After that mission, I created a lot of “discord” in the order itself. Many thought I was being “difficult” and creating stories that he allowed the villagers to hang the cur. I had no solid proof. However, Kellas’ words during and reaction afterwards made his behavior unbecoming of a monk. But Papa stated that, if I had to condemn Kellas, I had to condemn the rest of my band for being half-hearted about doing the right thing. Only Tyr and I saw to his burial. In fact, Cole and Roy were in my band, and they were in a clique with Kellas then. And instead of backing down. I stood my ground and trimmed my own band. I became that first warden. However, Tyr became my second, Kellas, Cole, and Roy were removed and placed in another band that focused more on monster hunting and less interaction with the populous. I think that was Papa’s way of stopping incidences like that. Sadly, I highly suspect it didn’t.
The waxed moon provided scattered beams of nocturnal light because of the trees. Not one spotlighted the area in front of them. The only sign of trouble was their horses nervously snorting. Oeric obscured Kiao’s view even more. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into the shadow of the tree truck. He positioned her in the corner with his body shielding her. She felt smashed even though he bore none of his weight on her. The only thing she felt of him was his chest expanding and contracting against her back until he held his breath. She did the same to listen.
Footsteps went against the nightly choir of bugs was getting closer to their den. Oeric pressed himself toward her so his feet couldn’t be seen. The footsteps stopped by the base of the fallen tree. She expected Xerius to act or call to them. Instead, all she could hear was a whoosh, and the stirred leaves settling back down. She exhaled the tension out of her. The dyne elf was gone. Oeric, however, continued to hold his breath.
She was about to suggest that he move when she heard glass breaking against stone. An odor filled their den, followed by her nose and throat burning.
“Get out,” ordered Oeric and shoved. Kiao scrambled through the small opening between the tree trunk and the mound. Rotten wood showered down on her while her arm scraped against rock. She stumbled forward into the darkness until fresh air filled her lungs. Tears streamed from her eyes, so she wiped them always. However, the action left her face searing in pain. She tried breathing out of her mouth. When she did, her it felt like pepper tickled her throat. She started coughing uncontrollably until she stumbled to her knees.
If Xerius wanted to attack, now was the time. She was on the ground, hacking violently to the point she thought she was going to vomit. However, he didn’t come back. Instead, she fought to breathe as she was becoming lightheaded. Kiao crumpled to her side and waited. The pain that gripped her lessened and breathing became easier. She lay there, pulling in as much air as she could before sitting up. She opened her mouth to shout for Oeric. When she did, her throat felt like it was being stabbed by thousands of fiery pins. She cried out, making the infliction worse.
“Sister,” called Oeric hoarsely. “Where are you? How about a light?”
Kiao didn’t dare try to speak again.
“Are you okay,” he said uncharacteristically alarmed.
Kiao groped in the darkness for a stick or a rock. Her hand kept coming across damp sticks until she felt a thin sapling still holding its leaves. She bent it and used it to stir the leaves around. She kept brushing the ground until a wet nose touched her check. Lykkon rumbled and sniffed her.
She saw the outline of a figure coming toward them and tensed up.
“It’s just me,” said Oeric. “Stay where you are.”
She waited and focused on taking long breaths to keep from getting distressed about the situation at hand. It wasn’t as bad as the phrase of silence being used on her, however not being able to speak was worrisome. She only knew of a single substance that could render a chanter speechless and that was chanter’s bane. However, it always came in a dried, string like form. She never knew it could be made into a vapor.
When Oeric found her, he gathered her up and seated her beside him. She wiped her face off and let out a shiver. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and held her.
She squeezed his hand.
“Sister, your silence is disconcerting.”
She then squeezed it even harder.
“You can’t talk,” he stated, more than questioned.
She bobbed her head and realized that he couldn’t see her well enough. She gave his hand two quick squeezes to say yes.
“Great,” he muttered to himself and told her. “Lykkon is getting our things. We’re leaving.”
