A Guardian Reborn Excerpt 2

Chapter 2
Cassendra, Cassen System, Solkar Sector, Ladorran Quadrant

When Sorann and Deanna entered the Cassen System, they were contacted by the Imperial Garrison Commander. Sorann told him they had recently married, and were hoping to spend some time alone on the planet. Deanna was very pleased with Sorann’s cover story, but never divulged it.

Both Guardians knew it was going to be a dangerous visit, and they would have to be very cautious. There were no capital ships in orbit, which made them curious but troubled. The Master wondered what event could be serious enough for the Empress to take all Imperial capital ships from the region. There was, however, a lot of Imperial activity on the planet.

The visitors were unable to sense the presence of other Guardians or sorcerers, and were concerned over the fate of Grogaan and Ellarna. They also were relieved, because it indicated the Empress and her disciples were somewhere else.

With so much Imperial activity, the two decided to make use of their cover story, and decided to book in to one of the finest hotels for several nights. Whereas Sorann was feeling apprehensive as they walked to the building, Deanna was looking forward to being alone with the man she loved. She found no difficulty in pretending to be married, but sensed Sorann was a little uncomfortable and unable to relax.

Deanna took hold of his arm and held it tightly in hers. After registering and settling in their room, the two Guardians agreed it was too risky to commence a planetary search straight away. They decided to wander around the city and spend the evening in the hotel.

The following day proved to be a lot quieter than the previous, with little Imperial activity. After a light breakfast, the two Guardians decided to fly low over the planet to give the impression they were sightseeing, and conduct a low-key search for any signs of their friends. They flew for about thirty minutes across the oceans situated north of Lardena, the principle city of Cassendra, before heading into the mountains. Flying between two large mountain peaks they reached an enormous plateau.

Sorann sensed something unusual, decelerated, and scanned the land more carefully. After another fifteen minutes, they discovered an area of devastation towards the north eastern area of the plateau. There was no doubt in Sorann’s mind that the devastation was not caused by laser fire. He had seen trees, bushes and ground cover burnt to cinders before, and in that instance it had been caused by intense lighting generated by the magical power of a Megrein sorcerer.

Both sensed the residue of magic in the air, and the essence of dark magic was more prevalent than it had been on Rhader Three. The sensation sent a shiver through Deanna, and Sorann was deeply troubled. Cautiously checking for Imperial activity, they landed by a small sparse wood a few kilometres from the area. They then strolled towards the devastation.

Sorann was convinced Grogaan had been there, and his belief was confirmed when Deanna found his powersword, which had been discarded beside some shrubbery several metres away. They searched a wider area, allowing their magic to enhance their sensory awareness. There was no sign of Grogaan or Ellarna anywhere, not even their ships. After concluding their initial search, the two disappointed Guardians continued touring the planet to ward off suspicion, before returning to the hotel for another night.

The next day was even quieter, with no Imperial ship activity. After discussing the situation over breakfast, Sorann and Deanna decided against conducting another search. They made an excuse for the hotel proprietor regarding their early departure, and returned to Safkaari to complete their diplomatic mission.

 

When the two arrived on Safkaari, they were met by the Governor’s personal aide. After explaining the situation, the aide accompanied them to the communication station at the government building. Sorann contacted Rosaline and informed her of what had transpired over the past few days.

Rosaline was shocked and devastated, and found it difficult to believe what she heard. She offered to send a team to help with the search, but Sorann rejected the offer. Due to the Imperial presence in the sector, they would need to act covertly to avoid drawing attention to themselves if they were to conduct any further searches.

Before he terminated contact, Sorann reiterated the importance of not informing either Grogaan’s or Ellarna’s families about their missing children. He did not want them worrying over something they may not need to worry about. Rosaline understood, and agreed. Knowing what she did about Grogaan, she was convinced both he and Ellarna would eventually return.

Sorann sat back feeling uneasy, distraught and concerned. He did not know what to expect in the future, nor did he feel confident about his position. Deanna was not pleased with him, but deep down she understood why he felt the way he did, even though she believed he was being too harsh with himself. Despite her thoughts over the way he often put Republican issues before their relationship, Deanna knew she had to let him find his own way out of blaming himself for Grogaan’s condition.

