Author Rose Sweetwater 

Author of Self Help, and Syfy, AiA member        

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I have several projects in the works, but check out my latest, its called: Guardians of the Seventh Realm... tentatively 

 

Guardians of the Seventh Realm

 by Rose Sweetwater

 

 

Prologue

 

“Don’t you think he’s a bit young for that?”

The woman asked, admiring her baby as he sat amongst the pile of blankets chewing on the gold chain that held a round pendant. There was a faint glow coming from its center, and the wood crackled in the fireplace. 

“He isn’t that much younger than I was the first time I held it,” the man said wrapping his arms around her. He kissed her gently on the neck. She smiled, “besides” he continued, “he should understand its connection early.”

The woman, who stood about 5ft 6in with long black locks flowing down her back, turned to look at her husband. Her warm green eyes made him smile. He stood about 5ft 9in with short brown hair and eyes.

“I agree, but perhaps it can wait until he’s able to hold it properly.”

“Ha ha sure, but then what would we use to teethe him with. They both chuckled, as they looked on. The castle floors were cold, but the fireplace warmed the room. There were two large sitting chairs adjacent to the fireplace, and on ether side of the blankets.

On the opposite end of the wall, a small wooden table sat holding a candle. As they turned for the chairs, a knock on the door followed by a request to enter redirected the male. He smiled at his wife in recognition of the voice on the other side. The woman returned the smile, and walked over to the child.

"Yes Rhe, I expect you have a fiercely important reason for interrupting my evening.” He chuckled slightly as he opened the door.

“Yes mi’lord, …may I come in.”

The man’s brows lowered slightly as he took in Rhe’s expression of horror. He looked at his wife briefly before stepping aside to let Rhe in. Rhe was of similar height and build as the man, but had dark red hair and gray eyes. The condition of his armor suggested he’d been in some kind of a struggle. The sheathed sward at his hip indicated that the struggle was not serious enough for the expression he wore, which only made the man more curious.

“My apologies mi’lord,” Rhe said bowing deeply.

The woman reached down to pick up her baby, then looked to Rhe for his explanation.

“The castle walls…”

Rhe began, then dropped to his knees suddenly, and wrapped his arms around his mid section screeching in pain. The man reached out to him, but Rhe shuffled back slightly. The man’s brows lowered, and he reached out again cautiously this time, only lightly placing a hand on his shoulder.

“Rhe, what’s going on?”

After a moment Rhe was still. Only his shoulders moved as he breathed in and out. He looked up smiling crookedly. The man’s eyes widened, and he swiftly removed his hand from Rhe’s shoulder and backed away slowly.

Rhe laughed tauntingly, “I didn’t think it would be this easy,” he said in a deep husky voice.

The man looked at his wife who held their child close to her bosom. She closed her eyes, and disappeared in a flash of bright white light. Rhe’s eyes turned red as he looked on and noticed that the baby was holding the pendant.

“No!”

he yelled reaching for the woman, but he was too late. He turned to the man who then asked angrily; “What? Have you done? With Rhe?”

As if in response to his question, Rhe’s lifeless body fell to the ground, his expression frozen in fear. In his place, stood a creature more than seven feet tall. His skin was tan, and pulled tightly over his massive frame. Rather than feet, he has large claws. The sides of his legs were covered in thin white hair. His hands were large claws tipped with massive black nails. There was a second set of arms folded across his waist that were somewhat concealed under the black cloak he wore.

His attempt at following the woman made the hood of his cloak fall off, revealing the face only a mother could love. It looked rodent like, hairless for the most part, and had the ears of a wolf. On his head and neck, was long thinning white hair. His tan scalp could be seen underneath outlining his scull. The red in his eyes seemed to glow as he turned to face the man questioning him.

“Hallll…Varrr…durrr…” the creature said in a sluggish voice. “Your blood cannot escape me, nor can you defeat me without your tal…issss…man. What do you hope to accomplish by thisss.”

Hallvardr stood staring at the lifeless body of his friend and loyal protector. In his hand appeared a sward, the blade had a faint orange glow, and its guard was composed of twin dragons that curved up and around a black onyx pommel.

“Talisman or not, Andlat-Beget,” Hallvardr said lifting the sword.

“You have seen your last day.” “I do not think ssso,” he replied harshly then bent his knees and sprang strait up.

Just as he came to the celing, he disappeared leaving a diamond shaped void in the spot were he’d been.

