the Sacred Mountain
Collection: the Mountain, Canon
Chronicled by Valhel
Shadows upon iron walls sparked to brilliant bursts of blue and white as a ball of light strenuously began to swell into the darkness. Silhouettes, black against the light, revealed three persons in attendance."Alright, Marius, we have one shot at this. Anymore stress on the gateway and we'll lose it for good." cautioned the quartermaster, Mech.
Marius, gave an affirmative nod but dare not break his state upon the raging portal before him.
While Marius was not known to be a great adventurer or skilled tactician, he quickly won favor within the Haven Resistance due to his trustworthiness and humility. For precisely this reason Marius was now entrusted with one of Haven's most dangerous ventures.
"Marius?,' asked the third silhouette, 'Marius, you ok?"
Marius briefly shook off his nervousness, "Y-yes, sorry, Petra. Just...never time traveled before."
Mech smiled, "Well, if everything works out you'll only need to do it one more time after this. Now, put that visor on, can't have you rolling out of the portal blinded!"
The quartermaster and commander already had their eyes shielded, a cyclopian helm crowned Petra and Mech had moved the goggles from his top hat. Marius, returning his focus to the arcing and whirling gateway, affixed a wide visor over his eyes. It had been recovered from a stash of spare lenses that the former Haven commander, Valjean, had kept before his demise.
"Now or never, Marius." he sighed to himself as he strode up to the portal.
"If we are to withstand our enemy, Marius, we must be united under one banner.' Petra spoke in a grave tone, 'If you cannot lead the clans of the Mountain back we may not have another chance."
Marius’ fear gave way to something like bravery, and he stepped into the light. Wonders of blue and white spun about him. Arcs of cold fire cackled about him and the darkened laboratory of Roanoke Base gave way to blinding eternities. Energy coursed around Marius like waters and wind, as though the light had taken form, but then the light ceased. Marius lurched forward, bracing himself for a fall, but there was no ground, and so nothing happened. Regaining his balance Marius couldn’t be entirely sure he was standing, or floating for that matter.
“This can’t be it…” he muttered.
Marius reached for his weapon, a slight sword that Petra had given him. Hand on hilt, our adventurer looked about, terrified that he’d discover some unforeseen demise. Upon turning around there lay no monster, or foe, but a small black, familiar chest. The very same chest that Marius had seen Petra so secretively hide away. The air became colder with each uneasy step that Marius took toward the thing and he could hear a thrumming coming from within it. Kneeling down, Marius removed his hand from the hilt of his weapon, reaching to unlatch the lid of the chest, but before he could do so a ghostly voice, like that of a woman and child, echoed through his mind.
“Where have you been, here or no world manifest?”
Marius swung around, sword drawn, with speed that surprised even himself, but there was no speaker for the voice.
“Who are you? Is this your box?” asked Marius of the shadows.
The voice returned, this time echoing about Marius, “Can you tell the future, Marius? Can you even tell me where you are?”
Marius tried to muster a disarming smile, “I was hoping you could fill me in on that part.”
“Ha!’, she mused, ’I can see the future, Marius. I have seen your fate, I would be merciful to leave you here.”
“To whom would I owe my thanks?”
With a sudden click the chest at Marius’ feet unlatched itself. Marius cautiously looked down over his shoulder at the thing before turning back to watch for the speaker. After a few moments of silence, he reached back down to the chest and opened it. The first time Marius had seen the mysterious black box was in the dead of night at Roanoke. During one of his patrols a disturbance was detected with the laboratory and after calling Petra and Mech to his side the three discovered the chest. It seemed to Marius that Petra instantly recognized it, for she wished it away to her quarters before Mech or Marius could even suggest examination. In the days that followed Petra kept to herself, forbidding any talk of the disturbance or the black chest. Marius thought of the mysteries to be unraveled and he lifted the lid.
He was afforded only a glimpse before all turned to white and blue fire again, the portal raging forth through time, but Marius witnessed all he needed to see in that short moment. He saw Mech and Petra watching Roanoke burning. He saw Valjean stumbling through sands before crashing waves. He saw a moon rising over shattered spires, then lofty green towers branching out over lush fields and then something, someone who felt ancient, and still young- standing on a crown of stone. Veiled in shadow, only green light glinting about suggested her presence, her eyes full of stars.
