* Fantasmal Mountain *
Though there were no windows in her large suite, Veda Guardman could tell it was early in the morning when she woke. She was fully rested but her mind was troubled as she sat on the edge of her bed and contemplated the dream she had the previous night. No, it wasn’t a dream. It had been another vision, and the messenger, Zeta, had showed her what her next step needed to be. She had to help her son, but how?
She climbed out of bed, still in her purple pajamas, and decided that she needed to try and find Fantasma. He was the leader of Mendala; surely, he could help. Steeling herself, she pulled on her sneakers and headed for the door, but when she opened it, she found Lily, the elf assistant, standing in the threshold. A large silver tray, laden with food, was hovering above her head. She looked as if she were about to knock on the door.
“Hello Mrs. Guardman,” she said in a light, friendly tone. “I thought I should bring you breakfast since you’re not familiar with the mountain enough to find its eateries. I brought a little of everything.” She gestured to the floating tray which was revolving slowly to reveal its contents: breads, fruit, smoked meats, large flasks of various juices, breakfast puddings, and more.
“Thank you, Lily; that was very thoughtful.” Mrs. Guardman smiled, and her stomach gave an appreciative grumble as she smelled the food. She hadn’t even thought about eating, but as Lily hovered the tray to the large round table in her room, she realized just how hungry she was.
“Not a problem, ma’am. When you’re done, you can call me and I’ll give you a tour of the mountain if you like,” she offered.
“Well actually, if it’s possible, I’d like to see Fantasma,” Mrs. Guardman said before tasting a piece of sweet bread soaked in what tasted like a honey cream.
“Fantasma is not currently in the mountain. He left before rise of sun with Chiefs Stokenshire and Pornabus to go to Ellenon,” Lily explained. “I’m not sure when they’ll be back. Also, I was told to inform you that Chief Quicksilver and your charge, Henry, went to Leviton to have his staff repaired.”
“Oh,” Mrs. Guardman said, digesting this news as well as the tasty breakfast pastry. “Well I suppose I must wait then. Perhaps I will take you up on that tour.” She sat at the table. “Wow, this is a lot of food.”
“Well, we were hoping to help you eat it,” came a familiar voice.
Alice and Sherrilynn were standing in the threshold, both smiling.
“We thought we’d join you, so we asked Lily to bring you extra food,” Alice continued. She was wearing the customary purple robe and silver belt that all guardians wore. Sherrilynn, however, was no longer in her yellow robe. She wore a pair of tan shorts and a white, lose-fitting, short-sleeved top.
Mrs. Guardman beamed and gestured for them to enter. “I appreciate that, especially since Henry’s gone. I hope he’s okay,” she lamented, feeling that she was doing a poor job of keeping up with things.
Lily gave a brief bow and left as Mrs. Guardman’s new companions joined her at the table.
“Don’t worry,” Alice said as she sat. “He’s just at Lawrence Stokenshire’s house in Leviton. He’s going to have his staff repaired and learn how to use it. We’ll get word when it’s done, and then hopefully he’ll be able to bring all of your friends back together. Meanwhile, Fantasma has everyone scouring the mountains around that cave to search for them. Trust me, this will all be over soon.” She could tell the matriarch was worried and she leaned over and gave her a comforting pat on the hand.
Mrs. Guardman nodded. She knew there was no way she could be in control of the entire situation, and she had to trust that everyone was working to help her children. Besides, the teens had the mark of the seal now and she knew that the seal protected those linked to it, at least that’s what Zeta had told her in a prior visit. She had to have faith in this, that the powerful seal made by God would protect them from harm. Still, not all of them had the mark of the seal, and then there was the issue of her son.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” Alice asked.
She came out of her thoughts, only then realizing that Alice had been talking the entire time. “Sorry. I have a lot on my mind. Something’s come up, and I was hoping to speak to Fantasma about it, but he’s gone.”
“Is it something I can help you with?” Alice offered. “Not to brag, but I’m a pretty proficient guardian.”
