Category Archives: Multistory

Sentinel: Honor or Duty?

“Who gave you authorization to set up this surveillance, Officer Reed?” shouted the captain, slamming the file on the table and scattering papers everywhere.

Archer Reed met the captain’s stern gaze. “I’ve told you, don’t call me officer.”

“You’re mine, Reed! I’ll call you what I want. Now tell me why you set up unauthorized surveillance in this warehouse.”

“I had a hunch. And it was right, by the way. Look at the videos. They’re going around the north side of town, kidnapping homeless people to sell into slavery.”

“I see that. But now, thanks to you, we can’t move on that location. That video was taken without a court warrant.”

Archer flicked his toothpick away and leaned forward, putting his full weight on the table. “We won’t need a court when I’m done with these punks.”

The Captain’s eyes narrowed. “If you go, we’ll come after you and that badge you’re wearing.”

Archer stared at him, reading the sincerity in the statement and weighing his options. Finally he stood up and walked to the door.

“Stop him,” the Captain called out. The two policemen by the door slid in front of him.

“Have I done something wrong, Captain?” Archer asked, his gaze remaining on the door. “Your rulebook says I have to have done something wrong for you to detain me.”

The Captain’s face flushed while he waved the officers to step aside. As Archer stepped through the door with a smug grin, the captain stated evenly, “We’ll be there to take you in when you do.”

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“You sure you want to do this, Archer?” The vigilante’s assistant, Wyatt, asked. “I was getting used to not running from the cops. And it was kinda nice having a paycheck coming in.”

Archer slid on his full-face Kevlar helmet that matched his armor as he sat on his running motorcycle. “Just go get on the comms, Wyatt,” he responded looking ahead. “And cut our radio communications with headquarters.”

Archer saw Wyatt look down dejectedly at his plump belly in his mirror as he took off out of the garage. “Looks like it’s back to Ramen and Cheetos for us, ol’ buddy,” he heard his assistant say in his earpiece.

The thin, red bandanna tied around Sentinel’s helmet whipped behind him as he quickly traversed Chicago’s busy streets. In the short time it took him to get to the warehouse, he went over his plan to keep his mind off of his building rage. The conversation with the Captain only added fuel to those fires. With his destination in sight, his tires screeched as he came to a stop.

I’ll have to get in quick or they’ll scatter like the rats that they are. A quick scan of the streetlight-lit parking lot revealed his entryway.

“Are your eyes up and running?” he called to Wyatt, who sat reclined back at the house working remotely. The small cameras on the front and back of Sentinel’s helmet whirred as the assistant brought them into focus.

“Yeah, I can see ya.”

His tire squealed into the night as the bike peeled out and launched Sentinel toward his objective. He leaned forward on the handlebars as he ran up the back of a semi and ramped into the air. Jumping onto the seat, he kicked the bike ahead of him sending it crashing into the large window on the front of the warehouse. His motorcycle slid into the back wall, throwing sparks, as he landed in a roll and came up running.

The poor, stunned felons had no time to react before The Sentinel was upon them. With a leap he planted a kick on the nearest thug. Unleashing his collapsible staff, he struck the next punk in the face before the first one even hit the ground.

“You’ve got two comin’ up behind ya. The one on your left has a semi-auto,” Wyatt called out in Archer’s headset.

Sentinel used the momentum of his spinning body to send the cable whizzing from the bottom of his forearm’s armor after the armed man. As the magnetic claw grabbed the gun with a clank, The Sentinel jerked it free. Before the vagrant could react, Sentinel brought his other arm around and aimed it at him. There was a loud pop and two tazer probes stuck into the thug, sending him to the floor.

In a frenzy, the last thug made a break for the door, but not quick enough. The Sentinel grabbed the back of the man’s head and smashed it into a nearby pillar.

The hero glanced around the room to ensure he had taken them all down. He flicked open a device on the back of his forearm and looked over the blueprints to the warehouse again. The victims should be right here.

A loud clang echoed when Sentinel broke the lock and opened a door. His heart sank as a group of people stared at him cowering in fear, battered from being taken hostage. “It’s okay. You’re free now,” he assured them. “Just stay put and the police will be here to help you any minute.”

Sentinel checked out his bike and swore under his breath.

“Regretting that showboat entry now, aren’t ya?” Wyatt taunts.

“It was a police-issue anyway. I’m sure they had tracking on it.”

“Not to sound too negative here, but if the cops weren’t going to be able to put these guys away before, what do you expect them to do now?”

“They just couldn’t use the footage in court because a member of their unit obtained it illegally. I’m not CPD anymore.”

“So that bit about not needing the court…” Wyatt let the statement trail off.

“A bluff.”

Archer grinned beneath his helmet. Then flashing lights caught his attention. He turned to see silhouettes rushing to the doors in front of the blue and red lights.

“Archer, it’s time for you to leave,” Wyatt called out, but The Sentinel was already in stride.

Ephraim: The Afflicted Tome ®

The chirps of the indigenous birds of the rainforest hang on the air as Ephraim and Roald make their way down the beaten path. The humid air causes their silken robes to cling to their moistened bodies. With each step that draws them closer to their destination, they feel the threats of the jungle’s wildlife and harsh environments diminishing. The trek has been long and hard, but they will soon be rewarded by reaching their the city they set out for.

Ephraim’s agitation begins to show through as exhaustion from the trip takes its toll on his emotions. “I find it hard to believe that this is the only scribe that could put a tome together for us.”

“The only one? Certainly not.” Roald answers as he casts a smirk over his shoulder. “If you want a tome that will subsist during the journeys you and I will be taking, you must be willing to traverse wherever necessary to find the best at their craft. We are drawing near now anyway, so keep up and stop your grumbling.”

“I’ll stop my grumbling when I can get a bite to eat and stop walking.” Ephraim replies under his breath. When Roald glances back over his shoulder with a look of indignation, the student quickly looks into the forest to avert his gaze. I’ve gotta learn when to keep my mouth shut, he thinks.

As the splendorous city of Queloria peaks over the hill, Ephraim’s contention is all but washed away, setting a look of awe on his tired face. The beautiful city with white walls and towers sits back in an alcove in the light gray mountain behind it. A beautiful blue waterfall cascades behind the castle at the back of the province. Dark blue accents dot the serene whites of the city’s buildings, giving the city a beautiful contrast in design.

Ephraim takes a deep breath. Aromas of a floral spring fill the air making the city’s aura all the more pleasant. The combination of being nestled into a mountain and the grand waterfall backdrop combats the calefaction of the jungle air around the magnificent city, bringing it to a temperate climate. Everything about the environment calms their nerves and refreshes their spirits.

Roald turns around to face his apprentice as they approach the city’s ivory gate with beautiful designs that reveals the excellent craftsmanship of its makers. “You appear to be in a better mood already. Stay here for a moment, and I’ll talk to the guards. Perhaps they will grant us entry without taxation I can help them understand the urgency of our quest.” As the teacher makes his way to a guard standing by the doors, Ephraim continues to take in the splendor of the scenery. A movement in his peripheral vision catches his attention. He’s able to make out that it is a dirty child holding an empty drinking pouch and it seems to be approaching him. With a quick turn of his body he is able to ignore the oncoming inconvenience and put some distance between them.

I should help her. Ephraim feels a pull to turn around and comfort the child, and pulls his Topaz from his pouch. He runs his finger across its cool, smooth surface as he examines a small crack on it while keeping his walking pace. I can’t use up my Topaz though. I am definitely going to need it to make myself some drinking water soon. She’s right outside one of the grandest cities in Elqanah. Surely someone will see her and help her. He peers into the reflection on the gem to see that she has diverted her attention to someone else that is giving her the same consideration as he is. An approaching figure startles him, causing his abrupt stop that narrowly keeps him from plowing into it. His teacher, who is returning from talking to the guards, stands before him. The student’s heart sinks as he sees Roald’s angered expression.

“Wow. You scared me.” Ephraim chuckles. The teacher’s unrelenting gaze gives him further discomfort. “So are they going to let us in?” He attempts to make casual conversation to deter the inevitable scolding he feels is approaching. He winces as Roald tears the Topaz from his grasp and walks over to the little girl. The teacher bends over and uses the last of the gem’s essence to fill the little girl’s drinking pouch. The jumping and laughing she exhibits in elation that should be a heart-warming sight is like daggers in Ephraim’s heart as he watches her thank his teacher for an act he knows he should have committed. After exchanging a hug with the girl, Roald hands her a nice-sized pouch with gold coins and rubs his hand on her shoulder. He begins walking back to Ephraim as she runs back out to a little hut outside the city walls.

“How are we going to make water for ourselves without Topaz or gold to buy more?” Ephraim asks sheepishly in a poor attempt to mask his embarrassment.

Roald’s scowl slowly fades away as he pauses for a moment. He takes a deep breath and habitually rubs his hand over his beard to smooth out the area around his mouth. Ephraim reads this telltale sign of his teacher’s attempt to calm himself and gathers a little relief. “You don’t understand this now, but you will soon, Ephraim. Just have faith and when you read the tome we are here to get, it will all begin to make sense.” Ephraim looks away in discomfort as Roald begins walking toward the now-opening gate.

“I wanted to help her, you know. I just don’t see how much help one pouch of water is.” The pupil’s words cause Roald to pause and look back at him. The instructor turns back puts his hand on Ephraim’s shoulder.

“Everyone wants to help, Ephraim. Intentions are good, but you have to be driven to action. It’s only through compassionate action that poverty is slain; one small act at a time.” As Roald turns back and begins walking into the city, Ephraim oddly begins to feel challenged and empowered. Where he recently felt shame, he now feels compelled and eager. He feels his shocked expression shift to a determined grin as he follows his leader into Queloria’s gates.

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The pair make their way through the hustle and bustle of the crowds in Queloria to The Redeemed Scribe. The tranquil sound of the rushing waterfall at the back of the city lends itself to the serenity of the city as merchants and townsfolk converse in a scene that would be a little chaotic in any other township. Mist that sparsely hangs high casts a glorious rainbow over the pristine walls, but doesn’t prevent the sun from giving light to the kingdom. Ephraim glances over as he notices a blue gleam in his peripheral vision, but quickly looks away as he notices it is on the ring of a stern-faced guard. He is quickly reminded of his lessons about the aristocratic Mayim Nation. The wearing of the gems by their Gemkith in their rings is symbolic of the role the nation plays in the grand scheme of the world. Rings signify a ruling position, and the Mayim consider themselves nothing less than worthy of that classification. Ephraim focuses his attention back to his path as the pair walk under an azure canopy set against the white walls of the scribe’s shop and walk through the door.

An aromatic wave of ink and wood floods their noses. Ephraim takes a moment to pause and admire the craftsmanship of the room. The white walls, floor, and ceiling are fashioned so seamlessly that it appears as if the room was naturally formed from the building itself. The walls are lined with ornate walnut bookshelves filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Large, arched windows at the back of the shop give light to the laborer who is milling away at meticulously binding books. The beauty of the room soon tarnishes as Ephraim meets the shopkeeper’s grim gaze from across the counter. He is a tall, dark-headed man wearing a fine silken robe. His work in the press has earned him a few black ink stains on the red and gold material as well as on his cheeks.

“It’s about time you got here, Roald.” He scorns. “You know I’m not supposed to be making these books for you, and I received your request six months ago. If King Zolia were to find out…”

“I know, Saul, and I thank you.” Roald interrupts, “This is the soonest we could journey here, I swear it. What can I pay you for your labor?”

“Just… consider us even for that time you saved me in the jungle.” The shopkeep says as he sets the two tomes up on the counter.

Roald grasps Saul’s shoulder with a grin and says, “Thank you, brother. Our friendship is valuable to me beyond words.” He turns and hands one of the books to Ephraim. The apprentice leans into catching the book as he expects the weight of the deceptively large object to drag his arms to the floor. Roald fights back a grin as his student regains his composure. He runs his fingers over it as he studies the amazing workmanship of the leather cover and the facets embedded into it. The art depicts an armored angel spreading its wings over the city of Queloria.

With a look of puzzlement, Ephraim turns his attention to the book’s maker and asks, “So what is so dangerous about this book?”

Saul looks at Roald with mild disbelief. “You didn’t tell him what’s in the book?”

“I thought it best to keep a little ambiguity until we made it out of Queloria. The less he knows of it in these walls, the better.” Roald exchanges nods with the scribe and turns to Ephraim. “Come. We risk our ally’s lives by staying here any longer than need be. We will make our way to the lapidary to get these gems fitted for the facets in these tomes.” He turns back to Saul to issue one more statement as they step out of the door. “Farewell, and may the next time we meet be under better circumstances.”

“Take care, Roald. I pray your path is made safe for you by the One who watches over us.”

As the pair walk out of the room, the shop’s workman in the back wipes beads of sweat from his brow and watches with a look of desperation and malice in his eyes.

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The next morning, Ephraim steps out of the Rosehall Inn at the town’s center. Rushing waters from the backdrop of the city enhance the repose of the dewy morning in Queloria as the lingering mist shifts about through the streets. He assumes that the bustle of the townspeople reserves itself to the afternoon, leaving the morning even more tranquil and pleasant. The sounds of the waterfall and the revisited floral fragrance add to the peacefulness of the scene. He can’t help but find himself wondering how a king of such a peaceful and beautiful kingdom could entertain the idea of punishing someone over a book.

After a few moments, Roald steps out of the inn and hands his pupil’s tome to him. He thought it better to keep it himself for the night in case someone were to catch wind of the book’s creation in the city and the guards were to search the inn that night. The teacher certainly didn’t want to risk his apprentice’s life, but he also didn’t want him reading it without first being told the importance of what its pages contained.

Ephraim is compelled by the book’s exquisite craftsmanship to run his hand over the cover once again as he collects his thoughts for the morning. His mind drifts as the art on the book draws his loose focus. The grooves in the design naturally draw his fingers from one side to the other. As his appendages reach the edge, he has to remember his promise to his teacher and fight the urge to crack it open and read its contents. Roald finishes lacing his boots and notices his student’s fanciful state. He draws Ephraim’s attention back into reality by saying, “Right then. Are you ready to go?”

