Who are you?
I am the storyteller. I’m the friend, the neighbor, the stranger on the street. I’m the one who watches, contemplates and shares.
But, who are you?
Soon, he remembered.
Soon we will see his face!
His stomach leaped.
How many times had Shea heard his father speak those words?
He had walked this scorched stone path with his arms tied over his chest, enduring the parched winds, while staring at the back of his father’s robe since he was nine.
That is when his father had discovered his gift for discerning truth.
Then Shea’s father, as the High Elder, began instructing, requiring him to follow and observe.
Having grown, his eyes were now fixed upon his father’s hooded head.
Just as the High Elder predicted, the people, and the Council had spoken…and his only son took the life pledge of service, joining him upon the Iskäri High Council.
Being only sixteen, Shea felt honored to be the youngest elder in the Council's history. Days later, Shea privately exulted as he received the crucial calling as the one who would confirm the royal bloodline.
Shea was discovered to be the only one who held the ability to look into the past and future of a life and discover the truth of ones purpose.
An exceedingly rare gift.
The bloodline would be presented to Shea, the birthright confirmed…and then the Ithäri would be bestowed upon the rightful heir.
Shea wondered as he trailed behind his father…how many generations of High Elders had walked this path of sagging steps, each hoping they might be the one to see the Hero face to face?
Habitually ignoring the growing din, Shea allowed the rhythmic scratching of his father’s sandals to lull him as he scuffled along. Childhood memories he enjoyed of Dark Lord Mahan and the Hero tumbled from one to another in his mind.
“Naughty children are sent to Unrest and given to Mahan,” his mother would tell him, yet the gentle threatenings tugged at the corner of his lips. All mothers warned their children of such things, encouraging obedience to the Iskari way of life.
But Shea spent most of his childhood under the direct tutelage of his father.
He cherished the long evenings spent wrapped in thick arms, on his father’s lap, in front of a popping fire, while the scratchy fibers of his father’s robe made his cheek itch. Shea brought his hand to his face while the encompassing adoration filled his chest again and he embraced echoes of whispered tales about the heroes past and the one hero yet to come.
He knew now, as he always had.
This time Mahan will fall.
…and he would help make it happen!
Though childhood traditions had created an unfaltering bond between father and son, Shea and his father spent much time in silence these days. The inexplicable desire to find acceptance burdened Shea’s every thought.
It was time for the Hero to be retrieved.
For hundreds of years the Iskari High Council watched for signs of movement. Shadows, reaching across the seas, encroaching upon the peaceful inhabitants of this world. Signs of armies marching, the touch of dark magic upon the land.
Signs of the enemy seeking their master once more.
Because of this, Shea’s father dared suggest they should act against tradition and reason!
Often Council meetings adjourned following raised voices and conflicting views, without resolution.
“We are being watched!” the High Elder would argue. “The Hero must be gathered and empowered in secret…”
After all these years and the stories of his own purpose, Shea felt…cheated.
Indignation threatened to suffocate him.
He clenched his teeth; He thinks I’m still a child.
It convinced Shea that he was being robbed of his greatest privilege and purpose, by his own father.
He doesn’t trust me.
The uncaring wind whipped around him, wailing in vain as it snapped the hood from Shea’s naked skull. Blinking his watering eyes, he lowered his chaffed head and pushed on up the long callous path to the edge of the Pinnacle.
The place of seeing.
Mimicking his father, Shea stood erect on the ridge that thirstily lunged out over the boundless chasm.
Just beyond his outstretched fingertips the chittering grains of sand whizzed and whirled and echoed from every direction, like swarms of angry hornets…yet only the scathing wind assaulted him.
This was only the beginning power of the Pinnacle.
The violent ballet beckoned as Shea peered over the ridge, always curious to catch a glance of the seemingly endless gorge…where millions of worlds dwelt together within the raging storm.
