* Weather Mountain *
Over two hundred people were gathered in the weather chamber, seated in white chairs with padded seats, all facing the weather rod. All in attendance were wearing grey robes with purple belts with the exception of Findler, Bernie, and Becky. They were seated on the front row next to Charles and Pennilisa.
At the front of the assembly, Eleanor Giftwood, Commander of Weather, stood in a grey robe with a gold belt. With her was Alyson, also in a grey robe with a purple belt, and Hamen in his purple robe with silver belt.
Becky was in awe of the fanfare of the event, which was akin to a graduation ceremony, though with only one graduate. She also felt a bit out of place considering she wasn’t dressed the part, though no one seemed to mind. There was a light murmuring throughout the room as everyone got situated.
Eleanor raised her hands for quiet and the muttering immediately stopped. She smiled. “It is only once in many years that I have the privilege of promoting a new weather master. My only regret is that due to the need for expedience, we cannot surround this occasion with the extended celebration that it so richly deserves. Alyson Silvers did a decade’s worth of study and training in only seven years. She has proven herself to be a talented environ, a phenomenal fighter, and a gifted student. Above all, she has shown herself to be loyal, kind, selfless, honorable, and wise: qualities that epitomize those that I promote to the status of weather master.
“This is not a role that should be taken lightly. Though the world may not fully understand what we do here, I know that everyone in this room, all my level fours and above, fully grasp the weight and duty that is about to be placed on this young lady. She deserves your respect, and your support. We are family here, the mountain is our home, the world is our duty. Never forget this.” She turned to Alyson. “Are you ready?”
Alyson nodded, looking excited but apprehensive. Hamen stepped forward and guided her to the rod. The entire audience watched in anticipation. It was quite possible that this would be the only time any of them would witness what was about to happen.
“Place your hand on the rod,” Hamen instructed.
Alyson did. The crystalline quartz rock was like a glass prism, reflecting several colors within it. It was warm to the touch and the colors inside immediately began to swirl.
Eleanor faced Alyson but spoke loudly enough for all to hear. “Alyson Silvers, do you swear to uphold the code of the weather masters, to serve the Commander of Weather, this mountain, and the planet of Mendala to the best of your ability, and to exercise wisdom and judgment when using the powers granted to you so that balance and order will continue to be maintained throughout the lands?”
Alyson nodded resolutely. “I do.”
Eleanor gave a nod to Hamen, and he placed a hand on Alyson’s head. “As a guardian and representative of the sovereign nation of Glorandor, under the recommendation of the Commander of Weather, I, Elder Barbidious Hamen, hereby grant you the rank of weather master. Mittius Provetos Aeris Dominatous!”
Becky gasped as a bolt of lightning came out of nowhere and struck the weather rod, showering the entire room in sparks as the rod itself pulsated several colors. Then a beam of white light moved through the center of the rod from top to bottom, finally flowing into Alyson, bathing her entire body in a soft glow. As it dissipated, Hamen removed his hand from her head, and a clear diamond shaped crystal was now embedded in her forehead.
Everyone jumped to their feet and started applauding as Eleanor pulled a slightly dazed Alyson forward. Slowly and meticulously, she removed Alyson’s purple belt and replaced it with a silver one.
“I now present to you, Alyson Silvers, weather master!” she shouted above the noise and the applause grew even louder as Alyson beamed and blushed.
Though the ceremony happened after dinner, there was still a reception in the refectory consisting of desserts and drinks. Dozens of people were there, and they took turns congratulating Alyson.
Becky and Bernie sat at a nearby table, mostly observing.
“So, I get that weather masters are rare, and they help control Mendala’s weather,” Becky said to Bernie, “but you never explained why they have them. Why have a weather rod at all?”
Bernie shrugged. “Hamen said it was built several hundred years ago because a third moon came in orbit around Mendala, and it started messing with the tides and other weather patterns.”
Becky settled back in her chair, wishing she hadn’t asked. Every question seemed to lead to three other questions. “It just seems like such a big deal. That whole ceremony was way more than I was expecting.”
