When Jonathan walked in, he stepped into a large, open hall. Railings of the top floor loomed over him – a wall to the various dark entryways that lead to some far off place. It was the first thing that came to view.
Jonathan could not help but shiver. There is power in this place. A power I cannot comprehend. But it was not just the second floor that had such paths. The first was filled with hallways and closed doors. At the start, Jonathan was at a loss on where to go. Should I call out? He knows I’m here. So why isn’t he directing me? It was impossible for the elder of the Elder’s Pavilion to not know he was there. After all, to get inside, he needed to be invited. It was in that moment as Jonathan was wrapped up in his thoughts when heard a soft sound. It came from the other side of the hall, but for some reason it clearly, in its own muddled way, entered his ears.
Jonathan knew that the elder of the pavilion, did it on purpose. The space he was in was completely controlled by him and only him. How could a sound not intended for his ears so easily reach him? Especially in a hall so large?
Jonathan took a deep breath and took a step forward. As he walked, his footsteps remained silent, the rubber soles rolling easily off the glossy, gold marble floor. It took a few minutes for him to cross the room, so the entire time he crossed, his eyes darted about, taking everything in. This was, after all, a place he would never have the gall to frequent.
He glanced at one fixture to the next. The place was designed in a classical nature; something not seen very often. But it was something Jonathan was accustomed to. In his line of work, he had met a few eccentrics before. It was because of this why when he saw that there were no paintings or mirrors, he found it increasingly odd. And a chilling thought crossed his mind. Jonathan quickly buried it somewhere in the recesses of his mind. He was afraid that if he doubted his actions any more, he would be afraid to continue, and get himself killed! It was too late to go back. He already made his presence known. Should today fail, then even if the elder in the Pavilion did not kill him, his master at the academy would.
Minutes passed and finally Jonathan had crossed the hall. The soft sounds that were once just a tickle in his ear grew louder and louder until the muddled-ness became more clear and distinctive, and a voice or two could be discerned. They came from a particular long and winding hallway. Jonathan travelled along the path, following the audibly growing speech with every one of his steps. .
Grandpa!” A tiny voice called out in virtual excitement, the first clear word to reach Jonathan’s ears.
“Yes, Yes. I know, little one.”
Jonathan licked his lips. So there is someone else. It was clearly possible for the elder to make him wait until his business was concluded. But considering how he didn’t, it made Jonathan increasingly nervous. Hopefully I can get through this. A slight sweat began to bead up on his upper lip.
The fact that there were other people did not distract Jonathan. Today was too important for his mind to go off in tangents. To be broken down by fear of mere possibilities. He needed focus and calm. A calm that he learned to be accustomed to in dealing with the powerful.
Taking a deep breath and blowing out slowly, Jonathan continued silently through the winding path. There had been a few doors locked at the sides as he passed, but Jonathan did not pay attention to them, and even less tried to open them. This was a space owned by someone else. Such spaces were made and owned only by those of unfathomable power. And it did not escape Jonathan’s though that if the Elder did not like him, with a mere thought, the elder could have him removed. And that did not just mean tossed out back in the alleyway. So Jonathan was definitely not going to do anything that would irritate him. Not that he could possibly open these doors anyway. It was not the actual opening of the doors, but the act in trying that could destroy him.
Eventually, Jonathan reached the very end, where a black wooden door was half ajar, leading into a small-ish room. By then, the voices were even more clear. Jonathan crept to the door and peered in. A middle aged averati was standing before a little boy who had his arms stretched out, being handed a treat.
“Now what do you say?” The middle-aged man asked.
“Thank You!” The boy replied.
“Now, how about another lesson?”
“Another lesson?” The boy pouted, but then looked at the cherry-red sweat within his hand and smiled. “Ok!”
Jonathan knew that the middle-aged averati knew he was there. The averati just seemed to not care. Or more so, he wanted him there. This was no mere ordinary averati. Though he seemed amiable and his face was kind, there was an unspeakable presence about him. Most other averati would probably not be able to catch it, but for Jonathan, being able to discern such things were as simply as breathing. He had been around powerful averati for years now. He learned how to stroke their egos and when to skirt them completely. It was something he learned to do all his life, and all on the mere slightest shift in their aura or demeanor, as a slip up could cost him. And such a presence now was telling him that this was the Pavilion Elder, and not some mere guest!
