The war cry of the Phoenix Rose sounded through the ancient passageways of the Templus de Ambros. In surprise, Kaiser Rudolpho Imler stood up from his giant office chair. As per the regular maintenance of the Kingdom of Poterit Don, Imler had been going over public project reports with his Public Works advisor, Craig Archer. The two men stared at each other, neither quite knowing what to make of the noise. In Kaiser Imler’s many years of living in the Templus de Ambros, he’d heard the war cry only once when he was eight years old. The hair on the nape of his neck rose as he rushed to the window to look into the Gryphon Gardens. Craig Archer dropped decorum and stood on Imler’s right, also staring out the window. Through the dark, they saw the Phoenix above the Rose screaming as she flew in fiery figure eights.
“What’s she doing?” Archer asked.
“Calling us to war,” Imler said while still staring at the pissed off Phoenix.
“War? With who?”
“I don’t know. Stay here. Handle the rest of these papers. I’ve got to find out what’s going on,” Imler spoke as he turned to leave. “Regardless of what’s happened, I expect you to finish this work. If possible we’ll meet tomorrow.” Kaiser Imler walked out of his office door where he nearly ran into the Mercury’s Elite Guardsman, who’d been slouching against the wall and popped to attention when the cry of the Phoenix began.
“Apologies, sir,” the guardsman managed, though the Kaiser seemed not to hear. Without another word, the guard followed his king through the temple, out the Grand Entrance, and into the Gryphon Gardens.
While Imler made his way to the Phoenix Rose, Adonis shot out of bed, screaming, “the bells! Sound the warning. Call the citizens to arms. The bells! To arms! Archel…?”
Archel, who had been setting up the nightly fire for the Chief Justice, did not wait around to hear the rest. He ran out of the bedroom chambers, down a long corridor, and up three flights of stairs to the temple belfry. By Archel’s hand, the three sacred war bells chimed their collective warnings across Poterit Don: three short, three long, three short. For ten solid minutes, Archel rang each bell in sequence.
In the Gryphon Gardens, the guardsman watched as his liege touched the ornate fence that encircled the Phoenix Rose. The guard started to panic, he’d never been told about this during training. The Kaiser was frozen, hand on the golden fence, eyes rolled back exposing the whites. Blue-white electricity coursed from the fence to the Kaiser and shot lightening to the flying Phoenix whose flames expanded with each bolt. Just as suddenly, Kaiser Imler was released from the electric hold. He dropped to the ground, staring somewhere beyond the Phoenix who continued to fly flaming figure eights while screeching her war cry.
“Sir?” the guard rushed to help his king, “are you alright? What happened?”
“We’re un—under attack,” Imler responded, his voice crackling, “t—to arms! T—to Avalona! Get Colonel Gawain Dagon. Assemble the Regulars at the Heart.” The Kaiser staid on the ground where he’d landed, weak from the connection with the Phoenix Rose. The guard’s hesitation was enough for Imler to roar, “GO NOW! Get Dagon!”
The guard spun on his heels, stumbled, then took off for Colonel Dagon’s quarters which were north of the barracks and northeast of the Heart of the Seven Faeries. Pausing for a moment, the guard looked back, when he did, he witnessed Kaiser Rudolpho Imler shimmer, convulse, and then sprout wings and a tail. The poor shaken guard did not stick around to watch the full transformation. Instead, he ran as fast as he could to Colonel Gawain Dagon, to the safety of his cousin.
In shock and anger over what he’d seen through his connection with the Phoenix Rose, the Gryphon King flew past the belfry where Archel was steadily ringing the warning: three short, three long, three short. The boy tripped when he spotted the Gryphon King flying. The force of the third bell knocked him out of the belfry. Kaiser Imler saw the falling boy, soared through the air, grabbing Archel in his paws a split second before the boy would have hit ground. Pain ripped through Archel’s right arm as one of the Kaiser’s claws punctured his bicep. The boy howled out and pissed a little as he realized that they were climbing high above the temple. The air was cold. The wind stung Archel’s eyes. His ears popped from the pressure change. Still they flew higher. The entire temple complex seemed insignificant from this altitude.
They flew over countless small villages whose names Archel never knew; over the trader towns of Markt and Morley in the Plains Region; along the western ridge of the Iphigenia Mountain range to Ocean Region; black smoke rose in steady streams from the remains of Avalona. When the Gryphon King screeched in astonishment, a startled Archel pissed again before passing out.
