* The Lost Cave *
“Where are we going?” Veda Guardman asked as Becky pulled her down a long dark twisting corridor, avoiding the rocks that were cascading all around them. “I don’t think this is the way back to the transporter. Where are the others?”
“I don’t know.” Becky was panting heavily and still held the blood-stained weapon as she ran. Occasionally, she’d strike out at the quartz wall, leaving long, jagged gashes in the rockface. “I think Jandor’s behind us making sure those things don’t follow us.”
“What about everyone else?” Mrs. Guardman said. “Becky, stop dragging me.”
“We can’t stop,” Becky said stoically as she pulled her around another corner. “The others will catch up; I’m leaving a trail for them to follow.”
“Becky!” Mrs. Guardman yanked her hand away, forcing Becky to stop. “’We’ve got to wait for the others. This is serious.”
“I know ma’am,” Becky nodded. “That’s why I’m trying to get you someplace safe. I think the further we go, the safer we’ll be from the cave-in.”
“I can’t just run; I’m supposed to be the one protecting you. Jandor shouldn’t be trying to fight those things. We have to find the others. We have to find Wayne. We all need to escape together,” she said mulishly.
“Mrs. Guardman, I know Jandor and Wayne; I know how they think. Jandor is going to hold off those creatures so the others can escape. Wayne will have his hands full protecting Ashley because that crazy guy is after her. That leaves me to look after you because he can’t. You’re not just Wayne’s mom, you’re important to all of us.” Having lost her own mother, Mrs. Guardman was the one matriarchal figure she had left. “Jandor, Wayne, all of us, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do to stay safe. Please trust me.”
Mrs. Guardman was stunned by Becky’s words but finally nodded. “Okay.”
“Don’t worry, Wayne and the others will find us,” Becky assured as she pulled the older woman along.
“What do we do now?” Amber whispered. She’d fled with Wayne and Ashley down one of the corridors, and the trio ducked into a small alcove to avoid the falling rocks.
“We wait it out here; try to avoid those monsters,” Wayne said. “It’s Ash that guy’s after. We need to stay hidden so they don’t find her.”
“I think it’s too late for that,” Amber said.
“What do you mean?” Ashley was clearly scared.
“I hear something,” Amber leaned out of the alcove but moved quickly as another rock fell near her shoulder.
“Oh no!” Ashley covered her head and started to panic. “They’re coming!”
Wayne put an arm around her. “It’s going to be okay. Amber, where are you going?”
Amber was standing in the narrow corridor, pressed against the wall. “I’ll go check it out.” She gripped the small dagger tightly.
“Amber don’t,” Wayne called sternly.
“It’s like you said, it’s Ashley they’re after. You need to stay here just in case. I’ll be back.” Amber took off without another word.
“Amber!” Wayne called, but she was already gone. He stood to go after her, but Ashley kept a firm grip on his arm.
“We’re going to die down here,” she whined.
“We’re not,” Wayne assured. “As soon as Amber gets back, we’ll find that transporter thing and get out of here.”
“Great, now what’s going on?” Ace said as he felt the ground rumble beneath him. He was still standing at the tablet that had brought them to the cave. He’d already spent several minutes trying to make the translift work to no avail.
Tabatha was sitting next to him, leaning against the cavern wall. “It feels like everything is spinning,” she groaned, holding her head. “Ace, I want to go home.”
“Ace!” Ben shouted as he, Alyson, and Bernie came running down the corridor. “You haven’t gotten that thing working yet?”
Bernie stopped at a bend and positioned himself to look around the corner. “I don’t see any of them.”
“What’s going on?” Ace asked confused as Alyson jumped on the tablet and started to stomp emphatically. “I’ve already tried that,” he added before repeating, “What’s going on?”
“Crazy monsters are attacking us,” Bernie said quickly.
Ben was on his knees running his hand over the translift, examining it. “If we can’t use this thing to go home, then we need to find someplace else to run before they find us.”
“What finds us?” Ace asked, clearly confused.
“I think I hear something,” Bernie called.
Ben stood. “We just need to make a run for it.”
“I can’t just leave Tabatha here.” Ace tried to hoist her up.
“No,’ Alyson said. “Carrying her will only slow you down. Those pig things are fast.”
“I’m not leaving her,” Ace repeated stubbornly. “What’s after us?”
“No time to explain,” Bernie said. “Look, if we make a run for it, we can distract them, keep them away from Tabatha,” he offered.
Tabatha grabbed Ace’s arm. “Don’t leave me!”
Ace seemed torn. “You go, I’ll stay with her. I need to protect her in case whatever-it-is comes down here.”
Alyson smiled at him. “Always the white knight,” she gave him a peck on the cheek.
“Let’s go!” Bernie shouted gesturing for the others to follow.
“Stay safe, man,” Ben said before taking off after Bernie with Alyson bringing up the rear.
Ace looked down at the large, round tablet. “Henry got you to work before. If only he was here now, we could get back home.”
