They worried about him so much and you know, Papa, unlike a lot of wardens, never formed a hollier than thou complex. Mostly because he was humble. It stemmed from the fact he never, as far as I known him, thought highly of himself. And it gave him the ability to empathize with people. He managed to be plenty firm and stern, but he was reasonably fair as a warden. And I learned how difficult to be fair and reasonable. Those two aren’t synonymous. What sound fair isn’t the most reasonable or the most logical. You often times find yourself in a situation where you have choose one or the other. Then you end up having to be in the middle. Then sometimes, as difficult as it maybe for the people you aid to say no. Kellas could’ve. That would’ve been the reasonable thing to do. We could’ve looked into the attack, determine who did, and took our findings to the fort nearby for them to handle. However, pride and ego made it seem like the fair thing was for brotherhood to take out brotherhood.
The execution of Soletus’s plain started at midnight. They had slept only a little until the roused themselves up and stared moving. Soletus stayed behind to be ready when they came back. The first part of his plan was put into motion in the evening when he asked Tyrus to set-up a fake camp fire along the southern edge of the gorge they had crossed. It was off the road and into the woods but you could easily see the smoke rising in the air. Their real came was fireless. They had hunkered down near the foot of the bridge over the gorge, right by the road. It was chilly and they all packed in together to stay warm and moved around to keep from getting stiff.
Mien didn’t like the thought of leaving Soletus alone. Not that the young man couldn’t take care of himself but he was still sick. As much as he was acting like himself and was away from the poacher, sickness still held him. The young chanter didn’t vocalize his concerns. He wasn’t going to start acting like Kiao but, it did worry him as the approached the village.
They entered from the road instead of the woods. Even with the blanket of moisture on the ground, it would be too noisy. The road under their boots yielded little sound than the occasional muffle squelch of boots on mud. The sky had cleared up given them a little light from the moon to see and shadows to stand in. Mien kept his ears sharp as they scampered onward to make sure nothing was doing the same.
There was nothing to hear passed the chorus of night bugs though. There were no sounds of footsteps or the yawns from a night watch. They entered into the center of the abandoned village uncontested. Doran led the way ducking into shadows and crossing into the faint moonlight before vanishing into the shadows again. Tyrus went next creep low to the ground and joined him. Mien hesitated and listened for anything above the cricket chirps again. There was nothing. The entire band of poachers slept with peace.
They had no watch or anything. Once might say they were foolishly comfortable in doing what they did. And why wouldn’t they be. No one traveled that far out and the entire place was warded. It was good because it made it easier for them. Mien was still nervous though.
He scurried into the shadows with Doran and Tyrus. He couldn’t see their expression and they didn’t say anything. However, he heard Doran sigh and he felt Tyrus rest a palm on his back when he settled beside him. Mien pulled away from him. He was fine, there was no need for reassurances. He’ll do what he needed to do even though he was nervous. The three repeated the same maneuver until they made it too the chapel.
A beam of moonlight touched the door making creating a dim spotlight on anyone who approached the door. Doran darted out and tested the door with his shoulders. He fell when it swung open under his weight. They didn’t even secure the door and the young scout pulled himself in and soon motioned for them. Tyrus went first and this time Mien followed close to his heels stunned that the poachers were so careless.
Once inside, they shut the door and Mien chanted up a globe of light to see what they were dealing. He kept the light a warm amber and what the light touched showed them they were dealing with a lot.
There were drass beast bone filled crates stacked to his right and in front of there were roughly constructed racks that had rib bones and skins from not just beasties but that of deer, bears, wolves, foxes, and rabbits. There were feathers from birds, claws, and even feet. Tyrus walked over to one of the crates. He squatted down and whistled to get their attention. Mien formed another orb and pushed it towards him. He stood up and helded up a dried eagle claw.
“I get the skins and the feathers, but why feet,” he said.
“Black magic,” answered Mien. “That’s what they use beastie parts for.”
“I don’t get how a critter helps them.”
“It’s a give and take kind of deal,” said Mien absently as he inspected the length of a behemoth rib bone.
“Witchcraft, dark magic, black magic or whatever you want to call it,” he explained further. “With a chanter, the power comes from within you and is driven and maintained by faith. It’s divine and the very opposite for dark magic. You wield abilities through potions consumed. And to make the potions, you must use the essence of something else. Each animal and plant has a certain essence to fuel certain potions.”
