Chapter 10 - The Power of Wind
Barely secure from their last trial, Rhemar and Cato felt an immense relief as they sat in contemplation. Seemingly awaiting the wrath of Bythion to descend upon them, the duo knew the final trial could be their last. After minutes in near silence, they finally felt safe enough to examine their surroundings. They noticed the same vaulted ceilings and stone walls continuing into the darkness beyond their site. Nothing of imminent concern was indicated; at least as long as the door behind them remained fastened. Without knowledge of what lay ahead, they decided to settle on their current position before proceeding, keeping vigilant and weary. Rhemar started a small simmering fire and pulled out a gallon-sized soup pot from his robes. Placing it on the fire, he began tossing in a few leftover ingredients. He walked over to the wall on their left, picked up four rounded stones from the dusted floor, and tossed them into the pot as well.
“What are You doing? And how did you pull that cast-pot from your pockets?”
Rhemar took out his chestnut-umber flask for a second time and began filling the pot with a seemingly endless supply of water. “Making Stoned Stew, never heard of it? Quite tasty when you’re starving, less so when you’ve had a bite.”
“Oh…right. So, you eat stones?”
Rhemar let out an honest laugh, “Hahaha no lad, the stones depart minerals for flavor. What you eat is the water! Better than not, and it warms the soul.”
“Okay…and what about that flask? How did it fill up that entire pot after you and I drank from it? And what about that Fricken POT?”
“Calm down, I’ll answer your prayers young traveler. Just ease your britches before you poke me in the leg with that thing.” Cato fell silent and blushed in awkward defeat. “The flask is enchanted to produce water from the air and refill the container. Won it off a one-eyed witch in Laucus, down south from Kandem. She bet I couldn’t drown twenty pints of O’fre Red while dancing a jig. When I flipped all twenty and spun into the finale with a Ruckess Hambauch, she handed the flask over with a tweeting smile. Said it was a prize for the man that can dance like a traveling trouper and entertains an endless thirst. Woke up with my cock in her eye-hole and my thumb in her bum. Nice lady.”
Cato’s jaw gaped as he stared at Rhemar in disbelief, “Now, the Pocket Pot, as you call it, is a different loopty-doo. The pot’s not magical, I just happen to possess unfathomably deep pockets with a wee bit enchanting to make things fit properly. Some trans-spatial nonsense passed down from my father’s father. Comes right in handy now and again but needs a mighty sprucing. Any other questions while you have the podium Congressman?”
Cato shook his head and gazed at the iron pot now bubbling, and with suppressed excitement spoke, “That’s awesome. I need to make my way to Laucus someday.”
They both laughed as Rhemar gave the broth a final stir before decanting it into a single stone bowl. As they shared the vivacious gumbo, they jested about stories of their past and their raunchy encounters: Rhemar’s loose life in the free-lands and Cato’s first fling at the University. The fire warmed their bodies, further relieving their tensions. The soup, although nearly content-less, filled and rejuvenated their spirits. Escaping the bloodthirsty mist and sailing across a molten pool seemed so far away in that moment of reprieve. After an hour, they retook their positions and moved forward.
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“I forgot to ask, what was that spell you used to keep the mist at bay?” Rhemar asked.
Cato turned to Rhemar, “I asked the Wind God to lend me strength and he did. Wasn’t much, but anymore and I would have lost it.”
Rhemar raised an eyebrow, “Lost what?”
“When accepting Gobu’s grace, your mind and body must be one entity moving without hinderance. If there is any doubt, Gobu will take over. The more power you request, the more resolute you must be. This isn’t the same as my usual wind manipulation. Gobu’s energy is pure majin essence, similar to what you gave me, but his takes control with even the slightest endowment. At the point of complete possession, the shaman is engulfed in this essence and becomes an extension of Gobu, a maelstrom of pure determination and everchanging wind. There are stories of wind shamans being transformed into raging lunatics, bent on killing everyone in sight. I doubt anyone could return from that.
