Marderas, Madera System, Manora Sector, Ladorran Quadrant
Rosaline bolted upright, startling her husband Drexor, who immediately reached for his blaster. “What’s up honey?” he asked. Even now, ten years after the demise of the Belocian Empire, he still kept a laser pistol nearby when he was asleep: a habit he found hard to break.
She said she wasn’t sure, but she had a bad feeling about it.
“One of those Guardian premonitions, hey honey?”
“Yes, I think so. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
Drexor brushed the apology aside as unnecessary, and asked what she thought the problem was.
Rosaline believed it was something to do with the new arrival, Grogaan Learman. She began to see things clearly. What she had felt within him was the underlying presence of dark magic, which had been the driving force behind his ambition to destroy the Krelathan raiders and the Imperial forces. The dreams he was experiencing were in fact visions, visions of the future that were being influenced and tarnished by the magic emanating from the dark realm.
“I knew something was wrong with him,” she whispered.
“Wrong with who?” asked Drexor, puzzled over to what she was on about.
“Commander Learman. He can use magic, but has been influenced by the power of the dark realm without knowing it. I need to contact Sorann. Only he has the ability to draw Grogaan over from using dark magic.”
“I thought you helped Sorann with the same problem once before?”
“I did, but this is different. There’s something hidden deep inside his mind, and I know my abilities are insufficient to break through that barrier. Besides, I don’t think I would be able to deal with whatever is uncovered.”
Drexor walked over to the comm panel and keyed in a private code. A little while later, Sorann’s voice sounded over the comm channel. “Is that you Drexor?”
“Sure is pal. Hope I haven’t disturbed you too much.”
Sorann said he had not, but Drexor did not believe him. He had been around him too long and knew him too well.
“Sorann, we’ve a problem that Rosaline’s pretty concerned about.”
“Put her on.”
Drexor called Rosaline, who got out of bed, wrapped her nightgown around her body and glared at him for not giving her a little more time before contacting her brother. Once the two siblings had greeted each other Sorann asked what her problem was.
“Remember those senators who arrived about a week ago?”
She quickly told him about the new arrivals and why they had come. “One of them has a serious problem I know only you can deal with.”
“Won’t you tell me what it is?”
“Not really. Are you able to return to Marderas?”
“I was taking Deanna on a long promised trip, but if it’s that important, I’m sure she won’t mind postponing.”
Rosaline thanked her brother, but felt guilty knowing he was supposed to be spending some time away with Deanna, and that she would not be pleased about cancelling the trip.
Deanna appeared in the lounge frowning, having heard the conversation. She saw Sorann’s expression, and knew what he was about to do.
Sorann explained the situation, emphasised that it was not a Republic issue, and that no other Guardian had the relevant experience or capability. “I’m sorry Deanna. You know I wouldn’t do it if was anything or anyone else.”
“But you still have to go and sort out their problem.”
Sorann shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
Deanna sighed heavily, packed her things and without saying another word, the two booked out of the hotel and returned to their ship. They had only arrived on Keldoria the previous evening, and Deanna was looking forward to at least two days on the planet, but once again their plans were cut short because of someone else’s business.
Deanna was annoyed with Sorann, and refused to speak with him after they took off. After a while Deanna’s resolve buckled, and relative harmony was restored to their friendship, one which was continually fraught with troubles. It had taken eight years for them to finally develop a close personal relationship, and the two years of their courtship had been rather eventful in many ways. It appeared as if it was destined to remain that way for some time.
Sorann had been part of the group that formed the Confederation of Systems, planning, organising, and controlling the campaigns against the Belocian Empire. He played an important part in bringing the Empire to its knees, and believed he had responsibilities in establishing a strong democratic Republic. At Deanna’s insistence, Sorann worked to reduce the amount of reliance the Senate of the new Republic placed upon him and his role within it. It was, however, a slow process, and too slow for Deanna’s comfort and liking.
Deanna played her part in convincing him that it was his responsibility to re-establish and maintain the Guardian Academy, which in itself was not an easy task. He tried to concentrate on matters that were more important to the future of the Guardian’s presence in the galaxy, and leave Republic issues for the Senate to deal with. At times he succeeded, but due to personal issues he had over the fate of certain former apprentice Guardians, he found it difficult to believe in, and trust his abilities.
His lack of self esteem and confidence in his abilities was a continual thorn in the flesh for Sorann. It was also a major factor affecting the relationship he was forging with Deanna. She always looked beyond his problems. She saw the inner strength of the man, the powerful Guardian that was being partially masked, and the man who had compassion and understanding. He was one whom many respected and trusted despite his shortcomings. Unfortunately, Sorann often failed to see these traits in himself, and did not appreciate what others thought of him.
This failure was, as far as Deanna was concerned, his primary stumbling-block in the advancement and achievement of his true ambitions. She knew this was to build a strong presence of Guardians in the galaxy, and to restore the respect and trust in the Order. However, she was unaware that Sorann wanted more than that. His ultimate desire was to resurrect the ancient order that was the precursor of the Guardians; the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, or correctly known as the Brotherhood of the Teragon Knights.
