* — *
It was early morning, and the pale blue moon was still barely visible even as the first rays of sunlight peaked over the horizon near Bellcreek, a small town near the northern border of the country of Pairnight. The town was still quiet, as most people were not yet awake; however, one young woman could be seen leaving through the main gate. She had long blonde hair that flowed down her back and a nervous look in her green eyes as she kept glancing behind her furtively, as if expecting the sleepy guard at the gate to come after her. When he didn’t, she hastened her pace as she took the dirt road up a steep hill, a brown rucksack bouncing silently on her back as she ran.
When the young woman reached the top of the hill, she saw who she was looking for, a lone man walking leisurely down the path toward the forest northwest of Bellcreek. He was tall with unkempt black hair, wearing a brown robe and carrying a rucksack similar to the one she had.
She picked up her pace. “Wait! Mr. Cal!”
The man stopped when he heard someone calling him. He turned to see the young woman running up to him, already out of breath. “Yes, what is it? I paid my tab,” he said, clearly confused.
“What? Oh, no, I’m not from the inn,” she said. “I mean, yes, I was helping Lidia at the inn yesterday, but I don’t work there; I just…” she paused to catch her breath. “You said you were headed to Leviton, right?”
“Can I come with you then?” she asked with a bright smile.
He gave her a searching look as if trying to determine if she was equipped to go on such a trip. The young woman stood tall, clearly ready to be appraised. Though she’d never traveled long distance by foot before, she packed her rucksack with plenty of supplies and dressed appropriately in a long-sleeved brown tunic dress that fell just above her knees with a matching pair of sandals. The dress was plain and practical but also made almost completely of ustus, an expensive, quartz-based fiber that, among other things, never became soiled or torn. In addition, her sandals were turgus which meant that they were extremely comfortable for walking long distances.
“I’m walking though. If you want to go to Leviton, why not hire a quickener?” Cal said finally.
She frowned. This wasn’t the response she was expecting. “There aren’t any in Bellcreek, and with the war ramping up between our country and the Kingdom of Lodomite, almost all of the cities have destroyed their quartz markers. It’s nearly impossible to go anywhere by quickener unless they’re a royal quickener.”
“So, you’re trying to escape the war then?” he surmised.
“Well, not exactly…sort of…I want to go to Leviton because it’s the closest place with a Fantasmal Government outpost.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, because of the war, the Fantasmal Government closed its outposts in our country and Lodomite’s. The closest outpost is in Leviton,” she explained.
Cal nodded along. “That makes sense, but why are you trying to get to a Fantasmal Government outpost. They don’t take war refugees. You’d do better appealing to Sunnin.”
“No, that’s not it.” She was growing a bit frustrated at having to explain herself. “I want to become a guardian.”
“Oh, I see,” Cal said, and at the same time, he gave her another once over, clearly appraising her mentantly now. “So, you’re a mandant?”
“Well, yeah, I mean, kinda yeah,” she stammered. “I haven’t really properly learned mandamus. I couldn’t go to school for it, so I learned some from a few books.”
Cal gave her a skeptical look. “Well miss—”
“Alice, Alice Verning.” she said with the same bright smile.
“Well look Alice, I don’t think you know what you’re getting into. It’s a six to eight week walk to Leviton, and I’ll have to walk through Lodomite to get there. With the war starting between Pairnight and Lodomite, there may not be a lot of safe places to stay, so that means a lot of nights sleeping in the woods. Besides, I doubt the Fantasmal Government’s going to let some untrained mandant into their guardian school. What are you going to do then? You’ll be stuck, far from home, no friends, no family, and no way to get back. You should just stay in Bellcreek. Even with the war you’ll probably be safer there.”
Alice’s smile fell as he laid out the blunt facts. Having said his peace, Cal turned and continued walking down the road, but when she saw this, Alice quickly ran to intercept him.
“Wait,” she said as she blocked his path. “I know it’ll be hard, especially since I’ve never left my town before, and yeah, I know that maybe I won’t be accepted for guardian training, but I have to try. I don’t want to give up just because it might be difficult. I’m seventeen, so if I’m going to try, it has to be now. I promise I won’t be a burden and I can even pay you if you want. Please take me with you!”
