The Shielders . . . Legend of Destiny
(The Significance of Pink)
He was young, in his prime, with so much to ahead of him. His thick, dark hair was brushed back from his serious face. His hazel-green eyes were narrowed in intense concentration, his pupils dilated. His strong, valiant heart pounded in his chest, a response to the adrenaline roaring through him.
She didn't know him, but she realized he was a Shielder. She felt his fear, intermingled with his resolve to battle to the very end.
He would never surrender. Never. He would fight back, and maybe take some of the soulless bastards with him. He struggled to draw air into his constricted lungs, to stay focused. He fired a missile, praying for a devastating hit. Praying for a miracle. His strike made contact, but it was too little against such a strong foe. The Antek patrol ship angled around, and his sensors indicated they were powering up their laser cannon. He fired another missile, although he knew it was futile.
No! She didn't want to be there with him, didn't want to watch the outcome--which she already knew. She struggled against the unseen forces locking her within the horrendous vision, to no avail.
Brendon. Kendra. He thought of his precious son, just taking his first steps, and of his beautiful wife, both awaiting his return. If only he could see them one more time. The strident beeping from his console told him the Anteks had discharged their cannon. He braced himself, too frozen with terror to even send a final prayer winging to Spirit.
Kendra! His mate's name was his last coherent thought. A flash of light blinded him, and the ship disintegrated around him. He screamed as scorching agony swept through his shattered body. Then there was nothing. Nothing . . . .
Jenna dan Aron jolted out of the vision, gasping for breath. The dim interior of her hut surrounded her, but in her mind, she could still see the Shielder, feel his agony, hear his screams. She had no doubt what she'd seen was fact; her visions were never wrong. Her heart ached for the loss of a fine young man, for the wife and child awaiting his return, for the grief and sorrow they would suffer.
She was trembling violently, felt nauseous and weak. Her head throbbed painfully. The visions were coming more frequently now. She had no defense against them, couldn't control how or when the sight descended upon her.
She rose unsteadily to her feet, pressing her hand against her stomach, as if to hold the pain at bay. It was bad enough to have these unwelcome visions thrust upon her without warning, but to be helpless to act upon them made it even worse. Why had Spirit given her this ability if she couldn't use it to help others? She might as well ask why Spirit was allowing the Controllers to destroy the Shielders. Sighing, Jenna moved slowly to the water bucket. Her hand shook as she lifted the ladle to her lips and sipped the cool liquid.
Awareness sizzled through her, and she almost dropped the ladle. Booted feet crunched over withered grass, moving towards her crude hut, which sat on the edge of the settlement. Two men approached with a foreboding purpose. Oh, Spirit, no, not that. But she already knew the reason for their visit.
Its voracious appetite never satiated, the Spirit of Death now hovered over Liron, like an ominous cloud, imminent and unrelenting.
For several cycles, Jenna had 'seen' it coming, in the dark stain spreading across the spirit realm of her meditations. She had 'seen' the cosmic opening in the borderlands between the physical and the ethereal, facilitating the crossing of a soul. She knew which soul would be claimed.
Resigned, Jenna pulled her long auburn hair behind her neck, and tied it with a leather cord. Then she picked up her cape and donned it. She was ready when Trev and Loman arrived. She stepped outside before they could pound on the flimsy door, pulling her cape close against the damp, chill air.
The men quickly moved back, avoiding physical contact. Acceptance was slow in coming for the colonists on Liron, although Jenna no longer had to hide her abilities, or fear for her life. She had Nessa to thank for that.
"You must come at once," Loman demanded, refusing to meet her gaze.
"Captain san Mars is worse," Jenna finished for him.
Loman stumbled back even further, fear in his eyes. She drew a deep breath. She should be used to their superstitious ignorance by now.
Trev nodded. "Our captain is delirious with fever. He is calling for you."
"Although only Spirit knows why," Loman muttered, with a disgusted gesture. "Dr. McKnight has been summoned. He is a skilled physician. He knows more than this . . . this--"
He halted abruptly, his nostrils flaring, renewed fear surging in his eyes.
Jenna knew what he'd been about to say: "Than this freak." Virtually all the Liron colonists thought that about her. Because she could see events while they were occurring elsewhere; could also see them before they happened, often predicting the future with startling accuracy, they thought she was possessed, some monstrous aberration of nature. She sometimes thought that herself. In this dark and dismal existence, with little hope of survival, the sight was a terrible curse.
