And I want to continue to believe that everyone deserves a chance. That people are capable of making things right. That no matter how long it takes, they do good by others. But people prove me wrong. I think that’s why other elves have such a difficult time trusting curs. That so many were granted chances and none of them became more than what they are or they became victims of a world where facial scaring means crazy. Or that the individual has done unsavory things. Yet, I think the worse people, the evil people, I’ve come across were not curs. Just ordinary elves, like Kellas.
For one full day, they traveled non-stop. Slept and started over the next day. In that full day, there was no sign of Xerius. Oeric kept watch regardless Kiao was certain he had finally given up or they had lost him. She expected their trek to be taken at the speed she was used too, however, the day was chiller than any other day as before. Her breath came out of her mouth in billows. She pulled on her extra shirt she had brought to stay warm. Oeric was more than just cold. He woke up moving slow and stiff. Then fatigue she was certain he had been pushing back, started to show. His gait went from steady to slow. It was approaching the middle of the day he was limping and stopped.
Kiao was got off her horse to examine him and he held her off with a hand.
“I just need to rest a little that’s all.”
From the note in his voice, there was something wrong. And Kiao figured out what it was when he changed back into a man and started massaging his right hip.
“Really First Warden, you are making that worse with all this walking.”
He then sat on the side of the road and watched the sky again. “Tell me something, if I rested, would the likelihood of it becoming chronic lessen?”
He bobbed his head solemnly. “And if it does go chronic, how long as a warden do I have?”
Kiao settled down beside him. “It ultimately depends on how bad the damage is one it has healed. If it’s just an occasional flare-up, you’ve decades. But, it’s going to get worse again. Eventually, you’ll have trouble walking daily.”
He let out a heavy sigh. “So basically, this is something that will make me unfit to serve?”
“Correct. But, if I write you out for another month when we get back, that might help a great deal. I know you like to stay active and keep moving, but I can’t let you hurt yourself more.”
“That’s fine. I’ll let you judge that. And Sister, when it comes time for that, you just tell ‘it’s time to stop,’ and I’ll understand. I won’t argue.”
Kiao gave him a suspicious sweep over. “I hold you do that,” she promised.
“You’re a woman, I expect you too,” he said leaning back in the grass.
“I expect you to be more upset about this. Most men—,”
“Sister I rather not serve until I die or be killed. I do this because this what Dias found fit for me to do. That doesn’t mean I like the order.”
She wasn’t certain she heard right.
“I want to do what’s needed, but I still want to be there for my family. Some men give themselves to this order and put their family on the lowest priority possible. I don’t like that. I wanted my children to have a father.”
Kiao knew he didn’t have his father around.
“Anyway, you should take this time to contact Mien.”
He clearly wanted to be left alone. She pulled her horse staff off the path they were traveling down. Oeric claimed it ran parallel to the main road. Thought it wasn’t much of a road itself but a worn path by the occasional horse would occasionally walk down. She was certain more deer used it than people.
Kiao once again checked using the staff. She knew the stone’s energy wasn’t limitless and the more she used it, the weaker it was going to get. However, she was trying to conserver her own abilities.
“Come on, let’s find Mien this time,” she muttered. She wanted nothing more than to be on her way home with her hand in his. This time when she dove into the channel she was met with more than a single ripple, it was steady. Not only that, the channel itself didn’t seem like it was an endless empty voice. It felt attached to something because she felt a very familiar sensation when she heard his timbre. It felt like he was asleep.
“I feel Mien,” she cried.
Oeric stirred behind her. “Is he close?”
“Maybe,” said Kiao. “I don’t know, it’s faint but it feels like I’m touching as sleeping mind. Nimbus said that if I could use the channel, maybe, I could use my own abilities of communication, I could enter his dream, and he can tell me where he’s at.”
She didn’t wait for Oeric’s suggestions or questions. She dove in and stretched her abilities but, she couldn’t reach him. She wasn’t close enough or even touching him. And then she remembered that the staff also came with a stone on it. She tapped into that one as well and stretched toward Mien again. The stone’s power propelled her even further and suddenly she was dragged through the channel. She never had an instance where a mind sucked her in but it did this time right into the light. She stumbled out into something.
In a dream, she would pass through objects, as nothing was tangible. If such a thing happened, the person was walking up. She waited to be bounced back to her mind however nothing happened.
She thought it was Mien speaking to her. She turned her chin up and saw Mien looking down at it her looking very different. His hair was past the tops of his shoulders. He was a little taller and there was a little more to him. However, the biggest difference was in his face. Every feature she liked about Mien’s face was aged intriguing so.
“Uhhh,” was about all she could muster and then she heard his more familiar voice.
