What turned me against Kellas completely was the way he treated the dead around us. To him, it was something to be forgotten. He did try his damnedest to tempt me with revenge. Lyndon’s death is all on me and it upset me more than anything that he dared to use my grief as his tool. When that didn’t work, he stated I should follow orders. And at the time, warders were trained to listen to orders unquestionably. Respect and loyalty demands it. However, good leadership is given respect and loyalty with actions not words. If actions, even my actions, lead down a dark path of death and destruction, no one should follow me. In fact, I expect someone to end me.
Mien was stuck in his mind, dwelling on what he had been told. He knew better than to allow that to happen. However, with nothing to do other than waiting, it gave his mind the chance to start overthinking.
He paced around their campsite in a wide loop. He gave an excuse of checking the perimeter followed by relieving himself to Tyrus. Then he just paced going from tree to tree thinking. His stomach rumbled from emptiness as well as the twisting of his gut knowing what happened. He should’ve stopped then instead, he talked to himself saying:
I could’ve done something. Could’ve done more. And why doesn’t Soletus blame me. None of this is his fault. Why doesn’t everyone hate me? Maybe they secretly do?
He stopped at a tree and leaned his forehead against the bark.
I didn’t something amazing but why not be amazing sooner. I could’ve shield Lyndon as we ran to save Soletus, he thought and then his mind finally provided a check. Could I have shield the two of us on the move? Can the shield move?
He didn’t know a terrible whole lot about shielding. Usually knowledge of a chanter’s phrase was given when the chanter learned the phrase. It was different for everyone. Nimbus could shield. He could shape it to be like a buckler shield in front of him and could move it around. In fact, he could form three of them at once. Mien knew that wasn’t the shape of his phrase. It was literally a translucent dome around someone. He didn’t think he could move it if Tyrus had moved.
So there is no way I could shield Lyndon from getting hit. But why didn’t I see the person shooting?
Soletus mentioned it was late in the day. It was dust or night. It was also chaotic. Who could see a crossbow in the dark?
No one, he decided.
Then there was healing Lyndon. He tried to force a memory of the incident forward and his mind revealed nothing. The only thing he had was knowledge of the elven body. If Lyndon was struck in the neck and if Soletus description of it was right, Lyndon’s artery, vein, and his trachea had to be hit or torn. Such a wound would need treatment immediately and it was interrupted by the clay shell.
If the shell hadn’t been dropped in the doorway, I could’ve patched Lyndon up to help him live.
Yet even with that, Mien felt terrible. He let a brother die. That was a burden on him. But was it? Brother Oli told all the infirmary staff repeatedly.
“You can only do so much. You can stop blood flow, you can mend broken bones, but if a soul is called you can’t stop it. You can’t do anything about it.”
Kiao was probably the only one there who could, under certain circumstances. However, even she was limited. Chanters didn’t hold the full power of a god.
“Glad you come to that conclusion, said his guild behind him.
Mien straightened up and whipped around the other side of the tree. The waking world was gone and he was in the field again. His guide this time was solemn.
“This is the truth all chanters need to accept. You have a tiny portion of Dais’s power as a gift. You can do amazing things but there is a limit. And within that limit, you must learn to use what you have.”
And just like that, he was back among the trees. There was the sound of crunching leaves and the loud snap of a branch being stepped on. Mien jumped and searched for the noise. It was Tyrus.
“You okay. Been watching you pace like a penned dog and then you just stopped here.”
“Oh.” Mien rubbed the back of his neck. “I was thinking. Soletus told me what happened to Lyndon.”
Tyrus’s brow shot up. “He finally told you?”
“Good. Kinda dumb he didn’t want to tell you earlier.”
“He probably didn’t want me to do this,” he said to him right as the sound of crunching vegetation could be heard. In the distance, a figure on a dark horse was coming towards them. It was Doran. The two of them joined him by Soletus who had stirred awake from under the tarp.
“I’ve good news and bad news,” stated Doran. “I found a road, but it led to a town with a bunch of poachers.”
Soletus’s brow dropped in bewilderment. “What kind of poachers?”
“Drass beasts,” answered Doran.
