That being said, I’m profoundly grateful to those who didn’t give up on me. This extends beyond Cordea, Maelyra, Brother Hickory, First Warden Talore, and Papa in his own way. Alacai and Lynhart who despite everything and treating me like I was their actual brother. Nimbus who encouraged the good side of my humor. For those men who were lads and called me their First Warden with a staunch loyalty that can’t be match. They trusted me, saved my life, and when I was recovering, all of them helped. All the women in the society house who called me Orrie. My children because they gave me purpose and joy. And to Sister, because what’s a monk without a priestess to boss him around to keep him moving forward.
“You shouldn’t be expending yourself,” said Soletus to Kiao. She caught him while he was trying to sneak out if their sleeping space. He knew she wanted to get a look at him.
“This is nothing,” she told him with her hand firmly on bare chest to ensure she stayed connected to him.
He let out a dubious grunt before stating. “It’s better you rest as much as you can because we’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Tyrus told me about the husk and the smell of drass beast flesh affecting you so I’m checking,” she returned.
“And if everything alright?”
“I don’t see anything of great concern other than you clearly haven’t been eating. Don’t frown, you know I was going to say something about it,” she told him. “Though your weakness to husks is worrisome.”
She pulled out of him and leaned against the boulder behind her. While he worked lacing up his shirt and then pulled his jerking back on. She let him alone closing her eyes once again wishing for a bed. Oeric had moved them the day they arrived a couple of miles down the road for better shelter against the wind. The tree was good from keeping things off their head but not from the cold. Three weak chanters needed food and kept warm.
The collection of boulders they were at now made for an easy shelter and heating. It also gave Kiao and Vlory privacy. They had a spot to themselves tucked between two large rocks with a tarp to themselves to keep out the wind. Soletus was also put there to be an extra warm body. He didn’t seem to mind him being neth used that way.
“You should be looking at Mien,” he told her gruffly.
“I was planning to anyway.”
“Please do. His head specifically. Valhart hit him with a rock and I thought it killed him,” he told her.
Kiao frowned at hearing that. She hadn’t heard the full story about what happened. By the time Oeric returned, she was sleeping. Oeric only spoke to her to apologize and get her to move. She accepted his apology granted he didn’t have to do it. She understood something needed to be done. Passed that, no one told her anything.
“Where was he hit,” she asked.
Soletus pointed to his temple whispered. “He wasn’t breathing and his heart wasn’t beating. He was dead, I know he was.”
“He wasn’t. A normal elf, certainly, but not a chanter. That statement about us being hard to kill is true. We have a survival mechanism.”
She nodded. “Granted there are limits. It can only happen a handful of times in our lifetime. We aren’t invincible. Our body put itself into a suspended in a state while it repairs fatal damage. So you’re not dead, you just appear to be dead. Did he wake up burned out?”
“The process uses a lot of yourself because of that suspended state.”
“So has that happened to you?”
“No, but it happened to Mien before. You see, any repair leaves behind a very particular looking bit of scaring to chanter’s eyes called silver scaring. To the normal eye, it just looks like flesh until magical examined. Mien has that scaring on his kidneys. It’s not a little, it’s a lot.”
Soletus became grave. “So what can do that, a poison?”
Kiao nodded. “This might be presumptuous but, his step-father is a blighter addict. And there is no better poison. Other than the effects on the mind, too much of the bad stuff can and will kill your kidneys. Not that the good stuff is any better. It does it over time.”
Soletus became graver. “So his Uncle treated him like trash and poisoned him.”
“He really needs to speak about this. Six years ago would’ve been better. I’m going to ask him and maybe this time I’ll get an answer.”
Soletus shook his head. “Don’t bring his Uncle up. Not out here. I get what it’s like not wanting to talk about something bad. You don’t want to remember it let alone say it aloud.”
“Lyndon,” she guessed. “How exactly did he die?”
Soletus became bewildered. “You already know? How do you and Papa already knew?”
“Your father is the one to ask. Anyway, you can tell me what happened,” she said and all the blood drained from Soletus’s face.
“I had to tell Mien happened as well as Papa. That’s all I can stand right now,” he told her.
“Wait, why did you have to tell Mien?”
“He said his edict visions messed with his memory. He remembers the vision before, but not anything after it until he woke up again.”
“Well, it might be a good thing. You know how he is. I’m sure he’s guilty enough because he couldn’t save him.”
“He is, but I’m the one who really got him killed,” said Soletus softly.
Kiao understood now. She might as well not down survivor’s guilt on his record when she got home. A clear case for Brother Hickory. The only thing she could do then was lean forward and hugged him.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispered and he clung to her.
One could grade Soletus on his mood given how much strength and how long he hugged you. Kiao determined he was bad off. She was certain he was going to start crying because she felt him let out a shaky breathe and sniff. Instead, he let her go and avoided looking at her.
