The three did not remain by the dwelling of the Elder Na-Shime . Neither did they go to rest, preferring to return to the whispering shores of the Great Water to await Se-Lim’s passage, and to talk.
—I would that you show me the Way.—Lim ki said to Lu Mīn.
Lu Mīn responded:
A key dangles,
unlocks a locked door.
—This is a friend, Gokhan.—Dun fi spoke, his cheeks burning hot though it was quite cold.—Do you not think it right to speak plainly for her instead of in riddles?—
Lu Mīn did not blush, nor did his eyes leave Lim ki’s.
Either you hold a key
Or you do not.
It cannot be given
—Then your steps will lead me, till my key is found.—Lim ki returned Lu Mīn’s gaze.
When Se-Lim’s light began to burn crimson beneath the horizon of the Great Water and the hunters of waachi began to direct their watercraft towards His light, the three quietly arose and returned to the town, and to the School of the Wakat.
Lim Ki stopped before the path turned for the Entrance of the Na-Shizu. She grasped Lu Mīn’s hand.
—I have a sentiment that it will not be good for you to attend the School this passage, or any passage.—
—We have spoken already of this.—Lu Mīn responded.—The Way leads through the Schools.—
—Do not concern.—Dun fi smiled at Lim Ki, his hand resting upon hers.—I will not let Lu Mīn out of my sight.—
After they parted, the two followed the other Attendees to the Entrance of the Na-Shime.
In the doorway stood the Gokhan. Behind, and to his right, stood the Elder Na-Shime .
—Your term has completed, Loosu.—The Gokhan smiled and pointed at Lu Mīn.—You are no longer welcome in the school of the Wakat.—
Dun fi bristled, and stepped before Lu Mīn to face the Gokhan.
—Watch, young one.—said the Elder Na-Shime .—
Much that we feel
Can be forgiven
But a deliberate step
Becomes a deliberate fall.
—Be at peace.—Lu Mīn stepped around Dun fi to address the Gokhan.
—Wise Gokhan—he began.—It is the rule established by Zan-Ta-Qien, is it not, that any attendee of the Schools can be graduated upon completion of the Test…and that it is the right of any attendee to request a Test?
The Wakat Gokhan said nothing, and looked at the Elder Na-Shime .
The Elder Na-Shime’s eyes burned like two hateful coals, but he nodded.
—What you say is accurate Loosu.—The Wakat Gokhan replied.—but Se-Lim and all the Authorities help you, should you request a Test.—
—I do humbly ask to be Tested.—Lu Mīn bowed deeply.
—Then you shall be Tested!—The Wakat Gokhan turned to enter the School, The Elder Na-Shime , Lu Mīn and Dun fi following him as a crowd of students grew and grew.
—Loosu Mīn has requested the Test.—The Wakat Gokhan addressed Lu Mīn once they had reached the Hall of Practice, full of students eager to watch.—Stand forth and begin.—
The Wakat Gokhan pointed to the middle of a circle that had been placed on the floor.
—The first challenge.—The Wakat Gokhan’s voice boomed powerfully through the silent hall.—Is the Challenge of Steps.—
The Gokhan’s Wakat rang as it was drawn from its sheath. Lu Mīn held nothing, turning around in place as the Gokhan circled him like a predator waiting to pounce.
He did not make a sound, swinging the Wakat with wicked force.
At first Lu Mīn followed the dancing moves every student learned to begin their lesson, the blade coming within a hair’s breadth of slicing him each move. Dun fi groaned in fear, others gasped as they watched.
—It is a marvel he has not been sliced into several pieces yet.—Ginse could be overheard saying as he laughed.
—This will not do.—called the Elder Na-Shime , who stood in the place of honour watching the Challenge of Steps.—The Loosu is not keeping his back straight enough!—
And with that, the Elder Na-Shime drew his wakat, thin as a piece of wire, but strong and sharp. He whirled it at Lu Mīn’s arched back as he attempted to avoid the Gokhan’s swinging blade.
