* Leviton *
Henry stared around in awe as he sat in one of the lounges inside Lawrence Stokenshire’s large manor. It was an impressive home with marble floors, ornate chandeliers with tiny blue lights, and large comfortable furniture. Henry knew wealth when he saw it. Ace’s family home had been a testament to that, but this estate seemed even more extravagant. He felt a newfound sense of respect for the quaver. If he was this rich, he had to be very good at his chosen profession. Clearly, Franklin wasn’t exaggerating when he said his nephew was the best.
“So, tell me exactly what happened,” Lawrence said suddenly
Henry gave a start. He’d been so focused on looking around that he’d completely forgotten the dark-skinned man sitting across from him and Sharanel in one of the large chairs.
Lawrence was wearing black slacks and a dark green shirt with small black buttons that made a neat line down the center. His black hair was cut short; and he had a thin mustache. He was holding one of the pieces of the broken staff up to his face, his hazel eyes scanning back and forth, taking in every inch of it.
“Well,” Sharanel started, trying to determine how best to tell the story. She was seated next to Henry on a small sofa, once again uncomfortably close.
Lawrence held up his free hand never taking his eyes off the staff he was inspecting. “Before you begin, let me clarify: I need to know everything that happened,” he stressed. “My uncle has already told me of your mission to the other world and what you found there, including the Daughter of the Sun. There is no need to spare details. I am a Stokenshire; I will not speak of any of these things outside this room. No one will know the truth of Henry’s origin; you can trust me.”
Sharanel was shocked that Franklin had shared such sensitive information with his nephew, but there was no turning back now. “Well, okay then. Maybe Henry should start. You said you just got the staff today, right?” She turned to her companion.
“Yes.” Henry nodded. His respect for Lawrence had grown even more. Here was a man that seemed to have the confidence and swagger of an expert in his trade. Again, he was reminded of Calvin Eastman. Ace’s dad always seemed to have that air of confidence that came with experience and expertise.
Henry straightened up and thought for a moment, tugging at the sleeves of the blue shirt he was now wearing. “Well, we found this staff in my parent’s basement. I know it was my father’s; I saw him use it at least.”
Between the two of them, they relayed the full story, sparing no details and providing a full recounting of the tale from their dual perspectives. It wasn’t until they got to the moment of transport that Sharanel faltered in her recount.
“Well, I…” she started to blush and even Henry squirmed a bit. “I thought that if I could just distract him, I could make the bond, so…I kissed him,” she said sheepishly. Lawrence made no sign that he would respond, so she continued. “Well anyway, that did the trick. The bond was made, and we immediately transported. It was almost like the staff acted on its own because it activated immediately. When we got back to the cave though, no one was with us; everyone was displaced. Henry said he could see a few of them far off and that’s when I realized that they must be in places surrounded by traveler quartz, just like the cave we were in. I tried to get him to transport them back to us—”
“You tried to take my staff as I was trying to get my friends back,” Henry corrected hotly. “I could see the Fantasma, Jandor, Mrs. Guardman, and Becky, and I was trying to focus to get them back. It was only my second time doing this, but she got all impatient and we fell. My staff broke, and the only two people who appeared were Fantasma and Mrs. Guardman. Now we don’t know where the others are or how to get them back, and I can’t use the staff anymore.” He glared at Sharanel, clearly still frustrated with her, the story having opened old wounds.
“It wasn’t my fault the staff broke,” she said for what felt like the hundredth time. “If you knew what you were doing, this never would’ve happened.”
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Lawrence interrupted before Henry could retort. He was examining the staff again as he had done on and off throughout the story. “Well, at least neither of you are to blame. You only exacerbated the situation. This staff has been mishandled and improperly cared for. It’s clear that its previous owners did not know what they were doing.”
Henry looked as if he might retort, after all it was his father’s staff, but Lawrence gave him a reassuring smile.
“I mean no disrespect,” he said, correctly reading Henry’s expression. He put down the piece of the staff he was holding. “We know that Henry’s ancestor was the quickener with the Twelve Warriors when they disappeared, and on his world that happened a little over four hundred years ago. This must be his ancestor’s staff because, as Henry has told us, there are no quickeners in his world, which means no quavers and no way to make or repair a staff. It also means that the knowledge of how to use it was probably not passed down completely, thus misuse, albeit unintentional.”
“Heavens be!” Sharanel said in shock. “You mean this staff survived over four hundred years of use?”
