Chapter 1: The Gift
Gabriel awoke to find both Apollo and Breena were gone. The sun was just beginning to brighten the eastern sky. The village was still dark and it would be another hour before the sun’s rays would chase away the lingering darkness. The smell of death still lingered in the air, but all the bodies were gone.
Gabriel stood slowly, listening carefully for any sounds. Where were Apollo and Breena? What happened to the bodies? Where had everyone had gone. He didn’t hear or see anything to indicate where they had gone.
Then, he saw Apollo bounding through the forest.
“Come,” Gabriel heard in his head.
Gabriel followed the wolf. Apollo led him down a narrow path which ran from the back of Grandfather’s cottage straight into the deep woods. He appeared to be leading him toward a large hill nestled deep in the ancient forest.
Before long, he could smell smoke. Rounding a thick stand of pine trees, he could hear it as well. It was an enormous, raging fire from the sound of it. Apollo slowed to a walk. They must be near their destination.
Just beyond the trees, Gabriel found himself looking at a raging bonfire. On top of the pyre was a body covered in a heavy blanket. From the size of it, it had to be Grandfather’s. The villagers had all returned and each were on their knees with their faces bowed toward the lifeless form of their former elder.
Gabriel saw Breena kneeling just in front of the pyre as well. He went to her and knelt down beside her. The only indication she knew he was there was when she reached over and squeezed his hand.
Gabriel felt awkward. If what he had been told was true, this was his actual grandfather on the pyre in front of him. In the past few days, he had learned to respect the elder and to revel in his wisdom. He had given his life to save Breena and for that Gabriel could never repay him.
After all the emotions he’d released the night before, Gabriel was still numb. He just didn’t know how to handle strong emotions. He didn’t even know how to grieve. He had kept his feelings bottled up for so long, and now he was being stimulated like never before. Gabriel had an onslaught of emotions coming at him all at once. Love, hatred, sadness, belonging, loss, all of them forcing him to feel whether he wanted to or not. It made Gabriel uneasy.
He gave Breena’s hand a squeeze before he stood. He needed to be alone, to think this through and to deal with all the emotions washing over him. He turned back toward the path. He took a final look back at the raging fire. He wanted one last look at Grandfather. His eyes were filling with tears and his heart was hurting. He had just lost his only living relative, but one he had only known for a few days. Why did it hurt so much?
Gabriel watched the villagers, each one prostrated before the fire. They wept openly and yet the night before they had allowed their elder to stand alone to save his village, his grandson and his adopted daughter. Could he ever forgive them?
As he stared at the scene before him, the old woman, the one called Banchara, looked over her shoulder and locked eyes with him. She stood silently and walked toward him. He started to speak and she quickly put her index finger up to her mouth, motioning for him to remain silent.
She waved for him to follow her. Without the massive fire blinding him, Gabriel could see a cave at the base of the hill, just off to one side from where the funeral pyre was located. As the old woman walked toward the cave, Gabriel saw Apollo looking at him. He nodded to let the wolf know all was okay and then he stepped into the dark opening.
They took about ten steps into the cave. Gabriel could no longer see the old woman in front of him so he stopped. He was alone in the dark. He wasn’t afraid, the dark never frightened Gabriel. He waited patiently to see why she had brought him here. Just a few seconds later there was the sound of a match being lit. In the darkness of the cave, the small light that flared from the tiny match seemed as bright as the sun.
Gabriel watched as the old woman lit first one candle, then another, and then another. Every ten feet or so she stopped to light another one. Each candle leading them deeper and deeper into the cave. Gabriel followed quietly, keeping a short distance between himself and the old woman.
Banchara stepped around a corner in the cave tunnel and disappeared. Gabriel stopped and waited. He saw another candle come to life in what appeared to be another room or tunnel around the corner. Slowly, he stepped forward. Gabriel didn’t fear her, but then he didn’t necessarily trust her either.
