Intermission: Mask pt. 1

“It’s becoming an epidemic,” said Brother Oli as flapping his arms about in frustration. Mien thought he was doing a good impression of a flustered bird. “Why isn’t more being done?”

 A good dramatic question, let’s see if the peaceguard can answer it, thought Mien and waited to hear the man’s answer of why the infirmary suffered another break in. He was supposed to be picking shards of broken glass under the current shattered window. However, like Alder, who had stopped dragging the broom across the floor by the medicine cabinet, eavesdropping was more engaging.

“My commanding officer is doing all he can,” answered the peaceguard patiently.

Mien couldn’t pick anything out of that statement.

“It doesn’t look like it,” returned Brother Oli.

“There is adequate security. This was just minor oversight.”

Mien peered up just in time to see Bother Oli’s face prune. He then started on a long fast spoken tirade about the meaning of “adequate” and “minor.” Mien couldn’t blame him. The infirmary had accumulated three broken windows and the glass face of the bottle cabinet’s door in an effort to get blighter.

They had lost two bottles that month making the most recent break-in a fruitless attempt, as they had none to steal. Mien figured the person smashed the cabinet in frustration because they couldn’t get a hold of the substance. Not that their bottles were worth it. The blighter they used had very little addictive properties in it, but that didn’t matter to an addict. It was blighter. They only way the break-ins would stop if the dealer was found and treat the addicts. The peace guard was doing a terrible job of it.

“You don’t seem to appreciate the significance of this problem,” insisted Oli sharply. In contrast Kiao, was standing beside him with his hands clasped behind his back being as expressive as a stone. That was surprising given the young man wasn’t afraid to share his opinion on matters. Many senior priests didn’t care for it, but they didn’t do much to stop him. Or at least, Brother Oli didn’t. The Elder Priest seemed to encourage him and acted as if he could do no wrong.

Mien figured it was because Kiao was a strong chanter for his age and a priest actively doing something. He was just as smart if not smarter than Mien in terms of book learning. His specialty was the body. He was an excellent healer, a strong dreamseer, good bed side manner and was skilled in using a chanter’s force of voice. Overall, everything one could ask for in a young chanter priest.

“It’s clearly an addict coming in,” said the peaceguard to Brother Oli. “It’s obviously someone who’s been here before as they know they can exploit your bad hearing.”

Mien felt chilling sensation between his shoulders. That was why he was listening. He hoped his unreliable lie detecting skills would work. He just didn’t know what he had lied about.

“I don’t have bad hearing,” protested Brother Oli.

Mien tried his best not to laugh aloud. The old elf heard fine, but slept like the dead. One day, Alder shouted his name in the elder’s ear while he was asleep in his rocking chair. He thought him to be dying because he didn’t seem to wake up. Kiao ended up bringing in a plate from the mess hall and fanned the aroma to his nose. The old man jump up.

Brother Oli and his sleeping habits were well-known and he was the only person in the infirmary at night given how much he slept during the day. Not to mention at night as well. It was no surprised that someone broke into the infirmary three times without him knowing until morning. It was clear they needed another priest watching things at night.

“I will put an extra man to come and patrol around here until this is sorted out,” promised the peaceguard.

“How much is that really going to help,” exasperated Oli. “It’s not helped yet!”

“It’ll help as we continue investigating the matter. We are sorry about your windows, but we’ve been focused on finding the seller. Until then, I fear much worse might happen.”

Indeed, thought Mien.

His uncle was a blighter addict and often used it when he drank alcohol. It made him unaware of his surroundings, however, if he was irritated during the day, it would make him violent and he always took his anger out on him. He couldn’t imagine a town full of people who might react in the same way.

The peaceguard saluted and left. Brother Oli grumbled and looked very tired. He probably expelled most of his energy for the day trying to get the peaceguard to take their issue seriously. He rested withered hand on Kiao’s shoulders.

“You don’t need me down here do you,” he asked.

Kiao swayed his head. He was in-charge while Oli rested.  No one faulted the white haired elder. He was approaching his fourth century. Honestly, the elf should’ve retired decades years ago, but most of the older priests were disinterested in the infirmary. And the Arch Priest claimed it wasn’t busy enough to warrant much attention. Mien spent a good year and half there and he had to respectfully disagree.

Alder and Kiao ran the infirmary. They were young and ran circles around those who volunteered to help. Kiao begged Brother Hickory to let them have Mien even though he was a burst healer. He couldn’t sustain heal. Kiao and Alder were committed to their work and didn’t want Brother Oli to run the infirmary by himself anymore as he had done for many decades. The two seemed determined to make the old priest comfortable. And wanted someone young to work with them so Brother Hickory agreed making Mien their junior apothecary.

“Good, I’ll be upstairs. Since Mien’s here for the day, send him town to talk to Petra about getting use some new glass put in. I doubt you will be busy.”

“I’ll see that it’s done,” said Kiao looking dutiful.

“Good, good, don’t know what I would do here without you looking after things,” said the priest patting him on the shoulder and walked slowly away down the hall. Kiao watched the elder climb the stairs. When the old chanter priest couldn’t be heard, Kiao well-mannered face dropped and he glared at the windows.

He clapped his hands together and announced, “I want to set a trap.”

“A trap,” questioned Alder, dumping his glass in a bucket and carrying it over to Mien so he could dump his pieces in it.

“I was thinking something we could set a small flask outside of the window and on the top of the cabinet with a skin stain.”

“It’ll stain the floor,” pointed out Alder. “Let the peaceguard handle it, Kiao.”

The young man ignored him and walked towards the empty frame and started inspecting it.

“What I don’t get is why bother breaking in? The windows are low, yes, but the infirmary is always unlocked. Anyone who lives in town knows that.”

