And I made this realization of everything I went through was for his benefit decades later. Because becoming a warden wasn’t something I wanted. As a tod, r rather rolled off a hill with razor rock than become a warden. I had no plans to. However, my father forced me into training at the age when my son joined willingly. Then I ran from it only to return a broken young man and accepted it. However, I never wanted to be someone of rank. I felt I would make an abysmal second or a first warden. How could I lead my fighting brothers when I couldn’t even lead myself down a path that wasn't riddled with regrets and mistakes? People could die from my mistakes and I didn’t want more blood on my hands. However, like a lot of things in my life, Dias didn’t give me much of a choice in the matter. Either I learned to be better or I would be taught.
“I wouldn’t be too embarrassed about it,” advised Alder.
Embarrassment was far from Kiao's mind. Though it was embarrassing to faint in a room full of people she respected and liked. She was more shaken up for her experience than to worry about fainting as she had. Her magical heart vibrated like a tuning fork. Then there was the implication of it all. Why would a channel open in her mind with the chorus of the world and Mien crying out? It was his anguish that worried her. It cut her because her entire heart ached with nothing to connect it. What had happened?
“I don’t like things happening like this without a good reason,” she replied.
“It wasn’t without reason,” he told her while examining her magical heart. It was uncomfortable since it felt as if someone was prodding her body and mind at the same time. “Though I’m not entirely sure what that reason is.”
His vague expression turned to surprise.
“So, no new phrase,” she said.
“No. Are you sure you heard Mien’s voice?”
“It wasn't his voice. It was just him,” she said, and the young man's face blossom in confusion. She went on. “It was like feeling someone's discomfort in their voice except it was his emotions in me.”
Alder’s hot blue eyes cooled down to the teal they naturally were while he considered what she had said. He rubbed his chin, then asked, “Didn’t you tell me that Mien said there was a channel between you two?”
Kiao pulled herself upright. “Yes.”
“Did you two ever figure out what it does?”
"No. I was never able to get that far in my research, you know that. And since I can't feel it, we accepted it as a proximity link.”
“Well, I guess you found out what the channel is for.
“But he’s on the road. He should be on his way from Crossroads because that town was where they were headed too. Why would I feel something over such a far distance like that?”
Alder shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you other than that. This sounds like something Brother Oli can help you with.”
Kiao felt disappointed. He never liked to speculate and left their conversation there. He opened the door of the private room to see the elder priest with his knuckles raised to knock on the door.
“Brother Oli,” greeted Alder with surprise. He would always wake up when his little flock needed him. He was a very doting man, treating Kiao and Alder like grandchildren. And at that point, they were more great grandchildren. His white hair was thinning. His wrinkles formed on thin translucent skin now. Older than the hills, as people claimed.
“Are you okay,” he asked, coming to her side.
Before Kiao could tell him not to worry, Alder spoke faster, blurting out:
“She fainted from the channel between her and Mien opening to her. She says she felt him.”
She gave him a dirty look and explained further. “I suspect I felt his emotions. He was very distressed. Something bad happened,” she said.
Brother Oli’s brow furrowed. “That’s a bit disconcerting."
"It is. How could I feel something like that from a distance? For it to be that strong, he should be standing outside our door. He's not. I don't know where he is."
Brother Oli rubbed his chin in thought and then stated. "It's possible for a chanter to send such a thing over a distance like that. Though it's not instant. Whatever happened to him has already happened. So that likely means something happened to his band. I will inform the Arch Monk. I believe he’s still in the building. As for you, I want you to see the Arch Priest.”
“Why,” she asked.
“He called for you. For what purpose, I don’t know. Perhaps he felt something. He is more connected to the chorus of the world than all of us.”
The chorus of the world, the magical channel that all chanters were connected too. Where they learned new phrases from. Where they could get insight from. The more timbre sensitive a chanter was, the more they could gleam from the singing voices. The Arch Priest was connected to it. And him asking for her after a happening should surprise her. However, she never interacted with the Arch Priest much and she didn't really want to. The truth was, she didn't care for Arch Priest Lorthan. He grew on her a little after he allowed her to stay and keep her rank as a canter when she revealed herself as a young woman. The man was an insight chanter with the ability to see the future and knew since they met, she was female. He didn’t say anything and choose to say so when the time came. That was his nature. To be enigmatic.
