The evening air was filled with the sound of thousands of people laughing, talking, and having a good time. Everyone’s faces were filled with mirth, and it seemed impossible that there could be a single sad soul among the crowd. Merchants rang bells and raised their voices to attract customers to their stalls. The scent of various treats and food filled the air. Such a mixture of scents could have been nauseating, but somehow among the brightly colored tents and intermingling with all the joy in the air, it only stoked the appetites of the festival goers.
Prant walked among the stalls and carried himself with so much dignity that it seemed almost palpable in the air around him. He smiled and nodded as people, even as taken as they were with the festive mood, still parted for him with hardly any effort on his part. He stood out of the crowd for many reasons. His deep red fur, tall ears, and tail elegantly swinging behind his back all marked him as an off-worlder to planet Mito where the people were smaller, furless, with skin ranging from light pink to deep brown, and had floppy ears with fluffy tails. But being an off-worlder was not why the people made way for him with such awe. It was the rich blue cloak, embroidered in shimmering gold that marked him as a planetary defender that made an impression on the people.
Mito was a planet with the unfortunate fate of being placed in an area of the galaxy where mana fluctuations were frequent and volatile, so graule spawnings were a regular occurrence. It was a wonder that the planet had even been able to grow and sustain life, let alone for civilization to form, but here they all were. It was thanks to the planetary defenders, an ancient institution that predated the current Galactic Union-supported Planetary Defense Divisions. With his powers, it was only natural that Prant would join their ranks. After all, he was a bistian. No matter how illustrious and powerful the mitonian members of the planetary defenders were, they were still a mere colony planet. Their powers could never compare to that of a bistian, even one, without a pact.
Prant scanned the crowd, making sure to smile gracefully for the people, and nodding to whomever he made eye contact with. His eyes widened a fraction as he spotted the stall he was looking for. Even with the overall popularity of the nearby stalls, it was obvious that there was something special about this one. The line was twice as long as any of its neighbors, and at the top of the tall white tent, was a floating pink sphere. Inside it, were carefully crafted wooden figures, performing like actors on a stage. The pink sphere twirled around slowly, giving everyone a view of all the sides of its intricate craftsmanship. Prant walked towards the stall, barely pausing as the people in line moved out of the way to get him to the front.
“It’s Protector Prant.”
“Beautiful fur… radiates power.”
“I watched his interview yesterday….”
Prant kept his face expressionless as he heard all the whispered praise. It wasn’t hard, as nothing they said moved him. With his great deeds and accomplishments since he joined the planetary protectors six years ago, it was only natural for them to think that way.
He arrived in front of the store and, for a moment, forgot his purpose for going there as he gasped in awe at the merchandise arranged in tiered rows beneath the tent. Sof. Limal was a well-known craftsman and artist; his dioramas were his most noteworthy works. It was widely known that despite his success, he would set up a stall at the Summer Festival each year, but Prant had expected to see some trivial trinkets, perhaps made by assistants or mass-produced from one of Limal’s designs. Instead, on each row were spheres, floating on unique stands and depicting various scenes of nature or monuments from all over the galaxy. The dioramas were so well crafted that it seemed like a person could fall into each one and enter a new world. Behind the table was the craftsman who had created them all. The man’s eyes widened, and he quickly made his way out from behind the table to greet Prant.
“Oh my word, Protector Prant. What an honor! What business would such an illustrious person have to do in my lowly stall?”
The man stuck out his hand, and Prant took it and gave him a firm handshake. As he did so, he discretely tilted them so that the people who had pulled out their auto-comms to record the interaction would get his best side.
Prant scanned the inside of the small tent for any other occupants, then glanced down as the shop owner carefully pulled his hand out of Prant’s grip.
Prant gave him one of his best smiles. “Oh, Sof. Limal, you are as humble as you are skilled. There is no one on Mito who doesn’t know of your wonderful creations. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to see your beautiful wares firsthand.”
