* Fantasmal Mountain *
The sun slowly rose in the east, bathing Fantasmal Mountain in a warm golden light. This mountain was easily the largest on the small planet of Mendala. It stood on a slim isthmus between the southern continent of Candovia and the northern continent, Lumaria. Its ragged terrain had a light purple tint, a sign that there was quartz in the rock. The mountain was home to many things including the bustling city of Teedmount; the Fantasmal Libraries, the largest library in the world; and most importantly, the global governing body known as the Fantasmal Government, headed by a man referred to only by his rank, the Fantasma.
There was only one physical entrance to the mountain which was at the base on its north side. It was manned by two highly trained guards at all times, but it was hardly ever used since there were more efficient ways of entering and exiting. However, as morning settled in over the plains north of the mountain, a lone figure emerged from its entrance. He was an aged man with deep brown skin and long black hair that had only the beginnings of grey.
The two guards were stunned when he passed by, but they immediately bowed their heads in respect. “Morning, Chief Stokenshire,” one said.
The man gave a distracted wave as he walked purposefully into the expansive plains. It was clear he was in a hurry. The long, hooded, blue robe he wore over his clothes fluttered at his ankles as he quickened his pace.
Considered to be the greatest scholar in the world in a myriad of areas from history to spirituality, Franklin Stokenshire was chief librarian of the Fantasmal Libraries. He was also one of the top aids to the Fantasma. With such an esteemed position, it was odd that he was leaving the mountain by foot. The two guards exchanged confused looks as they watched his retreating figure but said nothing of it, assuming the brilliant scholar must have his reasons.
Before Franklin could make it halfway across the vast grasslands, another person appeared, as if from nowhere, in front of him. The short, young, fair-skinned woman now standing in his path had long flowing brown hair and emerald-green eyes that shone with intelligence and mischief. She wore a blue robe, similar to Franklins, but hers had a purple belt around the waist, whereas Franklin’s belt was white. In addition, she held a tall, ornately carved wooden staff that was curved in a hook at the top. Her name was Sharanel Quicksilver, and she was a quickener, a person who could instantly transport from one location to another with the aid of her staff.
“Fantasma’s looking for you,” she announced without preamble. “He wants to talk before he meets with General Rockwall. What are you doing out here?” she added, looking around in confusion.
Franklin sighed. The unannounced appearance of a quickener was never a startling event, but he was still flustered. “Sharanel, I wasn’t expecting anyone to come looking for me. Sorry, but I can’t meet with Fantasma right now. I have an errand that must be attended to. It’s of the highest importance.”
Sharanel raised an eyebrow at this, clearly curious. “What’s more important than seeing the Fantasma? Where are you even going?”
"To the northern marker to meet my nephew. I needed a family quickener, and he was happy to oblige."
Sharanel’s expression went from curious to indignant. “What? There are a thousand quickeners in the mountain that could take you where you want to go, including me. I could have one here in an instant; after all, I am the chief quickener,” she said with a proud and slightly playful smile.
Sharanel was only seventeen but held one of the highest positions in government due to her genius-level skill as a quickener. Her official title was Fantasmal Quickener, and she was one of only a few people who reported directly to the Fantasma.
Franklin’s frustration melted at the young girl’s smile. Though not related by blood, he did regard her as fondly as he would one of his own nieces or nephews. “Indeed you are, and of course I would have come to you if I could, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Sorry, but I must go.” He sidestepped the quickener and continued on his way.
Undeterred, Sharanel fell in step beside him. “But Fantasma is meeting with General Rockwall about the monster attacks. I’m sure he wants your insight before he does. Can’t you just come see him before you leave?”
Franklin shook his head. “That’s the whole reason I’m going. I may have a critical lead about these mysterious monsters appearing all over the world. If I’m right, then…well I have to be sure first.”
“Well, what am I supposed to tell Fantasma?” Sharanel said. “I can’t just go back to him with nothing.”
“Tell him that this trip concerns my highest duty as a Stokenshire; he’ll understand.” Franklin quickened his pace. “I’ll be back soon; I promise.”
Sharanel gave a huff of annoyance but didn’t follow. She tapped her staff on the ground and vanished in an instant, leaving Franklin on his solo trek across the plains.
* Gibano Mountains *
Far south of Fantasmal Mountain, in the Gibano Mountain Range, another man was making his way, alone, up a steep, narrow mountain path. This man had dark-brown skin, similar to Franklin’s, but was far younger than the aged librarian. He had short black hair and golden-yellow eyes that matched the gold hoop in his right ear. He also wore a long purple robe tied with a silver belt.