“Me too, but I kind of get it. I’m sure for most of these people, coming to Weather Mountain is the first time they’ve been around a large group of environs. Like Macklebee said, they’re really rare so it’s got to be great to be in a place where everyone shares that one thing in common. It’s like a sense of comradery, and people spend anywhere from five to ten years here. I get how it can start to feel like a home, and everyone has a lot of loyalty to it and to each other.”
Becky nodded, remembering Alyson’s earlier hesitation when Pennilisa asked if she would return. Seven years was a long time, and she clearly had a strong bond with the mountain and the people in it. Would she willingly opt to stay on Mendala for the rest of her life? Was that a bad thing?
“It’s getting late,” Hamen said as he approached the table. “We should probably head to Fantasmal Mountain soon. I’m sure your friends are eager to see you.”
Becky stood, intent on retrieving Alyson, but there was no need. She was already approaching with Eleanor.
“Now remember: as soon as you have some free time, create a nimbus for yourself,” Eleanor was saying to her. “Normally a weather master does it before they leave the mountain, but I know you’re in a hurry.”
Alyson nodded. “Thank you so much for everything, Commander,” she said, rubbing the quartz stone in her forehead absent-mindedly, still getting used to it.
“I’ll see you soon.” Eleanor gave her a hug. “Finish your mission and I’ll be waiting for you to return. Safe travels.”
Pennilisa and Charles came up to the group just as Eleanor departed. Pennilisa held a rucksack and Charles a long package. “Before you go, Aly, we got you something,” Charles said.
“Oh guys, you didn’t have to,” Alyson said as she took the package and removed the brown paper to reveal a light, single-handed sword with a silver blade and grey hilt. “Oh my gosh!” she said in awe as she held up the blade. “This is a mist blade. How much did this cost you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Charles said dismissively. “Only the best for our Silver Strike.”
After she examined the blade from all sides, Alyson held it out and it disappeared with a wisp of vapor. “That is so cool,” she said as she flexed her fingers and the sword reappeared. “Thanks so much, guys.” She made the sword vanish once again before giving both of her friends a hug.
Findler joined the group now. “It’s time I return to Kepra. It seems my work here is done,” he said to Hamen.
“I will escort Bernie and the others to Fantasmal Mountain and make sure they reconcile with their friends,” Hamen said. “Depending on the situation, I may need to stay longer. I definitely want to find out more about this looming threat.”
“Do what you think is best,” Findler said, “but don’t get too caught up in the plights of these humans. Let them fight their own wars.”
Hamen smiled but made no comment. Turning to the others he said, “Are you ready?”
Alyson stepped forward. “Yes, thank you for being so patient; I’m ready to go. I’ve packed a bag already.” She took the rucksack from Pennilisa and put it on her shoulders.
After one last hug with her friends, she walked with Becky and the others out of the refectory and down to the base of the mountain where the translift was. Hamen unsealed the door and it slid open, revealing a large multipoint translift with several polls.
“This looks a lot more complicated than the translift we used in Glorandor,” Becky said as they all stepped inside.
“Not really,” Hamen said. “The basic principle is still the same. The governance transport is just a little more modern. It was renovated about three hundred years ago as opposed to the Glorandor ones, which have been in place for at least a thousand years or so.”
He found the poll he was looking for, pulled out a quartz rod, and tapped it. Before anyone knew what happened, there was a huge explosion.
Becky was the first to stir, brushing rock dust from her hair as she sat up. “What…what happened?” She looked around and was relieved to see that Alyson, Bernie, and Hamen were all still with her. “Guys are you okay?”
Hamen sat up next, looking a bit dazed. “What in the world happened? What was that explosion?” He looked around to see that they were all buried in rubble.
“Where are we?” Bernie said groggily. “This doesn’t look like the same translift.”
Becky realized he was right. Even though most of the translift had been destroyed, she could still tell it was a different room than the one they were just in. “Did we transport to Fantasmal Mountain?”
Hamen stood and took stock of his surroundings. “This doesn’t look like the Fantasmal Mountain translift chamber.”
Alyson stood too, dusting herself off. “It felt like a bomb went off.”
