To the Dyne, Dias is the demigod of song as well as second chances. To those who are actually Fenndish, he is the creator, but he is still a god of second chances. The hand that’s reaching out to a lost cause. When Dias gives you one, you need to give other second chances as well. After dealing with Kellas though, he started my trend of being less willing to give them. I forgot that. Then I met Mientheodric. He was this quaking, fearful boy who tried to kill someone. I didn’t like him when I saw him. Not because of what he did, but because it was like looking into a mirror. Dias reminding me of what I tried to hide.
Oeric returned close to dusk. Kiao was sitting in the near dark in relative comfort, still examining her staff. Lykkon padded in first and sat immediately near her once again giving her a good thorough sniff before stretching out. Oeric followed, going straight to the hearth to start a fire. It was a strange sight as they had been avoiding fires for a good reason, and yet he was comfortable making one now.
“Arg, I can barely see. But starting a fire will be quick, I’ve some dried brush for a good starter and this wood is dry. I hope the person who left it here forgives me for using it.”
Kiao watched him start the fire, and he started to explain their plans for the following day as he worked.
“When we leave, we won’t be going out the front. There’s a door off to the side back there that leads to a passage underground. That will be our road for a bit. I checked the exit, still very clear. I tucked our horse out of sight. If they inconvenienced us, then I’ll make them work to get us.
An amber glow from the heart grew stronger and Oeric added more wood. It made the staff in Kiao lap orange.
“Anyway, I think we deserve a decent road meal tonight. Now I wish I had brought a bow. I could’ve easily shot a— what’s in your lap?”
Kiao pointed to the staff.
“Yes that,” he said, putting his hands on his hips.
She gestured to it and mouthed, “A staff.”
“I can see that. Where did it come from?”
She stood up again and led him to the door.
He inspected it. “So it was behind here. How did you open it?”
She couldn’t explain it very well mouthing but she tried. She told him about how the door lit up when she touched it and how she whistled it open. However, the door remained inert when she touched it again and even when she whistles.
“So you whistled a door open, picked up a staff, and the door sealed itself when you stepped out?”
She bobbed her slowly as he made it sound completely ridiculous. The way his eyes swept over the staff, she was afraid he was going to tell her to leave it. She clutched it tighter.
“This is a chanter thing isn’t it?”
He let out a growling sigh. “Maybe it’ll be good for something,” he said looking very tired. “Come on, let’s get something going while the fire is night and hot.”
They had a meal out of their dried foods. The portion he made didn’t have conservation in mind. It was mostly to fill her belly. Kiao could’ve eaten several bowls of the traveler’s stew he mixed. Two full bowls did nicely. He stuck with a single bowl.
Rest was the next thing on her mind and got out her bedroll. Oeric sat on a rock watching the flames. She noted he was wearing his whip canes still but was very relaxed in thought. He then glanced at her.
“Go to sleep,” he told her. “We’ll be up and out of here as early as possible. I’ll stay up and keep the fire going for a bit. I’m waiting for Xerius.”
Kiao gaped at him and mouthed. “Why?”
“I need to speak face to face to him and this is the perfect place to do as he can’t come in here,” smirked the warden.
Kiao wanted to know what he meant. However, she didn’t want a long explanation. She then heard something large collided with what sounded like a pane of glass and then the thud of a body falling. She realized it had come from the doorway as whomever it was started to moan. Oeric started chuckling as he took the torch from the side of the hearth and lit it. He made his way to the entrance with Kiao trailing him as well as hanging back. The torch illuminated a Xerius who was on the ground holding his head.
“You ought to be more careful swooping into unknown places,” said Oeric and he help the torch up and highlighted Roxlyn as she stopped short of Xerius. She glared at the doorway with her nose scrunched up.
Kiao then understood. The building has some sort of protection wards on it. However, she never heard of a ward that kept elves out.
“I found out long ago that unbelievers can’t enter this temple,” he explained. “If I had to guess this place may have something within it to protect.”
Kiao glanced at the staff on the ground by the hearth. It was there. She then realized it was in her hands.
