* Cirinian Valley *
Jandor was truly amazed by the flight on the back of the phara birds. With the blue mentus energy dome protecting them, it was very similar to riding in a plane. He couldn’t feel the wind and barely felt the incredible speed of the bird beneath him. He could even stand and walk around without a problem.
As the four phara birds soared over the vast ocean north of Munio Mountain, Jandor took a seat next to his companion. “This is incredible. Have you ever flown like this before?” he asked, wondering if this sort of thing was commonplace.
Lori smiled warmly. “Nah, bird transport’s not my thing. I’ll take a quickener any day.”
“How does this thing work?” Jandor asked pointing up at the blue, semi-transparent dome that surrounded them on top of the phara.
Lori shrugged. “It’s just your basic mentus energy shield, nothing special.”
“Ah, you guys talk about this stuff like it’s ordinary. Well, I guess it is for you.”
“You a non?” Lori asked. “You’ve got a strong adimus aura, but you don’t seem to use much mentus.”
Jandor nodded. “Yeah, it’s all new to me,” he admitted. “Not something we use where I come from.”
“And where’s that?” Lori asked, leaning in now. “Where exactly do you and ya mates come from. Must be pretty darn special, seein’ as how you can kill those critters from the Book of War. How does all that work anyhow?”
Jandor hesitated for a moment, not sure how much he should divulge. She leaned in closer, as if waiting for a secret to be shared, and he stared into her brown eyes, which shone with curiosity and a hint of mischief.
It was the first time he’d gotten a good look at his newest companion, and he realized how much of a kindred spirit the warrior blacksmith was. The faint scars on her arms and legs proved that today’s battle wasn’t her first. It was clear that she was just as much of a free-spirited adventurer as many of the people she made weapons for, but more importantly, Jandor could sense that she was very trustworthy, and after all they’d been through, he could be truthful with her, at least to a certain extent.
“Well, my friends and I come from a small town called Greengale,” he started. “It’s really far away from here.”
Jandor gave a truncated version of their origin story, keeping it as vague as possible and focusing only on the seal, their encounter with Fantasma, and their first fight with Davron and the creatures of the Book of War. He left out certain details, like Ashley and Tabatha’s legacy, which seemed too complicated to get into, and the fact that they were from another world, which he knew would be impossible to explain.
“Somehow, we got transported, and all of us were separated,” Jandor concluded after several minutes of talking. “Daniel can explain it better; he said it was some sort of quickener malfunction. Anyway, now I’m just trying to find my friends and get back home.”
Lori nodded as he finished his explanation. “Sounds like you’ve had a heavy couple of days. Still, you’re just gonna go back home after you get your friends?”
“Well yeah, I’ve got to get everyone back safely.”
“I get that, but from what you told me, almost all your mates have a special mark thing that lets you kill those critters, right?”
“Yeah, but my friends aren’t fighters,” Jandor said. “They’re not like you and me, they’re just…well they’re just kids really.”
“What about Dan over there?” she pointed a thumb over her shoulder to the phara flying nearest them. “He’s definitely no kid. I mean, I can tell he ain’t no warrior class, but he clearly ain’t one to shy away from a fight.”
“Yeah, he really has changed.” Jandor looked down, “Don’t get me wrong, I want to fight these things and stop that Davron guy, but my friends have to come first. They’re my responsibility. I can’t be selfish and make them fight a war they didn’t sign up for. It’s not fair, and I know it.”
“Perhaps,” Lori said, “but I don’t think ya’ll got them there seal things for no reason, and I’m pretty sure you know that, and if you know that, don’t you think your friends know that too?”
Jandor sighed as he stared off into the distance. “Maybe…I don’t know.”
On the back of the neighboring phara, Terri watched her brother and Lori talking, though there was no way to hear what they were saying, she saw Lori gesture to her at one point.
“I wonder what they’re talking about.”
“Huh?” Daniel was lying on his back, eyes closed.
