A Fool's Journey

Gwen ran to the back delivery entrance of the New Sage Shop as the bell sounded for the hundredth time.

Josh smiled as Gwen opened the door, "it's about bloody time," he said as he wheeled in the dolly.

"New shipment came in", Josh explained as the unloaded the boxes. Gwen produced a box cutter and proceeded to open the cartons, while Josh set the dolly aside.

Gwen found herself looking at box after box of tarot cards. She began to set them out while Josh helped himself to a drink.

When the displays were finished, Gwen noticed one last box.

It was a large ebony box with a silver latch and hinges, wrapped in a black silk scarf.

Opening the box, she found another black silk scarf around the cards; the box was lined with black velvet. The cards themselves looked old, if well preserved.

They had simple silver pentacles imposes over a black background with deep purple swirls. The reverse side of each card held a different picture.

Intrigued, Gwen carried the box up to her room after Josh left.

The next morning was Saturday, and Gwen awoke with a curiosity.

Taking the cards from their place on the nightstand, she sat cross-legged on the floor, opened the box, and tipped out the cards.

Separating out the major and minor arcana, she fanned the cards out, face-up.

Immediately, Gwen felt drawn to the images of the major arcana.

And then she began to fall...

When she awoke, Gwen found herself dressed oddly, wearing a pronged hat with little silver bells on the ends.

As she looked around, she found herself at the edge of a cliff overlooking the roaring sea, and following the edge, a little off to the side, was a crossroads.

One led right, and was a smooth, straight line, clearly defined.

The other, which led left along the outer edge of the cliff, was slippery, worn and winding.

Gwen chose the easier and safer of the two and went right.

After walking for a bit, Gwen came upon a man in a clearing. He was robed and had erected an altar of some sort at which he stood.

The table held a cup, sword and disc inscribed with a pentagram; the man was holding a wand.

He smiled and pointed a hand, "the right being the easiest and safest will take you home and back to your friends. The left, though difficult and more perilous, has much to teach you; as you have much to learn".

Gwen felt confused, but on further inspection, found two paths were the man had indicated.

The right was straight and well worn, while the left was dark and winding, being overgrown with greenery.

Gwen was sorely tempted to follow the right and go home; she wasn't even sure where she was, but she was also curious about this place and what she might learn.

She chose left.

The path soon began to spiral, and Gwen found herself in open ground again.

A woman sat on a white throne between two pillars; one white, and one black. She wore long flowing robes and her head dress reminded Gwen of the full moon. She held an open book, in her lap, and a large golden crescent sat at her feet.

"I represent all that you could become should you choose to continue on your journey. Keep in mind you can go home at any time, but you may never return".

Again a choice of paths, and again Gwen moved left.

When the path began to widen, Gwen found herself in a wheat field looking at a woman dressed in robes depicting strawberries, with a crown of blooming flowers in her hair. She sat reclining upon pillows with a heart-shaped shield, bearing the sign Mercury, at her feet. A waterfall and a rich forest were backdropped against her.

"love can conquer all, but sometimes letting go of that which we love most shows the greatest love of all".

Gwen thought of Josh, and of her mother as she continued on.

As Gwen traveled, the earth went from lush to barren brown, as the path sloped down into a valley.

An elderly man on a stone throne decorated with carved rams' heads sat with his back to the valley wall, which hugged a stream.

The man wore robes and a crown, and held a scepter in one hand and a ripe fruit in the other. His long white beard and hair reminded Gwen of Merlin.

"Much can be learned from your elders, with age comes wisdom, and that should be respected; you too, will one day be old and wise".

And with that he pointed her on her way, Gwen crossed the stream feeling as though she had just witnessed another one of Merlin's lectures and entered into a cavern where she found, seated at the end between two stone pillars, a robed, crowned man on a dais holding an audience with two men.

But his words seemed to be for her alone.

"It is wise to speak, it is wiser still to listen".

Gwen pondered this ancient truth as she carried on through the cavern.

Gwen emerged on the other side of the mountain and found herself looking at a naked couple standing under a tree.

"When choices are like day and night".

"Which is wrong, and which is right"?

Feeling like she had just stepped into a doctor Sues book, Gwen made a left turn and came next to a man in a chariot driven by two contrasting Sphinxes; one black, one white.

The journey may be long and hard, but in the end you will always reach your destination", he chimed as he rumbled past.

