He learned that there had been times in the past that Skree had turned against their own, betrayed them to others, and those had died. It was rare, but it had happened and when a Skree was bound to a Brellon, it was harder for them because they would follow the Brellon even when they turned to evil, because part of being bound meant they would sacrifice themselves to protect them, even if it meant the Brellon had turned to evil, or in this case, become a traitor. That didn’t sooth his feelings much, other than to turn his thoughts away from Catya. If it wasn’t her, then who had turned against their own people, and what would motivate a Guardian to betray his oath, and turn against those he was sworn to protect? Then he heard a voice in his head, it was Tambar, and the voice said “Fear”, and Jazar realized that he was right, someone who was afraid of losing against the Marn, is a person who would turn traitor and let his people become slaves rather than see them all killed.
What was he to do. He needed to stay where he was, his men were haggard and exhausted. They couldn’t fight another running fight with the Marn, his men were done in, without rest and time, they would be fodder in a fight. He himself was as exhausted as they were, command was a great burden and he could see the face of every man he had lost, his only relief was the men who had made it to Varna. They were almost ready to return to the fight. They had spent three months on Varna and Catya and the Guardians and healers had performed what he thought was a miracle, they had all not only survived their injuries, but had made a remarkable recovery.
Tambar came into the cave and asked Jazar to accompany him, he wanted to show him something special. Jazar was confused, he knew the cave would show the Skree one’s true heart, but could there actually be something even more astounding to see? He was no longer skeptical, the cave was a remarkable place, so he went without question, and followed Tambar. As they walked along with Tambar, he glanced over to Zavan to see if he knew what was up, he was keenly aware of a feeling of awe coming from his bond mate, that was the correct term, according to Tambar. They walked for a good hour, up into the hills surrounding the valley they were in and at the top of the hill, was a cave. It was just tall enough for him to walk in, Tambar and Zavan had to fold their wings tight and lower their heads to enter. Jazar stood their staring, he didn’t know if he was dreaming or if what he was seeing was real. In front of him was the largest crystal he had ever seen, it was at least five meters high, and the top was at least five meters across, and tapered down to the bottom, which was firmly fixed in Faron and the snail shell.
He looked at Tambar finally and asked him what he was looking at. Tambar replied “this is the secret of our homeland, it hides us from the outside. When you passed through the tunnel, did you notice that it was pure tanzite?”, Jazar nodded,” The crystal masks our presence from above and around, if you walked over the mountains into the homeland, you wouldn’t see anything but a valley and no Skree. It hides us because of the Tanzite in our bones and the purple ochre in our veins, it is the only crystal like this that we know of. The time spent in the Homeland, brought him to a greater understanding of the role the Skree played in the balance of life on Embrellon. He was a Guardian, but the Skree were the True Guardians, their role was to make sure life remained in balance on this world. They were part of it, made of it, and protected it from the dangers without, and within.
Jazar and his Rangers were preparing to leave the Homeland. They had all learned a great deal about their world, the bond mates, and themselves. They were ready, the time had come to rejoin the battle. They had to win, and their world hung in the balance. They were going to have many battles, and they were going to have losses, more than they wanted, but they had to prevail.
They exited the tunnel and found it was early morning. Tambar gave them directions back to the cave below them and told them to wait until dark, then to go to the Bonding Cave. That is what the cave where Whitlaw met Regulus was called by the Skree. He told them that they would find everything they needed in the Bonding Cave. Jazar descended to the cave to wait out the day. They discovered that all their gear, armor, and provisions were in the cave.
When evening came, they mounted up and took wing. They made it to the Bonding Cave in a few hours, it was still the darkest part of the night. Jazar had the men stow the gear and provisions, and set up camp. He wasn’t going to start another running battle if it could be helped. They had all the staves with them that still needed to get to the Great Temple and the Guardians, and he couldn’t send a message to Jatar because somewhere there was a traitor who could hear them on the link. He decided that he would do some scouting before daylight. He was leaving the cave when four of his men spoke up and said if you’re going out scouting, then ten eyes are better than two. He stopped, turned, and with a flip of his head, signaled for them to follow.
They decided to split into two groups and to cover as much ground as possible and see what they were going to be up against getting to the temple. Jatar and his men discovered that the Marn were three hundred kilometers west of them. They were going to need to travel east and skirt the mountains and come to the temple that way. It might be an easier way than how they went before. The Marn were all over the southern coast mountains, maybe they wouldn’t be this far north, and they were going to need to make sure they had the heavy cloaks that Tambar had gifted to them. The Skree didn’t make the cloaks, but they did give them the heavy furs that the men turned into the cloaks. He asked Tambar how they cured the furs, seeing as they didn’t have hands or mechanical means? Tambar laughed so loud that he thought he misunderstood him. But the reason for the laughter, he found out, was they urinated on them and the urine cured the hides. He didn’t know what to say.
He had questions that remained unanswered. But they would have to wait. Tambar had told him that the reason the Whitlaw and Regulus had bonded was because he was in the Bonding Cave. Regulus had went there thinking that Whitlaw was Marn, but bonded with him because he wasn’t. Regulus had wanted to bring back the Companions for a long time, and he saw in Whitlaw the means of doing so. Tambar also told him that the Skree protected the continent they were on and the islands to the west, but to the east was another continent, smaller by far, and Tambar warned him not to go there. They couldn’t protect them there.
They left that night at dark. He had calculated that if they only traveled at night, and were able to fly, they could get to the temple in a week. He also knew that they may be required to pass on foot as well. So all figured, the trip could take three weeks. With that knowledge they set out.
The first few days passed uneventfully. They hadn’t seen any ships or troops so far, and had only seen old abandoned camps. They were hopeful that with only one thousand kilometers to go, they could get there in two more days, if providence was shining on them. After they made camp, Tambar’s knowledge of the mountains had gotten them to a cave by daylight every day so far, they heard the sound they dreaded hearing, a ship was landing. And it was close to the cave. Jazar dispatched two scouts to check and report back, after an hour, they returned.
They looked as if they had swallowed something bitter. They had a hollow look in their eyes as they faced Jazar. He looked at them and asked for the report, and with a heavy heart, they told him. “Jazar, we know who has betrayed us, and it’s someone we would never have expected.” He looked at them with grave uncertainty, but told them to finish, they told him, “Jazar, the betrayer is Jaxar, and he has Zelan with him.” Jazar sat down with a thud. How could Jaxar be the betrayer, his own brother.
He thought about his brother, younger by two years, a Ranger of eight years, a good scout, and he thought loyal to their father even unto death. How could this be, why would Jaxar betray them? How did he get Zelan to go with him? He remembered what Tambar had said, “if a band mate went, the bonded was bound to him and would join him even if he was against going”. It didn’t make it any easier, it was the way of the bonded.
Jazar decided to hold up travelling until the traitor was gone. It took five more days before they left. He could see that Jaxar knew someone was near, but with no one on the link, there was no way to locate them. They were listening as well. Waiting in hope, that maybe he was a prisoner and forced to work for them, rather than being a traitor to Embrellon. He would get his answer, when he got his chance to question him. At the moment, the more important thing was to get to the Temple.
When they left, they headed as straight as possible for the Temple, and barring any mistakes, they would be there the night after next. Jazar’s mood was black, he was with his men, but the only thing he could think about was his brother. He had to know, and he didn’t want to wait for an answer. But that had to wait, for now.