“Kiao,” Mien exclaimed behind the older version of him.
Confusion washed over her. She swung her head around, inspecting the dream space. It was colorful and not typical spaces where things were often muted and cloudy. In fact, she was standing in a field that stretched out as far as the eyes could see. The sky was colored like it was sunset. Mien looked as he probably did in the waking world. He was in uniform and road-worn. Her own body faded out of the formless figure of light. Into what she looked like her in the waking world.
She then inspected the older Mien who was keeping her steady. The being’s eyes shifted from green-gold to colorless and back again. Realization then hit her.
“This is an edict vision,” she exclaimed. “How am I even in here? And you…”
She tried to pull herself away from Mien’s guide. Not that she anything to fear from it. But at the same time, she knew what made up an edict guide and she had no right to touch it in the form it was. He let her go.
“It’s okay,” he assured her.
The air rippled beside of Mien and guide that Kiao had, a child version of herself, joined them.
“I told you we would speak again,” said the little girl.
Mien nearly jumped out of his skin and held his chest. “What going on here.”
Mien’s guide walking over to Kiao’s guide and held out his hand. The girl took and in a blink of an eye, she changed to an older version of herself. Everything about her was the same expect everything that wasn’t. She was womanly wearing a priestess gown that was gold, white, and red. In her hands was the very staff she was using right then. The girdle around her waist caught her attention the most. Like the Arch Priest’s cord, it was yellow and white.
The older version of herself told her gently. “There are things you must know. Not to burden you with the knowledge, but to allow you peace and understanding that sometimes what we want isn’t what we need to do.”
“What are you talking about?”
“There is something bigger for you and you have to be made ready for it. It takes time to become a matron. He needs time.”
She wanted to ask her who “he” was, however she felt a hand wrap around hers. She looked to see Mien looking very amazed.
“This is very surreal,” he told her softly.
Once again, him touching her made her realize again what was at stake.
“I have to talk fast or you’re going to going to wake up.”
“This is a special place where you can meet to talk,” said Mien’s guide. “The only limit is how long you can keep this channel open. There is a lot more that we need to tell you.”
Kiao’s guide started chanting the phrase of purification and Mien’s joined in harmonizing the phrase of protection. She then moved to the phrase of healing and the phrase of light. It was the most beautiful thing she ever heard, the song then changed to that of light and of healing.
She could feel the power in those words. She felt alive. Mien appeared to be captivated by it. When the two stopped singing, Mien’s guide said to him.
“Do you understand?”
Mien nodded and he turned to Kiao. “I have with a Kanu chanter named Vlory with us. She’s been corrupted by drass beast blood. And she needs to be purified but if we do, her wounds will kill her.”
“What wounds,” asked Kiao.
“She was mauled by a venomous drass beast and to heal her wounds, she was given drass beast blood. But the wounds aren’t truly healed. Her body is in a suspended state. So without any drass beast blood, her wounds revert back open. That’s what is happening now.”
Kiao never heard anything like that.
“This song is the only way we are going to safe her and I really want to.”
“Wait, if this is your edict, what phrase did you learn?”
“Protection,” said Mien with a sad smile. “Something bad happened. I guess I shouldn’t wait too tell you, Lyndon’s dead.”
Even though she knew that he had, she bowed her head and nodded. “I already know. Is everyone else okay.”
“Sol needs some attention. Not that he’s injured; he’s a little out of sorts. He’s doing better I think but if you talk to him, he’ll be much better. Otherwise, we’re good.”
“I have someone with me that far better than me to speak with him, but I don’t get this. This is your edict. I never heard of anyone joining another’s chanter’s edict.”
Then Kiao’s guide walked over to her. “This is shared with you because a melody can’t exist without the harmony. As bonded chanters, you have a song that you can sing and this is your song.”
“But why learn it now,” she asked. “We’ve barely learned anything about our bond.”
“Because the powerful need to come together when there is a need for it,” she said to Kiao. And then her guide leaned forward and whispered to her. “Also, a heart that burns with the passion of the sun needs to be tempered by the cool voice of the stars.”
The woman then stepped away from her and became a little girl again. Kiao felt herself being tugged back.
“Where are you at,” Kiao said to Mien.
“I’m under a massive burning ash. Are you coming down the main road?”
“We can get there.”
“Good, there is a very noticeable path the cuts off from the main road. It’s obvious with a lot of trees growing on the side of it look like a perfect tunnel.”
Before Mien could tell her more Kiao was sucked out back through the channel into her own mind. Her body hit the ground and she was snapped back into the waking world. Oeric jumped to her side and lifted her back up.
