ᛗ Greet the Stars

Stars

 

Within the walled garden’s center sat a small well maintained single-roomed house. Slanted tile flattened out on the northern end of the roof, allowing enough space for a small boy of ten, like me, to climb up and study the night sky. A fading sea of twinkles kept me company upon awareness in an otherwise serene bubble.

Perhaps simple desire to be closer to freedom drove me to scale the tallest structure available. Trees which once stood near the walls were trimmed back or removed entirely to prevent escape. Still, I looked upward because every morning for months started with an unexpected need to sit atop the roof. From there an observation could be made of the darkness between stars.

I thought to myself, one day this vessel of mine might be able to leave the garden. From there my eyes could view the world and hear more than tales of court and distant heroes. Forming any deeper reason than vague hopes of freedom could be considered impossible for a ten year old, despite the insistence that my ways were years ahead of unseen peers.

To the south lay a quarter mile of flowered gardens, stone walkways, and low grass which only paused for a fifteen foot wall. At the far western end sat a half lake which connected to a large aqueduct. It served as a moat I couldn’t pass through yet. I once tried to swim down deep enough but the waters were cold and drove breath from my body despite years of self-training.

Slowly, yet certainly, a sun rose to the east. As with each dawn before I stood atop my small home then bowed.

“Good morning,” I said, but no one answered.

Like a thousand sunrises before this I climbed down then walked towards the small lake’s edge. Murmuring could be heard from the tall wall’s other side. The sound of water trickling by mixed with idle chatter from city people. My parents said only nobles could stray so close the isolated garden.

Shouting to those invisible people on the other side did no good. What few attempts were successful never lasted long. Fleeing the garden often lasted less than a day, and come morning I would be back in my protective cage. For punishment no one raised their hand in my direction, food simply became scarce. Hunger proved an effective tool in teaching.

Yet, one day I hoped to be free and no longer so alone.

Both arms lifted thin clothing off the ground. I knelt onto a worn spot near the small lakes edge then closed my eyes. Thoughts wandered slowly as they tried to pierce through reality around me and find truth behind the visible. A tutor had shown me this technique upon my seventh birthday, but instead of building a foundation as intended, I witness pieces of the past.

Many repeated, growing clearer with each meditation. One such moment involved birth and the first time my parents spoke around me. At the time their words made no sense. Being newly born meant overwhelmed senses, a desperate distaste for natural air, and deep gnawing hunger. Tones which hit my prematurely body left an impression that time likely distorted.

Hunger, wonder, exhaustion, and being near she who birthed me were all that existed when so young. Welcome warmth encircled me coupling with a steady heartbeat. They were all that I needed to feel content.

“Husband, you’ve returned,” said a light voice. Everything tilted which propelled my resting self to full wakefulness.

“My lady, I have, to joyous news I’m told. My council advises me you gave birth to a strong son. This is good,” a second deeper voice felt out of place which caused tiny arms jerk once then shiver. My face turned towards the other figure and the warmth on a cheek faded.

The newborn babe I was found focusing impossible. The images still lingered in my subconscious. Both eyes tried to look towards the new voice. All about the man, whom I would later call father, sat a haze of dull grey mist. Bits of what existed around him rotated as if cutting the air until they settled into new formations. Some pieces didn’t move and hung disconnected from the rest.

This did not make sense to the young me. Yet, in hindsight I knew the concept behind this haze. This was father’s sword aura, a skill tempered through two decades of cultivation and battle. He, like my eldest brothers, practiced piercing the veil to assist in times of war. That rotating haze could be channeled into weapons, to attack or defend.

“He looks as strong as I’ve heard,” father said.

“Look at his gaze. Our fifth child acts as if he can see beyond already,” a closer red haze spoke happily. The voice belonged to my mother, at least I believed it did. She spoke with matter-of-fact assurance. “He will be a great practioner, perhaps even a Master,” she continued.

