The 300th Trial
“James! James! Get your lazy purple behind out of bed! You don’t want to be late on your big day, do you?” Cathy was excited.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” James rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he jumped out of bed. “I’ve been waiting for this for months; I won’t be late.” James was excited as well. He was taking a trip to the training school on Mystery Island, hoping to be admitted as an initiate. He had been begging his parents for permission to go for months before they finally relented. Cathy was just as excited as he was to go, simply because she would be inheriting his bedroom.
After getting downstairs to eat his breakfast, James tallied the damage so far. He tripped over his tail twice, knocked over one vase, and for the first time in weeks he had managed to eat his porridge without spilling any all over himself. All in all, it was turning out to be a pretty good day. His adopted sister Cathy, a graceful green Ixi, always let him know how clumsy he was. His parents, being purple Blumaroos like himself, had been telling him for years that he would eventually grow out of his clumsiness, but he was convinced otherwise. Sure, he had his good days, like today, but overall he was usually a walking disaster area. Some people went to the Mystery Island training school to learn how to be a warrior or a hero. James wanted to go to the training school to learn to be... normal. No matter how long it would take, James was bound and determined to be rid of his clumsy demeanor.
After a rousing send off by his family, a firm handshake from Father, a stuck out tongue from Cathy, and a weepy hug from Mom, James was on his way to the training school. It had taken months and months of begging, pleading, and cajoling to get his parents to agree to let him face the arduous task of climbing the mountain with no name alone. Luckily, the large number of previous visitors had worn something resembling a path most of the way up the mountain. The closer he got to the top, the faster his heart raced. For years, ever since he watched his first match at the Battledome, all James dreamed about was training at the school. As he got older, the reason he wanted to train may have changed, from a being Battledome star, a soldier, and now just to get a good education, but the desire was always there. His long time dream was about to become a reality.
When he finally got to the top of the mountain, James saw that he was not the only one to seek training. There were perhaps another dozen standing and sitting around the doors, waiting to be admitted. No one said anything as James approached the group. Just as James found a suitable spot to wait for the admittance, the doors burst open revealing a blue Nimmo in a strange white outfit.
“You,” he pointed at a yellow Kougra off to James’s right. “No Kougras allowed at the Training School.” He then pointed at James. “And you, you’re too purple. Come back when you are a little less purple.” He slammed the door shut. The Kougra sighed, frowned, turned, and started back down the mountain.
James was in shock. He had traveled all this way only to be turned down by a cranky Nimmo. He was turning away when a grizzled old Eyrie grabbed him by the arm.
“Don’t worry, kid, they do this to everyone. I think it is part of the training, you know, to teach us patience or something like that. Yesterday I was too old, and this morning I had too many feathers, so think nothing of it. Tonight, your spots will probably be too orange or some such foolishness.” The Eyrie chuckled softly. “My name is Chuck; nice to meet you.” He stuck out his hand, grabbing James in a fierce handshake.
“I’m James, nice to meet you, too. How long have you been standing out here?” James asked, with a tremble in his voice.
“I got up here yesterday morning.”
“Do you know how often they let people in?”
“Every day I think,” Chuck replied. “Not many chatty folks out here, but they all got here after me, so I figure I am next.”
“Good luck in there, Chuck.” James smiled warmly at the Eyrie.
“Thanks, kid. I hope you find what you are looking for in there.” Just as Chuck was settling down, the door opened again. The Nimmo poked his head through the gate and beckoned towards Chuck.
The Nimmo spoke with authority, “You, come with me.”
Chuck winked at James and went through the door. As James went to sit down, he slipped on a pebble and fell hard on his rump. Rubbing his backside, he thought that so far, his sojourn was going well. He was lucky to have sat next to Chuck. In truth, James stood next to him because Chuck looked asleep and he didn’t have the nerve to stand next to someone he might have to talk to. He wasn’t really wary of strangers, in general, but he was sort of shy. Since he was so clumsy he usually went out of his way to blend into his surroundings, minimizing any of the inevitable teasing that came with falling flat on his face, or knocking down a store display.
Feeling a little tired from his climb up the mountain, James closed his eyes to give himself a bit of rest. The next thing he knew, someone was nudging him awake.
“Hey kid, wake up. The Nimmo at the door wants you.”
Scrambling to his feet, James looked up to find the Nimmo glowering at him. “No sleeping at the gate, get out of here!”
“Sorry, sir,” James said sheepishly. “It won’t happen again.”
