* Lumarian Mountains *
It took several hours for Sharanel to return to the cavern. Though quickening allowed for instantaneous transport, it was impossible to quicken to the outside world while in the massive Lumarian mountain range, which was laden with large amounts of quartz deposits that hindered quickening and vision in the mentant realm. In addition, the makeshift trail was ill-suited for horses. As a result, they had to make the trip on foot back and forth to Fenallday, the closest town where they could use quickening to get to the world beyond.
During that time, the soldiers and guardians scoured the entire tunnel system inside the mountain. There were a few more large chambers but most of the tunnels and other entrances into the mountain had caved in long ago. Only the entrance they found at the back of the valley had been cleared out.
Sharanel entered the cavern with Pathos, her guardian escort, and another man. Unlike Sharanel and Pathos, the pale-skinned newcomer wore no robe over his regular clothing. He was wearing a frayed, brown tunic, matching baggy pants, and flimsy sandals. His mess of auburn hair flowed down to his shoulders, and he had a scraggly beard. Everything about the man, from his clothes to his bright blue eyes that sparkled with curiosity, seemed to radiate an aura of eccentricity.
“Shara, Shara, you weren’t kidding. This place is excellent,” he pronounced loudly as they entered, causing several heads to turn. “Got that flowy warm rifty goodness just all through here. Good stuff. Definitely a thing.”
Fantasma approached them, a puzzled look on his face. Honsmordin followed, also looking confused by the unexpected guest.
Sharanel was quick to make introductions. “Fantasma, this is Thomas Goodfield. Tommy, this is the Fantasma.”
“Whoa right,” Thomas said shaking Fantasma’s hand vigorously. “The man himself, the chief chiefy-chief of like the whole blasted thing. Total honor, head man, total honor.” He was still looking around the cave distractedly.
“Thomas Goodfield?” Fantasma repeated curiously. “You were on the short list for the job of Fantasmal Quickener. We extended an offer for you to come interview, but I was told you weren’t interested.”
Thomas seemed to be only half paying attention. “Right, yeah sorry about that thing, with the whole great honor thing, but yeah I couldn’t do that whole bureaucracy thing, it’s just totally not a thing I do.” He started to wander off even as he was talking, looking up at the ceiling as if he could see something they couldn’t. “This is totally a thing I do. Shara you’ve gotta be so rocked. Are you seeing this?”
“Well no,” Sharanel said, “that’s kind of the problem.”
“Thomas Goodfield,” Honsmordin said in a semi-hushed tone to Fantasma. “You mean to tell me that he’s the greatest quickener in the world?” His tone clearly reflected disbelief.
“Well technically ol’ Professor Landerpool is the greatest quickener in the world,” Thomas said, having overheard them but still staring up at the ceiling. “I guess they don’t count him anymore ’cause you know, mostly with the teaching and research thing, but whatever, I’m totally not into the whole title thing. I’m just doing my thing looking for the next big thing, and this is totally the next big thing.”
Honsmordin waited to make sure Thomas was out of earshot before addressing Fantasma and Sharanel again. “Are you sure about this, sir? He doesn’t appear to realize the gravity of the situation.”
“Thomas is a little unorthodox, but he’s the best there is. We’re lucky to have him here,” Sharanel said. “Even Professor Landerpool can’t study a rift like he can.”
“Sharanel’s right,” Fantasma agreed. “I’ve heard stories about him. He’s truly gifted and also very elusive.” He gave his quickener a curious look. “It took weeks to track him down when we tried to interview him. How did you find him so quickly?”
“Thomas and I bonded our staffs; I always know where he is,” Sharanel boasted.
Fantasma’s expression turned almost fatherly. “Bonded staffs? That’s quite an intimate gesture among quickeners, isn’t it? I had no idea you two were so close.”
Sharanel fought back the blush that was rushing to her cheeks. “I worked with him for years with Professor Landerpool. He trusts me, that’s all. Anyway, Thomas is a genius,” she added with clear admiration in her voice. “He has dimensional sense and he trained under Professor Landerpool.”
