* Murrilogic *
“I can’t believe we have to walk; it’s so undignified.” Karmandrian grumbled as he and Pathos walked across the vast open plains toward the small town of Murrilogic, the afternoon sun bearing down on them.
They’d been assigned to check on the small towns near the Cascadian River, Murrilogic being one of them, as the area was considered a prime target for Davron’s army of monsters. The two were quickened earlier to the bustling Metropolis of Ramilda, the closest city to Murrilogic with a quickener marker. None of the towns near the river had markers, so quickeners couldn’t transport directly to them, a sign that the citizens valued privacy and protection over ease of access. Because of this, the two guardians were forced to walk the rest of the way.
“Isn’t it odd that not one quickener in the mountain or Ramilda could take us anywhere in that area?” Karmandrian said, continuing his rant. “Even without a marker, I would’ve thought at least one quickener in Ramilda would have a link to a person who lives in one of the towns near the river.”
“I’m fairly certain most quickeners avoid the area.” Pathos said. “They wouldn’t even rent us horses to travel there. You heard what the man said: people stay clear of the Cascadian River, and for good reason. Murrilogic and Riverbed have been at war for over thirty years. It’s ridiculous and over something so plebian as river rights.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s important to them,” Karmandrian admonished, “but after thirty years, I wonder why this hasn’t been resolved. The Fantasmal Government should be able to mediate such a simple quarrel.”
It was Pathos’s turn to chastise. “You know better, Karman. The Fantasmal Government cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a country or independent city and cannot intervene in conflicts between them unless both parties request intervention, and even then, there are limitations. If we went in, taking sides and favoring one over another, eventually we’d be under one giant global rule.”
Karmandrian sighed. “And that would be bad because? One world rule under the Fantasma; how is that a bad thing?”
“You always had trouble with world history and governance.” Pathos chuckled. “We’re a planet of almost two hundred million people spread across several races and cultures; there’s no scenario where we could all be ruled by one. Besides, the Fantasmal Government is not even a sustainable ruling structure. The Fantasma is chosen by the Epouranal Council. There’s no vote, no debate, no word of law beyond the Fantasma. Nations only accept it as the global government specifically because we don’t force our rule on any lands.”
Karmandrian tried another tact. “What about Sunnitarian cities and nations? They agree to Fantasmal rule.”
“Ah, that’s the key: they ‘agree’ to it,” Pathos said sagely. “At any point in time, the people can vote to dissolve their Sunnitarian status. They choose to live under the law, and most importantly the protection, of the Fantasmal Government. And really, how many Sunnitarian states are there? Other than Zinedinia, there are maybe a handful of small cities. The fact is, eventually they all vote to dissolve their status for one reason or another.”
Karmandrian rolled his eyes at this. “So, you’re saying these cities would rather have decades long wars than just agree to rule by the Fantasma?”
“That’s just dumb.”
Pathos chuckled. “No, it’s just the nature of people, well most peoples.”
“Speaking of such, look,” Karmandrian pointed but there was nothing ahead of them but more empty plains, the city still being too far away to see with the naked eye.
However, both guardians could see quite a distance away through the mentant realm. There was smoke billowing from several buildings in the city. Focusing more, Pathos could hear screams of panic and cries for help.
“Do you think it’s some local dispute, or could it be those monsters,” Pathos asked cautiously.
“I’m not sure. This feels like Peedersburg all over again, but this time I have an idea of how we can handle it,” Karmandrian said confidently. He’d spent days figuring out what to do if he came across the same situation again.
“Alright, then let’s go. Mittius Mentenus Speed!” Pathos took off across the plains with lightning speed, Karmandrian close behind after using the same command.
Pathos walked purposefully through the streets of Murrilogic, blazing buildings on one side, men locked in combat on the other. Explosions would ring out every few minutes, armor clad men were running past him, screaming their battle cries. The guardian surveyed the scene with dismay and disdain. There was little he could do to help these people. Even with his abilities, he could not step onto a battlefield and singlehandedly put an end to the fighting.