“Oh no you don’t,” Hallvardr said keeping an eye on the darkness behind the shape. He jumped into it mere seconds before it disappeared, and emerged in a wooded area.

Following Andlat-Beget, he came to a clearing and froze. The outlined trees had disfigured bodies tied to them. The sent of blood filled the air and was muted only by the stench of death. Some of the figures were still leaking blood. Hallvardr could see what must have been human bodies at one point. On one of the trees, a pair of hands were clinched together.

In the center of the clearing, the stump of an aged cedar had a Hexagram carved in its center. In between the points, were six talisman keys. Only the center was missing.

“The seventh key.”

Hallvardr said mechanically. He was suddenly glad that his son had the other, and angered at the sight in front of him. True to his name, Andlat-Beget had come, and now he controlled six of the seven keys to the gateway.

Only in death would he have gained control over those keys, and death was all around him. Anger overwhelmed Hallvardr. He charged forward, raising his sward high, it glistened an orange/red color and he drove it across the stump with blinding speed. Just before it touched the symbol, Andlat-Beget stretched his hand forth and a stream of white smoke left his claws, it landed on, and around the stump, freezing it in place. The dragons forming its guard, twisted swiftly and begun crawling downward, but Andlat-Beget froze them as well.

He lifted his hand toward Hallvardr and unleashed a ball of green light so fast that Hallvardr had only time to acknowledge it before he was struck. He was violently flung across the clearing. The impact left him struggling to regain his bearings.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” Andlat-Beget said walking toward him slowly.

He reached out a hand toward the sword, and retracted it quickly grunting. His attempt at removing it left his claws charred. Hallvardr blinked several times, trying hard to regain his bearings.

His control of the keys is prime evil. Many will die if he succeeds in his venture here, Hallvardr realized. He was struck again as he tried to get to his feet, and suddenly knew how the others were bested. His eyes narrowed as he considered, he must have combined the elements before addressing the guardians. This cannot be. He must be stopped.

“I know my love. I will find you.” he heard his wife think. 

Fear overwhelmed Hallvardr as he came to the realization that she would not be able to ignore this danger to the realm. Annalisa would be in as much danger as the realm.

“No” he shouted getting to his feet.

Before Andlat-Beget could fire another energy burst, Hallvardr released a stream of red/orange balls from his hands so fast that Andlat-Beget found it impossible to stay on his feet.  It was a mistake, he knew it but he would not lose his family. He pushed harder desperately trying to penetrate the green shield Andlat-Beget threw over himself. With every burst he exalted, Hallvardr was weakened. Andlat-Beget had only to wait.

When he fell to his knees exhausted, Andlat-Beget dropped his shield laughing, 

“ha ha ha ha ha. I am disss…appointed. Your station demandsss… better of you. Perhaps with your tal…iss…man, you could have bes…ted me.”

Hallvardr looked at the stump thoughtful. After a moment, he released one last ball in its direction and fell to the ground exhausted. Andlat-Beget destroyed it with a ball of his own. In front of his chest, a small green energy ball was turning. With each rotation, it grew.

“I will find your Taliss…man,” he taunted “And I will bleed your key dry to open the gateway. I will use the still beating heart of your blood to take back the light and reclaim the realm.”

When the energy mass was roughly the size of a beach ball, Andlat-Beget released it strait for Hallvardr’s heart. Before completing its mission however, the ball was redirected by a beam of bright light directly in front of Hallvardr. The diversion sent it slamming into the stump, freeing the dragons who then continued they’re decent. They blew fire upon the symbol, burning the wood it consumed.

As it crumbled under the fires demands, Hallvardr’s sward broke through the symbol effectively ending the spell. Two of the six talisman keys disappeared, and Andlat-Beget screamed in rage. He looked up to see Annalisa standing confidently in front of her husband, crimson staff in hand. His anger subsided slightly when he noticed the pendent hanging from her neck. He smiled and was further elated by the confusion in her eyes as she tried to teleport unsuccessfully.

Growling, Andlet-Beget threw a white ball of energy at her, it bounced away as if shielded. She bent to help Hallvardr up and hurried him through the nearby trees. After a half mile, they stopped and she tried several times more to open a gateway, but each attempt was less impressive than the last.

“He still has four keys my love” Hallvardr said weakly, “he can not gain control of yours, the others will come willingly.”

“You need your talisman,” she responded trying again to open a gateway, frustration clear in her voice. Hallvardr placed a hand on her arm and motioned his disagreement.