Even with meditation seeing the world through a memory proved difficult. My tutor said that eyes were not born perfect. Even in meditation everything felt too bright. First were the two hazes of light about both parents, but all around were bits of floating, things, which drifted in the air. Much like what I could see now, at ten, only they used to be far closer.

“Or an Enlightened One. Such a gift would mean great things for this family.” The male’s blur bobbed up and down. Seeing past those grey hazes to the younger version of my father was impossible. As a babe I did not, therefore in meditation I could not.

I remembered trying to reach for those tiny bits of visual flotsam. Arm muscles were pulled into my body and refused to stretch far enough. Jaw muscles tightened with mute irritation, though I had no name for the emotion as a babe.

“Look. He’s reaching,” she sounded proud. “Do you think he sees the energy already?” I longed to hear such pride directed my way once more, but mother never had.

“He’s hardly a month old. Seeing should be impossible at this age, even for a prodigy.”

“Here little one. Try again.” My body was lifted by gentle fingers which pinched folds under both arms. The haze of red turned me towards a small piece floating nearby which I managed to grab weakly.

The squirming energy popped upon contact. Its abrupt ending startled me into crying. Mother’s fingers tensed into my side hard enough to leave an impression. Even now the memory of pain still radiated around my ribs. Other senses, such as the woman’s smell, or taste of the air were impossible to pluck out.

“Do you know what happened?” she asked while the world tilted sideways.

“The spirit energy is gone,” my father hummed with his remaining breath. “That should be impossible.”

There was a lull while I reached for another stray bit of those floating bits. Energy my parents called them, and still do. I grabbed poorly at another and it too popped into nothing which renewed the crying. My hand tingled with numbness as the memory echoed across to the present.

“You see? He didn’t absorb the energy, he destroyed it,” she spoke with a tone that I couldn’t have recognized at three, or four. A ten year old understood. The vibration of her words shook with distant fear. Mother set me down, and I’m not sure she ever picked me up again.

In the present both eyes slowly focused on the small lakes far wall. Moments from a distant past faded and I stopped smelling the comfortable scent of family. Perhaps being captured in a garden was fate. Certainly the harm caused by my presence became more noticeable and damaging as time passed. Those small bits of floating energy which had tingled so now shied away completely. They may have chosen self-preservation, or something about me pushed them away.

My parent’s hope that I might ascend the ranks of power proved fruitless. Thus far the feats attributed to me were singular in sum. Reliving these moments served as a limited form of escape from the routine life thrust upon me. The only positive draw was that each bit from the past provided more fuel to question my tutors with.

Being a master of any sort would have implied oneness with the energies every living being was permeated with. It would have meant consolidation of a life core within my consciousness. It would have meant purification of flesh through spiritual baptism. It would have meant through the right movements and thoughts I could alter reality and give birth to fires or floods with a wave of the hand.

Even an Enlightened One could have been of great benefit to our family. Most souls were cleansed of their past upon rebirth and only carried their karmic debt to balance in the next life, or so I was told. Enlightened were rare existences which retained a sense of self while being washed by the great cycle’s wheel. They could judge a man or lead armies with an instinct carried over from their previous lives.

Neither of those were possibilities. I could only stare at stars, and wonder why the energy everyone else regarded as inert felt like living creatures staring at me. The idea felt wrong somehow, as if I should ask a question that sat unformed in my mind’s recesses.

The rising sun’s path cast early morning shadows. I used the lines to gauge how much time remained before my first tutor would arrive. There were hours yet to try and make a breakthrough in my knowing. I reflected once more upon a memory.

Both eyes closed again and another scene from the past washed over me. This time I was much older and able to move myself about as desired. My fifth birthday come then went. As a gift father provided me a small set of army men and letter blocks to assist in writing lessons from one of our teachers.

In the past I sat in a shade cooled corner near the rear garden gates. My youngest brother babbled incoherent rules at me while I tried to form the army figures as we had been taught.

“Those blocks are nothing compared to a real army.” Our older brother towered above us and did not partake of the shades solace. His back was illuminated by the sun. Our entire family shared the same square jaws, but brother Hakon had height only my second sister matched.

