* Lumarian Mountains *
The search in the mountains north of Fenallday was on its third day. Though they had a general idea of where they were headed, the Lumarian Mountains were the largest mountain range in the world and full of quartz, which blocked quickening and hindered other mentus abilities. This made things far more complicated. Franklin worked nonstop leading the expedition and used his considerable knowledge to slowly narrow down the search area.
As the chief librarian and a contingent of soldiers and guardians continued the search, Fantasma met in a makeshift stone hut with his highest ranked officials, the only people who reported directly to him. This included Sharanel, Fantasmal Quickener, and Honsmordin, Fantasmal Mind Mage and chief of staff, but there were also two others.
One was a tall, brown-skinned man with short black hair. This man wore the purple robe and silver belt of a guardian, but Victor Sorinson was not just any guardian. He was chief of the Guardian Council, the group that handled the deployment and assignment of guardians on the Fantasma’s behalf.
The other man among them also had brown skin that contrasted nicely with his blonde hair and bright green eyes. His ears were slightly pointed, denoting elvish parentage, but his facial features had distinct human traits, making it clear he was only half-elf. Unlike all the others, who wore robes over their regular clothing, he wore purple and black fatigues. This man was Norman Rockwall, the chief general of all of Fantasma’s military forces.
The five of them were holding a meeting around a large stone table with stone seats, all created by Sorinson’s mandamus.
“Sir, if these monsters are indeed from the Book of War as Chief Stokenshire claims, then I need leave to tell my troops, so they know what they’re up against.” Rockwall said.
“The guardians should be informed as well. They need to know what they’re facing should they come across these creatures,” Sorinson added.
Fantasma had a pensive look on his face. “My concern is how far information travels. We have to consider the widespread panic this would cause if news reached the general public. The less that know, the better.”
“Sir, with all due respect,” Sorinson said calmly, “if you cannot trust your guardians, then who can you trust? Their loyalty to the Fantasma is absolute. If we give instructions that the information is not to be shared, then they will obey without question.”
Fantasma nodded at this. Sorinson had been chief of the Guardian Council for over eighty years, whereas Fantasma had only held his position for seventeen. Because of this, Fantasma relied on Sorinson’s insight. “You’re right, of course. We’ll send word out to the guardians, but make sure to only use secure communication. As for our military, only top officials should be looped in on the true origin of these monsters. For now, let’s not inform any civilian divisions.”
“We should also inform Sunnin, too,” Honsmordin added. “We have an obligation to share this type of information with them.”
“I’m loath to agree, but you’re correct,” Fantasma said. “Anything else?”
Honsmordin turned to Sharanel who was seated next to him and up until this point, had said nothing. “What are your thoughts about all this?” he prompted.
Sharanel gave a start. She’d been paying attention to the conversation but hadn’t expected to be addressed directly. “Well,” she said hesitantly, “I don’t really think you can leave out civilian staff, at least not all of them.”
Fantasma eyed her curiously. “What do you mean?”
Sharanel tried not to shrink under the intense gaze of her companions. Though none of them treated her like an outsider, she still felt like she shouldn’t be contributing. She took a steadying breath before clarifying her point.
“We forget a lot of times because they tend to blend into the background, but civilian staff are everywhere. Assistants, hospitality, sanitation; they’re always around and overhearing conversations. There’s no way to stop it; that’s why everyone is vetted. Of course, they know not to repeat any confidential information they hear, but with something this big, rumors are bound to spread. I don’t think it’s reasonable to cut out the civilian staff completely.”
Rockwall crossed his arms pensively. “So, what do you suggest then?”
“Normally, the assistants, hospitality, and other staff we use are assigned randomly based on availability. I think from now on, we only use specific workers every time, ones that we explicitly tell not to talk about what they overhear. We should bring them into the loop early to help keep rumors from spreading.”
Fantasma nodded at this. “That’s probably a good idea. Honsmordin see to that, and also designate one section of the mountain for meetings that only specified staff can enter.”
Before the conversation could broach other subjects, Franklin swung open the door of the makeshift rock hut. “Sir, I believe we’ve found it,” he said excitedly.
“This is incredible, Franklin,” Fantasma said in a tone of genuine awe.
They were now standing at the top of a steep incline that led down into a vast valley surrounded by mountains on all sides. Though only the crumbling remnants of stone foundations remained, it was clear that it once held a large town.
