"The Clarion"
The Shadow Geyser, Part 1
By Mike Christopher
From an idea by Dan Tibbles

The shadow geyser rose silently from the torn forest floor. Its energy was palpable--drawing both light and warmth from the glade in which it had so abruptly appeared. Orwin, Eldest Elder of Vash Naroom, eyed the seething shadows as they emerged from the ground and disappeared into the leafy canopy above. Suddenly chilled, the Elder pulled his robes closer about his shoulders and turned his back to the ominous pillar of darkness that had invaded his beloved woodlands. He took a few steps toward the path leading from the glade, lost in his thoughts.

Orwin's foot caught on something hiding just beneath the underbrush and he lost his balance. He landed on his rump on a soft mound of spongy moss and ferns, startling a flock of glow-birds that were patiently snoozing away the daylight hours awaiting the twilight. "Harumph!" snorted the Elder, looking about to discover what had tripped him. The ferns parted and out came a shiny bald head. The twinkling eyes of Naroom's chief historian gazed back at him from an aged face, a disgruntled expression curling his lips beneath the flowing white beard.

"Evu! How many times does a person have to trip over your carcass before you learn to stop napping in the underbrush!" Orwin raged. "One of these days its gonna be someone bigger than me, and they'll squash you flat!" Evu muttered something under his breath.

"Speak up, you withered old weebo-head! What have you to say?"

"Umm...well, I was just, er...now what was it? I was..." Evu trailed off and cocked a bushy eyebrow at his long-time friend. "I can't seem to remember..."

Orwin sighed, rolled his eyes back in his head and held out a handful of jellybeans to the historian. "Oh! You have purple ones!" Evu snatched the brightly-colored candies from Orwin's palm, gobbling down half of them before stashing the rest in one of his many pockets--pockets that Orwin strongly suspected were jam-packed with stale jellybeans.

"Ah...yes. Now I remember!" said Evu as a look of profound satisfaction crept across his face. "Yaki sent me to tell you that the council is ready to begin. He said I'd find you wandering around out here--by that, that horrible thing!" Evu gestured toward the clearing where the shadow geyser had emerged.

Orwin nodded. He had assumed as much, but he reminded himself to have a word with Yaki about sending Evu out on important errands. His tendency to nap if he ran low on certain flavors of jellybeans was becoming increasingly annoying. Evu had his good points too, however. As chief historian he was better educated than anyone else in all of Naroom--the wizened little magi had a powerful intelligence, provided you could keep him awake long enough to put it to work for you. Orwin knew they were going to have to count on Evu if they were ever to have a chance to discover a way to unlock the shadow geyser and deal directly with the threat it posed.

The two magi walked side-by-side back to the village. Orwin had called for the council to assemble to assist him in contacting the Elders of the other great region of the Moonlands. He dreaded calling upon the powers of the Eliwan shard to communicate with the others across great distances. He was old, and the energy required by Contact was very high. It always took a lot out of him. His energy had been greatly diminished by his first encounter with the locked portal of the shadow geyser and the ambush by the two terrible monsters who had been guarding over it and he knew he would require assistance. This time, he would need to borrow upon the energies of his fellows to perform the Contact.

The council was awaiting him as he and the old historian shuffled their way into the large meeting chamber. He nodded to each in turn. They all knew why they had been summoned. Words were unnecessary. Silently, he held out his staff and began to concentrate on the glowing emerald shard at its tip. "Lend me your strength my dear comrades," he implored. The woodland magi gathered around their respected Elder and extended their energy into the crystal. The soft green glow flared into brilliance and the council stepped away from its blinding radiance. The light gradually diminished, leaving in its place a strange mist, within which could be seen the forms of five magi, each in their own very different surroundings.

Jaela, fair Regis of Arderial, nodded to Orwin and to each of the others from her perch upon a fluffy cloud floating high in the early evening air. The Warlord of Cald, stern Barak, glowered back from his vantage atop a fiery caldera, filled with bubbling lava. Mobis, Lord of the Deeps of Orothe, bowed his regal head in greeting as a school of bright yellow fish swam slowly past. Finally, from her cushiony seat upon a mushroom throne, kindly Motash--Underlord of the Underneath--gave everyone a gentle smile. It was she who spoke first.

