* Halls of Glorandor *
It was a long day for Becky. She, Bernie, Findler, and Hamen rose early that morning and traveled for hours on foot through underground tunnels. As Findler explained it, the dwarves of Glorandor almost always traveled by foot through the winding tunnels between the cities that were known as the Halls of Glorandor.
There were translifts scattered around the underground domain that helped shorten extremely long journeys and one was about an hour walk from Kepra, near where Becky and Veda Guardman had appeared. Even after using it to transport to just outside of Jenson, the closest city to Weather Mountain, they still had a half-day’s walk to reach their destination. They only stopped twice along the way, each time at a cleverly hidden chamber. These rest areas housed comfortable sitting areas, beds, bathrooms, and even emergency food rations.
However, the breaks were only a few minutes in length and Becky soon became immensely grateful that Hamen had given her a completely new outfit before the journey. The brown tunic shirt and shorts were far from fashionable, but the fabric was light and breathable, which helped in the stuffy, humid tunnels. The shoes provided the greatest benefit. It was like walking on air. Becky was convinced that they were the only reason her feet didn’t become calloused or blistered as the trip dragged on.
For the first several hours, Becky seemed to fair well, her endurance holding up far longer than she expected, but after walking nearly nonstop all morning, she started feeling the fatigue. Her legs were stiff, and her shoulders were sore from carrying the large rucksack full of supplies she’d been given. She’d packed her mother’s bag inside of it and was carrying the bacilla, which, fortunately, was very light.
She was determined not to appear weak to her dwarf companions who were carrying bags twice as large as hers as well as torches and weapons. They laughed and sang the entire trip, seemingly unencumbered by the weight.
“How do they do it?” Becky whispered to Bernie as Findler started a new song. She had silently slipped to the back of the group with the only other human traveler.
“Well, I think most dwarves are really good singers,” Bernie replied.
“I don’t mean that,” Becky hissed. “I mean they don’t look tired at all, and we’ve been walking for hours. Come to think of it, you don’t look tired either,” she added resentfully as she looked him up and down. He too was wearing a breathable tunic and shorts and had an equally large rucksack but had no weapon, unlike Findler with his axe and Becky with her bacilla.
“I’m exhausted,” Bernie admitted. “I’ve just learned to hide it. You’ve been keeping up really well actually.”
Becky felt relieved hearing this. “Thanks; I’m glad I’m not the only one. Their endurance is just inhuman.”
Bernie chuckled. “Well, they’re not human. Dwarves are a completely different race. They’re physically stronger, have higher resistance to mentus and mandamus, and have higher metabolisms than most humans.”
Becky lowered her voice. “So how does it work, the whole dwarves and elves thing? You mean they aren’t just mutated humans?”
Bernie matched her volume. “No, and don’t say stuff like that. The difference in the races is a really touchy subject, at least in Glorandor.”
Becky raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
“From what Hamen told me, Humans are the dominant race on Mendala, There are over twice as many humans as the other races combined. Dwarves don’t like it that humans see themselves as the superior race solely because they outnumber the others.”
“So are humans and dwarves at war?” Becky asked.
“No, it’s more like they tend to stay segregated. All the races do for the most part.”
“And they can’t have children together, right? Isn’t that what you told me yesterday when I made that joke about—”
“No, it’s not that they can’t, it’s that they don’t,” Bernie corrected. “According to Hamen all the races are compatible physiologically. Like our bodies are basically the same, just some of the physical traits are different. It’s just sort of…taboo I guess.”
“Why?” Becky asked again, even more confused now.
Bernie shrugged. “I don’t know; it’s not something I really pressed. Like I told you, I didn’t want to rock the boat being the only human. Hamen says that dwarves never mate with other races. Apparently, elves and humans do on occasion, but it’s really frowned upon.”
Becky could tell he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable talking so close to the others, so she changed topics. “Do you know how much longer we have to go?”
Bernie shook his head. “I can’t even tell what time it is. There’s no mandorian nearby.”
Becky punched him surreptitiously in the side. “What did I tell you about saying crazy stuff like I know what it is? Either explain it, or don’t say it at all.”
