His name was Talore'Goldfinch. He was the first warden I severed under as second and he was the first death I dealt with. I can't say we met under amicable circumstance. No, my father chose him because he wanted me to learn responsibility and not shy away from it. He misinterpreted a conversation we had and believed I would up and bolt because of Fern’s birth. So, to convince me that I could be a father, he promoted me to a second warden. Then he placed me with Talore. I thought he was a short man, compensating by being annoying and boisterous. He thought I was too restrained, and he was going to fix it. He knew I hid myself behind a mask to appear like my brother. He knew exactly how to snatch that mask off. And I and my band got to see my actual personality. That it was fine. Though, my sarcasm could go. He was a great mentor and one that I needed longer. However, he died saving me.
Kiao was caught off guard. She didn’t expect Oeric to come to her.
“Something woke me up,” Oeric explained. “I vaguely remember it, but you were by my bed, Dreamseer.”
She nodded. “Yes, I saw your vision," she corrected. "I wanted to ask you about it but I wasn’t sure if you remember.”
She wanted to hear the truth from him and not reveal that she had eavesdropped.
He looked over her and behind him before he lowered his voice, saying, “I have those visions every time someone close to me has died. The first time this happened was after my mother died when I was five. And it’s a lot like what you saw. I’m asleep at night and they visit me.”
There was a lot more detail Kiao now had to work with. There was the fact that Oeric could commune with the dead and one of those dead people was Lyndon. She felt at odds with herself. How was she was supposed to think of someone as dead, when he was very much alive the last time she saw him? It didn’t feel as if it had happened. There was no body in front of her to look at. She wanted him to be wrong.
Lyndon was the first friend she made outside the infirmary. He opened up her small world into the monks. He was full of stories of the boy’s dormitory and he made life interesting. He had the taste for mischief. She constantly told him to never involve her in his pranks, but he always sweettalk her. She didn’t want to admit it, but it was exciting to hear or see his results.
“Are you sure he’s dead?”
“My dreams have never lied to me once. He’s gone from this world.”
“How can you—” she started and then was at a loss for words.
“Just say that,” he finished. His face softened. “Sister, death stings a lot less after you’ve lived several decades. As Dias says, we focus on the living. You of all people should know that."
Kiao bit her lip. She had patients die on her before. However, she never knew them personally. And their deaths hurt. But the sting in her heart felt different. It was almost like having to watch someone helplessly die because there was nothing she could.
He continued using a steady voice, understanding was on his face. "The pain can be there, but you need to focus on the here and now. Lyndon came with a message about those who are alive. And they were going north, and that’s about all I can make sense at the movement.”
“He told me that you need to come with me,” she admitted.
His brow ticked up.
“I interacted with your dream, not on purpose. Lyndon turned to me and said you needed to come with me. That never happens, just so you know.”
He shifted up right. “Not entirely surprising. I have particular dreams as you say,” he said, and stepped away from the wall. He managed a single step forward before he cried out. His hand groped towards the wall and caught himself. The muscles in his jaw were tight, and he was shifting his weight off his right leg.
“Where’s the pain coming from,” she asked.
“My right hip or back. Feels like I've been stabbed. No cramp,” he hissed through his teeth and warded her off with an outstretched hand.
“You shouldn’t be having pain of this intensity,” she said and reached for him again.
He slid away from her and put his back to the wall. His heavy breath evened out. “It’s going away now.”
Kiao reached for his chest, and he brushed her hand to the side.
“Please don’t touch me,” he growled.
She thrust her hand on her hips. “Well, if you aren’t going to let me look here, then at least come with me to the infirmary.”
He shook his head. “Stop fretting. Cordea has a horse for me,” he told her, as if he were speaking to one of his children. That annoyed her.
“I’m fretting because you probably had a spasm. You shouldn’t be on your feet,” she said, using her reasoning voice she reserved for annoyed stubborn wardens.
