Affinities and Surprises
“My thighs are killing me,” I groaned as we trudged up the stairs to the hall that held the Cermin, two hours after our Sento training had ended.
Advisor Lokni might have seemed mild-mannered and reserved, but his training was the exact opposite of his restrained demeanour. He had put us through a series of plyometric exercises, making us leap from one end of the mat to the other and then holding a squat until our muscles quivered with strain and threatened to give out. Afterwards, he pushed us into painful stretches. I’d trained on my own before, but not to that level.
After those, which were what he called “warm-up” exercises, he’d led us through a series of simple Sento forms to build our foundations. And, he’d called all that basic training, for our “introductory lesson”. All the while, he simply maintained an amiable smile on his face, hardly even raising his voice.
The man was nuts.
Elora nodded, grumbling tiredly – the girl was more athletic than me for sure, but even that training had taken its toll on her.
“I just want to know my Affinity, so I can go home and knock myself out.” Enki muttered, dragging his feet. “I’m getting too old for this.”
Elora and I gave sympathetic glances to Enki. We were twenty, near the peak of our physical ability and we were exhausted, I could only wonder what Enki felt.
Advisor Darnall was waiting for us at the doors, his face pinched with annoyance, his long black hair plaited in a traditional fashion.
“Alright, I understand Advisor Ramiel has once again managed to render you new congees utterly boneless. But we’ve got to get you guys in with the Cermin and then I’ll let you off this time. You lot will probably be wiping the tables with your faces and drooling before I get any of the properties of Yin and Yang energy into your head. There are tonics at the Healing Ward that can help recovery if this is going to be a recurrent theme. I would appreciate if you take them as needed, as I do have important things to teach you.” Advisor Darnall said snippily, wrinkling his nose in displeasure.
If I wasn’t so tired, I might have laughed at his comical expression.
“Alright, this is done alphabetically. We’ll start with Aletheia Leigh and end with Xue Shin. Aletheia, if you would please.”
A sudden rush of fear gripped my chest. Already? What was I supposed to do? Advisor Darnall hadn’t explained how to prepare for the Cermin viewing. What if I wasn’t ready?
Elora mouthed ‘Senno be with you’ and crossed her fingers.
What can Senno do for me anyway? I snarkily thought to myself, but nodded my thanks to Elora – she meant well after all – and followed Advisor Darnall into the hall.
The perfect balance of the room allowed congees to discern their Affinities, as the congee’s own energy would unbalance the Cermin, which was the locus of the hall, temporarily. It also meant that it couldn’t be used too frequently, because that would disrupt its finely calibrated balance. Thus, the limited viewings each year.
Advisor Darnall had not explained what the exact procedure was though.
“Come here, Aletheia. Advisor Maeve must have taught you lot how to direct your energy yesterday. I believe all of you had success with it?” Advisor Darnall beckoned me to approach the large round metal saucer engraved and coloured with the ubiquitous Yin-Yang symbol, as well as some less frequently seen trigram imprints – this was the Cermin then.
I nodded at Advisor Darnall’s question. Some of us had had more trouble than others, but I was pleased to note that I had taken to it quite readily, and by the end of the three hour class yesterday, we had all achieved some basic proficiency.
“Place your hands over the Cermin, and feel for your energy.”
I closed my eyes, imagining the energy pulsing in the chakra points, flowing down the meridians in the way that Advisor Maeve had described.
“Now gather that energy in your hands.”
A buzzing feeling enveloped my hands, and I opened my eyes.
The Cermin was changing – the black part glowed brightly, but the white comma shimmered very faintly as well, before they both faded to grey – grey?
I released the energy.
“Very good. You have a fine control of your energy. I am sure you can roughly guess what the Cermin showed. You are Yin-dominant, but slightly compatible with Yang. The grey represents an ability to use reiki. That’s rare, but matters little now since it has been forbidden for two decades now, and there were few users in the first place.” Advisor Darnall paused.