Ephraim lingers in his trance momentarily and lightly shakes his head with a smirk as he tries to imagine a reason for such a fuss over a collection of words. “Yeah. Let’s get going.” As the two begin making their way down the city’s stone walkway, the pupil’s fleeting resolve loses out to his curiousness. “You are going to tell me why it’s so dangerous to have this book, right?”

“I promise to tell you the moment this city’s walls disappear behind the hill, but right now we need to focus on making it that far.” Roald pauses for a moment as he hears a crowd jeering and chanting. The pair follow the sound, and as they round a corner and emerge from an alley way, they see why the streets are empty this morning. A crowd of people have gathered in a corner of the city that has obviously not been kept as well as the merchant’s square where they have been. The dusty streets lead to a platform where a man in an executioner’s hood bearing a giant axe is standing. The crowd standing around the platform is restless and calling for blood. A town guard leads a man with a hood over his face onto the platform and next to the executioner’s block. The mage feels his heart sink as the soldier jerks the black veil off to reveal the face of doomed man.

“Saul the Scribe, you have been charged with printing religious propaganda that has been outlawed by the state of Queloria.” The guard declares. “The penalty for said crime is death by beheading and is sentenced to be carried out immediately by order of King Zolia. How do you wish to plea?”

Saul looks over his shoulder at the soldier with an icy glare. “Does it matter?”

“The criminal wishes to not give a plea, what do the good people of Queloria say?”

“Kill him! Kill him!” The crowd begins to chant. Roald’s rage builds flushing his face as the watchman allows the humiliation to ensue momentarily.

Ephraim turns to him to ask, “What should we do?” But his query doesn’t penetrate Roald’s fixation on the scene unfolding before them. The guard raises his hand to calm the crowd so they can hear him speak.

“The people have spoken! Do you have any last words, criminal?”

Saul’s skims the crowd. He ponders on how the city that he had so loved, and had so loved him, could so quickly be calling for his life. A rogue tear streaks through the dirt on his cheek as he tries to find the words to express what his heart feels though his resolve does not break. His eyes meet Roald’s. He reads the anger in them as Roald reads the call for hesitation in Saul’s eyes.

“If there is one among you that has sympathy for me, I tell you not to grieve. Do not make it known if you do have sympathy for me, for you would do so at the exchange of your life.” Ephraim glances at Roald as he begins to understand that Saul is speaking to them. His teacher’s expression is gradually softening from hard anger to disconcerted sorrow for the inevitable loss of his friend. “You have many important things ahead of you in your life. Do not risk them for one that is doomed. Go be the change the world needs. I go now to meet my Creator; the merciful Savior of manki…” The guard punches him, ending his proclamation.

“You won’t spew your religious nonsense from my stage, filth.” He shoves Saul to his knees. Roald spins Ephraim around and they begin making their way toward the city gate in an attempt to prevent himself from acting out. His fingers begin to clutch his tome tightly as his anger continues to rise. The feeling of helplessness and sorrow sends a cold shudder down his spine as their pace hastens. He can’t escape the vicinity soon enough to prevent hearing the cheers calling from behind him that affirm his fears. His friend is dead. A torrent of emotions flows through him as they round the last corner, placing the town gate just ahead of them.

“Come on, Ephraim. We have to get out of the gates before the people of the town lose interest in what’s going on back there. They will undoubtedly begin searching everyone to find the books he made.” Roald says. Ephraim looks at his teacher sympathetically as he follows his command. “I have a good rapport with the guard here, so let me talk to them, and maybe they will let us through without checking us.”

Ephraim waits as Roald makes his way over and begins speaking with one of the guards at the left side of the gate. As he notices a guard from the right side of the gate giving him an unnerving glare, he begins to slightly shift uncomfortably in place. A cold bead of sweat accumulates on his brow as he feels the guards eyes make their way to his tome. He quickly slides the book into the arm opposite of the guard which only further raises the sentry’s suspicion. Ephraim knows he is about to be found out. To his fortune, the gate begins to slide open as Roald approaches him. The keen teacher notices the alert guard and casually turns from moving toward Ephraim to leading him through the aperture to hasten their exit.

“Hey! You!” The guard shouts from behind them. “Let me see that book!” As the pair pick up their pace, the guard becomes certain he has found who they are looking for. “It’s them! Quick, shut the gates!”

“Run!” Roald shouts as the pair barely clear the opening to the closing gates. Ephraim breathes a sigh of relief as they emerge on the other side of the city walls and the doors slam shut behind them. The moment is short-lived as he sees the impending handful of guards that keep watch from outside the city. Roald turns back to his pupil to say, “Ok. The Mayim Empire is known for using water-elemental gems, so you know what to counter with, right?”

Ephraim issues an eager nod with a determined grin as his eyes begin to shine green. A glowing mist of the same color begins to trail from the Peridot on the face of his tome as he throws his empty hand overhead. The ground beneath them quakes as a nearby boulder separates from it and barely blocks an incoming razor-sharp, liquid wave. Like controlling a marionette, the mage swings his arm around and sends the boulder smashing some of the guards and pins them against the city wall. The white barrier cracks behind them from the pressure of the attack. As he focuses on controlling the boulder, he begins to feel the air condensate around him. He turns to see two remaining guards with sapphire-colored glowing eyes; one creating a liquid bubble around his head and the other preparing to unleash another slicing attack. The back of his throat collects moisture as he takes one more deep breath before his head is completely encased in a fluid sphere. Unable to keep his concentration, he drops the boulder and covers his mouth and nose. Desperation sets in as he realizes he can’t gather the focus needed to block the attack from the second remaining guard. His vision begins to darken and he feels his consciousness beginning to fade as he tries to keep his footing.

Roald turns back from taking down a few guards to see his struggling pupil. His rage that is still burning at the loss of Saul is fueled beyond control at the sight. His eyes begin to shine with all of the colors represented on his tome simultaneously, causing them to take on a malicious purple hue. A trail of mist of the same shade follows his book as he begins his assault. In fluid motion he causes the two guards to turn their attacks on each other. He turns and ignites two men that are recuperating from being slammed into the wall by a boulder. With a spin of his body he sends the boulder that Ephraim used crashing into the four poor charred and bleeding people he has just overcome. As his relentless onslaught presses on, the guards inside the city have gotten the gate back open and are beginning to advance on them. Roald’s darkened gaze petrifies them with fear as he sends a mountain of earth rising in front of the gate to trap them behind it.

Ephraim coughs and gasps for air as he begins to regain his focus. The realization that Roald is getting dangerously close to becoming drunk with power exhorts him to call to his mentor, “Roald! We’ve won! Let’s get out of here!”

Roald’s eyes quickly lose their shine as he regains his composure. A glimmer of shame skims his eyes as he pauses momentarily. He doesn’t let the moment linger, knowing that the people of Queloria wouldn’t remain behind his wall for long. As Ephraim runs past him, he quickly falls in line behind his student as they vanish back into the jungle overgrowth.

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As Ephraim emerges from the jungle with his teacher, and he finally feels that they are safe from the Quelorian guard, he looks down the road ahead. The seeming unend and mystery of what lies beyond the mist connecting the forest on both sides of them a metaphor for his destiny. After travelling a short distance, his anticipation overcomes the flurry of other emotions their time in the city gave him, causing him to finally swallow the lump in his throat and ask the question that had been circling his thoughts since he first touched his tome: “Why are they killing people for this book?”

The discerningly somber look in Roald’s eyes makes Ephraim’s soul cry. The student offers a wry smile in solace to his teacher’s misery. Roald responds, “Do you remember the lesson you were taught about the turning of the eras, and the Hero of Elqanah?” Roald finally asks.

Ephraim is hesitant to offer his answer. “I do. Of course I do. But why don’t you tell me what you know so I can make sure you’re right,” he says jokingly. The wisecrack does little to lighten the mood. Roald stops and throws his head back with his eyes closed in disappointment. He takes a deep breath as he runs his hand over his mouth again, smoothing out the short hair of his beard. He looks over his shoulder for a moment to assure they are alone and glances around for a spot for them to sit. He gives a slight head gesture towards a small alcove off of the path with a few logs laying about. As Ephraim passes by the tree line, he notices a green mist trailing from Roald’s tome. The creaking of tree trunks causes him to look back and see that the trees have bent in and are blocking the clearing from the sight of the road. Roald takes a seat on a log and pats the spot next to him as he looks at Ephraim.

“Have a seat, Ephraim.” A hurricane of thoughts blows through the pupil’s head as he follows Roald’s command. “How much do you really know?”

“Uh,”

“Honestly.”

Ephraim lowers his head. “Not much.”

“Okay. I’ll start from the beginning: when Elohim created Elqanah, He made two humans to live on it. They lived peaceably for many years amongst the wildlife and vegetation. One day, a dragon that was jealous of the relationship the humans had with Elohim convinced the humans that they should use their magic to create a being of their own so they could be like their Creator. So the couple worked their magic together to create a creature unlike anything that had been created before. They made the creature and named it Maveth.”

Ephraim’s jaw dropped open. He remembered the beast Maveth from several stories. It roamed the world killing mercilessly and leaving many dead in its wake. It was said that no person every died of natural causes in those days. That Maveth eventually found you and ended your time when he was ready. He was an indestructible, unwavering force of destruction.

“I see you remember that name,” Roald lightheartedly jested. “I would hope you didn’t forget him. The humans went into hiding and the races of the world grew out of their children. During Maveth’s time on Elqanah, many prophets gave hope to its inhabitants by foretelling of a Hero that would come and destroy the creature. After centuries of the races of Elqanah surviving the beast’s grasp, the Hero came. He lived His life teaching people of the ways of Elohim until His time to meet Maveth came.”

Ephraim’s happiness bubbled out as he said, “And He killed Maveth?”

“No. Maveth killed Him.”

Roald’s abrupt delivery of the unexpected turn of events shocked his pupil, causing him to suddenly lean back. Ephraim turned the thoughts over in his mind momentarily before asking what anyone likely would in that situation: “what happened to Maveth?”

“That’s where it gets beautiful, Ephraim. Everyone expected an epic battle between the Savior of Elqanah and death incarnate, but He didn’t fight him. In fact He accepted His death willingly in spite of being the Chosen Savior. Many people battled the beast before Him, but he could never be bested. It was the necessary sacrifice for the Savior to be raised from death by Elohim to conquer Maveth once and for all. His death saved us all from Maveth’s tyranny over the races of Elqanah.”

Ephraim’s face lit up as he began to feel a little overwhelmed with joy. Then he began to wonder, though, as his thoughts drifted back to the events in Queloria and the book in his hands. “But what does that have to do with them killing the scribe back there?”

“The book in your hand has been attacked since it was written. Men have tried for years to wipe it from the face of Elqanah. It is a combination of the scrolls written by the prophets that tell how people of the time should live, the history of Elqanah, the prophecies of the coming Savior, and eye witnesses that walked with the Savior during His time here. It helps us understand the nature of Elohim, the Creator, and how we can grow closer to Him.”

“But why would someone want to destroy that?”

“You’ll understand more when you get the time to read and study it, but generally men don’t want to be told how to behave and act. The dragon that was present with the first humans still imposes his malicious intent amongst men, and tries to destroy the book as well. It is only under Elohim’s guidance that this tome has survived through centuries of attempted destruction to be in our hands today.”

Ephraim has a hard time processing it all. He rubs his fingers and thumb back and forth across his forehead to alleviate the swirling sensation inside of it as he tries to take it all in. “Why would that matter though? Don’t people still want to know what happened?”

“Well, with the passing of time, and the spreading of lies by the dragon, some people have come to believe that the history of the Savior is a myth. Nothing more than a legend told to the youth and weak of the world to give them a false hope.”

“But what do they think happened to Maveth? He isn’t around killing people anymore.”

“They tie him with the records of the Savior and question his existence too.” Ephraim leans back with his hands on the log behind him for a moment and contemplates what he is being told. Roald reads the look on his face and stands up before the student can question further. “As I said, you’ll understand better when you have ample time to read and study it. For now, we need to separate ourselves from Queloria and make our way to our next destination.”

“Which is where?”

Roald looks back as the trees begin to unfold ahead of him and smiles with a shake of his head. “That, my student, will be revealed to you in time.”

Tanna: A Date with Opportunity ®

The leaves of the forest foliage rustle as the couple runs down the worn path. The hot summer sun has made this trek a particularly difficult one. Beinion smiles as he looks back to make sure he hadn’t lost his young, female elf partner in that last rough patch. Tanna slides down a small decline into view of her male guide. As the cloud of dirt settles around her feet, she pats the dust from the bottom of her sun dress.

“Are we going to get there soon?” She asks with a slight pant on her breath. “It feels like we’ve been walking all day? And what’s that noise? It sounds like rushing water.”

“That’s because it is.” Beinion says as he pulls back some over-sized jungle leaves to reveal a dazzling waterfall that pours into a pool just ahead of them. “Welcome to our destination, Tanna.” The green forest that surrounds the rock wall of the fall radiates behind the sparkling blue water. A few birds of contrasting colors fly across the face of the pond as the sun’s reflection shimmers across their bellies.

Tanna can hardly contain her elation at the beautiful site. Her widened smile revealing both shock and amazement. Under her breath, she utters the only words that can come to her mind, “how did you find this place?”

“I stumbled upon it one day when I was cataloging the effects of a spell I had cast on a rabbit. I followed its trail through the woods and came out into this gorgeous spring. I named it Melar Ehtelë. I only thought it fitting that this be the location of our next date.” He says with a cheery smile.

Tanna blushes as she translates the name. “Lover’s Spring.” She turns to hide her face from Beinion as she feels her cheeks warm.

