I burst through the heavy wooden doors of the Monastery with as much noise as I could manage; my bare feet slapping the cold stone floor and echoing in the empty halls that led to my room. Some might call my antics a childish display of defiance, but I figured if they insisted on treating me like one, I may as well act the part. It was silent time, but I wasn’t feeling all that cooperative at the moment considering the extra chores that Master Ryu had doled out in order to “allow me time to reflect” on how my actions affected others. My actions being that I had accidentally slept in ten measly minutes late this morning and thus knocking his tightly planned day slightly off schedule. He hadn’t mentioned that though, no… he hadn’t said a word about it until I was preparing to leave his lesson. I had almost thought he hadn’t even noticed. The Monks in this mountain were equally astounding in their endless patience, always believing that things happened for a reason and that there was a lesson to be learned from each mistake. I however, was not known for that finer quality and refused to reflect on anything other than my resentment of cleaning the already spotless floors.
Rules, rules and more rules. That’s all I have ever known. I took a deep breath trying to calm myself and not “reflect on” how Master Tatsu had shown up at the exact moment that I had finished my chores to take me into the garden and promptly kick me where it hurt. I winced at the ache in my muscles as I closed the door to my room and sagged against it. His insistence that I control my temper and morph it into mastering his seemingly endless fighting techniques was nothing new. There were twelve Monks in the Mountain Monastery of Velia, and each of them had taught me different forms of fighting; grappling, kicking, punching, joint-locks, leveraging, and throwing. Eventually it all started to blur together and Master Tatsu had taken over to teach me to use them all together. This might have been more fun if he ever actually let me hit him. The basics were instilled into me as a child, and now it was hours of practice formations, repetition, meditation, and conditioning. On fun days I got use my finely honed skills on a homemade practice dummy. It was exactly as anticlimactic as it sounds.
There was a knock at the door and I turned, defiantly crossing my arms before it opened.
“Vivienne?” I heard Master Liung call and I relaxed my posture.
“Yes, come in.” I replied quickly as the door swung inward to reveal my favorite Monk.
“I hear that you have had quite the day today.” He smiled as he entered my room. His almond shaped eyes were bright with humor and I couldn’t help but smile back. He wore the same thing all the Monks wore; a simple robe with sandals. For outsiders it was hard to tell them apart, as they were all short and thin with bald heads and cleanly shaven faces. My eyes, though more round than theirs, still held a hint of the same almond shape. I might have been able to pretend I was related to them, if that wouldn’t have been where our similarities ended.
I stood a head taller than them, even though I only reach five foot seven. My hair was a dark brown, almost black that waved down into the middle of my back. Their almond eyes were a warm chocolatey brown, whereas mine were an icy blue that some found alarming. My body was thick compared to their thin and small frames. I had just enough soft curves to keep the muscle from making me appear too hard. At least that’s what I liked to tell myself when my self-esteem needed a boost.
“I really do try to be reasonable, but it’s hard for me. I’ve sworn no oaths like one of you ancient, all-knowing beings! I don’t have an endless supply of kindness and patience. I wish they could remember to understand that. You seem to be the only one who gets it.” I whined, walking across my small room to sit on the bed. The specifics of the oaths the Monk’s had taken were unknown to me, but I made sure to bring it up often when I felt too much pressure to be perfect was being applied.
I didn’t have much of my own, but even then I still had more than the Monks kept. My room in the Mountain Monastery was sparse. I had tried to spruce it up over the years, but it was technically a cave and there wasn’t any hiding that fact. I was the only other person who lived in the walls of the mountain with them, and it was a primitive way of living, that was for sure. The walls were carved in intricate arcs of stone by deft hands long before I or anyone I knew had been born. The ceilings were more roughly hewn, but they held deposits of ore that shone in the light of the lamps.
I loved making trips into the valley with the Monks, but they were few and far between as of late. Velia was a small village that rested in between two mountains. I had spent my childhood roaming the streets and playing with the other children while the Monks attended to their business, but the older I got the more segregated I became. The people of Velia loved the Monks, but they shied away from me. I was an oddity. A girl raised by Monks with no family or magic to be seen.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried a fair share of times to wield magic: Water, Air, Fire and Earth. In fact everyone I had ever met could wield some form of elemental magic, with the exception of my twelve buddies and me. These magic wielding people were called Conduits, and they were fascinating to behold. As a girl with no magic, my studies were somewhat different than the school that the children of Velia went to. So yes, that meant as well as being trained by the twelve Monks, I was taught.
