It’s not often, but I’ll meet someone who thinks that a neth elf is a walking stone font of rational wisdom. I understand where they might get that impression from, as it’s easier to act that way in certain situations. However, anyone who knows me knows I might be a boulder in my beliefs and body. But I’m squishy in heart. There were times when I want the ability to not feel. However, feeling things means you’re alive. And being alive is the greatest gift of all.
Mien jerked awake and pushed himself upright. A stab of pain traveled between his eyes to the back of his skull. He cradled his head, moaning while sinking back down. However, he noted that his back didn’t strike the ground unless it became cushioned. He parted his fingers and saw the wooden boards that made up the ceiling above him. He wiggled his leg and felt the smooth underside of a patched blanket on his bare legs. He lifted the edge of the blanket up and saw he was in his shorts. He then inspected the room while keeping a grip on his nerves so he didn’t panic. A gray morning light shone through the latticed window. It wasn’t night anymore. His uniform was folded neatly in a chair beside his bed.
I got back to the inn. How, he wondered.
He looked in Lyndon’s direction. The young man was sprawled on his back asleep. The young chanter gaze flicked over to the bed closest to the door. It was empty. Soletus was gone. If anything had happened, he knew the young monk would stay by his side. There was nothing to worry about.
Mien swallowed the dryness from his throat. He needed water, but his stomach felt sour.
Blast it, too much wine, he moaned to himself.
It was then the door flung open. Mien head vibrated like a struck bell when the door struck the wall. Soletus stomped across the floor and went straight to the window.
“Good, you’re awake,” he said curtly and pulled the curtains back. Light punched Mien in the eyes. “We’re moving out.”
The young chanter shielded his face with his arm. “I thought we weren’t moving out until tomorrow.”
“Change of plans.”
He put his arm down in time to see his shirt followed by his blue travel jerkin, cord, and trousers being tossed at his head. He barely caught them out of the air before they hit his face. Soletus strolled across the room and gave Lyndon even worse treatment. He shook him roughly.
“Get up,” he ordered roughly.
“Arg, stop, above and below! Why can’t you let a fellow sleep,” said Lyndon right as he took his trousers to his face. “What’s nipped you in the rear?”
Soletus didn’t reply. He walked to the window and waited for them to get dressed. His arms were crossed tightly over his chest and the cords in his neck taunt. Mien was glad he stopped speaking as he could hear the irritation radiating off it. He had to immediately block him or he was going to get annoyed himself. However, he could still feel his friend in the back of his mind, but it was receding. The young monk was trying to calm down. He had closed his eyes and started breathing more steadily.
Lyndon then said more gently. “Seriously, what’s bunched your short up your crack?”
“There’s been an incident. I didn’t like how Kellas was going to handle it and Valhart was an ass again. But I was able to convince Kellas to at least give everyone a choice in what we are going to do about it. Kellas will go into the details when we all get downstairs. You can get packed after that.”
“So it isn’t urgent?”
“A decision needs to be made sooner and not later,” answered Soletus. “Just get dressed.”
Mien stood slowly to his feet with his trouser on while Lyndon was just pulling his on. The young chanter picked up his shirt and struggled to remember coming back to the inn. The only thing he could remember was the vision. He didn’t think too long about it as his headache became louder and he had to stop dressing.
“Your head still bothering you,” Lyndon asked.
Mien squinted at him. “How do you know my head is bothering me?”
“You said so last night after you come back to the festival.”
“I came back?”
Lyndon nodded, working on his belt. “Yeah, you were acting dazed. And had dirt on the front of your shirt and pants like you fell.”
“What did I say?”
Lyndon shrugged. “Nothing, other than you were tired. Soletus walked you back here.”
Mien turned to Soletus.
“No, you didn’t say anything,” he said absently.
Mien sank down back to his bed. “I don’t remember that. Did I tell you that I started my edict?”
Soletus regarded him and Lyndon stopped dressing. “What,” the cousins exclaimed at the same time.
“I guess I didn’t tell you,” Mien said with growing confusion.
“Well, this complicates things,” muttered Soletus going towards the door. “Meet Doran downstairs. I’m going to get Tyrus up.”
When he darted out, the young scout’s face lit up. “So what phrase is it?”
“I don’t know. I could hear it but didn’t understand it. I’m a little more worried about not remembering the rest of last night. I don’t even remember coming here last night. It think it’s the phrase.”
