The Ebony Hourglass

The Alpha Guardian

Naomi Stoltzfus

Chapter 1: Zannor

The elf and human traveled through the bleak outdoors, putting distance between them and the protection of their home. Gray clouds blocked out the skies as dead grass and fallen branches coated the dirt. Trees grew close together, leaving little room to weave around. Misty rain drizzled down to harshen coldness surrounding them on their journey.

"Tig," the human spoke to his companion in the elfin language, "do you know exactly what we are looking for?" His red goggles kept his blond hair from falling in his face. His stature was thin despite the tremendous strength gifted to him at birth. Instead of using his supernatural abilities of which accompanied his might, his weapon of choice was the automatic pistol strapped to his thigh.

The elves called his powers energy. His particular dominance was specifically referred to as Syncan energy. In translation to English terms: light energy.

He was 19 in human years and his elfin friend was close to him in age at 22. Though he often felt like he was the older one in comparison.

Tig took out a piece of paper from his pocket, his hand shaking not from the cold but from nervousness. He blinked while staring at his writing. "I can't read it anymore. It's all washed," he answered. His hair was short and unkempt. The sleeves of his layered shirts were too long and hung over his hands. He kept no weapons, too afraid of them being used against him, not that he'd know how to manage one to begin with.

"Memory. Use your memory. What did Clokk say to you?"

"Yeah, um- I think he wanted some sort of amulet from a forest spirit outside of Austera."

"Why? What does it do?"

"I don't know." Tig followed close behind him. "Zannor, why am I coming along? Clokk knows I'm useless in combat, right?"

Clokk ran a small resistance group against the monarch of Austera Kingdom. Austera was the last remaining region protected from the various monstrous beasts lurking outside of its walls. The elfin world of Ariela was once a realm of undisturbed concord, but history books telling of those times seemed like mythical legends now days.

Zannor moved branches that served as obstacles in their path, making sure to keep things from hitting Tig behind him. "I do not know Clokk's intentions for having you come along."

"He could have sent Mecondra along instead. She can fight. Not me. What if something happens? We could be in danger! You could get hurt and then what would we do? I can't carry you, Zannor!" The more he talked, the faster he spewed his words in a dialect that the human hadn't mastered yet.

"Relax."

"How can I relax? We're outside the province shield and anything could happen! Monsters are crawling in this forest! Even worse! What if we run into a demon?"

"I do not know. I have never fought a demon before."

"We'd be dead for sure," Tig confirmed.

Zannor kept on going, unfazed by his worries. It was normal for Tig to blow situations out of proportion.

"Zannor-."

"Tig," he cut him off, "it is going to be okay. Take deep breaths, alright? I am a Guardian, remember?"

Any master of energy was titled a Guardian. Zannor was the Sentinel Guardian of Syncan energy.

They felt the ground shake, becoming more violent as the source grew closer. A piercing screech echoed through their ears as they saw trees ripped from their roots not far from their location.

Tig got down with his arms over his head as if he were preparing for a tornado. "I knew it! I told you! We're all going to die!" Tig asked a good question earlier. Why the hell did Clokk send him along?

"Stay," Zannor told them though he knew that he wasn't going anywhere. He took his gun out and aimed with one hand on the handle to steady his target. He focused, his eyes able to see his mark with absolute clarity and guide his gun accordingly.

The beast was nearing 15 feet tall with the build of a round fat dragon. Its scales were dark blue, covering most of its body. Its eyes were large and black, verifying that it was merely a beast and not a demon. If it had yellow eyes, then it would be a problem.

It made its way towards them, sniffing out its prey. Though its mass was a threat to the forest, it was still humorous to see it wobble around.

The bullet was unable to penetrate its scales when he shot it. It just made it angry. It was evident that his preferred method of execution wasn't going to aid him this time. He put the weapon away as his eyes went from their natural brown to ice blue.

The beast started galloping in their direction.

