If the wind has a message for you . . . hear it.
If this storm has a warning for you . . . heed it.
If this voice speaks to you . . . pay attention.
You will not learn if you do not first listen.
Xephero ~ Tome of the ZielfahRei
THE MAPSTONE & THE STRANGER
At the base of a sprawling sage bush, she found it. Barely visible, just a speck of color that caught her eye, but it called to her in wordless whispers the same way the canyon called, or the sky, or the desert path she walked every morning at dawn.
Bending down, she balanced on the balls of her feet to get a better look. As she brushed a bit of sand aside, a streak of blue flashed in the sun. Ani caught her breath. Prickles at the back of her neck told her this was something special. She loosened the clumped dirt around its edges, and pried her newest treasure from the earth.
With the help of a little spit she rubbed a spot clean with her thumb, revealing a surface as slick as glass. The stone, though obsidian black, had a vaguely transparent quality. Brilliant veins of cobalt blue splintered through it like frozen lightning amidst tiny specks of gold and silver, glistening stars in a night sky.
Ani ran a finger along its cool rounded edges. The shape seemed almost deliberate, as though carved to resemble the flame of a candle or a single teardrop. She liked the way it fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. This stone had secrets to tell—ancient and awesome secrets.
There it was again; that fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach. It happened every time she unearthed a sample she knew her dad would approve of, but this time she felt something else too—something she could never tell her father. Somehow, the stone called out to her. It wanted to be found.
Ani Jasper had been finding stones for her parent's rock and gem shop for as long as she could remember. The shop, a windswept roadside tourist stop, occupied the front half of the Jasper family home in California's Mojave Desert. There, under her father's patient tutelage, Ani had learned to identify a wide variety of stones and minerals, memorizing each of their names and attributes. But this one had her stumped. She needed a second opinion.
Pocketing the stone in the red zippered sweat jacket she always wore on her excursions, she turned toward home. If anyone could identify this strange new specimen, it would be Dad.
As she followed the familiar path back to her house, she couldn't resist pulling the stone out of her pocket for a second look. She half expected it to do some kind of magic when she polished it with her sleeve. It may not be Aladdin's Lamp, but her father would give her plenty for it. She was sure of that. Even an average specimen earned her a dollar or two, and this one was far from average. Maybe she'd make enough to finally buy that book she'd been wanting; The Magical Properties of Desert Stones.
She first saw the book on the counter at Greyhawk's Gas and Garage. Her godfather, Kaheté Greyhawk, who owned the garage, had shown her a copy of the book on one of their regular visits to repair the old Chevy truck. Kaheté explained that stones and other things of the earth have their own kind of magic and if you pay close enough attention, they will teach you. Ani longed to understand that magic and what it was trying to tell her.
"Hocus pocus hogwash!" her father had said when Ani asked for the book on her eleventh birthday last May. It was his typical response to all things mystical, and exactly the kind of thing he would say if she told him the rock spoke to her. He'd call it "the curse of an over-active imagination," which was how he categorized every unusual thing that had ever happened to her. But Ani didn't let her dad's skepticism deter her. She found the idea of stones possessing some kind of magic, well . . . fascinating. Rocks were special. She knew it, and whether her father admitted it or not, he knew it too.
Clearing the top of a rise, Ani caught sight of her house in the distance, the only building around for miles in any direction. As the sun climbed higher in the early morning sky, the shapes and colors of the desert came alive. Fire-reds and yellow-golds burst forth as cactus flowers opened to the light of the coming day.
As Ani made her way home, the stone began to grow warm in her palm, demanding her full attention. It seemed to pulsate against her fingers, almost as if it had a heartbeat. She stopped and peered at it through squinted eyes, and in the stillness, heard the faint whispers again.
A dizzying swell of exhilaration rose within her. Ani held her breath to quell her excitement. She had to concentrate. Eyes closed, she focused her full attention on the stone, listening with her whole being as her Navajo godfather had taught her, but still couldn't make out what the whispers were saying. And the more she tried, the more they eluded her.
Then as the last of the whispers faded away, she heard one distinct word. One voice. It said, "Ani."
A shudder shot through her and in a sudden rush of energy she broke into a run. With the stone clenched tightly in her hand, she whizzed past rock, cactus and shrub, heading straight for her father's shop.
Breathing hard, she burst through the back door and ran straight up to the counter, only to be stopped short by an impassable barrier: her father's hand, held up like a stop sign, in an all-too-familiar don't-even-think-about-it gesture.
Her jaw clenched, Ani stared at her father, hoping to convey the importance of what she had to show him, but it was no use. He wore his "serving the customer" face. His long mustache, which curled up slightly on both ends, made him look as if he was always smiling. It seemed to put people at ease. Of course that meant they usually stayed and chatted longer than Ani wanted them to, but as her mother always said, it was good for business.
The customer at the counter towered over her. His weather-sculpted face in combination with the wild snowy tangle that topped his head reminded Ani of a mountain in winter. He smelled of earth too—dirt, leaves, grass after a rainfall. Even the brown woven poncho that hung stiffly over his broad shoulders further corroborated his mountainness.
Sewn into the rough material of his poncho were strange maze-like designs of stylized animals and faces entangled in an intricate web of borders and lines. It was unlike any of the Native American weaves she'd seen in her mother's anthropology books. She stood transfixed by the pattern for a moment and then looked up, not knowing how much time had passed.