Tyrus face twisted in confusion. “Titfire, who’d want to do that?”
Doran shrugged. “I don’t know, don’t care. We can avoid them. The road turns east over the river. We can slip by them without them seeing us.”
Soletus entire being perked up. “Good job,” he said and started to stand to only sink back down. “How about you guys get everything pack up and we can moved out.”
“We could rest,” suggested Mien. “Half the day is already over.”
“Too close to the poachers. They’ve likely seen smoke from our camp. If they see us moving away, they won’t do anything to us. Plus it’s getting misty again. We might be able to find better shelter.”
Their plan was set and they moved out. Mien walked that day giving Tyrus’s legs a rest. He was strong enough he could walk whatever distance they needed to cross for half a day. Doran led them through a thicket and that was when he heard the voice again. It was stronger than before and he quickened his steps. A break in the trees appeared in the distance. The closer they got, the more it became clear it was a road. When Mien stepped out on it, the voice vanished.
“What’s wrong,” asked Tyrus.
“I hear her?”
“Hear her who,” Doran asked.
“I forgot about your edict,” said Soletus.
Doran let out a sigh.
Mien spun in a circle. “She’s gone.”
“Can you send a voice on the wind,” asked Soletus.
Mien opening his mind and closing he eyes to listen to pick up on anything. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know what phrase can give you that ability.”
Mien stopped and though he caught it again in his ears and looked forward down the endless road that tunneled its way through the trees. “We follow the road,” he said.
Above the tree top ahead, was smoke rising in the distance.
“That’s the poachers. They are a little over two miles away. The road turns right as you get to the village they are in,” said Doran who had followed his gaze.
“Any villagers there,” asked Soletus.
Doran swayed his head. “Just poachers.”
“What are the chances a chanter is there,” asked Tyrus.
Mien walked forward. “Enough to check.”
Doran spurred his horse and blocked his way. “Look, I gave that place a good survey. Nothing but humans and half elves there. Not a single elf to be a chanter.”
Not all chanters were elves.
“I need to look,” stated Mien firmly.
“We’ll check it out,” said Soletus. “It can’t hurt.”
Doran shoulders sagged. “Fine, I guess it won’t hurt.”
Mien wasn’t looking forward to what they were about to do. The closer he got to their destination, the more his entire body felt the wrongness that hung in the air like the thick soupy mist that formed around them. It gave them the advantage at least. After they tied their horses up, the sound of dripping in the moisture, laden air covered their steps as they approached the town from the west. They moved slow and low to the ground using trees and the thicket to obscure them.
They soon came to a halt and crouched down together at the outskirts of what appeared to be a very small village. In the center sat three large cauldron side-by-side billowing steam into the air. There was one human standing by them with a tool that looked like a two prong fork. She fished in one of the pots and pulled up something long and white. It was a bone. A chill went down Mien’s his spine. It was the first thing that made him uncomfortable. The second thing was too his left. There sat a stone temple. It wasn’t a Fenndish chapel as the roof was domed. On the double doors, he could see unity rings on it indicating that is was a Triad chapel.
He was going to bring it to the attention of Soletus but young monk was occupied. He had a hand cupped over his nose with his finger and thumb covering squeezing his nostril shut.
Tyrus who was keeping an eye on their flank and back and whispered. “Is it me, or does boiled beastie look like it could be good eating if not for the rot?”
“It’s just you,” returned Soletus sliding down on his back turning green.
“Tyrus, I think maybe you should take Soletus back to the horses,” suggested Mien.
Soletus bobbed his head. “He’s right. I don’t like the thought of splitting the band. But I’m going to be useless soon.”
Mien immediately heard the pain in his voice and saw his left arm was wrapped around him. His hand was tight in a fist.
Doran nodded. “Fine. Mien and I will look around. It will be easier. We’ll be right back. This shouldn’t take long.”
Soletus and Tyrus shuffled off back the way they came. Mien watched them until Doran tapped him on the shoulder.
“I’m going ahead to the back of the chapel. If it’s safe, I’ll motion you over.”
