Underground Ring: Book 1, page 7
“So, boys, did you find our answer?” Lokus asked us as a group. I nervously slid my arm over the blank sheet before me.
Not me. Not me. Not me. I repeated over and over in my mind.
“Augrais, what was the car’s momentum after the collision?”
“Um, well,” I began, slowly, making a nervous glance to Trosian.
Help me. I spoke through my Earth gift to him, to which my rival responded with a smirk as he kept his eyes locked on Lokus.
“Yes, I suppose it would be difficult to give the answer when you have done none of the work, Augrais.” Lokus’s condescending voice made my insides twist and shiver.
“Er, well, you see…” I fumbled around, no longer able to keep eye contact.
“Ben?” Lokus interjected, accepting that I was a lost cause.
Ben suddenly froze like a statue. Glancing, as I did, towards Trosian who simply gave him no reprieve from the sharp eyes of Lokus.
“Ben?” Lokus asked again, this time more threateningly. “I gave you 60 minutes for this problem. What did you come up with?”
Ben scrambled with the three sheets of paper in front of him, trying to find some sort of hidden grain of information that he’d missed.
“Yes!” Ben shouted back. “Uh…the answer is…five?”
Lokus looked visibly pained by this answer, as his hands rubbed both temples and he took long, slow breaths. “You two are impossible. Lee, please tell me you have something better?”
Lee cleared his throat before he proudly read this singular line of his paper, “The kinetic energy of the two cars colliding is 250,000 Joules.”
“Trosian, do you agree?”
“Of course. He gave him the answer,” I muttered under my breath.
“Very good, both of you.” Lokus then turned back to Ben and I. Now comes the part where Lokus punishes us for our insolence. Well, I thought, at least the punishment will be physical—something I’m actually good at.
“Head to the library and use the physics books there to assist you. Neither of you can leave until you both can explain to me how you found the answer.”
“What the hell?” I screamed.
“Yes!” Ben exclaimed simultaneously.
The library was musty and old, with only a large chair next to a singular lamp and a long desk to work at. The rest of it, well, the rest of it was filled with my old nemesis: books. Stacks upon stacks of books lay strewn all over the place ranging from calculus books to ones about animals in the wild. Most had a fine layer of dust that made me wonder why Lokus would keep any of them at all.
I was sitting against one of the shelves; head between my knees while Ben was searching the tallest shelf for the physics book we needed to solve our problem. I was used to running five miles while carrying a 50-pound boulder or punching a tree for an hour but this…this was torture.
“Can you get off your ass and help me?” my friend cried out to me as he attempted to literally climb to the top of one shelf.
“That would require me to care,” I said through my hands.
“Oh great idea,” Ben said through grunts, as he struggled to reach the top shelf. “Let’s just rot here for all eternity because you’re being too much of an ignoramus to learn anything that doesn’t involve hitting another person.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, excuse me if I want to be practical.”
Ben paused for a moment as a he caught his breath. He was standing on small ledge five feet in the air. If it hadn’t been for his small frame, I’m sure the whole thing would have collapsed. “Seriously. Help me. Now,” he said between breaths.
I sighed and sluggishly got to my feet as my companion made another attempt to reach the top shelf. The bookshelf itself began to rock and bow under Ben’s feet as he attempted to hop to pull himself to the next shelf.
“Ben!” was all I could get out before the wood splintered from under him. The boy fell, landing on his back as books began to rain about him like fruit falling from a tree.
“Are you alright?” I asked, as stifled a laugh. I crossed the room to see if he was hurt.
Ben couldn’t respond at first, as he couldn’t find his wind. The blanket of books slowly slid off of him.
“You alright?” I asked again, giggling as I leaned over and playfully tapped his shoulder.
Ben, still unable to speak, responded with a rude gesture. Then something else caught my attention. A small pocketbook lay unassumingly on the ground. Unlike the other books, it had no title and no cover art. It looked more like a personal journal when I scooped it off the floor and examined it. The bound cover was some sort of leathery substance that clung precariously onto the wooden frame. The binding snapped and groaned like an old tree in the wind as I opened it and began to read.
“The contents herein are the personal take on the science and history of Vitae, Magick, Runes, and Shin. Signed, The Lion.”
The Lion? Was that Lokus’s nickname? My heart was pumping so quickly I could feel it in my throat. It was like a stain of blood on my mind, this energy called Shin. Whether it was Lokus who wrote this book, or someone else, I didn’t care. It must be the key to defeating the Violet-Eyed Demon. Why else would Lokus hide it from me? Yes, I thought, it was destiny I was in here. Finally, I could go back to the road towards my vengeance. My skin began to tingle as I gingerly turned to the next page, shaking with excitement.
“Is that a nudie mag?” Ben asked as he got to his feet.
I ignored him as my hands swept through the manuscript. Words like Shin, Vitae, and power were the most common vocabulary.
