* Lumarian Mountains *
“I hope they’re okay, wherever they are,” Sherrilynn said to Karmandrian. They were both standing close to the Sun Stone which still had a funnel of yellow energy swirling above it.
“I’m sure they are,” Karmandrian assured her. “The Fantasma has power and knowledge beyond anyone. He’s in the best position to traverse this rift.”
“So do you really think the Daughter of the Sun is on the other side of that thing?” she asked.
“Honestly,” Karmandrian let his voice drop, “I don’t know, but Chief Stokenshire believes so, and his word is good enough for me.”
“I wish it was good enough for Sister Heather,” she said with a sigh. “I know I’m going to have a lot to answer for when they find out I took the stone.”
“How long do you think the fake stone will fool them?” Karmandrian asked.
Sherrilynn thought about this for a moment. “For a while at least. They make the fakes using mandamus, so they’re pretty realistic. Unless you try to activate it, or you’re examining it closely in the mentant realm, you can’t immediately tell the difference.”
Karmandrian nodded. “Well, hopefully this will be over soon, and we can get the Sun Stone back to them before they even know it’s gone. Besides, if Chief Stokenshire’s right, you won’t have to worry about the sisterhood at all.”
Another young-looking guardian with light-brown skin and white-hair walked up to where the two were standing. “So, rumor is we’re protecting the Sun Stone while the Fantasma is off in another dimension,” he said with a slight chuckle, hardly daring to believe it.
“Not quite, Pathos,” Karmandrian said with a smirk, “and we’re supposed to be keeping this quiet, not chit-chatting about it.”
“Since when are you Mr. Serious?” a light-skinned, female guardian with silky blonde hair came up to them, “or is that a result of being one of Fantasma’s go-to guardians now?” She said with a teasing tone. “Look at our Karman, moving up the ranks.”
“Which is pretty impressive considering we don’t really have ranks,” Pathos added.
“I’m not moving up any ranks, trust me. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the rock just kept rolling down the mountain from there,” Karmandrian said.
“Still, remember when we joined the guardian training program? It took twelve years, but we finally got promoted to guardians,” the woman reminisced. “And now look at us. It’s everything I ever thought it would be.”
“I have to admit this is a lot more exciting than being stationed in the Gibano Mountains,” Karmandrian said before turning to Sherrilynn. “Guys I want you to meet Sister Sherrilynn Greyson. She’s the one that brought the Sun Stone. Sherrilynn, may I introduce Elders Pathos Ernwood and Alice Verning.”
“Pleased to meet you, sister,” Pathos said as he and Alice each shook her hand.
“Just Sherrilynn,” she said. “So, all three of you are friends?”
“We went through guardian training together,” Alice confirmed.
“Alice here was our rock,” Karmandrian said. “I think she was born to be a guardian.”
“Isn’t that always the case?” Sherrilynn said, clearly confused. “I thought anyone with the ability to use mandamus could become a guardian.”
The trio chuckled at this.
“I wish it were that simple,” Karmandrian said.
“Being a guardian is more than just the ability to use mandamus,” Pathos added. “It’s a very long, arduous process. We not only have to hone our mandamus skill but also learn history; train in diplomacy, spirituality, and law; and pass a huge number of tests, examinations, and challenges. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
“In fact, of the hundred candidates that came in with us, only six made it through to be recommended to Fantasma for promotion, including us,” Alice said.
“Over half dropped out before the second year.” Pathos put a hand on Alice’s shoulder. “If it weren’t for Alice, I don’t think Karman or I would’ve made it.”
“All I ever wanted in my life was to be a guardian,” Alice said, “and I was determined, even if it meant dragging these two kicking and screaming sometimes.”
Both Karmandrian and Pathos chuckled at this.
“I know what it’s like to want something really badly,” Sherrilynn said. “When I found out that I was a descendent of Ester and what that meant, I wanted more than anything to be in the sisterhood.”
“You never thought you might be the Daughter of the Sun herself?” Karmandrian asked.
“Oh no, I knew that wasn’t me, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to do my part, to help keep the Daughter of the Sun’s legacy going strong, to live up to the name, even if she wasn’t still here with us. It’s all I ever wanted.”
“The sisterhood is lucky to have someone so dedicated,” Alice said.
“Well see the problem is, not every descendant of Ester is accepted into the sisterhood, and when I applied, even though I met all the initial criteria, I was still rejected. They just weren’t bringing in any new sisters.”
“So how did you get them to change their minds?” Pathos asked.
“You remember about twelve years ago when the weather went haywire in the north? A rogue tornado touched down in my hometown and I led the evacuation effort and I guess the sisterhood thought I had promise.”