Blue and white gave way to green, and the fires fizzled away revealing a bright sky and open forest. Wide-eyed, Marius removed his visor. He had never seen real trees before. Synthetic trees had been manufactured for materials or decorations in his time, but they paled in comparison to the noble creations before him. A gentle sun shone over the green canopy and a mountain wind ran through the woods. Marius stood there for several minutes taking it all in, “Time travel isn’t all that bad after all.”, he thought to himself.
A short ways off came the crack of branch underfoot. Though this was a sound that Marius was totally unfamiliar with, he did not mistake it for nothing and decided it was best to move on and find the clans. And so he started up the mountain side. When Marius had asked Petra about how he would find the clans she had only laughed and said that they would would have no trouble finding him. Marius didn’t think this would be such a bad plan as he didn’t expect that these warrior people would appreciate being snuck up on.
The day passed into the evening and Marius ascended a hill to its ridge wishing to behold the sunset. Hues of fire and twilight cast themselves into the gloaming reaches of night as thousands of stars flickered to life one by one. Beneath these new wonders Marius made camp. He was not the greatest defender to boast of at Roanoke, but he had disciplined himself as an excellent scout, well prepared to survive in the wilds of the desert for short missions. After having a ration for supper, much to Marius’ disappointment, no clansmen had approached him, and so he resolved to sleep.
He woke in the night two or three times, once at the haunting baying of some dire beast that he hoped stalked the wilds afar, and another at what he thought was a dream of the one whose eyes were filled with stars. The next morning Marius discovered that his camp had been found, several sets of footprints from boots lay in the dust all about him, even right at the opening of his tent, but aside from the earth around him nothing else had been disturbed.
“At least I know I’m in the right part of town…” Marius smiled.
Now that the world around the ridge was illuminated with the morning sun Marius could more easily make out the terrain before him. The ridge he had camped on rolled down into a green valley before creeping up into the steep grade of a three crested mountain, crowned in ice and adorned with trees. Part way up the slope was a clearing outlined by a ring of rocks, eerily similar to the ones he had seen when the chest, or what he thought was the chest, during his journey through time.
Marius packed up his camp and ventured down into the valley. He pondered his midnight visitors, and the bizarre visions of the chest. Here and there trees were marked with golden sigils, the metal having been molded into the bark. And once in a while a thin pillar of grey smoke would rise up in the distance before vanishing into the winds. Marius took note that as he progressed toward the stone circle, so too did the smoke signals. Down in the valley the tree thinned out and only grim pines seemed to grow there. This become concerning for as Marius passed between them he saw that in the center of the valley all of the pine trees had a great branch leaned against the right side of the trunks, to add to his discomfort the leaning branches were not from the pines but from oak trees. Oak trees that were not present in the valley. Marius quickened his pace and before long reached the grassy slopes of the next ridge.
Great stones rested between the trees and grass, like rocks standing in the midst of a calm and green waterfall. It had been a few hours since Marius noticed the last smoke signal, and the woods had turned still and quiet save for a cold wind. Sometimes Marius thought he saw green that was unlike the green of the forest around him, or even a tall shadow perched on some of the looming stones above him. Becoming increasingly uneasy, and convinced he was not alone, Marius drew his nimble blade, turning about to check his surroundings every hundred paces or so.
The clans of the mountain were long time allies of Valjean and had aided in the cause of the Haven Defenders for many years, but they had not joined with them or even had contact beyond the commanding officers. And with time travel being a fickle thing it was difficult to estimate how many years had passed since the last contact between Haven and the clans had been made. By Petra’s best guess, Marius would arrive within five years of the last contact. At that time one named the Sentinel had been appointed to guard the mountain, but that was before the reports of a shadowy being haunting the wilds. Along with these there were the wild bramble vikings, mad stalkers who took on the guise of the woods, though they had been pushed back by the clans with the direction of the Sentinel.