“Are you certain this is the place?” Rockwall asked.
“This is definitely the site of the final battle of the Great War,” Franklin said confidently. “I compared several maps of the same area over different times; that’s how we finally found it.”
Though high up, they could see signs of a battle fought long ago. Broken swords and rusted armor were strewn about and there were even a few scattered bones.
“There’s more,” Franklin continued even as the others took in the sprawling scene before them. “I’m fairly certain that somewhere in one of these mountains was the original resting place of the Book of War before Multus found it. I have my theories but—”
“Chief Stokenshire!” Karmandrian came running up the steep hill, looking slightly haggard. “We’ve finished unblocking the tunnel. It’s just as you thought: it leads deep into the mountain, but there’s a lot of quartz, so we don’t know what’s inside.”
“Ah, very good, young guardian,” Franklin said with a nod before turning back to Fantasma and his chief officers. “We found a large tunnel at the base of one of the mountains. It seems to have been cleared out recently, but then someone blocked the entrance afterward. The location where the Twelve Warriors faced off with Multus was said to be in a cave at the back of this valley. This could be exactly what we’re looking for. I recommend we head inside immediately”
Fantasma nodded at this. “Excellent work, both of you. Let’s not waste any time.”
With surprisingly steady footwork, Fantasma easily made his way down the steep incline with the others in tow. As the group walked quickly across the valley, Rockwall shouted orders to various soldiers while Sorinson communicated with the guardians in the area using telepathy. Both were accomplishing the same goal of ensuring that the entire area was locked down so that they could not be ambushed by monsters or enemies of any kind. At the head of the procession, Fantasma, Honsmordin, and Franklin were in muttered conversation, discussing the finer points of their most recent discovery.
This left Karmandrian and Sharanel lagging in the rear. The quickener was walking at a more leisurely pace and used her tall staff like a makeshift walking stick. She was surprised that the guardian was purposefully moving to match her slower speed.
She gave a sideways glance to her companion and frowned. “You look exhausted.”
“What?” he said distractedly. “Oh, it’s nothing, I’ve just been a bit out of sorts the past few days. Chief Stokenshire is quite the taskmaster. He has stamina that belies his rank. Even I have a hard time keeping up with him on occasion.”
Sharanel chuckled at this. “When it comes to his passion for historical sites and artifacts, he’s pretty unstoppable. If he’s working you hard, it just means he trusts you.”
“Well, hopefully that works in my favor,” Karmandrian said with a half-smile.
Before Sharanel could ask what he meant, Franklin called back to them. “Young guardian, can I get you and your companions to light the way?”
Karmandrian suppressed a sigh. “Yes sir.” He gave Sharanel a wry grin before jogging forward to join two other guardians who were waiting at the mouth of the tunnel they were about to enter. Not wanting to be left behind, Sharanel rushed forward to walk next to Honsmordin.
Fantasma, who was on the mind mage’s other side, seemed to only just notice her at that moment. “There’s no telling what we could be facing. It’s possible there could be more of those monsters inside. Perhaps you should stay here.”
Sharanel beamed confidently. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry. Besides, you may need me. Like you said, there’s no telling what could happen. If there’s a chance I can help, I want to be by your side.”
Fantasma gave a troubled smile, but finally nodded. “Just be on your guard and stay close.” He turned back to Franklin. “All right, Frank; let’s go.”
Fantasma’s party walked slowly through the wide tunnel. At the head of the group, Karmandrian and two other guardians illuminated the way with large balls of pure light that hovered over their upturned palms. Behind them were several soldiers followed by Sorinson, Rockwall and Fantasma. Honsmordin and Sharanel were close to the rear of the procession, flanked by several more soldiers and guardians.
Everyone had their guard up, and only the sound of a few whispered conversations could be heard.
“Do you think any of those monsters are in here?” Sharanel asked Honsmordin, her voice no higher than a mutter.
“I think we’re fairly safe. Though there’s plenty of quartz interference, this tunnel is quite large, likely created by mountain moles long ago. I can sense a good ways down and I’ve detected nothing so far. Are you nervous?”
“Not really. It’s just…something’s felt off ever since we got in here, that’s all. I can’t quite put my finger on it though.”
“Well, if you discover what it is, make sure to say something. You can’t be afraid to speak up if you have something to contribute.”