Bernie winced but laughed. “Sorry, mandorian quartz is—”
But before Bernie could delve into his explanation, Hamen called from the front of the group. “Ah, we’re here!”
Becky gave a sigh of relief but her face soon registered confusion when she saw Hamen standing at what appeared to be the dead end of the tunnel.
“I don’t get it,” Becky whispered. “Is there some hidden door there?”
Bernie gave a slight shrug. He clearly had no idea what was going on either but seemed content to wait as they watched Hamen examine the wall.
“Well?” Findler asked impatiently.
“I think it’s been changed to ‘Bullrey Bon Vindor.’” Hamen said straightening up. “Here let’s see.” He pulled a small quartz rod from his inner robe pocket and tapped the wall. In reaction to this, the wall hummed a single musical note that reverberated throughout the chamber.
Before Becky could express her confusion, all of the Dwarves started to sing starting on key with the note that rang through the chamber. She could not understand the words. Just like with all of the other songs throughout the trip, it didn’t translate, but there was a haunting, yet moving, tone to the guttural melody that left a peaceful warmth flowing through her body.
Within a few seconds, the wall in front of them started to split from the center, opening to reveal another tunnel beyond. Hamen and the other dwarves started through to the next tunnel. “It’s about another twenty minutes and then we’ll be at the surface,” he announced.
As the wall slid shut behind them, Becky quickened her pace to catch up to Hamen who was leading the group. “What was that?” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“We seal entrances to the halls with a type of embedded mentus that requires song to open. It’s to ensure no outsiders ever breach our boundaries.” Hamen chuckled at her confused look. “The dwarves in Jenson change the song every so often as a precaution. As I’ve said, we value our privacy.”
Becky decided it was best to change subjects. “So, once we reach the surface, how much longer to Weather Mountain?”
“Oh not long at all, the mountain entrance is no more than ten minutes from this cave’s outlet.” Hamen said. “You seem to be taking this in stride, all things considered. I know you have a lot of questions. It took Bernie months to get used to life here, not only on a new planet but living among dwarves. He questioned me nearly nonstop for days.”
“Oh, I’ve been doing the same,” Becky assured, “but everything here is so complicated. Every answer just leads to ten more questions. I could spend a lifetime learning this world, but I’ve got one goal: find my friends and get back home. I’ll learn whatever I need to learn to get that done; everything else is just noise.”
Hamen beamed at this. “Your unwavering focus on your goal is a very admirable trait. It seems that Bernie’s high praise of you is well earned.”
Becky didn’t know what to say to this, so she focused on keeping pace with the dwarves, ignoring her aches and pains as the promise of journey’s end gave her the motivation to keep going.
Twenty minutes later, the group was at the entrance of a wide-mouthed cave that opened to the surface world. The position of the sun told Becky it was right around noontime, and the group sat just inside the cave to eat lunch as their eyes all adjusted to the bright light of the sun.
Becky was pleased to breathe fresh air again having not realized how much she missed it until then. She wondered how the dwarves spent their whole lives underground but knew that the answer had to be something dealing with the difference in their race and decided not to ask. Instead, she took stock of her surroundings.
The cave seemed to be part of a mountain and looking around the small valley she saw that it was surrounded by several other mountains, but one stood out from the others. Just across the grassy field, she saw the base of a mountain that was separate from the rest. It had an impressively large entrance, and two guards stood sentinel on either side. She knew this had to be Weather Mountain. A knot of excitement welled up inside of her; they were almost there.
Even as they ate, she saw that the two guards seemed to notice the new arrivals, though they were over a hundred yards away and partially hidden in the cave. They conferred among themselves and then one of them went into the mountain. Soon after, a new man in a purple robe emerged and made his way across the valley.
Hamen stood as the man came closer. He had deep brown skin and short, messy green hair almost the same color as the grass.
“Hamen, thanks for coming all this way. The commander has been eagerly awaiting your arrival.” The man extended a hand and Hamen shook.
“I’m sorry if I kept Eleanor waiting. I only just found out yesterday that an appointment needed to be made.”