The blade sliced through where Lu Mīn ought to have been, and in fact was, but it did not stop, nor did it draw blood. As the blade carried on through the air, the Elder Na-Shime paused, looking with visible astonishment and concern at the Gokhan. Lu Mīn’s mouth gently curved into a smile.
The two older Gokhans doubled the speed of their strikes, swinging and hacking, grunting from the effort.
Lu Mīn tried very hard to keep up, but he was not elegant, and kept making mistakes.
But each mistake failed to have its intended consequence. The blades simply swept through him, and did not stick.
—What sorcery is this?—called out he Wakat Gokhan, as a slice passed through Lu Mīn’s arm without chopping it off or succeeding in drawing blood. The crowd gasped in disbelief.
—You have advanced far along the Way, little Loosu.—The Elder Na-Shime spat the words quietly, so that only Lu Mīn could mark their meaning.—Let us see where your learning stops.—
Then he spoke more loudly.
—Proceed to the second challenge, Wise One.—
With effort the Wakat Gokhan recovered his composure, pointing towards the second circle.
—The second challenge is the Challenge of Strength.—
The Wakat Gokhan waved his arms, calling forth six school attendants, bearing between them a log fashioned into a battering ram.
—You may not leave the circle or the ground, Loosu.—The Wakat Gokhan’s malevolent smile returned.—If you wish to pass.—
Lu Mīn nodded, taking the two short Wakat that were offered, and bent into the position of defence as the log hurtled towards him, the attendents bearing it shouting fiercely.
—This is something new.—said one of the students near Dun fi.—I have seen the Test before, and the Test of Strength only had two against one, not six!—
But it was too late for Dun fi to act. The log struck Lu Mīn’s crossed Wakat with a cracking sound. Lu Mīn slid back, the force of the impact sending him to the edge of the circle. However all eyes of the crowd were watching the log as it too hurtled backwards, one end catching the floor and flipping, sending attendants sprawling.
Silence filled the hall as the shock of what had happened sunk in.
Lu Mīn turned to the Wakat Gokhan and bowed, expectantly.
From a barely perceptible growl, the Gokhan replied.
—To the third challenge.—He pointed to a third circle.—The Challenge of the Strike. No fruit of the Lai-se may fall to the ground unharmed.—
The six attendants, having got up and dusted their coverings, faces full of a shame, surrounded the circle, each bearing a basket full of the sweet-smelling Lai-se fruit.
—what about this challenge?—Dun fi asked the talkative student to his left.—Were there only two before as well?—
—…I cannot say for sure.—replied the student.—But you have seen the practice before? We only do it in pairs of two.—
Dun fi turned in anguish and began pushing forward through the crowd, but then he stopped. The Elder Na-Shime was staring at him with a hard, inscrutable face, and Dun fi knew there was nothing he could do.
—Begin!—the Gokhan reached into the basket and tossed the first fruit, it went high into the air before falling straight above Lu Mīn. Lu Mīn swiped at it in his clumsy way, lucky to catch it with the edge of his Wakat blade, sending juice splattering all over his hair and coverings.
The crowd laughed and jeered, but quickly returned to a disciplined silence as soon as the attendants began tossing Lai-se into the air.
The fruit fell fast, Lu Mīn struggled to keep up as they rained down from all sides.
But Lu Mīn’s movements began to attain rhythm, fruit that he did not touch that was nevertheless along the path of his blade divided neatly as if cut. Lu Mīn strained from the effort, slicing from side to side, turning quickly to catch each attendant’s movement.
Gasps of astonishment escaped the hall as the remnants of the fruit battered the floor, the Gokhan’s face calm but taut, his eyes focusing on Lu Mīn’s every movement.
Then the attendants stood straight, their baskets empty. The Gokhan examined the Lai-se on the ground surrounding the panting form of Lu Mīn.
