Sheridan arrived at the foot of the King’s Tower looking like a soldier returned from battle. Haltingly he had descended the last few stairs, gingerly easing down each step, his flagging strength sustained by the trophy that illuminated his way.
On his arrival he found Kunchen looking on with approval.
Sheridan fixed an angry scowl on the young monk.
“You knew about that booby trap and didn’t warn me.”
“I know many things. To warn you of them would do no good.”
Sheridan glowered at Kunchen through squinted eyes.
Taking a hold of the bottom of his robe, Kunchen tore off a strip of cloth. Slipping to his knees, he wrapped Sheridan’s wounded leg, tying a tight knot to hold it securely. Then without a word he stood up to face Sheridan’s scrutiny.
Sheridan held Kunchen in his begrudging stare searching his eyes for clues to his intentions. With the act of kindness draining his angry resolve, he could find no malice in Kunchen’s kind face. Reluctantly, with a nod, Sheridan released him from the clutches of his resentful eyes.
In an act of forgiveness, he raised the baton between them, its light bathing their faces, fusing them together in an arc of azure blue. Sheridan showed the baton to Kunchen, pointing out the ancient symbols engraved along its three-sided shaft. His exhaustion could not subdue his urgent need to know.
“The Baton of Shambhala.” Sheridan said, displaying the artifact to Kunchen while pointing out the ancient symbols engraved along its three-sided shaft. “A supposed relic from heaven . . . covered with earthly symbols . . . I just don’t get it.”
He became more animated.
“Look at this. It’s most certainly Egyptian.”
“Why would an symbol be . . . ” he glanced up to find Kunchen watching him with a knowing gaze.
“What is it?” Sheridan asked.
“You have ”
“You surrendered to the will of the whirlpool, faced your fears in the pile of bones and sensed the stirring of the King’s Tower. In the wings of the Great Parodarsh you came face to face with your true self and with tears of compassion you loosed the Baton of Shambhala. You even found wisdom in the eyes of a beast of burden.”
Sheridan studied Kunchen, trying to read his face.
“I just did what I had to do.”
He broke away from Kunchen’s gaze.
“But there was something . . . something strange that happened up there,” Sheridan mumbled half to himself. “It was like . . . being in a dream.”
“For centuries the faithful monks of my monastery have watched and waited for this day.”
Sheridan looked up from the baton. Kunchen had his attention.
“The day that a will rise up to destroy the forces of darkness and bring a new age of peace to the earth.”
Sheridan’s eyes narrowed.
“What do you mean?”
Kunchen lowered his gaze to the baton in Sheridan’s hands.
“Only a Shambhala Warrior,” he spoke with deliberate cadence, “Can retrieve the Baton of Shambhala from the golden vase of the King’s Tower.”
A rush of heat washed over Sheridan.
“It was just a dream . . .”
“A dream that’s called you for years,” Kunchen interrupted. “And now, as the earth stands looking over the precipice, you have but one more chance to believe.”
“Believe?” Sheridan was incredulous. “Faith is a luxury I can no longer afford!”
“Then why do you put so much ?”
Getting in Kunchen’s face, Sheridan lowered his voice, the thrust of his crooked finger driving home his words. “I’m looking for answers, not for a call to war!”
“This is your answer.” Kunchen’s gentle eyes burned into Sheridan.A distant moaning caught Sheridan’s ear. He listened intently as a woeful melody drifted in from beyond the city.
“Do you hear that?” A wide-eyed Sheridan peered into the depths of unending night that besieged the city on every side.
“What is it you hear?”
With the rumble of thunder, a sudden wind ushered in a pitch-dark cloud that boiled like a witches’ caldron.
Possessed with the tormented music of the earth’s very soul, the tempest churned with a discordant composition of melodies and disparate counter-melodies.
Sheridan shouted into the wind: “There’s music coming from everywhere.”
Kunchen welcomed the storm.
“It’s what we had hoped for. You are more than a Shambhala Warrior—you are the Tertön Shey pön the Song Master of Lost Songs—the .”
Sheridan faced the thrashing onslaught, straining to find the music’s source.
“The Song Master?” Sheridan asked, spinning on his heels, his anxious eyes flitting from side to side.
“The discoverer of the ancient songs of the awakening. You must join with this song, casting the tenets of your heart upon the winds of its melody.”
Sheridan backed away, stumbling as he withdrew.
“You dont’ know what you are asking,” He raged at Kunchen. “I can’t sing . . . I lost my voice.” His head dropped, his voice weakened. “Like everything else . . . its gone!”
Drawn to his unspoken pain, the music grew louder, assaulting Sheridan with a mounting wind.
“Do it!” Kunchen shouted. “Release your burdens into the air!”