“Of course, if you taught one of us the method for binding to the Weather Rod, you would not have to make these trips to the surface. I know it must be burdensome.”
Findler laughed heartily, brushing crumbs from his beard as he stood. “I’m sure you’d love to learn a few dwarfish secrets, Macklebee, but you’ll have better fortune growing a proper beard than mastering our craft.”
Macklebee seemed to only just notice Findler was there. He gave a respectful bow and smiled. “I’m sorry, Chief Findler; I meant no disrespect. We are of course honored and grateful that the Glorandor dwarves built and maintain the Weather Rod.”
Findler clapped Macklebee heartily on the back, clearly not offended. “You best be remembering that, young’un. Dwarves may not produce environs, but if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t have the Weather Rod in the first place.”
Macklebee nodded. “‘It is the contributions of all our races that keeps our planet in balance.’ I believe it was High Mage Ligaurd who said that.”
Findler beamed. “Good lad, you know your dwarfish epouranals. There’s hope for your race yet, but then again you guardians have always been the best of your lot. I think that’s the only reason why my people tolerate Hamen and his human leanings.”
Macklebee turned his attention to the rest of the group who was still seated. “Who are your friends?” He seemed clearly confused at seeing two humans among them.
“Ah,” Findler said with the air of a magician about to perform a trick. “Well, they’re the real reason why we came as quickly as we did. I believe the commander is going to want to meet both of them as soon as possible.”
“Well then, let’s not delay.” Macklebee said as the rest of the group stood to follow him to Weather Mountain.
* Weather Mountain *
Becky and Bernie were treated to a tour of Weather Mountain while they waited for a messenger to inform the Commander of Weather of the group’s arrival. The interior of the mountain was not what Becky expected. It was bright and airy; all of the corridors were lined with blue-flamed torches; and there were giant windows in all of the rooms that let in sunlight. It was nothing like the dark and humid Halls of Glorandor.
“And this is where they do the bulk of the combat training,” Macklebee said as he pushed open a set of double doors to reveal a huge room. There were a half dozen people inside paired off and fighting each other with short swords.
As Macklebee closed the doors and started down the wide corridor, Becky leaned in to talk to Hamen. “I don’t understand. You guys call this place Weather Mountain, right?”
“Yes,” Hamen nodded.
“Well, why? I haven’t seen anything weather related. What’s the connection, or is this a translation thing?”
“Weather Mountain is where the vast majority of our weather template is constructed using the Weather Rod. Environs from all over come here to study weather mentus, many with the ultimate goal of becoming weather masters, though as is the case with guardians, only the best of the best are promoted to weather master by the commander.”
“You just said a whole bunch of terms I don’t know,” Becky said with mingled frustration and exasperation.
“Perhaps it would be easier to show you,” Hamen suggested. “Macklebee, our guests would like to see the weather chamber.”
“Absolutely,” Macklebee said as he guided them around a corner and down another long corridor until they reached a set of double doors that rivaled the height of the main entrance to the mountain.
Despite their size, he pushed them open easily, revealing an area so massive it seemed to defy the logic of the mountain. It was an enormous, hollowed-out space at the center of the mountain over six hundred yards in diameter with staggering high walls, smooth and purple, that curved inward as they reached the ceiling. A dozen people in grey robes were spread all throughout the room, some barely visible from where they stood at the door.
In the center of the room was a giant gleaming quartz poll, fifty feet wide, that ran from floor to ceiling and beyond. It was clear from the sunlight streaming in from the small hole at the top of the cavern that the quartz poll continued to the peak of the mountain. Like the walls that surrounded it, the quartz poll was semi-clear with a purple tint. However, sections of it changed color randomly, and as it did, Becky saw rain clouds form over the heads of two women doing a dance; felt chilling wind rip through the air as the man closest to her waved his hands wildly; saw lightning jet from the sky, narrowly missing one young blonde woman who yelped in shock; and saw snow falling serenely over the head of a white-haired man who was meditating.
Becky’s mouth dropped as she stared around the vast chamber, not understanding what she was seeing.
