Kellas fought his removal. He claimed I was being difficult and he spoke out of frustration. The Arch Monk agreed. I held my ground and refused to put him on the roster. And for the record, I didn’t hate Kellas. I just didn’t trust him. How can I trust a man who feels justified in carrying out justice regardless if he’s correct? Or in his case enabling others to carry it out. I’ve a sinking suspicion that he allowed the townspeople to do what they wanted to do. He knew who was guarding him at the time. He had been talking to the stronger proponents of town folks who had been questioning my authority. The fact that he easily repeated multiple times he didn’t lay a hand on him. So why, did I let him be Soletus’s first warden. Well unlike him, I believed in second chances.
Kiao’s heart stopped. Her eyes darted around, searching for a figure in the vague shadows. The waxed moon only provided scattered beams of nocturnal light. Not one spotlighted the area in front of them. The only indication of trouble was their horse snorting.
Oeric wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into the shadow of the tree truck. He positioned her in the corner with his body shielding her. She felt smashed even though he bore none of his weight on her. She felt his chest expand on contract against her back until he held his breath. She did the same to listen.
She heard footsteps getting closer to their den. Oeric pressed himself toward her so his feet couldn’t be seen. The footsteps stopped by the base of the fallen tree. She expected Xerius to act or call to them. Instead, the leaves stir followed by a large bird taking off into flight. She exhaled the tension out of her. The dyne elf was gone. Oeric however continued to hold his breath.
Kiao was about to suggest him to move when she heard the sound of glass breaking against stone. An odor filled their den that burned her nostril and throat.
“Get out,” ordered Oeric and h shoved her out in the direction of the tree base. Kiao scrambled through the small opening between the tree trunk and the mound. Rotten wood showered down on her while her arm was scraped up. She stumbled forward into the darkness until she smelled fresh air. Tears ran down her face as her entire face ached. She clamped a hand over her nose and tried breathing out of her mouth. When she did, her throat because irritated and she coughed uncontrollably.
If Xerius wanted to attack, now was the time. She was on the ground hacking violently. Oeric was somewhere doing the same. However, he didn’t come back. Instead she ended up fighting to breath as her coughing was so bad she lightheaded.
The pain the gripped her lessened and breathing became easier. She lay there pulling it then her as much air as she could before sitting up. She opened her mouth to shout but, her throat felt like it was being stabbed by thousands of fiery pins. She instinctively cried out making her infliction entirely worse.
“Sister,” called Oeric hoarsely. “Where are you? How about a light?”
Kiao didn’t dare try to speak again.
“Are you okay,” he said alarmed.
Kiao groped in the darkness for a stick or a rock. Her hand kept coming across damp sticks until she felt a thin sapling still holding its leaves. She bent it and used it to stir the leaves around. She kept brushing the ground until a wet nose touched her check. Lykkon rumbled and sniffed her.
She saw the outline of a figure coming toward them and tensed up.
“It’s just me,” said Oeric. “Stay where you are.”
She waited and focus on taking long breaths to keep from getting distressed about the situation at hand. It wasn’t as bad as the phrase of silence being used on her, however not being able to speak wasn’t good. She only knew of a single substance that could render a chanter speechless and that was chanter’s bane. However, it always came in a dried string like form. She never knew it could be made into a vapor.
The older monk reached out and found her forearm. She took his hand.
She squeezed his hand.
“Sister, your silence is more than worrisome at this moment.”
She then squeezed it even harder.
“You can’t talk,” he stated more than questioned.
She bobbed her head and realized that he couldn’t see her well enough. She gave his hand two quick squeezes as a way to say yes.
“Great,” he muttered to himself and told her. “Lykkon is getting our things. We’re leaving.”
It clearly wasn’t safe. However, traveling at night was also dangerous as well. The moon was bright enough for Oeric to navigate slowly. It wasn’t keeping his eye out for a random drass beast but he had to be careful where his foot fell. Even with the vision of a wolf, he still had to travel carefully. When the sky became filled with clouds, the light of the moon was dispersed making it easier to see.
