Konal tensed in the dark, pressing his back against the cold stone. The voice was comforting and terrible at the same time. How could he have found me here?At least he is well.
Qualageer’s body scraped up against the near wall with a rustling thump. “Who are you?” he asked sharply. “Why have you followed us here?”
“That is no matter to you,” Jorgan answered, none too kindly. His voice seemed harder than normal. “Get up Konal, we are leaving, now!”
Konal drew a deep breath and refused to move.
“Konal, who is this?” Qualageer asked.
“My master,” he answered.
“Your what?” Jorgan asked harshly.
“Yes, my master,” Konal said again, ignoring the question. “Eld Mardon, he has come for me in my failure.”
“Forgive me, Eld Mardon,” Qualageer stammered. “I meant no disrespect.”
The room went silent. Konal waited, certain that Jorgan was pondering over what he heard. “There is nothing to forgive,” Jorgan said, betraying little emotion. “Now get up Konal. We have a long journey back and there is much daylight left.”
“I’m not leaving,” Konal said bitterly, “not like this.”
“He’s drunk,” Qualageer said respectfully.
“I am quite aware of his condition,” Jorgan snapped. “I won’t tell you again, Konal.”
There was more than just hardness in Jorgan’s voice. Something in his presence nudged Konal toward doing exactly what he was told. This angered him and he resisted the odd sensation. “No! I can’t leave. Not until I finish this! You don’t understand—you can’t—”
“Konal,” Jorgan said gently, “there is nothing left to finish. Do you think you can reach them now? It’s too late. You must learn from the failure.”
Konal bit his lip, but it wasn’t enough to hold back the tears or the images of the dead Dagidan.
“Your quest,” Qualageer said quietly. “Surely you can try again. At least you are whole. What ever it was I am sure—”
“Your quest?” Jorgan asked. The harshness returned. “What have you been telling him?”
“His name is Qualageer!” Konal said. “He is my friend.”
“Is he now?” Jorgan asked, sounding amused. “Does he know the company he’s been keeping?”
“I know enough Eld Mardon—”
“Don’t call me that!” Jorgan said fiercely.
Konal cringed in the dark, waiting for his uncle to betray him. Again he felt the strange sensation, this time pulling at his thoughts. It felt as if a noose were tied about his mind with a tether leading directly to his uncle’s position. He shook his head, confused. Maybe it was the drink that caused it, but how could he be certain? Suddenly an even more disturbing impression gripped him. He could not sense the floodwater at his side.
Jorgan continued, saying, “I am not much for titles, Qualageer. You may call me by my first name . . . Mardon.”
“As you will,” Qualageer said.
Konal thanked the Silent Five that Jorgan had at least been listening in his anger . . . but what about the water?
“Please, get up Konal,” Jorgan said, much kinder. “We will have time later to discuss your quest.”
“How did you find me? ” Konal asked, fighting the urge to get up, “and so quickly?”
“The Gree are not so silent for some.” Jorgan answered with his usual evasiveness. Konal was almost comforted by the response.
“He’s definitely an Eld,” Qualageer said, cheerfully. Konal jumped as his new friend’s hand touched his shoulder. “Come, let’s do as he says.”
The hand seemed to steady his edginess. “All right then, but what of your leg? If I had more of my wits about me I would have never let you take me down here.”
“Phaagh!,” Qualageer scoffed, “I do what I want. I had a story to tell and would have dragged you here on my back if you refused. The real problem is the dark. I suppose that lamp is lost forever.”
Konal thought of the tainted water and shuddered. Why can’t Ifeel it? There was a sudden hiss and crack. The imaginary noose around Konal’s head chimed like a bell and made his hair tingle. He wondered if anyone else heard it? The chamber suddenly filled with an eerie green light.
An intake of Qualageer’s breath rasped in Konal’s ears. “ByFerrigon’s Fire! ” Qualageer swore. “We have light!”
Konal now could see his friends in the strange glow. Most of it surrounded Jorgan. He wondered if his own expression looked as startled as Qualageer’s?
