* Murrilogic *
After their fight, Jandor and Longhall became fast friends. Jandor was keen to stay and spar more at the Warrior Guild, but Terri reminded him of their mission. So, after obtaining and proving his proficiency with a sword, the group ate lunch with Longhall before leaving town to make the trip on foot to Murrilogic.
With her winnings, Terri bought Jandor new clothes to replace his tattered ones from Earth, splurging on expensive ustus clothing and a pair of turgus shoes designed for walking long distances in comfort. Though his outfit was a simple pair of black pants and a white quarter-sleeve shirt, the quartz-based ustus fiber couldn’t be dirtied or damaged in any way. His new clothes also had embedded mentus that offered protection on par with lightweight armor.
As the trio walked, Terri and Daniel taught Jandor what they could about Mendalian society as they rehashed what happened over the last several years in more detail.
“When we gave up the search, Stephanie decided to return to the Order of Nature,” Terri said.
Jandor nodded. “And they’re the ones that train healers, right? Is that where you learned?”
“They do, but I learned from the Warrior Guild,” Terri said. “It’s not as robust but it’s a lot easier and takes less time.”
“So is Stephanie a healer too?” Jandor asked.
“No, she’s a summoner,” Daniel corrected. “Summoners use music to subdue and control animals. Her mom’s flute was actually a summoner instrument. By the time we found her, she’d mastered it and was a fully qualified summoner.”
“So, she’s been here as long as you guys?”
“Longer, I think,” Daniel said.
“Did she try to look for the others before you guys found her?” Jandor asked, clearly exasperated by the thought that Stephanie could have been content with not searching for her friends.
Terri was about to answer but Daniel cut her off. “You’ll have to ask her,” he said succinctly.
She gave him an annoyed look before continuing. “Anyway, she decided to go back to the Order. Munio Mountain is the closest animal preserve to Riverbed and it’s where Stephanie was last stationed, so it’s the best place to start. Even if she’s not there, they’ll probably know where she went.”
“In about an hour, we’ll be at Murrilogic. Then it’s another hour upriver to the mountain.” Daniel shifted the rucksack on his back. “We already have everything we need so we won’t have to stop for any supplies in town. We can grab a snack, but I want to keep moving for the most part.”
“Why are we walking anyway?” Jandor asked abruptly.
“They don’t have cars here, Jandor.” Terri chuckled.
“Well, I thought you guys could travel around instantaneously. Isn’t that what quickeners do?”
“Oh,” Terri nodded in understanding. “It’s not as easy as that. Quickeners can’t go anywhere they want. They can only quicken to a person or a marker that they’re staff is connected to. Many places, like Munio Mountain, don’t have markers for safety or privacy reasons. Murrilogic and Riverbed not only don’t have markers but because of the constant fighting, quickeners stay away from the area.”
“So, this war you guys keep talking about, is that going to be a problem for us?” Jandor instinctively clutched the staff which he was using as a walking stick again.
“No,” Daniel said. “All we have to do is keep our heads down and stick to the outskirts of town. We’ll be fine; just don’t start any trouble.”
“Trouble? Me?” Jandor laughed. “You know I don’t go around picking fights. Besides, I’m sure if any trouble does happen, we’ll be okay,” he said giving a nod to the circular bladed weapon that hung from Daniel’s white belt. “What is that thing anyway? I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“It’s a chakram,” Daniel explained. “Class A, very difficult to use if you’re not a skilled mentant.”
Jandor looked like a child in a candy store as he gazed at the unfamiliar and exotic weapon. “Can I—”
“No,” Daniel answered abruptly. “The blade is really sharp. Gripping it anywhere will cut you.”
“So how do you use it then?” Jandor looked disappointed that Daniel wouldn’t relinquish the chakram for examination.
“I’m a really skilled mentant,” Daniel said, unable to repress a grin.
Jandor grinned as well, seeming to accept his friend’s explanation at face value. He looked over Daniel to address his sister. “So, what about that bow you’re carrying,” he asked, referring to the long bow that Terri had slung over her shoulders. It was another purchase she made at the Warrior Guild with her winnings. “Is it some type of mystical bow that only you can use?” He laughed.
