171/366 – Custom Lessons

Day 29 of 100 Word Prompts: School

Zhen stood outside the emergency exit door for the Vault pacing. After one talk with the strange owl-aarakocra named Judah, Zhen knew that he wasn’t going to finish the test. It was a rarity for anyone to finish it, but the lack of combat training coupled with the exhaustion from his ascent of the mountain meant it was doubly true in Judah’s case. After only twenty minutes, the door sprang open, and the black, gray, and white feathered person tumbled out in an awkward heap onto the floor at Zhen’s feet.

“How’d I do?” Judah asked, after struggling to right himself for a moment.

“Not well, my friend,” Zhen said, shaking his head. “Not well at all.”

“Well, you called it. You said you went through that?” Judah asked, pointing toward the now closed exit door.

“I did,” Zhen replied.

“How far did you get?” Judah asked, holding out a hand for assistance getting up.

“Quite a bit further than you, though I didn’t reach the end either,” Zhen said, helping Judah to his feet.

“And there is an end to that nightmare?” Judah asked.

“Oh, yes,” Zhen said. “The last person to make it through on their first day was Master D’Lang. Four masters ago.”

“Seems crazy to me, that anyone is allowed to go through that with little to no preparation,” Judah said, shaking his head.

At the end of the hall, Master Zeed stepped into view. “Zhen, may I speak with you for a moment?”

“Of course, Master Zeed,” Zhen replied, “I’ll meet you back at your room. We can discuss it more then.”

“Alright,” Judah said as he dusted his clothes off and stumbled down the hall toward the dorms.

Zhen walked to the Master’s side as she turned and began walking down one of the many halls inside Mount Ameshead.

“Zhen, there’s something peculiar about our newest guest,” Master Zeed said, clasping her hands behind her back. “What are your thoughts on his performance inside the Vault?”

“I didn’t see everything, Master, but based on the conversation we had prior to his entrance, he is a long way from becoming a viable combatant,” Zhen said.

“There are many things that apprentices here at the monastery must learn, my pupil. The first and foremost is never to underestimate someone. Did you see the look in his eyes when he stepped up to the entrance? That look of sheer determination?” Master Zeed asked. “His goals are not to train with us. They are far away. So our teachings must accommodate this for him. We have to push him past his breaking point, over and over. His travels will be filled with things that are overwhelming and unfriendly, as you undoubtedly remember from your journey here.”

“I do,” Zhen nodded.

“It was your force of will that brought you up this mountain without wings,” Master Zeed said. “He doesn’t have the same luxuries we had coming here. He’s had nothing to test his resolve as of yet truly. I want you to enter him into the intermediate studies.”

“Yes, Ma-Wait, the intermediate? I’m not sure he’s ready for them. He couldn’t last an hour in the Vault,” Zhen protested.

“That is precisely why we must push him. He will work with those beneath you on the more advanced techniques. Undoubtedly, he will learn a little, but in the end, he will fail as your student and be propelled into the world with a better understanding of how harsh and unforgiving it can be,” Master Zeed said.

“I’m not sure I understand, Master. You are instructing me to set him up for failure at every turn,” Zhen said.

“A Master’s true calling is not passing on the arts taught here at the monastery. It is preparing those who pass through these halls for the things they are unprepared to face. Before your arrival here, you had no experience with schools or structured schedules of any sort. That is why you had extra classes when the others your age were working on other things,” Master Zeed said. “I understand your hesitation to follow my orders here, but you need to trust that through failure here, he will succeed in his future endeavors.”

“How long do you think he will be here?” Zhen asked, looking over his shoulder.

“I expect him to attempt to leave in a week if my judgment is correct. In the end, if he can harden his resolve, I expect him to be here no more than a season,” Master Zeed said, turning to look Zhen in the eyes. “Do you agree to help me teach him?”

“Yes, Master. Your wisdom is simply overwhelming,” Zhen replied with a bow.

“There is one other thing that I would ask of you, then,” she said, “I would ask that when he leaves this island, you accompany him on his trip.”

“I don’t understand, Master,” Zhen began, but fell to silence when she held up a hand.

“As I already stated, there are things that must be taught here, and others that can only be learned elsewhere. You have made me proud in the time since your arrival, but there is much you still must learn. I have full confidence in your ability to pay attention and learn from him as much as he is learning from the world,” Master Zeed said. “It is about time that you stop removing yourself from the world, and truly experience it.”

“What about my students and the lessons I can learn that you have yet to teach?” Zhen asked.

“Your students will be better-rounded if they have more instructors, and you will be better prepared for my direct tutelage upon your return,” Master Zeed replied. “Now, you go spend time with our new guest, learn everything you can about him. Return to me with a detailed plan on how best to push him past his breaking point.”

“Yes, Master,” Zhen replied with a bow. When he looked up, he was alone in the hall.

Zhen stood there for a moment, contemplating the things Master Zeed had confessed to him. He wondered if this was somehow a test of his resolve. He closed his eyes and asked Akadi for the strength to do what was necessary and to better understand the need for cleverness bordering on trickery to teach a student the way of the monastery.


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