The next week on Tearmann Station reminded Niht more of the first week of school when he was a kid than it did preparation for some kind of deadly trials.
Zosia gathered them up and took them to a different room everyday. Once they were their, she explained a lesson based on either the fresco painted on the wall or the artifact enshrined within. Each took the form of a history lesson. Periodically, she asked them if they found their oracle yet, but didn’t say much more on the subject.
Niht explored the shelves of divination cards, bags of runes from different worlds, crystal balls of various sizes and basins. None of them called to him. He played with the lots for a bit, but they lay on the floor as silent sticks.
How was he supposed to know what his oracle was, if he even had one?
The art on the cards was obtuse and meant nothing to him. Runes were just the letters of languages he didn’t know. As for the crystals, pendulums, and basins, he didn’t have a clue how to use any of them.
Part of him respected the Phersu to give them time to form a connection with the tools they would use from the rest of their lives, but without any training, he doubted he would find one that would work for him.
Niht watched Amhran reading the runes with a bit of anxiety, but when Iarann connected to one of the decks of cards, his heart dropped.
Each student that found their oracle was future proof he wasn’t meant to be there. They were called, maybe even chosen for all he knew. He was just the third son of dead parents who never showed promise at anything.
After the next week of history lessons, Zosia told them they were free to explore the temple without supervision, but not to open any of the closed doors.
Niht started sneaking away from Iarann and Amhran to wander the corridors alone. A couple times he stared longingly at the passages that led to docked supply ships or ones that belonged to pilgrims. If he could stowaway, then he might escape his inevitable death in this place.
Whatever courage he had on Oben had abandoned him here. Even Airoh avoided him. Everything here fascinated his Ceeri. Maybe he was the Phersu and he would only take his place among the masked when Niht’s fate took him away.
Dark thoughts haunted his mind as he strode through the brightly lit corridors. Everything felt so far out of his reach that the very notion of connection seemed like a myth they told children so they wouldn’t be afraid of the night.
One day, as his fellow students broke into their groups to practice divination, Niht found a door open to a corridor he hadn’t walked before.
The door led to a long spiral stairwell heading down. Each metal step rocked slightly under his weight, but not dangerously. They were constructed to move with the foot, maybe to ensure those who followed them paid attention to the path and didn’t rush.
Strange faces stared out from the walls. The artist either intended them to be surreal portrayals of the sapient species of the galaxy, or the abstract nature of the portraits was supposed to evoke the idea of spirits in the pilgrim who followed this path. Whatever the intention, they fascinated Niht.
He named each species in his head as he recognized them. The litany continued until he reached the bottom of the stairs.
At some point as he walked down the spiral, the metal steps turned to stone carved out of the asteroid the station was built around. The sharp scent of spent fireworks lingered on the air with hint of old cut flowers who sat out long enough to adopt a hint of mold, but not long enough for them to lose their pleasant fragrance.
Ancient gas lamps carved into recesses in the stone walls cast bubbles of light in the corridor.
In the distance, the faint sound of water sloshing in a pool made its way to him.
Niht walked from one protective dome of light to the next, listening for voices or signs of other Phersu down in these catacombs.
The humidity in the air increased, condensing on the walls and dripping down on to the floors where it carved miniature rivers into the stone as the water made its way back to its source.
Mossy scents mixed with a foreign spice as he approached what looked like a large cave ahead.
An enormous pool of water stretched out from the black sand textured shore. In its center, a titanic, clear crystal brazier filled with flames illuminated the cavern with an orange-red light.
Numerous shadows swam in the water in concentric circles, each flowed in the opposite directions of the ones surrounding it.
Their motion captivated Niht, who imagined what manner of fish filled this subterranean cavern at the heart of a space station. Something in the nature of this precarious pool of water resonated with him. Neither one of them should be here, yet here they were all the same.
The odds of finding what appeared to be a natural body of water in space amused him. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that description could be applied to the water on any world. It is simply the edifice around him that made this pool different.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” A soft female voice said behind him.
Niht’s straightened up and spun around.
A glowing blue skinned woman stood smiling at him in the white and gold robes of the Phersu.
“Don’t worry.” She giggled. “I left the door open because I saw us meeting down here and thought it was the best way to ensure it happened. My name is Avalyn, what’s yours?”
“Nithwyn.” He stuttered.
“I always found it interesting how similar Sen and Raewyn names sound.” She said. “Don’t worry Nithwyn, you aren’t in trouble. Like I said, I aided fate to ensure you were where you were supposed to be.”
“I don’t understand.”
“And you never will, but don’t let that bother you. Fate, destiny, prophecy, they are just words we use to justify were we find ourselves. Every action has consequences. We learn to see the most likely outcomes and help the more favorable ones to come about. That’s all. You need to stop imagining it is something more.”
“But it is… isn’t it?”
“It is no different from a fish divining what is in the water with it from the vibrations and traces they leave behind. You just need to attune yourself to the subtle energies in and around you.”
Niht turned away from her. “I don’t think I can do that. I wasn’t born with that ability.”
“You breathe, don’t you?”
How was he supposed to respond to that? Of course he breathed, but they were very different things. One required practice meditating, they other he did his whole life.
“So that is why you are here.” She walked around him, and with a single finger guided his face up so he looked into her golden eyes. “When I lived in the Empyrean, I never even gave these things a second thought. They all seemed like powers granted to the chosen, but they aren’t.”
“Then why can’t I do anything?”
“Because you needed someone to tell you the secret. All the stories you’ve heard are about people who chose to cultivate those powers. They weren’t born with them.”
Niht furrowed his brow.
“I know what you are thinking.” Avalyn grinned. “But some are born with psionic power, and yes that is true, but I wasn’t. Everything your instructors are trying to teach you needs you to cultivate those powers within. The more you practice, the stronger you will become. Remember, all the gods, devils, heavens, and hells are within you. Learn to bring them forth.”
“And let go of your fantasies about the chosen.”
Niht sighed. “How can I learn to read the oracles when none of the means work for me?”
“Pick one and practice.”Avalyn said. “That is what I did, and a lot of other students over the years. You seem to forget that a lot of those kids you are training with grew up in extremely devout homes. They were given their first oracles when they were so young they don’t remember practicing to use it. They think it is just raw talent.”
Niht smiled. “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”
“Does it matter if it helps?” Avalyn winked. “No, I’m not making it up. It is as true as just about anything else in this world is.”