Nine Tribulations of Nothingness
Grey dug three pits farthest from the shrine. A pit near the gate. A pit near the garden. And a pit near the tree at the end of the grassy hill. This way if one of the piles was found. The rest would remain hidden. It was a fool-proof plan!
“I’ll let the other’s know it’s safe,” said Erick, having finished digging his holes. He waved Grey and Mylene goodbye and went back into the tunnel. His body disappearing into the field of stars.
“Will he be okay?” said Mylene, nervously.
“I think so,” said Grey, “There wasn’t any traps on our way in. So there shouldn’t be any traps on our way out. I am going to take a look and see if one of the books has something on magic. I might be able to learn a spell or two.”
“Okay,” said Mylene, looking outside. “Did you want me to do something?”
“Just practice cultivation techniques. If I find something I will teach it to you.”
“Alright,” said Mylene, pumping herself up. She was going to learn how to be a mage. If she worked hard then perhaps they will have a chance to escape this dreadful place! She went out into the lawn of the shrine, and began to meditate.
Grey’s eyes flipped through the books rapidly. Titles were important. They told all one needed to know about a particular book. Even without reading the first page, simply knowing the title let him skip book’s that were not useful. Farming Guide VI. History of the Sixteen Duchies. Mudslides of the Azure River. Then…something different.
“The Nine Tribulations of Nothingness.”
The title struck out at Grey like a sore thumb. He remembered that one of the six governing laws of magic had the word ‘nothingness’. Are they related?
He opened the page. The book was written by a scholar by the name of Vogel. His handwriting was a bit poor, a little better than scribbles.
The Nine Tribulations of Nothingness
The Truth of Nothingness. What a long and begotten path this is for us practitioners. Magic is like the branches of a tree. And we are but water that runs up from the roots not knowing whether we reach the end or have simply fallen off into obscurity….
The words cut off, the pages falling apart before his hands. Grey frantically tried to piece them back together, but time was a cold and insidious killer. One that no mortal item could withstand. The book must have been thousands of years old. The words came out garbled, but Grey managed to piece together a few more pages together.
…Magic is like water. It pools up in body and spills out when it is used. Thus our path is simple. We dig a hole and allow it to fill up. The bigger the hole. The more water we can hold….
Grey’s eyes lit up. It was a book on magic! Was there a spell? He looked more carefully, touching the book with the utmost care.
The mind is empty so magic may fill it. The body is empty so magic may shape it. The Emptiness of Form. The 1st Tribulation….
It was a training manual for magic. But how would someone empty their mind and body? The method must have been in one of those earlier pages that had fallen apart. Grey cursed himself for his bad luck. Even if this manual had some secret. He couldn’t use it because it had exploded on itself from old age.
Even so, Grey was not willing to give up.
“I should still try,” said Grey to himself. “I might be able to figure something out.”
He thought deeply about how he would go about emptying his mind, and eventually settled on meditation. Many priests said meditation helped clear a person of their inner desires. Perhaps if he meditated deeply enough. He would be able to clear himself of all thoughts.
Grey sat cross legged and closed his eyes. He concentrated on clearing all thoughts from his head. Memories of home came and went. The faces of his father and mother. His adventures in his village. It all vanished from his head, replaced by a foreboding darkness. A darkness that seemed strangely familiar. He couldn’t place his finger on it, but then the thought struck him. This was like the dark chasm in the secret passage. He reached out and saw he could touch the darkness! He touched it and it touched him back, revealing stars that shimmered inside his eyelids.
His hands trembled, wondering what it all meant. Stars in your eyes? What mystery was this! He poked one of the stars with his fingers. It was warm to the touch like a cup of hot water. The star burst into a million pieces, and Grey felt a swell of energy come from within his body.
A powerful gust blew open the door in front of him, sending it tumbling to the ground. Mylene stood outside shocked and ran inside.
“Grey! What happened?”
“I don’t know,” said Grey, opening his eyes. He had felt he had begun to understand something, but what it was…even he did not know. He reassured Mylene that everything was alright…and closed his eyes, returning to where the stars shined the brightest. He remained like that for several hours until they had to leave the secret passage. The soldiers were always on the lookout for runaways. So if they disappeared it would be suspicious.
He went with Mylene back through the tunnel and found Kayla and Lee on the other side with Erick.
“They wouldn’t go until you came back,” shrugged Erick. He came up and hugged Grey. That pile of treasure had given him hope. “Let’s go back. We can pick a few jewels and not work anymore. That way we can think of a way to escape!”
“Alright. Let’s meet up and tomorrow,” said Grey, nodding his head. The children scattered back through the tunnels to their sleeping quarters. Grey slept on his bed next to Mylene. His thoughts filled with stars. Even while asleep. He saw those lights, dancing in the darkness.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
A young boy walked through the tunnel, striking an iron pan with a spoon. “Overseer wants to see us! The overseer wants to see us! Everyone to the front of the tunnel! Everyone to the front of the tunnel!”
The boy’s voice echoed deep into cave, waking everyone up.
“Wah,” said Mylene, squinting her eyes. She hadn’t even started to sleep. She reached out to slap someone, but there was no one in front of her. “…I want to slap him.”
Grey roused in the dirt bed next to her and frowned. He didn’t get any sleep either. They had laid in bed for a few minutes before that rude fellow came and started banging everywhere. He saw the boy walking down the corridor when someone tripped him. He fell face first into the floor.
“Shaddup!” said a pale girl, looking down on him. “I need my beauty rest!”
“Y-You! I am the overseer’s messenger. You don’t know wh-” said the boy. But the rest of the children had come out, looking angry. Even if the boy was someone special. If he talked too crazy. They were willing to beat him up, and pretend nothing happened. The boy coughed, and hastily ran back out the tunnel.
“That fellow is too much,” said Derek. He was one of the boy’s that shared this tunnel with Grey. Kayla and Lee lived in another tunnel close by. “He acts all tough because the overseer picked him to do errands. If we pretend we didn’t hear him. He will get in trouble.”
The girl who had tripped that boy earlier scoffed as if the boy was a bug. “That nobody dares mess with me. I’ll take care of him! Who cares about hearing him or not.”
She walked prissily back into her room, refusing to come out. The rest of the children sighed and walked out of the tunnel. They did not want to get into trouble. The overseer sat on a litter outside the tunnel, carried by four slaves on each side. They were strong half-naked men with broad chest and shaven heads.
“Children!” said the overseer with a fake smile. It was the same person that had beaten Grey so cruelly when he had first arrived. That pompous man with a potbelly. Grey tried to make himself as small as possible. A fear trembled in his heart. He did not want to get beat again. “As some of you may know it is the almost time for the Summer Festival. A time of great joy and prosperity to our kingdom. As a reward for your hard service. A few of you are to join in the many games we have erected for our esteem guests. If you wish to participate raise your hands.”
The overseer looked expectedly, but no one raised their hands. They had been here long enough to know that all these adults were evil people! If they said it was a reward it really meant something horrible would happen to them!
The overseer scowled and fashioned his whip from his waist. “It is to be expected from scum not to know sincerity when presented with it. Fine! If you all wish to be so rude! Then you don’t have any choice!”
“You!” said the overseer, choosing a young village girl who looked the most frightened. She nearly fainted on the spot. “You! You! You!”
The overseer chose all girls. He licked his lips as if imagining a scene. His eyes suddenly fell upon Grey. Grey froze as if a rabbit caught in a trap. He remembered!
“So it’s you,” chuckled the overseer. Grey wanted to run away and hide. He did not want to get hurt. “I choose you.”