Blaize stood in front of the Three.
They looked back, their faces impassive.
Blaize needed to wait, to show patience; everything about today was part of the ritual. Even the waiting was a test—a gentle test compared to what was to come—but a test nonetheless, of her self-discipline.
But her skin itched with the need to do something. Dominant Manipura energetics like her often suffered from a lack of patience. Manipura—the energy of fire, of passion, of willpower. But also of pride, arrogance, and a quick temper.
She pushed the impatience down and willed herself to stand in front of them without action. The sand was warm under her bare feet, and the harsh heat of the sun bit even at this hour of the morning. The quiet of the jungle temple provided little to distract her from the waiting.
They stood like this in silence for thirty minutes. She kept her gaze steady and held each pair of eyes in turn as they studied her. None of them moved. What are they thinking?
It was unusual for an Adherent to fail the trial at such an early stage, but it could happen. Her stomach contracted and she held herself rigid to keep her face neutral. Stay confident.
One of the three stepped forward slightly. “Blaize Blackfire, of the Blackfire clan, you come before us on the recommendation of your Maven, Fai Sweetwater. After a scant five years of teaching, she believes you are ready for your Practitioner trial.”
The speaker’s robe draped her strong, lean body, and her silver hair cascaded down her back like a waterfall. The only markings on the white robe were the three red stripes across her upper left sleeve, which denoted her Master status in the Manipura Guild. The tiny owl symbol next to the stripes showed she was also a Maven.
“We represent the Manipura Guild, one of the six energetic Major Guilds. Based on your performance today, we will decide whether you are ready to move from Adherent to Practitioner.” Her grey eyes held Blaize’s. “First, we must ask you. Do you attempt this trial of your own free will?”
“State your answer so the record is clear.” The woman’s voice was kind, but firm in her admonishment.
“Are you aware that if you fail to reach the standard required you must wait a full year before you attempt the trial again?”
“I am.” Blaize tried hard not to wince as she said this. I’m ready. More than ready.
“Has your Maven taken you through the dangers that await you within the trial? That even death is possible?”
“She has.” Blaize’s gaze met Fai’s, and Fai gave a small smile and an even smaller nod that hinted at their relationship.
Fai. The woman who had been her Maven for the last five years of her life—and had always been her aunt. Blaize was so grateful to Fai, for her love, her support, her discipline, that the idea of failing—of letting her down—was unbearable. Blaize tried not to shiver, but her shoulders twitched anyway. Today Fai wasn’t here as her aunt, or even her Maven. She was here as one of the Three.
“Do you consider yourself ready to face the trials that are ahead of you?”
“I’m ready.” Blaize squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was confident. She was. She’d been pushing for the trial for months, certain she could pass. Fai had finally agreed, and now here she was. Her stomach was a tight ball inside her, and she was grateful that the preparation involved fasting, as she wasn’t sure she’d be able to hold food down. I’ll be fine when we start. Blaize liked action. It’s just this waiting that’s killing me.
“Then we will begin.” Serafina, the Italian Maven, stepped back after she spoke. Blaize felt she was being judged, and hoped that Serafina didn’t find her wanting at this early stage.
“Your trial will begin with a test of the strength of your energetic power. You must conjure and create Warrior fire, and hold it for one hour. During that hour, we will challenge the strength of the fire that you create. If the fire is extinguished, you will fail,” Huo, the male who made up the Three for the trial with Serafina and Fai, said. “If the fire has dimmed at all, you must bring it back to full strength, or you will fail. The fire must be contained within the circle of sand in the temple. If you lose control, and your fire spreads further than this, you will fail. Do you understand?”
Blaize forced her voice to ring out. “I do.”
“Then we will begin.” The male’s near-black eyes were steady and neutral. He was the only one of the three she’d never met before the trial. He was Chinese, and as with the other two Mavens, had the same three red stripes and owl symbol on his white robes. As a male Maven, his stripes were on the right, the Yang side.
An energetic was born a ‘Dormant.’ Once the energetic started to train in one of their energies, they were given the title ‘Adherent.’ After many years of training, they faced their Chakra Trial, as Blaize did now, and after successfully completing the trial, they became a Practitioner. After this—and many decades—they might become a Master. Most energetics remained at Practitioner level in their Major Guild, as it took a great deal of power and focus to become a Master.
Only Masters could become Mavens—a title outside the energetic hierarchy, given only to those who helped other energetics develop their own powers.
The Three, all experienced Mavens, moved to worn stone seats at the edge of the sand circle Blaize stood within. This circle had seen many trials in its time. It was the heart of one of Manipura’s most important temples, an open-roofed stone sanctuary on a quiet island to the west of Thailand. Hard to find if you didn’t know where to look, the temple was surrounded by twisted green jungle, rough terrain, and the clinging wet heat that was the typical climate of the island at this time of year.
With the nearest habitation several miles away, Blaize could use her energy as she liked without any humans knowing.
