It was going to take more than a little raid to rescue Dani, it turned out.
After the vision with the ambush, Andy’s aunt, Kim, and Peter had decided to retreat and figure out a new approach that would let them take Dani without bringing down the wrath of the two kidnappers. In such an exchange one or more people could get hurt, or worse. What’s more, they couldn’t be certain Dani wouldn’t be hurt in the exchange. So they needed to approach it differently.
First and foremost, they had to find a way to draw out Andy’s power without using up their remaining potion. His ability to transforms into a Baerex would almost certainly decide any fight, but he was honestly years away from that level of mastery.
They’d retreated to a motel in the town which seemed to do a lot of business with travelers passing through.
“Your connection may have saved us,” Andy’s aunt said when they closed the door. They’d rented two rooms, one for the girls and the other for the boys. However, they all met in the boys’ room after.
“I can’t even explain… how can I do that and not be able to access my spirit animal?” Andy asked.
“There’s questions even we don’t know the answers to.” His aunt replied, “it might seem like we know everything, but the truth is that we often know very little–and not as much as we need. Where it concerns you, we know far less than we should. The connection you share with Dani is utterly unique, a bond that transcends time.”
“If there’s any hope of rescuing her though, I do believe you will have to find it in yourself to draw your spirit animal out. In the meantime, we will do everything we can to come up with a plan that works.”
His aunt turned to Kim, “I need you to go back to the launch point and bring our backup. It had been my hope to hold off on this little revelation, but it appears it will be necessary after all.”
Kim nodded once and then left, leaving just Peter and Andy’s aunt with him.
“I need you to picture your desperation,” his aunt said, by way of guiding him. “Fixate on it. Feel that need course through you. Allow yourself to become… vulnerable.”
It was almost like the reverse of helpful therapy. Rather than strengthening him up to move past the problem, his aunt was trying to get Andy to delve deeper into it. In a twisted way, he supposed there was some sense to it. His powers had manifested by need, by his frustration at helplessness bursting out. In that way, they needed to break him down before they could build him back up.
“Are you feeling that desperation, Andy?” His aunt asked.
Andy tried digging deep, tried to allow that desperation to surface. He was desperate, so why was it so hard?
“Your sister’s time is running out fast.” His aunt continued, “eventually they will no longer need her or they’ll transport her to another time. What happens if they go a hundred years back, two hundred? It will be much more difficult to reach her. There are any number of preventable ways she could die back there. Andy! Time. Is. Running. Out.”
His aunt’s voice, normally so soothing and calming was cracking under the strain of her intense interrogation-like tactics.
“I don’t- please… I’m trying.”
“It’s not enough, Andy! Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your sister. Stop being a weakling!”
Andy thought he could almost hear the wince in his aunt’s voice at the last comment. It was tearing her up inside to be so harsh. It was utterly out of character, and yet desperation had clearly driven her to the same place as him.
“Last picked. Most picked on. Always late to the club. Andy, I can read you like a book. Your life is full of mistakes and disappointments, don’t let this become another one of them!”
“Stop.” Andy said, then, “STOP!” He shouted.
The room suddenly grew quiet and very still. His aunt seemed to notice, because she was looking around, as if searching for something. Andy could feel it too, it was as if the very air had changed. There was a faint, musky smell.
Then, out of the open space in the room a hunched, four-legged shape began to appear. It had the build and structure of a bear, only much larger. The creature also had what appeared to be a male lion’s mane. It was fierce. It was regal. It was… his.
Andy’s aunt took a step back and looked at the creature with awe and reverence. Its attention, however, was solely fixed on him.
<< I have come, Little One, >> the Baerex said, speaking into his mind. << What is it that you need me so? >>
“My sister…” Andy gasped, at first surprised he could speak. “I need to save her. I need your help… please.”
The Baerex looked at him with deep, intelligent eyes before its gaze shifted off as though looking into the distance, seeing things that others couldn’t see. Then it lumbered over to Andy slowly and though it was slightly incorporeal in nature, he could feel the fur of its snout brush up against him.
“Can you help?”
<< I will. >> The deep voice of the bear resounded in his head. << But we do not have much time. I must take you out of this time into another so that we can train you properly. >>
“Wha-?” But the Baerex, which had previously been able to interact with him physically, passed through him.
Andy felt his body grow warm as the Baerex’s spirit merged with his. When he spoke next, it was not his words or with his own voice.
“We must train. Then we will return.”
Aunt Lily and Peter had both been gaping at the appearance of the Baerex, though Andy’s aunt had managed to master herself quickly. She nodded when Andy spoke, she seemed certain she knew who was speaking.
“We will make a plan,” she replied, nodding toward Peter. “We will see you soon.”
Andy didn’t understand what the Baerex meant, at least not at first. However, in the next moment he felt his body compressing, as if it was being folded in on itself. It was an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. He couldn’t breathe, and was certain he was dying when, suddenly, it all stopped and Andy found himself in dense forest. The forest was nothing like the ones he grew up around or the ones around his aunt.