Sighing, Annalisa placed her staff down, closed her eyes, and reached deeply within herself. When she opened them again, a rush of wind ran down the length of her body carrying a light crimson mist. When it reached the ground, it continued outward with blinding speed, after five hundred yards it stopped, bowing away every last branch, leaf, and flower lying dead within its path.

Annalisa looked into her husband’s eyes. They could hear Andlat-Beget’s hoards approaching; they seemed to be coming from everywhere, beastly creatures just as hideous as their master.  But none would cross the threshold, not without his magic.

Annalisa smiled, “No!” Hallvardr shouted without moving his lips “You will be defenseless.”

She looked around, tried again unsuccessfully to open a gateway, and returned her attention to him.

“We will be defenseless” she responded without speaking “we are guardians my love, we must defend the realms.”

A group of hoards rebounded off the shield from all sides.

“Then we protect them both” Hallvardr said.

He grabbed her hands as she closed her eyes in concentration. After a moment, a diamond shape no bigger than her palm appeared in front of them. She could see bright lights on the other side. Without another word, she released the pendant, and sent it through the gateway. In its place, she fashioned a crimson glass replica, kissed her now armed husband, and turned to face their pursuers, Andlat-Beget at the lead. Death came, but not quickly enough.

 

Key 

 

The low ---ding--- as a customer entered the store, redirected her attention. Ami had been quite taken with this strange pendant. It was diamond shaped, crimson red, and had spirals through out. The customer was a man with his two daughters. They were interested in a book they saw in the window. How they noticed it was a mystery to her, because there was so much stuff piled up, over, and through out the store, that it was difficult for anyone to make out a single piece from afar.

Curiosity got the better of her, and she returned her attention to the pendant, pulling it closer.

“It’s a recipe book my grate grandmother wrote for her daughters shortly before her death,” the owner explained. The man investigated the pages as she went on.

“The family had twenty copies printed, and gave one to each of the children and grandchildren. Two of them passed without heirs, so their books have ended up here. This is the last copy.”

“Its perfect,” the man whispered to himself.

Ami walked over to the counter while the man investigated further, and his children browsed the barely defined isles. When she laid the pendent on the counter, the woman smiled as she rang her up.

“This has been in my family for seven generations, but no one has been particularly fond of it. You seem to have taken to its odd charm; I hope it brings you as much joy as it brings me to get rid of it.”

Ami returned the smile as she paid the woman and took the bag.

“Thank You” she replied, and walked out of the store.

When she got home, Ami kicked off her dark blue pumps at the door, put her purse, keys, and shopping on the counter, and headed for the shower. She was born Amelia Flowers, to Brent and Amanda Flowers and spent the majority of her life homeschooled in their moderate size home of Ruidoso Downs New Mexico. She was roughly 5ft 4in tall and looked exactly like her mother.  She was often complimented on her tan, though she’d never spent a day in her life in a tanning bed, nor had she spent hours in the hot sun. She was simply bourn that way, and for some reason, people loved it. She was often mistaken for an islander, though her mother’s ancestry was from northern India. She however, looked more like she came from some place in the middle.

Amelia’s apartment, or Ami, as she liked to be called, had almost a 360-degree view of downtown Tampa with an open floor plan, and windows from ceiling to floor in almost every room. It had every modern upgrade and accessory one could ask for, from granite counter tops, to stainless steel appliances. The hardwood floors were heated, and Ami loved nothing more than to kick off her shoes and walk the apartment barefoot.

While the floors were comfortable, her favorite room in the apartment was the shower.  She had a rain shower system that included 12 shower and body sprays with multiple settings for optimum cleaning and relaxation. It was all she could do to relax after a long day of working as a logistics coordinator for special operations with the state department of emergency management. She was proud of her accomplishments at only 25, but more proud of the amenities she got to enjoy because of her hard work.

Ami sighed as she stepped into the shower. Her feet hurt. She often thought her hobby was not conducive to her lifestyle. Combing antique shops for the chance at something amazing was tiring, and often time consuming. But she loved history from a personal point of view, and was often lucky. Once, she chanced upon the painting of a teapot that turned out to be worth over $300.000.00, Today she’d spent almost 14 hours at work, and told herself she was not going to spend time searching the aisles of antique shops, but could not resist the temptation of Eleanor’s. It had already been opened for three days now, and she’d not the time to stop in before today. 

