Ah yeah, Kellas’Rook. Where do I start? I reckon I need to get the fact out that I don’t hate him anymore. I let go all of that long ago. Now, I don’t think about him much, if at all now. Though, during a time of reflecting on my life, I come to realize that joining his band was a mistake. However, I learned something from it. That I was young, and I did it at of the desire to fly with my own wings, seek my own air. Basically, get away from my father. Not to mention, the challenge of being in a drass beast hunting and slaying band appealed to me. What I didn’t consider was that I wasn’t the only one wanting to be outside of the eyes of authority. And that was Valhart.
A lone ray of sunlight broke through mantle of gray and cast a ray of light on the rising smoke from the gorge. Soletus stood near the edge. His dark gaze fixed on the site. He had been there since they finished tucking their camp in a small outcrop of rocks. Mien stood beside him in an effort to stretch he weakening legs. His own gaze locked on it.
“What do we do about that,” asked Mien.
“Don’t know,” said Tyrus. He was crouching over a meager fire. “We don’t even know what happened.”
Doran then said. “Anyone at the distance we are or even more heard something and can see the smoke. You would think that Kellas would’ve waited until nightfall.”
Soletus moved from the edge of the gorge towards them. Mien followed. He was tired now and settled down immediately by the fire. As he flexed his hands, he realized they were trembling.
Tyrus waited until he was close to ask. “So, what do we do about what we witnessed?”
Soletus offered him a shrug. “We either go home or go to the nearest fort to report it. No map though.”
Doran then told him, “There’s one south of here. I don’t remember what road leads there. There was a sign in Crossings. But I think we if we saw it, they saw it too or will get reports on it.”
“If that’s the case, we hurry back,” said Soletus. “I doubt Kellas is going to linger there. He’s probably already making his way back through the gorge. Tomorrow, we should make our way to Crossings. I’ve enough coins to partly pay for a horse and some supplies. The rest is just going to have to come out of the coffer.”
Tyrus looked stunned. “You can do that?”
“Sure. I just write out a receipt and take it to the treasurer. The Patriarch signs for it and the money is sent,” said Soletus.
“Why do you get that sort of power?”
“By being a junior senior warden,” he replied with a wink and settled down beside where Mien flopped down. “How are you doing?”
“I need my satchel. I’m getting the jitters,” he said.
Tyrus was already on it and tossed the bag to Soletus who then opened it and dug out a bottle of syrup. Mien poured himself a cap full and gulped it down, followed by water.
“I’ll go hunt something,” said Doran. “Maybe there’s some dumb creature that didn’t flee from that explosion.”
“Don’t worry about it,” announced Tyrus. “I scavenged a few things before we left. We can have a filling meal tonight.”
It wasn’t nearly as filling as Mien wished. Tyrus made dried fish stew out of ingredients his salvaged. Problem was, Mien needed to eat something substantial and heavy that would sit on him a little. The dried fish stew that was given to him would be gone before morning. Light meal or not, it filled his belly. It made him drowsy, so he stretched out in the grass. However, his mind was too heavy with thoughts to allow him a fitful rest.
Thought about Lyndon and how he didn’t save him and now added on to of that was the burning gorge. People died down there. And of course, mind went directly to his father because of it. He remembered the early days of his death. His home’s parlor was full of family and people who had more interest in the financial consequences of his father’s death than anything. His mother entertained them while he and his sister sat on the stairs. They didn’t want to be in the same room as their uncle.
His sister hand rested on his. She said softly, “I heard you crying again last night.”
They had shared a room only up until a few years ago. Then they were given separate ones that were side-by-side. They could easily hear each other.
“You were crying too,” he told her.
“Maybe we should try to not do that again tonight,” she said while tightening her grip. “I can’t make any promises I won’t, but you should definitely try.”
He was born first, thus the oldest and the example. He was supposed to be the strong one. He wasn’t, but he tried. It wasn’t enough, he sobbed again that night. However, Nerva crept in his room that night to cry with him and many following. However, those nocturnal visits changed purposes when his uncle settled in. He had a friend that would come over and would leer at her when he saw her. He would also spend the night frequently. The only way she felt safe was at Mien’s side, even at night. They did that all the way to the point she left home.
It was an odd thing for his mind to lead to. Maybe because he felt vulnerable being out in the open. Though he never felt that way before. Being on the road was always an adventure for him. It was something he never expected he would do or even liked. Though, that sense of adventure was a little soured now. He wanted to be back behind the walls of the monastery. He wanted to be in his bed in his room, sleep and then go rant to Kiao about everything. Maybe lay his head in her lap if they could get a private moment together. What would be even better they could have a quite moment together. Lay his head on her and she hum a song out to him. Something about her humming was very calming. He could hear her low hum in mind and fell asleep to the memory of her humming while they lay in the grass watching the stars. During the dark moment of sleep, a voice touched his mind. It was a faint whisper on the wind. He couldn’t decipher what the voice was saying. However, tone of the words. And the words sounded desperate.