“Come,” Beinion says as he grabs her hand and begins running toward the waterfall. “I want to show you my favorite spot.” As they make their way through the grassy area between the woods and the waterfall, a group of butterflies scatter before them. The lady elf can’t tell if her racing heart is from the physicality of the trip here, or her excitement of being in such a beautiful place. Although her company is a probable cause as well. The chirping of frogs and singing of birds adds to the serene ambiance.

As they approach the rushing falls, Beinion lifts an arm overhead and places the other in the small of Tanna’s back to keep her close. A transparent bubble forces the water around the two as the splendor of their location comes into view from the other side. Tanna gasps for breath with her hand over her mouth at the site. They walk into a small cavern with the waterfall flowing over the opening. The dark room is dimly lit by a few sporadic, glowing emeralds, that stand as tall as she, protruding out from the cool, stone floor. Beinion guides her to the edge of the cavern where they sit on a ledge just inside the reach of the falls. With a wave of his hand, an invisible orb parts the waters before them, and they are able to take in the full view of the magnificent spring from behind the tranquil falls.

After spending a few moments to take it all in, Tanna finally looks at Beinion. “Thank you for sharing this place with me. This is truly a wonderful place.” She looks back to her bare feet and places one under the rushing water to her side, letting it splash over the bottom of her dress. “I couldn’t think of a better person to come her with.” She says, with a playful smile.

Beinion returns the smile as he reaches over and takes her hand before looking back out over the water. The warm gesture sends joyful shivers throughout her body. “You know, I have spent a long time focusing on my studies. There has not been much else worth striving for in my life. Not that I wanted anything else. KemenGûl is more than enough to keep me interested with how I spend my time.” He pauses before turning to look at her. She resists, for a moment, to return the gaze. She can tell that he is giving her that look. The one that will make her heart jump in her chest. The temptation proves too strong, and she finds that she never truly wanted to resist anyway. Their eyes meet and all of her emotion dances with excitement. “But I think I’m beginning to reconsider my priorities,” he finishes.

Tanna’s sheepish smile is the only cover she can muster to hide her exhilaration. To think that a high elven scientist would settle down for an unknown girl like her. She wants to stand and scream at the top of her lungs, but holds back to preserve her lady-like posture. Suddenly she feels Beinion’s hand slip behind her head, and pull her gently toward him. Though their lips meet tenderly, their emotions explode with passion. The flutter of a thousand butterfly wings in her heart makes her feel as if she will lift off of the ground.

As their lips separate, Beinion turns over his partner’s hand, scoops up some dirt, and places it on her wrist. Her eyes widen as she begins to understand the importance of this moment. In the Elven Nations, when a male intends to wed a female, he will inscribe his family’s insignia on her. She had thought that she would be ready for this moment, but now, as it happens, she feels weak. He traces a glowing rune on her skin and blows away the dirt. The world around them seems to disappear as their eyes meet once more.

“I would be honored if you accepted my courtship, fair Tanna,” her lover says. Her eyes well up with tears as she tries to find the words to tell him. She wants to say so many things, but the glory of this moment overwhelms her thoughts and emotions. Unable to fight back the tears any longer, she lets out a gasp and all she can manage to force out is a hushed reply.

“Yes.” The couple’s bodies collide in a dramatic embrace. Tanna’s body feels so light that she begins to sincerely believe that their hug is the only thing anchoring her. So many thoughts flash into her mind in that instant. What will her family think? Where will they live? What will she wear to the wedding? The moment is over in a moment as Beinion pulls back for a second kiss.

As they once again separate, Beinion brushes away a streaming tear from his lover’s cheek. Tanna, thankful for the thoughtful action, almost wants to leave it there as a tangible reminder of her elated emotions. The couple’s focuses transfer to her wrist where the rune is glowing. As he slowly moves his hand over the rune, the reflection of the soft light from under his hand glances off of her soft skin. When the symbol is revealed from under his hand, it has become a permanent stamp. Her heart skips a beat as she hears his voice once more and looks up to meet his gaze. “I vow to always be by your side, my sweet fiancé.”

Fiancé?  She thinks. Never before had she been graced with a title. She likes the ring this one has to it. Brief toying thoughts with her future name and title are interrupted as Beinion begins to stand.

“We must go.” He says, brushing off his robe and startling his future bride. “As much as I wish this day to go on forever, we are in human territory, and they wouldn’t take kindly to our being here.” A wave of alarm washes away her sense of splendor. Human territory?! She thinks as she rushes to her feet.

“It’s too late for that.” A voice comes from behind them. Startled, they both turn to see a handful of human soldiers in Roman armor standing behind their captain. Beinion notices how proudly he wears the slightly more ornate armor that distinguishes him as their leader. “What a funny site to see through bubble in the falls as we march on our patrol.” He says mockingly over-shoulder to his troops. As he turns back, his stern gaze meets Beinion’s with animosity. “Two lost faerie-folk enjoying our waterfall.”

Seeing the desperation of their situation, Beinion puts his hands up to show surrender. “We were just passing through,” he explains. “Grant us passage, and you won’t see us here again.” The hearty chuckle of the captain deepens their fear.

“Let you go? Why would I do that? So you can go off and practice more of your pagan rituals? Or perhaps you’ll go back to your city and tell of this magnificent place so more of your elf-kin will plague our land.”

“I have known of this place for many years now,” Beinion says in an attempt to calm the irate officer, “and I have yet to reveal it to anyone. If you let us leave, that is the way it will remain.”

The captain’s smile melts into a scowl. He spits in Beinion’s face. “The only good elf is an elf in chains.” As her lover wipes the expectoration from his face, Tanna feels her face flush; her anger temporarily masking her fear. The usually timid young female is overcome by her emotions.

“He is a practitioner of KemenGûl for the High Elven Order!” She exclaims. “You would do well to treat such an important elf with more respect!”

“Oh he is, is he?” The captain turns a sly eye to Beinion. Tanna’s heart sinks as she realizes the dire consequences of the mistake she just made. She gasps faintly and clutches her hand over her mouth as she casts an apologetic gaze to Beinion. He keeps his graceful posture as his unrelenting glare remains on their tormentor. A slight crack in his resolve might give the captain just the opening he needs to place his blade in. “I think this one will fetch a high price on the slave market, men. Put him in chains.”

The soldiers part around their leader as they move to their target. An evil smirk lingers on his face as he watches the helpless elf clasped without event. Beinion’s hope is that by not resisting, the human’s focus will remain on him and Tanna will go free. His hopes get shattered by a questioning soldier.

“What should we do with this one?” A soldier motions toward Tanna. The human leader looks her up and down. She wears only a simple elven sundress and no ornate jewelry of significance.

“She doesn’t seem to be too important,” he says before smiling wryly, “but she is pretty. I see no reason to keep her. Do with her what you will.” His passing wave sets the soldiers into motion. The elves look at each other with wide eyes of horror at the atrocity of his statement. The soldiers turn in on her, all with glee in their eyes, as one steps to the front and turns to face them.

“She is my personal prisoner.” He demands. “Unless one of you dogs would like to challenge me.” His broad hand wrings the leather grip of his sheathed sword in anticipation. He is larger than the rest with better muscle definition. The look of angered defeat in the soldier’s eyes confirm that he is a better soldier too.

The captain pushes through the soldiers to the front to meet the man face-to-face. “Ananias, why are you always so combative with your kinsmen? You show far too much sympathy for these godless creatures.” Ananias does not back down as his commander’s face closes in, separating them by inches. The captain’s eyes shift back and forth between the soldier’s eyes as he studies his unrelenting gaze. “Fine. We take the girl without harm, but she doesn’t go alone with you.” He turns back to issue a command to the soldiers. “Bind her without harm and put her in a cage separate from the male.”

A soldier holds his shield under the falls to allow his superior to pass through. The captain stops just before leaving and looks back to give the insubordinate soldier one final insult. “Your father would be ashamed.” Ananias releases the hilt of his sword as the soldiers move around him to bind the girls arms and the leader disappears behind the waterfall. As he considers the captain’s last remark, a smirk shines briefly on his face. He knows the commander was wrong. It was under his father’s guidance that his morality was instilled. The teaching that having resolute morality alongside his fighting was what made him the best warrior among his peers, and quite possibly the best in the Human Kingdom.

As the Tanna passes by, she gives a sorrowful smile of gratitude to the soldier. He returns it with an almost apologetic one. The young girl knows, though, that if not for this kind warrior, she may not have lived to see tomorrow. She looks over to Beinion as she takes the first step into her cart. He is already seated in his mobile cage with his head hung low in shame. Feeling a watchful gaze on him, he looks up at her. His finger traces something onto his hand, and he blows across his palm as he finishes. As the gust of wind passes by her ear she hears his whisper.

“My dearest Tanna, I am so sorry. Please forgive my boldness in bringing you to such a dangerous place. I will see to it that you are released. I can only hope that you will be waiting when (or if) I am free once more.” She feels a tear streak down her face. Not possessing the magic prowess that her lover does, she offers a blown kiss as a condolence. A shadow of grief hangs over their shared smiles as the wagons begin to pull away. Beinion’s cage to the east, Tanna’s to the west.

Ephraim: The Temple’s Dark Secret ®

The unforgiving heat makes the windless day all the more unbearable for a pair of travelling mages. The haze of the heat coming from the hot sand makes their target on the horizon hard to recognize. Identifying the distance proves to be even more of a challenge. The men’s lavish robes sit beneath coarse tan cowls that provide little comfort for their heads from the sun’s unforgiving rays. Ephraim lifts his water pouch to his parched lips to get some relief. To no avail.

“Empty.” He sighs. As he begins digging in his gem pouch in search of a Topaz, he looks over to his teacher with exhaustion in his eyes. “Are we even gaining any ground? Every mile we travel towards the temple, it seems to travel two away from us.”

His teacher keeps a calm resolve in the unrelenting weather. “All the better. You need quizzing prior to entering the temple anyway. It is sure to be lined with challenging traps. Elsewise someone before us would have obtained the Owl Agate from the statue’s eyes long ago.” Ephraim drops his shoulders with a sigh.

“Quizzing… How do you expect one wizard and his apprentice to get the stones if so many people have tried before us and failed?” He holds his topaz over his water pouch and his eyes begin to glow a light blue. As a light of the same color shines from inside of his hand, water pours out of it into the empty pouch.

“We’ll worry about that if we get there.”  Roald adjusts the strap of his gem pouch. “Now, if you were to be attacked, by say bandits, what gem would you use for defense in this unforgiving desert? Concurrently, what would you use for offense? You favored Peridot when you were retrieving the Moonstone at the cave, but numerous granules of sand will prove too great of a challenge for an amateur Gemkith such as yourself to control. (From Ephraim: A Test of Aptitude) So I’m afraid the gold you spent on that Peridot when we stopped in Limone will have turn into a long term investment.” As the student finishes drinking the water in his pouch, he ties it back to his belt, reaches into his gem pouch, and pulls out the rest of his jewels with his Topaz.

“Well, I haven’t used my Aquamarine yet.”

“Ah.” The teacher raises his finger. “The arid desert air won’t provide enough humidity to use the water in the atmosphere, and you don’t want to use any of your Topaz’s essence to create water or we won’t have enough drinking water to make it home.” Ephraim sighs and drops his Topaz, Aquamarine, and Peridot back into his pouch, then opens his hand to investigate the remaining gems.

“Okay, well.” He takes a moment to study the minerals. “You want me to stick to elemental gems before moving on to the harder ones, so maybe my Citrine?”

“While there is a surplus of wind for you to control with your Citrine, the winds out here can already be fierce. Most bandits are geared with armor to withstand high winds, particularly if they spend any amount of time in this region, and most beasts that survive out here were created to endure them as well.” The apprentice begins to show a little aggravation as he drops the yellow stone into his pouch.

“All that leaves is my Garnet, but I don’t have any Ruby to create fire.”

“You’ll have to be creative. Fire is in any spark, and it will be easy to ignite in this dry air.” Roald pauses and runs his index finger and thumb down both sides of his jawline as he thinks. The black, and occasionally grey, hairs in his finely-trimmed beard bristle against his fingers. “I’m going to break one of my rules though in favor of a lesson. While fire is among the best offenses, it makes for poor defense. You may use your Amethyst for defense for this test. Normally I would have you use a different gem in this test than you used in the last one, but Amethyst has a plethora of ways it can be used.” Ephraim’s eyes light up as he looks back at the magnificent purple gem. He quickly drops the rest of the stones into his pouch and holds his Garnet in one hand and his Amethyst in the other. His memory drifts back to how he was able to project an image of himself to deceive the imps and dodge some attacks. “Last time you projected images of yourself, so you may not do that this time.” Roald’s statement deflates excitement, as his statements have a tendency to do. “Since Amethyst has so many capabilities though, you’ll need to make your focus shielding at this time.”

“What all can it do?”

“Another time.”

“How do I choose what I do with the power? All I have done until now is control the element that the stone’s…” Ephraim’s words trail off as he begins to feel the ground shake. “Wha.. what’s that?” He looks over to see a look of knowing determination on his trainer’s face as he surveys his surroundings. The sand beneath their feet begins to sink into a forming hole nearby, causing the men to fall back. With just a short distance left to reach the temple, he contemplates making a run for the entrance, but after the realization that he won’t reach the building in time, Ephraim fixes his gaze on the hole forming in the sand. Suddenly a tower of putrid pink flesh emerges from the void in the silt and leans in their direction. As the grains sift from the top of the creature, the tip opens into three flaps that are lined with teeth.

“Braaaaaww!” It screams.

“Sand worm!” Ephraim yells. He looks over for a glimpse of hope from his trainer only to find the vacant seat in the sand he once occupied. “Are you kidding me? We get attacked by a monster and you leave me?”

“The teacher is always quiet during the test.” The invisible mage states. “This is an excellent learning opportunity for you. Just focus on our conversation and show this thing what you are made of.”

