Authors: Steven A. Tolle
“He doesn’t seemed to have done too good of a job.” Jake stated.
“Many have thought the same, Jake.” Tomaris said. He lifted the scroll and began to gently unroll it. “Here, in Arnes scroll, is the tale of the Guardian and of his failure.” With that, he began to read.
The Guardian was wandering in the market of a city on the eastern coast, surrounded by the people who passed him by, unaware of his presence. He was a servant of the Creator, immortal, having existed before Time itself. He was tasked with protecting all of the people on this world, confronting his lost brothers when they sought to influence man. They were trapped in the Darkness, but could still reach into the spiritual realm.
He felt for the telltale darkening of a person’s spirit, a sign that his fallen brothers were at work. He traveled far and wide, his senses trained to detect the disturbances in the spiritual realm, seeking to confront his enemies before they could harm those they sought to influence. He was forbidden to compel the people of this world to do anything, though he could appear in the physical world, his true essence hidden, offering counsel and advice.
He was enjoying the life and vitality of the marketplace, listening to the people
haggle, argue and laugh. Suddenly, an overpowering spiritual disturbance staggered him, dark waves of evil sweeping over him. He caught himself and tried to calm the sudden trickle of fear that sprang up inside him. He had never felt anything like it before. Still, he was the Guardian of this world, chosen by the Creator, and he must confront whatever had just happened. He easily located its origin, radiating malevolence like an open wound, and stepped out of reality and moved to that spot.
As he appeared at the point of the disturbance, he was astonished for a second time. He saw a tear in the fabric of reality itself. This tear existed in both the spiritual and physical realm. He would have to heal this tear in both realms, so he stepped out of the spiritual realm and became flesh on the physical plane. He was tall and powerful in his physical form, clothed in shining armor, his breastplate carved with intricate runes. He found himself in a sparsely wooded area, the trees that were standing appeared stunted, the ground littered with rocks and boulders.
In the physical world, the tear appeared as a large, rotating vortex, wedged between two large boulders, the edges lined with red fire and at the center the darkest black. He could feel the strength of the tear and drew his sword. The sword, created and given into his hands by the Creator, was filled with the Light. This gave the Guardian more power than he had in himself. The sword flared brilliantly as he drew it, rivaling the sun in the sky, its power filling him. He studied the tear for several moments before moving forward. He would close it quickly and then repair the damage in the spiritual realm.
As he began moving towards the tear, a voice rose behind him, chillingly familiar. He spun, eyes widening as he saw him standing there. It was his former brother, the one whom he had been closest to, both emotionally and in power, in that period before Creation. He had fallen into Darkness, but was somehow standing on this world. They had fought bitterly during the rebellion, each striving to destroy the other. There were some physical alterations from his time in the Darkness, but it was he.
That is impossible.
The Guardian thought, stunned.
“So, it is you.” His fallen brother said with satisfaction, a twisted and cruel smile on his face. “I thought I had felt your presence on this world.”
“I do not know how you escaped your prison, but you will find that your release is short-lived.” The Guardian said, moving towards, sword ready, confident in his power.
“That would be true, if I had come alone.” The demon laughed. He gestured and from hiding places amongst the rocks more demons appeared. Their shapes and appearances had been altered from the long eons spent in the Darkness. They spread out and surrounded the Guardian. He recognized several of the strongest by their essence, including Creatos and Helvan. Those two began to organize the lesser brothers near them.
“This world will be ours, Guardian.” The demon lord taunted. “You cannot stand against us.”
“I am a servant of the Creator, entrusted to defend this world.” The Guardian bravely stated. “You will find that I am not easily defeated.” With that, he surged forward, sword moving.
Calling for the others to attack, the demon lord sent a blistering streak of dark fire towards him, which the Guardian extinguished with his might. He was closing with the demon lord when he was struck on all sides by the demons’ powers. He was buffeted by that assault, but overcame it, his form and sword now blindingly bright, shining with the purest white light. He lashed out at the closest demons, his power burning into them, several of the weaker ones exploding into ash.
He continued trying to get within striking distance to use his sword, but the demons were moving, shifting positions, while continuing to rock him with attacks. He felt some of the dark energy slip past his defenses, burning his skin. He grimaced at the sudden pain, something that he had not felt since the rebellion against the Creator.
He was surrounded on all sides now, a shining island in a sea of dark fire. Needing to protect himself, he was unable to bring his full might to bear, damaging some of the demons, but unable to destroy enough to make a difference. He was still developing a plan of attack when the demons changed tactics.
He was unable to move fast enough when several demons threw themselves against him physically. They pulled at him, trying to bring him down despite the pain that his power caused
them, their claws scoring his armor. He was able to throw off his attackers, his sword swinging and catching them, destroying them with flares of Light.
