The standard disclaimers all apply here... This story does not state fact, only fiction with basis in fact. The story also includes mild profanity and some suggestive content, `parental discretion is advised'. This story does not have explicit sexual content, however, so it is suitable for readers under the age of 18 (unless otherwise stated by your local law)
Any feedback please direct to firstname.lastname@example.org - if you don't like the story, e-mail me instead of adding me to some other stupid mailing list, I get enough of those anyway.
Also, probably I'll have a website for this story available at http://winterblade.hypermart.net - if I have it, you'll be able to find a map, and possibly some notes on my characters there, as well as an updated copy of the story (which you'll find here too). This story, and the characters and devices contained herein are all copyright 2002, Matthew DeCosta.
Chapter Two -- The Archon, the Shanari, and the Shanir
`Dark... everything is dark...' that was the first thought that ran through Jeremy's head as he slowly returned to consciousness. Of course, it wasn't until a moment later that he realized everything was dark because his eyes were still closed. He slowly opened them, noting the dull ache in his head, and was glad for his caution. He lay in the middle of an austere white room, brightly lit by glowing balls of energy. On the floor of the room was a compass rose design, with the eight primary points pointing at eight different objects.
First, to the north was an archway that led... nowhere, it was simply an arch that led into the wall. Curiously, Jeremy peered around, his eyes traveling south next. To the south lay a door, or at least Jeremy assumed that's what it was, since there was neither an apparent handle nor hinge.
Blinking, Jeremy looked at the other six points, to the east, suspended in mid air, was a sword in a magnificent scabbard.
To the southeast, in mid-air, as were the other objects, Jeremy noted, was a pike, nearly seven feet tall, with emblazoned symbols on the shaft.
To the northeast, a bow, crafted finely with a mixture of wood and metal. Hovering beside it, a quiver, with three arrows each in three different slots.
Jeremy turned his gaze to the west, where he found a set of fine throwing knives hovering seemingly weightless, and beside them, a pair of lockpicks.
To the southwest, a staff, nearly six feet in length, topped with a brilliant opal, which was ringed by glowing orbs of fire, circling about the opal as electrons would about an atom.
Finally, looking to the northwest, Jeremy saw a flanged mace, with runic symbols about the head.
Oddly enough, in all of his inspections of the room, he had failed to notice that his companions from the Gate-stones were all there. This is until David, whom Jeremy realized he must have been laying on, began to stir. "Where... where are we...?" he asked, his voice barely audible even in the deathly quiet of the room.
"I have no idea... help me wake the others", Jeremy began to say, but was interrupted by Tyler's voice.
"The `others' are already awake," Tyler announced as he began to pick himself off the floor, then decided against it as he practically fell back down.
A new voice sounded at this, "Sorry for the disorientation, it will pass soon, I assure you." Everybody jumped visibly when the voice began, and by the time it had finished, everybody's eyes were riveted on the man standing near the southern doorway. He was tall, nearly six and a half feet, brilliantly waist length white hair and beard, sparkling silver eyes, and robes the color of midnight blue, emblazoned with a symbol of an eight pointed star, with a different rune stitched at each point.
"Who are you... where are we...?" Jeremy began feebly.
"To answer your questions, I am the Archon Daeron, and we are in the Citadel of the Moon, in the kingdom of Pallas," the man replied.
"The kingdom of what?!" Shaun asked in a startled sounding voice.
Patiently, as with a child, Daeron replied, "The kingdom of Pallas, in the world of Veran'is. Now, I have much to explain to you, starting with how you all got here. I will begin by telling you that I am what is known as a mage, or a practitioner of the magical arts. I will also tell you that I'm powerful enough to be called one of the twelve Archons in the land, greater than an Archmage, who in turn is greater than a Magus, Sorcerer, Hedge Wizard, down to an Apprentice. I summoned you all to the place you call the `Gate-stones'... a rather fitting title, considering... and then used my power to teleport you all across the dimensional void to my Citadel. I apologize for doing so, but it is necessary to preserve my kingdom. By now you must all be considering pinching yourselves, for this does sound like something out of a dream, or out of one of your fairy tales, but... I assure you, my... no... our... the kingdom's need is real."
"Why us, what's so special about us that you believe can save your kingdom from whatever... we're all well and good if your kingdom is suffering from a lack of entertainment, but, I somehow doubt that happens to be the case," stated Jeremy.