Excellent learning opportunity. Ephraim thinks. The young student looks back as the colossal beast begins to lunge at him. Sand flies from his arm as he quickly raises it across the top of his head as if to block the blow. A purple light begins to glow from his eyes as a translucent bubble forms in front of him just before the worm collides with it. The monster lets out another boisterous scream and begins snapping feverishly at the translucent dome. Panic begins to set into Ephraim’s face as he begins looking around for a comburent. The creature biting down on his shield is only worsening the feeling. He uses his free arm to quickly wipe the sweat from his brow that has been stinging his eyes as it pours into them. As the beast’s teeth clash against the purple guard, something catches the mage’s eye.

He is able to calm for a moment to think to himself. The clanging of the worm’s teeth and its irritated growls quieten as Ephraim is granted a moment of artificial peace while he concentrates on his thoughts. When his plan is set, his expression transitions from grimace to excited-determination. The glow of his eyes gains a red tint in the preexisting purple rays. His shield begins buckling under the invertebrate’s blows as Ephraim times his attack. Going to have to do this. The worm regroups for a massive strike.

“Your shield won’t take another hit, Ephraim. Find your fuel and attack now!” A voice shouts from beyond vision. The pupil throws his blocking arm from in front of his face, launching the bubble into the behemoth’s mouth. It bites down causing the shield to shatter into pieces. The glow from Ephraim’s eyes turns crimson red as he jumps to his feet and raises his other arm over his head, a red misty light in tow. A flame ignites in the sand worm’s mouth, and as its creator throws his fist to the ground, causing the blaze to travel down into its stomach. He remains silent and focused as the creature writhes and screams in pain, sweat glistening his body and his face contorted in determined rage. After a moment the fire explodes from within the monster. Flames spurt from its mouth as it falls to the ground and lays lifeless. After a short moment the body begins to slink slowly into the hole from whence it came, and the instructor fades into visibility between the beast and its conqueror.

“Great job, Ephraim.” Roald says, fighting back a proud smile. The teacher has long held the belief that keeping a solemn demeanor instills faith in his actions to his students and teaches them that cool, logically thinking in the heat of battle leads to more favorable outcomes. The belief stemming from a lesson that remains firmly in his memory. His teacher from Gemkith college let his emotions dictate his actions in battle, and in a fit of rage gave his advantage away to the enemy. It was a mortal mistake for the teacher. For Roald it is a lesson forever etched in a small scar above his brow, keeping it at the forefront of his thoughts. It is a mistake he does not plan to make with his teachings.

As he approaches his pupil a mighty wind picks up. All of their exposed skin begins to sting as the sand pelts them. They throw the loose material of their cowls in front of their faces to soften the burn of the bombarding granules. “Quickly! The temple is just ahead!” The teacher’s voice is muffled by the sound of the sandstorm, but Ephraim follows the instructor’s movements to the nearby safe haven. The sand has piled up from the frequent sandstorms of the desert to make the once profound staircase into a handful of steps. They quickly ascend the stairs and teacher and student push on the giant, stone doors but the wind and loose sand on the floor make it impossible to gather their footing. “Stand back!” Roald yells as he grabs a Peridot from his pouch. A green light emanates through the thin material of the cowl and another matching light trails his hand as he throws his arms out, commanding the doors to swing open. The teacher’s years of practice in gem magic make the tons of earthen rock slide as if they were pebbles. Ephraim’s amazement at his teacher’s prowess is quickly suppressed as the two run inside. Roald immediately turns inside the temple with a swing of his arm and slams the doors back shut. They pant for a moment, their short breaths stinging their lungs with grains of sand and hot, dry desert air. They look at each other as the sand in their lungs constricts their breathing. Almost simultaneously they realize that they have stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire by entering the temple. Slowly, they turn around expecting to find rooms and hallways filled with traps, but to their surprise they stand in one giant room. The room is a large rectangle that is lined with pillars. The architecture is as simplistic as the floor that is composed of large, square blocks of sandstone. In a corner of the room a mirror reflects a light from a hole high in the wall that gleams off of two gems that sit as an owl statue’s eyes across the room.

“Huh,” Ephraim huffs as he stands, stilling catching his breath, “it’s that easy? How could no one else, have made it here? All we have to do, is walk across the room, and grab the gems.”

Roald takes a deep breath through his nostrils trying to quickly regain his composure. “It pays to always be on your guard, Ephraim.” The instructor stands and brushes off his robe. “Things are not always as they seem.” As the teacher and student make their way across the room they notice piles of bones sitting atop the stone floor. Ephraim begins to become uneasy as he thinks of the sight. He looks to Roald to see if the view is as unsettling to him, but as always the teacher keeps a steel resolve.

“What do you think happened to them?” The apprentice’s question is hollow. He knows they were the ones who had tried before them and failed, but he asks the question with a false hope that his teacher will comfort his fear. Roald reads this in his tone.

“Ephraim, it is better to look at the situation accurately than in a false light with false hope. Painting an ugly picture with beautiful colors still creates an ugly product. If I didn’t think we could overcome this challenge I wouldn’t have brought you here. Sometimes you just have to call on your Faith for comfort.” While not the ease in spirit he was looking for, the words do queerly calm his nerves. He is able to, tentatively, square his shoulders and walk with more confidence.

As the two approach the statue the teacher’s firm beliefs slip, and he begins to show slight signs of discomfort. Ephraim notices his change in body language, closes his eyes, and hones in on his Gemkith senses to see what is causing Roald’s change in composure. A strange pulsing sensation washes over his body dizzying his balance slightly. Back and forth, back and forth almost drawing him in with each pulse toward the statue. He concentrates deeper. The pulse is coming from one of the gems in the statue. Immediately after he opens his eyes, the gems in the statue’s eyes begin to glow. Almost as if the statue was sentient and knew what the Gemkith was doing. Strangely both eyes aren’t glowing with a gray tone as he thought they would. One is a deep black that is emitting unnaturally dark rays of light. Roald turns to his pupil with a look of grimace. His typically strong and certain voice carries a tone of distress. “Ephraim, that is Black Topaz. Its essence carries the repulsive power of necromancy. I’m sorry that I brought you here.” As the instructor finishes his sentence, Ephraim’s stomach turns in knots. All of the bones in the room lift from the floor as if a puppeteer pulled their strings. The bones all lock together with unnerving knocking and crunching, furthering the unsettled feeling in the student’s stomach. There is a brief silence. After a brief moment it is abruptly ended when the shifting sound of the skeleton’s sliding feet fills the room as they all turn toward them. The holes of their skulls are suddenly and simultaneously ignited with light blue flames. They all bend down to pick up weaponry before standing. Deafening screams come from the animated bones and fill the room as they all begin to advance toward the two Gemkith. Ephraim covers his ears and his face gives a distressed look as the steeled composure returns to his teacher. Roald has resigned himself to his fate.

“Get behind me!” Roald yells. Ephraim scrambles to pull jewels from his pouch as he follows the command. The teacher’s eyes glow green lighting the look of solemn determination on his face as he lifts his hands to bring two stone slabs from the floor into the air by a skeleton. The large rocks slam together as the gem-master claps his hands. He separates them and places the flooring back in place as the heap of bone shards fall into a pile on the floor. In moments the shards reform to make two whole skeletons again. “That’s what I feared. We can’t physically kill something that is already dead. All we can do is fight to hold them back as we formulate a strategy.” Before he can finish his statement, a skeleton has reached them and swings an axe at Ephraim, but the attack freezes mid-swing. He looks over to see Roald’s eyes emanating a light blue light. As the grand mage raises his hand, the skeleton is lifted off of the ground. With a sweep of his arm, Roald slams the monster into its neighbor causing them both to explode into pieces.

The noise snaps Ephraim out of his trance. He quickly looks at the stones in his hand. Amethyst and Garnet. Manifestation and fire control. A sudden scream from behind him breaks his concentration. He turns around to see another skeleton about to strike him, but its skull gets crushed between two rocks. “Ephraim, focus!” Roald shouts. “Use this to get started.” The two rocks rub against each other and cause a spark. Ephraim seizes the opportunity by igniting a fire from the flash using his Garnet. As the flame floats by his face, it lights his look of hesitant confidence. In one motion he turns and swings his arm causing a giant flame to crash into a wave of skeletons. The clacking of bones knocking together accompanied by the whoosh of the flame fills the room as skeletons are pushed back into each other. He continues to move his arms to keep control of the blazing flame. One by one the skeletons are blasted by the flare.

“Do we have a plan yet?” The student yells.

“Hardly, but I am open to ideas.”

“It’s hard to focus while we are doing all of this fighting.” Suddenly Ephraim remembers the gem in his other hand. He lets the fireball dissipate as he uses the Amethyst to form a bubble around them that quickly becomes surrounded by skeletons pounding on it with weapons.

“Great thinking, Ephraim, but I’m afraid we are delaying a sure fate. There hasn’t been an instructor that has lived to tell how to defeat such a wealth of undead.” The student shakes his head in despair as he feels the knot returning to his stomach. In a last hope he pulls some gems from his pouch to look at every last option. He glances over every precious stone.

Citrine, wind control, nope; Garnet, fire control, nope; Pink Tourmaline, powers of the mind, nope. Just as he begins to lose all hope, he fixates on one particular jewel. “Diamond!” He shouts. “What if we tried to use the pure healing qualities of the diamond to counter the impure dark qualities of the necromancy?” Roald’s issues a well-earned look of pride in his pupil.

“Now you are thinking, Ephraim.” Several skeletons pound on the waning shield as the apprentice opens his hand toward his teacher, offering the diamond to him. Roald closes his student’s hand back around the gems. “You can do this. This is your lesson, even if it fails to our doom. Now, you have to focus much harder on a quality gem like this than you do with elemental ones, but I have faith in you.” The instructor takes the Amethyst from Ephraim’s other hand, and the shield glows a little brighter as his stronger power over the gem’s essence takes over. Ephraim’s body tingles with a mixture of excitement, pride… and fear. He drops the rest of the gems back into his pouch as his eyes turn white and glow. He looks up at a skeleton that is about to swing a hammer at the bubble with ferocity and throws a punch at it. It shatters to pieces and the shards emit a white light as they disintegrate. Roald looks over his shoulder at his student, his shoulder hiding his smile.

Suddenly a roar bellows from the stone owl. The ground around it crumbles as a body stands from beneath the floor. The owl head sits atop a well-toned, male, human body that towers almost as tall as the 100′ room. It raises its arm to pound its enemies. “Ephraim, you only get one chance at this! Make it count!” A hole forms above Ephraim and Roald’s eyes get a blue tint as he uses his Apatite’s telekinetic powers to launch Ephraim into the air. The statue’s giant fist smashes the shield which causes it to stumble back momentarily. As the teacher holds Ephraim in the air, completely exposed to attacks, the apprentice closes his eyes and clenches the diamond at his chest. The world feels like it slows down around him and the noise of the room turns to a whisper. He focuses, deeply. His veins begin to feel as if a hurricane is flowing through them. A light begins shining through where his eyelids meet. Finally he opens them and an immensely-bright, white light radiates from his eyes. When he speaks it sounds as if he and the feminine essence of the crystal speak as one.

Be at rest!” He throws a punch and a massive beam projects from his fist as he is suspended in air. The temple begins to quake at the unleashed force of the beams projection and sand filters through the cracks in the ceiling all around him. As he slowly turns waves of skeletons evaporate in the beam.

During this time the giant effigy has prepared its second attack and swings its colossal arm at Roald. “Finish it, Ephraim!” He shouts as the stone fist bats him into the wall. As Ephraim begins his descent, he finishes the last undead enemy and pulls all of his gems from his pouch. He lifts his hand and a rainbow of colors shine from inside. In seconds the giant sculpture becomes contorted. Its body shifts into unnatural shapes for several moments before turning iridescent and blowing into tiny pieces. As Ephraim hits the ground, he falls to his knees and the shimmering shards of statue float as they fall around him reflecting light like a mass of glitter. He is physically and mentally exhausted. Every ounce of his being aches and screams in agony as he closes his eyes in utter weariness. He knows that he isn’t finished though. Looking into his hand, he notices that the Diamond is beginning to crack as what is left of its essence starts to leak out.

“I know you’re tired too, but I have one more job for you.” The Gemkith gathers what is left of his strength to stand. His body groans defiantly as he hobbles over to his fallen trainer. The echo of his feet dragging carries through the room for what feels like an eternity as he pushes himself across the battle-ridden floor. He falls to his knees again as he reaches Roald. With his last ounce of strength he puts the Diamond against the grand-mage’s chest. A faint light glows from underneath for a second before it fades and the diamond crumbles to pieces on the trainer’s fallen body. Ephraim collapses. Minutes of uncertainty pass in silence. Slowly Roald’s eyes open. He lets out an unobtrusive moan as he turns his head to look around the room. The muscles in his neck tense painfully. His subtle laugh is intruded by a small cough.

“You did it.” He whispers more to himself than anything as he looks on his unconscious student. Every muscle in his body screams in pain as he reaches into his gem pouch. He pulls his hand out slowly and picks out a quartz before dropping the rest of the stones back into the pouch. His fist smacks as it falls against the cold, stone floor as his strength fails and a faint orange luminance begins to shine from inside it. The two men begin to feel as if lightning is coursing through their broken bodies as the crystal gives them renewed strength and energy. The weariness of battle still sits heavily on them from the outside, but the vigor of strength from the Quartz dances with life inside of them. Roald stands up and dusts off his robe. Ephraim rolls onto his back with a look of confusion on his face. The teacher looks at him with his regained composure. “This is the first time you have been under the effects of Quartz I take it.” Ephraim sits up and rubs his forehead, the unmistakable ache remaining.

“Am I supposed to feel like I could lift off of the floor any second?”

“The feeling will pass.” As Roald bends down next to him, the orange light from his eyes glean off of Ephraim’s cheek, even at the foot and a half distance between them. “I’m not entirely sure what I saw before losing consciousness is correct, but I think you might have reached Cumulative Mass when you were using that Diamond.”