“You are a Master Eld?” Qualageer asked the glowing apparition before them.
“Think whatever you wish,” Jorgan answered. “This won’t last long, and I don’t want to do it again. So let’s be off.”
Konal moved this time, helping Qualageer. He forgot about his loss of sensitivity toward the tainted pool, and the bodies far below. The greater mystery of his uncle loomed before him, cutting holes in the darkness.
“So do you have the healing touch, Mardon?” Qualageer’s voice asked from some far off place.
“Somewhat,” Jorgan answered.
“I have a broken leg, don’t you know.”
“So I see young man. So I see . . .”
Konal just stared on, amazed, silently walking by his friend.
“You did well by the leg Konal,” Jorgan said, his voice coming from the mouth of the cave.
Konal refused to turn around, although he could still feel the strange tug at his thoughts. He was certain now it had nothing to do with the drink. It was as if he could sense his uncle’s presence before he even spoke. He continued watching the afternoon desert, as he had been for the past two hours, ignoring its scorching heat.
Jorgan continued, saying, “I’ve done all that I can for him. He’ll be down until sunset. The leg will heal in weeks now, instead of months. He’ll be fine.”
“Why didn’t you tell me.”
“Tell you what?” Jorgan asked, while sitting down on a near crate. He looked around with a sigh. “Such a mess you have made here.”
“About your skills,” Konal said, clarifying the point. “All this time and I’ve never known. You are a Master Eld aren’t you?”
Jorgan smiled. “Master Eld Drangeth wouldn’t say so.”
Konal was familiar with the name. Eld Drangeth was the leader of the Elds, even long before Jorgan was a student—or at least this is what Jorgan told him. But how many mysteries were there to Uncle Jorgan and his words?
Jorgan changed the subject quickly, and Konal didn’t argue. “You seem healthy.” He reached out and tousled Konal’s hair as if he were a boy.
Konal wasn’t sure if he wanted to cry with joy or strike him. Instead he did nothing. “I was afraid the storm had taken you,” Jorgan finished.
“Well I’m here, healthy and whole.” Konal paused, then added, “I was afraid the same for you.”
Jorgan just smiled his response. “What was it like?” he asked, again changing the subject. “Tell me what happened in the storm.”
Konal thought on the question. Here, he could be as enigmatic as his uncle. It was something the man could never experience and would wonder about all his days. Choosing to withhold his words and experiences gave Konal a sense of power, a turnabout for all the past arguments he had lost. Then he remembered Jorgan’s face, in the storm, just before leaving. Terror was etched in that memory and the fragility of a man unable to harness the raw power that faced him. He decided he could never be that cruel, especially to this man. He sighed. “It was glory, Uncle. Pure glory.”
“Could you be a little more specific?” Jorgan asked with a nervous laugh in his voice. “Glory is a rather biased term.”
Konal smiled. “I’m a Stormwalker.”
Jorgan scowled. “Secrets?”
“No, not from you,” Konal answered, but his thoughts went to the Other that walked the storm with him. Just give me a little moretime, Uncle. Then I’ll tell you everything. “Glory is the only way to express it. I felt the storm, became the storm, moved with it and experienced its life.”
“Yes,” Konal answered, with a thrill that took his spine. “A different kind of life. It was of forces, of ice, quick fire, the earth below—and of water. They were all mine to command.”
“Hammer of the Gree,” Jorgan whispered, with a far away cast to his eyes. “Hammer of Skyfire himself.”
Konal knew the words to be ancient titles for Stormwalkers. “Is that me?”
“You alone son,” Jorgan answered. The two sat quietly for some time before Jorgan spoke again. “Why did you call it? How? No ordinary storm could move with such ferocity through the Dries. What were you dreaming in your sleep?”
Although Jorgan’s voice was evenly tempered, Konal felt the anxiety hidden there. What could he tell him, without revealing the other Stormwalker? The dream! He thinks it was the dream. “I can’t remember,” Konal said, regretfully. “Do you really think I can gather storms from my dreams?”
“I’ve seen many strange things in my life,” Jorgan said. “I suppose it’s possible. You’re sure it wasn’t something you were wishing for before falling to sleep?”
