Sweat oozed from every pore of Ug’s body, the salt stinging his eyes as he concentrated on performing the Fai To Lu kata. The eyes of his master and the three other masters that would decide his fate, watched every movement, searching for an error. A single misstep, or not turning your palm to the proper angle and he would fail. This was not an option in Ug’s mind, he did not wish to remain in the monastery for another year as would be required if he failed. He wanted to see the wide world and bring what peace he could to its troubled souls.
Beginning a series of slow powerful movements, Ug concentrated on his task. He was only on the 24th movement out of the 196 in the kata and although he had performed flawlessly so far, the kata gets progressively more difficult as it goes on. Feeling the breath enter and leave his body, his muscles knotting and unknotting in time to the silent symphony of the earth, Ug brought himself back to the void of perfect meditation that was the only way to successfully perform the kata. The movements came without thought, guided by the thousands of hours spent practicing over the last 17 years.
Ug’s body stopped before he had even realized he had come to the end of the kata. Looking up and realizing that he had again looked within himself so deeply that he had lost himself in the exquisite emptiness that the Fai To Lu created within the Ku’Lin adherent, Ug quickly scanned the eyes of the masters, searching for any hint of disapproval. Seeing nothing except blank faces, Ug performed the customary bow, kneeling and placing his hands in a diamond pattern on the floor, before returning to his place among the three students that had requested to test themselves this year.
It had been four years since the last student had passed, and before that seven years, as the masters of the Earth and Stone school of Ku’Lin accepted nothing but perfection before they would allow a student the freedom to wander the world and take the teachings of the Most Revered Kayo’Won’Tu’Ten outside the monastery walls.
There were four masters that were allowed seats at a testing. Only three sat at any one time, the fourth master was always the testing student’s primary teacher and thus was not allowed to have a voice in their student’s fate.
Master Finnig Boddymalkin Fu’Chao, a small gnome from the Astoro Mountains, sat in the left most position. Silently studying Ug as he sat, Master Finnig was the most unassuming of the masters of the Earth and Stone school. Standing little more than a pace off the ground, this little gnome was an absolutely deadly master of the Path of the Stone Ocean. Ug had personally witnessed him bring down a dire bear in one strike from 100 paces away, using the Ripple the Stone Ocean technique.
To the right, sat Master Li Mu Bo Fu’Chao. With his long white hair and beard, he looked more of an old beggar than a Ku’Lin master. This again proved that appearances are deceiving, because Master Li was nigh invulnerable when he wanted to be. As a demonstration of the Path of Earthen Embrace techniques, Master Li once allowed 100 students to strike at him for as long as they could without him blocking or striking back. The students fell to the ground exhausted after three days of attempting to even move Master Li.
In the middle was the master that Ug was most concerned about. Master Simpkin Fu’Chao held a long view on all things and believed that nothing should ever be rushed. Her bark-like skin and green leaf-like hair, belied her heritage that had given her such a patient view. Being a treekin, she preached patience in all things, a lesson Ug found the most difficult to learn during his time at the monastery. His orcish and human heritage had given him a drive and need for action and movement that he had tried very hard to keep in check. Master Simpkin had been instrumental in helping him to overcome the rage that he felt within himself but she also kept a wary eye upon him, always being the last to pass approval in every test Ug had gone through. She was a formidable opponent though when she was roused to it, sharing a symbiotic relationship with the earth, she was able to call upon it to do things unseen by anyone except the Most Revered Grand Arhat Kayo’Won’Tu’Ten. She was even so it was said to be in possession of the secret to summoning the ancient and primordial Forgotten Guardians.
The gong rang announcing the time had come for pronouncement of the results of the test. The rest of the students of the monastery filed in to the room, taking their places against the walls and looking at the three students kneeling in front of the masters. As Ug was the last to perform he was also the last to receive his result. The student would only pass if the masters were unanimous.
The gong rang again and the first student stood up. He was a dwarf that had tested the last eight years in a row and had not yet passed. He was excellent at most of the movements but he would always trip himself up by trying to go beyond his abilities in the kata. This year was no different and he knew the answer even before the masters announced one by one his failure. Returning to kneel his only reaction was to sigh as he resumed kneeling.
The gong rang for a third time and the student next to Ug stood. This, like Ug, was her first time taking the test. She had been at the school for 20 years, and studied under Master Simpkin. She had done excellently except Ug had noticed she had taken an extra step during the kata and was therefore not surprised when Master Rockbar announced his decision to fail her.
Ug barely heard the gong before he quickly stood to his feet, eager to hear the words but unsure if he had made every pass perfectly as he hoped. By slipping too far into the void again, he did not know if he had done all the steps and movements exactly right.
Master Finnig announced first. “Pass,” he said simply.
Then Master Li said in a voice like gravel. “Pass,” he said with a slight chuckle, “though it pains me to release a trained half-orc upon the poor world. He’ll ruin their good reputation.”
Master Simpkin was last. The entire group of students were nervous and excited, wanting to see if Ug had finally done enough to convince Master Simpkin of his dedication to the Way. She took a long time as usual, staring at Ug, weighing, and measuring him down to the very last ounce of his body and then delving deeper to peer into his soul. The time stretched on for what seemed like hours, no one daring to move. Finally, she blinked as if startled by something she saw and immediately said…
Master Rockbar smiled and came forward to perform the ritual blessing and complete the ceremony. As he said the words, Ug allowed himself to feel the weight of earth press upon him. Though he wondered what made Master Simpkin start like that, he pushed the thought down to concentrate on the ceremony.
. . Earth teach me stillness
. . as the grasses are stilled with light.
. . Earth teach me suffering
. . as old stones suffer with memory.
. . Earth teach me humility
. . as blossoms are humble with beginning.
. . Earth teach me caring
. . as the mother who secures her young.
. . Earth teach me courage
. . as the tree which stands alone.
. . Earth teach me limitation
. . as the ant which crawls on the ground.
. . Earth teach me resignation
. . as the leaves which die in the fall.
. . Earth teach me regeneration
. . as the seed which rises in the spring.
. . Earth teach me to forget myself
. . as melted snow forgets its life.
. . Earth teach me to remember kindness
. . as dry fields weep in the rain.
As he finished the prayer, Master Rockbar Ironfist Fu’Chao placed a hand upon Ug’s shoulder and said, “Kneel as Ug, and rise as Ug Fu’Lao, Guardian of the Way.”
As is custom, immediately following the ceremony, Ug went into the bowels of the monastery to the Room of the Iron Yama to enter the world and continue on his journey. Waiting at the entrance was Master Rockbar, smiling broadly.
“Ye did me proud there my boy,” he said, “though I knew it all along that ye would.”
Saying nothing else he unlocked the door and when Ug bowed to pay him respect, he slipped a plain iron chain with a plain un-worked piece of granite on it around his neck. Settling in place, Ug’s skin began to take on a slightly metallic sheen, the magic of the necklace working its way into him.
As Ug was about to say thank you, Master Rockbar cut him off and said, “Remember, it is does not matter how slowly you go on your journey, just that you do not stop.”
Without another word, he closed the door behind him leaving Ug in the pitch black room. Approaching the archway that lay on the other side of the room Ug suppressed his feelings of doubt at his ability to bring honor to his master. Stepping through the archway, there was a flash of blue light and then Ug was gone.