She never understood that. Many who were farseers tended to tell others what they saw. Prophecies could be made. However, he avoided it or that's what is seemed. Always relaying information at what he claimed was the right time. Then again, his phrase of insight was odd from what she learned. Sometimes he saw the future in the waking world if something needed his attention with him using the phrase of insight. And being timbre sensitive didn't help. The older a timbre sensitive chanter would get, the more they were drawn to the chorus of the world. Over the years, he become more distracted by it and could be caught in a daydream. And it was getting worse. It was rumored that now talking to him started sometimes felt like he was having two different conversations at the same time. It made it hard to speak with him. Most Priest seemed to accept it. Kiao suspected they like him being distracted as it took his eyes off of them.
The first place that Kiao headed towards was the annex where he lived with his wife. It was an offshoot off the side of the priest's wing. It was at the end of the corridor to the left. Their quarters were large enough for a small family to live at. The Arch Priest and his wife were an elderly couple with no immediate family. Kiao wasn’t certain where his children or grandchildren were. From what she gathered, they weren’t Brotherhood and didn’t live in town.
When she arrived at his door, she tapped and waited. There were no footsteps on the other side of the door. So, she turned around and went across the hall to the sunroom.
She pushed open the door and cool moist hair touched her face. An arched arbor blocked the sun twined with wisteria. In the spring, their flowers would hang from them, filling the room with floral sweetness. It was early autumn now, and the leaves were starting to show a little yellowing. When she stepped out of the green tunnel, it opened up to the mediation mosaic. The tiles under her feet were arranged in the shape of an egret, the bird of healing. Usually, the Arch Priest was off to the side, tending to a series of stunted potted plants he liked to clip and shape. Instead, he stood in the middle of the mosaic with an easel before him. In a chair behind him sat his wife primly in her robe and beside her sat the Patriarch, tapping a finger against the side of a teacup impatiently.
Kiao was spotted by the Arch Priest’s wife who never made her presence known often. However, when she did, she acted as if she were the most important woman in the order. In fact, she reminded Kiao of her grandmother, but less bitter. Though still plenty nasty. She was the type of old lady who expected proper behavior out of everyone. Even the Patriarch was sitting up as if he had a stick tied to his back. If she was not familiar with that type of old woman, she might’ve walked up and fumbling.
However, Kiao’s appearance was always neat, but that didn’t stop her from getting leered at like she was a moth in a linen closet. The young woman kept her head high and stride strong. The woman was on the belief that Kiao needed an attendant. Kiao didn’t need someone to look after her dignity and outright refused to be subjected to such treatment. She sacrificed enough with other priests making her and Mien's relationship their business. She didn’t want the rest of her freedom to go anywhere she wanted taken away.
“Sister Kialianna, what brings you here,” she greeted.
“The Arch Priest, called me Madame," she said and kept back any statement about how she likely already knew that. Though she didn't call her "lady" as she insisted everyone do. She was of no house major or minor, thus there was no reason to give her that kind of respect. It caused the woman bristled as she always did. However, the Arch Priest then intervened.
“Have a seat, Sister," he told her. "I brought one out for you already.”
There was a seat beside of the Patriarch. She sat beside Briar’s father. A sympathetic smile spread across his fine face. He was the youngest of all the heads in the order. He was middle-aged with a shock of silver that went through the top of his head. It stood out against the gold of his hair to the point he didn't try to hide it.
“You must excuse me, I felt compelled to use the phrase of insight this morning and saw something I needed to paint to get an understanding of it,” said the Arch Priest, sounding alert and not lost in the chorus of the world. She feared that he was growing closer to giving himself over to the chorus, to the point he would no longer eat and sleep. He would wither away and die. That was the fate of a lot of timber sensitive chanter. Kiao prayed that fate was not Mien’s.
The Arch Priest stepped back from his painting and then stood off to the side, so Kiao got a look at it. It wasn't a pretty painting; in fact, it was disturbing. There was what appeared to be a figure painted black, with long hair streaming behind them. They were on their hands and knees on the ground, their back arched. There were purple veins running through the figures that reminded Kiao of the color of visible corruption. It didn't help that the ground was blood red. The sky above them was smokey and orange like a fire.