Blaize stepped into the circle and closed her eyes. She made an effort to loosen her shoulders and took a few deep breaths to saturate her system with oxygen. In her mind, she visualised the shape and size the fire she wanted to conjure would take. There would be time for more showy stuff later. This trial was all about strength, power, and protecting her fire against the challenges that the Three would test her with.
She drew on her energy centre for Manipura Chakra, at the core of her body, where her belly button would be. This was her link to what her people called the etheric plane, or ether, where Blaize needed to draw the energy from to the terrestrial plane, where the energetics lived alongside their unknowing human neighbours.
All energetics had two active Chakras, one dominant, one auxiliary. For most, the dominant was considerably more powerful than the auxiliary.
Blaize’s dominant Chakra was Manipura, fire, and her auxiliary was Ajna, the power of the mind. She was still an Ajna Dormant, with little interest in her power in that area, as all her energy to date had been spent training her Manipura. Refining it, honing it, ready for today.
She used her Manipura energy centre to pull energy through from the ether in a steady stream that fizzed and sparked inside her. She shaped and created the fire in front of her with her eyes closed, not needing them to know what she was doing. The flames were strong, powerful and burned from the floor in front of her higher than the top of her head. She could create fiercer, taller flames, but that wasn’t required. The trial would also test her pride, another weakness of hers. She always wanted to be the best, the biggest, the strongest. In this particular test, that could easily be her downfall.
Each energetic had their own natural limit for pulling energy that determined how strong they were. Her limit was high; she just didn't know whether it would be high enough.
The fire burned hot, but she kept it within the circle.
The first attack came a few minutes later, from Fai, whose auxiliary Chakra was Svadisthana, the water Chakra. Rain fell on Blaize’s fire. At first the rain was playful and fell lightly over the fire. The mix created steam in tiny ‘pfts’ as each drop sizzled in the fire. But moments later it changed into a deluge that targeted Blaize’s flames, and she had to concentrate hard to draw enough energy through to keep her fire burning.
It flickered and dimmed, but Blaize had faced this attack from her Maven many times before in all its variations. Blaize raised her flames high above her head, seeking the source of the rain, and used the fire energy to nullify the water energy. There was some resistance, but in time the rain slowed to a stop, and her fire returned to its previous height, just above her head.
The next attack came before she had centred herself after the first. This was from Serafina, the Italian Master whose auxiliary Chakra was Anahata, the Chakra of air.
Wind whipped around Blaize, and her hair snapped against her face. The wind aimed to drive her fire out of control, and out of the circle. The fire’s wild flames danced, and part of Blaize wanted to dance with it, to lose herself to the power and the energy. She exulted as Serafina’s air fed the fire more oxygen, and it rose and rose.
Blaize stopped herself just before the fire crept over the edges of the circle. She was now at the centre of a furnace, and she delighted in the heat on her skin. She forced the flames in towards her and lowered them to neck height, so that she stood in a much smaller circle of flames, a witch burning at the stake. But she wasn’t burning. The opposite in fact. The more she drew on the power, the better she felt.
The air continued to dance around her, but it could no longer find a way into her tight circle of flames. Fire and air licked at each other, each darting around the other energy, deadlocked. Blaize sighed in pleasure and drew energy through, feeding her flames. A weaker fire energetic might find this air attack a challenge, but for Blaize, air was just fuel for her fire.
After an indeterminable time, the dust and sand that had been caught up in the air drifted back to the floor, and the wind calmed. Her fire was still strong, and sweat ran down the sides of her face and her back from effort and the hot sun.
The next attack surprised her. It was from Huo, whose auxiliary Chakra was Ajna—the Chakra of the mind. Rather than attack the fire itself, he spoke inside her mind, an unusual power even among Ajnas.
His tone was soft, persuasive. Blaize frowned. She was sure an hour hadn’t passed yet. The trial wasn’t over. This must be a trick. She kept her fire burning.
His voice was insistent.
She shook her head involuntarily and tried to block his voice out. Her flames wavered as she heard the voice persist.
Her eyebrows drew together, a crease forming between her eyes. That sounded like a thought she’d had once or twice. Had he taken it from her mind? His powers were an exact match for hers—his dominant energy Manipura, and his auxiliary Ajna, the energy of the mind. Did that connection make it easier or harder for him to speak in her mind? Blaize was a bit murky on what Ajna could and couldn’t do, despite it being her own auxiliary power.
The insidious voice became harder and harder to block out. For the first time in the trial, she opened her eyes to check her fire. Her eyes widened as she realised it was suffocating. The other two Mavens had joined the assault, creating an environment of damp air in which it was hard to sustain the flame.
Blaize bared her teeth in a fierce grin. He might have taken some stray thoughts from her head, but he didn’t know her. She thrived on competition.
The challenge just makes it more interesting.
She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. She focused on the energy she pulled through and tugged harder, using the energy to make her flames burn brighter and hotter, maintaining their height. It took some finesse to keep everything balanced, but she could do it.
