Chapter 4 - REALITY

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Life has a complex plan that involves you and me.

While we dream, work and organize, life makes its own tweaks and many times circumstances might not turn out as we hoped.

But life is not the enemy. It is not against us. Life provides opportunities for growth and strength of character.

Stop fighting against your greatest ally.

 

 

The sudden shock ripped through his body, up his spine to his skull, seizing every fiber of muscle in a flash.

It was like peeing on an electric fence.

Not that he’d ever done that.

…often.

A stabbing chill raced through his veins, overwhelming him and he went limp.

Then, like being pulled off the roof of an eighty-story building, he was falling.

Faster and faster he fell in the blackness…with nothing to hold onto his heart and every other organ pounding in his throat.

SMACK!

Ouch! What the…!?!

A residue of electricity trickled through his body, popping the pressure in his ears.

Lifting his head, silver sparks twinkled behind his eyelids and Wendell swooned.

That was the weirdest things I’ve ever…

Before he could gain full control of his senses, Wendell was pushed back to the ground with a thud. A brick wall landed on his chest, forcing all the air from his lungs.

“Whuuuuu!” he wheezed.

Thrashing and gasping, he struggled to get the heavy, smelly, green creature off him so he could breath.

“Welcome to Sanctuary, kid! Don’t worry, the pain’ll pass,” the goblin said matter-of-factly. “Happens to everyone the first time ‘round.’” Swinging its leg over Wendell’s face and sliding off his chest, it leaned forward to pat him on the cheek. “Now you wait right here.”

Coughing and hacking, Wendell couldn’t answer. He just rolled to his side.

“Fwoooh!” he gasped.

Calm down, Wendell. Inhale… Exhale… Inhale… It’s gone. The goblin’s gone. You’re safe now. He slowed his breathing until the pain subsided and opened his eyes.

It surprised Wendell to notice that he was lying in the dark, and it was unnervingly cold. An unsettling contrast from the warm, summer sun moments ago. One moment he’d been in Evan’s back yard…and the next moment…not.

He blinked repeatedly until his eyes adjusted.

Was it moments ago?

It wasn’t completely dark everywhere. Small circles of light glowing from iron sconces, obliged Wendell with a faint view of his surroundings.

It was a large room, not like anyplace he’d been before. No windows, no furniture, nothing but stone walls, stone floors and stone pillars. He strained to listen, beyond his own ragged breathing and thumping heart, for sounds that would tell him where he might be.

He waited…and strained.

Nothing in the darkness but silence.

His fingers softly traced the stones along the floor. The coarse edges felt chilled to the touch.

Like a dungeon, he gulped.

And he had fallen dead center into a cell. He squinted at the circles of light around him, searching for an edge of the room.

No, this can’t be a dungeon. That’s…not possible. Hah. It’s STUPID! Where am I really?

But was it so hard to believe? He hadn’t thought goblins could exist…but one had showed up and…

A cold draft raised the hair on Wendell’s neck and he shivered, pulling his legs in close.

Wait here, it said.

He suddenly felt like a cornered mouse.

Did that creep hit me? Using a hand, Wendell felt around the base of his skull and over his scalp for signs of a bump or wound. Drag me somewhere?

This puzzle was missing too many pieces.

How did I even GET here?

He tugged on the collar of his shirt and sniffed. He used chloroform to knock me out, that’s what he…but his shirt smelled like chlorine from Evan’s pool. Maybe chloroform smells like chlorine?

Wendell gulped. Oh, no! he whimpered, I’m on the Mothership!

He closed his eyes, squinting hard to force memories to the surface. Come on, Wendell—what happened? He tried to remember entering a shuttle or a teleportation device, but all he could remember was the sensation of falling.

The electric shock! Wait…it tasered me and dragged me aboard!! But he never saw a weapon in the goblin’s hands. Where was he hiding it?

Disgusted, he shuddered. Ugnh!

Hiding. Hiding? Speaking of hiding…Wendell jerked up and flipped his head around, frantically looking for…that…that…that Thing!

Wendell tried to sniff the air but couldn’t.

He was holding his breath.

Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe!

Consciously opening his mouth, Wendell took a deep, exaggerated breath.

There’s no way I’m gonna sit here waiting for that freak to come back.

Pushing himself to his hands and knees, Wendell cursed his long limbs.

Simple movements often got him into embarrassing tangles. He was as awkward as a newborn giraffe. Cringing as his sneakers squeaked against the hard surface, he scurried across the floor until he finally sat beneath a torch against the outer wall of his cell.