Marius was nearing the ring of stone and he believed he could see a pale green light atop one of the tallest rocks. Soft footsteps could be heard trailing behind Marius, though he did not see his follower. “If they didn’t want me alive they wouldn’t have let me get this far…”, Marius mumbled to comfort himself. Unconvinced of his bravery, Marius still boldly approached the ring. He could hear his hunters keeping stride, abandoning their deception and walking in the open. Marius dare not look back.
Suddenly the wind swept down from the stones, and two persons stepped to the tip of the highest in the rocky crown. One was garbed in dark robes, his hood veiled the eyes. Upon his back was a quiver bristling with arrows, and in his hand was a great bow that ascended up from his boots to above his head. The next, who stood in menacing pride, shocked Marius. She was not dressed like her guardian, but instead wore attire familiar to Marius’ own time. Dressed in black, a coat flared down to the legs, and a shawl of coarse fabric rested upon her stern shoulders. And upon her head was a helm that clearly threw her into stark contrast with the inhabitants of the Mountain. It was plated with green on either side, black plating bowed from between these over the brow before sloping back. And within the vigil of the helm was total darkness broken only by five white lights. Upon the plating, seemingly leaking from the between the pieces came a black ooze that shimmered in the sunlight.
Before Marius could say a word the woman turned to descend the rock and the one with the bow gestured further up the mountain. Marius was grabbed on either side by the hunters that followed him. Marius looked up at one of his captors as he was escorted away from the ring.
“Hi there!”, Marius said, but the hunter did not reply, though he did cracked a small smile.
He was taken into a small campground occupying a glade concealed by the tall trees. The tents were arranged in a ring forming the outside perimeter. At the north end of the camp was a large tent, sentries stood at the opening. Other tents of various sizes made up the rest of the circle, and makeshift seats and tables were placed around smoldering fire rings.
Marius’ sword and pack were taken by a hunter into the large tent, no doubt to be inspected. All but the hunter who had smiled left them, and Marius was taken into a small tent pitched at the south end of the camp and seated upon a blanket. The hunter wore a green cloak and hood that partially shaded his eyes. A glaive was slung over his back, its head was gold with a blue jewel, and a curve silver blade was mounted therein.
Stepping back from Marius the hunter spoke, “Sentries surround this camp, if you try to leave they will ensure that you do not.”
Marius nodded, “My name is Marius, I’ve been sent by Petra.”
“Petra?’ said the hunter, ‘Valjean did not speak of this.”
“Valjean is- Commander Valjean is no longer with us.”
The hunter had no reaction, not sorrow or surprise. Instead he stood up to walk away, before turning back to Marius.
“I am Tsayad. And I am a guardian of the sacred mountain.”
Marius watched Tsayad march straight to the large tent. He waited outside a few moments before the one with the long bow opened the way, allowing him to enter. Based on what little information Petra could provided him Marius guessed that the fellow with the bow was the Sentinel, but he had no thought as to who the girl was. Marius was left alone for several hours before Tsayad, saying not a word, brought him food and water. As the evening went on Marius could overhear conversations between warriors of the clans. It seemed that their new leader had set them on a stern watch over the Mountain and had even forbidden them from reading the Word that had once been their sacred charge to defend and share. As night descended bedding was brought to him and Marius was instructed not to leave the tent.
The fire rings were rekindled and figures emerged from the woods to warm themselves by its light. Many held glaives or bows. Some were tall and had lofty helms and axes. The ones with sword also carried shields. Soon the rest of the clan gathered for songs and food and Marius was glad to see that his captors were at times a merry gathering.
Too excited to sleep, Marius pretended to slumber by secretly watched the goings on of the campground. Close to midnight the fires dimmed, and the people dispersed, some to tents and others to the trees. Tsayad lingered by the fire in the center of the camp, where he was seated on the ground keeping watch on Marius’ tent. At one point the Sentinel emerged from the large tent and spoke to Tsayad before heading north out of the camp. Eventually the fires turned to embers and moonlight cast a pale glow across the glade.
