Heroes Journey || Prologue: Road Full of Promise

Heroes Journey || Prologue: Road Full of Promise

Reading Time: 12 minutes read

“Be careful with that!” Onack shouted from the shop’s door. Onack was a large man, both in girth and height. He blocked the doorway as he watched Leigh work. His apron was covered in flour and sweat, a combination which made a thick paste.

“Yeah, yeah!” Leigh shouted back. He carried a crate from the front door to around the back of the bakery, into a shed. There was a stack of crates there where he left the one he carried. He sat it down carefully, so it didn’t make a sound as he settled it atop another crate. Then he headed back out front and grabbed a canvas sack. This, too, he took to the shed. 

By the time he came around to the front again, a familiar face lifted another crate. Gagzar, a friend of Leigh’s. His skin was green and he was a full two heads taller than the other boys. He also seemed to put on muscle easier than the rest of them, with a solid chest and arms. Strapped to his back was a giant axe, much too large for Leigh to wield but perfectly comfortable in Gagzar’s large hands. He wore a yellow vest and brown trousers—nothing too fancy, but they kept him covered up. 

Leigh was one of the taller boys, though he barely came up to Gagzar’s chest. He was decently built, with enough muscle to wield a sword without much trouble. The collar of his brown tunic went halfway up his neck. Black trousers were tucked into brown boots. His blond hair was cropped short and smoothed back. Silver eyes watched Gagzar lift another crate and carry two of them with ease. 

“The ceremony will be starting soon,” Gagzar said. He carried the crate around back, where Leigh had just come from.

Onack leaned on the door frame. “Let me get my coin, boy. Then you can get on your way.”

Leigh shook his head as he grabbed another sack. “No need, Onack. I don’t want your coin; I just want to help.” He disappeared around the back before Onack could argue.

Gagzar stood beside the shed with empty hands. “What do you think we can expect out there in the world?” He asked.

It was tradition for eighteen-year-olds to travel out into the world beyond Starfell, to help others and become heroes within a year. Gagzar and Leigh were part of the group who’d been selected to go this time, among a few others. 

Leigh shrugged. “It’s a huge world. Much bigger than Starfell. We’re bound to find adventure if we just look for it.”

“You’re not worried? Starfell’s all we’ve ever known. It’s our home,” Gagzar said. He leaned against the shed and crossed his arms over his chest. Leigh was excited, but it seemed Gagzar had some hesitation about the trip. 

“No,” Leigh said with a shake of his head. “Are you?”

“A little bit.”

“Maybe we’ll find more people like you; wouldn’t that be fun?” Leigh said. 

Gagzar thought for a moment. Then he nodded. “That would be pretty great.”

Gagzar was the only orc in Starfell. The family that cared for him were human, and no one knew anything about Gagzar’s birth family. He fit in just fine with the rest of his peers, but Leigh knew he longed for his own kind. Just knowing something about them might help him feel less lonely.

Gagzar dropped his arms to his side. “Come on, let’s finish this,” he said and gestured towards the shed. “We don’t want to be late to the ceremony.”

Lance nocked another arrow and pulled back on the bowstring. He adjusted his shoulders until he knew the arrow would fly exactly where he meant it to. His eyes and arms were right where he needed them to be, but his head swam with the coming ceremony, and more than that: the adventure which came after. 

What dangers lie ahead? he wondered. Much like his peers, Lance had never left Stafell. Everything he ever wanted or needed was right there in the village, provided for by the other villagers. Sure, some villagers bartered with Daemarrel—the next city over—but Lance had never needed to travel with them. He’d never traveled at all. 

More than the dangers, though, he was worried if maybe the elders got it wrong. Maybe they picked the wrong person for the adventure. He’d trained all his life for this journey, but maybe he wasn’t good enough. Maybe he wasn’t cut out for this. What if he got out into the world and just wasn’t meant to be a hero? 

With a deep breath, he tried to steer his thoughts back to the field before him. He released the bowstring and the arrow soared towards the target in front of him. It landed just outside the red circle at the center. 

Lance stood at average height, though he’d gotten his growth spurt only a year earlier. His hair was dark brown and cut short, though still with unmanageable curls. He wore a green shirt with leather armor over it and tan trousers tucked into black boots. A heavy brow overshadowed his pale brown eyes as he scrunched up his face—lost in thought. 

