CFB: And so...the final installment of the Guardian Trilogy has begun. Welcome...to Forests of Eternity! And sorry it's late. Really...I'm a bum. But, through all the stress of senior year, I've managed to get this done and I hope you readers like it!

This time around, I am not acting alone. My co-collaborator/conspirator is Theta Jones. He's helped me figure out a lot of plot (haha, that rhymes) and has also contributed three OC's to this fic, and he'll also be writing certain parts. As soon as his characters make their appearance, I'll let you all know which ones they are. Thank you, Theta! :D His efforts with this project are much appreciated!

And a special thanks to sandyandmaxwellfanatic, for previewing this for me and helping me get it ready for posting - and giving me a little insight. Thanks sxmfan! :)

Full Summary: Beneath the shadowy canopies of a forbidden forest, dark secrets lie. A tribe of hamsters in the Hamalonian Forest need help to stop a savage beast that has been terrorizing the local villagers, sent by an unknown paw. Two warriors boldly venture out to find brave heroes...and that's where the ham-hams step in to lend a paw once again! One ham-ham needs a vacation and steps aside, giving the spotlight to the other hams as they take a trip deep into a forest that time forgot to cure a horrible imbalance between the reality and myth. Someham has summoned a terrible power to open a permanent gate to the spirit world - which could mean the end of all hamkind! Ancient secrets are revealed, and the ham-hams encounter their very first enemy who may be more than mortal - and the ham who called him forth. It's going to take a lot to stop an undead High Priest, a motivated manipulator, and the powers of the spirit-realm! It may take a little magic, flying feathers, and a mysterious melody...

Disclaimer: I do not own Hamtaro, or any of its characters. I own most characters and ideas not related to the original Hamtaro franchise, save for those that were created by Theta Jones.

Enjoy!


Prologue: Something Wicked This Way Comes

Twilight in the Hamalonian Forest was a wondrous sight to behold. Through the dense cover of the trees, the pink-grey sky could be seen giving way to nightfall, the early twinkling of premature stars accompanying the gradual decline of day. The members of the Hamstala tribe, in particular, had an excellent view of the twilight sky from their glorious ham-made village in the center of the vast forest, and there was no better place to watch the day come to a close than in the beautiful garden on the outskirts of Hamstala, where, amidst the lush flowers, two hamsters sat in chairs woven from the strongest blades of grass, a wooden table with two leaf cups of piping hot herbal tea between them, staring up at the sky wordlessly, basking in the beauty of fading daylight.

"It's a wonderful night."

One hamster, a pure-white male with deep, thoughtful violet eyes, remarked in an airy sort of tone, as if he didn't particularly care who heard him or if anyone even replied. A chain of flowers, ranging from a floaty orange to a soft pink, encircled his neck and he had a small, dreamy smile on his face, as if perpetually lost in thought.

The other hamster, female nodded her head gently at his words after taking a sip of her steaming tea. She replied, in a light, feathery voice, "Indeed, Florian. The air is calm, and the sky is content - a peaceful transition from the sun to the moon..." Her fur was dark grey in color, but she had black ears and two black markings that looked like wings upon her back. A purple headband, was tied around her head, with a sleek raven's feather tucked carefully into it. Her color was so different from the male's, they looked like they would be total opposites, although they appeared to get along quite well.

"Peaceful transition..." The male hamster, Florian, echoed, his smile widening slightly. "I couldn't agree more. You know, I've always admired how the sun never battles with the moon for dominance, and vice versa. While the tribes in the forest feud constantly over land and power, the sun and the moon can live in perfect symbiosis, like sisters, sharing the same sky...how odd!" He chuckled, brushing a paw against a nearby orange hibiscus that had drooped slightly.

The female smiled as well, a faint twinkle of humor in her mellow hazel eyes. "You should think of becoming a member of the council, Florian. Your wisdom exceeds those of most of the hamsters already on it, especially these days..."

Florain leaned back against his chair and closed his vibrant eyes, a sigh escaping slowly through his pink nose. Absently, he began to fiddle with a red band of cloth that was tied comfortably around his wrist - an identical band tied around the female's wrist as well, indicating some kind of deep bond between them.

"My musings are for you, me, and the flowers, Ravyn. You know very well that the council does not find my 'wisdom' as amusing as you do."

The female, Ravyn, lightly shrugged her shoulders, a complacent smile on her face. Quietly, she remarked, turning her hazel eyes to the darkening sky, "Times in the tribe are changing, Florian. Soon enough, the council will see that alternative viewpoints must be heard if the Hamstala are to survive for much longer. Already, change has been set in motion and they refuse to acknowledge the idea that we may need to adapt accordingly..."

A gentle breeze caressed their fur, and brushed the numerous flowers surrounding them like a passing hand. Both hamsters closed their eyes, and felt the wind against their fur, savoring the feeling and the moment, despite its regularity. A comfortable silence settled between them, so neither really felt the desire to come up with a topic of conversation - they were fine to just sit there, in the beautiful moments of pending night, enjoying each other's company and the peace of the trees that loomed high over them, like watchful, sturdy guardians, standing over the luxurious garden and the village only a few feet away, protecting them all from harm.

