This excerpt is the state of things as The Sleeper Sword commences. It functions as backstory now, for I removed it during an edit.
The Dome of the Guardians
Buthos stood at the raised white dais ignoring the flashing lights upon it. They were familiar to him and he no longer noticed them, and had no need to remind himself of what they signified.
Knowledge, Communion, Sorcery and Recognition. Part of him, part of all the gathered, taken for granted.
He was looking up, staring. The vaulted ceiling was transparent and he could discern the many stars that filled the void of this region, but he was not seeing that beauty. No, he looked with memory upon what once graced the ceiling, the beauty and horror that adorned where now transparency did likewise. Reflections of the participants in ancient battles, good and evil. A work of incredible artistry removed, for they no longer needed reminder of those times. Other times had come, and no rendition could ever do justice to those.
He sighed inaudibly and lowered his colourless eyes to the sacred ogives. More memories there. He closed his eyes, seeing snatches of coming and goings. He truly missed old friends who had entered and exited, and now never would again. So many gone. Fourteen ogives, and once thirteen were in frequent use, but that dwindled to just seven … then, abruptly, it had been eight. The fourteenth doorway, never before used, had glowed for a brief, too brief time. The Dragon ogive. Now there were only four, and one of those four was his personal entrance as leader.
He sighed again and opened his eyes. In reality, therefore, only three active doorways. Three races. The final three to recognise and acknowledge the magical presence of the Dome, the Gatherers’ Circle of the Immortal Guardians.
He turned his gaze to the gathered on the tiered stone benches, and for a moment a profound sense of loss overcame him. He was not generally given to great introspection – after so long he knew himself – but there were so few left that it hurt. It was only a matter of time before the Dome winked out forever, and it and they would truly be no more.
The three remaining Centuar. The three Sylmer. And his Siric, now a mere seven including himself, after the long strife with the Murs of the Forbidden Zone. The gathering call had gone out and they came as ever, unable to ignore the summons, for it was felt within and was not issued unless there was need.
His lips tightened briefly. Only one additional ogive was still open to entrants, but they had not responded. The Q’lin’la were in the Forbidden Zone and had either not heard through the enchantment there or assumed their current tasks superseded the summons. Most likely it was the latter, for the feathered magicians had bound themselves elsewhere.
His eyes flicked again to the Dragon ogive. In all the ages it alone had remained dark but for that one stretch of time when its master breached the defences. He was himself inside the Dome that day and petrified to see a legend made real … and now he wondered if it would glow again, ever. He prayed it would and that he would live to see it come to pass.
He started, still unused to his name, and then relaxed. Buthos. The Dome Dragon had named him true that day and it shattered him for a time. He then reassumed his real identity after that Dragon left into the invisible realms, an honour, a private homage offered to a departed friend.
He was taking a long time to say anything, he knew, but it was a long time since the Gatherers’ Circle had convened … and the memories were fresh again and he could do no other than accord them due reverence.
He smiled, cleared his throat and waved a hand. “It’s still beautiful, is it not?”
“It’s been a fair while,” Belun, the Centuar leader, returned with an answering smile. He and his two companions were in humanoid guise, a form they employed more often than not now, for reasons Buthos was unaware of.
It was five hundred years since their last gathering and that time had been to release the Sagorin from their oath to the Guardians. No longer Immortal and with a growing population on Glorium, their homeworld, they asked to be released and it was granted. The universe experienced unprecedented peace, and the Guardians’ tasks now were of policing against exploitation of new and old worlds and their natural resources. Not a darkling in sight and the dark-inclined races had retreated to war only upon their own, and who desired to change that? The Sagorin were not called to duty in a thousand years and therefore allowed to go.
The Light had come. In the guise of a Dragonne Queen and a sword and a legend.
The Gift of Torrullin.
Buthos sighed once more and Belun rose to come forward. “I know you not like this, old friend; what is it?”
“I miss it all, Belun. Old friends, Taranis … Torrullin. Peace is a wonderful thing, yet I hark to the fire of yesteryear.”