Good thing I’m off tomorrow she thought, turning off the water and stepping out of the shower.

Dinner was light; she had a small chicken potpie with iced tea, and a piece of brownie for desert. Afterwards, she turned on the television and went to retrieve her shopping. She pulled out a red book and pin from under the coffee table, and removed the pendant from its wrappings. It was more beautiful to her now than it had been in the store. She wasn’t quite sure, but it looked like it was glowing slightly. She blinked several times before writing it off as her fatigue, and the lighting in the room, before beginning to write.

Ami wrote about the pendant as she inspected it. The ridges were not simply carved into the top layer; they were all the way through. The pendant looked like blades or claws had sliced through it, making a spiral pattern that curved three different ways. But the way the pattern simply stopped, bothered her to no end. She thought part of it was missing…

“What. Is. that?”

She asked no one looking past the spirals and into the heart of the pendant. She turned it several times in her hand, looking at it from every angle. Its three-dimensional shape allowed her to see directly into the center. There was a black dragon carved in its middle.

Ami was floored, that wasn’t there before, she thought squinting her eyebrows at the dragon, but then again… I didn’t have time to really look at it before. She laughed at herself for a moment and shook her head.

She wrote, describing the pendant in her treasure book. After two sentences, she had a strong desire to take a nap. Putting the notebook down, she fell asleep moments later. The pendant began to glow. When she opened her eyes, the light from the pendent was so bright, that she had to cover her eyes briefly to adjust. When she picked it up, the glowing stopped. The sun was high in the sky. Hmm, she thought, turning it over in her palm again and again to investigate its dimensions. When nothing further happened, she put the chain around her neck and went to get ready for the day.

As she walked into the appraisers office, Ami suddenly felt ill.

“Is Mike in today?” she asked the receptionist. A gray haired woman who had to be in her late 60’s responded while looking up.

“He is, I’ll see… if… I can get him… down here for you.”

“Thanks Rachael,” Ami responded.

Rachael’s eyes were glued on the pendant.

“I see you’ve found a new treasure. How lovely, may I take a look?”

Rachael reached a hand out to investigate the locket, and immediately retracted it. At the same time, a wave of nausea hit Ami so hard that she blearily mouthed, “excuse me” as she rushed to the bathroom. 

“Are you alright?” Mike asked when she emerged from the lavatory. She was pale.

“No, I think I may be coming down with something. I’ll save you the trouble of antibiotics, and come back when I’m feeling better.”

Mike laughed,

“Ok, feel free to send me a picture, and Ill get started.”

Ami agreed and left. Roughly a mile away, her ill feelings were gone just as suddenly as they’d come on. Well that’s strange she thought, but felt it best not to chance the situation by returning, and went strait home.

She took the elevator up this time, and was glad to be home, because now she felt a bit light headed. Once inside, she went over to the medicine cabinet and sighed seeing only Motrin, but poured two pills into her hand anyway.   As she shut the door, she noticed the pendant glowing slightly. Her eyes grew as she realized the pendant might be causing her to feel ill.

Replacing the pills, she removed the pendant, and placed it on the bathroom counter. She then went into the living room to grab her book, but ran back moments later with a glass of water and swallowed them hungrily. I’ll feel better after a nap she thought and laid down on the bed closing her eyes.  The pounding in her head woke her up, and the nauseating feeling in her stomach had her running for the commode.  But when she got into the bathroom, she felt fine. She washed her face with cold water, and sat down on the commode. A loud pop in the bedroom made her jump, and the pendant began to glow. With lowered eyebrows, she picked it up and went to investigate the noise.

In the bedroom where she’d been sleeping only moments before, there was a giant diamond shaped hole hovering over her bed. Ami blinked several times at the sight, and then noticed something climbing through it. She ran for the door as fast as her legs would carry her, but was close lined when she came around the corner. She fell to the floor shocked and breathless as the pendant rolled out of her hand.

Her eyes watered from the sting of the blow, and she felt like her insides were going to come out through a hole in her stomach. Her head pounded, and she moaned as her eyes adjusted while she instinctively searched for the pendant. As her fingers wrapped around the stone, Ami felt the weight of someone’s foot on her wrist. She looked up to see Rachael standing over her.

“In all the time I’ve known you child, I never suspected that you were the key.” Ami was confused, but at least she could see clearly.

“Key,” she repeated absently. “I don’t…I don’t understand. What are you doing here.” 

“Of course you don’t.  You…”

“Shut her up,” came a raspy voice.