“Ahh… Well… Thank you. I’m grateful for the praise…. These crafting techniques have been passed down…” the man’s voice was quiet and subdued as he began speaking about his craft.
Prant held his irritation back as the man rambled on. He glanced around the tent and the crowd again, resisting the urge to check the time. Limal took a breath, and Prant quickly interrupted.
“How wonderful and rich your family’s history is. Speaking of family, I don’t see….”
“My word!” A booming voice cut through all conversation and the murmuring of the crowd. A tall, slim man wove to the front of the crowd. His long teal hair fell down his back, and his skin was slightly tanned from the sun. He spoke again in a voice that seemed much too loud and deep for his delicate frame. “Protector Prant. What a surprise to see you here. Can you believe it, dad? Protector Prant here in our own store? What an honor.”
The son stepped in between Prant and the baffled father, and immediately took Pant’s hand in both of his. “Thank you so much for your help last week.”
Prant relaxed and gave a magnanimous smile that projected confidence and humility in equal measure. “Oh, Leron, please stop. I only did my duty.”
“You even remembered my name. What an honor! Duty or not, I’m so grateful. If not for you, I wouldn’t be here today. My hoverbike would have plummeted right over the edge of the bridge. I was telling my father.” He turned to his father. “Remember I told you. My bike’s hover-glyph malfunctioned. If not for Protector Prant being there at the moment, that would have been the end of me. He lifted me and my falling bike right out of the air. And now, here you are at my father’s stall. Please…” he swept his hands over his father’s dioramas. “Take anything you want. It’s the least I can do.”
Prant bowed his head to hide a smirk. He’d already decided what he would take after his initial look over the merchandise. “Oh, I couldn’t dare to do that. I know how much effort your father puts into each of these dioramas…” he glanced up at the father. The man still seemed taken aback by the situation but smiled back when Prant threw him his humblest smile. “Despite already being successful enough to have your crafts displayed in museums and sold across the galaxy, you still come here to personally run this stall each year. How could I carelessly take one of your creations? Please, let me pay.” Prant pulled out his auto-comm as if preparing to make a transaction.
“Oh no, Protector Prant. Like my son said, you saved his life. This is the least we can do.” The old man smiled softly. “This festival is where I got my start all those years ago when my own father brought me with him for the first time. Please, pick whatever you want.”
“Well…” Prant looked around in mock helplessness at the gathered crowd. He caught some irritated expressions among them, but for the most part, the people were intrigued and interested in the scene. Still, he couldn’t drag it out too long. “All I can say is that I’m truly grateful for your consideration.”
Prant made a show of looking over the products, making small ohs and ahs to show his awe. Finally, he stood before the one he’d had his eye on. It wasn’t displayed any more grandly than the others, but even without asking the price, he knew it was the most valuable item displayed. The diorama was encased in a clear sphere that hovered over a stand made of deep blue Pilan wood, which looked like winding tree branches. Inside the sphere was a detailed diorama of a gorgeous clock tower rising tall against a clear blue sky and a landscape of light purple trees. The silver plaque attached to the stand read The Clocktower – Awana. Prant shivered with delight. It was just as the maid had described. She was also the one who’d told him Leron’s daily routine, which included riding his hoverbike down Gril highway. He would have to pay her a little more than he’d promised for the great information.
Prant barely concealed his smile. It was almost criminal that a work of art like this should be sold like a trinket at a festival stall, but that was Sof. Limal’s whimsy. Each year, he would sell one of his museum-quality dioramas for cheap change at the festival. Well, Prant was happy to take it off his hands.
“This is one of the most incredible things I’ve seen,” Prant gasped, and it didn’t take much effort to exaggerate the wonder in his voice because it truly was. “I don’t know if I dare ask for this.” He shook his head and stepped back. Then pretended to look at other items.
“Oh, come on, Protector Prant, please Take it. I’ll wrap it up right now.” Leron said and went behind the stall to get the box.
“.. I really can’t. Thank you, but….” Prant’s voice tapered off, and he clenched his fists. With his head slightly bowed, he glanced at Limal again.