Meanwhile, over in the Delaspan Diner, Grogaan was telling Ellarna all about his dreams. He started from when his fiancée died, which he felt would give her a broader understanding to the possible cause of, and meaning behind the dreams.
“It all started about three years ago, just after Miranda and father were killed. I would get the occasional dream, but they were brief and unclear. Then six months later they became more frequent and all of the images were heavily shrouded in mist. Each time I awoke after a dream, I would be sweating and trembling with dread.
Over the following years the dreams gradually became more intense and disturbing. Each time it affected me more and more, but the intensity and clarity of them grew faster once I had left our system.” He paused to take another sip of his drink remembering the last few dreams, and shuddered.
Ellarna watched him inquisitively while listening carefully to what he was saying, hoping that something he mentioned would help them understand the dreams. Grogaan let his eyes wander over her, savouring every last detail. He still regarded her as one of the most beautiful woman in the galaxy, equal with Miranda, but different. He knew her thoughts were focussed upon him, trying to support him in remaining calm and relaxed, but it seemed to have no effect. Even thinking of her, her beauty and her love, did not stop the feeling of dread emerging into his thoughts.
His mind was beginning to drift into darkness, an overwhelming void of black emptiness that threatened to swallow his soul. It was darker, more threatening and frightening than anything he had experienced before, and it caused him much anguish.
“Grogaan,” she said firmly.
There was no response so she prodded him sharply on the shoulder.
“Ouch!” he cried out and jerked his head up, nearly spilling his drink.
“Keep your mind focussed,” she said solidly.
“Sorry sweetheart,” he said sheepishly. “Where was I?”
“You were saying that the dreams were becoming more intense once you had left Mabraant.”
Ellarna sensed the dread behind the response. It was as if he wanted to avoid going on, but he continued, although his voice betrayed his anxiety.
“As the mist began to dissipate in the first dream, I saw people in pain. There was one woman in particular . . .” He remembered seeing her screaming, but her face was obscured. The image disturbed him and his head dropped a little at the memory, much to Ellarna’s frustration.
She could see he was deeply tormented by the dreams. “You don’t need to continue if you don’t want to,” she said sympathetically, but hoped he would.
“I have to. I cannot keep it to myself any longer.” Grogaan felt sad for the woman even though it was only a dream. The ache in his heart was hurting him so much a single tear appeared. The pain was not very different to that he had felt when Miranda had been killed; cutting and intense. He took a few mouthfuls of his tea to give him a few moments reprieve and to regain his train of thought.
He restarted what he had begun to say before the pain had resurfaced and broken his concentration. “The clearest dream is that of a woman accompanied by a group of important people just inside a building, an open area, like a concourse or foyer. They were walking slowly towards an inner door when there was an almighty explosion, and then the entire building collapsed inwards. I heard the woman scream, a high pitched scream, one of intense pain and suffering, but also of heartache from the loss of a loved one.”
Ellarna saw the anguish in his eyes, sensed his intense emotions. She imagined the scene, pictured the woman and the agony she would be feeling in such circumstances. ‘How could this involve Grogaan?’ she thought, ‘unless he was in the building as well.’ A troubling thought came into her mind. ‘Maybe he caused the explosion, or somehow, he knew the woman.’ A shiver ran down her spine causing her to shudder, and tried to dismiss the notion that came to mind.
Grogaan put his cup down. “The other dreams are not clear due to the mist enshrouding the scenes. In both, I see a man in dark clothes, his face hidden by darkness. Blue lightning appears to be emanating from the man’s hands causing destruction and pain. I know that I am involved somewhere in the scene, but where, how and why is beyond my insight at this time.”
Ellarna sensed Grogaan was holding something back. She wondered what and why. Was he aware of the importance and significance of the dreams, or did he know who was involved? Then she noticed there was something hidden deep within his mind. She focussed as hard as she was able, relaxed and cleared all thoughts from her mind. Ellarna could sense it, feel it, but not see it.
She was able see aspects of his past life, the motives behind his actions against the Krelathans, and his decision over the MDF. Then as her focus became more acute, she saw it clearly. Beneath all of the layers of emotion, intent, and subconscious thought was a mental barrier. It was a blockade keeping something hidden from view, preventing it from being released. That was where the darkness was hiding. It was a void filled with power and mystery, and darker than anything she had ever encountered or hoped to encounter. It filled her with such dread she became anxious and fearful for her companion.
‘How can I see all this?’ she thought. Ellarna then realised it was her sensitivity to magic that enabled her to see and feel these things. As she opened her mind and let the power fill her body and spirit, she sensed the presence of the cantina patron, and what he was thinking of doing. She felt a ‘darkness’ creeping up on her from behind. It sent a feeling of coldness through her whole body. Frightened at what it could be she shook her head and closed herself off from her magic. The presence of the ‘darkness’ disappeared almost immediately.
She sighed in relief and let out the breath she did not realise she was holding. Ellarna opened her eyes and saw Grogaan gazing at her, concern etched in his face.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“I think so,” she said with uncertainty.