“Sorann, we need to complete our business here and leave. Time is passing quickly, and we cannot afford to delay, not if we want to remain hopeful of finding Grogaan and Ellarna.”

Sorann looked up at Deanna and saw her sparkling eyes gazing at him. There was firmness but also kindness in her voice. He saw it again; the love she held for him, but there was more. He sensed the concern about their relationship, her annoyance at his continual inability to do what was right, not for the Republic, but for them. He smiled at her. “We had better be going then.”

Shortly afterwards, the two Guardians met with Governor Molkern to discuss the issues regarding the safety of the system, the sector, and of the Safkaran people. With their diplomatic responsibilities completed satisfactorily, Sorann and Deanna decided to conduct one more search of the four systems controlled by the Hebradon Empire.

About twelve hours later, the ship de-accelerated to sublight speed and entered the Glaxtor system. The two Guardians combined their powers and formed a magical cloak to hide the presence of their ship. Their first surprise was to discover there were still no Imperial capital ships in the system, and little activity on the planet. They flew low over the surface hoping for a sign of the ‘Ellarna Star’, and scoured several settlements trying to ascertain if anyone had seen anything strange.

The two did not expect to find anything on Glaxtor, but they needed to be sure their friends had not returned for some reason. Refusing to be disillusioned, they headed for Shankart then Rhader three. They repeated their search patterns, first from the air, and then on foot. Unfortunately, they found nothing different. No one had seen or heard anything. If they had, they were not telling. Most of the inhabitants they met on the worlds were easily convinced of the Guardian’s cover story of being married and on a short break, but it did not help them discover anything.

They spent longer searching Cassendra, and were surprised to see nature had already begun reclaiming the devastated area where the sorcerer’s duel had taken place. The grass was spreading rapidly, and new growth sprouting at the base of what were once bushes and shrubs. It appeared as if nature was trying to obliterate what had happened as quickly as possible. Whereas on their last visit, there were obvious remains of bodies, now there was nothing; the area had been cleansed of everything.

It took three days to cover the four systems, and they even walked for several hours across the plateau where the fight had taken place, but there was still no trace of Grogaan, Ellarna, or their ships. Sorann resigned himself to the fact that they were either in some distant system, captured by the Empress, or dead. Neither of them had sensed the presence of other Guardians or sorcerers in the systems, and all residual energy of magic had dissipated.

Sorann’s confidence in seeing his friend alive again was at its lowest, and he wondered whether Ellarna would eventually return. He decided to spend time in solitary meditation as soon as circumstances permitted, hoping the realm would enlighten or reveal something to him. The ship they were using had been loaned to them courtesy of the Safkaran Defence Police, and Sorann promised to return it as soon as they had conducted their search, which they had.

Sorann sat in the pilot’s seat saddened by the disappearance of the two Mabraantans. Knowing the circumstances behind it did not make it any easier for him. Even though he believed he should have sensed something was wrong with Grogaan when he returned from Hiastora Two, he no longer blamed himself for the subsequent events and his fate.

Grogaan’s powersword was on the side panel of the cockpit control unit. Sorann swivelled around in the chair, picked it up and admired its quality. He marvelled at the intricate carvings on the ivory sleeves Grogaan had fitted as handgrips, and the precision of its construction. The activation switch was unusually small for a powersword, and located in a way that required little or no effort to keep depressed. It was obvious his friend had spent a lot of time designing the sword as well as the construction: Grogaan had learnt his skills well.

Few records of the Guardian’s history, life, and principles had survived through the centuries, and almost nothing about the Teragon Knights. Most of what had been collected and stored within the great library was destroyed by Janus Belack and his evil disciples shortly after he rose to power.

With so little information, the Guardians were stumbling along without true guidance and knowledge. Sorann knew there was something missing, something lacking in the abilities of the Guardians, in his abilities. He was convinced there was much more they could or should be capable of, but he had no idea what.

The Guardian Master often wondered who first invented the powersword, how many unfortunate beings had died learning the art of construction, and in the mastery of their use in combat. He had always considered the powersword a strange weapon; similar in use and function to the swords and scimitars of ancient times, and he was intrigued to know how and when they evolved from steel blades to energy.