He saw the man open his mouth, then hesitate. Prant needed to push a bit more. He would casually bring up his duty to save lives again, but before he could finish crafting his next set of actions, the man spoke.
There was some sadness in his eyes. “Ahh, please, Protector Prant, don’t feel burdened. Such an item could never compare to the value of my son’s life.” Limal smiled fondly at his son. “Pack it up well, just as I’ve shown you.”
“Of course, dad. What do you take me for? Soon I’ll be running this store myself.”
Limal laughed. “You’re ten years too early to start thinking about that.”
“Ten years my foot.”
Prant let the two’s banter in one ear and out the other. He already achieved his goal. The diorama was carefully packed and sealed in a decorative shock-absorbing box that was also apparently waterproof and could even resist plasma for a time. As expected for such a highly valued piece. Prant made small talk with the two for a bit longer and took pictures with some of the other customers before excusing himself. After all, duty called.
Prant enjoyed the weight of the box in his hand. “What a wonderful harvest after so much effort.” It would make a great centerpiece in his gallery for a few years, but eventually, he’d find a way to start loaning it to museums. He slowed his walk at the sound of some music. He followed the sound to a huge crowd around one of the live permanences. He was taller than most Mitonians and could see the dancers elegantly moving along to the music being performed, but he deserved a better view. Glancing around, he found a brightly lit spot and made his way there. The gold on his robes immediately caught the light and glistened brightly, catching the eyes of some of the people. Soon a murmur went through the crowd.
“Everyone, a Planetary Protector is here. Make way.”
“Oh, it’s Protector Prant.”
“Please don’t mind me,” Prant said in a mock whisper. “I can see just fine from here….”
“Protector Prant, please don’t be humble. You know how much we all appreciate everything the Planetary Protectors do for us. Please come,” A man said.
Prant feigned his reluctance for a second more, then smoothed out the non-existent wrinkles on his robe and began to make his way down the path cleared for him. A thrill raced up his back. Look at them all. Admiring me, worshiping the ground I walk on. The reverence they showed him was an addiction, and he craved it more each day. He went to bed at night and prayed for more graule attacks on the planet so that his status could rise even more.
He made a show of thanking them for their kindness as he walked. Just as he was about to reach the end of the space cleared for him, he was roughly shoved from behind, and a cloaked individual pushed passed him and used the space cleared for him to secure a better spot for themselves. Prant’s eyes widened as he nearly dropped the precious box in his hand. He relaxed as soon as he was sure no damage had come to the box. Prant was unconsciously about to lash out at the person, but the crowd beat him to it.
“Have you lost your mind?!”
“How dare you do that to a planetary protector.”
“Do you think we made a path for you?”
More outrage was hurled at the individual, causing the performance to stop, but the individual hardly acknowledged the noise. Prant tried to get a better look at the person, but he couldn’t tell much from the outline of their deep brown hooded robe. He pushed down his rage, then threw on his winning smile. He raised his blue-sleeved hand, and most of the noise was immediately silenced. Another thrill down his spine. Oh, the power he had over these people.
“Everyone, please calm down. I’m sorry that the performance has been interrupted because of me.”
“Because of you? Never. It’s this loser here,” a woman sneered pointing to the robed person. The crowd was string up again, but Prant quickly quieted them. It would be annoying if news of this disrespect spread.
“Don’t worry, everyone. Please, let’s enjoy the festivities, and extend some good grace to this person. Please, continue the performance.”
Even though it was obvious they were the object of discussion, the individual paid no mind to any of them. The performance began again, and Prant seethed as he stood behind the robed person but maintained a neutral expression. His eyes stayed glued to the brown hooded head of the person, bobbing up and down to the beat of the music. With each unbetrothed bob of the head, Prant’s rage grew, and he clenched his fists so hard that his claws dug red crescents into his palm.