“I think that’s exactly what happened,” Hamen said, “I think there was some sort of mentus bomb.” He went to the outer wall and ran his hand along it, as if searching for something. “Ah, here we are,” he said before muttering a mandamus command. A door slid open. “Let’s see where we are.”
The group made their way out of the translift and found themselves in a massive foyer with high stone walls. They were clearly inside another mountain.
“Hey there!” came a distant voice from across the room.
They saw a young, pale-skinned man with short black hair rushing towards them. He was wearing a blue robe with a yellow belt, and his footsteps echoed as he ran across the polished stone floors.
“Who are you? What was that explosion? What did you do to the translift?”
Hamen stepped forward, adjusting his robe. “I’m Elder Barbidious Hamen and these are my companions. Where exactly are we?”
The man’s attitude softened quickly when he realized he was addressing a guardian. “You’re at Mandoria Mountain. I’m Lewis Dandin, one of the timekeepers.”
Hamen let out a groan. “Curse the rocks; we’re all the way on Sunntondra!”
The word stirred something in Becky’s memory. “Wait, that’s where we were originally headed right? What happened? Did something screw up in the translift?”
Hamen shook his head. “If I’m right and that was a mentus bomb that we experienced, then it can only mean that someone sabotaged the governance translift sometime between when I last left Fantasmal Mountain and now. This is very dangerous. There’s a good chance that others attempting to use the translift network could be in danger. We need to contact Fantasmal Mountain immediately and get them to seal it off.” He turned to Lewis.
“That’s not likely, sir,” Lewis said. “That explosion rocked the entire east side of the mountain. The office I was just in is above the translift and had the communication crystal. It cracked, probably from the excess mentus energy that was released.”
“I only got about half of that, but it sounds like you’re saying we’re stuck here,” Becky surmised with a huff.
“But where exactly is here?” Bernie asked. “Where in the world are we?”
“You’re in Mandoria Mountain,” Lewis repeated.
“Wait I know that,” Alyson said in sudden revelation. “This is where they keep the master chronometer, right? It’s where all the mandorinites come from.”
“Okay, hold on; before we go on another academic lesson where I learn a bunch of new stuff, let’s just stick to the problem at hand,” Becky said impatiently. “How do we get to Fantasmal Mountain?”
“Do you have a resident quickener?” Alyson asked the young timekeeper.
“Of course they don’t.” Becky rolled her eyes. “This is another government facility, right? So, security over convenience.”
Lewis nodded in agreement. “She’s right: we have no marker, so it’d be pretty useless to have a quickener out here. Also, everyone is gone, attending a conference at Fantasmal Mountain. I’m the only one here right now and I know nothing about fixing or rerouting translifts.”
Becky threw up her hands, shaking the bacilla in exasperation. “Why? Why is everything so difficult? We were this close to getting to our friends and now we’re stuck again.”
Alyson put a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Calm down, we’re not stuck here forever. We just have to get to the nearest town and find a quickener for hire that can take us to Fantasmal Mountain. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Well…” Lewis started hesitantly, “it’s a little more complicated than that. The closest town is at least a two to three day walk from here, plus you’d have to go through the Lost Plains.”
“Three days!” Becky shouted.
“Now, hold on,” Hamen interjected before Becky could explode, “there’s another, quicker option. A long time ago, the Fantasmal government installed translifts in the Lost Plains as a precaution in case anyone ended up lost. The translifts all take you to just outside of what I believe is now Langwaver. Once there, we should be able to find a quickener to get us to the Acumen capital, Clandestine. Only government quickeners can get in and out of Fantasmal Mountain, but we’ll be able to find one in the outpost at Clandestine.”
“So how long then?” Becky asked, a hint of impatience in her voice.
Hamen thought for a moment. “If I’m not mistaken, the nearest translift would be no more than three to four hours east of Mandoria Mountain by foot.”
“That may be true, but you’ll still need to go through the Lost Plains,” Lewis said, “which is pretty difficult at the best of times, and the shimmer has been dense lately.”
