Gorim woke up with the first ray of light entering his cell from the tiny window high up the smooth stone wall. There wasn’t a single joint, crack, or ridge in any of the four walls, it was if his room was formed out of one piece of liquid stone and then polished to a near mirror finish. The only break was a single window, higher than he could jump, and not big enough for him to squeeze through.
Today was his raising day, the day he cast off his life as an acolyte. At the evening meal he would either be feasting with the magi or they would be toasting his memory. The thin, dark skinned man rolled over in bed, off the edge and caught himself just inches above the stone floor on his fingertips and toes. He pushed, flexing the muscles across his chest, and then lowered himself until his nose was touching the floor. One hundred times he repeated this process, before he stood up and walked to the dresser.
There were two pieces of furniture in Gorim’s cell, a wooden bench that served as a place to sit and a place to sleep, and the dresser he now stood in front of. The dresser was simple, two deep drawers in a box. The drawers held all of his worldly possessions. The bottom held his two beige robes. He was given two every year on Nairahmon, the Shindow festival of giving in celebration of the harvest. No one had ever told Gorim what to do with them or why he was given two, but for years he’d worn the same robe every day, saving the second for special occasions. Today he chose the second.
He pulled the rough fabric over his head and opened the top drawer. Inside was his Acolyte’s charm, a necklace that allowed him to cast the basic spells of a a student of magic without setting off the city’s wards. Anyone who even started a spell within the floating city of Yorin would feel a painful stinging in their head. At that point, a compulsion started to find the nearest guard and report their activities. Should they ignore the compulsion, the pain would grow until even the most stalwart man was writhing on the ground in agony. The pain reportedly broke the concentration of the Magi, making it impossible to finish even the smallest of spells. Gorim had never tried to cast without his charm, although several of his classmates had once dared each other to try back when they were novices.
One boy, a particularly brutish novice with something to prove named Washan, took them up on the dare. He got the first syllable of his cantrip out, and ran screaming to the gate guard. That evening during supper meditation, the acolytes and novices were gathered to watch his punishment. He was ordered to stand, arms and legs spread as wide as he could. Master Kirik extended one single finger towards the boy, who was then surrounded by a bright orange glow. Washan started screaming immediately, and continued to scream as his skin slid off of his body, liquefied in a puddle at his feet. Washan stood there screaming until his voice gave way, and then moaned and wailed a guttural, heart-wrenching sound for nearly seventeen hours until he finally died.
Gorim settled his charm around his neck and picked up the other two items in the drawer, a small knife and a block of wood that was half-carved into the shape of an elephant. He spent about an hour carving and shaping the elephant, lost in the work, feeling the spirit of the wood, channeling his own energy into the carving. It was almost finished, it was to be his gift to Haros, his best friend. The two of them were born on the same day, brought to Yorin by the same man on the same night as infants, and raised together. Their lives were inexorably intertwined. Gor and Ha, always together. Many of the other students called them WaiNu, twins from different mothers, the same person, split in half and poured into two bodies. Sometimes WaiNu were opposites, sometimes they were identical. Gorim and Haros were the same.
The bells rang. Gorim immediately placed the carving and small knife in the drawer, and swept the shavings into his hand. He stepped to the right of the dresser and stood stock still. As with every morning for the past nine years Gorim stood facing the wall beside his dresser. When the bells stopped, the wall melted away, revealing an opening just large enough for him to step through. As soon as he was on the other side, the wall reappeared, and Gorim walked towards the meditation room to begin the morning ritual. Although he had been preparing for this day for months, he was nervous. He fought the nerves down as he walked, and sat cross legged on his mat beside Haros.
“Today is the day, Brother. I wish you strength and character,” Gorim said silently to Haros, reaching his mind across the small space between them.
“Tomorrow, we can leave this place, and fight the Empire,” replied Haros. “I can’t wait!”
“Do not look forward to an uncertain future, Ha. We still have much to do before we’re free of this place.”
“A show of bravado, WaiNu. I can feel your fear, it is equal to my own. We are strong, and ready. I will be with you in spirit, and I know I will feel you with me in the trail.”
Master Kirik sat, and seconds later began the morning Acolyte Meditation. Gorim felt himself slipping into the nothingness. A deep black void surrounded his consciousness, pressing his spirit into his body until the blackness consumed him. Inside the void, Gorim was at peace with himself. All thoughts of the ceremony and trials scheduled for later that day were gone. He tapped into the magical energy of the world, feeling it flow into him and through him, repairing the damaged muscles from the morning’s exercise, lightening his spirit and healing him.
At the end of meditation, Master Kirik opened his eyes and stood. It wasn’t ‘getting up’ as a normal person, rather, while still seated he floated upwards until he lowered his legs to the ground. Gorim had tried the feat many times in his private study time, but had never managed to raise more than an inch off the ground. “Today,” the master’s voice was soft, yet carried throughout the meditation chamber. “Gorim and Haros face their raising ceremony. After today, they will no longer be acolytes. They will face numerous trials, and should they survive those experiences, start their journey as Magi. There is no dishonor in failure in their trials, the only dishonor would be in lacking the courage to face them. Gorim and Haros have made their choice, and as such have earned the respect of the brotherhood, and mine. Treat your acolyte brothers well today, and do not be jealous. Put aside petty childhood differences, and show them your support in spirit, as one day they may be the ones testing you.”