Beside Lance, on a stump, was Sylqen. His dark skin contrasted his platinum blond hair. His ears were pointed and large—an elf. He and his family were the only elves in Starfell. He was smaller than the rest of his peers, petite. He wore gold rings in his ears, four on each side. His robes were green, folded as he sat on the stump.

He sat cross-legged with a book propped open in his lap. His blue eyes followed the words on the page. He hadn’t said anything since he arrived, but Lance knew he wanted the company. 

“Doing some research for the coming adventure?” Lance asked him.

Sylqen hummed in acknowledgment, but said nothing else. He was too focused on his book. 

Lance laughed. 

He turned his attention back to the target across the field. He nocked another arrow and loosed it. This one landed even further than the first one, barely on the edge of the target. He grumbled.

Footsteps behind him caught his attention, and he turned to see Anahel. She was taller than Lance, and most of their peers. Her hair was a beautiful orange, and her eyes were a lime green. Freckles speckled her face, and her puffy lips waited for the words which came. 

“The ceremony’s starting soon,” she said, her hands folded in front of her. 

Sylqen snapped his book shut and stretched his arms high above his head. He let out a groan before he unfolded his legs and got off the stump. “Is it that time already?” he asked.

Anahel nodded.

“Okay,” Lance said, “one more.” He nocked one last arrow. He planted his feet, rolled his shoulders, and aimed. This last one flew far, right into the center of the target and Lance knew it was a sign: he was ready.

“Alright,” he said. He put his bow over his shoulder. “Let’s get going.”

Lance arrived at the village square with Anahel and Sylqen in tow. Leigh clapped him on the back as they arrived. “You ready for this?” he asked and gestured towards the center of the square. Gagzar, who stood beside Leigh, stared ahead but grunted in greeting when Lance said “hello” to him. 

A giant tree stood at the center of the village square, a wooden platform built around it. Colorful streamers had been strung up around the tree and above the platform. Music played in the distance, though Lance wasn’t sure where it came from. Magic? A troupe? He didn’t know.

At the center of the square was a tall, dark-skinned woman clad in white, ceremonial robes, her hood pulled over her head—Mother Eshar. She stood on the platform. Four villagers each carried a corner of a giant, golden chest. They laid it down beside the woman and then descended down off the platform. The chest was latched so Lance could only guess at what was inside. 

A crowd had built around the platform, though the crowd gave the teenagers room—from respect or fear, Lance couldn’t say which. This was their special day, maybe the last day they’d ever see Stafell. 

Mother Eshar raised her hands, palm up, then lowered them and the crowd hushed immediately, fell dead silent. “Welcome to the Farewell Ceremony for our latest generation of future heroes,” she gestured with a nod towards Lance and his peers. The crowd’s eyes all fell on the teenagers. Lance swallowed and stared back at her with hope that his fear and doubts didn’t show as plainly as he felt them.

“Starfell has sent out its fair share of heroes over the years. Every generation, we provide the world with future heroes.” Her voice rose above the silence of the crowd, booming and authoritative. “The last generation returned successful, and we still tell their stories. This generation will, no doubt, do the same. And in doing so, will bring honor to Starfell.

Our future heroes have all proven themselves time and time again as the best their generation can offer. From helping around the village to excelling at their chosen skills, they’ve all become exceptional people.”

Mother Eshar continued her speech, going on about each person’s accomplishments. With each new word, reverence rose from the crowd. They knew these kids well, and they knew they were sending the best of the best out into the world. 

Lance held his breath, his gaze on Mother Eshar as she spoke to the crowd. He didn’t need to see the villagers’ eyes to know they were on him. 

“In a year, these five exceptional people will return heroes,” Mother Eshar continued. “And in doing so will have blessed Starfell with another generation of stories.

“Before we send you out beyond the village, Starfell would like to grant you each a gift.”

Mother Eshar produced a key from her robes. She turned to the chest, unlatched it, and flipped the lid open. She straightened and gestured towards the future heroes. “Anahel, darling, if you please,” she said.

Anahel hurried up to the platform, stumbling a bit as she did so. Her cheeks were flushed red and she looked out of breath from how quickly she tried to answer Mother Eshar’s call. She folded her hands in front of her and waited.

