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by A. D. Barncord Doerr
Copyright © 1998

I stepped onto the stone path. The gypsum surface sparkle as white as the volumous, glowing robes I wore. Krasp had left a candle mark earlier and, in another mark, Sala would follow me. I tried to control my excitement as I entered the depths of the Colored Caves. I wondered what colors would stain my robes. I was fond of violet, but a combination of red and green would mark me as a physician. Of course, an indigo stain would make me a scholar. Maybe I could come out violet and indigo, and become a poet. Of course, I might be a tri-color . . .

. . . or a mono-color. There was nothing wrong with being a mono-color, a lot of good people were mono-colors. I just hoped that if I was a mono-color, it would be violet. Not that I wanted to be charismatic or work with minerals, I just liked the color.

As I skipped down the gypsum steps, illuminated by my robes, I recited the chant I learned as a small child:

"Red pulses in the life that moves,
Orange blasts the forge fire's light,
Yellow shapes wood and cloth weaves,
Green in growing plants give delight,
Blue of ice in deep water roves,
Indigo ink brings words into sight,
Violet minerals charm and please,
All of these create the color white."

A red glow came from an archway before me. I paused for a moment before it and gathered my courage and hopes together. Taking a deep breath, I stepped into the Red Cave.

A pulsing energy entered my body and radiated from every pore. The path I walked became warm and mud-like, its surface clinging to my bare feet. I felt vibrant and physically aware of everything that touched me - my clothes as they brushed against my body, the warm mud that coated my feet, the heated wind that caressed me as it swirled around. I felt this great desire to touch something - anything - that was also alive and moving. I was very reluctant to leave the Passage of Blood.

Yet, the Orange Cave coaxed me on, as the wind became hotter with every step. No longer did it caress my body, but burned right through my very being. I ceased to be human, and became a fiery flame of pure will, flickering as I followed the liquid metal path which flowed before me. As I writhed in that furnace- like chamber, I felt cleansed and at peace with myself. The Passage of Fire propelled me forward.

I flew into the Yellow Cave. The path became dry and papery. The air was cooler, yet very arid, and smelled of tanned leather. My skin felt tight, as if I had been left out in the sun to dry. I felt the desire to form, to create, to design. My hands ached for material to work with. My father bore the mark of the Passage of Crafting, and I wished fervently for his tools.

But then I entered the Green Cave, and a certain type of patientness encompassed my soul. I walked on soft, cool moss, looking at the glowing growth which surrounded me. I felt as if roots and leaves were going to sprout from my feet and hands. I sighed as smell of vegetation filled my soul. This was a beautiful place. In my mind, I could see my mother tending her bog garden as she talked of the Passage of Leaves.

If the Green Cave was peaceful and cool, then the Blue Cave was positively stoic and freezing. Moss gave way to ice, and the water, trickling over glowing blue ice cliffs, made me want to dance and flow to its musical sounds. I felt defined and infinite, at the same time. Playfully, I ran and slid the last few yards out of the Passage of Water, into the Indigo Cave.

I fell down on a path of ink. Laughing, I pulled myself up. The air was tepid here and smelled of books and blotters. Though the glow was dark, I felt enlightened and independent. I contemplated the many things I had learned from the writings of others. I wanted to learn more and I knew that there were many more books that awaited to educate my mind. These were the things that came from the Passage of Ink.

Finally, came the arch that glowed violet. I felt my chest tighten as I stepped into the cave of my favorite color. The path became amethyst and crystal pillars surrounded me. I felt a powerful sense of purpose and confidence fill me, as I sauntered towards the dark archway before me. There was no apprehension in my step as I left the Passage of Inspiration and proceeded into the blackness.

The Black Cave, the final part of my journey, where the colors of my aptitude would be affixed permanently on my specially treated robes, embraced me. I entered a child, I would emerge an apprentice, and, one day, I would achieve adulthood. As I travelled through the Passage of Darkness, I wondered about what I had experienced in the Colored Caves. I knew that many people found their experiences to be stronger in their colors of strength, yet, as I looked back mentally, I could not distinguish which colors had affected me the most.

A thought entered my heart. Could it be? Could I have been stained by all the colors? A Colored Priestess? This would be too good to be true!

I held my heart for a moment and forced my breathing to a slower rate. I knew I should wait until I left the Blackness before I began to have dreams of greatness.

Yet, I knew my grin was a wide one as I stepped into the natural world again. I looked at the glowing rainbow of ceremonial robes that lined the end of the Colored Path. I waved at my parents - Dad in his yellow robes, Mom in her green and blue radiating circles. I searched for Krasp and found him in robes with orange and violet swirls. My smiled faded as I noticed his shocked expression.

I looked down at my own robes.

"NO!" I screamed. "It can't be!"

They were still white, pure, and sparkling. I dropped to my knees and sobbed into my hands. This was terrible! None of the colors had stained me. I had no special aptitudes. I was nothing.

Several people rushed to my side and tried to comfort me.

"It's not what you think," someone kept repeating, "It's not what you think."

"STAND BACK!" ordered an imperious voice.

I looked up at the High Priest through my tear-filled eyes, as he parted the multicolored throng around me, his robes with their wide bands of every color. He held out his hand and I took it. Then he helped me to my feet and pulled out a jeweler's lens. Holding the sleeve of my robe, he examined the fabric.

"Is she a Primary or a Secondary?" someone asked quietly.

"Neither," he replied. "She's a Full Spectrum."

Several people gasped and repeated his pronouncement, as I stood there, confused.

"What's a Full Spectrum?" I asked.

The priest smiled, offered me the jeweler's lens, and held a section of my sleeve flat. I took the lens and looked. Under the lens, my robes were not white, but every fibre held a color glow of its own and every color of the spectrum was there. I shook my head in disbelief and handed the lens back.

"What does it mean?" I asked.

The mass of priests and priestesses around me chuckled.

"Why, my dear," said the high priest, "it means you are a Full Spectrum Color Tender. You have the ability to manage and maintain the Colored Caves. There hasn't been a Full Spectrum Color Tender in decades."

Mom made her way through the crowd and hugged me, with tears in her eyes. "All Color Tenders have white robes," she explained. "You don't see them during the Staining Ceremonies, because they're too busy tending the passages."

I began to shake as the implication sunk in. Dad had made his way to me by then, and was wiping the tears from my face with a handkerchief. Together, both of my parents led me to a boulder, where I could sit down before I crumbled from emotional exhaustion. Dad rubbed my shoulders as Mom kneeled and patted my hands.

Krasp came over with Drell, in his red and blue robes, and Anlea, in her green.

"Wow! A Color Tender!" he exclaimed. "You really know how to steal the spotlight."

"I didn't mean to," I whispered, self-consciously.

Anlea laughed and hugged me. Drell just shrugged his shoulders.

"Might as well enjoy it while you can," he pointed out, "because from now on, you're going to be too busy working behind the scenes to be noticed."

After that, several people came up to personally congratulate me. When I finally thought my face was going to crack from all the smiling I was doing, the High Priest called for our attention.

"The next traveler has finished!" he boomed.

We waited, holding our breath, as Sala stepped forth. Her robes glowed violet with indigo splatters. I smiled.

Sala always was more poetic than I.


Copyright © 1998, Amanda D. Barncord Doerr