Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
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Monstrous Potential

by Annie Percik

The cave was dim; what little light filtered through from the outside didn’t make it very far into the hollowed out stone chamber. The rough walls were partially covered with damp moss, and water trickled down a groove at one end, to form a small brackish pool. There was a chill in the air and a whistling wind periodically gusted through from an unknown source deeper into the hillside.

Brother Theobold shivered and drew his threadbare robe closer around him. His sandaled feet were quickly growing numb, but had just enough feeling left to protest keenly when he accidentally stepped in an icy puddle. Shaking the worst of the water off, he cursed under his breath, and didn’t even feel guilty about it. After all, there was no-one here to reprimand him, except the gods, of course, and they would know what was in his heart and mind, regardless of whether or not he spoke it aloud.

He raised his torch higher, trying to get the light of the flickering flames to penetrate further into the cave. He couldn’t see how far it went back, and was apprehensive about venturing too far inside. He didn’t want to be here at all, if he was honest, but he didn’t have much choice. The Order of Holy Patience was very strict about the qualities its initiates had to display and, thus far, patience hadn’t proved to be one of Brother Theobold’s defining traits.

* * *

The fifth son of a minor noble, who had little actual wealth and too many other children to provide for, Theobold had been packed off to the monastery to take holy orders at the tender age of fourteen. Now twenty, his mentors among the brotherhood despaired of him ever mastering the peace and serenity required to endure the Order’s secluded and meditative existence. With his twenty-first name day fast approaching, Father Eofred had taken him aside the day before and sat him down for a serious talk.

“It’s not that we wish to turn you out, my boy,” Father Eofred said, his wrinkled face downcast. “But you must see that things cannot go on as they are. You are a fully grown young man, now, and must soon accept all the responsibilities of being an adult member of the Order.” He sighed. “But we cannot trust you to keep vigil in the chapel without getting distracted from watching the Sacred Flame. You are unable to sit still long enough to take a full shift copying manuscripts in the library. Even watching over the sheep on the hillside seems to be beyond your concentration.”

Brother Theobold had the grace to look chagrined. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to find a place with the Order. He loved his brothers, and was grateful for a secure roof over his head and enough food on his plate. There were plenty of people in the world who weren’t so lucky. It was just that his mind was always afire with thoughts and desires that prompted him to seek out more active employment. He found it almost impossible to remain in one place for more than a few minutes; something in him always wanted to be moving, shifting, travelling on to the next thing.

“The other brothers find your presence disruptive,” Father Eofred continued, his tone sorrowful. “And I can’t justify your habits by citing the exuberance of youth any longer. If you cannot learn to school yourself and cultivate the true patience of the Order, I’m afraid you will have to leave us and seek your fortune elsewhere.”

Brother Theobold felt his heart sink. He didn’t want to leave the monastery. The world outside was harsh and unforgiving, and he had nowhere else to go. Having gone from the albeit modest comforts of his father’s estate straight to the isolation of the monastery, he was well aware that he was greatly unsuited to life anywhere else. He did not think he would do well, having to fend for himself.

He looked up into Father Eofred’s sympathetic eyes. What can I do, Father?” he asked, plaintively. “How can I learn patience and find peace? How can I truly earn my place here among you?”

It wasn’t just self-preservation. Theobold admired the Brothers of the Holy Order of Patience tremendously, and dearly wished to be able to emulate them. He felt that their constant and selfless worship of the gods and guardianship of the Sacred Flame was the path to true enlightenment, and he desperately wanted to share in their peace of mind and spirit. He yearned for the ability to be still and experience the centeredness achieved only through silent meditation. He just didn’t remotely know how to go about it.

“There is one thing left that you could try,” Father Eofred said, and Brother Theobold felt hope spring to life in his chest.

"What is it?” he asked, leaning forwards eagerly.

“Gently, gently,” Father Eofred admonished, and Theobold sat back again, despairing of his ability to tame his enthusiasm. Eofred chuckled. “I cannot fault your intention, young one, though I do wonder if perhaps it would be best for you to admit defeat and try your luck in another sphere of life.”

Brother Theobold folded his hands demurely in his lap, took a deep breath and tried to slow his frantically beating heart. He closed his eyes and counted to ten, then reopened them and regarded Father Eofred solemnly.

“Please,” he said, his tone low and calm. “Tell me what I can do. I will try this one last time and, if I am unable to meet your standards, I will leave here, never to return.”

Father Eofred looked sad again. He reached out and patted Theobold’s clasped hands. “Two hours before sunset, this very evening,” he intoned, “you must leave the monastery and journey up into the hills. Take only a water skin and a torch. Find a cave far from the cultivated fields and livestock, where the only sounds you can hear are those of the wild, natural world. Enter just before nightfall and go in far enough to be completely away from the influences of the outside. Stay there throughout the coming night, in peaceful repose and mindful meditation. Do not speak, or eat, or sleep. In fact, once you find the place for your vigil, do not move from it. When the morning comes, return to us with new appreciation for your place in the world, and join us as a full Brother of the Order of Holy Patience.” He paused for a moment, searching Brother Theobold’s face. “Will you do this?”

Theobold nodded one, decisively. “I will.”