“We need to get going, now,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time.”
“You find them?”
“Yes. He’s close.”
“What are we looking for?”
“I didn’t get much of a description. They’re under a large burning ash tree of the main road. The path is obvious,” she said.
Oeric became intrigued. “A burning ash you say. He used the word large.”
“Actually, he said massive.”
“I know where they are at. And we are on the quickest route to get to them. Come on. He’s under Lenneth’s Tree.”
“That’s what I call it,” he told her shouldering his pack as she got back on her horse.
“Another hideout spot?”
“No. I was out on sabbatical and spent a year away from the monastery.”
Kiao knew that both monks and priests took them. In the current era, it was more monks.
“During my wonderings, I visited previous areas I’ve traveled including the temple then I wandered up here and became acquainted with Captain Gyrfalcon. That tree saved him and his men,” he said and ended with a chuckle.
“And you and all of this?”
“Well someone had to fight the drass beast. I was there already when he came upon me. That tree though has always stayed in my mind. I never thought I would be swinging that way again. If we stick to this path, we will come out the backside of it. In fact, it’s quicker if we stay here then…”
Oeric’s gaze went upward and his brow pulled together. Kiao stared upward and saw a large bird circling above them.
Kiao groaned. “Please tell me that just a buzzard.”
“Physically it isn’t,” he returned.
Without any prompting, Kiao got on her horse and took Oeric’s packs from him. He shifted again leading the way. She summoned Emery to be her extra eyes again. The consort didn’t signal anything which made her nervous. The fact Xerius was above them stark against the blue sky not trying to hide in the trees or anything.
“Why is he making himself clearly seen this time around and not hiding,” she said.
“I don’t know. The hunter doesn’t like to be seen by his prey unless for a reason. And I had to guess…” he trailed off and then thought a moment saying. Sister, I need you to trust me. I want you to go on ahead. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up.”
“What? No? Isn’t this the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do?”
He stopped in the road and stared at her. “This entire time, I’ve tried to be as unpredictable as I could be. And this is unpredictable.”
“If you split from me, I can’t help you if run away from me.”
“Do you trust me, Sister?”
Kiao pursed her lips together.
“This is a basic yes or no question.”
“Yes I trust you, to be an idiot dod,” she snapped. “You’re entirely correct; you monks all have muscles for brains! Every single last one of you. This is how all you come into my infirmary and get hurt by doing stupid things.”
“Sometimes Sister, doing the right thing may not appear to be the brightest or the rational choice.”
Kiao maneuvered her horse in front of him. “Sacrifice might be a noble act but not when it’s needless heroics.”
“Sacrifice,” laughed Oeric. “Who said anything about that? I just need you to trust me and save your chanter. My job is done. You’ve probably less than a mile to travel and if I know anything about that bond partner of yours, he’ll meet you halfway.”
“Oeric, you’re job isn’t done until we walk in the gates of home. You’re injured. You’ve not slept well. And I’m certain you’re going through a moment of sleep-deprived insanity.”
“No insanity, just trust me,” he assured. “What I’m doing is risky, but this may work.”
“It would be nice to share your plan.”
“Just trust me,” he said.
Kiao knew that he knew what he was doing. She just didn’t like it and nodded. Oeric then darted into the woods; she didn’t bother watching him leave her. She urged her horse forward going as fast as she dared down the path. There were a lot of unknowns going forward. Not just the terrain but what she was truly dealing with. She never dealt with someone who was corrupted. She gripped her staff and knew what that last stone was for. The combined efforts of Mien and her clearly weren’t enough for this task. She gripped her staff and charged onward.
The path in front of them took an abrupt turn to the left. Kiao slowed her horse paying more attention to what was ahead of her than what was beside her. Emmery cried out, flashing an image of one of the panthers that attacked her before and at the same time she was knocked off her saddle. All the air was knocked out of her lungs in one whoosh when she hit the ground. The edges of her vision blackened not only from the landing but the pain. Emmery was flung away from her. The staff lay behind her and her horse went running away from her slowing down because of another tawny panther running towards it. The one who had knocked her off stood over her head rumbling unaware of the tawny streak that was plowing towards him. He lifted his head in time to see claws and teeth come hurtling at him.
The dyne elf leaped way nimbly and the new tawny panther planted himself over Kiao screaming at him with fangs bared. It was loud enough to bring the priest out of her daze. When she saw fur she screamed beading creature in the torso. The panther above her looked dawn and around his green eyes was a white sunspot that spread out like rays.
“Glen,” she cried, hugging him and then had met with protest from her ribs. She dropped back down and the consort licked her ear. “No, stop it! No, Glen, stop I’m fine.”