“I know.” Even muttered, her voice sounded curt, but this didn’t seem to dissuade her mind mage companion.
“Well, you seemed quite hesitant in the last meeting.” Sharanel shrugged noncommittally, but Honsmordin pressed her further. “I’ve seen you deal expertly with foreign diplomats and representatives and handle your subordinates with well-practiced professionalism, yet in the high chief meetings, you’re usually quiet. Why is that?”
Sharanel shrugged. “It’s easier to put on a professional mask when I’m in front of people I don’t know, but everyone at that table knew me from when I was a kid running around the mountain. It’s just harder, especially with Fantasma. I don’t want to look like an idiot talking about things I don’t know.”
“If anything, you should be more comfortable at that table because of how well they know you. They all know how hard you’ve worked and how worthy you are of your position.” Honsmordin said sagely. “Obviously you shouldn’t be reckless with your words, but remember, Fantasma wouldn’t have appointed you if he didn’t trust your judgment and value your opinion.”
As Sharanel mulled over Honsmordin’s words, the party reached a large chamber. The three guardians at the front tossed their balls of light high in the air so that the entire area was illuminated. There were multiple tunnels on various ledges that led out from the massive cavern, and there was more evidence of a battle that happened centuries ago. The ground was littered with helmets, shields, and discarded weapons.
“This could be it,” Franklin said as he looked around. “It’s possible this is the place where Multus was defeated and the Book of War…well we don’t know.”
Rockwall examined the ground both physically and in the mentant realm. “Someone has definitely been here recently; sometime in the past several months, though it’s hard to tell.”
“That tracks with the timeline of when these creatures started showing up,” Sorinson added. “Still, I don’t see anything noteworthy. Maybe we need to keep looking.”
“That’s a good idea,” Rockwall agreed. “I want everyone to fan out and—"
“Wait,” Sharanel interrupted, a hint of hesitation in her voice. She walked to the center of the cavern, clutching her staff in both hands with her eyes shut tightly. “There’s something here. I can feel it. Doesn’t anyone else sense that energy?”
“I have been sensing something, but it’s nothing I recognize,” Fantasma admitted. “Do you know what it is.”
Sharanel’s eyes snapped open, a look of revelation on her face. “I think it’s rift energy. I studied dimensional rifts with Professor Landerpool. I think there’s one in this room.”
“You mean a rip in the fabric of space and time?” Fantasma asked in awe. “Are you certain?”
“I’m almost positive,” Sharanel turned to Honsmordin. “Can you double check?” She then walked over to one of the tall walls of the chamber and ran her hand over it. “This cave is different from the tunnel we came through. It’s almost all traveler quartz in here. It must have formed naturally from the rift.”
Traveler quartz only formed where rifts appeared, and it was the only type of quartz that enhanced quickening and vision in the mentant realm instead of blocking it. With enough traveler quartz configured correctly, a quickener could transport through any quartz barrier, making it a valuable resource.
“You’re right. I wasn’t able to sense it at first, but now that I’ve tuned my scepter, I can also detect the rift,” Honsmordin confirmed as he waved his scepter around and the crystal changed colors. “It seems quite large. Perhaps that means it’s been here for a long time, but I don’t know enough about rifts to tell.”
“Neither do I,” Sharanel admitted. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about them and there are very few quickeners that are able to harness a rift successfully.” Fantasma looked at her as if to ask if she was one of them, but she shook her head. “It’s not something you can learn; you have to be born with it: dimensional sense.”
“Well even if there’s a rift here, what does that mean?” Karmandrian interrupted, “It won’t help with our search, right? Aren’t we trying to find clues about how the Book of War returned?”
“You’re missing the bigger picture, young guardian,” Franklin said in his most scholarly voice. “Over twelve hundred years ago, the Twelve Warriors and the last known Daughter of the Sun disappeared, most likely in this very place. They were believed to be dead, but no one has visited this cave until now, and what do we find: a dimensional rift. It’s all connected.”
“It is? How?” Karmandrian asked, clearly confused.
“What if the reason they never returned is because they somehow went through this rift. They wouldn’t have even known it was here; we only just started learning about rifts within the last several centuries. It’s possible they ended up being transported through space, maybe even time.”
“Let’s say that’s true,” Sorinson said. “What about the Book of War?”