Terri’s look was stern. “Jandor and that girl.”
Daniel raised himself to a sitting position beside her. “What is with you and Lori?” he asked. “You’ve been on her since we met her at Munio.”
“There’s just something about her,” Terri said. “It’s hard to explain.”
“Well, she’s been nothing but helpful, so I think you need to cut her some slack. Besides, your brother seems to like her, and despite all his faults, he’s a pretty decent judge of character.”
“Wow, that almost sounded like a compliment,” Terri said sarcastically. “Since when do you have something nice to say about Jandor? I thought you blamed him for getting us into this.”
Daniel laid down again. “Yeah well, it’s hard being the one who has to make all the decisions; I’ve had a few years to learn that.”
Terri was about to respond when a voice rang in her head. <We’re almost there.> It was Wheaton communicating mentantly with the group from the lead phara.
Soon the ocean gave way to the southeast shore of the northern continent of Lumaria. As the sun started to sink under the horizon, the phara birds flew through the large mountain range that dominated most of the eastern half of the continent.
Sarah looked down with interest from the back of the phara she shared with Burke. Her eagle companion, Palmont, was on her shoulder. “So how long has it been since you’ve been to Cirinian?”
Burke was putting a fresh compress on his newly healed wound. The bleeding had completely stopped some time ago, but it was still red and agitated. “It’s been about seven years,” he said pensively. “You’ve never been to Cirinian, have you?”
Sarah shook her head. “Haven’t had the opportunity. It’s been my dream to see the order’s headquarters, meet Chief Windborn, and see the Cirinian preserve. Of course, this wasn’t how I pictured it happening. Still, I’m excited,” she admitted.
“Well considering you saved our lives, I’m sure Windborn will want to meet you.” Burke beamed.
Sarah smiled sheepishly. “I really didn’t do much.”
“You kept your head about you when we got separated,” Burke said. “You could’ve tried to escape, but instead you came back for us. That was very brave.” He pulled down his shirt after securing the compress.
Sarah blushed. “Thanks, Oz.”
Burke stood and looked over the side of the phara. “I think we’re about to reach the valley.” He pointed ahead.
The mountains gave way to a massive, mostly wooded valley that stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. The phara slowed down as they started their descent.
“It’s incredible, I can’t believe it’s so huge.” Sarah said in awe.
“Yes, and the entire valley is completely surrounded by mountains, making it impossible to quicken to. That’s one of the reasons why the Daughter of the Sun lobbied the Fantasmal Government thousands of years ago to officially designate the valley as property of the Order of Nature.”
“Really? I always thought the valley was manmade.”
“No, it’s naturally like this, though it was all woods at one point,” Burke said. “I believe the first summoners used mountain moles to help clear out large sections so they could build their settlements. Obviously, this was back before they were hunted to near extinction.”
“That’s amazing.” Sarah was still staring down at the vast forest. “So where are we going to land?”
“The main encampment’s coming up,” Burke said as the trees started to thin.
The valley floor was dotted with small yurts and wooden cabins. More and more buildings came into view and most looked as if they could be picked up and moved at a moment’s notice. However, there were a few larger more permanent looking buildings that seemed to form the main base of the entire camp.
On the lead phara, Wheaton was silently communicating with the birds using mentus, instructing them on where he wanted them to land.
“We’ll be at the landing site in about five minutes.” He stood, stretching his legs and tightening the silver belt that wrapped around his green robe.
Gibson was fidgeting with the hilt of his sword, as if he expected to be attacked at any moment. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe we let Munio fall to those filthy creatures.”
Wheaton knelt next to Gibson and put a hand on his shoulder. “We did everything we could. You should be proud that we were able to get so many out safely. That was in large part to your efforts. I’m grateful to you, not just for today but for everything you’ve done.”
Gibson gave a murmur of acknowledgment but was still clearly disgruntled.
