Cassendra, Cassen System, Solkar Sector, Ladorran Quadrant
Ellarna sat cradling her fiancé, desperate for him to awaken long enough for her to tell him how much she loved him. She gazed at him with longing despite his disfigurement. The black scorch marks on his face were streaked with white where her tears had fallen. She knew he was dying. No one could survive such a scathing onslaught of lightning empowered by magic, or the destructive power of dark magic being drawn upon so freely.
There was, however, one small consolation over his pending death; the spirit of Temalleus had been destroyed. He no longer possessed Grogaan’s body, nor would he be able to possess anyone else. His existence would soon be forgotten.
The area where she sat had been scorched and devastated by the sheer power of the lightning, leaving an area of at least a twenty metre radius void of vegetation. Everything had been burnt to ashes or obliterated, even the stones that once lay untouched by human hands. The clouds had vaporised as quickly as they had formed, and now the sun shone in a cloudless pale crimson sky. The water which had fallen in the short sharp shower had completely evaporated, and the ground began cracking in the heat. There was no breeze, no sound. Even the birds were silent.
Ellarna glanced to where the Empress Treyanna Hefrask stood before her death. Part of her robe and a pile of ashes was all that remained of her. The Empire had been severely weakened, but Ellarna knew Roweyna would become Empress Prime now her sister was dead. She also knew Roweyna would send a team to the planet to search for Treyanna, so time was short.
With her beloved dying in her arms, he would no longer be the one to bring the empire to its knees. As she gazed at him, her thoughts turned to the prophecy and what he had told her about it. Jedrool, the Jestungan, was convinced Grogaan was the one spoken of. Even her fiancé had accepted the fact that his life was intertwined with the prophecy. She had sensed his thoughts just before he collapsed: He believed his destiny had been fulfilled.
The longer she pondered the meaning behind the prophecy, the more she understood it. Ellarna became confused over apparent contradictions which surfaced because of recent events. The revelation suggested the prophecy could not continue unfolding if the principle character was dead, but the reference to the Storm Conjurer was still confusing the issue. She was convinced the lightning battle was not the devastation created by that particular individual.
She considered the possibility of another arising to become the Storm Conjurer, but dismissed the notion as it appeared contrary to the writings. It suggested the individual would awaken following a revelation after the darkness had been consumed by light. Ellarna believed the darkness referred to was a person, not an event, and wondered if Treyanna or Temalleus was that person.
Ellarna relaxed her mind and brushed aside the troubling thoughts. As she did so, a peaceful presence engulfed her and she knew there was still much more to be achieved. However, she no longer wanted to be involved, not now she stood to lose everything that was important to her.
She knew she was going to have to move very soon, but felt too tired to do so, her grief was suffocating. Never before had she suffered such intense emotions, and never thought it possible for anyone to experience such spiritual and emotional trauma. She now truly understood why some said it was possible to die from a broken heart.
The young woman was unable to consider life without her fiancé, her one true friend, the one she had intended to spend the rest of her life with. Now he was about to leave her forever, she did not want to let him go, could not let him go. Her heart thumped painfully in her chest, her legs and arms ached, and she felt herself weakening as time passed.
Ellarna believed in the afterlife, always had, but had never talked about it with anyone. She knew of many religions that proclaimed the spirit lived on in the spirit world, others that the spirit was reborn at the birth of new life, and others that the spirit could be reborn in any creature with no knowledge of the previous life. She always favoured the spirit world, and the thought of reuniting with Grogaan was enough for her to give up on life.
The sound of bushes rustling off to her left distracted her from her thoughts. She turned to see what had caused it, and saw several small furry creatures walking toward her. When they saw Ellarna looking at them, they stopped and watched her intently, as if waiting for her to do or say something. The creatures looked harmless, so Ellarna felt no concern at their appearance, but they did arouse her curiosity.
As she watched them, Ellarna heard a warning in her mind and a tingling sensation shot up her spine. She sensed a burst of anger reverberating through the astral realm. Empress Roweyna Hefrask had accepted the death of her sister, vowed to have her revenge, and was heading for Cassendra. Ellarna knew she had to move without delay. She could not allow the Empress to find the body of her fiancé either dead or alive.
