"Orchard Peak" | mariteaux

"Come now, Colton, no one will bother you."

The Guardian drifted, almost swimming through the air, through the worn, unpainted gate of the Apricot Bay orchard. Her large eyes had gone from their normal deep purple to a radiant emerald green, and she peeked her head around the trunks of the many trees, searching for stragglers. Colton followed close behind; her presence soothed like nothing else could've.

Peculiar glowing orbs surrounded them both, their colors matching those of the Guardian's eyes. Colton put a finger up to his mouth and tilted his head, puzzled as to their purpose.

"Those are my feelers, Colton," she cooed as she descended gently back to the ground. "I can't tell much without them."

"What do you feel with them?"

She paused to think of how to put it. "Gut feelings. Things you feel and you can't quite place."

The orchard itself was in full bloom for the time of year; trees neatly arranged in long, sprawling rows and teeming with life. Vibrant buds, all pink and white, covered some of the trees from branch to trunk; others bore fruit, and spots of red and orange speckled the deep green of their leaves.

The Guardian's silk shawl swayed in the high elevation winds. "Are you hungry, Colton?"

"I'm—well—I couldn't take any of your fruit, Guardian, really."

"Nonsense. The orchard's there for those who need it."

It didn't take much more convincing to get Colton to swipe a Honeycrisp from the lower branches of the nearest tree. Before he was even back on the ground, he'd sunk his fangs into it and was hard at work reducing it to a core.

The Guardian smiled, and her eyes returned to their normal color. "So...you said you had business in Apricot Bay?"

Colton looked up from his apple and nodded. "Yes. It's—about a girl I know, and her name is Penny."

"Hm, Penny..." She'd heard the name, but had trouble placing it.

"Ah—she's an orange kitty?"

"Oh! Yes, her. Deary me, mischievous one. Were you friends?"

"Yeah—I think. For a little while. I met her at the docks in The City, and then I—ruined it. And now I want to apologize."

The Guardian nodded. "I'm sure she'll forgive you, Colton."

"It's—also not just her. It's her friend, Sebastian."

Oh yes—Sebastian. The Guardian didn't need to be reminded of who he was. Sometimes, City folk came off as merely misguided; often, they were more like him. It wasn't often she saw a threat, but between him and his aardwolf friend, she had more than enough reason to.

"And what about him?"

"I—don't think he'll forgive me."

"Mm, I'm not surprised. Why wouldn't he, if I might ask?"

Colton seized up. He began nervously fiddling with the half-devoured apple in his paws, and even another quiet blast of the Guardian's nerve-calming spray didn't do much. "Well—last time I saw him, he—pointed a gun at me—"

"He did what?" The Guardian was incensed, enough for her ghostly gecko form to warp and fizzle in the summer sun. Her face grew pointed, and the purple of her eyes melted to a deep, violent red.

Colton panicked. "I-I lied to him! He was trying to protect her—"

"I knew it. I just—knew it."

"P-please don't be mad at him! It was my fault, I grabbed her! Just—be mad at me...I deserve it..."

The red in her eyes yellowed to gold, and the gecko stopped responding. A suffocating silence hung over them; even the breeze seemed to calm for a time. Colton took another bite or two of the apple, finishing off its flesh before tossing it into the wooded hills past the fence of the orchard.

At long last, the Guardian exhaled. "I'm sorry, Colton. My anger gets the better of me around—those people."

"Please don't be mad at him. He was only trying to protect Penny."

"...Fine. Don't expect me to be kind to more of that behavior."