The Gryphon King set Archel on a the ground by a boulder near a cliff over-looking the Sovereign Sea. With an unconscious Archel safely on the ground, the Kaiser leapt into the air flapping his enormous wings. He flew beside Mt. Caliber, along the Avalona Forest, and then dove towards Avalona proper where gunfire erupted from various directions. From his vantage point in the smoky sky, the Kaiser could see little bursts of orange. He hoped the villagers were putting up a fight, but feared they weren’t. Bright flashes of emerald and ruby lit up a small encampment where Imler counted 12 men circling two teenagers. The Kaiser turned towards the camp to help, but dropped onto the guard turret to watch as the men fell, then blew away on the wind. The teenagers ran out of the camp and into Avalona’s burning streets. Unable to contain himself the Kaiser screamed an eagle’s cry and soared towards them.
Gunfire burst towards the screeching, the distracted gunmen didn’t see the teens attack because they were focused on the giant griffin that appeared in the smoke. Kent shot at a gunman who stood in the doorway of the pharmacy. Cassie levitated about four feet off the ground, spinning slowly at first, then gathering speed. Her bracelet shined emerald and ruby beams that danced like the techno strobe lights of a Danian rock concert. Screams pierced the night as the gun-toting savages stopped, dropped, then drifted as wind-blown ashes.
The Gryphon King soared to the teens. Immediately recognizing the Gryphon King, Cassie fell to her knees and pulled a completely freaked out Kent down with her.
Fulco landed on the prostate Kent’s shoulder and softly said, “your majesty.”
“The falcon,” Imler spoke as he took stock of the situation, “we must get to Mt. Caliber. We aren’t safe.”
“But,” Kent hesitated, he’d officially seen too much weird shit for one day, “who in Iphigenia are you?”
“Kaiser Rudolpho Imler,” the Gryphon King said. “I’d say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but we’re in a jam. We need to go. Now! Explanations and introductions can come later.” The Kaiser bent down, “climb up. I’ll take you to safety.”
Cassie and Kent rose from their humbled positions, gave each other a disbelieving look, before attempting to climb up the Gryphon King’s back. Cassie helped Kent whose right arm was uncooperative, then managed to get herself up as well. Neither could quite wrap their minds around the strange twists a single day could contain, but there they sat, on a griffin, on a king, in the midst of a burning village.
“Hold tight,” the Gryphon said, while preparing himself for flying with a much heavier load than he’d ever dealt with before.
Fulco launched off of Kent’s shoulder and flew next to the Kaiser.
In a matter of minutes, they covered the distance that had taken Kent and Cassie the better part of the evening to travel with Fulco earlier that day. The Kaiser landed on a hillside overlooking the Sovereign Sea, where a boy sat staring off into the dark. Though the great beat of the Kaiser’s wings sounded behind him, the boy did not turn. The teens climbed off of Imler’s back and walked over to the boy.
“What’s wrong with him?” Cassie asked.
“He’s an empath,” Imler answered. “The fool boy feels everything those dying in Avalona feel.”
Kent and Cassie turned from the boy and stared at the naked man who stood behind them. The prudish Cassie averted her eyes while the still shocked Kent offered his hand, “Kent Wheelock, sir.”
“Cassie Wallace, your majesty,” the girl bowed her head but did not look at the naked king.
“Kaiser Rudolpho Imler, in all my glory,” the nude king shrugged. “We’ve got to shake him out of it. I can’t lose him.” The Kaiser shook Archel, who weaved but did not respond. “Come on boy, snap out of it.” Imler hissed. “I need your help,” the Kaiser said to the teens, “we’ll move him onto that boulder, then both of you take one of his hands.”
With Archel sitting on the same boulder that Kent had fallen from earlier that day, the two teens each took one of his hands. Imler took their hands and muttered, “non potest tamen poterit.” Those were words that Cassie knew well. She had no problem joining the king in chanting. Kent, on the other hand, had no idea what they were saying and so said nothing. The dragon and phoenix on Mercury’s Bracelet turned to green fire. Flames licked at the would-be healers. Kent flinched, then realized the flames burned hot but left them unscathed. Brilliant sprouts of gold shot around them like fireworks. The energy jolted the boulder, which collapsed under their weight. A passageway revealed itself in the rubble. In the chaos of the moment, they dropped Archel.
“I know where we are,” Cassie said, in surprise, “follow me.”
“Follow? You know where we are?” Kent asked.
“Yes, this is the Entrance of the Four Guardians. Now, come on,” Cassie urged.
The Kaiser picked Archel up and strolled into the passage, the teens followed in silence. Fulco rode on Kent’s blind shoulder. Cassie dug through her satchel retrieving the sage and matches. With practiced ease she lit the sage stick, blowing on the end to heat the embers. Drawing a sage circle with her outstretched arm, she used her other hand to trace an infinity sign over the lazily drifting smoke circle, before setting the sage upright in the ruble entrance. Cassie walked past the waiting fellows, before striding purposely down the exposed passageway and into the belly of Mt. Caliber.