And then there was Icus. To say we never got along is a bit of an understatement. He made himself as unlikable as he could. And there was no reason for that. Part of me wonders if he did it to keep me far away from him so no one would suspect the truth about him. He was to become Arch Monk. A goal he had been working towards. And my grandfather chose him. He wouldn’t have been my first choice if he were young and alive today. The reason? Well, involved the huntresses in a very dangerous mission. He publicly admonished me for it and made one of the most sanguine monks I’ve met angry. He had took what my father and I started and refined the huntress. They were his pride and joy and Icus tore them down for no reason other than his loyalty to my grandfather. Sadly, he died the day after that. So we never had to see an order ruled by Icus.
The thought of getting commended for his actions made Mien’s stomach knot up. It seemed inappropriate to commend him when Lyndon was dead. Then again, Lyndon would probably smack him on the shoulder and tell him to take it. Mien just wanted the entire ordeal to go away. The adventure was supposed to be over. They were supposed to come home and rest. Not reacting to every situation as that kept popping up in front of them still. It felt as if it all caught up to him.
He felt it in his chest, as always. His heart sped up from unease and a sense of dread washed over him. He found it ironic. They were out in the wilderness without a first warden, encountered a husk, and had little food without becoming an anxious mess, but in the sheltered safety of the monastery was a different story. He left Tyrus, Doran, and Oeric and retreated down to the basement. Lionel wasn’t there, so it was quiet. The only company was the bunches of mint dying from the rafters above his head. There was something calming about being under there.
He wanted a distraction and looked around to see what could be cleaned, organized, and mixed. He looked across the alchemy kit stretched before. The tubs for distillation looked like they could use a clean. The heating plate needed a new candle. And the soap for the batch Mien left to cure weeks ago was probably ready to give to the women at the society house. He would go there as soon as he was free. However, he didn’t move to do anything about anything he saw. It didn’t help.
Mien leaned on his knees and stared at the stone floor. There was one thing left he could do aside from calling for Kiao. The last thing he could do was meditate. He sat on the stool with his hand in his lap and focused on his breathing. He told himself that he wasn’t going to go into a fit when he arrived home and was safe. All he had to do to get through the next two days.
He was down there for some time when he heard his name being mentioned by Lionel, who come down the stairs. Mien was already on his feet when the tod came to a stop.
“Oh, there you are. Alder wanted to know if you checked on Soletus recently,” he said and then stared way too hard at him. Lionel very good at noticing other discomfort.
Mien swayed his head. “No, I haven’t, but I will.”
Lionel became stilled and looked him over. “Are you okay?”
“I’m okay now,” answered Mien getting to his feet. Lionel waited until he walked past him to place a hand on his shoulder.
“Are you sure? It feels like you’re having a moment. I should get Kiao?”
“No,” he said. “It’s already passed.”
He said that and stood there for a long moment with Lionel. The young chanter priest was just a step from being timbre sensitive himself. In fact, Lionel was described as a gentler version of him. Mien was cold and didn’t even realize it until Lionel found a blanket in the corner that Mien used when it was cool and draped his over his shoulder. The young priest led him to the stairs and sat beside him and started talking. Nothing he said was important and was closer to rambling. He talked about how everything was strange having both him and Kiao gone at the same time. And how happy he was to have them back. He told a short story for all the while, softly pushing his calm voice on him. It should not have worked, but there was a reason Kiao had Lionel soothe. He was good at it.
Soon Mien felt a lot better climbed up the stairs, then across the large room to the next set. Soletus’s room door was still closed. When he opened it, he found Cordea had used her motherly talents. Soletus had stretched out with his head in her lap. He was sleeping. His mother held her finger to her lips with her other hand, rubbing his back. Mien stepped back, shutting the door. Soletus looked to be the most at peace he had been in weeks. Clearly his mother was better a person to help at the moment, thus Mien just left them alone again. He was glad as he really felt the need to speak with Kiao. He wanted to make sure she wasn’t at miffed about whatever had put her in a bad mood. Once downstairs, he found her at the podium, writing and muttering to herself. Emmery was resting on her shoulders. That wasn’t a great sign.
The consort let out a squeal when he was close and jumped to his shoulder. Kiao went on writing whatever she was filling out. It wasn’t the ledger.