The young warlock came around the corner and stopped suddenly. There in front of him was a large cavern. It was easily twenty-five feet tall and more than a hundred-feet across and circular. Nothing about the cave looked natural. It was a perfect dome and the cave floor was flat and level. In the middle of the cavern was an enormous, intricately carved desk and matching chair. The furniture seemed so out of place in the cave, Gabriel couldn’t help but wonder why it was here.
As he continued to survey the cavern he realized it was constructed like a beehive. The walls, almost to the ceiling, were covered with octagonal openings. Each one was about a foot across and it was impossible to tell how deep. There were thousands of them lining the walls of the cave. Each one was carved into the rock with only an inch-thick wall separating the chambers from each other.
Gabriel couldn’t help but wonder if some of the villagers might have the ability to take the shape of giant bees. The cave construction was as perfect as any natural beehive. Instead of cells filled with honey or larva, these holes were filled with leather sacks, books and scrolls.
Banchara lit candles held by a candelabra on the desk and then motioned for Gabriel to join her. As he approached, she pulled the chair out and waited for him to take a seat. As soon as he was seated, he was filled with emotions. Anger, frustration, love, sympathy, and even fear was coursing through him all at once.
Gabriel was having a very hard time comprehending what was happening to him. Emotions were something he rarely dealt with and had always managed to keep them in check. That was until now. In the past few hours he had been forced to confront too many emotions all at once. The experience was disorienting and he didn’t like it at all. He was about to stand up when Banchara told him to wait.
Trying to ignore the many emotions flowing through him, Gabriel tried to concentrate on the desk and the chair. The first thing he noticed was the wooden seat seemed to be built just for him. It hugged his body and was at the perfect height to make his legs feel better than any chair he had ever used. Still the emotions kept coming. The strongest was empathy, another emotion Gabriel had rarely dealt with, but one he did understand. It did him no good to imagine what it was like to be in someone else’s shoes when he had never had those life experiences to begin with. It was like imagining what hiccups felt like when you’ve never had them.
He looked at the desk in front of him and was overwhelmed by the feelings flooding over him. Love, sorrow, pride, anger, resentment, pity and even joy all whelmed up within him at the same time. It must be the chair, he had to get away from this chair!
He started again to stand up, anxious to be out of the magical chair, when he looked back at Banchara. She was still holding onto the back of his chair and her hands were glowing blue. Even her eyes were pulsing with the same blue light. It was exactly like the one he and Breena had experienced when Grandfather touched them as he passed away.
Suddenly, he knew the chair wasn’t the source of the things he was feeling, it was the old woman. She reached down and put her hand on his. It was like she had been struck by lightning. She was immediately thrown against the wall behind them. Blue sparks flew from the back of Gabriel’s hand where she had touched him.
Gabriel was shocked. Just like the incident with Oz, he had never intended to hurt Banchara. He had no idea what had just happened or why.
“I’m okay,” she said as she slowly stood up, still shaking from the electricity which had passed through her.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened,” Gabriel started.
“It was not your fault,” Banchara said with a small chuckle, “I should have known that would happen. You were with Grandfather at the moment of his passing were you not?”
“Yes, along with Breena. He held our hands and we saw a blue bolt of energy leave him and enter both of us,” Gabriel replied.
“Hmm, I didn’t know even Grandfather could pass ‘the gift’ along to two chosen ones at the same time. He was always full of surprises… even to me,” she said.
“The gift?” Gabriel asked.
“Scythian elders contain an energy, capable of many things, which they use as they see fit. As with all gifts, this one comes at a price. You see the energy is a thing alive. It knows your heart and your mind and it learns from you. Each elder can do different things with the energy, based on the true essence of that particular elder. You cannot bend the energy to your will, you can only shape it, and mold it, with your own inner self. It will work with you and sometimes for you, but never against you. You will spend a lifetime getting to know it and trying to understand it, and still, it will surprise you when you least expect it,” Banchara declared.
“I don’t understand,” said Gabriel.
“And most likely you never will, but you don’t have too. The gift of the Scythians is now a part of you. It will be with you until you die. Very few beings ever get to discover who they really are. The gift will get to know you, the real you, long before you figure it out for yourself.