“Wait, was this Zohare?” Alice asked. “I heard about that. You saved a lot of lives up there. Darn right the sisterhood took you in after that.”
Sherrilynn beamed at this. “Thanks.”
“Well, we better get going,” Alice said. “Elder Sorinson wants us to go patrol the perimeter.”
“Though I don’t see why.” Pathos shrugged. “With all the guardians and soldiers in this place, nothing’s getting in.”
“Hey, our job isn’t to question, it’s to serve,” Alice chastised.
“Spoken like a true guardian,” Karmandrian chuckled.
“Would it be okay if I came with you,” Sherrilynn asked timidly. “Standing around here just waiting; it’s going to drive me crazy.”
Pathos and Alice exchanged looks but seemed to agree. “No problem, we’ll take good care of you,” Alice said as she wrapped an arm around Sherrilynn and guided her out.
“Sure, sure!” Karmandrian called. “Just leave me here all alone to guard this thing,” he said with playful sarcasm.
“You’ll be fine,” Alice called cheerfully as they walked away. “Nobody’s getting in here.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Karmandrian returned to pacing around the stone.
The two guardians and Sherrilynn exited the cave, never suspecting that they were being watched by two people on the ledge of one of the mountains surrounding the valley. Though the distance was too far to see anything with the naked eye, the mentant realm allowed them to see much of what was happening at the entrance to the tunnel, though quartz prevented them from seeing what was on the inside.
There were plenty of soldiers and guardians patrolling the valley, but they never noticed the two men on the far-off cliff. They were too focused on looking for the unusual or expecting a massive army of monsters. In addition, the quartz in the mountain limited vision in the mentant realm, allowing them to hide in plain sight.
The two men both wore blue robes over their normal clothes and carried golden scepters with crystals at the tip, each a different color. They were both mind mages and looked similar in age, though in truth their twenty-year age gap was obscured by the fact that Mendalians tended to age slower due to their constant adimus use.
The older and taller of the two was Jansdimion Clayton. His light skin and muscular build made him look stronger than his companion, at least physically. His hazel eyes scanned the scene below. As a mind mage, he could see the information offered by the mentant realm even without having to close his eyes or focus intently.
“Sir, I’ve counted at least a dozen guardians so far, and possibly more inside,” he said as he ran his fingers through his short dirty-blonde hair. “What do you plan to do? Even if you summon creatures, you can’t possibly make enough to ensure victory, especially if Fantasma is in there. Why didn’t we bring some of our forces with us?”
His companion gave a slight chuckle. “Right now, we have the element of surprise, and we can use that to our advantage.”
The second man was shorter with light skin, sleek black hair, and an air of confidence that was almost palpable. His name was Davron Ellonous, but he went simply by Davron as he had dropped his surname years prior. Those who served under him called him “Lord Davron.”
Jansdimion looked down at him and he could tell from the look in Davron’s brown eyes that he was thinking, calculating, forming some sort of plan. Though Jansdimion had been with Davron for several years and knew him better than anyone else, he still never fully understood his leader’s thought processes, though he trusted him completely.
“It doesn’t seem like we have the element of surprise, sir,” Jansdimion disagreed as respectfully as possible. “They’re all on guard, waiting for us. I don’t think we could kill them all even if you summoned the maximum amount of pogs you’re able to create.”
Davron laughed outright this time. “First of all, you can stop calling me ‘sir.’ Jansdimion, you’re my best friend. When we’re not in front of the troops, you can call me Davron.” He put a hand on Jansdimion’s shoulder. “Secondly, we don’t need to kill to get what we want. The book is power, and if used wisely, I can overcome our strongest enemies, even the Fantasma himself.”
“Of course,” Jansdimion said. “But sir,” Davron rolled his eyes at this, but Jansdimion didn’t see, “I still don’t understand. Why are we back here? What’s the goal?”
“My spy has informed me that not only has Fantasma gone to the cave, but he’s brought the Sun Stone because they believe they might find the Daughter of the Sun.”
Jansdimion’s look was half puzzled, half shocked. “I don’t understand. How is that possible? Wouldn’t that mean that—”
Before Jansdimion could finish, a quickener appeared beside them. He was about the same height as Davron and draped in a near identical blue robe as the mind mages; the only difference being his belt was purple while the other two had silver ones. The new arrival was fair skinned and significantly older than his companions. His long grey hair and wrinkles were a talisman to the wisdom that shone in his deep brown eyes. Though the quartz in the mountain range hindered quickening to other parts of the world, a skilled quickener could still transport within the quartz barrier. Gamdon Barkwick, with his decades of experience, was such a quickener.