“I’ll ‘Sir’ you,” the Nimmo mumbled under his breath. “See to it,” he said and slammed the gate shut.
James looked around. The sun was on the other side of the mountain and rising. He figured that he had been asleep for maybe 8 or 9 hours. There were a few different faces around the gate, awaiting entrance. There were a few less that he recognized from when he had first arrived. James hoped he would be let through the gate soon. He continued to sit on the ground, trying not to make a fool of himself. He wondered what his family was doing. Did his parents miss him? Was his sister moved into his room yet? She probably had his stuffed moved before he made it to the foot of the mountain. He contemplated on different directions he might take his training, if he ever gained entrance to the school.
He had been sitting there quietly for a few hours when the now familiar Nimmo appeared through the door. He peered at everyone in turn, settling his gaze on a pair of twin pink Aishas.
“You,” he said with a grimace to one of them. “You’re too pink.” He pointed at the other one and continued, “You aren’t pink enough. Beat it.” He pointed at James. James’s heart fluttered. “Come with me,” he said.
After he was through the gate, James opened his mouth to thank the Nimmo for letting him in. “No talking,” the Nimmo said. James wondered if the Nimmo enjoyed his job at the training school a little too much. The Nimmo led him through a complicated array of maze like corridors. Through some of the open doors, James could see students jumping and exercising vigorously. Through some of the closed doors James could hear grunts and moans, probably coming from other people jumping and exercising. Eventually, they came to an elaborately carved door. The Nimmo knocked twice and told James to wait there. He turned around and left, no doubt to cause some additional misery at the front gate.
Two minutes after leaving James alone, the door opened.
“Please, come in.”
James slowly walked into the room, a little weary of the mysterious disembodied voice. The room was very grand. The walls had carvings of leaves all the way around the room, there were murals and tapestries, all of nature scenes, Ancient weapons hung in some spots, and priceless looking artifacts hung in others. As more of the room came into view, James saw an old green Techo hovering about six inches off the floor. Realizing this was the legendary Techo Master, James promptly tripped over his tail, falling flat on his face with a loud thump. James wasn’t sure what he should do next, so he just lay there, trying to will himself to melt through the floor.
“Please, stand up, young man. There is no need to be so nervous here.”
James slowly brought himself to his feet. “I’m, I’m sorry for wasting your time, Master. I don’t think I belong here.”
“That,” the old Techo said, “is for me to decide. All you need is a little seasoning and before you realize it, you will be jumping and cavorting like the rest of my students.” The Techo Master gave him a smile.
“Are you sure about this kid, Master?”
James spun around to see the source of the angry voice behind him. It was the Nimmo from the gate, leaning against the frame of the door. “He’s pretty clumsy and lazy to boot. I caught him actually sleeping while he was waiting outside.”
“That is my decision, Hinjo, not yours. No doubt he was tired from his ascent up the mountain. There are no rules against sleeping outside the gate.” The Techo Master smiled. “I also seem to recall someone else who was a little clumsy when they first started training here.”
Hinjo blushed. “As you say, Master,” Hinjo chimed with a bow of his head.
The Techo Master turned back towards James with a smile. “Now that we have settled that, will you stay?”
“If you think I am worthy, Master, I will stay.”
“It will not be easy. It may take a long time to finish your training, but once you start you will not be allowed to quit. The decision is yours.”
“I will stay, Master. I will do whatever is asked of me. I have been dreaming of coming here since I can remember. I will not fail any task you set me.”
“Very well; Hinjo, please show the young man to his room.” The Techo Master continued, “Before you can start training, you will have to complete 300 trials to prove yourself. Tomorrow, I will set you on your first task. Make sure you are well rested.”
Hinjo escorted James out of the room. “Try and remember how to get back here for tomorrow. Your room isn’t far from here.”
James tried his best to remember his way through the seemingly endless hallways before Hinjo stopped in front of a plain wooden door.
“Here we are. The Master will be expecting you shortly after the first bell, so try not to be late.” Hinjo turned around and left.
James entered the room and took in his surroundings. It was a very modest room, but then again, he was here to train, not take a vacation. The bed was small, but looked comfortable. There was a chest at the foot of the bed, a night stand at the head, and a larger table on the far wall holding up a basin for washing up. He sat down on the edge of his bed to examine the chest. It contained some extra blankets. James wondered with a shiver how cold it got up in the mountains in the winter. He settled on worrying about that when the time came. James lay down on his bed, mulling over the events of the day. Once he entered the training school, everything went so fast. When Hinjo told the Master that he didn’t think James should be there, his heart jumped up into his throat. He feared his lifelong dream would be over before it even started. Thankfully, the Master saw at least a shred of respectability in him. He fell asleep with a smile on his face.
