“What a year it has been.” Twelve year old John William thought to himself. He sat in his uncle’s cozy living room with a dusty old book on his lap and his favorite fluffy dog, Sam sleeping at his feet. It was an eventful year; he discovered Azra’s Pith, the most wonderful place imaginable. He was captured by pirates, resulting in a battle John William could never have conjured in his wildest dreams.
He missed the fresh smells of the lush trees in Copious forest and the stars splashed across the sky, reflecting off the river at night. He missed the magic that made every moment extraordinary. More than anything, he longed to see his best friends, Celeste and Ferdinand. All of the adventure in Azra’s pith made being at his uncle’s house rather uneventful. After his father’s mysterious disappearance a year ago, it was just the two of them, and Sam, Uncle Andrew’s fluffy sheep dog.
John William’s mother had passed away from illness a couple years back. Loss and heartache were becoming unwelcome friends in John William’s life. He was determined to find his father as long has there was a sliver of hope that he was alive.
On occasion he would visit the Drake estate up the road, the home he once shared with his mother and father. It was run down from neglect over the last couple years. He still enjoyed perusing the old books in the grand study. He also felt compelled to look after Shrewee, the old creature living in a secret hatch carved in the ceiling. He never stayed too long as the memory of his parents presence in the now empty home stung too much. The disappearance of his father ate away at John William every minute of the day. He needed answers and knew exactly where to find them.
He glanced through his reddish brown curls at his uncle who was sitting directly across from him immersed in a book. That awful tension returned to his chest. Taking a deep breath was not clearing it out anymore.
Like a lead brick, it sat without budging and would most likely remain until he got down to the bottom of things and he had a hunch that he should start with his uncle’s arms. If what he discovered in Azra’s Pith was correct, they carried something significant. He let out a subtle cough, pretending to clear his throat. His uncle briefly glanced up from his book.
“So, do you know what I’ve noticed? You never wear short sleeves. In all of my twelve years, I don’t recall ever seeing your arms without sleeves.” John William glanced at his uncles long sleeves securely buttoned at his wrist.
“Is that a fact? Huh, well maybe it is because I have no arms… just feeble wooden toothpicks under these sleeves.” His Uncle Andrew replied with a chuckle.
John William was not interesting in joking around. “Can I see?” he asked.
“Pardon?” Uncle Andrew’s light hearted smile faded.
“Your arms… can I see them?” He asked again in a serious tone. He was growing inpatient. Since returning from Azra’s Pith John William learned quickly that his Uncle Andrew has an unhealthy habit of brushing important matters under the rug.
“What is this about, John William?” Uncle Andrew played with the buttons of his shirt cuffed at his wrist.
“I think you know what I am looking for.” John William slammed his book shut and thumped it at his ankles causing Sam to twitch and snort in his sleep.
“Oh? Is that so?” Uncle Andrew unbuttoned his cuff and pulled one sleeve up to expose his arm. “See…? Here it is − my bare arm. Is this what you expected?”
John William sat back in his seat. What he saw was not at all what he expected ─ claw marks and scars covered it from fingertip to elbow. “Can, can I see the other one?” John William did not usually carry a harsh tone with his uncle; but he could not help it. The betrayal he suspected his uncle was guilty of was unforgivable in his eyes. “I told you where I was when I returned. You have yet to say a word about it. Why do you pretend Azra’s Pith does not exist?”
“Oh, we are speaking of this again?” His uncle sighed and shook his head. “I’m pretty tired; I think I’ll turn in for the night. We can discuss it tomorrow?”
“No, no we can’t. Please, your other arm… I need to see it.” John William stiffened his posture.
“Okay, John William, you win.” His uncle undid the button around his wrist, loosening his cuff.
John William scooted to the edge of his seat and watched with anticipation as Uncle Andrew rolled his sleeve up his arm, one perfectly creased fold at a time. Once the fold reached his elbow, his uncle extended his exposed arm.
John William gasped. “So it is true; you are a guardian.” Marked permanently on his arm was an intricate pair of feathered wings − the symbol of the guardian. John William leaped from his seat and clutched his uncle’s arm. The same claw marks and scrapes covered the entire length both arms.
Uncle Andrew pulled his arm away and covered it before any more details could be seen. “It was never my intention to deceive you or your father. You must know that his happiness has always been top priority for me. Any knowledge of this would have destroyed him. He wanted more than anything to be a guardian, like our father. I thought it was best if kept secret.”
John William’s anger faded to empathy and curiosity. He returned to his seat and sat back in a huff. “You’re right, Azra’s Pith is everything to him.”
“I don’t know why our fates were not different; and not a day goes by with out me wishing it was Chrissy who was given the role instead of myself.” His uncle grabbed a picture of him and his brother from the table next to his chair. The name Chrissy was a term of endearment John William’s uncle had for his father, who’s actual name was Christopher. They were always very close; all of the Drake boys shared a love of adventure. John William looked up to his father and uncle with great admiration. Of course, this year has shattered every certainty he held in his world. Every step going forward was into the unknown.
“I believe he is searching for Copia,” said John William.