“That’s a mighty fine doodle, Lorthan,” remarked the Patriarch.
That got him a frosted glare from the old woman sitting beside him. “How dare you make light of my husband’s work? This could be a warning for this order.”
“It’s a personal opinion. I’m allowed to have those,” he returned as mildly as he could. Though Kiao could hear that voice of his firming up. He had a tolerance for many things but she seen him when someone stretched it too thin.
“Your listen here young man—” started the woman.
Kiao disguised an amused snort with a short cough. He was a lord from a ruling house and her social better. Yet she treated him like a pesky child.
“He’s allowed to say something about my painting skill,” said the Arch Priest, now sounding as if he floated back into a dream. “So Sister, what’s changed?”
“I hear something different in your voice.”
"I fell a disturbance though the chorus of the world earlier.”
The Arch Priest lowered his brush hand and he turned around. His aged eyes settled on her in looking at her and past her all at the same time. She wondered if he was seeing her as if she were older or saw that little child with her again.
“What was the nature of this disturbance?”
“I felt my bond partner's emotion, his anguish mixed in with other things as if something bad happened."
The Arch Priest became bewildered.
“So, you didn’t feel anything," she guessed.
“No. Channels between bond partners can’t be felt by other chanters,” he explained.
That disappointed her. She hoped he did because she didn't know what to make of it. “But I never felt this channel before. Why now and how?”
“As for the why, I suspect that young Brother Mientheoderic opened it unwittingly,” he told her mater-of-factly. "As for the how, something surged his emotion through."
Kiao folded her hands together in her lap. “What could’ve caused that? As far as I know, he’s too far south of here?”
The Arch Priest faced to his painting, speaking to it. “He gained his edict phrase during a moment of duress.”
The Patriarch brow shot up. “Should I be worried that something happened to one of my bands?”
The Arch Priest twirled his brush between his fingers, then stopped abruptly dropping it to the floor. His eyes became vacant and then he jolted, blinking and became silent.
“Yes, something happened,” said Kiao to the Patriarch. “Mien wouldn’t have felt so intense if something just scared him. Maybe someone died. I don’t know.”
“Died,” said the Patriarch, looking worried. “I don’t suppose you can see into this?”
“He is powerful,” said the Arch Priest, ignoring the younger man and plucked his brush off the stones. “Passion fuels him. He’s strong because of it.”
The Patriarch then spoke again. “That all good and well but—”
Then Arch Priest cut in, “Sister, did you know that chanters were the most revered elves in Asteria? Second to them were those who were neth?”
“Yes,” she said, looking at Lord Kharis, who looked mildly miffed that his attempts to guide him to a subject failed.
“Neth were loved for their dedication and perspective. Chanters served kings and nobles as council. We served the army as champions of righteousness. A noble would gladly have a chanter in their family or employed under them. It gave chanters much power. But as the saying goes, power corrupts.”
Kiao then glanced at Lord Kharis for help. “Sir, I don’t see the relevance.”
He kept going as if he didn’t hear her. “One particular chanter found her way to become Queen. She claimed to be on a mission for Dias and perhaps she started out that way. To do good. However, instead of spreading Dias’s voice for peace and love, she misguided chanters in becoming harbingers for her. She claimed to be executing Dias’s wrath. They became judges and executioners. They alone decided who lived and who died. Mostly it was the weak, the poor, and the common people. They used their voices to manipulate nobles, controlling them. It was so bad that a handful of chanters could stop an army.
“However, Dias had a way to correct this. It was the phrase of silence. It had always existed, but no chanter had seen the true potential of it until then. These chanters, who didn’t believe in the way of this queen, gathered themselves together to cleanse the mistakes of their kind. Joined with half the ruling houses they and stopped the Queen and her chanters. That ended the golden era for chanters as well as Fenndishism.
“From its ashes birthed many restrictions for chanters you know of today, such as chanters being unable to hold any official post and wariness of chanters having children together. The common fold became distrustful of them to the point they murdered entire bloodlines. Some went as far as to kill children who came into their abilities. Nobles feared them or turned their nosed up on family members who birthed one. And chanters themselves feared a chanter who knew the phrase of silence. They saw it as a sign of Dias’s wrath.”
The Patriarch then spoke quickly during the Arch Priest's pause. “I am a little confused here. I’m uncertain how this relates to our situation.”