"Dearest Elder of Naroom. How may we help you? I sensed some urgency in your summons."

Orwin cleared his throat before addressing the other Elders magically assembled before him. He began to relate the events of the past several days to his peers, summarizing with, "My friends, we have a terrible problem right on our very doorstep. This strange shadow geyser seems to allow monsters to enter our peaceful forest. It is a portal of some kind, leading to unknown darkness. We must find a way to enter it from this side and put an end to this menace before it can spread its evil further."

"I look to my colleague Evu to figure out a way to enter the shadow geyser and let us know exactly what we are dealing with. But as you can see, Evu is very small and as old as myself. He will need the assistance and protection of the very best the Moonlands have to offer. This is what I ask of you. Find your greatest warriors and send them to our aid."

Barak scowled, "Bah! With my warriors, there will be no need of further assistance. We of the Cald do not care to mix with other regions--but I will graciously allow my warriors to come to your aid. With these fine champions--we will be victorious."

Jaela hopped off her cloud, her purple robes flowing wildly about her as her temper flared and stirred the winds into motion. "Such an arrogant little vellup! You need more than simple warriors who know only mindless destruction--you need Magi who see things as a larger picture, and know how to solve problems. A bird's eye view, if you will."

Mobis, often unwilling to become involved in land-bound problems, said, "Your tempers will be the undoing of you both. If this truly is a dangerous portal, you will need a Magi with a stronger knowledge of relics to shut it down. Only a corrupt ancient relic could be responsible for this shadow geyser. With our expertise in relics, even one of our apprentice Magi would be a stronger candidate."

Orwin despaired at this argument. "Bah! Fools! I should have known better than ask for your help! All we ever do is end up fighting! But this time--we have something worse than each other confronting us. No matter how great my Naroom warriors are, I fear that they alone will not be enough." Stubborn angry glares were all that returned his gaze from Elders of Fire, Water and Air. The regions were fiercely independent of one another and although there was no true enmity between regions, tempers were quick to flare. He had feared that his request would come to this. In despair he turned to his one remaining colleague who had yet to comment on his request. Motash saw his imploring gaze and nodded silently back at him. She stood to her feet and rapped her staff sharply upon the floor before her. Her own Eliwan shard sparked in response to this abuse and the images of all four magi wavered momentarily. The reaction got everyone's attention and they all quieted down to hear what she had to say.

"Let us not argue as always. We must help Elder Orwin and we must do it now. Because of the competitive nature of our warriors, I will agree with Barak that cooperation may be difficult. Therefore I propose that we each send a selection of our top warriors to the high plains just west of Naroom. In this place, they can relieve their competitive urges by engaging in a contest. The warriors will enter into combat in turns, the winners going on to the next round, while the losers gracefully retreat. In the end, everyone will have had a chance to prove themselves and the best of the best shall accompany little Evu on his quest as representatives of all the regions of the Moonlands."

Orwin shook his head in doubt, "I don't know Underlord. We have so little time. I can sense the energy of the shadow geyser growing with each passing day."

Motash replied, "There will be time enough. This is the only way to ensure that everyone has a chance to help defend the Moonlands. Our warriors will be excited at the prospect of a challenge." She looked around at the others. "Are we all agreed?" Solemnly the others nodded. "Good. Now I must go and begin preparations. My warriors and I will meet all of you in two days time upon the high plains." With that she tapped the staff once more and the Contact broke.

Orwin felt dizzy from the strain and allowed Yaki to help him to a chair. He looked around and saw the faces of his assembled Naroom magi watching him expectantly.

"Well...what are you all waiting for? We have a competition to organize! Get moving!" The magi scattered as expectant grins broke out on all their faces. As they left the meeting chambers, Orwin could be heard roaring orders left and right. "And another thing..." the Eldest Elder bellowed out his window at the receding backs of the council members, "have somebody wake up the candymakers and get them started on another batch of jellybeans!" Orwin glanced back at Evu who was snoring away on a braided rug before the fireplace. He turned back to the window and roared into the approaching night, "Better make that a double batch!"


Read Part 2 "How to Win a Contest Without Really Trying"

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