Solenn was on her eleventh demon when she received the Summons.
The air shifted as a translucent image of the three glass towers that loomed in the heart of the Citadel appeared in the space beside her. It was the Tria Haec, and it signaled the call of the Judges. “Seriously? Now?” she cried out as she slashed the demon across its broad chest. She gave a grunt of satisfaction as the demon dissolved into ashes. “They’re calling us now?”
Solomon tried to ignore his partner and focused on the four demons that were closing in on him. He had no time to react to Solenn’s rants. Foul creatures, this batch. They had blood-red eyes that glowed around the edges, human-like faces with rotting flesh, and sharp fangs that grew past their wide mouths. And, oh. They spat green acidic gunk that melted everything it touched. Solomon hated it when the damn ugly things dripped disgusting, foul-smelling liquid. More often than not, they ruined his clothes and shoes.
Solomon, Solenn and their platoon were in the middle of a vicious battle between the Guardians and the demons. They were right outside a popular convention center in Manila, where people held their weekly church services. The demons attacked as soon as the first batch of people spilled out of the convention center, fresh out of mass and worship. A few of them managed to latch onto unsuspecting people, immediately causing them to fall into various states of negative emotions. The demons hated it when they lose their hold on their Watches and would do everything in their power to get them back. Sunday attacks were particularly a notch more vicious.
“What’s wrong with those people?” Solenn cried out. “Don’t they know how many demon attacks we’ve been dispelling in this area alone? They were the ones who sent us here, but now they expect us to leave our post and travel all the way back to Cielos.” Solenn growled as she blocked and parried another attack. “Our men are exhausted, homesick, and hungry. They’re not in a particularly good state to receive conflicting orders.” One of the demons managed to sneak up on her and slashed at her back. With a loud yell, she turned as she swiped her huge broadsword sideways, taking down four demons at once.
Solenn had always been one to multitask. She could carry a conversation while fighting off more than a handful of demons, and she wouldn’t even break a sweat.
It was one of the many reasons why Solomon thought his co-captain was a freak.
“Damn, but that hurt! Sol, are you even listening to me?” Solenn called out. “I’m baring my heart and soul to you, and you’re not listening!”
“I’m a little bit busy here to comment, ‘Lenn!” Solomon shouted back. He ducked as one of the demons swiped at him and lunged to slice off its legs. He stabbed it at its chest as it fell, turning it into a pile of ashes.
He was tired, too. Every single day, their platoon had to dispel horde after horde of demons that attacked their designated areas, leaving them with very little time to regroup and recuperate.
Solenn was right. Their men were already at the end of their wits, and the Summons appearing so suddenly probably jarred their already dwindling concentration and strength.
The Summons only appeared when there was an emergency back in the Citadel.
“Brave faces on, Guardians! One demon at a time!” Solenn called out, noticing her troop’s plummeting morale. “Then we’re going home!”
Her promise boosted the energy of fifty-five Guardian neophytes. They had just graduated from the Guardian Initiative, a specialized military program that trained young men and women from all over Cielos and Iriego to become Guardians. They left their families and friends in Cielterra with eyes that sparkled with excitement and hearts that burned with the passion to protect all of mankind from evil. Their four weeks fighting off real demons day in and day out had stolen the sparks in their eyes, but not the flame from their hearts.
That was not to say they didn’t want to go home though.
Their strengths renewed, the Guardians pushed on. The battle continued to rage—claws, fangs, tails against swords, spears, chains, and arrows. The clash of metal against demon flesh drowned out the shouts of the Guardians and the shrieks of the demons.
The never-ending war against the legions of the Underworld. This was what they were born and bred for.
Texts of old called them the Nefilim. Some called them Watchers. Others called them the Giants. In truth they were just a nation of anointed people, some of whom were called to become Guardans—highly trained protectors of the human realm and all of Cielterra.
Solenn smirked as she killed a demon just a foot away from a random pedestrian. Humans had always been very, very oblivious of the battle that raged night and day within their midst.
“Ignorance. What bliss,” she whispered, albeit with bitterness, before blocking the attack of another demon.
After what seemed like a score, Solenn finally thrust her blade into the last demon’s chest. She sneered as it turned into ashes and disappeared into the wind. Barely panting, she looked around and searched for Solomon.
He wasn’t too hard to find.
He always stood as if he owned the world, his feet a shoulder apart and his spine straighter than his sword. The golden highlights scattered all over his rich brown hair made him stand out among the crowd even more.
