Continued from 7/366 – The Darkness Below
“What is happening?” Morn asked, “Why these tests?”
“There is little that is obvious about you,” Master Scaine said. “You seem clumsy, yet can navigate your way up onto a wall. You seem obvious to the outsider, yet you managed to remain unseen for a time on the wall surrounding this place. I’m curious how far your cleverness and apparent ability can carry you through here.”
“I’m exhausted,” Morn said as another wave of disorientation wash over him, “I need rest.”
“You can rest at the end of this,” Master Scaine said, “Now please, follow me.”
The Master’s tone was such that Morn understood that he felt no pity for him. Master Scaine didn’t care how tired he was, how much danger he was in, or what he wanted to do. The only option Morn had was to keep moving forward and hope that the tests ended soon.
Morn felt a brief flash of anger as he watched him walk down the stairs. Morn staggered to the top of the spiral and descended the stairs. He thought for a moment of whether it would have been worth the punishment to try to leave, but his legs kept moving him forward.
At the bottom of the stairs stood a series of pillars that extended from both the ceiling and the floor with a gap between them as though they were ready to crush anything that dared to move between the two parts.
“Welcome to your second test,” Master Scaine said. “This shadow arena is specifically set up to test your natural stealth in addition to your powers of observation. If you look closely, the pillars, and the light sources attached to them, provide varying degrees of shadow. Five initiates are hiding somewhere in this room. Your task is to locate them before they can grab you. Each carries a medallion that will be given to you when you are successful.”
Morn could see the way the torches affixed at odd angles and heights throughout the room created a matrix of shadows. Morn looked at each of the pillars facing him and chose the second from the left. It wasn’t the darkest shadow, but it provided him everything he thought he needed.
Morn looked around at the seemingly random placement of the pillars and began darting between them, trying his best to keep to the shadows. The first three pillars were easy enough to keep to the shadows, but between the third and the forth, he stumbled and scuffed his foot on the floor. The sound echoed around the room making him wince.
Morn stopped and held his breath, hoping that the initiates weren’t close by. He was sure they knew where he was now but had no way of knowing if they were moving as well. Master Scaine had told him that they were hiding in the room for him to find, but they also could grab him, ending the test.
Morn picked the next six pillars to hide and quickly darted through their shadows, each time scanning around, looking for any sign of the initiates. When he saw none, he decided to continue moving, only stopping long enough to plan his next three stops.
Five minutes in, he saw a flash of movement at the side of one of the pillars in his path. He adjusted course, and came around the other side of the pillar, coming up behind the initiate pushing him between the shoulder blades out into the light.
The initiate turned in surprise before his face fell into reserved acceptance. The initiate removed a medallion from his pocket and handed it to Morn before walking toward where Morn had entered the chamber.
The medallion showed the symbol of Rashem on it, a skull with vines growing around it, emblazoned in solid gold. Morn couldn’t imagine how much it was worth, and rather than question it, he shoved it into his own pocket and continued through the pillars.
The next two initiates went much the same way as the first, though one had spun fast enough that Morn had a moment of doubt that he was going to catch him before he could push them into the light.
Morn’s breathing was ragged now. His legs burned from the exertion, and his eyes were having a harder time seeing into the shadows. Sweat was running down his forehead and he felt like his movements had become sluggish in the half-hour since he had found the first initiate.
Morn moved between two pillars and saw a flash of movement to his left. When he turned to avoid it and come around, the figure in the shadow looked as though it had collapsed down into a pinpoint. Simultaneously, another figure came at him from his right, its arm striking with fantastic speed. Morn dodged the first, but the second was already on its way to where he would be. It hit him in the side with enough force to take him clear off his feet and throw him out into the light.
“He’s done,” a feminine voice called out as the initiate stepped out from the shadow.
Morn looked up to see the initiate step out from the shadow. His eyes met hers, and he felt a wave of fear. Her irises were wreathed in a swirling shadow that sucked in toward the center until it vanished.
Master Scaine stepped out from a shadow, “Good job, initiate. Back to your training.”
“Thank you, Master Scaine,” she replied as she backed into the shadow and vanished again.
“Come,” Master Scaine said, offering a hand to Morn, “We are done with the tests now.”
“I couldn’t have passed this, could I? There were two of them here. I couldn’t see the second and the first moved so fast I couldn’t follow them,” Morn said pulling himself up. He could feel the pain radiating out from his side and cradled it in his hands.
“There weren’t two people here,” Master Scaine said. “What you saw is an advanced technique used by some mid-level initiates. Some of the monks here have a unique relationship with shadows.”
“Could I learn that?” Morn asked.
“Follow me,” Master Scaine replied, turning back toward the entrance.
They walked in silence back to the entrance and out into the fresh air. Morn’s mind was alight with ideas of learning how to do what the initiate had done. He barely registered when Master Scaine said something.
“Sorry, what?” Morn replied, refocusing on the Master.
“You did a good job today. Many would-be initiates wouldn’t have made it past the first room, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten three medallions,” Master Scaine said.
“Oh, yeah,” Morn said, fishing the gold icons from his pocket.
“No need,” Master Scaine said, holding up a hand, “You can keep what you’ve earned.”
“So, what now?” Morn asked, looking down at the heavy gold medallions in his hands. When he looked up, Master Scaine was no longer there. The gate to the monastery was closed and he was alone in the center of the graveyard.
Morn felt another wave of exhaustion wash over him now that his heart wasn’t racing. He shook his head and walked home. His father wasn’t there when he arrived, and he wasn’t feeling hungry. Morn climbed the stairs and fell into his bed, asleep before his head even hit the pillow, still clutching the three medallions in his left hand.
continued 9/366 – Night Terrors