James woke up with a jolt. He had fallen out of his bed with a tremendous bang. As he collected himself off the floor, he was startled by a peculiar noise. It took him to realize that it was a bell ringing.
“Oh no! The first bell! My first trial!” James started to panic. “The Master!” James stumbled through the door and took off running, startling a couple of students who happened to be passing by his room at the moment. Left, right, right, left, right. James hoped that he was going the right way. Turning left again, James spotted the same ornately carved doorway that he went through yesterday. He tried to slow down before getting to the door, but it didn’t work out quite the way he planned. James hit the door at full speed, crashing through it head first. James rolled head over tail 5 times before coming to a stop at the feet of the Techo Master.
“It would have been alright if you were a few minutes late.”
James looked up sheepishly. “Sorry, Master. I tried to slow down, but, uh, I didn’t quite slow down enough, I guess.”
“Stand up, young man. I have your first trial. It seems that one of my other students had a training accident yesterday, so we are one person short on the laundry detail.”
“Laundry?” James was confused. He wasn’t expecting anything super exciting for his first trial, but he was sure it would have been something more stimulating than laundry.
“Yes, laundry. I know it isn’t the most glamorous of tasks, but it still needs to be done.” The Master gestured towards the door. “Hinjo here will show you to the laundry room.”
James looked behind him and was startled to see Hinjo directly behind him. James did not hear Hinjo make his approach. He was too quiet for his own good. Hinjo gestured towards the door.
On the way to the laundry rooms, Hinjo explained, “It shouldn’t be too difficult; almost everyone wears white here.” As they entered the cavernous laundry facility Hinjo pointed to a cabinet on the left. “Soap’s in there,” he said, and left James to complete his task. James had done the laundry at home many times and for once he was glad his mother made him learn how. He sorted through the huge pile of clothing on the table in front of him. He pushed the clothes off the edge of the table into a giant bucket sink into the floor. He heaped a pile of soap onto the clothes according to the instructions written in the soap cabinet. He was just about to start adding the water when he noticed something red in the bucket of clothes. It was a red stocking.
“Whew, am I glad I found this,” James said to himself. “My first trial was almost a disaster.” James pulled the sock out of the wash and continued about his task. He added the water and started washing the clothes. After a while he noticed something strange, the laundry was turning pink! James checked the table and saw that the sock he removed was still there. In his haste to remove the stray sock, he had neglected to check the rest of the load for its mate. “I’m finished and I’ve barely even started,” James thought to himself as he slumped his shoulders.
He thought it was best that he finished the laundry, since clean pink clothes would probably be better than wet, dirty pink clothes. James finished washing, hung the laundry to dry and made his way back to the Techo Master’s chambers.
“Master,” James said when he was admitted to the Master’s room. “I have failed the first trial you have assigned to me.”
“Did you not do the laundry?”
“Not exactly,” James answered. “I did the laundry, but I left a sock, turning everyone’s outfit pink.” James reddened with embarrassment.
“You still finished the laundry. Eventually, the pink colour will come out, if you wash them enough. Your persistence will pay off in the long run.” The Master gave James a gentle smile. “I will see you tomorrow, hopefully with a slightly less exciting entrance, after you have given your pink charges a thorough scrubbing.”
Although it wasn’t his best showing, James felt it could have gone much, much worse. The Master was right; eventually his persistence at the task paid off and after a few arduous laundry sessions, the pink came out.
James spent the next few months on a variety of tasks. After a while, James started a diary to help keep track of how many trials he had finished. Trial 6: Fetch lunch for the Techo Master. Trial 32: Wash and wax all the floors in the training school. However, even these menial tasks proved difficult for James, as he always managed to foul up his task. Instead of green octopepper sushi, he served the Master red scorchipepper sushi. He waxed the floors with a slippery potion. James constantly second guessed his abilities. That, combined with his natural clumsiness and nervousness was usually a recipe for disaster. The Master always encouraged him, never showing disappointment.