Wheaton merely chuckled. “I remember when you first came to the mountain twenty-six years ago; young, brash, impetuous. I didn’t think you’d last two weeks let alone two decades.”
Gibson actually did smile at this. “And you were just as much an old man back then as you are now. I may have changed, but you haven’t change one bit. You’re the same silver-haired know-it-all that sees the best in everyone, no matter how incredibly unworthy they might be.”
“I rather think by now you’ve proven you are quite worthy of the trust I put in you.” Wheaton countered. “Here we go,” he pointed ahead to a large open field just west of the Cirinian encampment where all four birds could land easily.
With little difficulty the passengers were able to slide off the back of the phara and by the time all of them were on the ground, several people were approaching.
A tall, olive-skinned man with long, black dreadlocks was in the lead. Like the others he wore a green robe, but the silver belt stood out as unique among the group, marking him, like Wheaton, as one of the many chiefs in the Order of Nature.
“Kynobi, it’s so good to see you,” Wheaton said as he approached his fellow chief.
They shook hands. “Fargo, it’s always a pleasure of course, but we weren’t expecting you, and certainly not by phara flight. What in the world could have possessed you?”
“Extenuating circumstances.” Wheaton gestured to the group behind him. “Everyone, this is Chief Kynobi Lionhart.” He then quickly introduced the members of his group.
Kynobi shook hands all around. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.” He turned to Wheaton, clearly still wanting an explanation.
Wheaton merely chuckled. “Patience my friend, all will be explained soon, but I think you should take us to council hall and gather the other chiefs. This is a story that everyone must here as it is a matter of some urgency.”
Kynobi raised an eyebrow at this request but seemed to think better of questioning the more senior chief. “All right, please come with me.”
Many of the people in the crowd that came with Kynobi seemed disappointed that they weren’t going to be treated to a wild story that accompanied the arrival of the Munio residents. Instead Kynobi shooed them away as he led the newcomers toward the village.
Council Hall was a long, two-story building in the center of the main Cirinian encampment. It housed permanent dwellings for the chiefs who lived there as well as several meeting areas. The building was practically designed and simply furnished as was customary within the order. Everything had a purpose and very little was wasted. Still, it was warm and homey with soft comfortable chairs in the lounge areas and colorful murals on almost all the walls, painted by the residents of the valley over many years.
In the large second floor conference room, over a dozen leaders were gathered. At the head of the table sat Chief Josiah Windborn. He had long flowing white hair that seemed to enhance the richness of his golden-brown skin, making him look much younger than he actually was. At 107, Windborn had been the head-chief of the Order of Nature for over 26 years, more than halfway through his third, ten-year term.
Though the Order of Nature was democratic in design, with each chief holding equal weight within the council, as the elected head-chief, Windborn had a few unique duties. In addition to being in charge of the main encampment, he also was responsible for running the council meetings among other things.
Council meetings usually only happened once a month and included the twelve chiefs as well as various other leaders from every Order of Nature site, but there were several people missing from this emergency meeting. Most of the vacant seats were occupied by Jandor, his friends, and the refugees from Munio.
Jandor could tell that Wheaton was well respected among the leaders in the council. They all sat attentively as he told the facts of what happened in Munio, sparing no gory details.
“I want to make one thing clear,” Wheaton said as he concluded. “Every now and again, there are attacks from vicious creatures that live beneath our world. What happened today in Munio was nothing like these rare occurrences of a sole monster attacking at random. These creatures were vast in number and organized like an army. It’s clear that they were created from the Book of War.”
He folded his arms in his green robe and there was muttered talking around the table. Many of them didn’t know how to take this bold pronouncement.
Windborn raised his hands for quiet. “Fellow chiefs, while Wheaton’s story may sound fanciful, I have no reason to doubt him, or the witnesses he brought. The Great War is a part of our history that many have forgotten, but it did happen. If the Book of War has indeed returned, then we must be on our guard.”