Mrs. Guardman chuckled. “Well, it’s hard to explain.” She put down the piece of fruit she’d been holding. With a sigh, she started from the beginning, explaining the mysterious dreams and visions she had over the past year and how each warning from the messenger had come to pass. She then recounted the dream she had the previous night, all while wondering if the two would even believe her.
“Hmm,” Alice said pensively. “I’ve never heard of acceldermitis.”
“I have,” Sherrilynn revealed. “I studied rare adimus diseases. You run into a lot of them in the Crystal Sands Desert because a ton of people with adimus abnormalities go there to live.” She thought for a moment. “It’s really rare, but it has something to do with an overactive adimus. It’s actually both a blessing and a curse. They can use mentus easily, and master adimus abilities faster than anyone, but it comes with the price of extreme headaches that only get worse over time.”
“That’s awful,” Alice said, clearly imagining a world where she couldn’t use her mandamus without pain. “Do you know how this hat plays into it?”
“The one person I met who had it told me that there was supposed to be a type of quartz that could stabilize the condition. My guess is that the hat is lined with that quartz and that’s why it’s important, but I never learned what type of quartz it was.”
“Well that still helps,” Alice brightened. “We don’t need to find the hat, just the quartz, and then we could have a new hat made. Even if it’s rare, I’m sure we can find some. We have the entire Fantasmal Government at our disposal.” She turned to Mrs. Guardman. “Do you have any idea what type of quartz it was?”
Mrs. Guardman was staring blankly at the two of them.
Alice gave her another concerned look. “Ma’am?”
“So, you don’t think I’m crazy?” she blurted. “The dreams, the visions, you believe me?”
Alice raised an eyebrow. “Why would we think you’re crazy?”
Mrs. Guardman chuckled again. “Well because it sounds a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it?”
“Not really,” Alice said. “It sounds like you had a genuine vision. I’m a guardian ma’am; I know better than to dismiss prophetic word or visions.”
Sherrilynn shrugged. “It’s no stranger than me seeing the Daughter of the Sun weeks ago. Nobody believed me, but I know what I saw, and I risked everything because of it. I definitely know how you feel, and I believe you.”
Mrs. Guardman let out a sigh of relief. “I didn’t think anyone here would believe me. My friends didn’t believe me at first, not until things started happening. Only Illusion—Illusion!” She jumped up excitedly, rushing across the room to the yellow dressing gown she’d worn when transported to Mendala. It was hanging on a hook near the bed. She fished in one of the pockets and pulled out a small silver whistle.
Her two companions stood, sharing a confused look. “What is it?” Alice asked.
“I completely forgot I had Illusion’s whistle. I brought it with me when I left the house, not even thinking about it. I can use it to summon him; Marcus told me.”
Alice and Sherrilynn watched in confusion as Mrs. Guardman blew in the dog whistle, which emitted no sound.
In a flash of blue light, the small, black border terrier appeared in front of her, wagging its tail.
“Mrs. Guardman?” Illusion said as he turned around to survey his surroundings.
“That dog just appeared out of nowhere and started talking.” Sherrilynn looked at Alice in awe. “You saw that right?”
Alice was also in shock. “It’s ingenious. I’ve never seen anything like it.” She walked toward the dog. “It’s mentus but, I don’t understand how.”
“I was created by a highly skilled mentant monk,” Illusion looked up at Alice with curiosity before turning back to Mrs. Guardman. “You all quickened away. I was left with those pogs. I was able to defeat the last of them with some effort, but I didn’t know what else to do and was low on mentus. I finally just went to the void and waited to be summoned again. I didn’t know you still had my whistle. Where are we? Who are they?” He raised a paw to Alice and Sherrilynn.
Mrs. Guardman explained the situation as quickly as possible. “Everyone is looking for the others, but right now I have a question for you. It concerns Wayne. Do you know about his condition, acceldermitis, and the hat? Was any of that explained to you?”
