The disembodied voice giggled joyfully, “Well of course. Where else would I be?”
I had no idea, but by this point I had decided that any rational arguments or answers had been well and truly ruled null and void. “What am I doing here?”
“I believe you have some questions for me.”
This was an understatement to say the least “Yeah, I do. For a start, why me? Why did you choose me?”
“Ahhh, but you choose me.”
“You choose me. Now we must see how things develop. See if this was a good choosing,” the voice said with a playful laugh.
The world around me was still pitch back. I didn’t feel in any danger, but at the same time I didn’t like sitting blind whist my host spun around me, popping up at will. “Look, can I see you,” I asked, “I don’t like sitting here in the dark.”
The voice laughed out loud, “Poor childer… frightened of the dark, are we? Is this better?”
The world around me lit up with a queer black light that hurt my eyes and burrowed into my skull. I blinked and looked around, I appeared to be sat on a spit of land by the sea whose black waves washed up behind me with a sound like ball bearings rolling over glass. The grass beneath me was black in colour and the earth a strange shade of grey. The entire scene was lit by a coal black sun suspended on the horizon of a midnight sky. It was if the entire world had been switched to a weird negative version of itself. Of my host, however, there was no sign. “Err, are you here?” I asked nervously.
“Yes,” the voice whispered into my ear, close enough I expected to feel breath on my skin.
“Are you invisible then?”
“Sometimes,” it giggled.
“Right. Well, how about not being. I’ve had a lot of strange things happen today and I’d like to see who the bloody hell I’m talking to!” I snapped.
“Aww, poor childer. Here I am then,” the voice said obviously amused.
With a sound that felt like my own head being turned inside out, a green sphere radiating a strange light and vibrating tendrils of crackling energy appeared. I gasped out loud, the sight of my captor, my tormentor was both beautiful and terrible at the same time. “What… What are you,” I stammered.
“You may call me an Elemental. I am both servant and master of the Eldars. I looked into you and saw your animal spirit guide. I fused you. I am the Inside. You are the Outside. Together we will find the keys.”
My mind reeled. Questions fought for first place out of my mouth. “What is it you want me to do?” won.
The green light pulsed lightly and I had the feeling the Elemental was shaking its ’head’ gently at my slow stupidity. “The Eldars have told you. Their shaman has told you. Must you hear it from me, too? If I have to repeat everything you already know then the war will be upon us all before we can make even the first move to stop it.”
“I’m… err, I’m sorry,” I heard myself say, my cheeks burning in high blush. “Then can you tell me if I am to be stuck like this,” I gestured to my horns and furry skin, “forever?”
“Aha! The vanity of you childer never ceases to amaze me,” the Elements said roaring with laughter. “And to answer you, my child, no. I can return you to your inferior form once you have completed your task.”
“But why was it necessary to fuse me like this?”
“Simple. You will find your gazelle form will help in your task. You are stronger and faster now than you could ever have been, but also you will find you have a more direct connection to the land you have been called to defend. Without being fused, the trials ahead would be nigh on impossible.”
“Trials?” I asked, but the Elemental only laughed. “Well what is my next step then? Where do I start? What am I looking for?”
“Follow the lines,” came the answer.
“Lines? What lines?”
“The shaman will tell you more.”
“No!” I said forcefully. I was not going to be fobbed off again. This… Elemental had chosen me, changed me, now it was damn well going to tell me the whole story. “I’m sick of half tales. You can tell me.” I sounded far braver than I felt, but my gander was up and I wanted some answers.
The green light pulsed slowly, deeply “Hmmm. Impertinence may serve you well I suppose. Very well then, here is a short version, after all what use is handing you all the answers and robbing you of the chance to discover them yourself? The world you know is young, but it is built on a far older reality. The new lords call the structure they have inherited and moulded, The Grid; a pattern of intersecting lines and nodes they have hung their world upon. These lines and nodes were all that was left after the last Great Shamanic War laid ruin to all. They have always been there. They always will. They are the means by which the life energy of the world is transmitted, balanced and stored. Control them and you control the very world they support. This is what the last War was fought for. This is what the next will be fought for. Follow the lines and seek the keys to understanding.”
“Where should I start?” I asked, struggling to understand all I had heard.
“Ahh, now for that you really must speak to the shaman,” the elemental laughed. The green light exploded soundlessly around me and I closed my eyes tight against the sudden glare. When I opened them again, I was face down in the cool grass of Cowell where I fell. I struggled up and blinked across the fire; the old man sat smiling at me. “You bloody drugged me!” I said, my voice dry and husky.
“Yes, well the path to the Inside is not one for the conscious mind,” he said, a little too pleased with himself for my liking. “I hope you feel more… illuminated now.”
Rubbing my temples, I told him I did without expanding any. Instead, I wanted to know my next move.
“Sleep, he replied. “And then in the morning you can begin your quest.”
“But how? Where do I go? What am I looking for?”
“What kind of answer is that?” I demanded.
“A true one. You are seeking knowledge. I would suggest the best place to start would be right here. Cowell and the forest are old and built on older land than you realise. Start your search here and see what happens next. But for now sleep. I shall watch over you tonight.”
He was right. God! I felt tired. Sleep first and then start again with a clear (if somewhat horned) head tomorrow morning. I lay back into the grass, resting my head on the soft leather of my new backpack. The stars above me blinked and shone. The sound of the water lapping at the bay mingled with a low keening that rose as if from nowhere; the shaman was singing to the night and I fancied, as the velvet cloak of sleep took me, that I saw a shimmering light dance about his naked skin.