"I'll be frank, though this will only solidify the feeling that this certainly must be a fantastic fairy tale of some sort, you are all chosen ones, descendants from the ancient Plane-walkers. The twelve Plane-walkers were the protectors of all the known realms of existence. They moved freely between Planes to keep the peace and keep the denizens of the Planes from traversing where they would cause harm or be harmed by creatures of another Plane. Ten thousand years ago, in the time of the Plane-walkers, there arose a great Sorcereress known as J'tari. J'tari was the star in everybody's eye; she was powerful, and quick to learn, with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. It was this that was her undoing, for in her quest for knowledge, she made a pact with the Goddess of Time, Lethene, to allow her to prolong her life to search for more knowledge. However, Lethene is also a dark goddess, and turned J'tari into a Lich, a creature more evil than most demons, and more indestructible. J'tari wreaked havoc upon the Planes, for as a Lich, she could move freely between them. The Plane-walkers, using divine powers granted to them, created the `Thirteenth Plane', and placed upon it a magical prison, which could ensnare J'tari. After a gruesome battle, six of the Plane-walkers sacrificed themselves to seal the wards and trap J'tari, forever... or so we hoped."
As Daeron paused for breath, Shaun interrupted, "Well, I can see where this is going, J'tari has escaped from her prison, but, let me guess, she's too weak to move properly between Planes, so she chose here to take over. Am I right?"
Looking mildly annoyed at the interruption, Daeron nodded, "In essence, you are. J'tari is too weak to move between the planes... for now. We know the wards have somehow degraded to the point where they could no longer contain her. You are also correct in the fact that she chose here to overtake, though for reasons that are not apparently obvious. Amongst the twelve Planes, there is an anomaly here, a rift through which we believe that more Planes may be reached, however, it was sealed off by the Plane-walkers long before J'tari was even born. We trust their intentions were good, and in the best interests of the people. It is said that somewhere there is a tome that describes what is through that Rift, but I have never seen it. It was also said that the Plane-walkers found it in J'tari's possession before they captured her. Thankfully, however, the ancients were wise, and did not mention how the Rift could be opened again, but rest assured that J'tari will figure it out. The Rift is located in the kingdom of Par'nin, across the continent from Pallas. J'tari has overtaken the capital city of Par'nin and the Citadel of the Rift. You six must take up the destiny of your ancestry and destroy J'tari once and for all, and you must do so before she opens the Rift!"
At that moment, Tyler, who had been listening intently to the conversation stated, "You said there were six remaining Planes-walkers, yet, there are only five representations here. I mean Jeremy and his mom would have been descendants of the same Planes-walker."
"You are most perceptive young Lavitz. You are correct, there were six remaining Planes-walkers, and about you are their armaments. However, there are seven of you and only six true weapons. You six are the chosen heroes of the Planes, or in the language of old, the Shanari. The seventh descendant is a Shanir, the chosen heroine of the gods, and of time itself," Daeron paused for a moment and moved his hands in an intricate gesture. Before him formed a silver ellipse of energy, which quickly resolved and reformed to show the image of a woman garbed in the deepest colors of black and silver. Her form was lithe, under the light brigandine mail. Her face showed signs of combat, and yet looking as if she belonged in a work of art. To complete the picture, her hair, tied back in a loose ponytail, was the purest color of silver. "This is Anari, the seventh member of your party, she will be your guide on this journey, as, unlike the rest of you, she has lived in Veran'is all her life. Now," he said, dismissing the ellipse after making sure everybody had a good enough look at Anari, "it is time for the choosing. Each of the six weapons about the room is, in some form, sentient. They contain within them the spirit of the Plane-walker whom they belonged to. Each has a specific owner amongst you to whom they wish to be bound. Once you take the weapon in hand, if it is `yours', it will provide you the full arms and armor of the Plane-walker to which it belonged." With that Daeron nodded at Jeremy, "You first."
Jeremy, looking rather wary, looked around the room and considered for a moment before walking towards the east, and the sword. Daeron looked pleased, and smiled in encouragement as he gestured for Jeremy to take it. Stretching out a hand Jeremy tentatively grasped the hilt and found himself surrounded by light. In his head he could hear a voice, `I am Shanari Taryn. You have come, take this sword, this armor, this form, and with it protect all of Veran'is'. The light subsided, but as Jeremy blinked and looked at himself, he found that he had not only been granted a magnificent armor, but his form had changed as well. His muscles, once weak, had been enhanced. His slight excess weight had disappeared. His hair, originally silver-blonde and showing the brown roots underneath, had lengthened to mid-back and was pure platinum in coloration. As for the armor, it consisted of a strong yet supple chain mail, over which was a leather tunic dyed in much the same black-silver combination as Anari's brigandine. Jeremy stretched a hand over his shoulder, where he found, in its scabbard, the sword he had chosen. As he grasped the hilt once more, new thoughts entered his mind, knowledge of swordsmanship and battle. In a fluid motion, he unsheathed the sword and looked upon it, and he held no simple blade, nearly five feet in length, the sword was encased in a fluid sheet of fire, glowing brightly in his hands. Jeremy performed a quick cleaving maneuver, watching the glowing brand move assuredly through the air, and then resheathed the sword. He turned towards the assembled group, all but Daeron had looks of awe on their faces. Remembering something, he asked, "The voice in the sword, it said it was called Taryn..."
