The journey to the monastery took months, and felt as though we'd traveled across the world to our destination—but at the end of the trip, it was not the monastery that amazed me. The monastery was nestled in a corner of a grand city the men called Onegas, the capitol city of the Vigilant Empire.
I'd never been to an Imperial city, and I remember wondering if they were all like this. It seemed to stretch on forever, in a never-ending sea of marketplaces, temples, and magnificent houses. There were stations at many corners that the brothers explained were 'teleportation stations', where you could purchase inner-city instant transportation, but we used none of them, my companions preferring to demonstrate as much of the massive city to me as possible. As a result, a third of the journey seemed to have consisted of merely navigating the city to the tucked-away corner in which the monastery sat.
The building was modest, but large enough to harbor a host of people training in unarmed combat. The men that recruited me told me about other monasteries and other ways of training, ways of life. The building before me was nothing like what they described, but it looked much more like something I could live with. They showed me to my room, where I set my belongings that I had carried with me from Alcarinore, and then gave me a tour. There were many fighting rooms, but equally many meditation rooms. Whole galleries were dedicated to leaders of the Order that had accomplished great feats, and others were dedicated to magical garb that were described as granting brilliant abilities to their wearers. I never saw a suit of armor in the whole place, and there were very few weapons. The only weapons I saw were strange weapons I'd never seen before – sharp disks that, when thrown, could pierce most anything, simple long sticks, curved blades, and other stranger weapons. The whole place was beautiful inside, though much of my awe was inspired by the novelty of it all.
After my tour, I went back to my room. It was austere, but much better than anything I'd ever lived with. The best part was the plush bed for me to sleep on – a luxury with which I'd never been endowed.
Training was rigorous, but I learned much that I would never before have had access to. I asked my teachers to help me learn to make peace with my suffering, and I had food every day. The food was the best part. It was delicious, and I had never felt more strong. The monks gave me enough to sustain me, which was more than ever. I remember marveling at the fact that, apparently, being fed this often was not odd to everyone else.
Years passed of happiness and hard work. I had little time for play, but this was the first time I'd felt like I had a family since my parents passed. I'd made friends in the slums, yes, but I never felt like I belonged there without my parents to guide me. Here was a place with comfortable accommodations and enough food that the familiar starving sensation was a thing of the past.
I did find time to myself, however, which I usually spent getting to know the other monks. There was one man I related to really well, Brother Alec, whom I spent the majority of my time with. He was kind, if a bit coarse, and a skilled fighter. He often fought upside-down, choosing to adapt some of the combat maneuvers we learned to a more risky style that looked more impressive and was harder to evade. I sparred with him and helped him with his adapted maneuvers—I still remember the week I had bruises all the way up one of my arms. He was gentle with me, however, only wishing to help condition my bones, never to actually harm me.
We spent most of our time together, wandering the grounds and enjoying the beauty of some of the gardens. I connected with him on a deeper, more profound level than I did with anyone else. Our connection was almost spiritual; therefore, when I finally admitted to myself that I'd fallen in love, I'm sure it would not have been a surprise to anyone that saw us together. Those were the best years of my life, even though we hid it from everyone. Alec made me happier than I had ever been. I'd never known such kindness except as a small child, but those days seemed long gone. He was everything to me at that time in my life, and sparring with him helped me further advance my training. He was both a lover and a best friend, when I'd never even had a friend before.