“You opened yourself up to the influence of magic didn’t you?” She nodded. “And you saw something disturbing?” He took hold of her hands, holding them firmly, but reassuringly.
The pain she had seen in his eyes only a few moments before was replaced by compassion. It was Grogaan’s turn to have a calming influence upon Ellarna. “It was eerie and frightening. Something dark and cold appeared, like it was creeping up on me from behind?” There was a tremor in her voice.
Grogaan had never seen Ellarna look so frightened or so worried. ‘What has she seen and felt that made her react this way?’ he wondered.
“What was it Grogaan?” she pleaded.
He looked at her feeling perplexed, wishing he knew the answer.
“Have you . . .?” she started to ask, but was unable to finish her question, her voice choked off by her fear.
Grogaan shook his head gently. “I’m afraid I have no idea what it was, and I’m not sure if it’s the same as what I’ve felt in the past. Maybe Sorann will be able to shed some light on it, and on our other problems.”
“I do hope so,” she replied as she wiped her hand across her brow gently. “What about Rosaline? Would she have any ideas on what the ‘darkness’ might be?”
Grogaan shook his head. “I don’t know.” He then ordered some more tea, and they continued talking quietly for a while longer, reassuring and comforting each other, and trying to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the others.
Rosaline was sitting in bed relaxing after her sudden fright of the morning. Drexor went to the kitchen to make a drink of hot chocolate, one of her favourites. He walked back into the bedroom carrying two cups wearing the black pants similar to those of the Loqueran Forces that he had served in many years before they met. He knew how much Rosaline loved seeing him wearing them as it always reminded her of their early days together, when they both craved adventure and excitement.
“Here you go honey,” he said handing her the cup.
Rosaline thanked him and gave him a big loving smile.
“So, what are you going to do about our guests until Sorann arrives?”
“I should go and talk to them, especially Grogaan. That must have been a powerful vision he had. I guess he’s feeling rather distressed at the moment.”
“Can you feel anything?”
Rosaline relaxed and drew on her magic, allowing it to permeate her mind and body. The energy flowed through her like electricity, but had a calming effect on her. As her vision transcended the astral realm, she immediately began to see images of people and places, and directed her thought towards Grogan. After a while, she found him sitting at a table talking with Ellarna in a diner located nearby. Both seemed surprisingly at ease, but Rosaline had the feeling they had both been more recently disturbed by something.
As her magic enabled her to see more, a dark shadow appeared behind Ellarna, small, but definitely visible. To her dismay Grogaan was almost surrounded by a similar shadow. ‘How could this be? Neither of them is actually embracing the power of the dark realm, and Ellarna had only just found out that she was sensitive to the magical powers.’
“They are in one of the local diners, and appear relatively peaceful.”
“In that case there won’t be any need for you to rush off, now will there?”
“Not really, but I have to meet with the Mabraantan Senators later on this morning.”
“I thought they wouldn’t need military aid any more, after what was revealed by, oh what’s his name?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” said Drexor remembering the name.
“You don’t miss much do you?”
Drexor smiled. “Not if I can help it. Didn’t get where I am today by missing important information.” The two laughed. Drexor was always forgetting important names and places, and often finding himself in awkward situations where someone else always ended up helping him.
“Senator Rayshon will be informing me of their decision whether to join the Ladorran Republic and assist in diplomatic business.”
A little while later, Rosaline was sitting in her office browsing through some reports when the door chime sounded dead on eleven hundred hours. Blaith Rayshon was consistently punctual; never early, never late. “Enter!”
Senator Rayshon and his aide entered the room and greeted Rosaline in the formal manner. Once they were settled he composed himself. Blaith and his fellow delegates had spent several hours the previous evening discussing the implications, pro’s, and con’s of joining the Ladorran Republic. They had been unanimous in their final decision.
“We have agreed,” he started, “under the current circumstances to accept your offer of joining the Ladorran Republic. We are ready to serve in whatever capacity you require. Naturally, if the opportunity arises, we intend to return to our homeworld.”
Rosaline smiled. “I’m pleased you have accepted, and I understand your desire to return to your homeworld when the circumstances change. I assure you Senator Rayshon that I will do everything in my power to aid you in your fight to free your planet. We in the Ladorran Republic know what it’s like to have one’s freedom taken away.”
The Senator and the Governor spent a short while talking about the political and social aspects of the Ladorran Republic, and its member systems. They then touched on some of the difficulties and disputes that were currently being dealt with, along with the threats that were still present in certain areas of the quadrant.
Sorann arrived at the Imperial Palace just after noon; his sister Rosaline was waiting for him. “Hello Sorann, Deanna, I’m sorry I had to call you home so soon, but for this problem, there’s no one else that can help.”
Sorann greeted his sister with a hug. “So what’s so important about our new guests that you couldn’t tell me over the comm?”
“Well for a start, I believe two of them are adept in magic,” she said as they made their way to her office.
Sorann gazed at his sister with astonishment. “Are you sure about that?”
“Positive, but you can assess that for yourself later. The problem is with Commander Learman.”