Lyndon face twisted in confusion. “What sort of phrase causes memory loss?”
“I don’t know,” stated Mien, rubbing. Kiao had warned him that edicts had side effects. When she learned hers, a child version of herself would appear out of nowhere and talk to her during her waking hours. At night, she would sleep walk in search for an injured person to heal. His current state wasn’t in the confines of a building, but on the road. It made him a liability and he wasn’t looking forward to hearing the critics of the band opinions of it.
There was shouting from the other room. Lyndon stared at the wall. He had already dressed and was putting his shoulder sash in place and smoothed out his green scouts’ jerkin. When he finished, he brought Mien his boots and cowl. Mien hadn’t even pulled his shirt on.
“Are you okay? I thought edict phrases were something to be excited about.”
“I’m fine. This is just unexpected. Like everything else in my life,” he said and stood up to finish dressing.
“Would you want a predictable life?”
“It would be easier.”
“And that’s why yours isn’t.”
Lyndon opened the door for him and gestured for him to walk out with a bow. At the same time, the door to their left opened and Tyrus stepped out. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was tinted with green. His usual roguish grin wasn’t present. Instead, his face drooped so much that neither dimple of his shown.
“Why is Sol acting like it’s his time of season,” said Tryus.
Lyndon heaved his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
Tyrus took in a great yawn. “Tits, I want my head on a pillow.”
Mien wished his was on one as well. Every step he took rattled his head.
Tyrus then said. “You look just as chipper as me.”
Mien grunted and kept walking until they were downstairs and stepped into the open dining area of the inn. They wound through the empty tables towards Doran. He had a plate of food in from of him. The smell soured his stomach and he placed his head on the table.
“You all are the brightest rays of sunshine I’ve ever seen,” said the young man.
Lyndon yawned and started patting Mien’s back.
Mien heard the front door to the inn open.
“Good, you fellows made it down,” Soletus said. He joined them. “I asked the innkeeper to make you guys a little something.”
Tyrus let out a moan, “If it’s what Doran has on his plate, I don’t want to see it.”
“Aww, come on. A little food in you will make it all better,” said Soletus. There was never a time he wouldn’t say no to a meal.
“What I need is a grave. My head’s killing me.”
“And who’s fault is that, boy,” spoke Warden Cole from the table beside them. He was the oldest and the most crotchety member of their band. “Drinking like a bunch of fools while we adults do the work.”
“Shut it, old man,” said Tyrus.
Cole’s foot hit Mien’s chair leg rattling his head. “Up boy, there’s plenty of time to cry about your poor head later.”
“Lay off,” said Soletus.
The old man sat at the table beside them. Mien listened to the other foot steps around him. He heard the shuffling walk of Pace as well as the heavy steps of Roy. Someone else joined the table. He assumed it was Valhart because he heard him snort with derision.
“What’s wrong with the greeny?”
“Having issues,” said Cole. “Like women, you know.”
They laughed. Mien contemplated taking Doran’s plate and slamming it over Valhart’s head. However, the movement of picking it up would cause his head to crack open.
Lyndon patted his back again. “Come on, sit up.”
Mien heard the chorus whispering again, louder and more urgent than before. He straightened up and listened. He almost felt the phrase touch the tip of his tongue and started to sound it out with his mouth when a plate dropped down in front of him. He was greeted with a pile of scrambled eggs, and two thick slices of buttered bread. A pitcher of water was placed on the table as well as and followed by large bowl of mix fruit. Mien didn’t want any of it. However, he blessed their food and he tried to consume at least half of it. Tyrus appeared to have trouble just looking at it all. He stuck his tongue out and dumped the eggs on Lyndon’s plate. Soletus pointed to Tyrus’s toast and the young man tossed them to him. Doran nibbled on seconds.
Kellas finally joined them. He thanked the innkeeper for the early breakfast and instead of going straight to the old men table, he came to theirs.
“Half of you look ready to move out while the other half looks like you’re ready to die.”
Tyrus kept his head down and muttered something unintelligible, but it sounded rude.
Mien kept eating. Kellas came to a stop behind him.
“How are you doing,” he asked.
“I could be better,” said Mien to his plate.
“I’ve been told about your current state. Can you ride?”
Kellas walked away from him and stood by the table with the oldest members. His flat blue eyes showed a bit of amusement that was also leeched in his voice.