Zannor outstretched his arms, blue energy becoming visible at his fingertips. When the creature was close enough, the energy shot out like lightning into its chest.

It stumbled and fell into the dirt and a puddle of opaque blood. It grabbed the trunk of a tree and seized it out of the ground. It hurled it at the human in a fit of rage.

He waved his hand and a transparent wall was made between him and the animal. The tree collided with the barrier, only causing the human to stumble back from the impact against the wall.

The monster picked itself up with a some trouble like a turtle on its back, attempting to collect itself to further the fight.

The barricade vanished as he grabbed his gun again. He fired and the bullet went through the previously made wound, able to bypass the armored scales and broaden the damage.

It dropped like a heavy weight.

"There, it is dead." He returned his gun to its holster as his blue eyes reverted back to brown.

Tig looked up and uncovered himself. He slowly stood as if the monster would come back to life if he moved too quickly. "You sure?"

"Yes." Zannor walked onward.

Tig stuck closer to him, practically cowering.

"Tig-."

"What?" he answered too quickly and the human paused, giving him a look. "What?" he asked again.

"Where is the spirit?"

"What spirit?"

Zannor sighed, exasperated by his follower. "The spirit with the amulet. Spirit? Amulet? Am I speaking the wrong language?" he said the last part in English.

Tig let out a nervous laugh. "Oh yeah. It should be around here. Do you think it's a mean spirit? What if the spirit doesn't want to give up the amulet? Can you force spirits to do things?"

"Never met a spirit before." He scouted the area hoping for something that resembled his ideas of a spirit to appear.

"What if it curses us?"

"Can spirits do that?" Zannor wondered aloud.

"I don't know!"

"Jeez." He decided to ignore any further comments made by the elf. Apparently no one knew anything.

They heard a woman talking and turned around. She was speaking in a dialect that Zannor couldn't understand. Her body was like a fading vapor, completely disappearing at her feet.

Tig spoke back to her in the same language fluently. She responded and Tig turned to Zannor. "She's the spirit of the inner forest bordering Austera. She has the amulet we need."

"Is she going to give it to us?"

Tig began to speak again and they held a conversation lasting a few minutes.

Zannor waited patiently, hoping the elf wouldn't mess things up. He trusted Tig when it came to negotiating in this field of work. He didn't know why, but the guy was good at it.

Tig was educated in many languages that existed in realms outside of Ariela. As to how or why, Zannor wasn't sure.

She finally held her hand out with a heavy amulet in her palm. It sparkled with an orange light from the center stone.

Tig seemed to thank her and took the amulet from her.

She smiled and disappeared from their sight.

He raised an eyebrow at Tig. "That is why Clokk sent you here. You speak the language." The reason to sending Tig out finally made sense.

"Yeah, but so is Enk. He knows so many more languages than me." He gave Zannor the necklace, not trusting himself to hold onto it.

Enk helped Clokk run the resistance though the two didn't get along… At all. He knew pretty much every linguistic dialect and culture in all the worlds, not just in Ariela or Earth.

"I like you better than Enk," Zannor chuckled and patted him on the back. "Let us go back. We have what we need."

ooo

The barrier engulfing Austera wasn't visible to the eye, but they could feel it when they walked into it. The experience was much like breaking through a water surface. The barrier dome stretched long and wide to guard the walls towering over them. No beast or demon could bypass the fortifications originally created by the Gods.

Zannor uncovered a hatch in the ground and lifted the door. He let Tig climb down the ladder built into the wall first. He made sure to lock it on his way down into the hideout. It was one of the few pathways to get in and out of the kingdom.

The location of the resistance was purposefully located along the walls of Austera, allowing them easy access into the wilderness if needed.

They entered the main room, leaving a wet trail behind them from the rain pouring on them upon their road to return. The ceilings were low and the lighting was poor with a few dangling exposed bulbs. In the center of the room was a wooden table with a couple chairs circled around it. One wall consisted of nothing but computer screens stacked on top of each other and control panels that only Clokk and Enk knew how to use. Papers and maps left nothing bare on the other walls. Most of it was writing on subjects that Zannor wasn't educated in. On the far end of the room was a hall that led to the exit into the kingdom as well as a few rooms such as the infirmary and storage.