Kirik’s body shimmered as if made of water, and then disappeared. The other acolytes gathered around Gorim and Haros. “Five-to-one they don’t survive,” said one of the youngest acolytes. Deshara, the only female acolyte in their group of eighteen punched him in the nose.
Deshara’s voice was quiet, but intense. “Shut up. Do not be jealous, and put aside petty childish sentiment. We are losing two of our own today, either to the aether or to the brotherhood. Gor and Ha have helped every one of you. They have sacrificed their own learning time to advise you. They have earned your respect, and today is the day to show it, Dantoh.”
“I’m sorry. I was just trying to be funny. Please forgive me, brothers. I appreciate everything you have done for me,” Dantoh said, looking utterly defeated.
“It is okay, brother Dantoh. We were once where you are, frightened new acolytes watching the first of our brothers go to trial, and knowing we would one day be in their shoes. For us, that day is now, but yours will come,” said Gorim.
Haros added, “You will never feel ready for the trial, but it is why we are here. The brotherhood wouldn’t choose us if they didn’t feel we were prepared.” Gorim knew those words were hollow in Ha’s mouth, meant to give support to the others.
Master Yunse approached the group, when he was near the acolytes stopped talking and stood in a straight line. “Gorim, Haros, please follow me. The time of your trials starts now.”
The two young men followed their master out of the meditation room and into the dimly lit hallway of the school. Inside the school, there were no doors. Each student had a magical command that opened doors they were allowed to open. When the three of them entered the hallway, the doorway behind them sealed, leaving them in a stone tunnel fifty feet long with no entrances or exits. Master Yunse led the boys almost to the end, and spoke a word. His command wouldn’t work for anyone else, the school and the word were attuned to his spirit. A doorway opened up to a stairwell that seemed to go on forever into the darkness.
Walking down the stairs in the school was always an odd feeling. After a while, they lost the sensation of going downward, and instead it felt like they were standing still and the stairway was moving under them. Gorim glanced behind, the stairway disappeared ten or fifteen feet above them. There was a faint glow where they stood, just as in the hallway that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. There was no direct source of the light, and there were no shadows. They descended for what seemed an eternity. Gorim was certain that in his nineteen years at the school he’d never been this deep.
After several more minutes, Yunse stopped. The stair he was standing on lengthened into a landing. When Gorim and Haros were standing on the ledge, he uttered his command, “Urokhi,” and a doorway appeared. “Gorim, this is your trial. Every trial is different, uniquely tailored to each man with the courage to step through that door. You may choose not to enter, and your execution will be swift. There is no dishonor in this, many men have chosen death over what is behind this door. Still more who survive the trial wish they had chosen death.”
Gorim stepped forward. “I accept the challenge, and wish to be tested.” He was oddly calm, despite what he knew was coming.
“Then step forward, brother. By accepting the challenge, you have earned my respect, and remove the mantle of acolyte.” Yunse held out a flat golden disc with a hole at the top. “This is your magus charm. Wearing it will allow you to cast any spell you have knowledge of inside the city.”
Gorim removed his acolyte charm and handed it to Yunse. He added the golden disc to the leather thong, and put it on. The surface of the disc shimmered. Gorim felt power flow through him as the disc grew cold against his chest. A golden eagle appeared on the surface of the disc.
“Master Gorim,” said Haros. For the next several minutes, Haros was still an acolyte, and thus Gorim outranked him. “The next time I see you, may you be in good health, good spirit, and strong of character.”
“The same to you, Haros. May you be in good health, good spirit, and strong of character.” Gorim stepped into the doorway. The wall solidified behind him, and he was in complete blackness. His fear level rose significantly. Gorim sat down on the cold stone floor, crossed his legs and waited. “There is nothing to fear in the dark. The darkness is my cloak, the well of energy, the power that binds all things together. Even in light, there is darkness between things.” Gorim waited.
I’m dying for feedback here. Please leave me a comment below!
About the Author
Kirk Allmond started writing the first bestselling What Zombies Fear novel in 2010 as an online story as part of his website The Zombie Preparedness Initiative. When the idea to write a novel struck him, he took his own “Zombie Apocalypse” plan and turned it into a story. That story has now spawned six novels and two short stories, and is showing no sign of letting up.
When he’s not writing or talking about zombies, the Michigan born writer holds firmly to the southern roots of his family. He grew up in Chicago IL, and Roswell, GA. Kirk has an amazing little boy who was born in 2007, who is the basis for the character Max in his novels. His time growing up in the south with his grandparents taught him the value and skills to live off the land. He is an avid outdoorsman, loves hunting, fishing and backpacking. When he’s not honing his survival skills, Allmond is often found sitting at a role-playing game table, either as the GM of his own Zombie Apocalypse role playing game or as a participant in games run by one of the members of Grown as Gamers, the premier podcast for all things geek and pop culture.