In the end, Andy ended up spending three weeks with Baerex.
Throughout that time he had managed to calm himself a lot more and grow accustomed to the fact that time worked differently when one was jumping around in it. The constant feeling of being rushed and forced to act or suffer the consequences wasn’t eliminated, but it was compartmentalized, tidily put away on a shelf in a box where it could be used, but wouldn’t control him.
They had done a lot of compartmentalizing together. Baerex had pointed out that controlling one’s thoughts and one’s emotions was essential to centering one’s self, and being centered was critical to mastering spiritual energy.
They went on long walks together and discussed past incarnations of Andy that Baerex was familiar with. They talked about the world Baerex lived in, which sounded like a vastly more primitive world, but, as Baerex pointed out, the people in his world were far more connected to nature than the people of Terra.
Even the Alterrans, who were descendants of Altharons, were gradually losing their connection to the world around them. It was one of the reasons that Fallsborough had been created, it was a deliberate attempt to disconnect from the pressures and attentions of the greater world around them.
“What about me? Past me, I mean. And Past Dani. Were we… are we… becoming disconnected from this place?”
Baerex snuffled a little, then Andy heard a chuckle in his mind.
<< I think you know the answer to that, Little One. The answer is inside of your present self as well. Still, your spiritual powers are more strongly connected to this place than the rest of your peers, or even your elders. It is why you and your sister are so important. >>
Andy did know the answer. It was why he often wondered if he was broken. He wasn’t sure if Dani felt the same way, she did seem to enjoy the outdoors more than he did. But they were both children of the modern age. The idea of a world without vehicles, computers, phones, and other modern conveniences was utterly foreign to them.
When they weren’t working on Andy’s spiritual connections, they picked up where he’d left off with his aunt in his physical training. But Baerex was a more tireless and ruthless taskmaster when it came to the physical. Andy found himself having to run through difficult forest terrain, crossing rivers by jumping from one slippery rock to the next, or scaling cliff walls without the aid of any gear.
However, after about the halfway point, Andy found himself less and less sore as each day passed. Previous to that he had been finding himself waking up to increasingly new aches and pains and he felt certain that his time with Baerex would end up killing him.
Andy was already a skinny kid, but the workouts and the fact that his diet was lean and limited had begun to develop his body into thin, ropy musculature. He was getting harder, firmer, faster. He had even fashioned for himself a spear which he used when he and Baerex hunted for game to supplement the nuts and berries that made up the majority of their diet.
Then came the day when it ended.
<< It is time to go back. >> Baerex announced abruptly during their evening meal, which was a salad of greens that Andy had gathered, along with some cone nuts and richa berries.
Baerex had taken down a Staglion, which he was devouring, though he allowed Andy to cook one of the haunches to supplement his meal. Andy’s butchering job on it was awful, but he did manage to get at least some meat out of it.
There’s still so much for me to learn, Andy replied with a thought. It had actually been a few days since he had last spoken, there were advantages to telepathic communication so Baerex had insisted that Andy work on it.
There was actually a lot of nuance to telepathic communication that was difficult. A skilled communicator could give impressions of feelings, add images, and otherwise use their mental scape to its fullest capacity to allow for communication as rich and detailed as anything spoken.
<< And there always will be. >> Baerex responded, << Even if you lived a hundred lifetimes. But you know enough now that I will be able to assist you in the rescue of your sister. >>
They spent their last day together in meditation, melding their consciousnesses. It was still difficult to do, and Andy had to maintain absolute focus in order to keep it, but he was gratified to discover that their intensive training had at least made a difference. Their bond, their spiritual connection, was stronger, and so it was with at least the slightest bit more ease that he was able to make use of their most valuable power: together.
Then it was time for Andy to go to sleep again, fully merged with Baerex’s spirit. When he awoke, he was back in the motel room with his aunt Lily and Peter watching over him.
“You’re back!” Aunt Lily exclaimed, rushing to help Andy up. “How long?”
It seemed such a strange question, for Andy had experienced the full three weeks he had been gone. However, he realized that for his aunt and her friends, it would only have been moments. About five minutes or so, Baerex had reckoned, enough time for him to fall asleep and then wake back up.
“Umm, three weeks,” Andy responded, “well, three weeks there.”
His aunt nodded, “our literature says that their weeks are tendays, yes? Did you see both suns?”
Andy shook his head, “only the High Sun. I guess it wasn’t the right season to see the Low Sun.”