“I’m explaining why the priests here are nervous about Brother Mien. Someone has acted irrationally and I—” The Arch Priest stopped talking. “Ah too early for that. I suppose I need to back up.” The old man then bowed his head and looked behind him. “I’m sorry Kharis.”
“No, take your time. I’ve nothing but time today,” he said with a reassuring smile.
The Arch Priest regarded his painting. His wife picked up his brush and handed it to him. The elder then started applying another layer of colors.
“What I was originally getting to… ah yes, don’t worry, Kharis. I believe that even with what Sister Kiao has felt, Brother Mien will prove himself. He's kept a larger tragedy from happening. However, a greater injustice has been committed.”
That wasn’t at all what Kiao wanted to hear. She looked at the Patriarch. He didn’t say anything about his question not being answered. He took a sip from his teacup and sighed.
“So, what do you two thinks of my painting as art,” asked the Arch Priest. Kiao considered the clashing colors and the ominous figure in the middle of it all. “Tell the truth.”
“I don’t like it,” said she said. “Looks like pain.”
“It is a bit of an eyesore,” commented the Patriarch and got another death stare for the Arch Priest’s wife. “I’m a simple man. I can just see the surface.”
The Arch Priest then said to Kiao. “Keep an eye on Solgard’s son.”
“He dreams,” was all he said to her and then to the Patriarch. “Ah, Kharis.”
The man regarded him over his cup that was held to his lips.
“It’s not time.”
“Not time?” The Patriarch dropped his cup on the saucer. It clanged loudly, sounding like it cracked. “When will it be time? I cannot under good conscious tell a family to send their girls to the Sisterhood anymore after learning what happened to this young lady!”
Kiao was surprised that he was still pushing for change within the order. He didn’t seem to be making headway with it at all. In fact, he hit a new resistance with her being there. Everyone seemed to be of the same mind that one girl was enough to care for, watch, and kept safe.
“I think it would be prudent if we reconsider our stance on women in the order and allow for the training for female chanters, at least.”
“And what has the Arch Monk said about the matter,” that Arch Priest asked.
The Patriarch became displeased and said softly, “He refused to support my idea. Claims that dealing with one distraction is enough.”
Kiao gave him a questioning stare. “I’m not sure how I’m distracting.”
“You’re a lovely young woman, my dear,” he said to her and then his face dropped to a full scowl directed at the Arch Priest. “Why not tell him to teach them more self-control! Why would it matter if he agrees or not?”
“Solgard will never change his mind on the matter,” stated the Arch Priest, dipping his brush in dark paint and added a dark shadow to the mix. “The past holds him. His experience has shown him how unsafe it can be and he won't budge. As for me, I can’t. The sun has reached the horizon. I won’t see it done. So you stand alone.”
“So, this is a hopeless cause,” muttered the Patriarch.
“Don't be so easily discouraged," chided Brother Lorthan,. "When Solgard’s time ends, his successor will be the strongest voice you need.”
“His successor? Who is it, an outsider,” laughed Lord Kharis. “None of these wardens will do such a thing. They’ll follow Solgard unquestionably to the Maw and back. He has to change for them too.”
“He won’t. His replacement is tempered differently. In fact, strength and love are here with us. Wisdom has yet to walk the world. However, strength has a lot to learn. You've plenty of time, so allow them to. Do not seek them or push them towards your idea. They understand it. All they need is your support.”
The Patriarch’s eyes went wide as well as Kiao’s because the Arch Priest rarely spoke so plainly about the future.
“And you're just telling us this,” asked the Patriarch.
“Yes. You were about to give up. I can’t have that. If it eases your mind, you’ll see it all through, Kharis,” he told him and then looked at his painting with a dark expression. “You two should leave. I want to finish my painting.”
The Patriarch stood up and held out a hand to help Kiao to her feet. She took it and followed him outside instead of back in through the priest wing to the infirmary. He still had his teacup and saucer in hand. Kiao imagined the liquid in it was cold.
“Strength and love are here with us. I assume that’s Solgard and his replacement. Mine isn’t even born yet,” he muttered. “At least he didn’t speak in riddles the entire time.”
“I didn’t know you were still pushing for other women in the order,” said Kiao.