Sorann stopped walking and closed his eyes. His sister gazed at him curiously. He sensed a disturbance in the astral realm, the same disturbance created by someone under the influence of the dark realm, as did Deanna. The two looked at each other and nodded; confirming their discovery.
He knew immediately that there was a person adept in magical power within the palace, one who was very strong and under the influence of dark magic. He asked his sister if that was likely to be Commander Learman. She confirmed his assumption, but that was no longer the only issue.
Sorann sensed the concern in his sister, looked a little bemused and asked what more could there be.
Rosaline waited until they were in her office before saying more. She then explained about the visions Grogaan had been experiencing, the disturbance she felt in the astral realm that morning, and the shadows she saw appear behind Ellarna and Grogaan.
“Who are Ellarna and Grogaan?” asked Sorann.
“Sorry. Ellarna is the daughter of Senator Rayshon from Mabraant, and Grogaan is Commander Learman.”
“Right,” said Sorann. “Well, the shadow of darkness you saw is the essence of the dark realm, only visible to a trained Guardian usually during a time of meditation. The shadow around Grogaan indicates that he’s under strong influence, and the shadow appearing behind Ellarna is, I would say a natural phenomenon when a Guardian uses the magic. Your ability in using magic is becoming very strong Rosaline.”
Rosaline smiled, acknowledging her brother’s praise of her ability. She asked if there was anything he was able to do for Commander Learman’s predicament.
“Of course there is, but it will have to be at his consent. First he must acknowledge the influence the dark power is having upon him. Then he must be trained in the use of magic before he becomes fully embraced by those dark powers. Do you know where they are now?”
“They are most probably in their rooms on the guest floors.”
“Will you contact them and ask them if they can meet us here when it’s convenient.”
Rosaline keyed the comm unit and waited for a reply. No one responded. She then contacted the aide on reception duties and requested that she inform Miss Rayshon and Commander Learman to contact her at their convenience.
In the meantime Sorann and Deanna told Rosaline of their short journey, and Rosaline brought them up to date on recent events regarding the citizens of Mabraant, and the unfortunate circumstances that befell their homeworld. The news caused concern for Sorann, knowing that Megrein Sorcerers would not stop their conquests whatever obstacle stood in their way. It appeared to Sorann that dark times were heading their way again, and he wondered whether they would be able to prevent the inevitable. It also added some clarity to the vision he received several days earlier.
The comm chime sounded, and when Rosaline opened the channel, she was pleased to hear Ellarna’s voice. The Governor explained that Sorann had arrived and they would like to meet both her and Grogaan in their office if it was convenient.
Ellarna looked at Grogaan, who nodded his agreement. Arriving outside the office, Grogaan hesitated before pressing the door chime, thinking he would rather not be doing this right now. Ellarna sensed his apprehension; so too did Sorann and Deanna.
Sorann also felt the influence of the dark power, even though it was fairly weak at the moment. The two entered the office and were welcomed by Sorann and Deanna. Grogaan introduced Ellarna then himself, and insisted that Sorann use their first names; Sorann agreed and asked Grogaan to do likewise.
“Grogaan, Rosaline tells me you’re a fighter pilot. Do you mind me asking what ship you fly?”
“Not at all, but I doubt you’d have heard of it. It’s a Manta Class Interceptor. It has slightly higher specs than your Delta XB1, but it’s more of a cross between the TS5 and the Delta XB1.”
“Sounds impressive,” retorted Sorann.
“Maybe you would like to take one up for a test flight later on, I’m sure you’d enjoy it.” He then realised that he had already made the same offer to Jorreel the previous day, and thought it would be a good idea if they both went up at the same time.
“Yes I would like that, thank you.”
“Excellent. You can accompany Group Captain Vergam later this afternoon if you’re not too busy.” Sorann agreed with obvious excitement.
They spoke of general things for a few minutes, home, interests and the differences between their systems before turning to more important issues.
“Rosaline tells me you have some issues that are causing you some concern,” said Sorann.
Grogaan coughed and looked at Ellarna, suggesting that she speak.
She glared back at him. “Yes, there are a few things that are troubling us. First, we have both been experiencing abilities that are the usual signs of being adept in magic, does that mean we are sensitive to the power of the astral realm, and potential Guardians?” she asked.
Even though Grogaan already knew the answer, he wanted Sorann’s confirmation to ease his mind on the matter.
“Yes. The power of magic is strong in both of you, making you ideal candidates for training in the ways of the Guardians,” said Sorann enthusiastically.
Grogaan accepted the fact that he would now be taking a definite change in his priorities regarding his future, although it was a choice he remained reticent about.
“The other thing is that we seem to have developed a telepathic bond between us. Could you explain what this phenomenon is and what it means? Rosaline said it is something to do with Guardian heritage.”
“Ros’ is correct. We have texts that suggest Guardians who are highly compatible as partners and complement one another, often develop a bond between them. That bond is induced and strengthened by magic. It would seem to me that you are such a couple.”