“I’m sure. I was angry, that’s all I remember.”
“I’ll be sure not to send you to bed after arguments.” Jorgan laughed and straightened his robes. Konal suddenly realized the strange hilt was missing from his uncle’s belt. Just as quickly, he guessed it was beneath the man’s robes, probably hidden for Qualageer’s sake. Jorgan frowned. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, sorry, for many things. Despite what you may think of me now, I truly do have your best interests at heart and in mind. I know you think I have lied to you about your return to Kelidon, but you must understand there is no way of really telling when this must happen—if ever. The Gree do speak to me of many things, but their silence on that subject has been just as severe for me as my silence has been for you.” He turned his full attention on Konal. “You are the worry of the world Konal; the wild power returned. I believe some of the Gree themselves find your presence disturbing.”
It was Konal’s turn to frown. “How do you know that? Did they tell you?”
“Not in the way you would imagine,” Jorgan said. “What little history is left on the subject claims that Stormwalkers were the hand of Skyfire at a time when he ruled the others. Stormwalkers shaped the destiny of men, breaking the order of the world.”
“So Skyfire ruled the other four Gree?”
“I think so, although it’s radical doctrine such as that which ended my calling.”
“Another story for another time, young man,” Jorgan said. His face seemed to darken beneath the afternoon sun. “For now, there are some very important issues at hand that must be settled.”
Konal said nothing, afraid of what he might hear.
Jorgan continued. “I can no longer tell you how or what you must think Konal—this you have proven. Your adulthood takes me by surprise, and I would be a fool for not admitting it. What once was accomplished through heavy handed guidance must now be accomplished through reason. You will know more from me. You will know the reasons why, but will you understand or be patient enough to work the problems through?”
“Are you truly asking me?”
“I’m not certain. Perhaps I’m only asking, so you understand my plight. From birth you have been slotted for death, this much you know. I have stood in the way of this, by breaking ancient laws, emplaced to protect the world from the Hammer of the Gree. Now that Hammer can cancel my protection as quickly as he embraces it. Do you understand the dilemma?”
“I would never hurt you!”
“Easily said, but there are many ways to destruction. Alone, you will face the world’s judgments without council. Do you think others such as Qualageer can give you the proper direction?”
Konal shrugged. “How can I truly know without hearing them? Without knowing them?”
“The questions are valid ones,” Jorgan said with a nod. “I cannot fully argue against them, except through this particular circumstance.” He looked out over the Dries. “Leave him here Konal. Let him work out his own destiny alone. Don’t tie his course to yours.”
“I killed his only family,” Konal said, as if it were any type of a true counter. He knew the foolishness in it, doubly compounded by the truth. The fault was not his alone. He was not the one who brought the storm.
“Guilt is never a good reason. It will snare you in the end.”
“He’s my friend.”
“Is he?” Jorgan scoffed. “Friendship is based on trust Konal. What do you think he will do when he discovers the truth—and that you’ve lied to him?” Jorgan smiled and leaned a bit closer. “If you remember correctly, Mardon was my father’s name, and you were walking in a storm, not questing on the ground.”
“It will be fine,” Konal said, realizing how childish he sounded. “You will see.”
“As you say then,” Jorgan returned with a telling smile. He stood with his back to the sun, again straightening his robes. The cut metal shapes on his vestments jingled like chimes in a breeze. “Tomorrow we will set out for home. I think he’ll be well enough for travel then.”
Konal squinted up at the silhouette of his uncle. “You accept my decision?”
“No, of course not,” his uncle’s shadowed form spoke back. “Do you think I’m a fool? I’m respecting your opinion that’s all. You are an adult.” The shadow turned out of the sun and walked to the dark mouth of the cave, taking back the features of his uncle. “I’m going to eat something now. If you like, join me and we’ll discuss the trip home.”
Konal nodded and stood. As Jorgan passed into the darkness he realized he no longer sensed the tether about his thoughts, and to his pleasure, the moisture from within the cave called back to his senses like a healing ointment.
