After leaving the Skree, they headed to the Bonding Cave, packed their gear, and headed for the Great Temple to see Whitlaw. It was two day’s flight from where they were to the temple and they hadn’t seen any Marn, so they chanced taking the straightest route, hoping to get there in a day. It was a day’s flight to the Armory, and a day’s flight to the Temple, if they flew only during the day. They were torn between trying to fly at night, and getting back in a day, when Braela told them that the older Skree could handle that kind of flight, but that she and Rhela would only be able to make it to the Armory, that decided it for them. They would head for the Armory first, and then on to the Temple.
They arrived at the Armory at nightfall, and they were so tired, that they just made a pallet, unloaded and unsaddled the Skree, and were dead asleep in minutes. They rose before dawn, packed up, ate a quick breakfast of dried meat and kaba, and mounted up for the rest of the flight. It was always dangerous to fly before daylight, but Lantana said that they were okay, she hadn’t sensed any Marn and they should be able to make at least three hundred kilometers before they needed to land and rest.
Young Skree could fly as far as an older Skree, but not with mounted riders and gear. They hadn’t developed the flying muscles that far yet, and the older Skree had been conditioned to it for years. The last thing they needed was to kill or injure a bond-mate trying to fly to far without resting. The Skree were resilient creatures, nothing on the planet seemed to harm them, their bones were enhanced by the tanzite, and the purple ochre they had for blood could heal them of just about any injury that didn’t take out a vital organ. Their skin, much like a rhino’s, was thick over the vitals, and their ribcage was solid over the heart. About the only way to actually harm or kill one was to disable a wing in flight and they might die from the fall. Other than that, it would take a direct hit at the base of their neck where it joined the chest and the spot was about three centimeters in diameter. Not even a Marn rifle was that accurate, unless they were within twenty meters.
The flight to the Temple was uneventful, they made it by mid-afternoon, and were with Whitlaw within minutes. He was excited to hear what they had accomplished, and when they were settled, they told him about Yoran, gave him his designs, showed him their new bows, and when he saw the bows, he smiled, Yoran had done it. The had long range weapons now, that meant fewer casualties, always the Marine, he looked for ways to keep his forces safe, and for them to deliver maximum damage. He asked about the Skree, and when he did, they said before they told him, they needed Regulus to come, and that they had a surprise for both of them.
Regulus arrived and bowed his head in acknowledgement, then took his place beside Whitlaw. Jason stood up and said “We made contact with Regulon, he was waiting for us at the Cave. He told us to tell you to contact him directly, and he spoke to us himself.” Jason saw Regulus’ eyes narrow, and then with what could only be called a smile, he spoke, “I see my brother has shared our secret with you, how did you convince him to do that?” it was Rhela who answered him, “When we were with Yoran, he told them that we could speak. He was here in the time of the Companions and told all of us that we spoke freely then, and recommended that we speak whenever possible, but to keep the secret limited to a few until such a time as we are able to locate and retake Varna.” With that, Regulus seemed sad. He had hoped that someone would be able to tell them exactly where Varna was located. It was his wish to return there if possible.
Whitlaw asked if there was anything else that Regulon had said, and they said that they were willing to form an alliance, but only the three prides that were represented when they met him. Whitlaw accepted that as better than what he had hoped for and asked Regulus to make the contact with Regulon. They then shared the knowledge that Yoran had given them about the crystals, and what to do with them. They showed Whitlaw their swords and daggers, as well as the changes they had made to their armor and diadems. Whitlaw then issued commands that all Guardians were to address their weapons and armor in same manner and once that was done, they were to start making bows and arrows.
He sent the diagrams and instructions for the crossbows to the master craftsmen to be built in all haste so that they could be deployed, and to get the smaller crossbows made for the Guardians. He assigned the four to teaching bow crafting to the Guardians and for several weeks, that would be all they were concentrating on.
Then he asked about Yoran, and when the Twins told them that Yoran said that he had fulfilled his life purpose and was ready now to see his life end. That saddened Whitlaw, Yoran had been one of his closest friends, chief counsellor, and teacher for a long time, and when he went away, it left an empty spot in his heart. He dismissed the Rangers and told them to go to their quarters, get some rest, and be ready for their Graduation ceremony the next day.
When Whitlaw returned to his quarters Lara was waiting for him, she had many questions to ask, but the most important question for her was were her children safe. That made Whitlaw smile, she was always a mother first, and her love for their children was undeniable. He told her they were safe, older, changed, and had spent an incredible amount of time with Yoran, who had trained them, gave them new designs for weapons, taught them how to make bows, and then told them to give his farewells to him and Lara, for his time was at an end. Tears filled both their eyes at that, for Yoran had been the greatest friend they had and helped them form the Guardians, and train several new cadres of cadets. He would be sorely missed by both of them.