It was here that, those who had the eyes to see and the ability to command, could look upon the inhabitants of distant lands.
It was here that the High Elder collected his knowledge.
Knowledge only he could both witness and understand.
Shea stood back as the High Elder drew in a deep breath through wide nostrils, closing his wrinkled eyes.
The sand before them pulsed, gathering in trails as if magnets attracting sand were dancing in the chaos. Pouring in from the storm, the sand quickly organized itself into many conversing figures.
Once, Shea had questioned his father about why they came.
He answered, “There is one in the sand with a rosy aura. This is the life and movements of a young man, placed upon a strange world, Earth, to hide him.
He is the one I observe.
“It is my calling to protect him.”
Shea pondered those words. Protect him? Is this what all this plotting and rebellion is about? Years of bedtime tales and dreams suddenly took root and sprang to life in his young soul.
Shea leaned forward, squinting in vain to peer deeper into the magic, hoping to see the boy’s face—to look in his eyes.
It never happened.
Not growing up…and not now.
Generations of High Elders had been watching over the young Hero since he was a helpless infant, placed in the arms of adoring parents who would never know where he really came from. Elders who continued waiting for the day when the Hero would awaken Ithäri, the Gem of the Gods.
It was time.
The young man was needed now, to come home, reclaim his birthright…and save his people.
Even now, for the hundredth time, Shea’s shoulders sagged, disappointed. He did not have his father’s gift and could not even see the coloring his father spoke of.
Soon, Shea sighed.
While the High Elder was engrossed, something peculiar caught Shea’s eye.
Stray grains of sand, slithered past his feet. His eyes drifted over the trail…sands tumbling up the path, unaffected by the wind.
That is…not right.
A piercing apprehension seized his gut.
An evil spirit?
Perplexed, he watched the slithering strands accumulate into a churning mound behind his father.
He had been warned years ago not to break the concentration of one calling forth the sands. To do so could risk the mind…and life of the summoner.
His mind went blank.
The sands tumbled forward, seeping into a dark, blood-red mud, gathering and molding, taking shape.
Slowly rising from the ground, stretched the form of a giant asp, its tongue flickering to taste the wind.
I-it can’t be, Shea blinked, the Pinnacle is protected. Only those who command the sands may pass…or allow passage!
Only when it slithered around the body his father, encompassing the High Elder just beyond touch…rising to meet the sands of Earth…did Shea find his voice.
“Father!” he warned, yelling above the din.
Startled, the High Elder’s narrowed eyes flickered open and darted questioningly to his son and back to the sand.
Calmly stretching out his hand, he quickly waved through the scene before him, severing the link to Earth. In an instant, the figures collapsed into swirling streams, launching themselves back into the chasm once more.
All except for the asp.
Unaffected, it twisted and turned, gripping the old man’s chest.
Shea gagged at the metallic odor of blood steaming from the sand, smothering the air while the snake probed, flicking its tongue around his father’s face and brow.
Waiting desperately, Shea held his breath. Why is he not reacting?
The High Elder concentrated with a lifetime of practiced skill to clear all thoughts from his consciousness.
He knew why the creature had come.
The snake lingered, tasting the air, waiting for some weakness to snatch—something that would betray the Hero’s location.
The moments stretched past.
Exploding with repressed uncertainty, Shea thrust his hands through the sleeves of his robe and commanded, “Ish-Krothi Umbällä!”
Fingers gripping an invisible sphere now stretched and forcefully hurled the collected energy at his father.
The asp sparked, bursting into flames as the impact knocked it to the edge of the Pinnacle. Thousands of scales fell tinkling to the unyielding stone as red glass.
“No!” cried the High Elder, eyes narrowing and face flushed. “Now the Dark Lord will know we hide something from him!”
He looked at the small shards of glass around his feet, the red residue slowly fading from the shiny surfaces. The creases in his forehead deepened, his lips pressed together in a tight line.
Instantly Shea realized, too late, the consequences of his actions.