A blonde woman sitting across from Jandor spoke. “Wheaton, your story suggests that this attack was not random but an intentional attack on the order. That means that our other preserves may be in danger. We must warn them, perhaps even evacuate.”
“But why are they attacking Order of Nature preserves?” Sarah asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I wouldn’t put much effort into trying to figure it out,” Daniel said. “I met Davron briefly, it was years ago but he struck me as being a bit crazy, talking about creating a new world.”
Wheaton gave a slow nod. “Yes, Calendon said something similar, but I think it would be unwise to be so dismissive. What may be mad to us may make perfect sense to our enemy.”
“Regardless,” Windborn said, “Lenora is right, we need to warn our preserves and do all we can to protect ourselves against this new threat. Kynobi, put together the groups that will head out to each of the preserves to help them prepare for potential attacks. Lenora, send a message to the northern encampment. Although I feel confident that we are safe here in Cirinian, prudence dictates that we are all on the same page. We’re dismissed for now.” As everyone stood, Windborn addressed Jandor. “You and your friends are welcome to stay here for as long as you need. We will be having dinner shortly. I’m sure you must be famished after your ordeal.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Jandor shook Windborn’s hand, “but we came here for our friend, Stephanie. Does anyone know where she is?”
Kynobi overheard the question. “She’s in the Gavden Woods checking on a pack of short-horned bears that are native there to that area.”
“Sounds just like our Stephanie,” Terri chuckled.
“We have a translift that leads directly to that forest since it's one of the areas we monitor. She’s returning first thing tomorrow morning,” Kynobi added.
“For now, eat and rest. I’ll have some rooms prepared for you,” Windborn offered.
“Chief, I think we should also discuss preparations for the valley, in case an attack does happen,” Gibson interjected. “Jandor and his allies may be able to help. We should glean all we can from them while they’re still with us.”
Windborn considered this. “A prudent suggestion, but I think such a conversation can wait until at least tomorrow. Let’s let our guests rest for now. Cirinian is, after all, well protected.” He gestured for the group to follow him. “Come, I’ll show you to the commons; dinner will be served soon.”
Vincent Calendon stood just inside the opening of a wide mouthed cavern, which was the entrance to the Cirinian Valley’s translift network, a series of tunnels and caves that had translifts to various sites and nature preserves around the world. The Order of Nature did not employ quickeners for any of their internal transportation needs, instead relying on translifts to transport people and animals alike from place to place. Though less flexible than quickening, it provided more security and privacy. It was much harder for intruders to get inside the well protected preserves.
Harder, but not impossible, as Calendon had so recently proved.
The cave-in at Munio Mountain had not completely destroyed the translift cave there. As a result, Calendon was able to, with some finagling, get one of the translift poles to work and take him to Cirinian Valley. It was the perfect opportunity. The main encampment was less than a thirty-minute walk from the translift caves, and he could taste impending victory.
“Sir,” A female voice called tentatively.
He turned to see a young olive-skinned woman with shoulder length brown hair approaching from the cave’s interior. Like most of Davron’s soldiers, she wore a uniform consisting of black and green fatigues and a padded black vest all made from the versatile ustus fabric that never became soiled or torn.
“Addilyn, finally. What took you?” Calendon said by way of greeting as she saluted respectfully.
Lieutenant Addilyn Foy gave a huff of annoyance at this question. “You didn’t bring any quickeners with you when you went to Munio. Even on the back of a pog traveling at top speed, it takes time to get from Riverbed to the mountain.”
Calendon waved away her annoyance. “No matter; when will we be able to bring creatures here? Did the pogs I left in the Munio translift finish clearing away the rubble?”
“I stopped them. The hole they made for me to squeeze my way in almost damaged the translift further. If they had kept going, it would be completely destroyed. Translift networks are complicated and even slight disruptions can render them useless. It was pure luck that the connection leading here still worked; messing with the outer cave more will break that link for good.”
“And what makes you so sure of that?” Calendon asked angrily.