“Shara, Shara what have I said about throwing around the ‘g’ word. I’m a simple quickener just like you.” Thomas waved his hands around as if trying to catch something.
“Okay,” Fantasma said slowly, trying to adjust to the new personality. “Well genius or not, what I need to know is can you help us with this rift?”
“Mittius Mentenus Kasier Rift,” Thomas said and instantly the air above them was filled with flowing yellow ribbons of what looked like pure energy.
There were gasps of awe from all around.
“He can also use mandamus,” Sharanel added with a grin.
Even Fantasma was stunned. Not only was the aptitude for mandamus rare, but it was never found in those with the ability to quicken. Having both skills was supposed to be impossible.
“That’s yer rift right there, chief-Fantasma-man,” Thomas said indicating the yellow energy. “Ya’ll just couldn’t see it, but I figured out a bit of hooey to make ‘em visible. Makes ‘em easier to study. It’s a total thing.”
“I see,” Fantasma nodded, seemingly impressed enough to give Thomas a pass on his lack of formality. “Is there anything you can tell us about this rift? I know you haven’t had a lot of time.”
“Oh, I can tell ya loads,” he said waving his hand through the ribbons of energy. “For one thing it’s old. I’d say at first glance it’s just shy of thirteen hundred years. It’s crazy stable. Also, someone’s been tinkering with it recently.” He turned to Sharanel. “I thought you said I was the first one to mess with this thing.”
Sharanel shrugged. “As far as we knew, you were.”
“No, somebody’s used this thing recently. I’d say somewhere between six months and a year ago, and they tinkered with it too; think they tried to close it or something.”
Fantasma and Honsmordin shared knowing looks.
“I didn’t know you could track a quickener that far back,” Sharanel said.
“Normally can’t, but rifts hold energy a lot longer,” Thomas said still examining the ribbons closely. “Yeah, it was someone who knew what they were doing, another quickener with the demi gift. Dunno who that could be though, but hey, not like I know every quickener out there in the world, and so what if they were. We’re all free to do what we want, right? I mean, if I’d found it, I’d have messed with it too; rift this big and old.”
“So can you tell what’s on the other side of it. Can we travel through it?” Honsmordin asked in a curt tone, clearly not amused by Thomas’s antics.
“Oh totally…I think…definitely probably…yeah, it’s a thing,” Thomas said as he walked in a wide circle.
“Can you translate that?” Honsmordin asked Sharanel.
She rolled her eyes. “It’s going to take some time.”
“But you’re saying you can actually travel through it?” Fantasma reiterated, still skeptical. He turned to Sharanel. “I thought you said you couldn’t quicken in here, even with the traveler quartz.”
“I can’t, but Tommy has dimensional sense,” Sharanel reminded him. “The rift doesn’t affect him like it does me. He can actually harness it.”
“Yeah, but ya can’t rush these things, ‘cause no telling what could happen if we try to use this right now. Could end up in the middle of nowhere with no way to get back. That’d be a massive burn; totally not a thing,” Thomas said. “Don’t wanna blast ourselves out of existence or anything.”
“Is that a thing?” Fantasma asked in alarm before realizing what he said and adding, “that could happen?”
“Oh yeah…no…maybe…probably not but kinda yeah, you never know with these things,” Thomas said with the same sort of clarity they’d quickly grown accustomed to with the odd quickener. “I totally found this rift once; bounced myself like three months in the past.”
“You never told me that,” Sharanel said in awe. “That’s incredible.”
“Well see, it was when I first got into the whole rift thing, just after I finished training with the ol’ Prof and boy did I screw up. That rift wasn’t temporally locked, not like this one.”
“Temporally locked?” Sharanel repeated uncertain.
“Yeah, means that the rift ain’t jumpin’ all round the timeline. See ’cause rifts are usually super unstable. They can jump all around in time and space, never know where or when you’re poppin’ out and I was a total rube, just made a total rube mistake. Didn’t know how to temporally lock it so of course, when I went through, I couldn’t go back the way I came; rift was just still bouncin’. Had to get back the long way round. I mean, it was only three months so not a big deal, right? Besides, you don’t age when you quicken back in time anyway.”