Cal looked down at her and could see the determination in her green eyes. “Fine, you can come with me, but I don’t need your money. Just be sure to pull your own weight, and if you get homesick halfway through, you’ll have to find your own way back, got it?”
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Cal,” Alice said excitedly.
“Just Cal,” he grunted. “Come on then.”
Cal and Alice walked the short distance remaining to the large forest and then disappeared within.
Fourteen hours later, Cal and Alice finally stopped for the day. They were still in the same woods, and it would be another day before they reached the border between Pairnight and Lodomite. Alice felt like she was being tested by her traveling companion to see if she was truly up for the journey. Not only did they not take any breaks the entire time, but late in the day, Cal veered from the dirt path and started forging through the woods instead. Alice made no complaint, determined not to show any weakness, but she was glad when he finally declared they would be stopping for the night.
“This should work,” Cal said as they reached a small clearing.
He dropped his rucksack and started sifting through it before pulling out a slab of wild boar meat. It had clearly been prepared at a butcher shop and looked fresh as if he pulled it from cold storage.
He turned to Alice who was staring in confusion. “I know you’re probably tired and hungry. I’ll make us some dinner, just get your stuff unpacked. You brought something to sleep in, right?”
“What? Oh, yeah. I’ve got a bed roll,” Alice said quickly as she let her own rucksack fall to the ground. She pulled out a bedroll that looked to be almost half the size of her bag.
Like Cal, Alice’s rucksack had ustus compartments with embedded mentus that let them hold far more than their size. This in itself wasn’t too unusual, but it was clear Cal’s bag had other features, such as a cold storage area for food. Ustus bags like that could only be bought in a few places, all of them far away from where she lived. It made her wonder how well traveled Cal was. As she pondered this, Cal began to walk around the clearing, gathering rocks and sticks.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Making a fire,” Cal said as if this were obvious. He walked back to the center of the clearing where he had left the boar meat and dropped the sticks on the ground. “Mandamus Terra.”
At his command, the ground surrounding the sticks sank, making a small pit.
“Wait, you know mandamus too?” Alice said now clearly in awe.
“Yes,” Cal answered matter-of-factly as he placed the smooth stones he’d gathered in a ring around the small pit.
“I thought you said you were making a fire?” Alice asked both intrigued and confused.
“I am,” Cal’s voice had a hint of annoyance. “Just prepping. Mentenus Fire.”
Immediately a red and yellow blaze shot up from the pile of sticks and a fire was burning brightly as if it’d been there the whole time. As Alice looked at the fire in wonder, Cal made a makeshift spit to start roasting the boar meat.
“I’ve never seen anyone use mandamus like that,” she said. “I’ve never even heard of that word you used. What’s ‘mentenus,’ and how did you make real fire?”
Like most people, Alice could create fire using mentus, but mentus fires were always blue. What Cal had done was different. He made real fire, something she’d only seen a few times in her life.
“The mentenus trigger is used when you want to manipulate unseen forces and energies, like the reactions needed to cause combustion and make fire,” Cal explained.
Alice stared at the fire almost enviously. “That’s amazing…but isn’t mentus fire better? You can control how hot it is; what it does and doesn’t burn; you can even move it around and you don’t need sticks or anything to keep it going.”
“All true,” Cal agreed, “but mentus fire requires your adimus energy to keep it going, or a fire stone that you trigger with mentus. Once you, or the stone, run out of energy, the fire’s gone. Plus, mentus fire can be dismissed by another person’s mentus if they get ahold of it. So, there are pros and cons to both. Once you create real fire, you can control it similarly to mentus fire.”
“I’ve never seen anyone use mandamus the way you do. It’s so precise and you use it so casually. I thought mandamus was only for…you know, big things.”
He gave a sigh that sounded annoyed. “You know how mandamus is different from mentus, right?”
“Yes. mentus uses your own adimus energy to do things, with mandamus you are manipulating the energy in something or someone else. That way you use very little of your own adimus energy to do it, and you can do far more complex things.”