She straightened and resolutely headed for the settlement. She could tell Loman and Trev that all of Dr. McKnight's impressive healing skills would be useless against the relentless press of destiny, but she didn't. It would serve no purpose.
With the two men following behind her, Jenna crossed the compound, steeling herself against the stares and the whispers. She'd never shirked her responsibilities to those who needed her. As much as she resented the cruel fate that had saddled her with visions of the future, she also accepted the will of Spirit. For whatever purpose, she had been given a calling, and she would honor it the best she could.
As she approached the captain's quarters, the sense of Death vibrated through every cell of her body. So little time left. She halted before the entryway, her gaze riveted to the symbols and words which had been painted on the dark yarton wood. Ancient Shielder symbols of protection, and supplications to Spirit--pleas for mercy and healing for Captain san Mars. The scrawled prayers for the captain were done in the special compound which camouflaged a color that only Shielder eyes could discern.
When darkened to a deep rose, pink was the color representing the heart chakra. In it's various shades, the color pink symbolized healing, love, enlightenment, and most important of all . . . peace. A dream long unrealized, and one which might never come to pass.
Pink. The color resonated on a deep, primal soul level for all Shielders, so much so, that it was used in all spiritual symbols, as well as embedded within secret messages designed only for other Shielders to see.
Many seasons ago, when the evil Controllers began their systematic decimation of the Shielder race, the Shielders had concocted a special ink. The same unique chemical make-up which enabled them to shield their minds against the Controllers' psionic mind waves, and to innately sense other Shielders, also made it possible for them to see the pink color in the ink when no other beings could.
They could leave secret messages for their own kind, cleverly superimposed over standard Controller emblems, as markings on Shielder ships, or at predetermined meeting places. Any Shielder could quickly spot the pink and read the message, which remained illegible to all others. The color pink was associated with all Shielder matters, oftentimes a beacon warning of danger. They owed much of their survival to the color pink.
A deep sadness swept through Jenna. Despite its deeply
spiritual resonance, the healing power of pink wouldn't help Captain
san Mars. His time was fleeting. She knocked on the entry.
"Lady Meris." Jenna paused on the threshold and placed her hand lightly on the older woman's arm. "I share your pain. I'm sorry--"
"No!" Meris shook off Jenna's hand in angry denial. "It's not his time yet. He won't be taken from me. He won't!"
"Meris," came Ranul's weak voice from the bunk. "Has she come yet?
"Yes, she's here." Meris moved quickly to Ranul's side, leaning over him to smooth his white hair away from his perspiring face. "Though I can't imagine why you'd want to see her. Chase will be here soon, and he'll take care of you."
"Not . . . enough time left," Ranul gasped. Jenna could see the laborious rise and fall of his chest beneath the ragged cover. He grasped Meris' hand, his leather bracelet resting against hers. The couple had most likely exchanged the bracelets with each other as a wedding gift, many seasons past. The leather was intricately carved and scripted with vows of fidelity--in pink. A color of the heart and of love.
"I need to . . . talk with . . . Jenna."
"I'm here." She moved to the other side of the bunk, taking the trembling hand Ranul extended. His familiar face, that of a man who had devoted his entire life to the survival of the Shielders, was now gaunt from the ravages of disease. His skin was an ashen pallor, and surprisingly cool to the touch. Death had already begun staking its claim. "How can I be of service, Captain?"
"The future . . . must . . . tell me." His struggle to breathe halted his voice.
A knot formed in the pit of Jenna's stomach. Spirit, he wanted something from her that she couldn't provide--hope. Nothing in her visions had given her any optimism about the Shielders' future.
"I can't make the sight appear at will, Captain," she hedged.
He clenched her hand with a surprising burst of strength. "Must try. I need . . . to know. The pink moon . . . Is the legend true? Tell . . . me . . . there's a chance."
Jenna's heart lurched. The legend of the pink moon. A legend
that had been in existence as far back as anyone could remember. As a
child, Jenna had heard it many times. It was a perennial favorite of
all Shielder children, who had rarely known anything but hunger and war.
Virtually everyone knew the legend. Jenna could quote it almost verbatim:
The legend never stated which moon would turn pink, but that didn't seem to matter in the telling of the tale. The Shielders were scattered across the quadrant, living beneath numerous moons of varying colors, but a pink moon had never been sighted.
Jenna knew the futility of indulging in such wishful thinking. The Shielder situation was too dire for a simplistic prediction to provide a solution. But what to tell Ranul? He deserved to die in peace.
He tugged on her hand, his eyes locked on her face. "Try. Look into the . . . future."