Like most robes, the color combination was not a matter of style, but instead marked his official rank. Anyone looking at him would be able to immediately tell that this man, Karmandrian Jorbedus, was a guardian.
Guardians were highly regarded throughout the world; even a king would be excused for bowing his head to a member of this elite class who had powers that outmatched all but a handful of people. The rank, and the abilities it came with, could only be granted by the Fantasma, and once a person was promoted to guardian, they served the Fantasma from then on. Their roles throughout the world varied, but they used their extraordinary powers primarily for public service.
Karmandrian, who had only held the position of guardian for less than a year, was assigned to an area of the northern Gibano Mountains. He patrolled the towns that dotted the region and served in a myriad of capacities including law enforcement, political advisor, magistrate, and more, depending on the situation.
Though he enjoyed the power and privilege granted by his rank, Karmandrian was not particularly happy with his assignment in the mountains. He had hoped for a far more prestigious post, or perhaps one that allowed him to stay in the comfort of Fantasmal Mountain. Being posted deep in the mountains meant constant travel from town to town, and accommodations that were far less luxurious than those offered by Fantasmal Mountain or even a large city.
What was worse, because of all of the quartz in the mountains, travel by quickener wasn’t an option, which meant he was forced to walk everywhere he went. This was something he found very degrading despite the fact that, as a guardian, he could walk nearly all day without even a hint of fatigue.
The morning sun peeking between the tall mountains to illuminate the beautiful scenery that surrounded the narrow path did nothing to improve Karmandrian’s sour mood. He’d risen earlier than he’d have liked in order to give his monthly report to the supervising guardian of the region, Jason Yasil, who was stationed in the mining town of Peedersburg.
For the last two hours, the young guardian had been wracking his brains to figure out a way to convince Yasil to alter his assignment, even if just slightly.
“Maybe I could ask him to let me cover the forest towns instead,” he muttered to himself. “Though it probably wouldn’t be much better down there. If I could just get assigned to Eddingsburg, that would be perfect…but there’s just no way.”
Karmandrian shook his head in frustration. Guardian assignments were typically twenty years in length. Though this could be considered a relatively short stint since a guardian’s lifespan was over three-hundred years, he still didn’t want to spend that long in the Gibano Mountains shuffling about from town to town. Just as he was trying to think of a new tactic to gain reassignment, his nose caught a whiff of something strange.
“Is that…fire?” Though miles away from Peedersburg, Karmandrian’s enhanced sense of smell could still detect what he knew had to be a raging fire in the direction of the small town.
Alarm bells went off in his head. Something was definitely wrong. Even with his better than average agility, it would still take a long time to reach Peedersburg, so he decided to temporarily boost his speed beyond the normal limits of a guardian. For this, he would need to use mandamus, a skill that only guardians and certain others could use.
“Mentenus Speed,” he called in a deep, authoritative voice. With that, he took off down the trail with lightning speed.
“What in Alaman’s name…”
Karmandrian was dumbstruck as he looked down at Peedersburg. From his position at the top of the mountain path that led down into the town, he could see multiple buildings on fire. It was a mix of red and blue flames. The blue flames were especially troubling as it was a clear indicator that someone had used mentus to create the fire and purposefully set the city ablaze.
Unlike mandamus, nearly everyone could use mentus, so Karmandrian’s first thought was that the nearby town of Hiddlesbee had attacked. This wouldn’t be uncommon as the two towns were fighting over the rights to the plentiful mines in the area. The conflict had been going on for over two centuries, and it was only recently that they were even willing to consider a compromise. This was one of the reasons Yasil was currently stationed there, to help broker a peace agreement.
Of course, that was easier said than done, and people from the two towns had continued to attack one another. If that was what had happened, then there was nothing Karmandrian could do. He had incredible power as a guardian, enough to tip the scales of battle in either direction, but guardians were forbidden from participating in conflicts or wars between domains. He could, at most, protect any non-combatants trying to escape the battlefield.
However, as he continued to observe the mountain town, Karmandrian soon realized that this was no typical battle. From his high vantage point, he could easily scan the area, seeing everything clearly, not just using his natural eyes, but also by using his mind’s eye to see far more than his physical vision could show him. He was looking at the scene through the mentant realm, and because of this he could easily sense much of what was going on throughout the town.
Hundreds of people lay dead. It looked like almost the entire population of Peedersburg had been slain, and it wasn’t hard to find the culprits. Lumbering down every street of the small town were large, pig-faced creatures. There were dozens of them. Each looked to be over six feet tall with hooved feet, pudgy hands, pig snouts, and beady eyes. They all wore thick, leather armor and wielded various weapons including swords, maces, and spears.