Her reunion was cut short when she saw the other Dyne elf poised in the grass as a panther ready to get Glen who was focused on the one in front of him again.
“Move,” she ordered and hit Glen in the chest. As the second one charged forward, a bear came between them and body-slammed into the Dyne elf and sent him skidding in the dirt. Khodi then stood on his hind legs looking like a giant and roared. The one that was tossed scrambled behind his partner. Neither of them retreated though. Their jaw hung stunned by the sight. A rider then joined the two consorts with a bow raised. He sent an arrow right at their feet.
Doran plucked another arrow from his quiver and notched it. “The next one goes in your leg,” he warned.
The two attackers looked at each other confused and slinked off around the bend and into the woods again.
Kiao dropped back moaning assessing how terrible her injuries. Her back was fine. Her neck could be better. Her shoulders were bruised and as well as her ribs. Physically, she was okay but she felt a little shaken by what happened. All in all, she could lay there a little longer. She heard footsteps crunching in the dirt. Glen moved and revealed Soletus crouching beside her.
“Are you okay,” he asked.
“No,” she said. “Help me up.”
Soletus he helped her sit up to get his arm around her and pulled her upright.
“Mien said you were coming. We thought you were coming down the main road and then Glen charges off in this direction.”
A squeak rose from the grass. Emmery crawled out of the woods. Glen lowered himself down, and she crawled on his back. She sent impressions of the staff to Kiao.
“Sol, I can stand, please go and get the staff over there,” she pointed and he retrieved it for her.
Doran rode towards them looking around. “Those were elves, why are elves chasing you.”
“Long story short, Dyne elf mercenaries were after the First Warden and I offended them. They’ve been after us since.”
Soletus eyes widened. “Papa is with you?”
“Yes, and he’s a stupid idiot dod. He split from me. Leaving me alone and I get attacked,” she said with her voice staining high now.
Glen then nudged her leg with his head and purred against her. The action calmed her down a little.
Soletus handed her the staff. “Do you need a moment,” he said.
“No,” said Kiao waving him off. “I just want to yell at him because I think he knew this was going to happen. Like he was counting on you guys to get me. Get me my horse, I need to do what I came all the way out here for.”
“Where did you last see Papa,” Soletus asked.
“About a half-mile back or so,” she said. “He claimed he was right behind me.”
Soletus brow pulled together. He plucked the whip canes from Kiao’s saddle. “Doran, take her back. I’m going to wait for Papa.”
“So you’re splitting us up,” asked Doran.
“Kiao needs to help Vlory. Don’t worry. I’ll be right behind you.”
The priestess could’ve sworn he sounded a lot like his father then. However, she let him go and followed Doran.
It didn’t take them long to arrive at the largest burning ash she had ever laid eyes on. In fact, it was probably the largest tree she ever seen. And below the branches sat her bond partner watching her arrival with Tyrus nearby. A tremendous weight was lifted off her heart seeing him waiting for her. He looked road-worn but she imagined she did as well.
His gaze left her and then looked at the staff puzzled then frowned at it.
“Don’t say anything. I need this to help her,” she told him settling down at the Kanu woman’s side.
“How have you carried that noisy thing this entire time?”
“I can’t hear a thing off of it,” she said looking down at the woman. She was covered in horrible looking scratch marks that opened on her arms right in front of her. “Oookay,” she said slowly.
“She’s been getting worse right after I sent Glen to meet you. Sorry I didn’t come but I didn’t want to leave her,” said Mien. “She was mauled very badly. The worse if it is on her back.”
Kiao started hearing the song in her mind’s ear again. “Remove everything from her back and body now. We need to do this quick.”
Mien obeyed and removed the shirt and moss that he had prepared and revealed the Kanu woman’s back. The priestess’s heart sank. Whatever had gotten her was vicious. It had torn into her flesh with all intentions of killing and eating her. She has seen enough teeth and claw marks to know the difference between them. The flesh that was pulled from her exposed her spine.
The priest exhaled. She knew she had seen worse but at the moment, her memory failed to relinquish anything comparable.
She leaned towards Vlory’s face and the woman was breathing shallowly.
“You poor thing, how did you even survive,” she whispered.
The Kanu’s woman’s eyes cracked. “Another chanter?”
The phrase of purification roared in Kiao’s ear. Mien’s face contorted and held his head.
“You hear it and it’s getting louder,” he said with his eyes burning gold. “We need to figure out how to do this.”
There were going to have to not only purify her but also heal her.
The voice sang out at the same time, this time with the phrase of healing and she grimaced and clutched her burning chest. “I need to purify her, now. It feels like when I went through my edict phrase.”