In short, the place was cheap and in poor condition. It reminded him of something like a bomb shelter, made underground with lots of food and bedding, safe from the devastations of the outside world.

Enk was settled at the computers, staring at a single monitor. He had thick layers of crimson hair that touched below his ears. He was tall and toned, his muscles and tattoos showing through his tank top. He wore dark baggy cargo pants and various piercings in both of his ears. He was slim but intimidating. He looked to be in his 30's, but his exact age hadn't been revealed to anyone.

"It is three in the morning, Enk. What are you doing here?" Zannor asked when he noticed the man.

Enk didn't respond.

"We got the amulet," Tig announced, trying to wring his clothes out.

"What amulet?" Enk questioned apathetically, not so much as glancing over at them.

"Amulet of Demat-tacal-th- I don't know." Tig couldn't remember the name.

Zannor couldn't remember it either. It was something long and convoluted.

"Demmathrizal," Enk corrected him, knowing the exact name and not stumbling over his pronunciation. "Clokk told you to retrieve it?"

"Yeah. What does it do?"

He didn't answer, ignoring them again. It wasn't uncommon for him to pretend that they didn't exist. He was intelligent and exceptionally strong, proficient in various combat arts. But he was also cold and secluded, wanting little to do with anything or anyone.

"Where should we put it?" Zannor decided to ask a different question.

Enk exited out of his work on the mainframe and strode over to them. He loomed over the human, almost a foot taller than him. He put his hand out and Zannor placed the necklace in it. "Go home."

Zannor looked away when he felt Enk's stare piercing through him. "I might as well stay here."

"Suit yourself." He went back to the monitors.

"I'm actually gunna go, Zannor," Tig said. "I need sleep."

"Yeah, take care."

Tig left and Zannor took a seat at the table with a news tablet in hand. It happened often that he would be sent out to get something that he was unfamiliar with and come back with more questions and no answers. He didn't know what Clokk used the artifacts for or why they wouldn't explain anything to those who worked to get them. All he was told was that the objects would help in the fight against the king.

There were a lot of tribulations with the monarch. The main issue what that the shield over the kingdom ran on the blood of the royal bloodline, but the king refused to sacrifice himself or create another heir. He had a single son who went missing over a decade ago and that's who he insisted would die for the sake of the kingdom. There were voluminous reasons behind his actions that were unjustified, but it all came down to the fact that if he didn't do anything within the next year, the barrier was going to weaken and eventually diminish.

Zannor touched the small flat screen and it lit up. Articles of current events appeared on the screen and he skimmed over them until he could find something of interest. He came upon one about two boys that the resistance had been keeping an eye one for quite some time.

It was a new article and Wanted sign of the Skean brothers. They were the sons of the king's top ranking commander, Leon Skean. One was the same age as Zannor and the other was 13. They were arrested and put in jail around four years ago for homicide. They were accused of the slaughter of their mother and attempts on Leon's life. For some odd reason, both Clokk and Enk had interest in the younger brother.

The article was announcing that they escaped prison a few hours ago when the facility was under attack by a different resistance group.

"Scribe Skean was that kid we were watching, right?" Zannor asked, not expecting an answer. "You said he was a Guardian or something like me. He and his brother got out today."

"Mecondra is already looking for them," Enk said after a minute of silence.

Mecondra was an impractical dragon girl who took the form of an elf. She loved to fight. She loved to fight with fire, to be exact. She was bubbly and excited about life when around the right people.

"What are we going to do when we find them? Recruit them? I think they would be turned off by the lack of benefits and pay."

"Motive and intention outweigh that when revenge comes into play."

"Say what?"

Enk didn't repeat or explain himself.