Franklin had a ready answer. “There are two possibilities. Either it was left here and whoever came to this place before us found it, or the Book of War was taken through the rift as well, and someone was able to access the rift to recover it. If I were to guess, I’d say it was the latter.”
“Frank, that’s a huge leap, don’t you think?” Honsmordin said. “We don’t know anything about this rift, where it leads, or even how long it’s been here.”
“Fair enough; but even if I’m wrong, going through this rift could provide some answers,” Franklin said.
“It’s worth looking into,” Fantasma agreed. “Sharanel, can you tell where the rift leads?”
“I can’t. I don’t have dimensional sense, but I know someone who does.” She tapped her staff against the cave wall. “Even with all this traveler quartz, I can’t quicken. This rift is powerful and it’s blocking my abilities. I’ll need to go to Fenallday and quicken from there. I’ll head back now.”
“Wait,” Fantasma called before Sharanel could rush out of the cave. “Pathos, go with her.”
A young-looking, tan-skinned guardian with short, dusty-white hair followed Sharanel back the way they came, carrying a ball of light to illuminate their path.
“The rest of you, I want every tunnel searched. Make sure there are no surprises waiting for us,” Rockwall ordered. Soldiers and guardians alike began to fan out.
“Chief Stokenshire, may I have a word with you?” Karmandrian pulled Franklin aside. “Do you really believe the Daughter of the Sun could be on the other side of this rift?”
“I’m certain of it,” Franklin said without hesitation.
“Then perhaps we should have the Sun Stone,” Karmandrian said.
“If the goal is to find the Daughter of the Sun, then the stone can show us who she is. Also, from what we know about the Great War, Multus stole the Sun Stone because it was the only thing capable of stopping the book’s power, and he didn’t want it used.”
Franklin thought about this for a moment. “There is much about the Great War and the Sun Stone’s connection to it that we don’t know, but yes, that has been the long-held theory. Still, the stone is in Sunnin Mountain and under the control of the Sisterhood of Ester.”
Karmandrian nodded in understanding. “Well, the sisterhood has also maintained that the Daughter of the Sun will return; they should want this as much as you. It can’t hurt to ask. I’ll go with you to show you have the support of the Fantasmal Government,” he offered.
“Well, it’s worth the effort at least; better than just sitting and waiting.” Franklin turned to where Fantasma was still consulting with Sorinson and Rockwall. “Sir, I believe there’s something I can do to help. I’ll head back to Fenallday as well and get Sharanel to drop me off.”
“I’m going with him if that’s okay,” Karmandrian added.
Fantasma gave them a curious look but finally nodded. “Keep him safe, Karmandrian.”
“Yes sir.” Karmandrian bowed before heading out with Franklin, and they quickly caught up with Sharanel and Pathos.
* Sunnin Mountain *
A few hours later, having made their way out of the quartz filled mountain range, Sharanel was able to quicken Pathos, Karmandrian, and Franklin from Fenallday to Sunnin Mountain, located on the southern continent of Candovia in the Gibano Mountains. Just like Fantasmal Mountain, Sunnin Mountain had visitor marker several hundred feet from the entrance on the southern side of the mountain, which Sharanel quickened them to.
“I’ve got to head off. I may be back in the mountains by the time you’re done. Are you going to be okay without me?” Sharanel asked.
“I can call Trinity to quicken us back,” Franklin confirmed.
Sharanel tapped her staff on the ground and she and Pathos disappeared. Franklin led the way to the entrance of the mountain, which was manned by two guards.
“I’ve never been here before,” Karmandrian said in sudden realization. His post in the Gibano Mountains was nowhere near Sunnin Mountain.
“Not surprising,” Franklin said. “Sunnin Mountain used to be very open to the public, but over the last few centuries, the Sisterhood of Ester has slowly retreated inward. No one is really allowed beyond the lobby areas without appointment except for the sisterhood, staff, and board. They’ve become very secretive about their inner workings. It’s troublesome.”
“Oh,” was all Karmandrian could think to respond before puffing himself up. “Well surely they’ll let us in; I’m a guardian.”
Franklin chuckled. “Perhaps, but there’s no need for that. The charter of the Sunnin Social System mandates that at least one Stokenshire must always be on the board, and that Stokenshire, currently, is me.”