He snapped his eyes open and was greeted by the scarlet glow what was left of the fire. The voice was gone, leaving the crackling coals its solo. Something moved outside of the faint radius of light. Mien’s heart leapt in his throat. He sat up to shake the nearest person awake. Both Tyrus and Doran were stretched out across the fire. Soletus was nowhere to be seen. Mien’s eyes adjusted to the light and guessed the figure was probably him.
He struggled to stand. and walked towards his friend’s back. Something was wrong with him because he knew it was unsafe for them to separate the way he was. Mien couldn’t feel drass beasts.
He tried to pull from his magical heart to form a light. He found himself empty as before. Instead, he started making reference points. He knew where the fire was. It was too his right. He needed to go left. He knew the ground around him was clear save the boulders and he took a tentative step. Found ground and kept moving toward the figure. He took another step, found, no resistance and moved forward until he felt a warm shoulder by his knee. He used that shoulder to lower himself.
“What are you doing up,” asked Soletus curtly.
“Finishing our discussion,” answered Mien.
“Mien,” he said surprised.
“Thought I was one of the other two,” said Mien breathlessly. “They don’t have the pride that drags a man up to tell his friend to stop insulting him.”
“What are you talking about,” said Soletus sounding confused.
Mien smiled to himself. He wanted Soletus to think of something else and keep sorrow at an arm length.
“You acting like my keeper. From now on, the only time you can come to my rescue is if I’m in grave danger.”
He could feel Soletus’s questioning gaze on him.
“I’m serious. Next time you swoop in, I’m going to break your jaw. I’ll heal it afterward, of course.”
Soletus let out an exasperated sigh. “So, you crawled over here to tell me that?”
“Walked, get it right.”
“Well, thanks for the insight. Now leave. I want to be alone so I can think.”
The young monk became silent. Mien imagined his jaw tightening. If his friend wasn’t going to talk, he would.
“I keep thinking of a lot of things too,” he admitted. “Probably shouldn’t, but I am.”
Soletus then spoke just as softly. “I keep thinking about what happened to Lyndon. I want to want to throw it from my mind.”
“Death is hard to just forget, or at least in my experience.”
Soletus then said bitterly, “So you’re saying that I can’t forget holding him when he let out his last breath while sounding like he was drowning in his own blood. Wonderful.”
Mien was glad the young monk couldn’t see the horror on his face. He then swallowed the lump from the shock and the desire to know more about what happened. Soletus seemed to realize he said too much and went silent. Mien decided to keep thing moving than dwelling because that was what a good priest did. Though, he never thought of himself as a priest.
“That’s not what I meant,” he told him. “It takes time to get over something like that when you don’t know how. You just walk around with the twisted ball in your chest of every emotion except happiness. That’s on top of all the thoughts and regrets and wishing you could have done or do more.”
“Even wishing Kellas was dead.”
Mien became stiff.
“I wish something would strike him down or that I could get my hands on him.”
The lump returned to Mien’s throat. He felt he shouldn’t talk about dealing death so easily. It was easy to end someone’s life.
Soletus drew in another heavy breath. “You should go to sleep.”
“Not after you saying that,” exclaimed Mien, and then felt the young monk’s hand encircle his forearm.
“Why are you shaking?”
Mien pulled his arm away from him and wrapped it around his middle. “Because I don’t want you to do what I did. Thinking that killing someone will make it all better. I promise you, it won’t.”
Soletus let out a short, weak laugh. “Look, this is nothing to get worked up about. It’s just what’s been going on in my head. You wanted to know, and I told you. I’m not going to act on it. I know better than that. I’m not you.”
Mien could hear that off note in his voice. Like hearing someone playing a flat when they should be sharp. He was lying.
“Your mouth says one thing, but your voice says another,” he told him, trying to manifest as much of a chanter’s lit as he could. He could hear only a hint of it.
“What are you talking about? And why are you using your voice on me? Stop it! You need to rest.”
“And you need to listen! Pain manifests itself into anger in you, my friend. You lash out just like me, except hotter and faster. You’ll hurt someone if you don’t stop thinking that way.”
Soletus growled and then exclaimed, “Above and below! On my blood and honor, I’m not going to kill Kellas.”
“But you want him to hurt,” returned Mien. Soletus said nothing, so he continued. “Vile men don’t care that we suffer. They only care if we make them care. To do it, you must become them. I became my uncle. Can you become Kellas?”
