(No audio recording this week. I’m going to take an indefinite break on that and focus on the more important aspects of this blog for a while!)
The Trial of Winds. I had finally made it. I gazed out, looking down the nearly vertical landscape to the clouds below. I had never been this high up the World Spire. I had hoped the view would be better. Nope. Just the same old clouds and the same mountain peaks poking out of them.
But after today, I could finally go to those other mountains and finally see what the rest of Zephira has in store. The World Spire isn’t grand. It isn’t even interesting. It’s just an old monastery where old people teach old ways of using magic.
This would be my chance to prove to them how flawed their ways were.
“No dallying, Aspirant.”
I turned my attention from the cliff to the four guards escorting me and the other ‘Aspirant’ here. The ones that had been watching us, ensuring that we didn’t cheat in today’s preparations. As if I needed to.
“Yes, sir,” I nodded, bowing as if he was the Archon himself. I returned to my place among them, and the group resumed its normal pace up the mountain and the crude steps that had been carved along its slopes. This place was disappointingly boring, anyway.
“You really shouldn’t try their patience like that,” Sarelle, my rival intoned, voice low. “The Trial of Winds is an honor few get the opportunity to face.” She had the perfect serenity about her, as if the laws of nature obeyed her every whim. It made her look far older than the young woman she really was.
“What are they going to do?” I shrugged. I didn’t bother to keep my voice down. They would be able to hear us even if we were whispering. “They wouldn’t dare lay a finger on one of their ‘honored Aspirants’.”
I had no intention of making friends with Sarelle. She was nice, but only one of us could become a Windcaller, and she had no chance of ascending this year. Even if she did fit the appalling paradigm of the ‘perfect and thoughtful Zephiran monk’.
It was really a miracle I had found myself an Aspirant in the Trials, really. Tilehn must have pulled some strings. He was pretty understanding, considering his status as one of the Master Windcallers. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he likes me, but he doesn’t hate me as much as everybody else seems to. If I didn’t know any better, I would even think that he–
“Delanden!” one of the guards hissed. I snapped out of my reverie to see that we had reached the entrance to the temple, it’s large, snowpine doors stood a stark contrast against the dark rocks of the mountain. It didn’t look like much. Most of the building was carved from inside the rock by the Archon millennia ago. Why anyone would choose to live here was beyond me.
“We finally made it,” Sarelle said, staring at the doors with a calm but clearly evident grin.” The Archon’s Temple. Our entire nation was born behind those doors.”
“Not really,” I replied. “First of all, that’s not really his temple. Zephirine lived even further up the mountain. There’s no air on the pathway up, though. The Archon was the only one that could come or go. Besides, controlling the weather doesn’t ‘birth an entire nation’. Nothing is that simple.”
“I know all that,” she eyed me. “But this is still a sacred place, and is worthy of our respect. I choose to appreciate the majesty it has to offer.” Whatever.
As the guards opened the doors, Sarelle and I were the first ones to enter. The temple was a large, vaguely circular room. Occasional stone columns carved out of the rock contained torches, but they were too sparse to call the room anything other than ‘dim’. It was a flat, and in a wide space in the center was a ring about thirty feet across, marked by a circle of a hundred candles. Some feet away, behind three of the masters, stood a large gong.
The seven Master Windcallers stood in a circle around this ring. They all looked so similar with their hoods up and symmetrical posture that they even had the same folds in their robes.
This picture of perfect symmetry and ceremony probably would have made me throw up if I didn’t know it would have gotten me thrown off the mountain.
As the six of us approached the candle lit ring, I noticed somebody else stood on the far side of the room, opposite us. He was wearing a full plate of armor, which meant he wasn’t from around here. I couldn’t make out any features, since he was too far away from the candles, but he stood stock still, arms crossed, and bore a sword on his belt.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. Even the guards that escorted the Aspirants weren’t allowed to be in the room when the Trial began. It sent a chill down my spine.