“I’m sure all you beauties are aware that we’re up very early this morning,” he said.
“This is a bunch of nonsense,” cut in Valhart. “We could’ve been done and gone by now.”
Kellas ignored him. “Last night a beaten fellow managed to stumble his way into town. It appeared he had been ambushed and robbed of his wares. I went around asking last night and found that a gang of men have taken uphold in the Firerock Gorge.”
“We should already be moving out there,” muttered Valhart.
Lyndon raised his hand.
Kellas regarded him. “Yes?”
“That’s across the river. You know, outside of our range. It’s the military’s job to take care of a bunch of thieves.”
“This fellow took a tao stone dagger off of one of the men that attacked. And I know what you gentlefellows are going to say, that he could’ve come across it anywhere if a warden lost his dagger. However, this dagger had banded brown and white leather hilt. That’s a peaceguard’s dagger.”
Lyndon sank back in his chair clearly stunned by the implication of what that met. They had a chance to get the wayward peaceguards.
Soletus then stated, “So what? Sure, there’s a high chance it might be theirs but, we don’t know if it is.”
Mien lowered his fork. Kellas was probably right. The guards were all banned from returning to town after they run off. The Brotherhood patrolled the roads for weeks and watched the remaining family members there. They never led them to them. A few of those closest to the guards left Grace’s Hope after being under the scrutiny from not only the Brotherhood but the public as well. Many parents didn’t appreciate what had happened to their children from the blighter manufacturing mishap. Mien couldn’t say he blamed them from leaving town. He wouldn’t live in a place where he was shunned and criticized for something they had nothing to do with.
“It’s more than just a high chance,” said Kellas. “I’m willing to bet my life it’s them.”
“Even still we can’t pursue them,” argued Soletus.
“Of all the people,” snapped Valhart. “You should want to pursue them!”
“Maybe two years ago when they weren’t held up in a thieves den,” returned Soletus.
Kellas folded his arms behind his back. “Normally I would agree, however, they’re attacking innocents, using our weapons to do so, and it was our order who failed in detaining them. They are our responsibility!”
Mien shivered at his last statement. He was adamant in going and he didn’t understand why. He had no connection to those peaceguards.
“But they’ve taken refuge in the worst place possible,” reasoned Soletus.
Kellas said in a reasoning voice that was far from moderate. “I wasn’t planning on turning this into a debate.”
Mien felt uncomfortable with those words. He was obviously getting impatient. Soletus tried to argue, but the man cut him off.
“It’s an unwritten rule that the Brotherhood takes care of their own, even those who have strayed.”
Mien looked at the senior wardens, Valhart, Cole, Pace, and Roy bobbed their heads in agreement. They would always agree with Kellas. However, Soletus, whom he trusted, was hesitant.
“However, if you want to put it up for a vote. All in favor of pursing the transgressors,” said Kellas raising his hand up with Valhart, Cole, Pace, Roy, and Tyrus.
Soletus cut Tyrus a look of betrayal.
“One my friend’s brother got sick. It was downright unfair that nothin’ happened to them,” said Tyrus.
“Those not in favor,” said Kellas.
Soletus raised his hand along with Doran and Lyndon followed by Mien.
Valhart let out an exasperated sigh. “Not surprised the cousins and the greeny vote together. It’s like you three can’t think independently.”
“At least we think,” retorted Lyndon.
The corner of Valhart’s lips quivered as if he was about to snarl. Soletus then spoke before he had time to say something offensive to start a fight.
“I’ve heard enough stories about Firerock Gorge to know that’s not a place we need to go. Besides, Mien just started his edict. It’ll be best if we head back to the monastery.”
Cole and Pace were the only two who looked impressed by that fact.
“Still, that shouldn’t affect too much,” said Kellas.
Mien swallowed and spoke. “It will. I’m not sure I would be able to help.”
“We could just leave him here,” suggested Valhart.
“No, we need him in case one of us gets injured,” said Kellas.
Mien wanted to tell the man that wasn’t his purpose. His purpose was to help in combat. They were supposed to keep themselves from getting injured. He didn’t say anything though. Another stab of pain raced to the back of his head. He hung his aching head down and listened to their debating before he raised his head and opened his eyes again. He found himself in the field again. He spun around and found himself standing there solemnly.