“What are you doing?”
“Brother Oli wanted me to update some of our written knowledge on neth males as we finally have an official one in the order again.”
“Can’t you do that sitting down,” he said, petting Emmery with his fingers.
“I’m making sure a certain first warden is staying put.” Mien looked at Oeric across the room. He was too busy sleeping to pay attention to them. “You know how he injured himself. He climbed a ladder, had a spasm, fell off, and hit his head.”
“Is that all?”
“All what,” she said, focusing on writing and doing so furiously.
He quelled the desire to rest his hand on top of hers to force her to stop writing. He didn’t want her to smudge her ink. “You’re agitated.”
“I was to speak with the Arch Priest. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be and there were others there talking about the unfortunate Elnos and that I’m responsible for his death.”
Mien bristled. “Who were these priests?”
Kiao continued to focus on her work. “It’s doesn’t matter, they were just talking.”
“They shouldn’t blame you for him being a pervert. They should hold some amount of respect for you,” he told her.
She met his face. “And who’s going to teach them, you?”
“If I have to,” he said, and she gave him a doubtful look. He then stated more seriously with his voice dropping to a low octave he didn’t know was possible. “How long do you expect me to passively watch things happened to you?”
Kiao stopped writing. “Excuse me.”
“Do you think I enjoy hearing how others are disrespectful to you and you saying it doesn’t matter,” he told her using firmer than he intended. He didn’t even know he could speak like that. Instead of acting surprised himself, he firmly stood where he was.
She then leaned away from him. “None of them are Elnos. He was just one exception,” she said finally.
“It doesn’t matter if they are that extreme or not. It’s unacceptable. You need to tell someone.”
“I could go to the Patriarch, but going to him because I was physically assaulted was one thing, but tattling on mean people will probably get me mocked. It’ll be better for you not to be offended for me.”
“No one has the right to hurt you or blame you for something that wasn’t your fault.” he said, applying force in his voicing knowing well she could feel it.
“Don’t use your voice on me. I can understand you perfectly fine,” she said.
“Then stop accepting this and believe everything is going to be okay if you do nothing. It won’t.”
He then felt Emmery rub underneath his chin with her head before she wound around his neck. Her summoner though, looked as if the magical creature betrayed her. Mien stroked the consort between the ears with his finger.
Alder leaned out from the room where Vlory was and said, “You tell her. I already told her that this morning.” He then vanished back into the room.
“See,” he said.
Kiao was clearly about to protest more when the outer door to the infirmary opened, and he leaned away in time for Brother Oli to shuffle in. He appeared worn, with Brother Hickory glued to his side helping him along.
“Sorry it took me longer that I expected. I had to see the Arch Priest.”
“Really,” said Kiao. ”I was trying to see him earlier. He wasn’t where he told me to meet him.
Brother Oli nodded. “He was brought to his quarters and on the way back here, I was brought to see to him. He’s in a trance right now. A vision caught his attention, and it took him a long time to come out of it. He claimed he needed to do it.”
Kiao frowned. “His visions always need his attention now.”
Brother Hickory nodded. “True, and more priests are sharing that opinion and wanted mine on the matter. So we had to stand listening to that.”
“I’m surprised they even asked,” she said.
“They honestly just wanted more support for Rastor in taking over,” stated Hickory with a hint of displeasure in his voice.
“I take it you don’t care for him,” asked Mien.
“He’s ambivalent to my ears. It concerns me when people are like that.”
Brother Oli patted Hickory on the shoulder. “Well, you sensitive types can go work that out. I’m going to rest. You know my opinion on it.”
“I can help you up the stairs, Oliver,” said Hickory, reaching out for him.
“No, you stay here. The others rarely get to see you out of the chapel.”
“And I can spend that time with you too, old friend,” said Hickory.
Brother Oli waved him off and proceeded up the stairs slowly. “No, the younger generation needs you now. Besides, I’m certain you want to meet Vlory.”
Alder stood in Hickory’s path. “It’s best you let him go. Maybe later on you can give him his evening tea. He rarely eats very much in the evening.”
The silvering priest watched his friend walk up the stairs and said in a quiet breath, “Oliver was having trouble examining the Arch Priest.”