“Not quite. The bow is pretty standard, the quiver however,” she tapped the quiver of arrows also on her back, “it holds five hundred arrows.”
Jandor raised an eyebrow. The quiver looked like it held 10 arrows at most, but he didn’t doubt his sister’s word, especially when it came to this strange new world. “Well, I think between the three of us, we’ll be able to handle any trouble that comes our way.”
“What happened here?” Jandor stared in awe at the smoldering ruins of Murrilogic.
“This is awful,” Terri whimpered. “Do you think they finally took the war too far?”
“I don’t think so.” Daniel seemed to be gazing off in the distance, as if he could see beyond the few desolate buildings that stood before them on the outskirts of town. “Terri, do you sense that?” he asked in a low whisper.
Terri shook her head. “What? What is it?”
“The mark!” Jandor almost shouted, looking down at his had to see that the golden mark of a cross in a circle had appeared once again, not only on the back of his hand, but Daniel’s as well.
“There must be creatures of the Book of War here,” Daniel said solemnly. “The mark appears when they’re nearby. I figured they’d attack soon. That pog yesterday must’ve been a scout.”
“This looks like it happened recently,” Jandor said. “Wait, if they attacked here, Riverbed could be next. We need to go back there and warn them.”
“We can’t,” Daniel disagreed. “We don’t have time. If they—look out!”
Two large pig-faced creatures leapt into their midst from a nearby building. The trio scattered to avoid getting crushed, Daniel pulling Terri to a nearby alley as Jandor dove in the opposite direction. He was back on his feet in seconds. He went to draw his sword and as if on cue, the mysterious bo staff sprouted its sash, allowing him to quickly sling it on his back as he drew his new weapon.
One of the pogs was already charging at Jandor, but he was ready. Wielding his sword expertly, he went onto the offense, striking out with such speed that the pog could barely block with its battered mace. Nearby, Daniel and Terri were fending off the other pog. Daniel was using mentus to create a makeshift invisible shield that was only barely holding up to the heavy swings of the pog’s mace, but it gave Terri a chance to fall back far enough to draw her bow.
“Daniel, look out!’ she called, and he jumped out of the way just as another heavy swing came down. Terri let the arrow fly and it hit the beast in the chest. Though it did no physical damage, the pog was sent staggering backward, and that gave time for Daniel to regroup and grab his chakram. A blue aura was wrapped around his hand like a glove as he wielded the circular blade.
Jandor was fairing much better in this pog fight than the previous one. The creature wasn’t nearly as big, and he was far more agile with his new sword. With one well timed thrust Jandor pierced his enemy right through its leather vest. It gave a squeal of pain before disappearing. At the same time, Daniel let loose the deadly chakram and just as it had done before, the blade sliced through the belly of the pog, causing green pus-like blood to spew forth before the beast vanished.
Terri came running up to them. “Are you okay?” she asked addressing both of them.
Daniel caught the returning chakram automatically and gave a winded nod.
Jandor sheathed his sword. “If those pog things are here, then we have to go back and warn Riverbed.”
Daniel shook his head. “It’ll take hours to get back there, and we could be too late anyway. Those creatures could have crossed to the other side of the river and attacked one of the towns over there before heading to Riverbed. It would explain why we haven’t seen them.”
“Even more reason to go back. We can help,” Jandor said.
“Jandor, there’s just no way,” Daniel countered. “Who knows how many of those things there are. We can’t fight them all. Besides, Longhall and the others are there. They can protect the town. We have our own mission.”
“Don’t you remember? Fantasma told us these creatures were indestructible; only we have the power to kill them.” Jandor held up his hand, showing the gold mark, a sign that there were still creatures somewhere nearby. “They could die without our help. Are you really that callous that you’d let all those people get killed? I thought you cared about Longhall and the others, or are you just afraid?” he added vehemently.
“Afraid?” Daniel sputtered. “Afraid!”
“Stop it!” Terri shouted. “Jandor, Daniel’s right; we can’t go back.”
Jandor looked down at her in shock. “What?”
“Those creatures are still here, which means there’s a good chance that they could be at the mountain.” She pointed to the huge mountain that could be seen in the distance over the tops of the small buildings. “If Stephanie’s in there, she could be in danger.”
