* Fantasmal Mountain *
Henry lay awake staring at the ceiling. He was exhausted and glad the day was over, but he couldn’t sleep despite how comfortable the bed was.
The room he’d been given was elegantly furnished like an upscale hotel. It was a single room with an adjoining bathroom and designed to look as if he were not in a huge mountain. Still, it was clear that this place was nothing like Earth.
Lily, the assistant who’d led him to the room, tried to explain the embedded commands that would allow him to control things like lighting, but it all worked using mentus, which he still didn’t understand. Eventually, she gave him a quartz rod about the size of a marker. Tapping the rod on a certain spot on the wall could control the lights and the rod could also activate the ‘melivian,’ which was the name she used for a small, purple, crystal device that sat on the dresser opposite the bed. He hadn’t even bothered to ask what it did. All he wanted was to shower and sleep. Mercifully, the bathroom operated exactly as he expected, plumbing on Mendala being near identical to that on Earth.
After a quick shower, he changed into some nightclothes he found in the closet and collapsed into the large bed at the center of the room.
But he couldn’t sleep.
He tossed and turned and tried desperately to empty his mind, but it was racing with the events of the day, replaying it over and over again, trying to find a way that he could have done something different to prevent what happened.
Suddenly, there was a soft knock at his door, and he immediately sat upright. “Hello?”
Henry practically tripped over his own two feet as he slid out of the over-large bed and made his way in the dark to the door, trying the navigate the unfamiliar room in pajamas that were a size too large for him.
He shielded his eyes from the light pouring in from the hall as he opened the door. “Hello?” he said again, and as his eyes slowly adjusted, he saw that it was Franklin and Sharanel, the latter looking nervous and fidgety.
“Sorry to wake you, but Franklin thought you might want to know this right away,” Sharanel said as if trying to make it clear she had no desire to disturb his sleep.
“I wasn’t really sleeping anyway. What is it?” Henry said as he finally unshielded his eyes from the light.
“I know someone who can fix your staff; my nephew, a quaver who lives in Leviton,” Franklin revealed.
“Didn’t we already try a quaver?” Henry asked, surprised he even remembered the word.
“Yes, but you didn’t go to the best quaver in the world.” The slight boast in Franklin’s tone couldn’t be hidden.
“Lawrence Stokenshire is definitely the best,” Sharanel confirmed. “Frank contacted him and told him what happened with your staff, and he seems pretty confident. He understands rifts, works with Professor Landerpool, and has even worked on Tommy’s staff. If anyone can fix your staff, he can.”
Henry shrugged unimpressed. “Whatever; I guess it can’t hurt.” It was clear he wasn’t going to get his hopes up on what seemed to be a last-ditch effort.
Sharanel didn’t try to press further. “Okay, we can go first thing in the morning.”
“In the morning?” Henry repeated. “No way; let’s go right now. It’s not like I’m getting any sleep anyway. I just need to find some clothes; they took mine to be cleaned.” He shuffled back into the interior of the dark room to search the closet.
“Now?” Sharanel turned to Franklin, clearly not expecting this reaction.
“That should be fine,” Franklin said. “It’s still early in Leviton and I know Lawrence is up. No time like the present.”
Sharanel gave a resigned sigh. “Okay, well let me talk to Fantasma first and you can wake Mrs. Guardman.”
Henry rushed back to the threshold when he heard this. “No, don’t wake Mrs. Guardman.”
“Why?” Sharanel asked.
“Because she’s exhausted. Besides, there’s no point in waking her up again if this turns out to be another dead end. Let’s take the staff to this Lawrence guy and find out if he can fix it first. If he’s as great as you say he is, he’ll have it done before she even wakes up.”
“Fair enough,” Franklin said before Sharanel could protest. “I’ll contact Lawrence and tell him to expect you two. Henry, I’ll have someone bring you a change of clothes and guide you to the transportation corridor when you’re ready. Sharanel can meet you there.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Henry said. “The sooner we leave the sooner this can be over with.” He shut the door abruptly.
