Once they had the men trained and they left for Lantana’s Tomb, Chrylos and Cartan focused on the task of raising the shield wall. The books were invaluable, they sped the process up greatly, and within a month, they had a force who could raise the shield wall, but they weren’t ready to meet Tygos. Training the men to stand behind the shield wall and send out controlled energy bursts wasn’t going well. The Guardians were used to fighting as individuals, and usually fought melee style. Flying, attacking, defending, and sword fighting on foot and mounted. This was different, they needed to stand behind the other Guardians, and fire a blast through the shield wall and it had to be able to take out Tygos’ forces on the ground. So far, they couldn’t control the blasts well enough to face anyone, let alone Tygos. It was frustrating.
Chrylos was at a loss. He had read and read the books, followed every direction listed, yet they couldn’t get a controlled burst, let alone sustain a burst well enough to penetrate the shield and hit a target. For some unknown reason, the energy burst would get absorbed by the shield, according to the book, it should have gone through the shield. It must be their focus, or they were missing something. He decided to try a new approach. He had a small group of Cadets who could raise the shield and fire the energy, what if he had them focus only on making the finest point of energy possible, and see if it would penetrate the shield with deadly results.
The Cadets prepared to do as instructed, and once the shield wall was up, the second row of Cadets were tasked with creating as tight a beam as possible and try to send it through the wall. The new direction he tried had better results. They could fire through the shield, but the effect would only stun, the shield reduced the force of the blast. It was better than nothing, at least they could stun their opponent, and finish them off with a sword. It wasn’t the solution he had hoped for, he wanted to keep his men from having to face the Marn with only swords. They had no idea how effective the bolt would be at stunning them. They already knew that the Marn were able to withstand a lot, had something to do with their physiology being different than a Brellon.
He asked Gryton if he could sense anything from the cadets that might be limiting their ability to send out a deadly blast. Gryton said that they were all focused, and that the blast should work. He told Chrylos to have the men stand and fire the bolt over the shield with the same intensity as trying to fire it through the shield. When they did, it was extremely effective, but exposed the men to the Marn weapons. This wasn’t working. He consulted the Archivists, Craft Masters, Jatar, the Seers, everyone he thought might have something to help, but it was to no avail.
He had tried everything, what was he missing? He had the Cadets continue training with Cartan supervising. He was going to his quarters, and reread the books, he had missed something and if he didn’t find it, he wouldn’t be able to produce the force that was needed. People would die needlessly, and that was something he wouldn’t allow. He would keep at this until he made it work, found some missing part of the process, or got the men so disciplined that they would be able to send out the bolt.
As he read the book on controlling the energy blast, he saw a reference to a focusing staff. It didn’t give instructions on how to build it, but it did say the staff would focus the beam and that it could penetrate the shield without losing its effectiveness. He was excited. He contacted Jatar, and asked him to come to the Academy, and to bring the Craft Masters who worked with Faron, the crystals, and had studied the bracelets that he and Catya found in Lantana’s Tomb.
Jatar arrived a week later with the Craft Masters and they set to work on the creation of the focusing staff. It was an unusual thing for them. They weren’t used to creating something without much of a reference, and then one of the Craft Masters had an idea. They had been working on something to create a light that could be carried and used instead of a torch. They brought out the prototype of the crystal torch. It was half a meter in length, it was made of Faron alloy, and it had a crystal fixed at the end on a base of tanzite and snail shell. It made a great light, it didn’t give off heat, and the light only required someone to point it in the direction they wanted to see. He didn’t see how it would help, but it was a start.
Gryton looked at the staff intently, and then he made a suggestion. The staff had the wide end of the crystal at the top, and it sent out the light easy enough, but couldn’t focus the light into anything that could be used as a weapon. What if they turned the crystal over and mounted it with the narrow end pointed out?