Gamdon turned to face Davron. “Sir, I’ve scouted around, and the bulk of their forces appear to be in the valley.”
“Seriously, you too?” Davron chuckled. “Gamdon, you’ve known me for years, you can call me by my name when we’re alone.”
“With all due respect,” Gamdon said, “It’s much easier to always remain formal, especially considering how your wife prefers to be addressed.”
“Oh, you mean ‘Lady Ellonous’?” Davron chuckled. “I think it’s charming.”
“I find it more ironic that she took your surname, when you yourself have discarded it,” Gamdon said flatly.
“Well, unlike me, she has a past she wishes to forget, so the name is more fitting, but still, what does that have to do with anything?” Davron asked.
“She’s far more…insistent on formalities than you are,” Gamdon said clearly trying to be tactful.
“Come now Gamdon, she can be harsh but surely you’re not afraid of her, are you?” Davron laughed again before turning to Jansdimion who looked nervous. “Both of you? Both of you are afraid of her?”
Jansdimion seemed to be looking for the right words. “Her abilities, they’re just unnatural. It can be terrifying, especially when she’s angry.”
“Quite frankly I don’t trust her judgement,” Gamdon said bluntly. “Her anger has gotten out of control far too often as of late, and when she gets that way, it’s like she becomes…unhinged. You can see it in her eyes.”
“Careful Gamdon, that’s my wife you’re talking about,” Davron said. “Besides you two know more than anyone how much she’s gone through these past few years. She’s justified in her anger, just like so many others who’ve rallied to our cause.”
Gamdon and Jansdimion exchanged a look and knew the conversation was pointless.
“As I said, sir, the majority of the troops are in the valley,” Gamdon repeated.
Davron smirked, not missing the implication of the word “sir,” but he let it go. “Well then, I have a plan.”
From within his robe, Davron pulled a large, ancient looking book, with a green cover and thick, parchment-like pages. It looked far too big to have been contained within the robe. Its only distinguishing characteristic was an intricately designed, red symbol on its front that was slightly raised.
“So, you really are going to try to build an army here?” Jansdimion asked. “Won’t that drain you?”
“I don’t need an army,” Davron said flipping through the book deliberately. “Each creature of the Book of War is unique. Each has a purpose, a reason for its use. I’ve been studying them, and there is one well suited for this situation.” Once he found the page he was looking for, he placed the book on the ground and then tapped it with the crystal tip of his scepter, which began to glow red.
Jansdimion and Gamdon took a step back, again exchanging a look. Though they were loyal to Davron and followed his plans unswervingly, they still had a slight fear of the ancient book and the monsters it produced.
There was a flash from the book and a tall, grey wildcat with a long whip-like tail appeared in front of them. A light smoke billowed from its body as if it weren’t completely solid.
It’s blood red eyes focused on Davron. “How may I serve, master.”
Davron turned to face his companions. He looked a bit drained but there was a smile on his face. “We’re ready.”
Elder Sorinson approached Karmandrian with a wry smile. “Years of study and training, all to guard a glowing rock.”
Karmandrian chuckled. “Really know how to put things into perspective, sir.”
Sorinson put a hand on his shoulder. “I want you to know that I’m extremely proud of you, Karmandrian. I’ve seen so much improvement in your attitude these past few months and now I think you’re beginning to see that even the smallest assignment can carry great weight,” he gestured to the Sun Stone sitting beside him.
Karmandrian nodded. “I know I wasn’t happy to be assigned to the Gibano Mountains and I expressed that displeasure more than a few times to you, but I now see how important it was that I was there.”
“We all have our callings and—” Sorinson’s eyes narrowed. “What treachery is this?”
Karmandrian turned to see what Sorinson was staring at. A thick grey mist was pouring in from the wide tunnel that connected the cavern to the outside. Many in the cave were beginning to take notice as the unknown smoke flooded the room.
“What is that?” someone shouted as many began backing away in fright.
“I don’t think we should find out,” Karmandrian said holding up his hand. “Mentenus Safe”
Between the retreating soldiers and the grey mist, a green translucent barrier appeared stretching from cave floor to ceiling. Despite this new impediment, the grey mist soon permeated the green energy shield which faltered and disappeared within seconds of being breached. When the mist engulfed the first few people in its path, they immediately collapsed to the ground.
Sorinson gave Karmandrian a knowing look. “I see you still like to use basic commands, but I believe it’s always best to call on the heavens, especially now. Mittius Mentenus Safe!”