“These people are environs in training,” Hamen explained helpfully. “They come here to hone their natural mentus skills by using the Weather Rod and training with the Commander of Weather. Some desire to become one of the highly skilled weather masters who serve under the commander and help enforce the weather template around the world. However, as I said, those are few and far between. Many are content just to receive training, as environs are rare and a trained one is coveted in many career fields.”
“And this is the only place in the world that can train an environ to maximize their abilities,” Macklebee boasted as he guided them around the outer edge of the large room.
“So, environs can control the weather?” Becky asked, still a bit stunned.
Macklebee chuckled. “Well, it takes a lot of skill and practice, but yes, environs are the only adimus classification that have the ability to use weather-based mentus, and the Weather Rod enhances this ability. Of course, environs are rare, even rarer than mandants, and harder to detect using standard tests. Fortunately, the Weather Rod is capable of detecting the adimus signature of an environ.”
As was often the case, Becky felt the answer only gave her more questions, but before she could ask any further, a second purple-robed guardian approached them. “Macklebee, the commander is in her office and ready to see Hamen and his guests.”
Macklebee nodded and turned to the others. “Perhaps the tour should wait; you did say you had urgent dealings with the commander, correct? Let’s go.”
“Hamen, it’s so good to see you!” A light-skinned woman with waist-length white hair stood in the center of a large office near the top of Weather Mountain. Most of the outer wall of the round room was taken up by a giant window that stretched from floor to ceiling and made the room look like it was open to the blue sky beyond. The woman wore a light-grey robe tied with a gold belt and was beaming as the group entered.
Hamen stepped forward and gave her a hug which she had to lean down to receive. “It’s good to see you, Eleanor. It’s been over ten years and I swear you haven’t changed one bit. If anything, you look like you’re getting younger.”
Eleanor gave a tinkling laugh. “Perhaps it’s a side effect,” she said as she brushed aside her white bangs to reveal a glimpse of a diamond-shaped purple stone lodged into her forehead.
This quartz crystal was her direct connection to the weather rod. It was something that only the Commander of Weather and weather masters had, and only the guardian of Glorandor could make such a connection.
“Perhaps, though if we dwarves have stumbled upon the secret to eternal youth, it’s news to me.” Hamen chuckled.
“If you’ll excuse me, Commander, I’m going to return to post.” Macklebee said from the threshold.
Eleanor gave a nod. “Thank you, Macklebee.”
Hamen waited for the guardian to close the door behind him before speaking again. “As you can see, I’ve brought some guests with me.”
“Indeed. Chief Findler, I was told you were here.” Eleanor stepped forward and shook hands with Findler. “You honor us with your presence, but I must admit I’m very confused. I was always under the impression that the dwarves of Glorandor had little to do with Weather Mountain except in instances where the rod needs maintenance or repair. Has something happened that I’m unaware of?”
Findler chuckled. “In a manner of speaking, yes, but nothing to do with the Weather Rod.” He gestured to Becky and Bernie. “It’s more to do with the case of your newest appointee. I believe my companions know him or her.”
Eleanor’s silvery-blue eyes lit up. “That would be fascinating considering her rather unique origins, but you can ask her yourself. I summoned her here and sense her approach.”
The door opened and a young woman entered. She had short blonde hair with streaks of silver, and wore a simple, white, fitted short-sleeved t-shirt and baggy blue pants under an open grey robe. “You called for me, Commander?”
It took Becky a moment to realize who she was looking at. Like Bernie, she had changed so much. “Alyson?”
Alyson Silvers looked around the room, shock and confusion clear on her face. “I…what? What’s going on?”
“My, my Hamen,” Eleanor said with another tinkling laugh, “you always bring the most interesting surprises with you.”
The Commander of Weather and her guests were in the sitting area of her large office. On a small loveseat, Eleanor and Alyson sat side-by-side. Findler was in an armchair that placed him a bit too high for his feet to touch the floor. Hamen sat with Bernie and Becky on the largest couch, facing Alyson and Eleanor.
After getting over their initial shock, Becky and Bernie were able to piece together the story of how they both arrived in Glorandor, with help from Hamen. Alyson sat in stunned silence, clearly trying to process everything she was hearing, her mouth slightly open.
