Good leadership, not driven by unreason or lust, is better for the whole. When I became a first warden, the many complaints then was that I never served under enough first wardens before becoming one. And that normal for someone purposely groomed. They wanted me to learn different management styles so I could learn my own. However, it was just another excuse of they didn’t want me to be him. And I started understanding their trepidation about him less and less. Maybe if they paid a little less attention on him and on Kellas. Then again, they probably would not see that rot infecting the monastery. The man responsible for that was my grandfather. He enabled Kellas into self-righteousness. The kind that makes one believe they’ve they right to be arbiter and executioner.
A chanter’s life was described to Mien by Brother Hickory walking across a beam of wood over a ravine. Sometimes you lose balance and lean to one side then the other. You might trip and fall on the beam. However, you never want to fall off. It was to save yourself from having to climb back up. That is if you could. Sometimes a chanter fell and would never be able to climb back up. This was a situation where she had fallen off and was hit the bottom to find death.
Doran nudged him. “What is she talking about?”
Mien blinked. His jaw tight. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know what to say, he was just afraid to speak. In his throat was the phrase of light.
“I don’t know if your friend is able to answer you,” she said.
And then the phrase of silence joined it.
If Mien could’ve ran just to get control of himself he would’ve. However, every fiber of him wanted to end her at that moment.
“Why are you getting the shakes,” said Doran growing in alarm. His gaze fixed itself on her. He positioned himself in front of Mien and he reached towards the hunting knife at his side. “You, what are you?”
Mien willed his mind, his instincts, and his abilities to relax. It would’ve been bad if it wasn’t pushing back.
She looked at the knife and rolled her eyes. “Tao stone pales against bone weapons. I scream and you’ll have a bone arrowhead stuck in you. Put the knife away. I’m not here to do anything.”
Mien swallowed both the phrase down and managed to croak, “Don’t, Doran.”
He didn’t remove his hand. “Why? Somethings not right here.”
“I’m overwhelmed is all.”
The kanu crossed her arms. “A male sensitive. Yet, you managed not to sing for my death.”
“Why do you feel like a drass beast,” demanded Mien.
“You know how. I’m sentenced to death,” she said. “And wish to die on my terms. However, you burn me seeing you, so you don’t know how to purify.”
The phrase of purification was a rare phrase. Not prevalent among Fen elves. And not as rare as the phrase of the risen. Neither of them were ones he knew. And one he didn’t think would help her. She was corrupted. It was beyond a natural toxins. What in the known worlds did his guide want him to do? There was nothing he could do. He was learning the phrase of protection not purification.
What was the point of this? Another example of how I can’t save everyone.
“You realize what you are dealing with something impossible. You should run while you have a chance,” she said.
“No,” stated Mien. He didn’t want to be the chanter who failed his edict.
“Look, there is absolutely nothing you can do for me unless you are here to kill me.”
There was a shout. It sounded female and was probably from the woman by the cauldrons. The kanu woman stepped out and spoke to her in reassuring tones in the human’s language. And then went back to her post.
“They are suspicious. I would leave if I was you but, I rarely see a brother in voice. And you to look pathetic I wish to be hostess. There is a single stone house. That home is mine. On the back side, there is a cellar door. Wait there and keep your heads down.”
She then walked off heading towards another post.
Doran then asked, “Should we trust her?”
“If she wanted to call for alarm, she could’ve easily done so a moment ago. We’ll make a wide arc around this place and find her home. Go head, signal when it’s clear.”
Doran then scampered off while Mien stared down at his hand. He didn’t want to jump to conclusions because there was only a single way for a chanter to have corruption inside them. He didn’t want to think of her as being brainless in an attempt to gain power.
They made their wide arch around the village. Most of it looked was in disrepair and sagging roofs and listing foundation. The only buildings that weren’t letting in drafts and rain were made mostly from stone like the chapel and Vlory’s place. As Mien moved, he eyed the chapel. He watched the poachers empty out the cauldron with the bones. It took two of them to it and they ladled the liquid out pouring it in casts and carried them inside of the chapel as well as the boiled bones. They were using the place to store their goods it seemed.
It started raining while they waited at the cellar door. Not only did they have to keep their head down but huddle together just to keep warm. They were shivering despite themselves. The woman left them out in the rain a long time before she came and swung the cellar door open for them.
“Hurry up,” she said. “Leave your cloaks down there.”
The house wasn’t much of anything. They entered through the kitchen that was the largest room. She led them away from it to the back of home that consisted of two rooms. One had the door closed; the other was a small bedroom. She let them in there. It was at that time, Mien got good look at her. Her hair was a black mound of curls that went down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were gray centered with gold and her face wasn’t the only part of her specked but her neck and forearms as well. She had elf ears but they were tipped in a reddish brown. She was kanu.
She tossed a folded blanket from her cot at Mien. “Settle down on the floor. Take your boots off and I’ll get another blanket.
They did as they were told and squeezed together on the floor from across her bed. There wasn’t a lot of room. When she returned, she tossed the blanket at Doran’s face and settled down on her because looking at them with curiosity.
“I see you have uniforms. What are those patches for?”