Oeric didn’t say much other than tell her to lay flat on the horse’s back to avoid being struck by a branch or a change in terrain. If he had a plan, he didn’t vocalize it. I would’ve helped, as the sound from his voice would’ve kept her awake. She was exhausted. The rush of them being found and having to flee didn’t have a lasting effect on her. When they arrived at the road again, she struggled to keep her eyes open.
As they walked, her head would bob up and down with her eyes lids opening and clothing. She would jolt awake at a sound but the cycle would start again. She managed a long stretch of alertness after she fell asleep for just a short instance and felt oddly refreshed. However as before, her eyelids felt like they had boulders attached to them. It wasn’t as if she had never stayed up an entire night before. The only difference was she had a meal. Her stomach started to get restless and was trying to fold in on itself from her hunger but it wasn’t enough to keep her alert.
When dawn broke, the brightening day stung her eyes and she pulled her hood over her head. It only made her warm and comfortable.
Just a little sleep, she told herself and she dozed off until her side ran into something. Her head snapped up and she saw Oeric standing beside her, holding her up.
“You’re about to tip off the saddle,” he told her.
She tried to speak only to have the pain she felt earlier renewed. She gripped her throat.
“Still can’t talk,” he said with his own voice sounding horse still.
She bobbed her head.
Concern pulled at his brow. “Is there anything that you can take or make to remedy it?”
Kiao shook her head. The phrase of purification should work, but she needed to speak. The only other option was to wait for it to wear out.
“It’s uncomfortable for me. I can’t imagine it for you. You need rest don’t you?”
“We don’t have a lot of options open to us. Xerius and his are likely to attack us again. I do have a solution for the, however we can’t stop.”
She needed food for that so she swayed her head.
Oeric dug in the saddle bag and pulled out one of their travel cakes and their map. She wrinkled her nose at it. It wouldn’t help her fill her belly. It was wasting them giving them to her as it’ll be like she ate nothing.
“This is less about eating them and using them for focus. Nibble on it.”
She took it and nibbled at it while he furled the map taking.
“I have an idea on where we can go for a rest. However, if are to just follow the road, its well out of the way and far.” His index finger rested below a point in the middle of nothing but open country to the northeast. The only thing that was even remotely close to it was a river. The point itself was a crudely drawn cylinder. A smirk crossed her face and she pointed to it and him and mouthed. “You drew that?”
He rolled his map up becoming solemn. “You don’t need good drawing skills to make a marker. All it matters if you know something is there.”
However, she had no clue what that something was and wouldn’t find out for a very long time. They followed the road until he swung off it, traveling more northeast. He spoke to her when he could and gave her something to eat periodically. However, they walked long and hard through the day cutting through the wood with him occasionally watching the sky.
However, Kiao noticed something about his gait. He was beginning to limp favoring his right leg. That boundless energy of his burned like a well-fed fire. However, he became less and less talkative. He was in pain if she had to guess.
She thought maybe he would rest by noon, however, the sun was in its zenith, the kept going. They kept going until the sun hung low in the sky. Golden light painted the tree tops as well as something that rose up above them. A tall structure stretched up above even the tallest of tress.
When Oeric caught sight of it, he dropped out of wolf form and smiled. “Thank Dias we made it with time to spare.”
The closer they got to the tower the more of what surrounded it come into view. She saw crumbling bricks of what remained of a town wall. She became alert and saw that they were coming to a ruined town. However, the scale of it was much larger than what remained of Grace she had seen years back.
“This is an old kanu town or something,” said Oeric as they crossed under a huge archway free from ivy as well as the pillars around it.
Kiao studied it. Vines covered much of other the remains of the wall, buildings, and homes except it.
“There doesn’t appear to be others here. No surprise as they blocked the river from retreat,” he continued. “They wouldn’t be a problem.”
Kiao wondered who “they” might be before she was distracted by a bunch of yellow birds rising in the air. There were a lot of birds around them creating an atmosphere of peace. She swung her head back and forth, catching glimpse of the many birds who took flights as they passed.