“So, you’re the badass pumping out God Wind when he fancies it. Ha! I’m glad I’m on your team, chum.”
Cato let the conversation die without enticing further interrogations, as they proceeded toward their continued path. Accompanied by Rhemar’s floating lanterns, they reached a wooden door and the final trial of Seneca. The door had carvings that resembled a circle of monks worshiping the elemental God of Wind.
Cato’s eyes widened as he came to a realization, “Holy shit, that’s Gobu! That’s what he looked like in my dream! This is beyond bizarre.”
“Didn’t you say that you came all this way because of the vision you had?” Rhemar asked.
Cato pressed his hand against the etched grain, tracing the Wind God’s outline, “Well yeah, but I didn’t expect to see this. Gobu is never depicted as an elephant, he’s always a hawk. But in my dream, I was walking along a mirrored floor with overcast skies and silver clouds for a ceiling when he spoke. It was like a long hum vibrating in the air, filling my ears and drowning my lungs. He appeared to me as a behemoth elephant carrying a basalt staff with a masoned globe adorning its tip. Gobu told me to come here, but I didn’t imagine Here would be a temple in his honor.”
“Quite imposing. And he asked you to come all this way because…”
“Because there is a great war coming to this land and I have a crucial role in its outcome. He sent me here to acquire power and I’m not leaving until I do.”
Rhemar gathered at Cato’s side and pulled against the wooden door’s iron handle, “Well let’s give it a peak then.”
Cato went to stop his comrade, but as Rhemar inched the door open, a massive storm of wind burst through and hurled the wooden hatch open. Its angular force slammed Rhemar into Cato and then against the wall. The wind continued to gust uncontrollably, stripping stones from the doorway and sailing them across the hall. At speeds this great, the duo could not muster the strength to close the door. They managed to squeeze out from their pressed confinement and shuffled along the wall’s edge until they were clear of its reach. A snapped crunch cracked in the wind as the door was torn from its hinges. The elected wooden kite splintered into bits as it crashed into hardened stone. This sudden and violent departure left Cato and Rhemar dissuaded.
To placate the wind and save their ears from a worsening case of tinnitus, Rhemar attempted to summon a stone wall large enough to plug the squall. It failed miserably. As soon as the wall reached two meters in height, it was uprooted and tossed into the air. The soaring rectangular slab of cobbled-rock became a lethal projectile, imbedding itself a full meter deep into the righthanded wall.
Cato turned to Rhemar gesturing in some sort of improvised sign language and shouted, “We need to stop the wind!”
Completely unable to decipher what Cato said, Rhemar shouted too, “WE NEED TO STOP THE WIND!”
Unamused by Rhemar’s antics, Cato inched himself along the back wall, closer to Rhemar. Cato yelled his plan into Rhemar’s ear and the mage nodded his understanding. They switched places and Cato moved in on the gaping doorway. Rhemar readied himself for their next move and watched Cato intently. If anyone could stop this torrenting tempest, it was the boy that could call the wind.
After aligning his spirit and form, Cato signaled Rhemar to begin. The mage used his earthbound majin to form footholds in the center of the torrent. Cato stepped into the wind and to Rhemar’s surprise, he was not torn from the ground nor sent into a jagged bed of shattered rocks and rubble. Instead, Cato stood perfectly stout against the footholds and gazed into the wind. Rhemar noticed that Cato’s eyes were not shimmering with their previous glaring radiance from Gobu’s grace, but rather a poised conviction that only warriors of valor beamed with. Rhemar prepared himself for the shaman’s plot. The wind paid the duo no attention and continued to howl.
By gathering majin in his eyes, Rhemar shifted his vision so he could see the moving air flow. He inspected the surging current flowing directly into the wind shaman. A twisted fissure of wind had formed around Cato. Its gale forces seemed to simply bypass the young shaman and continue its rampage beyond his foothold, as though Cato were a sleek wing in a jet stream. Before Rhemar could advance toward the wind monk, Cato began his march into the storm. His expression resolute and lifeless.