"Don't tire yourself with such foolishness," Meris scolded gruffly. "Jenna already told you she can't bring on the sight. Rest now."
Ranul's insistent gaze never left Jenna. "What do . . . you . . . see?" He seemed to sag even deeper into the mat. His ragged breathing punctuated the silence that followed.
He'd been a courageous and dedicated leader of the Liron colony, had managed to keep them alive in treacherous times. He was respected and beloved by all. Hot tears filled Jenna's eyes, and she bowed her head. For him, she would try to see whatever she could.
She closed her eyes, wiping away the tears, even as more took their place. She forced her mind to go blank, like she did in her daily meditation, focusing only on Spirit and the shadowy mental void. She felt as if she were drifting, currents of energy gently rocking her body as they traversed through her chakras. She opened herself completely to the will of Spirit.
White wisps began swirling in the void, and the rocking motion became stronger--signs of a vision forming. Normally, she was hurtled into visions with heart-stopping suddenness. Yet, oddly, she moved gradually into this one . . . .
She was walking down a hard-packed sand path. The sun blazed overhead, nearly blinding her. Squinting, she shifted her gaze downward, surprised to discover the path was strewn with unfamiliar red flowers. She realized she was dressed in a flowing silver-colored robe. Delicate silver sandals adorned her feet. The oppressive heat from the sun beat down on her, and she found it hard to draw a full breath in the stifling air. Where was she?
The murmur of voices broke into her confusion, and she looked up. Ahead, at the end of the path, unfamiliar people were gathered. Alarmed, Jenna tried to draw back. But a relentless force kept her feet moving, drew her inexorably towards the group. Not Shielders, these people were unlike anything she'd ever encountered. They were tall and massive, and everyone, including the women, wore only a simple loincloth, in blazing shades of orange and red. Not only that, but none of these people had any hair, a fact emphasized by the bright sun reflecting off their bald heads.
Leors! They had to be Leors. Jenna had never actually seen any, but the fierce, warlike race was legendary, and she'd heard many tales about them. Terror began edging in, and she struggled even harder to resist the undertow pulling her up the pathway, to no avail.
They stared at her as she approached, their eyes as dark as black holes. She saw no emotion in those frightening ebony pits. They parted as she moved among them, and she realized just how massive they were, towering over her slim frame, the men's broad shoulders almost twice her width. With an odd detachment, she noted the women's bodies, including their bare breasts, were also generously proportioned. The Leors were overwhelmingly big and vital, exuding a fiery energy.
Utterly silent, they continued to step aside as she moved relentlessly forward to some unseen destination. Then she saw him. Standing at the head of the path, he cut a magnificent figure. His shimmering gold cape and matching loincloth, along with his regal presence, set him apart from the others. His tawny, smooth skin slid over a beautifully delineated chest, and his legs were solid, muscular columns. He stood calmly, majestically, his unblinking midnight gaze fixed unnervingly upon her.
He terrified her, even as energy sparked between them, heating her blood, sending her heart pounding even more fiercely. It seemed as if everything around them ceased to exist, fading into the background.
"Ah, my bride is finally here," he said, his deep, guttural voice shattering the eerie silence. "Let the ceremony begin."
Panic sent adrenaline rushing though her. This couldn't be happening. She drew back, shaking her head in denial. "No." She could barely force out the word, could hardly hear it over her thundering heart. She battled to find her voice. "No," she gasped again. "There must be some mistake."
His hand remained extended, and his sensuous lips curled in a sardonic smile. "There is no mistake, Lady Jenna. You are the one I have chosen, the one with the fiery hair and the heat of the sun. You will be my mate."
"No." She tried to pull back, willed her legs to move, told herself to flee.
"Yes." He stepped forward, taking her hand.
The heat of his flesh was startling, stoking her awareness of his blatant masculinity. "You are mine," he stated. His dark gaze swept over her. "We will be joined as mates . . . in every way."
His energy surrounded her, invaded her thoughts, bombarding her with shocking mental images of their nude, heaving bodies entwined in the most primal way a man and woman could be joined.
No! No, no, no! She tried to wrench free of his grasp, to scream to Spirit to help her, but his grip was unbreakable. He drew her closer, closer . . . .
Jenna jerked back to the present, drenched with sweat and gulping air. No. It couldn't happen. She was safe on Liron, where no outsiders ever ventured. There was no way she could become a Leor's bride--none. This once, the vision had to be wrong. She staggered back from the bunk.