Rising unsteadily to her feet, Ellarna used her magic to lift her companion’s limp body, and carried him to the cave in which she had hidden the two ships. Even though she used her power to assist her, she was surprised at how light Grogaan appeared to be. It was obvious he had lost a considerable amount of bodyweight.
The sense of his presence was barely detectable, and it seemed as if he was clinging to the thinnest thread of life, but her hopes of him recovering increased with every passing moment. Even so, the distraught woman found it hard to maintain any degree of composure with him on the brink of death and barely recognisable.
Her tears continued to flow as she walked to the cave, unable to quench the fire of grief raging within. As they dripped from her face, the cool droplets landed onto Grogaan’s face washing away some of the charred, flaking skin. The emotion was so powerful it threatened to overwhelm her completely. She tried to fight off the urge to collapse to the floor and wallow in grief for her companion’s fate and her forthcoming loss, convinced he would not survive.
Once inside the cave, she found a suitable spot and carefully laid her fiancé down before retrieving some of the supplies from her ship. Ellarna found the medical kit and as she picked it up, found she was unable to contain her feelings any longer. She sat on the floor of the ‘Ellarna Star’ and cried uncontrollably. When her crying eventually turned to sobbing, she sensed a presence in the ship. Ellarna sat upright and gazed around anxiously.
She heard a whisper and knew it was in her mind. It felt and sounded exactly the same as what she experienced while in her garden on the day she saw Grogaan for the first time.
‘Have faith in destiny, the astral realm and its power, and do not lose heart. The one who has been marked by prophecy has more to fulfil before his life is taken from the realm of mortality.’
The tears stopped flowing and she could cry no more. It felt as though the grief had been completely stripped away, as if the simple act of remembrance was to be taken from her as well as her beloved. She wondered why it had come to this; why her fiancé was dying and about to leave her forever; why she had to be alone without the love she so desperately craved.
It was too much to bear, so Ellarna turned her focus away from her grief. She thought about the ending of the prophecy, particularly the reference to the Storm Conjurer. She wondered what it meant. Would this person create weather storms by magical power, or instigate events that would have catastrophic results? The young woman was perplexed. If her fiancé was indeed the one, it suggested he would survive, but as she looked at him lying on the ground, lifeless and battered almost beyond recognition, she found it hard to believe it was possible.
The words whispered in her mind through the astral realm were repeated breaking Ellarna out of her contemplation. She realised she was neglecting her companion by thinking too much about the prophecy. Grabbing the medical kit and some thermal sheets, Ellarna returned to Grogaan’s side. She had not even considered carrying him into one of the ships and making him more comfortable on the bunk. It was as if destiny was preventing her from doing so.
She slid Grogaan onto the thermal sheet to shield his frail body from the cold rock floor, removed what was left of his burnt clothing, and carefully dressed him in a fresh flight suit. It was a painfully hard task, and the sight of his emaciated body upset her so much she was unable to stop the tears flowing again.
Feeling a little cold, Ellarna pulled a large thermal blanket over them both and cradled Grogaan’s head in her lap. Now Ellarna was able to relax, she realised just how exhausted she was and soon fell asleep. She had still not thought of taking him inside the ship for more warmth and comfort.
After her sister left for the planet, Roweyna returned to her private quarters to meditate. She was angry yet disappointed. Treyanna insisted on confronting the Guardian hoping to persuade him to join their service, taking only two disciples and six squads of Eloran commandoes with her. She was not pleased, fearing her elder sibling was about to make her first serious error of judgement.
Roweyna detected the disturbance in the astral realm when the Guardian entered the system, and knew there was something strange about him. He possessed an essence of mystery and trouble, which caused her to believe the omens were unfavourable. Shortly afterwards, she felt reverberations passing through the realm, and believed she knew the cause.
Roweyna was disturbed from her meditation. She was no longer able sense the presence of any person adept in magic on the planet or in the system, other than those on board the command ship. A feeling of dread engulfed her, and she began fearing the worst had happened. Another tremendous disturbance reverberated through the realm, one she felt clearly, and which sent tingling sensations through her whole body.
