The two youths made the journey in silence and Justin tried hard to remember any of the pathways from his last visit to Mandara's cavern, but none of the directions that Pectin took were familiar to him. He wondered if Pectin were taking a different route so that Justin could not find the way back again and since members of the clan were forbidden to enter this mountain range, Justin had no idea of where he was. His thoughts were interrupted by the sight of the smooth wall ahead. They entered the opening and he was sure they took a totally different way into the cavern than before. Justin mentally noted to commend Pectin for his care in the security of Mandara's hideaway. They finally entered the great cavern and when Justin's eyes adjusted to the lighting, he saw that Mandara was no where in the room. Pectin finally broke the silence.
"Mandara will be with you shortly." and after mumbling these words, Pectin ran off into the dark reached of the cavern.
Justin wandered over to the circle of tables and felt a shiver run through his body as he entered the circle. The cauldron in which he first saw the beautiful girl sat bubbling furiously before him. He wished he knew how to summon Fog, the smoke spirit, so he could see her again, but figured all would come together soon enough.
After what seemed an hour of waiting, Justin started to pace nervously. What was Mandara up to? Was this part of the task ahead, to see if he could stand the pressure?
Justin was just on the verge of yelling out to see if anyone would answer when he heard someone approaching from the dark. Justin felt the blood pumping in his veins and thought his heart would explode as he walked cautiously toward the approuching sound, stopping short of the circle of tables. Mandara suddenly appeared out of the darkness before Justin. His face was grave and pale, looking every one of his twelve hundred years. Mandara said nothing as he walked past Justin on his way to the cauldron. The magician stood gazing into the mist rising from the huge kettle and looked as though he were going to cry.
"Justin," he spoke softly, "since the demise of my fellow magicians, I am as close to being a mortal than I could ever have known. It takes all of my energy to hold my brother in his imprisonment and like humans, I need rest from time to time. At first I rested every hundred years, but the moon turned red about seventy years too early. It's getting harder to use my energy since I am very old and tired, Justin, more tired than I have ever felt."
The magician turned toward Justin. There were small tears forming in the corner of his eyes and he looked more worn out than any man Justin had known. Mandara came to Justin and put his hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Justin, for my own sanity, this must end. I have wasted most of my life hiding here on a truly pointless mission. Out of respect for my brother, I have done him no harm. But if you where totally paralyzed, not being able to move, speak or touch, wouldn't you prefer death? I have killed my brother even though he remains alive, frozen in time. I can imagine the hate he must feel for me and even though he is evil incarnate, I feel grief for him."
Mandara again turned to the cauldron and continued.
"Justin, eight brave men have gone before you to stop Kyr from escaping and their task was dangerous, and although you are younger than the others, your task is no less dangerous."
Justin felt his spine tingle and his knees began to rattle. Sweat formed on the back of his neck and his palms and he felt a lump choking his throat.
"Justin, you have to accept this challenge voluntarily or you will fail from the start. If someone does not stop Kyr, this world will be a desolate place. You must go willingly or not at all."
He looked back at Justin and gave a faint smile. Justin looked into the old man's eyes and saw the agony of his pain. He saw the years of emptiness and solitude that the magician had endured being shut away from the world that he had been protecting all of these years.
A great change came over Justin as he realized that he could make a sacrifice in his comfortable little life to help those in need. He worried so much about the uncertainty and danger of the journey to Kyr, that he forgot about the uncertaintly and danger that he faced in his everyday life. That never stopped him from leaving his house, so why should he turn down helping his world and saving this man from a slow lonely death. Justin felt pride building up in himself and knew that it was time to take responsibility for his life.
"Mandara, I feel the pain in your words and realize the danger to our world. I will take on the quest freely and relieve you of your burden. I hope that I will be worthy or your confidence." Justin said bravely.
A smile came to Mandara's face and he seemed younger as he replied.
"Spoken like a true hero Justin. Edan chose well in you, and I know now that you will be the savior who will go and conquer the evil endangering our existence and, as I said, my sanity. Thank you Justin."