Jandor’s eyes widened with revelation. “You’re right!” and without another word he took off toward the mountain at top speed.
Daniel and Terri exchanged commiserating looks before running to catch up with him.
* Fantasmal Mountain *
Though it was early afternoon when he was taken from Murrilogic, its distance from Fantasmal Mountain meant that it was still late morning when Ace woke abruptly less than an hour later. He only vaguely remembered what happened after the exhausting battle. He was helped out of the city by Pathos, they quickened back to Fantasmal Mountain, and he was taken to a room to rest. Of course, he protested, he needed to see the Fantasma, but that was the last thing he remembered before passing out.
Ace sat up straight, taking stock of his surroundings. He was in a large comfortable-looking suite. He was no longer wearing his robe, but he was still otherwise dressed, wearing a pair of padded, dark-blue pants and a long-sleeved, beige tunic shirt. Pathos was sitting next to him in a chair he’d pulled from a nearby table.
“I figured you wouldn’t be down for long,” the guardian said.
“Where’s Tabatha?” Ace asked immediately.
“Karmandrian took her to another room. It may take a bit longer for her to wake up; we’re not sure why she fainted, but we have a healer looking at her. I’m sure you’ll be able to see her soon.”
Ace yanked the covers off of himself and sat on the edge of the bed. “Before I do that, I need to speak to the Fantasma.”
Pathos nodded. “You mentioned that, but first you need to tell me who you are and more importantly, how were you able to kill those monsters.”
“I’m Ace Eastman; I’m one of the teens that Fantasma met in the cave on Earth…” he trailed off, giving Pathos a wary eye, “or I’m a crazy person and you don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Pathos chuckled. “No, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was there when Fantasma went to the other world, and he’s been looking for you and your friends ever since we discovered that there was some sort of quickener displacement. Do you know where the rest of your friends are? Is the Daughter of the Sun safe? We were only able to recover Veda—”
“You have Mrs. Guardman?”
Pathos nodded. “And the young quickener, Henry, is with us too.”
“So, Henry really did quicken us,” Ace said more to himself than Pathos, “I thought it could have been him. He had the staff, but how’d he even know how?”
“Chief Quicksilver helped him from what I heard, but the staff apparently broke in the process. They’re trying to repair it now,” Pathos said. “Guardians and soldiers are scouring the western Lumarian Mountains looking for your friends, but we found you and the girl in Murrilogic; that’s leagues away, on another continent even. How did you end up there? Do you have any idea where the others might be? It’s imperative that we find the Daughter of the Sun.”
Ace shook his head. “I wish I could tell you, but this is way more complicated than you guys even know. I wasn’t even certain any of the others survived the monster attack down in those caves until I saw Tabatha today.”
“That reminds me; you still haven’t told me how you’re able to kill the creatures of the Book of War.”
“Fantasma didn’t tell you? My friends and I—well most of them—bear the mark of the seal that once bound the Book of War.” He held up his right hand as if to show the golden symbol, but it was no longer visible. “Because of our connection to the seal, we’re probably the only people in the world able to destroy those creatures, and we’re the only ones able to reseal the Book of War itself.”
Pathos gasped audibly. “But how?”
“It’s a long story.” Ace looked around the room. “Where’s my robe?”
Before Pathos could answer, he saw it hanging on a wooden hook embedded in the wall. Next to it, a large slab of stone sat on a wooden table. He went to retrieve it. “Good, it would be all over if I lost this.” He picked up the ancient looking tablet.
Pathos watched him with curiosity. “I found that inside your robe. What is it?”
“This is the seal,” Ace revealed.
Pathos’s mouth dropped in awe. “I don’t understand. How did this happen? What does this seal have to do with the Book of War, and how are you connected to it?”
“It’s going to be hard to explain, but it will have to wait. I need to talk to Fantasma. There’s so much he doesn’t know. It’s urgent.” Ace put on his robe and tucked the seal back inside an inner pocket. Despite its bulk, the stone tablet disappeared effortlessly within the confines of the robe before he tied it shut.
Pathos stood. “Very well. He’s not in the mountain now, but I’m sure he’ll want to hear what you have to say. Come with me.”
Ace was grateful that the guardian stopped any further questioning and followed him from the suite.