“I need to get going, I’m sure Papa needs me to do something.
Kiao made shooing motion and settled down worried. She then looked at Vlory.
All the corruption was removed and her body healed but recovery was going to be slow. Unlike Mien, what she had experienced was too much their survival mechanism to handle. Kiao was willing to bet the corruption rendered it useless. There was a reason why chanters needed to stay away from it. At the moment, Vlory’s body was in a burnout state. She needed to be in the infirmary and not out in the wilderness. Not only did they have to get her strength back up but her chanter abilities as well.
“Too much for one priestess,” she said to herself.
Smoke from the campfire began to drift inside the tent. They weren’t cooking anything but it made her stomach rumble as they had. She rubbed her stomach. She wiped her runny eyes from the smoke thankful everything was silent and calm.
Vlory stirred getting her attention. The Kanu woman blinked awake and asked not much above a whisper. “Who are you?”
Kiao straightened up. “I’m Sister Kiao of the Dias Brotherhood.”
“Reckoner came and I thought he was my end, instead he brought me healing waters. Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me, I was guided here by Dias. Our Arch Priest saw you in a vision and he sent me to find you. Dias never lets a chanter down.”
“Am I worthy of something still,” she muttered.
“It’s not about being worthy it’s what you can do. You’ve not been called yet. All you need to worry about is just getting better.”
“My spine was broken.”
“I mended it. You should be able to walk fine. Your body was kind of preserved in a state like you were just injured. Even with the venom, I was able to draw that out as well.”
Vlory smiled. “Such enthusiasm. Such care. Like Reckoner, you are soft-hearted as he, but bustling with life.”
Kiao was very familiar with that speech pattern. “You don’t happen to be timbre sensitive as well?”
“Yes, the world is singing in my ears again. I miss it,” she said smiling. “Were you two raised together?”
“No. We met when we entered the Brotherhood and bonded together after he discovered I was a young woman. It was an accident. He shouldn’t even be bonded this young.”
Vlory gave a slight tilt to her head. “There is no age. It all depends on what is needed.”
“So what was needed was for me to bond so someone younger than me and for him to adore me completely?”
“I suppose the Kanu treat bonded chanters a little different. The Brotherhood acts as if it’s a burden. Then again, we sprung this on them. They didn’t think Mien was capable of forming a timbre bond.”
“Because he’s male.”
Vlory then flitted out a laughter that reminded Kiao of a bird. “Silly misconception. Male chanters form strong bonds quickly.”
Kiao scooted closer to her. “I’ve never heard, told, or read anything like that, not that I could.”
Vlory looked appalled. “They didn’t warn or teach you?”
“I didn’t exactly enter the order as a girl. I was disguised as a boy. Mien only came in later and everything was fine until he found out the truth. Given he is timbre sensitive, I don’t know how he didn’t know.”
“It’s not easy to hear our bond partners but once we see it, we can’t forget.”
“They act like they want us to forget. They don’t want us together for varying reasons. The bond isn’t spiritual enough for them.”
The Kanu sighed. “The bond is what it is. You can moderate them, but you can’t change how they feel.”
“What do you mean you can’t change how they feel?”
“It’s not a thing you can choose and mold. He’s strong feeling for you right?”
“Well, you can’t change that. It is what it is. Eventually, he would gravitate toward you without the bond. The most you can do is moderate it to an extent.”
“To an extent?”
“Gentle nudges. Only you though. Outsiders have no right. What you don’t want to do is take advantage of the bond you have and force him to do what’s not right. Everyone pays,” warned the Kanu woman. “I don’t want you to experience such things. To pay you back, I will help.”
“You’ll do that?”
“It’ll give me reason to stay with you. Then I may leave.”
“No, you should stay. I know women who will help you. They’ll find you a place to stay, give you a job. Everything. I know a wise woman who could use you.”
“I’m not a healing chanters. My skill lies in speaking to stone.”
“Wait, you can imbue tao stone?”
Kiao immediately thought about her staff. She wondered if she could fix it or help replace the stone. However before she could ask, someone cleared their throat by the entrance.
“Can I come in,” asked the First Warden.
“Certainly,” answered Kiao.
He then settled down on his knees and stayed where he was at.
He looked dead at Vlory. “I suppose she’s well enough to speak.”
“She is,” said Kiao.
Vlory stared at him. “You’re the son of Lenneth sire. Makes sense. He’s not well. His heart is in two.”
“Excuse me,” said Oeric.
“He is knotted with grief.”
Oeric glanced at Kiao.
She then shut her eyes and relaxed back into sleeping.
“Insight,” asked Oeric.
“No, timbre sensitive.”
Oeric silently appraised her.
“While she is, resting, I can give Tyrus, and Doran a look over. They look a bit rough.”
