* Fantasmal Mountain *
“All of the books, documents, and other relevant materials I have are in here,” Franklin said as he pushed open the double doors to one of the large research rooms located within the Fantasmal Libraries.
Honsmordin and Fantasma were right on his heels. “So, this is where you’ve been sequestered for the last few weeks,” Honsmordin said with a wry smile as he looked around the cluttered room. “Your absence from the weekly briefings have become somewhat of a sore spot for many of the other chiefs.”
“Priorities, my friend; bureaucracy ranks far lower than era-defining calamities.” Franklin chuckled, but his tone was still serious as he made his way to a large chest at the back of the room.
Honsmordin and Fantasma took seats at one of the many large tables in the research room just as Sharanel and Karmandrian entered through the double doors, both staring around in awe.
“Woah, this place is huge,” Sharanel said as she gazed in awe at the bookcases that lined three of the four impressively tall walls.
“I never knew such places existed in the libraries,” Karmandrian added, though he seemed far more subdued than Sharanel.
Both the quickener and the guardian had tagged along on the trip down to the Fantasmal Libraries, though for different reasons. Sharanel was inquisitive by nature and interested to see what the trio were trying to uncover. Karmandrian, for his part, was also curious, but his real goal was to have an excuse to stay in the mountain.
He was still processing all that had happened in Peedersburg. Yasil had not only been a friend and mentor, but he was also a far more seasoned guardian than Karmandrian, and yet even he was unable to defeat the pogs. Guardians were incredibly strong, but those monsters were invincible and that was truly terrifying. There had been over a hundred of them in the mountain town, far more than a single guardian could handle, and it was also clear that Yasil had been ambushed. Karmandrian was determined not to let that happen to him, but he still had his concerns. How many more were there? What would he do if he had to face them again?
Now that he knew what was out there, he wanted to find a way to be prepared for his next encounter with the creatures of the Book of War, but for now, he needed more information. Sticking close to Fantasma and Franklin seemed like the right decision, and he wanted to prove himself useful in their efforts so they would keep him around.
“Young guardian, would you mind moving this to the table for me.” Franklin called, snapping Karmandrian out of his musings. He pointed to the heavy looking chest which was practically overflowing with books and scrolls.
“Frank, you shouldn’t keep calling Elder Jorbedus that,” Sharanel chastised lightly. “He’s a guardian after all.”
“It’s really quite alright,” Karmandrian said as he made his way through the myriad of tables and boxes to reach the chest in question. “Besides, I’m still new to the role. I haven’t really gotten used to the ‘Elder’ title, and I’d never expect formalities in such company,” he added, trying to sound humble.
Though guardians outranked all other staff in the mountain as far as their powers and abilities, they were still expected to be respectful to senior staff members. In addition, Karmandrian had a healthy admiration for the chief librarian who was world renowned for his vast knowledge and insight in a variety of fields.
He easily used mentus to move the large chest full of books and rolled parchments. At his silent command, the trunk floated placidly behind him to the large table where Fantasma and Honsmordin were already seated. Of course, Franklin could use mentus too, but like most people, he could only employ his telekinetic skills to lift objects up to half his weight. The trunk, overladen as it was, far exceeded that.
Honsmordin, however, knew there was another reason behind the librarian’s request. “Franklin, you know I could have easily moved that.” He tapped the crystal on his scepter for emphasis. “Why are you testing the young guardian?”
“Testing?” Karmandrian repeated, confused.
Franklin chuckled. “You know me too well, Honsmordin. I just want to make sure that this newest crop of guardians doesn’t succumb to ego.” He smiled at Karmandrian. “Your willingness to do a menial task without complaint shows that you have the humility befitting your rank, young guardian.”
Karmandrian looked stunned but nodded all the same. “Uh, thank you.”
Sharanel giggled at his reaction. “Don’t mind Frank; he’s always analyzing everyone and everything around him.” Seeing the guardian flustered by Franklin’s eccentric ways made it a lot easier for her to relax around him. She leaned against one of the tall bookcases behind Honsmordin and beckoned for him to join her. “So, how long have you been a guardian?”
“A little over six months,” Karmandrian said as he leaned against the bookcase next to her. “And what about you? I can’t believe you’re the new Fantasmal Quickener. You’re so young.”
“One could say the same of you,” Honsmordin chuckled as he pulled books and parchments from the large trunk. “Don’t let her age fool you. Though only seventeen, Sharanel is one of the most talented quickeners in the world.”