“Still, that had to be interesting. Temporal displacement with rifts is really rare and there’s very little practical study on it. There’s so much to learn. For example: couldn’t you just go find yourself and stop yourself from going back in time? Would that have worked?” Sharanel asked.
“Oh yeah, well no, well you know, the whole quickening back in time thing; it’s totally a thing. Like, I spent the whole time with this super nice epouranal lady, Seraphina, and she actually explained the whole thing about time and the universe and how it all flows together and yeah it was totally a thing.”
“You spent three months with High Mage Goodall?” Honsmordin blurted in disbelief. “She’s barely been seen in public for the last twenty years.”
“Yeah, she’s totally all about the recluse meditation thing but just a super nice lady, ya know? She said it was my thing to do the whole thing with her because of the time thing and how it all worked and yeah. It’s kinda complicated. Basically, everything that’s done is already done so when you do it, it’s just the way it already is so the whole back in time thing just works no matter what, but my whole thing was to do the thing and just be with her.” He finally seemed to notice their stunned and confused faces. “Yeah, I only sorta partially got it. You know how epouranals can be; super nice, but totally can’t understand them most of the time.”
Sharanel tried very hard not to laugh at this but failed.
“So, you mentioned that this rift was—how did you put it—temporally locked,” Fantasma said, circumventing what was potentially a lengthy diatribe from Honsmordin, who looked furious. “Is that normal? Is it a good thing?”
“Nah, it’s totally not a thing. I mean it’s a good thing,” Thomas corrected quickly, “but totally not a thing. Most rifts are super unstable, don’t last long, bouncin’ all around, that sorta thing. If you know how to do a bit a hooey, you can lock ‘em down but they can still just flake out on ya and disappear, ya know? This rift here though; it’s old, strong, and totally locked in place. It’s a straight shot to wherever; totally a thing. Only thing is that the temporal dilation is a factor of three.”
Fantasma raised an eyebrow at this. “Which means?”
“Well, basically, time is flowing three times faster on this side than the other side. Never seen a dilation that great before. Makes me wonder if…but no worries. Just means we’ll be gone less time over here than on the other side. Might be able to fix that, but even if we can’t, it should be fine. We’d be able to use it now if our mystery quickener hadn’t tried to close it up after they were done. But this rift’s too strong for that. It ain’t goin’ nowhere. Still, they were definitely skilled whoever they were. Gonna take me some time to undo all this hooey. Totally wanna meet this quickener if I haven’t already.”
Fantasma smiled despite himself. “How long do you think it will take before we can safely go through this rift and see what’s on the other side?”
Thomas was still pacing in a circle. “I’m gonna say one, maybe five, totally not more than two but possibly three hours, definitely, maybe. It’ll probably just be one. You on a time crunch, chief-Fantasma-man?”
Fantasma chuckled at this. “No, no, take your time. I’d rather it be right than rushed.”
“See that’s my total thing. You get me, chief-Fantasma-man. Totally about taking the time and doing the thing. Don’t worry, this is totally a thing. This rift, I can feel it; totally a thing,” he said as he wandered off, hands still waiving through the yellow energy and muttering to himself.
An hour later, when Franklin and Karmandrian returned to the cavern with Sherrilynn, Thomas was still examining the rift with Sharanel close at hand.
Karmandrian looked up at the flowing yellow energy with mild curiosity. “It appears we’ve missed something.”
“I see we have yet another newcomer,” Fantasma said as he and Honsmordin approached the trio.
“Oh my word!” Sherrilynn fumbled between bow and curtsey. “You’re the Fantasma. It’s an honor, sir.”
“You’re a member of the Sisterhood of Ester, I take it?” Fantasma said, recognizing the sun-yellow robe.
“Yes sir.” Sherrilynn straightened up. “I’m Sister Sherrilynn Greyson.”
“A pleasure,” Fantasma said before turning to the others in her wake. “Franklin, I’m guessing you have some explanation?”
“I do,” Franklin said. “I went to see the sisterhood about the Sun Stone, to see if we could use it in our efforts as I believe it could aid in finding the Daughter of the Sun.”