Ranul's weak voice drew her attention. She shifted her gaze to him and to Meris, who hovered anxiously next to him. His color had grown even more ashen, and his chest heaved with his efforts to get enough air. An ominous gurgling rattled inside his chest with every breath he took. Death was imminent.
"Jenna . . ." he persisted, "what did . . . you see?"
A nightmare, and nothing that would give him reassurance. Jenna met Meris' pleading gaze. How could she send this great man into the spirit plane with no gleam of hope?
Pushing aside the lingering terror of her vision, she forced herself to look directly into Ranul's glazing eyes. "I saw a huge pink moon," she lied. "And in its wake, a leader arose--a man from Liron!" She paused, praying for forgiveness for her falsehoods. "This man will lead our people to sanctuary."
"Thank Spirit," Ranul sighed, closing his eyes. "I knew it . . . wasn't over." Meris flashed Jenna a grateful look.
"Spirit bless you and keep you," Jenna murmured. "I'll leave you to rest."
She left the hut, her heart heavy, both with the knowledge Ranul would soon be gone and with the weight of her lies. Just as pressing was the memory of her vision, bringing with it the dark premonition that it would come to pass. The sight had never been wrong.
Night had fallen, and a small group of colonists were gathered outside Ranul's hut, awaiting word of his condition. They pressed forward, for once forgetting their wariness of her, their concerned questions filling the air.
Jenna raised a restraining hand. "His time is almost at hand," she told the crowd quietly.
"Where's Chase?" one man demanded. "I heard he was called. He'll fix the captain."
Murmurs of agreement and hope went through the crowd. "Think what you will," Jenna said. "But keep your voices down. Captain san Mars deserves to go in peace."
The group must have seen the truth in her face, because they fell silent, with the exception of a few women who sobbed softly. Sighing, Jenna skirted the people and headed across the compound, which was deserted. The remaining colonists had gone inside their huts for the evening meal. She walked slowly, gripped by cold fingers of fear. The sight had never been wrong . . . .
An odd frisson of energy jolted through her, drawing her from her reverie. The cool evening air whispered around her, but an unusual warmth caressed her face. She glanced up. And gasped.
Silvery wisps drifted across the face of a luminous, full moon.
A pink moon. Pink! The moon was pink!
Brilliant beams of pink radiated from the moon, staining the heavens with a rosy hue. Shocked, Jenna fell to her knees, her gaze locked on the specter. It couldn't be. Surely the legend was just a story fabricated by a desperate people, with no real basis in fact. Maybe she was imagining it, exhausted and temporarily unbalanced from the stress of two horrific visions and the passing of Captain san Mars, all in one cycle.
She dropped her face into her trembling hands and prayed to Spirit for calming influence, and for guidance. She remained that way a long time, until she stopped shaking, until a sense of peace soothed her mind and body. Inhaling deeply, she again raised her gaze to the night sky.
The moon was once more its usual golden color, tinged with streaks of blue. No pink emanated from it. Surprised, Jenna looked around to see if anyone else might have noticed that the moon had been pink. The only people present were those gathered around Ranul's hut. And they seemed distracted, their heads bent either in supplication or crying. If they had seen the pink moon, they gave no indication of that fact.
Obviously, it had been a trick of her overly active imagination. Jenna struggled to her feet. Utterly drained, she turned toward the path to her hut. Maybe this entire cycle had been a bad dream.
But as she approached her entryway, an inner voice warned her that the cycle had indeed been very real. When she awoke tomorrow, it would be to the news of Ranul's passing. Somewhere, on another Shielder colony, a young woman would receive the news that she was a widow, and a child would be without a father.
And, despite Jenna's vehement mental denials, the odds were exceedingly great that a fierce, savage Leor would claim her for his mate. The vision had shown it.
A shudder ran through her. Slamming the door, she threw herself on her hard pallet. The reality was hard to grasp, much less accept. "Spirit, why?" she whispered, finally allowing the tears to flow freely. "Why?"
But there were no answers in the dark silence surrounding her. No answers as to why Ranul and the young male Shielder had to die, or why Jenna had to be sacrificed in a trade to the Leors. Yet she knew those events would come to pass, because her visions had always been unerringly accurate.
What she didn't know for a certainty became the most haunting question: Had she really seen the pink moon? Or had her overtired mind created it, spurred by the falsehoods she had told Ranul? There was no good way to know.
Only time would tell.
Copyright © 2001 by Catherine Spangler
NOTE: A very special thanks to Cy Korte for her wonderful suggestions. Her insights and creativity made this story possible.