* Gilmore *
The mountain city of Gilmore was one of the largest mining towns of the former era due to its proximity to multiple quartz mines in the northern Lumarian Mountains, including the rare zenith quartz mine. In addition to that, the town was home to many fine quartzsmiths and artisans who exported their works around the world. Unfortunately, as many of the quartz mines ran dry and zenith’s usefulness waned, Gilmore began to fade into obscurity. This seemed to be the inescapable fate of almost all mining towns.
Though now a dead town, the ingenuity of its quartzsmiths and engineers lived on in their finest creation: the central tower. At twelve stories tall, the cylindrical tower stood as a beacon in the middle of town, one of the tallest buildings ever built, double the maximum height of most modern structures. Even centuries after the town was abandoned, the central tower was a testament to those who once lived there.
Now the tower, and the town itself, was home to Lord Davron and his massive army, a hybrid of men and monsters all working together toward their leader’s goal of a new era of peace and equity throughout the world. The tower itself housed the majority of Davron’s top officials and staff, with Davron’s suite being on the top floor. As a result, the building was highly secure with only certain people allowed entry.
One such person was walking up the spiral staircase at the center of the tower, headed for the top floor. He was an aged, stocky man with light-beige skin and shoulder-length grey hair. He didn’t wear fatigues like most of the soldiers in Davron’s army. Instead, he wore a blue robe and red belt, denoting his rank as a channeler. Channelers were the second most common adimus rank, and they were skilled in the art of embedding mentus into quartz to create a myriad of objects from furniture to weapons to the very tower he was currently in. Embedded mentus was versatile and could accomplish a great many things, so channelers had endless opportunities for employment, depending on their skill.
After over seventy years of experience, Richard Foy was considered a master in his craft. He was a quartzsmith who specialized in the creation and repair of translifts, a highly difficult and complex quartz-based tool used for transportation between fixed points. He’d spent the majority of his career working in Fantasmal Mountain as one of the top quartzsmiths, having retired ten years prior. Now, however, the master smith had come out of retirement in order to serve Lord Davron.
As Foy reached the top of the staircase, he paused, adjusting his robe and taking a steadying breath. He was nervous, not out of fear but out of excitement. Though he’d been in the army for several weeks now, he’d yet to actually meet Davron face-to-face. This man, who had a bold plan for fixing the perils of this world, was someone Foy greatly admired. For years he’d felt helpless to do anything about the inequality he’d seen firsthand after leaving Fantasmal Mountain, but Davron promised an end to the ceaseless wars and most importantly, justice for those who’d died because of them.
After steeling himself, Foy stepped forward intent on knocking on the double doors that led to the topmost suite of the tower. However, before he could, one of the doors swung open, revealing another grey-haired man; this one in a blue robe and purple belt.
“It’s nice to see you Master Foy; what brings you here?”
Like most private rooms, the walls of Davron’s outer chamber were made of a special synthetic quartz that allowed those inside to scan the mentant realm beyond the room but did not allow those outside to see inside mentantly. Because of this, Gamdon Barkwick, chief quickener of Davron’s army, already knew that Foy was on the other side of the door.
Foy smiled. He and Gamdon had become fast friends after their first encounter, and he felt at ease around the quickener. “Sir, I know it’s late, but you asked me to come to you and Lord Davron as soon as I had an assessment of the situation.”
Gamdon waved him in. “I did indeed.”
He led Foy to a room where Davron and Jansdimion were already seated at a small table.
“I must admit, I’m shocked to hear from you so soon, Master Foy,” Davron said as he gestured for Foy to sit. “Can I assume this means you have good news?”
Foy took a seat. “Yes sire; after examining the translifts, I’m certain I can repair them and also reroute any ones you need. As long as I’m connecting to an existing translift, it should be relatively easy.”
Despite reporting good news, Foy was still nervous being in the presence of Davron and his top officials. He felt a bit out of place as he held no military rank, but he was eager to impress them. He continued his report, explaining his plans in more detail and was pleased to see that they all looked impressed by his thoroughness.
“I’ve already sent quickeners out to scout the appropriate translift sites,” Gamdon added when Foy finished his report. “Fortunately, Master Foy has knowledge of other defunct translifts that may be of use.”