The Monks of the Mountain were a multitalented group and I quickly realized that what I saw as normal for the Monks, would leave others’ in awe of their abilities. They taught me in most every subject that they deemed fit, and my lessons were anything but orthodox. They had no qualms in pushing their thoughts into mine in order to further explain their teachings; how to plant my feet for a certain kick, how to bring down an opponent by leveraging my weight, the way to center my body and the feeling of peace and Zen they can achieve when I am being overly emotional. They are masters of the mind. Some call them seers, but in truth they are much more than that title allows.
I have overheard many prophecy and premonition, quickly written and locked into a room of scrolls. I thought the people of Velia must know how powerful the Monks really were, because all of my life I had lived here, and not one of them had appeared to have aged a day. Even so, no one had ever questioned it. I, on the other hand, never ran out of questions for them. One of the most important questions being, how exactly had I ended up here with them? Which was always met with a talk about patience and their token “all will be revealed in time.” I sighed aloud at the thought and watched as Master Liung crossed the room, pulled a chair and sat in front of me. He seemed to be thinking long and hard about something so I sat in silence and waited. I was used to the thinking silences these men took, as if they needed to sift through their minds to find the right thoughts. It was better not to break the Monks concentration.
“Vivienne…” he began, before abruptly sucking in a sharp breath, his eyes going blank. His mouth formed a hard line and he sat perfectly still, not another breath leaving his lungs. My heart dropped in fear as I quickly realized that this was something else.
“Master Liung?” I asked before reaching out to touch his arm.
A shock of pain went through me as our skin touched and my vision blanked. I blinked, trying to focus my eyes and what I saw confused me. It was night and the moon was full and bright in the sky. I was standing in housing district of Velia and people were flooding into the streets in panic. Screams cut through the air and my blood ran cold as I tried to find the source of their fear. Monstrous creatures were attacking! Their bodies were covered in patches of skin and fur, features stretched in unnatural angles as they tore through the streets. The sight was unlike anything I had ever seen as buildings burned and bodies were strewn about. My eyes were drawn to the rivets of blood streaming from them and a scream escaped my throat as I saw shadows moving of their own accord. One of the shadows grabbed a man by the neck and suddenly where there had been nothing but darkness, blood red eyes and rows of long razor sharp teeth appeared. Blood dripping from its fangs it hissed, “Where is the girl?”
I cried out as pain shot through my head and I was back in my room, now lying on the floor. Master Liung was still blank faced but his hands were outstretched and I had no doubt that he that had pushed me away. Another second of confusion passed as I jumped to my feet, and then he was back with me, white faced and sweating.
“What was that?” I whispered as terrified flashes of what I had seen kept playing in my head.
“I am sorry that you bared witness to such horrible things.” He sighed, eyes concerned for a moment before he turned towards the door.
“We must confer.” He continued quickly as he rushed out of my small room. I paused only a moment before I ran after him and stumbled to a halt taking in the sight of all twelve Monks gathering in the hall. Maters Manchu, Arach, Drache, Ryu, Tatsu, Yong, Drage, Smok, Zmeu, Ajddrha, Rong and Liung.
“It is time.” They said in unison, which would have been creepy if I hadn’t just seen evil creatures murdering innocents in Velia.
“What is going on?” I demanded loudly when they stood facing each other in silence. I assumed they were communicating through their minds, tuning into their own telepathic network. Anyone who spent any amount of time around them could see that was what they were doing and it got really old really quick.
“Master Liung, was that real?” I asked when no one answered.
“She saw?” Master Rong asked with about as much surprise I had ever heard from his usually droll tone.
“Vivienne was pulled into my mind when she touched my arm.” Master Liung replied quietly and they all nodded before sharing a look and seemingly communicating with their minds again.
“So it was real? We have to do something! All those poor people! What were those things? Wait… it can’t be happening now, it’s not even dark!” I exclaimed as words tumbled out in a rush and my mind fought to catch up with my mouth.
It was a premonition. I had seen a premonition through Master Liung.
“We have to do something to prevent this!” I cried, pulse racing in my ears. The Monks all shared a look and then bowed their heads. Master Manchu looked up at me and frowned sadly.
“It is but one possibility and we can do nothing to prevent what is to come.” He said as they all turned to go back into their rooms and reflect, as per usual. I let out a frustrated wail as Master Liung ushered me back into my room and tears started falling down my face. My anger always seemed to send a signal straight to my tear ducts.
“You must keep calm, Vivienne.”
“How can I possibly keep calm after what I just saw?” I cried and he shushed me before pulling me into a hug and patting my back. None of the other Monks ever did things like this, but sometimes Master Liung would comfort me. I pulled away from him, still angry.