They reached the entrance and the guards bowed them in without question. Similar to the entrance at the base of Fantasmal Mountain, the main entrance of Sunnin Mountain led to a large comfortable looking lobby with no other discernable doors or exits. A blonde woman sat behind a semicircular reception desk at the center of the room.
“Welcome to the Sunnin—oh Chief Stokenshire!” She beamed in recognition. “How can I help you?”
“Annabelle, it’s good to see you,” Franklin said. “I’m sorry to come unannounced, but I need to see Sister Heather. It’s rather urgent.”
Annabelle nodded. “She’s in her office right now, but if it’s urgent, I’m sure she’ll see you. Carmen!” she called and within seconds a tall, blonde quickener in a blue robe appeared. “Could you please take Chief Stokenshire to Sister Heather’s office?”
“Of course,” Carmen said with a smile. “Chief, if you would come with me.” She stepped forward to stand between the two visitors and tapped her staff on the ground.
In an instant they were transported from the lobby to an expansive anteroom where another blonde secretary sat behind a near identical wooden desk.
“The chief is here to see Sister Heather,” Carmen said.
“Yes, Anabelle contacted me and said as much,” the secretary replied. “Chief, head right in. Sister Heather is having a casual briefing, but I’ve let her know you’re here.”
“Thank you, Zoe,” Franklin said cordially as he turned toward the office door.
Karmandrian put a hand on his companion’s shoulder to slow his pace. “Okay, is it a coincidence or do all the women here look eerily similar,” he whispered in Franklin’s ear.
“Oh, just you wait,” Franklin said with a slight chuckle before pushing open the door.
The office held three small couches, a round coffee table, and a wooden desk in front of a bay window. There were six women present, each with blonde hair of various lengths and styles. They all stood when Franklin and Karmandrian entered, except for the one behind the desk.
“Good afternoon, Chief Stokenshire,” the five who were standing said in near perfect unison, giving variations of respectful bows or nods. Each wore a yellow robe with a white belt.
“Good afternoon, ladies; I apologize for interrupting your meeting. This is Elder Jorbedus,” Franklin said, indicating Karmandrian.
The women all took their seats as the two guests stood in front of the desk.
“I take it there’s not some board meeting that I’ve forgotten,” said the woman behind the desk with a tinkling laugh that sounded a bit too hollow to be sincere.
“No Sister Heather, nothing so mundane,” Franklin said with his own fake chuckle. “I’ve come here on a matter of some urgency. It concerns the return of the Daughter of the Sun.”
This evoked instant murmurings from the others in the room.
“What?” Sister Heather said almost shooting out of her seat.
Franklin seemed almost pleased to catch her off guard. “My apologies, perhaps we should start from the beginning.” He turned to Karmandrian who understood that it was his turn to play his part.
“I’m sure you are aware of the many attacks that have been happening from an army of unknown monsters,” Karmandrian started.
“Of course,” one of the other women said. “We were just talking about the relief efforts we want to send to the towns that were recently decimated. Many need healers and supplies.”
“Well as you might imagine, the Fantasmal Government has been investigating these incidents, and I have personally done reconnaissance and discovered crucial information that I was able to bring back to the Fantasma and his top advisors, including Chief Stokenshire.” Karmandrian decided to embellish the details of what happened for the sake of the crowd that was listening with rapt attention. “It’s been determined conclusively that these creatures are from the Book of War.” He paused for the inevitable gasp of shock, and the ladies did not disappoint.
There was stunned silence before Heather finally said, “Well, if this is true—”
“Oh, it’s very true, believe me,” Franklin said pointedly.
“Of course, but still,” Sister Heather adjusted her yellow robe as if to regain some composure, “I don’t understand what this has to do with the sisterhood or, as you said, the return of the Daughter of the Sun.”
“It has everything to do with the Daughter of the Sun. I do not need to remind you of the prophecy. ‘When war threatens anew, and the warriors return, the sun shall rise again.’ That time is now. The Book of War has resurfaced. War, like we’ve never seen, is knocking on our doorstep, and even now we are mere hours away from determining what happened to Ruth Lowens all those years ago,” Franklin said with a slightly dramatic tone. “We’ve found the site of the final battle of the Great War, and we’ve discovered a dimensional rift there.”
“A what?” one of the women asked, her expression turning from awe to confusion.