“Well it could be an outsider.”

“If they know the location of the infirmary, then they’ve come here and read the sign on the door that says it’s unlocked.”

Alder rolled his eyes skyward. “They could be illiterate. Not everyone is blessed knowing how to learn to read.”

Kiao was undeterred by that round of logic and continued to study the window. “It doesn’t make sense is what I’m getting at. They can’t have too wide of shoulders. They would have to be Mien’s size.” He then looked at the base of the window and broke off a jagged piece still attached to the frame. “I wonder how they even climbed through the window.”

Alder leaned on his broom and moaned. “Would you give it a rest already?”

“They didn’t even cut themselves not once or even left a shred of clothing. No boot prints under the window inside. They just slip in here like a wraith.”

“And the Peaceguard can find your wraith,” said Alder sweeping up the smaller shards of glass. Mien dumped his in the bucket wordlessly. When those two had a disagreement, it was best just to stay quiet. He started to slink downstairs to the basement, however Kiao fixed his attention on him.

“Did you sense anything?”

Mien was a little hesitant to say. He could trust his abilities no one else usually did.

“I know you did.”

“The peaceguard wasn’t telling the truth about it being an addict coming in.”

“Why lie about that,” exclaimed Alder.

“I don’t know, I’m telling you what I sensed,” said Mien.

“You should’ve said something,” said Kiao at the same time Alder stated,

“Well you probably sensed wrong. It’s not the first time.”

Kiao glared at him. “Would you stop being dod! There are things about theses break-ins that make no sense. And just because Mien’s abilities aren’t accurate enough for you doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”

“Of course, why would the keepers of law and order in the town not tell us the truth,” grumbled Alder shouldering Mien aside and started sweeping the remaining small shards of glass. Mien let him have it.

“I’ll get ready to go to Petra’s,” he said trying to escape.  Mien had no heart being in the infirmary. Alder was in a bad mood because of what happened and Kiao was trying not to be by doing something about it. He training with Oeric or Nimbus would be better. However, that wasn’t much of an escaped when the two were dogging him now. They wanted him better than average making training hard. He liked it better when he had free time back when he stepped into the Brotherhood and could spent it with Lyndon and Soletus. However, the two young men went to the culling and wouldn’t be back for a few days yet. Then he might get to do something fun given his two current companions were a bit dull.

Alder didn’t do much except work and be a priest in his room praying and meditating and Kiao rarely went out unless Soletus or Lyn invited him to something that wasn’t swimming or playing a game of rush.  Kiao claimed he couldn’t swim and refused to learn and rush was too rough. Yet riding on the trails with the fastest and most spirited horse he could find was perfectly acceptable.

Mien was about to walk out the front door into the lobby with his bucket of glass when a woman entered the room first followed by three men. Two of them were helping the third along who was shaking as if he had fallen into an icy pond.

“Please, you have to help my brother,” the woman cried latching on to Mien’s arm.

Kiao left the window and pointed to the examining table closet to the door behind a screen. “What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know,” she said between gasping between tears. “Please don’t let him die.”

The two men picked the woman’s brother and sat him on the table.

“Greetings,” said Kiao to the brother. “I’m Brother Kiao, what’s your name?”

“They’re coming. They’re trying to eat me,” he said swatting the air around him.

Alder stood off to the side. “You need me to get anything?”

Kiao put his hands on his hips and frowned. “Not yet. Mien, come here.”

Mien walked in the examination area of the infirmary. Kiao took a step back and gestured him forward.

“Look at his eyes and tell me what you see.”

Mien stood in front of the shaking man and saw that that his eyes were nothing more than a glassy pool of black with only a sliver of what was some shade of green. Mien picked up the man’s hands. He tried to jerk it away and Mien held onto his hand to get a look as the man’s fingernails. The base of his nails were gray.

“Blighter,” stated Mien. “And the poor kind at that.”

The stuff nobles ingested didn’t cause nail discoloration.

The woman covered her mouth with her hands gasping. “What? No, no, no, he would never take that stuff.”

And then the brother started flaying his arms around trying to hit Mien. “He’s one of them! He’s one of them!”

He jumped from the table, but the two other elf men stopped him and tried to force him back on. He started kicking at them. Mien backed out and pulled the sister back.

“Alder, get the restraints,” shouted Kiao.

“Don’t hurt him,” begged the sister as her brother nearly punched Kiao in the face with his elbow.

Kiao and the two men pulled him around the screen.

“Noooo,” he cried as they dragged him. He then stopped flaying and went limp. Kiao let go of him at the shift in weight. The two other men followed and stood back watching him curl up in a fetal position shuttering. Alder came with in with the restraints.

“Get him on the bed with the bars,” said Kiao waving for Mien to come.

“It’s going to take four of us to get him up,”

The man’s sister clutched her hand over her heart. “Do be careful.”

Kiao told the men. “Get his feet; we’ll worry about his hands.”

However, on approach, the man saw Mien and screamed, “No!”  He jumped to his feet and a boot knife manifested in his hand. He lunged at Kiao. Mien watched in horror as the knife tip was pointed at Kiao’s ribs. The young man stepped backwards and the crazed man stumbled forward. Instead of stabbing, the knife made contact with Kiao going downward. Kiao cried out and fell to the floor.

Mien grabbed the man’s hand that held the knife and twisted it behind his back. He used his free hand and freed the weapon from his grasp. The other two men took hold of him. One took his other arm. Alder and the other man grappled his legs.  They picked him up, ripped off his boots, and dropped him to the bed. Another knife clattered to the floor.

The sister was by Kiao side with a hand on his back. “He’s bleeding, he’s bleeding,” she cried.