The arboretum wasn’t a place where Mien visited often. It consisted of a lot of shade trees, a pond fed in by a spring and plenty of rocks and moss to sit on. It seemed like a perfect place for him. However, it was a social place. There were plenty of elves around talking and walking along the path or having a picnic there. He came there once or twice with Kiao when she was training him. It was often to get his mind off of whatever was vexing him and relax by watching the gold fish that swam in the pond. The few times he come alone, the regular friendly elder elves would talk to him would tell him three hundred years’ worth of their life story.
He walked to the town square to the burning ash tree and made a left away from the market. The houses vanished and soon he found himself walking down a path too narrow for a cart to go down. No horses were allowed through the arboretum. Elves walked among the variety of trees that the Patriarchs of the past brought in to at least make the town a beautiful sanctuary as the world outside wasn’t as safe.
He heard shrills of a group of kids playing tag, their parents sitting nearby speaking to each other. He glanced over at the children and smiled at their games. There were two older men sitting at a stone game table and bench playing four corners. One was sat very smug while the other’s brow was creased with concentration. It reminded him of the last game he played with Lyndon. It didn’t end up well for the young scout at all.
Mien felt relaxed. Maybe I should come here more often, he thought and then he come to the bridge were Kiao told him to meet and stalled. There was a young woman leaning on the rail of the bridge looking up at a bird chirping above her head. She stood out not just, because she was tall, but her hair was short and black. That wasn’t a normal elf hair color. She was wearing a bright red woman’s vest covering a shirt with airy sheer sleeves. To complete her ensemble, she was wearing a pair of harem trousers that was held up by a wide and long tasseled sash with the ends fringed with feathers and beads. She was flamboyant and Mien thought she was loveliest girl he had ever seen.
She straightened up and looked in his direction. Her hair color might’ve been different, both the face and eyes were Kiao’s. “Oh don’t just stand there,” she said and sounded completely wrong. She didn’t sound like a chanter. Her lit was missing.
She put her hands on her hips. “Don’t gape at me, please?”
“What wrong with your voice,” he said when he got close. It was listening to a chorus sing singing in a sharp key while one person was singing flat.
You’re such a chanter. Everyone’s been staring at me because of my hair color and you’re worried about my voice,” she said pointing to her neck. “I’m wearing a mute choker. It’s a Kanu device, old relic stuff. Brother Hickory gave it to me.”
Mien stared at the device around her neck scornfully. It was Kanu magic that created the wasteland where drass beasts come from.
“It’s not going to summon a drass beast and pollute the ground. Kanu devices are safe to use. Well this one is.”
“Why are you using it?”
“So I can have time to be myself,” she explained.
Mien noted that the lit was the cause of her androgyny in her voice. She sounded like a woman, albeit one with a deep voice.
“Without the lit, people don’t recognize me. Emmery helps too by changing my hair color.”
It was then Mien noticed the ermine that was her consort around her neck. She showed him what Emmery could do while he was learning how to summon his own consort Glen. She even showed him what the magical ermine could do by turning her hair gold. However since he didn’t know the context, he always thought it was a rather pointless ability to change one’s hair color. Not to mention now he realized how epicene of a name Emmeri was.
“Why black,” he asked her though it make her eyes stand out making them fetching.
She fanned her hair. “Why not? I think it’s striking despite the fact everyone thinking I’m part human.”
I think it make you look exotic, thought Mien.
“I just wanted you to see me so you can at least recognize me if I want to say hey in my semi-natural state.”
Yet her voice ruined it all. “You don’t sound right,” he said.
She shrugged. “I figured you wouldn’t like me without the lit.”
“No, I just…” Mien looked to the water embarrassed. “It shouldn’t matter what I like or not.”
“I’m not taking it personally. You’re a timbre sensitive chanter. Sound is everything to you. I probably sound as if I’m singing off key,” she said and then grimaced. She wrapped her arms around her middle.
“It still hurts doesn’t it?”
“Only when I move.”
“Then you should be resting instead of walking out here,” he said.
“I rarely get time to myself and my mother recently sent me this tunic and flattering vest,” she said spinning around for him to see it all. “I thought I should wear it. I like color and the Brotherhood lacks it.”