It didn’t appeal to him at all. Instead, he stated with sardonic undertones. “I’m sorry. I should’ve kept lying on my back when being told my son is missing,” he stated to walk away. She slipped right into his path and pointed a finger towards his face.
“Don’t you get caustic with me. I’m telling you what you need to do about your injury not how you should react to your son being missing. What you experienced is likely a nerve spasm. It’s not going to get better if you don’t take care of yourself. Doing so will actual make your search for the truth more efficient.”
Kiao never let a single warden intimate her. She didn’t let a single warden to so and wouldn’t now. However, in meeting his challenge, she then realized why his appeared odd to her. They wild and stark like a wolf than an elf. Even more so then because he was annoyed. She held her challenge even with the knowledge. And he forced himself to relax and held his palms up.
“I apologize for taking my annoyance out on you,” he stated.
She lowered her arm. “It’s okay, but I’ll feel better if I examined you.”
“I’m tired,” he admitted. “I need to go home and think. I’ll do so in bed. I’ll lay there for the entire day if you wish. But tomorrow, we need to investigate this. My goal is to get information on their last known location.”
“How? You can’t even talk to Kellas and his men.”
“Let me worry about that,” he said. “Now if you excuse me, Sister.”
Kiao nodded and watched him walk away. He was limping. He was still hurting, and she stopped herself from shouting at him to march himself to the infirmary. She shook her head and instead focused her mind on the situation before her. A ball of concern that was nested in the back of her mind came to the forefront. Mien’s moment of distress was linked to Lyndon’s death. He had to be in a mess because of it. The tod could easily fall apart and relapse into the same state he did with his father. Then again, he was field trained. A great deal more mentally fortified than before. And honestly, maybe he wasn’t the one she should worry about. Soletus was close to his cousin.
He had changed over the past couple of years. He was less a tod and more of a young man. Calmer, more self-assured. He was turning into a warden becoming firm. However, he was still Sol. Under the surface lay a moody being. It surprised even her about how moody he could be. He appeared to be very friendly, confident, and mature. However, when his father was sent away, it made it clear he didn't handle emotional pain very well. His self-control would evaporate, his temper short, and he would easily say and do something just to be mean. It was like everyone needed to be hurt along with him. And with Mien hurt by Lyndon’s death, they would be a mess with no one to temper those moods. Doran and Tyrus certainly couldn’t do that.
She felt helpless. There was nothing she could do other than make her way back to the infirmary. Instead of taking her post at the podium, she found herself drawn downstairs to the lab. The alchemy kit down there had been basically untouched since Mien left. There was a covered beaker he left resting on the large table that held the series of tubes and flasks. He called it a scent experiment.
She sat on Mien’s stool and opened the book he had worked on. It was full of modified formulas and clearer instructions that he written in his crisp handwriting. He wanted everyone to have the ability to mix.
She slid her fingers across the ink and thought over what the First Warden had told her. He wanted her help. However, what could she do? There was the channel, but she knew very little about it. Over the last two years, they did nothing with it.
Brother Elnos and the other priest decided that exploring their connection could wait since it didn't appear to impact them negatively or others around them. When asked why they felt that way, the reasoning was that Mien was too young and advised they wait until he was at age. Brother Oli and Hickory stated that chanter abilities never stayed neutral when left untrained. However, Elnos wouldn't budge. The Arch Priest didn't admonish him for it. Then Elnos went as far as cutting off her own research from the archives to ensure it.
She had written notes about timbre bonds that the assembly didn't know about. One of those notes was an entire list of useful books she planned on finding again. She needed those books. She had an idea. If Mien could contact her, maybe there was a way she could contact him. She placed his book down and hurried upstairs to her room. She closed the door behind her and got on the floor beside her bed.