“By that logic, you shouldn’t be able to enter, grunted Xerius.
“To be a Brotherhood monk, you have vows to believe in, take, and follow with all the sincerity in your heart,” he returned solemnly. “Things change Xerius, I’ve changed.”
Kiao was still caught on the wards.
How could a ward even begin to sense someone’s beliefs, she thought.
She looked above the doorway and saw nothing. However, the stones that lined the bottom had writing there as well.
“By the way, this protection ward reacts to violence. I would think about your actions carefully.”
Xerius’s eyes narrowed and then he started chuckling. “Looks like you’re finally using all that potential I said you had. But how you’re going to get out then? There is no exit to this temple in the back.”
“Doesn’t matter how I do it but when I do it, I don’t want to see your face or feathers again. No cats, no doe. You hurt my charge and that made me angry. I’m not feeling accommodating anymore.”
Roxlyn stomped out of the shadows getting as close to Oeric as she could. “Using her voice made me very angry. She angered Diva!”
Oeric blinked. “Beware of how much you spit, these wards see it as a personal attack.
The woman stepped back.
“To be fair, Sister Kiao never would’ve done that if you didn’t order them to attack me. You know the saying, violence leads to violence.”
“Then you should know why I do this, your kind is a stain on this world.”
Oeric rolled his eyes. “Let me explain this in another way. You’ve a mercenary license in this country, therefore, you are forbidden to take into custody or act against someone without a single warrant for their arrest.”
“I was asked to bring in all curs I found over the river,” said Xerius.
“Not former curs and certainly no one doing anything illegal!”
Xerius looked at Kiao’s direction.
“Above and below, she’s in the exact same condition I started out with her in minus what you’ve done to her.”
“There is clearly some attachment there if she did what she had done to you.”
Kiao would’ve shouted at him if she could. The only thing she could do was pound the end of her staff on the stone floor.
“And what were her options there? Let me die and allow my killers to take her to safety? Last time I checked, murdering doesn’t inspire trust.”
“What is she to you, your lover?”
Oeric winced. Kiao was sickened by that thought. It was on part the bond twisting her stomach but also. Being around Oeric was too much like being around her father. Maybe an uncle seeing as he let her get away with so much. And she was very certain Oeric didn’t even consider her anything but a girl, a sister considering that’s all he called her. And it was said using a voice with very little affection but a whole lot of with respect.
The wolf smile came back as a sneer this time. “That assumption is extremely disrespectful to Sister Kiao. Further conjecture will prompt retaliation on my part. For example, my foot in your teeth. However, I don’t want to digress our exchange any further. I want to get to the crux of it. What I’m trying to get you to grasp is that pursuing me will not grant you coin in your pocket. Bring my head in will mean your incarceration and deportation if not your decapitation.”
“A former cur is in no position to threaten us with law.”
“I know the head of the mercenary guild. One letter and I can have your licenses revoked from these foolish actions alone. However, I’m very generous and I won’t write him if you promise me you will reframe for following me any further. In fact, I urge you to Captain Gyrfalcon and give him the name Oeric’Shelmarin and he can educate why my name as a little bit of weight to it. Especially with the campaign you are involved in. Now if you excuse me, I want to start focusing fully on finding my son.”
Roxlyn then spoke wearing a spiteful smirk. “Why is your son so far away that you have to hunt him down? Did he do what you did and became a cur? I pray he’s a rotting corpus when you find him. That Diva curses your blood and that all yours will die becoming dust for her.”
Kiao was caught between being proud that Oeric possessed the self-restraint not to hit her and wishing he slap the snot out of her.
The stones around the doorway shimmered to life. A sound like the deepest of bass voices came from every crack in the floor. In the gloom, some of the stones in the courtyard shimmered as well.
“Curses count,” said Oeric. “I would leave while this temple is giving you the chance.”
The Diva priestess stepped back again this time grabbing Xerius by the arm and gestured for him to go. “You have to come out of there eventually,” she said.