Karmandrian had never seen a monster before. He’d heard stories, of course. There were creatures who sometimes made their way out from deep within the mountains to terrorize small towns, but these were few and far between. A monster hoard of this size was unprecedented.
Just as he was trying to determine if there were any survivors, Karmandrian heard a yell in the distance. He focused his attention on where the sound had come from and saw a fair-skinned, purple-robed man being beaten down by over a dozen of the pig creatures. The green hair was unmistakable; it was Yasil.
Karmandrian hesitated for only a half second before once again using mandamus to enhance his own speed despite it draining him somewhat. “Mentenus Speed.”
In an instant, the blur that was Karmandrian flew down the mountain trail and weaved expertly between the small buildings to reach his comrade on the far side of town. Just as he was closing in, however, several monsters moved to block him. He skidded to a halt, intending to find another path to avoid the creatures, but quickly realized that he’d been surrounded.
“These things are fast,” Karmandrian muttered. They weren’t as fast as him, but they moved far quicker than their huge bodies would suggest.
Undaunted, Karmandrian decided to take out these obstacles. If it was a fight they wanted, he’d give it to them.
“Summonous Sword,” Karmandrian commanded in the same deep voice. Immediately the sword of the pig-faced creature in front of him flew from its hands and toward the guardian, who caught it expertly.
Guardians never carried weapons but were trained to be highly skilled fighters. Sword in hand, Karmandrian didn’t hesitate to leap forward and slash at his now-unarmed opponent. Despite the force of his attack, the monster barely moved, and the sword strike did absolutely no damage.
“What?” Karmandrian checked the blade of his weapon as he jumped back, making sure it was actually sharp, but in that moment two more creatures moved to attack him, one with a spear, the other a mace. Karmandrian easily dodged both strikes, contorting his body to miss the spear thrust while batting the mace away with his borrowed sword.
He went back on the offensive, slashing out at two more creatures, but again his weapon did no damage.
Karmandrian quickly put distance between himself and his attackers. “What are these things?” he grunted, confused. He concentrated on his connection to the mentant realm, hoping he could glean more information from the monsters.
Now that he was closer, he could see that each of the creatures immitted an oppressively black aura only visible in the mentant realm. Not only that, but each of them had something etched on its forehead; again, only visible in the mentant realm. It was a star-shaped figure with eleven points. At the apex of each point was an indecipherable symbol.
Karmandrian had no idea what he was looking at. Even after all his years of guardian training, he’d never encountered or studied anything like this. Somewhere, deep inside of him, a strange uneasiness welled up, completely unbidden. The more he stared at the dark aura, the more he felt it, until a single word seemed to force itself into his head.
He had no idea how he knew, but he now understood the pig-faced creatures in front of him were called pogs. He could also tell that the pogs were foot-soldiers, speedy and powerful.
Before he could contemplate how he knew this or figure out another way to deal with the monsters that were quickly closing in on him, he heard another yell.
“Augh!” It was Yasil.
He’d wasted too much time fighting the pogs. He had to help Yasil. “Mandamus Wind!” he commanded. Immediately a powerful gust of wind blasted the monster directly in front of him into the air. This gave him the opening he needed. Karmandrian raced forward, once again trying to reach his comrade.
He didn’t enhance his speed, but he could still move quickly with his normal guardian abilities. He parried any weapon that tried to strike at him as he dodged and weaved his way toward Yasil, who was lying on the ground, bruised and bloodied. Several pogs were standing over the fallen guardian, repeatedly stabbing him with spears.
Even with the abnormally high healing factor of a guardian, there was no way Yasil could recover fast enough. Karmandrian could see that his wounds weren’t healing and it was easy to tell that the battered guardian was drained.
If I can just reach him, I can use mandamus to boost his healing and save him, Karmandrian thought frantically as he redoubled his efforts, but as if they could read his mind, even more pogs surrounded him and he was once again cut off.
“Curse the rocks!” Karmandrian screamed in frustration as he was knocked back by a mace that caught him off guard and sent him flying into the stone wall of a nearby house. Though he was slightly dazed, he managed to pick himself up quickly. “Yasil!” he shouted.
The green-haired guardian turned slightly at the sound of his voice. “Karmandrian,” he called weakly, coughing up blood. “Run…they can’t…be killed.” Another spear was thrust into his chest before he could say any more.
Karmandrian saw the life leaving his comrades eyes before he was once again surrounded by over a dozen pogs. His mind was racing, trying to figure out what to do.
