The wind is changing. Things that were and are will be no more. The Sentinels are shifting restlessly; the powers that guide them are awakening in might. Those kingdoms and warriors who arise now will be the leaders of the coming future.
A new age is rising.
The Age of Champions
By Nathan Steen
Edited by Alicia Steen
In the far east of Jeshrun the mountains tower high above the landscape, standing like an impenetrable wall. Any route through these seemingly endless mountains, if indeed it existed at all, has long since passed from common knowledge. As dangerous as these mountains are, few dare to travel far into this natural maze save for one lone figure slowly making his way deeper and deeper into the unknown.
Ecalai stumbles and falls to one knee, but he picks himself up and keeps going. Wandering aimlessly, he is slowly venturing deeper and deeper into the mountains. He hardly cares, however. In fact, he can barely see where he is going. It doesn’t matter much. All he can think about is his failure to stop the shadow and the terror he felt when he saw his skills could never compare with Mykl’s power.
Ecalai had tried so hard to be the champion that the Ancient of Days has called him to be. He had trained so hard to master his magic. He had given all his effort toward making sure he could clearly hear the wind. In the face of overwhelming darkness he stood firm and gave all he had to defend Jeshrun, yet none of it had been enough. In the end nothing he possessed could save him.
Ecalai doesn’t understand it. What had he done wrong?
Ecalai can still hear Mykl’s words in his head. “Everything that you have ever done has been for the sake of vengeance.” Mykl’s voice accuses. “You can to longer see the truth of what you have become.” In his heart, Ecalai knows Mykl was right. Ecalai had thought he had been doing what the Ancient of Days had sent him to do. He had been so sure that the wind led him to do all those things, yet it had all been merely a trick of his own mind. If something that he had believed in whole-heartedly was so completely wrong, what else of what he thought to be true was a lie?
More accusations reverberate in Ecalai’s head. “Now Dark Moon is in ruins and you are partially to blame,” the guide had said. “You could not save Nagaster and you cannot save Jeshrun either.” At the time Ecalai couldn’t think of anything to say in his defense. Even now he still has nothing to say in reply. Maybe the guide was right.
Ecalai continues his aimless wandering up and through rocky passages in this manner even as the day grows old and the miles grow long. He is now far enough into the mountains that he can no longer see Jeshrun behind him. Nor, if he looked, could he see where he came from. In front of him the mountains rise higher and, though he has not begun to notice, the air is becoming colder.
As it begins to grow dark a sudden strange voice out of nowhere interrupts his thoughts. “It is dangerous to wander alone,” the voice says. “These mountains are home to many things you had best no meet unprepared.”
Startled, Ecalai looks up and sees a man standing in front of him. This man is one on the strangest looking men Ecalai had ever met. His clothes are of a manner Ecalai has never seen before, nor by looking at them could Ecalai tell where the man is from. He was well equipped for traveling through the mountains, however, and from the look of things he comes here often.
The man continues. “You appear to be lost. Perhaps I could be of some assistance to you.”
“Thank you for the offer,” Ecalai replies, “but I am beyond what aid you may be able to give me.”
“Still,” the man says again, “I cannot leave a poor soul like you to wander in these mountains alone. Come, where are you headed? I know these mountains well and can take you anywhere you wish to go.”
“I do not have a destination,” is Ecalai’s response. “I suppose you could say that I am looking for something but I don’t know what it might be.”
“Ah I see. You are not the first to come here searching for the unknown. Come, I have some friends who might be able to help you find what it is you are after. It is a bit of a long journey, but it is one that many like you have found well worthwhile.”
Ecalai shrugs. “Well I guess it couldn’t hurt. Tell me, sir, what might your name be?”
The man smiles. “I have many names, but those who know me around here call me the Stranger.”
The Stranger leads Ecalai deeper and deeper into the mountains. As they move upward, the temperature continues to drop until snow forms on the peaks above them. Still the Stranger keeps moving deeper into the mountains. Ecalai begins to wonder where they could possibly be going, though he says nothing. Any place is good as long as it isn’t in Jeshrun. Their journey, however, does not pass in silence, as the Stranger is much more talkative than the guide was.
“I have seen many a person come to these mountains for one reason or another, but your circumstances appear to be different from theirs,” the Stranger speaks. “Where have you been and what brings you here to the high wilderness?”
Ecalai, wishing to be left to his own thoughts, is slightly annoyed at the question. He wonders why he accepted help from this man in the first place, when all he really wants is to be left alone. Still, he does manage to reply, “I was in Dark Moon when the shadows attacked. I tried to hold them back, but I failed in the end.”
“I see. I was on a mountain peak when it happened and could just make out the clouds of shadow in the distance. It is a shame that many are so distracted by one thing or another they cannot see the war fought in the world around them. If they would only turn to the Ancient of Days, He would heal their cities and cleanse their lands.”
Dejectedly, Ecalai replies, “I don’t see how that could ever happen. Shadow always seems to win in the end.”
“What?!” exclaims the Stranger with a sudden stop. He turns a stare at Ecalai. “Who told you that?”
“It was a man I traveled with who called himself the Guide. He kept saying such things over and over. I didn’t want to agree with him, but, judging from my own experiences, I haven’t seen anything to suggest otherwise.”
“The Guide you say?” the Stranger muses as he resumes walking. “I have heard of him. I would advise you to be more careful of what company you keep. The Guide has led many a man down the wrong path in his time.”
“You know him? He seemed to be the kind who has few acquaintances and fewer friends,” Ecalai says. He is becoming intrigued with the Stranger.
“Yes, I know him,” the Stranger responds. “He is devious and cunning. He revels most in turning righteous men down the wrong path and tearing them apart until they have nothing left. Far too many have followed him only to find themselves trapped in his web of lies and despair. It would have been wiser for you to not have listened to him or followed his paths and ‘shortcuts’.”
“But what about the things he said? Isn’t he right about shadow?” Ecalai questions. “All my life I have been fighting shadow, and I have seen many other good men dedicated to defeating it, but I have yet to see anyone who was able to achieve a lasting victory. Shadow always comes back.”
The Stranger pauses a moment before answering. “It is true that men with their power alone can never be victorious. If you rely solely on your own strength, you will always fall short. To defeat shadow, you must be made new. You must be, as it were, born again.”
“Born again? What do you mean?”
“Truthfully, I tell you unless one is made new he cannot see the things that the Ancient of Days would have him see. Unless one is born again of the Wind, he cannot enter the kingdom of the Ancient of Days. That which is born of flesh is but flesh, and that which is born of the Wind is also wind.”
“I understand the Wind already. I have felt it. I have heard its call. How can you say I must be born again of the Wind when I already know the Wind?”
“You see but you do not understand. You listen but you have not truly heard. Here is the meaning: the wind that is of the air blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Wind.”
Ecalai pauses as he thinks this over. “You are a curious fellow; you know that?”
The Stranger smiles.