Davron nodded approvingly. “Excellent. How long do you think this will take?”
“I’ve found a quartz workshop in town that has everything I need to make receiver stones. It’s underneath one of the stores on the main street and has an excellent forge. I’ve already gathered most of the materials. It shouldn’t take more than a few days, possibly less if I have some help. I just need to finish the receiver stone for Captain Calendon’s Cirinian raid. By the way, I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity, sire.”
“Oh, how do you mean?” Davron asked, looking slightly confused.
“Giving Calendon and the others the ability to avenge what happened to Portson by having them be the ones to subjugate those haughty summoners. They’re almost as bad as the Fantasmal Government,” Foy said with clear disdain in his voice. “I know that your goals aren’t about vengeance, but still, this feels right.”
A brief look passed between Davron and his chief officers, but Foy didn’t notice.
Gamdon spoke first, his tone inquisitive. “I had no idea you felt so strongly about this.”
“My son and his family died in Portson,” Foy revealed. “Calendon and the others lost family and friends too. I don’t think any of us can forget that day. Of course, Murrilogic was the most at fault, but the order…they have blood on their hands.
“It amazes me how all of these organizations—the Fantasmal Government, the Sunnin Social System, the Order of Nature—they’re all supposed to be these righteous forces for good, but none of them will put a stop to the never-ending tyranny that plagues this world. They sit back and do nothing.”
The aged man spoke with passion and grief in his voice. He’d served the Fantasmal Government all his life, and it was only in retirement that he realized how little the behemoth bureaucracy did to aid those who lived in the myriad of small towns throughout the world. He felt betrayed, especially after the death of his son, and it was this reason, more than anything, that he had willingly joined Davron’s army.
“I’m certain Calendon will do well,” Jansdimion said finally.
“Indeed, the heavens must truly be on our side.” Foy smiled. “Well, if I’m to get these translifts fixed as quickly as possible, I should get to work.”
“Thank you for your service, Master Foy,” Davron said. “If you need more resources or helpers, talk to Gamdon. Just remember, the strategy on how we plan to use the translifts is privileged information. We will not be informing the troops until we’re ready to deploy. The only thing your helpers need to know is that you’re repairing translifts.”
“Absolutely sire; I’m honored that you’ve entrusted me with this task. I will not let you down,” Foy said proudly. “Finally, I get to put my skills to good use, instead of the decades I wasted serving that corrupt government.” He stood and bowed before exiting the room.
Davron waited until he heard the double doors of the suite’s main entrance close before speaking again. “I take it neither of you knew about this.”
Jansdimion shook his head. “Wasn’t Calendon recruited by Lady Ellonous? Do you think she knew?”
“Of course she did.” Gamdon chuckled. “This all makes sense now. That’s why she suggested he attack Munio.”
“But she couldn’t have known he’d make it all the way to Cirinian,” Jansdimion said. “None of us knew about their translifts.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her that she somehow knew or at least suspected. My wife can be quite resourceful when she wants to be.” Davron smirked at this. “She manipulated the captain expertly. I should have seen this coming; I knew how she felt about Portson. After all, that was where we spent our first six months together. She loved that town. It was the first place she felt accepted.”
“Calendon’s actions make more sense in light of this new information,” Gamdon said pensively. “He pulled his troops from Riverbed before they could capture the town.”
“Apparently, he ordered most of the soldiers to return to the city. He only plans on taking the creatures and a small team of officers with him to Cirinian,” Jansdimion added. “I’m willing to bet they’re all from Portson too.” He stood. “I’m going to recall him immediately.”
“Wait.” Davron held up a hand. “Perhaps we should let this play out.”
Jansdimion returned to his seat. “But sir, Calendon is clearly acting out of his own need for vengeance.”
“I don’t disagree,” Davron said, “but he did find a way to get our forces into Cirinian Valley, something that would normally be impossible to do. Even though they weren’t high on my priority list, we need to subjugate the summoners, and this is a golden opportunity. After all, they’re the biggest threat next to those seal bearers.”
“But is Calendon really the best choice to deal with such a delicate situation?” Gamdon said. “If he’s after revenge then—”
“Then he’ll be highly motivated to make sure the Order of Nature is brought under our control,” Davron finished for him.