"I feel something in the wind shifting, Florian..." Ravyn observed after a moment of peace, breaking their silence.

The male smiled faintly, his paw dangling over the edge of his arm-rest, just enough so that it grazed Ravyn's paw gently in assurance.

"A sure sign that times are changing...right, Ravyn?"

The dark-furred hamgirl hummed a little, but her eyes narrowed, as she stared off into the dimness of the trees surrounding them, leaning forward slightly, looking for something in the forest. Florian, sensing her shift in mood, straightened in his chair and peered at her quizzically. When he saw the expression on her face, a cross between contemplation and paralyzing fear, the fur on the back of his neck stood at attention, and he felt his blood run cold in his veins. All of a sudden, the luscious garden surrounding them seemed to grow chillier, like some invisible frost had settled over everything. Florian's voice fell below a whisper.

"....Ravyn?"


"You know brother, things around here have been pretty tense lately...the council disagrees on everything, so it's pretty much been divided into two factions, and Chief Mael is too scared to pick sides...what's a Captain of the Guard to do, huh?"

By the carved wooden entrance gate to the Hamstala Village, where legends of the tribe had been engraved for posterity, a little ways away from the sleepy village itself, a solid brown hamster, wearing a multicolored feather headdress, stood with a sharp spear held tightly in his paw, a lone red feather tied near the point. His bright green eyes glowed in the light of fading day, and the orange-gold hue also accentuated the lines of red war-paint that were drawn downward under each eye, a tribute to his Hamstala heritage. A weary smile dressed his face as he looked out into the dark, surrounding woods, watching for any sign of danger, though the trees were solemn and silent.

"Things really aren't the same around here anymore, brother..." The hamster spoke, though there was no other ham around to hear him. He let out a deep sigh, and scratched idly behind his left ear, continuing, even if no one appeared to be listening, "Not only is the council fighting, but the Hamaranian Tribe to the East and the Hamoux Tribe across the river are threatening war on us...claiming we have been stealing supplies, and even hamnapping members of their village! Crazy, isn't it?"

There was no response, save for the whisper of the wind as it fluttered by him, tickling a few of the feathers in his headdress so they caught the light and shone like sunbeams. Stifling a yawn, the brown-furred hamster turned his friendly, but tired green eyes to the gap in the canopies above, where he could see that now, the sky had gone from golden-orange to pinkish grey, and he could even pick out several of the stars, ready to decorate the inky blackness of night. The beauty of the Hamalonian Forest never ceased to amaze him...and, despite the inner-problems plaguing the Hamstala Tribe, he knew that he could always rely on the forest itself, as well as the wondrous sky, for some constancy and peace.

"I'm telling you, brother..." The hamster went on, keeping the spear firmly beside him, even if there wasn't an enemy in sight. "....You would be quite sad, to see what things have come to."

"Alvar!"

The brown-furred hamster, startled by the sound of a voice behind him, whirled around to see who had called. Running up the dirt path was another hamster, slightly younger, his fur mostly white, save for a few splashes of sepia-brown; notably, his ears, two wing-like markings on his back, and a marking that looked like an 'X' running across his face. A forest-green headband was tied around his head, into which a small hawk feather had been tucked. His eyes were a shade of grey-green; and currently shining with a sense of urgency and panic that he was trying to suppress as he ran.

"Alvar! Alvar! I just spoke with Ravyn - !"

Out of breath, the hamster skidded to a stop beside the brown-furred hamster, Alvar. Green-grey eyes frenzied and wild heavily and stammering, trying to get out some coherent sentences, though all he could do was gasp and wheeze, the hawk feather in his headband drooping slightly. He was either suffering from a panic attack, or had just heard earth-shattering news of some kind - Alvar wasn't quite sure, but he hoped for the former.

"Hawke!" Alvar exclaimed, planting his paws on the other ham's shoulders, trying to calm him down. "Settle down! You'll disturb the rest of the village, and they'll think that something is wrong! Everyone is on edge enough as it is, these days, we don't need any more cause for worry!"

The other hamster, Hawke, took a moment to calm himself, closing his greenish eyes and drawing in deep, soothing breaths, Alvar releasing his shoulders as he gradually reverted from his panicked state. Once his muscles had unclenched and his breathing had resumed its normal pace, Hawke looked with somber eyes to a concerned Alvar and spoke clearly, now able to form a decipherable sentence,

"I just spoke with Ravyn...she was sitting in the gardens with that doofus Florian when she got another one of her 'feelings'...only this time, she says it's serious."

Alvar's bright green eyes widened, and he felt his paw involuntarily tighten around his spear, as if to protect it. "Serious...how?" He asked, though the grim look on Hawke's face was enough of an answer for him, and it made a chill slither up his spine.

