The temple welcomed everyone. The townspeople at the foot of it’s mountain sing praises to travellers and tourists alike of the wonders within. Stories of peace, stories of power, all given to those with the spirit to claim it. It was everything that every traveller desired and they could not resist it’s allure. Of course, there is a beauty in every web, a gleam to every hook, the prey need only make one mistake.
Shen Jian, a traveller visiting the town, soon discovered why so many flocked to the isolated location. Entering a humble restaurant, he chose the only table empty and awaited service. As he waited, he overheard conversations at every table talking about the temple up the mountain.
Shen was surprised to see noble warriors talking with as much enthusiasm as the common peasant. Each and every one fixated with the idea that priests within the temple have found the answer to every question. Prayers to be answered, each one eagerly left the restaurant after their filling meals, no doubt to begin their ascent to the temple of legend.
Shen Jian, who had simply been wandering the roads, had not heard of the temple. He felt left out and bid one of the servants to explain. It seemed he broached a beloved conversation, as a smile grew on the servants face and they spoke with loving passion. Shen listened closely, not so taken with the eagerness everyone showed.
The servant told Shen that the temple had been on the mountain for several hundred years, secret from the outside world for a long time. When it was discovered by lost travellers, they were met by masked priests which gave them peace. The travellers were asked to spread the word of the temple, going as far as they could before their bodies gave in. For such peace, the travellers were more than happy to oblige.
Of course, the original travellers had long since passed, although each made their way into legend as wondrous people. Their wisdom helped all those they encountered, which only served to emphasise the greatness of their masters within the temple. A town was built at the foot of the mountain two hundred years ago, starting with simple buildings and businesses of those seeking to profit off of the travellers. Yet, even the temple's beautiful influence could not allow that. The businesses found their own share of peace, choosing to only charge travelers fairly.
It ensured the future of the town, but made sure that it didn’t get carried away with greed. The lust for coin is rampant through these lands, but not one person has the heart to give in to it in the presence of the great temple. As Shen listened he grew more interested in the people than the temple.
Shen began asking those who lived in town why they didn’t climb the stairs to visit the temple. All replied that it wasn’t time, saying they would climb the stairs when their purpose to help others was fulfilled. They considered finding their peace before their last day to be a selfish act.
Shen didn’t understand.
Leaving the last establishment, he approached the mountain. The temple sat half-way up the mountain, surrounded by old, but clean walls. It’s lights made it shine so beautifully among the dark side of the mountain.
Shen’s curiosity had reached its peak and he began to climb the stairs.
What confused Shen first was the lack of sound. It wasn’t a calm quiet that allowed the average monk’s mind to slip into a meditative state. It was the suffocating silence that made even his footsteps sound softer. It wasn’t until he walked through the entrance way in the walls that he could hear his heartbeat.
The main grounds were sand, clean and soft. Shen could see the care put into placement of rocks to make the raking flow beautifully. Yet, once more, something was missing. Instead of sound, it was people. There weren’t any monks, priests or tourists. It became unbelievable to Shen that the temple, as beautiful as it was, could attract so many people across the lands.
Wandering along a snaking path towards the inner sanctum, Shen pondered his hearing. His heartbeat grew frustratingly loud and for a moment he wondered if he had damaged them somehow. Shen forgot all about the pounding of his heart when the large doors opened without his touch.
The inner sanctum was stunning. The warmth of the colours, the richness in its design. Dark wood framed the structure, from the floor to the ceiling. A comforting white made up the surface between the frames. Upon closer inspection, Shen could see it was in fact stone, but its tone and feel were unlike anything he had seen before.
It was in this moment of thought that the pounding of his heart ceased. The sudden silence surprised him, but it was a relief as well. Shen clicked his fingers and smiled when the sound was so clear. It was a sound soon deafened by the opening of doors. Across the large room, what appeared to be walls at first shifted, revealing a line of monks. Each one slowly walked into the sanctum.
Shen watched their approach with horror, as the monks lacked any features. It was only when they were closer that he could see that they wore some sort of mask made from the same stone he stood upon. The monks didn’t pay Shen any attention despite his obvious fascination with their appearance.
Once more a door opened.
Instead of a line of monks, a lone priest stood. His robes were darker, but his mask was brighter. The odd figure seemed to be observing Shen as much as Shen observed him. The priest beckoned Shen closer with a gesture and turned for the traveller to follow.
Shen could no longer resist.
In his heart, deep within, all Shen’s instincts told him to flee. Deaf to these internal screams, Shen Jian followed the priest, the door closing slowly behind him. The priest led him down a long hallway, narrow, but tall. It was a journey, seemingly endless, but like a dream, it was over before Shen knew it.
Now much older, Shen entered a room with five other priests. Similar to the one who led him, but vanished in a blink, these five priests wore bright masks. Yet, their masks were lifted only slightly, revealing their lipless mouths, the ever-grinning teeth.
The priests spoke amongst each other as Shen Jian stood at the room's centre. Catatonic, unable to move or think beyond breathing, the aged Shen could only stare at the centre priest. His white hair floated around him, as if he were suspended in water.
The council were finishing their discussion, the chattering of their teeth stopped abruptly as each fell silent in turn. Shen turned on the spot and returned the way he had come. Entering the hall while the strange figures watched him leave, Shen began to age another eternity. The hair fell away, as did the skin, the muscles, even bone began to fade.
Upon reaching the end of the hall, Shen’s body returned, although he lacked hair and the clothing he once wore. With each step, stone began to collect on his face, Building into a mask, the stone slowly began to block his vision, but opened his eyes. Once thrown into an eternal darkness, Shen Jian saw everything.
Shen joined a line of monks, joining them in a never ending march. His mind freed, his heart tamed and his life lengthened; Shen had all his deep desires, the same desires of all those before him, fulfilled.