* * *

So now, here he was, in a dark, damp cave, miles from anywhere, preparing to spend a cold and uncomfortable night, trying to find inner peace. He was already hungry after the arduous hike up into the hills, and he still had many hours to endure in the cave before he could even start the trek back down to the monastery and sustenance. Theobold was beginning to wonder if earning his place with the Order was really worth all the effort. He had resolved to try his hardest with this last test, however, and he still knew in the back of his mind that he had nowhere else to go.

He made his way carefully over the uneven ground of the cave floor, deeper into the crevasse and away from the failing light of the evening. It was a large cave, but narrowed considerably as he moved further in. Eventually, he looked back to discover that no hint of light from the outside world reached him, and he couldn’t hear anything, except for the occasional drip of water and whisper of wind. A moss-covered boulder presented itself as a suitable perch, and he sat down. A crack in the rock to his left provided a place to wedge his torch, he took a long drink from his water skin, and then he was ready.

Theobold closed his eyes and did his best to clear his mind. He was completely alone; nobody knew exactly where he was, there was nothing to do but what he was here for. There were no distractions, and no hope for him but to complete this quest for patience and peace. He had learned many meditation techniques throughout his time at the monastery, but had rarely managed to employ them successfully in the past. Somehow, though, here in this isolated place, far from everything that would usually pull his attention away, Theobold felt his mind sinking into a new level of focus. His body gradually relaxed, he stopped worrying about his future, and he just existed in the time and place where he found himself in the present moment.

Time passed, and he was unaware of it. Hours went by, but his mind did not acknowledge them. The world turned, yet he sat outside its influence.

It was the deepest, darkest part of the night when Brother Theobold came back to himself and opened his eyes. His torch had burned out long ago, but he found he wasn’t in total darkness. There was a faint, blue glow emanating from somewhere beyond him. He felt a strange pull to investigate the source of the light and, contrary to the instructions he had been given, he rose stiffly from his rock and ventured further into the cave.

He tracked the light down a twisting passageway that grew so narrow at one point he feared he might get stuck. But he managed to squeeze through and soon found himself in another larger cavern. A pool in the centre shone with reflected blue light, but Theobold could see the source of the light came from a split in the rock at the far end. He edged round the water and approached the ragged gash in the wall. The glow was much brighter here, almost too bright to look directly upon. Theobold stood before it, awed by its purity.

Almost without conscious thought, he reached out a hand and touched the light. He felt an immediate jolt, but did not pull his hand back. Instead, he watched, transfixed, as the glow seemed to attach itself to his fingers and start travelling up his arm. Theobold felt only curiosity, and a faint tingling sensation, as the light made its way up to his chest and across his body. A sense of power and possibility coursed through him, following the path of the light. It flowed throughout his body, filling every part of him with focused energy. As it reached his face and flowed upwards, a blue haze slowly rose over his vision and his mind fizzed with monstrous potential.

Theobold turned slowly in place, gazing out over the pool of water. He reached out a hand and a stream of blue light shot out from his fingers, striking the water. Within seconds, it boiled and steamed. Theobold remained completely calm, detached somehow from his own actions. Turning both hands towards the ground, he willed his body to rise, and was soon floating several inches in the air. He spun around and a fearsome wind whipped his robe about his body. Bringing himself back to rest on the ground once more, he thrust out one hand as if delivering a blow and a small rock on the other side of the cavern exploded into tiny shards of stone that flew in all directions.

As quickly as it had taken him over, the light drained out of Brother Theobold, and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath, as if he had run the length of the monastery’s largest field. The memory of the power stayed with him, filling his mind with frightening thoughts of what he could do with it. He turned round and collapsed into a sitting position, staring at the light spilling out from the rock. He knew, without knowing how, that its power and reach were infinite. Here, in this cave, emanated enough raw energy to transform the whole world.

But what kind of world would result from the use of such power? Brother Theobold knew enough of the world outside the monastery to suspect that not all its denizens, or even most of them, would use the light’s energy to good and peaceful purpose. Yet, how could he keep this most precious of commodities to himself?

All at once, he realised the task that lay before him. He would become the guardian of the secret of the light, much as the Brothers of the Order of Holy Patience were the guardians of the Sacred Flame. But he would not only keep the light secret. He would learn how to control its power, and he would devise a way to reveal it to the rest of humanity safely, so that it would not be abused.

That would be no small task, and not something that would be achieved in a short amount of time. Brother Theobold knew he would have to develop patience to a level unattained by even the most dedicated Brother of the Order. He smiled at the irony of his predicament, and wondered if even Father Eofred could have anticipated how successful this vigil would be. Theobold would emerge from this cave a completely different man, with a new and secret duty to humanity, one that would require him to earn his place at the monastery a thousand times over. And, with this sense of duty, came a fierce determination, the likes of which he had never before felt - a determination to succeed and, one day, see the world wholly transformed for the better. He had come here, a refugee from his own mind, seeking peace, and had gained a vital commitment to the future.


2017 Annie Percik

Bio: Ms. Annie Percik has had her short fiction published by the Lorelei Signal, The Wii Files, eternalremedy.com, Scribble Magazine, Centum Press (in their One Hundred Voices series of anthologies), and has been shortlisted in three Writing Magazine competitions. She is currently revising her first novel while working as a University Complaints Officer. She enjoys running away from zombies in her spare time.

E-mail: Annie Percik

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