"Long before the Linden Clan laid claim to this land,” he started, “people lived here. Lots of people. They lived, loved, fought and died. They built cities, planted forests, cultivated land, sought mastery over the water and the air. And through it all, they were led by their shamen.”
“Shamen like you?” I ventured.
He smiled, his worn tanned face alive in the firelight, “Yes. Shamen like me. Only more so. The Old Ones were far more powerful than we few are now. They knew the true secrets of the world. They could shape land with a thought, open seas with a gesture, bring the beasts of the earth to them with a single call. Now… well, now we are diminished. The Last Great War saw to that.”
“War? The voices mentioned a war.”
“The Elders,” he corrected.
“The Elders, yes, they said a war was coming. Is this true? What kind of war do they mean?”
“If they have foreseen it, it will happen. And it will be terrible if allowed. The Last War laid ruin to the whole earth. The land died. The seas choked and the air turned foul. Once proud cities turned on each other and then, when there was no others left, themselves. A terrible dark time swallowed all. We almost lot everything.” The water in the pot had begun to roll, and he casually dropped a handful of dried leaves into it.
“But who were the Shamen fighting? What was the war over?”
“Oh,” he said his voice heavy with sadness, “what are wars always fought over? Power, land, control. All these things and more. The Old Ones had grown powerful, but with such power comes great responsibilities. Some Shamen decided that not for them were the Agreements written. They decided that the world and all its contents were their by right, to do with as they wanted. The Grove did not agree. When beings of great power disagree, even minor disagreements have devastating consequences for those around them. The disagreements quickly escalated to war. Almost too late the Elders stepped in. They stopped the war, they removed the power from the Shamen, they remoulded the world to make such a gathering of power all but impossible ever again.”
“All but impossible is not impossible,” I pointed out.
“I see. I take it you are saying someone is looking to gain the power of the Old Shamen.”
“Yes,” he repeated.
“And that someone does not have the best of intentions?”
“Yes.” He said suddenly looking tired beyond belief. He dropped a small pinch of dried herbs into the pot and let it boil on.
“But where do I fit in? I mean, why me? Out of all the people here now. Why me?”
“You have been chosen. You have been chosen to find the key to stopping the war before it starts.”
“How? And what is the key?”
“I… we do not know,” he looked into the fire, unable to meet my eye. He took the pot off the fire and slowly poured the steaming liquid into two small red cups similar to the one I had found in the back backpack earlier.
“What?” I shouted, “What do you mean you don’t know? You must! I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
“Well, the backpack chose you. Why not ask it?”, he handed me a cup over the flames, “Tea?” he offered.
I took the cup without thinking, “Ask it? Ask it? It’s a bloody backpack if you hadn’t noticed!” I swigged the tea back, ignoring the heat. “How do you suggest I ask a bloody backpack anything?” I fell sideways, unconscious by the time my head hit the ground.
My eyes opened but all was black. Less than one day had passed and this was the third time I had been rendered unconscious. I was getting a wee bit fed up if the truth was known. I sat up. I couldn’t see the floor beneath me but I could certainly feel it. “Hello?” I shouted, not too loudly but enough to suggest I was hoping for a reply.
A slight laugh reached my ears, a sound like crystal glasses rolling together.
“Hello,” I said, this time just loud enough for someone next to me to hear.
“Hello,” the glassy voice laughed in my ear, “welcome to the Inside.”