Jaun wasn't ready for today. It was two days before he would be celebrating his adulthood ceremony. But today was the final trial. He knew he'd pass. It was never a hard trial. The last 3 boys had to dive into the sea and recover a pearl. Jaun was the best swimmer in the whole village. This trial wouldn't even leave him out of breath. After all, his kind was made for swimming.
Jaun's village of Palu, was a mix of different people. A small village where everyone knew everyone else, or at least most of the time. Palu was in the North West corner of the world. For most of the year it was a beautiful sea side village that exported fish. During the colder months of the year, the water would freeze and a path into Dakrul Mines would be made. The mines weren't talked about very much. Some of the most devoted Khir would make the long pilgrimage to Palu to enter the mines. Most did not return before the ice thawed. The entrance to the Dakrul Mines was a frozen waterfall. Once the water flowed again. No one could escape. With the long summers and short winters, Dakrul was a terrifying place.
Jaun was heading out to grab a roll from the bakery before he made his way to the village center. Palu never lacked good food, or good smells.
"Are you ready for your trial Jaun?" Jameena asked.
"Of course I am. If they make me grab something from the sea, I'll be back before the second batch of rolls. comes out". he replied without hesitation.
"Do you really think they will give you something so easy? Especially so near winter?"
"Why wouldn't they? Jaoy's was only last week."
"He was so funny to watch, I can't believe he got caught in that fishing net near the end."
"Haha, I totally forgot about that!, I better get going, catch ya later Jameena," Jaun said picking up the pace towards the center. Biting the roll he snagged. It was his favorite kind too, it had kengerberries rolled inside the dough.
Jaun arrived at the village center in only a couple minutes time. It seemed a bit odd that all 3 of the village elders were present. Normally only one of them needs to provide the task, and they will all be waiting when the task is finished.
"Elder Kwarm, Elder Nhau, Elder Mehan," Jaun bowed respectfully. "I am ready to begin my trial for adulthood."
Elder Kwarm began to lower his hood, "Jaun, we have dire news. Your task is not simple. This task may take your life if you are not able to complete it."
"Yes Elder Kwarm, I understand. The task for adulthood only allows the best of us to grow into ourselves, so that we may bring each other up, and care for our village." he responded from memory, as the task ceremony required. He had spent the last couple nights memorizing the short lines. "An adult will care for the children, and for the elders, but an adult needs no care of their own."
Elder Kwarm raised his head and looked Jaun in the eyes, with his black and soulless eyes. Jaun had never seen an elders' eyes before. He was startled but tried not to show it.
"Jaun, this task is not like the others," Mehan interjected, and Nhau began to nod softly.
"What is my task?" Jaun asks skittishly.
"The Khir need someone to help bring supplies into Dakrul." Kwarm replied.
Jaun thought for a while, his eyes scanning the shore.
"So I just need to wait for the next pilgrimage and help carry some extra food? That sounds easy enough, though I guess my ceremony will need to wait --"
"Now" interrupted Nhau.
Jaun's jaw froze and his eyes locked onto the Mountain Dakyr, towering high above Dakrul Mines. He pulled himself together and had a realization. This is what all adults face. A trial worthy of their skill. But he knows almost everyone has overcome the trial in the past. The last person to fail was at least 6 generations ago, and it wasn't even their fault.
"When do I leave? What supplies do I need to bring them?" Jaun said.
Uncle Krauch was at his forge when Jaun came running.
"Uncle! Uncle!" Jaun screamed from the road. "I need your help! It cannot wait."
"Calm down youngin'" he laughed, "What can Uncle Krauch help with?"
"I need axe heads... for... pickaxes... for... mining, in the mines." Jaun struggled to catch his breath.
"Well what do you need those for? The pilgrimage isn't coming by for at least another season."
"I know, I'm going in." Uncle Krauch scratched his chin and gave Jaun a wily eye.
"You're not going into Dakrul, not this time of year, the water's still warm youngin'".
"It is my task for adulthood, Uncle."
"No, it shouldn't be, You go back to those elders, they must be tricking you... Haha, I bet your task is just to gather the supplies, and how fast you can do it. They always try to make you improve something you're not good at, and if I know you, you're not the most social Paunlin around." He rationalized to himself, Jaun's face did not change.
"Uncle this is the only item I need to get." Uncle Krauch's stomach sank.
"How many do you need?" he asked wearily.
"Only 3, it's hard to swim with them since they are so heavy."
Uncle Krauch walked towards the edge of his forge area where his completed projects were at. He rummaged through his pickaxe heads for the lightest and toughest ones he had made.
"Jaun, I don't know what future the elders have seen, but I want you to take one more thing with."
"What is it?" Jaun inquired.
"My dagger, from long ago when I fought in the great Brunaha war, It was made by Khir smiths, especially for my kind."
"Uncle, a dagger to you is huge to me." Krauch lifted his anvil in one hand, and scratched at the earth until a small handle appeared. He pulled a box from the earth and set down the anvil.
"There's no way I'll be able to carry that while swimming! You're certain to drown me!"
"This is no ordinary blade. It adapts to the weight of the wielder, but the size always stays the same, and when it's in it's special sheath it feels like a feather on your back. Jaun, protect this blade, and it will protect you --"
"Like my father protected you." Jaun added softly.
"Yes..." Krauch put his massive hand on Jaun's shoulder while he studied this blade. "Your father help discover the magic that made these blades possible, but only a few are still around."
Jaun strapped the sheath to his body and slide the blade in. In a moment it was as though he hadn't done anything at all.
"I'll take good care of your dagger, Uncle Krauch. Thank you. And thank you for what you did for my father. I can never repay you. I must go, I do not have much time until Kai passed overhead."
Jaun returned home for one final meal. He settled on a simple bread with cheese. That always calmed his stomach. He paced in his room looking for anything else he might want to take with. Finally deciding he was merely wasting time. Jaun strapped all his gear together and strapped it tightly so it would be okay when he swam. He returned to the village center, where the elders were expecting him.
"You must leave soon Jaun. When the moon Kai passes by, the tides will slow and the mouth of the cave will open. It doesn't last long, so you must be swift."
"Elder, how will you know I have completed my task, must I bring back anything to prove my success?"
"The Khir you help will provide you with a trinket, as it is their way. " Elder Kwarm scans the sky. "It's time for you to leave now."
Jaun walked towards the shore with all his gear. The water was just warm enough to not be cold. He acclimated quickly to the temperature. Jaun knew the path to Dakrul mines, he had helped Pilgrimages before, but normally from the top of the ice, instead of in the water. The Paunlin are the best swimmers in the entire realm. Their fingers and toes swell up with water to create a webbing, giving them a natural paddle. They can also hold their breath for very long period of time, in extreme cases, and entire day if they aren't exerting themselves.
Jaun swam on his back kicking his feet to conserve energy. Slowly he could feel the pull of the current fading. He could see Kai right above in the sky and moving quickly. Kai was the nearest moon, with a radiant orange color. It was not bright, but it wasn't easy to miss. Suddenly the water turned cold. Jaun had entered the shadow of Dakyr.