It clearly wasn’t safe. However, traveling at night was also dangerous as well. The moon was bright enough for Oeric to navigate slowly. It wasn’t enough for him to keep his eye out for a random drass beast, and mercenaries, but he had to be careful where his foot fell. Even with the vision of a wolf, he still had to travel carefully. When the sky became filled with clouds, it dispersed the moonlight making it easier to see.
Oeric said little other than tell her to lie flat on the horse’s back to avoid being struck by a branch. If he had a plan, he didn’t vocalize it. It would’ve helped, as the sound from his voice would’ve kept her awake. She was exhausted. The rush of them being found and having to flee didn’t last through the night. When they arrived at the road again, she fought to keep her eyes open.
As they walked, her head would bob up and down with her eyelids. She would jolt awake at a sound, but the cycle would start again. She managed a long stretch of alertness after she fell asleep for just a short instance and felt oddly refreshed. However, as before, her eyelids felt like they had boulders attached to them. It wasn’t as if she had never stayed up an entire night before. The only difference was she had a meal. Her stomach started to get restless and was trying to fold in on itself from her hunger, but it wasn’t enough to keep her alert.
When dawn broke, the brightening day stung her eyes, and she pulled her hood over her head. The warmth she created only made her sleepier.
Just a little sleep, she told herself, and she dozed off until her side ran into something. Her head snapped up, and she saw Oeric standing beside her, holding her up.
“You’re about to tip off the saddle,” he grunted, and she pulled herself back upright.
She tried to speak, only to have the burning in her throat renewed. She held her throat.
“Still can’t talk,” he said with his own voice sounding rough.
She bobbed her head.
Concern pulled at his brow. “Is there anything that you can take or make to remedy it?”
Kiao shook her head. The phrase of purification should work, but she needed to speak. The only other option was to wait for it to wear out.
“It’s uncomfortable for me. I can’t imagine it for you. We need shelter, but we don’t have a lot of options open to us. Xerius and his are likely to attack us again. I do have a solution, however, we can’t stop now.”
She needed food for that, so she swayed her head.
Oeric dug in the saddle bag and pulled out one of their travel cakes and their map. She wrinkled her nose at it. It wouldn’t help her fill her belly. It was wasting them giving them to her as it’ll be like she ate nothing.
“This is less about eating them but eating it to stay awake. Nibble on it.”
She took it and a small bite with her front teeth while he unfurled the map taking.
“I have an idea where we can go,” His index finger rested below a point in the middle of nothing but open country to the northeast. The only thing that was even remotely close to it was a river. The point itself was a crudely drawn cylinder. A smirk crossed her face, and she pointed to it and him and mouthed. “You drew that?”
He rolled his map up, becoming solemn. “You don’t need good drawing skills to make a marker. All it matters if you indicated something is there.”
She had no clue what that something was and wouldn’t find out for a very long time. They followed the road until he swung off it, traveling more north. He spoke to her when he could and gave her something to eat periodically. However, they walked long and hard through the day, cutting through the wood with him occasionally watching the sky.
However, Kiao noticed a change in his gait. He began to favor his right leg. She thought maybe he would take a short break by noon. However, when the sun was in its zenith, they kept going. In fact, he pushed them until it hung low in the sky. Golden light painted the tree tops as well as a tall structure that stretched up above them.
When Oeric caught sight of it, he stepped out of wolf form and smiled. “Thank Dias we made it with time to spare.”
The closer they got to the tower, the more of what surrounded it come into view. She saw crumbling bricks of what remained of a town wall. She became alert and saw that they were coming to a ruined town. However, the scale of it was much larger than what remained of Grace she had seen years back.
“This is an old kanu town or something,” said Oeric as they crossed under a huge archway free from ivy as well as the pillars around it.
Kiao studied the white walled structure, wondering what kind of stone that it was. All the other structures around them were vine covered. In fact, much of what was around there were remains of something.
“No one is here. Good, this is a spot curs would hide at. With the river blocked, they can’t. If there was on here, don’t worry, they wouldn’t be a problem.”