For the next ten minutes, she fought off more attacks from the Three, the attacks stronger and more complex each time they renewed their assault. But her flames burned, her focus steadfast.
The attacks ended, and there was quiet. Blaize judged it about the right amount of time for the trial to end, but she wouldn’t take any chances. She kept the flames at head height until Serafina said aloud, “This trial is complete. You may rest for a short period before the next trial.”
Blaize drew in a shaky breath and opened her eyes.
“It is done,” Fai and Huo’s voices spoke as one.
Blaize breathed out and let the energy subside. The first trial was over.
Her body buzzed and hummed, and she felt energised, ready for anything. She knew all too well that this could be a trick of her body and mind, and that if she weren’t careful she could find herself with an ‘energy high,’ unable to judge if she was close to burning herself out. So she folded herself cross-legged on the sand and breathed deeply. In and out. In and out. She focused on the air she breathed in and out through her nose. She steadied the energies, and grounded and stabilised herself. Waiting.
There were still two tests to go. All three would contribute to her success - or failure. She had completed the test of strength. The next were the tests of stamina and finesse. She was most worried about the last, but both held their traps and dangers.
Huo stood, his hands clasped together in front of him, his face distant. “The next test is of endurance. Use your defensive abilities while we call Warrior fire against you.”
She nodded her understanding.
“You may not use your offensive abilities. If you use offensive energy, you will fail. If you step out of the circle, you fail. In this trial, you can end it before time should you wish, by calling stop. This will mean you fail the trial immediately.”
Source, there are a lot of opportunities for me to fail. Blaize tried to keep her face as serene at the Three, but inside she winced.
“Do you understand?” Huo finished.
“I understand.” Blaize rose to her feet.
“You may have a few moments to prepare.” Huo remained standing, and Serafina and Fai joined him, arranging themselves in a line, gaps of about a yard between them, much further apart than the stone chairs. Each of the Mavens closed their eyes and made their own preparations.
Blaize shut her eyes and drew on the energy she still felt within her, and took yet more from the ether. It was almost impossible for your own energy to be turned against you, but an energetic could be hurt by energies wielded by another energetic. This trial was about defending herself from some of the most powerful members of her Guild. As before, she’d had practice. A lot of practice. And over time, she’d had a lot of burns. But it had been a while since Fai had been able to touch her with her Warrior fire, at least without taking her by surprise. Blaize felt confident if they attacked her one at a time she could defend herself.
I hope I can manage all three at once.
She spooled power inside her. She built a defensive wall around her and snapped shields she’d spent years working with into place.
She extended her energy out a little into the temple.
She felt Fai’s energy—fire and water—hot but almost fluid. Serafina—fire and air—was warm and light. And then there was Huo, the most mysterious of all, whose fire and mind powers were sharp, laser-like. Will my powers ever feel like that? Blaize wanted to learn about her Ajna powers, her mind element, but she could wait. She loved the energy of fire too much to want to focus on anything else right now.
Without warning, the attacks began. Huo slashed fire across her face. Blaize drew in a breath—and her throat burned. As she sent energy to repair the weakness in her shields that Huo’s Warrior fire had created, another slash came. And another. She spooled energy, and her breathing increased. She was keeping up so far, but each slash caused her pain and depleted her energies. Her whole body shook with the effort of defending herself.
Fai added to the attack with a fluid fire that flooded the area around Blaize’s legs as if she stood in hot water. Though the fire didn’t come close to penetrating her defences like Huo’s, she knew that if she didn’t pay attention to it, Fai’s Warrior fire would erode her defences, scraping them away until she was cooked.
Blaize threw a wash of defensive fire along her body and reinforced her shields. Which was lucky, because at that moment, a blast of heat hit her and she staggered from Serafina’s attack.
None of the three moved from their solid stances. Blaize was closer to the stone wall behind the circle now, and she used this as another tool, a shield at her back. She parried attacks rather than absorb them, with no time to intellectualise and analyse, just respond.
Attack. Parry. Slash. Parry. Strike. Parry.
She drew more and more energy from the ether, and her body expended huge amounts of energy to keep her shields up. Sweat ran down her body. The drops tracked through the dust that Serafina's wind in the first trial had thrown at her body.
One of Huo’s attacks whipped through her defences and created a thin red burn across her shoulder. She shook off the pain and turned up her defences once more.
Blaize was hit by another wave of heat from Serafina, followed in quick succession by several slashes from Huo. Blaize lost her balance and fell to one knee. Burning sand penetrated the thin material that covered her legs. She strengthened her shields. The attacks continued, fast now, so fast she didn’t have time to get up. She parried, defended and deflected, and burned through energy at a blistering rate. How long can I keep this up?
Huo’s insidious whisper crept into her mind once more. <You can call time on this, Blaize. Just say stop.>
Source knew, Blaize was tempted.