As a boy, he had waited long hours for his father to return from Council meetings specifically designated to protect the Hero. Now as a member of the High Council, he learned the challenges of weaving intricate deceptions of ignorance or complacency kept the prying eyes of shadow at bay.
Now, in one hasty breath, the methodically orchestrated plans of both his father and the Council had been compromised.
This will not bode well, he sighed inwardly.
A deep frown on his face, the High Elder turned sharply, yanking the hood over his head. Without a word, he attacked the steep winding path.
Shea anxiously kept pace with the High Elder’s lengthy stride until they were just outside Sanctuary’s walls.
“Father, I …”
Raising a hand, the High Elder neither slowed nor turned. “Control and unity, young man,” he cut in a cool tone. “This is always about self-control and unity. That is how we will defeat the enemy. Not with a careless display of personal power and…parlor tricks!”
“I’m sorry, Father,” Shea justified, bowing his head.
The High Elder slowed, the edgy tone causing his rigid pace to falter. He stopped to study Shea’s face with a piercing gaze. Moments passed, but he said nothing.
“Truly,” Shea insisted softly, looking up meekly. “I sought only to keep the boy…and you, safe.”
The small wrinkles in the corner of his eyes offered a faint smile as the High Elder slowly exhaled.
Shea was young.
Sixteen was too young, in his opinion, to carry such a burden as the Council.
The High Elder’s role, as a father, was now secondary to the calling of an Elder. However, youth and inexperience were no excuse for irrational behavior and stepping outside one’s calling.
“Young Elder, you have forgotten your place, doubted my calling, and challenged my stewardship.”
At the formal address, Shea squared his shoulders, pain flickering in his eyes.
“High Elder, I do not doubt your position, NOR would I dare to challenge your stewardship,” he emphasized in lowered tones. “I have only opposed your decisions on retrieving the boy. There is too much risk involved. Thus, I believe this important task should only be entrusted to the Council as a whole. The bloodline will need protection. Our protection.”
It was the same argument.
“We are too arrogant in our own abilities because we have knowledge and powers,” replied the High Elder, fortifying his point with volume. “Insanity!”
Shea watched his father turn his head from side to side, then raising his hands to the sky, anguishing, “Mahan has already enslaved half…HALF!…of this world! And he was banished over 600 years ago!”
Pleading, eye to eye, “Elder,…” he sighed patiently, “Son. Do you not remember he still lives because the last Hero had compassion for his friend? Mahan is cunning and his influence grows in ways we can only measure by destruction and death.
“Have you and the others truly convinced yourselves that we are beyond destruction? Or even worse…corruption?”
Chin raised to the challenge, “And what of your plan, Father?” Spitting venomous condemnation into his words. “Will you really send a selfish, free-willed outcast to retrieve our last hope for all creation? One who shirks his responsibilities, subsisting in pubs to return so intoxicated that he often mistakes the pig pen for his cottage?
He can’t even find the bathroom in the dark!”
The High Elder couldn’t help chuckling at his son’s accurate perception of one of Sanctuary’s oldest residents.
“No. Dax can find the bathroom in the dark, Shea…he simply finds it inconvenient when intoxicated and therefore, chooses not to.”
Shea grimaced, “That’s just…sick.”
“It does not disqualify him for the task at hand. We all have a purpose. Remember how he suffers and what they have taken from him. It should soften your heart if nothing else. Trust me when I say he knows what’s expected and understands the gravity.”
Shea was unconvinced. “You misplace your trust in a fool, father.”
“No, son.” The High Elder smiled, placing a confident hand on his son’s chest, “I am placing my trust in a friend.”
Resigned, the young elder lowered his head and closed his eyes.
Patting his son’s shoulder, the High Elder grinned wide. “Have confidence. The Dark Lord will never suspect what is about to happen…..and we will do what we have never done before.”
Shea sighed, muttering under his breath, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”