“Really? That’s.. wow.”

“Do you understand fully what that is, Ephraim?”

“Well, I remember a brief conversation in class.” Seeing the look of disbelief in his professor’s eyes, the illusion that he is fooling him fades and he changes his tone. “Uh. What is Cumulative Mass exactly?”

“I thought you might want to know.” Roald says with a mockingly raised brow. “Cumulative Mass is when you get so attuned with the jewel’s essence that it emanates within you. Almost to the point of combining with your essence. Your soul that is. It’s a dangerous process though, because your soul uniquely designed for you. Allowing the process to take full effect would be a great offense to your being.” He pulls Ephraim to his feet. “Ultimately when the two essences resonate so closely together your physical being expounds upon itself to the point of exhaustion. That’s why we are depending on this Quartz to get us to a safe place to rest.” Roald begins walking with his apprentice toward the jewels that fell from the statue that rest across the room. “Let’s go collect your prize before this Quartz gives way.”

As Ephraim bends down and picks up the Agate, he looks over at the Black Topaz. It captivates him, placing him a trance. The allure of the gem pulls at him as if a magnetic force was pulling him toward it. The room darkens in his sight and the only glimmer of light he sees is fixated solely on the mesmerizing jewel. The draw is broken as a stone hammer smashes the Topaz to bits. Ephraim jumps up in a fit of rage. His blood boils unnaturally as he stands with his face inches from Roald’s.

“Why did you smash that? We could clearly have used it! Can you imagine the hordes of armies we could obliterate with an undead army?”

Roald fights back his anger as he knows Ephraim is speaking from the remnants of the control of the gem. He speaks firmly. “Black Topaz uses a dark magic that tempts the user. Just as every time a man accustomed to doing good sins he can feel his soul blacken, every time you use that stone’s magic you feel a part of your being ripped away.”

“So don’t use it. I can use it. You shouldn’t have a say in what I use.”

“It would tear you apart, Ephraim. Take a look at how you are behaving now. You are clearly not yourself, and that’s after only looking at it.” The words ring clearly for Ephraim’s. He looks down to realize that he has grabbed his professor’s robe unknowingly. As he releases Roald and steps back he feels like a dark veil has been lifted from his mind, and it is replaced with embarassment.

“You’re, uh,  right. I’m sorry.”

“Worry not. You weren’t yourself.” The instructor assures as he pats his pupil’s shoulder. The gesture does little to calm Ephraim’s shame. “We need to get moving to the nearest inn or this Quartz will give out and we may find ourselves resting unwillingly in a dangerous place.” Roald’s arm moves to the middle of Ephraim’s back for both physical and emotional support and the two continue to talk amongst themselves as they work their way back to the temple entrance.

Ephraim: A Test of Aptitude ®

The air is cold and wet in a pitch black cave where a lack of sight heightens the sense of hearing. The cave is all but silent, save the intermittent splashes from drops of water falling from the ceiling into puddles on the floor. The shuffle of footsteps echoes through the quiet cavern as a light begins to glimmer at the entrance. A man with short black hair, peppered with gray and a short beard is holding a small, glowing object that lights his way above his head as he leads a young man. The older man is wearing long purple robes and black sandals, both with extravagant white trimmings. The younger man has shiny, brown hair that reaches the bend in his back. It is tied low, just a few inches from the bottom. He wears simple brown sandals and his long blue robes are outlined in golden yellow. The leader suddenly stops and puts his arm out to bring his apprentice to a halt as well. As he shines the light to survey the room, the walls shimmer and dance with reflections. He nods his head.

“This is it, Ephraim. Where I let you take the lead.” The light he is holding extinguishes and the leader grabs Ephraim’s arm. He places an object in the apprentice’s hand and closes it around the smooth, hard surface. The darkness lending to Ephraim’s heightened sense of feeling makes it easy to distinguish the item as a well-cut gemstone. His heart begins to beat against the inside of his chest as the reality of the impending task begins to set in.

I’ve known this time was coming, but now that it is here, I don’t know if I’m ready. He thinks. The thoughts have to be pushed aside as his teacher continues.

“Extracting the essence of Opal will make it a source of light. Remember your lessons, focus on its essence, and draw it out.” Ephraim clutches the gem tightly and silences his nerves as he closes his eyes to concentrate. He pauses, allowing his conscience to go deep into the center of the gem as he searches for the source of its energy. Seconds seem like minutes as he feels his thoughts digging deep within the stone. Suddenly he feels the corners of his mouth raise in a smile in the dark cavern.

“Found it.” He whispers.

“Good, now draw it out. Remember not to force it out, rather tempt it into leaving the stone.”

As Ephraim persuades the stone’s essence to leave its locality, slowly a light begins to glimmer through the cracks in his fingers. “There it is. Now give it a little push.” The mentor says. Ephraim concentrates a little harder and the light begins to shine bright. Ephraim opens his hand and the bright light illuminates his delighted expression. The euphoric feeling of accomplishment beginning to overwhelm him, extinguishes quickly as his mentor brings his focus back to reality. “Now give it some direction and push it a little more.” The teacher explains. Ephraim holds the gem above his head, he magically causes the light to split behind them, and draws the sides of the light in front of them into a cone-shaped directional beam. “Your progress is exceptional, Ephraim. Let us continue.” The student hides a grin at the compliment from his mentor.

As the two continue toward their destination, Ephraim grows more concerned about the task ahead. “Teacher, tell me again about these imps I will be fighting.”

“You are a graduate, Ephraim. You don’t have to address me as your teacher any longer. Call me by my name please.” The younger mage acknowledges his request with a nod. “As to your query, the imps are cave-dwelling creatures that command different forces of nature. The creatures that inhabit this cave will likely be lightning imps. They are nimble creatures, and their ability to fly makes them a hard target. Wide-arc range spells will work best against them.” Ephraim’s brow furls while he makes mental notes of his teacher’s answer as the two duck into a narrow passage in the cave. “While battling these creatures, you must remember to keep focused on your task. If you feel you are losing the fight, look for an escape first, and look for a route that allows you to grab your objective on your way out second. Don’t take long though, because you will most certainly have the surviving creatures in tow.”

A drop of water falls onto Ephraim’s cheek as they are walking through the tunnel. He wipes the cool water from his face and notices another light ahead through an opening at the end of the tunnel. “Put your Opal away. We want to have the element of surprise on our side.” His teacher explains. “We should ample sight from here forward.” They squat near the end of the tunnel and Ephraim pulls up his nice robes to keep them from sitting on the dirty cavern floor before placing his gem back into his pouch.

“Tea…” Ephraim stops himself from using his mentor’s title, “Roald, I don’t understand why we wear our best garments on a quest into a filthy cavern. It’ll take me forever to wash the dirt out of them.”

Roald hides a chuckle as he shift his gaze from ahead to Ephraim. He answers matter-of-factly, “your attire speaks directly of you. If you were to dress in rags and ran across enemies, they would think you were an easy target. We wear our best apparel to give the impression that we can afford the best gems, which detours most lowly bandits. It creates a facade that we are able to afford the best gems to defend ourselves.”

Ephraim nods and looks around the corner of the tunnel wall. The room is a large, open space with a healthy amount of sunlight shining in through an opening in the elevated ceiling. With the absence of the offsetting light from his Opal, the light pouring in from the ceiling becomes much more imposing. The sting of the brightness causes him to shield his eyes as he searches the room for signs of life. Nothing catches his attention for a moment, but then he notices something glimmering in the light. Across the room, a slanted wall has formed a natural shelf for a shiny, white gem that sits in the perfect spot to reflect an array of dazzling colors that couldn’t have been better placed if it were intentional.

“It looks like I found the Moonstone, but I don’t see any imps.”

“Do you have a Spinel?” The teacher asks. Ephraim turns away to hide a look of confusion as he digs through his satchel and finds the small, peach-colored stone.

“I do. What does it do again?”

“Use it and find out.”

Ephraim closes his eyes and begins searching for the gem’s essence. He almost feels as if he is beginning to get lost in the stone as he wanders. After a few moments he opens his eyes to a whole new sight. The walls seem to blur and his sight is the only one of his senses that doesn’t fade. Ephraim is startled when he looks at Roald and notices a glowing aura around his teacher.

“The life-detecting gem.” Roald says with a voice that sounds distant and muffled as he instructs Ephraim. “It is a true treasure for Gemkith that like to hunt in dense forests for wildlife. Take a second to look around the room and see if you notice the imps now.”

The dreamy haze is almost dizzying as it causes the walls to wave slightly while he looks around the room. Suddenly he notices two similar auras floating on the other side of a cavern wall off to the side that lies between him and the Moonstone. The loud thump in his ears is almost deafening as his heart begins to race. “Roald, I have only studied battle magic. I don’t know if I…”

“The highest importance of spell casting is confidence.” Roald interrupts. “In the heat of battle you don’t have time to doubt or think about your next action. You have to react to the situation as it arises.” The guide pulls a light purple stone from his pouch as he steps into the room. “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.” He says as he begins to fade away. “I won’t let you die. Now get out there and retrieve that stone.” He vanishes leaving only the sound of his footsteps.

“I wish I could just use Alexandrite.” Ephraim grunts with a whiny tone. “It would make this a lot easier.”

“In time, my young apprentice. You need to be able to use the Magestones before moving into Wizardstones. They are much harder to understand and communicate with. Now which spell are you going to attack with?” Ephraim puts his Spinel away and crosses his arms thoughtfully as he thinks before issuing an answer.

“Wind has a high arc attack spell.”

“But we are in a cavern where wind is relatively scarce. What is the most abundant resource in here?” Roald asks. Ephraim thinks, and thinks… and thinks, the task ahead of him harming his focus. His already-lacking train of thought is disturbed as he hears the sound of his guide’s foot tapping. The hint goes unnoticed by the apprentice. “Look under your feet, dear boy.” Roald says in as much of a shout as he dares. Ephraim’s eyes widen as he looks down, finally coming to the correct answer.

“Earth…” He smiles gleefully as he quickly reaches into his pouch to find a Peridot. He clinches it with his eyes closed for a moment to gather all of his courage, then begins walking into the room as he reopens them.

“Hold one moment.” Roald’s command causes Ephraim to slide to a halt, the shuffle echoing in the quiet room. “You have your offensive stone, but what will you block their attacks with? You need to be able to put up a barrier as well, so grab an Amethyst in your other hand.”

Ephraim grabs the gem from his pouch with a bit of hesitation as he thinks about how he can use the new stone, pauses to take a breath, and starts making his way toward the winged creatures. He sprints behind the wall that the imps are behind to gather himself one last time. He takes a deep breath and looks down at the Peridot in his hand. “Confidence.” He whispers. His body tingles as the excitement and fear, but mostly fear, of battle sets in. The nervous heat of his cheeks begins radiating as a rogue bead of cold sweat runs down his brow. At this proximity, the apprentice can begin to hear the vermins’ movements. One of the imps begins sniffing as if it knows that someone else is there before letting out a low, gurgled growl. Ephraim realizes that he is about to lose the edge of surprise so he looks around the room quickly for a projectile for his first attack. His eyes come to a stop as he notices thinly-connected stalagmite sitting a few feet away from him. He clinches the Peridot and as he begins to use its essence, a green light begins shining through his fist and out of his eyes, the magnitude of the emanation matching that of the determination set in the fleshy orbs that they come from. The large rock snaps as it lifts off of the ground and he spins around the wall toward the imps. The green light trails like a mist with the swing of his arm as the rock follows the movement and smashes one of the imps into the wall. The other foul creature whips its wings downward, launching it into the air.

“Screeeeee!” It shouts as it throws a ball of lightning at Ephraim. The sphere of electricity gets within inches of his face, and he lifts his other arm to block the attack with a force field. While the block stops the spark from hitting him, the force from the blast launches him across the room into another wall in the cavern.

“Ugh!” His grunt echoes loudly in the chamber as a bolt of pain shoots up his spine. He shakes his head letting the spare strands of hair that escaped his low ponytail whip around his face and slide over his angered expression as he looks up to see the monster approaching quickly. With a quick jump he is out of the line of the Kamikaze dive of the imp. The Mage uses the manifestation essence of the Amethyst to project a ghostly image of himself where he once stood. The trick is successful and the imp runs straight through the ghost and into the wall behind it. While still aloft, Ephraim swings the arm holding the Peridot to break off a stalactite above the imp and brings it crashing down as he lands simultaneously. Dust from the smashing rocks billows out and soon after the imp comes flying through the cloud at him. The mage doesn’t have time to react, allowing the imp to sink its sharp teeth into the top of his shoulder. A deafening wail pierces his ears, to be recognized seconds later as his own voice as the piercing pain shoots through him. He throws his hand with the Peridot up and brings a large chunk of rock from the floor smashing into the creature and forcing it to release its hold on him. Just as the rock is about to smash into the ceiling, the imp flies out from behind it and its path is quickly redirected back into an attack.

“You are blindly swinging, Ephraim.” Roald’s voice surprises his apprentice, causing him to glance around. “Remember to stay on defense and wait for the right moment to attack.” Ephraim steps out of the way as the beast swoops past him. Quickly the imp circles around for another attack.

Defense. Wait for the opportunity. Ephraim looks through the strands of his messy hair with angered determination as he lights up his Amethyst to create a dozen ghostly copies of himself. He and his images scatter in different directions causing the imp to pause. It takes a moment to look around, lets out a furious scream, and curls up into a ball. Bolts of electricity swirl around the creature like fingers reaching into the cavern before concentrating into a ball around the beast. Suddenly the imp throws his body open and a large surge of electrical energy bursts into the room. All of the ghostly images evaporate and Ephraim is thrown to the ground. The imp has to land to gather its energy for the next attack which leaves time for Ephraim to stand and gather his wits.