“Seriously, dude! What is that?” Ben stepped over and peered into the open fold of the journal, attempting to inspect the contents.
I snapped the book shut. “Nothing,” I lied. “Just some old scribblings by Lokus about literature.”
Ben took a long hard look at me and then threw his hands up in frustration. “Dude! Physics!”
Sighing in relief, I slipped the book into my pocket. I remembered the look on Lokus’s face at the mere mention of Shin. This book was my chance to push my ability to a level that would be required to defeat the Violet-Eyed Demon. I would not sacrifice this chance for anything, not even my friendship with Ben.
Later that night, I snuck out of the room where the four of us slept. Being as silent as I possibly could, I crept down the two flights of stairs into the cellar below. The pitch black absorbed me. The cold stone numbing my bare feet was my only indication that I was standing on the solid ground of the cellar itself. After fumbling about for a moment, I lit the candle that I had brought with me.
My new favourite possession groaned as I gingerly opened it. I reread the prologue, wondering again who the Lion was, then turned to the next page revealing a crudely drawn map. Notes were scattered around the page as afterthoughts, describing things, people, and places that were of interest to this individual. I could recognize the place on the map from Lokus’s geography lesson a week ago. This was the continent we live on. I identified each landmark, from the mountains in the north to the forest where I had grown up in the west. Unlike Lokus’s map, this one marked cities and places where the underground tribes could be found.
Boorr, the stealthy assassins lived to the east; the steely Druids to the north; the Pagans to the south; and, of course, the Mystics predominantly in the west. I flipped to the front of the journal, then back to the map, looking for some indication of when this book was actually written. I judged later that it must have been very old, because when I referred back to Lokus’s map, some of the cities no longer existed, or if they did, they were not of the normal world.
I would spend most dark nights reading this journal, which described many things that were not part of Lokus’s curriculum. Most of the things about Vitae I already knew from Lokus, but there were other things I didn’t know about the world and, of course, Shin. Like my teacher, this journal warned of th
I can’t believe it! I did it! I was alone walking the streets late at night when I was stopped by a beggar. His clothes were frayed and partially ripped from his old feeble body. Dirt covered most of his chest and hands.
“Please, sir, help me. Please,” he said, as a shuddering hand reached out for me.
It was then I realized, as his fingers crossed the threshold between torchlight and dark, that it was not dirt but wet, fresh blood, dripping as if he had just stepped out of a tub of it. The old beggar collapsed into me, his strength fading completely from his frail body. I nearly fell backwards as his dead weight collided with me, blood staining my white robes. Summoning Vitae, I managed to settle him lightly to the ground, the torchlight giving me just enough light to understand the damage this man had sustained.
“Help me,” the beggar said again. “Help me, please.”
“I will help you,” I said resolutely, attempting to keep my true feelings veiled as best I could.
Blood had soaked through his tattered clothing from a puncture wound just above his breast. His hand simply could not contain the waves of crimson pulsing its way through his fingers. It consumed me, this blood, for I had never seen an injury like this up close. Merely reading about it, and actually experiencing it, are two very different things.
“Am I going to die?” the beggar asked, snapping me from my trance.
I forced a smile. “Not yet, my friend,” I lied. The chances of his survival were nonexistent. The blade that had caused this injury had slashed his artery—it was a miracle he was even still conscious. There was little I could do to answer his call for help other than to give him comfort in his last moments.
He suddenly grasped the cuff of my robes with surprising strength, pulling me close to him. “Don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die,” he screamed, spittle spraying freely from his mouth. The torchlight behind us gave his eyes an eerie glow, as he repeated for me to stop the reaper from taking his life.
My heart beat quickly as the sweat started to trickle down my brow. I could give him mercy and slay him now. With that grim thought, another struck me like a ton of bricks. Better yet, I could finally prove my theory to the world that Shin can be harnessed to do Godlike things!
The two of us just stared at one another. He clearly was giving up on his life as I was interlocked in a struggle. I had experimented on birds, but the energy I would need to summon to save this man would be far greater. Furthermore, if I was correct, that Shin is the energy of the soul, then I may be destroyed as well.
His body began to shudder as his eyes rolled back in his head. I gently cradled his head as his body became limp on the ground, a pool of crimson liquid now setting the stage for what I was about to do. I surmised long ago that my prior experiments had failed because I did not have a human subject. This might be my only chance to prove my genius and show the world that Godhood rests in the strongest of us.
Gingerly, I placed both hands upon the wound. His pulse was weak as his heart inched closer and closer to death with each beat. I didn’t have much time. I had calculated with the birds that once the subject was dead, the soul would be out of reach within 45 minutes or so, thus making it impossible to succeed.
