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After nearly 48-hours, the ragtag party finally arrived at Masterson’s Bank with their security escorts. During the trek, Delkar and Pultan explained more about the Shadow, their past and present attacks, and how the Goblin clan had fought against them for centuries. The warriors were careful to avoid the subject of prophecy, and though curious (Melissa especially), no one pushed for answers as there was still an element of shock circulating throughout the group.
Joseph asked many questions about the Goblin clan and other magical beings. He had quickly warmed up to the goblins after they formally introduced themselves. After leaving the Magi Arcade and the Vernalyn Meadow, he wanted to know about their home and if such beautiful sights existed in other places. Delkar made the comment, “If you thought the meadow was beautiful, you would never want to leave our homeland, Joseph.” The goblins described their village, forests, rivers and mountains in such detail that Joseph could almost imagine he’d seen a photo of the place.
That was the icebreaker needed for the entire group to begin sharing more about their backgrounds. Joseph evaded many of the adults’ questions with responses like, “I didn’t get out much” and “I’m an orphan, so I don’t know much about that part of my life”. Though disturbed by the responses, Melissa, Pultan and Delkar didn’t push, instead, they explained more about the magical world. This was more for Joseph’s benefit, as he was the only one who came from the non-magical world, but they didn’t want to single him out as different from his new bond-mates.
Joseph was a sponge; absorbing all the information he could about the Goblin clan, magic and the place they were going. Only the site of the architectural marvel could halt Joseph’s endless stream of questioning. Unfortunately, the imposing site of Masterson’s Bank also caused Joseph to turn inward, back to his quiet and apprehensive self. As the group approached the grand entrance of the bank, Joseph’s eyes followed the immense pillars to the top of the doorway, where they ended with sculptured borders that followed the entire perimeter of the building’s outer wall. Elaborate scenes were depicted in the stone border; battle poses of fully armored figures seemed to move as they fought against the creatures that look like demons.
As they entered past the great archway, Joseph now focused on the frescos that seemed to continue the story alluded to by the border of sculptures outside. His steps slowed and his heart began to race as he saw goblins swinging massive swords and battle axes against dark figures in robes; much like the robes worn by the would-be assassins that had attacked their small group just two days ago. Though he was familiar and more comfortable with Delkar and Pultan, the images displayed along the murals down the hallway scared him all over again. How did he know if other goblins and magical beings would be as kind as Delkar and Pultan? Maybe they were the exception?
As they made their way deeper into the bank, Joseph began to look around furtively, for a way to escape. As if reading his mind, Pultan placed his hand on Joseph's shoulder.
“Do not be afraid, you are not in any trouble. In fact, you are honored guests of his majesty. Please do not try to run, I would hate to present you bound and tied!”
At this, Delkar broke into a laugh that echoed off the walls, “Now that would be a sight! Especially when Captain Rocksmasher got through with you, Delkar”.
Delkar joined in the laughter and gently patted Joseph’s shoulder. Joseph relaxed as a result, realizing that his new goblin friends were having a laugh at his expense and would never actually tie him up. Grinning and saluting two towering guards, one a goblin and the other appearing to be an elf, Delkar and Pultan led the group past a set of heavy bronze doors and into Masterson Bank’s Council Hall.
The room seemed to shimmer, as gold leaf had been worked into the arches and accents along the trim. Marble columns supported the high arched ceiling, and more frescos adorned the lower half of walls. Entering a separate chamber and passing a second set of guards, Joseph could only stare about wonderstruck, as this was the most magnificent building that he had ever seen. His foster family would never leave after seeing such a place, instead they would attempt to scrape the gold from the walls, thinking to make their fortune.
Meeting the Masters
The small group moved past the tall marble columns to approach a group that could only be the Council. Twelve figures rose to their feet and bowed to the group; all eyes were fixed on the young boys. From the side of the hall, a massive figure walked to the front of the great oak table and bowed low as he delivered his greeting.
“Welcome Madam Hampsted, Nick, Alex and Martin. You have travelled far and have been fortunate to be in the presence of one we have anxiously awaited, for nine long years”.
Joseph shifted from one foot to the other in a state of worry that he was once again intruding on a very important matter. He nearly fell backwards when the towering goblin turned to him and bowed even lower than before.
“Joseph, you honor us with your presence, for many have lived for the day when we would witness the arrival of the Binder who would unite the prophesied and signal the end of the Shadow Lord and his war against the Light.”
Joseph was speechless and just stared at the intimidating figure bowed before him. The goblin then rose to introduce himself.
“I am Master Rocksmasher, Captain of King Rivcod’s Regal Guard and General of the Goblin Army. You have already met my two finest Lieutenants, Delkar and Pultan. Now allow me to present the Council of Light!”
Master Rocksmasher placed a hand behind Joseph’s shoulder to usher his along as he stepped closer to a long oak table adorned with elegant carvings and leaf work.
“We don’t have much time, so please allow me to introduce you to the council members who each have a special greeting for you”. Joseph looked worriedly over his shoulder at Nick and Melissa. Nick looked back at him wide eyed with a large smile on his face. Melissa’s eyes twinkled in awe as she made a gentle shooing gesture in his direction. There was no hiding the excitement in their expressions, so Joseph relaxed, but was still a bit nervous.
