The gardens of Sha’ana
The night was at its darkest when the pendant started glowing with a silver aura on the small nightstand. The light kept getting stronger until it finally lit the whole room. The teenager turned over in his bed, his expression slightly tense as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Since the pendant had started to glow, images, sounds and feelings had started flashing through his mind with dizzying speed. Dealing with this information overload forced his body to consume an incredible amount of energy and it made him fall in an even deeper state of unconsciousness, state out of which he only got out by the next morning with a headache.
As Thrista opened his eyes he was blinded by the bright light of the sun, already high up in the sky, shining directly in his face. It took him a few moments to get his bearings and realize he hadn’t shut the curtains the night before. He looked around and noticed the delicate and elegant carvings that were visible on the ceiling and started wondering where he was as this scenery was unfamiliar to him. A forest could be seen stretching across a flat land, a small path was weaving through the trees and seemed to lead towards a lake. Then he remembered he was at Carmen’s tavern and that he had decided to spend a few nights there for the duration of the festivities in honor of the wedding of the kingdom’s princess. He wasn’t usually one to get up very early, except on days he was impatient to spend doing things he enjoyed, but these were rare. It was barely past the second septime of Secondary when he looked at the wooden clock near the wall, which was early to him as he would usually only wake up around the middle of Secondary. The teenager sat up in his bed, trying to remember what he had dreamed of that had left such a strange impression, but whatever it was and however important it might have been he wasn’t in the mood to think too much about it. As soon as he straightened himself he felt a sharp pain in his head and groaned in frustration. Great, now I’ve got a headache… He thought with a sigh as he rubbed his temples in an attempt to make it go away. The pain seemed to lessen after a few seconds and he was able to get up and get dressed.
He chose to wear his usual white trousers with beige shirt which was made out of thick cloth to keep warm and protect him, he also put on a pair of brown chausses and his pair of leather boots. He was about to leave the room to go and wash himself when he noticed something was missing, he looked around and spotted his pendant on the nightstand beside his bed. The small metal artifact in the shape of a butterfly with its wings opened was attached to a scarlet red leather necklace, its color had slightly faded over time. Thrista attached it around his neck and just as the cold metal of the small insect touched his chest he felt a cold wave wash through him and the memories of his dream came crashing back into his head all at once.
Flowers, a sweet perfume. Gigantic wings covered by feathers of the purest white. A dry land extending beyond the horizon in every direction. A cold sensation spreading slowly through his body. Two dark and menacing eyes burning with rage. A deep and far away voice echoing through time, ‘not yet… the time has not yet come…’. A lone rider fighting a storm and trying to advance as fast as he could. Suddenly lightning illuminated the sky and the rider fell down. A wall of fire slowly spreading everywhere, destroying everything in its path and burning entire lands without distinction between villages and people. What did it mean? Why had he dreamt of that now? Thrista didn’t know, but what he knew by experience was that it wasn’t wise to over-think what one experienced in the world of dreams. Therefore he decided to let it go for the moment and to meditate on it when he would have the time. He finished dressing up and walked out of his room towards the common bathroom to wash his face before going downstairs to eat breakfast in the common room.
More than a dozen of people where already sitting at the tables and eating when he got there. Men, women, alone or in group, tourists or locals, many came here to have a taste of the delicious morning meal that the tavern offered. Thrista headed directly for the counter where a young blonde woman was taking care of the orders and the service. He deduced she must have been Juliette, the new employee Carmen was talking about the day before, when it took him three calls to her name to get her attention.
“Oh, yes! I’m sorry!” She apologized, her cheeks getting red, as she finally noticed him. “Do you wish to order something?”
“Yes please.” Replied the teenager with a smile. “I’d like a plate of cereal pancakes with sirup please. I’d very much appreciate the sirup in a small container instead of on the pancakes please.” He added as she wrote his order on a small piece of paper.
“Of course, right away sir!” She replied with a bright smile as she motioned him towards a table before speeding off to the kitchen to give the chef the order.
Thrista sat down and took the time he had before his order arrived to think about what he would do of his day, he hadn’t decided yet though he had thought about going to the market district and buying whatever he might need for his future travels. Perhaps he would also go to the training grounds in the northern part of the district after that to let some steam off. He hadn’t really exercised in the last week, mostly because of the long days at sea to cross the ocean between Simeriah and Ore, and his body itched of restlessness. He was slightly surprised when he saw the establishment’s owner herself come towards him with a plate of pancakes in one hand and a small cup of sirup in the other.
“With the compliments of the house!” Smiled the older woman as she sat down in front of him.
“To what do I owe the honor?” He asked in a mocking tone, a small smile stretching his lips.
“Tch. Mock me if you want but you’ll see, one day you’ll come to regret it!” She replied with a small jab to the shoulder. “I simply wanted to talk with you, nothing more. It’s been so long since I saw you, I want to catch up. Is that a crime?!”