Now the more powerful demons charged him, their fire slamming into him as they closed the distance. He could not avoid Creatos and the demon lord as they crashed into him, rocking him with blows while the other demons kept up a constant bombardment of dark fire. He sent a flare of power into them, causing pain, but not enough to dislodge them. Calling forth his last reservoir of strength, he succeeded in throwing off Creatos, but the demon lord seized his hand holding the sword, ignoring the pain the sword caused, and twisted, wrenching the sword from his hand.
The sword fell to the ground, its Light suddenly extinguished. The Guardian attempted to retrieve it, but was forced back by the demons’ might, their power burning past his defenses. Without his sword, he knew that he could never defeat this many of his fallen brothers and would fall, leaving the people of this world unguarded. With a cry of frustration and pain, he sent a blast of power into his enemies, gaining a measure of space, and translated out of the physical plane and fled.
Tomaris carefully set the scroll down on his lap. The room was quiet as they all contemplated what they had just heard. After several moments of reflection, Tomaris spoke again.
“The scroll goes on to say that, after his defeat, the Guardian appeared to Arnes, who was living alone in a cave, and showed him how to access the clerics’ power. He explained its uses and bid him to go out and bring others to the service of the One.” He paused,
then said. “Further, it states that the Guardian would continue to oppose the demons as he could, but without his sword, he could not directly confront them or heal the tear. There is a mention that he must continue to hide his presence to prevent the demons from tracking him down and destroying him.”
“Why didn’t the One simply banish the demons?” Jake asked. “That would seem to be the easiest way to take care of this. That would have prevented a thousand years of chaos.”
“I certainly do not know the mind of the Creator, Jake.” Tomaris said with a soft chuckle. “We have to assume that there is a reason for all things, even if we can’t understand why.”
“Also, consider that our lives are but like flashes of light in the broad sweep of time.” Tomaris said more seriously. “You are young and I am sure that the time to reach your age seems to have taken a long time, but at my age, that period of my own life seems but a brief moment. Can you imagine what a thousand years would be to an immortal creature that existed before the creation of time? Likely, those long years seem but what a few minutes would be to us.”
“Now that we know this, Tomaris, what do we do with it?” Dominic asked. “You did not simply come here to give us a history lesson.”
“You are correct, Dominic.” Tomaris replied. “I think I have found a way that we can help Jake return to his world and gain another weapon in our fight against our enemies.” He paused, looking
at each of them, appearing to gauge what reaction his words would bring. “I believe that we must find and recover the Guardian’s sword.”
“Are you mad, Tomaris?” Dominic asked, voice deathly quiet. “How can we accomplish something that the Guardian cannot do?”
“I am sane I assure you, Dominic.” Tomaris replied evenly, taking no offence. “I still don’t understand how Jake was brought here, other than it took someone or something with great power. Even if I solve that puzzle, I lack the strength to even attempt to return Jake to his world. The sword is a source of great power. With it, I believe that we stand the greatest chance to be successful in helping Jake, as well as having a mighty weapon to wield against our enemies. If we were to succeed, perhaps the Guardian himself would appear, sending Jake to his home and closing the tear.”
He paused for a moment. “Also, it may be a mad idea, as you suggest, but I doubt that our enemies even dare to believe that we would make the attempt. What are we compared to the Guardian? That may give us the edge we need to be successful.”
“Where is the sword, then?” Dominic demanded. “Why have you not seized it before, if it can be done?”
“I do not know the exact location of the sword.” Tomaris admitted. He held up his hands when everyone, shocked and in disbelief, began to protest. After it quieted, he continued. “I am confidant that we can locate it, but it will take courage and determination. When I was a younger man, I heard many stories of a powerful object that the demons protected. I tracked down those leads and found clues that now indicate to me that the object of those stories is the sword. The demons cannot touch or use the sword as it is an anathema to them, but they protect it to keep it from the Guardian. I was never able to find it or I would have attempted to take it; it is moved from time to time.”
“What I propose is dangerous, with a small chance of success, but the reward is great.” He looked at Dominic. “I know that you have small regard for your own safety, but are you willing to risk your life for a chance to send Jake back to his proper world?”
“I would risk it, as long as it is not a fool’s errand.” Dominic replied directly, face neutral and arms crossed.
Tomaris nodded and turned to Jake. “Jake, are you willing to face danger and hardship in an effort to find a way home?” He asked, watching him closely.
“I would, if I wasn’t in this condition.” Jake stated.
Tomaris sat silent for a while, studying Jake and thinking. “I believe that, with Jonas’ assistance, I can help you with that. However, I think that we can use your current condition to aid us.”