Illusion jumped onto the bed. “Yes. Wayne’s ancestor, Amos, who came from Mendala, had it. However, he had a hat made of zenith quartz. That stopped the migraines. Acceldermitis is hereditary and it was always possible that Amos’s descendants might have it, so they passed the hat down, or rather the quartz lining within the hat, having it sown into different hats as time went on, careful not to lose it as the quartz was rare, even on Mendala.”
“Well now it’s lost, and we have to get another one.” Mrs. Guardman turned to the other two women. “Can we find this zenith quartz?”
Alice looked stumped. “Zenith quartz? I’ve never heard of that variety.”
“I have,” Sherrilynn said.
“Wow, you’ve just got all the answers today.” Alice chuckled at her companion.
“Well, it’s just by happenstance,” Sherrilynn said. “My hometown is Zohare and it’s not too far from a lot of the old mining towns that are deep in the northern mountains, all dead towns now. Well one of the mines was a zenith quartz mine, actually the only one in the world. Apparently, it used to be popular millennia ago because it helped people with adimus afflictions. It made Gilmore very rich, controlling the only mine of a highly coveted type of quartz. However, zenith became obsolete as advancements with refining desert crystal allowed it to be used for more types of adimus illnesses. The mine shut down and so did the city apparently. I remember because it was always used as a cautionary tale of what happens when a city’s economy is dependent on only one industry.”
Alice nodded pensively. “You know, that brings up a good point, maybe we could use desert crystal or something else for a new hat.”
Illusion shook his head. “Desert Crystal actually does very little to treat acceldermitis.”
Sherrilynn agreed. “The one person I met had to permanently relocate to the Crystal Sands just to get relief. Apparently, it has something to do with the hyper activeness that the condition causes. I’m sure you don’t want that for your son; stuck living in the desert for the rest of his life.”
“If we can get the zenith and have a new hat made, he’ll be fine,” Illusion confirmed.
“But if zenith quartz was only available in one place, it could take us forever to find that mine.” Alice lamented.
“Oh, I know where it is,” Sherrilynn said confidently. “It’s right near Gilmore. I used to explore the area when I was young. We just need to get a quickener to Zohare and I’m sure I can find my way again. It’s only a few hours from the city by foot.”
“Well, this is great!” Mrs. Guardman clapped her hands excitedly. “Do you think there will still be some of this quartz there?”
“Most likely,” Alice said. “Quartz grows naturally if left to its own devices. Even if there was only a tiny bit of zenith left, any surrounding quartz rock will start to take on its properties and eventually more of it becomes zenith quartz. After we find some, we just need to have a skilled mentant tailor use it to make a new hat.”
“This is amazing. I thought I’d never find a way to get Wayne’s hat. Now it sounds like we can get him a new one in no time.”
“See,” Alice said. “It was providence that you told us your vision.”
Mrs. Guardman nodded slowly, hardly daring to believe it. “I thought this would be an impossible task, but now it all seems to be falling into place. Maybe it’s true that Wayne and the others have been blessed by their connection to the seal. I don’t want to get too excited, but this has definitely restored my faith.”
“And hopefully your appetite as well.” Alice gestured to the table still laden with food. “We’ll eat, find you something new to wear, and then strike out before midday.”
Mrs. Guardman returned to the table and Illusion followed at her heels. “Will it be okay, just the three of us going?”
Alice passed a piece of smoked meat down to the dog who chomped at it gratefully. “I think so. I’ll need to report to Elder Sorinson first, but it should be fine. Besides, I’m charged to take care of our young criminal here,” she winked at Sherrilynn, “and if we’re going to be near Zohare, that’s quite safe. There’s been absolutely no monster activity anywhere near there, probably because it’s such a big city. The three of us will be fine. Well, four of us I guess.” She passed another piece of meat to Illusion.
“Don’t worry,” Sherrilynn said confidently, “by this time tomorrow you’ll have a new hat for your son just in time for him to be quickened back by Henry. It’ll all work out.”
Mrs. Guardman smiled as she started eating again. Though she felt bolstered and just as confident as Sherrilynn and Alice, she couldn’t help the nagging feeling in the back of her head that there would be more to this than any of them knew.