“In his youth, Grandfather was a warrior. He liked to fight, to win and to prove his dominance over humans, Scythians, even the accursed and the wild animals of the world. He stayed like that until he received the gift from his father.
“He was challenged for the leadership of the clan shortly after receiving the gift and he tried to use it to help him score an easy victory over his opponent. The energy couldn’t be used in that way, at least not by Grandfather. It was a hard-fought battle and he almost killed the challenger.
“It was then Grandfather learned who he really was. As he bent down to pick up the badly injured opponent, the energy flowed from his hands and healed the challenger. Grandfather was shocked and confused, but he had learned much about himself. Deep down he was a healer and a helper, not a destroyer and the gift knew it, even if Grandfather did not.
“He grew so much that day. The warrior within him was gone. The skills were still there, but the desire to use them was not. He was reborn as his true self; a loving, compassionate, gentle soul I would always love,” Banchara said with tears in her eyes.
“So, you and Grandfather were…” Gabriel started to ask.
“No, he was in love with another and I was promised to someone else as well. When the eldest female died, she passed on the gift to me. It meant that even if we wanted to, we could never be together. In each clan, there are always one male and one female which carry the gift. Nature’s way of making sure the gift survives, but also ensuring it can never be monopolized by one couple. That’s the way it’s always been.
Since Grandfather has managed to split his energy into two and pass it on to both of you, I may have to leave the clan. There can only be two, one female and one male with the gift in a clan. That’s why the clan elders never fight or challenge one another. They could never do any harm to each other, the reaction would be the same as the one I just got when I touched you,” Banchara explained as she looked at the wall where she had been thrown.
“You mean I won’t be able to touch Breena?” Gabriel asked, suddenly concerned.
Banchara laughed, “I doubt Grandfather would have given it to both of you if that was the case. Besides, she was touching you when I returned to the village after the fight and you seem to be perfectly okay.”
“Why leave? Where would you go? There must be a way for both you and Breena to stay with the clan. If Grandfather split his gift, then we would still need you to stay with yours. Ours is still just one gift, it just happens to be shared,” Gabriel said.
He suddenly wondered if he and Breena were symbiotic? How would the gift work with the two of them? What if something happened to one of them, but not the other?
“It is possible that what you say is true,” Banchara started, “I would prefer to stay here, besides, I don’t know where I would go. All of this is uncharted territory, I doubt if any of the other village elders know the answers to these questions either. What Grandfather did is unheard of. I have read every scroll in this chamber and not one even hints at the possibility of what he has done.
But why did he do it. Was he afraid of giving either of you all the energy? If so, why? From what Grandfather told me, you should never have been born. The melding of human and Scythian is not possible, but here you are. Breena is a mystery as well. In her elemental state, she is the strongest Scythian I’ve ever heard of. She can hold her form indefinitely and no one, not even Breena, knows all she can do while she is in her elemental form. So why did Grandfather choose you two to share his gift?”
“Perhaps he never intended to split the gift. If what you say is true and the energy acts like a living entity, it’s possible it chose to enter both of us on its own accord. Grandfather may have been unable to choose. He was dying and he knew it, he told me about his cancer. He may have decided to let the gift choose and it decided to split itself,” said Gabriel.
“That too is a possibility we must consider. However, it really doesn’t matter now. The two of you share the gift and how it came to be, may never truly be known, nor should it matter. It is what it is,” Banchara replied.
“What did you mean ‘Breena’s a mystery?’ You seem to imply there is more than just her exceptional abilities,” Gabriel asked.
“That will be for her to tell you. All you need to know is Grandfather loved her and trusted her. Even before she began to exhibit her abilities, he sensed she was special. Special in ways which both peaked his curiosity and frightened him at the same time,” Banchara answered.
Breena had frightened Grandfather!
Gabriel could hardly believe it. Gabriel knew he had found out all he was going to about Breena from the old woman so he turned his attention toward the chamber and its amazing contents.
“What is all of this?” Gabriel asked as he looked about the cavern.