Gwen found the comment to be a bit redundant, then thought maybe there was a deeper philosophical meaning to these cryptic messages.

As Gwen carried on, she began to feel tired, she had been walking a while and it was starting to wear on her.

At last, the path opened revealing a woman standing in a meadow in a white gown, gentle prying open the jaws of a lion.

A forest lay beyond her, and beyond that, a grey mountain.

"With patience, kindness and strength, all things may be achieved", the woman crooned to the lion.

Gwen felt a calming feeling wash over her, and strength returning as her weariness faded.

Gwen began her long trek up at the mountain, hoping the message she would find there would be worth the trip. She was beginning to enjoy herself and the curious anticipation of her next lesson.

Reaching the summit, Gwen was met by a solitary cloak figure. He stood braced against a staff, and holing a lantern that nearly blinded him from view.

"The answers sought within are often the hardest to found, but the most worth the quest", he whispered, almost to himself.

By this time it had begun to rain and Gwen felt both sad and content about leaving the old man alone to face the elements unprotected. He seemed at peace with his surroundings, and that made Gwen peaceful as well.

By the time Gwen reached the base of the mountain, the worst of the rain was over and the clouds were beginning to part.

Emerging from the thick forest, Gwen found before her a large disc with odd markings around it's circumference. An inscription was etched along the outer edge.

"Fortunes gained and fortunes lost, but who can say at what cost?

Gwen had lost much and gained much over the last while.

She had gained a new country to call home, new friends, and even a love; she had also gained a teacher in Merlin and a gift in magic.

But she had lost just as much.

She had lost her old country and friends, lost the person she used to be; her innocence that came with the ignorance of magic. She had lost her mother to the demon inside her, and was losing more every day with the constant battle, but magical and mundane she must fight.

Worst of all, she may even be losing Josh.

Turning down the path again, Gwen was so absorbed in thought, she nearly ran into the figure before her.

The woman sat on a dais between two pillars with a curtain behind her. She was robed and crowned, and held a set of old weighing scales, carefully balanced, in one hand, and a sword in the other.

"The scales of justice are a double-edged sword, the scales must be balanced with truth and honesty". The woman's voice boomed like thunder.

Gwen thought of her own experiences; how many things in her life had gone wrong because she ignored those basic principles.

The road left led her into a grove.

Looking around, Gwen could not find any sign the figures she had come to expect on this strange quest.

She sat down in defeat as the realization that her journey had come to an end and turned her attention reluctantly to the right.

Toward home.

The sun flared in her eyes, and Gwen raised a hand to shield them,, it was then that she noticed it.

The man was suspended upside down from a tree by one foot, his hands bound behind his back.

"Sacrifice is a part of life and should not be feared, but met with a fair hand".

The voice was soft as it floated though the trees, and Gwen took this time to ponder.

She had sacrificed much.

Her home, her friends, even her mother.

Her mother, who had willingly allowed the demon she was free of back into her in order to protect so many.

Tasha, her friend, who had risked her ire by brewing the potion to allow her mother to what she did.

Even Josh, who stood by while the woman he loved danced dangerously with another.

Had they not made great sacrifices as well?

The questions swirled in her mind as continued on, scarcely noticing the changing landscape.

The trees began to wither and die, where they were once lush and green, the ground to become hard and grey, where it was once a rich carpet.

The silence was unearthly, and as she traveled, Gwen became unnerved.

She saw it then.

The black armored skeleton riding the white steed, and bearing a black banner with a white rose.

The ground was littered with bodies, and more fell at the touch of this death omen.

Gwen dove down amid the bodies and looked in earnest to the right path before her. For the first time since arriving in this place, she truly thought of going home.

"Death is never final, all things must die to be reborn; change is the only constant".

The dead voice echoed amid its armor as it rode past, leaving the dead in its wake.

Gwen took a deep breath to calm herself, she looked to the right.

She could almost here her friends calling to her.

Calling her back.

She closed her eyes to listen

And turned left.

She was crazy, she was sure of it, but she felt is she could just finish her journey, there was something of worth to be gained.

She thought back to the first woman she had met, what must have been years ago as she approached a pool bubbling up among the rocks and reeds.

The figure was genderless, robed in white with angel's wings. It stood, one foot on earth and one in the pool, pouring water from one cup to another.