Henry was with Daniel, Terri, Stephanie, Melvin, and Sharanel as they all watched Jandor, Derrick and Illusion fight two of the pig-faced creatures. Jandor used the large bo staff, Derrick improvised with a jagged piece of rock, and Illusion surprised everyone by transforming into a silver wolf right before their eyes. In this new form, he could provide much needed assistance in fighting the pogs. Between the three of them they vanquished the beasts and they both disappeared.
“Okay, let’s go before more of those things come,” Derrick said wiping his brow. They weren’t too far from the main cavern where they could still hear a battle raging between Fantasma and more pogs.
“Derrick, take the others and find Becky and Mrs. Guardman,” Jandor ordered, pointing down the long dark tunnel. “She took off that way and probably left some sort of trail for you to follow.”
This wasn’t the group’s first time exploring caves together and they already had methods for making sure they didn’t get lost.
“What are you going to do then?” Derrick asked.
“I’m going back to help Fantasma,” Jandor said. “I don’t know how bad this’ll get but I’m sure he’ll need help.”
“I’m coming with you,” Sharanel said. “Thomas is still in there; he might be alive.”
“Look, uh, Sharron—” Henry started.
“Sharanel,” she corrected briskly.
“You can’t go back there, it’s too dangerous. I’m sure your dad would want you to be safe,” Henry reasoned.
“He’s not my father,” Sharanel said bringing herself to her full height which wasn’t any taller than Henry. “I’m the Fantasmal Quickener. I have a duty to the Fantasma, and Thomas is our only way back to Mendala. If he’s still alive I need to help him. You’re this group’s quickener, right? Isn’t there something you can do? Can’t you get us out of here, or are you affected by the rift too?”
Henry stared at her both confused and intrigued. This was the second time the girl had called him this, as if they shared some sort of bond, perhaps because they both held tall, curved staffs. Did it mean something?
“Come, don’t come, it’s up to you.” Jandor dodged a falling rock as he ran toward the sound of battle. “Derrick, get them out of here!” he called back before disappearing around a corner. Sharanel didn’t hesitate to follow, not waiting for Henry to answer her question.
“You heard the man, let’s go,” Derrick said, gesturing for the others to follow him in another direction.
“I’m going back,” Henry said hesitantly, hardly daring to believe his own decision.
“Henry are you insane?” Melvin shouted as he clutched a wall. The tremors were increasing.
“I have to. I don’t know why.” Henry stared at the staff in his hand. It was as if he could feel his own heartbeat pounding in the wood. “I’m going.” He turned and ran before anyone could stop him.
“Come on,’ Derrick called to the others again. He gave a furtive look back before leading the others further down the tunnel.
“Persistent piggies aren’t you,” Fantasma grunted as he knocked three pogs only to have another group take their place. Though he was able to overpower the pogs, even when they ganged up on him, they had invulnerability on their side. He could knock them back time and time again but was unable to affect any lasting damage.
“Looks like you could use some help,” Jandor said as he took a position next to Fantasma, holding the staff at the ready.
“What are you doing here?” Fantasma chastised. “You and your friends need to run while I hold these things off and stop this cave-in.”
“Well, I don’t know how you’re going to stop the cave-in if you’re too busy fighting these things,” Jandor said. “You need help.”
The pogs didn’t wait for the two to converse and immediately charged to attack again. Before Fantasma could say or do anything, Jandor rushed forward to engage, having become very adept with using the large bo staff. Fantasma was impressed by the prowess of the young fighter but didn’t have long to reflect on Jandor’s skill as more pogs swarmed in on him.
Seeing her chance, Sharanel ran, pressed against the wall to avoid the cascading rocks and reach her fallen comrade. “Thomas! Tommy!” she shouted as she dropped to her knees beside his limp body, her hands over the deep wound to stem the flow of blood. “Come on Tommy, wake up.”
“Shara,’ he said weakly, his eyes glazed as if he could only barely see her.
“Oh, thank the heavens you’re not gone. Quick, use mandamus to heal yourself,” she said shaking him a bit. “I know you can do it; come on Tommy, you’re a genius.”
“What did I tell you about throwing around that ‘g’ word,” Thomas half-laughed, half-coughed.
“Seriously, he’s still alive?” Henry seemed to appear out of nowhere beside Sharanel. “We should get him to a hospital.”
“Can you quicken us out of here?” Sharanel asked again. “I don’t know this world and I can’t go anywhere, especially with this rift energy.”
“You guys are the ones who appeared out of nowhere. Can’t you take him back to wherever you came from.”
“I don’t have dimensional sense,” Sharanel said.
“I feel like we’re still speaking two different languages,” Henry admitted.
“Shara,” Thomas sputtered and this time he coughed up a little blood. “I’m not going to make it through this one. I can tell.”
“That’s not true. You can use mandamus. You can heal yourself,” she told him.
“It doesn’t work like that Shara, and I’m not strong enough to heal from this. It’s up to you two now. That’s why I brought you to him,” he said pointing to Henry. “It’s just like it’s supposed to be. Old Seraphina knew her stuff. Gotta love those epouranals.”
