* Munio Mountain *
The streets of Murrilogic were relatively empty, but there were still several pogs lurking about. Daniel used the mentant realm to navigate them away from any potential enemies, but a few were unavoidable. The trio dispatched them easily and quickly learned how to fight together.
In the grassy plains between Murrilogic and Munio Mountain, they saw evidence of even more monster attacks. They ran past the bodies of slain men and women in green robes similar to Terri’s. It was clear they had been trying to escape the mountain and failed.
Terri was actively trying to avoid looking at the dead bodies. “This is really bad. What do you think’s going on in the mountain?”
“I almost wish we could go back to Riverbed,” Daniel lamented. He was still holding the chakram, the blue aura wrapped around his hand, protecting it from the sharp blade. “It looks like we could use some reinforcements.”
“Maybe the mountain’s already empty,” Jandor said. “We didn’t see anyone in town so maybe…” His voice trailed off as the main entrance to the mountain came into view and they saw a wild battle taking place.
Four giant pogs, much larger than the ones they fought in Murrilogic, surrounded a tall, brown-skinned woman. She was fighting with a claymore sword that looked almost as big as her, though she wielded it with ease as she fought off the pig faced creatures.
“Don’t you buggers ever die!” the woman shouted with a growl of frustration as she sliced through a pog with her sword, only to see the blade do no lasting damage.
Jandor was entranced as he watched her graceful yet powerful movements. She avoided the maces and blades of her opponents even as she swung the hefty sword expertly. Though she was outnumbered it was clear that she was skilled enough to hold her own. If she had the mark of the seal, there was no doubt she could have bested all four pogs with ease.
Terri pulled an arrow from her quiver. “We’ve got to help her.”
“Yeah, she’s not going to stand a chance against those things,” Daniel agreed.
“I’m going in; if you get a clear shot take it,” Jandor told his companions before running forward with his own sword at the ready.
He dove into the heated battle, dodging a mace as he did. “Looks like you could use a hand,” he said as he drew level to the female fighter.
Close up Jandor could see she had not gone through the battle unscathed. She was less protected than him, wearing only a pair of black shorts and a matching sleeveless top, and Jandor could see various cuts that she’d received recently as well as many older scars. It was clear she was a seasoned warrior.
“Oi, I don’t need some rube messing up my flow,” the woman said as she swung the claymore so wildly that Jandor had to duck as the giant blade knocked the wind out of an oncoming pog.
Jandor chuckled. “Trust me, I can keep up.” He jabbed his sword straight through the chest of the monster she’d knocked backward, and it disappeared with a squeal of protest.
The woman grinned at him. “Well now, that’s more like it. How’d you do that?”
Jandor showed her the back of his right hand where the gold symbol was still visible. “I just have the right touch.”
An arrow flew just past Jandor’s shoulder into the chest of a charging pog. “Fight now; talk later!” Terri shouted in frustration.
The two fighters raised their swords and set about the task at hand. Within minutes, they mowed down the three remaining pogs with the help of Daniel and Terri.
“You’ve got a heck of a swing on ya,” their newest companion said to Jandor as she shouldered the giant sword and wiped her brow with her free hand.
“Thanks, I think.” Jandor extended his hand. “I’m Jandor, this is my sister Terri, and my friend Daniel,” he added as his two companions came running up.
She took his hand. “Ya’ll can call me Lori. I gotta admit, I’m glad you lot showed up. I was beginning to think these pig things were unkillable, and they were gaurdin’ the mountain like they didn’t want anyone in. Do ya know what they were?”
“Yeah, they’re called giga pogs—” Daniel started but Terri interrupted.
“Giga pogs? Did you just make that up because they’re bigger than the other ones?”
He shook his head. “No, if you focus on them in the mentant realm you can sense their name. Those bigger ones aren’t just named differently, they’re much stronger than normal pogs, just like the one in the woods yesterday.”
“Ya’ll seem to know a lot about these critters,” Lori said looking both confused and intrigued.
“Well, we’ve fought them before,” Daniel explained. “Those were creatures from the Book of War, and you’re right about them being unkillable. The only reason we can kill them is because we have the mark of the seal.” He raised his hand to reveal he had the same symbol as Jandor.