“Well, we just so happen to have a weather master in our group,” Hamen said proudly, beaming at Alyson. “So, we should be fine going through the plains.”
Alyson blushed. “I’ve never been in the Lost Plains before, but I’ll do my best.”
“Clandestine is the place where they study quartz and rifts right? Since we’re headed there anyway, maybe we could see if the engineers can help us,” Bernie said excitedly.
Becky nixed the idea though. “We’re supposed to be heading to Fantasmal Mountain to meet Mrs. Guardman and the others. We’re not going on any more side quests. Besides, we can always go back to Clandestine if we really need to.”
“Well reasoned,” Hamen agreed. “Besides, the Fantasmal Government has more than enough resources to find your friends, so we have no need to involve the Acumen engineers. We can rest here for the night and—”
“No,” Becky cut across him. “We’re going to leave now.”
“What?” Bernie and Alyson said in near unison.
“We’re not going to waste any more time.” Becky readjusted the rucksack on her bag.
“Becky, we’ve been up all day,” Bernie said.
“We rested most of the afternoon,” Becky countered. “Now, I agreed to the whole weather master ceremony because it was important to Alyson, but it set us back hours and now we’re even further from our goal because our transport blew up. We don’t have time to take a tour of yet another fancy mountain and learn some fascinating new things about how the world works. This isn’t an after school special. Look, I know you’ve both been here for years, and to you it’s just another day, but I’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to get the group back together and then get home, so we’re going.” She turned to the dwarf. “You don’t have a problem with this, right?”
“I’m all for it,” Hamen said with a gleam in his eyes, clearly impressed with Becky’s drive. “Wouldn’t be a proper dwarf if I wanted to rest while the humans wanted to keep going.”
“Well, there you have it; we’re going,” Becky said resolutely. “Lewis, where’s the door to this place?”
The timekeeper looked completely befuddled. He turned to Hamen as if looking for confirmation.
“Don’t look at me; she’s the boss.” Hamen chuckled. “Once we reach Fantasmal Mountain, we’ll let them know about your damaged translift and communication crystal, though they may already be aware.”
Lewis nodded. “Uh…okay. Well, if you’re sure, follow me.”
Becky spun the bacilla lazily as she followed him across the large foyer with Bernie, Alyson, and Hamen in tow.
After leaving Mandoria Mountain, it was a simple matter of walking the well-worn path that led through the mountain range and opened up to the vast, sprawling flatland known as the Lost Plains.
As they approached the end of the path, Becky looked up in confusion. The setting sun still provided light, but a dense haze prevented her from fully seeing the sky.
“What’s up with the sky?” She squinted her eyes as if that might help.
“That’s the shimmer,” Hamen explained. “A phenomenon unique to the Lost Plains, and why they were named such. I won’t bore you with the details,” he said with a smile, knowing that Becky only wanted enough information to move forward, “but it’s important to understand the danger of the plains. The shimmer makes it impossible to see the sky, and it hinders vision in the mentant realm, even for me. That combined with the bland, practically desolate nature of the area makes it extremely hard to navigate. It’s very easy to get turned around and lost as there is no way to know what direction you’re going.”
“Okay,” Becky said slowly, “but you said Alyson could help with that, right?” She turned to her friend.
“Well, yeah, the shimmer is a natural phenomenon, so as an environ, I can read it,” she confirmed, “and as a weather master I can even manipulate it a little, but I can’t dissipate it. That would require a huge change to the weather template and…” she faltered, seeing Becky’s impatient look. “Well anyway, I should be able to get us through using my mentus. It’ll still be difficult,” she warned. “Lewis was right, this looks really dense. The deeper we get into the plains, the more it’ll be like fog all around us instead of just above us, so we can’t get separated.”
“We’re much further west now than we were at Weather Mountain, so we have the benefit of sunlight on our side for a while, but we’ve still got a long walk ahead of us.” Hamen turned to Alyson. “Just keep us heading due east and I’ll keep an eye out for the translift cave. I should be able to sense it once we get close enough.”
Alyson gave a hesitant nod and then stepped off the path and into the plains with the others close behind.