PYTA’S FINGERS SLIPPED, grazing his left palm against jagged edges of the rock, wind howled against his back, snapped at the loose red tunic flapping around his knees and the tassels on his calf-skin boots. Begging tendrils of air pushed between his legs, against shins and hips, daring him to fly. Sweat dribbled down his temple, tickling tan skin, as he dug his hand into a gap between this boulder and the next. The burn of blood between hand and stone travelled along his wrist and locked it in place, the muscles in his upper arm twitched.
Through a doggish shroud of hair, wide blue eyes darted down between his boots. Two-hundred feet below the tops of Eldenwood’s trees swayed, a dull roar rose up from their peridot-green leaves and tickled his ears before the wind could snatch it away. His breath bounced against the rock beneath his brow, warming sweat on his upper lip and chin.
Bastilleon moved on.
He gnashed his teeth and swung his left arm up, pushing down with the right, as his foot found purchase in the bloody hole. Fumbling fingers gripped the edge of slate, scorching tender skin and broke out a fresh wave of sweat across his brow.
Neck craned back as far as it could go, Pyta studied the undulating edge of Bast Mountain pieced seamlessly with the light-azore sky. Another stretch and fumble, he wriggled onto the ledge between sky and earth. Grit dug into his back, frigid air lined his lungs in ice with every gasp, as his fingers flexed whilst the sun burned his eyes.
His muscles trembling, strained and burned, a thousand feet above Eldenwood, the silence of the wind and mountain washed Pyta’s mind clean of thought. For a time, no doubts and virtues rushed for a perch on his shoulders, taking to the skies like spectral birds.
Bastilleon moved on.
‘Virtue…nine...’ Pyta swallowed, tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth and slowly stood up. Bast Mountain, crowned in thickets of twisted bushes boasting thorns and meridian-blue berries the size of his thumbnail, leafless and scattered in a tight mass, stretched further than his eye could see.
‘Perseverance.’ He delved into the front pocket of his trousers for the scarf and beads nestled against his abdomen. Silk, spun from arachnids and the Lower Spine Caves slipped between his fingers like a bubbling brook; silver-tinted-blue, the fabric fluttered in the jaws of the wind, before it embraced his bleeding palm. Red bloomed across the surface, enclosed in muddy and ink-stained fingers.
Prayer beads hung around his knuckles and palm, a string of emerald, smoked topaz and jet. His thumbnail followed the grooves on a wooden carving The Dragon’s head resting in his palm, a molten-brown disk from the mahogany trees of Bast Monastery placed upon a novice’s chain two days prior initiation. He unwound the chain and slipped it over sweat laden hair and around his neck, the disc resting on his stomach.
Silence of the mountain swept out around his feet, like a rolling green sea dotted with red rooftops and white walls, the monasteries that rose one atop the other like puzzle pieces spread out for miles.
Throaty chitters erupted from thorny bushes, scattering a flock of grey-tailed buzzards to the skies. Flashes of black and white streaked through the barbed bushes, plumes of black-speckled feathers diffused in the air.
Pyta clapped sweaty hands over his ears, as a fierce ball of flailing wings and tails careened out of the underbrush and landed by his shoes. The lemurs paid him no heed, their screeches cutting through the heartbeat echoing in his ears and followed long after he vanished.
His sleeves darkened the more he wiped his brow, they snatched on thorns as he pushed his way through the underbrush. Nips and prods followed each step, blood littering his tan skin and breath exploding from his mouth fluttering leaves inches from his lips.
Bastilleon moved on.
Thorns tore through fabric and skin upon his shoulder a final embrace of the underbrush as he staggered free. A crescent of uneven stone spread around Pyta’s boots; seven feet in diameter, it dropped into the wailing wind’s maws, endless sky and rolling white desert spread out as far as the eye could see. Yet, poised straight ahead, a colossus mound of moss-tarnished rocks, craggy and slick, swayed and expelled a heat even he could feel from three hundred feet above.
