Cleaning the small camp they’d called home for over three weeks, Kiphy takes Ime deep into the mountain range. The mountains surround them like towering walls and the terrain is purely rocks and large boulders. It takes them two days to reach the sight of the next lesson.
Kiphy stops them at a giant hole in the earth. Peering down into the darkness, Ime realizes it’s an entrance to a deep cave. He’s reminded of the cave the group traveled through on their journey to Kellahn and of a similar large cavern they passed through. Though it hadn’t been as large as this one. He wonders if Kiphy chose this spot because of that knowledge.
“Lesson two,” Kiphy says, catching Ime’s attention. “Now that we’ve your body at the level required, it’s time to work on your mind and spirit.”
“Mind and spirit? Wasn’t that what the meditations were for?”
“The meditation was preparing you for this. Before we begin, however—”
He moves quickly, kicking Ime in the stomach. Ime’s shock at the sudden attack doesn’t last long as he realizes he’s quickly approaching the bottom of the cave.
Tapping into his magic, Ime uses a huge rush of wind to slow his descent. It’s a strange sensation through his body. He hasn’t used his magic for three weeks and he feels a stronger connection than before. He feels it flow through his muscles and realizes the reaction is faster. He lands softly on the ragged rock below.
Landing as gently on the hard earth, Kiphy stands above Ime on a rock jutting from the side of the wall. “Lesson two will take place here and unlike lesson one, I won’t be administering it. I’m going to leave you down here alone.” Peering around the large cavern, Kiphy seals any exits out. “I’ll also be sealing the top as well. I’ll leave only an opening large enough for me to observe you through.”
Ime searches the cavern. It’s much larger than it looked from above. “You said this lesson was about the mind and spirit.”
“Magic is powerful. But what fuels magic can be just as or even more powerful. The point of this lesson is to find what fuels your magic and to fight the darkness that threatens to poison you.”
“You’ve seen those who’ve allowed their magic to be tainted by darkness. Most go insane, others lose control. Some…well, you’ve fought the Blood King.”
A surge of rage fills him, but relief cools it. “So I’ll be meditating in the dark?” Of course, the first lesson was physical. The second would be purely spiritual.
A wry smile covers Kiphy’s face and he disappears from the rock he’s standing on. He appears kneeling in front of Ime and thrusts his hand into Ime’s chest where his heart rests. Ime’s mouth opens in shock. He waits for the pain of death, but he can’t even feel the pain from his flesh being pierced.
Risking a glance down, Ime sees light emitting from Kiphy’s hand buried in his chest. Kiphy pulls his hand out revealing a blade made of white light. Reaching into Ime’s chest with his other hand, Kiphy pulls a strange blackness from Ime’s chest and throws it into the shadows of the cavern around them.
Kiphy leaps back onto his perch on the rock above and Ime touches the area where the blackness came from. There’s no wound only flesh.
“What did you do? What was that darkness?” Ime demands, glaring at Kiphy.
Kiphy climbs his way to the top of the cavern, closing the opening until only a thin streak of light streams down from above. The darkness closes in around Ime and strange sounds rise from the shadows.
“You must overcome the darkness in your heart or else it will swallow you whole,” Kiphy calls through the small hole.
The sounds in the shadows grow louder. Ime feels a strange coldness in his chest. It threatens to spread throughout his body, but he fights it back. He’s reminded of his fire magic, but the sensation he’s feeling now is unknown, alien.
His eyes search the dark cavern for the source of the strange sounds. Movement catches his eye and he sees the mass of blackness Kiphy pulled from his chest. It’s growing and materializing into the form of a large beast with many legs and horns covering its body. Its mouth is large and full of razor sharp teeth. The tail swings back and forth, crushing rocks in its path. The beast grows larger until it stands heads above Ime. Its black eyes roll around in its head and land on Ime. The creature roars and it’s loud enough to shake the earth beneath Ime’s feet.
Ime winces, grabbing his chest. The coldness in his heart grows and he realizes the Darkness Beast is having an effect on him. He fights the cold back, but when he looks at the Darkness again it’s attacking. He dodges clawed legs that dig into the ground where he stood. The jaws of the Darkness snap shut so roughly the wind it generates hits Ime as hard as a punch. Before he can recover, he’s knocked to the right when the Darkness’s tail strikes him from the shadows.
Crashing into the wall of the cavern, Ime feels rock dig into his flesh. He manages to stay on his feet, barely. He places a hand on the rock wall then pulls his hand forward. Spikes made of stone appear from the wall. Ime steps forward and thrusts his hand forward, sending the spikes flying towards the Darkness. With his other hand he creates more ammunition from the floor.