“We know,” said Alder soberly. “We don’t have him do much of anything anymore. He’s only here for guidance if we need it.”
Mien knew they all had been trying to ignore the inevitability of his death, but that day seemed closer and closer at every day that passed.
Brother Hickory’s teal eyes grew somber. “Ah, its inevitable isn’t it,” he said to no one particular as far as Mien could see. The sadness in his voice was there. He took a deep breath, then sat his focus on them. “Is Soletus able to be spoken to again?”
“No, his mother is with him. He was sleeping. Something he’s not done very much of,” said Mien.
“Oh, excellent. I’m certain leaving them alone is best for the two of them. I want to meet Vlory, if that isn’t any trouble,” he said.
Alder led the way and Mien found Vlory was awake and sitting up in bed. Mien walked in and selected a corner to stand in. He wanted to see how the young woman was doing. The chair that Alder was using had a book resting on it. He looked at the title. Alder was reading her poetry. And not any kind of poetry. It was written by a female poet named Blue Bird. She was very lyrical and spiritual. Alder was trying to uplift her spirits.
Vlory brightened up to see visitors but became intrigued at the sight of Brother Hickory.
“Hello, I’m Brother Hickory,” he said warmly.
She blinked at him. “First Reckoner and now you…”
“She’s timbre sensitive,” explained Mien.
“Oh, another one,” said Brother Hickory, unable to hide the warble in his voice.
“I have already been bonded, though the tie is broken. I likely will not bond with another chanter. Not like that,” she said.
“Even still, I think it would be best if we move you someplace else after you’re well enough to walk. What happened to you is traumatic, and it’s best found in an environment of peace.”
Vlory tilted her head and started to fiddle with her hands. “What’s with elven men here? Soft-hearts all around.”
“The world hasn’t been kind to you, I see. Well, we’ll try to make up for whatever rudeness they have inflicted on you,” said Hickory. “For now, I just want you to get stronger.”
Vlory’s tilted her head. “You’re like Son of Lenneth, aren’t you?”
“Soletus,” Mien helped.
“We do have that in common,” answered Hickory.
“Then you need to know his heart aches. Broken in two. You’ve felt that sting.”
“I have and I’ll help him as well as you. Don’t think you can distract me from you,” he said.
Vlory looked put out. “The bonded pair did more than I deserved. I don’t need more debts.”
“You don’t have to repay me for helping you or the Brotherhood. However, if you want to exchange of anything with us, how about knowledge? I heard you can imbue tao stone. Most don’t know how to do that. You can teach us about it.”
Vlory smiled a little. “You’re like the earth. Help others sprout, grown and anchor.”
Hickory grinned. “You figured me out that quick.”
Mien left them alone, and Alder followed.
“I knew he would like her,” stated Alder. “He’ll need the distraction if what we’re all worried about comes true.”
Soletus slept into the afternoon. Mien returned to his side after Cordea left him. Hickory peered in on them and said he would come back later. It was shortly after that when he stirred and pushed himself on his elbows and cradled his head.
Mien laid a tentative hand on his shoulders. “Sol?”
The young monk rolled his head to face him. The vagueness in his gaze was gone. However, his eyes had a glossy fevered sheen over them. “What time is it,” he asked.
Soletus laid his head on his hands. “That late and I still feel off.”
“Can you take something?”
“I’m starving,” he said, sitting up squinting at the light. “When did I come here?”
“After Brother Hickory was done,” he said and pointed to the small bed table. “I was told that you needed to drink this entire pot.” He then poured a small about in a cup and handed it Soletus. The young monk snatched it and drained.
“I’m thirsty too.”
Kiao stepped in from her room and hung at the door. “You’re finally awake.”
Soletus drained the refiled cup in just a few gulps and handed it to Mien. He nodded.
“Can you get to your feet yet? I was told to have you walk around when you woke.”
“Can that be to the mess hall,” he asked expectantly.
Kiao gave him an apologetic smile. “I have something downstairs you can eat.”
“It’s not broth is it,” he asked.
“No, but it’s light. I wasn’t certain you would be hungry, and I would have to force you to eat something,” she answered.
Mien presented him with another cup and his friend took it and stopped in mid-drink.