“I’ve had enough of this!” Ephraim shouts. A fierce green light emanates from his eyes and the jewel in his hand again. Suddenly rock from different places in his vicinity gathers around him before forming on him like armor. The imp sees its impending danger and is back in the air again with a flap of its wings. Its energy hasn’t recovered enough for a lightning attack so it begins flying toward the mage for a physical assault, its basic intellect not grasping the physics of the protection the armor affords. Ephraim waits for the creature to get close before throwing all of his strength into a jumping uppercut. The shot lands on the imp, and sends it flying into a stalactite on the cavern ceiling causing its impalement. Ephraim lands and lets the essence of the Peridot fade causing the stone armor to fall off of him. He bats his eyes when the exhaustion of the fight begins to set in as the adrenaline begins to dissipate in his system.

“Well done, Ephraim.” His instructor states plainly as he becomes visible again. The look of solemn pride in his eyes softens the pain Ephraim is masking. “Let’s take this Moonstone to be cut into a usable gem.” Ephraim puts the Amethyst into his pouch and as he opens his hand to look at the Peridot, it turns into green sparkling dust and falls through his fingers. “It appears that you got all of the essence from that gem. You were fortunate that it ran out after the fight.” Roald clasps his pupil’s shoulder causing him to wince in pain. The teacher smiles unapologetically as he holds a Peridot in an open hand toward the Moonstone. The gem breaks out of the rock wall and flies into his hand as they make their way back out of the cave.

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The stinging light from the sun blinds them as they emerge. Ephraim holds his hand over his eyes as they walk back out into the open field. When the two get back onto the road, the ache of the student’s weary body begins to heighten causing him to lightly limp as Roald explains their course.

“We will travel to Limone. There is a lapidarist there that will give us the best cut to get the most essence out of this Moonstone.”

Ephraim looks at Roald in confusion. “Wouldn’t we get more out of the stone if we didn’t cut it? Doesn’t cutting the stone make it lose some of its essence?”

Roald lightly shakes his head before responding. “Think of the gem’s essence as its soul, for lack of a better word. If you cut off your finger, do you lose a part of your soul? The essence is the gem’s being. That’s why when you used up the essence from the Peridot, it crumbled into dust.” He explains before turning a leery eye on him. “You must have forgotten this from class.”

“I learn better from experience. I can be taught something from a book, but until I see it in the outside world, it doesn’t become real to me.”

“Well then, we need to keep you in these training quests as much as we can.” Roald looks down the road as he finishes his sentence. There is a horse-drawn carriage making its way down the road in their direction. The apprentice begins to feel worried as he sees his mentor straining his eyes to investigate the oncoming group.. but his heart sinks when Roald’s eyes go wide. “ Just as I feared. Ephraim, step off of the road quickly.” The teacher pushes his student and the two begin following the road alongside it, just a few yards away.

“What’s wrong, Roald?”

“That is a caravan from the Romi Empire.” Roald notices Ephraim’s vacant stare but can’t tell if it is from nerves rendering him incapable of comprehension or lack of attentiveness in class; he suspects the latter. “Another detail you missed in class, I suppose. They are the gypsy tribe from the south. Since they are wanderers, constantly blowing from one location to the next, they favor wind stones, which can be a hard magic to combat. They are crafty charmers, Ephraim, and they like to use stones that control your emotions. If they can gain control of your emotions, they can get you to trust them, or even blindly serve them. Even with only trust on their side, they can rob you blind and be gone before the enchantment wears off.”

Ephraim blinks for a moment, stunned and unable to find the words to accurately convey his inquiry. Whether from exhaustion or fear, he is unsure. “How do you fight control over your emotions?” He finally asks.

“There is no stone magic that can block those abilities; it is all in the power of your will. The best way to keep from falling under their spell is to not look into their eyes. It’s a lot harder for their magic to work on someone who isn’t giving them their full attention. As they get closer, you will need to keep your hand on your pouch so they can’t snatch it away, and your eyes straight ahead of you. Now keep quiet, they are almost upon us.”

As the cart gets closer, Ephraim has to fight the urge to look at them. The squeak of the wagon wheel taunts him and the allure of the legendary beauty of the gypsies makes it hard to continue to look away. As if an undeniable magnetic force is drawing him to the cart, a wave of seductive power washes over him, pressing down on his will to the breaking point. His curiosity gets the better of him and he glances up to see a beautiful young woman riding on the cart. Her fine garments set her apart from her raggedly dressed, albeit colorful, companions. Her loose fitting apparel and thin sashes drift behind her majestically in the wind while the two men with her wear rags on their heads and clothes fitting to a bandit.

Ephraim can’t make himself look away as her magnetism gets more and more strong. She looks over to him and their eyes meet. His peripheral vision begins to blur, his skin goes cold, his heart races, and he soon finds that he can only focus on her gaze. Time seems to slow as the caravan rolls by, but the eye contact is eventually broken as Roald’s lowered head passes through their line of sight. Ephraim shakes his head, which causes Roald to look up at him. The guide considers him curiously for a moments before realizing the head shake’s connotation; that Ephraim just came out of a spell. He quickly looks down to his pupil’s hip and Ephraim’s eyes quickly follow.

“You didn’t keep your hand on your pouch, you fool!” They quickly look back to see a gypsy hopping back into the travelling cart carrying Ephraim’s stone pouch. Ephraim’s face flushes in embarrassment. “She used a concentration spell to keep you in a trance while her lackey grabbed your gems.” Roald breaks off into a sprint with Ephraim close behind. “You have some field experience with Peridot, so use this.” He says as he tosses a stone to his apprentice while in stride.

“They’re coming. Yah!” The wagon driver shouts as he whips the reins of the horse after noticing the two magisters advancing toward them. Ephraim stops and throws his arm up with the Peridot, a look of renewed determination replacing that of exhaustion on his face. The sudden rush of adrenaline purges the pain of the last fight from his body as it courses through his veins. Suddenly a large mass of earth rises in front of the nomads causing their horses to stop abruptly.

“We can’t get away. We’ll have to kill them!” The gypsy that charmed Ephraim yells. The nomads jump out of the cart and begin rushing toward the two mages.

“Here they come, Ephraim! They keep their gems in anklets, so watch their feet!” Roald calls back as Ephraim begins to give chase once more. As the young female rushes toward Ephraim, a light trails behind the gems in her anklet. A yellow light twirls behind her looking almost like a mist as she leaps into the air. Her majestic call to entice the weak of will as she performs amazing leaps and twirls in her feats of agility. With a final twist of her body she spins a kick around and a blade of wind blasts into Ephraim. His hair whips in front of him as he is thrown back into some bushes in the nearby wilderness.

The gypsy turns to see Roald preparing an attack, and begins rushing toward him. The mage swings his arm in a semi-circle over his head releasing stones in an arc around him. One of the gems, a White Moonstone, begins radiating and the world seems to come to an abrupt stop around him. The mage’s time-slowing spell causes the gypsies to run so slowly that it seems as if they aren’t moving, and the stones seem to practically float over his head. Roald looks at the approaching nomad and lets a look of grim satisfaction sneak onto his face. A rainbow of colors begins to shine from his eyes as the gems over his head begin to glow. As the Quartz begins to shine brightly, he feels the aches of a tired, old body melt away. He closes his hand and a flame engulfs it as he breaks into a dash. Colorful mists trail behind him as he runs past the first gypsy and toward his other sloth-like targets.

He moves swiftly as the Quartz nullifies the wear age has left on his body and gives him super-human physical qualities. A fiery punch causes the first male nomad to go flying into his wagon. The once crawling speed of his approach is multiplied into a fiery bolt of speed in his departure. The carriage explodes in a ball of flame causing pieces to go flying in all directions. Roald catches one of the wagon’s wheels as it floats by, and with a quick spin, launches it toward the drifter that snatched Ephraim’s gems. He uses the wind power of his Citrine to give the wheel a boost to maximize its speed. As the wheel crashes into the thief, he flies backward and releases Ephraim’s pouch. After a shallow attempt to fight back his laughter, he holds his hand out and uses his Apatite to telekinetically carry the bag back to him.

He turns back to where his stones are floating in place and glances back to the female gypsy as he walks by. Standing beneath the gems he makes a quick swing of his arm and retrieves all of the stones he released earlier. He places all of them but a Peridot back in his pouch as he looks back to the gypsy. With one more look at his accomplishment, he feels his excitement peaking and with a flick of his wrist he raises a pillar of earth inches in front of her face. He slowly raises his arm in the air and snaps causing time to return to normal. The gypsy plows into the pillar and falls onto her back with a grunt. She sits up quickly with a her eyes widened to what appears to be dramatically past their physical capabilities as she stares at the mage. She opens her mouth to speak, but she is silenced as Roald makes the earth beneath her encase her hands and feet with the Peridot that remains in his hand.

Ephraim pops out of the bushes with stones in hand and ready for action. As he begins to look around dazed, the green lights emitting from his eyes begins to dissipate. Roald smiles a bit pretentiously back at his pupil as he drops his stones into his pouch. The student shakes his head in disbelief, his mouth agape.

“How… All I heard was an explosion!”

“That is why we have three semesters of lessons on Moonstone. Time Magic can be a powerful weapon.” The teacher explains with a smile.

“So I can do that with that Moonstone we just got from the imps?”

“First of all, it’s only White Moonstone that has time essence. Secondly, it’s expensive and you would not use it properly so you’ll get a stone when you are more trained with it.” Roald begins walking down the road. “Come, before we are met with more trouble.” Ephraim looks around the battlefield once more, not completely able to comprehend what took place there before rushing to catch up with his mentor. As pair begins traveling back down the road toward the city, smoke from the smoldering cart pours into the colorful dusk sky. The trapped gypsy tugs defiantly with her hands and feet, stubbornly trying to free them before she spits on the ground and waits for the trapping spell to wear off.

“Don’t think this is over, mage.” She hisses through her gritted teeth. “You’ll see me again.”

Sentinel: The Offer ®

Rain beats down on a small two-bedroom house in the suburb town of Oak Park, Illinois. The revving engine of Archer Reed’s motorcycle can be heard as it approaches the house. The garage door begins to open as he quickly rounds the corner onto his street, and barely slows his pace to pull onto the driveway. His expensive weather-proof tire chirps as he quickly comes to a stop in his garage. Water patters on the cold concrete as he pulls his helmet off to reveal his buzzed dark hair. He turns the motor off and steps off of the street bike. As the overhead garage door closes, the door to the house opens with Wyatt Ison, in his shorts and cartoon character t-shirt, standing in the doorway.

“You really need to get something with a roof. You’re gonna ruin your clothes like that.” He says as he shovels a scoop of ice cream into his mouth straight from the carton. Archer sets his helmet on his bike and begins removing his leather gloves.

“It’s not in the budget.”  Archer drops the backpack that carries his Sentinel Armor and throws his black leather bomber jacket over his helmet on the bike. Wyatt has to step back out of the way as he walks through the door.

“Budget,” Wyatt scoffs, “What budget? There is nothing coming in, and you blew all of the settlement money when you bought all of this Sentinel stuff.” Archer drops the backpack that carries his Sentinel Armor and throws his black leather bomber jacket over his helmet on the bike. Wyatt has to step back out of the way as he walks through the door.

“I’ll figure it out.” Archer says dismissingly as he walks into Wyatt’s bedroom. Wyatt closes the garage door, sets his ice cream on the counter, and begins walking toward his bedroom.

“You’d better figure it out quick, Archer. All of this surveillance equipment uses a lot of electricity, and our next bill was due a week ago.” As he walks around the corner into his bedroom, Archer turns back to him from looking at the surveillance equipment.

“I know our situation, Wyatt. When I say I’ll figure it out, then I’ll figure it out. We may have to both take part-time jobs, but we will make it work. Chicago needs Sentinel, so throwing in the towel is not an option. We might be able to trim down some of the electric by eliminating a few gadgets. Regardless, we can not stop,”  his sentence trails off when he notices Wyatt studying one of the screens behind him.

“Uh, Archer. Who is that at the front door?” Archer spins around to see a S.W.A.T. Team about to use a battering ram to bust down the door. He quickly turns back to Wyatt.

“You go out the back; I’ll go out the front and draw them off of you. Meet me at the downtown warehouse.” As he finishes his last word the door busts open and police pour into the house. Archer grabs a smoke capsule from a shelf in the room and launches it around the corner and into the living room with the S.W.A.T. Team. He looks back to see Wyatt climbing through a window to the back of the house before darting into the living room. The smoke is so thick in that he can’t see anything so he continues to run hoping to not run into anything. Before he can make it to the garage door though, pain suddenly rushes from his hip and he hears a loud bang.

“Bean bag deployed.” An officer yells. As Archer falls to the ground and doubles over in pain he begins to wonder how they saw him. Was it a lucky shot? He looks up to see a hand reaching through the smoke. As the smoke wisps around the figure, he can see that it is an officer wearing infrared goggles.

“Got him, got him!” The officer shouts. Two more officers rush over and quickly put their weight on Archer to keep him from getting up while another policeman cuffs him. As he is stood up to be led out, he feels as if time has slowed down. He looks over to see police pulling his gadgets from the shelves and others going into Wyatt’s room. He is led out the front door and sees Wyatt being sat down into a police cruiser. He looks back into the garage to see police pulling his armor from his backpack in the garage. ‘How can it be over so soon?’ The thought resonates as he is sat down into a cruiser. He leans back against the seat and as the door shuts, he can’t help but feel that the door is shutting on Sentinel as well.

Later that day, he finds himself sitting at a table, with his arms cuffed behind his back, in a small interrogation room. The room has nothing but the table, a light hanging from the ceiling, and a mirror on the wall in front of him. After what feels like an eternity of waiting, a detective walks into the room carrying his Sentinel Helmet. He sits the helmet on the table and leans forward onto his hands.

“You mind telling me what this is?” The detective has a stern look on his face.

“I still haven’t been told what charges I have been arrested on, officer.”

“We’ll get to that soon enough. You tell me why I found this helmet at your house.” Archer turns his head away from the officer casually.