Daeron nodded quickly, "That is the true name of the Sword-spirit, the name of the Planes-walker who interned his essence into the blade. David, you're next."
David looked about him and quickly chose the pike, putting his hand on it firmly, the same flash of light occurred, and David had, himself, transformed. Standing nearly 5'6", his slim form looked bulkier in the heavy golden plate mail he had been granted. His hair, mysteriously, had not changed; it was still the spiky blonde-tipped black root style that he, and Jeremy, enjoyed. In his outstretched hand rested the pike, the runes along its shaft glowing in a multitude of colors ranging from purple to orange. "Shanari Wintereagle," Daeron announced.
Daeron nodded at Tyler, who, without any hesitation, walked towards the bow. It pulsed brightly at his arrival, and, while not changing his body structure, donned him in a leather jerkin in mottled earth-tone colors. On his back was the quiver and its three arrows, one plain, one glowing brightly red, and the other glowing a cool blue color. "Shanari Laen."
Without further urging, Sue stepped lightly over to the mace. Grasping it about the handle, she was quickly transformed. Her appearance rivaled Anari for impressiveness, however, her hair, a light red-brown color, was closely cropped and pilled under a toque. Her armor consisted of a light chain mail, dyed in deep purples with intricate silver runes. At her side was a satchel, in her shield hand was, not the kite shield that was securely fastened to her back, but a book of orisons for the priest's path. "Shanari Aislin."
He had barely announced that when Shaun moved quickly over to the throwing knives and rested his hands on them. In a flash, literally, he was changed to a form much leaner than his normal cross-country running figure. His light tunic and breeches were dyed in the deepest shade of black, as to almost absorb the light from around it. On his chest rested a berretta of throwing knives, at his side a short sword. On his back rested a small bow, and, though nobody could tell, a pair of stiletto throwing daggers were up each sleeve. "Shanari Kavil"
Finally Crystal stepped up to the staff, and with a touch, she became a sorceress. Dressed in robes of pure white, and topped off with a white hat in the almost comical `wizard' style, and clutching her staff and spellbook, she made an imposing figure, as Daeron announced "Shanari Storm."
The party quickly gathered in front of Daeron, who began to speak again, "You are ready, now, for the trials ahead of you. Remember, always, that your strength lies not in the weapons or the skill you now have, but within your partnership and the ability to stick together. Now, unfortunately I fear there is little time, for my spies suggest that J'tari will discover the secret to the Rift within the month, and it will take much of that time to reach Par'nin under the best of circumstances. Yet, these are not the best of circumstances, as J'tari has dispatched legions of the undead and other monsters to terrorize Veran'is. Now, come with me, I'll get you further outfitted for your journey and give you some aide in getting to your rendezvous with Anari." Daeron quickly turned on his heel and strode out of the chamber with the newly transformed party following in his rapid footsteps. The mage led them down multiple corridors and past many sealed doors, and, after descending a great distance, he led them through a large door into what appeared to be a storeroom. He gestured to the many packs that lay gathered in the center of it. "Contained in these packs are enough supplies to get you to the city of Hovar'thi where Anari will contact you." Daeron pulled a tube off a nearby rack, and took a rolled piece of parchment from it. "This is what is known as a Mage-map, it will, upon command, show you either a detailed map of the surrounding area, with varying levels of scale, or a view of the entire continent of Veran'is. The map will also show you the location of your party and will point out the names and locations of nearby people. Be warned, however, for this is magic, and magic calls to magic. J'tari may be able to track you if she... no... if it, for she can no longer be considered human, is looking for this particular variety of magic. That warning extends to the magic-oriented members of this band, do not fear using your powers, but don't be blatant about them."
"The journey ahead will be long and hard, but I have no doubt that in the end, your power and prowess will win through. Now, listen carefully, the city of Hovar'thi is a four-day trek from here. However, I can shorten the distance by using another Portal to send you to the ruined Temple of the Moon in the Western Swamp. From there, make your way along the Malis Trade Road until you come to the Wysterin River. Follow it upstream until you come to the Hovar'thi Forest, which borders Hovar'thi to the south. Once you find the forest, I would advise skirting it until you reach Hovar'thi. If it is impossible to travel around it, for whatever reason, use the Mage-map to travel through the Forest," Daeron instructed as they shouldered their packs. Making sure they were all ready to go, he said only, "Good luck, Shanari and may Davri, Goddess of Luck, guide you on your path." With that, the Archon made another intricate gesture and a rush of vertigo overcame the party as they were teleported to the Temple of the Moon.