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Overwhelmed with excitement, I had not been able to shut my eyes as I continued to stare at the stars as they now faded into the waking sky. A year had passed since beginning our quest for the Mark, and now we were mere hours away. While I had wanted to continue our journey knowing that a sleepless night waited if we refrained, Travors had maintained that such a day should be started fresh. Not wanting to argue on the eve of such a special occasion, I relented figuring that after our extensive quest. one more night could do no harm.
As the sunlight showed its first rays across the hillside I turned to find Travors still asleep by indication of his heavy breathing. I had found this to be the only trustworthy method in determining the mage’s conscious state as it was not always apparent being that his eyes remained open during slumber. His head lay against a piece of fallen timber with his arms folded neatly across his chest. Feeling the warmth of the sunlight on my left cheek, I rose from my brush pile bedding and walked over to the stream that steadily flowed alongside our chosen campground. The icy water stung my hands as I cupped a mouthful and took a refreshing sip before splashing the rest against my sleep deprived face.
“A delightful morning, wouldn’t you say?” Travors asked energetically
I turned to look at the mage and found him staring out onto the path that lay in wait for us. After our lengthy stint together the peculiar being still astounded me with his ability to wake with such speed as he waited patiently by the trail’s beginnings. Our unlikely pairing in search of the long foretold Mark had come as a surprise to both of us. We had been chosen from among our kinds as the fortunate two who would finally be able to reach the illusive artifact and hopefully the reward that it possessed.
The obsession revolving around the Mark had plagued our communities beginning with the reception of Ilistad’s letter that was believed to have arrived shortly before his death. One of the most powerful and well known magical beings of his time, the wizard had journeyed far into the Pulcherous mountains after the passing of his beloved friend Clemente. It was not until after twenty-two years of solitude that a communication mysteriously arrived from Ilistad in the form of a simple letter having only two lines.
“Atop a treasure I am, and it must be foretold. With only the Mark can it be found, and only with another shall you find The Mark.”
Almost a century had passed since the letter’s arrival, yet the mystery surrounding the Mark continued to baffle our kinds. Many theories existed about the Mark’s true form whether it was a map etched in stone or the archetypical “X” marks the spot. However the one common thought was that it had to be truly wonderful for Ilistad to have felt he needed to share it before his passing. Countless mages and wizards alike therefore set off in search of the mystery piece residing somewhere in the lofty mountains in which Ilistad had disappeared. Many left and only a few returned from the treacherous journey as the mountains were said to possess hardships beyond reason. This did not deter either magical race from continuing to send volunteers as each wanted to claim the magnificent treasure that surely waited. Those who did return shared stories of frigid weather, dangerous wildlife, and other magical beings never before seen leading many to believe that Ilistad had left the bounty cursed.
Only after many failed attempts by singular volunteers was it then acknowledged that Ilistad’s directions had indeed not been followed and that was the reason for failure thus far. After all Ilistad had said that with another the Mark would be found, not alone. A simple but readily ignored step as selfishness and greed overpowered both the wizards and mages. However, to split such a treasure between two people would not be of such consequence many declared as no other avenue could be found. So again many fled in search of the Mark though this time in pairs. While the length of their absence certainly increased in comparison to prior attempts, the outcome was the same as many returned alone, in feuding pairs, or not at all.
Upon the 50th anniversary of the letter’s arrival and after a half century of ill fated attempts, journeys in search of the foretold treasure were deemed forbidden as too many had already been lost to the cause cited the ruling party. While disheartened at the thought of never finding such a splendid treasure, most agreed with the ruling that Ilistad’s described Mark and therefore treasure were assuredly unattainable. Archived with all the other forgotten items of old, the letter became nothing more than an afterthought only told as a solemn tale by those who had survived and then eventually as a mere fantasy tale for the young.
The letter was doomed to remain as an anecdote for childish talk until Jurian, a newly culminated wizard; accidentally stumbled across it upon exploring the historical aspects of the wizards’ home. Invigorated at finding the actual letter described in one of his favorite childhood tales, Jurian brought the story to life again as he introduced a conclusion that had not been reached before. Clemente had been a mage, so what if the other had been meant to be a mage? Would they then be able to reach the Mark?
The revived mystery and excitement regarding what could be found overwhelmed the races once again. A motion was pitched to let those willing to search for the Mark go so that Ilistad’s treasure could finally be found. However the ruling party was hesitant to grant the passionate requests in fear that the numbers lost before would only be repeated again. Therefore the decision was reached to send only one pair, one mage and one wizard chosen from each side as most able for the journey at hand. So it was that Trevors and I came to where we are today.
As I approached the trail where Travors awaited, I smiled at him in response to his question.
“It would be better had I slept any last night. I knew that I would not be able to though.” I said
“I believe you did say that. Shall we begin in any case?” Travors said while already heading up the path
“Would it matter?” I joked
“I suppose not.” Travors replied with a slight laugh
It was funny how our relationship had changed so much over the course of the past year. Cognizant of the fact that we represented two different kinds, our beginnings together were more akin to a contest of who was more elite. Each of us tried in vain to outperform the other through deed or wit; however it was quickly learned that only together we would be able to succeed in overcoming the obstacles that faced us along the way. Our time together now was certainly more cordial, if not even pleasant as we seemingly had become accustomed to one another.
As we neared the looming cabin, my anticipation of what lie inside continued to escalate. We had been fortunate in spotting the simple dwelling that stood atop the mountain that was situated in the remotest portion of the Pulcherous range. Our doubts as to the true location of Ilistad’s disappearance were beginning to reach their peak having journeyed across the entire region thus far without any sign of prior inhabitants. However, seconds after we had reached the decision to terminate our quest should we not find something within one more week, Travors spotted it. Appearing to be nothing more than a large tree amongst a forest of smaller ones, it became clear that the wooded structure was certainly more than an overgrown trunk as we neared our approach.