“You are lucky to have the ability to use Yin and some Yang. Consider your options wisely.” He gave me a steely look.
I wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I just nodded.
“You may go. Send in Elora Young after you.”
Elora’s viewing seemed to take a lot longer than mine. I tapped my foot impatiently. Surely, hers would be straightforward? Then again, my own had an unexpected twist, though my Yin Affinity was still strong, as I expected.
I made a mental note to read up about reiki, since Advisor Maeve had mentioned it yesterday as well. But all she had said was that it was the most basic form of energy before it split into yin and yang. She hadn’t even suggested that it could be manipulated. The fact that it was forbidden made my fingers tingle. Why had it had been outlawed?
After another indeterminable amount of time, Elora emerged, looking even more exhausted, and slightly confused as she tapped Enki on the shoulder for his turn. Enki steeled himself, then pushed the doors into the hall.
Elora turned toward me with a tired grin. “Let’s go!”
Her weary and confused countenance piqued my interest and I was itching to know what her viewing had been like, but knew that it was private information not everyone cared to share publicly. That was the reason why we were sent in individually, after all. Only the Advisors were to know and advise the congees on the results, but they were all sworn to secrecy anyway.
“So... are you going to enlighten me as to why your viewing took so long?” The question left my lips unbidden, impatient with Elora’s continued silence and the contemplative look on her face.
“Hmm...I’m not sure really, Advisor Darnall seemed quite confused by my viewing. He had to consult several manuscripts and I had some trouble directing my energy properly. Had to do it more than once.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Oh? What happened?”
She described how the white side of the Cermin had glowed brightly initially, but then both sides had abruptly started flickering and gone out as she had been unable to sustain the energy. I frowned, what could that mean?
Repeated attempts had only resulted in the white side glowing again, and she’d become more drained with each subsequent attempt, until Advisor Darnall had called for her to stop. Elora was one of the few who seemed to have trouble with energy manipulation, which I found odd. Usually, new congees who were constitutionally weaker found trouble with grasping and controlling their energy. But it wasn’t that Elora couldn’t control her energy, it was that it seemed to take an extreme amount of effort. Perhaps it just needed some getting used to.
Advisor Darnall had then frowned and muttered under his breath as he bustled into a storage room and brought out several manuscripts.
After poring over them for quite a while and finding nothing to explain the odd phenomenon, he’d come to the conclusion that perhaps it was just an odd glitch, or she just needed more practice so her viewing would be more stable at the end of the year.
“Glitch? What, are we in the Matrix? Are you Neo?” I scoffed, disbelief written across my face that Advisor Darnall had dismissed the flickering as a glitch.
Elora looked at me strangely. Ah, the reference had flown over her head. She probably never watched the stage production before then, pity.
“Well, he’d said that he would do more research. But in any case, my Yang affinity was pretty obvious, so he assumed that whatever that flickering was, was inconsequential.”
I narrowed my eyes. I didn’t believe that one bit.
“Eh, whatever, there’s no point troubling over it anyway. Oh boy, I just want to go take a nap.” She yawned, stretching her arms in front of her like a cat.
“You go ahead, I’ll go to the library for some reading.” I said, my thoughts spinning in my head. I wasn’t likely to fall asleep in the afternoon anyway, so I might as well do some snooping around regarding Elora and my Cermin readings. And there was the idea about the forbidden energy that made me cautiously fascinated. Though I reasoned that if it were forbidden, I probably wouldn’t find much information at the library either.
Elora yawned a goodbye, her eyes half-closed.
I sucked my lips in. There really was no reason that Elora would be finding energy manipulation that hard. A determined and organised mind like hers should not have this much difficulty, not to mention the fact that she should have inherited strong energy from her parents.
Time for some reading up, I thought, as I veered off the path Elora had taken, heading for the library.
It wasn’t till much later that I realised I hadn’t told Elora about my own experience.
A/N: Unexpected Cermin viewings? What’s brewing?