“That’s basically true for the most part. So, if mandamus uses far less of my own adimus energy, why would I use mentus for something I can do with mandamus?”
“Well, isn’t mandamus harder to use and control?” Alice asked.
Cal shrugged. “Not when you understand the principles. Mandamus requires, will, imagination, and most importantly an understanding of what you’re trying to command. That’s why the same word can be used to mean different things based on what you want.”
“So, the words don’t matter then?” Alice asked both amazed and confused.
“They matter somewhat, but not as much as your intent. I could have easily said ‘ground’ or ‘dirt’ or ‘stone’ instead of ‘terra,’ but most mandants use a standard set of words, since it’s easier to teach that way,” Cal explained.
“Okay but what about using mentenus, you said that was different right?”
“Yes, there are different triggers you can use with mandamus. It’s just that ‘mandamus’ is the most common trigger…which is probably why it’s called mandamus. It’s versatile, but the other triggers can be used for their respective meanings for more powerful or specific results.”
“So, there are even more triggers?” Alice asked intrigued.
“Yup, summonous, resepco, converto, maximus,” Cal ticked off on his fingers, “and some rare ones I don’t really know. All of them require some of your own energy though, so they’re mostly only useful to guardians. Mandants can use them, we just have to be more careful.”
Alice felt like her world was opening up. She had only a basic understanding of mandamus and learning how much more there was filled her with both excitement and dread. How was she going to become a guardian if she knew so little about one of their basic tools? She sat, staring at the fire for several seconds before she spoke again.
“Uh, Cal…could you—”
“You didn’t even let me ask!” Alice said shrilly.
“You want me to teach you mandamus,” Cal said succinctly. “I’m not your tutor. Besides, I don’t want to waste my time.”
“Why would it be a waste of time? We’ve got weeks before we reach Leviton. It’s not like we have anything else to do to pass the time.”
“I’m not confident you’ll make it the whole way,” Cal said as he turned the spit.
Alice shot to her feet angrily. “What do I have to do to convince you I’m serious?”
Cal ignored her posturing, instead turning to his left. “I have to say, you’re as persistent as she is; even following us off path.”
Alice’s expression went from anger to confusion, but then she heard rustling in the trees surrounding the clearing. She had been so caught up in the conversation that she failed to notice someone was approaching. A young man stumbled through the underbrush. He was tall with curly brown hair and wore an all-white outfit, long pants, and a long-sleeved button-up shirt that looked completely out of place in the wilderness environment.
“Matthew?” Alice said in shock. “How did you get here?”
“Did you really think you could just leave some vague note and disappear?” the man named Matthew said, his tone a mixture of haughtiness and anger. “I’ve come to take you home, Alice; mother and father are worried sick.”
“I’m not going back home Matthew!” Alice said mulishly. “I’m going to Leviton! I’m going to become a guardian.”
“Leviton?” He laughed. “Have you lost your mind? That’s weeks away on foot. You’ve never even left Bellcreek. You’re going to get yourself killed wandering out here.”
“That’s why I have Cal; he’s going to take me there. I’ll be fine.”
“Ridiculous! What sort of honied words has this vagrant whispered into your ears to make you go with him?” He cast a contemptuous gaze at Cal. “My father will have your head if you’ve laid a finger on my little sister.”
Cal raised an eyebrow at this but said nothing as he continued to lazily turn the spit.
“Matthew, enough!” Alice said. “I’m not going back to Bellcreek, I’m not marrying Kevin, and I don’t care what you or father or anyone has to say about it. Now go home.”
Matthew took a step forward, his voice a bit gentler now. “Alice, I know you have this fantasy of becoming a guardian, but now is not the time. War is coming, and if we’re going to survive this, then our family has to align itself with the right factions. Your marriage into Count Lashton’s house isn’t just for our sake but the sake of the whole town. Would you really be so selfish as to turn your back on all the people there that are depending on you?”
“I shouldn’t have to be married off just to ensure that the kingdom’s soldiers do their job protecting our city. Just because Count Lashton controls the troops stationed in our region doesn’t mean his son has the right to use that to get what he wants. Besides, do you really think they’ll just sit back and let our town be destroyed?”