“How could you be ok with this?” I yelped as I paced my room in agitation. He sat in the chair and watched me quietly for a moment. The village of Velia was a small community, I knew at least everyone in passing. None of them deserved such a grisly fate.
“Vivienne. There is much you do not know, about who you are and where you are from. We have seen things, and we have done what we thought was best in order to protect you as best as we could. Up until this point, you have unwittingly protected the people of Velia just by being here with us. The wards are breaking already, your protection here is coming to an end.”
“What wards?” I asked finally sinking to sit on the bed. I put my head in my hands and prayed for answers to come. Master Liung slowly stood and shuffled to the door, I was preparing for another round of tears when he reach out his hand and said, “Follow me.”
We hurried through the stone halls as quietly as possible. My heart was beating out of my chest as I followed Master Liung to the farthest room in the long hall. I could hardly contain my excitement as we neared the one room I had never been allowed access to in all my time here. He opened the door and I followed eagerly as we walked into the room full of scrolls and I breathed in the smell of old paper and ink as he searched through the stacks. The room was large, symbols were carved into the walls and I knew that they were there to keep anyone who wasn’t supposed to be there out. Master Liung had allowed me in and that in itself was forbidden.
He plucked a scroll up and walked over to me hesitating only a moment before handing it over. I unrolled the scroll and read aloud.
“Born of both royal lines, brothers three will be divine.
Light, dark and shrouded in gray, possessing magic of every array.
Fighting, falling, revenge and strife, a king will fail to keep his life.
An infant that is blood bound to lion, will be the one that we rely on.
No longer hidden in the mountain, power released like a rushing fountain.
Uncontrolled, wild and untamed, evil will try and force its reign.
Friends and allies armed with light, will drive the darkness from the night.
Royal once is royal again and staff will glow brightly from within.”
I looked up at him confused and he nodded taking the scroll and putting it back onto the stack.
“What does that even mean? What brothers? What baby?”
“All will be revealed in time.” Master Liung replied before ushering me out into the hall again. I let out a loud sigh trying to keep my patience. The Masters often spoke in riddles, it was nearly impossible to make sense of any of it.
“You can’t expect me to just forget what I saw and try to figure out your riddles Master Liung.” I growled to his back as he began walking to the stairs that would lead further down into the mountain.
All the Masters chose that moment to exit their rooms and follow him. It was eerie to watch them all, who looked so much alike, in synchronization. I followed them into the main cavern as they sat around our table. Lit only by gas lamps, the room held an eerie glow. I could tell they were talking with their minds again and I slammed my hand down hard on the wooden surface. I tried to hide the hiss that escaped as the sting went through my hand and barely managed to do so before I had all eyes on me.
“What is going on?” I demeanded.
“Sit.” Master Tatsu ordered loudly and I did. If any of the Monks could have been accused of having even an inkling of a temper, it was Master Tatsu.
“Ok, but talk with your mouths so I can hear too.” I replied defiantly.
“The full moon is not until the end of this month.” Master Smok said, quickly filling the silence.
“Yes, and what else falls at the end of this month?” Master Arach asked eyes on me. He always wanted me to draw my own conclusions.
“My birthday.” I replied reluctantly.
“Yes, it seems that is true.” Master Rong agreed quietly.
“We must send her before she is exposed.” Master Drache frowned.
“She was not to leave until after the wards fell.” Master Ajddhra complained.
“Yes and they are already falling. The enemy will find her within a days’ time when they do!” Master Zmeu replied.
“Wait, Send me where?” I yelped, admittedly a little excited by the prospect. I would love the chance to get out of this mountain, to travel and see the world… I had planned to do just that when I turned twenty at the end of this month. Two decades of living meant that you were finally fit to make it on your own. You were then magically deemed an adult and completely responsible for yourself and your actions overnight. I had always planned to make my great escape then, but what if those creatures found me?
“What do they want with me?” I asked, my voice hitching up a few octaves in fear at the memory of blood dripping from long fangs.
“All will be revealed in time.” They said in unison and without even a moment of hesitation, I slammed my head down on the table.
If I heard that One. More. Time.
“Vivienne.” Master Liung rebuked me. I looked up to see concern in his eyes.
“We will make arrangements for her to travel and begin her quest. There is no need to draw the Shade here to these innocent people. The ward is already breaking around her, I can feel her magic pooling.” Master Tatsu said firmly.
“What quest? What magic?” I yelled in disbelief. They had never mentioned wards or magic before this. Why were these, as Master Tatsu had called them, “Shades” coming for me? Surely this was some kind of sick joke.