Sharanel let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. “Great, just great. I really hope Lawrence can do this. I’m not sure I can handle another argument if this flops.”
Franklin started down the hall with Sharanel at his side. “Don’t worry, my nephew is a Stokenshire. He’s the best.” This time there was clear boasting in his voice. “His shop is already closed, but I’m sure he won’t mind you two dropping by his manor. Just let me contact him first so he’ll know to expect you.”
“Wait, are you not coming with us?” Sharanel asked.
“No, there is much research to do here if we are to have any chance of defeating the Book of War, and you don’t need me. You’ve worked with Lawrence before; you’ll be fine.”
“It’s not me I’m worried about,” Sharanel grumbled but decided not to elaborate as they continued down the wide hallway.
* Gilmore *
Davron stood at a large window that took up a good portion of the circular wall of his sitting room. It was one of a series of rooms that made up his quarters at the top of the cylindrical quartz stronghold in the center of the city of Gilmore. Towering above the rest of the buildings, it stood as a testament to the ingenuity of those who built it ages ago.
Gilmore was a large town nestled in the Lumarian Mountains. It was deserted hundreds of years ago when the ore refineries in the town shut down, depriving its citizenry of its only real industry. It was now a dead town, long forgotten to time, the perfect hiding place for Davron and his growing army.
From the large window, Davron could see the town below him. It was packed with thousands of creatures he’d created along with the men and women who’d joined his cause. He was quite pleased at how far he’d come, how quickly his dreams of building a new world were becoming a reality; but as he stared out the window where the yellow and red moons hung at opposite ends of the night sky, he could not ignore the setback that happened earlier that day.
Even as he was contemplating all of this, the double doors that served as the main entrance to the large suite of rooms were pushed open, and Jansdimion and Gamdon entered.
“Sir, I just saw Calendon preparing to leave the city,” Jansdimion started without preamble. “He says that you’ve sent him and Lady Ellonous on a mission.”
“Indeed.” Davron was still lost in thought.
“Sir, with all due respect, am I not your general? Why would you do this without involving me?” Jansdimion asked.
Davron turned finally. “Because this is still my army Jansdimion and I…” He seemed to catch himself, his temper abating. “I’m sorry, Jansdimion. Calendon was simply in the right place at the right time. He arrived shortly after my wife finished her ministrations.”
“She seems to have done quite well at restoring you to full strength,” Gamdon observed. “I didn’t expect you to be back on your feet before tomorrow.”
“She is rather gifted,” Davron smirked at this, “and determined. The arrival of the Daughter of the Sun on Mendala has motivated her.”
“So, the Daughter of the Sun is here?” Jansdimion said.
“Yes, well at the very least, her friends made it through the rift, but thanks to Gamdon, they’ve been displaced, and the government is in chaos trying to find them all. I received this information from my spy shortly after being healed. What they don’t seem to know is that at least some of them were thrown back in time.”
“So, it’s what we thought then: temporal displacement,” Jansdimion said.
Davron nodded. “It’s the only thing that makes sense given what happened when we went to that cave.”
“So that means…” Gamdon’s face went pale as he seemed to put several things together. “This changes everything.”
Davron shook his head. “No, it doesn’t; we still have a mission to fulfill.”
He turned and walked across the massive room, passing both of them and heading to an adjacent room where there was a large wooden table surrounded by several comfortable-looking chairs. On the table was a map of the four continents of Mendala with red circles drawn all over it.
Gamdon still had a shocked look on his face as he followed Davron. “But if what you’re saying is true, then Lady Ellonous—”
“Gamdon,” Davron said sharply. “Right now, we need to focus on our strategy. Because of my blunder, not only is Fantasma aware of us, but I’m no closer to unlocking the true power of the Book of War.” He walked to the corner of the room where the Sun Stone floated placidly above a short pedestal that held the ancient Book of War.
“So, I take it that means you cannot use the Sun Stone?” Gamdon asked.