“I’ll have to come back and read these after my shift,” she said to herself as she got on her stomach and then rolled onto her back. She pulled herself under her bed and searched for her journal. Tucked in a shelf formed frame of the bedframe, was her leather-bound journal. She stood up and carefully opened it so her loose parchments didn’t come flying out and on the floor. There was a single page she sought and that was her list of books. She flipped through the pages, finding her list. At the bottom, there were the descriptions and the titles. There were two books of interest and then then narrowed it down to one. That was good because the hard part was getting the book.
Her plan was to go to the archive before her shift in the morning. Brother Nardel, who watched the archives like a hawk and was loyal to Elnos, wouldn’t be fully alert. She could walk in unnoticed and sneak to the book she was forbidden to look at. That was where her plan became uncertain. She could take advantage of the fact she wore a dress and slip the book under her skirt. However, she would need to find another tome to act as a decoy to check out to give her a reason for being there. However, she doubted she could transport the tome comfortably, and that was the problem. It would cause her to trip or shuffle too much. The only other option was to get someone else involved. No one in the infirmary was a good option. Nardel would know right off who the book was for.
“I’m just going to have to figure it out as I go,” she resigned to herself.
The next morning came. She hadn’t come to any other solutions during the night. But there was no turning back so left the infirmary, a yawning Alder stopped her.
“Hey before you go, here,” he said, handing her a note and stretched.
“Who’s this from,” she asked him, not recognizing the not as being from a warden.
“Whomever the senior warder is right now,” he said.
Kiao examined the note closely and realized that the two letters written in fancy loop and hook script was a “O” and “S. The handwriting inside, though, was plain and crisp.
Meet me in the archive after you eaten your noon meal.
-First Warden Oeric’Sheldmartin
“What is it,” asked Alder when she saw her face brighten.
“Oh nothing,” she said and immediately revised her plans. If Oeric was going to be there, then he could check out the book for her. In fact, he could practically walk out with it in his arms on promise he’ll bring it back. She waited until the afternoon. However, she decided to just to skip her noon meal all together and make sure that the book was there where it should be.
However, when she got to the entrance of the archives in the main hall, Brother Elnos was talking to another priest across the hall from the door. Kiao only had two options; walk past him and be stopped or walk into the archive and raise his suspicions. Then again, no matter what she did would do that. So, she walked over to the door causally and could feel his eyes. She acknowledged him with a bow to her head before she slipped into the tomb like darkness of the archives.
There were sconces sporadically placed on the stone wall. Most people used lanterns to search the stacks. Kiao used her starlights to guide her. This time her cluster of stars chose the constellation called the Stellar Ship. The story related to it was about a crew who used the ship to explore and seek knowledge. Kiao wasn’t thrilled about it. She felt betrayed by the stars. That meant she was looking for something and Brother Nardal would notice. However, the sentinel of the archives wasn’t there. In fact, none of the two other brothers who watched the place weren’t there. They had gone to lunch. She smiled and quickly hurried to seek the book she needed.
On her way, she caught sight of a bright glow off to the side. Another chanter was present. She inspected their light to make sure it wasn’t anyone who could potentially get in her way. When she turned the corner of the shelf and saw Brother Nimbus standing between shelves with three small sun orbs suspended over his head. He was flipping through a large tome idly, looking very bored. He rubbed his large nose and sneezed, stirring up a cloud of dust from the shelf in front of him.
She smiled at her good luck. She met Nimbus on the same trip that took her down from the Sisterhood to the Brotherhood. It was a stroke of luck that he was there. Nimbus was not only a battle chanter, but an expert in non-verbal communication. His consort gave him the ability to mindspeak with people around him. And since he was barely over a hundred, he wasn’t too old to be impossible to talk with. Then again, he had always been approachable. He was naturally jolly and good natured. Also, he was the perfect individual to talk too for her mission.
“Bless you,” she told him, sitting in the edge of the table in front of him.
His face lit up in happy surprise. “Hello Lass, what brings you down here?”
“A summons, but since you’re here, I need your expertise,” she said.
“Nonverbal magical communication.”
Nimbus sneezed again before saying. “Are you speaking about a consort given abilities?”