Having his back to the cold wall made him feel a little less vulnerable…but sitting under a light just made the darkness darker.

Not my best plan. Again, he pulled his legs into his chest.

“Hello?” he called out, barely above a whisper.

No answer.

That could be good.

Another cold draft wafted across the floor carrying the smell of…

Wendell trembled.

…the unforgettable stink of cigar smoke and rotten fish.

He turned his head gradually to the side, looking harder this time, for the little green attacker.

Lifting his hand to shade his eyes he squinted into the darkness.

There, he found slits of red watching him from the blackness, then a menacing glow flickering across its grotesque face from the burning embers of a cigar. The creature was leaning against a pillar, arms folded.

It smiled, baring its teeth.

Wendell knew in his gut, it’s waiting for me!

Rolling his tongue around dry lips, Wendell slowly moved to his hands and knees again and crawled along the wall, away from the goblin and into the dark, keeping the glowing embers in his peripheral vision

Why me? Why would a goblin want ME?? Who am I really? None of this makes any sense. His breathing matched his quickening pulse. I’m nobody! Just an eighteen-year-old kid who lives in a camping trailer at his mom’s house! I don’t have a job…I don’t have a car…I DON’T EVEN HAVE A GIRLFRIEND! What would aliens want with me? His left eye twitched. Green guys with sharp teeth are NEVER good!

Then, with a wave of nausea, the answer hit him.

Oh, crap—-didn’t it say it was hungry?

Turning his mouth into his shoulder he tried to stifle the coughing as he gagged in protest against the bile escaping his stomach and jumping to his mouth.

The goblin shifted its position, so it stood directly in the light, watching Wendell. Heavy shadows draped across its angular face, which blackened out the eyes completely, giving the creature a look of the undead.

It drew a short drag from the cigar and the red embers glowed to reveal a penetrating stare.

The eyes fell once more into shadow.

He can see me! Wendell almost shrieked out loud, Even through the darkness, he can see me!

With a villainous grin, the goblin let the cigar fall from its mouth and pushing off the pillar, vanishing into the darkness.

Ahh…AHHH! Wendell looked around with terror widened eyes, holding his breath. I don’t wanna die!

Then he saw it.

A door!

Less than fifty feet away, beyond the pillars and torches stood a large arched doorway.

The pillars were wide enough to hide behind and probably only ten feet apart.

Just run for the door, Wendell. One pillar at a time. You can do this, man. Leaning back onto his knees and then to his feet. Remember all the bullies you out ran when you streaked across the football field in your underwear? Jeffery Chapman’s got nothing on the Wendellizer…because you can run like the wind!

Darting glances from side to side, Wendell listened for breathing and sniffed the air.

Five. Four. Three more to go. I’m getting out of here!!

Wendell took a quick breath, keeping his head low and pivoted on the ball of his foot…

“Boo!”

YEEEARGH!!” Wendell screamed at the sudden flash of red eyes and yellow fangs, accompanied by two monstrous hands in claw-like positions.

As a thoughtless and frightened reflex, Wendell’s arm snapped out and slapped the creature squarely across the face.

Both stood there in silent shock, each starring wide-eyed at the other.

All the worst horror movies Wendell had ever seen now flashed through his mind in one continuous panorama of mindless terror, dismemberment and gore.

Terrifying images of the goblin hunched in a corner, burping loudly as it tossed Wendell’s cleaned leg bone over its shoulder now seemed a likely outcome.

Sweat beading on his brow, Wendell forced out a weak smile of apology.

The creature opened and closed its mouth, slowly shifting its jaw between thumb and index finger.

“Why you little…,” the goblin snapped.

Growling, it kicked Wendell’s legs out from under him, sending the youth to floor with a deep and painful thud. An over-sized hand caught hold of Wendell’s hair, yanking him violently away from the pillar and pulling him towards the door Wendell had targeted for escape.

“Ow! Ow! OW!” Wendell yelled, his voice vibrating throughout the hall. Wait…I don’t wanna go through that door now, then out loud, “I changed my mind!”

Kicking and flailing, Wendell screamed repeatedly, his shrieks scraping at ear and stone.

I…HOPE YOU GET HEARTBURN!” he finally cried aloud, which received a deep chuckle from the goblin in reply.

Ungh! Why can’t I ever think of good insults when it really counts?!

Arching his back, Wendell twisted and turned, struggling with every bit of strength he had. He just couldn’t break free!