The Craft Master looked at Gryton and realized that what he said would, by the very nature of the crystal, create a tighter light. He went to the Smith Craft Hall, and made a new staff, this time mounting the crystal as Gryton had suggested. It took two days to make the new staff. One of the drawbacks of the Faron alloy was once it was made into something, you couldn’t reheat the alloy and reshape it. They had to make a new staff.
Once it was completed, they brought the new staff back to be tested. In the hands of a Brellon who wasn’t bonded to a Skree, it was just a fine point light, but, when Chrylos took the staff in hand and focused for the energy blast, a fine beam of concentrated energy blasted out of the staff. The first blast seared a hole through a full meter of Faron alloy, and was still deadly for a full thirty meters beyond the metal. They had the staff.
The problem was to produce a sufficient number of staffs to arm the Guardians before they met Tygos in the open. It had taken a Craft Master two full days to produce one staff, even if they pulled all the Smith Craft Masters into producing staffs, it would take months to create the number of staffs they needed. They had the solution if the cadets could use the staff as easily as Chrylos could.
After a week, they had thirty staffs, and now it was time to test them with the cadets. Jatar wanted the cadets to test it before he introduced it to the seasoned Guardians. His reasoning was if an unskilled cadet could use the staff, then a fully trained Guardian would be able to use it as well.
It took the cadets several tries to get the beam, but they needed practice and direction on calming themselves to get the beam through the energy shield. Jatar picked up a staff and focused on raising the shield, and then attempted to fire the beam as Chrylos had, he succeeded, but it took a tremendous amount of calm and focus. But it did work.
He had the Craft Masters continue manufacturing staffs, but his hopes weren’t up. This was a great undertaking and both of his son’s lives were hanging in the balance. He needed a solution and he needed it soon. This would give him a weapon, but it was taking far too long to get them made, but he knew from his own training that the manufacturing of the Faron had to be exact or the metal was useless.
Chrylos and Cartan continued the training, the ground force that erected the shield wall were doing very well, they had learned not only how to create the wall, but now could extend the wall up and over a group of Guardians, protecting them from above as well as in front. They could even form a dome of energy as needed, which if they had to battle the Marn and needed to protect Brellons who were with them, they could.
The Cadets who were working with the new staffs were making progress, they could fire tight beam energy through the shield wall and it was effective out to one hundred meters. He wanted them to make it effective further but it seemed that one hundred meters was the limit of the range.
He had received thirty more staffs this week and now had ninety staffs but this was too slow of a process to make it work effectively, and soon he would have to command the link shut down and that pained him greatly, Jazar was in the field with a shrinking force, and he would need to get him reinforced soon. He asked Chrylos how many he could send to Jazar, and he said twenty-five are field ready. He dispatched them to Lantana’s Tomb and told them to wait there until Jazar met them. From there, they would be his charges, and they would see how ugly war really was. There was no glory in dying, it made for great songs when someone died heroically, but they were dead all the same, and that was something he didn’t want.
He had sent his other son Jaxar on a secret mission and he had to protect him as well. He was in the Marn camp, and he was being taken to Tygos, he had gotten a message from him that the mission was going as planned and that he was doing his best to give them time, and to keep the Marn chasing Jazar, but he knew men had died and that he would be called a traitor for a time, but it had to be this way, or they wouldn’t have the time to get prepared to end this permanently.
Jazar was with his Ranger forces in the field. As Jatar had thought, Tygos returned with a vengeance. He was gone for a fortnight, and when he came back, he was in full assault mode. He attacked relentlessly, they barely had time to breath before the next onslaught came. The Rangers had done well. The shields absorbed the blasts from the Marn weapons, but not without casualties. They learned the hard way, it took total concentration to deflect the Marn blasts, anything less, people got hurt or killed. The hard part was holding onto the peaceful place while in the midst of a battle. The Skree were of great help, they could help the rangers hold their concentration, but, the men hadn’t been able to hold it continually. He’d sent messages to both Jatar and Chrylos, in an appeal for help, instruction, anything that would keep his men safe. They kept saying the same thing, clear the mind, focus on the shield being impenetrable, and keep fighting, they needed more time to train the Guardians.