As the activity became less and less frequent Marius found it difficult to keep his eyes open. He began slipping between the real world and his dreams. Marius would stir and look out at the camp only to see Tsayad vigilantly keeping watch. At one point in the night Marius thought he saw Valjean walk through the camp, but he decided that he was either dreaming or that it was the mysterious woman going to her own tent. And at that Marius resigned himself to sleep, for surely sleep had cast this vision. But it did not last long.
The sound of wind in the trees dissipated, and the spring night grew warm. Tsayad, who was still by the extinguished fire ring, stood to his feet and lifted his glaive, slowly stepping back toward a pile of wood. Silence filled the night, somehow drowning out even the natural sounds of the hunter’s footsteps and the flickering of the torches. Tsayad searched every shadow of the cap with a narrow gaze, one foot now placed behind a few logs. As eerily as the silenced had taken the wind now too the torches in the camp began to go out one by one. And just as the last torchlight was snuffed out Tsayad violently kicked the logs into the smoldering embers of the ring.
Fire and ash burst forth, new light blazed, and a horrific howl erupted into the night. The rekindled fames shed their red glow upon a monstrous creature towering before Tsayad. Firelight glistened off of fang and oily hide, and the unseen eyes of the thing now burned like many coals. It was at least twice Tsayad’s height, having massive hunched shoulders, quilled with barb-like fur.
“Hound!”, shouted Tsayad just as a hooked paw swung down upon him and threw him to the ground, casting the glaive far out of reach.
Before the creature could strike again the shrill whine of arrows sang from the Sentinel’s bow, all finding their mark. The beast bellowed and recoiled from the hunter for a moment as the Sentinel circled back.
Others rallied around the creature and cautiously attempted a defense. With snapping jaws and swipes from its paws the beast shattered weapons and forced its attackers back, leaving Tsayad defenseless in the center.
Marius awoke to the sight in horror, the howl was the very same as the one he had heard on his first night. He had heard of wolves from Valjean and Petra, and had compared them to the coyotes and wild dogs of the deserts he knew, but this creature was nothing like the beasts he knew of. All of the camp was focused on defeating the hound, struggling to hold their ground and even their weapons. As Marius watched the desperate scene he saw Tsayad trying to crawl away from the monster. The beast too, saw Tsayad and began to follow him, ignoring the assault of the clans.
The Sentinel let fly his last arrow and immediately took up a spear, hurling it at the heart of the creature, but the beast caught the spear in its jaws- crushing it into pieces. Undeterred, the hound stalked Tsayad who was desperately trying to reach his weapon.
Realizing the hunter’s plan, Marius leapt from his tent and ran to the glaive. Stray arrows flew through the night, barely missing Marius. The beast caught up to Tsyad and pinned his leg to the earth with a great claw. Marius caught up the glaive from the ground and called out to the hunter, “Tsyad!”
With all of his might, Marius cast the glaive to Tsyad who caught it just as the hound was swinging another paw of deadly hooks at the hunter. Tsyad roared at the beast and swept the glaive across the chest of the thing. The beast bayed in rage and drew back from Tsyad, now turning its fiery gaze upon Marius. The hound bellowed and a fire swelled within it as it lunged at Marius, who attempted to roll out of its dreadful path. But before fang or hero could fall a brilliant white light burst through the fire and shadow and the hound was swept up like ash on the wind, vanishing into the air. All of the host of the campground were knocked to he ground by the blast, all but the young woman, whose five lights within her helm shone like stars in the darkness. It was she that threw down the beast, her hand was still stretched out to where it had stood.
“Make safe the camp!”, she commanded.
The others regained their senses and took defenses around the tents. Tsayad stood up and extended an arm to help Marius up, “Well done, friend.”
“You weren’t bad either.”, said Marius as Tsayad lifted him to his feet.
“You there!’, the young woman called out, ‘I would have words with you, the one they call Marius.” She abruptly turned and went back into the large tent.
Tsyad gestured toward the tent and he and Marius entered it. Marius was puzzled by what lay inside. Within the tent was a large table with a map of the Mountain and the surrounding territories, that seemed normal, but what surprised him were devices that were clearly from his own time were also scattered about the table. A pistol rested within the young woman’s reach, various tablets with calculations and notes cycled through screens, and a small illuminated device cheerily glowed at another end of the map closest to Marius. His host was obviously not from this second dark age. The Sentinel stepped forward, “You who is called Marius, Haven Defender.’, he said, ‘I present to you our leader, who has united all clans under her banner. Pandora.”