Sorann’s answer pleased her and she smiled at Grogaan. She shuffled in her seat before continuing, feeling very uncomfortable about raising the subject. “Sorann, this morning I opened my mind to the influence of realm, hoping to receive some insight and understanding into what Grogaan was experiencing. It was a wonderful sensation to start with, but as I relaxed and allowed its influence to penetrate further, I sensed a ‘darkness’ creeping up behind me. It was very frightening.”
Sorann did not need to hear the question that would have followed Ellarna’s statement. “The darkness you felt was the essence of the upper realm. Whenever a Guardian draws on their magic, the dark power always appears nearby, subtly trying to tempt the Guardian into using the aggressive emotions, which can enhance a Guardian’s power in the wrong way. The only way to deal with it is in learning how to push it away through the power of positive action. It is self-control that wins the battle that rages within the mind of the Guardian.”
“What is your opinion of us then?” asked Ellarna.
“This is a very dangerous time for you both, especially you Grogaan. If you do not start training as a Guardian and learn to control your emotions and abilities, you will continue to be influenced by the dark power, ultimately ending in complete domination by it.”
“What makes you say that Sorann?” asked Grogaan.
“Those dreams you are having are not dreams, but visions, and it is the influence of the dark realm that makes them have the effect they do on you.”
“How is it possible for Grogaan to be under its influence already when he has only recently realised his sensitivity to magic? I was under the impression that only one who knew of their heritage could choose the path they took?” asked Rosaline.
“Usually I would agree with you, but somehow, Grogaan’s ability became evident in his actions even though he was unaware of it. It has been known to happen before. Many of those in similar situations continued developing in the dark magic, and then it was too late to do anything about, or so it was believed. Master Johanx once told me: ‘Once you train in the ways of Megrein, it is near impossible to revert back to the more peaceful ways of the Guardian.’
Now we know different. A Megrein Sorcerer can be turned back in some cases, but it depends on several factors: how long one has been under the influence of Megrein’s teachings, and how much that individual wants to change. It takes a lot of patience and dedication by both the sorcerer, and the Guardian helping, to overcome the influence.”
Ellarna looked at Sorann with deep-rooted concern, but Grogaan was not really bothered. He just wanted the dreams to end.
“You needn’t look so worried. Even if a Guardian chooses to follow the teachings of Megrein, it doesn’t mean that person is lost to the powers of the dark realm forever.”
Grogaan clasped his hands together then rested his chin on them, contemplating on what he had to do. “Then we have no choice. We must start training.”
Ellarna agreed. “When should we start?”
“The sooner the better,” he answered.
Unfortunately for Sorann, his understanding of the nature of magic was not entirely correct. The fate of an individual adept in the arts was in that person’s hands, and engaging in the dark elements did not always mean being dominated by it. The path of a wizard was governed by the morality, the inner strength, the desires and intents of that individual. It was not as difficult to turn a sorcerer from their evil ways as was believed. The problem was that most evil sorcerers did not wish to change.
Ellarna was worried and wished the whole situation had never materialised. She despised the Krelathans and the Hebradon Empire for their interference. Her concern for Grogaan, the first man she had truly fallen in love with, was deepening. Knowing that danger loomed ahead for their future together and their lives caused Ellarna to become even more worried.
Sorann gazed at Ellarna sensing her troubled emotions. “There’s nothing to be concerned about Ellarna,” he said reassuringly. “As long as you complete the training, everything will be fine.”
She looked at him and smiled. ‘You can say that Sorann, but you just don’t understand,’ she thought, and then said, “I wish I had your confidence.”
Grogaan knew what Ellarna was feeling, and so took her hand in his and gently squeezed it.
“Grogaan, I have sensed something dark lurking within your mind,” said Sorann. “Would you be willing to open your mind to mine, enabling us to explore and see what the astral realm might reveal?”
“There’s no need,” answered Grogaan sounding dejected. “I know what’s there. I wasn’t aware of what the darkness signified until you told us of the dark realm and how it manifests itself.”
The others waited with concern and wonder to hear what made Grogaan the way he was; why he had that edge over the enemy when in combat. Sorann had a rough idea from what he had already sensed.
“You don’t need to tell us,” said Ellarna.
Grogaan looked at her. “It’s for the best. Sorann will then be able to help me clear it from my mind.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, giving him a moment to collect his thoughts.
“There is still much anger and resentment within my heart and spirit, as well as a strong desire to mete out retribution to those who dared attack our world. It started when Krelathan raiders killed my elder brother, then my father and my fiancée about three years ago. Her whole family perished in the attack along with over a hundred other innocent people. It was the first anniversary of our engagement and the day I was going to ask her to set a date for the wedding. That made her loss much harder to bear. Since then many of my good friends have also been lost in action: Hobbes, Pashtean, Lordaas; all of whom I had known since I was about six, good friends gone.” He took a moment’s pause to push their memories from his mind.
“While flying my MCT at the time of Miranda’s death, I would imagine I was fighting the Krelathan raiders, and released my anger by shooting rocks within the canyons. My ability and skill improved at a considerable rate. When our interceptors were finally finished, I became involved in defending our people against attacks by the Krelathans. It was then that I felt the anger and resentment rise to new heights. I wanted to make them pay for what they had done to me, my family and my people.