The young man darted towards a pile of rotting logs and rocks. He became still when the woman at the cauldron turned around and looked in their direction. Mien crouched lower in the thicket. She then turned her back to them and started whistling. Doran waited and then darted from there to the side of the chapel and out of her line of sight. He scooted alone the wall until he was at the back of the chapel and peered around it. He motioned for Mien to come.
Mien mimicked Doran’s movements. However, even with getting closer, he couldn’t feel another chanter. He stretched his sense, but he couldn’t feel or even hear the cry for help anymore.
“Can you feel anything now,” Doran asked once he had settled down
Doran indicated to large depilated shed. “That is as close as we can get. No one can see us there.”
It was pretty seclude with trash obscuring one side.
“Lead the way,” gestured Mien.
Doran left first, followed by Mien. They squeezed together as close as they dared. Mien then caught sight of something that stood behind the shed. It was a fence post with a round disk made of tao stone lashed to it. There was writing carved in it. It was Melodic and it felt like a ward. He could feel it humming on his skin. He opened his mind to it and discovered the ward was one he felt before. It was one to signal when a drass beast was around. Usually they were dying or too distorted. This one sung clear and crisp. However buried in the ward was something else. A soft timbre pulsed then and he heard it say, “Help me,” in Melodic.
Whoever did it was impressive to imbune tao stone with a ward let alone put a message in it.
Doran poked him in the side. “Who is chanter? All I can see are humans and I know they can’t be chanters.”
“I’ll see if I can find their timbre,” He concentrated and opened his mind’s ear all the way up and was bombarded by a lot of strange timbres. Most of them coming from the chapel to the side and they were abnormal and grating. A strangled cry managed to make its way out of his throat as he worked on silencing those. He discovered there were more pillars around them. He silenced those as well. What remained was a single timbre. It was weak and strong at the same time. It reminded him of snow falling to the ground but it was muffled by crackling and it was coming closer.
Mien held his fingers to his lips and gestured to his right. That was where Doran was. He heard footsteps and both of them stopped breathing. There was a sigh and someone spoke with an unfamiliar accent.
“I know your back there. They don’t.” she said softly. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t tell them.”
Doran looked at Mien. He forgot that the chanter could sense him as well.
“Come on, don’t be shy,” said the woman who clearly had a lit. It wasn’t that strong but it was there.
Mien leaned over Doran to peer around the shed. He didn’t know what to expect other than she sounded young. He was met with was a young woman no older than Kiao under a thick pelt made into a cloak. Across her face was a thick scar that streaked across like a lightning bolt with its branches going over her right eye and one cheek. The pale skin of the scar contrasted against her toasted and freckled face.
“Hello,” he whispered. He knew she could hear him.
“What are you doing here,” she returned just as softly.
“I heard your cry for help,” he said.
“You did,” she said holding her hand up to her mouth with her lips pulled up. She let out a single snort of laughter before controlling herself. “My problem isn’t for tods to solve. Run along before you get caught by the others.”
She then walked forward to the post.
“You’re renewing the wards around here,” said Mien. “How do you do it? How do you even put a message in it?”
“A Kanu secret,” she said absently lingering at the post. With her back turned to him, she continued speaking. “Hmm, are there more than two of you this far in the wilderness?”
“We’re on our way home,” spoke Doran. “It was then Brother Mien, felt you and was urged to come here.”
The woman turned her head to him her with a troubled look on her face. “You don’t sound to terribly happy about it.”
“This isn’t about me.”
“Concerned about little old me,” she said lifting the stone disk and held it in her palm of her gloved hand. “I’ll advise you to ignore this one and go home.”
He frowned. “So let me get this straight, you signaled for help but, you don’t want us too?”
Doran gave Mien a sharp look. “So we wasted our time coming here?”
She chuckled. “Well, you young ones can sort it out. I’ve got to check my wards. It was nice speaking to you.”
Mien reached and grabbed her arm and a chill run up his arm. He felt as if he touched something revolting. An urge he never associated with an elf another rose up. He wanted to destroy her like he she was a drass beast.
He snatched his hand back. The center of his chest burned.
She became grave. “You’ve the sun in your eyes, bright and terrible. Are you my savior or are you my reckoner?”