“Have you prepared?” The old monk whispers.
“Yes,” Kuniva answers solemnly.
“You shall forever be honored. May your journey be safe and eternal,” the old monk says with a gentle smile.
“I am honored to have been chosen to protect The Black Scroll,” Kuniva whispers.
The man standing over him nods. “It is time.”
Kuniva moves to the center of a small golden round disk and kneels, sitting back on his heels before folding his hands on his lap. Looking up at the man standing over him Kuniva gives a final nod, black hair brushing his shoulder blades as he tilts his head back. A small boy dressed in brown robes appears next to the old monk and hands him a five inch black scroll sealed with a gold band and a black seal.
The boy stares at the kneeling man. “Father,” he starts, but the monk places a hand on his shoulder and the boy falls silent.
Kuniva casts a small glance at his son and let a smile curve his mouth before looking back to the old monk. The man steps closer to him and Kuniva opens his mouth wide.
“We honor thee. May you spend all your long days in peace and protect thee and thine,” the monk says softly before reaching out his hand and slipping the black scroll into Kuniva’s mouth and down into his throat. Kuniva’s eyes widen briefly, his only sign of pain or discomfort, as the scroll was set into place and he closes his mouth, bowing his head forward. The monk steps back, pulling the small boy with him and waves a hand to another monk that stands high up on a wooden structure behind Kuniva.
A large black boiling pot is close at hand. Once given the signal he tips it and a slow stream of liquid gold trails down to Kuniva. Out of the dark corners of the room steps a dozen more monks, chanting a prayer. A low buzzing hum rises and then falls to a mutter as the liquid gold falls in a long steady stream. The boy tries to cry out and rush to his father, but the old monk grabs him and holds firm, covering the boys mouth as the chanting rises again.
The spell reaches a peak, the room seeming to vibrate with power and just before the molten gold touches Kuniva a flash of icy blue covers his body, protecting him from what would otherwise be a painful and horrifying death.
Kuniva’s body arches and his head tilts back, his mouth opening into a silent scream as the gold pours over his face. The shoulder length black hair disappears beneath the gold, burning away until there is nothing but baldness left.
Wide-eyed with horror, the young boy watches as gold pours from his father’s mouth and eventually his father closes it. It seems impossible, would have been impossible, if not for the spell the monks cast. His father’s head moves with aching slowness to resume its position. Hands on his knees, his head bowed.
As the pouring of the gold ends, several monks come forward with wide flat knives, smearing the gold until it covers every inch, until it is smooth and surrounds the golden disk, securing Kuniva to it.
“Hurry now, before it hardens. Seal it,” the older monk whispers and from a bag at his side he pulls out a smooth black obsidian mask. It had slanted eye holes and a curve for the nose with holes as well, but where a mouth should be it is completely smooth. “By the hand of a son must the spell be sealed,” the monk recites as the other monks melt into the darkness, their chanting taking on a sharp dark edge. The monk places the mask into the boys shaking hands and walks forward with him. “Do it now, child of Kuniva, for this is why you were born.”
Why he was born? The child of Kuniva takes a step forward holding the mask close to his chest as he stares at the gold statue that was once his father, was still his father, would always be his father. As the chanting reaches an unbearable pitch, the boy reaches out his hands, palms up, with the mask resting in them. Another step and he stands before his father. With aching slowness he stretches out his hands so the mask rests below his father’s bowed head.
The spell seemed to vibrate through the very air as the son of Kuniva pushes the mask upwards and it sinks into the gold layer of his father’s face. His father lets out a final soft breath through his nose and the boy, the soft breath of it on his hands, sobs, falling backward onto the stone floor.
The monk’s chanting changes into a long drawn out hum and a blue spark trails the edges of the mask, sealing the spell. As the ritual reaches an end, the Monks humming dies away into silence with a soft blue flare from the mask.
Silent tears run down the boys cheeks as he stares in horror at the beautiful, golden, black masked statue of his father. Bald, perfect and still.
The old monk stands by his shoulder staring down at the small blue light that weaves its way around the boys hands.
“The last breath of Kuniva. A rare and precious gift,” the monk whispers as the boys eyes trail to his hands to watch the light play along his palm. This was his father’s last breath. Had his father given this to him? “A very rare and very powerful thing, but one that is not yours to hold, that is not your purpose.”
The boy shoots the monk an uneasy glance as he scurries back along the stone floor, holding the light to his chest.
“You’ve served your purpose,” the monk says as he moves to his feet and holds out his hand. “Give me the breath child.”
The boy shakes his head and stumbles to his feet and before the monk can say anything else he runs out the door of the temple and into the long open hallway. The dark sky looms through the openings of the pillars and snow drifts in through the windows. Racing through the corridor the boy reaches the stairs only to be blocked by other monks, racing back down the hall, monks block his every turn until he is forced to turn to the open window between the round stone pillars. The old monk approaches and the others part way for him.
Standing before the son of Kuniva he holds out his hand. “That item is something that should not be, boy. It undermines all that we have done here. The breath must be returned to us, to keep it safe.”
The boy shakes his head, tears streaming down his round face as he cups the soft blue light of his father’s last breath to his chest. It was given to him for a reason. He could feel it within the very breath itself, it told him so. He was meant to care for it, a safety measure should the monks ever stray from their path.
No, they were not meant to have it.
As the old monk steps forward, the boy glances over his shoulder. The window was not an escape in which he could survive. The monastery was high up on the mountains and the window opened onto endless sky and a deadly drop to a rugged rock side.
“Child…” The monk says softly, reaching for the boy.
He must care for the breath and if he could not, then he would set it free. The boy shakes his head and steps back over the ledge. The old monk’s face twists in anger as he reaches for him but it is too late, his body plummets to the ground, the wind whipping around his face as he holds the breath close to his mouth, moments later the jagged rocks tear into his body. The pain is only a dull sensation at the back of his mind.
With a calm gaze, he watches the clouds roll through the heavens above him as brightness fills his vision, soft snowflakes flutter onto his face, melting and running with his tears. His last breath slips past his lips, to mingle with that of his father’s, making the blue light glow with a hot white center. The boy’s hands fall away from his mouth and the last breath of Kuniva hangs listlessly in the air for a moment, before slowly drifting upwards, away from the monastery.