Mien could only hear Soletus’s breath at that point. It was a sharp contrast compared to the sounds of the remaining katydid and crickets around them. He took a deep breath and started back breathing normally again.
“No, I can’t,” he said at length. “I don’t even know what I can become or what I can do at this point. Really, I’m just angry at myself. Lyndon is dead because of me.”
“This isn’t your fault.”
“Yes it is,” he held. “Take my word for it. If I just stood my ground, Lyndon wouldn’t be dead.”
“But that’s not what happened,” returned Mien. “Trying to think of the what-ifs is going to drive you mad. What’s done is done. You’re alive and so am I. So we move forward.”
Soletus let out a manic sounding chuckle before it ended in a gasp.
Mien tried to grab hold of his friend’s arm, but Soletus fell back on his back.
“Why Dias why,” he murmured and sucked in long breaths.
“I’m not okay,” he stated.
Mien ran his hands through his own head, at a loss on what to do.
“Okay,” said Mien slowly. He was uncertain what he was being thanked for.
“It’s preemptive because I need you to become my second.”
Mien’s jaw sagged. “W-w-what! Why?”
“Because you’re here. You’re alive and I need help. I’m acting like a dod and I don’t know how to stop it.”
“I don’t know,” said Mien, uncertainty in his voice. “Doran will say something about it.”
“I don’t care what he thinks. I need your help. Please?”
His plea at the end cut Mien to his core. He could feel that earnest note in the young monk’s voice. It was clear he was projecting, however, that wasn’t the time to bring it up. He would wait until his sharpened senses came back so he knew exactly what to say to Soletus.
“Yes, I’ll help,” answered Mien because refusing wasn’t an option. If anything, it was a good way to pay his friend back for all he had done.
“Thank you,” said Soletus with audible relief as he sat back up. “I could hug you.”
“Don’t,” said Mien and he held his hands up in reflex to block him. “Keep it to yourself.”
“You act like it’s going to kill you,” he said, sounding disappointed.
“It could. I’m frail and sickly. Too weak to withstand you crushing me. I’ll take one when we get back home.”
“Fine. I’ll restrain myself.” Soletus nudged him with his elbow. “You need to get back to your bedroll.”
“I’m not sleepy. I could stay up with you,” said Mien was expecting to be rebuffed. However, Soletus managed to bump his forehead against the side of his head.
“Thank you,” he stated.
Mien patted his forearm with awkward reassurance. If anything, Mien hoped that his run of Soletus second would be short lived. All they had to do was cross the river and they would be fine. However, the next morning foreshadowed it wouldn’t be that easy.
A crack of thunder woke Mien. Above him was a pregnant sky. He sat up to see his bandmates packing camp up with haste. He gathered his belonging and noted that a horse was tacked for him already. He yawned, stretching his hands above his head and heard a sharp crack that rumble on forever. He was mesmerized by its longevity. He didn’t always like the sound of thunder. As a small boy, it was one of those things that sent him hiding. It gave him unpleasant chills, and he would feel oppressed. He thought the sky was alive and it had one of the greatest voices of all. It didn’t help that during carriage rides during a thunderstorm would make his father nervous. His main reason was because of whirlwinds.
He had been caught up in one when he was a tod and nearly killed. They weren’t common but, they happened enough that Mien caught the sight of one in the distance as a boy. It was a strange spinning ribbon that floated across the landscape kicking up dust. And there wasn’t much out there that scared his father. He had nerves of steel. Yet it was the day he discovered his father was scared of something. He remembered feeling his father shaking as he held him as close as he could. He remembered his mother reassuring him. But after seeing the destruction one had wrought on a half-elf shanty town, he was certain his father was justified in being afraid.
Mien kept watch of the sky for one as the clouds darkened and lower, making morning appear as though night hadn’t been chased away by the sun. The air itself was heavy enough for them to swim in it instead of walking. He was thankful that a great deluge fell instead of a sooty tendril kissing the ground as they left. The only issue was that visibility was cut to a few feet in front of them, making Mien even more nervous.
He huddled under his oiled cloak and clutched his satchel full of healing supplies to keep them dry. He tucked it and one hand in rotation in an attempt to keep his hands warm. The chill from burnout was exacerbated by the rain cooled air. However, inside of his chest, he could feel pulses of warmth. He figured it was his abilities trying to ignite again. Maybe in a couple of days he could chant up a coin sized sun globe, anything to make him feel like a chanter again.
They stopped briefly under some trees, waiting for the rain to slow down. It didn’t. It kept pouring down so hard that they were getting just as wet under the tree's branches. So Soletus spurred his horse forward and told them to move on.