“Are you kidding? You know my father is a master quartzsmith. He spent his whole life making and repairing translifts. Trust me, I grew up around translifts; I know what I’m talking about.”
Calendon considered this. “Of course I trust you, but we need to find a way to get our troops here. The Order of Nature needs to be subjugated and we may never have another opportunity like this.”
Addilyn eyed him suspiciously. “Why exactly are we going after the order? I thought we were supposed to be stopping wars between small towns on Estern and recruiting those who want to join Lord Davron’s cause. This seems like your own personal vendetta.”
“I won’t deny that I was happy to take on this mission,” Calendon said with a smirk, “but there is a very good reason why we’re here and it serves the interests of Lord Davron; Lady Ellonous said as much. Before we went to Murrilogic, she told me that the summoners needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later and that attacking Munio would be a good start. I would say it’s divine providence that I was able to use that attack to get to their headquarters. Now we can put a stop to all of them in one swift move.”
“And what of our original assignment?” Addilyn asked.
“I’ve already sent a message to the general via communication crystal,” Calendon revealed. “Once I explained my reasons, he gave me permission to continue forward.”
Addilyn shook her head. “I still don’t like this.”
“And why not? You should be just as happy as I am that we’re able to get revenge on the order.”
“I didn’t join Lord Davron’s army so I could pursue petty vengeance,” Addilyn snapped. “I want peace; I’m tired of fighting.”
Calendon laughed at this. “And yet you’re so good at it. You’re one of the best swordswomen I know. That’s why I wanted you to be my lieutenant.”
Addilyn gave a sad smile, clearly conflicted. “Just don’t get blinded by revenge. I’ve lost enough friends due to war; I don’t want to lose you too.”
“I can have my revenge and serve Lord Davron’s will at the same time,” Calendon assured, “but first, we need to get our creatures here. How do we do that, since you’re the translift expert.”
Addilyn sighed. “Well, we’re lucky that the pog you sent to summon me was already on the outside of the cave. If they had tried to make a hole big enough for a pog to fit through, they’d have disrupted the entire translift cave and I’d never be able to go back and forth.” She started to pace. “I don’t think repairing it is an option, it would take days and we might even need to create a new receiving stone. Wait…that’s it!” She beamed at him. “There’s a huge translift cave at the end of this tunnel. We could replace its receiving stone with one from the translift we used to get from Gilmore to Estern.”
Calendon nodded in understanding. “So, repurpose the Estern translift so that it transports here instead of back to the mountains near Gilmore?”
“It would just be temporary, but yes.”
Calendon beamed. “That’s brilliant. Can you do this work yourself?”
“I can do the replacement, but I’ll need help from dad to make the stone. I’ll have to head back to Gilmore.” Addilyn said. “I brought a quickener with me so I can travel back and forth from Munio to the Estern translift with ease, so it shouldn’t take more than a few hours.”
Calendon nodded. “Fine; when you get to the other side, redirect our forces back to the Estern translift caves but have Bannon, Lidia, Killsworth and the others from Portson come here through Munio, as long as it’s safe. You can send the rest of the soldiers back to Gilmore, we’ll only need the creatures for this raid.”
Addilyn eyed him curiously. “Why?”
“I only want people here who truly understand why the Order of Nature needs to be subjugated and won’t show them mercy just because they’re cowardly pacifists.”
“So only the others who want payback,” Addilyn summarized.
“You may have evolved beyond the need for revenge, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be given the opportunity,” Calendon said in an almost sagely voice. “Besides, three hundred creatures will be more than enough to conquer this valley.”
“All right, fine; I’ll get it done.” Addilyn took a step back, gave a quick salute and then rushed back to the translift.
Calendon turned and walked to the entrance of the cave, looking out at the valley beyond, a malicious grin on his face. “Finally, it’s all coming together. The Order of Nature will get the divine judgement they deserve, and I will be the one to meet out their punishment.”