The Last Time

The antique watch hung from a thin chain around the woman's neck clicked loudly as it reset and Yasha opened her eyes. She was lying down. The pocket-sized watch lay heavily on her abdomen. As her eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room one thought came to her mind.

"Auden," she said.

"Guardian Yasha? My name is Dixon. I have awakened you," a middle aged man with grey hair said.

Yahsa sat up and looked around the room. She surprised Dixon by smiling warmly. "Nice to meet you," she said. "Is Auden here?"

"Auden? Oh, yes. I know who you mean," he said.

She saw a figure standing near the door of the softly lit room. Her smile widened as she hopped off the cot and ran to him. She hugged the surprised young man around his neck.

"I missed you," she said. As she looked in his eyes she pulled back from his stiff body. Yahsa gazed at him curiously, her smile fading. "You aren't Auden," she said.

"No, I'm Jesse," he said. "Auden isn't alive anymore. He's been dead for about a century now."

"Oh," was all she said. She reached backward as if looking for something to balance herself. Jesse grabbed her arm and steadied her. "I'm fine," she said. "I would just like some place to sit."

"Let move her to the next room," Dixon suggested. They went through the door Jesse had stood by which led them to a small sitting room. The lights slowly got brighter once they entered.

"Gradual lighting, thank you," Yasha said.

"We have food for you too," Jesse added.

"I'll go get it," Dixon said leaving the room.

Yasha sat on the couch while Jesse stood cross-armed near the doorway again. Yasha watched him.

"What?" Jesse finally asked.

"You're related to him aren't you?" she asked.

"He was my great-grand father."

She smiled and pulled her feet onto the couch and sat cross legged. "I always told him, if I had to sleep for too long he should live his life. Have a family. I'm glad..." her smile faltered somewhat as she paused. "D-do you have any pictures, a family album?"

Jesse frowned. "No. People don't have much time for scrap booking these days."

"Oh," she said again.

"There is this," he said removing a chain from around his neck. A pendent of resin hung from it. He handed it to her and when she looked inside she could see an image of herself and Auden.

"I gave this to him," she said.

"It's been passed down in our family to the oldest son. He's always named Auden, given this and told your story. Some sort of honor to you two, I guess." He shrugged and then added, "Did you really defeat the Warrior Augden a century ago?"

"I did...You don't believe it?"

"I know you're a Guardian. But you don't look like the last one. He was as tall and strong as the Master Warrior Nepta who's threatening us today, but he still didn't succeed.

"What was his name?" she asked.


She smiled. "He's—He was my father. I inherited the Guardian gene but mostly I resembled my grandmother. Or so they told me."

"She must have been beautiful," he said suddenly.

"...Thank you."

They sat in silence for a moment, Jesse staring at the cold fireplace and Yasha staring at him.  

"Jesse, if this necklace is always given to the firstborn son and he's named Auden...why do you have it?" she asked.

Dixon came in with a plate of hot food before Jesse could answer.

"I'll do a perimeter check," Jesse said leaving. Yasha watched him leave.

"Must be strange to wake up and not know where you are or how much time passed," Dixon commented setting the food on the small table before her.

"Yes it is." She bowed her head for a moment then began to eat ravenously. She questioned Dixon when she broke for a drink. "What has happened, why did you wake me?"

"We have been in servitude to Nepta for the past sixty years. But ten years ago we found out that the Master's true ambition was to completely eradicate us. Since then we have been at war and each Guardian awakened has failed to remove the threat."

Yasha burped. "Excuse me. Well many Guardians tend to take the brute force approach which has never really worked for me. So let's see what the problem is."

"Right now?"

"You've been at war for sixty years. I don't see a reason to wait do you?"

"No ma'am."

They left the compound that was designed to look like a mound in the earth. It once sat in the midst of a lush forest, but as Yasha looked around she saw skeletal trees and plains of barren, uneven ground.

"What's happened?" she asked.

"Master Nepta has completely depleted our land," Dixon explained. Jesse joined them, as Dixon went on. "When his demand on our resources became too unreasonable we realized his real purpose. But by then we had hardly anything left to forge weapons and defend ourselves.

"And nothing left to bargain with others to aid us," Jesse said. "Which is why we had to awaken the Guardians, but your locations are so secretive and spread out...By the time we got to you..."

"We are the only ones left of our camp," Dixon told her. "There are a number of small camps still remaining, we hope. But we've been separated and it isn't worth the risk to signal them and re-establish contact." A device on Dixon's belt, that hadn't existed when Yasha went to sleep, beeped. He checked it and excused himself. "Jesse will tell you everything you need to know," he said.