Eleanor, however, looked intrigued and she spoke first after they finished their tail. “Well now, this is a bit of interesting political drama,” she said folding her hands. “So, the story of Alyson’s arrival was withheld from you by a rival dwarf chief. That explains quite a lot, actually. I’m sure that won’t sit well with the high council.”
“And I’m sure the internal affairs of Glorandor are not a pressing concern of yours, Commander,” Findler said curtly.
“Of course not, Chief; I meant no disrespect.” Eleanor said, seeming to come to herself. “Besides, this situation extends far beyond the borders of Glorandor. Your account confirms much of what I suspected when Alyson told me her story of how she came to be in our world. These three and their friends came not just from another world but were quickened into the past.”
“We came to the same conclusion,” Hamen agreed, “but the question is, have we finally reached their present. Becky’s arrival and the subsequent disappearance of her companion suggests we may have.”
“I believe we have as well, or at least we’re very close,” Eleanor agreed. She stood and walked over to the wide window. “You may not be aware of this, isolated as you are, but throughout the lands, there have been stories of monsters attacking small towns.”
“You mean those crazy creatures are here?” Becky almost shouted.
“It would appear so, and they have been for several months now. It’s been hard to get any information. The government has kept this quite sequestered; I’ve heard very little; though it seems the guardians have all been receiving some sort of information from the Guardian Council that I’m not privy to.”
“Does Fantasma know about your off-worlder,” Findler asked.
“No.” Eleanor started to pace. “You have to understand: Weather Mountain is a government facility. I was afraid of what might happen to Alyson if I revealed her origins. An off-worlder claiming that the Book of War had returned. I’m sure you can appreciate the political ramifications of that.”
Hamen leaned forward. “I can. I had a similar dilemma. As a guardian, I serve the Fantasma, but after what happened to Bernie in Glorandor, I did not want to risk taking his case beyond our borders. I’m fortunate that as the guardian appointed to Glorandor I am allowed a great deal of latitude and do not have to send regular reports or check in.”
Becky was staring at Alyson who still looked a bit stunned. “You never told us what happened to you. How did you end up here?”
Alyson looked up. “Well, I landed here about seven years ago. I ended up inside the weather chamber; fortunately, it was empty when I appeared. I wandered around for a bit but finally some staff found me and thought I was some environ rube who’d come for orientation and gotten lost.”
“You see, she arrived on the same day that all hopeful environs are invited to come to the mountain to start their training. It was quite a stroke of luck for her as it allowed her to hide in plain sight for some time. No one questioned another new face in the mountain and her lack of knowledge was to be expected.”
“But how did she pass the admission test? Wouldn’t the rod have rejected her?” Hamen asked.
“Oh, that’s the extraordinary thing. Alyson is an environ,” Eleanor said. “She was completely untrained, but she has the adimus trait. It was quite the blessing that she was the one that ended up here and on that exact day.”
“In the beginning, the only person I told was Charles,” Alyson continued. “He was one of the people I met on my first day. I didn’t know who to trust but a few days after I arrived, he told me a story he overheard from one of the dwarves who came to do maintenance on the rod. It was about a human in Glorandor that claimed to be from another world. I took a chance and told him my story. He believed me and helped me learn mentus so I could blend in better.”
“The two might have gotten away with it,” Eleanor said, “but late one evening, I discovered them training in the weather chamber. I overheard their conversation and after putting the pieces together, confronted Alyson in my office. I listened to her story, and I too had heard of the rumor of a human in Glorandor claiming to be an off-worlder. I decided to send word to your people that we had another one here, thinking that we could perhaps figure out what was going on, but when I received word that the rumor wasn’t true and that there was no human in Glorandor, I let the matter drop. That’s when I decided to keep Alyson’s origins a secret. Only two other people know, and they have proven themselves very trustworthy and reliable allies to Alyson.”
“So, you’ve been here for seven years?” Becky asked.