“Another guardian?” came a soft voice that nevertheless carried. “Perhaps he’ll be smarter than his comrade.”
Karmandrian looked around for the source of the voice but saw nothing but pogs. He couldn’t tell if it was one of them that had spoken or if there was an actual person hiding in their midst. He didn’t have time to do a thorough scan of the mentant realm; he had to run.
“Mandamus Wind.” Once again Karmandrian used mandamus to blow open a path, but even as two pogs were thrown backward, more surged in to surround him.
“You’re not going anywhere, guardian,” called the unseen enemy.
Though he knew he risked draining himself to dangerous levels, Karmandrian had no choice but to make a break for it as fast as he could. He closed his eyes briefly before summoning all his resolve and calling out a more powerful version of his mandamus command. “Mittius Mentenus Speed!”
* Fantasmal Mountain *
Inside a small conference room near the top of Fantasmal Mountain, a man sat at the head of a short, rectangular table. He had dark-brown skin, short, black hair, and wore a long purple robe tied with a golden belt. This man’s birth name was Darius Wavemore, but ever since he’d sworn the oath to protect and serve the planet and people of Mendala, he was known only as “Fantasma,” the leader of Mendala’s global governing body.
He was one of the most powerful people in the world both politically and also in reference to his incredible abilities, which were far above guardian level. Despite all this, Fantasma found himself stymied. He’d spent his entire morning in meetings and none of them had netted any fruitful results. It was extremely frustrating.
“Uh, sir, did you hear me?” A concerned voice cut through his thoughts.
The only other person in the room was a fair-skinned man clad in a blue robe with a silver belt. He looked far older than Fantasma, especially with his silvery-grey hair, but his bright blue eyes were still sharp. Aside from the small ledger he was using as a reference, the man also held a golden scepter with a clear crystal at its tip.
His name was Honsmordin Pornabus, and both his robe and his scepter indicated that he held the rank of mind mage. This meant that he was highly skilled, though far less powerful than a guardian.
However, Honsmordin was not just any mind mage, he was Fantasma’s chief of staff, a position known as the Fantasmal Mind Mage. This meant that he, like Sharanel, was one of only a few people who reported directly to the Fantasma.
Fantasma turned to Honsmordin, who was seated to his right. He had a tired look on his face. “I’m sorry; I can’t really focus on staffing issues; I’m still thinking about this morning’s meetings.”
Honsmordin nodded. “I understand, sir. These monster attacks are truly a mystery. No one has been able to give much information, so we’re really in the dark. We don’t even know what they look like, and they’re popping up all over the four continents. At least General Rockwall has discovered a pattern; that’s a step in the right direction.”
Fantasma shook his head. “That’s what makes it worse. They’re attacking small remote towns, and they seem to only be going after places that are in wars or conflicts with neighboring towns. That description fits more than eighty percent of all small towns around the world, and what if it spreads to bigger cities, or countries. If the defining link is truly domains that are in conflict, that puts all but the major powers at risk.”
Honsmordin nodded. “I know its daunting, but all reports suggest that it’s still early. This has only been happening over the last six months. I suspect we still have time before it gets out of hand. We’ll figure something out. In fact,” Honsmordin turned to the double doors that led to the hallway, “I sense Franklin’s approach. Perhaps he has good news.”
Honsmordin had spotted the librarian in the mentant realm. Though people couldn’t use the mentant realm to see into the private meeting space, the specially synthesized quartz in the walls allowed him to freely see out.
Within a few seconds of Honsmordin’s announcement, Franklin burst into the room, looking as if he’d run the width of the mountain to reach them. “Fantasma, I’m sorry for not meeting with you earlier, but I was able to uncover pertinent information about these monster attacks that you need to know.”
Franklin was holding a small black book that looked to be almost falling apart. He marched quickly to the table and slid the book over to Fantasma, already open to a specific section.
As Fantasma scanned the page, his brown eyes grew wide. “No this can’t be. Where did you even get this book?”
“It was stored in a private collection,” Franklin said, though his answer sounded evasive.
Fantasma pushed the book away as if refusing it. “No, it simply cannot be!”
Honsmordin took the book and started to read, and his eyes also went wide. “Franklin, you can’t think that—”
“I’m going to need more than some old diary to substantiate this kind of claim,” Fantasma interrupted, folding his arms almost stubbornly.
“I know that,” Franklin said calmly. “I wouldn’t have come to you if I didn’t think this could be proven. Did you hear that there was another attack early this morning in Peedersburg?”
“What?” Fantasma was taken aback by this news. “How am I just now finding out about this?”