In the center of the harrowed room was a single marble column masoned into a waist-high obelisk. As Cato could see, the Wind God’s sigil adorned the front face of the stanchion’s peak and was glowing a scintillating sapphire hue.
The wind shaman knew he had to deactivate the sigil to stop the howling gales, but as he drew closer to the statue, the wind’s gusto increased and shifted its path. It was no longer wailing into the outside hall, instead it twisted around the room and formed a makeshift tornado that shook the stone walls. As the whirl-pooled wind vacuumed debris from the disheveled ground, the cyclone’s rush also lifted Cato into the eddied air. This did not seem to affect Cato in the slightest. Unmounted and airborne, Cato straightened his body and faced the spire. He gathered a cushion of wind above him and assumed a curled tucked position.
With a shockwave burst, Cato unleashed the pocket of wind and directed his trajectory towards the ground. He snapped his body straight and took a needle-drop dive formation. Now aerodynamically inclined, he darted toward the obelisk unwavered and unopposed. Before the acrobat could reach the sigil, the wind gathered above him and converted into a churning piston. It fired a subsonic shaft into the shaman’s back and hammered Cato into the ground, cracking several ribs and knocking the breath from his lungs.
Addled and most definitely concussed from his romping, Cato rolled onto his back and attempted to stand. Before he could get to his knees, the still hovering wind piston recompressed and launched another crushing blow. As the piston’s fatal ramrod descended upon the shaman, a stone barrier formed around Cato and absorbed the staggering dose. Rhemar stood at the entry to the room, emerald eyes glowing with killer intent as he began chanting his next counter.
“Umbra magna spiralis petram!”
A lurid void formed in front of Rhemar as the room grew darker from his shadowy incantation. The void oscillated violently and started consuming the gusting gales around the chamber. Its irresistible pull ripped the torrential wind out of formation and drained it into a bottomless syphon. He effectively disbanded the shotgun piston, but the sigil remained illuminated. Rhemar flicked his right hand into the air and directed the void to elevate. As the void ascended, Rhemar set his sights on Cato’s interim holding cell. He focused on the domed stone cage and spread apart his hands. The stone barrier that saved Cato from a crushing death dismantled and fell to the floor.
Before Cato could make news of his situation, Rhemar shouted to him, “Deactivate it NOW, we don’t have time!”
Cato raised himself and turned to see the Wind God’s sigil burning brighter than before. Motivated by pure adrenaline, he staggered to his feet, stood directly over the fiery obelisk, and slammed his palm centered on its cursed crest. Cato felt a sweltering burn cooking his skin. After an endless moment, the burning ceased, the sigil faded, and the recoalescing wind calmed. His heart pulsed with knifing exhaustion and he remained on high alert. They both anticipated the wind to return. Everything remained quiet until Rhemar broke the silence.
“Sorry about that, should have waited to open the door.”
Shaking with fatigue, Cato turned to Rhemar, “If I wasn’t so damn tired, I would knock your lights out. Lucky for you, I can’t much stand let alone whoop your spastic ass.”
Cato dropped to the ground and laid himself across the windswept stone floor, “My ribs are broken and I’m sleepy…I need a nap.”
Rhemar scampered over to Cato’s vicinity, squatted next to the sprawled shaman, and placed a hand on his forehead and the other on his side, “Don’t doze off just yet. Let me take a look at you.”
Rhemar sent a surge of majin into the trampled shaman. As the majin’s energy flowed into the young monk, Cato’s cranium and chest started glowing a soft seafoam green. After several minutes of unhindered concentration, Rhemar had successfully mended Cato’s broken ribs and remedied his mild concussion.