“A diuretic,” said Kiao. ”I’ve laced it with honey, and some berry juice.
“Oh,” he said and gulp it down. “Doesn’t taste bad.”
Kiao studied him for a moment. “Are you okay? Want to talk about it?”
“Nope,” said Soletus.
“Brother Hickory would like for you to talk to him about it,” she added and staying at the door.
“I’ll talk to him when I feel like it,” he said curtly.
She threw a glance at Mien. He waved his hand at her. Soletus sounded angrier than he really was, but clearly didn’t want to talk about it. If she bugged him about it. He would become irritated.
The young monk then regarded her. “Why are you just hovering?”
She entered the room. “I wasn’t sure what sort of side-effect that you would have. You might’ve not wanted a lot of people around.”
“No, you’re fine. So is Mien. You two are the only people I want right now,” he scratched his neck. “I thought I would be over all of this by now.”
“You should know that it lingers,” stated Kiao.
Soletus’ attention fixed on her.
Mien looked between them. “How would he know that?”
“Kellas told your parents while I was there about an incident with you and lovelace.”
“What,” Mien exclaimed searching his friend’s face. Soletus just buried his face in his hand.
“Why wouldn’t you tell someone about that of all things,” Kiao demanded.
“Because I would have to explain it and I don’t want to,” he said with a muffled voice.
“Sol, lovelace isn’t good for someone like you. What was used on you was as mild as it gets.”
She walked slowly to him. “You’ve a red spot on your neck. Can I check it?”
He lowered his hand and hung his head down. She looked at it.
“It’s not as bad as before. It doesn’t itch so much as it stings,” he said.
“Where else do you have hives?”
“Small of my back, the tops of legs, inside of my wrist, and I spot a don’t think needs to be irritated, but it is,” he said.
“I can give you a poultice to soothe it hive spots,” said Mien.
“Did is do this the first time,” she asked, this time looking at his wrist. Mien didn’t know how he didn’t notice the red splotch there.
Soletus nodded. “Much worse. But new spots didn’t pop up like it is now.”
“The tea should help. There is already something in it that should at least stop it,” said Kiao and then she sat beside Soletus, taking a deep breath. “Sol, promise me, you will be more careful.”
He looked confused. “About?”
“Valhart tampered with your drink. Look you’re a very tall and strong young man but, some lovelace can leave you very vulnerable. If someone wanted to take advantage of you, they can. So, please, please be careful when out on the road.”
A pained expression crossed his face. He scratched his neck again looking away. “Yes. I get it, I’m a dod. I’ll never do something stupid again. Gotcha.”
“No,” said Kiao, grabbing his arm. “You aren’t stupid.”
“No,” he chuckled. “I am stupid. Valhart got that lovelace from me. I bought it.”
Kiao hand drooped.
“You did what,” she said.
Soletus held up his hands. “Look, I just did it. It was an experiment. A test. I wanted to learn something. Mien, you understand, right?”
Mien wanted to agree with him, but the disbelief that was on Kiao’s face transformed into treacherous waters.
“I mean, good alchemist know that experimentation is a good way to come up to a conclusion of the effect on certain substances in the elven body,” he said with Kiao, giving him a stare that could cut a rock. He swallowed, then added, “But you don’t want to do such things to yourself alone and with substances that are dangerous or can be a danger because of the surrounding environment.”
Kiao slapped Soletus on his shoulder. “How can you be such an idiot dod sometimes?”
“Please don’t be mad at me, he said, leaning away from her. Shielding himself with his hands. ”Yes, I know stupid. I’ve done a series of stupid stuff that has led to everything.“
“I’m not calling you stupid for everything you’ve done, I’m calling you stupid for not telling anyone about the fact you were struggling with yourself, with Kellas, and with Valhart. Yes, you’ve complained, but you’ve never gone into a lot of detail.”
“I agree with that,” said Mien.
“Because there isn’t anything that could be done about,” snapped Soletus.
Kiao then snapped back. “This isn’t about anyone doing anything about it! We are your friends! Do you think so little of us that you couldn’t tell us the full scope of everything?”
Soletus hung his head down. “It’s not that. It’s not that at all. You and Mien had your own issues. I didn’t want to bother you with my own.”
“Our issues aren’t all encompassing burdens,” she told him.