“The Dias Brotherhood,” answered Doran.
“Oh,” she said surprised and studied them with interest. “I’ve never laid eyes on Dias Brotherhood before. These poachers are roaches, they hide from those who have lights to shine on them and kill them.”
“And how did you end up with a groups of human and half-elf poachers?”
“My hair is the color of the night sky. Too dark for your insular people’s consideration. I needed to survive and they needed my skill. I keep drass beasts away.”
“I don’t think coin is greater than your life! This is dangerous and illegal work,” said Doran.
The Kanu woman raised her hand and tugged off a leather glove on her hand with her teeth. “Agreed,” she said showing them her hand. All her finger tips were in varying states of turning to a dirty purple. It was as Mien thought; she had been consuming drass beast blood.
Most chanters were warned from it. It enhanced their abilities. However, it came with a price. A chanter was bound to death drinking it. They themselves would slowly become corrupted and turn into a husks.
Doran’s jaw sagged. “How did you end up this way,” he questioned.
She shrugged. “Why does it matter? I’m dying. What this one needs it to remove the corruption so I can die in peace.”
“Why does it matter,” returned Doran.
Mien then injected. “Because she’ll turn into a husk. Just like the one we saw. She’s been drinking drass beast blood. That’s what it does to you eventually.”
The young woman smiled a sad smile. “So you know the truth. A cleaning that only fire can provide well save these people, Reckoner.”
“I’m not your reckoner?”
“I cry for help and Dias sent me a bright light burning. What am I to think?”
Doran then asked, “Why not stop drinking it.
“I’ve the corruption empowers me to keep my body whole. I was mauled by an extremely venomous drass beast. These humans and half-elves were desperate to save me. The reached for the only solution they had.”
“So the wounds should be healed,” said Doran.
“They aren’t. The corruption keeps the wounds from being healed normally. It also gives me the power to keep the wounds closed as long as I consume it. I’m in a loop. Borrowed time from the fiend himself creation. The only chance I have not to suffer a terrible death is if a chanter can purify the corruption from my body. I won’t turn into a husk when I die.”
“Why can’t they purify and heal you,” asked Doran.
“Because the chanter has to be powerful to cut through what the venom left,” answered Mien.
“What about someone like Sister Kiao? She’s a strong healer.”
“But she doesn’t know how to purify. No one in the infirmary knows how. It’s a rare phrase among elves.”
That kanu then looked down sadly. “Among my people it’s not. If I were with them, I would have a chance. More can purify than heal. I cannot heal well normally. My skill lies in speaking into tao stone. Enough about that which cannot live. You two are still pathetic. I can get food and you can tell me about this brotherhood.”
With that, the woman left leaving them alone.
Doran watched her go out and then stated, “We can just stay here forever, are we taking her with us or not?”
“I wasn’t expecting someone so resistant,” he said at a complete loss on what to do. He couldn’t purify her. Even if he did, he couldn’t heal her either. He was stuck on an impossible task.
Think, he thought, Think. There has to be something I missing here. I can’t protect her from herself. She’s corrupted. How does the corruption even works?
Mien was so into his thoughts, he didn’t notice the young kaun coming back into the room. She had a plate full of pan bread and jerky. He only realized it when Doran reached for the plate in his line of sight and plucked some bread off.
“We should carry some back to the others,” he said.
“So there are more? What does this brotherhood do?”
“We are really just custodians. Our purpose was to thin the wave of drass beasts that came out of Drass Tarn. But that was centuries ago and less and less beasties come from over the wall, we focus on other aid. We have a messaging system with connected towns and they sent out mission requests. Our band was a drass beast hunting band and we were out on a mission to take care of a behemoth. We mostly go out to patrol and slay whatever drass beast near and around the province southern border.”
“Why not outside of your province,” said Vlory.
“The order isn’t as large as it used to be. We do what we can now. Not everyone cares for our brand of help. Not all the towns in our province are Brotherhood friendly. Some we outright avoid because it causes problems no matter what we do,” he said.
“I see. And you members are always as young as you?”
“No. Where just young is all. And Mien don’t you need to say something to her.”
Mien didn’t know what more was he to say to someone who he couldn’t help. He hoped that his guide would tell him more but it looked like he was on his own.
“You could come with us and find out everything you want of your curious enough,” said Mien. “I can’t help you, not alone, but maybe other chanter I know can.”
Vlory shook her head. “I’ve seen maps. You’ve a world to cross. I will fade in blood and pain. Suffer as I get consumed by my wounds. I cannot survive without drass beast blood and I feel as if my body is reaching its limit. I hear whispers. My dreams are haunted by a gaping maw filled with row after row of teeth. It laughs at me. Calls me a fool and beckons me to come. The one isn’t worth your soft-heart.”
“I think you are.”
“You think you are? Your order is one of peace but are trained like soldiers. You obey and follow orders. Am I worth saving or am I doomed.”
“But you doom these people,” said Doran. “You turn into a husk, then they’ll suffer your fate and we will have to end them too.”
“Then it’s clear,” she said looking at Mien. “Reckoner, what is it that you want to do? I can stop taking the drass beast blood and poison myself. It’ll make it all easier.”
