go to the throne room and another to get help.

The giant lurched forward and Pavataro let out a little plume of fire. It was not too hot but a good warning. The giant wavered in confusion and fear. As it looked around, it peered out one of the castle windows.

"What do we do?" asked Doyle.

"Wait a moment," said Gideon watching the giant.

"We may not have a moment," said Doyle.

"Look at it," said Gideon.

"Weird," said Pavataro.

The giant shambled over to the window scattering Doyle's squad.

"What is it doing?" asked Doyle.

"Let's move back," said Gideon. Doyle's squad looked at him and he nodded. The guards moved away from the giant who was moving to another window. It started to move quickly down the hall.

"Gladys, Rac, go ahead and clear the corridor of people," said Doyle.

"Right," said Gladys as she and Rac ran around the giant. They pounded down the corridor out of sight.

Gideon and Pavataro moved out in front of the guard following the giant.

"What's it doing, Lunchmeat?" asked Pavataro.

"I got nothing," said Gideon.

"What else is new," said Pavataro.

They followed the giant who had reached one of the many balconies in the castle. It moved out on to the balcony. Stopping at the end of the balcony the giant looked up at the sun.

Gideon and Pavataro slowly followed it out on to the balcony. The giant turned quickly, flinching, but Gideon and Pavataro froze to show they meant no harm. Turning back to the sun, the giant settled down again. Gideon looked at Pavataro who just shrugged. They walk closer and then sat on either side of the water giant as it looked up, transfixed by the sun.

After a while, a movement caught Gideon's eye and he looked back to see the wizard Al standing in the doorway. She caught Gideon's look.

"We'll be in the throne room," said Al and she walked away.

As Gideon looked back, he saw Pavataro.

"We in trouble?" asked Pavataro.

"Don't know," said Gideon and he sighed. "Probably."

They turned back to the giant. Gideon noticed that it was lose starting to its definition. Slumping its shoulders, the giant slowly began to dissolve, but it never looked away from the sun. The boys waited quietly until it was a puddle on the balcony.

"Poor thing," said Gideon. He stood up and saw something winking in the water. It felt disrespectful stepping through the water. He turned to Pavataro. "Do you see something in the water?"

"What about it?" asked Pavataro.

"I don't want to walk through..." started Gideon as he waved his hand indicating the former giant. "Can you grab whatever-it-is?"

Pavataro leaned over the puddle and gently picked up something red with his mouth. The dragon sat back on his haunches transferring it to his hand. Gideon moved next to his friend. Pavataro had a small red object that was shaped like a closed rose. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be made out of hundreds of red strands.

"What is that?" asked Pavataro.

"I got nothing," said Gideon.

"We better go, Lunchmeat," said Pavataro. "Find out how bad this all is."

They walked back up to the throne room. Gideon ran across the room to find Brianna lying on a table. SOS, curled into Brianna's arm, barked to him. Someone had cleaned her face but her dress was a lost cause.

"Brianna?" asked Gideon.

Brianna's eyes fluttered open and she smiled as she saw Gideon.

"I was so worried," said Gideon as he knelt beside her.

"What... what happened?" asked Brianna.

"That's a good question," said a sharp voice. The wizard Al was suddenly there. "What did happen?"

"We were just trying to help Brianna," said Gideon. "She was... um..."

Brianna put her hand on Gideon's arm. "It's okay. I can defend myself."

Gideon settled back, but did not move from her side. Pavataro, for his part, came to rest on the other side of Brianna. Al had to stop herself from smiling at the sight of it. The boys acted like her honor guard ready to protect to her, but Al reminded herself that she was mad at them.

"I wanted to create bigger water creatures," said Brianna.

"Watergolems," said Al.

"What?" asked Brianna.

"They're called watergolems," said Al. "SOS is one, of a sort." SOS looked up in interest at the sound of her name. "When you made SOS, you poured too much power into her creation. You overcooked the spell, if you will."

SOS barked at this.

"And we love SOS, so it's not a problem," said Al indulgently and SOS smiled. Then her face became serious. "But today... what happened today?"

"I... I was feeling depressed," said Brianna, "and Gideon and Pavataro..." SOS barked. "And SOS, they were just trying to make me feel better. I wanted to create water... what were they?"

"Watergolems," said Al.

"I wanted to create bigger watergolems to help defend the city and my friends," said Brianna.

"So I suggested she try again," said Gideon.

"Where were the boys?" asked Al.

"Um, they were behind me," said Brianna.

"We did touch her back for support," said Gideon.

"Both of you?" asked Al.

"Yes?" replied Pavataro weary of a trap in the wizard's words.

"Interesting," said Al. "And then..."

"The watergolem formed and just kept growing larger," said Brianna.

"And your nose started to bleed," added Gideon.

"Thus adding a part of you to the mixture," said Al.

"Was that what it was?" asked Brianna.

"Part of it," said Al. "You used too much power in its creation and then you added in blood magic."

"Blood magic?" repeated Brianna.

"Yes, which brings me to my next point," said Al taking in a deep breath. "WHAT THE NETHERHELLS WERE YOU THINKING? YOU COULD HAVE KILLED YOURSELF OR GOTTEN SOMEONE ELSE KILLED."

Brianna and the boys shrank down as Al let them have it.

"We're sorry," said Brianna.

"I'm afraid that is not good enough," said Al. "You have to understand as well."

Al pointed to Gideon who was holding the red stone that they had found after the water giant had melted.

"Give that stone here," said Al and Gideon obediently handed it over. The wizard held it up and softly breathed into it. The inside started to glow. She held it out for Brianna. "Take this. All of you put your hands around it."

Brianna took the stone and Gideon wrapped his hands around hers.

"What does it do?" asked Pavataro.

"Now you question magic?" asked Al and the dragon dipped his head. Wisely, Pavataro put his hands around Gideon and Brianna's and the stone flashed.

They saw, No felt, the water giant come to life. It looked around confused as it began to wander the castle. People threatened it. It did not understand why they did it, and then it saw the blazing orb in the sky. It was hypnotized by the light. Walking out into the fresh air, it sat on the stones and watched the orb. No one else tried to harm it.

Gideon fell back on his rear. He was surprised that he was crying. Looking up, he saw tears rolling down Brianna's cheeks. While dragons could not cry, Pavataro's triangular ears drooped in sorrow.

"It... It did not even realize it was dying," said Brianna. "It just faded away."

"Poor thing," said Pavataro.

"Well, there are worse ways to go," admitted Al. Gideon looked up at her.

"Why?" he asked. "Why did you show us that?"

"Because you needed to know the consequences of your actions," said Al and she glared at Brianna. "Especially you."

Brianna just nodded slowly.

"Here endth the lesson," said Al. The wizard turned toward the door but suddenly stopped and looked back at her. "Brianna, meet me in my chambers at eight o'clock tomorrow morning. Do you understand?"

Brianna just nodded again.

"Wait! Why?" asked Gideon to the wizard he wiped his tears with the back of his hand, but Al walked out of the door. Gideon turned to Brianna.

"What just happened?" asked Gideon.

"I think I just became her apprentice," said Brianna.

"Oh, snail burgers," said Pavataro.


2015 Walter G. Esselman

Bio: Mr. Esselman taps on keyboards and would not say no to a banana daiquiri. He has been published in Conceit Magazine, Static Movement, and several times in Residential Aliens. His last Aphelion appearance was Sacred Logs and Crocodiles, also set in this story's universe, in our April, 2011 issue.

E-mail: Walter G. Esselman

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