It had been only thirty minutes since they had arrived and yet their anticipation had already begun to drive them crazy. The darkness was so thick that they could not see beyond their hands, their breath coming out quickly and briskly because of the cold and stress. Although each one could feel the person beside, from time to time they moved their limbs outwards, just so they could touch the person next to them and make sure they were still there, that they had not lost their orientation.
Good morning class 56! Are we all here? Can we start?
The wait was finally interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching and the professor’s voice. A unanimous “Good morning Sir” echoes in the room, while the absolute darkness is disturbed by the slight glow of the lantern flame in the professor’s right hand.
The man passes the lantern in front of the face of each trainee confirming that their faces are familiar to him. On the other side, the lantern reveals the trainer’s unshaven and dehydrated face, half hidden behind a wide black leather hat. When he completed the count, he moves away from the crowd again. With him, the glow of the lantern is removed, as well as the sound of the boots hitting the thick marble.
-Do you know why we are here today? After six years of hard work, discipline and perseverance, you are heading towards the last week of your training!
Some cheers dimly break the monotony of the monologue but are immediately suppressed by their own owners.
-Tomorrow you will head to Darklands… A team of experienced Templars and Monks will be waiting for you at the eastern border of Primus where they will “guide” you through the darkness of the Cressets of Vigil and back again.
At this point his voice seems to coarsen and takes a more serious tone.
Those of you who survive this journey, will not return here as students of class 56 but as PROUD LUMEN INQUISITORS! A title heavy and sacred, which you will carry and follow until the time you close your eyes comes.
Some find themselves sniffling with emotion, others wipe their tears discreetly and silently. The truth is, that their reaction is reasonable and it can be justified, if you just look back at what these teenagers went through during those six years of education.
-The basement of the academy that you are standing was built for this very purpose. The goal is to get a first taste of what it’s like to be in the dark, away from the heat and protection the light preserves.
Of course, what you will experience at the borders of the Darklands can in no way be compared to this. The darkness is literally suffocating, as if it has a material substance. It drowns you as you breathe. The cold penetrates your clothes and your soul while every bit of this cursed land is dangerous and inhospitable; you feel it whispering to you “leave…”, “die…”.
If you are lucky enough on this short walk, you will not encounter anything alive on your way. If not, your training over the years has given you all the resources to adequately deal with most creatures that live in the dark. Until your departure tomorrow, I would advise you to take one last look at Tenebris Cordis and Encyclopedia Prodigium. But today we didn’t just come here to gaze at the darkness…
He starts walking again, this time in front of and along the crowd while at the same time two crumpled stones light the pipe in his mouth and make his words acquire a choked tone.
-In our last lesson we will talk about a risk that is not listed in any of the school’s books, mainly for security reasons. Today we will talk about Deceivers…
The sound of his footsteps stops; as the distant glow from the pipe’s cap becomes brighter while he takes a pause.
-All these years you have been trained how to perceive the lie, to unravel the darkness; you have been taught the strengths and weaknesses of the creatures of the night. Bloody hounds, animal beings of chaos, nocturnal predators and intelligent entities.
Deceivers are more than that. They do not have weak spots, on the contrary, they are extremely capable of locating ours and playing with them…Masters of illusions, expert puppeteers and mostly sick sadists. These cursed demons have proven that are capable of wiping out whole armies of worthy defenders.
-Sir, may I ask?
-Yes Lora, you may.
-How do we fight them then?
-We do not fight them. The best thing you can do against this creature is try to understand the illusion and escape.
Suddenly silence, several seconds later his voice is heard again, this time behind Lora. A small scream comes out of her before she manages to regain her composure, while two equally frightened classmates who were nearby jump back.
-You see Lora… It is the details that make the difference, because they will determine if you will survive such an encounter. After all, what was needed for this little deception of mine? A lighted pipe and a pair of boots.
All this time I was building orientation with a focus on my gait, which I made sure you’d hear and the lighted pipe which I made sure that is visible. So, while we were talking, I untied my boots, I left my pipe in the protrusion of the column which is about the same height as my mouth and I came towards you. I let your mind treat the rest as logical extensions.
If someone had emphasized on details, if anyone had noticed that while I was talking, the fire from the pipe should’ve been moving, you would have dissolved my deception and revealed me.
The Deceivers, class 56, don’t play by distracting your attention. They are able to convince you to dive into the hot lakes of Assaria to save the beloved child you never had…The only protection against them is to pay attention on imperfections and details; these will make you understand that what you are experiencing is a lie. It’s not a coincidence that in the entire recorded history, only one Deceiver has been caught and in fact in a graduation ceremony like yours…That of the Inquisition’s 17th class.
Exclamations of excitement, admiration and fear filled the dark room, everyone started whispering to each other until someone found the courage to ask.
-Tell us master, how did it happen? Did graduates capture him?
-No, my dear Wakhalor, unfortunately not. An elder Primus was the one who took the burden and the glory. The Deceiver met the expedition of apprentices and veterans near Cresset; within a few hours the team was found fighting among themselves, until no one was left alive.
He took the form of an apprentice and returned to the border acting like he’s wounded and the only survivor, in order to enter Penumbra. Fortunately for everyone, the Primus who was in the rear guard, noticed him, led him to the main body of the guard where they managed to imprison him for a while.
Enough with the stories though, you’ve heard what you should and I hope you keep it somewhere in this head of yours. I wish everyone a safe trip and I hope you return without absences. It was an honour to be your trainer and I will be happy to address you as Inquisitors when you return.
The Master Inquisitor crosses the room until its end, pushes the wide bronze door and the little precious light crosses the staircase and diffuses into the room, highlighting the exit. As he climbs the stairs and crosses the aisle that leads upstairs, a woman’s voice is heard.
-What is it Lora?
-You didn’t tell us how the Primus Lord discovered the Deceivers’ deception?
The master raises his right eyebrow, brings out a faint smile of sadness and irony as he grabs her by the neck compassionately.
-From the pants my little Lora… From the pants.
As I said at the beginning of the story, the Primus Lord was a veteran, he wasted years and years defending the borders. Never before had he met apprentices from any class to return from the Darklands without…wetting their pants from what they saw and lived there, let alone for someone who was the only one who survived an ambush. It’s not a shame… It’s human, something that happened to all of us and will probably happen to you next week. But it was something the demon could not think of and foresee, which is why he got exposed. So, the dry pants made the Primus Lord believe with certainty that what he saw was definitely not an apprentice.