She shook her head and explained to him what had happened in the infirmary.
He gave her a suspicious look. “Didn’t the assembly say you weren’t allowed to pursue this subject?”
Kiao arched a brow at him. “This is an emergency. I know you’re aware of what happened with Kellas’s band?”
Nimbus smirked. “I might’ve been informed of the situation by a certain first warden who summoned me here. I may also be helping him.”
“How,” Kiao asked.
“Well, given our position, I do believe we are near the Arch Monk’s quarters. I’m just keeping tabs on Oeric. Making sure, as he put it, thinking properly. The more he keeps his mind busy, the better off he is. He’s reading right now.”
“Statements that Kellas and his men wrote this morning. That should tell you something about what happened. They don’t do this with any old sideways mission.”
“So, he’s taking advantage of lunch time.”
“Yep, even that dusty old clout Farley is gone, so Oeric is having free rein over his father’s desk.”
Kiao then realized that sitting behind a stack of books was a black-back hare. It was Loher, Nimbus’s consort. His consort give ability was mindspeaking. “I see.”
“While he’s still reading, I can answer your question. You and Mien have a bond channel. It’s stronger than a consort created channel. They are limited. I can only contact someone within a short distance and if the person has an open mind.”
“What do you mean by an open mind?”
"Their minds are more accessible. I manes it easier for me to contact them. I can tell you Mien’s mind isn’t. Now, it might be different for you. You’re his bond mate. I can’t speak to him. There’s like a barrier protecting his thoughts. If he could learn to control it, I think I could access his mind. Though there is no point, he’s expressive enough with that face of his.”
“Who would be an example of someone with an open mind,” she asked.
Kiao's mouth twisted with surprise. “Are you serious?”
Nimbus chuckled at her. “It’s nothing to do with him being a naturally open person personality wise. It’s just that his mind has a bit more flow to it. He hides nothing from me. I can always tell when someone is uncomfortable with me; their mind is tense, and I get forced out repeatedly.
“And he doesn’t do that?”
Nimbus thought for a moment. “Well, it was more like he wanted me to trust him when we first met. I could tell he didn’t care for it at first, but he relaxed into it. He can speak clearly to me. The only time it’s hard is when he gets fixed on something.”
“So, if Mien is open to me, how would I even contact him? We can’t mindspeak.”
“Then you do so when he is sleeping, you’re a dreamseer.”
“But I can’t interact with a dream. I can only observe. If I interact with him or anything else in the dream, it’ll wake him up. I only have a few moments to do what I need to do. Not to mention distance is a factor. I need to touch the person.”
“Remember when I said that bond channels are stronger? You could, in theory, access his dreams as long as he is nearby without waking him.”
“Okay, so on Mien’s end, he pushes off his emotions on me?”
“It makes sense. He’s going to have to learn to control the emotional projecting, though. He probably didn’t even realize he had done it.”
Loher then jumped on the stack of books. Kiao let out a little yelp and held her chest. The hare gave her a look of apology and then stood on his hunches.
“What is he doing?”
“Oeric is coming to us,” said Nimbus and he winced. “And he’s in a fine mood. You mind showing him back here when he comes?”
“Of course,” she said rising to her feet and then stopped. “I’m confused about something. Has he told you about his dream?”
“How long have you known he has visions like that? And why is he hesitant to tell everyone else like Lyndon’s parents?”
Nimbus started petting Loher. “He told me today. And I can understand his silence.”
“It’ll cause him more trouble. There are those out there who can contact the dead more so than he can. However, it opens you to the Maw every time you do it no matter whom you’re contacting. It’s discouraged. If anyone caught wind that he has visitations from the dead, well, what does that say about Oeric?”
“But the dead are contacting him. Does that mean he’s chanter gifted?”
“I checked more than once. No magical heart and has a base timbre. He’s just perceptive. Since he’s susceptible to dreams, having specific visions isn’t a far stretch.”
Kiao arched an eyebrow. “I’m not sure his perception is all that great at times.”