“It’s a rip in space and time,” another explained, sparing Franklin the need. “It’s a scientific phenomenon. They’ve already proven that rifts can send someone to different places, and even back in time, but they’re very unstable.” She paused, her face lighting up in revelation. “Are you saying that Ruth Lowens may not have been killed in the Great War but sent through a rift?”
“That is the theory we’re operating on.” Franklin nodded. “Which would explain why, after over twelve hundred years, a new Daughter of the Sun has yet to emerge.”
“Oh my heavens, that’s it! That must be how I saw her,” one of the sister’s said excitedly.
It was Franklin’s turn to be confused. “Saw who?”
“You’ll have to forgive Sister Sherrilynn,” Heather said. “A few weeks ago, she had a dream that the Daughter of the Sun returned.”
“It wasn’t a dream,” Sherrilynn insisted. “It was real. The Daughter of the Sun returned. She was here in this mountain. She touched the Sun Stone and it reacted to her. I saw it with my own eyes, but by the time I brought the others to see, she was gone. Could it have been this rift thing? Could that be how she was there but then disappeared?”
“I’m not sure,” Franklin said. “Rifts are still a phenomenon that we’re only just starting to learn about. Even now Chief Quicksilver—”
“Wait, Chief Quicksilver?” Sherrilynn brightened. “Do you mean Sharanel Quicksilver?”
“Yes,” Franklin confirmed. ‘She’s bringing in an expert so that we can access this rift and find out what happened to the Book of War. It may lead us to whoever has the book currently. It’s also my belief that we will be able to ascertain the whereabouts of the current Daughter of the Sun.”
“Which is why we need the Sun Stone,” Karmandrian added suddenly.
Franklin was a little annoyed that Karmandrian had brought up the stone at that moment, he was still building his case, but he didn’t let it show. Now was as good a time as any.
Sister Heather was taken aback again. “What does the Sun Stone have to do with this?”
“As Sister Sherrilynn pointed out, the Sun Stone responds only to the Daughter of the Sun,” Franklin said. “You know this; after all, it’s the way you test each new descendant of Ester to see if she is the Daughter of the Sun. We need it so that we’ll be able to tell when we’ve found her.”
Franklin was grateful that there were others present for the conversation. He knew this would make Heather tread lightly. Already her smile was fading, and he could see her wheels turning.
“The Daughter of the Sun was integral in the Great War. It was by her death it all started. I am certain that her return and the return of the Book of War are linked,” Franklin continued. “The prophecy says as much.”
“Prophecy,” Heather scoffed, and everyone turned to look at her as she folded her arms resolutely. “I’m sorry Franklin, but there’s no way that I can allow the Sun Stone out of Sunnin Mountain. If I believe everything you say and the Book of War has returned, then that’s all the more reason to deny your request. It’s said that Multus killed the Daughter of the Sun to steal the Sun Stone. What if the person who has the Book of War is also after the stone? If anything, we should lockdown the mountain and keep the Sun Stone under guard.”
“Sister Heather,” Karmandrian said in a diplomatic tone, “it’s also believed that the Sun Stone might very well be the only thing that can stop the Book of War. If that’s truly the case, then taking it now could save thousands, if not millions of lives. I understand your hesitance, but even if we’re wrong about the Daughter of the Sun, there’s still no place safer for the Sun Stone than with the Fantasma and guardians. We can assure its safety.”
“Elder Jorbedus, the Fantasmal Government has no say over the Sunnin Social System or the artifacts within our jurisdiction,” Heather said as she stood. “I can’t hand over such a priceless relic based solely on conjecture, legend, and your so-called prophecy.”
Some of the others in the room seemed visibly uneasy about Heather’s stance.
“Sister Heather,” Sherrilynn said in a quiet voice, as if afraid to speak. “If this is really happening, wouldn’t it be best if…well maybe we could go with the chief at least and take the Sun Stone with us instead of waiting. It would still be under Sunnin control. It might be safer than keeping it here. If there really are creatures from the Book of War out there and they know the stone is here, they may come for it. Could we really stop them if they did?”
“Quiet Sherrilynn,” Heather ordered. “I’m well aware of the risk, but this mountain is as secure as Fantasmal Mountain itself. I’m confident we can handle ourselves.” She walked around the desk and politely shook each of their hands, signaling an end to the conversation. “I’m sorry you came all this way, but I do thank you for warning us of the serious nature of this new threat. I assure you; we’ll take every precaution. I promise that If you do find the Daughter of the Sun, we will be waiting for her here.”