Nooooo! I’m not ready to die!!

Reaching out in desperation, he tried latching onto the shallow gaps between the stones of the floor while hooking both feet around a nearby pillar.

…but he had no leverage.

As usual, Wendell found himself at the mercy of his enemy out-matched. The goblin didn’t even look back as Wendell was effortlessly pulled free.

His fingernails were bleeding from scraping frantically for something, anything, to stop the momentum towards death. But there was NOTHING. Nothing he could do as he was dragged across the cold, hard stone. It wasn’t as frightening as it was depressing and utterly discouraging.

I should have tried harder to be popular, he thought to himself. Popular kids don’t get snatched up like the nerdy kids. We’re the experiments of the universe…and you know why?

“Why?” he asked himself out loud, whimpering as his butt dragged across the stone.

Because even aliens are prejudice! If you’re not popular, good looking or rich, you’re screwed.

Was it true? Did anyone care about the nerds of the world? The ones who win blue ribbons at belching contests or gravitate to the role playing conventions? Sure, they might not get picked by the beautiful girls as a first choice,…or fifth…but nerds appreciate beauty more passionately and deeply than most! Nerds notice the details. Nerds notice the potential.

NERDS HAVE GOOD HEARTS! I MUST be worth SOMEthing!?

His mind flooded with fishing trips, nights working on dad’s old Indian motorcycle, and learning the piano together to impress mom.

Dad thought I was someone special.

Why couldn’t you be here, Dad? And Mom…

Tortured by the thought of his mom pacing the house, alone and not knowing what happened to him, “I’m sorry, mom,” he whispered. She’ll be devastated! She’ll…

Wait—we stopped!

“Please! Don’t eat me!” Wendell’s head throbbed as he twisted to see.

The goblin, unmoved, pulled a new cigar out of his boxer shorts with its free hand, sniffed and grunted while examining the tobacco and then magically produced a match. With a graceful flick of his wrist, the goblin lit the match off the stubble of its rough, pitted cheek, puffing furiously. Once satisfied, it reached back, grabbed the seat of Wendell’s pants and with a single motion…launched him through the partially open door.

Boney knees, chest, and chin all bounced off the stone floor, his ears absorbing the impact of his teeth snapping together.

“UNGH!!”

His body, limp with weariness, slid to a stop at a wall, face down.

Owwwwww.

The loneliness crept in on him. Wendell realized no one would be here to save him.

Not his dad.

Not his mom…

Not even Evan.

Wish you were here, buddy. You always know what to do.

He whimpered. What do I do!?

For a long moment, Wendell remained still, eyes closed, waiting for the end to come.

It never did.

Peeking with a single eye, then the other—he noticed the room was lighter, shadows dancing along the stone wall and drapes in front of him. The sudden change stung Wendell’s eyes and head, so he clenched his eyes tight once more.

I’ll look in a minute.

Besides, his ears were ringing along with the throbbing in his head—which was quickly morphing into a splitting headache that surged through his skull and into his left eye. Worse than that, a puddle of blood was growing under his face and he raised his hand to find its source.

Reaching out to the curtains, he used the cloth to wipe his bloody nose.

“Oh, my goodness—are you alright!?”

Muscles sore, bones aching, Wendell tried once more to lift himself up.

Dad? Is it my time? Have you come to get me?

It was just too much. Monsters. Being kidnapped. Dungeons. Being eaten…

Though he was relieved to wait on that last one.

Afraid to open his eyes to reality, he buried his face in the cloth of the drapes.

“My boy, are you alright?”

What a stupid question. I’ve just been kidnapped, hunted, thrown onto my delicate, tender, ruggedly handsome and under appreciated face…and now I’m about to be eaten. What do you think?

Wendell timidly opened one eye, looking over his shoulder for the yellow teeth.

They were nowhere to be seen.

He breathed a sigh of relief, his body suddenly letting go of all the pent up fear and stress.

Sniffing, needles shot to the front of his brain.

“OW!” He flinched as the pressure behind his head and eyes released a fresh flow of blood. Reaching out to gather the once white drapes, he applied pressure to his nose.

Sorry about the drapes. I know you taught me better, mom, but after how creature treated me—maybe you could overlook this one.

Slowly turning over, Wendell kept a firm grip on his nose and rested his head on the cold floor. It felt good; the chill easing the throbbing discomfort of his skull.

This is crazy. It just has to be a freaky dream, doesn’t it, dad? I mean, it’s too wild and frightening to be real. There’s no such thing as monsters! He sighed.