“No, not at all. On the contrary!”
“Well I’ve thought about our talk from yesterday and I realized something, you reminded me of a young man who came through here a few weeks back when you talked about your journey. He was traveling alone -apparently looking for someone though I couldn’t say who- and he had a strange little lizard with him. I found it funny because he spent most of his time talking to it as if it could understand him.”
“Well that’s possible, I’ve never seen anything like it but a talking lizard, why not…” Smiled the teenager as he chewed hungrily on his pancakes. “But why are you telling me this? Was it me he was looking for?” He then asked.
“No, no reason at all. I just thought of it this morning when I woke up and I found it funny. I thought you’d enjoy hearing it. I think he might have been an empirist, I recognized a word or two from the ancient language. Anyways, I also wanted to tell you about the ceremony of tomorrow.”
“The ceremony?” Repeated the young man.
“Yes. There is a gifting ceremony tomorrow at the palace in honor of the princess, there will be many people waiting to give a wedding gift to the heir of the kingdom. This might be the occasion to see her.” Carmen explained with a smile. “People will be bringing gifts to the palace for the next few days or weeks at least, but tomorrow is the occasion to do it in person. Usually its reserved to the important folks but I believe they would let you meet her if you wanted.”
“Well thanks for telling me. I didn’t know they did something like that before the wedding, I’d always thought it was after…”
“This proves you haven’t been into these things a lot my boy.” Replied the red(haired woman with a wink.
“Yeah, it’s not really my thing…”
“Well I can see that. Anyways I have to get back to the kitchen, I hope you have a good stay here and that we’ll get some time to talk again later! I’ve got some rooms to clean and they won’t clean themselves.” Exclaimed the red-haired woman with a smile as she stood up.
“Yeah, don’t worry. I wouldn’t forget my favorite tavern owner!” Exclaimed the teenager with a wink. Carmen scoffed before walking back towards the kitchen without replying.
After finishing the delicious pancakes and completely emptying his plate of any trace of food the teenager, now feeling full, stopped by the counter to tell the young waitress he had finished eating and that she could put the meal on his tab. He then went back to his room to get his cape and his shoulder bag before exiting the tavern and taking off towards the northern districts. He walked for almost an hour and a half through the stalls of the small shops where everything, from fish and vegetables to clothes and magical amulets, could be found on display. Thrista wasn’t looking for anything specific except a new shoulder bag, his was getting old and was quite damaged, it would need replacement soon. As time passed and he kept walking the number of stalls got scarcer and he did not find anything that suited his taste. The teenager kept going and soon found himself near the entrance of what seemed to be some sort of park at first glance, a tall stone wall was surrounding a wide area covered by grass and tall trees. One could also see a few large buildings of oriental architecture made out of wood and built in a square around a courtyard with a garden. It was a well-groomed space where fruit trees grew besides colorful flower plants with in its center four fountains and a few spots designed to sit a relax. An artificial river crossed the whole place from one side to the other and three-arched bridges had been built over it to enable visitors to cross from one side to the other. Everything seemed to have been done to reflect calm and peace.
Thrista understood why it was so as soon as he approached the gateway, the entrance was decorated with two statues of Sha’ana, the goddess of wisdom, and he deduced it must have been a temple in her honor. He heard voices shouting in unison as the wind picked up a bit and decided to enter and visit the place a bit. A few people were walking around the garden and the park, some were practicing martial arts in silence and others were simply sitting on the ground, meditating. Thrista remembered what he had been told of the followers of Sha’ana, the goddess had apparently given them three values to uphold when she had left the world in their hands: strength, honor and spirit. Each disciple had to be a skilled martial artist, to respect and honor the rules and the life code of the goddess but also to enlighten himself to strengthen his mind to one day hope to become an accomplished initiate. Anyone could join the followers’ ranks but the temple and the dojos were opened to anyone wishing to train in its martial arts or simple to walk around and meditate.
Thrista walked towards the garden, looking around and taking in the sight of the old buildings and the peaceful atmosphere as he did so. He was greeted by a few disciples as he progressed and soon arrived in the center of the garden, where no other sound than the light gurgling of the water could be heard. The teenager decided it would be a good spot to meditate for a few minutes before trying to blow off the steam accumulated in the last few days. He put down his bag besides him and sat down cross-legged, resting his arms on his legs and closing his eyes. He slowly emptied his mind of any parasite thought and let his senses take over his mind, focusing on the sweet smell and the sound of running water. It took him a few minutes to fully chase out his thoughts as it had been some time since he had meditated last, plus meditation wasn’t really one of his favorite exercise. Slowly he let his mind expand and the flow of mana course through his whole body.