It was rather amusing that Andy was answering questions for his aunt, a person who knew so much and seemed as though there was nothing he could teach her. Granted, most of his questions were just confirming things she knew about Althon from a lifetime of reading archived lore and ancient writings about it. If anything, it further impressed upon Andy how much his aunt knew, and reinforced the idea that she knew everything, even if he knew deep down that such was impossible.
“Well,” she said at length, “I believe we’ve come up with a plan.”
When she explained it to Andy he wondered at how they could have come up with it in the only five or so minutes he was asleep. Then he remembered that they had also been discussing the plan before he had been whisked off to another world.
It was another couple of hours until Kim returned with a young girl who was perhaps only eight or nine years old. However, she was so familiar that Andy couldn’t help but stare at her. She stared right back.
While aunt Lily caught Kim up on the plan, the girl was seated across from Andy at a small table the room provided, with two chairs.
“I’m Sandy!” The girl said cheerfully. Then, as Andy stared at her in shocked realization for a few moments, she asked, “what’s your name?”
“A- andy.” He said, after a few moments of awkward silence.
“Ooo, that rhymes. Sandy and Andy!” She sang the last little bit. It was difficult to match this little child up with the more reserved Sandy of the present time from which he was from.
The younger version of Sandy peppered him with numerous questions, which he did his best to answer. However, he found it difficult to answer her questions without revealing too much about the time he came from.
He was saved from having to answer further questions when his aunt and Kim came over to the table.
“Sandy has the most important role to play in all of this,” Andy’s aunt began to explain. “She is going to walk up to the house tomorrow and tell the nice man and woman at that house that she got lost.”
“But… you had to go a long way to get her, right? How is she going to explain coming that far?” Andy asked, seeing the obvious hole in the plan.
“Ah, well, I’m glad you asked.” Andy’s aunt replied with a smile, “a missing child is not something taken lightly. Fortunately, Kim is going to report Sandy missing before we get Sandy over to the target. They’ll be obliged to report it and one of them, more-than-likely the man, will have to take Sandy down to the police department.”
Andy thought about it and realized that, on the whole it was a good plan. There was at least one other problem with even that plan, though.
“What if they… just kidnap her too?” He asked.
Aunt Lily looked to Kim this time, “go ahead.”
“Actually…” Kim began, smiling at Sandy. “Remember what we talked about in the car?”
“Ooo! Oh! Can I? Can I really!?” Sandy jumped out of her seat so suddenly that Andy nearly fell out of his.
Sandy fixed her purple jumper as she went to an open space in the room. Then she closed her eyes and took in a breath. Andy recognized the meditative pose, but he wasn’t sure what she was going to do with it exactly. After a moment though, she opened her eyes again and drew a shape in the air that looked like a circle, then a line through it, then another shape that Andy had trouble recognizing.
For a moment there was nothing, then Sandy’s eyes began to glow a soft blue. In front of her, a patch of the motel carpet also glowed a soft blue. A second or two later, the blue patch began to grow larger and mold itself into a shape. It was elongated, but almost looked like a large cat. Then the shape began to rise out of the floor, taking on three dimensions. That was when Andy realized it was a cat. Only it was more unusual than any cat he’d ever seen.
Andy almost wanted to call it a sabertoothed tiger due to the long fangs protruding from its mouth. But it was smaller than a saber toothed tiger would have been, being about the same dimensions as a medium-sized dog. It had two tails and there were bony protrusions along its spine that curved out and around the body like having a rib cage on the outside of its body, though there were far more spaces between bones than an actual rib cage.
“What is that?” Andy breathed. In spite of how odd it was, Andy did feel like it was at least somewhat familiar.
“You don’t recognize it?” His aunt asked, sounding disappointed. “It’s in the bestiary I had you read, as you may have guessed, this is not a beast of our world. This particular creature is a Duelcat. Do you recall it now?”
Duelcat… Andy did remember now. They were named such for the way the males fought during mating season to secure a mate. Duelcats mated for life, but when they were young and mate-less, their energy during mating season was spent looking for a fight to prove their dominance. According to the book, they locked their teeth like stags hooking antlers. The bony protrusions helped protect them from the fierce blows that often took place during the mating ritual or even during hunting.
“That’s amazing,” Andy said, but then, “I thought Dani and I were the only ones with companions from the other world?”
“The only ones with King companions,” his aunt corrected, “but there are a rare few among us who also forge connections with animals from Althon. Such as Sandy here.”
“In any event,” his aunt continued, “it’s sufficient to say that Sandy won’t be defenseless if our… friends… prove faithless when responding to a lost little girl.”
Andy watched as Sandy scritched behind the Duelcat’s ear as though it were nothing more than an ordinary housecat.