This line of reasoning made him feel a little better.

“Ahem.”

The voice hovered directly over him.

Wait a minute. Dad?

“Ahem!” repeated the voice.

Da—Wendell’s eyes popped open.

Old blue eyes…and a blue face…stared back.

EEEAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Wendell grabbed the folds of the drapes and like a pink ostrich, shoved his face under them, trembling.

Wake up, Wendell, wake UP! This is just a crazy dream…IT’S JUST A DREAM!

“Excuse me,” said the old man, “please take your head out from under my robe.”

Wendell froze. What did he…?

Then, peeking through one eye—yup…hairy, blue legs.

 

I didn’t mention the blue skin before?

Hmmm. Sorry about that.

Should have mentioned it in the first chapter.

Yes, the Elders are blue.

Not a sky blue, but a deeper ocean blue, which is created by a mineral in the soil.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes—hairy, blue legs and Wendell quickly getting to his feet.

 

The old man, glancing down at the mess Wendell had made of his robes, just shook his head, making a mental note to chastise Dax for handling the Hero so roughly.

With a raised eyebrow, hands clasped behind his back (to minimize the excited fidgeting), the old man watched Wendell flounder, embarrassed, to get to his feet.

“My Lord,” he said respectfully, bowing deeply.

Wendell whipped his head about, confused. The two of them were completely alone. At a loss, he stood upright, put an index finger to his chest and asked, “Are you talking to me?”

The old man’s smile grew wider. “Yes, my Lord. I am talking to you.”

Still uncertain, Wendell looked around a second time. “Okaaay.”

Shifting his weight backward a step, he stared at the old man warily. “Where’s the goblin thing with the pointy teeth?”

“Dax? Oh, he isn’t a goblin, my Lord. He’s an ‘Evolu’…and he has retired to his quarters for the night.”

Soooo, the monster has a name.

Keeping his distance, Wendell watched the open archway skeptically, before glancing back at this new threat. “So…he’s NOT coming back to eat me?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Wendell held up his fingers, elbows, doing a show-and-tell of his worst scrapes, bumps and bruises, emphasizing the blood caked to his upper lip, trailing across his left cheek.

“Oh, my goodness,” exclaimed the old man, who seemed visually disturbed by Wendell’s wounds. “You think Dax was…oh no, no. He would never do such a thing, I assure you! He may lack common manners, but he’s no monster.”

Says you.

Still skeptical, Wendell circled the room, slowly and deliberately putting as much space between them as possible.

The room, though still encased in stone, was warm through its furnishings, which looked formal in its ornately adorned wooden desk and bookshelves. Though this room had windows, granting some natural light, it also had oil lamps hanging from chains attached to black metal hooks bolted to the walls. Higher up hung huge, brilliant tapestries with blue-faced figures weaved into calm poses of oration or studying. Seven of them dangled from heavy black chains attached to beams protruding from the ceiling.

This must be an office or library.

Wendell took a mental inventory of anything he could use to defend himself: a goblet, metal candlesticks, a small bag of rocks, a tall walking stick leaning against a bookcase, a spoon resting in a bowl of half-eaten fruit, and even daggers mounted to the wall. As a backup plan, there was also an enormous spiral staircase behind the desk in the far corner of the room.

I wonder where that goes?

Wendell made his way to the far side of the large golden desk, which was situation in the center of the room. He was grateful to have an obstacle between himself and the reject from the Blue Man Group. It also got him closer to the stairs and an escape route.

This really is getting ridiculous. Not a single thing so far made any sense. This wasn’t reality and the only explanation that Wendell could figure out was, he’d fallen asleep in the sun and probably had too much to eat at the pool party. That’s it. Everything went awesome, like it usually does with Evan and I’m asleep by the pool, and this is all from too much pastrami and spicy cheese. I’m gonna have to sleep this off.

Resigned to have to play this out a little longer, “I don’t know this…”

“Dax.”

“Yeah, Dax…I don’t know him…and I don’t know you. Heck, for all I know I’ve been taken out of the frying pan and thrown into the fire!”

The blue man’s furrowed forehead and blank eyes showed a momentary confusion at the analogy.

“I am the High Elder and you, my Lord, are in Sanctuary,” he said in a friendly tone.

Wendell pointed boldly back at the stranger. “You’re blue.”

The High Elder chuckled, “Yes.”

“Yeah, but you’re blue. Like, not flesh-colored. Blue.”

The High Elder scratched his head at the odd perception, looking thoughtful. “You’re pink.”