“The Book of War?” Lori’s eyes grew wide. “I don’t believe it. That means…” She looked toward the large entrance to the mountain behind them. “Sarah’s in more trouble than I thought.” She started quickly toward the entrance.
“Wait,” Daniel moved to intercept her. “Didn’t you hear what I just said? These monsters can’t be killed, and we’re pretty sure they’re in the mountain.”
“Oh, I know they’re in there,” Lori said confidently. “I got a message a couple hours ago from my mate Sarah sayin’ she was in trouble. I gotta save her.”
“Well then we’ll all go together,” Jandor said. “We think our friend is in there too.”
Lori nodded her head. “The more the merrier.” She slid the large blade easily into the sheath on her back.
“Wait,” Terri said, “we can’t just take her with us. It’s dangerous and she doesn’t have the mark.” She gestured to the cuts and bruises Lori had already sustained.
“Well, it doesn’t look like you’ve got that there mark either, missy,” Lori said angrily, “and I ain’t askin’ your permission. I’m goin’, ya’ll can come if you’re coming.” She stalked off purposefully toward the mountain.
Jandor gave Terri a shrug. “She’s got a point.” He sheathed his own sword and rushed to catch up with Lori.
Again, Terri and Daniel exchanged knowing looks before following after the two headstrong fighters.
Jandor was in awe as he exited the long tunnel that led inside the mountain. Nothing prepared him for what he saw. The mountain was completely hollow from peak to base, leaving an expansive space within. Above, the late-afternoon sun could be seen, and it illuminated the huge grassy expanse in front of them. To his left was a large forest, and there was a lake visible in the distance. The interior was so vast, he could barely see the mountain wall on the opposite side. The gorgeous view was marred, however, by the dozen or so bodies that littered the ground before him.
“This is incredible,” Jandor said as Daniel and Terri caught up to him.
“Munio Mountain is a manmade nature preserve,” Terri explained. “It’s designed to mimic a few different habitats for the animals, and the outer wall of the mountain has tunnels, offices, and sleeping quarters for the people who live here.”
Daniel had his eyes closed. “I don’t sense anyone, but this place is huge and there are lots of monsters, so it’s hard to tell. I could be missing people.”
“Can you tell if Stephanie was here?” Jandor asked expectantly. “Could she have escaped.”
Daniel opened his eyes, shaking his head. “I don’t’ know. It doesn’t work like that. It’s possible Stephanie was here but…” His eyes darted down to one of the slain women in front of them.
“Well, what do we do now?” Terri asked fretfully.
Lori was several paces ahead and had also stopped but not because she was in awe or uncertain. She was holding up a silver necklace with a yellow quartz pendent, staring at it intently. “Well, I don’t know about you lot, but I’m gonna find my friend. I gotta good lock on her. She’s here, just hope she’s okay.”
Daniel stepped forward to get a closer look at what she was holding. “A bonding stone?”
“Yup indeed. Me and my mate Sarah have had ones since we were lil’. She’s the sentimental one though; still wears hers all the time. Usually have mine hangin’ on a wall.” Lori started in the direction of the woods, holding the stone up and staring at it as she walked slowly.
Jandor came up to Daniel, looking confused. “I don’t get it?”
“Bonding stones are special pendants people give to each other. It could be family, close friends, lovers; they’re even used as a sign of marriage, like wedding rings.” Daniel explained. “There are different types of bonding stones, depending on the type of quartz that’s used. It looks like the one Lori has allows the holders to locate each other and also send each other short messages no matter where they are.”
“Well, if she knows how to find someone, we should follow her. Maybe they can help us find Stephanie.” Jandor reasoned, following quickly after Lori, keen to catch her before she breached the perimeter of the woods.
Daniel looked like he might object but then realized he had no better lead on where they should go, so he decided to follow them, with Terri at his heels.
The foursome walked quickly and quietly through the dense forest, forging their own makeshift path. Daniel was trying hard to sense any other humans or monsters that might be around, but his mentant sense was as limited as his physical senses when he wasn’t completely focused, and he was distracted as they walked, trying to avoid trees, large roots, and other obstacles. All four of them kept their weapons at the ready, in case of sudden attack.