I placed my hands upon him and attempted with all my willpower to summon the Shin to my fingertips. The beggar’s heart had stopped as I sat there, eyes bulging, teeth grinding, trying every idea I could. After 40 minutes, I sat back onto my heels, sighing. The mental concentration I exerted was giving me a dull migraine. I had less than five minutes before it would truly be too late. My mind raced to every tomb I had uncovered, every scholar’s speech I head heard, anything to shed light upon this task. I suddenly straightened, eyes wide, as if I had just locked eyes with a predator. None of these people, authors or scholars, had ever succeeded at what I was about to do. Why? Because they didn’t need to do it. Shin, the energy of the soul, must come from a need not a desire.
If faced with a choice, Shin would never do my bidding. So, I thought, pulling my own dagger free from its sheath, it is time to take on the tactics of the absolute. With that, I slashed my wrist open, my blood dripping onto the stone floor and pain sharpening my mind. Within seconds, I was feeling lightheaded as my life began to pour out of me. Precious seconds were counting down and I was either going to die here or prove my life’s work to be true. It was only when the dizziness became overwhelming, and my life was suddenly on the line, that I felt it begin to stir in my chest, like a lazy beast. Cold metal began to flow through my fingertips and into the old man as the torch lights suddenly dimmed as if a great wind had assailed them, though there was not a breath. I watched as my sinew and tendons and skin began to grow and bind together like worms. The beggar’s wound began to close and seal behind skin as quickly as mine. It was only a moment later that I fell onto my back, laughing. I had done it! I now understood the power of a God.
I sat there entranced for a moment at what I had just read. I couldn’t have dreamed in a million years the amount of power Shin had. It was with this power that I would slay the Violet-Eyed Demon. Yes, I thought, as I laughed softly to myself in the dark basement, its time was short.
I was now 18. Two years had passed in rigorous training from sun up to sun down. The physical training was advanced and well thought out, focusing on teamwork rather than the individual, an idea that Trosian and I often clashed over. Through these rigorous training sessions, we learned not only about the energy that is inside us, but also about the gifts that shaped our destiny. It is known that I have all four gifts: Air, Earth, Water, and Fire. Trosian and Lokus come a close second, with the gifts of Fire, Earth, and Water. Lee, on the other hand, has a very weak Fire and a very strong Water. He could persuade anyone at any time to buy him something from a store. We had discovered that Ben had the rarest gift of all: the psychic Air gift. Lokus obviously knew of the Air, but could do little to help guide us in it. On a rare occasion, the four of us would all venture into the city, usually with Lokus as our chaperone. Ben and I would often focus on picking out which of the normal humans had gifts and which did not. The Air gift was also known to give its host prophetic visions of the future, but Ben and I never really encountered it.
Armed with this new training, we would often venture into the nearby towns; similar to the one in which I had first met the young Mystics. These missions were often used to learn other training methods, such as the ability to navigate, infiltrate and break into secure buildings, to attack and defend against ranged weapons, or simply to learn how to disappear. During one training session, Lokus shot at us with rubber bullets from a high-powered rifle, as we had to advance on him without being tagged. Another time we went into a museum to steal a famous piece of art (only to return it a few hours later). We usually succeeded in our tasks with little effort, other than having to use the occasional Water gift on police, by using techniques like how to shield ourselves from incoming Vitae attacks with our own energy, how to focus even under distracting circumstances, and even how to track others who were using their own powers. In the end, these tests bonded us together until we were more than just Mystics fighting for the same cause. We became a family.
Come nightfall, the physical training stopped and the teaching of mental mastery began. Often, we found ourselves sitting in front of that chalkboard with concepts in math, history, and science explained to us. These teachings would tie into our energy training, offering possible explanations of the ancient wisdom of Vitae. The only subject I was excited about learning was history and how the underground civilizations were once the ruling cultures of the an
These four civilizations used to rule the ancient world. Listening intently to Lokus’s description of the technology and culture in these ancient times, I surmised that the Lion’s journal was written during this time. What really interested me, though, was the fall of these cultures. How were we, being superior physically and psychically, not ruling over the normal people, or “civilians” as Lokus liked to call them?
“So run me through it again,” I asked Lokus in the classroom one day, while we were all writing a composition on the subject. “How exactly did it happen?”
“Yeah,” Ben said, chiming in, “why aren’t the civilians using Vitae? Better yet, why isn’t everyone a Mystic, Druid, Pagan, or Boorr?”
Lokus looked up from his book. “The civilians cannot master Vitae unless exposed to it at a young age. That, for them, suspends some belief about the existence of the energy itself.”
“So, why aren’t they helping us? I mean, they’re losing people just like we are,” I queried, innocently.
Lokus hesitated as he seemed perturbed by my question. He humoured me anyway. “Do not underestimate the power of willing ignorance,” he said slowly. “After the world was crippled by the Acerbus so long ago, it would seem that people simply stopped believing in Vitae, and thus the Shadows are a conclusion the civilians will not come to until it is too late.”