“I sent Tyus to scavenge and Doran out to scout around and keep watch. Soletus and I are going for water. Is there anything you want?”
“A whole side of deer. No scratch that, a whole deer.”
The corners of Oeric’s mouth went up. “I can’t provide you with a deer instead why don’t you go be with Mien.”
Kiao gestured around her. “Isn’t their things that still need to be done?”
“This is what I need you to so, Sister. Watch her and rest. Besides you come halfway across the country to find him, I think it’s fair you get some alone time with him.”
She wasn’t certain she was hearing right. “So you’re leaving us alone?”
“Yes. You two won’t get much privacy after this.”
Kiao blinked at him in wordless surprised that he would allow them privacy.
Oeric stood to his feet. “He’s your bond-mate and you two need time to reinforce it like everyone else. I trust the two of you to be responsible.”
Kiao beamed and crawled out too to her feet trying to control her eagerness. She all but skipped. She hadn’t had time to examine him to see if he was physically and sound of mind. She was certain he was fine physically, but as everything settled, she knew he would become frayed. And she got that impression as he lay in a corner as far from the entrance he could get and nestled behind packs.
She crept over to him hoping she made enough noise so he heard her. He didn’t stir at her approach and didn’t when she moved the packs out of the way so she could sit at his side. The best way to wake him was to pat his chest and right as she reached for him he woke up. Then in a flurry of motion, he sat up and bear-hugged her. She yelped as she was forced off balanced so he could hold her. The tod gave her little chance to struggle and pelted her face with kisses.
“You wonderful, wonderful woman,” he said kissing her solidly on the forehead and then held her away from him so he could see her. His face was glowing with admiration.
“Hello to you too,” she said breathlessly and then he embraced her again with enough force to squeeze her internal organs out her throat. She squirmed and he loosened up his hold. She only an enough of a reprieve to exhale and inhale once before he took her in his arms and fell to his back. He positioned her so that below her waist was beside him while the rest of her was above him. His face lit with delight and was almost vibrating with joy. And yet, she became subdued in her excitement. Touching him and seeing him calmed her.
Mien strummed his fingers on her arms. “So how did you manage it? You told me that you would tell me later how you found me. It’s later.”
“You opened the channel between the two of use and sent your emotions to me. You sent sorrow and desperation thought a burst of some kind. I thought you were hurt.”
Mien searched her face. “I guess that was when…huh, I have to tell you something.”
“That’s Lyndon is dead. I know. I tried to ask Soletus what happened and he didn’t want too.”
“It took him a bit to tell me. Give him some time. Anyway, I don’t know how I opened the channel. So you entered my dreams and I to send you my emotions.”
“That’s about the size of it. Do you feel the channel between us now?”
He grinned. “Yes, that why I knew you were coming and planned my attack.”
“Can you use the channel now? I want to see how it works on your end.
His gaze turned vaguely and he tapped his finger on her elbows and in concentration. She then felt searching, that wasn’t her own in the back of her mind.
“I think you got it,” she said feeling the connection between them become clearer.
Mien smiled full of delight. Her magical heart sang and her chest got uncomfortably warm. It was a little too much and she lost her balance and fell on him. It all vanished and morphed into concern. Mien sat up and clutched her to his chest. The connection broke.
“Sorry, I’m not used to sensory overload like you are.”
She expected him to let her go. Instead, he nuzzled the top of her head. “I missed you.”
Kiao snuggled closer to him and he rested his chin on her head. “I missed you too. How you holding up?”
“Surviving the wilderness was easy enough. It’s just keeping distance from Kellas, running into a husk, finding drass beast poachers, and a corrupted chanter was the hard part. This is on top of going through edict visions as well as keeping your friend from losing himself,” he then let out a slightly manic chuckle. “Perfectly fine.”
Kiao put her hand on his chest to feel his heart beating. It wasn’t slow.
“Kellas made it back, just so you know. He claimed you fellows went after those stupid peaceguards in the Redrock Gorge. He didn’t purse and came straight home.”
“Lies,” snapped Mien. “He had Cole chase us. And that stupid old dod shot Doran in the arm. You should probably look at it.”
“After I take a look at you. Soletus said you were hit in the head.”
Mien rolled his eyes and sat up. “You know, I don’t think I gave it a proper look. By the time I got my abilities back, I’ve had to worry about everything else.”
Kiao could see the spot on his temple. There was going to be a scar there. “This shouldn’t take long to look at.” It didn’t and sure enough, there was silver scaring on it. “He nearly killed you. Your skull was fractured.”
Mien took in a shaky breath. “That’s wonderful. Valhart tried to kill me.”
Kiao pulled out and held him. “Don’t get anxious.”