“I would imagine Sister Heather was not overly thrilled at the prospect of lending the Sun Stone, even for such a noble cause,” Fantasma surmised, “especially since we’re not sure if we really will find the Daughter of the Sun.”
“No sir, she was not in the slightest,” Franklin said. Though he was nervous about telling Fantasma the truth, he also knew that lying was not an option either. “However, Sister Sherrilynn was amenable to our cause. In fact, as hard as it may be to believe, she saw the Daughter of the Sun a few weeks back in Sunnin Mountain.”
“She was there. I saw her activate the Sun Stone,” Sherrilynn said, “but she disappeared somehow before I could bring the others.”
“Given all that we are coming to learn about this rift and what may have happened to the Daughter of the Sun years ago, I’m inclined to believe her,” Franklin said.
“And more importantly, she was prepared to believe us where Sister Heather was not,” Karmandrian added, “and she brought the Sun Stone.”
Fantasma’s face fell. “What?” he hissed. “You took the Sun Stone without Sister Heather’s permission?” He was looking back and forth between Franklin and Karmandrian, hardly daring to believe that a guardian and one of his chief officers would be so reckless.
“I fully understand the ramifications of what we did,” Franklin said, “and even though Sherrilynn acted on her own, I take full responsibility for this.”
“Do you know what kind of position you’ve put me in? The sisterhood could call in the Epouranal Council for this.”
“I won’t let it get that far. I’m a board member in the Sunnin Social System. Once I explain our reasons to the board, the worse they would do is sanction me,” Franklin assured.
“No, absolutely not,” Fantasma said. “Franklin, I know you believe that all of this links to the Daughter of the Sun, but this has gone too far. We’re returning the Sun Stone right now. Where is it?”
Sherrilynn hastily reached into her robe and pulled the large, yellow, spherical jewel from its copious depths, holding it out to the Fantasma, a sad look on her face.
“Sir, if you like, I will take the stone back,” Karmandrian offered.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” came Thomas’s voice from far away. “What just happened? This is totally a thing!”
Fantasma looked around distractedly and then saw what had caused Thomas’s stammering. The golden-yellow energy of the rift, which up until this point had been floating around haphazardly, was now starting to move with purpose. Within a few seconds, several of the energy ribbons had coalesced and the resultant mass was circling over the Sun Stone, which started pulsating a faint yellow light in response.
Thomas came running over and snatched up the Sun Stone unceremoniously, examining it closer. “Chief-Fantasma-man, why didn’t you tell me you had a dimensional locus? This is totally a thing!”
“Hold on now, that’s a priceless artifact,” Honsmordin shouted as Thomas walked off, still examining it.
“I should say so, mage-man,” Thomas agreed. “This is the dimensional locus of the largest and oldest rift I’ve ever seen, completely intact I might add. Now if I can just find the right spot.” He started to move erratically around the room, as if an invisible force was tugging him along against his will. The yellow energy ribbons seemed to be drawn to the stone like a magnet but would go back to their random motion if he strayed too far.
“Aren’t you going to stop him?” Honsmordin asked Fantasma.
Fantasma was watching the eccentric quickener with interest. “I think we should give him a minute. He seems to be on to something. Besides, I highly doubt he can hurt the Sun Stone.”
Sharanel suddenly came running up. “Holy moon! Is that you, Sherrilynn?”
“Yeah, I was wondering if you’d recognize me or even remember me.” She beamed.
“I take it you two know each other,” Fantasma said as he kept one eye on Thomas.
“Sherrilynn lived in Zohare when I was little,” Sharanel said.
“I used to babysit her,” Sherrilynn added.
Sharanel went slightly red from embarrassment. “She left to join the sisterhood around the same time I moved to the mountain. Speaking of, is that the Sun Stone Tommy has? What’s going on?”
“He believes it has something to do with the rift, but I’m not sure how it’s connected,” Fantasma said. “He called it a dimensional locus. I hate to admit it, but I believe I’m out of my depth. What is a dimensional locus?”