“As always, Alice my dear, you are too naïve when it comes to political matters,” another voice said from behind Matthew.
A blonde-haired man, similar to Matthew in age, stepped out from the woods behind him as if he was waiting for the chance to make a dramatic entrance.
“The region my father has been charged to protect is vast, and resources are limited,” the newcomer continued. “Do you honestly think that he would be devoting as much to your small town if it weren’t for our upcoming union?”
“Kevin, I told you to let me handle this,” Matthew hissed.
“Well clearly you weren’t handling it,” Kevin said as he stepped up next to Matthew. They were dressed similarly, though Kevin had a sword on his belt. “My fiancé has always been a bit rambunctious; she needs a firm hand.”
“I can’t believe you brought him here!” Alice shouted accusingly at Matthew.
“I was worried about you,” Kevin said with a silky tone to his voice, “and rightly so. I can’t have my bride-to-be galivanting off with some nameless drifter when our wedding is in two weeks. Now come along; we have horses back on the path. I’ll escort you safely to Bellcreek.”
Alice felt rage bubble-up inside of her. “Have you got quartz for brains! I’m not going back. I’m a mandant and I want to become a guardian. I’m leaving!”
“Well personally, I support your dreams,” Kevin said with a wide smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “After we’re married, and this pesky war is over, I’m sure I can persuade my father to petition the Fantasmal Government for entrance into their program under extenuating circumstances once the outpost opens again.”
There was a snort of laughter at this and all three of them turned to see Cal, who was carefully slicing off a piece of the cooked boar meat. He seemed to realize all eyes were on him. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said with a smirk. “I just found it funny you think that the Fantasmal Government is going to be persuaded by some no-name noble from some tiny, fledgling country. It’s just as funny as this one thinking she’s going to get into the guardian program with no mandamus training.”
“How dare you!” Kevin roared. “Pairnight has five hundred long years of distinguished—”
“Shut-up, Kevin!” Alice snapped. “He’s right. I’m seventeen, so this is my last chance to apply, and I won’t be untrained by the time I get there because Cal is going to train me.” She turned and glared at Cal as if daring him to disagree.
Cal merely shrugged disinterestedly and started to eat.
“Why must you be so stubborn!” Matthew shouted. “I’m dragging you back home whether you like it or not.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “I’d like to see you try. I may not be a properly trained mandant, but I can certainly take you two easily.”
“You may know some mandamus, but your mentus still needs a bit of work,” Cal muttered as he ate. “Haven’t you noticed yet?”
“What?” Alice looked back and forth between Cal and Matthew frantically.
Kevin gave an exaggerated sigh. “As always, you must make things difficult. You didn’t really think we came here alone? Your father sent others with us.”
Alice soon realized her mistake. She hadn’t scanned the mentant realm. As Kevin spoke, nearly a dozen other men came out of the forest, some wielding weapons.
A look of mingled anger and fear crossed her face. “I don’t believe this: Sam, Oden, James, you’re all in on this? You’re just going to drag me back to Bellcreek against my will?”
“We’re just doin’ what Lord Verning told us.”
“Alice, none of us wanna hurt you. Just come back home where you belong. Everyone’s worried about you.”
“Yeah, Lidia’s been a right mess since she heard you ran off with some lout.”
“This isn’t just about you. The whole town’s at stake. It’s time you act like a proper noble’s daughter and not a selfish brat.”
All of the men had solemn but determined looks on their faces.
Alice turned to her brother. “I can’t believe you’re just going to kidnap me and drag me back home. This isn’t right, and you know it. You can’t just force me to marry against my will.”
Matthew sighed. “You can take that up with father when we get back home.” He turned to the men behind him. “Try not to hurt her too much, we just need to knock her out.”
“And make sure that ruffian doesn’t interfere,” Kevin added pointing to Cal. “Kill him if you must; he deserves that much for kidnaping the daughter of a noble.”
Cal smirked again. “Well, this should be interesting.”
Alice backed up close to where Cal was still sitting and eating without a care in the world. “How many do you think you can take?”
“Zero,” Cal said as he started to cut off another piece of boar meat with his knife.