“Thank you both for your help,” Qualageer said. “You’ve done much to allay my doubts about the Silent Five and their mercies.”
The new day’s light streamed into the greeting chamber, lending just enough brightness to see the morning meal. Konal reached for a dried fig, or what looked to be one in the dim light. He was thankful for Qualageer’s positive declaration. It was quite a step from his earlier denouncements, and Konal was certain much of it could be attributed to Jorgan’s gentle handling of the situation. It bolstered his faith in the decision to take Qualageer with them.
“The Gree always have a reason for what they do,” Jorgan said, “as disagreeable as it may sometimes seem. They always work to create balance, and out of this we can experience their mercies.”
Konal popped the fig in his mouth and then gave a side glance to Jorgan. He nodded his head as if understanding one syllable of his uncle’s ramblings. Since he had named Jorgan, Master Eld Mardon, the man seemed to take on a persona filling those shoes. He certainly wasn’t acting the irascible man Konal had grown to know and love.
“If the Gree have crossed our paths as I suspect,” Qualageer said in a hopeful tone, “then I would like to know why.”
“Sometimes the knowing isn’t ours to have,” Jorgan added quickly.
“True,” Qualageer admitted with a sigh.
Konal felt the need to interject. “Perhaps we should travel together then, until we are sure.”
Jorgan’s face seemed to tighten in a knot, although partially obscured by the dim light. “Surely Qualageer will wish to remain in his home, Konal. You can’t expect him to leave on a whim.”
“On the contrary,” Qualageer said brightly. “I think it would be the best thing for me. I can’t carry on my brothers’ work alone. I at least should go back to the Order and report on what has happened. At best I could return later with others to finish the work.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Konal added cheerily.
“The traveling will be hard for you,” Jorgan said, obviously ignoring Konal’s input. “Your leg should be fully healed.”
“I’ve experienced worse pain, and besides, whatever you have done, it made it feel so much better.”
“Good,” Jorgan said, “then gather your things, and quickly, the day is passing.” With that, he stepped from the table and left the chamber, out into the morning light.
Konal smiled, at least part of the old man’s temperament was showing through. “I’ll help you pack,” he said, “I’ll even carry your things if you like.”
It didn’t take Qualageer long to find what he needed. A few clothes, a small pack of food, enough for all of them on the journey, and a wooden crate.
“I don’t think I can carry that,” Konal said jokingly.
“Not the whole thing,” Qualageer said, “just some of what’s inside.” He motioned for Konal to open it.
Konal did, and gasped. “These are gems.” The box was full to the top, its insides glittering under the dim lamp light. “There’s a fortune in here!”
“The gems meant nothing to them,” Qualageer said in a sad tone. “Reach down through and pull up what’s below.”
Konal knelt and put both hands into the gems. They were cold and hard. He then felt something colder in the shape of a thick rect-angle. He pulled it up through the stones. A few of the gems clattered to the floor as his hands broke free. Under the light, he could see that he held a bar of black metal. A forge mark was clearly stamped on its upper face.
“Black Steel,” Qualageer said reverently, “and it’s all mine, unless you mean to kill me for it.”
Konal felt his brow furrow. “I could have done that already.”
“It was a joke,” Qualageer said, smiling. “Do you know what Black Steel is?”
“I know it’s used in Eld blades, and that the Dagidan mine it.”
Qualageer snorted. “Hasn’t Mardon taught you the deeper truths? The story of Brod Garrin? You must know something of the Gree.”
Konal took a deep breath and handed Qualageer the bar. “I am not an Eld in training. Mardon shares very little with me on the subject.”
“Oh, I thought you were. Especially when you mentioned your quest. What do you know?”
Konal swallowed. “I know that the Gree move through the elements, all except for Skyfire. He seems to control them all. I once heard that Skyfire ruled the other four.”
“That’s a lie!” Qualageer laughed. “Mardon didn’t teach you that.”
“No,” Konal said, hoping Qualageer could not sense his sudden fear for telling another lie. “A man in Thadd, just in passing. I never told Mardon.”
