Mother Blue’s face was stern, but showed a small hint of a smile. Her enormous wings cast a shadow across the young boy cowering in front of her.
“What are we going to do with you?”
Jimmy Backus stared at his shoes, afraid to look directly at the creature that now held him captive. He desperately struggled to get everything straight in his head.
“It’s not my fault I ended up in this strange world.” He glanced up quickly, afraid to meet her eyes, and then looked down at the floor again.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
Jimmy took a deep breath.
“It all started earlier today when Elle Burton’s mom found me at the Dunn County Fair. Mrs. Burton was screaming because someone kidnapped her baby from the exhibit area. She was terrified that Elle might also be in danger and asked me to find her and bring her back to the Fair Office.”
“Why didn’t you do as Mrs. Burton asked?”
“I tried! When I caught up to Elle in the cattle barn and told her what happened to her brother, she went nuts. She begged me to go back to the fair office without her.” He looked up into the creature’s huge cornflower-blue eyes.
“You’ve got to understand. There’s no way I could break my promise to Elle’s mom. I told Elle I wasn’t going anywhere without her. We argued about it, and then Elle grabbed my hand and ran toward a metal tack box. I thought we were both going to crash into it and then before I could even blink, I was on the back of a winged horse behind Elle.” Jimmy shuddered, remembering how he nearly fell to his death soaring high above the cliffs, trying to stay out of the reach of a gigantic alligator creature.
The guys at school would eat him alive if they knew he’d been so scared he closed his eyes and held onto a stupid girl for dear life.
“Elle did a very dangerous thing. She put both of you at risk.”
“That Amadeus guy was fighting this gigantic monster. We escaped when Elle threw something at it—a daisy chain necklace?”
The intensity of Mother Blue’s gaze made him fidget.
“I’m so sorry for whatever I’ve done to upset you,” Jimmy said. “I was trying to protect Elle and help her mother find JJ! I never meant to cause anyone any trouble. Elle’s mom asked me to bring her back and that’s what I was trying to do.”
“You caused all this trouble because someone else’s mother told you to?”
“It wasn’t just that. Elle helped me out last year and I wanted to do something nice for her. Back then everyone hated me.”
“Why did they hate you, Jimmy?”
“I was pretty mean. I guess you could say I was a bully. I was hurting inside so bad because my brother hit me at home and stuff. I think I wanted to make other people know how it felt. I’m really sorry now, and I’m trying to make up for it.”
“Can you tell me what you learned from all that?”
Jimmy pulled on his earlobe and shuffled his feet from side to side. “I learned it’s much more fun to be friends with people and to help them than it is to be an—” He caught himself before he used one of his brother’s curse words. “A whatever.”
“Jimmy, you have a kind heart, and I know you only did what you felt you had to in order to protect your friend. That is an important quality in a human being. But there are rules, and Elle broke one by bringing you here. There could have been serious consequences.”
“I promise I’ll follow the rules as soon as I figure out what they are. Are you the queen here or something? Everyone bows when they see you.” Jimmy watched as a light breeze gently lifted the dark curls that reached below her knees.
“I’m the leader of the Fiorins who help protect Earth’s children. I wore a blue dress in some pictures painted of me from long ago, and the Fiorins began to refer to me as Mother Blue.”
She turned to the side, and the layers of her skirt’s soft pastel chiffon brushed against Jimmy’s leg.
“Here comes my personal assistant, Graybar.”
Another winged creature wearing a tuxedo walked in with a tray and set it on the table in front of them. He carefully poured hot chocolate from the pot into three cups and placed them on matching saucers. Little gold napkins were arranged on the side of the tray. Butter biscuits sat on a small china plate.
“Please help yourselves to some of the biscuits.” Graybar smiled. “Madam, there is someone here who would like very much to see Jimmy.”
Jimmy’s eyes brightened. Maybe he’d be able to take Elle home now.
“Please, Graybar, show them in.”
Graybar hurried out of the room and returned with a tall, muscular young man who had hair like a lion’s mane. He held his wings high above his head.