“We’ll be at the bridge soon,” he shouted. Mien didn’t even realize that they were getting close to the river. All he could hear was the torrent falling around them. However, the more they marched on, the louder the sound of water got until it was over the sound of rain. He saw the expanse of fast-moving water ahead of them after they came to a crest of a hill and come to a dead stop.
There was no bridge; just churning brown water and a massive gouge carved into the bank across from them.
“Well tits,” muttered Tyrus.
They were stuck.
“Is there a nearby bridge we can cross,” Soletus asked Doran, who had pulled up beside him.
“I don’t remember seeing one on the map when Cole was showing Lyndon and me where we were going.”
Soletus faced them. “We’ve two choices now. We make camp nearby and wait or we go up river and follow the road north and find a place to cross.”
“If we stay, well, anywhere around here, Kellas is likely to find us,” said Tyrus.
Doran then countered. “He might’ve cooled off by then. We should wait for him.”
Mien, Soletus, and Tyrus looked at him as if he lost his mind.
“And we what? Go back to him? Do ya really believe that he’ll spread his arms out wide for us,” questioned Tyrus.
Doran gestured to the river and to the north. “We can’t run anywhere that he won’t be going. He’s going to catch up.”
Soletus leaned on his saddle horn. “Then what do you suggest?”
Tyrus let out a roll of humorless laughter. Soletus’s eyes narrowed like his mother’s. And Mien just stared at Doran with incredulity. And, of course, Doran’s gaze settled on him first.
“As if you’ve the right to look at me like that. You can’t even remember what happened.”
Soletus then countered. “After what he’s done to them, how can we trust him not to leave us dead in a ditch?”
“He could’ve done that in the gorge,” reasoned Doran. “Besides, we were riding on the fact that we could get to town and get some supplies. We can’t. At this rate, he’s going to catch up with us. We should just say we’re sorry and—”
Soletus cut him off. “And what, pretend like nothing happened? And then there’s Mien? What’s Valhart going to do?”
“It isn’t like he remembers, anyway. If you get off your high horse, maybe you would—”
“So not wanting to be dragged down with a bunch of oath breakers is me on a high horse,” said Soletus with his voice rising and face and neck flaring scarlet. “Me wanting to separate myself from a first warden who allowed a lunatic, as his second is me being on a high horse! Caring about you three to get you home is me being on a high horse!”
“Soletus,” cut in Mien gently. “There’s no need to shout. He’s right here.”
His friend shot him a glare that could’ve vaporized the raindrops around him. “Stay out of this!”
Mien squared his shoulders and firmed up his voice saying, “We don’t have time for arguing. We need a plan B ‘cause we aren’t crossing this river and we’re certainly not waiting for Kellas.”
He then tightened his cloak around him, feeling jittery again. Even with all the practice that Oeric forced on him to state his opinion on matters, it didn’t make him less nervous about speaking up. His stomach twisted in the moment of silence while his friend blinked at him before using his normal tone again saying:
“First off, Doran, decide now. Are you staying or leaving?”
The young man became confused. “What? Why?”
“If there is one time to not be wishy-washy, this is it. You’re with Kellas or with me.”
Doran tried again to reason with him. “Kellas is going to catch up with us. He’s going to have to go north, too. Our lack of a horse is going to slowing us down. This rain slows us down, the river is stopping us, and we don’t have maps to guide us home. We might as well accept the inevitable.”
Soletus let out a sigh. “So, you’re with Kellas?”
“No. Can’t you consider for a moment that we work with him for our benefit to get us to safety?”
“There is no third option,” maintained Soletus.
Doran's shoulders sagged. “Be reasonable about this.”
Soletus clenched his reins. “You want me to reason with a pack of murders?”
“We don’t know if he killed anyone else.”
“After seeing that smoke and based on what he said, are you truly willing to believe that?”
Doran swallowed and hung his head down.
Soletus didn’t take his silence as a yes. “We are going back to the fork we passed and travel up that road. It looks like it’s running parallel to the river, so we’ll keep it in sight for a crossing. What I don’t want is to be around here when Kellas arrives. So, Doran, I want you to find shelter that can’t be spotted from the road, and I want to be able to see the road without being seen.”
Doran lingered long enough for a breath to pass before steering his horse around muttering, “Yes, Sir.”
Mien watched him leave, hoping he didn’t have to keep Soletus and him in check the entire way home.
Tyrus then spoke to Soletus. “He scared, ya know. Everyone is.”
“I’m aware. I’m scared too, but we can’t panic and waste time,” he said and looked at the river.
“I know. But he is right. Kellas is going to catch up to us if he wants to go after us.”
“Then we need to make sure he can’t find us."
This chapter was brought to you by the wonderful catalog of concentration music on YouTube. Without it, I wouldn't be able to focus.