A breeze ruffled by them, caressing their fur and gently tousling the feathers of Alvar's headdress and Hawke's lone hawk feather, as both males turned to stare out uncertainly into the dark mouth of the mysterious Hamalonian Forest just beyond the entrance gates. Hawke's green-grey eyes narrowed, his mouth pursed into a straight firm line. Alvar gulped, glancing at Hawke out of the corner of his eye and suggesting weakly, as if he didn't even believe the possibility,

"...Maybe she was mistaken?"

Hawe shook his head. "You know as well as I do, Alvar, that Ravyn is never mistaken. She is the closest thing we have to a priestess, and her spiritual sense is frighteningly accurate, considering the time we live in. Her sight is in synch with the other world. And she senses that something....something big....is about to emerge."

Alvar felt the fur on the back of his neck stand on end as the weight of Hawke's words fell on his shoulders. "...Emerge?" He questioned quietly, trying to shake his nerves by glaring out into the blackness of the trees, as if to frighten away any invisible foes or monsters that may have been lurking, waiting to strike. "What do you mean....emerge?"

Hawke looked to his hammo with a mixture of worry and solemnity in his green-grey eyes, and Alvar felt his stomach drop, and an immense cloud of dread washed over the two, seeping into their spirits and dampening whatever cheer they had previously felt. Again they turned their eyes to the darkness of the trees that surrounded their cozy village, their tall trunks and winding branches no longer resembling watchful guardians, but, instead, looming creatures of a more sinister nature, as the stars twinkled down at them teasingly, like they knew some fearful secret, kept hidden in the now dark-grey sky that hung overhead. Hawke's sigh escaped his lips like a dying firefly, devoid of all hope.

"....I think you know what I mean."


It was the pinnacle of nightfall when she began the ceremony.

The abandoned temple was large - enough to hold the nine supporters she had left, anyway - and time had not treated the sacred ground well as it had become just another part of the forest. Velvet moss and dark ivy clung to the cracked walls and dislodged stones littered around the vast room, the once brightly-painted symbols on the floor faded and dulled with years of neglect. Withered leaves decorated the ground, and a fine layer of dust had settled over every possible surface, giving the once vibrant temple a grey, dismal appearance. She looked around the massive room with eager blue eyes, her pawsteps echoing as she tread onto ground that had not been touched for generations, the dense air thick with memories of hamsters she had never known. Her hooded black cape left a trail through the dust, showing where she had disturbed the timelessness. The silver moon filtered light in through several small windows carved out of the yellow stone, brightening the place a bit, but it still did little to give the place a sense of life it hadn't known for countless years.

She sniffed the air, swept her blue eyes around the room as if to survey it, and smirked, holding the ancient, weathered book in one paw at her side. The place, aged and beautiful, was perfect, in her opinion.

"This will do nicely..." She murmured, brushing a stray strand of dark grey fur from her vivid blue eyes. "In fact...I couldn't have asked for a better base of operations...." Seemingly satisfied, she placed the book carefully on the dusty floor, and as she leaned over, the moonlight struck the locket that hung around her neck, and made it shine like a beacon through the darkness, a solitary symbol of life in the empty, grey temple. Flashes of gold swirled throughout the room as the locket turned, caught in the moonlight, like a butterfly in a net of gold.

Turning around toward the open door that allowed only minimal light in, she yelled, "Maka! Come here! It's time!"

There was a brief silence, but she waited, flipping through the dusty, yellowed pages of the book until she found the right one, patting it with her paw as a small smile spread across her face. Absently, she raised her other paw to gently touch the golden locket encircling her neck, and a distant cloudiness came across her face, something like anticipation mixed with affection swirling in the cerulean depths of her eyes.

"Soon....soon, my greatest wish will be realized..." She murmured softly, the harsh expression of her face fading momentarily, almost looking as if she were a completely different hamster.

The nostalgic look vanished in an instant, however, when the sound of pawsteps was heard, and she whirled around to see a meek, timid-looking hamster stepping shakily into the temple, dark eyes flitting anxiously around the dust-kissed, ominous room. A thin black cloak adorned the hamster's shoulders, his fur a ruddy-brown in color, and he seemed reluctant to leave the moonlight behind in favor of the consuming shadows that engulfed the temple.

"Y-uh...y-yes? T-time for what, mistress?" The timid hamster asked, staying a good two feet away from the female at all times, as she turned away from him, and her blue eyes continued to scan eagerly over the book under her paws. Gulping, the hamster, Maka, crept two steps forward, his shoulders trembling. "...I...I have come as you called...."

"I can see that..." She replied dryly, rolling her eyes and turning to face him again, eyes steely and arms crossed over her chest. She stood defiantly, staring at the cowering Maka, and he couldn't bring himself to make eye contact as he kept his dark brown eyes focused on the stone floor beneath his shuddering feet. Neither said a word, and it appeared as if the long silence, chilling in the atmosphere of the hollow temple, was taking a toll on Maka's nerves, whereas the female appeared completely unaffected, cool and composed.