Oeric waved to them. When they disappeared, the amicable smile from his face dropped to a frosted stare. It was a well-known fact that you didn’t threaten his family. You didn’t wish them to die. She saw the results of what he did to Clincher after he attacked Soletus. The handler nearly lost his arm. Originally, Oeric’s intention was to kill him as he was a threat to his life. She knew the woman didn’t have that kind of impact on him, but it still had impact. Oeric wanted to find his son alive.
She walked forward and touched his forearm. That brought her a sideways stare.
“First Warden,” she mouthed and gestured to the large hearth to the side with her staff.
He nodded and went back to where he sat again. He didn’t lie down to sleep. She couldn’t make him do that and decided to let him cool off and think. The deep voice of the temple lolled her off to sleep. When she was woken up, it was gone. The fire was not. It had been reduced to a handful of coals but Oeric build it back up again to warm up some water in the pot for tea. He handed her a mug of tea.
“How’s your voice?”
Kiao cleared tested her voice out and wasn’t met with pin pricks. “I can talk again,” she said, though her voice sounded high strained. “No singing.”
“Good,” he said. “I delayed their attack last night because of this temple. They would’ve taken advantage of you not having a voice then.”
“And they’ll follow us again even after what you said to them last night.”
“Likely,” he answered. “This is personal for them.”
With that, they left the hearth with a lit torch in Oeric’s hands. They walked towards a door to the side. It was the first time Kiao had even noticed the door. It didn’t lead to a room but downward to a basement or a cellar. In this case, it was a burial chamber. Stretched out before them were stone vaults. The names of those buried were written in an older form of their language.
Oeric remained silent and point to their destination. It was another passage. This on led to another set of twisting stairs leading in the gloom.
“Where does this go,” she asked feeling uncomfortable with the void below her.
“To a cavern,” he told her stepping down and holding his hand out. “The stairs are narrow.”
Kiao took his hand but he should’ve offered his shoulder instead. She could barely fit her feet on the steps. Her staff helped however, it was a slow decent but a short.
They had to be several feet below the tomb and stepped into a cavern. She expected it to be cool like above ground. However, it was warm and humid. Water ran to their right and Oeric took the time to refill their water skins. Kiao took the time to fill her belly full of water. She didn’t want to start their diet of traveler’s cakes just yet.
They continued straight neither going upwards or downwards. The cavern ended and they walked down a narrow shaft. Oeric’s nearly had to walk sideways to keep his shoulders from scrapped the sides of the rock walls. He also had to stoop took the top of his head from colliding with a low hanging rock.
They walked for about a mile and curved a long time before Kiao smelled fresh air. They were greeted by daylight. There the cave opened back up again and there was their horse waiting for them. He walked over to the creature and petted her.
“Before we leave, I want you to try and find Mien again,” he said. “Do you need help?”
“No she said. She didn’t want his help. Not that she didn’t appreciate it, but she wanted to try without him. She learned how to manipulate the channel last time. She felt confident she could learn to draw herself in. Maybe even to do so without thinking too much on Mien to do so.
She settled down on the ground with the staff in her hands. She didn’t even realize she was holding it until she adjusted her hand position and felt the coolness of the wood.
Oeric’s gaze was on the staff clearly trying to decide if it was good or bad. Nimbus was right about him being intelligent. She then tested how far could his perception go.
“You keep eyeing this as if it bothers you,” she said.
“It doesn’t bother me it’s the way you’ve been acting towards it. I doubt I could take it away from you.”
“There does seem to be some sort of hold it has on me,” she said turning it in her hand. “I don’t feel any strong attachment to it other than if feels like it belongs to me.”
“Priests in the past were known to carry them,” he told her. “I do believe that Lenneth carried one made from braided ash saplings.”
“True and that is what this is.”
“There were racks for 10 staves, this was the last one left,” she said. “These are imbued tao stone, love, insight, and purify. They are still active and not worn. I don’t know how one would use these especially the love one.”
“Why is that?”
“Love is what’s known as the unspoken phrase. One that every chanter’s knows, always uses but is never spoke for the most part.”