Before either Franklin or Karmandrian could respond, Heather ushered them out of the office and called for her quickener to take them back to the lobby.
Minutes later, Franklin and Karmandrian were exiting Sunnin Mountain. It wasn’t until they were out of earshot of the guards that Franklin finally let his frustration show.
“That power-crazed fool,” he vented. “I knew she wouldn’t give up the Sun Stone. It’s a symbol of status to her, even though she can’t use it.”
Karmandrian nodded. “I still don’t understand why we couldn’t just take it as representatives of the Fantasmal Government.”
“We have absolutely no authority,” Franklin said. “The Sunnin Social System was purposefully placed outside the jurisdiction of the Fantasmal Government so that the Daughter of the Sun could function with complete autonomy. It was done to give her the ability to act in the best interest of any people she wished without fear of breaking global law. That status falls on the entire Sunnin Social System, even with no Daughter of the Sun at the helm.”
“Right, of course,” Karmandrian said dejectedly. “By the way, you never did explain why they all looked so similar. What’s with that?”
“Ah, yes.” Franklin smiled. “The first Daughter of the Sun, Ester Fantas, had fair-skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. As part of her legacy, her female descendants tend to look like her, especially the direct descendants and all Daughters of the Sun, so those are physical traits you’ll find with most of the sisterhood. Of course, not all descendants of Ester share those traits. Many look nothing like her, but you won’t find them in the sisterhood. I’ve always suspected that they are secretly prejudice against any descendant that doesn’t share Ester’s physical appearance. Also, female descendants of Ester share another near identical trait: a small birthmark on the back of their neck in the shape of a sun.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” Karmandrian admitted.
“It’s not widely publicized,” Franklin said, “and those who are too far removed from the direct line are not born with the birthmark.”
Karmandrian pondered this for a moment before speaking again. “Do you think they could really hold off an attack from those creatures?”
“One thing she was right about: Sunnin Mountain has most of the same defenses as Fantasmal Mountain. Short of sheer incompetence, they should be able to withstand a direct attack. Though I hope we don’t have to find out.” Franklin sighed. “It was a good idea, young guardian, but we might as well head back.”
They approached the black box affixed to a long metal pole that served as the southern marker. Franklin was about to call for a quickener when something distracted him.
“Wait!” came a high-pitched voice. “Chief Stokenshire, wait!”
They turned to see Sherrilynn running from the base of the mountain.
She was panting by the time she reached them. “I want to come with you; I want to help.”
“I’m sorry but where we’re going is far too dangerous for a civilian,” Karmandrian said.
“I’m not a civilian, I’m a descendent of Ester Fantas. I took a vow to serve the Daughter of the Sun, and I believe she’s coming back. I saw her. They don’t believe me, but I did,” she said stubbornly. “And if you think that you need to have the Sun Stone to help get her back, then here.” She reached inside her yellow robe and removed a large, smooth, golden-yellow stone.
Karmandrian beamed but Franklin gave her a worried look. “I’m not sure about this. If Sister Heather finds out what you did, you’ll be banned from the sisterhood, or worse, imprisoned.”
“I know.” Sherrilynn tucked the stone back into her robe, which showed no sign of any bulge where she put it. “I left a decoy in its place. We have a replica for public viewings, so I used that. It should trick them for a while, hopefully long enough to bring back the Daughter of the Sun.” She looked up at Franklin with pleading eyes. “I risked everything to bring this to you. Please take me with you.”
Karmandrian turned to Franklin as well. “You said it yourself: Sister Heather is blinded by her own motives. This may not have been the way you wanted to get the Sun Stone, but I think we should see it through.”
Franklin nodded slowly. “All right, but we must tell Fantasma everything when we return. This is not something we should hide. Sherrilynn, are you prepared to take responsibility for this when the time comes?”
She nodded fervently. “I am.”
“Well, we’ll do our best to protect you then.” He gave Sherrilynn a reassuring smile before calling for a quickener. “Trinity!”
Within seconds a raven haired quickener, clad in a blue robe, appeared in their midst.
“We’re heading back to Fenallday,” Franklin said.
Trinity nodded and with a quick tap of her staff, the group disappeared.