Their only reprieve was at night. The rangers couldn’t see to fight, and their armor kept the Marn from locating them by scanning, if they found them it was totally by chance. So each night they would fly five hundred kilometers in the opposite direction hoping to tend their wounded, bury the dead, and get at least one day of rest. They had endured times where the Marn would keep troops out firing non-stop, through the night, those days, they would be pinned down, or would have to try and make it twenty kilometers on foot in a forced march.
Their energy weapons were deadly, but with limited range. The pinpoint blast would kill up to one hundred meters, the wide beam was deadly at close range, about fifteen meters, but beyond that, it would only stun or slow down the Marn. It was better than trying to fight with swords at close range, and the Marn weapons, their pulse rifles were good to about one hundred meters and the phase pistols about twenty meters, so the weapons were evenly matched. The difference was the Marn had no shields and the Guardians had Skree. When they could take flight, they would.
Still it was hit and run tactics, Guerilla warfare at best and the Marn had ships that were faster than Skree. Five hundred kilometers to a ship that could travel to space was nothing. It kept the Guardians grounded except at night. They needed the shields. They would absorb the Marn weapon blasts point blank or at one hundred meters, it was the same. But getting the upper hand in a battle was difficult at best. They had a limited number of troops, while the Marn could send down another ship with fresh fighters. His troops, Brellon and Skree alike, were exhausted.
He had gotten news from Jatar that they were making progress and that he needed Jazar to give him some more time to train. They needed another fortnight to be ready. Jazar counted his troops, he was down to fifty-five able to fight, twenty wounded, and twenty-five dead. They always counted the Brellon and Skree as one Guardian, not two. He had sent the wounded to Varna to heal, and they had buried the dead as they died. Usually, Guardians were given celebrated funeral rights, cremating them at the end, and placing their effigy in the Hall of Souls, but war made that impossible, so they buried them, marked the graves, removed their diadems, bracelets, and necklaces, and buried them with their armor and weapons. He vowed to exhume the bodies for proper burial once this war was over.
This took only a few seconds for his mind to cover, he needed to clear his thoughts, and prepare to move out. This had been a hard day of fighting, and they were on the move at dark. They depended on the Skree’s ability to see in the dark and rode them until they were clear to fly. They had learned to keep their armor and weapons tight until they got at least ten kilometers out of range, the Marn had exceptional hearing and the Skree were silent on their feet, even in the dark. As they travelled this night, Jazar noticed that there was an unusual light at the Marn ship they had engaged and decided to send the men on and see what he could find out. He stripped off his armor, and went forward on foot. His boots were soft hide, and made no noise as he moved in for a closer look.
As he inched his way forward, Zavan, his life-mate, told him to hold. He said he could see that there were ten Marn not more than ten meters away and one sound would have him captured and vulnerable. He barely breathed. Once the Marn moved on, a night guard on patrol, he went back the way he’d come with only questions and no answers about that unusual light. He regained his armor, mounted Zavan, and they were off as quietly as a Skree could travel. When they had gone at least two kilometers, he contacted the troop to find out which way they had gone, and they gave him coordinates, and he told them to wait for him and rest. He caught up with them an hour later, and they left as quickly as they could. They got out to ten kilometers and flew out three hundred kilometers before making camp. They had come north, almost to the glacier fields when they stopped. Jazar knew enough history to know that they were near where Whitlaw had first met Regulus, and wondered if they could find that cave the history spoke of. He knew from the history Archives that the cave was pretty large and that it would probably hold his whole company, and give them some protection to have a fire, and maybe a few days’ rest or even a week. They had no injured to attend to, they were in Varna now, they had a good water source if the Archives were accurate, and they carried plenty of rations and the Skree could hunt, and possibly bring back an Auroch for the men. He sent the men out in pairs to scout for the cave, he knew they should be able to find it, they were close. After a couple of hours, one of them found the cave.