As the completed tasks mounted, they naturally got more and more difficult. Trial 82: Sneak past the Snowager with a negg. Trial 134: Defeat Master Vex at a game of Cellblock. Trial 209: Knock down a coconut from the Coconut Shy game. As expected, James completed the tasks, but with less than stellar results. He managed to get the negg and sneak past the Snowager only to trip over his tail at the entrance, earning a cold blast of ice, and a cold, for his trouble. After months of practice, he defeated Master Vex only to lock himself in a cell on his way out for 3 weeks. He knocked over a coconut, but only because he beamed Arnold with his ball, knocking him into the coconut stands.
After a particularly grueling session of juggling juppies while balancing on his tail (his 299th trial was learning to juggle in three different ways), James collapsed on his bed with a sigh. Today marked his third year at the training school. He was glad that the 300 trials the Master had set on him were finally coming to a close. Now that he had proved himself worthy of starting his training, he wondered what kinds of exercises he would be doing. James was actually looking forwards to months and months of jumping jacks, back flips and push ups. He fell asleep questioning his sanity.
James woke up in the dead of the night and made his way to the bathroom, grumbling about the distance he had to walk. It was a running joke among some of the students that the Master had the bathrooms built as far from the dorm rooms as possible to give the students an extra lesson on patience and control whether they wanted it or not. As he returned to his room, he stopped in front of the Techo Master’s audience room. The door was ajar. James thought this was odd, since the only time he ever saw the door open was when he was going through it.
As James reached for the door to close it, the floor under his feet let out a squeak. A sudden movement inside the room caught his eye. Ever since his 223rd trial, having to find twenty red sand grains in the Lost Desert for the Master's sand painting, James had developed a knack for spotting things. It had taken him days of searching before he had developed a trick for spotting the red grains; instead of looking directly at the sand he had to use his peripheral vision. The movement came from a figure in the shadows. The mysterious figure had a bag in their hands. With a quick glance around the room, the bag looked as though it had been stuffed with items that were recently hanging on the walls. As James lunged forward to try and stop the thief, he reached behind his back for a dagger and threw it at James before he could raise a cry. Without thinking about it, James leaned back, balancing on his tail, letting the dagger sail over him.
“Looks like all that juggling practice paid off,” James mumbled to himself. He righted himself and started after the thief. James ran through the door at the back of the audience chamber, promptly tripping over a stand lamp that the thief had knocked over on his way out. As he flew through the air, James thought of trial number 77; collecting 10 different kinds of cheese... in the Cheeseroller game in Meridell. You can only roll down a hill head first so many times before you learn how to do it without hurting yourself. James tucked into a dive and rolled out of his fall, landing on his feet to continue the chase. Left, right, left, right; James chased the thief down the hall. He was breathing too hard to call out. James turned a corner and slammed into a wall. At least, he thought it was a wall until it started raining blows down upon him. James instinctively blocked the flurry of punches. After spending a week in place of the broken dummy in the advanced martial arts class for trial 265, James didn’t think he would ever see a punch thrown his way again.
“Stop. Trying. To. Punch. Me.” James was starting to wither under the constant barrage. Without warning, the thief turned and started running down the hall again. James resumed the pursuit. Right, left, right; James smiled to himself as he ran. The thief had finally made a mistake by taking a turn down a hallway that led to a dead end. The thief slowed down slightly when he realized what he had done, allowing James to close the gap. James was thinking that the thief would try and run through the wall when he ran up the wall, performing a flip in the opposite direction. James waited for him to land, then he spun around as fast as he could, knocking the thief down with his tail. Just as James leapt on top of the thief, he heard someone else come around the corner.
“Hey, help!” James cried. He looked up to see the Techo Master approaching them. “Master?” James sounded confused.
“Yes, James. Please, forgive my deception and help Hinjo up.” The Master put his hand on James’ shoulder. “This was your final trial.”
“Final trial?” James sounded very confused. He looked at the thief under him. “Hinjo?” James pulled the mask from the face of the thief to reveal Hinjo’s smiling face.
“You performed your final trial admirably, James; I am quite pleased with you.”
James was trying to take everything in all at once. “I don’t think I understand what you are saying, Master.”
“Your final challenge was to take all of the lessons you have learned these last three years and apply them.”
“Does this mean I am ready to start my training?”
“Your training is complete.” The Master put his hand on James’ shoulder. “Of course, you are welcome to continue your training here if you like.”
James realized for the first time that he hadn’t tripped over anything in months. He hadn’t knocked anything over or messed up one of his trials in months either. He thought about the chase he'd led through the school. He dodged, he rolled, he triumphed over a larger, more skilled opponent, all without messing anything up.
“Thank you,” he said, looking up at the Master. “Thank you.”