Now, they needed to get the most out of what they had. Yoran had made them stronger by far with the designs he’d sent. He had developed the armor, swords, and now bows. He had shown the Master Weavers how to take the thin flexible wire made from faron, and weave into the garments they wore under their armor. The mail was light, only weighed a couple of kilograms, the armor was light but strong enough to stop anything other than a point blank shot from a pulse rifle or phase pistol, and it only weighed about ten kilograms, the total weight of a Guardians armor and gear was about twenty kilograms, far lighter than the armor he wore as a marine.
Lara asked him how they were going to celebrate the Twins graduation from training, and with a slight smile, he told her it was her party to plan. The laughed and then settled down to eat and welcome their children home. She hoped that they would stay with them, but when she asked James, he said that they would be full Guardians tomorrow and the day after, would start teaching and training Guardians and Cadets to make bows and use them. He didn’t see why they couldn’t stay with them, they certainly had room.
On the morning of Graduation, Whitlaw and Lara went to the Great Temple where the Cadets would graduate and be inducted in to the Guardians, after the ceremony, they would receive their assignments. Then the graduation party would take place, it was going to be a busy day.
They arrived with all the fan fair due a military graduation, fife and drum, the procession into the hall, the call to order, the presentation of awards for excellence in the various techniques learned, and then graduation completed with the placing of the Guardian symbol on their armor, and the blessing from the Elders. As the ceremony was ending, Whitlaw rose and spoke, “Today you are no longer Cadets, but you are Guardians, responsible for the protection and safety of this planet, before you receive the Insignia of our order, do you swear fealty to the Guardians, to protect and serve all the peoples of Embrellon, to care for and protect the weak, the injured, the less fortunate?” there was a resounding Yes, “then receive the Insignia and join our ranks as kindred, brothers and sisters in arms, the protectors of Embrellon”, there went up a here, here, from the senior officers and the Cadets were inducted into the Guardians.
After receiving their assignments, the cadets prepared for the party, they weren’t wearing armor or weapons, they were in their dress uniforms, and this was a party. They were feasted with all manner of meats, fish, tubers, fruits, vegetables, and deserts. When all were finished kaba was shared and they began to mingle with the other Guardians, greeting their mates, and preparing for tomorrow. Some of them would be on Ranger assignments, others would be providing escorts for the caravan traders, and others would be joining the Temple Guards. It was a great day.
Lantana, as were all the Guardians, was wearing her new diadem, and in the middle of a dance, she stopped, grabbed the sides of her face, shrieked, and feinted. The dance stopped immediately, Whitlaw took charge and dismissed the party, picked up Lantana and took her to her quarters. The Master Healer came in and examined her, finding nothing wrong, they waited until she regained consciousness, and then questioned her.
She told them that she had been dancing, and then she saw Skree flying in formation near the Bonding Cave and that a Marn ship had attacked them. They were young Skree maybe three years old, and they had gone to cover to hide. But several of them were killed, and one was seriously wounded and needed their help. That was when she shrieked, she saw a Marn through the eyes of the wounded Skree as the Marn warrior killed him. They needed to go to their aid. Time was of the essence.
Whitlaw took Jason, Jama, and several of the new Guardians who could use the new bows proficiently, and headed for the place that Lantana had described. It wasn’t far from Yoran’s home. And hopefully, Yoran wasn’t dead yet and could provide aid as well, but he was a null and they had no way to tell him they were coming.
The Guardians arrived at Yoran’s house and he came outside, he asked them to come in. Inside they found three wounded Skree and eight others who had brought them there. It seemed that all the Skree knew where he lived. When they were all inside, Yoran told Whitlaw that the Skree had been on their way to see him to find out where the Guardians were. Regulon had sent them with a message for Regulus. They had three hundred Skree who had agreed to aid the Guardians. Then one of the Skree spoke, and all except for Jason and Jama were stunned, even Whitlaw didn’t know that a Skree could talk.
The young Skree said “I am Parthon, son of Regulon, and my father sent me here to tell my uncle that the old one’s time had ended and that the Skree had elected him Speaker of the Skree. He was no longer banished and he or any bound Skree could visit the Homeland as they would, but unless directly invited, no Guardians were to enter the homeland. Those were his terms. Regulus bowed his head and accepted. This was going to make calling for aid a lot easier because the Skree could fly almost anywhere on the continent in a day.
