"My father, I do not understand," the boy whispered softly as he shifted towards his elder. The words were muted, barely audible; even the smallest sounds could be magnified by the curving walls of the cavern. "Please explain it to me."

The elder was pleased with the question, for it showed the curiosity and humility that would one day grow into understanding. And it was the boy's first time experiencing the rites of Tel-alep. There would be much that the boy did not yet comprehend.

Beneath the floor of the Forge lay patchworks of sandstone caverns and tunnels, some intersecting, others isolated, some large, others small, some extending downward as far as the gol'nevsu dared travel. No one knew for certain what lay in the dark recesses below; and the Vulcan was drawn to the heat and light of the surface.

In the middle of one unremarkable plain in the Forge lay a flat rock, faintly recognizable by the soft, red hue of its particulates. The rock was maybe two meters by one, not much larger than a person, and it was no thicker than a forearm. It was lost in anonymity, just one more piece of the wasteland, hidden from all who did not know of its presence.

Today, the boy had learned.

In the twilight of the night, while Nevasa rested its weary self beneath the horizon, the elder had come to the boy's sleeping chamber and awoken the lad. This is an important day, the elder had whispered, and the boy had arisen willingly, if confused. Today, you walk the path of Tel-alep.

The living quarters were carved out of the ancient sandstone of the desert mountains. The air within was soft and cool, the tunnels lit by low candles even in the depths of the night. The boy inhaled, feeling the atmosphere as he followed the back of the elder, his senses detecting a hundred muffled scents.

The pair weaved their way through the airy paths, and soon emerged onto the desert floor.

It was not the first time the boy had been out in the Forge during the night; each time previous, it had felt different, somehow, as if the relative darkness and wafting temperatures unleashed a new spirit on the wasteland. But this time it was more so. The air felt charged, and the sand electric beneath his bare feet. The stale breeze was vibrant, and the stars shown with unexpected glory.

Before him, without pause, the elder set off across the desert. His stride was neither short nor long, but it was purposeful, his direction true and unerring. In the darkened world of the desert night, he looked neither left nor right, but pressed, not slowing, unto their destination.

The shorter boy began to trot to keep pace. The elder's presence blurred in the darkness, but his shockingly-white robes maintained an eerie presence before the boy's eyes, guiding him along the untrodden path in the sand. Soon, they were far away from the sanctuary; in the bright of day, the boy may have been able to find this place, but the darkness sealed them off.

In the middle of the sandy plain, they came across three other Vulcan children. The boy recognized all of them; two other boys and one girl, all his approximate age. They were acquaintances, friends of a sort, but tonight they only exchanged curt greetings. The elder whispered an injunction against speaking.

His task complete, the elder turned and vanished into the sand.

Even in their youth, the Vulcan mental disciplines were practiced, and the Vulcan children measured the passage of time with astounding accuracy.

They stood, gathered beneath the stars, for precisely one Vulcan hour. During this time, only a few words were spoken; hissed questions of do you know what's going on were met with firm negatives, and mindful of the elder's parting injunction, they went silent again. Only the sounds on the stale breeze brought noise to their little gathering; their sensitive hearing detected little other than the ambient noises of the Forge. Wind rustling across rock and sand, the far-off cry of a le-matya, and the beating wings of a shavokh seeking a late meal…

The elder materialized from the desert, this time accompanied by another Vulcan. The boy recognized this one as well; a young man, perhaps ten years older than himself. Both were dressed in simple white tunics.

The children were told to remove their night garments, and—raised to have few qualms about nudity—they did so, handing the gear to the young man. The breeze felt no cooler against their bare skin, and the sandy grit went unnoticed; the Vulcan hide was toughened from birth by the brutal planet.

One by one, the elder stepped behind each child, and wrapped a blindfold around their head. The boy covertly tested his, but the blindfold was well-designed; he could see neither above nor below it, and its thickness cut off any hope of sight. As well, the fabric covered the upper portion of his ears, cutting off the sense of location provided by those organs.

The elder's firm hands turned the boy a quarter-turn to the right, and his hands were placed on the shoulders of the child before him. A moment later, he felt two hands fall on his shoulders as well. In this manner, they started moving forward, following the path of the one before them.