Kiao looked down at Vlory and hovered a hand over the deepest of the wounds. with her other hand clutching the staff.
“Mien, we know the song, but I don’t know how to do this. Well, I know a way that might work. I’ll pull the poison out of her but, I need you to cover ever wound you can find and keep her from bleeding out.’
“Cover her wounds?”
“Use the phrase of protection. It will act as a seal her wounds temporarily because I think purifying her is going to take a great deal of myself and time.”
“How am I supposed to use the phrase of protection like that?”
“With the phrase of healing,” she said quickly. “Look, you can chain phrases together, that’s how songs are made. I’ve only read about this not practiced at all, but the way our song goes, purification, protection, healing, and light.”
“Okay,” he said still looking lost.
“Feel for it. You’re good at that now, follow me like we’re dual-healing,” she said and chanted the phrase of healing and was immediately hit with resistance just to see. Mien put his hand over her chanting as well and bolstering her efforts. The entered her body and all she could see was corruption the dark purple of corruption in Vlory’s blood and bones.”
“I’ll draw it,” she told Mien and started chanting the phrase of purification and it poured of her mouth starting the melody and Mien followed with the harmony of his phrases. She no longer just saw Vlory’s body but she felt her. Her body, down to the bones was corrupted down to the bones. Nothing was spared, her heart, lungs, liver, ribs, spine, and brain were all filmed with a layer of purple so dark, it was black. The only light was her magical heart. Kiao then pulled it all towards her.
Drawing it out was akin to sucking a bucket of water empty through a thin hollow stem. It took more effort than she thought. She could feel how much she was using herself to do it. If she continued the way she was, she would have enough to heal the woman. That was when she pulled from the staff. It gave her a strong boost and drew even more corruption out.
On the outside, an inky darkness flowed out of Vlory’s wounds to her hands forming into a globe. She could feel Mien’s presence as he figured out what she wanted to do. He went to all areas of outer damage as well as blood vessels and arteries to keep the blood in her there. The scope of Vlory’s injuries was immense as there was also tissue deterioration to her muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and organs from the damage done by the drass beast poison. Kiao didn’t know how she survived just drinking the drass beast blood when clearly she was close to just being dead.
Vlory let out a cry of anguish but she didn’t fight might.
“I’m sorry, but, this needs to go,” she said doubling her efforts. Sweat pouring down her face and around her neck. There was so much of it. It caused her ears to ring. And her strength was starting to wane. She felt the current of comfort that often flowed through Mien and her become alive. She could feel his strength flowing into her.
“Just a little bit more,” said Kiao. She was down to her feet and toes and pulled the very last bit of corruption out that she could.
She opened her eyes and in her hand was a spinning mass of corruption. She didn’t know what to do with it. Dropping in on the ground wouldn’t be good. However, before she could even ask Mien, he lifted his hands to the side of it and the phrase of light spilled from his lips. Inside of the mass of darkness flickered a light coming to life. It glowed become white and burned the corruption away from the inside until it became nothing but ash.
“I can burn whatever corruption there might be left inside of her. That was a lot to pull out,” he said.
“Then come in light the way. Start with her head and work down to heal her,” she told him.
Mien nodded and started changing the phrase of light and then she went in with healing they both sang their song delve back into Vlory’s body and Kiao healed every place Mien brought her to. Along the way, if he saw even a speck or darkness he burned. He had power over the corruption and so every cut, venom burned, crack, splinter, fracture, and tear Kiao healed, there was no corruption let. Not that she saw any. She healed them all with Mien’s voice and own abilities fueling her until ever bit was down to the Vlory’s feet.
When they were done, they pulled out of Vlory’s body. She examined her. The woman’s skin healed up but there was some scaring. As if a reminder of what happened possibly, for her to never to it again. Kiao smiled at her work even though she felt the same exhaustion healing for a full day of badly wounded patients. She was grabbed by Mien in a hold. He hugged her. He was breathing heavily with his shirt sweat-soaked. She clung to him anyway.
“That you so much,” he said and then sagged down. He rested his forehead on her shoulder.
“I can take him,” said Tyrus.
“Please do,” she said and scooted to the tree and rested against it. Mien was place on the other side of her.
“Is she okay,” asked Tyrus pointing to Vlory. The woman was at her other side. She was breathing steadily and shivering.
Kiao nodded. “Cover her back up. She still might get an illness because she’s going to be very weak. It was then that she realized the staff was still in her hands. The stone that was imbued with to purify was cracked and inert. She used up every bit of it for that. She had done the same as her stomach growled. She needed food and rest but couldn’t as she realized Soletus hadn’t returned with his father.