A mantle of anger descended upon Sheridan, twisting his face and gnarling his flesh. His entire body began to coil up like a brutal cage-fighter entering the ring. Raising his face to the raven sky, Sheridan clenched his fists with the bound-up fury of primal man. The anguish caught in his throat, choking him.
Then, taking a great breath, Sheridan inhaled the advancing storm. Filling up his lungs, Sheridan felt his very being connect with the melody.
Awash in Mount Kailash’s breath, his stiffened vocal chords became revived, their brittle crust falling away. The words came slowly, pouring from his mouth in a fountain of disbelief, his doubts joining with the music of the wounded soul of earth. A flash of lightning traversed the rooftops, the refrain reverberating throughout the city ruins:
I’m no hero
Just a lost soul
Doing my best
How can I go?
Traveling this road
I’m just a man
With a clap of thunder the wailing squall retreated, the curtain of fury drawing back into the cavern’s walls. Sheridan’s broad chest and outstretched arms collapsed like a puppet released from its strings as the mournful “” slipped away as gently as a receding tide.
He turned to Kunchen. Sheridan’s face appeared haggard, the leathery skin of his unfailing resolve turning sallow, and the rippling muscles of a clenched jaw slack with exhaustion.
“What just happened?” Sheridan asked through labored breath.
“It was the first wind of a gathering storm. Your first charge as the Tertön Shey pön.”
A sadness passed across Sheridan’s face. “I didn’t come to save the world,” he said firmly. Turning away, he withdrew to a low courtyard wall.
Feeling like an unworthy conscript in a holy war he was desperate to escape, he slid to the ground, hiding in the hollow of the old wall. He was spent, his gut cramped with the heaving of rage. He reached for his trusted flask of Jack Daniels.
Kicking back his head to take a drink, he found Kunchen standing over him.
“What are you afraid of?”
“Afraid of?” Sheridan shook his head. “I’m afraid of getting used by another group with their own agenda . . . and I’m afraid . . .” He paused thoughtfully. “Look . . . someone seems to get hurt everytime I go against the grain . . I couldn’t bear to see that happen again.”
Without surrendering Sheridan from his gaze, Kunchen reached inside the folds of his burgundy robe. In a single flowing motion he produced a compact bundle of hand woven woolen cloth. With decorous ceremony he unfolded the undyed fabric, revealing a book bound in shimmering amber brocade with a tone so beautiful it could only have been achieved by the long passing of time.
Kunchen presented the to Sheridan.
“This is for you.”
“For me?” Sheridan asked through a wary squint.
“It’s our way out—the key to reversing the whirlpool.”
Sheridan opened the cover and begin to flip through the pages. They were empty. “What is it?” He asked, showing Kunchen the blank pages. “There’s nothing here.”
“It’s the Book of Songs—the chronicle of the Tertön Shey pön, the Song Master of Lost Songs. Only when a forgotten song is recorded on its pages will the next step in your journey be revealed.”
Sheridan waved him off, “You’ve got the wrong man. I’m like this city, nothing left but the ruins of a former life.”
“The music will manifest itself to you again, just as it did today-a Sa-Ter of song and verse,” Kunchen persisted. “Now, after a lifetime of revering other men’s music—the time has come to discover your own.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know you better than you think,” Kunchen countered. ”I know that everyday you wake up rehearsing your anger, girding yourself in the cold armor of cynicism.”
Sheridan shrunk back, his flesh pressing against the molded mortar of the timeworn wall.
“I know there was a time you used to believe that the sacred songs of the ancients were in need of rescue and that you were their great deliverer. But you are the one in need of rescue and it is the sacred songs that will come to deliver you.”
Sheridan creased his brow.
“I have what I came for.”
Kunchen insisted, shoving the book firmly into Sheridan’s hands.
“This is the only way out, without it we are doomed to spend the rest of our days in this dying city.”
Sheridan looked away, his voice a raspy whisper: “I just don’t have it in me anymore.”
Sheridan’s defiant gaze softened.
Kunchen issued Sheridan a quill pen and bottle of ink.
Sheridan studied the simple tools, an uneasy silence buying him time to consider Kunchen’s request. He took a deep breath and met Kunchen’s unyielding gaze.
“What exactly do you want me to do?” Sheridan asked.
“When the songs come to visit you . . . write them down in the Book of Songs.”
“Alright . . . I’ll do it.” Sheridan yielded with a begrudging nod. “I won’t become a warrior in anyone’s fight, but if the music comes to visit me again, I’ll keep an account of every song.”
Kunchen bowed his head. “Its time to begin.”
Sheridan dipped the pen into the bottle of ink, then putting pen to page, began to write.