As I flew, it was as if I could see what they were thinking, which way they would turn and I would be a fraction ahead of their manoeuvre. It gave me an edge over them and I exploited it to the full. I had no guilt about doing it either: I relished the advantage. Every kill filled me with satisfaction and delight, and I wanted more. I needed to fight and clear space of the raiders, thus preventing them from continuing their evil attacks. I wanted to kill every last one of them. I had a vow to keep, one I made the day my family were killed, and keep it I did. I brought the life of Kregarast to an end and I have never felt as fulfilled as I did at that moment.” There was strength behind the words, but also pride, satisfaction and relief for having fulfilled that vow.
Grogaan stopped talking and gazed at Ellarna, then smiled joyfully. “Then I had the good fortune to meet Ellarna. It has been easier for me to control my feelings since I’ve known her. She has had a profound calming effect upon me, and my depressive, melancholy moods have almost disappeared. I suppose that’s caused by the action of magic upon us, even though we were unaware of it at the time.”
“Having kept your emotions and feelings under control is a good start. Your training in the ways of the Guardians will greatly enhance that ability, but you must always resist the temptation to let your feelings control your actions.”
“How long does the training take?” asked Ellarna.
“That depends entirely on the individual, how well one learns the techniques, how much effort one puts into the training and in applying what has been learnt. According to the history we have of Guardian training, an apprentice would remain so until the council decreed otherwise. Their decision was based on whether or not they were ready to take on the responsibilities of being a Guardian, and not on their abilities in the arts.
It usually took a minimum of at least four years to learn all that was needed to start the life of a Guardian, to understand and have sufficient knowledge of the power of the astral realm. Even after completing the training, one would continue to learn for many years after. There was more to learn back then, more than just techniques and principles. Now it is important to regain the influence of the Guardian Order in the galaxy.”
Deanna gazed at Sorann knowing that he was still blaming himself for the failure of several apprentices who turned to using the dark power. Most of them had since been killed. “Even then, there was still no guarantee that a trained Guardian wouldn’t succumb to using the dark power and embrace evil,” she said firmly.
Sorann detected the rebuke within Deanna’s statement, but found it difficult not to blame himself. “This would be an ideal opportunity for you to spend more time in training Deanna.”
Deanna glared at him and then smiled. “True. It will be a welcome break from gallivanting all over the galaxy chasing after you and saving your neck,” she said and laughed. Sorann laughed too.
“And we can train together, can’t we?” she added.
“Well, there aren’t any pressing matters for us to remain and deal with here, so how about leaving for Piserron tomorrow?”
Ellarna and Grogaan looked at each other. “We had planned to tour some of the local sights, but other than that, I don’t see why that should be a problem. What do you think Grogaan?”
He still wasn’t sure whether he wanted to go through with this or not. He closed his eyes momentarily to consider the choices he had, and then agreed with a shrug of his shoulders. He was nonetheless, uncomfortable with the fact that he would be leaving his friends and his squadron. After all they had achieved against the odds, Kopaz Squadron was his life, next to his relationship with Ellarna. He believed he would be deserting them, and that would damage or break the bond of friendship and trust they had. He felt very guilty about it, and wished events had transpired differently.
Sorann sensed what Grogaan was feeling and understood his misgivings, but decided not to say anything about it while in company.
Grogaan looked at Sorann inquisitively. “Would you tell us of the astral realm and its powers?”
“It is hard to explain precisely what the realm is. From what I have learnt over the years, there is a supernatural plain high above all of the planets spread throughout the galaxy. It appears to be a continuous entity, unseen and unknown of by nearly all beings. There are numerous species of lower life forms that can feel the influence of its powers, and use it to their advantage in hunting etc, but there are few who are able to control it. No one knows how it came to be there, how it is able to influence life and how its energy is manifested as magic.”
“Where does the dark realm get its influence from?”
“That is a very good question Ellarna. There is actually very little known about it, but it is believed that to everything that is good, there is evil to the same extent. Some of the early Guardian Masters traversed the realm in search of answers, often spending hours at a time doing so. It is said they discovered what appeared to be a tear in the fabric of the realm, causing a disruption to the continuity and stability of its power.
It was assumed, and has since become accepted as the most accurate deductions, that the tear has opened up a doorway into another realm that feeds off a different essence of power, and is fuelled by negative emotions. Somehow, that essence is able to seek out those who are sensitive to the realm’s powers and are emotionally volatile, which is why it takes so much training for a Guardian apprentice to master the art of self control.”
“That’s amazing,” exclaimed Ellarna. “Is that why an Academy was set up?”
“It was. The solitude was needed so that the apprentices could learn and apply those lessons without outside influence or disturbances,” said Sorann. “Well, we can discuss more about the Academy and its purpose when we arrive. Now I suggest we begin preparations for tomorrow, and if the offer is still open, indulge in that flight test.”
“It is; let me know when you have some free time,” replied Grogaan.
As Ellarna and Grogaan strolled away from Rosaline’s office, Grogaan knew he had one important task to undertake: he had to tell the others that he would be leaving them for a while. It was something he was not looking forward to doing, and would prefer to forego the training and remain with his friends. He also knew that if he did, destiny would find a way of making him go, one way or another.
