A Thousand Secret Sorrows is the story of two men living in different worlds. Keldin is an ordinary man forced to join a society of mystical researchers to find the secrets of the world's most important hero. Em One is an orphan living on the streets of an underground world, and accepts the most dangerous job in the world to protect a child.
They heaved Keldin up and dragged him out of his room. He was too weak to fight them; the shock and pain and loss of blood making his knees weak. As they pulled him down the hallway, he tried to make a break free, but they were ready for him, and tightened their grip before he could even try.
They turned a corner into the dormitory wing. The hallway was lined with small wooden doorways, behind each were rooms with sleeping Acolytes and Adepts. There were no Masters in the dorms, but someone was bound to help him.
“Help!” Keldin screamed. “Someone help me!”
The Acolytes holding him both struck at the same time, their wooden sticks cracking against his chest and stomach. He bent over in pain and he nearly vomited again.
“Wait,” Price said as the two Acolytes raised their clubs to hit him again. “Let him call for help.”
Already, a few doors had opened and heads were poking out in the dim light of the corridor. Desperately sucking air in past the ooze that dribbled out his mouth, Keldin spoke again.
“Help,” he said, gasping. “Please help me.”
More doors opened and people crowded out into the hallway.
“Yes, brothers and sisters,” Price called to them, “fellow Initiates! Come and see our new supplicant. This is the one you’ve heard about, the one who usurped Keldin’s robes and memories. He has his nodes after only a week in the Brotherhood. Who wishes to help him?”
All the doors were open now. Dozens of eyes stared at Keldin.
“Please,” he said. “They broke into my room.”
“You’ll have to do better than that,” Price said. “They’ve all gone through this. Each and every one of them was woken in the night and Initiated. Your story is no different than theirs, but you ask for special treatment.”
“They beat me with clubs,” Keldin said to the blank faces of the crowd.
Price pulled back his blue hood and showed Keldin a scar on his ear. “That’s part of it, too.”
Initiate Loran stepped forward.
“Price,” she said, “did you give him the choice? Did you tell him he could leave the Brotherhood or go through the initiation?”
Price turned on her, his eyes full of rage. “He made his choice! Look at him! We’re down here in the dorms, sharing rooms and meals, serving the Brotherhood with humility. He has the nodes and the robes of a Master. Gaylor waits on him hand and foot, filling him with knowledge that we spent years earning.”
Price grabbed the woman by the arm and made her look at Keldin’s face.
“He’s half your age, Acolyte Loran” Price said softly, “and he’s a Master. Do you remember what you told me last week? How much you wished you’d had children. You gave up being a wife and a mother for the thousand sorrows because it was a ‘noble calling.’
“He has a wife and a daughter. This man before you never gave a thought to service or sacrifice. While you suffered and slaved, he lived a life of luxury and joy. Now he asks us to skip the initiation because it’s too hard. What do you say, Loran?”
Loran stared into Keldin’s eyes for a moment. He tried to speak, to tell her that he didn’t have a choice, that all this was thrust upon him, but no words came out. Her eyes turned hard, suddenly, and she walked back into her room.
“Wait,” Keldin said, whimpering. He began to cry.
One by one, every person in the hallway turned away. For a moment, the hallway was filled with the sound of doors closing, and then an eerie silence.
“Let’s go,” Price said, and the Acolytes pulled Keldin to his feet.
They carried Keldin down stairs and through hallways. They pulled him across doorways and into rooms. He tried to memorize the route, but his head spun from the blows he received. When they finally brought him into the last room, a dirty cellar lit with torches, he had no idea where he was. They pulled Keldin to the center of the room and chained him to the ceiling with large manacles.
“Welcome, supplicant!” Price said from the darkness. The words were calm, practiced, but spoken with a hint of contempt. “This is the first step in your journey with the Brotherhood. If you survive this evening, you will join us as an Initiate. If you serve the Brotherhood well, your years of service may be rewarded with the rank of Master.”
The two Acolytes chuckled.
“At this very moment, however,” Price said, stepping into the light revealing a large knife in his right hand, “you are nothing.”
Price slashed at Keldin’s bedclothes and ripped them to the ground.
“Now you have nothing. Now you are nothing. From here you can only ascend, if you are strong. Are you ready, supplicant?”
There was a long pause. Price sighed and held his hand to his head for a moment.
“You’re supposed to say ‘yes,’” Price said.
Keldin stared at him, giving nothing. Price shook his head and smiled.
“The supplicant has to want to become an Initiate. Without that, there’s no tension, no fear of rejection. Just a naked man hanging in chains. Oh, very well, since you’re special.”
Price disappeared into the darkness and returned carrying a giant, burlap bag.
“Normally we’d do this part last. You see, while there are a thousand sorrows, only twenty or so are truly terrifying. During this initiation, we would make you face each of them. It’s a way of preparing people for the challenges they would face in the service.”
Price began opened the bag. It was heavy and seemed to squirm in his hands. The Acolytes both edged away from him, hiding in the shadows at the corners of the room.