Wendell shook his head, “But that’s normal.”

“Compared to what?” asked the High Elder. “I am blue, as are my people. Dax is green, you are pink and from what I remember, people from your world are also black, brown, red, and yellow…yes?”

Wendell scratched his cheek, considering. “Ok, you have me there. Blue though, that’s…weird.”

“The Universes are filled with variety.”

Universes? Yup. Wendell, my boy, this HAS to be a dream.

Everything looked, felt and sounded so real, but it was so far out of whack Wendell didn’t know where to start.

It’s too weird NOT to be a dream!

Yet, even in his weirdest dreams he could find some connection to real life or had at least woken up when the situation became dangerous. Like the time when he was running naked through a forest, chased by commando monkeys brandishing paintball guns, he still woke up before he got shot.

This was new.

This one hurt!

He looked down at the smeared, dried blood on his arms and hands—the sore and raw fingernails. If it is a dream, why don’t I wake up?

“Um, I’m no Lord,” replied Wendell, looking at the old man squarely. “He kidnapped the wrong guy. That…Dax guy.”

The old man did a double take. “Kidnapped? You were not kidnapped.”

“Hello? The green guy grabbed me and took me from my home…against my will!! That’s the definition of kidnapping where I come, bucko. If I was a year younger, there’d be AMBER Alerts going off all over this place!” Wendell snorted, rubbing his sore cheek and wiping the remaining blood from his upper lip on his wrist. He raised an eyebrow at the High Elder, who shrugged slightly.

“Um, right,” said the Elder thoughtfully. “Again, I am truly sorry for your treatment by Dax, but there is no mistake. If you will come with me, my Lord, I will explain, but we really must be moving along.” Making an open-handed sweeping motion toward the stairs, he took a couple of steps forward then paused for Wendell to follow.

Stepping away from the High Elder and further from the stairs, Wendell asked, “Seriously, what’s with all the ‘Lord’ talk?”

Okay, maybe I don’t want to go down those stairs after all…

“Pardon?” queried the High Elder taking a few steps around to Wendell’s side of the desk.

“Wendell. That’s my name. This ‘Lord’ thing is making me…uncomfortable,” he said as he sidestepped to keep the desk between them. I’m not going anywhere with you, blueberry, until I know what you’re up to! “Just call me Wendell.”

His every move countered on the opposite side of the desk, the High Elder sighed and stopped. “Then let’s try this again, shall we…Wendell?”

The High Elder looked overly uncomfortable using his first name, which amused Wendell and he cracked a small grin. The High Elder smiled back politely and nodded, hopeful.

“We have brought here you, from Earth, at my request. You have a special…”

“Wait!” Wendell snapped out loud, “From Earth? As in…I’m not ON Earth anymore?”

“Certainly not, my…,” but he caught himself, “Wendell.”

Woah…woah. The freakiness just jumped a level. Wendell gulped, reminding himself that is was all just a dream, “Then…where am I, exactly?”

“You are in Sanctuary, as I stated,” the High Elder replied calmly, nodding his head ever-so-slightly. “A small settlement of the Iskari people.”

“Yeah. Sure.” Another gulp. “Of course.”

“As I was saying, you have a special birthright, Wendell, and it is my privilege and sacred duty to make sure we give you what rightfully belongs to you. A treasure beyond imagination. The duty of my Order has been to watch over your treasure, with our lives if necessary, until it is returned. That is why you are here.”

Treasure? He just said treasure? Now this is more of the kind of dream I like. People telling me I’m special…and trying to give me money? Well all right now!

“So, if you would follow me.”

…aaaaand then it gets creepy again.

Wendell shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

The High Elder said nothing. With a sigh, he placed his hands into the folds of his sleeves. Wendell watched with satisfaction the muscles in the High Elder’s jaw pulse as he slowly, silently, grit his teeth.

It’s about time somebody besides me got upset about what’s going on here.

“I told you already. I’m not your Lord. You’ve got the wrong guy.” Exasperated, Please, let me wake up. I’m gonna miss the rest of the pool party and the girls! “Seriously, this is crazy! Birthright? Privilege? Sacred duty? Treasure?” Maybe I smacked my head on the concrete…or…just losing my mind? “Whatever!! WHY am I standing here talking to a blue dude!?! Let’s call this a stalemate. Just let me walk out of here and go home.”

Wendell watched closely as the High Elder cleared his throat and looked away.