“Each of these nooks contains a part of the treasure of the Scythians. Some are traditional treasures, valued by both Scythians and humans,” Banchara answered.
She walked to one of the lower openings on the wall opposite the cave’s entrance. She pulled out an ancient leather bag and poured thick gold coins onto the ground from it.
“Some are only considered treasures by the Scythians,” she continued.
Banchara reached into another nook and pulled out another ancient leather pouch. She reached inside and gently retrieved a set of tiny scrolls. These were made of some sort of flexible metal, unlike any Gabriel had ever seen before. Banchara carefully unrolled one of them and began to recite a piece of history from the clan which had occurred almost twelve thousand years in the past.
Gabriel was amazed. If each clan had such a stash, it would be the trip of a lifetime to just visit each and read the accumulated knowledge from a race of beings many thousands, possibly millions, of years old.
“I see what you value most is knowledge,” Banchara declared, “You hardly noticed when I threw the gold coins on the floor, but your eyes lit up at the knowledge contained in the scrolls from long ago.”
Gabriel realized the cunning old woman had just tested him. She was right though, he had never really cared much about money. True, since being adopted by Zeus, he had access to all he could ever want, but he had rarely used any of it except for an occasional meal outside the compound.
He had spent all his early years without money and he had learned to do without it. Knowledge, the answers to all of life’s mysteries, it’s what Gabriel was truly interested in. If not for his warlock training, he would have been a scholar. It was in his nature to try to understand everything, how it worked and how it interacted with everything else.
“Why are you showing me all of this?” Gabriel asked.
“Because it is yours now. You and Breena are the clan’s leaders now. The resources, the land, the authority, all of the knowledge of the clan, they are all yours to do with as you see fit,” the old woman explained.
“But you’re older, wiser, and more experienced than we are. You have the gift too, why aren’t you the one taking over as the clan’s leader?” asked Gabriel.
“I am the keeper of the clan’s gift, but not the leader. The two keepers of the gift can never be in competition for the role of leader. One is the true leader and the other is simply a vessel to house a small part of the clan’s energy we call ‘the gift’. The clan elders can choose their successors, but they cannot force ‘the gift’ to accept their choice. It can sense those who have the potential to be good leaders. If it had not entered you and Breena, it would have sought out another leader among the clan members, if none are available it could even choose from another clan.
That’s one reason we rarely see challenges to the leadership. Even if another could defeat you, there would be no guarantee ‘the gift’ would accept them as the new elders. In our society, ’might doesn’t always mean right,” Banchara explained.
“We don’t, at least I don’t, know how to lead the clan. Besides, I must be free to do other things,” Gabriel insisted.
“Such as?” Banchara asked.
“Like hunting down and destroying the one responsible for Grandfather’s death! The same one who tried to capture Breena. I have other obligations, I can’t just ignore those to lead this clan,” Gabriel insisted.
“There is one thing you have never had, but you have always wanted. You have feared you would never experience it, and yet, Grandfather gave it to you when he passed. Are you really going to turn your back on it now? Is it so easy to reject the one thing you could never really have hoped for?” Banchara asked.
She was looking deep into his eyes, no, she was looking into his very soul. How could she possibly know? Did the energy within her give her the ability to understand one’s deepest desires? Did she see into his heart when she was holding onto the chair and he was being bombarded with emotions?
Gabriel knew what she was talking about, but how could she possibly know?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have very few needs and no wants. I have trained myself to be logical, not emotional,” Gabriel answered.
“Yes, I could tell you were almost unable to process the emotions flowing through you when I held the chair. Still, where is the logic in denying that Grandfather left you the one thing you’ve always wanted, but thought you could never have?” Banchara asked.
“Yes, where is the logic in that?” came a voice from the chamber’s doorway.
As Gabriel turned to look at the doorway, Breena stepped into the light. She stood there looking at the two of them. How much had she heard? Gabriel glanced quickly from Banchara, to Breena, and back again. The old woman never looked away from him. Somehow, she had known Breena was standing there all along.