"Look there," Jesse directed her attention, pointing toward a small mountain. He handed her binoculars. "You see the building on the mountain?"

"Yes," she said. It was rectangular and tiered, and looked domineering and bleak.

"That's where the Master Warrior Nepta and his servant warriors live."

Yasha put the binoculars down and faced Jesse. "Tell me, is there something specific the Master Warrior wants from your people?" Jesse shrugged and looked past her. She took a step closer. "Jesse, there are only a few things a man is willing to kill for and even less for which he'll die. You must realize that."

She was just a breath away from him now and looking into her eyes he lost focus of what they were discussing for a moment. Finally he said, "Brandt's ornament." Yasha took a step back and nodded. "He's demanded it, but you know we're sworn to protect it until our death," Jesse said.

"The Master Warrior clan has had long history of obsession with the twelve ornaments. The Guardians created the ornaments to unify the people but the Master Warriors feel entitled to them. They believe if they can posses the collection it will bring their clan ultimate glory. It's a lie but I suppose that's why he's trying to eradicate you. Do you know where the ornament?"

Jesse nodded.

She looked over the landscape again as she thought of a plan. "It looks like almost everything I remembered is gone," she said eventually. "All the pretty things anyway. I suppose the tar pits have survived."

Jesse nodded again. "We know where most are but you have to be careful going to a new territory because of the pits."

Yasha nodded then smiled suddenly thinking of a fond memory. "When I was little and this place was thick with greenery there were small birds that could change their colors."



"Most of the animals have moved on, but we have a few pets and I think there is a mirlark or two left. It's your favorite animal isn't it?"

 "That's right?" she said surprised. "You know my favorite animal?"

He nodded but couldn't meet her eye. "Mirlarks- your favorite animal, Desert pears- your favorite food, the grey blue of the sky after a storm- your favorite color." He looked at her stunned face and shrugged. "There weren't many fairytales for children when I was a kid. I'd beg my brother to tell me the stories about you. Then I'd imagine I was Auden helping you rescuing the people," he confessed.

"You remind me of him. It's easy to recognize a courageous spirit." She sighed and looked back toward the Master Warrior's mountain fortress. "Well now's your chance. You'd better show me the ornament."  

Brandt's ornament was kept locked in a heavy metal chest with only one key. As Yasha entered the Master Warrior's mountain-based compound she held the key tucked under her shirt close to her heart. The fortress housed a small population of his Warrior clan, but none of them Master Warriors and so none of them were much of an obstacle for Yasha. She moved like a spirit through the castle's halls and found the main chamber where Nepta was waiting. He sensed her right away while the four warriors attending to him looked startled.

"Guardian Yasha," Nepta snarled as she approached. "It's about time. I believe you are the last Guardian left for me to destroy."

Yasha was startled for a moment. Could all the other Guardians have been killed? It was rare they died since returning to the long sleep would heal any of their wounds when their watches were set properly. She couldn't let his suggestion disturb her. Yasha quickly decided to use the comment to her advantage.

"I can't risk ending up like them. So if you help me fake my death, I have a gift for you," she said holding out the key.

"What's that?" he asked showing slight interest.

"It's the key to your happiness. This is the only way to unlock the case holding Brandt's ornament."

He approached her rapidly. "Give it to me."

"Of course," she said handing it over. "It's not much good without the box."

"Where is it?" he demanded practically drooling with anticipation.

"It's hidden by the people of course. But I can lead you there. If you come alone."

"You think I'm stupid?" he hissed at her. "It could be an ambush."

"Oh please. Surely the great Warrior Nepta is aware how few of them are left. You can easily defeat the guard single handed. I believe the only reason you haven't killed them all yet is because you needed someone to lead you to the ornament." His eyes gleamed at mention of the precious treasure and she knew she had him. "All I ask is that you take the ornament without killing the guard."

Nepta offered a seedy grin. "That's all I ever wanted. You have more sense than they do. But what if the guard resists?" he demanded.

Yasha shrugged, "Well maybe I should have said try not to kill him."

The historic flaw of the Warrior clan was lust for the twelve ornaments. There was nothing they wouldn't do to attain them which in the past left them easily manipulated by those that possessed an ornament. Nepta was desperate to gain the ornament and willing to take a risk.

 Yasha lead Nepta to cave nearby the base of the mountain. "In there," she said. "You go first. There will be someone guarding the chest and I don't want him to see me."

Small lamps lit the cave. As they entered the inner chamber Jesse called out. He was guarding the ornament alone, armed only with a heavy metal staff. "Yasha? Have you done it?" he called. Then he saw Nepta.

