III

“Right,” Lozerief began with a sour frown. “Who is this, and why is she here?”

“I have no idea!” Iziser complained, stepping in front of Pejemer. “She just let herself into the palace! I didn’t know what to make of it!”

Lozerief sighed. “Let the woman speak for herself.” She motioned Iziser aside, and he stepped away, watching the conversation from the sidelines. “Who are you, miss, and what are you here for?”

“I’m a Guardian,” Pejemer answered coldly. “Of the Hero of Cognition.”

“Mmm,” Lozerief hummed. “And, how did you find his Honorable Hero of Cognition, if I might ask, seeing as he’s not realized, nor has existed?”

“I was driven here on pure instinct,” Pejemer explained. “To this place. To that Hero.” She pointed to Iziser.

“Mhm.” Lozerief nodded. “If that were the case, miss, what instinct drove you here? What feat of biology binds you to this boy?”

Pejemer frowned and thought. “I do not know,” She answered, leaning up against the wall. “All I know is that I was driven here, and if I leave, I’ll just be driven here again.”

Lozerief sighed. “So, basically, you just want to stay in this palace for no reason?”

“Frankly, ma’am, I want to protect His Honorable Hero of Cog-“

“Would you please stop saying that!” Izi complained. “There is no Hero of Cognition. It doesn’t exist. There are only three Heroes: The Hero of Language, the Hero of Life, and the Hero of Earth!”

“Then, why are there six magic types?” Pejemer asked the boy. “If, indeed, there were only three Heroes, would it not make sense for there also to be three magic types? The fact of the matter is this: everyone needs a Hero. Sometimes, the only Hero to be is yourself.”

“You sound like an overgrown fortune cookie left in the rice cooker too long,” Iziser grumbled.

“If, indeed, In Iziser were the Hero of Cognition,” Lozerief began again. “How would it be proven? What feature would prove that he was the fourth Hero?”

“Logically,” Pejemer began, “perhaps it’s better to think of it in other words.” She sat down in a chair, reaching behind her short hair to give it a scratch for a second. “If indeed he were some ordinary cognitive magician, then his powers would be limited, docile, and easily controlled.” She paused for another moment. “But, if indeed he were the Hero, his powers would be volatile and difficult to wield, yes?”

“Your logic is sound,” Lozerief muttered. “But that proves nothing.”

“Then,” Pejemer responded, looking over to the boy, “Mister In, please take off your wristband.”

“No,” he hissed. “And you can’t make me.”

“That’s true,” Pejemer agreed. “I can’t. I just want you to trust me.”

“Why would I trust you?” He asked skeptically. “You’re probably just some wacko cosplayer who wanted to say they spent the night in the palace if we’re being honest.”

“And while that may be the case,” Pejemer answered, “I have proven that my skin is, indeed, white as snow, and that my horns are real as a ram’s. If I’ve been honest thus far, why would I lie?”

Iziser pondered the question for a moment. 

“Irrelevant,” Lozerief answered for him. “The point is we don’t know if you can be trusted.”

“No, no,” Iziser began, finally convinced. He started sliding the wristband off of his wrist while a horrified Lozerief looked on, eyes wide with fright. Almost immediately, Iziser’s body turned into just a blur of an object before he appeared in two places at once. “Quantum entanglement,” Iziser explained before snapping the wristband back on as his dopplegänger disappeared. “But I can’t be the Hero of Cognition!”

“You most certainly can,” Pejemer responded.

“And are,” Lozerief added in shock, now also convinced.

“Miss Eheste,” Iziser groaned. “Not you, too!”

“It’s pretty evident,” She responded. “She clearly must be your Guardian.”

“There’s no way!” Iziser complained more. He tried to restrain himself from saying ‘she’s hideous!’, although it wouldn’t have necessarily been true. Though she was quite lanky and tall, Pejemer was no hideous monstrosity. 

“There is no way any longer, of course,” Pejemer answered, “because it is here now.”

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“Ugh!” Iziser exclaimed, propping his foot up against the wall as he crossed his arms. He knew it was true–there was no other explanation for it–but something in the back of his head started blaming Eheste Lozerief for the actions of the previous few days. It had been her fault any of this ever started.

“Look at it this way, Izi,” Lozerief added. “Pretend that Pejemer is more of a second Guardian to you, right behind me.”

“I don’t want it to be that way!” He complained. “I’m seventeen! My coronation is in three days! Why does it matter now what some tall, horned woman says is true?”

Pejemer and Lozerief both looked at him in shock. Iziser stared back. The only sound that could be heard for a few seconds was the sound of a clock next to the door that ticked and tocked away the time. 

Lozerief sighed. “Just let her stay, Izi,” Lozerief began quietly. “She won’t hurt you.”

“Damn right she won’t!” Iziser teleported off in a final fit of anguish.

Pejemer sighed. “I am quite sorry,” she admitted. “That any of this happened when it did.”

Lozerief looked down and sighed, hunched over herself. “I feel like, all this time, I’ve been missing something, Miss Pejemer,” Lozerief admitted. 

Pejemer tilted her head. “Can you elaborate, Honorable Hero?”

“Oh please,” Lozerief chuckled, returning to her normal posture. “You can call me Lozef. And yes, I can elaborate: Dolgof, Hero of Life, has Asaqua, her Guardian. Pægjôm, Hero of Language, has Céi, her Guardian. None of their Guardians are human, and your very existence has proven one hypothesis that I started long, long ago,” She admitted. “One that means I’ve left something very important along the way.”

“What do you mean to insinuate, Honorable Lozef?” Pejemer responded curiously.

“You’ve read the Epic of the Hero of Life, yes?” Lozerief asked.

“I have,” Pejemer agrees. “I’ve read it three times over the centuries.”

“Then you must know that the Hero of Earth fought the Demon of Earth, right?” Lozerief asked.

Pejemer nodded.

Lozerief sighed. “I believed that Demon was no demon at all, but rather, my Guardian in disguise, whom I was initially supposed to beat, and then stay with for protection.” She shook her head, memories flooding back too quickly for her liking. “I ran from that island, where my friend died. Where Iziser’s father died–the first time, presumably. Head General Xåjas reportedly died of lung cancer some years ago.” She shook her head again. The blood, the boulder, and the sailboat were all too real for her; they were too vivid to talk about right then. It had been nine hundred years but it was too early for her to talk about it. 

Lozerief shook her head once again. “But… I believe that’s what I left on that island, but I may never know.”

“Were you planning to go there?” Pejemer asked with intrigue. “Were you planning to go see if you were right?”

“I hope, one day, that I’ll be strong enough to face my fears of that island. That I’ll be bigger, and stronger than I am now. But, I’ll face the facts: I’m not growing any older, or taller, or stronger. I’m only staying still, like the old bush I am.” Lozerief paused for a moment to look up into Pejemer’s eyes.

The Guardian smiled back, reaching her hand out to hold Lozerief’s comfortingly. “It’s okay,” She responded. “Nine hundred years of living and you’re still trying to find yourself. That’s perfectly fine.” She relaxed. “There’s nobody else who’s going to do it for you.”

Lozerief relaxed. “Thank you,” She began after a brief pause, hand still gripping Pejemer’s. “I’ve decided: I’ll make it a point to see if I was correct before the end of the year.” She nodded.

“That’s the spirit,” Pejemer responded with a smile, dropping her hand. “I think I’m going to like it here.”

Lozerief agreed with a smile.