No council member stood at the head of either end of the table, but there were empty seats on each side for added seating. Master Rocksmasher raised his open hand, palm up and introduced Queen Tubigia of the Aqualine Clan. When she came forward, she smiled and rather than offer her hand for a traditional western greeting, Queen Tubigia placed her thumb and forefinger to her temple before touching her middle finger gently to Joseph’s forehead. Immediately, Joseph could smell the fresh ocean air and hear waves breaking on a beach. But as the touch was brief, the experience quickly faded, Joseph found himself smiling at the Queen, feeling like they were already friends. Queen Tubigia gave a short yet graceful bow of her head and stepped back to her seat.
Next, King Graston of the Mountain Dwarves stepped forward and made the same movement with his hand. His fingers were rough on Joseph’s skin and his touch was firmer than the queen before him. With a touch, Joseph smelled soil and heated metal, which were surprisingly soothing, he could hear a distant rhythmic pounding and deep voices singing in unison creating an enchanting song that filled him with pride. Joseph’s chest swelled as King Graston stepped back from him and bowed his head.
When Queen Linka, of the Orinth Clan, stepped forward, Joseph was ready for yet another sensation of smells and sounds, but her touch induced a sense of weightlessness. Joseph was flying and looked down to see land and bodies of water quickly passing below him. When Queen Linka removed her fingers, Joseph felt giddy and gave a little chuckle in response to the queen’s wink as she stepped away. With each new greeter, Joseph gained a new experience that left him with a feeling of knowing each council member well enough to call them friend, or maybe even family, though he didn’t understand why.
With Master Zumna of the Elf clan, Joseph felt a calm that he had only ever experienced once before, during the dreamlike episode he’d had where he saw Orithia and the others. Joseph gasped when he realized that Nick, Martin and Alex had also appeared during that vision. He didn’t know why he’d just now realized how he had already known their faces when they met for the first time.
Joseph was quite taken with Grandfather Corred, of the Drogane Clan. As he had guessed by Corred’s title, he saw dragons when the elderly man touched him. But what was more surprising was when Grandfather Corred removed his fingers from Joseph’s forehead. When Joseph looked up into Corred’s face, he saw the man’s eyes had changed into two large golden slits. As he looked on the eyes slowly widened, showing reptilian pupils that contracted as they focused on Joseph’s face. Joseph realized that the title Grandfather meant that Corred was the father of the Drogane Clan and the oldest living being he would ever meet.
Next, Elder Zenai, of the Avian clan, stepped forward without making a sound. Joseph felt his breath catch in his throat when she touched cool fingers to his skin and a warm breeze encircled his body. Before he could adjust to the new sensation, it was over and Elder Zenai had already moved back to her seat.
Master Athanasios made as little contact with Joseph as possible. Being a Seer, Athanasios didn’t want to traumatize Joseph by passing along a vision of the future, but he did instill the deep trust that Joseph would welcome in the future.
Master Flipinia was of the Faunaline Clan, and when she touched Joseph a melody of animal sounds began to play in his head. He could almost make out meaning in the myriad of calls, growls, chirps, and squeaks but the sound quickly faded. When he opened his eyes again, Master Flipinia was smiling at him with sharp teeth that surprisingly didn’t startle him.
Finally, a regal looking member of the Goblin Clan stepped forward. Joseph had already met three other goblins, so he knew the being in front of him must, at last, be the Goblin King. When the King touched him, Joseph smelled spice and musk which tickled his nose. He heard a war cry that instilled courage and when the king removed his hand, Joseph felt a bit of sadness; like the feeling you get when you have to say goodbye to someone you care about.
Questions & Answers
The Goblin King then broke the silence; “Honored guests, please come forward, join us and be seated; we know that you are weary from your long trek. We have much to discuss but we have also prepared for your arrival by sending for the elixir of Visantila, which will restore you!”
Joseph was jolted by the sudden sounds and movement. He realized that during the entire greeting ceremony, no one had uttered a word and the great room had been silent and motionless. How was that possible? Had he been in a trance? Before he could dwell on his thoughts and questions, a beautiful serving tray was presented by a small group of elves dressed in pale yellow garments trimmed with embroidered patterns of golden scrolls.
Pultan and Delkar accepted their goblets graciously with two hands and a slight nod to the council; Melissa did the same. When she saw the hesitation of the younger boys she explained with a smile.
“The Elixir of Visantila is a very special drink; almost sacred. The ancient ones created it as a potion for their warriors, guardians and messengers who often traveled over great distances. The elixir replenishes them so that they may complete their mission. To be offered the Elixir of Visantila is a great honor and it tells me that we still have a great way to go before we will find rest. So do not worry and please accept this very gracious gift from the council”.
Nick gingerly removed a goblet from the tray with two hands and bowed his head in the direction of the council. Alex and Martin copied Nick’s actions and then looked to Joseph as he looked on with a wrinkled brow. Nick encouraged him, “It’s okay Joseph, you more than any of use deserve this honor. You should have the first drink.”