Cato opened his eyes with refreshed poise and drew a deep breath of relief, “I can breathe. After that first blow, I thought that was it. But you pulled another pot out your ass and saved the day. Thank you Rhemar.”
“Pleasure’s all mine. Glad that mend worked, I’ve never fixed a brain before.”
Cato sat up with savage aggression in his expression, “What?”
“Oh relax, you’re fine, I’m fine, we’re fine.”
Cato shook his head, “Why am I not surprised?”
Before Rhemar could say another word, the marble statue with the Wind God’s sigil retracted into the floor and a panel closed above it. The action caused a secret passage to open in the floor a few meters from their position. Rhemar told Cato to remain while he went to investigate the opening. Peering into the shifted entrance, he discovered a spiral staircase leading below their current position.
Cato craned his head to see what Rhemar was describing, “Is it another trial?”
Rhemar looked back to the shaman, “We’d be so fortunate if it wasn’t. But I doubt luck travels so far this time of year.”
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Rhemar waited for Cato to recover before they ventured down the staircase. Without lights, the duo relied exclusively on Rhemar’s lanterns to reveal their surroundings. After two flights, the staircase revealed an open basin at least twice the size of the chamber above and twenty meters deep. Rhemar sent his lanterns to the top center of the room and their luminance set a soft glow on the entire antechamber.
They could make out a pillar next to the staircase that was certainly attached to the marble obelisk from above, several other pillars that were spread equidistant in a gridded pattern, a two-meter tall side bar of stone blocks lining the walls, and a dark mass on the far side of the room where the lantern’s glow faded. Once Rhemar stepped off the staircase, a radiant silver light shot from the center of the dark mass and beamed directly on the duo’s location. The room began glowing a cinder-brick red, illuminating strange symbols etched into the wall and casting a sanguine hue throughout the chamber.
Rhemar’s heart clenched when the fiery silver light began to rise and revealed its source. A massive corundum stone sentinel emerged from the darkness and continued its beaming gaze in their direction. The crimson light from the wall’s symbols created a cardinal ruby appearance on the stone giant. It was a lumbering five meters tall, with two arms the size of bulls. The goliath’s head was relatively small compared to the size of its clinkered body. Mounted on its left temple was a stone disk inlaid with several stones of distinct color: iris blue sapphire, valiant green emerald, sunburnt yellow citrine, crystal white diamond, and a red ruby deeper scarlet than the glowing room. The disk was aligned so that the diamond was centered on the golem’s face. This configuration produced the brilliant silver light that now beamed directly onto Rhemar and Cato’s position.
Rhemar began to hail greetings to the geode giant, but before he could phrase “Hello,” the gem-studded disk shifted from its white diamond lens to the frosted sapphire. Misted vapors began to form around the giant’s head as the gemstone lens started to swell with glaciered cerulean light.
Rhemar took a step backwards and motioned Cato to retreat, “We need to get out of here, Now.”
As the duo ascended and attempted to flee, the golem shifted its gaze to the top portion of the staircase and unleashed a razored arctic burst that encased their exit with meter-thick ice. It continued to grow frosted crystalline edges as they hurried back down the staircase and took shelter behind the stone block-bar on the chamber’s left-hand side.
Cato panted with ferocious maul, “What the fucking shit was that!”
Rhemar shook his head frightenedly, “I don’t know, but we need to get out before that thing turns us into icicles. We need to—"
Another frost bolt launched from the crystal golem and collided with the exposed side of the stone bar. The frost savagely infected their interim shield and spread to their side within seconds. The duo sprung from behind the first block and shifted down to the next. The gleaming colossus turned to their new position and began a thundering march of invasion. With a fully charged lens, the sentinel fired another frosted beam into the stone barrier. Without a plan to subdue their advancing foe, the frostbitten chamber will soon become an arctic tomb. One booming step after another, the giant incipiently marched closer. The crystalline monster reached the bar and stood glaring at the mage and shaman, as it recharged its arctic lens.