They took his clothes, except for his breeches. Barefoot he walked into the deep darkness beneath the earth. The stone floor cut his feet. Half-felt tendrils of cobwebs brushed at his bare flesh. Things skittered before his steps. The darkness closed around him and with it the walls. Slowly he was forced to stoop, then to shuffle bent double. He had entered a place where sound and light were invaders doomed to defeat by the infinite patience of the ageless earth. The passage narrowed further. He dropped to his knees, sinking into the slick muck on the cavern’s floor.
He could feel the weight of the earth around him, straining to crush him.
The earth was strong. Strong as his master and they were not always friends.
“I won't fear. I am a Butterfly Warrior,” the boy said softly, and his voice leapt from stone to wall, echoing and reechoing in the darkness. He slithered into the passage on his belly.
He crawled for a nightmare eternity, stone scraping his narrow shoulders. His knees and toes, elbows and fingertips were grated raw. The filth of the passage oozed, burning, into his wounds. His breath echoed around him, mocking him, muttering of boys lost and dead beneath the earth.
He stopped exhausted. Tears stung his eyes.
“I will not despair. I am a Butterfly Warrior!” the boy gasped and forced his toes and fingers to drag him another few feet.
There! Just then, he felt the air stir. Far ahead his light-starved eyes faintly detected a patch of darkness lighter than the rest. His struggles took on a frantic energy, until with a strangled cry, like a newborn’s scream, he flopped out of the tunnel and into the open air beneath the stars.
He lay a still a long time. He found himself on a wide landing beside a steep stair that ran straight up the side of the mountain. With nothing else to do the boy staggered to his aching feet and began the ascent.
Long before the sun rose and turned the mountain into a spike of gold, his legs had begun to burn, his knees to tremble, his muscles to protest, his feet to scream.
Long after the sun was a hand over the horizon he continued his climb. The cavern muck dried to an itching crust that covered him completely. His sweat dug furrows through the filth. His rebelling body forced him to sit. The sun was swiftly approaching its zenith. His time was running out.
“I will continue where others cannot!” he growled through clenched teeth. “I am a Butterfly Warrior.”
Staggering, then finally crawling, the boy dragged himself up the stair. He came to the last step, a step that led to no where but open air. He collapsed on its stones no longer certain of anything. This could not be the end of his trial. This was nothing. Perhaps an earth quake had broken the stair, but no. There was nothing higher. Perhaps lower then? Far below the misty forest undulated like an emerald sea. The sun was just minutes from noon. He had do do something or fail.
Again he cast his gaze about but there was nothing. He had gone as far as a mortal could go. The only way ... Suddenly he understood.
"I will have faith. I am a Butterfly Warrior."
He forced his body to stand a final time. He closed his eyes. He did not see the sun reach its highest point above him. His heart beat a wild rhythm that made his thin arms tremble.
The boy jumped, soaring out into the sweltering jungle air.
The Power exploded within him. Wisdom and strength filled him. His flesh was scorched black as jet and his eyes white, featureless as pearl. He was lifted into the air and from his back burst his new gorgeous wings of black and white and purple. He rolled and looked, a new creature.
It was a long time before he landed on the forest floor, far below the place of his trial. He folded his wings like a glorious cloak at his back and lifting his fists, screamed to the sky. “I AM A BUTTERFLY WARRIOR!”