“You must understand child, you will not be without protection. They will not find you if you leave now before the ward on your magic completely falls. You must make it safely to your destination before then, or you will shine like a beacon to your enemies when it does.” Master Tatsu continued. I was so confused. Too much new information was being thrown at me to process.
“What destination? What enemies?” I cried. I was getting nowhere with them.
“For now we must confer and plan, and you must rest Vivienne.” I tried to object, but the Monks entered meditative states and I knew I wasn’t getting answers. I had wasted more than enough of my life as a child trying to force answers from them and I knew when to leave well enough alone. That didn’t stop me from hurrying back and trying to reenter the scroll room.
“Of course.” I sighed when the door wouldn’t allow me entrance. It was worth a try.
I paced the floor of my small room for a long time, thinking of what was to come and of everything I was about to leave behind. I had been segregated from the people of Velia as of late, but not completely separated. I had acquaintances and people I would consider friends from my childhood. One woman in particular was sought out by Master Liung when I went through the first stages of puberty. Kenja Patel had five daughters of her own and had taken to me kindly, explaining all I needed to know about womanhood. I would be eternally grateful to that woman, because there were just some things even the all-knowing Monks of the Mountain weren’t capable of explaining.
Kenja’s youngest daughter Tori was only a few months older than me and we became fast friends. I sought her out every time the Monks brought me to town and the bond we grew was genuine. However, as I grew older and they saw male attention finding me more often, they began keeping me more separate. The girls my age were only interested in talking about the boys and the boys were only interested in talking to the girls. Tori was particularly boy crazy, and I was convinced I was above such silliness, but the more I fought in teenage rebellion the tighter their reigns became and I learned quickly to follow the rules. The Monks were good men, but strict. At almost twenty, I was more than ready for my first taste of real freedom. I just wasn’t sure I wanted that freedom to be marred by the fear that was currently churning in my gut.
The weeks before my birthday passed quickly with plans being made for my departure. The word of my imminent exit spread as the Monks tried to gather my necessities and the people of Velia threw me a going away party that brought tears to my eyes. I was reunited with childhood friends if only for a night, and as I said farewell to the people, I knew I was doing the right thing by leaving. Kenja was going to be a grandmother, her oldest daughter was with child and they were ecstatic. My stomach dropped when I saw who the father was, the very same man who had been in the clutches of the Shade in the Monks’ premonition. I congratulated them and when Tori made me promise to keep in touch, I felt the first tinges of loss in my heart. I had to ensure their safety. The future I had seen would not be the one that came to be.
The Monks didn’t give me much information, even though I was relentless in my asking for it. They had sent word and I was to have a guide retrieve me and take me somewhere safe. They would not tell me specifics of my destination, for whatever reason and believe me, the Monks always had their reasons. I was both excited and afraid, the emotions warring in my head constantly.
The week of my birthday I was packed and dressed in my new, sturdier clothes as the Monks escorted me through the Valley before dawn. I wore thick, roughly hewn pants and boots in a shade of brown that matched the dirt under my feet. My shirt was a pale green, a thin material that may as well have been a tunic. The monks had made these clothes themselves, a gift for my journey. Although not at all stylish, I treasured them even more for it.
“The ward around you will not break before your birthday, so fear not. You will make it to safety well before then as long as you stick to your path. Do not stray, Vivienne, it is important that you get there in time.” Master Liung smiled kindly to take the edge off his warning. I was going to miss him. I would miss them all really.
“When will I see you again?” I asked sadly.
“All will be revealed in time.” He joked and I cracked a smile. The Monks’ token answer for any question that they weren’t allowed to answer. That was one thing I wasn’t going to miss at all.
Each of the Monks bid me farewell and Master Tatsu gave me my pack that was filled with supplies and instructions to climb past the next mountain and find a safe place to wait. A man named Rowan was being sent to lead me to my destination. I felt as if I was in some kind of nonsensical dream. I had spent my entire life sheltered and hidden away, and now they were going to send me off on my own to traipse through unknown territory? I had not spent a single night outside of their Mountain and now they expected me to climb one on my own… it was ludicrous. When Master Liung was the only one left, I allowed myself to cry. I saw tears in his eyes as well and pulled him into a hug.
“I still can’t believe any of this is really happening.”
“If there was any other way, we would have found it.”
“Thanks for everything, Master Liung.”
“Thank you as well, Vivienne, you do not understand the treasure you were to us.” He replied slipping something into my hand.
“What is this?” I asked sniffling and taking a closer look. It was a dragon coin the size of my thumb nail attached to a thin leather cord. I could feel the power radiating off of it.