Ani glanced at her father and then at the customer. It took an iron will not to interrupt them. She felt she would burst if she had to wait one minute longer. Her will faltered. "Dad, I really need to show you something."
The customer looked down at Ani's rock. "That's a beautiful stone you have there." His accent was thick as ivy, but he spoke his words with deliberate clarity.
Ani smiled, pleased that her father would have to pay attention to her now. "I found it on my walk."
"Let's have a look," said her father, holding out his hand. "Hmmm. What have we here?" He inspected the stone with an old fashioned magnifying glass. "Quite a find, Ani. Quite a find."
Her smile was triumphant. High praise indeed, coming from the expert himself.
"What can I offer you for it?" asked the stranger. "Fifty?"
"Dollars?" asked Ani, astonished.
Her father peered at the customer, raising an eyebrow.
"The look of it pleases me," admitted the man.
Ani turned to her father. "Do you know what kind of stone it is?"
"Not off-hand. I'll have to look it up."
She stared at her father in astonishment. This was the first time she'd brought home a specimen that prompted her father to consult what he called "The Geological Bible" which, he never failed to point out, was thoroughly devoid of any magical gibberish.
Stan Jasper opened the dusty four-inch thick reference book sitting on the back counter and flipped through the pages.
Feeling as though she might jump out of her skin, Ani waited for her father to find the name of her rock. And waited. And waited. She sensed the stranger's eyes upon her and began to fidget, trying to ignore his scrutiny, but something made her turn to look up at the man. His gaze met hers and for an instant time stood still. No sound. No movement. Just an odd floating sensation, like being suspended in water.
"It's not in there," said her father, jump-starting time.
Ani turned her attention back to her father. "What? But it has to be. That book has every kind of rock there is."
"It's not in there," he repeated, as puzzled as his daughter. "Not like this anyway. It looks to be a strange amalgamation of elements—onyx, smoky quartz, labradorite, traces of gold and lapis, even what looks like veins of aquamarine—all of which would not, to my knowledge, occur naturally in the same place, and certainly not in the same rock."
"I'll make it seventy," snapped the stranger.
Stan cleared his throat. "Well, I'm not certain of its value."
"Nor am I."
"It could be manmade, with this combination of elements. It could be worth very little."
"That does not concern me."
Stan Jasper placed the rock on the counter and looked at his daughter. "Well, Ani? This man wants to buy your rock."
Ani was speechless. She stared at the rock, not wanting to give it up so soon. What if it was the only one like it in the whole world? What if it really was magic? Maybe the man could come back after she had a chance to polish it properly and look at it under optimum lighting conditions.
"Tell you what," said the stranger. "To help you decide, I'll make it an even hundred,"
Ani's eyes grew wide. "A hundred dollars? I've never even seen that much money before."
The man smiled briefly, and then grew very serious. "So it's a deal then?"
"No. I mean, I don't know. Can you come back next week after I—"
"I won't be by this way again."
A moment of silence passed as Ani picked up the rock and studied it, turning it over in her hands. The stranger continued to peer down at her with a questioning stare. She looked at him, wanting in that instant to run, not knowing why, but something held her there—some mysterious power the stranger seemed to have over her.
"Ani," pressed her father, "the man just offered you a hundred dollars for your rock. Don't you think you ought to give him an answer?"
"But Dad I—"
"This is a rock shop, honey. People come here to buy rocks."
"I know, but I just need some time to think about it."
"Well, that may be true, but I'm sure this gentleman has better things to do with his time than wait for you to make up your mind."
He was right of course. She was being impolite by making him wait. And yet, the tall stranger didn't seem impatient. Actually, Ani got the feeling he would have stood there for an eternity, if that were how long it took her to decide. She didn't want to give up the rock, but she didn't want to disappoint her father either.
"Yes or no, Ani."
"All right, yes. I guess." Ani's heart sank the instant she heard herself agree to the stranger's offer. The customer produced a crisp one hundred dollar bill that seemed to materialize in his hand the instant Ani nodded her answer.
Frowning, she placed the stone in the stranger's palm. As he accepted it, the pulse of time altered once more and the shop blurred around her. The distant whispers she'd heard in the desert returned. The old man hummed a single note at the back of his throat and passed his hand over the surface of the stone in a slow deliberate arc. Ani watched in astonishment as mysterious symbols emerged; characters of an ancient and forgotten language surfacing from the depths of a crystal sea. She glanced up at the stranger, aghast. He met her gaze with a wry smile.
When she glanced again at the stone, the odd markings vanished and the whispers abruptly ceased. The stranger slowly wrapped his fingers around the rock, his hands so much larger than hers they concealed it completely.
"So-kraw-ah-Amna-tah," said the tall man in a whisper only she could hear. "Remember the Mapstone."
The clang of the bell at the front door jolted Ani out of her trance. The stranger was leaving. The instant the door shut behind him, she knew she'd made a mistake. She didn't want the money. She wanted the stone.
She snatched the hundred-dollar bill out of her father's hand. "Hey mister, I changed my mind!" she called, waving the money in the air as she dashed out the door. But only the desert stared back at her, a vast, silent void. There were no footprints in the sand. No car pulled away. No sign that anyone had ever been there. The man had simply vanished and with him, her first true treasure.
Excerpted from "The LightBridge Legacy ~ Destiny's Call" by Elayne G. James. Copyright © 0 by Elayne G. James. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.