Sharanel slipped on a short, dark-green, sleeveless dress before stepping in front of the mirror and examining herself. Her long brown hair was already in a neat plat down her back leaving only the short bangs that hung above her green eyes. As she stared at herself, she frowned. Her stomach was twisted in knots, and she knew why: thoughts of Thomas Goodfield were haunting her.
Thomas died right in front of her. but she’d barely had time to think about this after returning to Mendala. Everything had been the mission: getting Fantasma back, getting Henry’s staff fixed, finding the seal bearers and the Daughter of the Sun. These things had been her only focus and she’d hardly had time for anything else. It wasn’t until she had to tell the story to Lawrence that the memories came flooding back, and with no more tasks to occupy her mind, she was left to replay the tragic scene all night long.
Thomas was her friend. Though he was almost a decade older, the two studied under Professor Landerpool at the same time and had grown close since they were both exceptional in their field. Thomas was always kind to her and treated her like she was a surrogate sister. She idolized him, and had even bonded staffs with him, something quickeners only did with someone they were extremely close with.
Now he was dead, and she had no idea how to process it. Things had happened so fast that she’d hardly had time to grieve. It took Lawrence pointing it out for her to even realize that Thomas might have known he was going to die. If so, that meant he did everything he could to make sure Sharanel connected with Henry, knowing that he was sacrificing himself in the process.
“Why would you do that?” Sharanel muttered to herself.
She sighed. Thomas had always had a different way of viewing life. Sharanel thought it had something to do with his dimensional sense, but it was clear there was much more to the eccentric genius than his genial façade and quirky way of speaking. He was special, and now he was gone, and what was worse was that it felt like no one was left to mourn him. Had his family been notified? Did he even have any living relatives? Sharanel realized in shock that she didn’t know something so basic about him even though she was one of the people closest to him.
She decided that when things settled, she’d find Thomas’s family and do something to honor his sacrifice and death. For now, she needed to consider his last words to her.
It’s up to you, Shara. He’s got the gift, but he’ll still need help.
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. Sharanel tore her gaze from her reflection and walked across the large suite to the oak door. Opening it, she found a tall, slender, tan-skinned elf standing in the threshold. She held an equally tall quickener staff and wore military fatigues with a swirling pattern of dark purple and black. Her yellow hair was cut short, just above her pointed ears, and she was standing rigidly, a stern expression on her face.
Sharanel smiled. “Isabelle, you’re earlier than I expected.”
The elf quickener nodded respectfully. “Chief Quicksilver,” she said in a formal tone.
Sharanel only sniggered at this. “Isabelle come in, and you can drop the formalities.”
Isabelle seemed to relax as she stepped over the threshold. “Well, it’s not every day that you’re summoned by the Fantasmal Quickener,” she grinned sheepishly. “Besides, I haven’t seen you since before you got your promotion. I want to be respectful, you know; the general has such high expectations.”
Sharanel guided her to a pair of comfortable armchairs in the sitting area of her suite. “It’s okay, I’m used to it, and I know being General Rockwall’s quickener is very tough.”
“I’m sure it’s not nearly as tough being the Fantasmal Quickener,” Isabelle said as she laid her staff next to the chair and plopped down. “I don’t know if it means anything, but I’m really proud of you.”
“It means everything,” Sharanel said, “especially because I know you applied for the job.”
Isabelle shook her head. “I think I’ve been a military quickener too long. The Fantasma needs a civilian and someone more flexible. I knew my chances were low going in, though I appreciated that General Rockwall recommended me. Anyway, what can I do for you?”
“Always right to the point.” Sharanel smiled again. “I need your advice. You’ve always been like a mentor to me, an older sister I never had.” Isabelle could not hide her blush at these words. “And you’ve never minced words with me. I need some of your blunt logic and wisdom,” Sharanel added.
“I’ll definitely try.”
“We’ve got a lot going on. I’m sure Rockwall told you about the Book of War, the off-worlders, the Daughter of the Sun, and the Sun Stone.”