“I’ve read I should only speak it directly to the person I choose to spend my decades with. Once in promising, once on the wedding day, and once during the wedding night.”
Oeric crossed his arms. “That can’t be the only time one would speak that phrase?”
“Well the phrase’s function is to express and reinforce love. Its utility passed that is up to the heart of the chanter.”
“Could you use it to help find Mien?”
She started at him with her tilted.
“Now, I’m just a monk. I’ve muscles for brains but you stated yourself, the utility is up to you and you claimed distance is a factor in you sensing Mien.”
Kiao looked at the staff. “A power boost is what you’re thinking. I can’t just make a phrase do what I want. It highly depends on the heart of the chanter.”
“So you’re simply worried that you can’t do it based on that?”
She never really admitted to anyone, that as much as she liked Mien. Liked talking, working, and just being around him, she didn’t love him. Love was a strong word, not something she would just say to anyone. But their situation created a situation around them with the other priests. Especially with Elnos.
She had left before the situation could be fully resolved. Certainly, he was to be punished, but that didn’t mean everything was settled. Somehow, it would be her fault or Mien’s. She would have one more fight on her hand that was probably going to ruin her chances of getting the infirmary more. She trained to and wanted to take over the infirmary. He found out her secret and from that point on, it seemed that her goal was getting further away.
In the back of her mind, it bothered her. Of course, she didn’t tell Mien. She didn’t want to seem regretful because she wasn’t but maybe that was why he had all the enthusiasm in the world for her and she didn’t.
“That’s some telling silence,” said Oeric settling on the ground. “I suppose there is something personal that you probably need to discuss with him.”
“There are some things that choosing to be with him has caused. I suppose this moment has brought them forward in my mind making me question myself,” she told him.
“Do you care about him?”
“Then that’s all you need. Love is built. Caring about someone else aside from yourself, is the first step. So no need to worry about that part, I think it’s the mechanics of it and you’re bright enough to figure it out.”
Kiao settled again and spoke the phrase in her hoarse squeaky voice. The tao stone shimmered into life. The staff hummed and a channel connected to her magical heart. That was the first part of her task, the second part was activate the channel between her and Mien. That was very simple at that point. Her mind was on Mien already.
As much as being with him created an annoying situation, he was the boy who called her beautiful. Those peridot eyes of his were always on her with a fascination that she couldn’t even fathom. She might even call him obsessive if not for his ability to respect her with distance if needed. When she was frustrated or upset about something, he managed to make her feel better. She could bounce ideas off of him, as he was the most willing to explore knowledge than anyone else in the infirmary. She wanted to hear his thoughts on the staff. He’ll be afraid of it at first but would be curious about it. Probably would even try to use it.
It was then her awareness started to fade, another channel had opened. And as usual there was nothing coming from it. However, she could feel something coming from the staff. It almost felt like Dias’s quintessence but not the same. She didn’t have an endless about of energy to pull from and that energy would burn her alive if she opened herself to it fully. The only way she figured how to do it was treating it like dual healing.
She pulled the energy from the staff, into her magical heart and instead of pulling that into a phrase, she poured it into the channel extending it. There was nothing but then something faint came towards her. It was Mien’s timbre but it was weak and weakening still as it passed her then vanished. Or a better word, dissipated
“Maybe I’ve been thinking the wrong way about how this works,” she wondered aloud.
Kiao focused back on the world in front of her. Remember when I said that Mien’s timbre was like a drop of blood in a pond. Scratch that. What is it was like something falling into a pond and creating ripples. Ripples get weaker the further away you are from it.”
“What if what I felt from Mien was just a ripple but he made a big splash and I was able to feel it.”
“Okay but did you feel him.”
“I did, a ripple. He did something that made me feel him ripple from a distance. We’re close because I could. Remember, everything is limited by distance.”
“And you didn’t happen to feel the direction of that ripple?”
She stood up and pointed in the direction she felt it.
Oeric pulled out his map. “That’s going back towards the road. We better get started; we’ve a lot of ground to cover.”