"Get back," Nepta said spotting the chest at Jesse's feet.

"No." Jesse refused and Nepta rushed toward him swinging at his head. Jesse ducked and countered with his own attack. He swung a metal staff at Nepta. Nepta blocked it with his arm. Then he yanked it from Jesse's grasp. Jesse once again had to dodge a violent attack. He kicked Nepta but the Master Warrior was nearly impervious to Jesse's aggression. Finally, Nepta made contact flinging Jesse to the side, knocking his head against a stone. As Jesse lay on the ground dazed Nepta unlocked the chest. His eyes were wide and greedy as he eagerly reached for the glittering ornament. As he did it lifted out of his reach.

"What," he snarled. The ornament had been attached to a small, fast bird. Nepta chased it, furious to be denied the prize so close at hand. He followed it deeper into the cave not realizing that ground had begun to sink beneath him until the tar pit was sucking him down. Yasha approached the pit and blew into a small whistle. The small colorful bird flew to her hand. They watched as Nepta cursed her with his last breath.

Yasha and Jesse left the cave as the sun was setting. He called Dixon from the little device hooked to his belt and word of the victory spread fast. They rested near the mountain for the night and watched as the survivor camps below lit firecrackers in celebration. The little bird hopped onto Yasha's knee and tweeted with excitement. She ran a couple of fingers over its smooth feathers.

"You're still the smartest most loyal creatures in the land," Yasha told it. Seemingly satisfied with the praise the little bird flew away. Yasha smiled at Jesse. "They really are brilliant. They have thousands of distinct whistles. They're language is probably more complex as our own. And their memories are excellent. You can teach them by creating a whistle then saying the word or phrase you want it to mean. I knew a bird that knew at least six of these invented languages."

 "I defiantly think they're brilliant now," Jesse said. He smiled, and then winced. He replaced the damp cloth they had gotten for the wound Nepta caused on the back of his head.

"Here let me," Yasha said holding it.

"Thanks." They watched as the fireworks became fewer and further between.       

"Jesse, can I tell you something?" Yasha asked suddenly. After he nodded she said, "One thing about being a Guardian is you only get a limited time awake. It keeps you from wasting time. I want you to know that I really like you."

"You do...Why?"

"Ever since I woke up I felt something special about you. And I admire how you've survived all this." She smiled softly at him.

"I don't know. What other choice did I have? I think your life is more amazing than anything I've done. How do you wake up every time to some disaster and keep smiling?"

"I guess it's just how you look at it. Sure, I wake up to a bad situation and everyone I knew is gone. But I get to see everyone's joy when we succeed. I get to meet new people like you. I get to help you all and be amazed at how you recover and support each other."

"You know, you're really different from everyone I've known," he said.

"Oh," she said shyly turning away.

"It's a good thing," he said taking her hand. "It's the reason I always knew if I ever met you, I'd love you."

She turned back to him and they leaned toward each other until their lips met gently. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and rested her head on her left arm, her lips brushing his neck.

"I could stay here forever, couldn't you?" he whispered.

She murmured her agreement but in the silence she could hear the antique watch slowly ticking as it counted down.

It was another day before they made it back to the camp and saw Dixon.

"Good to see you," he said hugging them both. "All the camps are getting together to rebuild and start a defense incase any of Nepta's warriors try to attack."

"I doubt they will," Yasha said, "They'll likely go in search of another Master Warrior to serve. They have very little purpose on their own."

Dixon was pleased by the news. "Excellent. Then there should be no disruption of the celebration we're going to have for you, Yasha, before you go back to rest. How much time do you have left on your watch?"

         Yasha's smile faded away. "About that, I'm not taking the long sleep again."

         "I don't understand," Dixon said.

         "Dixon," Jesse said, "We're going to be married."

         A cold silence followed. Then Dixon asked to speak to Jesses alone. Yasha left quietly after squeezing Jesse's hand. "You can't do this Jesse," Dixon said. "Can't you see? This is the last Guardian left. What if a future generation needs her?'

         "It's not your decision Dixon," Jesses said.

         "You're making a huge mistake and countless people are going to suffer for it."

         "You don't know that. All you're worried about are ifs. If there is another threat, if we don't have any children that are Guardians, if, if, if. There could even be another Guardian we haven't found. There's no danger right now, and we want to be together."

Dixon listened in stunned silence. "Dixon, you've been like a father to me these last few years and I would really like your support."

         The older man frowned. "Well you won't get it."

         Very few people supported the wedding. On the day of the wedding, minutes before the small ceremony began Dixon made another effort to stop Jesse.

         "This is very selfish," he told him. "We need her to go back to sleep. She is the last Guardian and needs to be preserved."