“It pays to be persistent if you want to be a patriarch who doesn’t just count the coffers and doles out judgments all day.”
The qualifications for a patriarch were a little lost on Kiao. She knew that they were neither monk nor priest and needed to be selfless. So, it was a bit unusual for a elven lord to be a patriarch, let alone one from one of the ruling houses as Lord Kharis'Gyrfalcon was. Major houses didn’t let their children get involved in things that didn’t provide them with standing, such as the Brotherhood. They didn’t adhere to nobility ranks, so they weren’t considered worthy to give a child to them.
However, Lord Kharis was a fourth child. He would get the last of everything and his only duty to his house was not to be an idiot. Many thought he failed spectacularly by marrying a common woman whose father was a cur. Even if they didn’t care for him, Kiao liked Lord Kharis. He was elf, not a figurehead acting the part of a role. He cared a great deal about those around him with a special interest in her. She wondered if it was part him being a father and less his personal ambition that fueled it.
When a warder passed by, he raised his cup to them and they gave him a warm salute.
“Two of them are already here,” he muttered when they passed. "The sun is on the horizon."
“Does that surprise you,” she asked.
“Yes and no. Yes, because I’ve never given it much thought and no, because I’m the only spring chicken here.” The man then thought a second, then his face twisted. “This isn’t easing my mind as it should. The next Arch Monk has already been chosen a month ago. I forgot. And they chose Icus.”
Kiao remembered Soletus mentioned something about it. They choose him for his handling of the situation with the peaceguards. A small group within the guard had made the attempt at manufacturing Blighter. The process of making the drug is specific, and they failed to do so safely. It caused children to get ill. Icus came into the guard and basically cleaned house uncovering a lot more to the point there was a lot of shuffling, a lot of demoting, and field wardens agreeing to take places of those who were removed. Icus was a force to be reckoned with, and many older wardens loved him for that. He only seemed to strengthen the ageism in the ranks.
"Don't get me wrong," continued Lord Kharis. "I liked the fact Icus did what he did with the town’s peaceguard. The field wardens like to think of themselves as better, but that sort of arrogance is how you blind yourself to problems in your ranks. Icus will see to it not happening. But you need to be a bit more than just being a stickler for the rules.”
“Change is needed for the priest just as much as it needed for the monks,” said Kiao. “Maybe the next arch priest can get the rest of the priests in doing something than spiting me.”
“I’m afraid of much of the same. The next Arch Priest will be a favorite among those and will probably try to remove you for some reason or another.”
Kiao looked across the grounds of the monastery that had been her home for two decades. “I’ll just leave if it came to that. I don’t need to be in the order to serve Dias.”
“Agreed, but we can’t appreciate your skill if you did.”
Kiao gave him a wary stare. “You’re flattering me a lot today.”
The man gave her a thoughtful smile. “It’s a horrible habit of mine when I’m in the presence of a lady. It benefits me to be polite in court. Lucky for you, that’s a dance you don’t get to learn. Grant it, I think you’ll be marvelous at it.”
She stopped walking and put her hands on her hips. “What do you want? Your daughter does the same thing when she wants something.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled. “I sense Brother Mientheoderic is going to have quite the time with you as a wife. My family wishes for your presence for dinner a week from now. I believe Maelyra is going to be giving you a ‘gift’ for you and your bond partner. I’ve no clue what it is. She thinks I’ll tell you, given how I hate surprises and whatnot. He should be back by then as well as Oeric’s lad if nothing terrible has happened. It would've been nice is Lorthan specified that.”
It would have indeed.
“I’ll be there,” she told him despite the fact Mien wouldn’t want to have dinner with the Patriarch after coming home. He would try to attempt spending evenings alone with her until he left out again. Not that they could. Brother Elnos would find a way to keep them separated because just holding hands was something scandalous.
Kiao’s finished her shift after that. It crawled by. They had a few injured initiates who had gone out scaling an embankment. One lost his footing and tumbled onto two others. There was some bruising, and a fractured or two, but nothing serious. It was enough to keep her mind from wondering about Mien, as concern still rested on her shoulders. The Arch Priest wasn't very reassuring when he confirmed something did indeed happen and that a greater tragedy was avoided. So, it might've not have been bad. Mien could've been overacting. He did that some times. Maybe his edict phrase was affecting him. If he was learning his edict, well, she felt bad and excited for him. Edicts were disruptive and hard to deal with without proper guidance, and he was likely far from that. However, it was something that completed a chanter. And such a thing would be good for him. He would be a stronger chanter because of it. And that soothed her mind. She felt better.