It was then something caught her ears. There was something pulsing. It didn’t sound like a ward. They weren’t something she heard as they were designed not to be overwhelming to a chanter. Many were just faint vibrations. Sometimes a timbre sensitives like Mien would dread treading there. He would have to block everything. Then again, what was there to ward. Their path was marked by tall grass that had been trodden down from someone in they passed or moss. In fact, trees grew nearly out of the center of every building around them. It was an abandoned and forgotten place. Most wards were probably dead. Kiao then wondered, Where are we going that will provide us shelter.
They even went past the tall cylindrical tower that rose from the center of town. Oeric saw her with her neck craned up at the tall structure.
“Kanu loved to build these tall edifices. Their purpose, I don’t know. There isn’t an entrance to get inside. I think the entire thing is made of tao stone.”
Kiao felt a weak timbre resonating from the tower. It that caused goosebumps on her arm when they were beside it. It wasn’t the bad kind though. There was something pleasant about it. She couldn’t say she recognized the meaning of it. It was new to her ears and the vibration from it wasn’t the pulsing she heard. In fact, they were getting closer to it as it was becoming stronger.
“Whenever the Topknots, were getting too close to an arena, Clincher would tell us to run here and hide if we were close. Most of the fighters didn’t like it here. I didn’t mind it. No drass beast could wonder in here. However, you had to worry about the animals,” he said just as they caught sight of a group of does. The six of them lifting their heads and watched them. For a moment it didn’t look as if they were going to run away. However, one of them snort and stomp. Their tail went upwards and like dancer waving little white flags, they leapt away.
“We will be staying here,” said Oeric indicating to a building complex ahead of them. It appeared to be a monastery. There were two long one story building that stretched out with no roofs and broken window. However, the building in the center, had an arched roof that managed to remain intact through clear sky and storm.
“Is a Feendish temple,” said Oeric as they entered a large courtyard with a statue of Dias. It was faceless and formless in robe with as the god was. The arms of the statue were outstretched with palms gestured to them in welcoming. It too, like the arch that greeted them, was clean of vines. It was weathered though, however, even with being weathered it was oddly clean. The young woman wanted to study it some more, however, the pulsing caught her ears again. It was clearly coming from the inside temple.
“I’ve slept in here more than once,” he said. “Just to get away from the other men. They couldn’t cross the threshold of this place.”
Kiao shook her head and mouthed. “I hear something,” and pointed to the doorless entrance.
“This place is warded,” he said.
Kiao swayed her head and dismounted the horse. She felt weak as she stood there but it didn’t stop her from taking a few steps around her to inspect the courtyard admiring it.
“This had to be a beautiful place when people lived here.”
It still was despite the decades. She expected layers of leaves, dirt, moss, and algae growing on the stone in the shaded areas. However, it was like it was swept clean. Unless the wind had a broom, someone obviously maintain the temple grounds.
When they entered the building, she saw that the roof was very intact. She couldn’t see the sky through holes. However, the building was very cool on the inside because it was vast and empty save a stone altar and however on one side, there were a bunch of rocks built up around a hearth. There was also a stack of dried wood. Kiao looked around for any more signs of life and saw nothing.
Oeric caught sight of them and remained unalarmed. “Someone’s been here, not recently,” he said sitting their things on the clean stone floor. “Because this place is so large, it’s impossible to heat especially with no doors. Hence the rocks.”
Kiao tapped him on the shoulder and gestured to the rocks. “Who did this?”
“A few are mine and those who stayed here. If this is a temple, maybe someone or a group makes a pilgrimage here. I don’t know.”
She frowned at his lack of natural suspicion.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re safe. Now, I’m going to tuck the mare out of sight and feed her as well as find her some water. I’m going to be gone for a bit, so don’t get alarmed.”
She nodded still confused about his calmness. He had been anxious and in a hurry most of the trip. In fact, he was that way the entire day. The moment he came there, he relaxed. She didn’t expect him to be especially with something related to him being a cur. Oh how she wanted to question him.
Maybe he’s enjoying me not being able to question, she thought.
With him gone, Kiao decided to find the source of the noise and headed to the altar. What caught her attention first were the two candles by the side of the statue of Dias’s feet. They weren’t old but they had to be placed there at some point in the year and lit multiple times.