“It is. He’s a smart man.”
Kiao let out a derisive snort.
Nimbus then stated. “You know, as a priestess, you shouldn’t be so quick to judge. I’ve said this to a lot of people here. The moment you stop looking at what he’s done, you will see what he is capable of.”
Kiao's face flushed. “It is hard to see him as anything but brutish after seeing the product of his actions first-hand.”
Nimbus put his book down. “And what of Mien? You’ve no problems of seeing him as intelligent and he’s done something terrible.”
“But he isn’t an adult who has had decades to get a grip over himself. Not to mention Mien was pushed him over the edge by someone else. They weren't complete choices. Oeric was just a rebel.”
“You need to learn you can’t chain a person to their past when they continue to move away from it. It’s not fair to them. You know that. Especially with Mien.”
Kiao groaned in her mind. After all these years, he still managed to give her lessons.
“I’ll try to be better,” she said and left him.
When she got to the top of the stairs leading to the archive, she pushed the door at the same time it was being pulled. She was yanked forward and almost fell. She was caught and steadied back upright with the strong grip of Oeric.
He looked down with his mouth curved down in a terse frown. “You alright?”
“Yes,” she said, stepping away, noting that Brother Elnos was no longer around.
Oeric followed her gaze. “Anything wrong?”
“No, come down,” she said, leading him to Nimbus.
They all sat down at the table. She sat beside of Nimbus and Oeric sat across from them.
“So, what did you find out,” asked Nimbus.
“Utter tripe,” answered Oeric.
“Tripe? Bringing out the sophisticated words. That isn’t good," returned Nimbus.
“The entire account Kellas and his men wrote is a well scripted lie,” Oeric said with his lips curling. “There is truth mixed in. They were investigating who attacked a merchant. He escaped. Those he was traveling with didn’t. And that’s about all the truth there is. From that point on, they wrote about how the lads were unhappy about finding dead bodies. Mien became very emotional over it as there was a dead child.”
Nimbus tilted his head. “Well, that something he would do.”
Kiao thought that sounded like Mien as well.
“My son, allegedly, wanted to go after the highwaymen as there was significant evidence, they were the wayward peaceguards we haven’t found. Kellas wanted to pursue, but the trail took them outside of our range. He wanted to go to the nearby fort.”
“That doesn’t sound like Soletus,” said Kiao.
Oeric then continued. “Soletus and Valhart got into an argument over it. Soletus lost his temper with him and Kellas. They tried to reason with Soletus, however my son wouldn’t be placated. At some point, he spoke to Lyndon, Mien, Tyrus, and Doran to go into the Firerock Gorge to catch them and vanished in the middle of the night. Kellas didn’t pursue.”
“Why didn’t he,” asked Kiao.
“It’s outside of our province,” explained Oeric. “We can pursue and kill drass beasts, however, we can’t take action against people. That includes our own.”
“But the Brotherhood goes after bandits and fugitives all the time outside of the province,” said Kiao.
“That’s only if we’ve permission from the Seat.”
Nimbus then said, “I don’t see why you call it utter tripe. I mean, all what you described is within the behavior of your son and Mien.” Kiao watched Oeric annoyed gaze become frosted. “Think about it. Those two talking with Lyndon about how Kiao and those children were hurt and nothing could be done about it. A boy’s adventure is what that sounds like. A misguided one at that.”
Oeric gave a firm shake of his head.
“Lyndon was with them,” said Kiao. “He’s good at persuading others.”
“Soletus is cautious,” argued Oeric.
Nimbus then told him gently. “Oeric, your lad is strong headed. If he feels compelled to do something he feels is right, he’ll do it. I’m not saying that Kellas is telling the full truth, but all that’s all within character.”
Oeric leaned forward and stated, “The reason why it’s utter tripe is because their statements are written all the same.”
Nimbus’s brow furrowed. “I don’t follow.”
