There were days when Lian Smith found her life profoundly blessed. There’d been sadness and pain. The loss of a husband. Alienation from her family. Those still weighed on her, but against them she was able to balance the birth of two daughters, a second wedding to a man as loving as her first husband had been and, recently, the gift of the planet’s heart and soul.
She’d never imagined being cast onto the world stage but, like so many other changes in her life, it had come at her when she least expected it. One moment she was at home reviewing some chemical plant designs, the next she was a victim of a fairy kidnapping and then the next her eldest daughter was handing her the laurels of Gaia. It had seemed insane at the time, but as with most things, even an incredible change can become routine after you’ve had to live with it for long enough.
Not that she’d had a lot of routine in her life since she took up Gaia’s mantle. Being the bearer of the planet’s heart had made her a prime target for all kinds of crazy world conquerors and alien invaders. The mantle had the power to defend itself, but it turned out that she hadn’t needed to use it all that much. Part of that was because there were a whole lot of people with a vested interest in protecting life as it existed on Earth. That number included her eldest daughter Jin and, as it turned out, her step-son James.
James had revealed himself as the hero known as “Aegis” after the “night the world went crazy” (as Lian named the night she’d become taken up Gaia’s mantle). Aegis was the champion of Athena, the leader of a group of Olympian demi-gods, and essentially indestructible. With a phone call he call down Zeus’ wrath or have Hades drag someone to the underworld. What was surprising to most people was that, compared to Jin or herself, James was the weakest of the three.
The mantle of Gaia pre-dated the Olympian gods. It predated humanity and even the earliest dinosaurs. When the first cellular life had risen out of the primordial goo, Gaia’s power had been there. When the Earth was covered in miles of ice and life snuffed out across its surface, Gaia was still there with the microscopic living creatures that were too tough to give up even in the face of global annihilation. To say that the Gaia spirit was ancient was to mistake it for something measurable on a human scale.
Lian wasn’t the first to carry the mantle and she knew she wouldn’t be the last. She also knew that compared to her daughter she was like blade of grass looking at the Amazon jungle.
She’d spoken with Jin about her powers on a few occasions, when her daughter was troubled or just feeling talkative. James called Jin a Shaper, but Lian was fairly sure that words couldn’t really do justice to what her daughter had become that night. The one thing that she was sure of though was that whatever she’d become, Jin had found some way to hang on to the girl she was.
Jin had confided in her mother that her greatest fear had been thinking that she’d changed so profoundly that Lian wouldn’t recognize her. Lian had her own issues, and hadn’t always been that reasonable about superhuman shenanigans, but looking at Jin, even on that crazy night, it had been so clear to her that the little girl she loved more than life itself was right there before her.
No matter where Jin went or how she changed, Lian believed she would always know her daughter. There was a core of kindness to Jin that always shone through and that Lian could feel nothing but proud of. That Lian had the added advantage of a planet’s worth of wisdom to help her see things as they truly were was just an added bonus.
This made it even more perplexing when she entered her hotel room and found that Peri, her littlest, was missing.
Like most mothers at finding one of their young out of place, Lian’s first reaction was a jolt of panic. The earthquake that shook Syndey was only a mild one though and was barely felt through the rest of Australia.
Since a panicky planet can be problematic in a lot of ways, Lian forced herself to breath and turn her attention to locating Peri before she reacted in anything like a forceful fashion. Staying calm wasn’t that much of a challenge though because, on some level, Lian knew Peri was okay. She’d made it a habit to always subconsciously monitor the little girl, after Peri had run away through a rift that appeared under her bed one day. In this case, Peri hadn’t gone quite that far.
“Oh hello there, is this little one yours?” a young woman with a baby in her arms said when Lian walked over to the room next door in the hotel. Behind the woman, Peri and another young girl of about the same age were playing with some kind of action figures.
Lian sighed and smiled gratefully.
“Yes. I see she’s been making friends.” Lian said.
“I think she noticed how bored Ariel was.” the woman said with a laugh.
“She’s pretty clever like that. I’m trying to figure out how she got out of our room in the first place though?” Lian said.