Removing the helm Pandora took her seat in a almost throne-like chair crafted out of tree branches. She was much younger than Marius had expected, and her eyes seemed to be even more piercing than the faceless guise of her helm.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Pandora.’, said Marius as he gave a slight bow, ‘I am sent here by Commander Petra to unite-“
“You may stop there.’, interrupted Pandora, ‘Commander Valjean has not informed us of Petra taking command. This is a ruse.”
“Commander Valjean is- he is gone.’ said Marius sorrowfully. ‘I watched him give his life for a friend six months ago in our time.”
The Sentinel gave a sarcastic laugh, “And I watched him meet with us just last evening. He said nothing of you.”
“That can’t be him.” said Marius, as if questioning himself.
“Tsayad,’ said Pandora, ‘Take this imposter back to his tent, I will decide what we are to do with him in the morning.”
Without a word Tsayad obeyed and took Marius by the arm. Marius, feigning resistance, pulled his arm away from Tsayad, knocking over side table and a black chest with his foot. As the rest were focused on the mess, Marius pocketed the illuminated device before anyone could notice. After that he went quietly back to his tent and Tsayad apologized for the orders. Forgiving his new friend, Marius rolled over in the tent and began to study the gadget as soon as he was alone.
“Well, hello there.”, said Marius to his own amusement, celebrating his successful discovery.
“Hello!”, said the device, much to Marius’ shock.
“Uh, hi!’, Marius fumbled, ‘Who are you? I’m Marius.”
“Hello, Marius.’, chimed the glowing device, ‘I am Cossette. An AI belonging to Pandora.”
“Wonderful!’, said Marius, ‘I’d like to learn more about your Pandora.”
“Of course!”, exuded Cosette.
The next morning the Sentinel escorted Marius out from his tent and into the ring of stones.
“Good morning.” Marius said.
“Pandora wishes to speak with you in private, Marius.’ said the Sentinel, ‘Choose your words wisely….” And then the Sentinel lowered his voice to a whisper, “…for all of our sakes.”
Marius was left in the circle of stones. It wasn’t long before Pandora stepped into he ring from the south, opposite of the campsite.
“We meet again, Marius.’ she said, ‘Tell me, has Petra managed to deal with the present I left at Roanoke?”
Marius said nothing, mindful of the Sentinel’s warning.
“I thought as much. Faithful Marius, a true friend.’, Pandora scoffed, ‘I’ll bet that Petra has the chest locked away somewhere, she cannot run forever.”
“Perhaps instead of running we might stand together?” said Marius.
“Oh yes, your little alliance. I’d nearly forgotten! So Petra realized that she cannot attack the Authority head on?”
Marius continued to gently pry, “Do you have another plan?”
“Clever Marius.’ Pandora was now pacing around him, ‘All will be revealed to you. Yes, I know the Authority, I was once a citizen of their city before Valjean assaulted them head on and failed.”
“Valjean never attacked the Authority head on.’ said Marius, ‘He waited in the desert for an opportunity to-“
“To strike back! And he failed, his resistance failed. You all died. And in an effort to double down on their dominion the Authority wiped anyone associated with your resistance! I lost everything.”
“But there was no attack. Valjean was lost when Haven base was destroyed.”, pondered Marius.
“Yes, Valjean was…lost. Thanks to me.” Pandora laughed.
Marius looked up at her in shock.
“Marius, did your Petra ever discover who told the Authority about Haven Base? Thanks to me Valjean never got the chance to attack the Authority city.”
Marius suddenly realized the truth, “You…you’re-“
“I am from your future, Marius. Just as your Valjean traveled to the past to set up his grand schemes, I too have journeyed back to thwart them.”
“Pandora, listen.’ Marius said peaceably, ‘Petra has a different plan, we’re not going to attack the city, there is another way!”
“No, Marius.’ said Pandora in a familiar ghostly voice, ‘There will be no allegiance, if not for military might why else would Petra need my warriors? No, you will fail, Marius, and you will be stranded here on this Mountain.”