“Yes, brother Hakon,” I delayed too long in remembering my manners. By the time my head bowed in respect he had already stormed off.

“Mean,” whispered our younger brother, Colborn. There were seven of us back then. Most had their own duties and rarely interacted with us younger two.

We moved the small toys back and forth into new positions. Both of us whispered quietly as we declared different events were happening. Colborn often felt that blocks and figures went in spots that shouldn’t. He stacked them in shapes that annoyed me, but I bore with it. Aside from him, no one else played any games with me. These memories of the past displayed that loneliness was nothing new.

“Younger Masters.” A tall woman bowed in our direction. She was shorter than brother Hakon. Bamboo lined the walls behind her and small streams of water stolen from the aqueduct trickled through.

I stood then gave a shorter bow as I had been trained to do. My brother, a little older than two, tried to lower his head but stumbled slightly. My outstretched arm kept him from tipping into plants as he had many times before.

“Young Fell, your father seeks your presence after his meeting,” she said to me. I could not remember the woman’s name, even with meditations aid.

I nodded to show her message had been delivered successfully. Father’s meetings were always long, but once they completed he had time to see each child in turn. We would converse and discuss the day’s events, and father provided thoughts upon our progress.

Colborn continued to play with the blocks. He formed words then laughed with sharp delight.

“Shush,” I barely looked in his direction the first few times.

Two small men of metal and wood sat in my hands. Their crudely made joints allowed for posing. In my head sat an image of both older sisters, practicing their martial arts. Each evening I had watched their practice and tried to understand what about them caused energy to swirl around.

I tried to stand the soldiers like both sister’s stances but failed. They didn’t have the right air about them. Nothing moved or swirled. Their legs weren’t stocky enough. Our family boasted women with strong thighs and slender waists, a build these toy soldiers did not match.

“Brother,” Colborn’s words were slurred and simple to ignore.

Further attempts were made to pose the figures then plant them upon the ground. They refused to stand correctly and fell over. Again and again I tried to make their bearing match either sister’s movements. The idea had gotten stuck in my head and refused to dislodge until sense was made.

“Ewlder brother,” Colborn said.

At that point something popped and vision tore down the middle. In the memory of my youth an odd sensation crept up my neck. Dizziness with tingles combined while eyesight narrowed to a distorted tunnel. Dryness invaded my mouth and each limb started to feel heavy.

“Fewl. Brother Fewl,” said our youngest sibling. Even with meditation’s recall his voice sounded like a stretched out echo. High pitches distorted along incorrect paths then faded together.

I lifted my head as the world warped. Bits of color floated about as they hadn’t in years. They seemed excited by something. Ones made of brown coupled to faint green spiraled in the air about the both toy soldiers. Their coloration reminded me of film upon our fish pond.

Breathing came in gasps. A large body thirty steps away slid towards us and as it did the energy around turned more violent. The image of a fish breaking through to eat food made me fall backwards. A film of surface scum energy pulled towards both statues and they started to brighten.

Everything felt wrong but with the reflection of age I still couldn’t figure out why. A second figure moved in the distance. My head snapped to and saw the guards who were assigned to watch us approaching. Younger brother Colborn had grown closer and had his tiny arms wrapped around me. His reasons were still unclear.

Life hung in slow motion as the clarity of fully piercing a veil hit me for the first time. This was more than the natural vision I was born with, greater, and deeper. When I looked down there were strange items within view.

Squiggling around in my brother’s back sat worm like bits of dull silver color. I peered at them and watched as skin faded away to show what lay beneath. They curled around muscles past bones towards his center. The threads inside his body went deep, and were rooted in white brightness underneath. They marred the perfection of little brother Colborn’s core.

Concepts like core, cultivation, stances of power and impurities were beyond me at that age. No child, however well they are tutored, can understand every task they are given. Such lack of knowing is especially common when topics that feel uninteresting. Now though, after years of trying to understand my burden, I understood, so the memory made more sense.