Once he had achieved a stable state where he could ‘feel’ his whole body at once he decided to expand his flow of mana and let it disperse around him as he also opened his mind even more. Soon he could sense the environment around him, the living beings moving around in the air and under the soil, the flow of the wind and the warmth of the earth. He tried to expand it further but the farther he tried to go the harder it was to focus on the whole picture and not let himself be distracted by small details like a bee flying past him or a drop of water splashing around. There was much progress though since he had started meditating, he could open himself longer and more easily to his surroundings and still feel refreshed after emerging from the trance. He had found he could maintain this state without much problem for a few hours which, despite being average for a meditation session, represented a progress rate of almost ten times compared to the beginning. Thrista remained like this, silent and unmoving, for what felt like ten minutes. He observed a colony of ants below the ground while they were working, heard the sounds of wood clashing against wood and at the same time focused on his heartbeats.
When he emerged from this state though the sun had made its way up the heavens and was already two-thirds of the way to its peak. A sound suddenly caught his attention on his left and the teenager noticed and old man in monk clothing standing beside him and observing him with a gentle smile.
“Welcome to the temple dear visitor. Please excuse me if I have interrupted you in your meditating, it was not my intention at all. I can’t help but notice you have achieved a remarkable state of concentration for such a young age. Not many youngsters are capable of focusing their energy like this for a whole hour.” Said the man.
“Thank you.” Replied Thrista as he returned his smile. “And don’t worry, I was just finishing. Has it been an hour already? I hadn’t noticed.”
“Well it has been an hour since I arrived, but you were already meditating when I arrived.”
“I have no idea how long but my legs feel stiff so it must have been some time!” Thrista exclaimed with a small laugh as he slowly got up. “And I may have seemed focused but in fact it is not so true, I tend to be distracted quite easily and usually I want to finish this as fast as I can to get some exercise. Today was relatively easy though, this place might have helped too.” He added with a quick glance around him.
The old man laughed at his comment.
“Well my young friend, you are very convincing then! In my youth, I did too have some difficulty staying put to meditate, but with age one learns top have patience. And I must admit this place does indeed have an effect on people, it usually calms even the most restless.” He commented, still laughing. “So you came here to exercise yourself then?”
“Yes. I’ve heard visitors could use the dojos so I thought I could ask if it was okay for me to do some training in one of them.”
“Well of course! My name is Zani, I’m one of the three master elders of this temple. Come with me, I’ll take you to a room you can train.” Said the old man as he gestured towards the southern part of the temple grounds.
Zano took him across the park and towards a set of buildings that were a little bit smaller than the ones near the garden. They looked older and more battered but still in very good shape, shouts could be heard from several of them and Thrista saw that some of the younger initiate were receiving training lessons. The two finally stopped in front of a simple wooden door. Zani took out a key from his pocket and turned it in the lock, the door opened with a click and he entered, gesturing to Thrista to follow him. They walked in a large room, it would’ve appeared small in comparison with the dojos but it had quite some space and one could easily train in large groups in it. Weapons were stored and exposed on the two sides, swords, lances, bows, staves and armors, both used and new.
“I thought this room would be appropriate for your training. It’s one of the smaller training buildings we have here but I believe it will do just fine. What’s more, it can withstand violent shocks and damage as it has been reinforced with mana so don’t hesitate to go all out!”
“Thank you very much master elder, it’s really generous of you. I’m not part of this temple and I would’ve settled for a common training in one of the other dojos or even outside.” Said Thrista as he looked around to take in the space he had been offered and the numerous weapons that laid on the sides.
“You are very welcome my young friend. But do not mistake, I did not only offer you to train here out of pure sympathy, I sense you are full of potential and I would very much enjoy see you in action. Would you allow me the privilege to see what you are capable of?” Asked Zani with something resembling a mischievous glint in the eyes.
“Of course! I couldn’t refuse after you welcomed me here and offered me a room to train in.” Replied the teenager with a nod as he put his stuff down and took off his cape. “Oh and forgive me for my rudeness! My name is Thrista. I’m a traveler and I’m staying in Eneleïa for a few days.” He added quickly after realizing he hadn’t even introduced himself.
To his surprise he saw the old take off his cloak and the large piece of cloth that covered his torso to reveal a well muscled upper body and an outfit similar to what the younger trainees were wearing earlier. He then walked towards the center of the and stood there while Thrista was preparing himself. Finally the young man joined him in the center with a surprised look which made the older man smile.
“I’m sorry for not introducing myself completely either my dear Thrista. My name is Zani, I am a master elder of this temple. Also I was said to be one of the strongest fighter of my generation. What would you say about a training duel my friend?”
As he said that, Zani got into position, facing Thrista, one arm in his back and the other half extended in front of him, prepared to parry any attack. It took the teenager a second to get over his surprise but he eventually got in position too, choosing a side guard with his fist clenched and ready to attack.
“I am still training in the ways of the empirium but it would be an honor elder Zani.” He then replied with a nod.
“One is never finished training, there is always something new to learn.” Replied the older man. “Oh, and prepare yourself, you might be in for a surprise…” He added, his smile broadening, before lunging and sending a strong blow towards the teenager’s stomach.