It was a dangerous weapon, of that there was no doubt. Sorann had always been apprehensive when introducing others to its use, even those who were well advanced in their training as Guardians. Once activated, the power produced by the power-cell and the channelling of the power through crystals caused the blade to become very uncontrollable. It was also this peculiar characteristic of the sword that prevented it being used by other beings; a fortunate design peculiarity, which Sorann assumed was incorporated for that very reason.

Sorann pressed the activation button and watched the blade extend at its slowest speed. The colour was bright and vivid, and it produced a beautiful steady humming sound, which was surprisingly calming and hypnotic. Holding his friend’s sword stirred so many memories, some pleasant, some not so pleasant.

The Master recalled the time he had fought with Emperor Belack and some of his disciples. That fight would have cost him his life, had it not been for one who had since become a very close and trusted friend. Deanna’s appearance on the command ship of the Belocian Imperial fleet had always intrigued him, but had refrained from questioning her about it. Some of his comrades had been sceptical regarding her loyalty to the Confederation of Star Systems, but he believed her intervention confirmed she was not an Imperial spy.

Thinking about some past events in which he had engaged in sword fights, Sorann wondered if his friend had used his sword in combat against Imperial soldiers at the military bases, the Empress, or her disciples. It was surprisingly well balanced for such an uncontrollable weapon, as if it had a life of its own. Sorann deactivated it and continued to admire the carvings on the handle.

The eagle’s head was the most prominent of all the carvings. Sorann believed there was a link between the eagle and Grogaan, and remembering the eagle was also Kopaz Squadron’s emblem, he wondered what significance it had in the Mabraantan’s life. As he put the sword down on the side panel and relaxed, his thoughts turned toward Deanna and the first time they met, and his previous failed relationships.

Over the years, Sorann had become close to several women, but none developed into serious relationships. The last two ended in confrontation and bad feelings, a direct result of his position in the military. As a result of the heartache caused by those painful separations, he had been reluctant to become involved with anyone else. That was until Deanna’s timely arrival, and he discovered they had many similarities, both in character and interests.

He smiled as he thought of their relationship, which had been far from smooth, and often tumultuous. Now he knew what he had to do, it was a matter of finding the right moment, which he was convinced would soon present itself.

Even Sorann knew he was unable to continue as he had done so far. Having sensed Deanna’s feelings, he knew if he delayed much longer she would leave him. Deanna thought she had managed to keep her inner thoughts hidden from him, but he had glimpsed the general thread of her decision. The unintentional intrusion shocked him into realising the truth behind their inability to progress in the relationship: It was his fault, and only he was able to rectify it.

 

The journey back to Marderas was very quiet, the mood sullen. The two Guardians found it difficult to maintain a cheerful disposition, or even spend much time in idle talk. During the flight, Sorann spent some time meditating, not just on the events surrounding the disappearance of their two friends, but on the Hebradon Empire and what might occur in the days ahead. The mists of time swirled around his mind as he sought answers. The events concerning the future of the Hebradon Empire and of the Republic were still obscured. For reasons beyond his comprehension, the realm kept the details of those events hidden.

“Why are the mists so thick, hiding the future from me?” he asked aloud, but received no reply from the realm, not even the slightest whisper of assurance. Sorann was perplexed by the silence and lack of substance to the visions. As he pondered why it was so, an image formed. A pair of eagles soared gracefully in a cloudless sky. Dark clouds rolled in from the north, black and menacing thunder clouds bringing darkness over the land. When the clouds reached the eagles, they plummeted to the ground and disappeared from sight.

An icy shiver ran through Sorann’s body shaking him from his meditation. He opened his eyes and shuddered again as he recalled the vision. Sorann now knew they would find their friends when the astral realm decided the time was right and not before. He did not know why, but he knew conducting another search without guidance from the realm would be as futile as the one just undertaken. Until the right time came along, Sorann would never know whether they would be found alive or dead, and he would not be at peace with life until then.