“What?” she looked down at him in shock.
“I’m not fighting your battles,” Cal said succinctly. “This is your mess; you clean it up.”
“But…” Alice’s heart sank. Up until that moment she was confident things would go well because Cal would be on her side.
“If you can’t take twelve weak mentants on your own, do you really think you’re going to be accepted to be trained as a guardian? Where’s all that resolve you had?” Cal said. “You want to walk your own path? Then fight for it.”
Alice balled her fists. Fury burned inside her until it was a palpable aura. “Fine,” she said through clenched teeth. “I’ll prove to all of you that I can do this.”
Several of the men started forward slowly. “Come on, Alice, don’t make this difficult, we’re doin’ this for your own good,” one of them said.
“Mandamus Terra!” she shouted.
At her command, several of the stones that surrounded the firepit shot into the air and launched themselves at her assailants. Two in the front were struck hard in the forehead and immediately knocked out from the force of the blow. The rest had just enough time to dodge completely or only be struck in the leg or side.
“Not bad, but that was more of a hybrid of mentus and mandamus,” Cal commented casually from behind her. “You’re using too much of your own energy.”
Alice felt something invisible wrap around her entire body, binding her in place. She couldn’t even speak. Her eyes darted around wildly until she spotted two men in the back using their combined mentus to restrain her. They had to work together since she had stronger resistance to mentus as a mandant.
Matthew walked up to her. “Come on Alice, enough is—”
As he reached out his hand, Alice forcibly broke free of the mentus restraint, grabbed her brother’s arm and flung him to the ground on his back. “Mandamus Tree!”
Tree roots burst from the ground and wound their way around Matthew’s body, binding him in place.
“Now that was much better,” Cal said. “You willed the tree roots and didn’t add your mentus to make it happen.”
“Will you stop commentating like this is a hyperball match!” Alice snapped.
Just as she turned her attention back to the fight at hand, she saw a ball of blue flames hurtling toward her, thrown by one of the men in the back. It was clearly to force her to dodge so one of the closer men could grab her. Instead of dodging, she caught the fire in midair. Just as she suspected, it was hot enough to singe her hand but not harm her too badly. She used her own mentus to dispel the fire.
“My turn then,” she said quietly. “Mandamus Fire!”
Having never used mandamus to control real flames, she was uncertain she’d be able to assert her will over it, but the flames obeyed her command. The fire sprang up with renewed life, ingulfing the already cooked boar meat before shooting past Alice along the ground in a zig-zag pattern. Several men jumped out of the way, screaming in terror. The flames burned indiscriminately, racing along their chosen path until finally reaching the two mentus users in the back, setting their clothes on fire.
Because it wasn’t mentus flames, they couldn’t put them out, and the two men started flailing around in terror. Not wanting to set the woods ablaze, Alice used her own mentus to trip the two men and another mandamus command to dump huge mounds of dirt on top of them, effectively putting out the fire and incapacitating them.
Three men, using mentus to increase their speed, rushed her while she was distracted, but she dodged out of the way using her own mentus enhanced speed. She then countered with another mandamus command. “Mandamus Wind!” A torrent of wind sent the trio crashing into three separate trees.
“Creative combinations,” Cal said approvingly. “Mandants have superior control with mentus, so using that to your advantage was smart.”
Alice ignored him. She was still facing Kevin and three other men, though they seemed far more wary now. “Give it up Kevin, I’m not going back with you and if you think I’d ever marry you after this, you’re crazy.”
“Sir, maybe we should go,” one of the other men said hesitantly. “Her mandamus is way stronger than we thought.”
Kevin smirked. “That’s what I’ve always adored about you; that fiery spirit of yours. Always determined to do things your own way. Fine, if you won’t submit for your own good, maybe I need to take out a few more obstacles.” With a sudden burst of mentus, he launched himself forward, drawing his sword.
Alice instinctively made to dodge before realizing that he wasn’t coming toward her. Kevin closed the distance between himself and Cal within a few seconds and swung the sword at the defenseless man’s neck.
“Kevin, no!” Alice screamed.
“Mentenus Safe,” Cal said lazily.