Arriving at the entrance to the cabin, Travors and I stopped to take in the place that we had searched for so long to find. There was no assurance that the Mark even lay in this forest hideaway or that this was even Ilistad’s dwelling. However after a year of searching, this had indeed been our greatest find. A sizeable tree limb lay on top of the leaning structure that was almost completely covered by a sea of green vines. A lean-to covered a small front porch supported by two vine covered columns. Only a few rotted logs remained on the deck like structure, no doubt to heavy to be rolled away by the wind over the past century.
“So do you suppose this is Ilistad’s” Travors asked
“I would hope after this time we should find something of his” I said
“That was not answer to my question” Travors said
“I know” I said with good humor
Beginning to move forward in the direction of the aged dwelling, Travors took hold of my shoulder in order to stop my advance.
“I should like you to know something Ridus before we reach the finale of our journey. Whether it ends with this obtuse find or the reward for which we set out, your accompaniment has been…an unexpected pleasure.” Travors said
Our conversations had taken many routes from vehement disagreements on magic to the unusual agreements on topics such as the ignorance of youth. However, they had never reached a point where we talked of one another in such a way. Yet, as Travors spoke of his feeling toward our journey, I could not help but agree.
“I am in agreement…my friend” I said surprised that I would ever utter such a word towards a mage
“You think his remains are in here?” Travors said as he immediately set off after my statement as if wanting to avoid any more sentiment.
Following closely behind, we carefully found our way across the dilapidated decking and pushed our way through the front door that hung slightly ajar. The one room found inside the forest house was modestly furnished with homemade chairs and tables, and a small but long bed frame. Bookcases lined the wall, yet they appeared to be filled with more odds and ends of forest collectibles than any readable manuscripts. Leaves rustled across the cabin floor as wind poured in through the numerous gaps in the wood and the broken shutter on the side of the structure. A pile of stones lay in one corner of the house with a few still attached near the roof indicating what must have been a chimney at one time.
As we searched the rustic room nothing could be found amongst the brush and collectibles that littered the space. The two books that remained in identifiable condition appeared only as common works not relating or leading to proof of the presence of a wizard, let alone Ilistad. So after much searching through the remnants of this house’s past life and the chanting of numerous charms, it was with great despair that we took a seat at the seemingly sturdy table and chairs that sat in the middle of the room.
“It appears that we have stumbled across the wrong dwelling.” Travors said while still glancing around the room
“I suppose the treasure was not meant to be found” I said truly disappointed at our findings
As I rose up to leave, Travors left his seat as well though with much more haste than me and in the direction of the stone pile. As he quickly pulled away the stones I proceeded slowly to join him trying to see what it is that he had noticed. Then I saw it, my heart skipped at the site of the blue binding with the small golden etching in the corner. It was too small to make out the initials though I already knew that they must be IAH as the placement and color where the same as other works that Ilistad had left behind. Travors finally unearthed the rather large book from under the stone and displayed it excitedly for me.
Returning to our former seats at the wooden set of table and chairs, Travors began to gingerly open the work. Having set it sideways across the table so that we both could view, we both anxiously poured over the manuscript that turned out to be Ilistad’s journal which he had kept during his twenty-two years of solitude. Leaving nothing unnoted, Ilistad accounted for all pieces of his life beginning when he left our lands until the day that he had believed was his last.
Not willing to remove our eyes until everything had been read, it was not until the last entry that he mentioned a treasure beyond compare. Years before a package had been mentioned that was sent with a lone and trustworthy traveler in order to save the people of his world, a selfish and unhappy bunch, yet the contents were not described. However, the letter was indeed the package about which he spoke. Reading with such speed I could barely contain my excitement as I searched for a description of the Mark in every word along with Travors and then there it was. After all this time the Mark had been identified, it was finally foretold. Our search was indeed over yet the feeling was not as I expected. Amazed by our findings, we sat in silence at the table for some time before agreeing that we should set out the next morning for home.
Having nothing to search for on our journey back, we returned in only three months time to the jubilant welcome of both our kindred. Told to keep the information a secret until all could be told, we maintained the Mark’s mystery for a week more while every being in the land gathered to hear our accounts. Finally assembled, mages and wizards alike, we related all of our happenings to the attentive crowd. Arriving at the portion where Travors discovered the book in pile of stones, everyone gasped as he then produced the book and opened up Ilistad’s journal. He then read using only Ilistad’s words.
“In a world of deceit and lies, selfishness and greed, there is much to be longed for. What are riches as they can be stolen, what is pride as it can be deprived, and what is power as it still cannot force love? Only with the Mark can one be free of the snares that I have mentioned and lead one to the only treasure worth having in this world. Assuredly, the Mark of a true friend is indeed the ultimate treasure that I have possessed.”
Not a sole spoke as the once elated crowd slowly took their time in leaving the field on which we had gathered. Those who had offered congratulations before now passed by without acknowledgement as all left to return home as empty handed as they had arrived.
“How could a treasure exist that could not be seen?” a few where heard murmuring
Before two hours had passed, only Travors and I remained in the field from which we spoke. We had surely returned with nothing shiny, of material wealth, or magical power. However, as the two of us prepared for our next adventure we experienced a different feeling than those who left. For not only had we come to understand this treasure about which Ilistad spoke, neither made of gold or power as believed before, but in each other we had found the Mark.
|A Felony of Birds|
|Louisville's Silent Guardians|