Delkar stepped beside Joseph and placed his large hand on Joseph’s shoulder, “You are an honored guest of the Council of Light Joseph, you show respect and honor to your hosts by accepting their gift with grace”. Joseph looked up at the smiling goblin face and saw a look of pride in his expression. Joseph returned the smile and turned to lift the goblet. He noticed how heavy and warm the goblet was.
As King Rivcod waved them all to the council table, he pointed out seats for each and had Joseph in the empty seat to his left while Master Rocksmasher stood at the side of the group with Pultan and Delkar standing just behind him. Joseph looked down the table in both directions and his eyes lingered on two empty seats that sat opposite his position at the table.
“Excuse me, King Rivcod, but someone seems to be missing.” Smiling the King replied “Good eye lad, but please, feel free to simply call me by my more common name, Goblin King; Rivcod was the name I went by in battle and just doesn’t match the person that I am today.”
He gave Joseph a wink and continued. “One of the empty seats belongs to Master Nakawe, of the Wood Mystic Clan. He has already left to begin the journey that you and your bond-mates must soon join. I believe you met his granddaughter briefly in England, little Orithia”.
A wide smile formed on Joseph’s lips, “Orithia? Is she here as well?” His eye began to roam around the room. The Goblin King was pleased to see Joseph’s reaction.
“You will join Orithia and the rest of the prophesied soon.” Gesturing to the second empty chair, the Goblin King lowered his head out of respect. “Our final council member was Master Wu of the Fire Summoners. He fell 9 years ago during the last Shadow assault, which triggered events that eventually brought you here today. But before we get into all of that, tell us, what do you know of your parents, Joseph?”
Joseph was caught off guard by the question; he often wondered about the parents that he had never known. With a look of shame, he replied, “Nothing Sir. I only know that I was abandoned at an orphanage because they didn’t want me.”
A stern but kind voice of Master Zumna interrupted, “That is a falsehood conjured by the Shadow, Joseph, we have watched you since your birth. Your parentage has been kept from you to protect you from the Shadow, but I fear that the secret may have done you more harm than good.” Master Zumna’s elegant features darker for the briefest of moments before he continued. “Your foster family treated you abysmally, and for that I apologize.”
Joseph glanced away as shame turned his face red, “They did nothing wrong, I was always causing trouble”. Tears began to burn his eyes, “I deserved those punishments, I couldn’t behave properly.”
“Nonsense!” shouted the Elder Zenai, slamming her goblet down on the table. “You are a kind young man, which is shocking when you consider those who raised you were unloving and uncaring. Amongst my people, they would have been publicly flogged before having everything that they owned sold and put to work in the fields. We do not tolerate the mistreatment of children, Joseph, and that is why we all offer you a sorrowful apology for what you have had to endure.”
At this, all of the council rose from their seats and turned towards Joseph. Bowing their heads, they brought their clasped hands to their chests and form a small circle. Immediately, Joseph was reminded of the sensation he had experienced with Orithia and the others during his vision. But this time, the warmth radiated throughout the room, not just his body. The positive energy encircled Joseph as he broke down in tears.
Immediately, Nick, Alex and Martin were by his side with tears in their own eyes. Nick grabbed Joseph’s hand, “It’s all true mate, those people weren’t your true family. They were incapable of loving you and didn’t deserve to have you in their lives. But that is all behind you and now you have us!” Martin added between sniffles, “I don’t know what could possess anyone to be so terrible to you, but we will never hurt you!”. Alex nodded as he wiped his tears away.
Queen Linka spoke, “You are right to use the word ‘possessed’ young man! Joseph’s foster parents were indeed influenced by the Shadow. Before he could even walk, a Shadow agent had begun to infiltrate their lives and seed dark thoughts and hatred towards Joseph, in their minds.”
Grandfather Corred continued, “Though we tried to intervene, but nothing seemed to alter your foster family’s perception. It was then that we realized that the darkness was never planted in their minds, it was already in their hearts.” Joseph tilted his head with curiosity, “What do you mean?”
King Graston responded in a gravelly voice, “Darkness can only take hold of a soul when it originates in the heart. Your foster parents had dark souls already when they brought you into their lives. They were envious of their neighbors, greedy for money and placed a high value on earthly possessions. When they decided to become foster parents, it was for the recognition and extra stipend they would receive.”
Master Flipinia seemed to bristle at this and interrupted King Graston, “It’s important that you know that there were several others that wanted to make you a part of their family, Joseph. I was one of them as well as other members of the council. People who wanted nothing more than to give a home, a clan’s protection, and above everything else, love… you should have had that from the start. But we were too late to intervene and couldn’t risk undoing the prophecy.”
At that, Joseph’s eyes shot back to the Goblin King, “What is this prophecy everyone keeps mentioning?” The Goblin King met his glance and then gestured to Master Athanasios, “Perhaps it is best if our master Seer explains.”
All at the table turned to the Seer who had foretold of the prophesied 13 during his vision 9 years ago.