Without a word from anyone in the room, Sarelle and I entered the ring of candles. She glanced to me as she stepped in, and I could see a flash of uncertainty breach her otherwise calm and serene eyes. Despite myself, I gave her a nod of encouragement.
We both approached the center of the circle. When we reached the middle, we both knelt to the ground, facing the Masters. This was the signal for the guards to leave. Their primary task was to ensure that we spent the entire week before the trial out of meditation. One of the few rules of the Trial of the Winds was that Aspirants had to have absolutely no gathered Chi before the Trial began. Unfortunately, this meant constant surveillance of everything we did. The guards even woke me up a few times every night to make sure I was sleeping rather than meditating. And people wonder why I hate these stupid rules.
“Sarelle,” one of the Master Windcallers said. Eshan, by the sound of the woman’s voice. “You come as an Aspirant of the Trial of Winds, hoping to…” I tuned Eshan out. I didn’t even need to listen because I would hear this all again soon enough. Instead, I focused my attention on the armored knight near the wall. I couldn’t look at him directly, as even inclining my head would be frowned upon, but I trained my ears on him, for what little it was worth. He seemed to be focusing intently on the ceremony.
“…mastery of the stars and Chi that none can challenge,” Eshan continued. I swear I heard him snort quietly at that. Oddly enough, I felt a twitch of anger at this guy. Who was he to storm into an ancient ceremony and belittle our ways? Even if they were archaic and boring, he had no right to be here.
“I am the Aspirant Sarelle,” the girl next to me stated as she stood, grabbing my attention. “I seek the mantle of Windcaller so that I may be the one who decides my own path, and so I may help lead others on the paths they choose for themselves. I swear to uphold the honor of our ways and and the wishes of our people.”
Tradition. Custom. There was no point to talk so much. This trial was only a formal duel. There was no mystical atmosphere or a reason for all of this ritual. Zephirine wouldn’t strike me down if I walked out right now. All I wanted was the title of ‘Windcaller’ and the privileges that name came with.
As the Master Windcallers nodded at Sarelle’s vows, she knelt once again.
“Delanden,” Eshan stated.
“That’s me!” I stood up and waved to all of the Masters around me. Aspirant’s weren’t supposed to speak until the Windcallers were finished. But what did it matter?
I could almost feel Sarelle tense up next to me, but none of the Masters reacted in the slightest. I sort of expected that. I had hoped at least one would have flinched, though. I couldn’t even tell which one was Tilehn.
After an extra moment’s pause to make sure I didn’t continue speaking out of turn, Eshan returned to her speech. I decided it would probably be best to pay attention this time. “You come as an Aspirant of the Trial of Winds, hoping to bear the title of ‘Windcaller’. One who may come and go without question nor explanation. One who is both warrior and diplomat. One who holds a mastery of the stars and Chi that none can challenge.”
“I am the Aspirant Delanden.” The duties of the Windcaller were always the same, and all Windcallers were expected to follow them, but in this ceremony, an Aspirant can speak their own vows. Tradition obviously dictated that they should be about ‘honor’ and ‘peace’, but it really didn’t matter what you said.
“When I gain the mantle of Windcaller, I’m going to do everything that’s required of me and absolutely nothing else. I’m going to live by my own rules and go where I please. I’m going to find my own ways of doing things and, if possible, ignore the old meaningless traditions.”
Below me, I heard an almost inaudible sigh from Sarelle. I was staring at the knight, though. Was he stifling laughter?
“Your vows are made,” Eshan completed. “Each of you take ten paces away and at the tone of the gong, you may begin.”
Before we complied, we both stood and faced each other directly. Her stern face was once again the epitome of tranquility. We shook and bowed slightly, leaning to the sides so we didn’t smack our heads against each other. This wasn’t an official part of the ceremony, but it was a sign of respect that signified the beginning of any duel. It was a sign of respect, not a useless piece of tradition, so I had no problem with it.
When we finished, we both took ten paces opposite each other towards the candles and sat down in a meditative posture.
As we both settled, the gong sounded.
The Trials had begun.