Instead, though many of the plants and trees were familiar, there were all sorts of little things which were obviously different. The leaves of the trees were odd, with rounded lobes near the base and sharper points going towards the top. Still, as different as it was, it was still a forest and felt familiar enough that Andy was able to focus on the beast hat had fully incorporated in front of him.
The Baerex, his Baerex, was utterly massive. It had nearly filled the room as it was when it appeared in the motel. However, now it seemed it was free to grow to its true size and Andy thought it was at least as big as a small, one-room house. It turned around and looked down at him, Andy had rarely felt so small as he did now.
<< Peace, Little One. We are bonded, I will let no harm come to you. >> The Baerex said in its deep, resonating voice in his mind. << Climb on my back and we will get to my cave a bit more quickly. >>
The Baerex settled down on its stomach and Andy climbed up, grabbing tufts of fur where he could. If the Baerex was uncomfortable, it didn’t show it. Once he was settled comfortably on the Baerex’s massive back, he decided to try something.
Doing his best to project, Andy thought, what should I call you?
There was a long silence, during which Andy thought maybe his idea didn’t work. He was about to repeat the question out loud when the Baerex answered.
<< You may simply call me Baerex, or Bear if you wish, after the creatures similar to me from your world. >>
Do you not have bears? Andy thought, finding the idea strange.
<< We do, but not the same type and variety as the place you come from. Hold on tight now. >>
Andy thought Baerex intended to run and gripped its fur tightly as it began to take a few bounding steps. But then the oddest thing happened, Baerex stepped onto an invisible step, onto air itself. There were no wings, but moments later it was clear there was no stair there at all, they were flying.
You don’t even have wings! Andy pressed himself flat on Baerex’s back, wind rushing through its fur and his hair.
<< I am gifted flight through magic, Little One. Do not worry, I will not let you fall. >>
Andy did feel a little reassured at the comforting tone of Baerex’s voice.
Are you, um, a he or a she? Andy thought, feeling a little silly at the question, but he didn’t want to assume or to call Baerex an it.
There was a growling chuckle, then the response. << I am a male of my species. >>
Baerex climbed ever higher, past the tops of the trees and until they were like small bushes far below. It was colder up here, and the wind whipped fiercer, but Baerex’s back was broad, and he seemed to fly with an extra gentleness in order to accommodate the inexperienced rider on his back.
I can’t believe we’re flying, Andy thought, though it was more intended as an exclamation. Nevertheless, Baerex replied.
<< It truly is incredible, isn’t it? It’s a rare talent among creatures in this world, outside of the winged creatures anyways. However, very few of your kind are able to bond with winged creatures. So most of them never have access to flight. >>
Andy thought about what Baerex said and it occurred to him that Baerex didn’t seem as if he were also only twelve years old. Something about the creature’s mind and voice gave Andy the impression of something ancient.
How old are you? Andy asked, a bit anxious, he wasn’t sure how rude it was to ask one’s age. Most people often found it so.
The chuckle that rumbled through Andy’s head was so loud and full that he nearly rolled off of Baerex’s back.
<< Eons. Most spirit companions are born when their bonded partners are. However, we the Kings of our kind are immortal. We are tied to the spirits of chosen persons who are reincarnated constantly throughout the ages. I have known other versions of you for thousands of years. >>
Versions of me? I- …what? Andy was confused beyond words. He wasn’t even sure how to ask the question that plagued him suddenly at that revelation.
<< Your soul is special, it is immortal too. However, unlike us, your soul must be reborn after it dies. Some impressions from your past lives have been left upon it, but they are only fragments, bare imprints that lack the substance of actually having the memories and experiences of your past lives. >>
Andy closed his eyes and thought. He wondered, for a moment, if he could focus on those past lives Baerex was referring to, to recall them, but nothing came to mind. Sometimes adults would refer to Andy as an ‘old soul’, which really just meant he seemed wiser than his years. Or so he thought. In the context of the idea of reincarnation, him being an ‘old soul’ was a far more meaningful thought.
He had been reborn. Again and again through the ages. So had Dani. Both of them had lived countless lives, potentially together. It explained a lot. But it also created its own host of questions.
How much longer? Andy wondered, again more to himself than anything, but he got a chuckle and a response.
<< Not much further, a slight change in the position of the high sun. >> Baerex responded. Which might have made sense to him, but only left Andy confused.
As it happened, it was somewhere between a quarter to half an hour later when they landed. Without a watch, Andy couldn’t be certain exactly of how long, but he knew it wasn’t too long. They landed on a hill so tall that it rose up out of the trees around it. There were some smaller trees atop it, but Baerex landed in a clearing that was just before a large cave entrance. He was unsure of whether or not he was supposed to get off when Baerex responded to his thoughts once more.
<< You may stay, Little One. It’s just a little walk, but when I lie down you can get off. >>
So Andy stayed on. It was only a couple more minutes. Baerex slowly entered the cave which was long and wide, easily huge enough to contain a city block. Baerex headed toward the back, to a small hollow in the ground that looked as if it had been ground out by use and wear.
Andy took the cue and slid down off of Baerex’s back. Getting off was easier than getting on, but Baerex was so huge that it still hurt Andy’s shins a little when he made the landing.