Jimmy took some quick steps backward. This Fiorin was huge, and he wasn’t at all sure he was one of the good guys.
The Fiorin strode directly over to Jimmy and hoisted him completely off the floor.
“Put him down. You’re scaring him,” Mother Blue said.
“Hey, Jimmy! Long time no see, old man.”
“Let me explain, Jimmy. This is Bernstein. He was your Fiorin from the day you were born until the day you turned eight years old. He stayed with you and protected you constantly. He breathed the first breath of life into you on the day you were born.”
“I . I don’t understand.” Jimmy kicked his feet frantically until Bernstein placed him back on the floor.
“Fiorins exist for the sole purpose of protecting human children until they reach the age of eight. When they wake up on their eighth birthday they no longer remember they had a constant companion the first eight years of their lives. Bernstein here stayed with you during those first eight years. He told me so many stories about what a great little boy you were.”
Jimmy looked at Bernstein. “Did you live at my house?”
“I sure did,” Bernstein answered.
“What was my dog’s name, then?” Jimmy couldn’t believe this burly guy had been his companion. Shouldn’t he remember him if they lived together for eight years?
“Your dog’s name was Buster.”
“Okay, that was too easy. What color was the ceiling in my room?”
“You were afraid of the dark.” Bernstein’s eyes twinkled as he answered. “Your mom put those little stars that glow in the dark all over your ceiling. At night you had glowing green stars all over the white ceiling.”
“Wow! You have been in my room. This is so confusing.” Jimmy glanced at Mother Blue.
“I didn’t remember my Fiorin either.” Tyler said.
Jimmy looked over at the other human, who had been quiet up to this point. He’d nearly forgotten all about the young boy they saved from the clutches of the green monster on the mountain only a short time earlier.
“So,” Jimmy asked Tyler, “have you met your personal Fi Fi…?”
Mother Blue smiled. “Fiorin?”
“Yeah, who was your Fiorin?”
“Lexi,” Tyler said. “I met her earlier and she’s awesome.”
“How come no one ever told me about this place?” Jimmy asked.
“Only the guides know about Fiori, and not many Earthlings are chosen,” Mother Blue explained. “Though as the world’s population increases, we will need more. It is their responsibility to protect the children of the world by working with the Fiorins. We try to assign our guides in such a way that a specific geographic area is covered with enough helpers to adequately protect all the children. The Fiorins who remain here can then travel to Earth through the portals when additional assistance is required. Guides are capable of travel beyond their towns and cities so that we can try to get help to children in trouble. The guides help us in our efforts to protect the human children.”
“It sounds important.” Jimmy tried to remember his geography and how many people lived in each country, but decided those numbers wouldn’t help him figure out how many kids needed a Fiorin.
“Oh, it is,” Mother Blue said. “Children hold the key to the future for both dimensions, and we need to make sure they grow with love and compassion as the primary forces in their lives. Without that, we will not survive.”
“Are you an angel?”
“What an interesting question. We operate much like you visualize a guardian angel would. Fiori is a dimension in time and space which operates parallel to your own universe. From the beginning of time, we have traveled to your world through reflective portals to protect and love human children.”
“What’s a reflective portal?”
Jimmy and Tyler nibbled on butter biscuits while Mother Blue described travel through the portals, as well as wish travel. When guides wished themselves someplace, she explained, it had to be to a location, not to a person. Elle had forgotten about location, and her mistake in wishing herself to Amadeus landed them in the middle of the fight with the Zorin.
He wouldn’t have believed any of this if he weren’t standing right here in this huge castle. He shook his head, hoping he’d wake up if it was all a dream.
“So that’s how I got here? Elle wished me through the reflection in the tack box?”
“Yes. Before today, the only humans who ever entered Fiori were guides. I’m rather at a loss as to how to handle this mix-up, but the key to our continued success is that no one in your world is aware we exist except our chosen guides and children under eight. Our survival and ability to protect children depends upon that security.”
“I promise I won’t tell anyone.” Jimmy shuddered at the thought that he might never again be allowed to go back home.
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