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He could smell the next station before he could see it. The pungent odor of incense scented the air that wafted down the seemingly endless stair. Darg adjusted his pack and kept climbing, his muscles burning from exhaustion. As he got closer he could hear the faint tinkling of chimes stirred by the ever present light breeze. The scents and sounds grew stronger as he pushed onward.
The Way of Ten Million Steps was not an easy pilgrimage, few ever completed it, and the Way was dotted with the communities that formed of those who simply could not continue. It was said that the way had a purpose, that those who completed it were remade. Darg was no more informed than any other pilgrim, and his thoughts on the Way were only informed by his prior experiences. He knew that the way had demanded that he be fit, both physically and mentally, that he be trained, in martial techniques and the ways of the world and the magics, and the way had required of him sacrifices, an eye, an arm, a portion of his soul. The eye he had replaced with a jewel enchanted to allow him sight beyond sight. The arm he had replaced with necromantic magics with the arm of a great beast, its muscles were stronger than iron, and its claws were sharper than the best blade.
His soul remained damaged however. A portion was cut away, locked into a glass ampule that he wore around his neck. The sacrifice seemed minor for the benefits gained; he never grew sick, never felt fear, and needed so much less sleep. Breaking his soul seemed the least sacrifice the Way had required. Darg paused, wondering why that thought had felt so strange to him.
He shook off the feeling and continued onward, pushing past dessicated corpses that were years dead, past overgrowth that told him that none has passed this point in decades. He summoned magic flame to burn the Way clear and trod on the smouldering ashes with no concern; ahead he would find the next Greater Test of the Way.
An hour passed and finally Darg rounded a corner, scrambling up broken stairs, and came to the location of the next Greater Test. A figure stood there, a sword raised up, next to a brazier from which the blue smoke of incense rose. The figure said nothing, it waited, still as a statue, for Darg to approach.
Darg took a moment. He ate a little, and drank a little, and ensured that his muscles and his magic were ready. Finally he approached the man, wary, unsure. He stood before the figure, and saw that it was no man but a woman, scarred and changed by unknown forces. She watched him and waited for him to act. Darg stood and watched her and waited. The standoff stretched on for an hour and then she stepped aside, and began to ascend the stairs, continuing onward, moving further along her path of the Way. Darg took her place, waiting, tending the brazier, and trusting that he could endure this Test.