Tesni Jarmila blinked.
The scene before her: an island shore, crashing waves, and washed up bits of wreckage large and small… It all made some sort of sense… didn’t it?
The tall, blue-skinned woman took in and released a series of shaky breaths as she looked a little to her left, then a little to her right, then straight ahead once more. There was nothing to see except the bright sandy beach, the rusted scraps of washed up metal, and the glistening water that stretched out to the horizon. She watched the next wave wash in, closer and closer towards her until it swept gently over her… armored boots?! She’d never owned these! Her hands, too, were encased in thick, protective gloves. She’d never worn these! Something similar maybe, tattered and torn, but not these! It only took a moment for her troubled mind to realize she was entirely suited in heavy armor the likes of which she’d never seen before!
The last things she remembered were a boat, overflowing with people… refugees… and herself, firing a rifle at something largely unseen across the water, through the black of night… It must have fired back… and been bigger… There was an explosion. Bodies and debris flew then splashed in the darkness. Then another flash and… she’d been thrown into the air and gone under too!
The unwanted memory knocked Tesni back onto the sand, had her scrambling backwards away from the wave until her back pressed up against something hard and segmented… a rock, or a tree maybe… that prevented her further retreat.
She clenched her eyes shut and dug her fingers into the soft dirt as she remembered and felt her own final moments. There was pain, intense pain and darkness, and the heavy, semi-restricted feeling of being immersed in and surrounded by water. There was no up, or down, or escape. At first she’d thrashed and struggled… as best she could… with which of her limbs remained… but it was no use. She’d given up. And then…. and then…
“Keep calm, Guardian,” an articulate voice urged her in the present.
…and then there was a sense of calm, of serenity even. After everything she’d been through she was finally done. Done with searching. Done with fighting. Done with suffering. Done with protecting. Done with surviving… She’d closed her eyes and almost relaxed. Some small part of her had still been in panic, but mostly… For a few brief seconds, she’d actually enjoyed the warmth of the water, and the way the currents had pushed and pulled on her as waves rolled by somewhere unseen overhead. ‘No one can hurt me now,’ she remembered thinking just before the end. And then… she’d Awoken here!
“Everything will be all right,” the nearby voice reassured her amongst a distracting backdrop of electronic clicks and distortions. “The City you were hoping to find back then? It’s just found you.”
“Back… then…?” Tesni asked as she opened her eyes. She was expecting to find a person kneeling in front of her. Instead she saw a piece of… floating geometry. That’s what it was, floating geometry, all angles and interlocking pieces hanging effortlessly in the air… with a single expressive eye marking its center.
“You died a long time ago, centuries ago, but I brought you back,” the strange machine said, moving and pulsing slightly with each word it spoke.
“I’m a Ghost. Now, I’m your Ghost,” it explained unhelpfully.
“No. Why bring me back?” Tesni asked as she examined her intact gloved hand and armored legs more closely.
“The Darkness, the thing that nearly wiped us out, is coming back. Guardians, people like you, have the power to stop it.”
Tesni sighed in disbelief. “The Darkness… it’s real?” she asked.
Her Ghost nodded but she just scoffed.
‘The Darkness’ had just been an unimaginative way to explain the wars that had engulfed the world after a great conflict or tragedy had torn apart civilization. The fictional idea had come from the same places as legends of ancient marathons, or myths of light speed travel, or the demon-like oni, or… she laughed a little inside… angels with glowing halos. But if Darkness was real, that meant that The City was real… and The Traveler? It was real too? The legends were true?! She brought a hand up to cover her mouth as tears pooled in her brightly colored eyes.
“We’d… always hoped. It’s why we fought and ran… But I never really thought… It was just, any place was better than where we were…” she said as she began to cry. “How close did I… did we… get?” she asked.
“Not as close as some, but closer than many,” her Ghost replied. It turned to gaze seaward and said, “Your ride’s almost here.”
Sure enough, an unfamiliar aircraft had just appeared on the horizon, racing towards her, keeping low over the water. A minute later it hovered over the beach then sat down, it’s engines at idle, waiting for her. Tesni wiped her eyes and clenched her jaw. She’d always been strong, no matter the situation. She’d stared down warlords, escorted families, broken through ambushes, and given hope of a safe city even when she herself hadn’t truly believed. After all that, now didn’t seem like a very good time to show weakness.
“Welcome aboard, Guardian,” one of the pilots greeted her as she hauled herself up into the back of the waiting aircraft.
“Happy to be here,” Tesni replied, meaning it. “Now, take me home,” she ordered, “I’d like to see The Traveler.”
“Yes ma’am,” the pilot replied.
The sight of it, hours later, peaking up over the horizon as they got close, and then the sight of it gleaming above The Last Safe City…
It was everything the legends said it would be.