“So what, beastie gives them something,” asked Tyrus.
“Yes,” answered Doran and came to a halt at a large skull of multiple eye holes looking back at him. “Well that’s terrifying. My father told me it empowers them a great deal but it comes with a cost.”
“It opens them up to the Maw,” said Mien and stopped walking down the altar when his light illuminated something several feet in front of him. It was a foot. Hi brightened his sun globe and raised it. “Well more so than using an unclean magic.”
“Then why hasn’t the entire race of humans become husks,” asked Tyrus.
“They are resistant to corruption and some claim it’s their gods that protects them,” he said revealing three statues at the back of the altar.
“Is that the triad,” asked Tyrus.
The statues were of the Triad’s pantheon. Between the god Nigma muscular arms and one of the goddess’s, Gerth, eight wings was the third, the child god Sagie. It was Nigma who he was fixated on. He had a very human looking form but was bestial with all he muscles that was carved into his nude stone body. He had a sword in one hand and the head of a bull in the other. He had three tails lashing behind him that reminded Mien of the end of a whip. He was a god of strength and war. His cold stone eyes would be pleased at the sight before him. Mien wasn’t sure about the half goat half boy that was Sagie, he liked animals from what Mien had read. Gerth wouldn’t as she was of wisdom but also of black magic. These were tools before her, but not in the right place.
Mien rubbed his arms feeling polluted.
“I guess this is why Soletus claimed he found this place offensive,” said the half-elf.
“You’re a half-elf, you act as if you’ve never seen the Triad before,” said Doran. “And we also studied it in history.”
“Must’ve slept through that lesson. And no, I haven’t. My family isn’t particularly religious.”
“They’re nonbelievers,” he asked.
“Yep,” said Tyrus turning around. “I guess we should start piling this all together. Make a nice hot bonfire.”
Doran then tossed him the pack of dried bark and moss they managed to find as fire starter. “So why aren’t you?”
“A chanter came and healed me when I was a jackass and busted myself pretty good falling down a tree. They weren’t Brotherhood but they were the only reason I lived.” He then pointed to the walls. “Look, tapestries burn great when dry are old and dry like this.”
Mien got the impression that Tyrus didn’t want to talk about it. If he had to guess, his family wasn’t so keen on his decisions.
“It’ll work but drass beasts are nice and flammable already, unless you want to bring this entire building down.”
“And there is a lantern full of oil,” said Doran holding it up.
Clearly, it was a sign they were going to burn the entire building down.
The three of them began to work quickly gathering everything dry they could get their hands on and split the piles up. One close to the front door of the chapel as well as another pile in the center. Doran and Tyrus pulled down two dusty that ripped easily off the rungs. Mien went for furs and wooden poles that were probably cut to make more racks. Tyrus brought over a few crates and Doran a few dried behemoth ribs nearly as tall as he was.
“We’re going to need a long bath after this,” said Tyrus standing back and admiring the structure of their indoor bone fire.
Doran came from the back of the temple. “There is a door here. We retreat there and make our way to Vlory’s.”
“Go ahead back,” said Mien taking the lantern. He removed the flute glass and tossed it to the side. He emptied the contents of the lantern on the pile closest to the door before summoning his last orb of light flaring it so hot he couldn’t stare directly at it for long. Doran had laid his tapestry with that pile and Mien used it as the ignition point one followed by a woven basket holding smaller bones. He wasn’t sure how they were going to get any of that across the border but they didn’t have to worry about it anymore as flames took over the oil laden tapestry.
The young chanter then went to the middle pile and went straight to bone and beastie hide at the bottom with the dried materials they carried. The second piled caught quickly from the bottom and the flames started licking the sides of the tapestry. Mien wanted to admire his handy work, however he had to leave before the smoke became too thick.
He joined Tyrus and Doran and started part two of Soletus’s plan and that was retrieve Vlory. The three of them took the same route that Mien and Doran had earlier that day and paused at the shed before taking the wide arc around the village. They came to rest to watch a moment between trees. At first, it didn’t appear as if anyone would get up and see what was going on. It wasn’t until the heat of the blaze got to a window frame of the chapel. Glass shattered and someone lit a lantern from one of the homes closest to them.