Roweyna searched for, but was unable to sense the existence of her sister, something she had always been able to do. Their mental link had been severed, which meant either Treyanna had left the system or she was dead. She knew the former was most unlikely, refused to consider the latter in the first instance, but after quiet contemplation knew it was the truth.
She cleared her thoughts and used her magic to enhance her sensory abilities. The shock of her sister’s death struck her like a tidal wave. The reverberation in the astral realm was caused by her sister’s death, but what she experienced afterwards was more shocking. There was a sense of peace in the realm, one which would calm the mind and sooth the spirit of most, but it had the opposite effect on Roweyna: It fuelled her anger.
After composing herself, she contacted the deck officer. “Commander, prepare the landing craft immediately. I will be accompanying the crew to the planet.”
“Yes your Highness,” he replied without question.
Soon afterwards, the ship passed through the planet’s atmosphere and headed for the designated co-ordinates where her sister had disembarked. As the craft approached the area, Roweyna gazed out of the viewport and was astounded when she saw the devastation. She was concerned to see no one waiting in the immediate area, and troubled when she failed to sense the presence of a single humanoid in the vicinity. Roweyna wondered who had survived and where they had gone. It had felt as if those she had sensed had just vanished from existence, and it piqued her intrigue even more.
The crew of the landing craft was as surprised as Roweyna. They worried about what they might have to face, and elected to remain on board. Roweyna walked down the boarding ramp with an air of confidence, stopped at the base and surveyed the devastated area. She was amazed that every living thing within the vicinity had been completely burnt to ashes.
Roweyna walked across to some blackened shrubbery, where something red had caught her eye. As she looked down, a feeling of nausea and dizziness engulfed her. Scattered amongst the bushes were the bodies of several Eloran commandoes, at least what was left of them. She turned away and took a few deep breaths to help calm her nerves while walking toward the centre of the devastation. There were more burnt bodies lying around the perimeter of the clearing, and three smouldering mounds close together nearer the centre.
She knelt down beside one and saw the remains of some clothing, the material and colour appearing similar to that of an Imperial robe. As the Empress moved the ash with her foot she uncovered a golden medallion, which she picked up and held in the palm of her hand. It was the Hefrask Family Pendant her sister had been wearing. It showed two snake heads facing outwards, the heads of the Empress Cobra from their homeworld. She bowed her head in respect of her fallen sister, knowing she and the two disciples who had been with her had been killed.
After rubbing the pendant in her robe, the distraught Empress looked at it and swore an oath to avenge her sister. It was similar to the moment when they had both sworn to avenge their father’s murder so many years ago. Roweyna was angered to see the edges of the pendant were damaged from the intense heat it had been subjected to. Taking one more look at the crest, she slipped the chain over her head, whispered her oath once more and wiped away her single tear.
Filled with grief and anger, Roweyna walked back to the landing craft and ordered the crew to collect the ashes of the Empress and the two disciples in separate casks. “They will be buried in honour according the customs of our people,” she said.
Five minutes later, the landing craft powered up its engines and returned to the command ship. Once on board, the new Empress Prime ordered Admiral Phellex to prepare the fleet for immediate departure for Hebradon. Within the hour, the fleet was under way. Roweyna retired to her chambers to contemplate on what she would do now she was Empress Prime, and how she would lead her people forward.
Sorann and Deanna decelerated from lightspeed at the edge of the Rhaderon System and immediately set course for Rhader Three. The Guardians were perplexed. Not a single starfighter had been deployed to intercept them, there were no capital ships in any of the systems they had entered, and no communications had been made. Sorann wondered what could have been so important to divert the attention of all Imperial commanders.
They had located the destroyed garrisons on Glaxtor and Shankart, and knew only a full military assault was usually capable of causing such devastation. There were no Republican battle cruisers in the sector, nor were there any from the former Belocian Empire. The Guardian Master did not believe the Empire destroyed their own bases, unless they wished to blame the Republicans for an unprovoked attack. However, he ruled this option out as most improbable.
If there had been no military assault, indications suggested there was only one possible perpetrator: Grogaan. Although records were scarce, he believed the probability of a single Guardian being able to perform such an act was untenable. No Guardian would be capable of harnessing or wielding such powerful magic. Sorann was perplexed beyond anything he had experienced before, and it troubled him.
