“How long do we wait?”
“As long as it takes.”
Steve doesn’t like my answer. I didn’t expect him to. He’s a rookie.
Hours go by. Maybe days.
Steve fidgets. He walks across the ceiling. He complains about things.
I don’t listen. I don’t move either. Too distracting.
Steve follows my advice and calms the fuck down after all of creation starts shaking. He wants to ask me what is happening, but the look on my face stops him. I am master of the eight-eyed stare.
Darkness envelops the vast basin. Horrible sounds echo. Wailing follows roaring which, in turn, follows the sounds of crashing and folding of materials we cannot comprehend. The darkened sky opens and evil rains down.
We watch, protected by the ivory shield above us.
Below, the dam breaks, sending an endless flood of water to wash away the impurity that fell from the sky. The endless flood stops, proving me wrong again.
The sky clears. Rather, the great behemoth that covered it moved on.
“What the hell was that?” Steve asks. He’s nearly crying. Damn rookies.
“That was Earl. He’s the reason we’re here.”
I leap down the edge of our perch and wait. Steve is tentative. He stares down at me for a very long time. Then, he follows. He’s learning.
“Okay, it’s about to happen. Just observe.”
We sit in the shadow of the white mountain and wait.
We can’t see the top of the sheer structure in front of us, but a seam appears right down its middle. Half of the wall moves silently out, creating a gateway into the darkness.
Five fingers reach through and push the opening wider. The thing isn’t as big as Earl, but it is easily ten thousand times my size.
The hideous beast steps out from the shadows on two legs. Its two circular eyes dart around, looking for something to steal or looking for me. We have played this game before more times than I can remember.
The thing grows bold, sneaking out of its hiding place to wreak havoc.
“What do we do?”
“Just watch,” I say. Damn rookie.
I move with all of my considerable speed right for the monster’s path. I stop and stare.
The thing freezes. It wants to kill me. It wants to lift its armored foot and crush me into paste.
“Blimey,” it roars. “You little fuckers piss me right off.”
I don’t reply. I am master of the eight-eyed stare.
“I could do it you know,” it bellows, “just one stomp is all it would take. I’d end you and have the place to meself.”
“We both know that won’t happen.” I sound like what I am: the defender who protects the behemoth.
The thing jumps up and down, moving dangerously close to me in the process. Despite the shaking ground, I do not move. It’s all just posturing.
When it tires of its fit, it slinks back into its cavern defeated, and closes the gate behind it.
Steve rushes to my side.
“What was that thing?”
“That is Earl’s adversary. We protect him from that.”
“Is it the only one?”
“No. There are many that we know of. That is why we need you. You must protect the land below. We hear another is encroaching and I cannot be in all places at once.”
He trembles. I know the look. He’s so damn scared he wants to curl up and play dead.
“Steve, relax. It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?” He’s frantic. It’s a lost cause. I’ve lost him already. “I can’t do this.”
He runs as fast as all of his legs will carry him. Instead of staying in the shadows like I taught him, he runs right through the center of the field of squares.
Neither of us feel Earl’s approach. He moves with a speed that frightens me, still. His own gargantuan foot crushes Steve before he even sees it coming.
Poor Steve. Maybe he was the lucky one.
Earl sighs with relief and removes Steve’s remains before retreating back to the vast plateau on which he sleeps. He feels better, which comforts me a little.
Sometimes I wish I could warn Earl about the leprechaun, but that’s not how it works. I’m a defender. I defend. I don’t tattle on my enemies.
Despite Earl’s great power, he is surprisingly fragile. I don’t think he could take it. He needs me. He needs my people.
Now, I need to find another rookie.