His skin scraped against stone when he dropped to one knee, an arm held above his head whilst the other pressed the oak carving against his lips. Beneath his breath, as the heat rippled in the air far below, Pyta recited the nine virtues: “Temperance of soul and of self. Knowledge sought and earned. Empathy not earnt but given. Integrity is in self and in others. Admiration never blooms to envy. Humility is in all words and acts. Chastity never belittled but beloved. Acceptance in all never to begrudge. Perseverance in self goals and beliefs.”
The ease of his beating heart softened the glare of midday sunlight and clouded the distance between he and Bastilleon’s Crown. His tongue swept across the soft flesh of his lip, chapped by the wind, begging for water hidden thousands of feet beneath stone.
In the awning of the mountain, birds wheeled, clouds dashed themselves upon the craggy face, trees trembled and lakes glistened like gems. Pyta’s fingers curled around the ledge, thrusting his head and shoulders out over the land below. Minutes passed the height warping his vision, before he dropped back and settled on one knee. He imagined the backs of his Brothers, their green tunics and prayer beads, their sonorous chants enduring the labour of farming their lands and sweeping the ninety-one steps of Bast Monastery.
Dawn to dusk the life of a Brother played out before Pyta’s eyes from second birth within the springs of Lower Spine Caves, the schooling in Outer Bast Monastery, Novice to Brother, the growth and greying of hair and the final walk into the catacombs far within the rolling land.
Bastilleon moved on.
Silky fur swiped the errant tears from Pyta’s eyes. Short puffs of air fanned across his chin and neck, wide orange orbs reflecting back the scowl shadowing his forehead. A chirp swelled in the winged-lemur’s chest, as she rustled glossy brown wings, balanced precariously upon his bent knee.
Pyta’s fingers drifted through thick fur, white and chestnut bands wrapped around the lemur, tapering at the black leathery hide of her paws and snout. Her wings fluttered, a croon escaping her mouth, needle-sharp teeth glistening in the sun.
“Flitter.” The name escaped his tongue before a second thought, met by docile fire-opal eyes. Concentration on rhythmic flicks of his wrist eased the disquiet of his thoughts.
A minute more of petting, Flitter scampered off of his leg and leapt into the air, spreading her wings. She glided around his head, tail lazily swiping the air, before she dived and vanished beyond the lip of the mountain.
No flying beast met his sight, as he hung over the ledge, left palm throbbing whilst his arms protested the further he leered the ground below. Then, from a craggy protrusion twenty feet beneath, the lemur appeared as if spat out of the rock itself. She rose on hind legs and fluttered her wings, before disappearing again.
Bolstered by a long-stifled urge, Pyta swung himself over the edge and climbed down. Several times his left hand failed, swept off of the mountain face by wind and burning muscles. He dropped onto the shelf with a dull thud of his boots, hands raised for balance, jaw aching and limbs trembling.
A hole lay before him. Silhouetted, the opening spanned twice his shoulders and rose no higher than his knee. Curiosity gnawed at his innards, hungry after a starvation of seventeen years.
He paused. Master Temperance wavered in his mind’s eye; the perpetual frown and crags of his wrinkled face, the flint of his eyes and wispy beard of white and grey draped over an emerald tunic.
“Seek not the light of the dying sun.” His croak echoed in Pyta’s ears; the afterthought of a scolding seven years prior. Brothers did not hunt for more than what was offered.
“Integrity.” Pyta wriggled into the cavern, sliding down the gentle slope of grit and undulating rock, stubbing his nails and skinning his knuckles on the walls until he could reach them no more.
Bastilleon moved on.
Darkness ebbed gradually in tones of navy and grey. The thunder of his heart and wheeze of his breath were softened by the dull clamour of paws on stone and rhythmic drip-drip-drip of water. He reached the tunnel’s end and slithered onto damp stone. Springy moss cushioned the fall and tickled his eyelashes and nostrils, an earthy scent lingering in the wells of his lungs.
