I was relaxed and at peace beside the tall rock we call the menhir when a ripple went through the earth. It shook the grassy sward under me and the foundations of the Centre trembled. I sat up in alarm wondering what it could mean. Then the deep voice of the Magistrate boomed. ‘Depart,’ he said. ‘All elementals must leave the Centre immediately,’ and the exodus began. There was fear. Horns sounded a discord over the trample of milling creatures. I made ready to leave with others when, through the confusion of noise surrounding me, I received his summons. ‘Come,’ the Magistrate said, his words as clear as if he stood beside me.
I trembled. In all of my time spent at the Centre the Magistrate never once had cause to speak with me. By calling me now was puzzling but I went with haste and a little trepidation for his calls were never idle.
Thoughts of past wrongdoings came to my mind as I approached his chamber for I have not always been a docile creature. I admit that I have been headstrong and wayward at times and the thought occurred that perhaps he planned to discipline me. But I am a lowly creature and hardly worth his notice and in all honesty I could not recall an escapade of sufficient magnitude that would merit his displeasure. My bare feet slapped the polished floor of his presence when I entered and he spoke.
‘The six pair Cormer Jewels are gone.’ The words came from deep within his sanctum but were not what I expected. They confused me and in my confusion my legs grew weak. But the sound of his voice drew me on.
‘Shanau Firdok, the Sorceress, took them but I have set a time-web snare, a spell, that will capture their sparkle. It will also shut the gates of the Centre. Dwarves, djinns and trolls, semi humans, water folk and shape-changers, all elementals must leave. Those who do not go before my spell is active will be trapped and die. Come,’ he said to me, ‘come before my gaze that I may see your heart.’ With nerves a-jangle I slid one foot forward.
The spell of the time-web snare pulsed invisible waves from the core of his presence to trawl the ether and capture the lights of the six pair gems, netting them in fine filament strands of enchanted mesh, drawing them to the vault at the Centre’s centre. ‘When my vault at the Centre is closed, nothing will pass in or out except The Guide or The One,’ he said. ‘Any who accompany them will never leave.’
From where I stood I saw the sparkles of the six pair gems begin to wink into existence. They appeared as greens, blues, reds, yellows and every conceivable colour between. They moved sluggishly at first, flashing slowly without excitement, as if having parted from their individual stones was an out of body experience that slowed them.
‘Find The One.’ The Magistrate’s voice echoed from inside of the vault. ‘Search, seek and bring The One to this place. Provide your protection. The One is human but that must not stop you from testing the creature you find. Use your gifts. Be certain that who you have is truly The One, my Chosen.’ Brilliant lights flashed in a dazzle of colour. The Magistrate smiled and admired his work. Then he turned again to me. ‘Only The One can bring back the six pair stones.’
Pockets of light burst without sound. Rainbow colours exploded spontaneously above and through the massive rock, erupting from its centre, blessing the etched symbols on its polished face, spilling to the ground below. Shafts of brilliance jetted to the dark forest and down the depths of an encircling rift that split woodland from the Centre. Vertical columns of grey basalt plunged the rift to dark reflective water.
The Magistrate spoke into the darkness of the menhir and his voice was heavy with age and concern. ‘Await The One,’ he said to it. ‘Your vault is a secret place of my making. And on your mirror black surface I have etched a message in runes. I also made a bridge to cross the rift and I issue this decree.’
‘No animal, reptile, fish nor any living thing may traverse this rift until The Guide is come with The One. No flower may grace the grass that circles you. No bird or insect wing shall beat your air. No tree may grow or fall to cross the rift that I have made. No wind blown debris, rain or branch, twig or leaf shall intrude to spoil your green surround. No stamp or tread of foot shall touch this ground to mar this hallowed site; no noise may sound that will disturb your peaceful hush or wake your silence. For more generations than shall ever be remembered the encircling forest, vines and bracken that live in tangling profusion, will grow and die to always ring the rift, to keep and sanctify the vault wherein the six pair sparkles lie. It is my command that no single thing may enter to despoil or tarnish the pristine close-cropped sward until The One is come.’
Pockets of brightness flashed in a radiant dance and the Magistrate spoke again. ‘Night and day, in cold and heat the spells I place within this rock will bind time to its eternal core. Only The One will have the power to unlock the secret of restoration and bring back what is lost.’
The silence that followed lasted so long I thought he was finished with me and I turned to leave.
‘Stop!’ His voice cracked like a whip.
The gaze of the Magistrate roved, penetrating beyond the forest and he frowned. ‘Other elementals may not be your allies. Some gave help to Shanau Firdok, the Sorceress. They assisted her in taking the stones but that is not all. She bound those innocent creatures to herself to do harm. They are enslaved. Free them if you can but be wary for she has made them deceitful.’
The Magistrate waved an arm at the vault in the rock. ‘The Sorceress must have the lights if she is to regain her powers. Without the lights she is weak. With them her sway is incalculable.’
‘In absolute trust I give you my sigil, my magic symbol. It is a word.’ The breath he blew on me was hot and it carried his word and his power. I felt the strength of it lodge deep in my being and he said, ‘Take it but keep it safe. Guard it well. Remember that it belongs to only The One and to no other. When you have absolute certainty beyond all possible doubt that the person you find is The One, pass it on. With it The One will carry my authority.’ He dropped his arm and turned his gaze on me. For one terrifying moment I looked deep in his anger and thought it would destroy me. Then he spoke softly as if to himself but I knew it was to me. ‘The Sorceress must not bend The One to her will. You are to protect The One and ensure my Chosen will always be free of her scheming.’ Silence descended and this time I waited, undecided about what to do.
‘Go,’ He thundered. His command came to me as dazzling light and a blast of heat. I stepped back shielding my face. Then I bowed and turned to flee before the Centre closed.
That very short time I spent in the presence of the Magistrate is far in the past but I remember it clearly. Since then I have followed his command to search for The One in the vast world of humans. Days, weeks, months and years have passed; yes, even centuries, but my search goes on. Most elementals that left the Centre when I did have withered in the human world of doubt and cynicism for nothing can destroy an elemental more easily than disbelief. But I survive with skills no others have and humans believe in me. They are the realists who trust what they see and touch, be it a rope of running water, a roaring fire, ravening lion, a handful of sand or something that is entirely different. And I can be any of these things and more. My name is Thrukenvel Gyrkue and I am a shape-changer.