* The Lost Cave *
Several tunnels leading from the main cave became impassible as more and more rocks fell to block the entrances.
“This is getting out of control.” Fantasma said as he knocked two more pogs backward. “Mittius Mentenus Safe.” A green aura appeared above where he and Jandor stood side-by-side and the rocks bounced off it, offering them some protection. Even the pogs were having trouble navigating the cave-in and made a hasty retreat down one of the unblocked tunnels, apparently still intent on finding the other teens.
“You said you could stop it, right?” Jandor was panting heavily as he picked up the staff.
He had a deep gash on his arm from the most recent fight, but he’d felled two pogs using a short sword one of the monsters dropped, so he was feeling particularly accomplished. He was about to tear his shirt to wrap it around his arm when he realized, to his surprise, that his wound was almost completely healed.
Fantasma was too focused on the cascading rocks to notice. “It’s no use. That fool Davron started a chain reaction. It’s out of my hands now.” He looked around and realized that Davron and Gamdon were both gone. “Coward.”
“Okay, well what do we do now?” Jandor asked. “Those pig things are all over the place and they could be hurting my friends.”
“We need to quicken out of here, back to Mendala, just like Davron did,” came the answer in the form of Sharanel. She was pulling a still confused Henry behind her to join Fantasma and Jandor under the green safe aura that protected them.
“Uh, okay?” Jandor said skeptically. “I’m all for getting out of here. How do we do that?”
“I thought Thomas was the only one who could harness the rift?” Fantasma said, glancing at the still body of the fallen quickener.
“He’s not. This quickener here apparently has dimensional sense and Tommy gave him...” Sharanel was trying hard to maintain her composure even as the weight of what she just witnessed sank in.
“But I’m not a quickener,” Henry protested. “I don’t know what a quickener is. I don’t know what’s going on.”
“You’re our only hope. You can see the rift. Tommy believed in you. He gave you his staff’s knowledge. It has to be you,” Sharanel pleaded, tugging at his staff.
Henry looked from her wide, tear-filled eyes to Jandor, then Fantasma, then back to her. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I just got this thing today.”
There was a scream in the distance.
“That’s Terri,” Jandor said taking off toward the noise, dodging falling rocks as he followed the same path the two pogs ran down.
“He’s going to get himself killed,” Fantasma said. “Sharanel, if you believe this young quickener can get us back, then make it happen; I trust you. Just make sure you get everyone. We only have one shot and a few minutes tops before Davron reaches Mendala and takes the Sun Stone, which could seal us on this side for good.”
Sharanel nodded. “We won’t fail.”
“Stay under this,” he pointed to the green aura above them. “It should offer you some protection.” With that Fantasma took off after Jandor.
Henry clutched the staff. “So now what?”
“You heard Fantasma,” Sharanel said resolutely. “It’s up to us. If you’ve got even a fraction of the skill Tommy had, this should be easy for you. All you have to do is close your eyes and focus.”
“Okay,” Henry said closing his eyes and trying to block the noise around him.
“Now just find your friends mentantly.”
“Men-tant-ly,” Sharanel repeated sternly.
“I don’t know what that means!” Henry said, his eyes popping open, a look of frustrated annoyance on his face. “I told you. I’ve never done this before.”
A particularly heavy boulder ricocheted off the green aura above them, and though their protection held, it clearly rattled Henry even more.
Sharanel’s mind was racing. Fantasma was depending on her. She had to get this done, but Henry was the one with the ability to move through the rift. She tried not to let panic set in as her mind grasped at the only solution she could think of. “I’ve got an idea.”
* Lumarian Mountains *
“You’re back. Did you find the Daughter of the Sun?” Jansdimion jumped to his feet at the return of Davron and Gamdon, but his elation at their return lessened when he saw them both on the ground, clutching each other for support. “What happened?”
Gamdon stood, still a bit unsteady. “I’m not entirely sure. I was out for most of it, but he pushed himself too hard. We had a run in with the Fantasma and he depleted his adimus. We need to take the Sun Stone and get out of here.”
“No,” Davron croaked from his seated position, “seal it first.”
Gamdon picked up the Sun Stone. “Sir, without Thomas they have no chance of getting back anyway.”
“Seal it!” Davron barked, his bloodshot eyes looking dangerously crazed. “We’re not taking any chances. They all must die there.”
“Fine.” Gamdon sighed as he focused his energy on the quickener staff, and it began to glow blue.
“Hey!” came a shout from the mouth of the wide tunnel that led to the valley. At the threshold stood Alice, Pathos, and a frightened looking Sherrilynn. “Stop right there!” Alice demanded, standing confidently in the center.
The pogs and sleep crawler were quick to leap to action, but Alice was quicker. “Mittius Mandamus Terra.”
A dome of rock shot up around Davron, Gamdon, Jansdimion and the creatures.
“We need to get out of here,” Jansdimion said.
“We will not run from those guardian fools.” Davron tried to stand but faltered, gripping Jansdimion for support.
“With all due respect sir, with only these few creatures and no element of surprise, we risk capture,” Gamdon said sagely. “We have the Sun Stone; it’s time to go.”
“Focus on sealing the rift,” Davron barked.
But Gamdon turned to the creatures. “Your master is in danger, do your duty.”
The two pogs nodded. One scooped Davron up into its massive arms, despite his feeble protests, the other yanked Jansdimion up by his collar, leaving him dangling. Gamdon then climbed on top of the waiting sleep crawler. The pog holding Jansdimion slammed his free fist into the rock that trapped them, and it shattered leaving a gaping hole for the three creatures to escape. The pogs were lightning fast and sped past the unsuspecting guardians before they could even react. The sleep crawler was a bit slower with Gamdon on its back, but when Alice tried to stop it as it raced past, it’s long whip-like tail released a small amount of the grey mist
“Get back!” Pathos pulled her and Sherrilynn away just in time.