Grogaan decided to put off telling his friends about his plans until after Sorann and Jorreel had indulged in their test flight of the MCIs. Until then, the two Mabraantans returned to Ellarna’s room to share some time alone before packing for their trip to Piserron. While they sat relaxing and enjoying a drink of hot chocolate, the two discussed what they had leant from Sorann, Deanna and Rosaline.
There was no doubt in Ellarna’s mind that her companion was not too enthralled about becoming a Guardian. She understood why, knew what he really wanted out of life, and was unhappy about leaving his squadron. Ellarna also knew there was nothing she could say that would ease his troubles, or make him feel any happier about any of it.
For Ellarna, a whole new world was opening up to her. Despite being anxious, she was pleased that Grogaan was going to be with her the whole time. She knew that without him, becoming a Guardian would be pointless, and life would not be worth living. Grogaan was the most important part of her life, they were together, and that was enough for her for now.
After Sorann contacted them to let them know he and Jorreel were available for the flight tests, the two made their way to the squadron hangar where Kopaz Squadron’s ships were housed. There was a buzz of excitement when they arrived. Doraant and Eldaan willingly offered their ships to Sorann and Jorreel. Grogaan and Zaack flew their own.
The two Ladorran officers relished the experience, and wished they had had such fighters during the Uprising. Sorann was curious about Grogaan’s skills, and asked if he could put him to the test. Grogaan was only too happy to oblige. They started with Sorann and Jorreel being the ones to chase down Zaack and Grogaan. However, the two Mabraantans changed the scenario and subsequently made the kills so swiftly, the Republicans were completely astounded. Sorann and Jorreel were unable to deny the Mabraantan’s skills, and understood how they survived against the overwhelming odds they faced in the battle of Mabraant.
Both pilots were grateful for the experience, especially the Group Captain, who assured Grogaan his squadron would be utilised as much as possible. They spent a while discussing technical specifications, performance data, and the most fundamental issue; the cost of producing such a powerful starfighter. Sorann and Jorreel immediately saw the advantages of building several squadrons of MCIs to the specifications of Kopaz Squadron’s ships, but were sceptical whether or not the Senate would consent to the allocation of such funding.
Grogaan then took the Group Captain aside and explained briefly about the forthcoming situation. He told him that he was to discuss the severity and requirements of any operation with Zaack, who would be acting Squadron Leader during his absence. Jorreel insisted he would not place them in a situation where there was a high risk of a pilot being lost. He felt that was not a responsibility he was in a position to undertake even if Zaack approved. Grogaan accepted the Group Captain’s argument, but asked him to keep them as busy as possible.
When the two left and the ships had been serviced, Grogaan gathered his squadron and the MDF pilots into the main briefing room to tell them the news. Zaack, Doraant and Eldaan were full of excitement knowing that their best friend would soon be a Guardian, but sad that he was leaving them for some time. Zaack was the happiest of the three, having known about his secret since before the battle of Mabraant. He knew deep down his friend would return one day, that Kopaz Squadron would be reunited, and would wait patiently for that day to arrive regardless of how long or hard that wait was.
Joeen was very disappointed, and now knew there was no possibility of her getting together with Grogaan at all. Lusiana did not really know what to think. She was happy for him, but sad because he was leaving. It had been his trust and confidence in her that had made her what she was now.
Solarn, Marck and Arron were unsure about everything. They were concerned about what would become of them because they were not really part of the squadron, but did believe he would return. Parrin had forgotten his talk with Grogaan and returned to being his usually moody argumentative self. He openly criticised Grogaan for deserting them, breaking promises and leaving them in the hands of an inferior commander. He soon retracted all his comments when threatened by the others, which included the three pilots from the MDF.
Grogaan left Zaack in command as acting Squadron Leader, with Doraant acting Flight Commander. Both were extremely pleased, but nervous of the responsibility. They swore they would not let him down, and wished him good fortune. Joeen gave him a long embrace shedding a few tears in the process. Lusiana thanked him from the bottom of her heart for all he had done for her, and promised to do all that Zaack expected.
It was heart wrenching for Grogaan to leave them, but he did. He walked out of the room with a heavy heart refusing to let his emotions get the better of him. Ellarna waited patiently, listening to what was going on in the squadron office next to the crew room. She met him outside the office and the two walked out of the hangar complex together.
Grogaan suggested they return to the Koroshan Queen for a meal, as it would probably be their last indulgence for some time. Ellarna agreed without hesitation, and shortly afterwards, they were seated in the quietest corner they could find. She did not mention hearing the heated debate or how he felt about it all. It had been the most difficult decision he had ever had to make, and she knew how much it was tearing him apart.
They ate slowly making the most of their delicious meal. Both chose roast Heklaran Boar in red wine sauce with spiced vegetables, and the Melana fruit ball surprise for pudding. To round it off they had a bottle of Jadraia wine, a speciality from Jessarnis in the Jakraian system. The Jadraia berry was a round dark red fruit about two centimetres in diameter, sweet and succulent, and in great abundance on Jessarnis. The wine was smooth and velvety with a distinct mild flavour, which both enjoyed considerably.
