Tuk felt exalted in the Mother's Shadow. As he meditated, he didn't feel the cool breeze caressing him, nor the many bugs crawling on his skin. His master's call, however, was something he could not ignore.
The young apprentice didn't sigh, he was not annoyed that his meditation was cut short. How could he be? He was one of Mother's Blessed.
Tuk left Mother's Shadow and climbed the small ridge leading up to The Great Plane. Master had nearly taken down his wears - they were about to relocate - and two Outlanders stood in front of the stand clutching their knees.
"Greetings!" Tuk smiled out of habit, master liked that, the two Outlanders were still wheezing from their climb to notice.
"You appeared just in time! I was about to move my wears." Master said, arms out as if awaiting an embrace. "How may the Mother bless you?"
The two Outlanders were taking a long time regaining their composure - long even for their kind. These two even seemed fit, well, fit for Outlander standards. Curious. Were they just extra sensitive to Mother's climate? Tuk had heard about -
Everything happened so fast. One Outlander threw a dagger, hitting Tuk in the shoulder. The other lept, landing atop the master, a dagger of his own on the master's throat. The two weren't resting, they were readying themselves.
"Now ya listen ya goat-loving snobs!" The one atop the master said in a rasping voice. "You will take us to the Golden Rock, or we will find a merchant that will!"
Tuk's shoulder flared. He knelt helplessly as the other Outlander approached with another dagger. Those daggers... Lowlander runes were carved into those daggers.
This was dangerous.
"Don't move pup!"
"I will not..." Tuk responded.
"Well?" The one above master yelled.
"Let my apprentice go, and I will take you to Mother's Trials."
"He's telling the truth, Crock. I told ya there would be some sort of test involved. You think we're the first ones to do this?"
Crock cut one of master's fingers with his dagger. "You both are marked now, try and escape and well..." His grin was crooked, "let's just say it won't be pretty, hehe."
"Come on, pup!"
Tuk tried to not let his outrage show. Master was taking them to Mother's Trials? All to protect him? Tuk himself was repeatedly told he was too young to undergo the trials, yet these Outlanders... No, the situation was dire. These ruffians were clearly well equipped, taking them out would have consequences. Plus the one named Crock said something about them being marked. What were the properties of those runes on the daggers?
"I said move it, pup! Before I shank ya!"
The master and apprentice moved across the Great Plane, the two Outlanders on their heels. They kept looking around as if someone would attack them - oblivious to the nature of Mother's Blessed.
Tuk's shoulder stopped bleeding, but the pain was sharper than anything he had ever experienced. Tuk noticed that the farther away he was from the dagger - the more the pain intensified. He tried gaging master's expression but to no avail.
The apprentice's anxiety only grew as they walked farther from Mother's Shadow. It spiked when master fell on his knees.
"Step away, pup!"
"Get up ya old goat! Ya can't fool us! Ya goats can't get tired! So unless ya want ya little pup in even more pain, ya will stop with the acting!"
Master sighed, got up, continued walking.
Soon enough they reached the Pass - the entrance to Mother's Trials. The great green vistas spread before them in a scene that couldn't help but take Tuk's breath away. Truly, the pinnacle of creation.
"Why ya stopped?"
"We have arrived," Master said. "Mother's Trials."
"Now listen here... this doesn't look any different... if ya goat -"
The two finally noticed the cracks in Mother's Shell. Thousands upon thousands of little cracks in the rock, all across Mother's Trials. Some were harmless, some would erode and suck you into Mother's Bosom. One had to be intuned to Mother's Wishes to properly gauge where to move. It took a lifetime for some of Mother's Blessed to get there. For an Outlander? It was impossible.
But the dagger's marks -
"This is Mother's Trials," Master said. "Reach the cave and the Golden Rock shall await you."
The two looked at each other with eyes as greedy as the clouded moon.
"What... what is the trial?"
"You must reach the cave."
"More tricks!" The one called Crock said, but his conviction had left him. His greed had started to grow roots.
"Mother's Blessed cannot lie, you know this."
That was a lie. Yet the two Outlanders seemed convinced. Their knowledge wasn't so extensive then. How did master know what to say?
"You will come with us!"
"We cannot," Master held up his hand. "You bled me, my apprentice as well. Blood cannot enter the trials."
"If blood is spilled in the Sacred Cave, then the Golden Rock shall crumble."
Another lie, yet the two seemed even more gullible.
"Those runes will interfere as well."
"Your daggers, they must remain here."
"Oh no, we're taking these as insurance you -"
"They remain, or the cave will never show you the rock. But by all means, if you know so well, carry on..."
The final lie. The two seemed too eager for their own good. This proved true, as they lay down the daggers and started running forward. With no regard for their lives or Mother's Shell. Soon enough, Mother's Mercy took them, and they disappeared from sight.
Master leaned down and picked up the daggers. "What did you learn, apprentice?"
The pain in Tuk's shoulder started to slowly subside. "I... Master, why did they believe you?"
"What choice did they have? Their greed took over, their rational thought leaving when it did. Now. What did you learn?"
"'Mother's Mercy has no equal.'"
"I didn't ask for a quote from the scriptures." When Tuk said nothing master patted him on his good shoulder. "Let fools kill themselves, Tuk. They could've demanded us to show them the way through the trials, if they did, the cave would've killed them. They came unprepared and left without their lives. Always be prepared."
"For Mother's Trials?"
"For life. Come on, son. Let's return to our wears before another Outlander fool arrives."
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