Sharanel blushed at the praise. “I was also appointed about six months ago. When Helen announced her retirement, she encouraged me to apply for the post.”
“You knew the former Fantasmal Quickener?” Karmandrian asked in awe.
“Yeah, she was kind of like a grandmother to me,” Sharanel shrugged, and her mannerisms became increasingly fidgety. “I don’t think I’d have even tried for this if it wasn’t for her push. I wasn’t certain that I’d get it because…well you know.”
“Your age?” Karmandrian said.
“No—well, yeah, but…you know…” She gestured to Fantasma who was too engrossed in what he was reading to really hear the conversation.
Karmandrian gave her a confused look, but before he could ask, Honsmordin, who was still half listening as he scanned the parchments in front of him, helpfully explained further. “Sharanel is Fantasma’s goddaughter.”
Karmandrian’s mouth dropped. “Really?”
Sharanel nodded. “Yeah, I thought you already knew; I grew up in the mountain…after my parents died.”
“Oh…” Karmandrian didn’t seem to know what to say to this, but then something else occurred to him. “Well now it makes sense.”
“What?” Sharanel eyed him warily.
“How you got the Fantasmal Quickener post.” Karmandrian realized too late that this was the wrong thing to say.
Sharanel looked like she might retort, but once again, Honsmordin intervened, this time turning to face the guardian.
“Did I not just say that Sharanel was one of the top quickeners in the world?” he said sharply. “This talented young lady was trained by Professor Landerpool, became fully qualified at 14-years-old, and has contributed extensively to the Worldwide Quickener Conference. Do you really think nepotism has anything to do with her appointment?”
“Honsmordin,” Fantasma said with a slight edge to his voice, still not looking up.
“My apologies.” Honsmordin bowed his head briefly to the guardian before turning to Sharanel. “To you as well. I know you don’t need me defending you. You’ve already done a fine job proving yourself these past few months.”
“I should apologize too,” Karmandrian added quickly to Sharanel. “I honestly had no idea who you were.”
Sharanel gave a soft smile. “It’s okay. If you just became a guardian six months ago, that means you’ve been in guardian training since I was five, so it makes sense you wouldn’t know. It’s a big mountain after all.”
Honsmordin smiled at both of them before returning his attention to the documents and books that were piled on the table in front of him. Fantasma and Franklin were both fully engrossed in what they were reading.
“This is quite a lot to go through.” He turned to Fantasma. “Sir, are you sure you want to do this yourself? We could have the library assistants comb through all of these documents. It would be a lot faster.”
Fantasma shook his head and finally looked up from the scroll he was reading, a determined look in his eyes. “Absolutely not. Right now, the five of us are the only ones who know the truth of those monsters. I can still hardly believe it myself, but Franklin’s discovery and Karmandrian’s testimony are more than enough proof. As Franklin said, this has the potential to be an era-defining calamity. The fewer people who know, the better. Once we have the information we need, we’ll loop in Rockwall and Sorinson, but that’s all for now.”
“Don’t worry, it shouldn’t take long for us to find what we’re looking for,” Franklin added. “I’m certain one of these documents has what we need.”
“What exactly are you looking for?” Sharanel asked hesitantly.
She still felt completely uninformed about everything that was going on. Neither she nor Karmandrian had joined the search since they had no idea what the trio were doing. All Franklin had said before they left the conference room was that they needed to find the Book of War’s previous resting spot, but she didn’t know what that meant.
“We’re looking for the site of the final battle of the Great War,” Franklin explained.
Sharanel scrunched her nose in confusion. “Why? I don’t get it.”
“You are familiar with the history surrounding the Great War, right?” Franklin asked.
Sharanel nodded. “Well, I learned it back in primary school. I know it had something to do with the Book of War and monsters, but it was over a thousand years ago so there’s not much information on it. It’s practically a legend at this point; no one really knows what happened.”
“Not true,” Franklin gave her a reproving look. “What are they teaching kids in schools these days?”
“Not everyone is a famed scholar,” Honsmordin chuckled.
“Still, it troubles me that the Great War has already been reduced to little more than legend,” Franklin said pensively.
“The world wants to forget,” Fantasma said, “and for good reason. Though brief, it changed everything.”
“So, what happened then?” Sharanel asked, clearly frustrated that she was lacking in some shared knowledge. “Am I the only one here who doesn’t know?” She turned to Karmandrian.