At last, she spoke up, making Maka jump. She had begun to pace, her pawsteps light as she walked back and forth, in front of the open book resting on the floor. "When you joined me, Maka...you told me that it was because you wanted to see your wife again, correct?" She asked airily, as if keeping a casual conversation.

Maka felt a chill slither up his spine, but a few of his nerves fled him. Swallowing his courage, the mud-furred hamster answered, straightening from his cowering position and managing some mild control over his stutter, "Yes, mistress....I joined you because I felt that you could help me, when no one else could...I just want to be with my wife again...and I've been one of your most loyal followers, all this time..." He added in, as if to remind her of his support.

She grinned, and let out a soft, feathery chuckle. Her eyes softened somewhat, like a glacier being warmed by the sun, and a small smile dressed her lips, as if she were trying to lighten the mood. "And your desire to be reunited with your wife is what has kept you with me all this time, Maka? Am I correct?"

"Yes, mistress..." Maka replied, brow furrowing slightly, as if he were confused. Nervously, he fiddled with his thin black cloak, which had begun to fray at the ends, a result of dragging it across the jungle floor each day. "I....I loved her so very much, and I...you said that you'd...be able to bring her back to me. It's...it's all I want, mistress."

The room fell silent. Maka, frightened that he had offended her, quickly added, "It was just...such a kind promise for you to make. And I wholeheartedly believe in what...what you've been trying to do, mistress..." He babbled, dark eyes wide, as the female turned her back on him, her manner not betraying her emotions.

Once he had finished rambling, a thick silence settled. Beads of sweat broke out in the fur on Maka's forehead. He had been following her for years, believing in what she claimed could become the new reality...but he was never at ease in her presence. She emanated an air of coldness - a distant, icy demeanor that made her seem untouchable, and she spoke little to her followers, only revealing what she had to in order to keep them with her. And her eyes, such a rich, but glacial blue, like two piercing pieces of sky - he could never bring himself to look into them, nor could he ever avoid being terrified by the smirk she wore, whenever she wasn't deep in thought - a secretive smirk, as though she knew that a certain horror was about to come, and she was the only one who knew when it would strike.

She was a leader with a motive that drove her relentlessly toward her goal, though no one knew the specific details of the motive. All they knew was that she was willing to do anything to achieve what she was striving for, and that was what made her the perfect, if frightening, leader. Though it was somewhat terrifying - it was never known what she was thinking, for the complexities of her mind were a mystery, but they were compelled to follow her all the same.

As the silence drew on, the hamgirl gradually crossed the vast room, keeping her back to Maka all the while. He watched, unnerved, as she stood before the far wall, at a once brilliant painting of something - he couldn't decipher what it was, as it was covered with a sheet of dark, clinging ivy. He was about to speak, to say anything to fill the silence, when she reached forward and tore down the ivy, with one fluid motion, so the grasping vines fell to the floor like shriveled snakes, revealing the faded picture that lay beneath.

The painting on the wall, centuries old, was of a Hamstala Priest - likely the Head Priest, judging by the traditional feather-necklace he wore, the staff in his paws, and the two feathers, one black and one white, tucked behind his ears - looking like he was ready to perform an ancient ceremony. For a priest he was moderately young, though a few wrinkles creased his face, a result of stressful years of practicing in the temple. The fur on his face was dark grey, the remaining fur a light, soft tan color. His robes were a rich, lustrous crimson, extravagant for the times, and he held the very same book that currently lay on the temple floor in his weathered paws. The expression on his face was one of stern concentration. His eyes, however, were a striking green, as bright as lush grass, and despite the fact that it was merely a portrait, the eyes of the hamster seemed to be alive, and burning with power.

Maka felt his heart quicken. "M-mistress?" He questioned meekly, unsure why she was showing him this picture of a dead priest - the tribe he had come from, the Hamstala, had given up using priests and temples ages before, hence the poor state of their current location...

She did not immediately answer his call. Briskly, she turned from the portrait, still not looking up at Maka, and returned to the book in the center of the floor. Brushing a paw against the page, she at last spoke again, though she deviated from the original topic,

"...Most hamsters believe that, when they die, that is the end. They journey to the spirit realm, are reunited with those that they've lost over the years, and never return to the world of the living to be with those they left behind. Would you agree with this, Maka?"

Maka gulped, unsure of what she was trying to say. "Well...y-yes, mistress, that sounds like a good assumption..."

She continued, not caring whether he had finished speaking or not, "However, there was one nameless High Priest, many generations ago, who died an angry, bitter death at the paws of his followers, who rebelled against his beliefs. He believed that in order to preserve the traditions of the Hamstala tribe for eternity, it was necessary to create a door to the spirit realm from the world of the living, to connect the two, and keep the past forever entwined with the present. However, great measures would need to be taken for such a thing to occur - measures that were never recorded, so we can only speculate what they were - and he was killed for heresy, as it was a crime to think that both worlds could ever be united in such a way..."