         "That's not what she wants," Jesse insisted. "Besides, you're being unreasonable. Guardians have had families before. Her father did."

         "Yes, but he wasn't the last one left." Dixon decided to change tactics. "Jesse, I'm just worried about you. You know she doesn't really love you. It's just because you look like Auden."

         Jesse felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Get out," he said harshly.

The ceremony was brief and attended by a few of Jesse's friends. Most people from the camps glared heatedly when they saw the couple. That night the couple tried to push aside all the negative thoughts.

Yasha yawned drowsily in Jesse's arms. "Tired?" he asked. "Why don't try to sleep."

         She checked her watch and shook her head. "I have to stay awake until the timer runs out and restarts. Then we can be together no worries." He kissed her forehead and she smiled at him. "I love you, Aud--"

         She caught herself as he pulled away frowning.

"Jesse," she said horrified. "I didn't mean..."

"You almost called me by his name."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. It was an accident. I do love you. It's just...maybe I didn't give myself enough time to... What I'm trying to say is, for me it was like I was with Auden just a little while ago. In my head I know he's been gone for over a century and I know I love you. We're trained to live by your timeline, but for some part of me what happened before is always fresh. This all happened so fast and you do look so much alike. I'm tired and I guess I just got confused."

"Wishful thinking," he said.

"No, just a habit maybe."

"So you don't ever wish you had settled with him?"

"...When I was dying the last time, and he was holding me, I did for a moment wonder if it was worth giving him up, but I let myself go. I didn't fight it. I've never fought so hard to be with anyone as with you. I've never wanted to."

"But maybe that's just because now you wish you hadn't...Never mind," he said getting up.

"I don't want you to be upset," she said getting off the bed and standing next to him.

"I'm not."

"But you don't think I love you, as much as I loved Auden?" she asked. Her eyes were beginning to water.

"No, but it doesn't matter because I love you just as much and he's not here..." He sat on the chair in front of their dresser and leaned his head in his hands. "Or maybe I have been selfish. Maybe, maybe you should go back to sleep," Jesse said without looking at her.

"No!" she embraced him from behind. "Please Jesse even if you don't want me, I won't go back to sleep. I'll spend the rest of my life trying to convince you that I love you more than I've ever loved anyone, including him."

Jesse turned and pulled her onto his lap. "Sorry, I believe you. I think it's just what everyone's been saying is getting to me, especially Dixon."

Not too long after his words there was a knock at the door and they heard Dixon shouting. "It's me, open up!"

"Speaking of the creep," Yasha said. "You can stay here I'll talk to him."

Jesse waited a minute before he decided he wanted to know what they were saying. As he stood to go check he heard Yasha scream his name. He rushed through the small house to the doorway. Yasha was on the ground bleeding from her abdomen. Dixon stood nearby holding the knife.

"No! What did you do?" Jesses shouted. He wanted to kill Dixon but Yasha was calling him. He bent down and held her. He pressed one hand to the wound trying to stop the blood. "Hold on, Yasha. You'll be fine."

"Its better this way," Dixon said. "You know all she has to do is go to sleep and she'll be healed."

"Shut-up!" Jesse yelled at him.

"You'll lose her anyway," Dixon insisted.

Yahsa was staring wide-eyed at Jesse breathing unevenly. "You're going to be fine," he said.

"I ca-can't breath," she said.

"Let her go," Dixon said from behind him. "Or she'll die."

Jesse leaned over her and pressed his forehead to hers. "You can go," he whispered. His eyes were squeezed shut and hot drops began to spill from them onto her cheeks. "You can go," he repeated.

"No," she said weakly as the tears mingled with the blood trickling from her mouth.

He opened his eyes and took a deep breath. "Just close your eyes and I'll be here when you wake up." She stared at him not blinking, no longer able to speak but refusing to yield. "I promise," he said. "You have to sleep or you'll leave me forever." He kissed her cheek and when he looked at her again her eyes were closed. Her breathing began to return to normal.

Dixon called to some men hiding outside. "It's done. Take her to the chamber," he ordered.

"Stop," Jesse said. He struggled with them as they pulled her away. Two finally restrained him as two others carried her away.

"Lock him up," Dixon said cleaning his knife with a pale cloth.

"This isn't the end of it," Jesse said as the men pulled him.

"Please Jesse, just let it go," Dixon said as he strode by him to follow the men carrying Yasha.

Jesse spat in his direction. "I'll get her back," he shouted as he was dragged in the opposite direction. "I'll get her back!"

Dixon sighed and turned to look at the young man. "No," he said softly. "You won't."