He could, however, walk through this landscape of death and brutality, and fear nothing. Blades were swung haphazardly, men seemed to be fighting indiscriminately, but they did not come near him. As Karmandrian had suggested, he was using mandamus to obscure himself. He wasn’t truly invisible, rather, he’d made himself blend into the background, a mental trick that worked mainly because those around him were too busy to process the entire scene. Only someone with high mentus abilities would be able to spot the guardian.
This allowed him to enter the fray unnoticed so that he could determine what was going on in the small town that seemed to be burning all around him. Was this the end game to a decades long conflict, or was it a result of the Book of War?
The answer came with the sound of a high-pitched scream. Several blocks away, crowded around a large building, were the pig faced creatures he’d faced in the cave of the rift. Though he was far away, he could see clearly that there were people trapped in the building and it was on fire, but not just any fire. Blue flames licked the roof, not the red of the natural fires throughout the city. This meant that the fire was generated by mentus. The pogs were guarding it, insuring no one got in or out.
Pathos broke into a sprint, bobbing and weaving through the chaotic battle, still cloaked by the mandamus he’d use. But as he came within several feet of the stationed pogs, a blast of blue flame struck right near his feet.
“Where do you think you’re going, guardian?” came a snide voice.
Pathos looked up. A young, lanky, silver-haired man stood on the roof, unaffected by the flames. He sneered down at Pathos. Though he didn’t appear to be a mind mage, it was clear this man was extremely skilled if he was able to see the guardian.
“And who might you be?” Pathos said in an unperturbed voice. It didn’t matter if this newcomer was a mind mage or not, he was no match for a guardian.
The man smirked. “I am Vincent Calendon, captain in the service of Lord Davron’s army,” he boasted proudly.
“Well, isn’t that special,” Pathos said blandly. “So, our theory was right. You are targeting small towns in conflict.”
“Indeed, we put a stop to their warring and recruit those who want to fight for lasting peace,” Calendon said smugly.
Pathos eyed him incredulously. “Is that what you call this madness?”
“Oh this?” Calendon laughed. “No, Murrilogic is a special case. My men and I are here to make sure this town burns to the ground. A fitting punishment for their crimes.”
Pathos shook his head. “Are all of Davron’s men as insane as you? No matter, Fantasma will be quite pleased when we bring back a captured enemy captain to interrogate, even if he is mad.”
Calendon scoffed. “I think you’ll be too busy dealing with my friends to try and capture me.”
Pathos was ready to retort when he saw a spear flying right at him. He was only barely able to dodge it, throwing his body against a nearby building. With the man on the roof distracting him, his mental camouflage had failed; the pogs could now see him. There were at least forty of them and they were advancing, their weapons drawn. In the building behind them, Pathos could still see the scared faces of children screaming in the windows.
“Well, it looks like this will be enough to keep you busy. Have fun guardian!” Calendon said before disappearing from view.
Pathos knew he didn’t have time to chase him. He had to help the people trapped in the schoolhouse, but he couldn’t do it alone, not against this many of these indestructible creatures.
<Karman, I need you over here,> he called mentantly.
Karmandrian was on the other side of town near the docks that lined the river. He was searching the area but seemed unable to find what he was looking for anywhere near the burning buildings along the riverside. Men were fighting all around him, but Karmandrian was just as oblivious of them as they were of him. He’d used mandamus to obscure himself, just as Pathos had done, but as he looked all around, he wasn’t being nearly as cautious as he should have been.
“Guardian, watch out!” someone called.
Karmandrian heard the shout just as he rounded a corner and collided into something. He looked up just in time to see a sword slice through the air, but even in his distracted state, he was able to dodge it. The attacker was a pog, and Karmandrian knew immediately that he had found what he was looking for. The deceptively speedy creature swung again and again forcing Karmandrian to be on the defensive. With no weapon available to him, he could only continue to avoid the blade, but fortunately, there was only one pog, which made things far easier.
“Summonous Sword,” Karmandrian commanded, and the sword was snatched from the pog’s hand by an invisible force. Karmandrian caught it expertly and rammed the sword into the chest of the pog as it charged forward.
