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Taylor's Time!


Ooh, look at that!

Taylor's getting all fancy with AI art!


It's hard to remember, from where I am, that AI's in your time are finicky and primitive, totally lacking in anything we'd call intuitive decision-making.


Anyway, what do you think?


I love it!


Today we're back to the world of Jack and Taylor in The Last Guardian, and Taylor has a special surprise!


A sneak peek at the work in progress for -- well, I'll let you see for yourself.


- Kendra



Art courtesy of Jasmine Evingham


The Last Guardian



The Promise


Taylor


"His last seizure was thirty minutes ago," Zachary said. "He seems to be getting some of his strength back. The worst is over. You'll be safe here."


I felt his hand touch my shoulder, but I didn't react. My face was cold despite the still full mug of soup that steamed in my hands. His hand left me and he ventured into the hallway. I heard the door to the guest room open, then softly close. I sat quietly, trying to forget the sight of Jack's broken body on the floor of our kitchen and the terror I felt as I sat with him, punching Zachary's number into my cell phone.


And that wolf. The wolf who caused this. She hadn't seen me sitting in the Bronco as she walked out of the cottage, then bolted into the trees. Or maybe she did see me out of the corner of her eye, and felt breaking into the Bronco was too risky, that someone might hear the shatter of glass or the scrape of claws on metal, and come running to destroy her. Whatever her reason, she left me alone, and I suppose I should've been grateful for that.


The cream colored wood of the walls was bright in the florescent light of the living room. Too bright. I wanted to get up, turn off the lights, and start a fire in the fireplace, but this wasn't my home. I missed the cottage, but we couldn't go back there, could we? The wolf knew where we lived and what we looked like. If we were to return, she would surely come back for me. For now, Jack and I were safe in Zachary's cabin, though I couldn't really find true comfort in it. Not like Zachary did. He liked the brightness of the place. He liked it's spacious interior, and it's too high ceilings.


A gentle paw rubbed my back and a familiar voice whispered into my ear.


"He'll be alright, Hun."


Lacey sat with me on the couch, her legs tucked beneath her. I turned my face to her. She was beautiful, with her pale blue eyes and adorable pink nose. Her pointy ears were tilted back, just a little; a gesture of concern. She smiled at me, a warm smile that told me that, yes Jack would be okay. I leaned against her and she took me in her arms. Her chest was like a pillow, so soft and comfortable that I could've fallen asleep. I didn't want to sleep. I just wanted to see Jack.


As if on cue, I heard the guest room door open and close again. My heart quickened at the sound of Zachary's heavy boots returning. He sat in a plaid chair across from Lacey and me before leaning forward and resting his elbows on his thighs.


"He's asking for you."

#


Unlike the rest of the house, the guest room was warm and comfortable. A lamp sat on a cluttered desk next to a small window and a bookshelf, casing its weak light. The sight of Zachary's books on medicinal herbs and the history of Guardians reminded me my books were back at the cottage, along with everything else I loved.


Or almost everything.


In the soft light of the lamp and moon I saw Jack, curled in a nest of blankets, his head against a pillow. I closed the distance between us, crouched beside the bed, and watched with overwhelming relief as his sunny eyes fluttered open.


"Tay-lor," he breathed.


His voice was hoarse. I laid my hand on the side of his face and ran my fingers through the fur on his cheek.


"I'm here, Jack." I hoped my voice soothed him. "I'm right here."


Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a mug of hot tea on the bedside table. I wondered what was in it, until I remembered watching Zachary prepare the stuff. He'd taken the herbs he'd gathered from the woods and brewed them. The terrible smelling concoction would detox Jack's body and stop the seizures. It hit me then: my friend's creativity and brains most likely saved my Guardian from dying a horrible death. I hadn't even thanked him yet.


Jack's dark whiskers brushed my hand as they twitched. He struggled for breath.


"Tay, I'm-"


I rubbed his ear.


"Shhh. Listen, don't speak."


He swallowed, loud enough for me to hear, and I wondered if he was still feeling sick. He'd awoken briefly as we sped through the woods, only to throw up in Zachary's truck and seize before losing consciousness again. A sharp pain tore through my stomach, but I was determined to not let it register on my face. Slowly, my fingers traced over the lumpy scar tissue on his muzzle and jaw as I recounted all that had happened. His brow furrowed as he listened to me talk of finding him unresponsive on the floor.


When I finished speaking, Jack let out a low whimper. It was the most miserable sound I'd ever heard him make. It frightened me.


"What hurts?" I asked.


He stayed silent. After a long moment, he reached out for me, as feeble as a new pup, and cupped the side of my face with his paw. I felt like crying. Jack frowned, because he knew it.


"I'm sorry, Tay." His voice was a croak. "I'm so sorry."


Tears were in his eyes.


"It's ok, Jack." I fought to keep my voice steady.


"No it's not. I shouldn't have left you like that. If it wasn't for you, I-"


He stopped, his yellow eyes flicking away from mine. I knew what he didn’t say. If it wasn't for Zachary and I, Jack would be dead. I turned my face away and let Jack's paw fall from where it rested on my cheek. I didn't want to think about this anymore. I just wanted to sleep, to snuggle close to Jack and drift into dreams. Jack must've known this, because he lifted the blankets and made space for me on the bed. Though he still looked weak, I guessed he was probably feeling better, because the wounds to his chest and stomach were healed. I climbed in and pressed against him until I felt nothing but the heat of his body and the beat of his heart.


After a long moment, Jack whispered to me. "I need to tell you something."


I didn’t open my eyes.


'What is it?"


I heard him swallow again.


"Before you found me," he began, voice husky, as if the words hurt to say "She - the wolf told me that I wasn't born to protect you."


I said nothing. I didn't know what I could say. Jack had taken care of me for as long as I could remember. He cared for me even as a pup, even before he was old enough to be called a Guardian. He'd protected me from the older children who bullied me for my slowness at learning throughout our childhood. Once, when Dennis had taken us on one of our weekly outings, Jack kept me from tumbling head first into a raging river after I ventured too close to its edge. Jack had always protected me. Like he was born for it. Of course, he was born for it.


I moved away, so we were face to face now, our noses nearly touching. I reached for the tag on his collar. My eyes found the silver writing engraved into the shiny blue metal background: "Jack: Guardian Of Taylor"


Every Guardian wore a tag like this, saying their first name and the name of the one they were sworn to protect. I touched the letters, my finger tracing over each one. I looked at Jack.


"I had a dream last night. You were there. I couldn't see anything, but I knew you were there. A woman was talking to you. She asked you to keep a promise. To care for and protect me."


Jack didn't say anything. He looked down at my hand, then held it. I stared into his eyes. His beautiful eyes.


"You are my Guardian, Jack. You are mine and nobody else's. And I'm yours. I'll always be yours. You know that."


I took my hand from his grasp and reached to rub his ear. He leaned into my palm, and smiled.


"Thank you, Tay."


I smiled back at him.


"Do you ever wonder where we came from?"


I didn't mean to ask it, at least, not out loud, hut I did ask and there was no going back now. Jack sighed, like he was tired.


"Sometimes," he admitted.


"Do you ever dream about it?"


He nodded.


Without saying anything more, I lay down and cuddled up to him, into his thick fur. I felt his arms wrap around me, pulling me closer, his muzzle resting on the top of my head.


Just before I fell into sweet rest, I hoped I would have the dream again. I hoped I would hear the woman speak again, and hoped she would say more. And I wondered why it felt like a memory, instead of a dream.





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