“It’s the quartz rock at the center of a rift when it forms,” Sharanel explained. “It’s usually destroyed or shattered in the process but theoretically if you found one intact, it could be used to stabilize the rift.”
“The Sun Stone is not quartz though. How could it be this locus thing?” Honsmordin asked, watching Thomas with concern.
“Shara, this locus wasn’t just at the center of the rift when it formed. It’s the source of the rift. This is definitely a thing,” Thomas called as he walked to the center of the cavern, holding the stone aloft, still examining it with wide-eyed wonder.
“Wait, I thought rifts were a natural phenomenon,” Karmandrian said, clearly confused. “How could the Sun Stone form a rift?”
“I don’t know. It’s really a thing. I can sense dimensional energy, a ton of it. It’s dormant, but it’s definitely in there just waiting to push out. There’s way more to this little wonder. Definitely more.”
Thomas finally placed the Sun Stone on the ground after agonizing over the exact right spot. Immediately all the swirling yellow rift energy in the cavern pooled and formed a focused funnel over the stone, like a small tornado.
“Alrighty then,” Thomas said. “The sunshine-thinga-ma-bob is definitely stabilizing the rift. They’re in perfect sync. Even the temporal dilation is gone. This is amazing.” He turned to Sharanel in excitement. “Can you imagine the papers ol’ Professor Landerpool could write up on this thing!”
Sharanel came up beside him, her voice small. “I don’t understand. What’s happening?”
“Okay, your normal locus sucks in rift energy like a sponge when they form, but they can’t hold it, not forever right? Of course not. That’s why they usually shatter, or the energy eventually leaks out and they become regular traveler quartz. But not this little wonder right here.” He tapped the Sun Stone with his foot. “It’s just ripe with dimensional energy, all dormant and just waiting for someone to pop it open. It’s infinite; I can feel it, but I can’t access it. It says I’m not allowed. How do ya like that?” he chuckled.
“It says? You mean it spoke to you?” Franklin asked, but Thomas glossed over this quickly.
“But hey, if it’s not my thing to access it, that’s totally fine, I’m not gonna pry. Anyway, it’s still totally the source of this energy. Don’t you see Shara,” Thomas said as if it was so clear. “This is the oldest and largest rift ever discovered and it wasn’t formed in nature. It was created by your little sun-quartz here. I think we may have found the source of every other rift that’s ever been formed. The mother-rift is right here in this room! Isn’t that a hoot?”
“But the Sun Stone is not quartz,” Honsmordin said more emphatically, though he was clearly in awe.
“Agree to disagree there, mage-man,” Thomas was beaming. “But quartz or not, that there stone is the knob to this door.”
“Wait, so we can go through it now?” Fantasma asked excitedly.
“Oh yeah, it’s a total thing,” Thomas assured. “Just ‘cause I can’t tinker with the sunny-stone thing doesn’t mean we still can’t use it as a locus, and a whoppin’ great locus it is. It made the job super easy and whatnot. Like I said: door meet knob.”
Fantasma nodded. “Can you tell what’s on the other side?”
“Not a clue,” Thomas said, “except it’s another quartz cave; and it’s really super far away; and it’s completely temporally locked now with no dilation; times flowing the same on both sides…oh and also, I’m pretty sure we won’t die going through…but yeah, nothing else really.”
“That’s plenty,” Fantasma said, “but I’d love to know what makes you certain we won’t die going through.”
“Well, that’s easy chief-Fantasma-man. Whoever used this a while back used it twice, once each way, so that’s a good sign.”
“Fair enough,” Fantasma said, giving another furtive look to Honsmordin.
“So now what?” Sharanel asked Fantasma as Thomas continued to examine the newly stabilized rift.
Fantasma pulled Sharanel, Honsmordin, Karmandrian, and Franklin into a side conference.
“Franklin, did you know this was going to happen?” Fantasma asked urgently. “Is this why you went for the Sun Stone?”
“No sir,” Franklin said immediately. “I thought it would help in locating the Daughter of the Sun, nothing more, but it does make sense.”
“How does this make sense?” Honsmordin asked in a shrill tone.