Again, a green energy shield shot down like lightning in the path of the malevolent mist, but this time it held for several seconds. The grey cloud pressed against the barrier until it finally disappeared, and then it was like a dam burst. The room was flooded by the dense fog and everyone either immediately collapsed, or in the case of the guardians, began to lose muscle control and consciousness slowly.
Before Sorinson completely passed out, he saw, moving through the mist, a large wildcat with a long whip-like tale and deep red eyes. In the mentant realm, he could see the strange star-shaped symbol on its forehead, and he knew what that meant.
“They’re here,” was all he could get out before everything went dark.
“I can’t believe one creature was able to kill them all,” Jansdimion said in awe.
Davron chuckled as the trio walked into the large cavern after the grey mist had completely dissipated. He stepped over a few of the bodies to reach the grey wildcat which was sitting patiently on its hind legs beside the Sun Stone.
He stroked it almost lovingly around the ears. “The sleep crawler’s mist does not kill; it only incapacitates. They’re all still alive. Besides, do you really think one creature could so easily dispatch a room full of guardians?” he said with a harsh laugh. “If that were the case, our conquest would be a lot easier.”
Jansdimion gave a feeble shrug. “But the creatures are indestructible.”
“If I made you immortal Jansdimion, would that mean that you could singlehandedly kill a guardian?”
“Well no, of course not.”
Davron returned to stroking the cat. “These creatures have limits too, but their skills do give us a certain advantage. The soldiers will be out for hours; the guardians, perhaps not as long, but we do have time.”
Gamdon had been ignoring this exchange. He was instead focused on the Sun Stone and the funnel of energy above it.
“Sir, I don’t know how. but they’ve used the stone as a dimensional locus. That must have been how they so easily circumvented my attempt to close it permanently; well that, and this rift is just surprisingly strong and stable. If I’m not mistaken, they even muted the time dilation, so times flowing the same on both sides as long as the stone’s in place.”
“Ah, but who is the ‘they’?”
“Well, this kind of work could only be done by one quickener, Thomas Goodfield,” Gamdon said. “And from the looks of it, the Fantasma is not here. It would seem right that he would go himself. If we take this,” he pointed to the Sun Stone, “they might be trapped over there, or at the very least, Thomas will have a difficult time getting back. I could also try sealing it again.”
Davron nodded. “Yes, but before we do that, I want to go back.”
“What!” Gamdon said in alarm. “There’s nothing there. Why reveal ourselves to the enemy? That seems like a huge risk, and as you yourself pointed out, even with the Book of War, we are no match for the Fantasma. He could easily overpower us and take the book.”
“That is not a possibility,” Davron said calmly. “There’s much more to this book than just the ability to create these creatures. Besides, as I was explaining to Jansdimion, I received word from my spy that they just found this cave today and brought the Sun Stone because they’re looking for the Daughter of the Sun.”
Gamdon raised an eyebrow. “They found it today? That doesn’t make any sense, unless…”
Davron grinned, knowing he’d piqued his quickener’s interest. “I’m quite curious to see what’s on the other side.”
“Does Lady Ellonous know about this?” Gamdon asked.
“I thought it more prudent not to tell her until we find out the truth. This could change everything. If the Daughter of the Sun is there, perhaps we can even get her to join us.”
“This is a very dangerous gambit, sir,” Gamdon said, though he still seemed intrigued.
“And what if the Daughter of the Sun won’t join you?” Jansdimion asked tentatively.
“Then I’ll do what must be done. The Daughter of the Sun forfeited her stewardship over the planet when she left, and now the world is in shambles. Either she’ll join us in creating a new world, or she will not be a part of it,” he said darkly. “Either way, we will get control of the Sun Stone.”
Jansdimion and Gamdon both nodded resolutely. They knew how relentless their leader could be when it came to realizing his vision of a new world. He would do whatever it took to reach his goal and acquiring the Sun Stone’s power was a key step to doing this.
“Jansdimion, you stay here with the sleep crawler and make sure that no one discovers us. Gamdon, you and I are going to the other side,” Davron decided.
“But sir, what if these people start to wake up?” Jansdimion asked.
Davron removed the book from his robe and turned to one of the first pages, pressing a finger on it. Several pig-faced creatures appeared around them, each holding a different weapon.
“A few pogs should help. As a matter of fact, we should take a couple with us,” Davron said with a deep sigh. He tucked the book away again.
Creating the creatures did take a toll and he was beginning to feel it, especially since he had already summoned the far more powerful sleep crawler. He tried not to let this show though.
“Gamdon, let’s go,” Davron said after a momentary pause to collect himself.
Gamdon nodded. He tapped his staff and then they disappeared along with two of the pogs, leaving Jansdimion alone with the large wildcat and the two-remaining pig-faced creatures.