“Probably closer to five if you count the time here on Mendala before they were sent through the rift, and it’s been passed down from generation to generation. I would guess at least four or five times, if not more,” Lawrence said.
Henry nodded, not really knowing how many generations it had been, but agreeing it had to be a lot.
“That’s unheard of,” Sharanel said. “That’s impossible!”
“Unheard of, yes. Impossible? Well, clearly not.” Lawrence smirked. “We have the proof right here, and I think I know one of the reasons why. This staff was expertly made, and unlike most quickener staffs that are made from vornwood, this staff is made from rockwood, which was the norm for staffs when quickeners were less common but is rarely used now. When quickening first started being practiced, staffs were made to last and were far more expensive. A staff was also meant to be passed down through at least two generations, and rockwood served well for those purposes.
“However, when more people started taking on the mantle of quickener, there was a growing need for a more lightweight and less expensive material that could still bind together a quickener staff. Vornwood was a perfect substitute. It’s far more plentiful, easier to manipulate and shape, and has most of the same properties as rockwood. The only downside is that vornwood staffs only last seventy to a hundred years, even with regular maintenance. Also, they can’t be passed down, but as they are so much cheaper to make, especially if synthesized quartz is used, it means that new quickeners don’t inherit their staffs anymore; they simply have new ones made.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Sharanel said. “No offense to your trade, but it’s better that quickener staffs can be made cheaper now so that anyone can be a quickener and it’s not just for the same entrenched families. Everyone who can quicken should be able to buy a staff, not just the rich, and who cares what it’s made of as long as it works.”
Lawrence chuckled. “While I agree that anyone should be able to be a quickener regardless of heritage, there is something to be said for how staffs used to be made: with care, natural quartz, and strong materials. These staffs have more memory, more power, and can be used by a skilled quickener in ways that would shatter vornwood staffs. It’s one of the reasons why I made your staff from rockwood,” Lawrence revealed.
“What?” Sharanel looked at her own staff which had served her for four years already. She’d never questioned its origins as it was gifted to her by the quaver, and she’d only ever had him maintain and repair it. “I never knew.”
“Oh yes,” Lawrence said. “You are one of the most talented and reckless quickeners I’ve ever known. I knew you’d need a staff that could stand up to a lot of abuse and experimentation and I was quite right.”
Sharanel squirmed uncomfortably, reminded of the time she’d broken her own staff in an ill-advised experiment.
“This staff,” Lawrence continued, picking up the staff fragments, “only survived four hundred years because of how well it was made. No normal staff would work for someone so far down the bloodline of its original owner. Add to that the fact that it was injected with new staff memory just before being used to transverse a rift; it’s a miracle it survived all of that and only broke afterward.”
“But can you fix it?” Henry asked tentatively. Though he appreciated knowing more about his staff, it only made him more anxious to know it’s fate. Was four hundred years just too long?
“Absolutely,” Lawrence said as if the answer was obvious. “It will take some time, but I can definitely repair it. Come with me.” He picked up the three staff pieces and headed for a door to his left.
Henry and Sharanel followed him into an office with several large bookshelves, a sturdy wooden desk, and a table with what looked like a fish tank filled with purplish water. The only thing in the tank was a large rock sitting at the bottom. Lawrence walked to the tank, opened its lid, and dropped the staff pieces into the purple water.
“The quartz in the tank is a hybrid made specifically for this purpose. It’s part amicus, part magnum, part plethora. The design was originally developed in Acumen, but I was able to tweak it for my own use. Its purpose is to leech the exotic energy from the staff.”
“So, this has happened before, rift energy poisoning staffs?” Sharanel asked in awe.
“Oh yes, but not just rifts, there are other types of exotic energies that can mess with a staff. Rifts are the worst though. Again, we’re fortunate that Henry’s staff was well crafted. I’ll let that soak overnight, and then in the morning, I’ll head out to retrieve the materials I need to repair it. I’ll need to go to the Gavden Woods.”
“All the way to Sunntondra?” Sharanel said in awe. “Aren’t their some rockwood trees in the forest east of here?”
“Yes, but I’m fairly certain that the wood from this staff came from the forests in western Sunntondra, and I need to find a tree as close to this one’s ancestry as possible if I’m to bring this staff back to its former glory.” He turned to Henry. “Don’t worry, when I am done with your staff, it will last another four hundred years. Just give me two days.”
“Two days?” Henry was a bit disappointed, but he rallied; this was still good news. “Okay, thank you so much. I really appreciate it, but there’s still one problem: I don’t know how to use it.” He was half hoping the quaver might offer to help him in that regard.