Withdrawing from the desk, the High Elder walked to a bookcase. He ran his slender blue fingers tenderly across the curious workmanship of the leather spines. “It’s a bit…complicated.”

Wendell scoffed. Complicated is the word adults use when they don’t know what to do…or they’re hiding something and don’t want to tell the truth. He doubted things could be any more complicated. “Confuse me then. Don’t chicken out on me—explain this to me so I can understand, or I’m not budging.”

The High Elder composed himself. “Very well,” he breathed, drawing a slim red book from the top shelf. Walking back to the desk, he laid the volume down on the desk and opened the faded yellow pages. “You are not originally from Earth.” Wendell noticed the intricate penmanship, both in drawings along the edges of the entries and the handwriting itself. “We hid there you as an infant. As the last heir to a royal bloodline of privileged station and power, it was essential we kept you safe. Your mother, father, your very life there was all a carefully laid deception to protect you from the enemies of your family.” But the High Elder paused, reconsidering his words.

“Actually, the enemy of this world.”

Wendell burst into hysterical laughter. It was the wildest thing he had ever heard.

The High Elder raised an eyebrow and waited while Wendell snorted, gasped, and pounded his fist repeatedly on the desk.

“Seriously?!? So now you will tell me I’m some long-lost prince and you’ve brought me back to make me king?” he snorted.

“A king? No. I would not dream of bestowing such a lowly station upon you, my Lord.”

Wendell closed his mouth and…frowned. Lowly? Being a king is…lowly? “Really?”

The High Elder stood motionless.“Really.”

For nearly a minute the High Elder stood silently, staring back stoically.

“Okay,” chimed Wendell breaking the silence, “So, now I’m the alien here…that’s not the alien? That’s funny! Soooo how come I’m not blue, then?” His laughter subsided, and the two stood with locked gazes.

“The answer is simple, my Lord. You are not Iskari.”

“I asked you to stop calling me that.”

“I’m sorry, my Lord.”

Wendell’s eyes narrowed to slits as the implication sank in.

“You lie,” he said coldly. “My parents would have told me, if I was adopted, or…dropped off by a stork, or…whatEVER happened to me! They never lied to me. Ever.” The whole concept was absurd. His parent…liars? No way. This joker has no clue who he’s talking about…Mom? Dad? Impossible!!

The High Elder’s expression softened as he shook his head. “On the part of your Earthly guardians, you are correct, and I deeply apologize if I have offended you. There was never deception involved. They loved and adored you and believed you to be their own flesh and blood. They excelled beyond our expectations. You were indeed, a cherished child. It was specifically why they were chosen—the most tender hearts for a most delicate labor of love.” He paused to let Wendell take it all in. “Your real parents, however, are of a royal line from this Universe. From this world. You were switched with another child at birth.” He paused, Wendell already shaking his head. “I am sorry for your pain,  Wendell, but it is true.”

“Real parents?” he spat. Tears welled up in Wendell’s eyes. “‘Real’ parents are those who love you, care for you, teach you and protect you…not cast you off and leave you in the hands of strangers! I know who my parents are.” …and I’m glad this isn’t real, because this dream sucks!

“Quite right,” whispered the High Elder. “However, you should know that sending you away was the only way to keep you safe. You were never ‘cast off’. Both your…,” he searched for a less offensive word, “natural parents perished protecting you, Wendell. Your bloodline, your genealogy, is unique…even to this world. Your family has been honored and revered for a thousand generations. You are the last of that precious line. In our world, Wendell, that makes you the most valuable man alive. You are the key to saving life.”

“Life? …Who’s life?” he couldn’t resist asking, but his tone dripped with sarcasm.

Now I know this has to be a dream! It’s complete crap. I’m just a kid!! He stared at the High Elder expectantly.

“All life, my Lord,” said the High Elder, his voice dropping to a reverent tone. Making a motion towards the winding stairwell, “Please—there is so little time.”

“Wendell. For crying out loud, call me Wendell!” He felt light-headed. None of this made any sense. It was crazy. Absurd. Lunatic. No one ever paid attention to me before. Why now? “So, you send some creepy little monster to kidnap me? Take me from my home? For some treasure? To save life? What does that even mean?!? If this was about the Alien Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, why didn’t he just bring the treasure to me?”

“It’s not that simple, my Lo…Wendell,” he corrected. “The treasure is so valuable that there are others who would have it for their own at any cost! It is the other key to saving life. That is why we stand watch over it diligently, with complete dedication--to hide it from sight and knowledge, here on this moon. That is our main purpose—to guard the treasure until the one of noble blood returns to reclaim what is rightfully his. Now please, Wendell, I beg of you,” he added urgently, taking a tentative step forward. “We must move quickly!”

