Melissa leans against the pillar, catches her breath. This deep within the temple, the air is warm and dry - she is losing a lot of water through sweat. Still, if she can trust the impulses she's receiving from her subdermal magnetoceptory implants, she should now be just outside the central chamber. This is it: the culmination of all her training.
She takes a little time to clear her mind, to banish any lingering fears concerning the trial ahead, to find her connection to Gaia. I can do this. I made it through the Cage of Dancing Lasers, I answered each of the Five Ancient Adepts and I answered them well… I even drew the Circle through the rock. I am ready to complete my initiation, to join the Order of Behemoth.
In spite of her confidence, she is all too aware of a few niggling doubts. For one thing, this final trial is notoriously unfair, unpredictable - some apprentices stroll through it; others find it virtually impossible, irrespective of skill level. This may in part be explained by the other cause for concern: rumour has it, after all, that this ordeal was never originally intended to be included among the Trials. How could it have been? The very idea that the Guardians might have made an arrangement with a demon to challenge their initiates… impossible!
No - it seems that Kranax had just appeared one day, upon hearing about the Order of Behemoth and exactly what their novices were being trained to do. It probably thought it was being remarkably obliging - at any rate, the demon has proven rather difficult to eliminate from proceedings, and has shown up at every initiation for the past hundred years. Sometimes, it brings some of its demonic friends; sometimes, it invites the Gaian of the North Sea. The ensuing fight consistently defies expectations.
Melissa opens her eyes. No more doubts. It is time. She treads silently along the corridor, carefully controlling her breathing. And then -
- she gasps. That's… him. The First.
Across the wall adjacent to the big double doors is a huge tapestry, intricately woven in red and gold. It depicts a proud city in ruin, its tall towers falling before… a horrifying beast? A mass of bodies? It is difficult to tell. Facing the tide of carnage is a man, his expression serene, his body perfectly poised. And around and above him, his form is amplified a hundredfold - a towering figure stands in sublime imitation of the man by its feet.
“James Crichton,” she whispers. “First Elemental Guardian of Earth.”
It all began with him, of course - he was the Founder. It is through him that the power of Behemoth has been passed down through the generations in defence of Earth. Everyone knows his story: his many battles with malevolent Celestials and misguided humans; his ascension as one of Gaia's chosen; his great sacrifice to save the world from the Hive. Melissa has the records of his teachings permanently etched into her Extraperipheral Visual Display.
With a mounting sense of awe, she approaches the tapestry, reaches out… pauses. There, across Crichton's arm and shoulder, a fuzzy edge marks a patch where the threads of the weave are worn, frayed. She draws her hand away, frowning. And then understanding dawns. For generations, hopeful initiates have found their way here and gazed upon this tapestry. For generations, each one has done as she herself thought to do, reaching out to the Founder, touching the yarn in hope of finding a connection to the very first Elemental Guardian of Earth. And for generations, that connection has been maintained through the shared ritual performed by each and every visitor to this place.
Smiling, she presses her fingers to the fabric - just for a moment - and then turns away, ready to face the last of her trials.