“You’re letting them get away!” Alice shouted as she fell backwards away from the smoke.
“I think that smoke is what knocked everyone out,” Pathos warned. “Mittius Mandamus Wind.” At his command a powerful gust of wind pushed the grey mist down the tunnel and out of harm’s way.
“They’ve got the Sun Stone.” Sherrilynn attempted to pick herself up.
Alice offered a hand to help her. “We’ll never catch those things now.”
“I know,” Pathos said as soon as he was certain the mist would not return, “but there’s nothing we can do. There are more urgent matters. We need to revive everyone and find Chief Pornabus and Chief Stokenshire. We’ll need their help and expertise if we’re to have any hope of getting Fantasma and the others back. You start in here; I’ll go out to the valley.”
“Oh no, Sharanel!” Sherrilynn said in sudden remembrance, concern clear in her eyes.
* The Lost Cave *
Though the cavern was laced with quartz, it didn’t hinder Sharanel’s abilities because just like the cave on Mendala, most of it was traveler quartz. This was one of the few types that didn’t block quickening or vision in the mentant realm but rather enhanced both exponentially. Though she couldn’t quicken due to the rift, Sharanel could still mentantly find the others who were running from the pogs and make the special link that connected people to her staff and allowed her to transport them. Typically, a person couldn’t be transported if they did not want it. The link was something that could be sensed and even resisted, but this was not a concern for Sharanel.
Fantasma was already linked to her staff, after all she was his chief quickener. Thomas was as well, but she wasn’t completely sure she could transport him postmortem, still, she wanted to try. As for the members of the A&A club, they were novices when it came to mentus and quickening, so they didn’t even know how to resist, though she was fairly certain they could sense it.
She could now mentantly see everything that was going on in the caves as a result of these links. Fantasma was with Jandor. They were currently fighting another group of three pogs that were near the two known as Daniel and Terri, the latter of whom had her leg pinned under a rock. Daniel was trying to help her. Even further down the same tunnel, Derrick and his group had merged with Bernie’s group, and they were all running together but when Stephanie realized they’d lost Daniel and Terri, she ran back to find them only to become lost herself. Derrick tried to go after her, but he encountered yet another pog. Wanting to protect his friends, he confronted the pig faced creature with the transformed Illusion to buy time for Bernie, Alyson, Ben, and Melvin to keep running away.
Becky and Veda Guardman seemed relatively safe in a different vein of the winding tunnel system. Wayne and Ashley were nearby and running from a pog. It was closing in on them after knocking Amber to the ground when she tried to intervene. She’d hit her head and was fighting to stay conscious. Tabatha was also slipping in and out of consciousness next to the transporter-tablet. She was dazed and confused now that she was completely alone and isolated from the group. Ace had left her side when he heard one of the monsters coming and used himself as bait so it wouldn’t find her. He was now running for his life down a narrow tunnel.
It was clear from everything that Sharanel could see through her mentant link that the situation was getting dire, not least of all because the cavern was becoming increasingly unstable and there was no telling how long Fantasma’s green protective shield would last. She had done the hard work of making the link to everyone they wanted to transport, all that was left was for the novice quickener to do his part.
“I’m done. Have you got it yet?” she asked with a hint of impatience.
Henry had his back to her, his eyes closed trying to focus despite the rocks falling all around them. She’d told him to focus on the staff and nothing else. She explained that the staff would want to go to the last place that Thomas transported from because it had Thomas’s staff memory. He had no idea what that meant, but he did what she told him. Henry was focusing with all his might on the staff which was the only source of calm in the chaotic situation.
“I don’t understand how or why but I can see it, another cave, really far away, through like a hole in space. I think I see that Davron guy and some more of those pig things. I can’t tell what they’re doing. Is that what I’m supposed to be seeing?”
“Yeah, you got it,” she said excitedly turning to face him. “Now the hard part.”
He turned too. “This wasn’t the hard part?”
“I’ve got to pass my link with everyone to you. You have to be the one to transport them not me,” Sharanel explained.
“Uh, ok? So, how?”
“We need to bind our staffs together, it’s the only way.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
Sharanel sighed. “It should be easy for us since you have Tommy’s staff' memory. We’re part way there. Just follow my lead, okay?”
She took his hand and put it on her staff before putting her own hand on his staff. They were now standing so close it looked like they might start dancing. Henry had rarely been this physically close to any girl before and it made him blush involuntarily as he looked down into her green eyes, wondering what was supposed to happen next.
Even in the panic of the situation, Sharanel was aware of how intimate the act of bonding was but pushed that thought aside. She reached out mentantly to link with him but was met with subconscious mental resistance. It wasn’t purposeful but it was clear that Henry was confused and uncertain and as a result, his mind was naturally resistant to invasion. Unlike the others in his group, he seemed to already have mentant skills even if he was unaware of them.
“Henry, if this is going to work, you need to relax and let me in.” She pulled him a bit closer.
“That’s easier said than done,” he said hesitantly.
A heavy boulder hit the green aura and though it bounced safely away, the shield had taken too many hits and dissipated. They were exposed, making the situation even more dangerous.
Sharanel knew she was running out of time and options. “Henry, just trust me, okay?” Even as she made the move, she couldn’t believe what she was about to do.
She leaned up and pressed her lips to his.
Henry’s eyes glazed and he momentarily forgot the perilous situation they were in. It was in that one second of lowered resistance that Sharanel acted, and the bond was formed. Immediately, both staffs began to glow bright blue, and in an instant, the two vanished along with every other human in the collapsing underground caverns.