“Look, you two have the potential of spending your entire life together. You will have a family and whatever duty you will have. There isn’t room for a neth friend.”
“There is always room for you,” said Kiao, patting his back. “Love and family aren’t limited to those we are relented or who we choose to spend the decades with.”
He shivered and let out a soft cry.
Kiao withdrew her hand. “Should I have not done that?”
“My skin feels strange. I still feel strange,” he said. “I just want a hug. A hug would be nice. I keep wrapping back around craving that. I thought having Mama would help.”
Kiao wrapped an arm around him. Mien then sat on the other side of him and joined in on the hug.
“You two don’t have to do this,” he told them, though Mien could feel him relaxing.
“This is just part of the lingering effects of everything. It’s better if we make you feel better this way than for you to become very antsy and uncomfortable.”
Mien let go and poured him another cup of tea. He lifted the cup and took another drink of tea, this time sipping it. He was smiling a little.
Kiao then looked at his head. “I know your mother braided your hair, I could brush it for you. It’ll make you feel better.”
For a moment, Soletus looked uncomfortable at it and then decided on. “Maybe. Who else is here?”
“Don’t be embarrassed. We can hear anyone who’ll come up the stair before they get here so they would never know.”
“Sure,” he relented.
Kiao leapt off the bed and hurried into her room as if he might change his mind and returned with a brush in hand, grinning enthusiastically. “I can even trim your ends to make it even again.”
“That’s fine,” he said.
Mien then watched her take out a pair of shears from her pocket and placed it on the bed.
Mien chucked at her and then said to Soletus. “Given what you’ve been through, this is deserved.”
Soletus closed his eyes while she undid his braid. “Something nice and savory would be better. And shouldn’t you be protesting with jealousy?”
“I see nothing wrong with this,” said Mien.
“That’s because you have no concept of normal,” returned Soletus.
“True,” shrugged Mien.
“It’s normal. As a girl my friends would brush each other hair and they were mostly males,” said Kiao, working on a knot. ”I guess when we get older, it just becomes a thing between family members. My parents would brush mine when talking to me.“
“Never with mine,” admitted Soletus. “Mama sure, not Papa. I think she’s the only one who can touch his head… well now Saedee. He lets her get away with so much.”
Mien said. “My sister would do mine when my hair was long.”
“So you’re saying my family is weird,” said Soletus.
“No. You let Saedee brush your hair, which means since I’m practically your sister, you should let me,” stated Kiao.
Soletus chuckled, “Don’t you have Mien for this?”
“It’s too short! It isn’t satisfying enough,” she said, taking a long stroke from the top of Soletus’s head down to the ends of the section she held in her hands. Soletus let out a content sigh and changed subjects. “So, what happened while I was out?”
“Your father fell off a ladder and hit his head yesterday,” said Kiao. “He is resting downstairs. His head will be fine, though I wish I could cure him from being a dod.”
“And he wants to speak to you about what Icus had you confess. He was a little upset about that,” said Mien.
Soletus shrugged. “Figures he would be.”
“I know you were still under the influence of Hickory but, clearly you have to believe your negligent in Lyndon’s death,” said Mien. “Why would you think that?”
“Because I am and because I need to prove a point,” said Soletus.
Kiao sighed. “Soletus, the last time you needed to prove a point…”
“This time I know what I’m doing a bit more,” he said confidently. “I just need a little expertise in what I want to say and how to say it. So when you get done, I need to speak to Papa.”
It was then Mien heard Alder downstairs, exclaiming something. He then heard fast footstep and someone running up the stairs. Kiao stopped brushing and stood up when Alder shouted, “Kiao!”
“What,” she said, and the young man appeared in the doorway.
“The Patriarch needs you to come with him. A body was found. It’s Valhart’s.”
Yes, I realize that today isn't Thursday. I just withheld the chapter due to changes. I'm quite sleepy right now. It's late, so no long explanation on what was changed. Basically a corrected RR change, I've been struggling all day with feeling bloated because I can't digest beef very well at times. I have hamburgers that wasn't very meat lean and my tummy repealed. Granted, I grilled the burgers and they were tasty. Just must stomach didn't appreciate it. I practically on a meat free diet for a few days until I feel better,