“Isn’t she so pretty?” Sandy asked.
Andy looked over the Duelcat once more. It still had that odd blue glow, and a slightly incorporeal look to it. Still, he could see the mottled fur with what looked like jagged stripes. But the strips didn’t reach all the way around like on a tiger, instead they were arrayed at varying angles as though they were spots. Its long tail curled around behind the small girl who was giving it affection.
“Yes, you’re such a pretty kitty…” Sandy whispered to the creature affectionately, letting the Duelcat nuzzle against her hand.”
“So, are we all clear on what to do?” Andy’s aunt asked, looking around at everyone.
“Crystal.” Said Kim.
“Absolutely,” Peter said with a chuckle.
Andy nodded, and Sandy kept playing with her Duelcat.
It turned out that new Summoners had very limited amounts of time for their summoned creatures, and only had partial summons, hence the Duelcat’s slightly translucent appearance. More importantly, it took some time before Sandy would be able to summon again.
Fortunately, they had the rest of the night to rest.
Andy found it difficult to fall asleep himself. His body was ready for rest but his mind had spent three weeks resting and training and it was wide awake, ready to act. Eventually, though, his body managed to drag his mind down with it and he slept.
When Andy woke the next morning, his aunt, Kim, and Peter were already getting ready for the day. Peter and Kim were drinking coffee while his aunt sipped at some tea. She also had the town newspaper in hand, which she was reading.
“Good, you’re awake,” she said after another long sip of tea, his aunt had glanced over while sipping. “Let’s review the plan one more time.”
So they did. The plan was rather simple: Sandy would go up to the door and tell the couple living at 14 Elmwood Drive that she was lost and couldn’t find her mommy. Meanwhile, Kim, who looked enough like Sandy to convincingly pass as her mother, would be at the police station reporting her missing child, matching Sandy’s description of course.
When one of the couple inevitably brought Sandy down to the police station, that was when they would strike. However, rather than enter through the front door, which could create any number of problematic outcomes, Andy would force open the back door using Baerex’s strength.
Peter and Andy’s aunt would then enter and confront the remaining kidnapper, most likely the woman, while Andy snuck in and got Dani out. Andy had wanted to simply bash the wall to Dani’s room in and make a quick grab and go, but his aunt had advised trying to make the noise and disruption level low. As it was, bashing the door in would cause enough noise to be worried about.
If everything went well, they’d be in and out in under three minutes. A few minutes of waiting for the couple to respond to Sandy’s appearance, and all told it would take less than ten minutes before they were back on their way home.
When the time came they all crammed into the old-fashioned Chrysler. It only had two doors, but there was a bench seat in the back in which Kim, Sandy, and Andy were crammed. Fortunately, they dropped Kim off a block from the police station and then it was just Sandy and Andy.
As they drove along to Elmwood Drive, Andy noticed that Sandy kept peeking glances at him. At first he was bemused, unsure why she kept sneaking looks and then quickly looking away. Then he remembered doing something similar to a girl named Clara in third grade.
Her hair was always styled in some sort of braid or pigtails and almost always he would find her wearing some pretty jumper or floral skirt. It wasn’t a real crush, like the ones he’d have when he was older, or so he was told. Nevertheless, he’d often found himself looking her way and then quickly looking away so that she wouldn’t catch him looking at her.
The younger Sandy was probably doing the same thing. Andy might have felt more flattered if he wasn’t worried sick about his sister, and worrying over how strange it was to have a younger version of his new friend back in the present so unabashedly interested in him.
Andy shifted in his seat and decided he found some interesting things to look at outside his car’s window.
They opted to park on Fir Road, which was a block away from Elmwood Drive. It meant a little bit of walking, but it also made it less suspicious than sitting across the street from the couple’s house.
It was still in the morning, but the sun was already shining which left everything exposed. Still, for the most part, people seemed to be in their homes, which was a blessing. It happened that 14 Elmwood had a fence at the edge of their property, which they used to slightly hide themselves as Sandy skipped down the sidewalk and then up the path to the front door.
Andy felt tension through every muscle in his body as he peeked around and watched the scene unfold.
There were so many things that could go wrong, he found himself thinking of them now, in the final moments, rather than before, during the planning. What if the couple took Dani and went together to the police station? What if they called and waited for the police to arrive? Or what if they simply ignored Sandy?
It was these thoughts that went through Andy’s mind as he watched and waited.
Sandy had knocked on the door, but was about to knock again when it finally opened. Standing in the doorway was a woman in a blue dress with a white belt. Her black hair was perfectly coifed and Andy watched as she looked down at Sandy and then put her hand to her mouth before beckoning Sandy in and closing the door behind her.