Rachael looked sharply at the dark hooded figure and growled. “You are not my master,” she said turning to face him. That freed Ami’s arm and she clinched the stone closer to her chest.

She felt better, and her breath came easier, so she crawled on her hands and knees toward the door.

“And yet,” the figure said looking down at Ami, “We have a job to do.”

Rachael rushed over and kicked Ami in the gut so hard that she coughed up blood. More hooded figures filled into the apartment, what’s going on she wondered. What do they want with me?

  “No,” the male said as Rachael bent to grab her around the neck. “She still has the pendant.

We must complete the circle first. It is the only way to separate her from its influence.” Influence, Ami wondered penda…abruptly the air caught in her throat, and she cried out in pain to the kick Rachael delivered to her lower back. The pendent fell out of her hand, and she reached for her injured back. Rachael kicked her hand away and walked over to where the hooded figure was.

“And I doubt he will want his key dry before he’s ready to open the gateway.”

The male was carving something onto the floor. Ami looked over and saw the pendent glowing brightly. She reached out for it weekly and it started to glow even brighter. Pendant she thought. She wrapped her hands around it tightly and pulled it into her chest closing her eyes. It felt warm. She felt warm.

When she opened her eyes again, everything happened so fast she thought it was a dream. In a flash of light, a man stood before her with a sward in hand as Rachael rushed him, he raised it high and brought it down toward her neck. Others surrounded him, and the sound of metal rang in her ears. Ami shut her eyes tight and tried to escape, but all she could hear was shouting.

“We haven’t much time Delion, she must close the gate way!”

“Amelia,” the voice said, it was calming, reassuring, peaceful.

“Amelia” it replied, she opened her eyes briefly.

“Open your hand” the voice ordered, and she tried.

 

Talisman

Delion Ofah lay sleeping in a massive king size bed. It was draped from end to end in red and black cloth. Although the post hid part of his physique, the majority of his muscled form was visible as he lay a top the covers. To the right of the bed, sat a round wooden table. A top it, was a large candle burned partly through. Across the room stood a massive dresser whose mirror was covered with both red and black cloth.  The décor was carried through out the window coverings, and the large oval carpet adorning the floor.

Sun crept in through the drawn curtains, and Delion adjusted slightly to get the light out of his eyes. After a moment, the sunlight shifted, and the uncomfortable brightness was back. Delion shifted again, but this time the brightness shifted with him. Sighing, he lifted his hand toward the curtains and a faint white light was cast forth. After a moment, the walls began to shake.

From every side of the window, another brick came forth. First one, and then another, until the window was completely bricked in. Delion sighed with relief and sank deeper into the mattress.  After a moment, every new brick began to glow. The light was bright. Much too bright. It was brighter than the sun just moments ago, even the curtains were a blaze. He sighed…

“I do not wish to join the hunt today Elek.”

  “I was unaware of its voluntary nature,” came a feminine voice.

 

Delion sat up quickly, for this was not the voice he expected to hear.

“Although you may wish to reconsider your position after we’ve spoken,” she continued.

“Ahavah?” he asked, surprised.

“What are you doing here, I thought everyone was to join the hunt… everyone with a key,” he continued as she looked on him in judgment.

“I don’t have a key,” he continued skeptically without letting her respond.

 

“I’m…--pant—pant-- sorry my lord,” a man said breathless as he burse threw the door.

He was tall, and fairly muscular, had gray eyes, and a head full of light brown hair. He looked at Ahavah distastefully, and continued.

“She cast…”

“It’s alright Elek,” Delion interrupted, “I’m sure the lady has a good reason for the interruption.” They both looked to her in silence.

“Yes. Well. As I was saying, the hunt has been postponed until night fall, and we will need your talisman in the field.” Delion’s brows drew down as he listened. “It is believed, that Andlat-Beget will lead the run himself.”

“Himself?” Delion repeated in disbelief, all traces of sleep removed from his voice.

Ahavah was turning for the door when he spoke. She wore a long green dress covered in black embroidery with the bust cut so low, it left little to the imagination. Around her neck lay a three dimensional diamond shaped pendent. It glowed faintly as she turned, and her golden curls bounced lightly in response to her movement.

“Yes, Andlat-Beget himself is said to be leading the run.” Delion’s brows lowered in thought, he must have found something. But what, he’s never left the safety of his stronghold.

