Guardian Of The Sky Realms
Prologue: The Painting
This was one of the oldest parts of Sydney and many of the narrow buildings she silently passed were nearly two hundred years old. In the old days, the narrow byways were frequented by footpads and other villains. They killed for a few shillings. The history of the area was tangible: you could smell it, taste it, and every shadow seemed to form into a knife-wielding psychopath.
She kept reminding herself that it was just her imagination as she continued down Kendell Lane, looking for No. 42. Still, she glanced over her shoulder every few seconds.
“There,” she whispered when she spotted the rusty number in the dim light. She read the sign underneath it: ‘Azimuth Gallery – viewings by appointment only’. Not this night, she thought.
Maree looked around, making sure that no one was in sight. When she was sure it was clear she pulled out a pair of stiff wires and clumsily picked the old lock, following the instructions of a dubious website she had looked up the previous night. It took a while, but she won the struggle when she heard the tell-tale ‘click’.
She quickly entered the old building and shut the door. She then pulled out a pocket torch and switched it on, immediately flashing it around to get her bearings. It was, in some ways, scarier in the gallery than in the lanes, as the paintings in the shadows seemed to come to life, shifting as the torch flickered by, the eyes of abstract figures seemingly following her. She shivered again, wandering into the next room, picking up her pace as if to avoid the gaze of the phantoms behind her.
Her torch light almost immediately found the painting she was after. Wings in Despair. The picture she saw on the Internet; the magnificent work of art she had to have. This was not going to be theft for profit—this was for her.
She had been dreaming about the painting for weeks, the swirling reds, grays, and oranges of barely discernible winged figures; angels perhaps, but the subject matter wasn’t angelic. There were grief and death in it. She needed to study it alone, to absorb the artist’s impression, to feel the paint under her fingertips, to grasp the complete meaning of the work.
Maree held her breath and approached the painting. It was larger than she thought, almost four-foot square. The colors were also richer, more penetrating, and the winged man and…yes, woman! were more evident. She was in awe, frozen with wonder before it.
“A beautiful work, no?” came a deeply masculine voice from behind her.
She started in surprise, but she didn’t move an inch. She was now frozen with fear.
The voice came again, this time a little closer. “Do not worry. I am a stranger in this gallery as well. I too have an affinity for the painting.”
A sweat bead ran down Maree’s neck. She found the courage to turn around. A tall man stood before her, no more than five feet away. He had short cropped hair—light but the exact color was unclear in the shadows. His eyes seemed pale, perhaps gray; his face was thin but his body seemed full and fit. It was hard to tell what age he was; perhaps in his late twenties, possibly older. “I suppose you are wondering why I am here?”
Maree’s voice was weak, still with fear. “I…I suppose so…”
“I too wanted to see the painting. I have looked upon it before but never tire of viewing the captured emotions on the canvas.” He slipped past Maree and came within a few feet of Wings in Despair. “Do you mind?” he asked, pointing to her torch.
She complied, standing next to the stranger, and illuminated the painting.
The mysterious visitor’s voice seemed to mellow, almost break with emotion. “This is the story of Alanar, Guardian of the Sky Realms, and his share-heart, Mirriam. They were Protectors and fought the daemons of the Fire Lands valiantly, never allowing the enemy to taint the Homelands. Protectors always work in pairs, as a team.” The stranger started to cry, not vocally, but allowing the tears to cascade down his cheeks. “One day a stray arrow dug deep into Mirriam’s breast, cleaving her heart. Alanar was devastated, and he caught her as she fell and carried her in his flight to the Homelands.
“This painting captures the moment when Mirriam’s body was caught. It faithfully portrays the agony of Alanar, his yellow-tipped wings rippling in the wind as he concludes his terrible descent. The swirling colors reflect the awful light of the Fire Lands but they also depict Alanar’s darkened heart. I look upon this work and I cannot but weep.”
Maree heard his words and they all rang true to her. How could this be? she asked herself, for this was but an artist’s fantasy; and yet she now realized why she was drawn to the painting. There was some inherent truth on the canvas. Something that needed to say something to her. She also began to weep.
His hand gently clasped her shoulder. “You feel this too?”
She could only nod. Words were too difficult.
She shrugged her shoulders. She still couldn’t speak.
“Come with me.”
Maree turned to the stranger, looking up at his face. She saw compassion in him, and yet they only met a few minutes ago. Maree wanted to instantly reply ‘yes’, but all she could do was stare at him quizzically.
He laughed while he cried. “Look at the painting again.”
She did. The swirling colors suddenly seemed to have a life of their own; they actually were swirling. The tall man’s hand was still on her shoulder, and it ever so gently urged her to move toward the canvas, but not forcibly.
She didn’t know why but she allowed herself to fall into the painting, and then, without warning, she unfurled her expansive, blue-tipped wings, and flew into the maelstrom of colors.
He never let her go.
“It has been a long time, Mirriam.”