“Mandamus Wind.” Before the pog could recover from the attack, it was slammed sideways into a burning building that collapsed on top of it.
A man was running toward him. He wore a white robe and was holding a sword. “Good work, but that won’t hold it for very long.”
Karmandrian recognized the voice as belonging to the person who’d called out to him. “How did you even see me?” he asked raising an eyebrow at the stranger.
“How could I not see you?” The man said with a wry chuckle as if Karmandrian’s presence were obvious despite his cloaking.
Karmandrian looked the stranger up and down, taking him in. He was tall, with short black hair and the remnants of a beard that had been recently shaved. His eyes were hazel yet seemed to have a hint of gold in them, but his oddest trait could only be discerned in the mentant realm. His adimus signature didn’t read like anything he’d ever seen. Normally it was possible to tell if a person was a mentant, quickener, guardian, or any other adimus classification just by reading their adimus signature in the mentant realm. However, the man before him gave off an aura that was completely foreign and he radiated a type of energy that seemed so potent that it was almost palpable.
“This entire town is going up in flames, and this attack seems different from the last ones,” the man was saying now. “I’m not sure what’s going on. Is Fantasma here?”
The question seemed to pull Karmandrian from his thoughts. “What? No. Who are you?”
“I’m—” but before he could answer Karmandrian held up a hand interrupting him.
Pathos’s call through the mentant realm had reached him. “I’ve got to go. My partner’s in trouble”
“Wait, what’s going on?” the man asked. “I can help.”
“Not likely. Those creatures can’t be killed. If you value your life, get out of the city now. Mentenus Speed.”
With that he took off with lightning speed.
The pogs still blocked the burning building. Pathos had tried several times to break through or make the pogs chase after him, but nothing worked. They seemed disinterested in the guardian except when he tried to get past them, and their numbers meant that even when he was able to break through the ranks, he could only subdue ten or twelve of them before the others finally rebuffed him. Of course, no attack did any real lasting damage, so he still faced the same forty pogs at each renewed attempt.
Putting out the fire was not an option either. The flames were blue which meant that unlike most of the other fires throughout the city, this one was fueled by mentus energy. Water couldn’t extinguish it. It seemed clear that Calendon had set the fire and sealed the doors, leaving a group of innocent people trapped, but the reason behind this was a mystery.
Pathos stood again, trying to think of a new plan even as Karmandrian arrived on the scene and came to an abrupt stop beside his injured and exhausted friend.
“Resepco Pathos,” Karmandrian commanded and Pathos’s injuries, including his bleeding lip, instantly healed. “What’s going on?”
Pathos gestured to his adversaries. “I don’t know why but those pog things are stubbornly guarding that building; I think it’s a school. There are children trapped in there and we don’t have much time.”
Karmandrian nodded as he surveyed the scene. “That’s mentant fire, and these pog things don’t have any adimus abilities.”
“It was started by a mentant,” Pathos said, almost snarling.
“Who? Where?” Karmandrian looked around wildly, wondering if it was the same person who’d called out to him in Peedersburg.
“Some mentant captain named Calendon. He’s gone now, the coward. I’m not sure what he has planned here but we have to deal with this first,” Pathos said.
“It’s just a few dozen,” Karmandrian said. “Between the two of us, I think we can get past them.”
“Well, I’ve tried everything. Every time I get past a few of them, the others push me back. I was hoping we could both take them on and maybe make some headway.”
Karmandrian nodded stoically. “Sounds like a plan. Let’s go. Summonous Weapons.”
A sword and a spear flew from the hands of two unsuspecting pogs. Pathos caught the sword, Karmandrian the spear. Without preamble, Karmandrian charged forward with Pathos, a little stunned at his recklessness, following close behind.
The guardians were fearless and dove into battle with gusto. Though they knew they couldn’t kill the creatures, this did not seem to deter them. Karmandrian tore through the ranks, using the long spear as if it were an extension of his arm as he spun around, stabbing the large pig creatures through their patchwork armor, while simultaneously calling out mandamus commands to aid him. He knocked several pogs in the head with the shaft of the spear until it finally snapped in half as he cracked it against the helmeted head of a pog. Tossing aside the remainder, he summoned a heavy metal shield from a creature he’d knocked senseless and used it as defense against the myriad of blades even as he used mandamus to keep his enemies at bay.