“I wanted to go and find the others,” Alyson said defensively. “I wanted to go to Glorandor and find out for myself if the rumor was true, but Elean…the Commander said it was too dangerous and that there was no way a human could try to enter Glorandor.”
“But you suspected that it was a lie, didn’t you Eleanor?” Hamen gave her a shrewd look.
“I did indeed, but I had no proof, and I couldn’t jeopardize the delicate balance between Weather Mountain and the dwarves of Glorandor. So, I did the only thing I could think of.” Eleanor sat next to Alyson again. “I devoted all my energy into getting Alyson to the level of weather master.”
“I don’t understand,” Hamen said.
“Oh, but I think I do,” Findler chimed. “If the young off-worlder became skilled enough to pass all the necessary tests, then the Commander could appoint her to the position of weather master, and the only one who could make the appointment would be you, Hamen.”
Eleanor nodded. “I knew I could not summon you under false pretenses, so I made a legitimate reason to call for you. I assumed that, at the very least, if there was truly a human in Glorandor, an off-worlder like Alyson, you would tell me the truth,” she gave her tinkling laugh again, “but I must admit, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that you would arrive here with a dwarf chief and not one but two additional off-worlders.”
Becky noticed tears in Alyson’s eyes that she seemed to be desperately fighting off. “Alyson, what’s wrong?”
Alyson wiped her eyes furiously. “Sorry, I’m being such a crybaby,” she chastised herself. “I just…I just can’t believe you did this for me. I never knew. You never told me that’s why you were working me so hard, why you were training me, why you spent so much time on me.”
Eleanor wrapped a motherly arm around Alyson. “I worked hard on you because I knew you were worth it. All that natural talent; I knew you had the potential to be a great weather master. I didn’t tell you my ulterior motives because I knew there was a chance I could be wrong, and I didn’t want to get your hopes up.”
“Well, it turns out you were right,” Hamen said, “and we have quite the predicament on our hands as well. We have three off-worlders and the reemergence of the Book of War. What do we do now?”
“What do you mean?” Becky stood. “We have to find our friends. We have to find those rift things and figure out where they all landed right?”
“Rifts?” Alyson looked confused.
“True, but the situation has changed slightly, Now that those creatures from the Book of War have shown up, maybe it’s time to take this to the Fantasmal Government,” Hamen suggested.
Eleanor seemed hesitant. “It is a possibility, but do you really think they would believe that the Book of War has returned? I’ve heard nothing to suggest they suspect this.”
“But you said they’re not releasing information,” Hamen reminded her, “and besides, according to Bernie’s story, Fantasma knew of the Book of War when they met him.” He stood to address the three humans all at once. “The Fantasmal Government would have all of the resources necessary to find your friends. It’s quite possible they already have some of them in the mountain.”
Becky brightened at this. “Maybe that’s where Mrs. Guardman is right now.”
Eleanor nodded. “That’s true. It seems the time might be right to make a trip to Fantasmal Mountain and see if we can find out more information.”
“If anyone is going to go, it should be me,” Hamen said. “If Fantasma already knows about the Book of War, it’s highly likely that the guardians have been informed. That could be part of the information being passed down from the Guardian Council. Obviously, I could ask the guardians here, but this gives me an excuse to go to the mountain itself. That’ll give me the best chance of finding out what they really know.”
Eleanor nodded. “Very true. You could use the mountain’s translift to take you to Fantasmal Mountain.”
“I’ll leave immediately.” Hamen said.
“So, what do we do now?” Bernie asked as everyone stood. “How long will it take.”
“Hopefully no more than a few hours,” Hamen said. “Once I get to the mountain, I’ll find out exactly what’s going on, and from there I’ll know what to do. If possible, I’ll try to speak with Fantasma directly.”
“For now, you are our guests,” Eleanor said. “You can get some much-needed rest after your long trip. Alyson can show you to our guest chambers.”
Becky picked up the rucksack that she’d discarded near the door. “That would be great,” she turned to Alyson, “and we can catch up. I want to hear more about what happened while you were here.”
“I’m sure we all have stories to tell,” Alyson nodded as they headed out of the office. “I can’t believe it’ll be all over soon.”