Authors: Ken Lozito
Colind picked up a goblet-sized black piece of metal, “This is from the Drake.” He turned it over in his hands and placed it on his wrist. “It’s some type of control panel like what the Hythariam wear. The question now is what was the Drake controlling?”
Garret frowned in thought, and then his face lit up, “The Ryakuls. The Drake commanded the Ryakuls, and I would wager that is a power worthy of Mactar’s attention.”
Colind’s eyes widened, “Goddess, if he can control the Ryakuls then...”
“We need to warn the others,” Garret said, bringing up his comms device.
Colind continued to scan the room while Garret spoke into the comms device. They never had an accurate count of the Ryakuls, but there were enough of them to cover a mountain. Even with the aid of the Hythariam they would hard pressed to fight the High King’s army with a host of Ryakuls aiding them.
“Colind, they want us to return.”
“No,” Colind answered.
“It’s Aaron; he is back.”
“He’ll understand if we don’t come back right away.”
Garret stepped up to him, “Mactar won’t get away, but they need us back there. We might be able to find him quicker with the help of the Hythariam. All we need to do is track the Ryakuls now.”
Colind drew his head up, considering, and nodded. “First we burn this place to the ground,” Colind said grimly.
They headed to the main doors, and Colind lingered in the entrance. He reached out with the energy, grasping all the lighted orbs at once, and shattered them. Flames spread eagerly, consuming the old relics in the room, and Colind looked on with grim satisfaction, hoping that the original owners of these relics could rest easier. Mactar had been the foremost pillager laying waste to Shandara, and a warmth spread through his body, knowing that he had been able to take something from Mactar at last.
The flames quickly spread, and soon the entire castle was engulfed. Garret urged them to leave, but Colind wasn’t finished yet. He drew in the energy from the earth, pushing deep underground, locating the main supports that kept the castle standing. Tiny cracks spidered their way up, and the ground shook beneath their feet. The flaming castle wavered back and forth before falling in on itself. The hiss of the fire kissed the night air, and the ruins of Mactar’s castle vanished from the skyline with nothing but a few remnant walls remaining. The townsfolk gathered outside their homes and watched the flames, but none moved to investigate, and there were more than a few who were relieved that the dark menace that had loomed over their quiet town was gone.
Colind engaged the travel crystal, and he and Garret disappeared. They emerged upon the outskirts of the FNA camp. The sun had risen in this part of Safanar, casting its warmth, and the morning dew slowly retreated.
“How come you didn’t take us directly to the castle?” Garret asked.
“Sometimes you can learn a great deal by taking the long way,” Colind replied and immediately started walking.
Colind silently looked around, taking in his surroundings. They had been gone a few weeks, but they had kept in contact as best they could. Mostly it was Garret, because Colind wasn’t particularly fond of the comms devices. They had their uses and were convenient, but he didn’t want to use them. Soldiers who recognized him either bowed their head or saluted. The FNA camp had become a city outside the walls of Rexel, with merchants selling their wares in designated areas. No one in the FNA was foolish enough to allow just anyone to go into the camp proper.
A large group was heading toward the center of the camp, and Colind frowned seeing Aaron leading the group. He was surrounded by the newest members of the De’anjard along with members of the nobility from various kingdoms. Something in way Aaron carried himself bothered Colind. It shouldn’t bother him. He had always known that Aaron would lead these people, and with leadership came the clamoring fools who wanted to carry favor. He just didn’t expect it so soon and Aaron to appear so comfortable with it.
Aaron spotted them and walked over.
“Welcome back,” Aaron said.
“I should say the same to you,” Colind answered, studying him. His skin held remnant scars, and his eyes had a harder cast to them than before.
Aaron recounted how he was imprisoned and came to return to Safanar, and Colind quietly listened.
“Where is Sarah?” Garret asked. “I would hardly expect that she would leave your side since you’ve been back.”
A blank look of uncertainty flashed across Aaron’s face, and then his eyes narrowed, “I’m afraid that not everyone was overjoyed with my return.”
Now that is a colossal understatement,
Colind thought. He had helped nurse Sarah back to health, while she recovered from the effects of the Nanites. During that time the thought of Aaron was hardly a breath away from her thoughts.
He glanced at the others that Aaron had surrounded himself with and noted the absence of his closest friends with the exception of Braden’s towering form. Imprisonment had a way of changing those subject to its malicious tendencies. Something Colind was intimately aware of, and the first thing he longed for when he was finally free was to see the faces of his closest friends. The need to be around things familiar and also knowing that most of them were dead had seized his heart. Since his failure to recognize the evil in his son, Tarimus, he had promised himself that if he began making excuses for someone or something that was out of balance in his life, that he would take a step back and refuse the excuses their due. Glancing at Aaron, he knew that things were out of balance here, and he was determined to find out what it was. There wouldn’t be another repeat of Shandara, not on his watch.
He told Aaron to carry on and that he would walk with them for a while. It was hard to believe that this was the same person he had first encountered on Earth all those months ago. There had been an unwavering kindness in his eyes, and now they seemed to be constantly measuring everyone and everything. They went to the command tent, which was already filled with people for the morning briefing. Gavril stood in the center and was speaking quietly with Verona and Vaughn.
Gavril called the meeting to order, and after a few moments things settled down to a quiet murmur. Behind Gavril holographic screens came to life. All of them showed different kingdoms as if someone were watching from above.