—They are, somehow, all cut.—He spoke slowly. His glance threw knives at Lu Mīn, who bent down and took a Lai-se piece to eat as the rest were cleaned.
—Well, Loosu, it is time for the Final Challenge.—The Gokhan held up his coat for one of the attendant’s to pick up.—which is called the Challenge of Overcoming.—
Another attendant appeared, holding up two long Wakat for the Gokhan to take.
The Gokhan was about to speak, but a loud voice squealed out of the crowd.
—Please Gokhan! Allow me to challenge him!—The form of Ginse appeared at the front.—Many were the lessons I forbore from dealing the little Loosu a proper strike. After his disrespectful actions here this passage of Se-Lim, it would be my pleasure and honour to inflict them now.—
The Gokhan smiled.
—Very well. The Honour of the Final Challenge is yours.—
—You will wish your poor Na-Shizu had not squat you out by the time I have finished, little Loosu!—Ginse hissed as he took the two Wakat from the hand of the Gokhan, who gestured to the crowds to give the pair more space.
The final challenge began with the clanging of the hall bell. Scarcely had the two paid the ceremonial respects due to the Elders and the Authorities before the wiry form of Ginse advanced. His first strike clashed harshly against Lu Mīn’s hastily raised defence.
—There is no leave given in the Test, Loosu.—Ginse smiled, his eyes never leaving Lu Mīn’s as he intensified his attacks, feinting and dodging fluidly from side to side.
Lu Mīn said nothing, keeping his distance hesitantly, his tired form attempting to maintain concentration.
Ginse laughed as Lu Mīn weakly batted away one Wakat with two.
—it is a wonder you have come this far, Loosu. I don’t see how you have improved your knowledge of the Wakat at all. You have yet to master the 1-3-5 formation.—
Ginse set up the attack with accurate and deadly speed, lunging high for a downwards slash. Lu Mīn crossed his two Wakats, but the force of the blow sent them down, deep into his shoulder.
Lu Mīn gasped in shock.
—First you strike there,—Ginse mocked Lu Mīn’s pain with a groan of delight.—Then here, and then…—
Ginse finished the move, having pushed Lu Mīn off balance and turned to swiftly undercut him by sweeping the Wakat at the lower limbs.
However, Ginse’s blade cut through empty air. Lu Mīn had vanished.
—Where did he go?—the gathered students gasped in unison.
Ginse whipped around to see if Lu Mīn had somehow stepped behind him, but he saw nothing.
—This is impossible!—he screeched in rage.—What Shadowy power or Authority protects the Loosu? Is it Drin?—
Before anyone from the crowd could respond, Ginse convulsed as if struck in the back of the head and fell forward.
—I am sorry for the pain I cause you now, Ginse—said a voice hanging in the empty air.—If you had proven a kinder teacher, I would not have had the ability to do even that. I will leave you and our challenge behind now, for it is not the Way to kill one who cannot defend.—
The sound of a small bell tingled. Then it was quiet.
—I am familiar with this form of power.—The Elder Na-Shime spoke in a low, gravelly tone.—Though it has not been since the Old Master that it appeared in the world.—
—Lu Mīn!—Dun fi called out in anguish, as he stumbled into the open space of the arena.—Where are you going?—
—You won’t get an answer from him.—the Elder Na-Shime spoke.—Your Loosu companion has disappeared out of shame and fear, and has anyway disqualified himself from the Test. He is no longer welcome in the School, or indeed the entirety of Ku-Na-Zem.—
Silence filled the crowd of students as they gazed at one another, marvelling at the strangeness of what they had seen. Ginse sat up, rubbing his head in pain. He did not take long to lock eyes with Dun fi.
—You, friend of the Loosu. You know how he did this. I shall be sure to find out. And I shall be sure to exact my revenge—
The Wakat Gokhan had retained his former serenity now that the Test was over, and his face appeared as hard a steel edge.—Dun fi knows the gravity of these happenings and will make sure to share with us all he knows.—