“The end of the ceremony is the worst part,” Price said. “It’s where we make the supplicant face the last sorrow.”
Suddenly, he jerked the bag forward, spilling its contents out on to the floor at Keldin’s feet. In the dim light it was hard to tell what had fallen out. At first, he thought it was a rope, then it uncoiled itself, and Keldin heard a rattling sound.
“The last sorrow is death,” Price said, backing away from the light.
The viper slithered towards him.
Don’t move, he thought. Don’t even breathe. It’s more afraid of you that you are of it.
“This is a bushMaster,” Price said from the shadows. “They feed mostly on the birds and rats in the area, poisoning their kills before devouring them. We make young Initiates capture ones that live in the area so they don’t eat the game birds. This one has been in the bag for over two weeks now. I suspect he’s very hungry right now.”
The bushMaster was only a few inches away from Keldin, rising a full meter off the floor to stare at him with its unmoving, red eyes. Keldin shook. Sweat dripped over his naked body.
“Oh, stop being childish,” Price said, stepping out of the shadows. He held a clear tube in his hand. “We’ve got the antivenin right here. Just make him bite you, scream a few times, and we can inject you. Then everyone can go back to bed. The ceremony has taken long enough already.”
Keldin looked from the snake to Price and back again. Was it true? Did he have an antidote?
“Did you really think we were going to kill you?” Price said, smiling. “You forget, we believe there’s only one soul. If we harmed you, we’d be harming ourselves. Just kick the stupid snake and we can go.”
Keldin fought against his fear, and pain, and fatigue. He managed to lift his right knee up between him and the bushMaster. The snake backed away, its tail rattling madly.
“You’ll have to twitch your foot,” Price instructed. “It’s used to hunting birds and rats; you’ll have to move in a way that makes it think you are food.”
Keldin looked straight into the eyes of the bushMaster and twitched his foot.
In a flash, the snake struck, biting into the ball of Keldin’s foot. It struck again and again before dropping to the floor and slithering away. Keldin screamed and jerked madly at the chains, his foot leaving a bloody pool on the floor.
“Excellent!” Price said. “Well done, indeed. Acolytes!”
At Price’s command, the Acolytes appeared from the shadows at either side of the snake and set on it with their clubs. The bushMaster never had a chance, confused and deprived of venom, it collapsed under the rain of blows. Soon there was nothing more of the snake but a bloody mass on the floor. Price appeared in front of Keldin again, holding a small syringe in one hand.
Keldin could feel the poison in his foot. It burned like fire as it moved up his ankle.
“I did it,” Keldin said, his voice a squeak. “I faced death. Give me the antidote.”
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Price said, smiling. “Can you feel the poison moving towards your heart?”
“Yes. I do, okay? I feel the death. I fear it. Just inject me already!”
“Oh, very well. You’re quite the spoilsport you know.”
Price opened his hand and dropped the needle. It clinked as it hit the ground.
“Oops,” Price said, smiling grimly. He stepped on the syringe, crushing it under his heel.
A cold wash of fear poured over Keldin’s body. He wrenched himself suddenly and tried to pull the chains out of their mounts in the ceiling, to kick Price, but he just managed to wobble. Keldin screamed and howled as the fire in his ankle moved up to his calf.
“Our work here is done,” Price said, turning away.”
“You’ll never get away with it!” Keldin said, screaming shrilly.
“Oh, but we will. We’ve been working on our story for weeks. You just had an allergic reaction to the antivenin. Died instantly. Poor you.”
The door opened and light streamed in. A man in red Master’s robes stood framed in the doorway.
“Price,” Gaylor said, his voice cold and menacing, “what have you done?”
“Acolytes,” Price said, not even hesitating, “escort the Master back to his quarters. He’s old and frail. We wouldn’t want him to trip and get hurt.”
The Acolytes glanced at each other for a moment and then advanced on Gaylor, holding their clubs in front of them. When the two Acolytes grabbed for him, Gaylor reached up and brushed his nodes against their face face face was on fire as the bear bit down again.
I can’t move, I thought. If I move or scream the bear will know I’m still alive. If I hold still it will get bored and wander off.
Still it chewed, tearing off my nose.
I ran through songs in my head. I did math problems. Then, weak from blood loss and pain, I saw my brother. His ravaged body stood and turned to look at me. Blood poured out of the giant gash where his arm used to be.
“I slept with Janie,” he said. “I knew you loved her, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m sorry.”
I screamed. It was a weak gurgle, but it was enough for the bear. It roared and tore into my throat throat throat and collapsed to the floor. The other Acolyte staggered backwards, screaming and flailing his arms at the bear in his mind.
Gaylor lowered his hands slowly and took a step toward Price, who held his ground.
“There are some tricks Masters don’t teach Adepts,” Gaylor said, stepping forward again. “Give me the key.”
Gaylor extended his hand towards Price, the nodes glinting in the dim light. Price dropped the key on the ground, then walked past the prone Acolytes to the door.
“This isn’t over,” he said, and was gone.
“No,” Gaylor sighed quietly. “It never is, is it?”