The guardian smiled. “I didn’t really learn about it in primary school either; but it’s taught in guardian bootcamp as part of our training, so that’s how I know.”
“You know the whole story then?” Sharanel asked curiously.
“Well, I know the basics.” Karmandrian shrugged. “Right at the end of the last era, almost thirteen hundred years ago, a man by the name of Multus managed to find an ancient artifact known as the Book of War, which gave him the power to summon creatures of all shapes and sizes from its pages. They were indestructible and obeyed Multus alone. He used the book to create an army and start the Great War. Almost every city was attacked all at once and something like a fifth of the world’s population was wiped out in the process. When Multus was finally defeated, the Book of War was supposed to have been destroyed.”
"But where did the Book of War come from? How did Multus get it to begin with?” Sharanel asked, her eyes alight with curiosity.
Karmandrian shrugged again. “I don’t really know.”
It was Franklin’s turn to give the guardian a sharp look. “That can’t be true. I know for a fact that potential guardians study the epouranal writings thoroughly. This topic was surely covered.”
“Yes, but those records aren’t exactly reliable—”
“You speak as if you don’t believe the divine writings of the epouranals, young guardian.” Franklin said, eying him reproachfully.
Karmandrian gulped as he once again realized that he’d said the wrong thing. “I just mean that epouranals often speak in riddles and parables. You can’t take everything that’s written literally.”
“That is true, but you must still remember that the epouranals are divine prophets,” Franklin said reverently. “You’d do well to heed their words more carefully. As a guardian, one of your roles is to uphold our spiritual teachings after all.”
Karmandrian sighed but nodded respectfully. Franklin gave a satisfied smiled and returned to perusing the scroll in front of him.
Sharanel looked back and forth between the two of them. “So, where did the Book of War come from?” she asked with a hint of impatience.
“Well, according to the writings of the epouranals,” Karmandrian gave her a covert look that suggested even he didn’t quite believe what he was about to say, “the Book of War was used to trap a rogue spirit long ago. This spirit was rebellious against God and so it was defeated with a divine weapon and imprisoned in the book by using a supernal seal. The book was then hidden deep within a mountain so it would never be found. However, the details are fuzzy, and there are still many questions. What was this spirit? What did it do that was so wrong? Who exactly defeated it?”
“These are all things you would be able to discern with further study and meditation, young guardian,” Franklin chastised lightly. “As the epouranals teach, we must find spiritual truths for ourselves and not seek to be handed everything.”
Karmandrian shrugged. “It’s just hard to piece together the full story of something that is said to have happened thousands of years ago. What’s clear is that the book has a power that we have yet to fully understand, and the story was a warning to never use it. I think that’s the important point of the epouranal writings.”
“So, if this book was sealed and hidden deep in some mountain, how did Multus get it?” Sharanel asked.
Franklin rolled up the unhelpful scroll he’d been reading. “There are no exact records on how he found or unsealed the Book of War. However, we know this much: just before the Great War began, Multus kidnapped and killed the last known Daughter of the Sun.”
“So, the death of the last Daughter of the Sun and the Great War are related? Wait, is the Great War the reason why there are no more Daughters of the Sun now?” Sharanel was clearly flummoxed.
“Some people believe so.” Karmandrian nodded. “The Daughter of the Sun at the time was a woman by the name of Jasmine Lowens. She’d only held her position for less than a year, I believe. Multus took her and the Sun Stone which, as you know, is linked to the Daughter of the Sun’s power. Some believe that he took it so that it could not be used against him. When Jasmine died, her power should have been passed to her daughter, Ruth Lowens, but Ruth disappeared during the Great War when she went to take back the Sun Stone from Multus. It’s believed that she died too. Since then, there have been no more Daughters of the Sun, though the Sun Stone was returned to Sunnin Mountain and still seems to be linked to the Daughter of the Sun, as if waiting for her to return.”
“But if Ruth died in the Great War, or even some time later, wouldn’t the power of the Daughter of the Sun have just passed to another? Isn’t that how it was supposed to work.” Sharanel was very intrigued now.
“That is the way it was up until Jasmine,” Franklin said. “But Jasmine’s death was unique and that may have been the reason why there have been no more Daughters of the Sun.”
“Unique how?” Sharanel asked.