Pathos was at his back, and two moved together seamlessly, fighting as if they were one, four-armed creature and protecting each other’s backs. The sword proved useless in attacks, barely penetrating the pog armor and causing little damage when it did. Instead, Pathos used it in defense parrying and blocking the varied weapons with ease, using wind commands to push back his opponents, and occasionally causing the ground itself to either heave the pogs backward or form makeshift barriers to protect them from attacks.
Pogs were thrown in all directions as the guardians used their superior skills, strength, and mandamus acumen to beat them back, trying to force a path to the door, but their movement was slow going even with two of them as the pig-faced creatures seemed to redouble their efforts. Ten or more attacked the constantly circling duo at a time, jabbing swords, swinging maces, charging recklessly, and seemingly unconcerned about attacks as any injury they sustained healed itself almost instantly. The best the guardians could hope for was to incapacitate the pogs so they couldn’t continue fighting, but even this didn’t help. There were always ready reinforcements, and they could only seem to knock out or bind a pog for at most a few minutes before they rejoined the fray.
Seeing that they were being overwhelmed, an idea came to Karmandrian. “Summonous Water,” he called.
“What are you doing?” Pathos shouted, pushing back two pogs with a long pike he was using as a staff. “Water won’t put out a mentus fire.”
“I know that,” Karmandrian called back as he threw the large shield like a discus, bowling over three charging pogs and giving him a few precious seconds to focus.
From the nearby river a torrent of water flew through the sky as if a giant unseen hose was shooting out a large, powerful, focused stream that slammed into a large group of pogs forcing them backwards. As the creatures struggled and thrashed, Karmandrian used mentus to cause the water to freeze, locking them in place, like a collection of large, ugly ice sculptures.
Karmandrian had little time to admire his handywork. “Look out!” called Pathos who was locked in battle with five pogs now and could not give assistance.
Karmandrian was about to turn around, but before he could, he felt something slam into the top of his head. A pog had snuck up behind him and hit him with a mace. Karmandrian crumbled and hit the ground, dazed. It was only his guardian strength that kept the brutal attack from killing him.
“Karman!” Pathos screamed. “Mittius Resepco—” but he was thrown backward by a pog before he could finish.
Karmandrian rolled over on his back, struggling to see straight as the pog stood over him, ready to strike again. Instinctively he held up his arms to block the blow that would surely come, but it never did.
He heard the pog give a squeal of genuine pain, and he moved his arms in time to see a spear sticking through its torso, just before it was yanked backward causing a cascade of green pus-like blood to splatter onto his robe. With another anguished squeal, the pog disappeared.
Karmandrian’s vision stabilized enough for him to see the man he’d left on the other side of town standing over him. The mysterious stranger now wore a purple robe and held the bloodied spear with a wild look in his eyes. From Karmandrian’s position on the ground, he could see a glowing, golden symbol on the back of the man’s right hand.
“I told you I could help,” he said as he reached down to help Karmandrian up. “Are you okay?”
Though the smack to the head had been painful, Karmandrian was already almost fully recovered. “Who are you?” he found himself asking again. “How did you kill that creature? You’re not a guardian, are you?”
A strangled shout from Pathos told them both that it was not a time for introductions or explanations. Karmandrian picked up a discarded mace and he and his new companion jumped into the fray.
Now it was three against over three dozen, but the odds seemed in the smaller team’s favor. With their added fighter who could dispatch the creatures completely, they were finally making headway. The trio fought with perfect synchronicity, and the two guardians found that the newcomer matched them almost evenly in both fighting and mandamus skill.
The ranks of the pogs were dwindling, but this only seemed to make the rest fight harder and more ferociously, and despite the tide turning in their favor, the guardians were beginning to tire.
“Don’t get slow on me now, guys,” their new friend called cheekily as both sides started to regroup again. “The fun’s just started.”