They told them about the Marn attack. They were on their way to see Yoran and the Marn ship came down with the Sun behind them, they couldn’t see the ship until it was almost upon them, and they spread out to make themselves harder to hit, and abler to attack once the ship landed. The Marn ship fired on them and chased them through the sky for about an hour before it finally left. They waited until they were sure that the ship returned to space before heading to Yoran. The last thing they wanted was for them to find Yoran.
When they found Yoran he was at the edge of the forest staff in hand waiting to see what would happen next, a platoon of Marn were on the ground and headed towards Yoran and he charged them, and when the fight was over all but two were severely wounded and the two who weren’t were running towards the ship. They waited until the Marn retrieved their wounded and the ship left. They approached Yoran and told him they had three wounded and needed help. He got them into his house and they had been here ever since.
Regulus asked Yoran if he had denounced his vow of not killing, Yoran laughed, and said “No, I just hurt them a little and sent them packing.” They both laughed so hard that the house shook. Most of the new Guardians had never been around a Vatarian, and they only knew what they looked like, never had talked with one. Being three meters tall and weighing one hundred fifty kilos was intimidating for anyone, even a Skree.
Whitlaw looked at his friend with compassionate eyes and asked him if he was ready to give up, or would he like to return to see what all his help had created? Yoran looked up at Whitlaw and spoke quietly, “I have lived here in relative peace for fifteen years, had few visitors except for the Skree, and I think it’s time I returned to the land of the living.” This made Whitlaw whistle, he had known how strong a fighter Yoran was through watching him train cadets at the beginning. Vatarians were exceptional masters of the staff, and could hurt an opponent easily because of their strength. The one thing he never wanted to be was someone on the receiving end of a Vatarian with a staff.
Yoran had never broken his vows against killing, but hurting an opponent in the defense of someone else was acceptable. What got him exiled was him living among the Guardians, teaching them, and becoming a Guardian in every way but being linked to a Skree. He had no need for a sword, dagger, or bow, his staff was his only weapon, and it was used only in defense.
They prepared to depart and Whitlaw asked Yoran what to do with his house, Yoran looked at him and smiled, then said “let it be, the forest will take care of the house, by this time next spring, you won’t be able to find where it was. With that they got ready to leave, Parthon asked Yoran how he was going to get to the temple and Yoran said, “I thought you’d never ask”, he climbed upon Parthon, and the vaulted into the air and took their place in the flight line and followed Whitlaw and Regulus to the Temple.
They arrived a few hours later and once on the ground, Yoran thanked Parthon for the ride, and asked him if he was returning to Regulon, and he said, “No, Regulon told me to find you, get you to the Temple to find Regulus and his Bond-Mate, and to stay here with Regulus.” Yoran nodded and they made their way into the Temple. Whitlaw asked how Lantana was and he was told that she had recovered but that there were twelve more young women who also had seen the vision. Lara was with them, as well as Jarma, Braela, and Lantana, the young women who had had the vision were all new Guardians, and all had received the new diadems that day, that was the insignia received. On the day of graduation, the new Guardians were given the diadem. Jason and Lantana had received them at the Companion Armory, Lantana because she put it on, and Jason because they were trying to see if he too had the ability to speak to any Skree. That was before they discovered that it was something that only women could do.
The diadem was a new part of their armor and when discovered at the cave, only the Guardians were given the diadems, the rest were held for the graduating cadets and was to be the means of Identifying them as Guardians, and if they didn’t have the diadem, they were still a cadet. Whitlaw held the position that the cadets would be better Rangers and Guardians if they had to learn what they needed to without the enhancements the diadem provided. They had to be able to rely on their own skills and strengths in case in a battle, or through an accident they lost the diadem, they wouldn’t be without resources and knowledge.
The group of young women, all about twenty, including Lantana, numbered exactly thirteen. There were over one thousand Guardians, and of all that number, half were female, and of all the females, thirteen had the ability to see. That was less than three percent of the females, and just barely over one percent of the total. That was a rare gift indeed. Now what they needed was to determine how to use this to protect Embrellon.
The High Council, or the elders, numbered twelve, and Whitlaw was the tie breaking vote. He didn’t vote unless there was a tie, and he was autonomous when it came to assigning Rangers to duties, and running the training of Cadets. The council felt that with his experience as a Marine Colonel and Captain of a Spaceship with a crew of two hundred and fifty, he was more than qualified and capable to make those decisions.
