Picking up the Pieces

Once they got back to the barn, Frieda and Liesel sat down near Ainsley.  She was still very upset over what had happened.  Frieda knew, from her own experience, that it might help to talk about it with someone.  She gave the girl a faint smile.  Ainsley was about the same age as she was, with brown hair that just brushed her shoulders.  It was pinned back with barrettes on each side, but they were crooked.  Her tee shirt was a bit dirty and there was a bump on one knee that was also dirty.

“Do you want to borrow my brush?” Frieda offered, opening her little handbag.  Handing Ainsley the brush, she added, “So that you can fix your hair?”

“Thanks,” Ainsley said, taking the brush.  She tugged the barrettes out of her hair and then began smoothing her hair, while Malcolm tended to the bump on her knee.  As she reclipped her hair, she shook her head.  “I asked her wear you were and… she got really angry,” she said, looking down at Malcolm.

Heaving a sigh, Malcolm nodded.  “I’m sorry that happened, Ainsley,” he said, his voice soft.

Frieda took the brush and tucked it back into her bag.  “That happened inside the cabin?” she asked.  When Ainsley nodded, she asked, “What were you doing outside?”

Ainsley rubbed at her eyes.  Shrugging, she said, “I wanted to find Malcolm and – and Theresa was scaring me, so I sneaked out.”  She looked down at her knee, which was cleaned up and bandaged now.  “She knocked me down and… she seemed so angry!  I thought she was going to hurt me.  I just… I don’t know what happened.  All of sudden, there was blood.”

“Is your ring activated?” Johannes asked, pointing at her hand.  When she looked at him in surprise, he held up his own hand.  “I have one too, but it’s not awake yet.”

Nodding slowly, Ainsley looked down at the ring on her hand.  “My uncle – Malcolm’s father – activated it,” she said, her voice faint.  She looked at Johannes.  “You mean… my ring did something to Theresa?”

“It’s meant to protect you,” Johannes said, shrugging.  “If Theresa was trying to hurt you… it makes sense that your ring did something.”

“They make arrows,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  When all eyes turned to him, he shrugged.  “Flaming arrows, apparently.  At least, that’s why the Elder Sword back home said.  It’s why they teach the Crosses archery.”

Ainsley closed her eyes for a moment and then shook her head.  “I saw some kind of flash of light,” she said.  “Then, there was blood and… I think that I screamed.  Then, I realized that it was Theresa’s blood.”

She looked up at Malcolm and shook her head again.  “I’m sorry, Malcolm,” she said, as tears welled in her eyes.  “I didn’t want to hurt Theresa, but… I was so scared and – and it just happened!”

Hugging her, Malcolm said, “It’s all right, Ainsley.  David… took care of Theresa.”  He heaved a sigh and then looked over at Konrad.  “We need to find Theresa’s brother and Uncle Milton and his wife and… the Great Lady only knows who all else.  We need to purify them before someone else gets hurt.”

“The purification song didn’t seem to work, though,” Frieda said, shaking her head.  She looked over at Johannes.  “He just covered his ears and hissed at you when you sang it at him.”

“Maybe it’s harder to make the darkness go out of someone who let it in willingly,” Johannes said, shrugging.  He looked over at Ryan and David.  “We might have to work together.”

David nodded.  “That may be so,” he said, his voice soft.  His brows furrowed and he looked over at Malcolm.  “Maybe… get everyone together at the community center and… do it there?”

“I don’t really like that idea,” Konrad said, grimacing.  When the others looked at him sharply, he shrugged.  “That’s going to be very dangerous.  At the same time, it might be the only way we’ll be able to make sure that we get everyone.”

Markus nodded slowly.  He looked over at David and Ryan.  “Do you have any idea how many of… the members of your Star families are actually tainted and how many are just doing the same thing that Ainsley was, and going along with their orders?”

“Good question,” David said, smirking.  He shook his head.  “Until now, we hadn’t realized that they were tainted at all.  We just… thought they’d lost sight of the real goal that we’d been given: to guard the doorways.”

“How do we know that more than just the Thurmans – present company excluded – are tainted at all?” Ryan asked, shaking his head.

“The warning I had was to beware the dark ones,” Liesel said, shaking her head.  “People who are just confused or mistaken aren’t dark.”

“We use it to describe people who have been tainted or corrupted,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  He arched his brows at David.  “I’m assuming that you’d use it pretty much the same way.”

“You’d be correct,” David said.  He ruffled a hand through his hair.  “It’s late and your Cross needs to rest and recover.”  He looked at Konrad and nodded.  “I’ll see you kids get over to your grandfather’s place safely.”

“Ainsley can stay at my place,” Malcolm said, moving to his feet.  He looked over at Ryan.  “Did you want a ride home?”

“Yes,” Liesel said, just as Ryan was shaking his head.  She looked over at him and smiled.  “Remember, little Star, the Thurman Staff is still out there.”

“Little?” Ryan breathed.  He looked over at Malcolm and repeated the word.  As the older man chuckled softly, he sighed and nodded.  “It’s not wise to argue with Hammers, even if they are annoying little brats.  I’ll accept the offer of a ride.”

Liesel stuck her tongue out at him and then scampered over to where David was waiting for them.  She frowned and looked over at Konrad.  “I didn’t get to try out my new super powers.”

“I’d be willing to bet that you’ll get the chance when we spring our trap on the Dark Ones,” Konrad said, nodding.  When she grinned, he sighed.  “Try not to be too excited about going ahead with a plan that might get someone killed, Liese.”

“Yes, Brother,” she said, grinning.  She cackled gleefully as she followed David out of the barn and over to his van.  Soon, everyone was piled into the two vehicles and they headed out.  Johannes was asleep before they’d even reached the road.

When David commented on it, Konrad nodded.  “I was surprised that he lasted as long as he did,” he said, his voice soft.  He grimaced.  “The Thurman staff packs quite a punch.”

“That wasn’t a punch, Konrad,” Markus said, his voice soft.  Frieda glanced over at him.  He was frowning and his arms were crossed over his chest.  “People use their fists to punch,” he said, still sounding worried.  “That was a quarterstaff and he rang your bell with it.”

“Swords protect, Markus,” Frieda said, meeting his gaze.  “It’s what they do, like I just act.  Asking him to stand back and let you take care of something is like telling me to stop and think before I rush in.”

“It’s a losing battle,” David said, nodding in agreement.  “Lances are not careful and Staffs are not headstrong.  Swords never think of themselves and Hammers can anticipate nearly everything.”

“Do they have a clever saying like that for Crosses?” Markus asked, arching an eyebrow.

David chuckled.  “They say Stars don’t have an off-switch,” he said, shrugging.  “I’ve never really understood what that meant, though.”

“It probably has something to do with why Johannes is seven years old and normally acts about thirty,” Konrad said, rolling his eyes.  He looked over at David and shook his head.  “Then again… how old are you?”

“More than thirty,” David said, grimacing.

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