“A necklace.” He said wryly as I slipped it on. This was odd and I knew it was more than that. The Monks didn’t give material gifts without purpose.
“What is it really?” I asked suspiciously.
“It is a favor. If you are ever in dire need of help, put the coin under your tongue and say my name. I will hear your call. It will come at great cost, so please use it wisely.” He said seriously and I had no doubt it was true.
“Thank you, Master Liung.” I said again and he patted my back and turned me to face the mountain.
“Now you must begin your journey, and time is of the essence. I have seen much, and though you may doubt your own strength, I have no such reservations.” He said solemnly as he turned and walked away. I squared my shoulders and then took my first steps towards the unknown.
I climbed until it was too dark to see, finally thankful for all the conditioning Master Tatsu had put me through. My endurance was high and I kept a quick pace, only allowing my mind to focus on what was directly in front of me. One foot in front of the other and repeat. The rocky mountain was a fierce opponent that required all of my attention to keep myself on my feet. I had slipped and fallen on the rocks more than once as I climbed and my knees were aching from the uneven impacts.
When it was near dusk I happened upon a small cave. It was shallow and seemed safe enough so I decided to stop for the night. I doubted I would find a better place to rest than this. I dropped my pack at the opening and set to clearing a spot for myself in the small space. When darkness finally fell I ate a small meal from my pack and gazed up at the stars. As always I was enchanted by their beauty and I breathed a little easier. It was a comforting thought to me that no matter where I was, the stars that looked down on me and the constellations I sought would be the same. Sure there might be changes in their visibility and position as the months rolled by, but when I found them again it was like looking at an old friend. Reliable, that’s what the stars were. I laid on my back, using my pack as a pillow and rested uneasily until daylight found me again.
I groaned loudly as I stretched in an attempt to get some of the kinks out of my back. I was exhausted already from little sleep, but I knew I had no choice but to continue on. My stomach growled angrily at me even as I munched on the granola from my pack. I was used to eating much more than this in the mornings. “Spoiled brat.” I hissed at it before finishing my food and gathering my pack. I had never been truly alone before this trip and it was daunting. I was also frustrated and a little anxious to finally reach my guide Rowan and hopefully get some straight answers. I really pushed myself to keep going throughout the day. I again stuck to focusing only on the obstacles directly in my path, which helped to keep me from sighing up at the rest of the climb I had yet to make. I stumbled, drenched in sweat, legs and feet aching when I finally reach the peak of the mountain. I bent over heaving in deep breaths before I stood and let my eyes sweep over the sight ahead of me.
A loud gasp escaped, cutting through the silence I had spent the day in. I had never seen such beauty. Land was stretched out as far as I could see; Trees, rivers, rolling hills. Living in the mountains and valley I had never realized how much space there really was. I mean, logically I knew… but knowing something in theory and knowing something by experience made all the difference. I had never seen this far in any direction before. My knees felt week and I slid to sit on the rocks at my feet as I continued to take in the view. Slowly, reality set in and I began to panic. I had been going on pure adrenaline and excitement to this point. But looking out in front of me I was overwhelmed. How would anyone ever be able to find me out there? I took deep breaths as I tried to keep calm and remind myself that the Masters had sent me on this journey and they would be certain that no harm would come to me. They would have seen and they would be sure that someone would come for me.
I stood back up, dusted myself off and took in the view a while longer before I began the trip down the other side of the mountain. Determination settled into my bones, and I descended with speed, entering the state of mind Master Tatsu had taught me during training. I made it most of the way down before dark fell. The night was clear of clouds and the stars were shining bright, complementing the waxing moon. I decided to continue my trek down the mountain and find somewhere to rest in the forest that was ahead.
All of my knowledge of the outside world had come from books. I had never set foot in a forest and I wondered what it would be like to be under the cover of trees. Surely there would be wildlife abound. My experience with animals was limited to livestock and the occasional pet owned by the citizens of Velia. My mind reeled with the possibilities. There was so much to be seen. So far though, all I was seeing was a lot of rocks and every once in a while a few random trees.
I traveled most of the night and when I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain, I yipped loudly with pleasure. It echoed in the distance and I winced, realizing that probably wasn’t my smartest move. When I heard a twig snap, I twisted toward the sound. I caught a glimpse of what I thought were bright yellow eyes reflected in the moon light, but within a blink they were gone. I stood perfectly still eyes scanning the forest for so long that my body ached from the tension. Finally, satisfied that I was alone, I walked back against the foot of the mountain and leaned my back against the rocks. My body sighed in relief and exhaustion pulled at me hard. I kept my eyes on the trees but eventually I dozed off.