Solenn found her co-captain a few meters away, scowling as he tried to shake off the demon flesh that got stuck on his huge war hammer. Solomon hated it when his weapon got dirty with demon junk. Solenn bit back a laugh. It wouldn’t do her well to pick a fight with her exhausted partner. Some other time, then.
Finding him alive and still in one piece, if not bruised and battered all over, Solenn looked around and accounted for her men. Fifty-five, still. None had fallen. Bone-tired, dirty, and probably a little bit worse for wear, but they were still alive.
“Good job, boys,” the young captain said with a grin. “How’s that for your first mission?”
“Best time of my life, Captain!” a Guardian named Jonas called out and returned Solenn’s cheeky grin. “Where’s the next assignment?”
“Well, hold your horses, soldier,” Solenn said. “There’ll be plenty more time to exterminate those pests. Right now, we have hsio retreat. We’ve been summoned back.”
“Does it have something to do with the increasing attacks?” another Guardian asked out loud.
“Not sure, Hans,” Solomon replied. “But we’re going to find out soon.”
“But, Captain?” Jonas called out.
“Yes?” Solomon and Solenn said at the same time. They narrowed their eyes at each other before Solenn rolled her eyes and nodded at her partner. You win this time, her eyes said.
“What is it?” Solomon asked the Guardian.
“We were supposed to stay here in the Center Plane for two months,” Jonas said, “but they’ve summoned us back after four weeks. The Commander said that the Summons would appear only when there’s trouble back home. Are our families safe?”
“Of course,” Solenn replied before Solomon could answer. “The Betas have probably found a new lead on the increasing attacks, and they couldn’t wait to rub it in our faces. They probably duped the Judges into calling us back home to gloat.”
“You sure hate the Betas a lot, don’t you, Captain?” the one of Guardians teased. Solenn shrugged. “It’s nothing personal,” she said. “Just abiding by the rules of the good old Guardian rivalry.”
Solomon smirked. “That’s not true,” he said. “She hates the Betas. But then again, she hates everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much now, does it?”
“Sol, shut up,” Solenn snapped. “I hate you.”
“See?” Solomon asked. He opened his mouth to say more, but Solenn jabbed him at his stomach. He backhanded her arm softly in retaliation.
Their banter earned them another round of laughter from their men. Solomon and Solenn smiled softly at each other. Their men were already exhausted beyond belief. They didn’t want fear adding to the mix, too.
Not good for the morale, Solenn would always say. Solomon might have teased her of hating everyone, but between the two of them, she was the one who looked out for them the most.
Noting that his soldiers were looking a bit better, he looked around and accounted for his men. “All good, soldiers?”
“Aye, sir!” the troop called out in unison.
“Good.” Solomon glanced at Solenn and nodded at her. Facing their troop,
he fisted his hand and lifted it to his chest before raising his arm slightly at elbow level. Solenn and the rest of the troop returned the gesture. It was a Guardian salute that meant, “I honor you, my brother.”
“Congratulations on surviving your first mission, squirts,” Solenn said. “Now, we go home.” She grinned. “Perk up, boys. We still have a long way to go.”
With relieved smiles on their faces, the Guardians closed their eyes and touched the insignias on their armors and summoned the image of the Tria Haec in their minds. Blue light engulfed each and every one of them before they vanished into thin air.
When they opened their eyes, they were at the foot of a holy mountain located in the bosom of Philippine’s northern island.
Mt. Banahaw loomed over them, daunting as the mist wrapped the mountain in its embrace. The Dragonclaws kept their eyes low and ears alert as they started the trek into the heart of the mountain. Solomon led the troop, while Solenn picked up the trail. Both leaders were exhausted, but they kept their appearances for the sake of fifty-five worn out, hungry, and anxious men.
The Guardians were quiet and pensive as they walked through the trail. The mountain mist was cool on their skin. Leaves danced to the gentle song of the wind. From a distance, they heard the roaring sound of the waterfall as it crashed against giant rocks. Dead leaves crunched under their heavy boots as they walked to the designated puésto, a portal that would lead them back to their world. Puéstos were never at the same place twice. The Guardians always relied on the Santas Voces, the holy voices that whispered directions to the portals, to get to one. If one could not interpret the whispers of the Santas Voces, he’d be doomed to wander through the portals and dimensions not even the Guardians had seen before.
More often than not, an unwelcome human stranger would come across it and find himself lost within the heart of the forest. He’d walk for hours in circles, and come back out only to find out that he had been gone for years.