It was very ornate with the embroidered peacock on the back. It wasn’t something that he thought wasn’t very Kiao. Maybe because all he ever saw her was in a uniform and if she wasn’t, she wore neutral colored clothing as most common people did. Brightly colored clothing was for nobles and seeing her in made him appreciate all those colors he didn’t like before. Maybe it was because they looked good on her.
“Aside from this, I want to talk to you about finding the seller.”
“The seller?” He wasn’t following her.
Kiao lowered her voice. “The blighter seller. Did you happen to walk into the infirmary today?”
“Yes, you mean the boy?”
She bobbed her head. “Exactly, I was there when his mother brought him in. She was so distraught and had no idea where he got it from.”
“Perhaps a friend?”
Kiao shook her head. “The way he got it is irrelevant it’s the fact he got a hold of it.”
Mien cautioned her. “We should just let the peaceguard take care of this.”
“That’s all fine and dandy if the guard wasn’t involved.”
He was stunned that she would make that accusation. Then again, if he thought about it, she had a right to be suspicious.
A smirk spread on her lips. “Good, you’re not trying to talk me right out of it like Alder was trying too. It makes sense when you consider their response. Normally, the guard is on top of everything like that,” she said snapping her fingers. “We had three break-ins, with a lot of broken glass, but not a drop of blood or a torn slip of fabric. I find that hard to believe. And given how poorly made that blighter is, do you think an addict would have the physical and mental capacity to safety whisk in and whisk out.”
“No,” he answered. It would be impossible. They would be a bloody mess huddled in a corner if they didn’t get what they came for.
“What if a peaceguard is breaking in to throw suspicion off of them and what if they are the seller and maker of the blighter?”
Mien swayed his head. “He’s a member of the peaceguard. They should stop him.”
“I find that monks who are part of a close group are more acceptable of bad behavior among their peers and are willing to help even if it breaks rules. Not all of the guard needs to be in on it. I would say someone of high rank is.”
Mien thought about that for a moment. There really weren’t many flaws in her logic.
“It’s a little disturbing if that is the case that they are willing to put people’s lives in danger,” she said. “Though honestly, I’m speculating so feel free to tear it apart.”
Mien studied the surface of the water. “It’s a logical explanation given how badly made that blighter is. A real seller knows if they supplied a poorly made product, someone is going to turn them in. Or at least, that how it works in the noble world. The only problem is how did the peaceguard get ahold of the ingredients to make blighter?”
“I guess it’s not easy?”
“No. The plant itself prefers a warmer climate. It grows mostly in the southern plains near giant territory.”
Kiao started pacing the bridge holding her hands up in front of her chest wiggling her fingers.
“What if they pulled the bark from the possession from someone traveling in? Isn’t possessing the raw bark prohibited as well?”
“Well, instead of destroying it, they kept it, and tried to make it themselves,” she said with rising excitement. “What if their mixture is wrong and that’s why the boy is fevered and has blisters.”
“That’ll do it,” said Mien. He watched her amused going back and forth looking what he summed up as her being cute.
“Now to figure out who’s making it the blighter. Too bad we don’t have a peaceguard friend,” she put her hands on her hips thinking in the middle of the bridge.
Good thing no one’s coming, thought Mien and then said to her. “Lyndon’s friends with everyone.”
“That is right, but would Lyndon want to go against fellow monk?”
“If they’re passing blighter, he would jump at the opportunity. Problem is he’s gone to the culling with Soletus.”
“Tits, I forgot that,” she muttered.
Mien smiled. There was something charming about hearing her swear. Expression cleared from her face.
Mien washed all expression from his face and swayed his head. He could feel his face heat up.
Kiao tilted her head at him. “I’ve the feeling you’re finding me entertaining.”
Mien found himself grinning despite himself. He let her believe that.
“Use your brain instead of being so occupied with my behavior,” she said.
“We wait until Lyndon comes back. The culling group should be back soon and Kellas usually takes a break from patrols until after the trials are over in hopes of getting new members. Soletus and Lyndon will be free for a few weeks.”
“Good,” she said. “We’ve the start of a plan. Dias willing, we won’t have any more addicts coming into our procession.”