“Do you still believe that the demons have spies in the city, as you mentioned in your letter, Jonas?” Tomaris asked.
“I do.” Jonas replied. “We know that their attack was directed at Jake. They knew of him, where he lived and with whom he associated. They could only know that if someone in the city was providing that information.” He absently scratched his beard. “Also, the attack on the princess was meant to draw Jake out. Someone had to know the schedule of her travels and that would only come from the palace.”
“Let us use this to our advantage.” Tomaris said. “We will let it be known that I am taking Jake back to the Keep to study his condition. Once we are safely away, we can send him off in search for the sword.”
“Surely you do not intend to send Jake off by himself?” Jonas asked, incredulous.
“No.” Tomaris replied. “He will need someone who knows something of the world and can help guide him.”
“I will go.” Dominic said. “I will protect him.”
“No, not you, Dominic.” Tomaris disagreed. “You are too well known and if our enemies see a young man with you, they will know who that is and realize our ruse.” He continued more gently. “You will search for the sword, but not in the way you may think.”
“Who then, if not me?” Dominic demanded.
Tomaris looked over at Hailyn and nodded.
“Absolutely not!” Jonas interjected. “She has just barely passed her tests. If a cleric is needed, then I will go.”
“No, friend Jonas.” Tomaris said kindly. “You are as well known as Dominic. Your presence would draw unnecessary attention.” He looked at Jonas with a measure of sadness in his eyes. “Also, I sometime have glimpses of what may be. In these visions, I have seen that you will be needed here. If you are not present, then terrible things will happen.”
“Then, I will find another cleric to go with Jake.” Jonas replied, frustration evident on his face. “Hailyn is not ready.”
“Jake will need someone that he trusts and can rely on.” Tomaris responded. “Can you find a cleric who will care more for Jake than this beautiful child does?”
Jonas was quiet, his jaw clenching as he thought of how to respond. In that silence, Dominic spoke.
“She is a cleric now, Jonas.” He said directly. “She may be young, but she is a skilled healer, level-headed and brave. The boy and her get along, which is important on long missions. She seems the best choice.”
He turned to Hailyn. “Will you go with Jake, girl? Knowing the risks and the small chance of success?” Dominic asked.
Hailyn straightened and responded. “I will, Dominic.” She looked over at Jonas. “If Brother Jonas allows it.”
Jonas struggled with his emotions; he saw both the longing and the fear of being left behind in her eyes. He knew of her feelings, but he thought of her almost like a daughter; he was closer to her than any of the other apprentices in the Temple. He wrestled with his desire to protect her and realization that Dom was right. Saying a silent prayer for strength, he tried to believe that he was doing the right thing.
“Hailyn will go.” He said reluctantly. “As Dom said, she appears to be the best choice.” He put a hand on her shoulder, trying to ignore the look of relief on her face. “She is a cleric of the One and we must trust in His grace to keep them both safe.”
“We still face a choice.” Tomaris said. “From what I have been able to piece together, I believe that the sword is in one of two locations. While it is imprecise and the true location unknown, one set of clues points to the north, somewhere in Beragan, while the other suggests it is in the far south of Aletonia, near the Southern Wilds. What I propose is that we send Jake and Hailyn to the north while Dominic will accompany Moshanna to the south. Moshanna is from Aletonia, so he can assist Dominic.”
“Shouldn’t we send some soldiers or other clerics along with them?” Jonas asked. “While Dom can usually take care of himself, demons likely guard these sites and only clerics can succeed there.”
“Stealth will be key to this quest, Jonas.” Tomaris replied. “Too large a group and it will attract attention. Also, neither country is likely to welcome Sanduan soldiers roaming inside their borders.” He thought for a moment. “While Jake and Hailyn have the power to stand against the demons, Dominic and Moshanna will need some magic on their side.”
“What do you propose then?” Jonas queried.
“Can you find a cleric around Jake’s size?” Tomaris responded. “One that is strong in his power?”
Jonas thought it over, and then nodded. “I know a cleric that I trust to do this.”
“Then you will announce that Hailyn and this other cleric are going on a mission to the clerics of Beragan and they will accompany us when we head back to the Keep.” Tomaris stated. “Once we get to the crossroads, we will dress Jake in the cleric’s robes and send them north. The cleric will act as Jake’s double until we reach the Keep, then he can accompany Dominic south. Dominic’s presence with my party is obvious, as he is known as Jake’s protector, and will reinforce the idea that Jake is at the Keep.”
“Remember, we must keep this plan secret.” Tomaris cautioned. “If our true purpose is known, then the demons will move the sword or reinforce their positions.”
“Are we agreed?” He asked. Dominic gave a curt nod while Jonas did so reluctantly. Hailyn looked at Jake and they both indicated yes.