“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem; we have the perfect teacher right here.” He turned to Sharanel.
“Me?” Sharanel squeaked.
“Her?” Henry said in disgust almost at the same time.
“What do you mean ‘her’?” Sharanel rounded on him, offense clear on her face.
“Whoa there,” Lawrence said before Henry could retort. “Though I do think that Sharanel could be an asset to you, what I was going to say was that we should take you to see Professor Landerpool. He teaches at the masters school here in Leviton. He’s the world’s foremost quickening authority and a close personal friend of mine. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind helping you. He’s also Sharanel’s mentor.” Lawrence added, as if to solidify the fact that Sharanel was indeed accomplished. “I can contact him in the morning.”
Henry seemed willing to take the quaver’s advice. “Okay, what do we do until then?”
Lawrence looked out the large window near his desk. The early signs of dusk were just hitting the sky. “Well, I was just about to have dinner. You two are welcome to join me and stay here for the night.”
Henry’s stomach seemed to growl on cue. “That sounds great. I think my body’s been thrown off by all the time changes and interdimensional transport, and I didn’t really eat that much before I left Earth,” he said. In truth he hadn’t had an appetite as his stomach had been in knots up until visiting Lawrence, but now that there was a goal in sight, he finally felt relaxed enough to eat.
“Thanks, but I really should be getting back to the mountain,” Sharanel said.
“I’ll walk you out,” Lawrence said as they returned to the lounge. “Henry, if you would wait here. I just called for Wendy. She should be arriving shortly, and she’ll guide you to the dining area.”
Henry plopped down on the small sofa again and watched as Lawrence and Sharanel headed down the long hall to the main entrance.
“So, I take this to mean you have no plans to help our novice quickener in his training,” Lawrence said when they were out of earshot.
“Why?” Sharanel asked in alarm. “Professor Landerpool can sort him out; he doesn’t need me. Besides, I’m the Fantasmal Quickener now.” She shook her staff as if to emphasize the point. “I have to be available for Fantasma, and I have a lot of other responsibilities.”
“Fair enough, but there are a thousand quickeners in the mountain at your service,” Lawrence pressed, “and I’m sure even Fantasma would agree that Henry is a top priority since he’s the only one able to bring his friends and the Daughter of the Sun back together. I would think you’d want to help in any way possible, this being your field of expertise; yet I’ve sensed your desire to leave almost from the moment you got here.”
“Geez, what’s with you Stokenshires? Do you get an extra dose of intuition when you’re born?” Sharanel sighed even as Lawrence chuckled. “Look, me and Henry don’t get along; he doesn’t like or respect me, so I think he’d be better off without me.”
“I’m sure he thinks that too, but you seem to be forgetting part of the story you two shared with me today. Perhaps it’s because you were so grief stricken at the time due to Thomas’s death, but he revealed something very important to both of you.”
Sharanel felt a lump in her stomach at the mention of Thomas’s name.
“You told me that he spent three months with High Mage Goodall, and both you and Henry said he mentioned her while you were in the other world, as if he knew something was going to happen. I think he did.”
“Yeah, that’s what it kind of sounded like,” Sharanel agreed.
“I think he was given a prophecy about this,” Lawrence revealed. “It’s why he wanted you to come with him and Fantasma. I think he knew he was going to die, knew he was going to meet Henry, and knew that you two would need each other in order to see all of this through.”
Sharanel raised an eyebrow at this. “Don’t you think that’s a stretch?”
“I’m surprised at you, Sharanel.” Lawrence shook his head. “After all you’ve seen today, you would so easily dismiss the idea of prophetic word. Did you not just witness the return of the Daughter of the Sun based on a prophecy my family has held onto for generations?”
“Yeah, but that was different. Your ancestor heard the prophecy from High Mage Gilenhall; we know he did. We don’t know for sure that Tommy got some sort of prophecy.”
“True,” Lawrence conceded, “but we do know that Thomas took great pains to bring you to Henry. He said you two needed to stick together; those were his dying words. Just think about it.”
Sharanel nodded. “Fine, I will.” She turned and started for the gate, knowing she needed to get past the quartz walls that surrounded the city before she could successfully quicken back to the mountain.
“Uh, excuse me,” came a small voice from behind Henry.
Henry turned to see a young woman standing at the threshold. She had dirty blonde hair that flowed down her back and wore a pair of palazzo pants with a flowery pattern, a simple white short sleeved top, and open-toed sandals.