Jandor was walking next to Lori. They both used their swords to cut away at impeding foliage. “I’ve never seen anyone wield a claymore that easily, especially with one hand,” he said with a tone of admiration. “I’d never be able to swing that thing the way you do even with two hands.”
Lori chuckled, “Well the weapon’s a special design that only certain folk can use, if ya get my drift,” she said pulling back her silky straight black hair to reveal pointed ears, which was intended to signal her half-elf status. “You aren’t so bad with your sword though.”
“Years of practice,” Jandor said, not catching the hint about her elfish blood.
“Oh, you a soldier then? You look a might young.”
“I could say the same for you,” Jandor countered. Lori looked to be about the same age as him though he suspected this was not the case. “But no, not a soldier just…an adventurer.”
“Aye, I can see that in your eyes,” Lori said. “Get a dozen of ya a day in my shop.”
“Your shop? What do you do?”
“Blacksmith, a might good one if I do say so myself. Best in Estern, at least, but I keep a low profile” She winked.
Behind them, Terri rolled her eyes. “Low profile,” she muttered under her breath.
This caught Daniel’s attention. “What?”
Terri hadn’t realized she said anything out loud. She chanced another look at the two in front of them before dropping her voice conspiratorially. “I don’t know. There’s just something about her I don’t like,” she said. “What kind of serious fighter dresses like that,” she said gesturing to Lori who’s fitted top accentuated all of her curves and revealed an emerald-green stone lodged in her bellybutton that matched her eyes.
Lori stopped mid stride and turned to address the two in the back. “Oi, healer-girl,” she said in a harsh tone that caused Terri to freeze. “Sorry you don’t like my outfit, but it’s hot as lava in my smithy, and I didn’t exactly have time to change when my best-mate called and said she was being attacked by crazy monsters. I just grabbed me sword and bolted outta Ramilda as fast as I could. Had to run here, y’know.”
Terri gulped. She had no idea that Lori’s keen ears had heard the conversation behind her. “Uh...I’m sorry,” was all she could manage to say.
Lori gave her an appraising look, turned, and walked off without another word, swinging her sword angrily as she forged ahead of them.
Jandor backtracked to his sister. “What’s going on?”
“I…it’s nothing. Sorry.” Terri sighed.
Jandor was about to press further when Lori’s voice rang in his head. <Jandor mate, I could use some help here.>
Jandor looked around, confused. “Did you guys hear that?”
Daniel seemed to understand immediately and closed his eyes to scan the mentant realm. “Pogs!” He raced past Jandor down the makeshift path Lori had made. The others were quick to follow.
A few seconds later, they reached a small clearing where they found Lori battling two giga pogs. At the foot of a nearby tree, the limp figure of a young chestnut-haired girl lay unconscious. Jandor leapt into the fray without hesitation while Terri rushed over to the still body.
It took two well timed jabs to slay one of the pogs, causing it to disappear even as green pus-like blood splattered to the ground.
The other pog backed off, wild eyed. “Seal bearers,” it grunted just before the blade of Daniel’s chakram sliced clean through its neck, decapitating and killing it instantly, its body disappearing before it even hit the ground.
“You gotta real knack with that there chakrum, Dan,” Lori said with a smile of appreciation as she sheathed her sword.
Daniel didn’t answer, mostly because he thought it’d be rude to say that he preferred she not call him “Dan.”
He was saved any need to respond when Terri called out to the others. “Over here!”
Lori quickly joined her. “It’s me mate Sarah. Is she’s still alive?”
Terri was already pulling various pouches and bottles from her robe pockets. “They just knocked her out, her adimus immune system just needs a kick start to get her back on her feet.”
She opened Sarah’s mouth, poured a blue liquid down her throat, and within seconds, her hazel eyes fluttered open.
“I… where… who… Lori?” Sarah sat up in surprise, her head swimming.
Lori knelt down, beaming. “Glad you’re back with us, mate.” She hugged her friend.
“Careful, I’m sore all over.” Sarah returned the hug gingerly. “What happened? Last thing I remember is running from those pig things, but then something hit me.”