He suddenly recalled another instance, long ago where he had to hold in his rage and watch someone bobbing their head with an air of superiority to music. It was back on Bist before he’d ever set foot on Mito. He had been trying for a month to get a meeting with the local governor’s assistant of his branch subsection, Alkan het Migacon. He’d believed that if he could only get in front of the governor, he would be able to show his aptitude for politics and discuss some of the ideas he’d had to better the city. Of course, it didn’t go as planned.
Alkan had carelessly flicked through the documents he’d submitted and, in one icy blue gaze directed at Prant, deemed him useless. On Bist, power was everything. If you weren’t powerful, then you should at least have the fortune of being born a Vala. Prant had none of that. He was an average child from an average middle-class family, and his ambitions were too great for the talents he was born with and obtained with his pact. Alkan had bobbed his head lightly to the music playing through his office as he told Prant that his meager powers were better suited to trash collection and management than politics.
Prant closed his eyes and pushed the memories down. He was not that loser anymore. Now he was a planetary protector. He’d bought the one-way ticket to Mito out of desperation, just to get away from Bist, but it had been the best decision he’d ever made. Ever since he was appointed as a planetary protector six years ago, his status had only continued to increase to now, where he even had a prominent role in the government. He was known by name across the planet, and everyone showed him the respect he deserved. He opened his eyes to see the still bobbing head. Well, almost everyone, but that was fine. It wasn’t the first time someone had challenged his authority, and it probably wouldn’t be the last. But he would do to this individual what he had done to the others. Once the performance was over, he would directly give the man a slip of summons, and a private correction would be scheduled. He couldn’t allow such societal disruptors to go unchecked.
With his next actions planned, Prant relaxed and enjoyed the performance. The first group finished, and another took their place, this time a quartet of flute players. The light, airy sound of their instruments unexpectedly complemented the festive atmosphere very well. Prant made a note of their group’s name. He’d have to hire them out for one of his next functions. Maybe the one where he showed off the latest addition to his collection. He pat the box in his hands. The tune of the flues was rising in tempo and reaching a climax when the murmuring began. Prant tried to ignore it and focus on the music, but it continued to grow.
Something must have happened, maybe another planetary protector had joined the crowd, but as the hooded person in front of him still seemed nonchalant, Prant, too, wouldn’t deign to turn his head around to acknowledge whatever was petty ordeal was disturbing the crowd. The energy in the crowd continued to grow more frantic, and his heart began to race, but his pride would not allow him to turn around until the robed person did. It wasn’t until the performers threw down their instruments and started running, and people began yelling his name, that he gave in and looked around. The crowd was in turmoil. People were stumbling over each other to get away, while others just started up at the sky, stilled by fright.
Prant looked up, and his heart dropped. The case with the diorama fell from his hands, and he didn’t even notice. His eyes widened as the sight of one of the unmanned blimps that usually floated languidly in the sky began hurtling toward the crowd. It wasn’t falling as fast as it should have been because the hover-glyph was still partially working, but the ultimate end was predetermined. Prant gasped and stepped back. He bumped into the dumbstruck person behind him and turned around. It was the woman who had yelled at the robed individual. Her eyes were filling with tears, but she gave him a bright smile and grabbed his sleeve.
“Fortunately Protector Prant is here. Everyone, calm down. We will be ok.” Her voice was loud and carried to those around them.
Soon the area around Prant became a still spot in the frantic wave of people running for their lives or throwing themselves over their children as if their bodies could protect them from the tons of steel crashing toward them. The people around him looked up at Prant with that reverence that he’d loved to lap up. Their eyes filled with trust in him and the honorable image he’d built up over the years. Prant shivered in disgust. His powers were not nearly enough to stop the fall of something so massive. As he watched them watch him, the blue glow of the blimp’s hover glyph cast them all in an eerie light. They were lunatics to stay there. He could not save any of them, but he could certainly save himself.
Prant roughly forced the woman to release his sleeve, then channeled mana through his body. With practiced ease, his body began to float up. He gave the fools a confident smile, watched their eyes light up in expectation, then rapidly increased his speed. He would be away from the crash sight in seconds, and anyone who might have witnessed his escape would be dead. That was his intention anyway, but he was yanked back down to the ground.