“What is it that Grandfather left you besides the clan’s gift?” Breena asked.
“Nothing, she was just saying those things. Banchara has no way of knowing what I desire, any more than Grandfather did. All that matters now is that we avenge him,” Gabriel said.
Breena walked across the room and knelt beside the chair where Gabriel was seated. Her eyes were still red and swollen from crying over the loss of Grandfather. As he looked down into her eyes, Gabriel knew he could never keep the truth from her. He wanted to look away, but he couldn’t.
“There can be no secrets between us. There is so much neither of us know about our pasts, our origins, our heritage. Don’t ever lie to me, not even if you think it’s what’s best for me. That’s all I ask of you Gabriel. If you love me, as much as I love you, then always be honest with me,” Breena said softly, “What did Grandfather leave you? What is it you’ve always wanted, but could never have?”
Gabriel looked into her eyes for a full minute and then, in almost a whisper, he replied, “A real family. I’ve never dared to believe it would be possible. It was always easier to accept the loneliness, than to deal with the pain of knowing I would never have a real family. Someone to love and someone to love me. Apollo is my adopted brother and I love him, but that’s as close as I thought I would get to a family of my own.”
“Grandfather was a healer, he knew what you needed to fix both your heart and your soul,” Banchara began, “Apollo is a part of the answer, and so is Breena, but to fully understand, and to experience all of the complexity of a true family, you need more.
He knew if he continued to be the elder of this clan you would never accept the rest of the members as your family and they would never accept you. He realized even though he was probably your only living relative, you could only have a complete family if he was no longer here. He confided in me it was the hardest thing he’s ever done.
He knew the danger was coming and he could have easily disappeared with the rest of the clan, but he knew what you needed and he wasn’t afraid to give it to you. He barely knew you, but he loved you deeply. He never dreamed he’d have a grandson and to find out he had one such as you, it was the happiest he’s been in a very long time. Do not throw away what he has given you!
Accept the clan as your new family and learn to lead them. Watch them grow, and thrive, and relish in the amazing things each of them can do. Teach them and learn from them. As an ‘outsider’, you can teach us things and help us to understand the human perspective. We can grow like never before, but only with your help.
Far from being sad, Grandfather’s eyes lit up when he explained to me what he was going to do and why. Since becoming this clan’s elder, his life has always had meaning. He wanted his death to have just as much meaning,”
Breena laid her forehead down on Gabriel’s knee and wept quietly. For the first time, it all made sense to the two of them. They understood why Grandfather had sent the rest of the villagers away and why he insisted on fighting the invaders with just the two of them. He passed on the torch of leadership to both of them.
For the first time in recorded history, this clan would be led by both male and female. A unique situation, never experienced by a clan before. Grandfather’s sacrifice would not be forgotten by the clan. In time, they would learn to accept the leadership of both Gabriel and Breena.
Gabriel lowered his head and cradled Breena as he touched his forehead to hers. The two of them sat there for many minutes. Both were trying to fully understand and accept the depths of Grandfather’s love and his gift to them. With each passing minute, the two of them became stronger, more resolute. They would do as Grandfather intended and they would lead the clan.
Banchara slowly stepped back against the wall, trying to shield her eyes from the intense blue flames coming from the young couple in the middle of the chamber. The pair seemed oblivious to the energy coming off them. As the old woman watched, the pair seemed to phase in and out of existence. As she watched, Breena slowly transformed to her wolf form and then to a tightly compacted black gas, then back to her human form.
All the while, Gabriel never moved. If he sensed the transformation taking place in Breena, he never acknowledged it. It was almost like two ghosts slowly phasing in and out. Banchara continued to watch, almost blinded by the intense blue light coming off the pair, when Gabriel began to transform as well. At first, he just grew bigger, then slowly, he began to burn. He became a flame. He didn’t just look like a flame, he was a flame! The intense heat he generated, began to burn the back of the chair he was sitting on.
