The westerly sun tinted the few clouds in the sky a light strawberry color while the giant yellow ball lowered itself into the sea. Laúm looked at the waves lapping against the rocky cliff face 300 feet below him. West of his rocky perch, he could see a small cluster of towers, each a different height, rising through the surface of the water. Two gleaming black spires in the center of the group towered over the rest. A flotilla of small boats scurried among the towers, close enough that Laúm could make out their wakes breaking the pink water. Each tower rose to half the height of the cliff he sat upon, and were joined together by a sky bridge. On its surface, a prominent painted X faced the darkening sky. Laúm scanned the hills surrounding the inland sea. Small fires along the hilltops twinkled at him like evening stars. Laúm knew that others of his clan were sitting at those fires from where they, too, watched the sun dip below the far horizon.
As night fell, Laúm switched on his own fire. The sea breeze was cool and moist, a welcome relief from the day’s relentless heat. The tall towers of the ancient city rose out of the encroaching sea and struggled to reach the sky. His people still used the portions of the towers that had not yet been submerged, and Laúm wondered if he would ever have the chance to go inside one of them. Perhaps soon, he thought, for tomorrow he would join the others of his village as an adult. He had waited eighteen years for this day to come, and, with sundown, it drew even closer.
Laúm felt a certain comfort under the shroud of night. He’d always been self-conscious of his appearance: his slight build, his dark curly hair that flowed to his shoulders. His face was round, his cheeks, like the evening sea, pink but with touches of red, and decorated with a few freckles just below his large brown eyes. He was tall, in an awkward, teenage sort of way, and he moved with the lack of confidence of someone who was constantly new to the body he inhabited.
One of the few boats Laúm could still see below him had left the tallest spire. It looked to be headed straight into the sinking crimson ball as if to catch it before the sea extinguished its light. How Laúm wished that he could be among those people on the boats. He imagined standing on the prow, the crew to his back, saltwater washing his face. Ahead would be the distant lands, away from their life on the parched brown dirt, the crew at his command, their future in his hands.
Laúm knew leadership meant keeping up with his studies. But not tonight. Tonight he had other plans that did not include physics. They were plans that his parents would not have approved of. As he waited for the call, he pulled from his backpack a well-worn book. Its cover, dark red hide from the northern beaver, displayed the crown of Kith. It was the size of a king’s head, the circlet ringed with eight diamond spires, one for each part of the kingdom. He opened the tome to where he had left off and began to read the stories from long ago, stories of the ancient Guardians and the royal family charged with guarding their secrets: Bjorn The Mighty, Agatha The Wise, and Cecily The Daring.
“They came for the treasure,” said Bjorn. He turned around, and removed the head of a bear that was mounted on the wall to reveal a hidden space. “Those men did not come for you,” said Bjorn. “Those men came to take from me the present that I brought here to give you.” He turned back to the depression in the wall to retrieve a box that he set in front of Agatha. “Open it, sister,” said Bjorn. “Please.”
The antiquarian box was made of old oak and inscribed with symbols that Agatha had never before seen. Inside the box was a pile of red silk that she began to unfold. It spilled out of the box while Bjorn, and Cecily looked on. Under the ancient material, a black, inscribed, tablet of Guardian science whose existence had only been rumored.
“Is this…” Agatha could no longer find her words.
“Yes,” said Bjorn, “it is. The secrets of the Guardians, handed down from my father, our king. The source of our people’s power and wealth. The saviors of our planet. One of ten sacred plaques entrusted to us by the Guardians. “Follow me.” Agatha scooped up the plaque and she and Cecily followed Bjorn through the large room and into a long hall. Bjorn placed his hand on one of the walls and a warm glow of soft light emanated from inside. They walked through the narrow translucent tunnel, the walls, ceilings and floors of polished diamond, formed by the technology locked in the ten tablets. They arrived at a windowless chamber. Bjorn pulled his dagger from the sheath that was slung over his mighty torso. The dagger, like the room, was made of diamond that glittered and gleamed in the light. With his knife Bjorn chipped away at the chinking that surrounded the shale bricks lining the interior of the room. When he pulled the first brick out, he exposed a smooth wall of the same gleaming material behind the shale. He pulled out the eight bricks that surrounded the first. “It’s a skeleton,” said Bjorn. “Look.” He rested his knife in what seemed to be midair.
“It’s covered with shelves,” said Agatha. “One for each brick.”
“And it’s a foot thick on its own,” said Bjorn. “Diamond. All of Sanctuary was built by Guardian diamonds. The supreme achievement of Guardian engineering. Diamonds built from the carbon that threatens our kingdom.”