“I’d like to have my lawyer present.” The detective turns around, looks at the mirror, and points to a corner in the room.

“Kill the camera.” There is a quiet electronic sound as a small red light goes off in the dark corner. He turns back to Archer and says, “It would be in your best interest to just answer my questions. This helmet has been linked to many assaults, weapon charges, and traffic violations. And guess who’s house we just found it in.” Archer stares back at him silently. “Officers are still bringing in weapons from your home and the charges are just piling up.” Archer leans in over the table.

“All the more reason to have my lawyer present.”

“Alright.” The officer turns back and motions to the mirror before walking over to the wall and leaning against it. Shortly after the door opens again and police chief walks in carrying a file. He pulls up a chair and sits down staring across the table at Archer. After a short pause, he lifts up the file and reads it.

“Archer Reed, aka The Sentinel.” He looks over the top of the file at the prisoner as he opens it. Then he looks at the first piece of paper in it. “Assault, illegal weapons, assault with illegal weapons, fleeing the scene of a crime, excessive speeding, running a red light, and the list goes on.” He sits the first paper down and picks up the second sheet. “Master of Ninjitsu, trained under the guidance of Master Ro in Oshima, received the highest accolade in Hapkido, Tazer certification, OC aerosol certification, and handcuff certification among other things.” He sits the paper down and looks back up at Archer. “Now we have a unique situation here.” He leans forward and folds his hands on the file.

“It’s against the law for you to hold me here and deny me a lawyer.”

“Son, I know the law. We are going to offer you an opportunity to, start over. You see, the way you handled Steven Parrie’s group in that office building (see Sentinel: Office Work) and got out before my boys could get up there. We could use a man with your, abilities. And, we can’t have you running around like some vigilante superhero unsupervised anyway.” He sees that Archer is getting noticeably thoughtful. “We also happened to notice that you have gotten behind on some bills. Superhero work doesn’t pay much these days, huh? And keeping all those gadgets going keeps that electric bill high.” Archer looks a little shocked when he looks up at the chief.

“Have you been looking at my bank account?” Archer stands quickly causing his chair to slam to the ground. “How many laws are you going to break, chief?” The detective quickly reaches for his sidearm, but the superior officer puts his hand out to calm him.

“Now settle down. No one’s been in your bank account. It just so happens that a friend of mine works for the electric company and they noticed you have been late with your past few bills. Now this puts the ball in my court, but, you are being offered a sweet deal as well. Past criminal transgressions, gone, plus you get paid, quite handsomely I might add, to keep doing what you are doing. And as a bonus, your friend gets off the hook. What else could you ask for?”

The detective sits the chair back up and pushes Archer down into it. The prisoner looks up at the policeman with disgust for a second then looks down in contemplation. ‘I don’t want to work for the government. I just don’t have any options though. Even if I do my time and come back out, they have all of my gear. I can’t afford to buy all of that stuff again. The paycheck would be nice too.’ The police chief’s impatience gets the best of him.

“Well, are you going to be a free man and provide justice for this city, or rot in jail?” Archer pauses for a moment, looks up at his helmet on the table, then to the police chief.

“Where do I sign?”

Tanna: A Chance Meeting ®

A young female elf walks through a flower garden on a beautiful day and a very casual breeze lightly moves her long blonde hair. Her fair complexion and light hair give her an almost glowing appearance. The blue elvish accents flow on her long white dress that floats across the top of the lush green grass as she walks through inspecting the floras. She smiles as she looks back over to her hometown. Nithpantiel is a beautiful elven city on the outskirts of the elven providence. Its tall white towers and walls are highlighted well by gold trimmings.

She goes back to her garden inspection and as she looks at a rose bush, she notices someone standing in her garden. It is young male elf who appears to be looking at the plant life in the garden as well. The sun shines off of his black silky hair as he walks through the garden. His athletic tone is revealed by a slight opening at the top of his long burgundy robes. He slightly bends to smell a rose and hide his occasional glances at the lovely female elf. When she catches him glancing at her, she realizes that she has been staring at him and quickly goes back to inspecting. He notices her reaction, smiles slightly, and goes back to looking at the flowers.

The female elf turns her back to him as she kneels to look at the plants and hide her interest. She has lived in Nithpantiel her whole life and has never seen this elf. Was he a visitor? Was he really there to look at the rosary and she was just misreading his glances? Was he still looking at her? The overwhelming temptation causes her to look back over her shoulder in just a few moments. She is shocked to see that he is no longer there. Confused and a little disappointed, she slowly turns back to the bush she is at.

“It was unwise for them to choose someone more beautiful than the flowers to tend to them.” A smooth, charming voice from the other side of the bush startles her. “These roses don’t stand a chance.” The handsome elf is looking at her over the top of the bush. She feels her cheeks heat up as she lowers her head to hide the blushing. “I am Beinion.” He says as he walks around the bush to greet her. He reaches out his hand to help her up. “May I ask your name?”

Her heart flutters as she tucks her hair behind her pointed ear. She is rarely approached by the men of her race. Though she is not born of royal lineage, her blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair complexion give her a noble appearance. In the elven capital of Lostariel, the only elves that are accepted into high royalty have the traits that she carries. Any of the elves with royal lineage with darker features are only accepted into lower royalty along with other lords in the land. She is bubbling over with excitement but hides it well with her quiet response.

“Tanna.” Her response is quieter than she had hoped.

“I’m sorry.” Beinion says, turning his ear slightly closer to her.

“My name is Tanna.” Her voice resonates much better with her second response as she accepts his hand.

“Ah Tanna. Such an appealing name is fitting for a woman such as you.” Tanna smiles as he helps her to her feet. Beinion shares her smile and crosses his arms behind his back as he looks toward the nearby field. “The day is fair and this field is clear.” He gestures toward the field as he turns back to her. “Would accompany me on a walk?”

“Walk?” She looks back to the flowers in the garden for a moment then looks back to Beinion. “I, well, but,” She thinks for a moment, ‘I’m just inspecting today. If I come back soon I can finish before dark.’ Then her reasonable side kicks in as she thinks, ‘I don’t know this man though. This is crazy. Why would I leave with him? How do I know he won’t harm me?’

“I can help you complete your work when we are finished, and we won’t be gone long.” Tanna looks back at Beinion as he interrupts her thought.

“Well.” She looks back to her rosary and thinks once more. ‘He seems so nice. Just do it. You never do anything adventurous.’ Beinion can read the reserved excitement on her face as she looks back to him. “Ok.”

“Excellent.” As they walk through the field on the clear day, the uncut grass brushes against their lower legs. A slight gust of wind carries some feathers from a nearby nest by them as they stroll. The two are silent for a few moments as they take in the beauty of the day and breathe in the fresh, clean air. After a short silence, Tanna’s curiosity gets the better of her.

“I have lived here since birth and have yet to see you. Are you just travelling through?” Beinion looks at her and smiles, then looks back to the field.

“I will likely settle here for a bit. My studies of the KemenGûl have led me to this area. The location will be impeccable for my studies.” He turns back to her. “The locals seem to be remarkable as well.” As Tanna feels her cheeks flush again, Beinion smiles and looks back to the elvish town. “I will need to take residence here for my studies. You have lived here for quite some time then. Are the other tenants of this city as hospitable as you?”

“Yes!” She is taken aback by how excitedly she answered his question. After taking a short moment to calm herself, she continues, “Yes. Since our bordering plains are so abundant in wildlife, a lot of trading happens in our town. We are used to visitors, and our inns are well kept.” After she finishes her sentence she begins to ponder what made her so excited. ‘Why am I so eager to make him stay? Sure he’s handsome, and nice, flattering, and seems to be interested in me. But I barely know him.’ As she is thinking, Beinion begins to speak.

“I think I will be looking for something a little more, lasting, than an inn.” His words only briefly intersect her thoughts.

‘I never get this attached. I need to be more reserved, maybe not make myself so readable.’ She turns from him and looks back to the city. “Yes, well I’m afraid we rarely have any rental housing in the city. Our neighboring town is usually best for that.” She says quickly. Beinion smiles as he responds.

“Oh?” He looks back to the city and keeps his smile. “Hmm.” Tanna thinks that she isn’t being direct enough to hide her interest.

“Well thank you for the walk sir,” acting as if she had forgotten his name to further hide her interest.

“Beinion.”

“Sir Beinion. I must be returning to my duties.” She quickly begins walking back toward her garden before he can persuade her to stay. Because if he tried she would surely stay and she would have a hard time continuing to hide her emotions. Despite her efforts, as she is walking away Beinion responds,

“Good day Tanna.”

The rest of the day is spent looking over the town garden. Many flowers get overlooked and she inspects a lot of the some places multiple times as she thinks about her encounter. ‘He was so sweet. I hope I didn’t scare him away. I just want him to chase me a little.’ She shakes the thoughts off long enough to finish her work. Her normally short walk home from the garden is prolonged as she daydreams during the trip. She begins to ponder what about this area is so great for KemenGûl. There are plenty of open plains in the area, but KemenGûl is scientific studies. Perhaps the surplus of wildlife in the area provides a good study. She soon dismisses the thought and goes back to daydreaming.

As she walks into her home and closes the door behind her. She leans back against it, looks at the ceiling, and sighs. After a short pause, she rises back off of the door and begins her nightly house duties. She hasn’t been out on her own long, so she has to focus on what she is doing and limit her daydreaming. While she prepares dinner, eats, cleans up, and takes a hot bath, she thinks about him. About the way his black hair shined in the sunlight, how his robes complimented his physique, his kind words, and the way he showed his intelligence.

She finishes her bath, throws on her nightgown and wonders while she lays awake in bed if she did the right thing by trying to get him to chase her. ‘What if he doesn’t talk to me again? I think I was too direct. He probably thinks I’m not interested.’ Then she realizes something, ‘No. I am worth chasing. We women deserve to be chased a little bit.’ The thought comforts her as she rolls over to go to sleep. ‘If he is worth having, then he will come after me.’ Her last thought drifts off as she begins to go to sleep. A small noise outside wafts away her sleepiness though. She sits up in her bed. “Was that whispers?” She looks up to see a piece of rolled up parchment, tied with a piece of string, and carried through her window by cloudy-looking butterfly wings. The paper floats a little to the left, then a little to the right and as it lands in her hand, the butterfly wings blow away like a puff of smoke. She slowly unties the yarn and looks at the letter.

There is truly none

As fair in all Elqanah

Now or

Never has an elf existed

As beautiful or pleasant

I really enjoyed our walk today. You ran off so quickly, I hope I didn’t upset you. If you are up for it, I would enjoy another walk. Please relay your response out of the window.


Tenderly,

Beinion

She jumps to her feet to look out of her window. As the note said, Beinion was standing outside smiling up at her. Unable to hide her excitement anymore, she smiled back at him, from ear to ear.

Sentinel: Office Work ®

“We will have to send in the S.W.A.T. team.” The Chicago Police Chief says looking on at a large Mitchell office building. “I say we have about ten minutes before he starts killing hostages.” Flashing red and blue lights reflect brightly through the lightly falling rain on the dozens of cop cars.

“Yeah, but he said he would start killing hostages if he saw any cops too.” A young policeman reasons with the superior officer. The police chief shakes his head and looks at the young officer.

“Negotiations aren’t working either, since the perps cut communications. I really don’t see any other option.” He turns and looks back at the dark and quiet office building. “All we can do is send them in and pray.”

Meanwhile, on one of the middle floors of the office building, one of the criminals is getting impatient. “We stopped talking to those pigs over an hour ago! Why haven’t they given us that armored car?” A big man bellows in a booming voice. Papers rustle under his feet as he walks around the dimly-lit, messy room. Four men armed with automatic rifles stand in the room around the hostages. He is wearing a white tank top, jeans and military boots. The desks from the office are stacked against the exterior window to block the group from police snipers. A thin man with oiled-back hair in a trench coat is looking through a gap in the tables at the movement of the officers below.

“They aren’t bringing us the armored car Malcolm. That was never the escape plan.” He turns back and looks at his three hostages that are gagged and tied around a pillar in the middle of the room. Their frantic look of desperation makes him chuckle as he looks over to the large man. “You haven’t noticed a couple of our guys are missing yet? The basement to this building has a secret tunnel that connects to an underground railcar as an escape for Dr. Mitchell. When he built this office, he made that escape because he knew people like you and me would be after his fortune. That’s why we had to off him even after he had transferred all of that money into our accounts. That way he couldn’t warn anyone that we would use the escape.”

“You’re a genius, Steven.” Malcolm admires.

“They’ll be sending in the S.W.A.T. team soon, and I haven’t heard back from the guys that are hacking the door to the escape.” The headman points his automatic weapon to the only door into the room they are in. “So keep your guns pointed at that door in case they try to come in.” He points at one of his henchmen. “You, stand over here by the hostages so you can blast them if someone comes in that door. The elevator shaft should be sealed off.” The hackers that are now in the basement locked control to the elevator car, and positioned the car just beneath the floor that the men with the hostages are on to block entry. The hackers won’t be able to be in contact with their leader because radio and phone communications are being monitored by police in the area. Steven strategically moves between cracks in the tables as he peers through to not be in one place too long so a sniper doesn’t have time to spot him and sight him in. Three of the robbers kneel down behind a desk they knocked over in front of the door for cover and keep watch while one stands by the hostages. The men are unaware, however, of what lurks in the vent just above their heads.

“What’s the news from the police radio Wyatt?” Sentinel is lying in the vent looking on at the situation and planning his rescue attempt. Wyatt’s voice comes through on his radio. Wyatt’s years as a hacker have given him the expertise needed to shield their radio transmission from police monitoring.

“You’ll have to do something quick. They’re sending in the S.W.A.T. team. They’ll kill those hostages at the first sight of the cops.” Sentinel glances ahead and notices that the duct work is just over the man guarding the hostages head. A quiet sizzle goes unheard by the men beneath as Sentinel uses a small lazer from his utility belt to cut away the metal around the vent he is looking through. As he finishes cutting the vent, he pulls it into the duct work and lays it behind him.