They had been in the restaurant for some time and were on their third glass of wine when Ellarna noticed it was getting rather late. She sensed Grogaan was still unhappy about commencing the training to become a Guardian, and even more so about leaving the squadron. She understood why he felt the way he did, and sympathised with him over his dilemma. The squadron was his, part of his ambition, his achievement, his life, and now that life included her.
Ellarna was also filled with trepidation about becoming a Guardian and all that it involved. Her life was heading in a direction she never considered possible, but it was one she wanted to embrace and enjoy as much as she could.
“I had better tell father we’ll be leaving for Piserron.”
“Of course; we don’t want to cause him any more anxiety than he’s already feeling,” said Grogaan. Ellarna smiled and nodded.
The short land cruiser trip to the palace was quiet and enjoyable. Grogaan was becoming very relaxed and was just about to doze off when he was prodded by Ellarna. “Hey, you’re not falling asleep are you?” she said sarcastically.
“What me! No, just resting my eyes. They’re a bit dry and sore.”
Ellarna looked at him sceptically. “Come on. Let’s see if father is still up.”
Ellarna’s father was shocked to discover that both his daughter and Grogaan were adept in magic, and going to be trained as Guardians. Despite his reservations, he was delighted and wished them both good fortune and gave them his blessing. His one condition was that Grogaan was to take good care of his little girl.
Grogaan assured him there was nothing he would not do to protect her, and Blaith knew without doubt Grogaan meant it.
They did not stay long, and then retired to Ellarna’s room for a final evening drink to round off an eventful and surprising day. After spending some time together in peace and quiet, Grogaan pondered his feelings towards Ellarna, how much he loved her, and how much she meant to him. He thought about the meaning of the dreams, or visions as he now knew they were, how he would be involved, and what his future held in store for him.
Throughout this time, Grogaan maintained a calm and peaceful demeanour. He wondered if they would turn out to be true and accurate visions of the future; whether they could be changed by events preceding them, or by simple choices that individuals made in the course of their life. He knew only time would reveal the answers.
Grogaan remembered how overjoyed he had been when Miranda accepted his proposal of marriage, which now seemed such a long time ago. He dared to wonder whether he should ever consider wanting to feel that much happiness again. Then there was Ellarna. She had brought him so much joy already, but dare he take the chance to seek the happiness he was deprived of with Miranda, knowing how uncertain his future now was. Before the Empire attacked he would not have hesitated, but now he wasn’t so sure. His mind went into turmoil as he considered the choice that would affect his whole life as much as the training he faced.
Grogaan was still unsure about becoming a Guardian, even with the knowledge of what could happen if he did not undertake the training. From as early as he could remember, Grogaan’s primary ambition was to be a fighter pilot. Now he was one he did not really want to give it up for anything, not even for Ellarna, and he knew she would never ask him to.
Was his future as a Guardian more important than his friends? Was his involvement in the prophecy more important than his love for Ellarna? He wondered if he could train as a Guardian, maintain his position as Squadron Leader, develop his relationship with Ellarna, and still fulfil whatever part of the prophecy related to him. It was a dilemma he knew he was unable to answer truthfully, and it caused him much anguish.
The prophecy was another factor that he had to take into account, although it was not the prophecy itself that was causing him concern; it was the way it identified the storm conjurer, how the prophecy was linked with the Teragon knights, and how his life was intertwined with both. He was puzzled why he saw no references to the Knights anywhere, considering the fact that Sorann Taggash was part of the covert commando team that called themselves by that very name. Had Sorann merely used the name to instil fear in his enemies, or simply to hide their identities? Was there more to it? Would Sorann reveal it to him in time?
There were too many questions that needed answers, and no time to sit back and think about them, what he wanted to do, or what he had to do. Grogaan wanted to do what was most important for him and his future, but destiny seemed to be making all the choices for him whether he liked it or not. He did not like the way his life was unfolding; not now.
Ellarna turned to face him, sensing his confused thoughts. Grogaan smiled lovingly back at her. He wished they were somewhere romantic as he had been on that day with Miranda, but he decided he did not want to wait.
“Ellarna,” he paused to take a couple of deep breaths to calm his nerves, and then taking hold of her hands asked her that one life changing question: “Will you marry me?”
Nothing could have made her as happy as she felt at that precise moment. She threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately. “Yes, yes of course I will. You’ve made me the happiest woman on Marderas. How could I ever refuse? I love you so much,” she said ecstatically.
He slipped his hand into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small felt covered box, which he then opened and removed a Kopaz and diamond ring. Ellarna’s eyes lit up with sheer delight, and her heart skipped a beat when he slipped the ring onto her finger. The two embraced again, and settled back on the sofa in each other’s arms, Grogaan’s dilemma momentarily pushed to the back of his mind.
Grogaan purchased the ring on an impulse a week before the Empire attacked their home, and from the same jewellers where he had bought the ring for Miranda. He knew it was the perfect one for Ellarna, even though he had thought it might never be given.