“Behind me are feeds from our satellites we have orbiting the planet. Most of them are fixed upon the continent,” Gavril said, and after a moment the view on the screens changed. “We’re monitoring these feeds for the next attack from the Khamearrians. We have command centers like this set up in Hathenwood and a temporary one in Shandara in addition to here in Rexel.”
“Why a temporary one in Shandara?” Aaron asked.
“There is a better one in Shandara, but it was buried when the city fell. Our engineers are quite close to getting access to it. Once that happens, we’ll have greater access to the bulk of our technology that was lost at Shandara,” Gavril said.
There were gasps with some pointing to one of the screens. There was a flash of light, and emerging from the morning mist was the High King’s army.
“Where is this? Is this happening right now?” Verona asked.
“This is in Lorric, and yes, the feed is in real time,” Gavril answered.
The kingdom of Lorric was one of the bordering kingdoms between Khamearra and the Waylands.
“We need to help them,” Verona said, his eyes fixed upon the screen, and then he turned to Aaron. “Some of the Resistance fled Khamearra and are taking refuge there."
Many in the room knew that the Resistance was made up of the former De'anjard.
"We will go," Braden said. "As Wardens of the De'anjard it is my duty to stand with my brothers and sisters of the shield."
“I’ll go as well,” Colind said.
“You can go with the ready team we have on standby. I’ve will inform their king that help is on the way,” Gavril said.
“We need to find their focusing crystal to keep them from escaping,” Verona said and then frowned. “I think we should divide our numbers into two groups.”
“What do you have in mind?” Gavril asked.
“We need to help the people of Lorric with their defenses, but that doesn’t mean we all need to be behind the wall,” Verona said, stepping up to the screen and pointing to the outer area of the city beyond the wall. “We should take a smaller force here that can move quickly and take out the focusing crystal.”
“First we need to find it, but I agree. We’ll use the team you’ve been putting together as well as some of my own people,” Gavril said.
“Having the airships would help, but they can’t get there in time,” Verona said.
“And they won’t fit through the portals. Remember the Keystone Accelerators only have two charges, and one of the charges will be used to get us there. We leave within the hour,” Gavril said.
“Won’t they need you here coordinating the troop movements?” Colind asked.
“Not today,” Gavril answered. “Iranus will take this one.”
“I’ll go with you,” Aaron said to Verona.
“Never doubted it for a second,” Verona said.
A short while later, beyond the walls of Rexel there was an open plain where
the troops of the Free Nations Army gathered. Colind advised breaking them up into three groups instead of two. One group to assist in the defense. Another group placed behind the High King’s army to strike from behind, and Verona’s special squad in the outskirts of the city. They were going to use six of the Keystone Accelerators, leaving four in reserve here in Rexel.
Colind stood near Verona at the head of his group of fifty men. Aaron and Braden joined them. A few moments later Sarah came. Other than the barest of glances between her and Aaron they didn’t speak. Garret stood by his side, and next to him was Gavril.
A younger Hythariam approached Gavril.
“Sir, Iranus wants me to return to Hathenwood,” Tanneth said.
"Did he give a reason?"
Tanneth shook his head, “He didn’t say, and the message came through comms.”
Gavril pursed his lips in thought and then nodded.
Tanneth saluted Gavril and took off at a run.
The Keystone Accelerator that would open a portal big enough for them to go through was as long as a man’s arm and twice as wide. Legs extended from the base. Gavril tapped a few buttons upon his comms device, and the accelerator lit up. In moments, an opaque circle of light appeared before them that was about ten feet tall and twenty feet wide. Colind squinted his eyes, trying to peer through it, but it was just a swirling mass with a small vibration brushing against its skin.
Farther away from them other portals opened, and Gavril gave the command for them to go through. The soldiers of the FNA immediately rushed through, eager to face the Khamearrian army. They were well armed with swords, bows, and spears. A select few carried the plasma pistols of the Hythariam on them, but there weren’t enough to arm every FNA soldier with one.
As the last of the soldiers went through, the portals started winking out one by one. With most of the troops having gone through, no one saw the hunched man lumbering onto the field before the remaining open portal. He zigzagged like a crab, as if he couldn’t make his legs work right. As the portal diminished in size, he stumbled through just as it closed.
Sarah came through the portal and immediately moved away, scanning for signs of life on the deserted streets. Sounds of fighting could be heard in the distance. Lorric wasn't the biggest city when compared with Shandara, but it was still sizable, covering six square miles. The buildings lining the streets didn’t have more than two or three levels, and the streets themselves were wide open. She and Verona took half the men and gathered on one side of the street, while Aaron and Braden took the other half. Orders were given to scout ahead. She looked over at Aaron, and he nodded slowly and smiled. A faint stirring squeezed her chest. More than anything she wanted to believe that by some cruel twist of fate that Aaron was still in there somewhere and the stranger before her would just fade away. She longed to fall headlong into the dream that it was him. To feel his powerful arms around her and the press of his lips on hers. She found herself daring to believe, to go against what her heart was telling her, and give in.
The press of the travel crystal nudged against her leg. She had debated on bringing the rune-carved staff, because she knew that it was somehow connected to Aaron. She had taken it for safekeeping and had kept Aaron’s medallion, which she still wore nestled on her chest.
“I’m with you, my Lady,” Verona said.
Sarah glanced at him and nodded. Gavril had taken the Hythariam and scouted ahead. They caught up and found him frowning at his comms device.
“Is there a problem?” Sarah asked.
“We’re getting some strange readings outside the city. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it’s being reported by all three groups,” Gavril said.
“Have they located the focusing crystals?”