“So, we’ll continue forward with sending forces into Cirinian,” Jansdimion concluded.
“Yes, but that does not mean I’m authorizing the wholesale slaughter of the order without cause,” Davron said. “If we can take over Cirinian and force the order to surrender, then that’s all we need. They’ve historically been a neutral faction. They didn’t even participate in the Great War, choosing to hide away instead, so that’s what we’ll force them to do again. We can’t risk the Daughter of the Sun using them, so we’ll confine them to their valley. We’ll keep a presence there to make sure they stay in place and kill anyone who gets out of line. You never know, some members of the order may even want to come to our side.”
“Do you really think Calendon will be satisfied with simply subjugating the order?” Gamdon asked skeptically.
“He’s no fool,” Davron smirked. “He knows that he can’t use the creatures to go against my desires. That would spell his own death. As long as the Order of Nature agrees to our terms, I see no reason to eradicate them.”
“And if they refuse your offer, or worse yet, decide to fight?” Gamdon asked, though he knew the answer.
“Then I’ll allow Calendon his revenge. He can kill them all, every human, every animal, every living thing. Have him raze the valley and let nothing survive to tell the tale,” Davron said darkly. “There is no place in our new world for those who cling to the old ways, and no mercy for those who fight to maintain it.”
“Yes sir; I’ll inform him of your orders.” Jansdimion stood once again to leave but Davron called after him.
“Jansdimion, I don’t think I need to say this, but you cannot tell Calendon the truth about how big a threat the Order of Nature poses. The creatures of the Book of War are already bound to never speak of it, and I’ve order them to eliminate anyone who finds out, no matter what. I expect you to do the same. Do you understand?”
Jansdimion nodded solemnly. “Yes sir; I’ll take care of it.” He left the room.
Davron turned back to his quickener. “How are our guests doing?”
“I don’t believe they will cause any problems,” Gamdon said.
“Good, she’ll be pleased. What about the guardian? Have you sent anyone to make absolutely sure she’s dead?” Davron asked.
“Sir, she fell into the opposite side of the mountain range. It would take quite some time for someone to reach that area and search. Even if she did survive, that fall would have incapacitated her and there’s no way she’d be able to get back here easily.”
“That’s not the point,” Davron snapped. “If that guardian is alive, then she knows where our base is. She could bring Fantasma’s army here. We can’t risk it.”
Gamdon sighed. “Very well, I’ll send a few pogs out to scout the area tonight. If they don’t find anything, we can send out a larger search party in the morning”
“We have precious little time before the guardians realize one of their own is missing,” Davron continued. “They may come looking for her and the two women in the tower, so we need to be on alert. We can’t have this base discovered. If they find out we’re here, then none of the dead towns in this region will be safe. They’ll just search all of them and we’ll lose access to the translift network.”
“I understand,” Gamdon said. “On that front, I’ll have creatures patrol the area around town, so we’ll know in advance if someone’s coming.”
Davron nodded at this. “I’ve also contacted my spy in the Fantasmal Government. Hopefully, we’ll get a warning if Fantasma mobilizes his forces—”
“Sir, why is it you will not tell us anything about this spy of yours?” Gamdon interrupted.
It was only recently that Davron revealed he had acquired the cooperation of someone in the Fantasmal Government sympathetic to his cause, but he’d not told either of his chief officers anything about this person.
“I gave my word,” Davron said. “This person is very deep within the government, and I was lucky to get their cooperation, though I did have to use a fair bit of coercion at first.”
“Coercion?” Gamdon repeated with a raised eyebrow.
“It was necessary to make sure I got the information I wanted about the Sun Stone,” Davron said dismissively. “The fact that they’re continuing to cooperate after that initial deal means they are clearly invested in our goals but still prefer not to participate directly. Instead, they give me information and insight that is helpful, with the agreement that I do not share anything about their identity with anyone.”
“I see,” Gamdon mused. “So, they prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch things play out. Doesn’t sound particularly loyal.”
“You’re not wrong, but right now an informant in the Fantasmal Government is critical,” Davron reasoned. “Don’t worry, I’m mindful not to give any sensitive information in our brief communications, like the location of our bases. I just asked for advanced warning of any major mobilization. Every advantage we can manage will help.”