After searching Rhader Three, the two Guardians found no trace of Grogaan or Ellarna, only another destroyed Imperial garrison. Sorann did detect the residue of magic in the air, which was interlaced with the aura of evil. Someone had been using magic empowered by the dark realm, but it was too faint to draw any firm conclusions. There was only one more system within the Beraston sector which had been conquered by the Hebradon Empire: Cassen. It was also their last hope of finding their two friends.
If they were not on Cassendra or Casrena, they were either dead, or had travelled into the Gaashox Quadrant in pursuit of the Empress.
When Ellarna awoke after a surprisingly long sleep, she panicked, looked at her fiancé, and saw no apparent change in his condition. His pulse was still extremely weak with only a glimmer of life force left in his soul. He was alive, barely, but it was enough for her to maintain a little hope for his recovery. Laying his head on the makeshift pillow, she got up to stretch her stiff body. Even though she felt quite refreshed, most of her muscles ached from sitting on the floor in an awkward position. She looked at the chronometer and was amazed eight hours had passed.
Even with the few glowlamps placed around the cave, it remained dark and oppressive, so she decided to go outside for some fresh air and have a change of atmosphere. Using her magic to check for the presence of anyone in the area, she carefully pulled aside the sensor and camouflage nets and stepped out into the low light of early morning. The sun was rising above the mountains casting a faint yellow glow, increasing the warm appearance of the planet caused by the colour of the sky.
Ellarna knew of only one other planet where the sky was not blue; Gilarsha. There it was a pale orange so it always looked as if the sun was setting. The thought brought a smile to her face, and she promised she would visit there one day, if the opportunity to return to the Gaashox Quadrant arose.
Ellarna took several deep breaths of the sweet fresh air and shuddered a few times as the cold penetrated her lungs. It was invigorating and stimulated her senses. She stood still for a few moments allowing her body and mind to awaken fully.
It was so peaceful and quiet, she felt comfortable and safe. A few birds nesting in the trees were chirping a sweet high pitched and melodic song, which Ellarna found pleasurable and calmed her spirit. As she relaxed and cleared her mind of thought and concern, she sensed a stillness and peace emanating from the astral realm. It seemed to confirm that something, or someone evil had been eradicated from life, and Ellarna wondered if the power of magic she felt would impact on her fiancé.
Despite being curious, she decided to go for a run to loosen up and restore life to her aching body. While she ran, she remained alert and cautious expecting trouble. Fortunately, she only sensed the presence of a few small animals and birds. There were no humans or humanoids within her sensory range, which meant either the plateau was so large any people living on it were far beyond her sensory range, or it was uninhabited. She favoured the latter because it would explain why the Empress chose it for her meeting with Grogaan.
Her run only took thirty minutes, which was relatively short for her, but it was enough to satisfy her needs. By the time she returned to the cave, the sun had risen above the mountains and the temperature was already rising above her comfort level.
When Ellarna entered the cave and approached the spot where Grogaan was lying, she saw a large number of small furry animals sitting in a circle around him. At first she was alarmed thinking they might harm her companion, but as she looked more carefully, she recognised them. They were the same ones that approached them in the clearing shortly after the fight between him and the Empress, and they were making a sound similar to the purring of a cat.
Ellarna sensed no threat, and believed they had no intent to do harm. She approached carefully and silently to avoid disturbing them. Not one of them moved or even looked in her direction. When she was a couple of metres away, she felt the energy of magic permeating the air, and sensed it was emanating from the creatures. It felt strange but revitalising, and became visible as the power impacted on hers. Ellarna’s eyes widened with surprise. She was now able to see their magic passing from them to Grogaan in the form of thin tendrils of light. It was spellbinding.
Ellarna drew on her power and allowed the astral realm to influence her thoughts and actions. She began to understand what was happening. The animals were using their own magic to heal her companion, but because they were unable to touch him, they were using their innate ability to make their power flow through the air as pure energy. This was then being absorbed by Grogaan, which was enhancing and increasing the healing process. The animals were giving of their own life energy to the one who had defeated the empress. It was as if these simple creatures were showing their gratitude for what he had done.
