By Nathan Steen
Edited by Alicia Steen
As Ecalai and the Stranger continue to journey through the mountains, Ecalai discovers just how peculiar a person his partner really is. Apparently the rugged mountain traveler knows quite a lot about swordplay and combat. Every day the Stranger insists on making camp several hours early in order to train Ecalai in the mastery of the weapon.
During the first training session, Ecalai had asked, “What is the point? Shadows do not dwell this deep into the mountains. What could there possibly be to fight here?”
“Trust me, my friend,” the Stranger had replied. “You will need these skills where you are going. There may not be shadows here, but these mountains are dangerous just the same. Much more so than you think.”
Gradually Ecalai started to enjoy these sessions, but he also became increasingly frustrated with his own lack of ability. He was learning to fight entirely without magic, something he had never done, and as a result his strikes were slower and his form less disciplined than he would prefer. The worst part was how acutely he knew it.
“This isn’t going to do me much good,” Ecalai complains at the start of another training session. “Without magic I cannot fight back against another who does use magic, much less be effective on a battlefield. How can I win with only a sword?”
“You win with only a sword because only a sword is all you need,” the Stranger answers. “You have been using magic for so long it is hard to picture fighting without it. Do you see how that limits your ability?”
The Stranger assumes a fighting stance, which Ecalai copies. The Stranger continues, “Think of it this way. Magic is will bring down the sword, yet still the sword is the bane of magic. Strength does not arise from either your sword or your magic; strength comes only from trusting the One who alone is strong.”
“I have tried to be that man before,” Ecalai says, “and I still was not able to stop shadow. I know the Ancient of Days is above all powers that live, but I do not see how His power works in our worlds. Shadow just seems too unbeatable. In the end, how can anyone rise up again after being broken by darkness?”
The Stranger smiles, as if Ecalai hit upon the heart of the matter. He replies, “The Ancient of Days is often closer to the broken than he is to the strong. No man can be truly strong in his own power. To the contrary, only after you are broken do you become strong, and only when you give up your life do you truly live.
“The Ancient of Days can turn the weakest of men into his champion. He chooses to display his power through the lowly and humble. What is often the hardest part is becoming weak so He can make you strong. So often men begin to doubt when they arrive at the darkest hour. If only they would turn to the Ancient of Days in their brokenness he would heal their hurts and make them new.
“Come,” says the Stranger. “Let us begin your training.”
Several weeks pass in this way. Each day Ecalai grows stronger in skill and in knowledge. The Stranger teaches him much about the Ancient of Days that Ecalai has never heard before. Ecalai also learns how to cope without his magic as he adapts his old skills of wilderness survival to his new surroundings. Slowly, Ecalai begins to heal.
Eventually the Stranger leads Ecalai to the heart of the mountains – the true High Wilderness. Standing on a cliff ledge, Ecalai can see the entire landscape. Hidden in the midst of tall snow-capped mountains a lush valley opens up. Looking as if green splits white in two, the wide valley looks a paradise in the midst of inhospitable cold. The sheer beauty takes Ecalai’s breath away.
“Welcome to the heart of the mountains, the High Wilderness of Jeshrun,” the Stranger says. “This is a place few have knowledge of and even fewer have found. It is the home of Jeshrun’s most mysterious clan – the clan Twilight.”
“Clan Twilight?” Ecalai inquires, startled. “I thought they were a dark clan that keeps to themselves. They almost never show themselves to anyone.”
“It is true they have earned a reputation of being rather strong and intense,” the Stranger explains. “It is said that they received the name because their enemies have time only to whisper a single word.
“However, they are not a dark clan. That is a rumor spread by those who have reason to fear them. They are strong because they diligently follow the commands of the Ancient of Days, and they are fierce because know the value of what they have been given to protect. These mountains know no shadows because clan Twilight protects them as they have for ages past. Clan Twilight, along with clans such as Blue Soul and Dark Moon, are the reason shadow does not own Jeshrun.”
“Really?” Ecalai asks, skeptical. “I have not heard any of this in my travels.”
The Stranger nods. “To be fair, clan Twilight does keep to itself more than the other clans. It is not strange to never catch more than a whisper of them even in the Tri-City area. Their isolation has earned them a dark reputation, but that is not the real truth.
“A word of advice, though,” the Stranger adds. “They will not long abide any who believe in the lies and delusions spread by shadow, so do your best not to say anything stupid.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind,” Ecalai agrees with slight nervousness.