Niht paced around the ancient shrine as he worked through all the problems that faced them.
Amhran and Thaner sat near the high alter and talked about deep matters of soul, fate, and honor.
Iarann set out to explore the structure hoping to find weapons or armor with which they could protect themselves.
Niht bristled against the confinement. He knew it wasn't his own bonds he felt, but Rath trapped in that circle needing to be freed. Deep down in his belly serpents coiled interned seeking release.
He remembered something his brothers said while they were camping in the mountains near their home. "In stillness the mind is ready, but in chaos the body remembers." He didn't understand what that meant then, but now he did.
When he had time to sit and think through a problem with all the facts at hand, he would be able to make himself ready; but in absence of that his muscles would remember what they were trained to do. Power welled up within him.
Moving through the stances and motions Zosia taught them for their exercise, Niht felt connected to all the power within him, into the strange world beneath his feet. His muscles burned from the energy coursing through them.
He hadn't tapped into a hidden wellspring of power, nor had he become one with some cosmic field in the universe. He recognized all the subtle energies moving within him, his fear, his anxiety, his hope, his defiance. Calling each by name as he recognized them moving deep within. They were his strength and his weakness.
If he gave in to the passions dwelling within him, he would lose all contact with reason and be little more than a monster striking out at what frightened him. Ignoring them, on the other hand, would deprive him of the strength and focus they provided.
Every heaven, every Hell, every God, and every demon, lived in him. With a subtle act of will, he could call them forth. He could unleash them into the world for better or for worse.
Sacrificing nothing, embracing everything, he saw it all so clear. Yet, he knew that these were not his thoughts.
Iarann returned, with an armful of helmets, bracers, and three ancient swords he scavenged from the ruins.
Niht explained what he discovered, and the three of them practiced the movement with a sword in hand.
Quickly, they realized that all this time Zosia was training them to fight. Their morning exercises were a form of martial arts that when combined with the sword, gave them a chance that they would not have had otherwise.
When they finished going through the stances for the 10th time, Amhran said, “What do you think the other students are doing, right now?"
"Going through their own trials. Think about it, do you remember seeing any other student after the first explosions rang out?" Niht cleaned the blade of his sword with a rag he found up near the altar.
Iarann and Amhran glanced at one another, then back to him.
"Now that you mention it, no." Iarann shook his head in disbelief. "Do you think each group is facing their own trial?"
"That would make sense," Amhran laughed, "strike that, nothing that’s happened since those first explosions made any sense."
"I think that's the point of this entire exercise," Niht said. "If we are being prepared for life under the mask, life doesn't make sense. Tell me, have either of you felt your gifts engage since all this started?"
"Everything is such a kaleidoscope of strange images and possible futures," Amhran said. "Honestly, I've been trying to ignore my visions so I can keep my head about me."
"What do you see now?" Niht asked.
Amhran closed her eyes. "Colors, disjointed and unconnected to anything around us. There could be words, or maybe glyphs. Wait, wait, I don't think they're looking for us. I don't feel them, or see them. They're waiting for us to come to them. They know we are planning to strike.”
"So we shouldn't give them what they want." Iarann said. "If we attack, and they're expecting it, they'll overwhelm us as soon as we go back in."
"That's because they are expecting us to be clumsy, reckless. They don't believe that we will see through them. They don't believe that we can survive.” Amhran opened her eyes. "They expect to kill us."
"Then we are going to have to disappoint them, aren't we?” Niht said.
Iarann rubbed his forehead and stared into the distance, nodding occasionally as if in deep conversation.
Niht recognized those symptoms. He imagined he looked like that when he talked to Rath, intense with a touch of lunacy. The question was what spirit was he talking to.
Zosia never explained the proper decorum for discussing these aspects of the internal life. Were these experiences private, or something to be discussed amongst friends? Choosing to err on the side of discretion, he didn't ask even though he felt like his heart might burst from desire to know.
Two of the three of the them had forged a connection with their patron, only Niht would be left defenseless, since his was trapped in the compound.