“Not likely.” casually suggested Marius.
Pandora tilted her head to one side inquisitively.
Marius removed the AI from his pocket, “Cossette here told me all about your efforts here on the Mountain. How you’ve been working with someone you’ve only called Valjean, and how you’ve been dealing with one called Plague. Your buddy wasn’t too happy about that when I mentioned it to him.”
A shout of command came from the treetops and the Sentinel leapt down with a host of hunters. They were armed with bows and hooked ropes to bind Pandora.
“Pandora!’, spoke the Sentinel in a grim tone, ‘You have deceived us. Marius and your bauble, Cosette, have revealed all to me.”
“They are liars trying to withhold the truth form you, form all of you.” retorted Pandora.
Tsayad stepped forward, “You had us seal up the Mountain from all, and you have kept the Texts from us.”
Pandora started to back away, “The words in the Book can only lead us to suffering, it was for your benefit that I had them taken from you!”
“Surrender, Pandora. And unseal the Mountain.” warned the Sentinel.
Pandora bowed her head slowly and a green light began to shimmer around her.
“Guardians, now!” shouted Tsayad.
Pandora thrust her arm out and the AI device flew out of Marius’ hand and into her own. The guardians swung the hooked ropes out to bind her, but they were too slow, a great burst of light blinded them from their aim.
“History is written in blood,’ growled Pandora as she lifted her gaze to meet Marius’, ‘but are battles really fought on the battlefields?”
Pandora began to stride toward Marius.
“Arrows! Let fly arrows!” shouted the Sentinel.
The volley soared toward Pandora but she lifted up her hand as she walked and the missiles stopped in midair.
“Can you tell me the future, Marius.’ Pandora taunted, ‘Can you tell me what is, and what was, and what is to come?”
Marius lifted up his blade ready to make a defense as Pandora continued to approach with her hand outstretched.
“Marius! Strike!” yelled Tsayad.
Marius swung about with his blade down and then up over shoulder with all of his might. Pandora stood unfazed as the sword was bearing down upon her and just as the blade would have struck her there was another burst of light and the blade was caught.
Between Pandora and Marius, with the edge of the blade firmly in hand stood Valjean.
“Commander!” exclaimed Marius, shock forbidding any other reaction.
“No one gets hurt.” said Valjean.
Pandora laughed as she and Valjean began to vanish through time, “Everything remains, Marius! Everything remains as it never was!”
Blue and white fires crackled and sparked as the two vanished leaving Marius and the clans behind.
Marius composed himself and found that the guardians and even the Sentinel were looking to him. Looking down for a moment, the young adventurer addressed the host of warriors.
“If we do not stand together, Pandora will be right.’ Marius spoke with conviction, ‘She will undo everything that you’ve fought so hard to protect. If not now, then never, and we will all fail.”
“Then we will stand together.” assented Tsayad.
Later that evening Marius, the Sentinel and Tsayad gathered around the maps in the large tent.
“I don’t suppose that you guys have a way to time travel?” asked Marius as he surveyed the map.
“No,’ said the Sentinel, ‘But there are secrets yet to be uncovered inside the Vaults of the Mountain.”
“There is another way,’ said Tsayad, ‘Pandora left some of her belongings behind.”
Tsayad dumped a crate of gadgets upon the table and among the scraps of metal and trinkets rolled a jump orb, identical to the one that had been lost when Petra traveled through time.
Marius smiled and lifted the orb, “That’ll do, but we need to make it bigger.”
“We can do that.” smiled Tsayad.
Marius’ curiosity was peaked, “How?”
The Sentinel then pointed at the map, his fingers resting on the ring of stones, “That’s how Pandora got here, just need to figure out how it works with the orb. Tomorrow we will hold our tournaments to choose new champions to defend the Mountain, then the rest will make safe the ring.”
That night around the fire there was much celebration, and song, and reading of the Texts. And after the moon had traverse most of the night sky Marius returned to the large tent. He slumped down in Pandora’s chair to catch up on much need sleep and as his eyes began to surrender they caught a glimpse of a small black chest upon the floor…
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