Mandara embraced him and gave a sigh of relief. He released Justin and turned toward the cauldron, raised his hands over the boiling vapors and spoke in a language that was unfamiliar to Justin. Mandara's voice grew louder and reverberatted throughout the cavern as the bubbling mixture glowed a bright lime color and a heavy mist formed over it.
After a moment of silence from Mandara, he turned to Justin and asked, "Well, my young hero, are you ready to learn about your adventure?"
Justin felt a slight shiver, but stood firm and replied, "As ready as I shall ever be."
"Good, then look deep into Fog and see your fate."
Justin moved to the cauldron and stared into the haze. He saw many colors swirling and forming into images of long ago. He saw the original coven of magicians lead by Kyr and the peaceful faction lead by a youthful Mandara. He witnessed the battle of magical powers finishing with the stand off between Kyr and Mandara. The image faded before Justin witnessed Kyr's imprisonment and Mandara explained that he could not see anymore as it would jeopardized his quest. The mist swirled back into a kaleidoscope of colors and Justin found himself back in the great cavern. He turned toward Mandara with a new understanding of the powers that had nearly destroyed the universe so many years ago. The threat that Kyr had posed in this present world was now evident to the importance of the quest.
"Mandara, when must I start and how long do I have to complete my task?" inquired Justin bravely.
"When the moon glows red there is a cycle of one moon to complete the task. The next full moon must rise normally as it has every cycle. Edan managed to do the job in twenty two days, far faster then his predecessors, who all just barely completed their goal. Had me worried, I must say. You do have the advantage of youth on your side. The others were much older in their times including Edan. It was Edan's sole responcibility to chose the next person to go as he knows what is ahead and has decided that you are the one to handle the situation. I have to put all my trust in his judgement and all my faith in you."
Mandara paused to let everything sink into the youth. Justin looked back to the mist hoping to catch a glimpse of what was ahead but knowing he could not.
"Mandara, what of the girl that I saw on my last visit here. How does she fit into all of this?"
Mandara smiled and seemed to hesitate at the question posed by the anxious young man. The old magician felt a bit embarrassed that he had used the vision of the girl as an extra incentive for Justin.
"Justin, the young lady that you witnessed in the smoke was a shadow of things to come. She is someone who you will meet in the near future, if our world is not destroyed. I can not tell you more about her until you return from your journey."
Justin was feeling very mixed and annoyed by all the secrecy involving his fate. He was still a young man and not experienced with women or danger and now he was being asked to deal with both and had no idea what to do with either. Mandara could sense the boy's tension and went to a tall shelf by the opening of the circle. He removed a sack from the shelf and brought it to a table by Justin.
"Come here Justin, I have something for you." Justin approached Mandara and watched the man remove a dark blue cloak from the sack. Mandara placed it around Justin's shoulders and continued, "Justin, this cloak shall protect you from the harmful cold of the Northland. Unfortunately, it will not protect you from harm. I was a little carried away by my spell to prevent my brother from having outside help. I prevented even myself from going there with what I know of it and you must have no knowledge of what is ahead or you will never make it alive. No human knows the danger there ahead and succeeds."
Justin felt warm in the cloak and was feeling ready to get the deed done and over. The thoughts of the girl helped his enthusiasm. Mandara strode to the opening of the circle and turned, "Justin, you are now to go home and wait for your guide. Good fates be with you as my fate will be in your hands." He turned and disappeared into the darkness. Justin stood there for a brief moment when Pectin startled him from behind and said to follow him.
They parted again at the edge of the city and Justin returned to his home. The house was again empty and Justin was starting to worry about Cheek. His little friend had never been gone this long and had left no notes as to where he was. Justin was tired and sat in the chair that he studied his lessons in. It was the one restful place where he could easily think. He sat there for what seemed hours and as he was deep in thought, he heard a voice from his right. He turned his head to see Cheek standing on the table. He was dress in an odd looking coat and he wasn't alone. Next to him was a smaller black mouse wearing a similar coat.
Before Justin could speak, Cheek said in a solemn voice, "Justin, It is time for you to go."
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