She then walked to one corner of the building and then to the other corner and saw nothing in the gloom except corners covered in dust and not leaves as she expected. There was nothing else to explore or whatever furnishing or cushions for pray and siting for teaching had been removed long again. There was no pulpit wooden or stone either. There was indication where it stood. However, it was long gone.
However, the pulsing clearly came either from the statue or behind it. There was no way to get behind it from what Kiao could see. She resigned herself to leave it alone and opted to pray.
If she could, she would light the candles but couldn’t. She would ask for Oeric’s flint later. She got to her knees and prayed for help with finding Mien and Soletus and thanking Dias for making it as far as they did. She added to that help with dealing with Xerius and Roxyln.
I don’t know how to deal with a priestess of another god, she prayed. Especially one’s that make nasty substances.
It was then she a chill. There was a draft coming from somewhere on the floor. She placed her hands down on the floor and felt air moving. There was an opening somewhere. She stood back up and studied the statue more closely. There wasn’t a decent amount of light remained in the temple. The shadows would only be growing deeper. However, she could see that the wall the stature was against wasn’t whole. In fact, there was a straight crack that went down to the floor and a couple feet above her and over Dias’s head and then down. It was a doorway.
I’ve heard stories about stone doors, she thought. Most of them are mechanical some are magical. Some are both. Problem is I’ve never come across one.
She then put the flat of her hand against the stood and a jolt went through her body. The center of her chest got warm as light in the shape of runes lit up and framed the door. Her jaw dropped at the glowing runes colored a greenish blue. She comprehended the language but at the same time, she never seen it before. It was written Melodic. Melodic itself was a sung language. There was no writing it in a traditional sense. Elves wrote it using the phonic syllables that made up their language. It was easier as Melodic syllables were represented by a complex symbol. They looked very alike with the difference being a tiny line or a dot.
Brother Oli showed her a book that had the Hymn of Dias written Melodic. It was a confusing mess of lines in the middle of tiny hexagons that filled the entire page. What was in front of her wasn’t presented not as jumbled but still confusing and not at the same time. The chorus whispered the meaning in her hears. It was the key to unlock it, but she couldn’t sing.
She wished she could sing such beautiful words. She tired and was greeted by pain from the night before. It felt less hot and more needle like meaning the hold over her throat had lesson however, she still couldn’t sing.
What if whistling works? Does that count? Is the door responding to my touch or my strong timbre?
She had a timbre regardless if she spoke or not. It could be heard if she spoke or any other sound. Knowing that she pursed her lips together and tried. The sound from her lips echoes around her. To her hears, she sounding like a song bird. When she stopped, the illuminated symbols wink out and changed colors to gold and reds. Something clicked and the stone door was freed. It was cracked just enough to get her fingers behind the door to pull it open. However, it was extremely heavy and pulled it enough to slide her thin body through.
She stepped into a chamber that was lit by a skylight way above her head. There were nine display racks going up the wall in front of her that were empty. The tenth one at the bottom bore a staff. It wasn’t like a quarter staff. The wood of it was twisted like it was cut from a vine. It was also white like it was old and bleached by the sun. When she ran her fingers down the length of it, it didn’t have the texture of wood. In fact, it felt like stone.
She turned it in her hands and saw that at the top of it, three stones carved with runes inlaid in the wood. One was love, insight, and the last purify. She had no clue how the staff was used but she knew for a fact that the stones were imbued tao stone of Kanu origin. Instead of placing the artifact back, she walked out without thinking. She only realized it when the door behind her sealed itself again. She turned around just in time to see the symbols turned silvery and dissipated.
The entire chapel became silent.
Kiao touch the door again with her palm. Nothing happened. The door was inert now. She then looked at the staff. She didn’t want to steal an artifact from its resting place, however, it get nice in her hands. It was even weight despite it clearly should be top heavy.
She turned again and looked at the statue of Dias. Like the one outside, the god’s hands were outstretched welcoming those inside. However, at that moment, it looked more like it was a gesture for her to take the staff she held. She couldn’t put it back. Neither could she just leave. A normal person wouldn’t know what it was. The only thing she could do was to keep. She went back to the hearth and waited for Oeric hoping he wouldn’t say anything much about it.