“Probably the Black Eld of Darmah,” Qualageer said acidly. “Who else would spread such lies.”
Konal felt his blood chill. Who was the Black Eld? And what did he have to do with his clan? “I don’t think it was him. He was just some wanderer.”
“The Black Eld is a wanderer Konal! I can’t believe you met him and didn’t even know who he was. Mardon must have sheltered you greatly.”
“Well then,” Konal said hesitantly, “who is this Black Eld?”
“He is the thief of Brod Garrin.”
“Who is Brod Garrin?”
Qualageer just stared back like a stone. He then suddenly burst out in laughter. “Are you Mardon’s slave? Hasn’t he taught you anything?”
Konal felt ashamed and stupid. He thought of his uncle and his emotions ran red. “No, nothing.” He picked up one of the gems from the floor and looked at it in the light. “I don’t know anything about these things.”
“I’m sorry,” Qualageer said quietly. “Maybe it is time you asked him to teach you.”
“Why don’t you teach me?” Konal asked.
Qualageer’s face returned to its blank composure. “It’s not my place, Konal.”
“Then at least tell me about Brod Garrin and the Black Eld of Darmah.”
Qualageer nodded. “After you pocket some of those gems for me.”
“All right.” Konal bent down and began scooping up the stones and placing them into the pack. Once he finished, the two set off for the mouth of the cave.
The first day of travel became a long and silent journey. Qualageer’s story about the Black Eld and Brod Garrin left Konal badly shaken and he wasn’t sure who he should talk to about its content. Jorgan’s earlier question about trusting others, took on a new sinister angle, filling Konal with a tremendous sense of dread. He refused to talk with Jorgan about this and Qualageer’s position was clear. His frustration grew ten fold under the beating sunlight, where he had no place to work out the anger—or the fear. It was coupled with the fact that Jorgan decided to travel by day instead of night. This fatigued Konal greatly.
Jorgan seemed to have no reason to speak to either Konal or Qualageer, moving out ahead of them on a trail that he only had eyes for. Konal watched the man cautiously from behind, privately cursing his own existence and how it had been carved out for him by a man who had spent a lifetime lying to him.
Late in the day Jorgan slipped below a sandy grade, disappearing from Konal’s sight. Qualageer stopped them and motioned for a rest until Jorgan returned. It didn’t take long before his uncle came back, his face split by a massive grin.
“I have found our camp for the night,” he said. “The waters from the storm have gathered below in a shallow bowl of stones. It’s usually wet in early spring, but never quite as full as today. We’ll have water for the night. Not much shelter though.”
“It will be fine,” Qualageer said with a tired grin. “I’ve been in worse.”
The three made their way slowly down the sandy slope into the bowl of gravel. It was indeed full of water. While the others began setting up camp, Konal moved to the clear tepid pool and tried to gain a comfort from its presence. He was shocked and then angered, when out of his fatigue, he realized he could not sense the water. He knelt down and peered into the shallow depths. The last light of the day cast colorful reflections of gold and orange across its surface, and his sight danced back and forth between the brown stones beneath and the transparent colors above. Sensing nothing though, brought on a flood of tears. He reached into the pool and let the smooth liquid envelope his hand like a second skin. Not being used to seeing so much water in one place, it was maddening to be held from embracing its fullness. There he sat, frustrated, until the bright reflected colors of the evening sunset were replaced by the light of a fully risen moon.
He felt Jorgan’s approach long before the man spoke.
“I have put Qualageer into a deep sleep,” he said. “The journey has been too much for him.”
Konal refused to move or acknowledge him, he didn’t want to think about how the man could just put someone into a deep sleep. All he wanted was the water before him—just one sweet moment of union.
“He was worried about you, saying that you’ve been too quiet today. This conduct by the pool left him wondering.”
Konal pushed his, sore, bare feet deeper into the pool. He worked the gravel between his toes furiously wanting to know why he could feel the stone more than the water.
“I told him you get this way when you’re tired. I suppose he accepted it well enough.”