“Well, we know that the Sun Stone was here over twelve hundred years ago during the Great War. Multus stole it and Ruth went to retrieve it. It’s clear that something happened with the stone, there was some reason Multus needed it. Perhaps he caused the rift.”
“How though?” Honsmordin asked. “No one can use the stone except the Daughter of the Sun.”
“I don’t know,” Franklin admitted. “I’m still putting the pieces together, but our new friend has made it clear that the Sun Stone and this rift are linked. Perhaps when we find the Daughter of the Sun, we will find the answers.”
“Frank, I’m still not pleased with how you handled this,” Fantasma said sternly. “Taking the Sun Stone was beyond reckless.”
Franklin hung his head. “I’m truly sorry. It was never my intent.”
“But there are more pressing issues,” Fantasma continued. “The Sun Stone is clearly a key component in all of this, so I will handle the backlash from the sisterhood later. Right now, we need to know what’s on the other side of that rift.”
“How many people do you plan on taking,” Honsmordin asked. “I recommend at least a few guardians.”
“No,” Fantasma said. “Despite Thomas’s assurances, I still consider this to be a very dangerous endeavor. I’ll be going alone.”
“Sir, I understand that it’s risky, but I would like to go as well,” Franklin said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.”
“I’m sorry Franklin, but that’s exactly why I’m not taking you,” Fantasma said. “I can’t risk you letting your emotions get the better of you again. I still feel there are things you aren’t telling me.”
Franklin gave a sad nod. “I understand sir, and you’re right to think that. There are secrets that the Stokenshires carry on behalf of the Daughter of the Sun, and though some may concern what is happening right now, I still cannot share them. I’m honor bound. However, I hope you know that I would not keep something from you that would jeopardize anyone’s life.”
Fantasma smiled. “I’ve known you long enough to know that you are both loyal and trustworthy, my friend. Still, I feel that less variables are better in this case.” He turned to the others. “No one outside of General Rockwall and the guardians need to know the true nature of the Sun Stone. Thomas called it a locus, so that’s what it is to the others. Karmandrian, I’m holding you personally responsible for its safety.”
Karmandrian nodded. “Absolutely, sir.”
Fantasma walked over to where Thomas was still completely absorbed in examining the rift energy. “I’m ready if you are.”
“Just you and me, chief?” Thomas asked. “Yeah, probably smart, the less the merrier with these things, right? Still gonna probably wanna take Shara on this though.”
“Why?” Fantasma asked. “You’re the one with dimensional sense; surely she can’t help.”
“Not entirely true,” Thomas said. “Rifts are tricky, traveling through them even trickier, and Shara’s one of the best. Having a skilled partner won’t hurt, especially if something goes wrong on the other side. You know what they say, quickeners should stick together.”
“Nobody says that,” Fantasma said flatly.
“Really? I could’ve sworn they said that.”
“Sharanel!” Fantasma called, exasperation clear in his voice.
Sharanel scampered over, a grin on her face, having overheard the conversation. “Yes sir?” she said, trying and failing to remain professional as she let out a small chuckle.
“You’re coming on a little field trip, Shara,” Thomas said before Fantasma could respond.
“Just stay close to me, and keep your wits about you,” Fantasma told her. “We don’t know what we’ll be facing on the other side.”
Sharanel nodded eagerly.
“Alrighty then, here we go,” Thomas said, clapping his hands excitedly. “Are you ready?”
“Wait.” Fantasma gave the quickener a confused look. “Where’s your staff?” It had never occurred to him to ask this question before but now the lack of a staff seemed painfully obvious. It was highly unusual for any quickener to be without their staff, the sole tool of their trade.
“Oh yeah, right you are, chief-Fantasma-man, right you are. Completely forgot what with Shara being the one to quicken us.” He snapped his fingers and immediately, a long ornate quickener staff appeared in his hands.
Sharanel’s jaw dropped and even Fantasma looked completely flummoxed.
“How did you do that?” Sharanel asked.
Thomas shrugged. “It’s a thing. Ready?”
Before either could indicate readiness, he tapped his staff on the ground and the trio disappeared in a flash of yellow light.