“Are we going to kill one of these hostages or what, Steven?” The man guarding the hostages says as he turns toward their leader. The man turning away allows Sentinel to throw a small circular communication device from his belt unto the pillar that the hostages are tied to.

“Tell them to lay down when I cut their rope Wyatt.”

“Gotcha.” As Wyatt begins to communicate with the hostages through the device, Sentinel crawls down to the piping over the guard’s head. Steven turns back to his minion.

“Give them a couple more minutes to try and get in touch with me. If they don’t, we kill them all.” He responds to his accomplice’s question. The guard looks back at the hostages with a smug look. During this time, Sentinel has stuck a string to the top of the duct above the guard’s head with a gadget attached at the other end to both sides of the tubing. Once finished he crawls back to the open hole. The demeanor of the hostages seems to have calmed a little as they know that someone is there to help them, but they are alert to know when to do as they are told.

“Ready, Wyatt?” Sentinel says as he pulls a small capsule from one side of his belt and a throwing star from the other.

“Get it!” Sentinel pushes a button at the side of his visor causing it to turn on infrared vision. He throws the capsule and the throwing star from one hand, and as the two objects are in flight, Wyatt hits a button on his keyboard causing the two objects Sentinel had strung up in the duct work to shoot lasers in a vertical circle. The lasers cut the piping causing it fall on the criminal’s head at the same time as the two other gadgets hit. The capsule hits the pillar just above the captives causing smoke to pour out into the room and the throwing star hits the rope holding the hostages to the pillar. The crash of the tubing and the grunt of the smashed man cause the others in the room to look back at him.

“Hey!” Malcolm yells. As he stands and begins running toward the pinned guard, Sentinel lands a kick on his face. As the bulky criminal falls to his back from the blow, Sentinel lands in a crouched position next to the men guarding the door. He sweeps the first criminal’s feet with a kick and jumps into an uppercut on the second one’s chin. The sound of rapid gunfire causes him to look over his shoulder. Steven is firing blindly in the direction of the hostages since by now the smoke is so thick in the room that he can’t see anything.

“If we’re going down, so are these desk jockeys!”

“Boss, I’m down here!” The pinned man yells.

“Collateral damage!” Steven yells as he fires the rest of his clip into the smoke. Wyatt’s voice comes through Sentinel’s headset.

“The police will be coming now that they have heard that gunfire, you’ll have to move quickly!” The room is eerily silent as Steven watches for signs of life. He hears a quiet click and a sliding sound. Seconds later he sees a claw attached to a cable come through the smoke, grab his gun, and pull it from his hands. It begins to dawn on him that this is no ordinary S.W.A.T. raid. “Who are you?”

“I am an ever-vigilant guardian of peace and justice. A defender of the defenseless and a keeper of this city.” Steven is beginning to get visibly nervous as Sentinel watches him through his infrared visor. “I am an ever-watching, Sentinel.” As his last word rings out he reaches through the smoke and lands a punch on Steven’s face, knocking him out cold.

“You have another heat signature behind you.” Wyatt says over Sentinel’s headset. He spins around to see a large red blob advancing toward him. “Smoke’s clearing, get out of infrared.” Sentinel quickly reaches up and clicks the infrared off from the side of his visor. Before the infrared clears he is hit on the side of the head by a gigantic fist that knocks him across the room and into a fax machine. “Looks like your old buddy Malcolm isn’t as easy to knock out.” Wyatt’s joke isn’t amusing to the battered hero.

“Mind helping me find a way to take this guy down?” The brute is walking slowly toward him.

“I’m looking man, I’m looking.” Wyatt responds. The pinned robber sees that Malcolm is still standing and yells,

“Hey man, help me out of here.” Malcolm’s stride doesn’t change, and as he passes he unleashes a swift kick into the man’s face, knocking him unconscious.

“Whew! If he does that to his teammate, imagine what he’ll do to you Archer.” Wyatt jokes.

“Just watch for a weakness.” Sentinel says. He stands in a sprint toward his opponent, leaps toward him, and wraps his arm around his throat as he passes tries to pull him to the ground. Sentinel comes to an abrupt halt as Malcolm is unmoved by his attempt. The giant grabs him from his shoulder and launches him into a one of the tables lining the window, narrowly missing impaling him on a leg. He falls to his feet.

“Well we can rule that out of his weaknesses.” Wyatt jokes. Sentinel quickly raises his arm and blasts his tazer at Malcolm. The behemoth moves surprisingly fast for his size, catches the wires before the barbs can reach him, and jerks them out of Sentinel’s gadget. Sentinel realizes that Malcolm is too close to reload the tazer, so he raises his other arm and blasts him with the gadget on top of his arm with a shot of pepper spray in the face.

“Argh!” The monster booms as he stumbles back for a moment. Sentinel dashes toward him and jumps with a spin in an attempt to land a kick on his cheek. The loud slap heard is not from the kick landing on Malcolm’s cheek but from the connection made with his hand. Malcolm catches the kick and in one motion, launches Sentinel into the elevator door. The door smashes open and Sentinel falls inside the elevator shaft and out of sight. Malcolm pauses for a moment to see if Sentinel will come charging back through the opening. When he doesn’t Malcolm lets out a short chuckle. The room is silent save the thud of Malcolm’s boots on the office floor as he walks across the room toward the elevator.

The door to the room bursts open and the Chicago S.W.A.T. team charge into the room before Malcolm can make it to the elevator. “Get on the floor, on the floor!” One of the officers shouts at him. As Malcolm starts to run toward the elevator he is hit with a tazer, tenses up, and falls to the floor. Two officers run over to the hostages to find that they are all unharmed and lead them out of the room. The rest of the S.W.A.T. team rushes from robber to robber and checks for pulses.

“Looks like they are all alive, sir.” Another officer announces.

“Good. Bag ‘em and tag ‘em boys.” The commanding officer says as he walks over to Malcolm, the only conscience member. “Any more of you hooligans I need to know about?” As he finishes his sentence the two hackers that were downstairs are thrown on the floor at his feet from the elevator door. The leading officer quickly looks down the shaft, but there isn’t anyone inside. “There is someone else in here, find him!” He shouts. Before any of the policemen can make it down the shaft though, Sentinel is already in the hidden tunnel car.

“Thanks for that hack on the elevator, Wyatt.” Sentinel says as he gets into the car.

“Not a problem bud. See you at base.” The door to the car snaps as it closes over Sentinel’s head. He starts up the egg-shaped track car and takes off down the track.

Sentinel: Trouble Sevenfold ®

“All units in the area of Robberson and Daniel respond. The alarm has been tripped at the Citizen’s Bank.” The police scanner cries out on a busy summer night. “Repeat, the Citizen’s bank alarm at Robberson and Daniel has been tripped.” The almost still night air in the city carries the sound of vehicles moving and people walking on the otherwise normal Chicago night.

“I’m gonna make these scumbags wish they’d chose another night.” A shadowy figure leaps from a rooftop into an alleyway. “Just gotta be the first one there.” The man dashes down the dark corridor, throws aside some metal garbage cans that clang loudly in the narrow space, and jumps onto a street bike that was hidden behind them. He starts the motorcycle and takes off in seconds. The city streets will be too busy on a weekend night, so he takes to the alleyways to speed up his travel. As he blazes through the dark back streets and between buildings, he burns with anticipation. Will there be twenty, thirty robbers? Will they be armed? Did they use an armored vehicle to bust into the bank? All of these thoughts race through his head as he darts around cars and people between alleys. His focus on his task is so great that he barely notices as people jump when he flies past. Hardly a glimpse is caught of him as he drives like a robot programmed to perform a specific operation. Skillfully he weaves through the people and cars.

As he arrives at the bank, he steps off of his bike and into the glow given by a streetlight. His suit is made of gray Kevlar and covers his entire body. The Kevlar is separated to reveal blue netting underneath in strategic places to allow movement. He wears a gray Kevlar helmet with a black visor across the eyes, three small slits on each cheek for breathing, and a thin red bandanna tied above the visor. His black utility belt is equipped with all types of gadgets along with the black circular instruments on top and bottom of his forearms. The slight breeze blows the long ends of the bandanna tied around his head as he looks on at an otherwise untouched bank. As he notices a light on in the back room, his police scanner goes off again, “All units be advised, the alarm at the Citizen’s Bank was set off by an employee. Repeat, false alarm at Citizen’s Bank.” The vigilante stands in front of the bank; his helmet hides the look of disgust on his face. He abruptly leans back against his bike resting on its kickstand. The motorcycle shines in the dim street light. It’s a bright blue sportster with black wheels and the dash has a touchscreen with several gauges and readily available gadgets.

“This dispatcher really needs to learn how to dispatch.” He says sharply, “She acts like the world’s coming to an end before she even knows what’s going on. I got my hopes up thinking I might get some action tonight.”

“I wouldn’t rule that out just yet Archer.” A voice comes through the headset in the hero’s helmet. “Take a look behind you.” He spins around to see a woman surrounded by angry looking men across the street. Without a word he dashes across the street toward the altercation.

“Thank you Wyatt.” A man sitting in a remote building behind a computer says mockingly through his headset. “You’re welcome Archer.” He is watching three computer screens and assisting the vigilante with a live video feed from cameras placed on the front and back of the hero’s helmet. The screen to the left shows the camera in the front of the helmet, the screen to the right shows the camera view from the back of the helmet, and the middle is showing old reruns of cartoons. Wyatt’s desk has an open bag of potato chips and a two liter bottle of soda. He has a heavy set physique, short brown hair, and his goatee is blended into his unshaven cheeks. He wears a shirt from a sci-fi movie, orange basketball shorts, and thin framed glasses.

Meanwhile, back on the street, the vigilante is nearing the dispute. As he approaches, he hears one of the thugs taunting the young lady. “Ha ha ha, look at her guys! She’s sad we smashed her phone! Not so tough without your phone or your keychain mace now are ya?” Soon after he finishes the sentence there is a loud pop and the sound of electricity. The punk squeals, tenses up, and falls to the ground smacking his face on the sidewalk. Behind him stands the armored hero. His fist is extended and wires are coming from the gadget on top of his arm.

“You tazed him bro!” One of the men exclaims as he looks at his fallen comrade in horror. The vigilante pushes a button on the gadget and the cartridge with the wires disengages. The leather from his belt shuffles as he grabs another cartridge from a pouch on his belt and inserts it into the hole where the old cartridge was. He points his arm back at the group of men, readying to use the arm-mounted tazer again.

“Leave her alone.” He warns. The once-incapacitated man stands back up with a hearty laugh.

“And who’re you s’posed to be? Superbug?” He laughs as he taunts. The hero stands motionless with his arm pointed at him.

“My name is Sentinel. Leave her alone.” His voice is getting sterner as if he is giving his last warning. There is silence for a moment as the thug contemplates his next move.

“Sentinel huh?” He chuckles and spits some blood from his mouth, “I don’t guess you plan on taking all seven of us on do you? We’re going to,” his words are cut short as he is shot again by the probes from Sentinel’s tazer. As the bruiser hits the ground, Sentinel unloads his empty cartridge and begins loading another. The group of vagrants charge while he is reloading, thinking they will have the upper hand. Just before they get to Sentinel, his cartridge clicks in place and he leaps over the first thugs head.

He mounts the thug’s shoulders and pushes off into a drop kick in the next man’s face. As Sentinel falls to the ground, he pulls a palm-sized cylinder from a loop on the side of his utility belt, and leaps forward. He plants his fist into another bruiser’s face and spins around him. There is a slide and a click as he spins the cylinder with a twist of his wrist to extend both sides into a staff. The next opponent is on the ground before he knows it as Sentinel kneels down and swipes his legs with his staff. Sentinel jumps from his knelt position, spins in the air, and lands his foot into once-mounted thug’s face.

“Ugh!” The man’s cry echoes down the alleyways as he spins and falls to the pavement. There is almost no sound as Sentinel lands on his toes in a crouching position. He jumps forward and presses one of the two standing criminals against a nearby wall with his staff.

“Gotta gun behind you.” His remotely-watching friend, Wyatt, says as he looks at the monitor of the rear-view camera. In one motion Sentinel spins, pushes a button at the bottom of his glove, and throws a cable with a grappling claw at the end toward the gunman with his open hand. Before the man can aim his shot, the claw grasps the firearm and Sentinel yanks it from the attacker. He whips his arm back, then forth and smacks the gunman in the face with his own gun. Sentinel releases the button in his glove and retracts the gun into his hand. By now the man Sentinel has pinned up against the wall is no longer dazed and is trying to get loose. While he struggles, Sentinel kicks the magazine out of the gun, releases his staff long enough slide the top of the gun back to kick out the last shell in the chamber, and smacks the thug with the gun.

As the thug slides down the wall, Sentinel turns to looks over six unconscious men victorious. He looks back over his shoulder to see that the victim has left as he had hoped. One thug squirms to his feet as he tries to get away. Sentinel throws his cable making it wrap around the fleeing man’s legs and pulls his feet out from under him. The man falls to his face on the concrete sidewalk and looks over his shoulder at the approaching Sentinel.

“I’m pressin’ charges.” He frantically exclaims, “You assaulted me!” Sentinel kneels down over the frightened man and points to the camera on his forehead.

“That’s what this is for. I have video of you assaulting that woman. I was just defending her.” Sentinel puts his foot on the back of the downed perpetrator’s head and cuffs him to a nearby pole. As he ties the rest of them up with zip ties, he piles them next to one of the buildings. He rests his foot on the pile of baddies and radios Wyatt. “Put a call in to nine one one. I’m sure someone else already has, but tell them they have a package waiting for them at Robberson and Daniel.”

“Copy.” Wyatt says through his headset. Sentinel walks over and gets on his bike. He looks back over at his achievement, takes a sigh of relief, and takes off.