Belun inclined his magnificent head. “I know exactly how you feel. Yet something is a-foot for you recalled the Circle. Fireworks, perhaps?”
The Siric leader chuckled and his eyes sparked. He put the memories away and faced the present. “Ah, yes, I’d say something is decidedly on the brew.”
Belun tapped the dais as if to say ‘well, let’s get on with it then’ and returned to his seat.
Buthos raised his voice and began to speak. “Welcome, friends. It’s good to see you all together.” All nodded and smiled; there was a sense of anticipation. “We’ve been scattered for some time – this is the first time this century the Siric are in one place – but I believe any of you here would’ve recalled the Dome in the near future had I not done so now. The same disquiet has come to you, if I read you correctly.”
One of the Sylmer rose. He was newest to the trio and was spokesman for the other two. Those two were fixtures to the Dome and excruciatingly shy. He jumped down to stand at ease in the open circle. He was bright of colour and very self-assured, unlike his companions. This Sylmer had not a shy hair on his head.
“Canimer was attacked two weeks ago, the first time such calamity has befallen our homeworld.”
Everyone stared at him. The Sylmer were virtually defenceless unless the antagonists entered the water.
Cristor held his hands high to forestall questions. “Nobody succumbed and the attack was short-lived, but it was unforeseen and we don’t know why. And further, we can’t determine origin. Canimer is on alert and the stress already exacts a toll. Yes, we were of a mind to call the Guardians in a matter of days.”
“What happened?” Belun asked. The Centuar ever regarded themselves as protectors of the shy Sylmer.
“Our floating island,” and Cristor indicated himself and his two companions, “was blasted out from under us. Luckily we were in the water at the time, but what really concerns us is that the blast erupted from below, from the ocean herself. Combing the seabed has revealed anything. The only thing we have with certainty is that no mortal Sylmer initiated the attack.”
“Hell and damnation,” Belun muttered. Then: “Do you have a place to live?”
“Thank you, yes – we put the pieces together.” The Sylmer were a water people and lived out their entire life spans needing no land. Canimer had no land, thus when a Sylmer attained Immortality – thereby losing his or her tail – that Sylmer had to leave the homeworld. Due to the long peace these three opted to return and, while they could comfortably reside in water for spells, they also required something solid for those times water became too much for altered biology. The Siric had assisted in erecting a floating island for their comfort, as had the Centuar, bringing the necessary materials in from other worlds.
“No signature?” Buthos asked.
“Not a trace,” Cristor returned, and made his way back to his seat.
“Belun, you want to say something?” Buthos asked when the Centuar again rose from his seat.
“Pleses was attacked a month ago and again no obvious instigator. Recently the Dinor declared an internal truce to investigate incidences of violence not of their doing. No trace of cause found. Two days back an ethereal dome dropped over Shanghai Metrop on Xen – they’re still investigating. Now we hear Canimer too has suffered an inexplicable event …”
Declan, Buthos’ deputy, interrupted. “Beacon’s power was mysteriously severed for nine days. It’s currently harsh winter and seventeen people died as a result.”
“There are other incidences,” Buthos said. “They appear random and were it not for our ability to overview, they’d remain unrelated. Some are natural catastrophes, on a small scale, and some come in the guise of technological fault. Others are in the form of attack and a smaller number have the appearance of sorcery.”
“And what links them is the blatant lack of how, who, why or what,” Belun grumbled.
“And each incidence speaks to the greatest fears,” Declan said. “Beacon will certainly succumb without power, Canimer can’t absorb the shock of an attack from the water, Xen has an understandable horror of returning to a domed existence …”
“Declan has a point,” Buthos murmured. “Something is a-foot and we need to find out what that is.”
Belun rubbed his hands together. “Excellent.”
A few chuckles.
They understood. Peace was wonderful, but this was why they were Immortal Guardians. Sentries against evil. And it had been a while since their particular talents had been put to the test.