We return now to Cherry Hill...
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"Don't move," came a voice from behind a boulder, and then as if from out of the shadows, Walt Fischer stepped out and he was carrying a gun.
In the distance came the cry of a lone wolf.
Jack cocked his head to the horizon and for the briefest moment looked into Amanda's eyes. That was all it took to tell her they were not in danger. Jack would keep her safe at all costs. Walt Fischer may have thought he had the upper hand, but he was a relative newcomer to the Association and had no idea the power of the ancient magic or the Zanzibar.
The children, eyes as big as saucers, stood frozen and Amanda gathered them one under each arm hugging them close. Using every ounce of energy she had, she willed them to be unafraid and to trust in Jack. As her thoughts flowed, she could feel the children slowly begin to relax and she marveled once again at her new found powers.
"Fischer," said Jack, dark steely eyes looking straight ahead, unafraid, "I'm going to give you a chance right now to put down the gun, gather your team and get out of here. You have no idea what you're dealing with."
The two men stared at each other in silence and for the briefest moment Walt Fischer was tempted to back down. Something about Jack's attitude and the look in his eyes gave him pause. But as a long time military operative, now for hire, his contract with the Association was to bring Amanda and the children back unharmed - and by damn, when he had a job to do, he did it.
There was no specification, however, about Jack and in a split second between choices, Walt Fischer decided to finish him off.
It was subtle, the feather like movement of a finger and a change in Fischer's eyes - but Jack had been well trained, and before Walt Fischer could pull the trigger Jack sprung on him with the agility of a wild cat and with one swift movement completely disarmed him.
"Get back in the cave Amanda, and take the children," said Jack, "don't come back out until I come and get you.
Without questioning him, Amanda and the children turned and ran back into the cave. Jack held the gun to Fischer's head, and looking into his eyes said, "I warned you. Where is the rest of your team."
"They'll be here any second," said Walt, "And when they get here you'll be no match for them. Let me go now, I'll take Amanda and the children and no one needs to get hurt. "
Jack sighed. "I might not be a match for your team, but we're not alone."
Gesturing with his eyes to a large cliff just above them, Walt took in a sharp intake of breath. Sitting there, staring down, calm and prepared was a giant silver wolf with sharp blue eyes.
Just then Walt Fischer's team arrived and all at the same time, they followed his eyes up the cliff to the large wolf gazing down. "What the holy hell is that?" asked one of his operatives, but before he could answer, the wolf threw back his head and let out a howl that literally shook the ground.
Jack looked at the group. "This is your last warning, leave now and don't look back. The wolf is a Protector and will stop at nothing to assure the safety of Amanda and her children - you can't win and I would like to spare everyone a blood bath this afternoon."
The team looked from one to the other and feeling defeated, Walt said, "You haven't seen the last of us."
The group ducked back behind the boulder and Jack shouted "You have exactly five minutes to get as far away from here as possible. Don't turn around, don't look back and leave Amanda alone. The next time we see you, we will NOT show the same mercy."
To punctuate the sentiment, the blue eyed wolf howled one last time as Walt Fischer and company ran through the woods.
Amanda and the children could feel the ground shake from inside the cave as the wolf with blue eyes howled but they did as Jack had asked and stayed put. Although their world seemed as if it were crumbling around them most days, Amanda felt a strange sense of calm; somehow understanding there was a much bigger picture to this story. As she hugged the children tighter, she vowed to make amends with Jack, realizing now the emptiness she would feel without him.
Jack. Her stalwart friend and loyal supporter. Amanda silently chastised herself once again for growing so cross with him. After all, he had only ever wanted what was best for her, and as she continued to think about him and about all the times he was there to listen, to laugh with, or to lend a helping hand a growing realization began to dawn on her; she truly cared about this man. Perhaps more than she had ever realized, perhaps so much that...
A small grey haired man with brilliant blue eyes walked into the cave, and Amanda startled. Was this one of Walt Fischer's men?
Before she had a chance to say anything the blue eyed man walked toward her, "Precious child Amanda, do not be afraid. I am your Protector, hear to take you and the children on the next leg of your journey."
"But where is Jack?" asked Amanda, her eyes threatening to fill with tears.
"Jack is gone," said the Protector kindly, "He has fulfilled his obligation to keep you and the children safe. But there is much work to be done still and only little time. Come everyone, I have somewhere to take you.
Without having be told further Amanda knew she could trust the Protector - in much the same way she had always known she could trust Jack. But as she walked with the children out of the cave her heart filled with a loneliness and a longing more intense than she had ever experienced in her life and as the first rays of sunlight hit them, Amanda realized she loved Jack. Deeply and without reservation and as the thought flooded her mind and her heart she choked back a tiny sob.
As if reading her mind the Protector turned around. "He was your Watcher child. Of course you feel bonded to him - but he was never meant to be have a permanent place in your life. It is bigger than that. There are other plans."
And with that he picked up a large wooden stick lying in the dirt. Turning it to the left three times and chanting "Ilysium Zanzibar" the stick turned into a golden staff with a large white ball on the end. Suddenly the forest to their right parted and a long path formed. "Follow me child, the journey continues...
Heading backward from the direction they had come, Jack fought to hold back his tears. Men weren't supposed to cry and Watchers weren't supposed to fall in love. But both were happening. Though he knew she would be safe with her Protector, Jack felt sick with loss. As decreed, he and Amanda could never see each other again.
Wiping the tears from his eyes, Jack continued the climb back up and out of the forest when he heard an usual rustling just to his right.
"Hold it right there Wilson," Art Fischer stepped out of the trees along with his eight henchmen, all armed and pointing their guns at him. "We may be leaving the forest without Amanda, but we're not leaving without you. You're coming back with us. The Association wants to talk with you."
At that exact moment Amanda stopped on the path. Her face went white and she let out a startled cry. Her Protector turned around and asked "What is it child?"
"It's Jack," she said, He's in danger, we have to go back."
"We can't go back child," said her Protector feeling confused. The bond had been broken, Jack had left, it was unheard of that Amanda would still be sensing thought patterns from him - he, as her Protector, had severed the link himself, ensuring the two would be able to let each go more easily - so how then was she sensing the danger Jack was in?
"I'm not leaving him," said Amanda, "Not now and not ever. Jack is in danger and I won't let him go."
Raising her hands, some kind of ancient knowledge flooded her brain, "Fly and freeze," she shouted to the winds and in a whirl she was picked up and flown up and out of the pathway. With another turn of her hand, the entryway closed leaving her Protector and the children on the other side.
"Protect my children," she cried, "I'm going to find Jack..."
Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Cherry Hill!
Lyndsay Wells is a professional trainer, writer, and program developer with a passion for food and cooking. She is an award winning recipe developer, and a website ambassador for Kraft Foods Canada. Lyndsay believes cooking should be approachable and easy and has great tips and ideas for putting together sophisticated looking dishes that cooks of all levels can accomplish.
Visit her daily on her blog, The Kitchen Witch or on her YouTube Channel, CHARMED With The Kitchen Witch.