The hood of her cloak hid her face, but Maka could tell that the hamgirl was smirking. She continued, unwavering, "But the High Priest knew that his doom was near, and predicted that someday, he would return to make what he desired, a permanent door from the spirit realm to the world of the living, come into fruition. The priest's soul, as with other mystics, was tied deeply to the spirit realm, and every now and then he spoke of flashes, or visions, where he could see snippets of what was to come in his mind's eye...and before he was beheaded, the High Priest claimed, 'I will be back, and when that happens, neither bow, nor spear, nor club will keep the inevitable at bay, and I will have my revenge.'"

Maka felt a chill slither up his spine. He didn't like the sound of this High Priest, and was rather glad that the hamster was dead, though he found it quite difficult to remain calm under the piercing green eyes of the ham painted on the wall, now. However, what the hamgirl said next made his blood run cold, mottled with fear, and his eyes widened to the size of saucers,

"Many hams considered it an empty threat, but his return is not out of the question. Because he was already deeply tied to the spirit realm prior to his death, he has powers that normal hamsters can only dream of. And since he saw the end of his life coming, he prepared this book for that moment, in the future, when he would make his triumphant return..." She stroked the pages of the book with the back of her paw. "After his death, this book was confiscated and kept under lock and key for centuries, guarded by the Chief of the Hamstala Tribe, and then the next, in succession. But now...it has fallen into useful paws."

Maka, stiff with fear, blurted out in horror, as the weight of her words collapsed on him, "You're not...you're not thinking of trying to bring this High Priest back, are you, mistress!?"

She chuckled dryly, confirming his fears. "You sound surprised..." She remarked, offhand, unaffected by his incredulity.

"He...he sounds like a terrible fellow, though..." Maka finished weakly, realizing that when arguing with the leader, especially one like her, he didn't have a paw to stand on.

Unruffled, she explained, "Weren't you listening, Maka? A door from the spirit realm to the world of the living - that is what the High Priest, the one in that painting - " She pointed at the painting on the far wall, which gazed sternly back at her. " - desired. And that's precisely what we desire. Mystics have ceased to exist in our bloodlines, and links to the spirit world are few and far between in present times. Anyone can read out of a book and make a few simple things happen, as I've done in the past, but that is all child's play. Bringing back such a strong link may be exactly what we need to achieve all that we've longed for - and what we need to end our suffering."

Maka saw her point instantly, but couldn't help the chill that tickled his shoulders. It sounded so perfect, but he still felt a nagging feeling, in the back of his head, that there was something that wasn't quite adding up, or something that he was missing...something between the calculating blue of his mistress's eyes, and the sharp green of the painting of the dead High Priest's. And he didn't like it, whatever it was, even though she made it sound as if everything was adding up to equal the ends that he had longed for....a reunion with his wife....she had died so young, and all he wanted was to see her again, and hold her paw...

"Now then, shall we begin?"

Her words brought Maka crashing back to reality. "B-begin? He spluttered, bewilderedly still trying to shake the nervous feeling that bit at his mind. "Begin what, mistress?"

Again, she rolled her vibrant eyes. "The ceremony..." she replied bluntly, as she hovered over the open book at her feet and scanned the pages with zealous eyes. "To bring about a new beginning."

Instantly, it was as if there was another presence in the room, watchful, but silent, lurking in the darkest corners of the shadows. The jungle outside the windows fell eerily quiet, in anticipation of something that was to come - not even an owl's hoot could be heard. Maka felt all of his fear center in his back, and he was unable to move - he was too scared, too petrified to do anything but stare as the hamgirl closed her eyes, concentrating deeply, and gently caressed the locket round her neck again, as Maka often saw her do with no explanation. The air seemed to be buzzing faintly, as some kind of prelude for a much larger presentation.

"Maka...bring me the subject."

Maka, frozen solid, was barely able to stammer, his muddy fur drenched with sweat. "W-what? W-why do you need me to bring a s-s-subject, mistress?"

With sharp, frosted blue eyes, she shifted her gaze to her loyal follower and remarked, keeping her voice even, despite the biting words she used, "Why? Because if you don't, then you'll never see your precious wife again and it will be all your fault. And I don't think you want that, Maka. I really don't think you want that."

The nervous hamster considered that, and, despite the fears jumbled in his stomach like a bird caught in a thornbush, he tentatively took a pawstep toward the door. His pawsteps light and shaky, he gradually made his way, reminding himself, whenever he felt like turning back, that he was doing all of this for his wife - all he wanted was to be reunited with her, even if it did mean resurrecting a terrifying High Priest that had been dead for hundreds of years...all of it would be worth it, when he felt her warm paws on his face again. As he walked, Maka managed to smile a small, but firm smile, and his eyes began to regain some shine.

"For Manea..." He whispered his beloved wife's name as he broke into a run, and bolted out the door of the temple, scurrying down the eroded stairs, and then plunging into the underbrush of the dense forest.