Isabelle nodded. “The general has me coordinating troop deployments near towns that might be likely targets now that we have a profile of the attack pattern of these monsters. I’ve been keeping up to speed on the situation.”
“Well at the center of it all is a quickener named Henry. Well, he can hardly be called a quickener. All he has is a staff and a poor attitude right now.”
“He’s the one who’s staff broke, right? Lomax told me.”
Sharanel nodded. “Fortunately, Lawrence Stokenshire is confident he can fix it. It’ll just take a couple of days. Meanwhile, Henry still has to really master quickening if we’re even going to have a prayer of getting his friends back. Lawrence suggested he go see Landerpool.”
“That’s a good idea. Landerpool is the best quickener trainer there is.”
“I know, but something’s been nagging at me since I dropped Henry off last night.” Sharanel stood and started pacing. “I don’t know what it is; I guess I feel like I should be helping him, even though I know that’s ridiculous. What could I even do? Like you said: Landerpool’s the best.”
“Sharanel, you’re also the best. You were not only the youngest fully qualified quickener ever, but you are head and tails above the rest of us.”
Sharanel blushed. “Well, I—”
“There’s no need to be modest,” Isabelle smiled, “you surpassed my skill when you were fifteen years old. It’s something to be proud of; you worked hard, and you earned the title of Fantasmal Quickener. I think you forget though that most people are in their mid-twenties before becoming fully qualified. You’re a prodigy. If I’m not mistaken, Henry is about your age, right?” Sharanel nodded. “And his first time quickening was through a rift? That’s pretty amazing. He definitely has some natural talent.”
“Well, I had to help him,” Sharanel said.
“That sort of proves my point. He’s young, and unlike you, he hasn’t been quickening since the age of twelve. He has raw talent, he could even be a prodigy like you, but to expect him to fully master his staff in a day or two; that’s going to be a supernal task, even for Landerpool. I believe Henry will need all the help he can get, and who better to give it than you? You’ve already helped him once and you’re in the best position to help him pull off learning his staff in a matter of days.”
Sharanel plopped down in her chair again and let spill out what was really on her mind. “But Henry hates me! He blames me for everything that’s happened to him, even though it wasn’t my fault.”
Isabelle gave her a knowing look. “When you first became Fantasmal Quickener, I hear tell that there were quite a few quickeners in the mountain who were not pleased about it: the goddaughter of the Fantasma being selected over many other qualified and more seasoned candidates. They cried nepotism and were ready to make your transition into the top job as painful as possible.”
Sharanel nodded glumly, remembering all too clearly how rough her first few weeks were as she transitioned into the role of Fantasmal Quickener.
“Even so,” Isabelle continued, “you were more than able to show them that you were worthy of the role. You’ve been working hard these past months, and now all I hear is praise, or at the very least grudging respect, for the new Fantasmal Quickener.”
Sharanel smiled at this; it was good to hear that her hard work was paying off.
Isabelle leaned back. “I rather like to think that if you could win over a whole mountain full of quickeners, one teenaged boy should be, on the whole, no problem.”
Sharanel nodded again, feeling slightly bolstered. “I guess I never really thought about it that way. I don’t know why I let this get under my skin so much.”
Isabelle smiled knowingly. “So, I take it you’ll be leaving then.”
Sharanel stood. “Yes. You’re right: Henry may have some raw talent, but he’ll need all the help he can get. This is important. Fantasma wants the Daughter of the Sun returned safely and I need to do my part,” she said resolutely. “I’d like for you to be my second while I’m gone. Lawrence says it’ll take two days to repair Henry’s staff, I’m going to stay in Leviton and help Henry until that happens. Can you handle things here?”
“Absolutely.” Isabelle stood as well. “You know I have your back.”
Sharanel grabbed her blue robe. “Great, join me for breakfast; I want to catch you up on what needs to be taken care of before I head out.”
With that, the two quickeners left the room and headed down the long corridor toward the translift chamber that would take them to one of the mountain’s many eateries.