“Now, it has been a long day. I am old and travel is not as pleasurable as it once was.” Tomaris said. “We will use tomorrow to prepare for the journey, then Jonas and I will return tomorrow night to heal Jake. We can depart early the next morning.”
“Come to the Temple, Tomaris.” Jonas said, heading to the door. “We have room for you and your men.”
“Thank you, friend Jonas.” Tomaris responded. “Your hospitality is much appreciated.” He looked back towards Jake.
“If you allow me a private moment with Jake?” Tomaris requested.
“We will wait outside.” Jonas said and he left, followed by Dominic and Hailyn.
“Child, this is a dangerous undertaking.” Tomaris began. “If I was younger and could endure the physical demands of this quest, I would accompany you. Since I cannot, you must rely on your strength and power. Even if you remain undetected, you may still face challenges that will test you to your limits. Remember what you are trying to accomplish and have faith in yourself.”
“However, you must learn to control your fear.” He continued. “I believe that your fear is what triggered the intertwining of your life force with your power. Jonas told me of what happened that caused you to touch that force. Both times it sounded as if you were frightened enough that the fear overwhelmed you. I know that Dominic has tried to train you to keep fighting even when afraid. That control is the same with your power.”
“I admit I was scared out of my mind, but all I did was try to gain more power. I didn’t do anything different.” Jake stated, looking down at his hands, seeing the unnatural paleness. “I still don’t understand what you and Jonas mean by my life force.”
“Your life force is that which animates your physical body.” Tomaris explained. “I have told you that man is a creature of two worlds, the physical and spiritual. The life force is a gift of Light from the Creator that provides the energy that powers your body while binding your spirit to your mortal form. But you should know that it is a finite resource. As we age, it slowly dissipates, causing the body to weaken and that spiritual binding to become frayed. Once it is exhausted, the body dies, the bond disappears and our spirits returns to the Creator.”
“In some way, you are able to tap into it.” He continued. “Since it is pure Light, it is very powerful against the forces of Darkness. But, as you know, there is a cost for using it. If you use too much, then you will die.”
“You have been lucky so far.” Tomaris stated. “In the first instance, you had Jonas nearby to succor you. You had your friends to bring you out the second time. I will be able to help you now, but once you only have Hailyn with you, a third use may mean that either you or she will die. That is why I urge you to gain control of your fear since fear is the trigger. I will not say that you may not face a situation where that use will be required to defeat your foes, but if you use it, know that it will likely kill you.”
“How do I keep from using it, then?” Jake asked. “Controlling fear is easier said than done.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot help you there. Only you can control your fear, Jake.” Tomaris said understandingly. “You must hold onto courage and calmness in the face of danger. Keep in the forefront of your mind something like home, or perhaps someone special, that would be lost if you cannot control your fear and are killed.”
Tomaris rose to leave. “If you wish to say farewell to your friends here, I would encourage you to do that.” He said kindly, eyes compassionate. “Your fate is unclear, but whatever results this quest brings, it is unlikely that you will return.” With that, he turned and left.
Jake released his magic, sagging against the wall, and thought about all that had been said. His emotions were jumbled and conflicting. He felt excited, nervous and sad at the thought of leaving, but was troubled by the ribbon of fear that twisted in his mind as he contemplated embarking on a quest that would be full of dangers.
The next day passed quickly for Jake. Knowing that he may never see them again, he got up early and went with Norlan to the smithy to spend some time with Dern and Almos. The walk was tiring, but he tried to stay engaged for their sake. He spent a couple of hours talking with them, catching up on all that happened since he left. When Norlan suggested that he go back to the house, he said his goodbyes, politely telling them that he would try to return after he finishes at the Keep, keeping the finality of his departure to himself. They had been good friends to him when he needed friends, so it was a slow and sad walk back to the house.
He then spent the rest of the day with Cherise and Madalin. They had been told that he was returning to the Keep so Tomaris could find a way to heal him. They paid close attention to him, fussing over him really, and already teary-eyed regarding his departure. Jake tried to put on a brave face, not wanting them to worry.
When Norlan returned in the early evening, Dominic was with him. Jake noticed that he had a different breastplate on, one that looked like his old one. Jake asked him about it.
“You have a good eye, boy.” Dominic replied. “This is my old armor. I recovered it after we had cleared the demons’ fortress. It was custom-made for me and I wanted to see if Norlan could pound out the dent and fix the straps. I had gone to the smithy this morning, arriving shortly after you left, hoping that something could be done. We were discussing it when Jonas and Tomaris arrived at the smithy. I am not sure what he did, but with Tomaris’ help, Norlan was able to repair it.”