Annoyance and a high of happiness flooded me. The problem of my brother’s tainted back could be solved if only someone like I dared. I reached out in wonder then plucked at one of the wiggling threads which linked to my brother’s core. It squirmed away but didn’t vanish like the floating energy about me normally would.

My fingers burned with the warmth of a heavy blanket after snowstorms. Both eyes closed as the guards running towards us were blotted out. Still, the threads which marred my brother sat glowing through both eyelids. I ground the wiggling end between my thumb and forefinger. It fell apart as if ash from a dead fire, then Colborn screamed.

I jerked in response to the sudden onset of noise. Causing my sibling pain made both eyes open in panic. Those guards were four steps closer. My hands were both plucking at separate bits of energy which thread through to Colborn’s core. They fell away under my pressed fingertips. Without understanding I reached for two new portions and pulled on them like one might unravel poorly made clothes. Still my younger brother screamed.

Giant hands grabbed me while another pair pulled away Colborn. I did not scream as smaller fingernails tore into my sides with amazing strength. Breathing was too hard. Colors rippled through air were visible but not solid. Each splash and twist of them caused my head to twist around in worry. Even now madness’s edge attempted to grab me through memories.

I looked at the man holding Colborn and saw the mass of black twisted around his core. They choked the guard’s center like a mess of vines, or as a snake might constrict lessor pray. That caused my young self to scream while swatting.

The guard also yelled as blackness burned away from white purity. Sharp pain hit my neck, and the world vanished. Meditation allowed me to quickly skip unconsciousness. There was a sense of many hours passing by before awareness returned. Upon opening my eyes an older male sat in front of me. He wore a stern frown and maintained a straight back. Both ears dragged with the weight of three heavy loops which pierced his lobes.

I tried to clasp my hands together in greeting but both arms were still sluggish. “Lower Master Song.” My mouth clung to the words. The bow I had attempted was blocked by a firm hand on my shoulder.

“This child is indeed a foolish one,” he refused to speak to most people directly. Only my father received such an honor.

Lower Master Song studied me from a distance at first. His eyes were more intent upon the bits around me which had haunted my vision since birth. He pushed a hand in my direction, cupping energy like a sideways cup. It pooled, compressed away and turned into a small violent whirlpool as colors melded together. This surprised the Lower Master. His bushy eyebrows stuck out further than both pursed lips then he nodded as if all the answers were clear.

“Does the reckless youngster understand what he’s done?” He asked with a raspy voice. His body shook from age immeasurable.

My head shook back and forth.

“The young lord attempted to enchant, a feat which should require a decade of knowledge and practice. While channeling the energies of other he turned a wide open mind upon his brother and tried to cripple babe Colborn’s budding cultivation.” The man’s head shook slowly and he stopped looking at me. “Young Lord Fell’s eyes and ears bled. They bled as the young lord peered through the veils first hand all at once. He dared the entire hand, and nearly reached the next, at five, how reckless.”

I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself like father always did. It failed and my own body shook worse than Lower Master Song’s.

“Poor foolish youth, barely off the tit then he flirts with death. Luckily he’s studier than that other son. Still, the energy around us seems even more reluctant than ever to be near such a reckless child.” His face smoothed out again and one hand swam through the air.

The motion caused different colored glows to appear as his hand passed passing through floating bits. They gathered in clumps of energy which matched the color of his fingers. A dirty green pile was pushed at me. It nearly reached my skin before fading away. Yellow peaked with thin strings of orange slipped away. A faint pink then azure also ran like a live thing which had been frightened.

Through it all I shook but could say nothing. Our youngest brother had been hurt by my actions and I didn’t understand how. Removing that which marred him should have been healthy, not crippling. My actions should have been no worse than preening a bird’s feathers or brushing dirt from a horse.

Finally, after hours, the old man grabbed my face and brought his eyes close to mine. Each blink I dared caused his fingers to pinch harder and that displeased hum of noise to come out. After the fourth squeeze I held very still indeed, while staring into eyes that seemed larger than the world.