The three of them got down on their stomachs when they heard a door open and a figure come walking out of it and illuminated the side of the chapel. Smoke was pouring out of the broken window with flames backlighting it. They then began shouting and ran to all the occupied homes, banging on their doors. When they went to Vlory’s home and left, was when they hurried to her cellar door. Doran hung back where he was in the shadows to watch the front door. Mien pressed his ear to the door as well as stretched his senses searching for Vlory’s timbre. She was still in there and there was another person talking loudly. A woman and he heard her soft thumps and the front door opened and shut.
Mien listened again waiting to hear anyone else. He didn’t feel anything else and he tapped the cellar door in short intervals. He knew as a chanter, she could hear it. It took several taps before she made her way towards them. When she opened the door, she shined a very weak sparking starlight on them. She was dressed as if she were about to go out.
She met his gaze then side-glanced Tyrus with suspicion in her eyes. “Reckoner, have you been reckoning?”
“You need to come with us,” said Mien.
She frowned. “Why should I go with naughty boys?”
Mien wasn’t sure how to persuade her, so he told her the truth. “As members of our order, we can’t let you stay here.”
“You listen to only orders.”
“I can’t leave you here,” he said gently. “I don’t want to kill you. I don’t want you to die. Look, I’m going through my edict and part of that is helping and saving you. But, I can’t do it here.”
Vlory started push the door back closed. “You do the impossible, soft-hearted Reckoner. Take your friends and go.”
Tyrus then put his hand out stopping the door from closing. “Look, we’ve not the time, and you’ve no choice,” he told her.
“Tyrus,” Mien hissed and pushed his arm down.
Vlory backed up to the shadow and winked out her star light. “What is this,” she demanded.
Mien then quickly explained. “I told you, we can’t leave you here. Rules of the Brotherhood state, we can’t leave anything corrupted alone. We have to deal with. How we are going save, you I don’t know. But we were ordered to get you out of here.”
She narrowed her eyes at them.
“Please, Vlory,” pleaded Mien. “Believe me, none of use wants to kill you. We burned the stash because it needed to be done. However, no wants to do that to you. But you are a danger to the poachers and anyone that happens to come across this place. You know this. Please, we don’t want to have to drag you out.”
The kanu woman eyed them warily. “I shall need supplies.”
“Then get whatever you need but no drass beast blood,” he said.
“Why don’t you just go with her,” said Tyrus pushing him forward. “I’ll watch here.”
Mien nodded. Vlory motioned for him to follow her.
When he entered the upstairs, firelight from the burning chapel touched the kitchen and her eating area with golden light. Some were carrying buckets to man who was standing at the front door of that chapel trying to put out the flames. However, flames lashed angrily at them through the remains of the wooden door.
“You know not the worth of what you burned,” she said.
“They know not the danger of what they store,” he returned, pulling his attention away and followed her in the room she hid them in. “You should.”
“Yes, my people created those abominations so my fate is fitting. I gained power and I will me the same end as my ancestors,” she said taking out one of her blankets and started collecting small items from her room. Not that she had a lot of things. She put in a comb, a small wooden box, a change of clothes, and three thin books she had on a table and wrapped it all in a bundle. She already had her cloak and boots on. She stopped in front of Mien.
“Soft-hearted fool, this isn’t going to end well,” she said and moved passed him and walking inside the open room again. The fire grew and raged beyond saving now. “Perhaps the answer is right here, Reckoner. Corruption burns brightest from purifying flame. You started that fire.”
Mien reached out and touched her shoulder. “No, please, just come.”
“Then promise me you will kill me, burn my body, and sprinkle my ashes under the boughs of a burning ash.”
Mien felt a knot form in his throat. “Vlory…”
“Promise me,” she said forcing her voice at him. “There is no way around this. You will see soon.”
A chill ran down Mien’s spine. Lyndon’s fate was about to repeat itself. A chanter couldn’t save everyone. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t try. He just had to think. But as far as he could see, he needed help. Dias had to guide him and help him find a chanter to help her. He couldn’t save her alone.
He blinked and beside of Vlory stood his guide.
“And you’re correct because you can’t save her alone. You’re more powerful together than apart.”
“More powerful together,” he said unaware that Vlory heard him.
She searched the room and then look beside him. “Who are you talking too?”