“Are you Wendy?” he asked as he stood.
“Yes, and you’re Henry, right?” She seemed excited. “Mr. Stokenshire asked me to come get you. Dinner’s almost ready; you can follow me.”
Wendy guided them out of the large sitting room and down a wide corridor with large tapestries and portraits hanging on the walls.
“This place is just amazing,” Henry said in awe.
“It is,” Wendy agreed. “I’m still getting used to it myself.”
They rounded a corner and walked into a large room with a highly polished wooden table that sat sixteen.
Henry’s mouth dropped. “Are we eating in here? This is huge!”
Wendy chuckled. “No, this is the formal dining room. It’s only for parties, but I’ve never seen Mr. Stokenshire use it.” She led him around the table and to the door on the opposite side of the room.
Beyond the formal dining room was a large eat-in kitchen with a small four-seater table situated next to a bay window.
“This place just keeps going and going,” Henry said as he headed for the table.
“Yeah, it’s like a palace compared to my home.” She sat across from him, peering at him with interest, her green eyes alight with curiosity. “I’m from Peezemore. What about you?”
Henry was still looking around, distracted. “I’m from Greengale.”
“So that’s on the other planet, right?” Wendy asked suddenly.
“Yeah.” Henry spoke without thinking, but in the next moment, his eyes widened in sudden revelation. “Wait, how did you know that?”
Wendy looked like she was ready to explode with giddiness, “Sorry, I really am. I overheard part of your story earlier when I was coming up from the basement,” she admitted in a hushed whisper. “It’s just unbelievable. You’re really from another world?”
“Uh…” Henry rubbed his neck nervously. “No one’s supposed to know that.”
“No one will know; I promise,” she said excitedly, “but it’s so amazing. I didn’t even know that people lived on other worlds. I just want to know everything!”
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Well for starters, what planet are you from? Is it Jarbon?”
“Jarbon?” Henry raised an eyebrow. “No, I’m from Earth.”
“I’ve never heard of that. Is it near here? I heard Chief Quicksilver saying you came through a rift, so it couldn’t be that far, right?”
“I’m not sure,” Henry said. “I don’t know anything about Mendala. I’ve never heard of this planet.”
Wendy wasn’t deterred. “Well, tell me all about Earth; you can start with Greengale.”
“I’d like to start with how you know about where Henry’s from,” came the stern voice of Lawrence Stokenshire as he entered the kitchen, eying his assistant with suspicion. “I don’t remember mentioning that when I summoned you, or did you somehow overhear it? Although I don’t know how that could have been since you were in the basement sorting inventory, right?” It was as if he already knew what she’d done.
Wendy had a guilty look on her face, but before she could respond, Henry spoke up.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “It just slipped out.” He felt this was somewhat true and didn’t want Wendy to get in trouble. “I’m still getting used to being here.”
Lawrence looked as if he didn’t quite believe Henry’s explanation but after a few seconds, he smiled warmly. “I suppose it’s all well and good. After all, I do need to be able to trust my assistant even with crucial and secret work. Isn’t that right, Wendy?”
“Absolutely sir; I promise I won’t tell anyone,” Wendy said as she jumped up from the table. “Let me grab the food.”
She headed for one of the long kitchen counters where several large bowls were already laid out, but as she passed Lawrence heading to the table, she turned to Henry and mouthed a quick ‘thank you’ so that only he could see.
As the trio ate dinner, Henry regaled Wendy with details of his world, and through their conversations he was able to find out a lot of differences, mostly about travel. Henry learned that there were no cars, trains, or planes on Mendala, but there were boats and vehicles pulled by not just horses but all manner of animals. The main way people traveled long distances was by quickener. When people needed to go to other towns, and sometimes even other continents, they hired quickeners. Henry compared the setup to getting a cab or rideshare on Earth, especially the fact that you could call for a quickener that had previously transported you just by saying their name while infusing your voice with adimus energy.
Even as Wendy was explaining how the quickener call worked, Henry was yawning openly and barely able to keep his eyes open after eating the heavy meal.
“Perhaps you should head to bed,” Lawrence noted. “You have a long day ahead anyway.”
Henry agreed readily, and Wendy led him upstairs to a large bedroom where a set of pajamas were already laid out for him.
It was only a few minutes after slipping into bed that he finally fell asleep after the long and chaotic day, not suspecting that the next day would be equally chaotic for both him and his friends, who were all in far-off places.