After a minute he asked in a raspy voice, “Is the young lord scared of me, I wonder?”

My head shook with a no, but that was a lie. I did not know what gave him the right to speak so to me, only that his power ran far deeper than any of my siblings. Even father respected Lower Master Song, and father could pierce six veils at once and stood upon The Way’s fourth tier.

“Good.” He hummed again then nodded. “The young reckless fool should listen closely. This son is broken, and missing a seed. In turn he has no control, no anchor, and no middle.”

Even now I didn’t understand what he meant. Seeds were not a concept my tutors had explained, and I wanted to understand more before daring to ask. Often, especially in these past few years, I had been given answers that simply made no sense due to my limited knowledge.

“Does the reckless boy even know what a seed is, I wonder?” Lower Master Song stared at me yet addressed the room in general.

To this I dare not try and lie. In the memory, my head shook back and forth once more.

He hummed again then nodded. “Then the boy should pay attention, and take heed for when he’s older.” Lower Master Song jabbed me in the head with his finger. I hissed in pain and reached out to stop him. The man’s other hand shook my jaw with a fresh pinch and I stilled. During this the person holding my shoulder showed no signs of relenting.

“The young lord’s soul is damaged, and missing it’s beginning and end. The fact that he returned from the cycle should be miracle enough. Clan Mother Asger is clearly a tenacious bitch to have carried a broken spirit into this world.” His eyes drifted off and both brows lowered. He hummed again but this time was much slower.

I tried to form a question but couldn’t. The entire situation froze me with fear. Lower Master Song’s eyes were like still but deep waters. I half expected something to swim out of them and bite at me, like our fish did to bits of bread.

“He wonders, I’m sure, what power might cause such harm.”

At ten, such a question had certainly occurred to me. In the past, as a young five year old, I wondered no such thing. At that age only the fear of Lower Master Song’s fingers causing pain registered.

“Only a strong demon of this world, or god from the next could rend a soul, and such would require an extreme level power to damage the soul into their next lift.” He let out yet another hum of noise. I came to realize that sound meant Lower Master Song was thinking. “It is important to keep such a reckless yet gifted child alive and see what comes of him.”

“Gifted?” Being five little else of his words made sense. Even now I lacked information to properly understand. Were it not for meditation I wouldn’t remember any of this conversation.

“Gifted in enchanting, probably. Gifted in unraveling, freakishly. Broken, certainly. The gods are cruel and perplexing.” He hummed again then nodded. “I’ll tell the reckless boy’s father that such a unique talent should not be cast aside.”

Without further explanation, he dragged me off. We moved past brother’s rooms and sisters gardens, around the guest wing and guard quarters. Doors opened with a wave of his hand. On the other side my father paced. His eyes looked up and I saw a light of hope in them. My mother knelt on the ground and faced the eastern window with her head bowed in prayer.

She had not talked to me in years. Mother rarely approached me the way father did.

“Well?” my father asked.

“His root seems damaged, however despite this, or perhaps because of it, your fourth son is very powerful, but his method is twisted,” the old man gave confusing judgment. His words hung in the air while I stared at the ground in shame. “He shows talent at crippling others, and enchanting. Both of which will require exploration once he learns to any control.”

“What do you mean?”

“Instead of letting the essences wash over him like other travelers, then refining it, he seems to be repelling all energies equally. Based on your own stories,” Lower Master Song’s eyes flickered to my mother briefly then back “energy reacts oddly in his presence.”

A shudder passed through my mother’s body. Her face lifted to gaze out the window towards an evening sky. Perhaps she sought an answer from the gods Lower Master Song spoke of. Father held still and stared at the elder.

“What then, should we do?” he finally asked.

“This one chose to follow you lord, because you’ve always found a use for any person under your care. I believe you can find a use for such a son, even if the method is cruel.” The old man’s head shook and the rings in one ear clinked together. “It is not my place to suggest anything more.”

“It’s not your place, or you don’t know?” Father questioned.