Flitter landed by his head tugging on his ear with her teeth. He sat up, wiping down his hair and clothes, eyes following the rippling blue glow upon the cavern walls until they fell upon the crystalline pool in the epicentre of the floor. Spirals of stones embedded in the floor glimmered; topaz, emerald, jet and the long forgotten turquoise, once traded beyond the edges of their ever moving terrain.
His eyes adjusted to the gloom, listening to Flitter yip and growl to herself whilst climbing the walls. Familiarity crept upon his shoulders the longer he scrutinised the room, an antechamber similar to those in Bast Monastery yet lacking the dull hum of chanting and work. It was then he noticed the niche between one wall and the next, so cleverly concealed that it took him crossing to the other side of the pool to comprehend a passageway leading further into the mountain.
Flitter twittered and alighted upon his shoulder, curling her tail around the nape of his neck. Together they strode further into the forgotten catacombs of Bast Mountain. Light leaked from the walls, streams of water tickling the tips of his fingers that left behind a luminescent opal-blue residue on his skin.
After a count of one thousand steps the rest lost in the recesses of his budding curiosity, Pyta reached the end of the gradual incline, faced by a door that wept the glowing water. He wiped his hands on the front of his tunic, noting for the first time the cloud of mist escaping his mouth on every breath.
Flitter grasped handfuls of his hair, chattering her teeth, before she stuck her head down the back of his shirt. One hand upon her, he pressed fingertips of the other against the stone door, cutting through the waterfall and revealing a carved doorknob. Yet with barely a press of his palm, the door gave way, the lock long since eroded, hinges of stone allowing its rigidness through countless ages. The monastery boasted wooden shutters and doors; he had never seen stonemasonry such as this.
Paws tugged on his hair and he stepped through the doorway. His heart hammered against slender ribs, a pulse threatening to burst through his temples.
It was not dim blue that illuminated the cave. Dust motes danced in swords of sunlight, piercing the gloom and bursting in a shower of gem-stone sparks across the floor. Hundreds, upon hundreds of stalagmites boasting nooks winding to the tip in spirals spread out from the foot of a staircase starting at Pyta’s feet, its steep steps leading into a maze stretching far beyond his sight.
Yet in the centre, he glimpsed a protrusion of emerald and gold. It drew him like a moth, stumbling through the tight passages, glimpsing piles of dust and rotting leather in stalagmite-nooks, as his heart beat faster. Each step matched the tempo of blood drummed through his veins; throat singed by dust-laden air and lungs catching on every twist and turn.
Flitter leapt from his shoulder when he stumbled upon the epicentre of the cavern. His boot caught on a niche in the floor and he flew forwards, hands skimming the uneven stone. Skinned fingertips and palm throbbed, as more blood soaked the scarf.
Half-lidded eyes wandered from stout emerald legs of the statue, such fine detail in each scale and muscle, winding higher and higher along a broad neck and stubby tail, before disappearing in a miasma of moss and craggy stone upon His back. Pyta recognised the jut of Bast Mountain and the tiny red peaks of the monastery. Finally his gaze fell upon the great dragon’s head; a single topaz glistened in the left eye socket, His mouth open with three ivory fangs remaining.
Pyta’s jaw worked but no sound escaped. Flitter alighted on the statue, her paws wrapped around His Crown, tail coiling in the air. She regarded him a moment then craned her neck, sniffing the moss, before she took off once more in a spiral through the stagnant air. His head dropped, arms stretched out before him, prayers spilling incoherently from his lips.
Etched upon stone a handbreadth from the tip of Pyta’s nose, the familiar words spilled from his abused throat: “Seek not the light of the dying day. Seek the truth of the coming sun.” And there, in a half-hidden alcove between the stout legs of The Colossus icon was a tome older than any Brother in Bast Monastery.
Words freer than any chant that formed on his tongue.
Worlds explored far beyond the back of Bastilleon until his hair turned grey.
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