"Balance and harmony exist in all things, find the balance, and nothing can unseat you".

The genderless voice had a lulling calm, easy to get lost in.

Gwen had felt off balance a lot lately, what with trying a juggle school and friends with her duties to her mother and studies with Merlin. Not to mention the odd shift at the New Sage Shop where she lived, and the more than occasional magic battle.

It all seemed a bit much.

Gwen let the brook lull her as she continued on.

The landscape began to slope and she soon found herself being swept underground into a cavern.

The darkness was suffocating and the heat clawed at her, she had always thought tunnels and caves were supposed to be drafty.

Soon Gwen began to notice a light, and she stepped into an antechamber.

Inside, the walls were lit with torches, and in the center was a pillar to which two naked figures were chained. Atop the pillar say a demon; a goat's head and body with a man's torso and arms; leathery bat wings stretched out from his shoulders.

"Careful of the bonds you make, lest they become chains".

The voice sent chills down her spine, as Gwen quickly passed out of the tunnel and into the open air.

The passage had brought her up and through a cliff face, at the top of which stood a tower, dark against the black night.

Gwen hadn't realized night had fallen and found it odd she didn't feel tired or hungry.

Suddenly, the ebony backdrop was lit by a crack of lightning as it struck the tower, and the world began to fall.

The night came alive as people leapt from the tower into the sea.

"Destruction brings creation in its wake", the voices screamed as they died among the waves.

Short;y after that the sky began to lighten and the stars began to shine.

Gwen was particularly drawn to one bright star under which a woman knelt.

She was naked and kneeling at a pool with two jugs of water. One was being poured back into the pool, while one was being poured onto the earth.

"With death comes rebirth, and with rebirth, rejuvenation", the woman prattled to herself.

Gwen felt suddenly refreshed, not as if she'd been walking all day without food or drink.

Carrying on, Gwen followed the pool as it widened and came across two hounds baying at the moon, as a lobster emerged from the waters.

It almost felt as though the creatures were paying homage to the glowing lunar orb above them.

"Nothing is certain, everything changes, and with change comes wisdom", the night seemed to whisper.

Gwen stood for a while in the glow of the moon, at peace in the moment.

After her brief stop, she turned once again to the left, and as she walked she began to feel tired in earnest.

Before she could make the conscious decision however, sleep claimed her.

When Gwen awoke, the sun blazed in early morning glory, and she blinked in its glow.

A naked child riding a white horse and carrying a red banner rode past her, "Youth brings with it the innocence often lost to those too old to see it".

The child laughed as it rode by bathed in the glow of the solar rays.

Gwen got up and spared a moment for panic at the thought that she'd been gone an entire day. Everyone must be wondering where she was.

At the same time however, she found she cared little about that other world so far away.

She moved on, and within time emerged upon a strange scene.

An angel stood among the clouds trumpeting to life those still in their graves, as they stood jubilant in their naked glory.

"True judgement is neither harsh nor painful, but given and received with open arms", the people sang to the angel.

Gwen marched forward with a purpose as she rose to meet her next challenge.

A woman stood before her, clothed in a wide ribbon and holding two wands, behind her stood a doorway wreathed in green life.

"I represent the end of your journey, one hand represents who you were, the other represents who you have become. No more choices, no more paths, it is time you returned home".

Gwen saw that the woman was telling her the truth, there was only the door behind her now.

Wildly, Gwen thought of running back the way she had come, but in the end she knew her journey had ended.

She thought back to all she had learned.

Thought back to the woman she had first met, and the fear she had felt at meeting the skeleton figure.

She thought of all the truths and lessons she had learned, and realized now that she was a better person for it.

Taking a deep breath, Gwen resigned herself to her fate and stepped forward.

The doorway seemed to rise up to meet her, and again she began to fall....

When she awoke, Gwen lay on her bedroom floor in the pjs she had worn that night, with the tarot cards spread about her.

Looking down at the Gwen saw so many faces she recognized as they peered up out of the cards at her.

Gathering up the cards, Gwen put them back in their box, then she got dressed and carefully counted out her money she had earned working for Louise and Harve at the store.

These cards were special, these cards were not for sale.

These cards were hers.

Gwen raced down to breakfast and to give Harve the money.

As the door closed behind her, the box on the nightstand seemed to glow, if only for a moment.