“Both, my clan lord. Perhaps with maturity we transform his gift to something more manageable. Age and knowledge plays a role in all paths of The Way. I will try to search the archives as well.”

“Do so,” my father said.

Clan Mother Asger, she who birthed me, did not turn around. The side of her face shone with a single stream of liquid. To this day I do not understand if she was upset with herself for bringing me into this world, or with me for trying to cripple brother Colborn.

Two days after my brother’s near death this garden became home. Father was the only one to visit me during the following year. Each night he arrived and spent a few minutes watching me across through slits in the gateway. For the first month I tried very hard not to cry while repeatedly vowing to be a proper member of the household. During the months following that I found ways to escape and tried to return to my room in the main house.

That room was no longer mine. I missed the comfort of knowing my brothers and sisters were nearby but received no alternative. At five my opinion mattered very little. Being forced into my garden and enduring starvation following brief escapes proved a harsh deterrent to escaping. Slowly the small belongings I had owned were transferred and the single house remodeled to be more familiar.

The situation did not grow comfortable, but instead became familiar. Being relegated to near isolation felt a twisted punishment for plucking at what I considered to be strangling filth around my younger brother’s chest. No sane person should want those wormy lines choking their lives like vines on a tree.

In the years following, I noticed that everyone carried such strange passengers. Guards who watched me from afar, those family members who showed a willingness to visit me, everyone had them. The water’s edge reflected my own essences as surely as I could see into my brother’s. Nearly pure unmarred whiteness reflected back, save for the core of my core which contained a singular black spot.

Based on the words of my father, those actions of plucking out bits had somehow harmed my youngest brother’s purity. For months the knowledge plagued me. In the meditation’s wake came denial, and hope that such an event might be undone through force of will. No such result ever could be achieved. Will alone solved nothing without power, as ability alone bore no results without action.

I hung on the moment of my past while struggling to keep my breath even. For a heartbeat the prior memory of my mother’s arms holding me surfaced. Those limbs once again briefly comprised the entire world. They cradled me closely against a familiar heartbeat. Vision shook and I tried to brush away unease by using three slow breaths to release the memory.

After my mind felt centered in solitude I stood up and proceeded to the next portion of my day. Morning was set aside for meditation upon the past or nothing at all. Both were considered acceptable.

A small plate of food arrived by an uninitiated servant, one who held no hope of ever cracking the first layer. She made no eye contact and often ensured the meal arrived before my mental exercises even finished.

I ate but found the taste unremarkable after so many days of the same food. Eyes drifted upwards in search of the sun. I traced its path over my garden wall. Eating a meal took precisely two feet of time, as the wall tracked the sun. I had no better reference short of a candle, and as the sixth living child such items rarely made it to me. My few possessions were retained from birthdays prior to my isolation, or what my tutors believed was needed to assist in teaching.

Over the wall people could be heard. The tall edge of a nearby building jutted upward with its ornate roof. Further still the Region Lord’s manner could be seen. I looked to the east and wondered what lay outside of the city. Perhaps there might be more interesting foods or new people who knew of the world.

The gate to my near seclusion opened. I set aside my breakfast plate then stood and brushed myself off. I turned in time to see one of my few regular visitors arrive with long measured steps. Today’s instructor was a middle aged man by the name of Captain Nagi. He did not believe in long hair and insisted all students, though I knew not who the other learners might be, keep their hair short. So I did, as did he.

“Young Lord Fell,” he greeted me but did not bow.

“Captain Nagi, I thank you for taking time to instruct me.” I responded as advised by my second teacher.

“How goes your training?” He asked to start the midday exercises.

I bowed once to ensure proper greetings were exchanged. The action was based upon my second tutor’s advice. She stated that all people willing to teach me something new should be given respect for their efforts.

“Sir, my attempts at meditation has led to recalling the past yet again,” I focused on the positive aspects as the second tutor had taught me.

“That’s important. The past ever shapes us in the present. Still, remember to clear your mind of everything.”

“I struggle to do so. Memories of the past often block my way.”