Deanna was resting on her bunk thinking of nothing in particular when the same vision appeared to her. However, she also received sight of a second one. For reasons far beyond her comprehension, an image of her homeworld appeared, making her wonder what was significant about Feranestia. It was a world far from anywhere, where nothing happened, where the people were complacent, and had no involvement in the affairs of the Ladorran Republic.

Deanna was perplexed.

Turning her thoughts from Feranestia, she pondered recent events. For some reason Jedrool and his two friends came to mind. Deanna had no doubts the three had been guided by destiny to be in the right place at the right time to assist Grogaan on Mabraant. She was curious about them and their intentions. They seemed to have no clear direction, and as she thought about them, the astral realm revealed some truths.

Listening carefully, she discovered they were not truly accepted in Kopaz Squadron, and would leave to go their own way. Destiny was leading them along a different path, but they would cross again in the future, which suggested Grogaan and Ellarna would be found alive. Deanna wondered what purpose they would have in Grogaan’s future if they left. She sighed heavily. The promptings from the astral realm only ever seemed to go so far, and never revealed everything, making it difficult to know what to do for the best. One trait Deanna had learnt well over the years was patience, and the need to ponder and mediate on what was revealed, even though it could be very frustrating.

 

Zaack was furious, as was the rest of the squadron, at the lack of concern over the apparent disappearance of two powerful Guardians of the Republic. He had been trying to speak with Sorann for several days, but no one would tell him where he was, what he was doing, or why everyone was being so secretive. No one had heard from Grogaan or Ellarna since they left Marderas, and he was becoming deeply concerned. The only person Zaack had not gone to speak to was Grogaan’s mother. The last thing he wanted to do was tell her Grogaan was missing if she did not already know.

Zaack knew Grogaan had major responsibilities to deal with, but that would not prevent him making contact, even if it was just a short message. It was either no one on Marderas knew where Grogaan and Ellarna were, or someone did but was refusing to divulge the information. Zaack was convinced Sorann knew, but no one seemed to know where he was either, which the Mabraantan refused to believe was true. Even Deanna had not been seen since she had left with Sorann on their diplomatic mission.

As soon as Zaack walked into the crew room, where Kopaz Squadron were waiting impatiently, he was bombarded with questions. “Alright, give me chance to sit down will you,” he said. “Now, no one is willing to tell me anything; not where they are, or why they haven’t made contact.”

“Something’s happened, hasn’t it?” said Joeen. There was no disguising her anxiety.

“That’s the whole point, no one will tell me anything. Sorann is nowhere to be found, so I can’t speak to him about it either.” Despite his comment, he was unable to hide his underlying fear that something had indeed happened to them.

“It ain’t good enough. They owe it to us to reveal what they know,” said Parrin, who remained considerably restrained in attitude and demeanour.

“You don’t need to argue that point. I agree, but what else is there to do,” said Zaack shaking his head.

They all went silent. Joeen and Lusiana were almost in tears, and the rest were angry but keeping it well controlled, even Parrin. It had been almost two weeks since their Commander had left for the Da’Aranb System, a diplomatic mission, which should have taken no more than seven days to complete.

The following day Zaack could hold back his temper no longer. He stormed over to the Imperial Palace and demanded to speak with Governor Morrawen. Even though she was willing to speak with him, Rosaline was unable to enlighten him on anything.

“I’m terribly sorry Zaack, but Sorann has made it clear I am not allowed to divulge anything.”

Zaack was barely able to contain his anger, even though he knew it was not the Governor’s fault. “Dammit Governor, he’s my friend,” he snapped. “If anyone has the right to know, then it’s me and his mother.”

Rosaline glared at him.

“Forgive my outburst Governor. It was uncalled for.”

“That’s alright Zaack. I do understand, believe me.” Rosaline sighed heavily and closed her eyes momentarily. When she opened them, she looked Zaack in the eyes. “You have not heard this from me.”

Zaack shook his head.

“He has gone missing, as has Ellarna, and Sorann has no idea where.”

Zaack shook his head, and rubbed his left hand across his brow. He knew it was true and felt wretched. “Thank you Governor. I will say nothing of this to anyone, not until I have spoken with Sorann.” Zaack got up and walked out.