Mother Eshar pulled a pouch from the chest, Anahel’s name embroidered on it. “Anahel Aldyan,” Mother Eshar raised her voice to be heard over the crowd again. “Your gift is your heart and how you care for your peers. For that, I’m gifting you with this: magical goods to heal and bandage.”

Anahel unfolded her hands and took the pouch. She pulled the pouch open and peered inside. Content with what she’d been given, she said a “thank you” that couldn’t be heard, but Lance saw her lips move. 

Anahel descended from the platform and next Mother Eshar called Gagzar. He came just as quick as Anahel, though he didn’t stumble. “Your gift reflects your exceptional cooking, but don’t limit it to that. You can also trade these for goods outside Starfell.” She handed him a bigger pouch than Anahel had received. He opened it and immediately the scent of spices took over the air. “Spices and seasonings for you, Gagzar,” Mother Eshar said.

Gagzar bowed his head in thanks and then returned to the crowd.

“Lance Issar, if you would,” Mother Eshar said, gesturing for him to come up on the platform. Lance hadn’t been prepared and for a moment he stared at her. But when it registered that she called to him, he blushed and headed up to the platform.

“You are one of the most skilled archers ever to come from Starfell,” she said. Then she produced a quiver full of arrows. “Your gift will not break no matter how hard you bend them, so you can always retrieve them.” Mother Eshar took an arrow and tried to snap it, but it just bent and sprang back to its former form.

“Thank you,” Lance said loud enough he hoped it carried over the crowd.

Mother Eshar bowed her head in acknowledgment. Lance descended back into the crowd and Mother Eshar called on Leigh. “Leigh Lyewar,” she said. From the chest she pulled something long and covered by a cloth. Removing the cloth, she presented Leigh with a sheathed sword. 

Leigh took the sword and unsheathed it to reveal a black blade.

“This blade is made of obsidian and magically imbued to counter its delicate nature,” Mother Eshar said. “No matter how much you use it, it won’t dull.”

Leigh held the blade up above his head triumphantly and yelled out. The crowd exploded in clapping and roars. Mother Eshar laughed and gestured for Leigh to leave the stage.

Finally, it was Sylqen’s turn. “Sylqen Sayiahon,” Mother Eshar beckoned. He stepped up on the platform, smaller than the rest. 

Mother Eshar produced a pendant for him. She gestured for him to bow his head so she could place it around his neck. Sylqen held the pendant in his fingers. “Your magic is your strength,” she said. “With this, you can channel your magic and save it for later.” 

Sylqen teared up. He wiped his eyes and turned to disappear back into the crowd.

Once all the teens had received their gifts, Mother Eshar raised her hands and lowered them again, signaling for the crowd to become silent. “You all will be missed greatly,” she said, “but it’s for the greater good that you go out into the world. We look forward to you returning better people than you are today.”

Then she stepped off the platform and gestured for the teens to follow her. Leigh took the lead, his sword already strapped to his hips. Gagzar came to stand by Lance. He leaned in and said, “You ready for this?” 

Lance nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.” His head swam with thoughts of doubt. Maybe he wasn’t good enough. Maybe the elders picked the wrong people. Everyone else seemed ready and put together, but Lance wasn’t ready. Lance wasn’t sure.

Mother Eshar led the teens—with the crowd in tow—to the outskirts of Starfell. On the hill just outside the village was a portal, ornately carved with depictions of former heroes and their stories: a buff hero with a sword above his head, a thin woman with a bow, an elf with a staff. They all vanquished an evil or brought peace to some corner of the globe. 

Now it was Lance’s turn.

At the center of the portal was a swirling purple and black vortex, stars dotted within. It looked much like the night sky, clouds swirling and turning as the portal’s abyss moved. 

Mother Eshar gestured toward the portal. “You will all land in the same location,” she said, “Or at least close by each other. Good luck, all of you.” Then she folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head.

Leigh was the first to step through. He turned and looked at Lance, pumping his fist, before disappearing into the portal.

Lance took a deep breath and stepped up next; he might as well get it over with. He looked out over the crowd, spying his mother’s soft face and father’s encouraging gaze. His brother hung from his mother’s arms, and they all waved and smiled at him. One more deep breath and Lance turned back to the portal.

He stepped through and was swallowed by the abyss, falling into darkness.