They came to a halt five minutes later. The boy heard the scuffling of movement, the slight grind of rock, and they began again, angling downwards along a ramp. Reaching the bottom, they turned left, then right; the boy could sense the close presence of stone walls on either side, but felt no warmth. The passageway was unlit.

There was another pause as they reached the end of the passage. The boy ached to yank the blindfold from his head, to see what was going on, but the disciplines were far too strong; he subdued the urge, trusting instead in the guidance of the elder. A few words were whispered, the creak of old hinges was heard, and the neophytes moved forward once again.

The guiding hands were removed, and the youths lined up, side by side. The boy could sense someone moving along behind them; and moments later, the blindfold fell away.

The boy's eyes opened wide in marvel.

The cavern was not large—maybe fifteen meters by ten. Along its central apex, the ceiling was only four or so meters high, and the roof and floor sloped inward. On either side, raised slightly on the upswept floor, ran a single table. A collection of Vulcans, of both genders and many ages, sat behind each table; between each one resided a solitary candle.

The head of the chamber was cloaked in darkness.

"My father, I do not understand," the boy whispered softly as he shifted towards his elder. The words were muted, barely audible; even the smallest sounds could be magnified by the curving walls of the cavern. "Please explain it to me."

The elder was pleased with the question, for it showed the curiosity and humility that would one day grow into understanding. And it was the boy's first time experiencing the rites of Tel-alep. There would be much that the boy did not yet comprehend.

Nonetheless, now was not the time for questions and answers; now was the time to experience the ri-fainu, to begin to understand it from within. "Later," the elder whispered.

The candles along the length of the cavern were extinguished, and a solitary light became visible in the apse. It was a dark violet; the flame had been treated to evoke the particular shade.

"It is not easy to walk the path of Tel-alep," a deep, feminine voice intoned. The sound came from behind the candle, but it rolled across the curved walls of the cavern, giving it the effect of being all around. "The pach-te must be purged from your essence. Chaos must be burned away. The elements of the Lower Mind—Akraana and Alep-kir; Alep-tel and Dena-val; Kal-ap-ton and Ket-cheleb; Khosaar and N'yone; T'Priah and Tyr-al-tep; Zhu-famu and Tevanu, must be cleansed from within you."

The boy recognized the twelve archetypes representing various aspects of the Lower Mind.

"The inner pathway must be cleansed and renewed with deep, daily meditation and introspection. It must be fortified with self-control and renunciation."

A second candle was lit. This time, the flame was rose.

"We must find a place within that surpasses the faults, foibles and limitations of the Lower Mind. A place free from ego and emotion, which actively abhors worldly recognition and doctrinal arrogance."

The cavern fell silent as a third candle was lit.

"Do not rely on the multitude. Do not listen to those who flatter, or those who condemn; they build shadows upon shadows, never transcending the constraints of the pach-te. The entire edifice must be cleansed from within."

The fourth candle was lit. This one was a pale pink, not quite white.

"Though the light pierces the darkness, the darkness cannot itself give birth to the light. The light of reason comes from beyond the shadow realm, and it comes from within. The spark resides within every son and daughter of Vulcan, every child of the Higher Mind. The light of reason rescues us from the darkness outside."

Now, the four candles were brought together. As one, they were used to lit a fifth candle, residing in the center; it shone with brilliant, pure whiteness.

"Only then does the journey of Tel-alep end, and the journey of ri-fainu begin."

Now, in the light of the candles, the speaker stepped forward. She was clearly an elder, many years past any Vulcan in their commune; the boy thought he recognized her as one of the adepts, come down from the heights of Mt. Selaya.

Her skin was wizened, and her back stooped, but she moved with purpose. She moved forward, and stopped in front of the first neophyte. "Thy second name shall be…Tyvan."

She moved to the second, the young girl. "Thy second name shall be…Tel'an."

She stepped in front of the boy. He refused to fidget, despite his anticipation. "Thy second name shall be…Solak."

She moved to the last neophyte. "And thy second name shall be…Surak."