He jumped out of bed, and Ahavah looked him over approvingly before returning her attention to the door. He continued toward her as if he hadn’t noticed. This is my room after all.

  “Ahavah,” he said grabbing her arm. “Are all the guardians accounted for?” “Yes,” she replied regaining her arm.

“Good.”

He walked to the wardrobe, and removed a pair of undergarments.

“Then I believe I will join you after all. Elek, Be sure the arms are prepared, we may have need of your assistance tonight.”

“My Lord,” Elek said bowing deeply and left the room.

 

“If Andlat-Beget leaves his fortress, he does so with grate intent. We must all be ready to defend the realms, and deny him that which he seeks.”

“Do you know what he’s after Delion?” Ahavah asked expectantly.

“Not yet,” he replied dawning his trousers. But I have a suspicion, he added internally. “His intentions will be known the moment he leaves that castle, and our response must be quick. We can not afford him the opportunity to gain another talisman key.” Ahavah held her pendant in hand, and closed her eyes briefly.

“No,” she said firmly. “We must take back the one he holds...”

“I intend to relieve him of it before dawn,” Delion said firmly.

Ahavah excused herself while Delion found a shirt. As he put it on, he thought of the day he learned the truth about his parent’s death...  It seemed so long ago, and was just after his seventh birthday. The time had come for him to begin training as a guardian. Ahavah had longer hair then, and she had a difficult time with personal space then too. He chuckled as he considered…

*

 She’d run over to him the minute he walked into the room.

“Hi,” she said grabbing his hand, “I’m Ahavah, what’s your name?”

“D…Delion” he replied nervously.

“Come on Delion, everyone’s going to the greeting circle.”

Ahavah wore a green and black sundress, her hair was in two long pony tails with green and black ties. The first lesson of the day focused on guardianship, and began with a guided vision of guardian sacrifices through out time. Many of the sacrifices involved personal freedoms, or the untimely death of a guardian. As the illustration went on however, Delion became nervous. Ahavah held his hand tighter and moved closer to his side.

“It was, and still, is the most selfless act a guardian has ever committed in defense of the realms,” the guide said as his parents ordeal was illustrated for all to see.

Delion watched unmoving as his mother spoke.

“Pricilla!” she’d called out breathlessly the moment she entered his caretaker’s home in a blinding flash of light.

“mi’lady?” Pricilla responded wide-eyed.

“How may I be of services to you?"

“Keep him safe,” she said then briefly touched the talisman in his hand, (when her fingers were gone, only a rattle remained), she kissed him on the head, and was gone.

Upon returning to the room where she’d left her husband only moments before, she found it empty. In her hand appeared a crimson staff. Immediately she ran down the hall toward the sounds of battle. If a blood rider dared stop her, they found no refuge from her rage. Many, she defeated with the light of her gift, but others found death quickly from the skill of her staff.

When she came to a fork in the corridor she stopped briefly considering, then sprinted down the hall to her right, disappearing and reappearing sporadically. Sometimes she appeared in other parts of the castle, at others she was on the castle grounds. Once, Delion heard her speaking to no one.

“I will find you,” she said just before appearing in a wooded area.

She was close, she could feel it. So she ran, appearing and disappearing until she came upon him…his father…

Delion grew angry when he saw his parents standing there defenseless. He released Ahavah’s hand and ran out the room. He ducked and dodged, both objects and instructors alike, blindly searching for a way to escape the pain.  It was nearly an hour before some one had found him; he was subjectively hurling rocks across the waters surface.

“It’s a miracle you found this place,” a familiar voice said encouragingly, then sat down next to him on the grass.

He was startled, and blindly sent a rock hurling at the instructor as he turned to see who it was. The rock crumbled and fell to the ground nearly three inches away from her neck.

“Sorry” he yelled, and dropped the pile he’d been working on before returning his attention to the water.

“Wasn’t that hard,” he mumbled “anyone could have seen it through the garden’s edge.”

“Not anyone, just a select few,” the intruder said.

Delion made no effort to address her directly. “Doesn’t matter anyway,” he grumbled looking down at his fingers, then picked up a rock and threw it. It didn’t go as far as the others, and he sighed.

“Delion, what you saw…”

“Lady Melina…, why didn’t anyone help them,” he interrupted sternly.

 “So you do know my name,” Melina responded sarcastically.

“My parents I mean,” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken.

“Why were they left to die defenseless and alone?”