“I tried,” Davron confirmed. “I cannot unlock the stone’s power, whatever it may be. It would seem that it’s still connected to the Daughter of the Sun. It was foolish to go after it, foolish to reveal ourselves to the Fantasma, foolish to give up our advantage on the off chance we could obtain the power of the Sun Stone and get the Daughter of the Sun on our side.” His voice was bitter and angry as he stared at the dormant stone.
Gamdon put a comforting hand on his shoulder from behind. “I would be the first to say it was a risky endeavor, and perhaps you were overconfident, but that’s as far as I would go to rebuke you. All of the writings that you deciphered showed that there is some connection between the stone and the book. It’s good that we have it. Even if we can’t take advantage of it, at least our enemies can’t use it against us.”
Davron let out a long sigh, releasing his pent-up frustration. “Thank you, my friend.”
Jansdimion was walking around the table, staring at the map. He seemed to not be paying attention to their conversation. “Sir, this map looks far different from what we laid out before.”
Davron came out of his musings and approached the table with Gamdon in tow. “Yes, that’s what I wanted to discuss. I’ve decided we need to take a more aggressive approach. We can expect Fantasma to start going on the offensive now, so to ensure a decisive victory, we’ll need to take out several strategic points and major cities all at once.”
“All at once?” Jansdimion sputtered. “You’ve marked all the major powers and at least a dozen other highly fortified cities. That’s impossible. You’d have an easier time taking over Fantasmal Mountain.”
“It’s difficult, yes, but not impossible. In fact, we have most of what we need.” Davron gestured for them to sit at the table. “The old translift network that we’ve been using has already been key to staging our troops around the world.”
Gamdon started examining the map. “Indeed, we were fortunate to find that. Still, for this to work, we would need all of the translift caves in the network to be functioning. There are three that are damaged and we’re not sure exactly where they lead. That’s crucial for planning a multipoint attack this massive.”
Davron nodded in agreement. “And now we have a way to fix them. Among our civilian workers is a man by the name of Richard Foy, and apparently he—”
Gamdon gasped in revelation. “Richard Foy, the master quartzsmith?”
Davron smiled. “I see you know him. Apparently, he even worked on the translifts in Fantasmal Mountain. I’d like you to meet with him and see if he’s able to repair the faulty translifts. If so, then we are one step closer to our goal.”
“Logistically, this could work.” Jansdimion studied the map more intensely. “Not only are the caves large enough to send hundreds of people at once, but the network is so old, I doubt anyone is aware it exists or where the caves connect to.”
“The only problem is that the translifts are an hour away,” Gamdon said pensively. “We should use the quickener cave for moving supplies since it’s closer to town.”
Jansdimion nodded at this, still engrossed in the map. “We already have thousands of troops stationed on all four continents, but for such a massive campaign on multiple fronts, I still think we’d need more, especially if it’s all at once.”
“That’s true,” Davron admitted. “We may not be able to strike every point simultaneously, but we can still get the most strategically important ones. I want you to figure out which ones we should target, but we have to act quickly. Now that Fantasma knows about us, it’s just a matter of time before he tries to build up a united front across the world. That would make it more difficult to wrest control from these corrupt rulers. We don’t want a protracted war so we must seize as much control as we can with one decisive move. Fortunately, it seems the heavens may be on our side once again.”
“How so?” Gamdon asked.
“The Fantasmal Government is currently occupied trying to find the Daughter of the Sun and her friends. If we can keep the army busy, they’ll be too fractured to form a coalition or any type of coordinated effort across the world. That’s why I sent Calendon back out with his troops,” Davron revealed. “His mission is to keep the Fantasmal Forces distracted by continuing to attack small, war-torn towns. It’ll also help to bring in more recruits sympathetic to our cause. They’ll head to Murrilogic and Riverbed first.”
Jansdimion nodded. “That makes perfect sense. However, if the goal is to keep Fantasma’s army occupied, may I also suggest sending out at least two more squadrons on other continents. That will force them to divide their focus.”