He returned a few moments later, carrying a hamster with cream-colored fur, teenage by the look of him, whose limbs were bound by strong rope and tape had been slapped across his mouth, showing that he was most likely a captive. However, there was little need for the binding, as the hamster appeared to be unconscious, lost in some deep slumber, and Maka carried him over his shoulder like a sack of sunflower seeds. The cream-furred ham had a dark blue bandana tied around his wrist; signifying that he was a member of the Hamoux Tribe, from the eastern banks of the Hamaryx River. The hamgirl, deep in concentration at this point, managed to order sternly, "Place him in the center of the temple, Maka."

Maka listened. He trotted to the center of the temple, where there was a circular carving in the floor, and he set the sleeping subject down on the floor, where he rested like a limp, lifeless rag doll. Deed done, Maka trotted toward the wall, taking refuge near the entrance of the temple. The furs on the back of his neck were standing at attention, as he could sense something ominous - and almost wicked - stirring in the calm night air.

The hamgirl, positioned about a foot away from the unconscious subject with her book, smirked under her hood, and set to work. The unknowing pawn was in play...all that was left was to revive the king, so that her dreams would be realized. She did so hate getting her paws dirty, when there was normally another ham she could convince to act for her...but some things, she felt, were best left in her own paws, lest her plan be foiled...and her plan could not be foiled, not even in the slightest.

Maka watched as the circular carvings on the floor, which branched out like ripples from the center where the subject sat in the center of the temple, began to glow a bright, ethereal blue, as the hamgirl, piercing eyes glued to the book beneath her paws, began to chant some words from the ancient Hamstala language, that had long since been eradicated. Obviously, she had begun the ceremony - keeping in perfect concentration and chanting in perfect rhythm, never missing a beat or a word. The room began to pulse with the floaty blue light, and soon enough, the glow had reached the painting of the High Priest on the wall, until it shone like a beacon, almost alive, as if it were trying to burst free from the wall. Maka felt a sense of both fear and awe overtake him...he could feel a powerful spirit energy lingering in the air, sparking on the ends of his fur like cerulean electricity, and he felt a wind, kicked up out of nowhere, swirling around him in some kind of miniature cyclone, making his cloak fly up over his head. The subject's fur was being ruffled and tousled, but he remained comatose. Something, something powerful had been set in motion - Maka had never been a part of such a ceremony before, and he could feel an odd, prickling sensation all over his body, as if some of his fur had been replaced with needles.

The subject, unaware of what was being done, began to glow with brilliant blue light. The hamgirl forged ahead, as if the hamster in the center of the temple was an object, rather than a living thing.

Excited and terrified both at what he was witnessing, Maka listened as the hamgirl continued to chant the ancient language. Over the now roaring wind, he was only able to catch some of what she was saying, and could only understand a few words here and there...the words he did recognize were still fairly commonplace, even though the language was dead...such as the word for 'death' and the word for 'spirit' and 'light'...

...and 'sacrifice.'

All at once, the ceremony seemed to halt. Maka, for a split-second while the ceremony had paused, looked wide-eyed to his mistress, and the cunning smirk on her face and the distant coldness of her eyes enough to make him realize the worst.

His eyes widened and his jaw fell open. The subject's eyes were still closed, and he would not be able to see his fate coming. Her voice clear and unmoved, the hamgirl spoke.

"I hope the spirit world treats you well."

As soon as the words left her mouth, a beam of brilliant, surging blue light shot up from the center of the temple floor, beneath the subject, and the unknowing hamster was engulfed in the current - a sacrifice, obliterated from the world of the living in less than a second. The beam of light hurtled up through the hole in the ceiling, where it strived to touch the moon, and filled the room with a buzzing energy, and waves of light radiated from the beam, bringing along sharp gusts of wind that blew the hood from her ears and brushed away all the dust, but could not wipe away her smirk. Maka, petrified with fear, staggered backwards and collapsed on the floor, his eyes wide and face frozen into an expression of pure terror. The shock of what had happened overwhelmed him, and he slumped against stone, in a dead faint.

She watched, book now held at her side, as a figure emerged from the pillar of blue light, where the subject had been. His robes were still a vibrant crimson, his dark-grey and tan fur sleek, the feather-necklace, the staff in his paws, and the two feathers, black and white, tucked behind each ear, were all unchanged - but it was the distinct frigidity of his green eyes that were the most unnerving, and the most like the painting that depicted his visage. It was like countless years had never passed, and a portal in time had been opened in the center of the floor. The only indication that he was not a normal ham was the fact that, when regarded closely, he was somewhat translucent, and he floated at least a centimeter off the ground, gliding rather than walking. Otherwise, he was an ageless photograph - the very picture of the forgotten past of the Hamstala Tribe. There was an intimidating wave of spiritual power emanating from the ghostly figure.

The High Priest, as he had predicted upon his death hundreds of years before, had made his triumphant return.

He drifted forward, as if carried by a breeze, and once he had emerged fully from the bright blue beam of light, it evaporated, and all effects of the ceremony stopped, as if he had willed it to do so. The temple became still once more, though the air still hummed with a silent energy of a supernatural nature. Luckily, the High Priest seemed to have taken no notice of Maka, who lay, completely unconscious, near the entrance of the temple. The hamgirl, on the other paw, faced the hazy newcomer defiantly. Her striking blue met his wizened green, and a spark was lit between their gazes.

