She wandered dreamily through the dappled light, soft sandy soil between her bare toes on the forest path. Her eyes were unfocused and lazy as they followed leaves and petals falling through the sunlight. She knew this path very well, the warmth on her face from the golden glow seeping through the towering canopies above, the fragrant scent of hibiscus and honeysuckle, were familiar too her. In this place, she was separated from herself, far away from everyday life, from her duties and obligations as a summoner; quite content. Her breathing was slow and relaxed, as if she were sleeping, and her thoughts simply observant of the beauty around her. Her favourites, the hibiscus flowers blushed crimson, enveloped in their half-opened buds. She must return soon to see them in full bloom, she thought.
Then, an unpleasant inkling of the truth began to creep up on her, staining her perfect surroundings. She remembered. I must return, she repeated to herself. But to return, meant that she was not supposed to be here, or perhaps...
She looked down bitterly as the truth hit her in its entirety; ‘I’m not even here at all.’ From that thought, her true vision swam into view. The surrounding warmth left her body, freezing into cold stone. Her human form from her dreams and memories remedied itself into the body the Divine had crafted for her. This was a body created for a finite purpose, to protect the cycle of life within the planet, and so she had become ‘Guardian of Life’, Valefor. When approached by the Goddess Cosmos, Yuna had been willing to give herself, her soul, for this purpose. The Goddess’s words had been careful, deceiving, playing on Yuna’s doubts and fears. Of all the Guardians who shared her fate, Yuna had been the last to admit to herself: they were nothing but tools, crafted to serve the Divine’s will. Now she stared wistfully at the abysmal sight of her stone companions. They could not exactly communicate, but in their stone circle obscured by ivy and crumbling archways, she could feel their consciousness reacting with her own. Her sadness and longing was echoed back at her every time she woke from her blissful interlude into her past as a human. She wondered if they dreamed dreams similar to hers, of the world in which they had once existed. Probably, she thought, otherwise what would stop them from simply crumbling away with the weight of despair?
She attempted to clear her mind, and return once again, to her peaceful sleep. In that forest of her dreams, perhaps the hibiscus flowers she loved so much would now be in full bloom. Just as she was beginning to drift back into listlessness, she felt a surge of warmth, beginning at her core and resonating through her stone feathers. Fear and excitement curdled inside her, she knew what was happening as the red and golden light that enveloped her obscured the circle from view. Etro’s gift: the youngest and kindest of the Divine had taken pity on them, and unbeknownst to the others had allowed the guardians brief excursions into the human world. Summoned by humans in times of need, they left their stone prison to fight alongside them. Not a peaceful venture, the colours of the world they missed were often blurred and panicked in the heat of battle. But however ephemeral their time there, even if there was a chance they might die there, they would treasure these rare moments of existence.
Opening her eyes, Yuna was suddenly blinded by the sun, as she crossed into the humans’ world of light. Valefor’s powerful wings beat the air, fresh summer air that flowed like water through her feathers. The colours, the scents, more real and more beautiful than she had dreamed, overwhelmed her. But there was no time to enjoy them. Her summoner ran forwards, a young woman with rose-coloured hair, wielding an ornately crafted silver blade. Yuna could not clearly see her face as she circled in front of her, her wings shielding her summoner from the opposing behemoth’s attack. Her talons clawed at the creature, which roared in pain, stumbling backwards. The woman ran out from behind Valefor’s outstretched wings, firing at the beast with her adaptable weapon. Yuna would not let her get too close to the creature’s deadly blade; as a guardian of life she would be ashamed to return having let a human be killed. The behemoth roared in answer to the blows, approaching the instigator of the attack. Valefor shot fire magic between them, in an attempt to bar the creature’s path. It dismissed this and strode through the dying flames. The woman barely blocked a blow from the beast’s savage claws. Valefor swooped in front of her to take then next blow, pain seared through her right wing, but she landed steadily, readying her final attack. As the beast roared and clawed forwards a bright light charged at Valefor’s beak, scoring a line of energy in its path. The ground underneath the behemoth surged with titanic force, erupting in fire and hot rock beneath him. The creature gave a last terrible roar before it fell and lay silent.
The woman lowered the arm shielding her head from flying debris and Yuna saw her face clearly for the first time. It was impossible; the resemblance to the goddess was unbelievable. The same determined resolution resounded in her deep blue eyes, she even held herself with the same dignified, almost challenging temperament. Could she perhaps be a descendant of their Divine Etro? She stared into her questioning face, contemplating an enthralling possibility.
“What’s wrong?” the woman asked, wondering why the creature was staring at her so intently. Perhaps she thought Yuna was waiting for an expression of her gratitude, because she said uncertainly, “I – thank you for your help. You saved me.”
“Etro,” Yuna said, in Valefor’s quietly commanding voice. The woman looked surprised to hear her speak, and the name was evidently strange to her.
“What?” she asked, perplexed.
“Etro,” she repeated, “You can save us. You can set us free.” The woman that so resembled Etro, blinked in bewilderment at her, clearly unnerved. Yuna wanted to explain more, but she felt something pulling her away; her time was up. The image of the woman’s face grew fainter as she returned once again to darkness. But this time, she returned with hope.