Konal let his senses reach out toward his uncle. Just as he expected, again he felt the strange tether around his thoughts. He was certain now that Jorgan was using an Eld trick to bind his perception of the water. He immediately began to attack the sensation with the same skill he used when shaping water. Jorgan stiffened in the moonlight.
Konal stood up and walked away from him out into the deeper part of the pool. The water enveloped him to his waist, soaking through his clothes—but he still felt nothing.
“You,” Konal ground out through clenched teeth, “are the Black Eld of Darmah!”
Jorgan’s still form on the shore seemed to blend into the gravely pit behind him. He said nothing, but Konal could feel him like a lead weight tied around his scalp. The tether had become so tangible he could almost reach out and grab it with his hands.
“You stole Brod Garrin from the Elds.” More silence. “Are you surprised that I know what it is? The great blade of power, Uncle. The black blade holds the voice of Skyfire, the hilt the voices of the other four Gree. It was made so that the mad power of Skyfire could be kept from the world. It was made to control and killStormwalkers! ”
“Listen to yourself Konal,” Jorgan said, his voice seemed as rough and unsure as the stones beneath Konal’s feet. “You’ve told my story in a matter of a few words. The truth is hidden there in, but you just don’t see it.”
“The truth! ” Konal shouted. He lashed out at the chord holding his senses. “The truth is that my life has been a lie! I have no family! I have no destiny! Qualageer told me all the things you would not. Telling me without knowing who he spoke to. That’s why you didn’t want him with us.” He struck with his senses again and this time his uncle stumbled. “That’s why you couldn’t say when I could return home. I have no home! Darmah is gone, crumbled to dust under the judgment of the Gree! You took Brod Garrin and made yourself an enemy to the Elds. You struck an evil bargain with Hurgen Darmah, my father, and he went mad. My family was killed in judgment—judged because of your presence. You killed my family!”
“No!” Jorgan howled.
Konal lashed out one final time and the tether snapped! With a flash of thought the pool spun into a torrent of gushing force. A peel of thunder took the air as bolts of quick fire hammered the pit. Konal felt everything; the air, the ground, the water, all the life around him. Everything was his to command. Everything—except Jorgan.
The figure of his uncle stood firm like one of the giant monoliths in the desert. The quick fire and splashing water reflected brilliance off his stony features. Slowly, with obvious determination, the old man stepped into the tempest.
Konal struck him with quick fire, determined to be the Black Eld’s final judgment. I’m a Stormwalker—the Hammer of the Gree! No man could stand against such a force. The lightning cascaded across his uncle in a thousand shards of gold spiraling fire and then disappeared into the storm.
Jorgan continued to move forward.
The effect held Konal where he stood causing him to falter. Howcan he live? He caught his uncle’s gaze and immediately separated the man from the monster. As indomitable as the figure seemed the eyes spoke another story. They were the same eyes Konal had seen days before at the coming of the storm. They were the eyes of the only father Konal had ever known. They were eyes filled with terror.
The tempest stopped and the water dropped back to the basin with a roar. Jorgan was now a pace from Konal, wet and shivering. He spoke through trembling lips. “So, you could never harm me?”
The words bit more than any pain the old man could deliver physically. Konal dropped to his knees in the water and wept. “No!” he screamed into the face of the water. “I could never harm my uncle. I don’t know you. I don’t know anything.” He spat the words out through heavy sobs. “I’m a monster . . . The Hammer of Skyfire . . . a monster! ”
Jorgan knelt into the water. “No, you are wrong . . . confused, that is all. This can only be blamed on me.”
“I don’t want this! I don’t understand anything. Friendships, people, the world! It’s all a mystery trapped in the rotting parchments stored in my room. I don’t understand. Who are you? What am I? Why don’t you just let the judgments fall on me? Let this be ended . . . “ Konal stopped short, shivering from the chill of his fear and anger.
Jorgan leaned into him with an embrace. “You are like a son to me Konal, the joy and suffering of my life. I have tried to protect you from the world’s ignorance. But it has left you empty.” Jorgan paused.
“I want to go home,” Konal wept. “ Just take me home.”