"Who is the one that has called me forth from my eternal rest?"

At last, the shadowy figure of the High Priest spoke. His tone was clipped and commanding, deep and masculine, and seemed to, in this spirit-like state, contain the faint trace of an echo, even when speaking at a normal level.

Where normal hamsters would have wavered, or run for their lives, the hamgirl instead stepped forward boldly, unafraid of the spirit she had conjured, and replied in a cool, collected tone that matched his in briskness, her blue eyes never leaving his green ones,

"It was I."

He regarded her with his chin tilted up, looking down on her as he floated idly just a bit from the floor of the temple. He examined her, trying to gauge her character by reading her expression, but he remained silent, his face unchanged. After a long pause, the resurrected priest continued, his tone taking on a bit of a haughty flair, "And why have you summoned me, mortal?"

She smirked at his haughtiness. He would learn, soon enough, who was in charge here. "Because you and I share the same ideas. We were merely separated by a few hundred years."

That seemed to capture the High Priests's attention. After a moment, during which surprise flitted briefly across his face, the entity scoffed, pulling his teeth back in what appeared to be a menacing snarl, though, as the moonlight danced through his translucent figure, it was hard to tell exactly what expression he wore, "You, a pathetic mortal, share in my ideals? One who bears no connection to the spirit realm cannot possibly understand what I so desired to accomplish....what I was killed for! The truth my foolish followers failed to see!"

She remained unaffected by his tone. Crossing her paws over her chest, book held limply in one paw, she remarked airily, keeping her voice level and eyes unchanging, "And why would I bring you back from the spirit world if I didn't share in your beliefs? My motive is not the same...but the ends that we wish to create are identical. The way I see it, we both stand to profit from my summoning you."

The High Priest took a moment to consider that. He had to admit...what she said made sense. But he hadn't been waiting in the spirit realm just to be summoned several years later on a whim. After a moment, his green eyes narrowed into two serpent-like slits, and he asked, "How long have I been slumbering?"

"806 years, approximately."

"Are the Hamstala still alive?"

"Indeed, but vastly different from how they were in your times. I myself deserted them."

"Different how?"

"They are smaller - several hamsters left the Hamalonian Forest in search of a domesticated lifestyle. Your temple was abandoned shortly after you were killed, and gradually, the Hamstala stopped electing Priests, and while they continue to believe in the powers of the spirit-realm, they have been modernizing themselves for decades..."

"Modernizing?" The High Priest asked abruptly, nostrils flaring, clearly angered by her use of that word. His paw tightened around his staff, like he wished to strike an unseen foe.

Noting his sudden change in demeanor, the hamgirl realized exactly what she needed to do to convince him of her efforts - and it would be all too easy. A slight apologetic edge to her tone, as if to show she was in disagreement with what she described, the hamgirl went on, stepping forward slightly, closing the gap between herself and the resurrected mystic, "Yes. The ancient ways are being tossed aside in favor of newer, more modern ways of life...and the Hamstala are becoming more and more like those hamsters who live beyond the woods. Domesticated hamsters. You wouldn't even recognize the tribe any longer."

The High Priest scoffed, eyes ablaze with rage. "Imbeciles. Letting such drivel fill their heads...shying away from the traditions that made our tribe strong. I saw this coming years ago; a weakness converging on our kind, like some plague. No matter...they will one day be punished for this modernization...for forgetting their heritage and neglecting the ancient ways! They will suffer, as I have suffered! They will see the fatal error of their choices!" His voice was jam-packed with venomous vehemence.

The hamgirl smiled. He had played himself right into her paw.

"And that is what I intend to do."

His green eyes flickered to her, gleaming with a trace of curiosity. He was unable to detect her personality from her expression, as it was impossible to read, but she, and whatever proposition she was about to lay out for him, intrigued him nonetheless. With eyes narrowed, he drawled,

"...Go on."

She didn't hesitate, for she knew precisely want she wanted, and even if she preferred to work more or less alone, she knew that this had to be done. "Regardless of our motives, we both want a permanent door to the spirit realm opened. You want it to bring the spirit world and the world of the living back into perfect harmony, and I want it for...my own reasons. And I called you here with the intention of proposing a partnership - " She held the book she had used to perform the ceremony firmly in her two paws, and his eyes flickered with recognition.

" - since our goal is the same, why don't you and I work together, to open the door to the spirit realm for good?"

The High Priest raised his brows, arms crossed over his chest. Critically, he continued to examine the mortal hamgirl that had conjured him. She had such an ordinary appearance, with dark grey fur on her body and face, the back of her ears and head more dull green in color, a golden locket round her neck, and piercing blue eyes that cut through the night like a lamp through fog. Normally, he would have considered such a proposition ridiculous...but there was something about the tone to her voice, and the repressed anger he could sense about her, that seemed to show how truly dead serious she was. She was dedicated to this cause - the cause he had become a martyr for, and, starting tonight, could begin fighting for again. Besides, in his wretched spirit-state, there was little he could do....his ties to the spirit realm only went so deep, and without help, opening that door would be an uphill battle.