“I don’t doubt that; he will have a lot of trouble finding it without the rest of the map,” his uncle replied. “If he still alive, that is....”
“Well, that’s the thing, I’m pretty sure he has the complete map. I found his tracing tools at the Ruins of Stonewood.”
“What? He always was a clever fellow.” A broad smile stretched across Uncle Andrew’s face. “He left those behind on purpose; I’m sure of it. He wants you to find him.”
“I need to find the other half of the map… remember? That night in the study?” John William raised his brow. The night before his father disappeared he showed them the half of a map to Copia. “He has that map; I need to find the stone it is carved in. It was broken off at the ruins.” John William pulled a tattered sheet of paper with the outline of a portion of a map. “I found this part of the stone at the Ruins and traced it.”
“Yes, I do remember that. I had no idea he had that map. Your grandfather must have slipped it in that book… crazy old coot.” Uncle Andrew replied in a discouraged tone.
“Why don’t you come with me? We can find him together.” John William smiled.
His uncle’s face hardened. “I can never return. I barely escaped with my life the last time I was there.” He rolled up his sleeve, revealing the scars on his arms. “I can not emphasize the dangers enough. Copia holds tremendous energy ─ some good, some extremely evil. It must never, ever be found.”
“What are those scars on your arm?” John William asked reluctantly.
“The claws of hundreds of shadow jumpers… vicious beasts that hide in the shadows. They hunted me relentlessly when I had possession of the medallion.”
“You mean the Copian Medallion?” John William’s asked.
“Yes, being the fool that I am, I tried to take the medallion out of Azra’s Pith. I thought it would be safer here. Once I traveled through passageway, the Medallion vanished.” He rubbed his hands together and took a deep breath. “When I returned to look for the medallion, it was gone. I still have no idea what happened to it.”
John William Cringed. “Well… I think I might know who has it now.”
Uncle Andrew jolted up in his seat. “What do you mean, who? My hope is that no one has it.”
“My friend, Celeste may have found it. Don’t worry, she is keeping it safe.” John William squirmed.
Uncle Andrew’s usual warm, friendly face turned stone cold. “She is in danger as long as she holds the medallion. This matter is not to be trifled with. She needs to hide the medallion somewhere it can never be found… by man, creature, or magic.” He stood up and stepped over to a large painting of
hanging on the wall. Fern Forest
“Um, is everything okay?” John William watched with a puzzled expression as his uncle gripped the frame.
“Speak of this to no one ─ not even your father… especially not your father.” He swiftly pulled the painting from its latch revealing a cabinet tucked into the wall.
John William gasped. “How long has that been there?”
“As long as I can remember; your great grandfather shared it with me after my first trip to Azra’s Pith,” said Uncle Andrew. The cabinet let out a high pitch squeak as he swung it open. Inside was a cluttered pile of rolled up papers, books and other objects in the shadows John William could not make out. Just as he stood up to get a closer look, Uncle Andrew snagged a group of rolled papers and hastily shut the door. “Some things are better left unseen.” He muttered.
John William let out a disappointed sigh. “Fair enough, I suppose. What are those?”
“I’m hoping there is another copy of the map in this stack. If not, you might be out of luck.” Uncle Andrew carefully peered through each role of paper without opening a single one.
John William fidgeted anxiously. He wanted so badly to see what was on those papers. “Can’t I have a quick look?”
“Just as I suspected ─ your father has the only copy.” His uncle muttered, ignoring John William’s request. He stuffed them all back in the cabinet, and pulled a small leather sack out before securing the door shut.
“What is that?” John William asked.
Uncle Andrew tossed the sack over to John William. “Go ahead, open it.”
John William pulled the straps along the top and loosened the slack. Inside was a deep blue stone, so clear he could see his fingers through the stone. “Amazing…,” he stroked the smooth surface.
“It’s a locator stone.” Uncle Andrew’s eyes sparkled. “Your grandfather gave that to me. He said it would only work for Guardians; but at this point I think it’s your only hope. It certainly couldn’t hurt to try.” He took the stone and examined it.
“How do I use it?”
“All you have to do is take it out of the sack. As long as you are in Azra’s Pith, it will show you the way. Hopefully your grandfather was wrong.” He handed the stone back to John William. “Keep it safe; and when you’re ready, use it well.”
“I will… I promise.” John William secured the stone in the sack and extended his thin limbs to a good, long stretch. “I’ve been seeing the sparks in Fern Forrest… no sign of Ferdinand yet, though. I hope he returns soon.”
“If you know Ferdinand like I do, he arrives at the exact time his intends to, he’s never, ever late, and he does not like to be kept waiting.” Uncle Andrew smiled. “Does this mean you will be leaving me and Sam again?”
John William nodded. “I have to.”
“I know; you better get some sleep. I will help you prepare in the morning.”
John William shuffled to his room and sat at the base of the window. The rays of the moon pierced the trees giving
a magical glow. He pulled the
locator stone from the pouch and held it to the moonlight. “I know you are out
there, pop. I promise I will do what ever it takes to find you.” Fern Forest
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