With the return of Yoran, and now with the young seers, he felt that they had more than a fighting chance against the Marn or anyone else who came to the planet. It always bothered him that no Earth Force Ship that he knew of had ever came looking for him. Not unless the ships were destroyed by the Marn at the edge of the sector in space where Embrellon resided, beyond the constellation known as Orion’s belt, where he once sat in the command chair of the Rapier, the fastest fighting ship in the fleet.
He really was glad that Yoran had returned, he needed his help now more than ever. Even though he was a null, he had an innate understanding of how telepath work, and he needed his help in getting the thirteen young women working together as a team to help the Guardians do their duty. The establishment of the Seers was as important as any other thing that had helped them develop the Guardians into the best fighting force he had ever commanded. They were exceptional individuals all, and whether they were Rangers, Temple Guards, Guardians, or Seers, he needed them all working as a cohesive unit. Yoran would be invaluable. He still needed to talk to him privately, he was his best friend, counselor, ally, and teacher. He was over one thousand years old, and he could be the key to unlocking whatever secrets may still be in the Companion Armory that the Twins, Jana and Jama had discovered.
When Yoran came in, it was like the whole world had come back into focus, and Lara was truly overjoyed at seeing him. Regulus and Jarma had always enjoyed his company and now that they could all have an open discussion; it was going to be a most interesting evening. Yoran sat down on a chair that Whitlaw had had made special for him years ago, it had been covered with care, and kept safe in their hopes that he would return.
They dined this evening on food that wouldn’t offend Yoran, the Vatarians sense of smell was even more acute that the Skree and meat would make him nauseated. They dined on kaba, cheese, fresh fruit, nuts, bread, and butter. Once the meal was finished and they sat sipping hot kaba, Whitlaw asked him why he had returned, considering the message that he received from the twins. Yoran replied, “I thought that after meeting the twins as adults that my time was over. When the Skree were attacked by the Marn, and I saw how many of them were hurt, I knew that my time was still far away. I am twelve hundred years old, and I should live another three hundred years. I am here at your service, and at the service of your descendants until my time is done. I will make sure the Guardians do not end with your children or grandchildren.
Lara was astonished, not many people speak of carrying on your mission for years after your passing, let alone ensuring that your work remains relevant. She believed in her ancestor’s religion, as did all the peoples on Embrellon. They believed that all sentient races in the universe were created by the same creator, and that it was never his desire to see his children war upon one another. The Marn she knew worshiped no God, they only worshiped war. She had been a captive long enough to see them kill priest from Vela just for praying, and they mocked the Creator, and said that the only God was war and conquest, and they were adept at it.
Whitlaw asked Yoran how to use the Seers. Yoran said that the first thing they needed to do was to see if it was a onetime event, or if these young women could learn to use the ability at will, and it not cause them to shriek in pain and become unconscious every time they tried.
They had a lot of catching up to do and spent the evening discussing various methods of testing the girls, building the crossbow batteries, and mounting crossbows on carts for the wagon traders to help defend themselves. The Guardians were centralized into one compound, they were at the Great Temple, but there were Velans in various communities around the continent as well as the fishing fleets. Whitlaw wanted to know how hard it would be to mount crossbows on the ships as well, and Yoran let him know as long as they were mounted on a stationary rotating pedestal, it shouldn’t be a problem at all, in fact, they should be able to mount them fore and aft, as well as one to three port and starboard. That made Whitlaw relax. They needed to protect everyone, but there were times that the fishing fleets were so far away from the continent that the Guardians couldn’t provide protection.
Whitlaw had even considered starting a navy and manning the ships with Guardians, but they weren’t sailors, and Skree didn’t like ships, they said the ground wasn’t supposed to roll and shake.
They all laughed at that.
Then Yoran spoke directly with all of them. He said, “The Skree power of speech needs to be kept secret, it wouldn’t do for the commoners, or the Marn to learn that the Skree could speak. That should be restricted as much as possible, and maybe, outside the few who already knew, they should consider not telling the rest of the Guardians about it at all.” That surprised Whitlaw, and then he saw the logic behind it, and agreed. They would only talk in his and Lara’s home, and never in the Council or to other Skree in front of anyone. It was better. It couldn’t be used against them if it wasn’t known.
The next morning, they were all on their way to fulfill their given duties. Yoran went to oversee the crossbow construction and placements, the Twins were off to train Guardians how to construct the bows and make arrows, and then train them to use them. Anyone could use a crossbow, just point and shoot, but true archery took practice. Jama and Jana left on a new mission to the Skree, and Guardians needed to be on patrol now that the Marn were back.