A smirk spread across the face of the High Priest. "Your suggestion intrigues me, mortal. Perhaps with two hamsters working toward this end our goal will be realized much faster. Very well...I agree to your partnership. Now, if you'll kindly hand me back my book..."

He reached for the book clasped in her paw, but she danced nimbly away from his reach, a smirk playing on her face. There was no way she was going to let him reclaim his book - that would leave far too much power in his paws, and she knew the plan would succeed if she was at the helm, rather than this disgruntled soul. "Not so fast," She chided, taking the spirit by surprise. "There are terms to this partnership...I keep the book. You do as I say. Do we have a deal?"

Indignantly, the High Priest scoffed at her gall. The book was his, every spell and ritual written by his paw, and there was no way he could complete his goal without it! He eyed the hamgirl again, but saw that she was holding the book idly at her side, almost carelessly, like she didn't fear him taking it from her. He scowled, seeing the arrogant gleam in her eyes. She didn't fear him attempting to steal it from her...and he had a hunch it was because she would destroy it before he, or anyone, could. And as long as she had that book, she had power over him, as it was, essentially, the source of his strength and he didn't know what she would do to it if he angered her...she was perfectly capable of destroying it, as well as him, as he was helpless in a world where he didn't completely belong, and he had been summoned by her paw. Mentally, he cursed her. She knew he would be forced into their agreement from the start. Her mind was far more complex than he had thought at first sight...she wanted the power, and would do anything to have it.

He resented the fact that he was, essentially, consigned to be a subordinate...to a mortal, no less. But so long as they desired a common goal, and were working toward that end, he supposed that he could resign himself to taking orders from this hamgirl...at least until he had garnered some of his old strength back...the trip from the spirit realm had worn him out.

There was one last question to be asked.

"What is your name, mortal?"

She arched a brow. "Tell me yours first."

He quirked a brow, dislike and respect for the hamgirl shooting through him simultaneously. With a brittle edge to his voice, as, no matter whether or not she held his book, he resented being spoken to like a child,

"...Sage."

The hamgirl smirked once more. She could now feel it in the calm night air all around her; how close she was to realizing her dream. The book, the High Priest, and the locket around her neck were the keys to unlocking the permanent door to the spirit realm, and all she needed to do was line up the pieces and find how they all fit together.

"And yours?" Sage prompted again, impatiently.

Her cold, expressionless demeanor overtaking her once more, she replied stonily,

"...Mezra."

Sage allowed a coy smirk to claim his somewhat translucent features. "We'll need a few more paws to aid this plan, you know. This is the work of spiritual hams, not mere mortals."

"I have followers," Mezra remarked, offhand. "And there are no more spiritual hams left, other than some young hamster from the Hamstala Tribe who claims to have a spiritual sense of some kind. No one else will help; it is a futile search."

Sage's green eyes glittered malevolently. "Not if you recruit from the other side."

Mezra narrowed her eyes, but before she could speak Sage had turned to face the far wall, the one opposite his own portrait, and he waved his staff gracefully, in an arc-like motion, through the air. Mezra refrained from reacting as she watched part of the yellowed rock of the wall fall away completely, as if it had been torn down by some monstrous set of claws, and another painting, faded and smeared beyond recognition, was shown, having been hidden for centuries. Sage then began to chant the ancient language of the Hamstala, and Mezra felt the spirit energy in the room skyrocket to unbelievable proportions, a hazy blue light blinding her vision for a moment, a gust of wind kicking up a cloud that made her let out a few coughs. Once the dust had cleared and the ethereal light had faded, Mezra carefully opened her glacial blue eyes and couldn't help but grin when she saw what it was that Sage, smiling smugly at his accomplishment, had called forth from the depths of the forgotten world of legends and myth. Perhaps working with Sage would be more beneficial to her than she previously thought...

Something wicked truly had come.

The creature let out a feral scream that rang out across the entire Hamalonian Forest, ripping through the night like a screeching bell of death.

And it was music to Mezra's ears.


CFB: Only one chapter in, and there's already a death! The toll will gradually rise, haha. I'm not being so nice this time around! GRRR! No more nice CFB....

The character of Mezra and the character of Alvar were created by Theta Jones. I can't wait for you guys to see more of them!

Next time: Will now, and for every chapter here on out, be in the form of a quote from the upcoming chapter! Here's what's coming next...

"Still, I don't like the idea of you and he going off alone somewhere. You sure you don't want me to chaperone?"

Read and review, kindly. Let me and Theta know what you thought! It's only a taste of what's to come, and I hope you enjoyed the first look at Forests of Eternity.

And on a sidenote...I'm pretty much swamped with school, work, college applications, volunteering, and friends, so I'm going to aim for bi-weekly updates, and I'm also started much farther behind than I usually do. I'll do my very best to stay on track, so there aren't long gaps between updates. :) Thanks for reading!