“Oof.” Andy let out, then hurried to Baerex’s front so that he could look at the creature’s face.
Andy was once again struck by Baerex’s eyes. They were so deep and soulful that he found it easy to believe his spirit companion was truly an ancient immortal. They were eyes which had seen a thousand lifetimes… more than that. Andy felt the profound connection between them as well and was moved to tears.
Baerex reached forward with his snout to wipe Andy’s tears away, though the result was actually butting up against Andy’s head, knocking him back a bit. Baerex snorted and, after getting over his startlement, Andy giggled.
“I- I’m ok.” He wiped at his own eyes. “This is just… a lot.”
<< I understand, Little One. You will be happy to know that Dani is with Wulvex as we speak. >>
“Wait? Does that mean she’s free?” Andy asked.
<< I’m afraid not. Just as you will take up in your body at the moment I took you, so will she. And so will both of you wake up in your bodies in the present time from which you both came. But this is important to know. Your aunt is a wise woman, I believe she has already planned for this and sent a separate team in your own time to secure Dani in that town of Shrewsbury she was taken to. >>
It hadn’t even occurred to Andy that once they freed Dani from 1952 that they would have to do so again back in 2004. When he traveled back to the past, he had ended up in an entirely different place, but his aunt, Kim, and Peter had all arrived with him. Sandy had too, apparently, though he hadn’t seen her. But it all made sense. Dani was taken to Shrewsbury, but in 1952 she was in Topeka Falls.
The only thing that was really clear to him was that he didn’t really understand how the whole time travel thing worked.
Or this either. Andy looked around at the stone of the cave and saw glittering red and purple veins through the rock. He wasn’t sure what minerals they were, but he was pretty sure there was nothing like them on Earth.
“Where are we?” Andy asked.
Baerex let out a snort, << My home… >>
Andy shook his head, “I mean this place. It’s strange, I’m pretty sure we’re not still on Earth.”
<< We’re on an Earth, but where some call your planet Terra, others call this place Althon. >> Baerex answered after a moment.
It also occurred to Andy that, given the complexities of everything, his aunt had to plan quite a bit more than he first realized. He had initially wondered how their excursion into the past could take so many secretive meetings to plan. Especially when their raid had been anticipated and disrupted. But now he realized that the entire thing had been a bit more like a chess match, and the people they were up against had the advantage.
Dani’s kidnappers had clearly studied the past and the future to the fullest of their ability, which left her rescuers having to catch up.
How long will we be here? Andy wondered.
<< As long as it takes for you to develop your talents. >> Baerex responded. << Though, realistically, no more than a few days. I cannot teach you everything you need to learn. We’re here to develop our connection. Your aunt has plans, but so do we spirits, and this is part of that plan. >>
In spite of the urgency in Baerex’s words, they spent the rest of the day meditating. Yet, in the dark and beauty of the cavern, Andy found he was able to discover his inner peace much easier. Somehow, the conflicts that he had left behind on Earth had truly been left behind. The need to rescue Dani and his father was diminished. It was still there, but he needn’t spend every second of time worrying about how he would do that while here.
Andy focused on his breathing. He focused on his muscles and every other sensation in his body. There was a light breeze that percolated through the cave which he could feel against the fine hairs against his skin. It was cool in the cave, but not cold. His thoughts coalesced around the picture of a candle flame and the sensation of cold seemed to melt away. He wasn’t warm, but neither was he chilled. It was as if he was slowly blocking off other sensations.
First to go was sight, when he closed his eyes. Then hearing went as he shut out the whispered sighs and breaths of the air. Then he closed himself off from touch sensations. There was nothing to taste, but the musky air around Baerex and the damp of the cave still held aromas which were the last sensations to go.
When he was finally isolated, in the dark, free from attachments to the physical, Andy once again perceived Baerex’s presence. In this place, the massive baerex was even larger, but Andy realized that, at the same time, they were also one and the same. With focus, he was able to connect to Baerex in every way. Slowly, sensations returned, but now Andy could experience Baerex’s senses instead of his own if he wished.
It went back and forth like that for awhile, but how long Andy couldn’t say. When he finally released the hold, opened his eyes and came back to himself, he felt as though he had accomplished something great. He was grinning as he turned up to Baerex.
“How did I do?”
Baerex turned his head so that he could level his gaze with the twelve year-old boy. << I am impressed, but it will take a lot more than to truly connect us. When our bond is fully forged, you will be able to do that as easily as you walk, as natural as breathing. >>
Andy thought about what it took for him to focus well enough just to have that small period of connectedness and felt a pang of despair. It was one thing in the peace and quiet of that environment to connect, but to be able to do it at any time or circumstance?
“How am I supposed to get all this… to learn all this?” Andy asked, not able to mask the hopelessness he felt from his voice.
<< You’ve done it before, and you will again. >> Baerex responded.
Andy wished he could share his spirit companion’s faith in him, but he didn’t have access to the memories and experiences of his past self. Then it hit him.
“You said you knew my other selves? The me’s of the past?”
Baerex nodded, his large head making a sort of comical bobbing.