“Easy for you to say,” Pathos called back with a harsh laugh. “You just got here.”
“Looks like about a dozen left,” Karmandrian observed. “If we hold off four or five each, you think you can handle a couple at a time?” he asked the stranger.
“Sure, leave all the heavy lifting to me,” he answered with mock sarcasm.
There was no more time to plan as the battle was on again within seconds. The guardians did their best to hold off the bulk of the pogs, leaving their companion the work of fighting and dispatching a couple at a time. Like the guardians, he seemed to be using less mandamus now, perhaps having depleted his adimus energy with his earlier shows of force. Still, he was a skilled fighter; using a large sword for a weapon now, he matched the speed of the pogs, but they still fought ruthlessly and unlike the humans, never tired.
Drained but determined, the guardians pressed on, trying not to be overwhelmed by the pogs they were warding off, all of whom seemed focused on trying to attack the man that could defeat them. One finally caught him by the throat and slammed him against the wall of the burning building.
Pathos heard the thud and caught a glimpse of the scene out of the corner of his eye as he dodged a sword. “No! Karman, can you get to him?”
“Slightly busy here,” Karmandrian answered, holding off three pogs with a sword in one hand and a mace in the other.
“Now you’ll die seal bearer,” the pog grunted as it squeezed the neck of its enemy.
Unable to even hold his sword, the man groped helplessly, clasping his hand on the thick, slimy forearm of the pog. His body grew limp, but in contrast, his eyes started to shine a golden light.
Soon, the pog’s body was wrapped in a golden aura even as the symbol on the back of the man’s hand began to glow brighter. The creature’s expression went from anger to confusion in a matter of seconds. It was clear it didn’t know what was going on. Panicking, it tried to squeeze even harder, but its strength was waning.
The pog then tried to pull away, but the man caught its arm with both of his and kept it from moving. Then in a flash of golden light, the pog shrieked and disappeared, along with three nearby pogs who were engulfed by the gold aura.
The battle came to an abrupt stop as the remaining pogs saw their companions dispatched.
“He is the seal!” one of them shouted. Overcome with genuine fear now, the pogs turned and retreated.
Pathos threw down the sword he’d been using as he and Karmandrian walked toward the building. “What was that?”
Before his companion could say anything, he collapsed. Pathos was quick to catch him and hold him up. It was clear that whatever the man had done, it had sapped the last bit of strength from him. Even more surprising, his robe, which had been purple when he arrived, had turned back to stark white as if further indicating the man’s weakened state.
Pathos used healing mandamus to help him, but the guardian was also drained so the man was only partially restored and still needed support.
“I need to see Fantasma,” he said in a weak voice.
Pathos started to answer, but nearby banging reminded the guardians why they’d started the campaign to begin with. The hostages in the burning building were still trying to get out. Karmandrian used mandamus to force the doors open and a stream of people came running out, some helping to carry those who were injured.
“Make your way to the south edge of the city and wait for us,” Karmandrian told them. “We’ll summon a quickener to take you all to a healer.”
Pathos stepped closer to examine the mentus flame. Though the fire radiated a scorching heat, it didn’t seem to be consuming the building as normal fire would. Mentus fire could be controlled in any way its creator wished, and he could easily dismiss it now that he was close enough to it. He wondered if the fire had been nothing more than a ruse or diversion by the cocky mentant captain, but before he could express this, he was distracted.
“Well, it’s about time!” Wearing a white robe, covered in debris, but looking only slightly disheveled, a red-headed woman stomped out of the building, a fierce look in her green eyes. “I was in there forever! I thought guardians were supposed to be elite fighters.”
“Tabatha?” came the hoarse voice of the man Pathos was still supporting.
The woman turned, and her face went white with shock. “Ace?”
Before either of them could fully comprehend the gravity of their mutual discovery, Tabatha suddenly fainted. Karmandrian caught her just in time and lowered her gingerly to the ground.
Pathos turned to look at Ace, as if to ask another question, but Ace shook his head. “I need to see Fantasma,” he croaked. “It’s urgent.”