That wasn’t a decision he wanted to make. What made him the authority in her eyes to make such a thing?
“I need to talk to the rest of my band about it,” he said. I have to think about it.
“Then you do that,” she stated indifferently. “Come back when you figure it out. But before you go, I will give you something to take back to them.”
Mien forced a smiled on his face. He didn’t know what else to do. “Thank you…uhhh”
Her name resonated in his head sunk into his mind as if implanting itself. He was certain her fact would be as well. Because if he did fail and she turned into something like the husk they saw, those two things would haunt him every time he closed his eyes at night.
Doran and Mien returned back where they left the horses. Tyrus was awake standing in his cloak. He had brought the tarp out and stung it up for Soletus. The young monk had his back against the tree sleeping under it. Their approach woke him up. He looked at them hopeful and then confused.
“She doesn’t want to be saved,” stated Doran. “In fact, I think she’s come to a kind of peace with it.”
Soletus arched a brow. “Peace with what?”
“Dying. She’s corrupted. Been drinking drass beast blood,” he said.
Mien then stated. “She was mauled by a venomous drass beast. You know how hard those are to heal. The poachers gave her drass beast blood in a misguided attempt to save her. You can only take so much of before you get so corrupted, you turn into a husk.”
Soletus nodded and thought for an instant and said. “And you just left her there?”
“What else were we supposed to do,” exclaimed Doran and pushed the knapsack of flatbread at Tyrus. “She didn’t want to come. Mien couldn’t convince her. Like I said, she wants to die.”
Soletus shook his head. “I bet she doesn’t. She went through all the trouble to ask for help.”
“She wanted a chanter with the phrase of purification to make her suffer less,” cried Mien and started pacing. “I don’t know it. We can’t take her back with us. We don’t have time. She’ll die if she stops taking the blood and she’ll die if she continues taking the blood. I was given an impossible edict.”
“But we can’t leave her there,” said Soletus firmly. “She’s corrupted. We have to deal with her. By order of Dias and the Seat itself, we cannot leave a corrupted elf –”
“Kanu,” corrected Doran.
“Corrupted anything, we can’t let it alone. It has to be purified. In most cases that means killed then burned,” said Soletus.
“I’m not killing a woman then burning and I’m not helping one commit suicide to be burned,” shouted Mien and then his voice softened as he spoke on. “You know how much that would hurt me. I would never feel right about myself. I’m not a reckoner. I’m just a chanter.”
Soletus gave him a sharp nod. “Then that settles it. We take her and pray Dias give you guidance on what to do next.”
“Wait what? What do you mean take her,” said Mien.
“Save this woman,” interrupted Tyus with his mouth full. “Titfire, these are good. She needs to blessed. She spread butter on these with herbs and salt.”
“I intend to or make the attempt thereof. And by taking her, I mean just that. We take her.”
Mien wondered if the fever was getting to Soletus. “You mean kidnapping her?”
“I’m going to persuade her.”
“How? You can’t get near that place,” said Mien. He assumed the young monk meant to talk to her. However, there was certain roguish glint in Soletus’s eyes that suggested he wasn’t going to do something reasonable.
“I’m going to kill three birds with one stones. I had Tyrus watch while you were gone and he noted that the triad structure is where they store beastie parts. And since the structure is offensive, we burn it.”
“That doesn’t sound like you’re trying to persuade her bit limit her choices,” said Doran.
Soletus crossed his arms. “In a way yes, she can’t stay with them and if everything burns up, the poachers aren’t going to stick around. That fire could very well attract attention they don’t want. We can take her without being followed maybe.”
Mien chewed on his bottom lip in indecision. He didn’t like the idea.
Soletus prompted him. “Thought?”
“When are you going to act on this plan?”
Mien liked it even less now. “We’re rushing into this.”
“We are, but we don’t have a choice. You need to help her, I need to get away from this place, and these poachers need to go too,” he said in a reasonable voice despite the fact his plan wasn’t.
Tyrus then raised his hand.
Soletus regarded him and sighed, “Yes.”
“You know, he does have a point, we’re rushing this. There’s a chance somethin’s going to hit us from the side.”
“True but this is the best course of action with what we’ve been handed. Look, if you want, you can leave. There’s nothing keeping you here and most of this is driven by desire just to burn this disgusting place.”
“I like burning stuff and you can barely move so I ain’t leaving,” said Tyrus.
Doran’s shoulders sagged. “I’ll stay. Just because as soon as we get this done, we can leave.”
Mien felt he was the hold out. He wanted guidance. However, there was still none to be had in this. He had to decide.
“What if she still refuses to go,” he asked.
“Then you take her. Try not to scare her,” said Soletus standing to his feet with more effort than it should’ve. He had to use the tree for support.
The young chanter walked to him and put an arm around him. His friend was sweating again. “Fine, just to get you out of here since you’re still very sick.”
“I knew you would help,” replied the young monk with confidence that Mien wished he would share with him.
“Are you going to be well enough for all of this?”
“I can’t help so you three are going to have to follow my plan. I promise you this isn’t a fever driven nonsense, so here is the plan…”