“In the middle of a meeting? They could be telling me something important!”
The being looked at him thoughtfully. “Believe me, it’s better this way.”
Mien dragged his hands through his hair. “How is this better?”
“He is making the wrong choice,” said he, staring at the sunset a sorrowfully.
Mien didn’t get an answer. Instead, his green eyes shut as the sun sank down the horizon.
“As a chanter, you are given a great deal of power. Some use it for good, others take advantage of it, and a few run. Then there are those around them who do the same. They encourage the chanter to do good, take advantage of them, and some abuse them so that they cause a chanter to run. Chanter’s can easily become lost through ill will and abuse. They become one of the graceless. You lost your way once before to sorrow and you don’t need to lose your way for revenge.”
“What are you talking about?”
The man regarded him. His eyes were more gold than green. “You have to learn, to protect someone is to know to not to fear harm. Sometimes, Dias’s purpose isn’t always to save a life.”
Mien heard the phrase again on the wind. This time it was louder and more persistent. He strained to understand the chorus around him. His lips started moving, sounding out each syllable in Melodic. Each note connected to a phrase that he knew, but was beginning to understand it. He knew the phrase. It was the phrase of protection. However, the moment he uttered it, he flashed out of the field into chaos. The world sped by him.
He heard something explode in his ears and causing them to ring. There was shouting, and the smell of blood was thick around him. Sorrow, disbelief, and then anger filled him as his throat stained. Screamed and chanting before all the air was knocked out of him. After that, nothing except a veil darkness. He heard nothing. He felt nothing. He saw nothing. He smelled nothing. It was as if he was cut off from life like before what felt like decades ago.
Mien thought it was all part of the vision because, finally, he woke up. He cracked his eyes open and saw everything around him as a mass of unidentifiable shapes. He closed his eyes and focused on how he felt as his sense of touch was the sharpest. It felt warm, so it wasn’t night. He took a deep breath and cough. There was pressure on his chest as he was lying on his stomach. He drew his fingers towards his palm to see if anything was broken and felt the grit of the soil on his finger pads. There was no grass, just rock and clay.
A sharp clank of metal on rock got his attention. The metal struck the rock a few more times before it turned into scraping. The sound grated his nerves as well as the flies buzzing around his head. It was then his sense of smell came back. His nose filled with the sour smell of wet burnt wood and putrefaction. It wasn’t strong, but something was clearly dead near him.
He opened his eyes again. This time his sight was focused and someone was lying beside him with a tattered cloth over them. Wind gusted up and moved the cloth just enough to reveal the drooping eyelid of a lifeless woman with one eye and the other half her face burnt.
He went from a vision to a nightmare.
He screamed, but his, throat didn’t release it. The only sound that filled his ears, was the sound of rushing blood from his heart trying to beat itself out of his chest. He struggled to scoot himself away from the sight before him. A strangled scream finally burst out of his throat.
The digging stopped.
Mien scrambled up from behind him and felt something solid. He rolled and discovered it was another corpse. He crawled on the ground and scrambled upright. His legs refused to hold his weight and he toppled forward. Someone caught him from behind.
“No, stop,” they choked.
Mien fought against their grip and they him tighter.
“Shhh. Calm down. Breathe. It’s alright”
Mien was hyperventilating now and jab them in the chest with his elbow. They didn’t let go. In fact, it felt like they were hugging him.
“Oalf, no don’t do that. Tyrus! Get over here!”
Mien gave one more burst before he felt too feeble to fight. The one who held him lowered both of them to the ground.
“Shhh, take full a breaths. Thank Dias you aren’t dead.”
He became still. I’m not dead? Why would I be dead?
Mien tried to speak again, but his parched throat wouldn’t allow it. He started coughing instead. The arms that braced him loosened and the person who held him crawled around with blue eyes filled with joyous tears. Soletus pressed his forehead against his.
“Thank you Dias.” He said, repeating it three times before he said. “I didn’t want to lose him too.”
He kissed him on the forehead.
Mien started shaking. Tyrus then appeared, reaching out and touching the young chanter’s arm.
“How is he…I thought he had…” then the young man became wordless and gaped at him.
Mien searched for anything familiar around him. There was nothing. There was no inn. They were in what appeared to be a gorge and a tall rock face rising up in the air above them. His intuition screamed that something horrible had happened, however, he couldn’t remember any of it.