Ellarna wondered how this was possible, and let her magic continue permeating her mind and body. She saw swirling mists with her mind’s eye, and when they cleared, not only did she see clearly with her spiritual eyes, she was able to discern what the eye was unable to see. The creatures knew Grogaan had not fulfilled his destiny: He had much more to achieve, and they were ensuring he survived to continue his journey through life. At that moment in time, Ellarna knew without doubt he would survive. Tears of joy filed her eyes, and hope for their future together returned.
When she moved closer, the animals made a space for her to sit amongst them. Ellarna was amazed, and wondered if Sorann or Deanna knew of such occurrences. She sat cross-legged and maintained her focus on the astral realm and her fiancé. The power of pure magic flowed freely through the air and from each being gathered in the cave, enhancing the ability and strength of all gathered. The experience was electrifying, unique and delightful.
Ellarna never thought such a feeling was possible. Every cell of her body was alive with power. She felt every beat of her heart clearly, the pulsing of her blood as it flowed around her body. She even sensed the electrical impulses flowing through her nervous system as she moved. As her gaze drifted across the small creatures she sensed the presence of each and every one, their tiny hearts beating about twice as fast as her own. Then she felt something which was beyond her comprehension; one of the creatures, which was slightly larger and darker coloured than the rest, communicated with her.
It told her they were called the Dirigeon, and their kind had lived here since long before humans settled on the planet. They were able to sense the astral realm, use its power, and understood how life was influenced by destiny and the realm. The creature also revealed they knew evil had been unleashed, and the man lying before them, who was on the verge of death, was the one who had prevented that evil from flourishing. Their unity with the astral realm compelled them to help him, thus enabling him to finish the task and walk the path destiny had prepared for him.
Ellarna was astounded at what she was experiencing. She regarded herself honoured to be in such a place at such a time; to share power and union with creatures of magic, creatures who believed in destiny and whose intelligence surpassed that which anyone could imagine for one so small. She would never forget this, nor would she forget the Dirigeon.
Ellarna was indeed privileged. In communicating by this method, she was performing an act of magic, which was in times past, only possible by casting a very difficult spell, and one few wizards or sorcerers had known of or mastered. Whether it was intentional or not, her mind had been opened to the gift by the Dirigeon, and she would now be able to perform the act without the need to learn the spell or cast it verbally.
She closed her eyes and focussed her thoughts on her fiancé and the creatures. Ellarna felt the power as it flowed around the cave, permeating her body and enhancing her ability. She sensed the impact it was having not only on Grogaan, but also on herself. Every part of her was invigorated as the magic worked its wonders.
Ellarna sensed her ability to utilise her gift increase, and she was able to visualise the astral realm within her mind. Her inner sight began seeing things in an entirely new way, and her spirit felt very light and detached. Then it broke free from the bonds of her body and breached the bounds of the astral realm. The new experience had a profound effect upon her and what she expected as a Guardian.
The ability to spirit walk was a gift beyond anything Sorann or any of the other Guardians were aware of, and one which had also been lost to all but a handful of wizards.
Ellarna was mesmerised and completely engrossed. Her mind and spirit were drifting through the astral realm, but the sensations she was experiencing made it feel as if she was there physically. As she walked without any sense of time or direction, she was unaware of the danger she was facing until she heard a whisper in her mind. It warned her not to walk any further, but to stop, to listen, to learn.
Heeding the warning without question, Ellarna stopped, held her head up slightly and listened to what the realm had to reveal. Her thoughts began traversing through the mists of time; the past, the present, the future. Ellarna was astounded as she saw visions from all three time periods. They were predominantly of her times with Grogaan, and whereas most brought a sense of joy and happiness, some brought sorrow and grief.
When they drifted to future events, she saw herself as an influential Guardian bringing stability and calm to many worlds within the Gaashox Quadrant. Ellarna became very distraught because Grogaan was not present in any of the visions, and she saw nothing of their future together. She did, however, witness the demise of the Hebradon Empire, and also received a warning not to divulge this information to anyone. Although this intrigued her considerably, she brushed aside her concerns when she sensed there was good reason behind the warning. Ellarna knew all would be revealed when the time was right, not before.