Heaving a deep helpless sigh, Wendell had to admit, despite the frustration, he was feeling a little curious. After all these years of being someone else’s shadow, someone actually wanted HIM. Dream or not I guess it doesn’t hurt to see where this leads, right? Who knows how long this’ll last—might as well go along for the ride and enjoy the attention while it lasts. Besides, once I wake up, it’ll be boring…and irritating life as usual. I think I deserve some praise and wonder for a change! Yeah. Okay, let’s do this.

Stepping around the table, he went with the blueberry.

Relieved, the High Elder smiled and once more put out his arm to lead Wendell to the far corner of the room. The opening was carved into the merging stone, forming a smooth, rounding archway.

Wendell, eager to see where he was being taken, glanced over the black metal railing, which looked like a black grapevine, the smaller vines and leaves weaving to connect the top and bottom bars. The center of the stairwell was a vast circle of blackness. Wendell couldn’t see the bottom. In fact, the whole stairwell , which wrapped around the inner walls, was swallowed up in the darkness. The light from the archway provided just enough light to see the first five steps.

Okayyyy, Wendell gulped, this is a bit spooky.

Without a word, the High Elder stepped confidently into the darkness.

Uncertain, Wendell held back observing, rethinking.

It’s just a dream, Wendell, he reminded himself. What are you, three? This is just…darkness. Right? Right. Oh, yeah. Well, okay. Step. See? Nothing happened. Step again…

He was only a couple steps into the darkness when he was taken aback by a sudden flood of light surrounding him and the High Elder. Torches firmly affixed to sconces, ignited of their own accord! The abrupt change…and the fact that one of the torches by Wendell’s head burst into flame, sent him stumbling back against the wall, hand over chest.

The High Elder did not pause.

Whew! That was…wooooah.

The torches, though dramatic as they were, sent their paltry light outward, to be reflected by thousands of crystals embedded into the stones. Each crystal sparkled and shimmered, reflecting the dancing flames.  Calling to one another, cheerfully casting rainbow prisms along the steps.

Wendell couldn’t help admiring. What is this place?

The light followed them down the stairs, fading above them the deeper they went, never divulging the hidden secrets or depth of the well.

“We are descending into the belly of the Key,” said the High Elder, his voice and brisk footsteps echoing through the tower. “Created specifically to guard and protect the greatest treasure of our world.”

Wendell followed close behind. Fascinated by the lights, he stared at the various stones as he passed them. Unusual symbols began to appear, carved into what seemed to be random stones. Reaching out to run a finger over the black etching…

It jumped away.

The symbol, etched into the stone, had moved to the right, onto an adjoining stone!

Wendell skidded to a halt. Waaaait a minute.

Leaning closer, he poked a finger at the symbol. This time it jumped to the stone above, avoiding his touch. Now, this is wild! Wendell turned while pointing to the symbol, wanting to ask a question…and found himself left behind.

The High Elder had not slowed his decent, his robes flowing across each step.

He really IS in a hurry.

“Ward runes,” the Elder called back to him, without turning around, “and yes, they move. They are powerful magic that instantly informs the steward…which is myself…of any tampering or ill intent within its vicinity. They work with the crystals, which change color when a threat is detected.”

Wendell hopped the steps two at a time, catching up, “Then you saw me…”

“Swipe your finger across a rune, then stop to poke it once more? Yes.”

Well, I’ll be, you sneaky old…

“The symbols within this chamber are like a revolving lock. They prevent even the most skilled Mägo from breaching its defenses.”

“Mägo. Right,” but Wendell wasn’t paying any attention to the conversation.

“When the Key was first built, the Hero took the rarest of gems from the mines of Elämäkäs. It was a gift, from one of your ancestors. ”

Sighing, hmmm, that again. After a few moments of silence, Wendell shook his head. Okay, I’ll bite. “Why me?”

“Why you? You are the birthright child.”

Rolling his eyes, “Yeah, you said that already. But—how do you know it’s me? You’re telling me I’m from another planet…that I’m not from Earth? Prove it. I’ve never been outside my home state except to travel to Idaho for family vacations. Now you’re telling me I’m from another Universe. Sure, whatever. Fact is, I’ve never been important to anyone other than my mom and dad…and maybe my best friend, Evan. I’m nobody. I know that, my neighbors know that…HECK, with all the weird contest I’ve entered over the years, most of the state knows that!” Wendell was blunt about his own life. No point in trying to lie to his own subconscious.