“Then something in your past holds you back.” Captain Nagi’s voice was firm, like fathers, but slightly lighter in pitch.

I nodded once.

“Come on then. We shall start with a warm up then go through the forms together.” He waved one hand towards the garden wall.

My chest lifted in a deep breath and a sigh almost escape. Once I had dared sigh in Captain Nagi’s presence and father starved me for a day due to disrespect. I would not sigh heavily at his orders again. Like the days before, I ran laps.

“Four more, if my cadets can do it, so can you!” Captain Nagi kept pace behind me. In his hand lay a switch to use if ever feet drug.

Other people doing these exercises made me feel a bit more normal. At the center of who I was lay the desperate desire to fit in with my peers upon release, and a frustrating certainty that such hopes were unachievable. What sort of child was trapped in a garden like I?

I asked those who taught me of the world why such a lifestyle came to pass. All my older brothers and sisters were treated much the same according to those in charge of my small world. Only they were out there together and I had been kept away like a monster. My teachers told me softly that I too would find a way to contribute one day.

“Alright, we’re done with the warm up.” He said, but I kept going at a brisk pace to a clear part of the garden. Once there he nodded then motioned at me. “Start the first stage, Sunrise of a Man.”

I nodded then posed my body as instructed. These exercises were nothing new. All Asger children were required to learn them. Since the age of four we each practiced but these basic stances and motions. There were six in total, one for each part of the day.

“Stretch those fingers future. Keep your shoulders back.” Captain Nagi walked around and hit me lightly with the switch. “All stances require a proper center. Don’t waver.” His attacks were not enough to cause harm or welts. The sting kept a child’s mind from wandering. So it was explained.

The remaining afternoon went rapidly as reminders were repeated over and over. Captain Nagi left, well before the sun had reached dinner time. I sat in a cooling stance with both hands pressed to my lap and tried not to feel upset. My head tilted back and I saw no stars to keep me company.

I mediated to clear my mind. Mental exercises truly started three years ago. The ease of seeing energies floating around grew worse as I gained mastery over piercing the first layer. Though I could channel no energies into my body as other people on The Way might.

That portion of training still eluded me. I could not summon flames with a kick like my sisters. Sword energy did not answer my call as it did for father and my oldest brother. Those energies stayed far away from me. My sisters were experts in the Noonday Sun, a stance which channeled burning flames. In theory there were finer names for their techniques, but I could not channel energy myself so the knowledge was pointless.

There were layers of colors, each one representing different types of energy which people on The Way could channel. They hovered in droves near the wall outside my garden. A smatter of light blues which represented ice and water floated past the tiny lake. Trees further back housed deep browns mixed with all shades of green.

Afternoon approached. I walked to the entryway of my garden. The passageway traveled twenty feet with a heavy barred gate at its center. This served as a line which must not be crossed without approval. Grooves lay worn into the wooden flooring where I knelt to wait.

Thoughts drifted and I struggled to stay upright. Today’s exercises caused mostly wariness and slipping focus. I straightened my back then tried to focus upon nothing.

A blink later both mother and father were kneeling on the gateways other side. “Greetings Father.” I bowed down with both hands on the floor. “Greetings mother.” I said while bowing a second time for my mother.

Both people were clearly visible through the gateway. Unlike the teachers and the shy woman who left food behind, my parents did not come inside the garden. I quietly appraised them while waiting for a response. Their clothing did not look as fine as a year ago. Mother used to have a heavily embroidered piece which she had held as if it were treasured. Today marked the third month without its appearance and I worried for my family.

“Greetings fourth son Fell,” he said. The usage of my name made this prison bearable. They had not cast me away completely. “How are you faring today?” By law, the person with higher status spoke first after greetings.

“I am well,” I replied while trying to sound positive. The sound came out flat despite my desires. Blaming the lack of emotion on physical exhaustion would be a lie.

My parents kept me safe and arrived to the small garden to converse almost daily. Yet, they strayed no closer than twenty feet. They had little enough time for me given their household duties. Tutors spoke of a mountain gods worth of tasks which my parents had to perform.