“Umm, that would be my fault I’m afraid.” said a tiny man made entirely of wood.
“Seedly? You let her out of the room?” Lian asked.
“She was only supposed to be getting a candy bar! And I was going to be with her! And you were right here, so, you know, I didn’t think she could get into too much trouble.” Seedly looked as meek and apologetic as it was possible for a vaguely human shaped tree man to look.
“I hope they haven’t been a bother?” Lian said, addressing the woman with the baby.
“Not at all. Nice to have someone to keep Ariel’s attention off bothering her sister for longer than five minutes to be honest.” the woman said.
“Maybe we could open the doors between the rooms so that they could play together in both areas?” Seedly suggested.
“Then we’d both need to watch out for them.” Lian said.
“I could handle that if you’d like?” Belle said, stepping out of Lian’s room to join the conversation. Lian knew the dark haired young woman hadn’t been there a moment earlier, which suggested she’d encountered something interesting and had been forced to teleport directly to their room to get there in time for their agreed upon meeting.
“It’s no bother, but if you’d like to give them some space to run that’d be fine too. Ariel’s a terror if she doesn’t get a little run down before nap time.” the woman said.
“If you’ve got the time?” Lian asked Belle. In truth she was asking whether whatever crisis Belle had discovered was one she needed to act on immediately. Belle was swift enough to pick up on the subtext and shook her head, waving off Lian’s concern.
“Certainly. I was just planning on a quiet afternoon of reading. Maybe I can get the girls to tell me some stories instead?” Bell suggested.
That turned out to be the start of a week long series of outings for the two girls. With Lian needing to spend time in the scientific conference that had brought her to Sydney, most of Peri and Ariel’s trips were supervised by either Belle and Seedly or Ariel’s whole family plus Belle and Seedly.
It wasn’t until Friday, at the end of the conference, as Lian trundled back to her room that she noticed she hadn’t managed to take Peri anywhere interesting herself in the whole week they’d been there.
“Mommy, do we have to go home tomorrow?” Peri asked.
“I’m afraid so. We need to get you back on a normal sleep cycle for pre-school next week.” Lian said.
“Do you think we could take Ariel with us?” Peri asked.
“Her family would miss her if we did that, don’t you think?” Lian said.
“No, I mean. I want to show her someplace fun.” Peri said.
“I thought you two went all sorts of fun places this week. Belle was telling me you went to the beach, and to the aquarium and to an ice cream store.” Lian said.
“Yeah, but I wanted to show her some place really fun.” Peri said. Lian was familiar with the determined tone in her daughter’s voice. Jin got the same tone too when her mind was set on something, and Lian supposed she must have as well. When she was young and a terror to her parents.
“Where did you have in mind?” Lian asked, knowing that her youngest wouldn’t be that set on an idea if she hadn’t already had a location in mind.
“I was telling her about how big the Grand Canyon is, and she couldn’t believe it. She said she’d never seen anything that could be that big before.” Peri said.
“So you want to take Ariel to the Grand Canyon? What about the rest of her family?” Lian asked.
“Oh, I guess they can come too.” Peri said.
That was how Lian wound up leading a tourist party of eight through one of great scenic wonders of the American South West.
About midday, while they stopped on the trail, Lian found herself watching Peri and Ariel shrieking with delight over a tiny lizard they’d discovered. The lizard was on it’s best behavior with the thought of biting the tiny humans the absolute farthest thing from its primitive mind. Gaia was very clear that it was to enjoy the attention and, possibly, perform some cute antics if the situation called for it. Nothing more.
“You know, I don’t think I ever would have pictured myself in a place like this.” Seedly said as he plopped down beside Lian. “Course the same’s probably true for Ariel too. Guess that’s just how life goes though.”
Just how life goes? Lian thought about that. About the pain and loss that inevitably awaited in the girls’ futures. This one day wouldn’t make up for that. What was clear for the first time was that it didn’t have to. There would be other good days to go along with the bad ones and neither would cancel the other out. In the end, life wasn’t about having nothing but good days, it was an adventure and the grandest adventures were the ones you went on with the people you loved.