Lori helped her slowly stand. “Yeah, we found you right after. It looks like the crazy monsters that invaded your mountain are critters from the Book of War.”
Sarah looked confused. “What? That’s just a fairy tale.”
“I wish it were, mate, but it’s true. Fortunately, I ran into this lot here and they’re might helpful at killing ‘em. I couldn’t have gotten to you without them. Speaking of, they’re looking for a fellow summoner.” She turned to Jandor. “What’s ‘er name?”
“Stephanie, Stephanie Jameson.” Jandor said.
Sarah shook her head. “She transferred to Cirinian a year ago.”
Jandor turned to Terri for explanation.
“The headquarters of the Order of Nature. It’s a huge valley in the middle of the Lumarian Mountains and the largest animal preserve in the world.”
“So how do we get there?” Jandor asked.
“It’s really difficult. I’ve never actually been there,” Terri said, clearly flummoxed.
“We need to get you out of here,” Lori was saying to Sarah now. “The mountain’s full of those pig things.”
“I can’t leave yet. There are others still here. We were trying to escape through the main entrance, but those monsters blocked us in. We ran but I got separated and ended up hiding out here in the woods. I think they ran back inside the mountain. I have to find them.”
“Can we fly or do that instant transport thing?” Jandor asked his friends.
“There aren’t planes here Jandor,” Daniel said impatiently.
“From what I know about Cirinian, it’s quicken proof.” Terri added. “The entire valley is surrounded by a quartz mountain range.”
“We took care of those critters that were at the entrance, “Lori said. “We can cut and run. Besides, this place is flooded with those monsters. Truth is, they’re probably—”
“No!” Sarah said stubbornly. “We can’t know that. I have to try. Burke was with them. I can’t leave him, or any of them, behind.”
Lori sighed. “Look hun, I hear ya but a fat lot of good we can do. If they ain’t dead, then we ain’t gonna help by gettin’ ourselves killed tryin’ to find ‘em. This place is huge. We don’t even know where to start.”
“I’ve got an idea for that. You lot,” she called to Jandor and his friends, “you want to get to Cirinian? If you help me, I’ll make sure you get there.”
Jandor perked up. “Really?”
“How?” Daniel looked skeptical.
“We have a translift in the mountain. Once we find my friends, we can use it to escape,” Sarah assured before turning back to Lori. “You gonna help?”
Lori gave an exasperated sigh. “Well, I didn’t run all the way here from Ramilda to turn back now.”
“Is this really a good idea?” Daniel whispered. “This isn’t our fight, and we don’t know how many of these creatures are here.”
Jandor gave him an almost disgusted look. “As long as we have this,” he held up his clenched fist, emphasizing the mark still glowing on the back of his hand, ‘then it’s our fight.”
Daniel looked ready to object again, but Terri put a hand on his arm. “Danny, we don’t have any other way to get to Cirinian, none that I know of anyway.”
Daniel looked annoyed but nodded. “Fine,” he relented.
“Alrighty then, now that the debate is over.” Sarah adjusted her green robe and pulled out a small wooden instrument that looked like an animal horn. It was wide and slightly longer than the width of her palm. There were four connected rings attached to the top of the horn and Sarah slid her small fingers through them, allowing her to wrap her hand around it and reach the four holes on the side while holding it securely.
She held the narrow opening of the horn to her lips and began to blow as her fingers moved deftly over the holes, A hauntingly beautiful melody echoed around them, much louder than it seemed the small instrument should be capable of. After several seconds, she was done.
“What is that thing?” Jandor asked, captivated.
“It’s a flaymin,” Sarah said proudly.
A large red-winged eagle flew down from the treetops to land on Sarah’s shoulder and she stroked its white head.
“And this is Palmont, he’s my companion,” Sarah explained. She paused for a moment as if listening for something. “He says that he saw my friends running east toward one of the doors that leads inside the mountain. I think I know where they were headed. We need to hurry. If we stay in the woods and hug the perimeter of the wall, we’ll be able to avoid most of those monsters.”
Lori nodded. “Let’s just hope your friends were able to do the same.”