Faces of the Shadow, Part 1
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
The wind nipped at their faces despite the hoods of their thick wool cloaks. The wooded area at the base of the mountain did little to ease their struggle against the elements. Dusk crept upon them as the sting of the mid-autumn rain reminded them, they were still alive.
“We need to find shelter!” Dorcha strained to hear Anxo. They shuffled in the storm shoulder to shoulder. “I see the light! We are almost there!”
The Middling girls ascended the path towards Amenitas, the garden within the mountains. Wisps from the garden warmed the entrance with a gentle glow. The garden provided respite for weary travelers through the mountains. Charged by the will of the wisps, travelers prepare for the perils ahead though no one has ever returned.
Ancient tales speak of a group of mercenaries called “Warriors of the Dark” who created the garden. The Warriors believed the mountain contained the secrets long coveted by man. The information was vital in the liberation of their people. They formed an underground alliance, led by Master Azkin, to gain the hidden knowledge.
For 40 years, the Warriors of the Dark trained with the wise men in the Eastern mountains, beyond the Anheir Sea. They trained their bodies in the light; the dark was for the mind. Day and night, they trained, only sleeping when their bodies and minds could take no more. The warriors prepared to face threats outside the limitations of the body. In the darkness, your only weapon is your mind.
For 40 years, the Warriors trained and gained tremendous power in skill and thought. They triumphed at every test given. The wise men could offer no more training but knew the Warriors had more to learn. The men gathered in the temple’s courtyard to begin their journey. The Great Schema shuffled to Master Azkin and whispered into his ear.
“The way to the secret valley, Balara Sakretia, is through death. Death’s shadow created the road, and the shadows claim it. Only those brave enough to cloak the light will walk unseen amongst the shadows. A curse to those who step into the light.” In a flash of light, the men found themselves in a clearing where the temple once stood. In its place was a clear glass jar filled with bright weightless orbs and a scroll of parchment.
The parchment contained a course drawing of the Atarangi Mountains. A cross-section of the map showed a path inside the mountain. The path led to a place labeled Balara Sakretia. Master Azkin had never heard of the destination in the stories about the mountain. The flutter of his heart told him the secrets were there.
The bottom of the scroll held an inscription in shimmery ink, “Wisps are guides in the dark. Set them free and they will release you from the shadows.” Master Azkin placed the scroll and jar inside his tunic and led the men on their final journey together.
Humbled in meditation, the Warriors set out to explore the Atarangi. Stoic silence greeted them at the entrance to the mountain. Darkness flooded the warrior’s minds sending chills down their spines. Torches illuminated; the mercenaries proceeded with cautious steps into the corridor.
Cast shadows animated the walls. Screeches rang in the Warriors’ heads and twisted their stomachs. They were not alone, and whatever was with them lived in the dark. One man wailed and everyone turned on their heels towards the back of the line. Lit up by the torch, the warrior’s face faded into a dense shadow. Bright burnt orange eyes glared.
Silence choked the cavern. “There is no light here.” The deep, rich voice resonated in their ears as the eyes filled with fire rushed at the Warriors. Screams met the darkness as each light went out. One by one, the shadows took over the Warriors.
“Stay away from the light, Master Azkin! They can see you, but they won’t touch you.” The second lieutenant, Master Manoot tugged at Master Azkin’s cloak.
“Only those brave enough to cloak the light will walk unseen amongst the shadows.” Master Azkin’s eyes widened as he struggled to get away from the light with Master Manoot. “A curse to those who step into the light.”
The final two Warriors huddled in the void. They sensed the presence of the hallow shadows of their comrades. Master Azkin remembered the note on the parchment. He grabbed the jar of wisps from his tunic. The light from the jar illuminated the space around them. Every shadow stopped moving and turned their orange eyes again at the men. Ears deafened by a shrill scream, Master Azkin cloaked the light. He was too late.
Master Azkin heard another scream in agony and sorrow. The shadows advanced on Master Azkin and the shadow that was Master Manoot grabbed his wrist. The stench of Death’s breath heated Master Azkin’s face. He and his men failed to prepare for the danger in the mountain. He trembled knowing he would not live to see the light again.
In the darkness, Master Azkin stumbled in search of a way out of the mountain and tripped over a pile of torches. The sudden jerk of his body shuffled the jar of wisps out of his tunic and clanked on the floor. Their light lit up the area and Master Azkin saw his chance. He worked his way back towards the corridor that brought the men into the mountain. The shadows screeched and rushed towards him.
In a quick movement, Master Azkin jumped to his feet and scooped up the jar of light. Scratches ripped at his face and body, stinging after every swipe. As he neared the entrance, a large body bashed him into the wall. His eyes rolled into the back of his head, and all darkness fell.
When he came to, Master Azkin found himself laying down outside the mountain corridor. His face felt like he wore a mask and his limbs were heavy. Once again, he took out the jar of wisps, and the shadow moved off his face as he proceeded back down the mountain.
He could still feel the shadows on his back. The dark vapor weighed his body. He stumbled with every step until he reached the base of Atarangi. Shining like a cluster of stars, the village shown in the distance. With sorrow in his heart, he fell to the ground in one final sigh. Glass from the jar lay shattered beneath his lifeless body. Wisps danced around the last of the shadow that remained with the deceased Master.
Like a heartbeat, light pulsated in the dark center. The brighter the light, the more the shadow faded away. The light inside of Master Azkin joined the rest of the Warriors of the Dark. Their dance intensified and became fervent. Like the song of a thousand birds, the wisps lit up the region. Around the corpse a garden grew outside of the shadow; Amenitas, the garden within the mountains.
The two girls quickened their pace before the lights went out.