The High Elder halted and turned with his back to the inside railing. He did it so casually that Wendell almost reached out to grab him for fear of the old man flipping over and falling down the center of the tower.

“Wendell, please listen carefully, because we are nearly out of time…”

“Hold it, right there,” Wendell cut him off, holding up his hand. “I’m here. You snatched me, all right? What’s with all this hurry, hurry, out of time stuff?”

The High Elder paused…and it was easy to see the tension of his arms under the near trembling sleeves.

You are the most important person in this set of creations. I understand this is a lot for you to believe on just my word, but you must trust me. My whole life has been to prepare for this very meeting. That being said, there are others…powerful individuals, Wendell, who would see you…” but he stopped, his gaze shifting.

“Hurt?”

The Elder’s eyes locked onto Wendell’s without blinking. “They would see you dead.”

“Ouch,” gulped Wendell, “…and my mom always said I waste time.” Now I’m REALLY glad this is a a dream!

The High Elder turned, ignoring the sarcasm and continued down the stairs. “You are the last in a royal line of a very special, privileged family, unique. They are the heroes of our legends—so loved and revered, that cultures were built in honor of them. That blood, my friend, is what runs through your veins. You being here to accept this treasure means the difference between freedom and slavery for all life everywhere.”

Wendell snorted, “Good, no pressure then.”

“This is no laughing matter, my L….Wendell,” the High Elder said firmly. “However, once you accept the treasure, you will receive greater protection than I or my brethren can provide.”

“So what, it’s a diamond crusted bullet-proof vest?”

Looking over his shoulder, “A bullet…proof…I don’t understand.”

Wendell shook his head, “Bad joke, never mind.”

“All things will become perfectly clear, once you take your proper place.”

This could have had more impact on Wendell, had he been paying better attention. As it was, he thought he saw the shadow of something moving in the symbols across the wall and quickly looked over to see what it was, losing track of the conversation.

“Uh-hmmm,” responded Wendell absentmindedly as he stared at the symbols.

Nothing.

But it happened again as soon as he looked away.

They slithered like snakes in his peripheral vision.

…these symbols were following them.

It was eerie.

The High Elder stopped again, waiting for Wendell’s reaction, looked back at him expectantly. “This will be the greatest adventure you will ever have, with rewards beyond your comprehension!” he said emphatically.

“What? Oh, yeah. Me…hero…riiiight.” This was, after all, of no lasting consequence because it was just a dream. “I hope this isn’t one of those dreams I forget when I wake up. It’s turning out to be pretty awesome! Evan will have a riot when I tell him I was talking to a blue dude in a dress.”

“You think this to be a dream!?” Finally, offended at Wendell’s casual attitude, the High Elder leaned in close enough to Wendell’s face for him to feel the warmth of his breath. “This is no dream!” he stammered. “Lives are at stake and I took great risk in following my own instincts to bring you here in this fashion!”

Wendell just smiled, holding up a hand. “Okay, okay! Stay calm. Look, it doesn’t really matter. Really. No love lost here. I was a nobody at home. No real hopes or potential, or so people told me day in and day out…and now a guy in a dress tells me I’m the end all, be all with a treasure just for showing up? Hey, sounds good to me, where do I sign?” Wendell mused, “Hey, maybe I’ll write a book about all this someday! I can call it Prelude to a Hero.” He nodded, “Hey, I kinda like that. Sounds epic.” He chuckled openly, “Then I just need to have another dream, where I sell 400 million copies…retire on a farm with a gorgeous wife and twelve kids.”

With his jaw set in determination, the aged eyes squinted at Wendell trying to decide what to do. Then, with a flurry of cloth, throwing his arms out to the sides, he spun around and quickly continued his descent.

“Robe,” he hollered over his shoulder, his voice echoing.

“What?”

“It’s not a dress,” the High Elder said firmly, “it’s a robe.”

Fair play. Wendell smiled.

Again, he noticed the odd symbols shifting, almost slithering along the walls out of the corner of his eye. Confused at his quickening heart rate and shallow breathing, his spine tingled and the hair on the back of his neck rose. That sensation only occurred right before something happened at school. Something terrible…warning him to be alert.

It grew stronger as they reached the bottom of the tower.

What am I doing?

You know the feeling.

The one you get when at first, nothing seems out of place and everyone is smiling…

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