The Darkness dodges the spikes or crushes them with its tail. It roars again and the coldness in Ime’s chest feels like a stab with a knife. The sharp pain breaks his concentration and the spikes fall to the ground as he grabs his chest.
The Darkness attacks, using the many horns on its head to try and run Ime through. Ime raises a wall of rock, but he doubts it’ll stop the beast. He shoots a gust of air to his right, helping him run to the side away from the wall. The wall crumbles and the Darkness crashes into the wall of the cavern. It collapses to the ground, stunned.
Ime pulls large boulders from the walls of the cavern and throw them towards the Darkness. The Darkness slowly rises to its feet and shakes off the collision, pieces of rock falling to the ground. The boulders hit it from either side and Ime throws a third on top of the beast, trapping it.
A laugh escapes Ime’s lips, but it doesn’t last long. The Darkness changes from beast to smoke and escapes its prison. It reforms free of the boulders and charges Ime. Cursing, Ime pulls more boulders from the walls and throws them at the Darkness.
The Darkness dodges easily and closes the distance between it and Ime. Ime pulls a long spear from the stone floor and throws it after a larger boulder, hoping it will hit the beast as it dodges in its solid form. There’s a moment it seems it will work as the Darkness dodges into the path of the spear. The tip of the spear stabs into the Darkness’s mouth, but the beast immediately turns to smoke. Luckily, the beast is smoke when it rams into Ime.
Wounds appear all over Ime’s body, mainly cuts, but he feels hits on his side he knows will bruise. The Darkness stops, surrounding Ime in its smoke. Ime’s blinded and he feels the coldness in his chest growing stronger. His mind is slipping as the smoke gathers around him. The Darkness threatens to swallow him.
But his thoughts suddenly fill with images of Meah and her voice echoes in his head. A new strength surges through him. The coldness fades and is replaced with warmth.
The Darkness roars around him in pain and pulls away, freeing Ime from the blackness. It returns to its solid form and backs away from Ime.
Ime knows why. Meah has become his strength. When he doubts himself or fears she’s there to help him become strong and fight through them. This Darkness is the physical representation of those doubts and fears. He only needs to remember the strength Meah gives him in order to win.
With his new strength filling him, Ime attacks creating heavy weapons from stone. The strikes hit the beast, but never damage it. Roaring angrily, the Darkness charges Ime. Changing the heavy weapons in his hands to sharp blades of stone, Ime strikes several times until finally cutting the hard flesh. Heat flows from the wound and Ime moves out of the beast’s path.
The Darkness crashes into the wall and falls to the earth. The heat flowing from the wound repairs the cut flesh, healing the Darkness. Ime understands.
He can overpower the darkness, but he can never destroy it.
Walking up to the Darkness, Ime drops his weapons to the ground. The Darkness struggles to its feet and stares into Ime’s eyes. Ime holds his hands out to his sides and the beast changes to smoke.
The smoke encircles Ime, the darkness once again blinding. This time, the cold never threatens to overpower him. Ime feels the darkness returning to his heart and the beast disappears for good.
Silence fills the cavern and Ime’s knees lock and he falls to the hard ground. His body feels heavy. Strong arms grab him and carry him up to the top of the cavern. Kiphy lays Ime onto a blanket.
Ime stares at the stars in the night sky. It’d been midday when they arrived at the cavern. Had he really been fighting for so many hours?
“You’ve won. The darkness in one’s heart can and should never be eliminated. It’s essential to growing stronger. Balance is the key to strength,” Kiphy says, cleaning Ime’s wounds.
“How long?” Ime’s voice is raspy as though he hasn’t spoken in a long while.
“How long were you down there? Ten days.” The shock on Ime’s face makes Kiphy laugh. “I bet it only felt like hours to you, didn’t it?”
Nodding, Ime places his hand on his chest. Kiphy hands him jugs of water and as the cool water touches his tongue, the dryness of his throat burns. His stomach grumbles loudly and he suddenly believes he’s been down there for ten days.
After cleaning and wrapping Ime’s wounds, Kiphy gives him food and Ime eats greedily. The stars shine brightly and Ime becomes lost in their beauty.
“It’s been forty-seven days. How long will the next lesson take?” Ime asks, his energy restored.
Kiphy finishes his meal and eyes Ime. “One day, if you survive. We rest and leave for the site of your final lesson in two days. It’ll take us another two days to reach the location.”
“Why so much time?”
“You need to regain some of the muscle you lost during the second lesson. We’ll resume some light sparring in the evenings. For now, rest.”
Ime lays his head on the ground and is immediately pulled into sleep.