His guide then tugged out a chain from around his neck and showed him the pendant. It was a sterling silver bright, shinning despite the shadows around them. It was a marriage pendant. It was a cyan jay with a meadowlark flying in a circle. “Some chanters are blessed and bonded so they can sing a song.”
“Kiao,” he whispered and then his Guide vanished it was replaced with Vlory now standing in front of him. She had her hands on his shoulders squinting at him.
“Who is guiding you,” she asked.
And that was when the front door swung open.
Mien whirled around to see the woman who was stirring the cauldrons standing there. Vlory then acted quickly and shut the door, hissing softly at the woman trying to explain herself rapidly. The woman shoock her head and pointed an accusing finger at the woman and let out a single scream before Vlory forced the phrase of silence at her.
The woman’s voice with squelched out and she held a hand up to her neck looking stunned and betrayed.
“Do something,” said Vlory pointing to the woman. Mien held his hands up and backed away from her.
“That’s not doing anything,” said the Kaun woman.
“How long is that going to last?”
“An hour,” she said right as the woman reach to her side and pulled out a throwing knife. Mien sang out the phrase of protection and covered both him and Vlory. The knife bounced of the shield, sparking up a flame. It was a bone knife.
Tyrus then rose up from the cellar. “What’s going on,” he asked and before Mien could even stop him, the woman flashed out another knife. The half elf ducked out of the way.
Mien the manifested a light orb in front of the woman’s face and flared in bright. The woman covered her eyes and silently screamed. Tyrus leapt from his stop taking hold of her and pinned her arms by her side saying something in what sounded like Suttish.
“Vlory, get whatever you need and head out back,” ordered Mien following Tyrus as he carried the woman who was now kicking to the back.
Vlory then grabbed a stack of bread and shoved it in an empty flour sack as well as small sack of something else and then left down to the cellar steps. The woman looked terrified staring at him as Tyus carried her away to the back.
“Find something to tie her up with,” shouted Tyrus.
Mien searched the kitchen and saw nothing. He then went back into Vlory’s room and found a short length of rope. All the whole he heard thumping and Tyrus cursing. When he returned, Tyrus had the woman on the ground with her hands behind her back.
“Tie her legs with that. There’s a scarf in there that’ll be good for her hands,” he said and then spoke gently to the woman.
Mien worked as quickly as he could. He didn’t want her to follow them, not trap her. He tied her legs and found the scarf grabbing it and tied her wrists together.
“Okay, let’s go,” urged Mien.
“Why isn’t she screaming,” asked Tyrus standing up saying one more thing to her and followed the young chanter out.
“Vlory silenced her,” said Mien.
Tyrus told her one more thing and shut the door to the room.
“What were you telling her?”
“Sorry. I mean, it’s a little scary for two men to tie you up. I didn’t want to be rude.”
When they were outside, Vlory and Doran were waiting for them in the shadows. Mien waved at them when he crossed into a beam of moonlight too keep going and they did. There was all sort of shouting around them.
“They aren’t happy,” said Tyrus. “They keep talking about dogs and searching the area.”
Mien asked Vlory “They have dogs.”
“Yes for hunting,” she said creeping along the ground with them, clutching the things she brought.
“Who uses dogs for drass beast hunting,” said Tyrus.
“They’re big dogs,” she said.
“No, bigger, longer legs, wiry coat, and very fast,” she said.
Mien stretched his hear to listen for anything rustling in the woods. “They aren’t close yet,” said Mien.
Doran then let out a cry and smacked his hand on his forehead. “We should’ve taken a horse!”
Mien winced. This why he hated quickly made plans. They always forgot something. He focused on following Doran back to the road. Once there, they started jogging and that was when Vlory started to lag. Tyrus took her hand and pulled her along.
She then spoke between breaths. “How far are we going?”
“Just over the bridge, then you can ride,” said Mien.
They weren’t far from the bridge but it felt like ages to get there. It didn’t help that Vlory couldn’t keep up with their pace even with the drive to flee. And of course, it was crossing the suspension bridge across that made Mien nervous. They had crossed the swinging bridge before and below them was a raging river cutting through the rocks of the gorge below them. It was dark and the only thing that Mien’s light illuminated was just a couple of feet in front of them. However, it was that darkness below them that made him fell ill at ease. There were no gapes between the old wooden planks of the bridge. However, it wasn’t that well maintain and creaked with every step they took. Doran had no trouble and nimbly went across it far ahead of them. Mien was next in line with Tyrus right behind him dragging along Vlory who was whimpering with uncertainty.
