Richard nodded and headed back to his room. But judging from his look of excitement, he probably wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night. Elaine shook her head endearingly, and headed up to the attic with her magic lantern.
The attic was a storage for their junk, but it was well-maintained with not a speck of dust in sight. Elaine shifted a box to reveal a tiny altar of stone, a meticulous spell formation carved at its base. The only thing amiss was that the idol was missing.
Elaine took her time cleaning the altar, even getting at the difficult corners before she let her gaze fall on the thick book lying beside the box. It looked extraordinary at first sight, with at least a thousand pages. It was at least four times as large as a normal magic tome, weighing no less than a dozen kilograms. Its bronze surface shone brightly, not tainted in the least by dust or dirt of any sort, an obvious indication that it had been read often. This surprised Elaine. She hadn’t been in contact with the book longer than she could remember, so Richard was obviously the one reading it. She hadn’t expected the child to be reading it so actively.
She walked towards it and flipped it open. Her face didn’t match up to her delicate and beautiful fingers, being a cause for numerous discussions amongst the men of the village.
The cover of the book was made of real bronze, weighty and cold as it radiated a solemness of time. Within the book were hundreds of crystal beads that would create a small altar when activated, allowing one to listen to the voice of the Moon Goddess, Alucia.
A poem in the ancient elven language decorated the title page, praising the Moon Goddess in all her glory. Elaine still vividly remembered every note of the poem, every intonation. She flipped through the book mindlessly, the pages slipping through her fingers smooth as water. They were mostly filled in the elven language with lifelike drawings, different from the catechisms of the humans in that the doctrines of the goddess only occupied a small part of the book. Instead, the book detailed the events and experiences of Alucia’s time, including events outside Norland or even the plane. Richard was probably amused by it because he read it like it was a geography or history book.
It was hard to see anything special about the book outside of its weight, but this was once the most treasured gem of the Silvermoon Palace, the Codex of Alucia. It recorded the seven divine spells unique to the Goddess and those she deemed worthy, and Elaine had been able to use five in the past. She was the one with the greatest comprehension of spells outside of the Great Druid, possessing power and the acknowledgement of the Goddess herself. Now, though? She could barely cast one spell, and even that required her everything as well as the support of the tome.
The 7 spells loomed about in the depths of her mind: Alucia’s Destiny: Enlightenment, Alucia’s Blessing: Healing, Alucia’s Wrath: Punishment, Alucia’s Sword: Silvermoon Armour, Alucia’s Will: Trial…
There were two other spells that Elaine remained unable to cast. One was Alucia’s Mind: Prophecy, while the last, Alucia’s Daze: Dark Moon, was something nobody had managed to use to date.
Elaine placed her hand on the book, bathing in the remnants of its divine aura. The bleak moonlight of the fifth moon shone down on her through the rooftop window, the divinity of the moonlight entering her body stealthily as she built up power for the ceremony the coming week. That would be Richard’s present for his tenth birthday, the divine spell Enlightenment…
Richard was woken up in the middle of the night on his birthday, brought to the attic and made to kneel in front of the altar. The book had been flipped open already, prayers upon it that he had never seen before.
This was the ancient language of the elves, an extremely difficult and enigmatic language, but one he already spoke like a native. The prayers praised the Moon Goddess, but as he recited them in his heart Richard felt like his body had oddly turned transparent. It was as if something or someone without an aim had made a discovery, charging towards him to enter his body. He felt an icy sensation in his abdomen, spreading out to his limbs and the rest of his body as well. It was a fleeting but distinct feeling, a common phenomenon during worship or ceremony. Richard knew many ceremonies even required the target to endure excruciating pain, so he kept quiet and followed his mother’s instructions to clear his mind of all distractions.
“My Richard… You will be entering Goddess Alucia’s halls in but a moment, there to receive enlightenment with regards to your destiny. If you’re presented with some choices there, you may choose…” Elaine stopped abruptly and shook her head. “My dear, choose whatever you want, just be sure to listen closely to the voice of the Goddess and follow your heart.”
Richard nodded despite his confusion. He felt his consciousness slowly blurring with his mother’s soft prayers, as if he was disengaging from the world. When he woke up again he found himself in front of a magnificent shrine.
From his position in this arena, the shrine that was thousands of metres around made him feel as insignificant as an ant. The surroundings were made mostly of silvery-grey stone that glowed faintly, and when he scanned his surroundings he was shocked to see stars upon stars in the sky, seemingly so close that he thought he’d be able to pick some if he just stretched his hand. Both the arena and the shrine itself were floating in the starry sky.
The huge area put immense stress on him, causing his heart to beat uncontrollably as he didn’t dare look around even once more. He made a beeline for the shrine, crossing the entire arena and scaling thousands of stone steps to arrive at the entrance. Were it not for his stamina and endurance that he’d trained just like any other child in the mountains, he’d long since have collapsed. He didn’t stop for a moment since he started running, feeling like the arena filled his horizon and his surroundings moved in tandem with him. It was like the entire area would crumble the moment he stopped, falling into an endless abyss.