Gamdon could see no argument against this, so he let it go. He knew Davron was a stickler when it came to keeping his word, so there was no use in trying to pry further. “Is there anything else you need from me?” he asked as he stood to leave.
Davron stood as well. “Gather any skilled mandants we have. I’ll need several of them helping me to prevent adimus fatigue so I can start constantly summoning as many creatures as possible. I’ll keep them low level, mostly pogs. Right now, quantity is more important.”
Gamdon gave him a concerned look. “Sir, that’s too much. Adimus fatigue aside, you still need to rest.”
Davron shook his head. “We’re creating a new world Gamdon; there’s no time to rest. I’m the only one who can summon these creatures and the more we have, the better our chances of success. Mandants aren’t as effective as my wife at restoring the adimus, but they’ll have to do.” He pulled the Book of War from his inner robe pocket and headed for a large comfortable couch.
“If you’re serious about this, then I will find Yorkson; he’s a very skilled mandant. I’ll send him up immediately to aid you.” Gamdon said as he walked to the double doors. He paused before stepping out. “Sir, when Lady Ellonous last contacted you, did she say anything else?”
Davron looked up from the book. “No. She didn’t take a communication crystal with her, so we only have one way to send messages, and they have to be brief.” He gave his quickener a searching look. “Why do you ask?”
“Are you not concerned as to where she is or what she might be doing? Don’t you find it odd that she’s said nothing of her mission or when she’ll return?”
Davron gave a heavy sigh. “When she’s done what she’s set out to do, then she’ll return. As I said before: I trust her, and you should too.” His tone had a hint of warning to it.
“I…” Gamdon hesitated. “Yes sir; I understand,” he said finally before stepping out of the room.
Sherrilynn watched in awe as Mrs. Guardman did what she was best at. It didn’t seem to matter who they were; the matriarchal figure had a way of pulling people in and getting them to talk, and she was doing the same thing with Helena.
The pink haired girl had only intended to bring them dinner for the evening but was now sitting and eating with them as Mrs. Guardman asked her questions like she was trying to get to know a new friend.
“It must have been very hard growing up in such poverty,” Mrs. Guardman was saying now. “I’m so sorry.” She placed a comforting hand on Helena’s.
Helena gave a sad nod. “It was…difficult,” she admitted.
“But how did you end up here?” Mrs. Guardman asked curiously. “What happened to working in your family’s restaurant. It sounded like, despite the hardships, you were doing well for yourself in Navdee.”
Helena nodded slowly. “Things were going well during peace times, but then something happened and the treaty between Navdee and Jarmin fell apart. I never really learned what happened, but after 10 years of peace, suddenly Jarmin just attacked our town out of the blue.
“I remember the day of the attack so well. I was at the restaurant doing prep before we opened, and my parents were out buying supplies. Suddenly, there were all these explosions and fires popping up all over the place. People outside were running around in terror. Then these men came in, three of them, just looting, smashing up everything. I was hiding in the back, but they found me. I thought they were going to kill me or…worse.”
Mrs. Guardman squeezed her hand. “That must’ve been terrifying.”
Helena was trembling slightly as she continued. “That’s when he showed up and saved me.”
“Who?” Sherrilynn asked, now completely enthralled by the story.
“Davron,” Helena clarified. “It was the first time I met him. He came out of nowhere and just took all three of those goons down like it was nothing.” She snapped for emphasis. “He’s the most powerful mind mage I’ve ever seen. He saved my life.”
“So, you knew Davron before you came here,” Mrs. Guardman said. “Well that makes sense. Did he live in Navdee too?”
“Oh, no,” Helena shook her head. “I’m not sure where Davron’s from. He was a traveler. He and his friend Jansdimion just happened to be visiting my town that day, the day of the attack.”
“So, you ended up leaving town with him?” Mrs. Guardman asked, trying to find the connection.
“No, not then; it’s kind of complicated.” Helena settled back in her chair to explain. “See, right after Davron saved me, my granddad showed up. He’d come to get me because my dad had summoned him when the attack started. Granddad explained to Davron about the attack and Davron wanted to help put a stop to it. So, he and his friend, with the help of my parents, granddad, and some other townsfolk, fought back against the Jarmins and forced them to retreat.”