“On the day of her death, just before the Great War started, the red moon appeared in the sky, eclipsed the sun, and caused a tempeston,” Franklin said.
“Tempeston?” Sharanel repeated.
“It means ‘death night’,” Franklin explained. “It’s only ever happened once, and some scholars believe it played a part in the Daughter of the Sun’s death and the end of her legacy. The tempeston was an eclipse that shrouded the world in an unnaturally oppressive darkness for far longer than normal. Afterward, the red moon was visible both day and night for several days, which caused widespread panic since it had never been seen before. After all, prior to the tempeston, Mendala only had two moons.”
“Right, I do remember that from school.” Sharanel said. “I guess I never realized that the Great War and the appearance of the red moon were linked. I remember learning something about an eclipse lasting longer than normal, but I didn’t know it happened during the Great War.”
“The two are definitely linked,” Karmandrian said. “It’s said that it wasn’t long after the tempeston that creatures from the Book of War started appearing all over the world.”
“The Fantasma at the time sent an army to stop Multus,” Fantasma added, “but it was the Twelve Warriors who actually defeated him.”
“And the Twelve Warriors also died in the Great War,” Sharanel said, excited that she actually recalled this part of the story from her primary school education. “I remember reading about them. They were legendary fighters, right?”
“Yes, they were all considered elites and were highly skilled in various abilities.” It was Honsmordin who answered this. “They were truly in a class by themselves; a team of close-knit friends who went on many adventures around the world. I’m not sure how they ended up being called to action, though I believe one was a friend of Ruth. They were the ones who ultimately defeated Multus and destroyed the Book of War, dying in the process.”
“But we now know that the Book of War was not destroyed,” Franklin said as he leaned in closer to the ancient scroll he was perusing.
“That book Franklin showed us earlier was a diary from a soldier who fought in the Great War and depicted in detail what some of the creatures looked like.” Honsmordin turned to Karmandrian. “The symbol, only visible in the mentant realm, is something that was only ever seen on a creature of the Book of War, and you described that same marking on the creatures you saw. As Fantasma said: this proves the Book of War is back.”
“And I believe this means the Daughter of the Sun is returning as well,” Franklin added.
Honsmordin looked up in shock. “Frank, what in the world makes you say that?”
“My ancestor, Maxwell Stokenshire, was alive during the Great War. He went with Fantasma’s army to stop Multus and when the Twelve Warriors disappeared, an epouranal, High Mage Gilenhall, gave Maxwell a prophecy that he passed down through our family. ‘When war threatens anew, and the warriors return, the sun shall rise again’.” Franklin smiled. “My family has held on to that prophecy, knowing that one day the Daughter of the Sun would return.”
“So even now after all these years, the Stokenshires are still loyal to the Daughters of the Sun,” Fantasma said with a small smile.
“We will never abandon hope or forget the bond that our families share,” Franklin said stoically.
Honsmordin put aside the small book he had been leafing through. “Frank, I’ve been meaning to ask; all of these documents, maps, books, where did you get all of it?” He waved his hand over the laden table before gesturing to the large ornate trunk that they’d pulled everything from. “It certainly doesn’t look like you got these from the libraries.”
“It’s from a personal collection,” Franklin said vaguely as he unrolled another scroll.
“A personal collection?” Karmandrian repeated. “So, you have this whole collection of ancient documents that aren’t in the Fantasmal Libraries?”
“I am a scholar,” Franklin said almost defensively. “It’s not unheard of for there to be private collections that contain artifacts that even the Fantasmal Libraries have no record of.”
“But as chief of the libraries, I thought—” Karmandrian started, but Fantasma cut across him.
“Can I assume that these are from the Stokenshire’s secret library?” he said matter-of-factly.
Franklin gave a start. “How do you know of that?”
Fantasma smiled again. “I’ve heard rumors of a library in Elberton from a few guardians familiar with your family. Apparently, none of them have ever been there though.”
“So that’s where you went this morning,” Sharanel said in sudden revelation. “Now all the secrecy makes sense. Wow, the Stokenshires have a private library; I’m learning so much today. But why? What’s the big secret?”
“You must understand that the Stokenshires take their responsibility to the Daughter of the Sun very seriously.” Franklin seemed to be choosing his words carefully. “We guard their history and secrets even from the Fantasmal Government if necessary. This trunk was locked away in the library, holding every piece of information we have from the Great War, waiting for the day we knew we’d need it.”