A green semi-transparent dome appeared instantly around Cal. When Kevin’s sword hit it, the resultant backlash from the barrier caused him to go soaring backward, and his sword flew from his hand.
Seeing her chance, Alice snatched up the sword. The three other men backed away from her, clearly afraid now.
She stormed over to Kevin who was sprawled on the ground. “I never knew you were so despicable. I can’t believe I ever considered marrying you.”
Kevin was too dazed to respond.
Alice shook her head and turn to the last three men standing. “Take him and the others, and get out of here,” she said pointing the sword at them.
They rushed to comply as Alice walked over to where her brother was still bound by tree roots. She used mandamus to free him.
“You’re making a huge mistake Alice,” Matthew said as he lifted himself gingerly. He ached all over and was in no position to fight further.
“Tell mother and father that I’m sorry,” she said, handing him the sword. “I know they’ll be mad, but hopefully one day we can reconcile when I return after becoming a guardian.”
Matthew just shook his head. Slowly, he and the others retreated into the woods; those who could walk helping to carry those who couldn’t. Alice watched in the mentant realm to make sure they were truly going away and not returning. After several seconds, she sat down across from Cal, who was still seated at the fire, casually eating the boar meat.
“I saved some for you.” He indicated the slightly charred slab of meat still skewered to the spit. “Might be a bit overcooked.”
Alice actually chuckled at this. She used her mentus to float the meat toward her.
“Are you certain you want to do this?” Cal said after a few seconds.
“I want to be a guardian,” she reaffirmed without hesitation. “I know my family doesn’t approve, but…this is my path. Maybe one day they’ll understand.”
“I’m not talking about just that,” Cal said pointedly. “I’m sure Kevin’s father won’t take this lightly. It’s likely he’ll punish your father and your town for embarrassing his family.”
Alice knew this, but hearing Cal say it made her stomach churn. “I don’t want that, I really don’t but…I have to do this. I’ve wanted to be a guardian ever since I was seven. I met one, you know. She showed up out of nowhere when stray lightning struck the inn that my friend Lidia’s parents owned and set it on fire. It was the first time I’d seen real fire, and the first time I saw a guardian. She just swooped in and saved everyone. She was incredible.
“I want to be like that. I want to help and protect people. I know my leaving may cause Count Lashton to break ties with my family, but it’s not like he can just let the Lodomite armies destroy Bellcreek. The king would never allow that. I know I’m being selfish, but it’s what I have to do. I’ll make it up to them someday. When I become a guardian, I’ll be the one to protect the town.”
Cal gave her a long searching look.
“What?” she said finally.
“Nothing, you just remind me of someone I used to know; a very stubborn, very headstrong someone.” He smiled.
Alice raised an eyebrow. “Is that a good thing?”
“Yes.” Cal seemed to make up his mind in that moment. “In fact, I’ve decided if you truly want to become a guardian, then I’ll help you.”
Alice lit up. “Really? So, you’ll really teach me mandamus?”
“Sure, I guess it won’t be a waste of time,” he grinned.
Alice beamed and started to eat, suddenly finding her appetite after the stressful fight.
* Lumarian Mountains *
Alice woke with a groan. For several seconds she didn’t know where she was, and then the memories rushed in at once. She had been fighting monsters from the Book of War near Gilmore and was thrown from a high ledge. Despite the long fall, she was able to use mandamus to command the wind and slow her descent. The trees also cushioned her impact, though she still broke an arm and a leg when she hit the ground.
The shock to her system almost made her pass out, but she’d managed to crawl into a shallow cave at the base of the mountain to partially hide herself. She then slipped into unconsciousness as her body worked to heal itself. Now it was nighttime, and she could see the red moon hanging over the forest just outside the cave. It took Alice a moment to get her bearings and realize that she’d been out for almost twelve hours.
Well, at least I’m alive, she thought to herself.
Her wounds had partially healed but even as a guardian, injuries like broken bones would most likely take a full day to completely mend themselves. She was in no state to walk and would need to remain in the cave for at least another twelve hours. Once she had healed enough, she planned to find Sherrilynn and Veda Guardman. She had no way of knowing for sure, but she believed they were still alive. Part of her felt this was wishful thinking, or perhaps guilt for not being able to protect them.