Andy held his breath while he waited for them to come back out. Eventually he had to breathe though for it was some minutes before the man came back out with Sandy in tow. They got into a black sedan that had the rounded contours that so perfectly typified the classic styles of cars in the period.
They pulled out and headed right, down Elmwood which would take them to Main Street where the police station was located. The fact that it had gone off so well allowed Andy to breathe easier and he whispered a prayer of thanks, though to which god he could not say, his family wasn’t particularly religious.
When the car was out of sight, they made their move, Andy, his aunt, and Peter trotting around the fence and dashing for the backyard. Andy received no visions, but they could see the woman from the windows sitting in the living room, reading. Apparently the high alert they were at the previous evening had subsided for the moment. Perhaps they didn’t expect a raid during the morning daylight.
At the rear of the house, the yard was fully enclosed by a fence which would help keep their movements obscure from prying neighbors. Andy took a moment to meditate, closing his eyes to help with centering himself. Andy took in a breath, held it, then let it out. He put an image in his mind of Baerex, then took in another breath. This time, when he let the breath out, he could feel the strength welling up in him.
Andy’s eyes flashed open, and a light lit up in them, both primal and fierce. He could feel his connection with Baerex as if they were back in the cave meditating. He reared back with his fist, then punched forward with all of his strength and felt the door buckle under the concussive force coming from his fist.
Normally such a blow would leave visible damage to the fist as well, but Andy’s fist, though stinging a little, was otherwise unharmed. The door was another matter, it swung inward on its hinges, a hole in the wall where the lock had previously secured it shut.
The impact created a loud bang, followed by a thud as the door settled on the floor, still hanging on one hinge, but listing as a result of losing the other.
Aunt Lily and Peter rushed in after, immediately hurtling through what appeared to be a dining room and into the living room area which was immediately adjacent in an open concept design. Andy watched as his aunt swirled her hand and then pushed her open palm forward. What followed was a massive gust of wind, as if a storm was taking place inside the house.
The woman had looked up from her book as a result of the bang and had begun to stand up. The sudden rush of wind knocked her back into the wall, and also dislodged the dining table, chairs, and tipped over the couch.
Peter followed up by leaping over the fallen couch and transforming midair into a thick, mottled dark and light green python. It was an elegant motion as his arms and legs fused together into one thick trunk, but if Andy had blinked he would have missed it. The snake that was Peter landed on top of the woman and immediately began coiling around her.
Andy stood, mouth agape, for a minute, before running inside to get Dani. The hall that led to the rest of the house was to Andy’s left. Though, immediately to the left of the dining room was the kitchen. Andy veered past the counter that separated the dining room from the kitchen.
There were four doors in the hallway. Andy jogged down to the first two and opened the first door on the left. Stairs led down into darkness, the basement. Andy was fairly certain Dani wasn’t down there. Across the hall he opened the door that led right.
The room that opened up before him was definitely the room of a young girl, but it was certainly not a room Dani would have picked for herself. The walls were pink, there was a four poster bed with white lace. Everything about the room screamed girly, which wasn’t her style at all. Yet, sitting in the bed in a green dress while reading.
She looked up and her eyes widened as she caught sight of Andy.
He looked a bit different himself. They’d all dressed to match the styles of the 50s, so he was wearing a striped sweater of brown, orange, and green over a green polo shirt with khaki bottoms and sensible brown dress shoes.
“We’re here to rescue you,” he said with a sheepish grin.
“’bout time.” Dani responded.
Everything else was a blur. They didn’t stick around for the man to get back. From Dani they learned that the couple were the Evergreens. Mark and Cindy Evergreen to be precise. They hoofed it back to the car after quickly securing Cindy so that she couldn’t immediately call the police. While they were driving back to the police station they passed by Mark’s car, returning. Dani slid down in the seat to hide herself, but Mark didn’t so much as glance at them.
They picked up Kim and Sandy from just outside the police department. The entire time, Andy felt like they were only moments away from police pouring out of the building and arresting them all.
When Kim and Sandy got in the car, Sandy had to sit in Kim’s lap in order to fit in. The back seat was cramped, but Andy reached for Dani’s hand and didn’t let go.
As his aunt had mentioned earlier, once they got him and Dani ready to bring everyone, except Sandy, to the present.
Dani wasn’t there when Andy woke up, but his aunt made a quick call and assured him that she had been recovered in the present as well. She arrived the next day, completely safe, and dressed in a more familiar green hoodie with jeans.
Then they got down to figuring out how to find and save their father.