 

“Your parents were many things Delion, but defenseless was not one of them. They were strong, very strong, both physically and mentally. They were…”

“But none of it helped them in the end, did it?” he interrupted again.

“Young one…, if you are to gain that which you seek, you must first listen to the explanation.” He humped but otherwise said nothing.

“There was no one left Delion. When your mother ended Andlat-Beget’s spell, those talisman keys with bonded decendents went to their new host. They were just as helpless as you in their new abilities,” She sighed…

“Delion, for generations the guardians were trained by their predecessors, there was never a reason for anything more. Your mother did the only thing she could have to protect the realms and keep you safe. It is because of her sacrifice that we operate this training facility now. Never again will a guardian have to face the darkness alone. The keys have always been able to defeat the darkness. Always drove them back into the realms of the deep.”

Melina was quiet for a moment seemly lost in thought.

 “Delion.”

He looked up, and his cheeks glistened. Melina held out her arms, an invitation for comfort. Delion wasted no time accepting. Melina was an older woman with a uniquely baby face, which often made it hard for him to guess how old she was. If it weren’t for the gray in her hair, he would have mistaken her for a student. She wore a long white dress with silver and black embroidery draped around her waist. Delion closed his eyes, and his tears came freely… then and many times there after.

 

*

When he finished getting dressed, Delion walked over to the small bedside table. He reached underneath it, and pulled down a flap releasing his talisman. It was round and covered in spirals. The heart of the pendent had a small hollow space in the shape of a diamond. The glow emanating from his talisman was dim but constant… and he knew there was more to this than guardian safety, but he had to be sure. 

By sunset, every guardian was assembled in the valley. It looked like a rainbow had simply sprouted from the ground. Almost every one of them wore a different color but underlined them all with black.

“Why have we gathered here rather than our prospective realms,” Ahavah asked confused.

Her thoughts were mirrored by others who suddenly felt the need to voice their agreements.

“I know what he’s after,” Delion said reducing the murmurs to silence.

“I wasn’t sure until this afternoon,” he continued reaching for the talisman. “It appears Andlet-Beget has found the evolution key.”

Gasps filled the suddenly still air as he lifted the talisman high for all to see. Its glow had grown brighter… the crimson shown like a beacon, and the guardians were unanimous in their response. Weapons appeared through out the line, and a deep voice rang amongst the valley.

“For honor and freedom!” Delion shouted, “We fight.” The guardians replied in unison.

“Through unity and blood.”

 “We fight”

“In defense of the realms.”

  “We fight”

“We fight.”

“We fight.”

“We fight.”

“We fight.”

By the time the chanting was over, an army of warriors had joined them, Elek stood ready at the head, with a look of determination about him. The warriors stood ten thousand strong in a crescent shape surrounding the guardians; who stood in pairs along various points with Delion deep in thought in the middle. The valley grew still for nearly an hour until Delion opened his eyes. Without a word spoken, the warriors marched into an invisible line in front of the guardians: where they disappeared one by one until the last warrior was gone.

Without hesitation the guardians ran full speed ahead. The dragon’s on Delion’s guard shook out their wings and ran rapidly around his hand. When they emerged on the other side of the wall, a grate battle raged on around them. It consumed the landscape. The guardians wasted no time identifying the blood leaders, and set about their destruction. They were slightly larger than the others, and had more hair. Yet the grayish mist swarming about them told of their identity.

Delion's brows frowned as he searched the field. Something was wrong… he could feel Andlat-Beget’s pull on the key strongest here, but now… away from the garden, something was different.

“What are you up to?” he asked no one while searching the field again and again.

With such a large gathering of blood leaders, finding the commander was somewhat difficult, but after a few moments he spotted him; covered in mist so thick it almost resembled smoke. Delion started after him, then stopped suddenly.

“Oh no you don’t,” he said aloud as Ahavah called out to him.

“Delion… there is a shield.” He’d seen it then, just as a rider was forced into it by a guardian’s gift.

Delion disappeared and reappeared at the edge of the shielded area several hundred yards from where he began. It was a large dome surrounding several blood leaders and riders. He was not idol as he considered. Fighters came at him from every side, and he cut them down mercilessly. After a moment, he lifted his hand, and released a ball of light that tossed the group of riders headed for him to the ground.

He then ran his sword into the shield with as much force as he could muster. Only the tip penetrated it however, and the dragons raced down the sword, egger to join in the fighting. When they reached the shield, a massive ball of fire was released and the onyx pommel began to grow. Delion noticed several other guardians joining in his efforts to brake the shield.