Banchara was backed away as far as the walls of the cave would allow her and she could still feel the heat coming off the young warlock. Strangely, it had no effect on Breena. She seemed to be immune to the flames dancing all around her. In her human form, the heat caused her hair to rise and dance, but it didn’t burn her and she didn’t seem to feel it. The deep red of Gabriel’s elemental flame form combined with the blue flames coming from the young couple and cast an intense purple light throughout the cave. Then Gabriel transformed back into his human form once more. Only the smoldering of the back of the chair was left as evidence of Gabriel’s elemental form.
As Banchara continued to watch, the pair cycled through their forms repeatedly. With each cycle, Gabriel’s animal became more and more evident. No longer was he simply getting larger and stronger, now he was changing into a completely different creature. On what had to be the thirtieth cycle, he finally managed to become fully transformed into his animal form.
The old woman gasped out loud. No, this could not be!
Gabriel had become a creature of legend. Even in the history of the Scythians, no such creature had ever actually existed. It was talked about in almost every ancient culture around the world. It was the subject of many legends and tall tales, but it wasn’t real. This creature was in by many cultures, but it had always been pure fiction. Unlike the ancient saber-toothed tiger, the wooly mammoth, or even the tyrannosaurus rex, this creature had never really existed. Or had it?
Banchara knew for Gabriel to assume this form, it had to be a creature which had once roamed the planet Earth. Scythians had the genes, the DNA code, of every creature who ever existed within them. The part of the code human science called ‘junk DNA’ was a blueprint, a history of these creatures. Scythian’s bodies unlocked this code and utilized it when they were threatened. That’s where their animal forms came from.
Once she recognized his animal form, her support for the young couple vanished. What Banchara had just witnessed, must never be allowed to happen. One moment she was their biggest supporter and ready to give her life for them, now, she was their worst enemy.
It would make Gabriel the deadliest being on the planet. The rarity of his animal form would spell certain doom for the clan and perhaps the entire planet. She must speak to the elder council about this! If they wouldn’t help, then her only other option was the eldest of the elders.
The only Scythian elder older than Grandfather was the leader of a clan hidden away deep in the Shala Valley in an isolated corner of Albania in Europe. She would need to get there as quickly as possible, but now was not the time to be leaving the clan alone with their new leaders. What could she do? What would Grandfather do? Surely, he didn’t know about this before allowing Gabriel to become one of the clan’s leaders…Or did he? For the first time in a very, very long time, Banchara was unsure of what to do.
As the thoughts ran through her mind, she watched as the blue flame surrounding Gabriel and Breena began to fade. Both returned to human form. Banchara kept her distance as the young couple slowly stood and embraced. Together they glanced at the old woman, confused by the look of amazement on her face, and hand in hand they walked out of the cave.
Banchara could hear the villagers greeting the young couple. The healing had begun, just as Grandfather had hoped. The old warrior had convinced Breena and Gabriel his time was short, but Banchara knew better. He had been dealing with the tumor for more than a decade and no matter how bad it got, he always seemed to be able to overcome it. She was convinced he could have kept healing himself for many more decades if wanted too.
He knew Banchara loved him, and in his own way, he loved her back. They had spent many nights sitting across the fire from each other talking about the direction the clan should go. How to deal with the Canadian government and even speculating about the abilities some of the young Scythians might one-day display. Laughingly enough, they hadn’t been right about a single child.
Banchara found the prediction they had about Gabriel completely wrong as well. She was convinced he would be a swan, and Grandfather refused to reveal what he thought it might be. Now, knowing his true animal form, she was almost ashamed for even thinking he could ever have been such an ordinary, mundane creature.
If Grandfather had known, would he have sacrificed himself and shared the clan’s gift with the young warlock. She doubted it, but she wasn’t sure. She wasn’t even sure Grandfather didn’t somehow know about Gabriel. He had always been able to see, and think, far beyond what Banchara could.
No matter what she felt for Breena or Gabriel, the survival, and the secrecy of the clan always had to come first. If Gabriel was allowed to assume his animal form, all would be lost. It could possibly spell the end for all life on Earth, including every clan! Banchara hung her head and slowly shook it. What had Grandfather gotten them into?