“Was that why I had that dream?” she muttered to herself.
While she was unconscious, Alice had vividly dreamed about the day she left her small town to become a guardian. It was one of the hardest decisions she’d ever made, and it came with a lot of consequences.
At the time, she believed she would train to become a guardian and then go back to her small town to protect it, but that was never to be the case. Three years into her guardian training, she heard news that the war between Pairnight and Lodomite had ended abruptly when a third kingdom to the southeast, Adimare, entered the fray and conquered both kingdoms along with several other smaller ones.
A year later, when the Fantasmal Government reopened the outpost to the newly expanded kingdom of Adimare, Alice journeyed back to the region where she grew up, only to find that Bellcreek no longer existed. The town was decimated early on in the war. She learned that almost everyone there had been killed, including her parents and brother. As for Count Lashton and his family, they fled when it became clear that the war would drag on, abdicating their responsibilities and using their connections to move to another far off country.
Alice remembered it all like it was yesterday. The guilt of not being able to protect the people she loved still haunted her.
“You can’t let yourself be trapped by guilt. You may not have been able to protect them, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t protect others who need you. You made a choice to sacrifice everything for your dream of being a guardian. Don’t let that sacrifice be in vain.”
Those words had been Cal’s. He was with her when she visited the area of her hometown. His words reaffirmed her resolve when guilt and indecision were threatening to swallow her whole. Remembering them now had the same effect. She risked everything to protect Mrs. Guardman and Sherrilynn. She wouldn’t let her efforts be in vain.
But first she needed to heal. There was nothing she could do for now except rest. Just as she was thinking this, she sensed something in the mentant realm. Though there was a lot of quartz interference, she could tell someone was heading in the direction of the cave.
Not wanting to take any chances, she muttered a quick mandamus command and the rockface silently shifted to seal up the cave, leaving her only a few small holes to breathe and look through. After a few minutes she saw two giga pogs lumbering about. It was clear they were searching for something, and Alice had a feeling it was her. With the cave almost completely sealed by quartz rock, she couldn’t be detected in the mentant realm, but she still used mandamus to obfuscate herself further just to be safe, though in her weakened state it only lasted a few seconds. It was enough though, and soon the pogs moved further down the side of the mountain and out of sight.
Alice let out a sigh of relief. She then used mandamus to deepen the cave and make herself a more comfortable place to lay down. She was dangerously low on adimus energy as her body was using the majority of it to heal, but she could still use mandamus that didn’t require much of her own energy with relative ease. The obfuscate command was draining, but manipulating rocks and the ground were simple tasks for her.
She was more skilled with mandamus than some guardians who were decades her senior. Not for the first time, she was grateful for her training with Cal. She attributed most of her skills to his tutelage.
Not only had he rigorously trained her on their long trip to Leviton, he even continued after she was accepted into the guardian training program. She and Cal had grown close in their travels together and though he tended to be aloof, it was clear that he was fond of her. He decided to stay in Leviton for several years, and Alice was able to visit him often to train. Though she had plenty of guardian instructors in the mountain, Cal seemed to have a unique understanding of mandamus and explained it in a way that no one else could.
Their relationship slowly grew beyond student and teacher, and the two fell in love. Even though Cal was still a bit of a mystery to her, she couldn’t deny her feelings for him. However, things changed abruptly five years into her guardian training when Cal told her that he had to leave for a while. He didn’t explain where he was going or when he’d be back, but he promised he would return. That was over seven years ago.
Alice thought about all of this as she drifted off to sleep again. The dream had brought up many old feelings that she realized were just as strong now as they were years ago. She put a hand to her chest and felt the small quartz pendant that hung around her neck, under her shirt. It was the bonding stone Cal had given to her before he left. Somehow, thinking about him gave her strength, and she reaffirmed her resolve to get back to Mrs. Guardman and Sherrilynn.
“I’ll find them,” Alice said quietly, even as she started to drift off to sleep again. “I won’t let anyone else die that I’ve sworn to protect.”