Rosaline called out to him as he reached the door. The pilot stopped and turned his head. “I am sorry, but Sorann thought it was for the best. He didn’t want you doing anything in haste.”

Zaack looked at her without utterance. He knew that was exactly what he would have done. Sorann knew him well, better than Zaack thought he did.

“Sorann should be back in a day or two. I’m sure he’ll speak with you.”

Zaack smiled and walked away. Before he returned to squadron headquarters, he stopped and composed himself. His anger was subsiding, but his concerns were eating away at his ability to control his emotions. “How could they just disappear?” he asked aloud as he walked down the corridor. A troubling thought came to mind: Had the Empire somehow managed to capture them? He refused to believe this and knew something was not right. Zaack swore Sorann was in for a hard time when he returned.

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A Guardian Reborn Excerpt 1

Chapter 1
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.

Sorcerer’s Duel Excerpt 2

Chapter Seven
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?”

“Yeah, why?”

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.”

“Oh, yes.”

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?”

“Commander Learman?”

“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.

 

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Sorcerer’s Duel Excerpt 1

The Guardians Book Two
Sorcerer’s Duel
W. H. Cann

Chapter One
Mabra System, Fazaal Sector, Gaashox Quadrant

Many Guardians in the Ladorran and Gaashox Quadrants were taught there were two astral realms; the primary realm from where people drew upon the power and manifested it as magic, and the upper realm, which was usually referred to as the dark realm. However, they incorrectly believed that the power emanating from the dark realm was evil in essence, was fed by negative emotions, and was the direct cause for the evil perpetrated by those who willingly utilised its power.

Those who utilised the ‘dark’ magic became known as Megrein Sorcerers, named after the Guardian Denaris Megrein. He was the first to develop teachings based on negative emotions, and their use in increasing strength and power. Continue reading

Path to Vengeance Excerpt 2

Chapter Two

Mabraant, Mabra System, Fazaal Sector, Gaashox Quadrant

The four engineers ambled across the hangar toward the bays in which their ships were parked, which were looking as if they had just been brought out of the finishing shop. The paintwork shone like polished metal and the silver components glistened under the hangar lights.

As Zaack’s gaze passed over his ship, he noticed something different about them. “Hey Grogaan, when did those markings appear on the tail fins?”

“Yesterday. I thought we needed a personal identity, and as we all admire the eagle for its majestic beauty and skill as a predator, I considered it quite appropriate for our small squadron.”

They were dark blue shields with the head of the Grederant eagle in green at the centre. In its open beak, was a large dark green Kopaz gem, and beneath the eagle’s head a number preceded by the letter K; one on Grogaan’s ship, two on Zaack’s, three on Doraant’s, and four on Eldaan’s. Below the shield, he had painted the word Kopaz. Continue reading

Path to Vengeance Excerpt 1

Prologue

Mabraant, Mabra System, Fazaal Sector, Gaashox Quadrant
Calendar of the Ancients 11,190

Grogaan was standing by one of the large viewing windows at the main space port in Herloan City, staring at the sky and feeling happier than he could ever remember. He was waiting excitedly for the arrival of Miranda, his fiancée, who was returning from a visit to Breolis Primar in the nearby star system.

He was well respected at Mabraant Engineering where he worked and had excelled in his abilities as an engineer. He had recently passed his advanced flying course, and it was the first anniversary of his engagement to Miranda. In another year he would be reapplying to join the Mabra Defence Academy, and hopefully start his fighter training. If successful, he would be following in the footsteps of six generations of Learmans, all of whom were renowned fighter pilots.

The ship was overdue by an hour, his excitement diminished slowly as time passed, and he feared for her safety. Most ships arriving in the Mabra System were late because their arrival had to be timed with that of a fighter escort, but it did not prevent him from worrying.

The escort ships were the new Manta Class Interceptors, a fast and beautiful starfighter Grogaan hoped to fly once he was enrolled into the Academy. He recalled a time when ship escorts were unnecessary, but that was over five years ago, before the Krelathan raiders began attacking ships in the star systems bordering the raiders’ home system of Krela. Continue reading