“It takes time for things to reach the top of the mountain,” Franklin said sagely. “I actually learned about it by happenstance a short while ago from my nephew who’s visiting Eddingsburg. Apparently, there was a survivor, and even better, it was a guardian. I’ve already asked Sharanel to arrange for his transport as quickly as possible.”
“Thanks Trinity,” Sharanel said brightly after one of her subordinates appeared in front of her with Karmandrian at her side.
The trio were in a large manmade cavern specifically designed to allow authorized quickeners to transport in and out of Fantasmal Mountain.
“Of course, Chief, let me know if you need anything else. I have links to most of the accessible mountain towns. I’m going to return to post.” The raven-haired quickener gave a brief bow before tapping her staff on the ground and disappearing.
The haggard looking Karmandrian stared at Sharanel with a dim sort of curiosity. “Chief?”
Sharanel nodded, her tone far more formal than usual. “Correct. I’m Sharanel Quicksilver, the Fantasmal Quickener. Nice to meet you Elder Jorbedus. I had Trinity quicken to Eddingsburg to retrieve you because Chief Stokenshire and the Fantasma want to speak with you immediately. I’ll take you now.” She didn’t wait for the stunned guardian to respond before heading for the door.
“Uh, okay,” Karmandrian said, still slightly confused. “How is she the Fantasmal Quickener?” he added with a mutter.
Sharanel pretended not to hear the comment as she led him down the wide, brightly lit corridor that was beyond the manmade cave.
Because of all the quartz throughout Fantasmal Mountain, Sharanel couldn’t use her staff to transport them directly to the conference room; this was a security feature of the mountain. Instead, they used the myriad of hallways and built-in transporters to reach their destination. Within a few minutes, Sharanel was pushing open the double doors to the conference room with Karmandrian close behind, still looking worn out.
“Thank you Sharanel,” Fantasma said. “Karmandrian, I’m glad to see you’re well. I heard about your encounter in Peedersburg.”
The guardian gave a brief bow. “Yes sir; I would have reported to the council sooner, but it took all I had just to reach Eddingsburg and I needed to rest before I made my way back to the mountain.” It was clear that he thought he was in some sort of trouble.
Fantasma waved away the apology. “It’s fine. We summoned you because these monster attacks are an urgent matter and you’re the first person who may be able to give us an accurate account of what’s happening. You can give your official report to Sorinson later, but for now, have a seat; we want to hear everything.”
Both Sharanel and Karmandrian took seats at the conference table, and Karmandrian relayed his tale, describing the destruction and carnage he saw once he reached Peedersburg. “I barely managed to make it out alive,” he said in conclusion. “I’m sorry, there was just no way I could rescue Yasil.”
“I understand,” Fantasma nodded. “Can you describe these creatures you saw?”
Karmandrian put his hand on the wooden table and closed his eyes to concentrate. “Mittius Mandamus Wood.” A small figure rose from the depths of the wood, a pudgy, pig-faced beast that looked slimy despite the medium it was being created from. It had a large pig’s snout, hooved feet, fat hands, and beady eyes.
“Such a thing,” Fantasma said with mixed fascination and disgust. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s called a pog,” Karmandrian said, “and there were dozens of them.”
This seemed to spark Franklin’s curiosity. “How did you know what it was?”
“It’s hard to explain. When I looked at the creatures in the mentant realm, they had a strange dark aura I’ve never seen before. It was like they were all linked to some external source of energy I couldn’t see. When I focused on that aura, I was able to understand what the creature was. I could even decern some of its abilities. It was similar to looking at a person in the mentant realm and reading their adimus signature, only the information seemed more detailed, and it felt almost like it was forced into my brain.”
Everyone stared in shock at this. It was normal to be able to see someone’s adimus signature in the mentant realm, which manifested as a type of colored aura, but what Karmandrian was describing sounded distinctly different.
Honsmordin, in particular, looked pale. He pulled the small black book closer and started reading intently, a move that didn’t go unnoticed by Franklin, but before he could comment, Karmandrian spoke again.
“There’s more. Every creature had something etched on its forehead; again, it could only be seen in the mentant realm. It was a strange star-shaped figure with eleven points, and at each of the points there was a different symbol.”
“Sir, I think you need to see this.” Honsmordin slid the aged book back to Fantasma and pointed furiously at something on one if its pages.
Fantasma took the book again and he immediately understood. “I can’t believe it,” he said breathlessly. “This can’t be happening.”
“I’m afraid it is though,” Franklin said gravely. “The young guardian’s testimony confirms it. Fantasma, as much as I hate to say this, it appears the Book of War has returned.”