By the time Richard arrived at the shrine’s entrance, his breaths had grown ragged. His heart was threatening to jump out of his chest, and it took a while for him to calm down before reminding himself of Elaine’s words as he raised his head and looked into the shrine.
The shrine wasn’t a dome, instead surrounded by a circle of pristine, jade-like white stone pillars. At the middle was an altar with three goddesses atop it, all in different postures and positions.
There were supposed to be six statues on the altar, each representing different abilities. The more Richard could see, the more abilities he would be able to evoke with his enlightenment. With his extraordinary memory Richard could make out the three he had now:
Extraordinary Divinity, bestowing epic strength.
Currents of Life, giving him the power to heal.
Wind’s Swiftness, increasing his speed and agility.
This rendered Richard slightly disappointed. He’d already wished for the blessing of wisdom in his heart, believing real men needed to be intellectuals. Still, it was good enough that he had these three choices, since his mother had wanted him to have more than one. Elaine hadn’t told the clueless boy that more than half of those who went through this ceremony only saw an empty shrine.
The boy walked towards the altar, trying his best with wide eyes to find the blessing of wisdom, but this shrine and everything that accompanied it wasn’t real. What would be the result of his efforts? The only effect was that the three statues he could see were starting to blur in his hesitation.
“You want more abilities, don’t you?” A voice suddenly sounded in Richard’s ears. It caused him to jump and look around frantically, but he saw nothing. The voice had come abruptly, its cold robotic tone evoking a chilling fear within the boy.
“Who– Who are you?” He plucked up his courage, shouting in a trembling voice. His words resonated within the shrine, the strong echo shocking him once more.
“It doesn’t matter, I won’t appear again. Strictly speaking, I’m your other half, hidden within you,” the voice answered.
“Impossible!” Richard denied with resolution. His mother once told him his soul was extremely pure, and there was nothing that would taint him. His fear dissipated in a couple of words, the initial confusion and surprise fading as the courage of a mountain youth set in.
The voice ignored his comment, continuing, “Now go, choose whatever you want.”
The altar before Richard lit up once more, revealing three more statues. Apart from the blessing of wisdom were elemental compatibility and nature’s advocate. The former was pivotal in a magician’s training, allowing them to communicate with the elements outside their body and reducing the exhaustion of their powers. It let them cast a couple more spells than other magicians of a similar grade, strengthening one’s advancement. The latter allowed humans to know more about nature, increasing their stealth and speed in complicated terrain as well as strengthening nature spells. It also gave one poison immunity. Enlightenment had given Richard all six abilities.
“This… This is–” Richard was rendered speechless, his little head in a mess of confusion. The only logical explanation for everything was that everything was an illusion; how else could everything be so different from what his mother and the book said?
Still, despite everything, the boy didn’t forget his own purpose. He walked towards the statue of wisdom, reaching forward to touch the feet of the Goddess. This was the significance of the ceremony, having the worshipper bow before their Goddess with humility.
The moment Richard’s hand touched the statue, a sharp crack resonated within his mind. It was like the entire world became lucid and clear to him, giving new meaning to the words he’d read in the holy book, “Wisdom allows people to see the world more clearly…”
All the other statues disappeared the moment he touched the statue of wisdom. The ceremony should have ended here by right, but the shrine didn’t disappear yet. Richard glanced around nervously, seeing a new statue emerge on the altar.
The statue had its arms crossed in front of its chest, the head tilted to the side looking sullen but focused. What made her different from the other statues was that she didn’t seem tangible, instead made up of shadow.
‘Could this be another ability?’ Richard tried his best to recall, but couldn’t think of what this statue represented. Even the holy book had no records of this statue, but he could still recognise it as one belonging to Alucia.
“Don’t you want another ability?” The voice sounded again.
“What is it?” Richard paused, announcing, “I don’t want to give up wisdom.”
“You can call it truth. It allows you to look at the world from another perspective, and at the end of the path you might see other things.”
“Other things? What are they?” He asked out of curiosity. Silence was his only answer.
Richard wanted to leave. He knew that he could leave this place and go back to the real world at any time, leaving this world made from the power of the enlightenment ceremony. The shrine had fulfilled its purpose to allow someone with talent to grow clear about their abilities and carve their future paths.
On the other hand, this place wasn’t completely virtual. The floating shrine was filled with the divine power of the Goddess, and all six abilities were blessings granted by the Goddess herself. The voice and the unknown seventh statue overthrew everything Richard knew, making him feel a devilish temptation.
‘But how could the power of a devil appear in the Moon Goddess’ ceremony?’ He truly hesitated as he looked at the seventh statue. Two voices fought in his head for dominance, but to no avail. ‘Take it, or no?’
Despite his internal struggle, Richard’s body was honest as it walked towards the statue. “The world is balanced, everything comes at a price.” Balance was one of the core teachings of Alucia’s doctrine, so what would he have to pay for this second ability?
This was the first time Richard had ever fallen into a confused struggle, but he ended up sticking his hand out anyway. His mother had told him to choose as he pleased, and he didn’t want to give up on the opportunity despite the price. Little Richard was a brave boy, willing to fight for unexpected yields. He was also smart, knowing that his mother truly hoped for him to be a hero, a really great and important person.
A greater person than Baron Tucker.