When the dinner horn sounded, she was hungry without it being suppressed by concern. Before she left, she went upstairs to check on Oeric. He wasn’t alone. Lionel was there sitting in the chair beside Oeric’s bed reading softly. When he saw her, he stopped.
“I just got him to settle down again,” he whispered. “Sorry I disappeared earlier. He just didn’t feel comfortable.”
Kiao stepped in, walking on the pads of her feet and examined the first warden visually.
“He’s not gotten any warmer,” he told her and took the cloth he had on the man’s forehead and dipped it in water. “But he felt sapped and wanted to sleep, but he’s been restless from the patches. Some started forming on his back.”
He seemed at peace, then shifting a little to get comfortable. Lionel, however, didn’t. Kiao was never sure what to think of the newest acquisition in their ranks. Lionel was an odd one. He was a blonde Mien. Not as timbre sensitive and not in the same way. He wasn't a healing chanter. But he could heal better than Mien and with it came the ability for him feel and soothe pain. He hadn't had his edict yet though. And other suspected it would be something different.
“As long as the patches aren’t spreading down,” she said told him.
“I wish we could do more,” he said, rubbing his hands on his trouser.
Kiao rested a hand on his arm. “Lionel, if him being uncomfortable makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay to get one of us.”
“No,” the tod said and cradled his head. “I’m fine. It’s just gets in my head a little. Is it dinner time?”
“Yes. Since he’s sleeping, let’s go,” she said.
The two of them ate with Alder and made arrangements for the evening. Lionel would be staying up downstairs until midnight. Alder went to bed first. Kiao followed soon after to her room upstairs. She started to undress when she heard a voice coming from Oeric’s room.
She walked out singing stars to light her way. They arrange themselves in the constellation known as the Watcher. She opened the cracked door and saw first the warden on his side. His hand lay on the bed as if he was cupping his hand over someone’s. He was probably having a dream and given from his twitching face, it might’ve been a nightmare.
“No,” he muttered. “North? Why north?”
Kiao eased herself down at the edge of his bed and tried to find a way to get to his heart. There was no good way for her to touch it. She could through his back. The better anchor point for what she was about to do was his temple. However, she didn’t enjoy doing it that way because she would exit his mind instantly. It always left discombobulated. She would make an exception to comfort him. She placed her index and middle finger on the side of his head and chanted the phrase of insight. The dream he was having was interesting. She was standing the very room they were in.
It was a near perfect mirror to reality. It was cast in an eerie blue light with the edges of the room fuzzy and muddled. It was oddly vivid as the entirety of the center of the dream was clear without sections of it fading into the blackness. However, the interesting thing there was the figure on their knees in by Oeric’s bed. It was Lyndon. His nephew.
Kiao didn’t know how she knew it was Lyndon because the ethereal looking being didn’t really look like him and yet it did. She couldn’t even see him clearly. He wasn’t even wearing his warrior braids. His hair spilled down to his shoulders and blocked her from seeing his face. However, she knew his voice, and he was telling something to Oeric. She could hear it but couldn’t understand it.
She walked forward wondering if decreasing the proximity would help. When she was within a few steps of the foot of the bed, Lyndon stopped talking and he turned his head towards her. He sat his colorless gaze on her.
“He needs to go with you,” Lyndon told her, and the dream broke apart into darkness. Kiao gasped and found herself back into the waking world and it spun around. For an instance, she forgot where she was and leaned forward and rested her forehead on her hand, waiting for the dizziness to subside. Oeric’s eyes had snapped open, and he stared in front of him with the vein in his neck pulsing. He then rolled on his back and struggled into a sitting position.
“No, no, no, First Warden,” she said to him pushing him by his chest. He looked scared for a moment and then his face relaxed. She whispered the phrase of peace at him and he settled back down closing his eyes. Soon he was fast asleep again as he was before.
The young woman then leaned back in her chair and muttered, “What was that dream?”
I've probably added in more world-building to this spot than any place in the entire series.