Thus, as the Pavilion Elder seemed determined for nothing to ruin his time with his grandson, Jonathan was not going to voice a peep and be that ‘nothing’ to do so! So he stayed there – silent, and listened.
He listened because it seemed the middle-aged averati wanted to listen. For what? He did not know. But finding out could keep his little life in his hands.
“You see my eyes?” The elder averati pointed. Jonathan glanced at the middle-aged averati’s eyes. And suddenly, a cold fear perforated through his gut. It was stronger than the fear of someone who already controlled whether or not he should live or die as who would care for a servant’s life? It was more of a fear that comes when you see something that could impact the world. A fear from something that you know is bigger than yourself or the impact even the deaths of half a common city would have.
It was not because the eyes of the middle-aged averati were silver and piercing. But because of one simple thing. The shape of the pupil. Of the averati’s eyes, his pupil was in the shape of a six star pupil.
Jonathan nearly jumped up right then and there. Six stars were that of legend. He knew that those of the Elders Pavilion were powerful, but not this powerful. There was a defining gap between that of four stars and five. And an extraordinary one between five and six. This is why Jonathan thought an Elder of the Elders Pavilion’s power was of at most five stars and that their main importance was more towards their ability in solving the intricate problems in the crawfields strategic areas. But this… This broadened his view. Then… Just how many stars do those of the council have?
Jonathan shook his head. He did not want to dare to even think such thoughts. It was just not in his place.
“Yes, Grandpa.” The boy answered, snapping Jonathan from this daze.
“Each and every person, whether willingly traveled onto the world of the strong, or not, has eyes like mine. The more peaks the star has, the more power it represents. So for someone with a five-star pupil will never match someone of a four star pupil.”
“Does that mean you can travel on the path of untold power unwillingly?” The boy asked.
“Of course! Anyone who pursues power, if they obtain too much, they can be considered something called a cultivator. They are called this because they cultivate their bodies, changing them, to reach the heavens. It is because of this reach that the laws of the world would subject a brand on them. That brand is a representation of that power. My eyes are one.”
The boy’s eyes went wide. “So you will touch the heavens soon, Grandpa?”
The elder laughed. “Maybe. One day. But I still have a long way to go.”
“Does it have to be the eyes?” The boy asked another question quickly.
“This…” The middle-aged averati sighed. “You live in this family, so you must learn sooner or later… No. Not all follow our divine path. Depending on how a person gains power, their characteristics will change. The world’s brand will change. The path to the heavens will be different. Those who cultivate, travel the path to heaven. Each path will have another brand. It could be a tattoo, it could be an inanimate symbol. A change to the body. It could be anything. But all brands follow a single rule.”
“They must come in stages. For a higher advancement in power, the closer you are to heaven, so the more advanced the brand becomes. Like my eyes. I have a six star pupil, but when I first embarked on the path of ascension, I didn’t even have a single peak.”
The boy grew silent, and the middle-aged averati seemed pleased. It appeared as if the boy was digesting it all. Pondering. But soon, he asked another question which made the face of the elder fall.
“If there are so many paths, and they all lead to heaven, then why doesn’t everyone do it?” The boy’s voice sounded so innocent, but filled with curiosity and wit.
The middle-aged averati grew solemn, only to tossel the boy’s hair with a sigh. “You will find out in due time. Once you join the ranks of the cultivators, I will tell you. Now, we are done for our lessons today. On you go!” And the Pavilion Elder urged his grandson along.
The boy began to run to the side wall. He pushed his hand down on an empty space of that wall, and a square shape indentation appeared. There was an audible click and a churning of gears, but what followed suit was the popping sound of a unwarped space, and then the wall opened up. Bright light spewed through the small door looking entrance, and the space around it seemed to distort. The boy looked back at his grandfather, waved, and then hopped through, disappearing all together.
After a moment of looking at that empty space where the boy had just been, the Pavilion Elder’s countenance changed. His back was straighter. His face stern. And his eyes grew increasingly cold. He seemed regal. More astute.
“Come in.” The middle-aged averati said, his voice flat.
Jonathan felt a chill. His whole body visibly trembled, and he felt like he would choke. This was not from an aura or a power that the averati exuded. It was simply from the knowledge that this elder could affect the entire country with one decision. And it was Jonathan that could force that decision of this elder.
Grinding his jaw, and taking cold air through his gritted teeth, Jonathan calmed himself, and stepped through the door.