“And I think we finally found what we’re looking for.” Fantasma spread out a large parchment and beckoned the others closer. “It’s a detailed map. Looks like it was made for tactical strategy, but it shows the area in the Lumarian Mountains where Multus had his base, which is where the final battle took place.”
Franklin nodded. “It’s also believed to be near the location where he found the Book of War, but above all, this would be where Ruth and the Twelve Warriors disappeared. If we want answers, it’s the first place we should look.”
“Agreed,” Fantasma turned to his quickener. “How hard is it going to be to get us there?”
Sharanel walked up behind Fantasma and studied the map. “I’m not familiar with the area, but I can tell by its position in the mountains that it’ll be impossible to quicken anywhere near it. Our best bet is to get a quickener who can take us to Fenallday and then go by foot into the mountains from there to search.”
“I’ll compare this to other maps. Now that we know where we’re going, I may be able to find a path or route that we can use,” Franklin offered.
Fantasma nodded at this, handing him the map. “I’ll alert General Rockwall. I want to take a small contingent of soldiers and plenty of supplies with us. We have no idea how long this might take or what we might find out there. Karmandrian, go report to Elder Sorinson and tell him everything. I want guardians on this excursion as well. Sharanel, find the quickener we need. We’ll head to Fenallday in the morning.”
Karmandrian looked slightly hesitant at the request but didn’t argue. “Yes sir,”
“I’ll get right on it,” Sharanel added excitedly.
Fantasma, Sharanel, and Karmandrian left the research room, but Honsmordin stayed behind with Franklin, deciding to use the opportunity to speak on something that was bothering him.
“You know, I can scarcely believe that the Book of War, which was supposed to be destroyed long ago, may be back, but do you really think the Daughter of the Sun is truly going to return?” he asked. “How? Why?”
“I don’t know how,” Franklin looked up, a determined gaze in his green eyes, “but I do know why: because she is needed. The world needs the Daughter of the Sun. Things have been completely out of balance without her.”
“That’s a bit dramatic, don’t you think?” Honsmordin chuckled.
Franklin, however, seemed completely serious. “The uptick of wars alone these past several centuries should be proof enough. Add to that the famines and plagues that have gone unchecked, the social unrest and growing poverty class, not to mention the resurgence of a slave trade on a level that hasn’t been seen in almost five thousand years.”
“But the Fantasmal Government—” Honsmordin started.
“The Fantasmal Government can only do so much, and in some cases, it wasn’t designed to handle these things; bureaucracy never is,” Franklin said glibly. “The Daughter of the Sun is the divinely appointed caretaker of our world. Her role is just as important as the epouranals and the Fantasma, and the Sunnin Social System was designed to deal with these types of issues.”
Honsmordin tried again. “Okay, but the Sunnin Social System still exists today, and the Sisterhood of Ester still helps with these things.”
Franklin pounded his fist on the table. “The Sunnin Social System is a mere shell of its former glory. The Sisterhood of Ester has bastardized it, made it nothing more than an outlet for their greed and egos. Without the Daughter of the Sun at the helm, they’re honestly doing more harm than good.”
Honsmordin wasn’t expecting such a strong reaction. “You speak as if you have personal knowledge of this. I know your family donates to Sunnin but—”
“We are more intimately involved than you know.” Franklin started rolling up the scrolls sprawled out on the table. “My ancestors helped found the Sunnin Social System. Not only are we its largest donors, but for generations there were always Stokenshires present within Sunnin Mountain, serving the Daughter of the Sun. Now the Sisterhood of Ester has all but pushed us out except where the charter and bylaws demand our involvement. The Stokenshires have always been loyal to the Daughter of the Sun, ever since Sarah Fantas. Our name is blessed because of them, but the Sisterhood of Ester; that’s another story.”
“But even now, even after centuries with no Daughter of the Sun, your family is still loyal, loyal to a legacy that’s died off?” Honsmordin asked in disbelief. He was surprised to hear his friend speak with such passion.
“As long as the name Stokenshire remains, we will always be loyal to the Daughter of the Sun,” Franklin said with hard determination in his voice. “We are her most trusted allies, and we will never break that trust. So yes, I do believe the Daughter of the Sun is returning, but even if it takes a thousand more years, the Stokenshires will wait. We will wait and be ready to serve. If you’ll excuse me, I have some research to do.” He put several rolled-up scrolls under his arm and left the research room.