“An excellent idea,” Davron agreed. “Also, increase the troops patrolling the area to make sure no one discovers us or the translifts.”
Jansdimion frowned slightly. “Sir, even with all of these distractions in place, I estimate we still only have eight to ten days at most before Fantasma is able to build up defenses around the world,”
“I know.” Davron looked back and forth between his two loyal subordinates, a serious expression on his face. “We need to be ready to attack in six days.”
“Six days?” Gamdon repeated in shock.
“He’s right; we have to move fast,” Jansdimion said. “Even with the creatures of the Book of War at our disposal, we could be facing a lengthy war larger than the legendary Great War. We’re not out to destroy the world, but to rebuild it. The quicker we can take over, the better. This plan is ambitious, but it’s the best one we have.”
Gamdon sighed. “You’re right. I’ll go speak to Master Foy immediately. I’ll also start coordinating our quickeners into a robust network. We’ll need it for making the most use out of the quickener cave.”
“Sir, what about Lady Ellonous?” Jansdimion asked suddenly.
Davron raised an eyebrow. “What about her?”
“You told us what you tasked Calendon with, but what is Lady Ellonous doing? She left town as well. What mission did you send her on?”
Davron let out another long sigh. “The truth is, I didn’t send her on a mission; she left on her own. Now that we know Fantasma managed to get the Daughter of the Sun and his little child army of seal bearers to Mendala, she’s decided she wants to track them down personally.”
“Wait, seal bearers?” Jansdimion repeated the unfamiliar term. “I don’t understand.”
“Yes, it’s a new predicament.” Davron returned to the small podium near the outer wall and picked up the Book of War. On its front was an intricately designed raised symbol in red, but he flipped it over to show its back cover, which looked just as worn as the front. In the lower right-hand corner, there was a small circle surrounding a cross and several other indistinguishable characters. It almost looked as if it had been burned into the book.
“This is the mark of the seal that once bound the Book of War,” Davron explained as he showed them both the small, blackened symbol. “Those otherworlders carry this mark and have the ability to kill my creatures.”
“What? That’s impossible,” Jansdimion stammered.
“Unfortunately, it’s not. The creatures apparently have a weakness to the supernal energy of the seal. It makes sense since the seal bound the Book of War to begin with.” Davron tapped the book pensively. “It seems the Twelve Warriors were somehow imbibed with the energy of the seal, and it was passed down to their descendants, the ones in that cave. That makes them a real threat. That’s why I sent Calendon to Riverbed and Murrilogic; the scout pog I sent there was killed, which means there’s a seal bearer there. With any luck, we can eliminate them as a threat before Fantasma has a chance to find out their location.”
Gamdon nodded in understanding. “I see; so that’s why Lady Ellonous went with him.”
“Correct, she’s committed to stopping them from joining Fantasma. I’m not sure what she has planned, but I’ve decided to wait and see how it all plays out. She deserves that much.”
Gamdon frowned. “Sir, are you sure that’s wise? Your strategy requires precision, and this seems like an unnecessary variable. What if her plans…conflict with your goals?”
Davron couldn’t help but chuckle at how carefully Gamdon phrased this, clearly not wanting to upset him. “Yes, she can be a bit unpredictable and brash, but she’s determined to stop Fantasma from using those seal bearers no matter what it takes. Regardless of how she accomplishes it, that’s ultimately what we want, so I’m not worried.”
Gamdon shook his head solemnly. “Sir, given everything we now know, I’m worried about how this will affect her state of mind. She may not be the same after this. It’s possible she may not come back from this at all. Are you prepared for that?”
Davron put a hand to his chest, feeling the quartz pendant underneath his shirt. “I trust her… and I won’t lose her or this war.”
Despite this stoic statement, Gamdon could tell how torn Davron was, but he decided not to press further. “I understand, sir.”
“We’ll do everything to make sure you succeed,” Jansdimion added.
Davron tucked the Book of War back into his robe. “Thank you both. Now, let’s get to work.”