“How dare you!” Prant screamed, looking at the brown robed hand gripping his blue cloak.
“Are you not a planetary protector?” The voice was languid and deep. His tone was like they were discussing the weather while sipping iced drinks.
“Are you insane? Let me go this instant.” Prant channeled his mana and flicked his wrist toward the man. The man should have been flung across the square by the Prant’s telekinetic force, but all that happened was that the robe flew off the man’s head, revealing lavender hair, pale skin, and deep purple eyes glowing fiercely.
Prant felt his blood run cold. The man was a Zentalian. A scream broke him out of his reverie. He looked up, and the blip filled his vision. He would die.
“Do something Protector Prant.” The Zentalian’s voice was rich with sarcasm.
“Let me go!” Prant screamed, trying to pull away from the man. The man released Prant, and he fell into the crowd of people.
In fright, they clung to his robes. “Protector Prant…Protector Prant.”
“Please do something. You weren’t running away, right? Help us…”
Prant had never been so sick of hearing his own name. “Release me, you fools.” Prant waved his hand, and the people around him fell away like leaves in the wind. He could still make it. It wasn’t too late. He turned to fly away again but was caught by a purple gaze. His powers were dispelled, and he knelt on the ground.
“What is happening? My powers.”
“I want you to be here for the show.” The zentalian said with a smile.
A loud sound of metal creaking against metal cut through the screams of the crowd. Prant could not take his eyes away from the blimp. It filled his vision. All he saw was the giant blue hover flickering on and off. Flickering off, everyone was covered in the darkness of the blimp’s shadow. Flickering on, the terror on people’s faces cast in stark light. He swallowed dryly and followed the easy movement of the zentalian’s hand. Even in this moment of death, the man seemed at ease. The robe sleeve rolled down to reveal his pale skin, covered in glowing purple veins. Prant watched as a small purple ball, the size of a marble, appeared at the man’s pointed fingertip. Every instinct in his body warned him of the danger in that small ball. His fur stood on edge.
The Zentalian flicked his finger, and the purple ball raced up to meet the falling blimp. It was impossibly small compared to the mass of the blimp, yet the result was devastating. The purple ball hit the blimp with hardly any force, but immediately, from the point of connection, the blimp began to disintegrate to nothing. It took less than a second for the mass of the blimp to be consumed by that tiny purple ball. The wails of the crowd were silenced. Everyone started dumbstruck by what they’d witnessed.
All that was left in the sky was the hover, still falling but much slower, flickering on and off. The zentalian waved his hand, and the hover cracked into pieces. With the glyph’s shape destroyed, the energy within it dispersed into natural mana and disappeared in small flashes of light, almost like fireworks.
Prant turned his eyes to the man and met his vicious purple gaze. He gulped and crawled backward.
“Please… Please spare me… it wasn’t my intention to stand in your way earlier… Please,” Prant murmured to the ground.
The man scoffed, pulled his robe over his head, and turned away. He walked away from Prant without looking back. Soon the people recovered from their stupor. Many of them began crying tears of joy, and soon a new sort of celebration began to take place. Through it all, Prant remained glued to the ground. His powers were no longer forcefully shut down by the Zentalian, but still, he could do nothing. People glanced at him with betrayal and hate in their eyes, but no one approached him. The moments from when the zentalian shoved him to this moment kept replaying in his mind. A shaking laugh escaped his lips as he recalled his plan to summon the man for some private correction.
“Protector Prant.” Prant looked up at the woman dressed, like himself, in the blue and gold robe of the planetary Protectors. “We have heard some reports concerning your actions during this incident that we will have to investigate. Please follow me.” The woman’s green eyes stared down at him with venom, and Prant smiled in resignation.
“Of course, Protector Gwin.” He stood up, dusted off his robes, and followed her. As he walked, he scanned the ground for the box with Limal’s diorama but never caught sight of it.