“That’s impressive,” Mrs. Guardman said.
“I know,” Helena agreed eagerly, “but we knew the Jarmins would just gather more people and come back. Everyone in town was gearing up to attack them first, so Davron addressed the town leaders. He told them that instead of fighting, what we needed to do was leave town and move someplace where they wouldn’t have to worry about the Jarmins. Well, nobody wanted to hear that. They wanted to fight for their home not run away.”
“What about your family?” Mrs. Guardman asked.
“My dad was the same.” Helena shrugged. “He wanted to stay and fight. My granddad was furious. He agreed with Davron. He thought starting another protracted war was pointless. He wanted to quicken us out of there right then and there.”
Mrs. Guardman nodded. “So, then what happened?”
“Well, I think my granddad was so grateful for what Davron did, saving my life and everything, that he joined Davron on his journey. I ended up staying in Navdee with my folks until a few months ago when…” She started to tear up. “My parents died in a Jarmin attack. I was able to reach out to my granddad and he and Davron returned, but this time he had the creatures from the Book of War with them, and…it was just…I’ve never seen anything like it. Davron just put a stop to the whole war, basically defeated both sides once and for all. The survivors joined Davron’s army after that, and I came here too with my grandad. I’m not in the army, but I’m doing my part.”
“I see,” Mrs. Guardman nodded. “Well, that’s quite the story. So, is that what Davron does, goes around stopping towns from having wars?”
“Yes, well sort of,” Helena said. “I know he seems like a bad man because he uses those creatures, but he’s using them for good. He wants to stop all of the war and senseless death that goes on all over the world.”
“But what about all the people who die when his army of monsters attack?” Sherrilynn said. “I work, or rather worked, for the Sunnin Social System. I’ve seen the aftermath firsthand: hundreds of dead bodies.”
Helena squirmed uncomfortably. “Yeah, but a lot of that is because they are so busy fighting each other. Davron gives them a chance to stop, but people are stubborn. They’d rather die in a futile war than even consider peace, so he attacks both sides and forces the war to stop.”
Sherrilynn raised an eyebrow at this. “Solving violence with violence is never the answer.”
Helena’s brow furrowed. “You Sunnin types are all the same; you don’t know what it’s like. Jarmin and Navdee were never going to stop fighting. They didn’t want peace. It wasn’t until they had nothing left to fight for that they finally stopped. Davron tried to convince them before, and it didn’t work. With his army, now he finally has a way to bring about actual peace. Sure, it’ll be a little messy, but it’s worth it.”
“Hey, I know what it’s like. I grew up in Zohare,” Sherrilynn countered.
“Zohare is nothing like living in a small town,” Helena said dismissively.
“Girls,” Mrs. Guardman said placing a hand on both of them before Sherrilynn could respond. “Let’s not argue.” She turned to Sherrilynn. “Everyone has a story that defines their life and their viewpoint.” She then turned to Helena. “And all choices can have both positive and negative consequences.”
Helena took a calming breath. “I know the legends about the Book of War, but I really don’t think it’s evil in and of itself,” she said. “I think it’s just a tool, and it depends on how you use it. Davron’s using it for good. He’s not a bad guy, If he was, he wouldn’t be treating you so well,” she pointed out.
“And for that, we are certainly grateful.” Mrs. Guardman nodded. “Now, I feel it is getting late. I’m growing tired. Thank you for joining us for dinner, Helena. I greatly appreciate it, and it was nice getting to know you.”
Helena stood picking up the now empty dishes. “Thank you, ma’am.” She went to the door and knocked, and a soldier on the outside opened it. “I’m ready to go.”
As the guard opened the door wide to let her out, Mrs. Guardman stood and called out to him. “Jacob, I hope next time you’ll join us too.”
The blonde-haired, youthful looking soldier gave a wave. “Well, I’m supposed to stay out here since the door can only be opened from the outside,” he explained.
“No excuses; if we’re going to be here for a while, we might as well get to know each other,” Mrs. Guardman said.
Jacob seemed not to know how to address this, so he gave an awkward chuckle and changed the subject. “By the way, they said we could give you back the things that you had on you when you were brought to the tower. They just needed to check them out first.” He pulled a bag off of the floor and handed it to Mrs. Guardman.