Ellarna was very disappointed when the mists of time increased in density, hiding the images that had already begun dissipating. Her conscious thought of where she was and what she was doing returned, making her feel a little disorientated. A strong sense of awareness filled her mind, and knew the magic being emitted by her and the Dirigeon was having a profound effect on Grogaan. He was gaining strength and his body was healing, but it would still take considerable time before he was fully recovered.
Ellarna was now perplexed. She no longer had any doubts about Grogaan’s survival, but she was unable to understand why he was absent from the visions of the future. She knew there had to be a reasonable explanation, and decided to think no more about it. As her thoughts returned to reality, she felt her spirit snap into her body and her consciousness return.
Ellarna opened her eyes and yawned deeply. She realised her whole body was stiff and aching, her shoulders tense, and the slightest movement was painful. Thinking she had only been meditating for an hour or so, Ellarna did not expect to see much of a difference to her fiancé’s condition. However, when her gaze fell on his face, the improvement she saw astonished her.
She knew she should not have been so surprised, having made a miraculously quick recovery herself, thanks to Re’Giana. It did make her wonder if her magic had had much affect on his improvement, or whether it was solely due to her furry friends.
Ellarna gazed at her pocket chronometer, and was amazed to see she had been meditating for nearly twenty hours, which explained why her body was so stiff and aching. The small creatures, which she now held in high regard, looked at her for a few moments before scurrying out of the cave. The dominant male, who had previously communicated with her, assured her the Guardian would recover, although it was going to take some time. He also told her not to be concerned about the future despite what troubles they might face, and then bid her farewell. Ellarna returned the gesture, and offered her sincerest gratitude for their assistance.
Getting up was extremely difficult and took much longer than expected. The sensation of blood rushing through her legs as she straightened them brought not only relief, but pain. Ellarna leant against the wall of the cave to give her body time to recover and to stop her falling over.
Feeling confident about his survival, Ellarna thought it was time to move him inside the ‘Ellarna Star’. Using her magic to raise him from the ground, she carried him into the ship, placed him on the lower bunk, and carefully pulled the cotton blanket over his emaciated body to keep him warm.
Ellarna purposely decided to delay returning to Marderas, even though the medical facilities were excellent. She believed Grogaan was too frail for his body to cope with the demands and stresses of space flight, and with Imperial capital ships in orbit, she thought her chances of escaping were too low. Climbing onto the other bunk, the exhausted woman lay down to rest and soon drifted off to sleep.
Having made the decision to separate from Kopaz Squadron, Jedrool, Hosrak and Wrenkle moved from their assigned barracks into a nearby hotel. They knew destiny had brought them together with the squadron for several reasons, and was now leading them away. This was confirmed when Jedrool received a prompting from the astral realm while meditating:
‘It is time for you to leave those with whom you have fought alongside, and it is time to seek information about the Teragon Knights, to search for whatever there is to be found.’
Jedrool heard it clearly as if someone whispered in his ear, and although he was surprised, had no doubts about its validity, and acted accordingly. Grogaan had his own responsibilities, and even though Jedrool knew he would be disappointed with them leaving, he also knew Grogaan would not attempt to persuade them otherwise. Grogaan believed in the whole principle of destiny, fate, and more importantly, the prophecy.
The Jestungan met his two friends in the canteen. “Well my friends, I have received guidance at last. We are to resume our search for information about the Teragon Knights.”
Hosrak and Wrenkle were excited and anxious about the path they were about to take. They trusted Jedrool’s guidance, and would follow him without question.
“Where do we start?” asked Hosrak. “The Ladorran Quadrant is much larger than the Gaashox, and according to Sorann, many systems are still intolerant or untrusting of Guardians.”
“True, so we must be cautious. As for where we start, I think the most obvious place is the central library. After that, we visit every other library, museum, or establishment where historical records of one sort or another are kept. There has to be something somewhere on Marderas that might give us a starting point.”
“How long do we spend searching?” asked Wrenkle.
“As long as it takes, and longer if required,” said Jedrool.