When they reached a clearing almost an hour into the trek, Solomon signaled for his men to stop. Time seemed to stop in that small area. The sounds of the forest were muted and the air became still. The leaves weren’t dancing. The trees stood still, their branches steady. Solomon closed his eyes and lifted his head a bit, as if listening to a song only he could hear. At the other end of their trail, Solenn suddenly crouched down low grabbed a handful of earth. She, too, closed her eyes as she fisted the soil and ran it through her fingers before dropping it back to the ground.
Solomon heard the voices in the wind. Solenn heard it in the earth.
Hale un nohime, they said. Home is here.
They opened their eyes at the same time. They walked towards the tallest tree in the clearing and placed their palms upon the gnarled trunk.
Denos vos hale. Send us home.
The air in the clearing shifted. Solomon and Solenn motioned for their troop to walk towards the edge of the clearing. Steeling themselves for the travel, the men walked one by one into the opened portal and closed their eyes against the blinding light of the vortex.
When they opened their eyes, they were deep in the forests of Alegrea, the northern kingdom of Cielterra. Ancient trees as old as time loomed over them. Patches of sunlight that peeked through the giant branches and leaves danced along the rich, brown earth. A small breeze flew past them, echoing faint traces of laughter.
Not exactly home, but very near.
Solenn breathed a sigh of relief when her feet touched Cielterran soil. She looked around and saw her men looking more relaxed than they did in the four weeks they were on the human plane fighting demons.
She smiled as she bent down low and touched the earth.
Iamasta, she whispered. Thank you.
Alegrea lies in Northern Cielterra. It is the land of the Otherworldlies—mystical creatures that lived only in myths and tales written for Earthen children. Its citizens were neither human, celestial, nor demon.
“I will never get used to this,” Hans whispered as a group of fairies donned in flimsy, shimmering, translucent dresses flitted past the Dragonclaws. They giggled and winked as they flew past the Guardians and disappeared around a tree that seemed to dance in the wind.
“Quiet, Dragonclaw,” Solomon said. “We’re on foreign territory.”
“Hostile, Captain?” another asked. Heron, his name was. Neophytes tended to forget most of what they learned in class about the Otherworldlies that lived in Alegrea. They weren’t evil or bad, no, but they tended to keep to themselves.
“No,” Solenn replied. “Alegreans are allies, but it would do you best to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Not everyone is as… friendly as the fairies.”
As was proven true when they spotted a group of creatures that half looked like men, and half like horses stare at them from the branches of the giant redwood trees.
“Centaurs,” Heron breathed out.
“No,” Solenn corrected. “Centaurs have features of men from the torso up, and horses from the waist down. The tikbalang have the head, legs and hooves of a horse, but the torso, arms, hands, and thighs of a man.”
“Well. That’s confusing,” Hans commented.
Solomon grinned. “Think of the two species as distant cousins.”
Solenn rolled her eyes and hit her partner’s stomach with her fist. “Whatever, Sol. Shut up.”
Solomon laughed softly and addressed the rest of the platoon. “Ready to ‘port home, boys? Yeah? Ok, light up.”
Closing their eyes, they all touched the Guardian insignias on their armors and conjured the image of the Tria Haec in their minds. One by one, they vanished in thin air, leaving behind shimmering dusts of brilliant blue light in their wake.
For the second time that day, they opened their eyes and found themselves in the edge of the kingdom of Cielos. Towers and buildings made of glass, steel, and minerals loomed over the bejeweled streets. Far beyond, in the westernmost part of the kingdom, lies the Citadel.
It was the most powerful and well-protected stronghold in all of Cielterra, for within its walls lie the Gates that lead to the Garden of Eden. At the very edge of the Citadel, surrounded, protected and guarded by the three tallest towers in all of Cielos, loomed the Flaming Sword of Eden.
It was the very thing they had been trained to defend.
It was the destiny they were born to fulfill.
Guard Eden. Defend the Citadel. Protect the Realms.
Solomon, Solenn, and the rest of the Dragonclaws took in the sights and sounds of Cielos. Skysurfers, skyboards, and air mobiles and air chariots loomed above the ever-busy floating streets of the kingdom. Pedestrians walked along the roving sidewalks, adding to the bustle of the city as they went about their ways. The rays of the sun were broken by the glass and jewels along the streets and were scattered into a thousand shimmering lights, casting an almost ethereal glow upon the city that never slept.
Cielos. The kingdom of heaven. Way beyond, the Citadel. The stronghold of the Guardians.
Solenn and Solomon shared a smile.
Hale un vale.
Home is here.
© Karren Renz Seña 2014
Photo Credit: http://i812.photobucket.com/albums/zz44/Albel_912/guild-wars-2-epic-battle-artwork-wallpaper.jpg