“This bridge, they’ve rigged to collapse,” she told them. “Just on this end though.”
That prompted Mien and Tyrus to hurry up to the other side. Once they found their footing. There was rustling in the brush and Soletus came out with the horses following him.
“How the roasting go,” he asked.
“Great,” replied Mien taking one of the horses and presented to Vlory. “We need to go, dogs are searching.”
“Not a problem,” he said and mounting on his horse with a lot of effort. “We need to push forward.”
“Will they even bother pursing us,” asked Tyrus to Vlory.
“I don’t know,” said the young woman settling down on the back of her mount. She still sounded winded. “Maybe, probably with me gone.”
“We keep going down the road and find someplace to hide,” instructed Soletus.
Once again, Mien jogged on with Tyrus on foot. They continued like that for a few miles with one of Mien’s sun globes leading the way. It then illuminated something in the distance. It was a road sign. Not only that, but a fork in the road.
Doran hurried his horse to it and then became confused.
“Wateree is the nearest town going straight,” he said. “Wateree? How are we so far north and west?”
Tyrus trudged over to the sign. “Yeah it might be the closest but look at sun marks on it.”
There indeed were five small stars marks on the sign. It was a five day journey.
“There is a lodge,” said Soletus pointing down to the lower sign. The lodge was two sun marks away. “Then that will be out meeting point. This is a good as anyplace to split up. However, first things first.” He said bringing his horse beside of Vlory. “Hello, Vlory, was it.”
She tilted her head at him. “Another light but this one is a small flame.”
“Y-y-yeah,” he said slowly and glanced at Mien. The young chanter shrugged. He hadn’t a problem with the way she spoke. “I just wanted to apologize for doing things the way I did but, truth is, we couldn’t just leave you there.”
“It was explained. And as I told the Reckoner kill and burn me. You’re the embodiment of Lenneth nature, you know truth,” she said.
Mien then cut in. “My guide told me, I cannot do this alone. Kiao needs to help me.”
Vlory then added. “I’ve no drass beast blood today. My wounds will soon come back. I cannot travel to your monastery.”
Soletus sat up straight and considered Vlory for a moment and then Mien. His dark eyes looked uncertain but he was starting to calculate. “Mien, as I said. Rules state, we cannot leave anything corrupted alone. We have to deal with it.”
“And I’m telling you, that it won’t come to that,” said Mien. “If my guide to me I needed Kiao and we aren’t going to make it home in time, then clearly she’s coming to us!”
It was then he heard the chorus of the world whispered a harmony in Melodic in his mind. However, like listening to something that was a duet where someone just sung the harmony, it sounded incomplete. He heard two phrase in it though, the phrase of protection and light.
“The sun’s in his eyes, again,” said Vlory.
As soon as if came, it vanished. His guide grew into existence walked down the road motioning him to come and then diminished into the darkness.
“We stick to the roads,” said Mien. “Soletus, We stick to the road.”
“Where do we meet Kiao,” the young monk asked.
“I don’t know.”
Soletus shook his head. “We can’t stay on the road, not with a pursuit. It’ll slow them down if we go to the woods and split. That was the plan. Vlory, you, and me continue on the shortest path to that lodge.”
“And I’m telling you, we keep with the road. My guided pointed down.”
“By the time the day comes, a wound will open,” said Vlory. “The weaker I get, the more the corruption will hold me.”
Mien then pressed. “She cannot die. Dias if a god of second changes, Sol. You know this. I will fight you and even her if this isn’t done. Have faith, truth me, this is what we need to do.”
“Son of Lenneth,” said Vlory. “Are you soft-hearted and foolish too. This will end in your death.”
“No it won’t,” stated Soletus. “I’m trained to kill drass beasts. But if need be, I’m also trained to kill elves, humans, giants, and kanu. I can promise your death will be swift. However, I have to bow to my chanter friend. When he gets insistent like this, I can’t ignore him.”
Vlory looked to Doran and Tyrus for help. They deferred to Soletus. “Fools,” she muttered.
Soletus gave them all a curt nod. “Then our change of plan is agreed, we continue down the road until Mien say’s otherwise.”