“I’m not getting anxious. I’m okay,” he said releasing a very heavy breath. “I’m okay. It’s just that I can’t remember anything thing. I remember waking up in the gorge and Soletus crying. And you need to talk to him. I know his father is here but, he’s a mess.”
“I talked to him and he doesn’t sound like himself.”
“The day I woke up, he cried half the night. I let him hold my arm until he finally fell asleep and even then I stayed beside him.”
“Awww, that was sweet of you.”
“If you say so. I’m worried because he’s been aggressive at some points.”
“I think the First Warden has this.”
One corner of Mien’s lips went up. “Do I hear admiration? What happened? Did you two form a friendship while you come to get us?”
Kiao smiled despite herself. “He’s not that bad. If anything, being with him was a lot like being around Soletus. And don’t tell him I said that.”
“Both. Though, I don’t think the First Warden would care too much. I can see why you like him. He’s encouraging which that’s probably what you liked about him,” she said and then she thought about Mien’s mother. “Also, before I left, I met someone interesting.”
He gave her a bright look of anticipation.
“I met your mother.”
Mien looked like he had swallowed a melon.
“You didn’t tell her about us or what you’ve been doing?”
“Just so you know, our meeting was very awkward and no I told her nothing.”
“That’s good,” he croaked.
“So why didn’t you tell her anything?”
“Not because I’m embarrassed of you, it’s because she’ll hate you,” he said.
“Because she’s going to deem you not good enough no matter what. She’s doesn’t under timbre bonds or me being a chanter for that matter.”
“So I noticed, she thinks something is wrong with you like you have a condition.”
Mien kissed her on the forehead and said. “Don’t blame her, but it’s my fault. I could’ve handled it better.”
“And what would that be?”
He then took her hand and kissed it. “I could’ve not let my father’s death get to me so much.”
“I think it would’ve been easier if you told her that your uncle was trying to kill you.”
Mien dropped her hand. “Okay, I’ve not seen you in weeks. We’re alone. And all you want to do is talk about my situation. I mean we can talk but above and below Kiao, all this can wait until we get home.”
Kiao shoulder sagged. “I’m sorry. There’s so much I need to talk to you about. I didn’t even get to tell you about Elnos.”
Mien became exasperated. “Why are you bringing him up?”
“He’s been trying to control me and then he attacked me.”
The gold in his eyes brightened and he let out a long growling sigh. “Stop. I don’t feel like being angry right now.”
Kiao crossed her arms. “It’s nothing to get angry about. They were going to punish him when I left.”
He then leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek and then on the ear. A shiver went down her spine and she covered her in her hands.
“Why did you do that! Those are sensitive!”
Mien sat back with his back straight. The gold in his eyes deepened and became sultry looking.”
“Getting you to focus on the here and now. I want to be with my bond partner. Express my gratitude. I mean, she came for me. Who would’ve thought she would do that.”
Kiao’s face flushed. “My doing this wasn’t anything special. Officially, I came to get Vlory. Coming to you was just another benefit.”
“Huh, so you weren’t working on finding me?”
She put her hands on her hips. “Well of course I was! I had to after I felt you. I thought something terrible happened to you!”
“So cute,” he said taking her hand again and kissing the top of it. “So what do you want from me.”
Kiao didn’t know what she wanted other an explanation of why he was suddenly in the mood he was in. She knew the best way to stop it was pointing out the way he was acting and the expression on his face. Not to mention his eye color change. However, that meant he was engaging some ability. She didn’t know what it was and didn’t know if she could think of it. Her brain was going to mush because all she could see in Mien’s face at that moment that older glimpse of him.
“You’re taking way too long.”
“It nothing,” she said failing to keep her voice from getting high.
“You’re nervous, why are you nervous,” he said leaning back. “I’m doing it again. I’m being forward?”
“No,” she said with a giddy laugh and realized that he was making her flustered.
“Do I need to stop,” he asked and it all dropped. “I wasn’t trying to push you into anything.”
“No, you weren’t. It’s just me being me when you clearly want just to be with me and do sweetheart things and I’m just want to be objective all the time.”
“Do you need a moment to breathe because I can give you that? You did a lot the other day, even with using that noisy stick.”
“Is it noisy now?”
“No, where did you even get that thing,” he asked and then shook head. “Nope, focus. I sit right here.”
He said patting the ground to in front of him and reached in the corner. Kiao did as he said and he scooted up behind her. Before she could protest, he draped a blanket around his shoulders and wrapped his arms around her with the blanket in his hands.
“There, perfect,” he said squeezing her.
Again, comfort descended on her. She was beginning to wonder if it was the bond or the feeling of being in physical contact with another that caused it.
“So tell me about your travels. Start at the beginning, before you left. What led you here?”
“Well, it really all started when the First Warden was brought to the infirmary because he had fainted,” she said.
End of pt 4