When his onyx had grown to roughly the size of a grapefruit, Delion concentrated his efforts, releasing energy balls directly into it. After a moment, his talisman began to glow brighter. He could see the gateway on the other side of the shield. Blood leaders and riders pored into it one after the other. He closed his eyes briefly than said aloud…

“Amelia,” while simultaneously releasing a bright blue ball of energy into the sward’s pommel.

It traveled strait through the sward and into an unlucky rider standing in its path. In that instant, Delion grabbed the hilt of the sward with both hands, and twisted it in a clockwise motion, expanding the shields breach. It cracked under his efforts, and, those of the other guardians and the fire spread through out it like a plague.

Delion reclaimed his sward, and pushed forward. Those in his path he destroyed quickly. It took the efforts of every guardian present to expand the gateway and enter the realm of the key. Once accomplished, energy blast filled the small space, but Delion saw only Amelia. Her mistreatment enraged him, and he was by her side in a flash. His sward cut through her capturer with ease, and his attention shifted to the pendent in her clutched hand. Delion sheathed his sward, and walked around to the other side of Ami in an effort to pick her up, oblivious to the battle going on around him.

“Ahav…” was all he had time to say before he was engulfed in a field of light.

Cloaked in warriors, the guardians surrounded both he and Ami.

“She is the only one who can close it Delion, you must wake her.”  A male voice billowed as warriors fought their way threw the gateway.

Delion did not need the reminder, but he hesitated because of her state.

“She is too weak,” he replied more to himself.

“She is the only one who can do it” Ahavah repeated as a matter-of-factly. “Perhaps you should try waking her,” the guardian continued.

“Amelia” Delion called gently.

“Amelia” he repeated slightly louder, but she did not reply. Her eyes shuttered slightly but did not open fully.

“Can you open your hand?” he asked.

When she complied with a whimper and a motion, Delion quickly grabbed her hand, closed his fingers around her palm, and focused his energy inward. They were engulfed in blue light as the gateway closed behind them. The entire battlefield disappeared along with the hoard. In its place, was the valley of peace. Delion opened his eyes briefly, exhausted, he fell to the ground unconscious. He could not remember climbing into bed when next he woke.

 

*

The fire was barely contained in the hearth, and seemed to rise and fall with his mood. He sat merely six feet away staring intently at the blaze. The black cloak he wore hid his features well, but they were not needed to enforce discipline. Many times he had only to lift a finger, and his defenders were quick to realign. Today however, Andlat-Beget was furious.

He sat there quietly listening to the ranting of his commander at arms, searching for the right words. A lesson was needed, but how best to give that lesson he wondered.

“I apologize for your missing blood riders your eminency. But I was only moments away from completing the sym…bol.”

He shifted his weight falling silent as the fire threatened to engulf the room with his masters rising. The swift motion made the hood of his cloak fall, revealing his features. His rodent like features were hairless, one of his wolf-like ears looked as if a huge section had been sliced away. Without hair, his aged features made him look more like death with every passing day. Maggots, ants and beetles, roamed about his features. At once, every blood leader went to their knees, their heads pressed low to the floor.

Walking slowly across the front line of them was getting him nowhere, so he stopped in front of the commander responsible for the mission.

“Rise Filat.”

Filat stood. His eyes were glued to the floor, claws curled into his side, and ears excreting the scent of fear. Andlat-Beget grabbed him around the neck and reached deep into his being, taking hold of his life force. Filat screeched in pain but was more helpless than a young-ling. His entire body shook, and his breathing was labored.

“You disss….grace me. For nearly three decadesss you’ve searched the realm'sss and found nothing. Your in…ssso…lence left me with only two tal…is…man key’s, one of which you’ve managed to lossse. Yet, I tol…erate you. I gave you a key mass…ter to guide your way, and you return with nothing.”

Filat’s ears were leaking a clear ooz and his breathing came in swift spurts, as Andlat-Beget allowed. His eyes watered, and he struggled for consciousness.  

“I have only one tas…sk left for you. Fail me and your entire lineage will face a fate worssse than death.” He released his hold, and Filat fell to the floor gasping.

“I… am… yours to command your eminency.”

“Destroy the gateway.”

Filat’s eyes were confused for a moment before he remembered himself.

 “Yes your eminency,” he said bowing deeply. Andlat-Beget turned to leave and took the fires rage with him.

 

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