“Thank you, Jacob,” she said as she accepted the bag. “I appreciate this.”
“No problem, ma’am.” He gave a friendly wave as he closed the door.
“How do you do that?” Sherrilynn said as soon as the door was shut.
“How do I do what?” Mrs. Guardman asked as she carried the bag to the table and started to open it.
“It’s like you just make people talk to you. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mrs. Guardman laughed. “I don’t think it’s all that unique. She’s a nice young lady and I wanted to get to know her.”
“Yeah a ‘nice young lady’ working for a madman tyrant,” Sherrilynn said with an eyeroll as she turned down the bed.
Mrs. Guardman started to pull out the contents of the bag one-by-one, pleased that the zenith quartz they obtained was in it.
“I don’t disagree with you that Davron’s methods are abhorrent. You forget, I witnessed them firsthand,” she said sagely. “But people are not just one thing, and perspective can color your actions. Consider your situation: you stole the Sun Stone and were excommunicated from the Sunnin Social System. You feel what you did was right, but it was still stealing. You took a great risk and did something wrong because you thought it was the right thing to do.”
Sherrilynn shifted uncomfortably. “But I didn’t hurt anyone, and—”
“I’m not trying to guilt you. All I’m saying is that I can understand Helena’s perspective and empathize with what she went through. Life is messy and complicated. It’s easy to see how Helena got caught up in all of this.”
“I guess.” Sherrilyn shrugged. “It’s just hard to feel pity for her when we’re the ones being held prisoner.”
“Well I—” Mrs. Guardman started but just then, she pulled out the small silver dog whistle. “Illusion!”
Sherrilynn rushed back to the table. “I can’t believe they gave that back to you.”
Mrs. Guardman nodded. “I guess they didn’t know what it was. Even if they blew in it, nothing would have happened. Marcus told me that the only way to use it properly was to think about Illusion when you use it. They wouldn’t have known that.”
She blew the whistle and in a flash of blue light the small border terrier appeared.
“Mrs. Guardman, thank the heavens you’re safe. After the attack, I was completely out of energy, so I went to the void and waited to be summoned. Where is this place?” Illusion looked around the small suite.
Mrs. Guardman quickly explained their situation. “We’re somewhere in Gilmore. Apparently Davron is using it as a base. We’re being held on the tenth floor of some building. Despite not being able to leave, Davron has not harmed us and has sworn to keep us safe as long as we don’t attempt to escape.”
“But now that you’re here, maybe you can get us out?” Sherrilynn asked eagerly.
“I don’t think so, not by myself at least. I only have limited mentus abilities. I can access the mentant realm and cloak myself mentantly to a point, but the only other advance trick I can do is transforming into the wolf. I wouldn’t stand a chance alone against a building potentially full of soldiers and creatures. Plus, a mind mage or mandant could destroy me.”
“What about Alice?” Mrs. Guardman asked. “They said she was dead. Do you know what happened?”
“She was thrown over a cliff. It was a pretty long fall, but it’s possible she’s alive. Guardians are notoriously hard to kill. However, even if she did survive, she’d be in bad shape and need time to heal.”
Mrs. Guardman nodded. “Well, it’s up to you. You need to find Alice and get help. You can move easily without being noticed. Even if you’re spotted, no one would suspect a dog. The soldiers who captured us never saw you.”
Illusion felt that this was a tall order, but it did seem to be the only option available. “I better go now. It’ll be easier to sneak out while it’s still dark.” He headed toward the door but stopped suddenly, staring at it.
“What’s wrong?” Mrs. Guardman asked. “Need me to open it to let you out?”
“No,” Illusion’s voice was a low growl. “Don’t touch it. There’s embedded mentus in this door, but only on the inside. If you open it, some sort of alarm will sound, and you’ll probably be swarmed with guards.”
“What does that mean?” Sherrilynn asked.
“It can only be opened from the outside,” Illusion said. “I’m stuck here.”
Mrs. Guardman sat on the couch. “Only for the night. Tomorrow morning Helena will be back with breakfast. We’ll just get her and Jacob to let you out,” she said matter-of-factly.
Sherrilynn gave her a curious look but knew better than to ask. She was already starting to realize that Mrs. Guardman had a way of getting what she wanted.