“What? I don’t understand?” Sharanel said. “Tommy, you’re not making any sense.”
“What’s your name kiddo?” Thomas said, addressing Henry now.
“Me? I’m Henry,” he said clearly taken aback. “Listen, just hold on. We can get you some help.”
“You see it don’t you Henry. You see that golden-rifty-goodness just floating all around.” Thomas gestured weakly with his hand.
Henry looked a bit confused but understood in part as he watched Thomas run his fingers intentionally through the rift energy that no one else seemed to see. “You mean the yellow floaty ribbon stuff? You can see it too?”
“We’re the same you and I. You’re gonna be just fine, Henry my man. You’re already set to do it all. I’m kinda jealous. You’re gonna have a blast.” He gripped his staff with a bloody hand and held it up.
“Tommy, what are you talking about? What are you doing?” Sharanel said, tears forming in her eyes.
“Don’t worry Shara, it’s totally a thing. Be a pal, Henry, and hold your staff closer. Can’t really move due to, ya know, hole in chest.” He chuckled, coughing up blood again.
“Tommy, stop talking. You’ll be fine, you just need to conserve your energy. You’ll heal.” Sharanel insisted.
“No Shara, gotta do this. Big final act and all. Come on pal, you know what to do,” he said to Henry.
Surprisingly, Henry did feel that he knew what he was supposed to do, even though he was completely confused. He pressed his staff against the one Thomas held.
“It’s up to you Shara,” Thomas said smiling at her warmly despite the pain of his injuries. “He’s got the gift, but he’ll still need help. Speaking of gift, Henry my man, I got a whopper of one for you.”
There was a flash of blue from Thomas’s staff and the aura quickly transferred to Henry’s.
Henry felt energy coursing through the staff and the sensation flowed throughout his body as well. It was as if a whole new set of information was flooding his mind. ‘Whoa! What happened?”
“Tommy, what are you doing?” Sharanel couldn’t contain her tears as she took his free hand in hers.
Thomas was still focused on Henry. “What’s mine is yours. Just do me a favor.” He slumped down, as if drained.
“A favor?” Henry repeated, a bit uncertain.
He gave Sharanel’s hand a light squeeze before placing it in Henry’s free hand and looking up at them both with a smile. “Take care of Shara. She’s a tough piece o’ quartz, but she needs a friend, and you know what they say; quickeners should stick together.” His eyes closed; the smile still plastered on his face.
Sharanel was crying openly now, her head buried in Thomas’s shoulder, but another gut-wrenching shudder from the ground beneath them served as a reminder that they were still in a perilous situation.
“Hey, we need to go before this whole place falls in on us,” Henry said as he gently but urgently tugged on her shoulder. “I’m sorry about your friend, I really am, but we have to get out of here.”
Sharanel looked up, wiping tears from her eyes with her robe sleeve. “You’re right. Okay, so you can quicken us to Mendala right?” she asked hopefully.
“What?” Henry blurted, looking perplexed.
Davron was only out for a few minutes after being tossed to the wall. He groaned as he woke next to his still unconscious companion and looked around to see that Fantasma was busy fighting a fruitless battle against his creations with the aid of one of the would-be child warriors.
Seeing his opportunity, Davron set to work on Gamdon, using his mentus to undo the binds Fantasma had created.
“Rise and shine, old friend. We need to go,” Davron said with a calm voice, even as battle raged around them.
He was beginning to feel drained. The energy he’d used to trigger the cave-in took a lot out of him already. That coupled with creating more monsters and reviving Gamdon meant that adimus fatigue was setting in far faster than normal, and he was much weaker as a result. If Fantasma managed to subdue his monsters even for a few minutes, he would truly be in danger of being captured. He knew that a tactical retreat was in order. He still had the Sun Stone, and if he was right, the Daughter of the Sun would be eliminated soon.
Gamdon sat up slowly, still clearly weak. “What happened?” he asked as he observed the chaotic scene.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Davron said with ill-disguised sarcasm, “which I’ll be more than happy to tell after you get us back to Mendala.”
Gamdon finally realized Davron’s weakened state. “Sir, are you okay?”
“Still with the ‘sir,’” Davron said with a chuckle. “Don’t worry Gamdon, nothing a nap won’t fix, but if you could.” He made a slightly impatient gesture.
Gamdon tried to raise himself on his quickener staff but found that he was dizzy and plopped down to the ground again. “This might take a moment.”
“Take your time,” Davron groaned in annoyance, though he knew he couldn’t be too mad at his aged friend. “I’m just going to leave our friends one more parting gift,” he said pressing his hand to the ground.”
“Sir, what are you doing? You’re already dangerously weak.”
“Well then, you better make sure we get out of here.” Davron let a pulse of mentus energy surge into the ground, and the tremors seemed to increase. He slumped weakly against the wall even as a large section of ceiling cascaded down dangerously close to them. Despite this, he was grinning. “Have I motivated you yet?”
Gamdon nodded and despite feeling weak himself, he raised his staff and they both disappeared with a flash of yellow light.