“There are a couple spots were where their wording was the same. For instance, when they were describing Mien getting upset, they all wrote, ‘Mientheodric started shouting’ followed by what he said word from word. Not, ‘the boy hollered a bunch of nonsense I don’t remember’ or ‘the lad got upset like a spoiled girl about this’ or ‘Acolyte Mientheoderic, became upset and yelled.’ No, they all repeated the same wording. This started at the point of them investigating the scene where the attack happened.”
“I don’t get how that indicates they are lying,” said Kiao.
“It shows that they corroborated their statements to keep their facts straight,” said Oeric. “If multiple people are involved in a lie, you want everyone to tell the same lie. Any deviation from wording makes it harder to keep.”
Nimbus looked at him, impressed. “Only you would notice something like that in reading as fast as you did.”
“Icus should as well. It’s a common thing you listen and read for. And it could be they done so they wouldn’t get into too much trouble for not pursuing them, because honestly, they could have. The Seat wouldn’t have noticed.”
“Remind me why you didn’t become enforcer. Marth offered you the position,” asked Nimbus.
“Because Icus can carry the burden of derision from the others for once.”
“You’ve too much skill to be stuck in the position you are in, Brother.”
Oeric shrugged. “Anyway, if there is a grain of truth to be taken, is the fact the gorge is involved and Soletus got into it with Valhart. Somewhere in that, my nephew died, and that’s probably what Sister Kiao felt from Brother Mien.”
“That’s a bit of an assumption to make,” said Nimbus.
“No, it’s not,” defended Kiao. “He was that distraught. Something happened to make him feel that way, but it didn’t last long. He was surprised and then determined to do something. Just the raw energy from it…”
She then shivered.
Oeric bowed his head and rested his forehead on his fist. He then said quietly, “He could’ve been a smith, a mason, or some other trade. I would’ve been just as proud. But no, he had to be a warden. I never even encouraged him to be one. The only thing I did was teach him to defend himself. Then it was as if a staff was born in his hands. How many generations does this make? How many Sheldmartins does this order need? How many more need to die like my brother?”
Kiao wasn’t surprised by his words. She knew he was protective of his son. It ranged from him not wanting Soletus to make the same mistakes he did to not being uncomfortable with him being a warden.
Oeric eyes became wide, and he peered at Nimbus who had to have said something to him via his mind. He met the gaze of the combat chanter a long time before he lowered his hand, saying, “I need you to do something for me, Nimbus.”
“Say it and it’s done.”
“I want you to talk to Tyr. He’s the one organizing the search, and I need you to go with him.”
“Why not you? I’m sure he’s expecting you to push your way in.”
“I’m in no condition to be on the road. If he finds Soletus, I think you’re the better person to be there for him.”
Nimbus sneezed again. “Consider it done,” he said and then said to Kiao. “I sense a reason you’re here. Is there a specific book you want me to retain for you?”
“I actually prefer if the First Warden here gets it.”
Oeric gave her a questioning stare.
“I’m trying to figure out a way to contact Mien. If we can get an exact location of their whereabouts, they will be easier to find. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the title and the writer,” she said.
Oeric nodded. “Before I forget Sister, Maelyra told me to tell you to come over to her house in the evening for dinner. She thinks Briar needs some comforting with Soletus missing and all.”
“Certainly,” said Kiao, standing. However, she wasn’t sure if Briar needed comforting. Soletus and here were faking a relationship. Though, she supposed she might’ve been worried.
“And also, thank you for doing what you’re doing,” he said. “I know you’ve got your duty to perform. I promise I won’t inconvenience you much longer.”
Kiao was caught not by his words, but by their sincerity in his voice. She felt uncomfortable by it given what she had said about him earlier.
“You’re no inconvenience. We are working towards the same goal,” she said.
Kiao, Oeric really is nothing more than a puppy dog. You know, kind of like a cane corso. Will fight lions for you, serious looking, and wary of stranger. However, once inside with his wife. He's a goof wanting scratches and cuddles.
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