“Have you managed to progress to the required level?” Father continued with his standard questions.

I took a breath to steady myself and let tension from both shoulder blades. They dropped slightly as my eyes tried to look both left and right at the same time. The veil between reality and that which lay outside it parted slightly.

Both parents sat in a dense fog of grey and red energy. They looked completely at home in air that had been tainted by a billion uncomfortable tiny pieces of other. My parents actually looked bright as they waited for an answer. Something about my father’s presence drew in silvery floating pieces, while my mother pulled in slightly crimson ones.

None of those colors cross the twenty foot gulf in my direction. I closed my eyes briefly then took three slow breaths to calm down. Eyesight relaxed and stopped trying to look in a direction askew from reality.

“No sire. Not yet,” I confirmed.

My father frowned slowly. The look had grown commonplace as of late. His eyes glanced over towards mother. Their shared glances could indicate a multitude of responses, but most were probably about me.

“That is disappointing,” he said.

“I understand. I will try harder.” I bowed my head to the ground then lifted back up.

There were many reasons father’s request felt unreasonable. Primarily, I had struggled for years to perform as asked with no guidance on how to do so. Overcoming the natural world’s aversion to me felt impossible.

“Recently, Doctor Lumin advised me that no record of a similar condition exists in the entire city. I was advised that the only way forward may be divinely gifted insight,” I dared speak in defense of myself.

Mother clicked her tongue once in displeasure but said nothing. I blinked while showing no other signs of being snubbed. She had not spoken to me once since her youngest son nearly died at my hands.

“It is good that you work to overcome this tribulation,” father said.

“Doctor Lumin has requested insight from a clan of star watchers.” Father’s eyes flashed at my revealed news. “I’ve reminded him that my name should not be mentioned. Regardless, your son will still struggle to complete his tasks.” I once again bowed my head to the ground and hoped the reminder of my efforts and our relationship might prevent a day of hunger.

Perhaps if I could finally surmount this obstacle then they might embrace me once again as they did for my siblings. No amount of guidance from my three teachers helped overcome the problem so far, and I hoped for a divine revelation like heroes always received in stories.

“You must, and soon. The Region Lord has wondered why you do not attend class with other young men of the area. It would be a great occasion if you were to master yourself enough to attend.”

I trembled at the thought of attending a school, of meeting other children and escaping this isolation. “Perhaps I could be allowed to go once a week, if escorted?”

“You cannot. Until you demonstrate restraint and pose no danger to other clan younglings, we cannot let you venture forth,” father said. His words outlined my exact problem. Without mastering my repelling nature to energies, or the way those which came close were destroyed by a touch, going out would be dangerous.

So I had been told repeatedly for a thousand days and more.

“Once again then, I vow to struggle towards self-control,” I said then bowed again.

“That would be best for us all.” Father then stood up, followed by mother. They left and I allowed a bit of muted emotion to reach my face.

Letting such feelings surface often provided no solution, but my first teacher advised me everyone needed to let emotions well forth when the opportunity presented itself. To keep them suppressed created poison for the soul. For some, Captain Nagi said, emotions were a method to empty one’s self out, and make room for inner strength. This was one of many paths to travel The Way, but it was not my path.

All three teachers told me that both parents were proud of my progress. They insisted I know that I was loved by my family, and they worried about my condition. For three years they reminded me that the world outside was harsh, and that my family had sacrificed a great deal to provide me so safe a home. In return I should feel loyalty. Showing positive results during training would be the best way to respond to their love.

Those ideas had slowly sunk their way into my head after years of repetition. They were worth considering but did little to mute my desire for freedom. Part of me hated them all the same for a simple denial of human warmth. I longed to be embraced as I had upon birth.

The person my spirit was in prior turns of the wheel must have been a monster to deserve such a fate. I silently cursed that unknown figure then went to bed. The days marched on, and each morning I rose again to study the lingering stars. My attention focused on the dark spaces between each cluster of twinkles looking for a secret in the fading blackness.

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