Kiao was distracted by a bunch of yellow birds rising in the air. There were a lot of birds around them, creating an atmosphere of peace. She swung her head back and forth, catching a glimpse of the many birds who took flights as they passed.
It was then something caught her ears. A pulsing. It didn’t sound like a ward. They weren’t something she heard, as they were designed to not be overwhelming to a normal chanter. Many were just faint vibrations. Mien would dread treading there. If it was noisy for her, then he would be complaining the entire time.
They went past the tall cylindrical tower that rose from the center of the ruined town. Oeric saw her with her neck craned up at the tall structure.
“Kanu loved to build these tall edifices. Their purpose, I don’t know. There isn’t an entrance to get inside. I think the entire thing is made of tao stone.”
Kiao felt a weak timbre resonating from the tower. Goosebumps rose on her arm when they were beside it. It wasn’t the bad kind, though. There was something pleasant about it. She couldn’t say she recognized the meaning of it. It was new to her ears and the vibration from it wasn’t the pulsing she heard. In fact, they were getting closer to it, as it was becoming stronger.
“Whenever the topknots were getting too close to an arena, Clincher would tell us to run here and hide. Most of the fighters didn’t like it here. I didn’t mind it. No drass beast could wonder in here. However, you had to worry about the animals,” he said just as they caught sight of a group of does. The six of them lifting their heads and watched them. For a moment, it didn’t look as if they were going to run away. However, one of them snorted and stomp. Their tail went upwards and like dancer waving little white flags, they leapt away.
“We will be staying here,” said Oeric, pointing to the largest build in there. It appeared to be a temple. There were two long one-story building that stretched out with no roofs and broken window. However, the building in the center had an arched roof that remained intact through clear sky and storm.
“It’s an ancient Fenndish temple,” said Oeric as they entered a large courtyard with a statue of Dias. It was faceless and formless in robe with as the god was. The arms of the statue were outstretched with palms gestured to them in welcoming. It, too, like the arch that greeted them, was clean of vines. It was weathered though, however, even with being weathered, it was oddly clean. The pulsing caught her ears again. It was clearly coming from the inside temple.
“I’ve slept in here more than once,” he said. “Just to get away from the other men. They couldn’t cross the threshold of this place.”
Kiao shook her head and mouthed. “I hear something,” and pointed to the doorless entrance.
“This place is warded,” he said.
Kiao swayed her head and dismounted the horse. Her legs felt weak, but it didn’t stop her from taking a few steps around her to inspect the courtyard admiring it.
“This had to be a beautiful place when people lived here,” Oeric remarked with a sigh.
It still was, despite the decades. She expected layers of leaves, dirt, moss, and algae growing on the stone in the shaded areas. However, it was like it was swept clean. Unless the wind had a broom, someone obviously maintained the temple grounds.
When they entered the temple, she could tell someone kept everything. There was nothing in the vast empty building except from cool air that clung to the stones. The only thing there was a bunch of rocks built up around a hearth. There was also a stack of dried wood. Kiao looked around for any more signs of life and saw nothing.
Oeric caught sight of them and remained unalarmed. “Someone’s been here, not recently,” he said, sitting their things on the clean stone floor. “Because this place is so large, it’s impossible to heat, especially with no doors. Hence the rocks.”
Kiao tapped him on the shoulder and gestured to the rocks.
“A few are mine and those who tend here. If I had to guess, someone or a group makes a pilgrimage here.”
She frowned at his lack of natural suspicion.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re safe,” he said with confidence. “Now, I’m going to tuck the mare out of sight to feed and water her. I won’t be long.”
She nodded, still feeling odd about him being so relaxed. The wall he had surrounded himself with wasn’t there. She didn’t know if it was their location or he realized there was no reason to remain guarded around her. It was probably a strange mix of both.
With him gone, Kiao needed something to do. Resting should have been her priority. The pulsing was too intrusive just to rest. She decided to find the source and headed to the altar. What caught her attention first were the two candle holders by the side of the statue of Dias’s feet. They were old, but the candles placed in them weren’t. In fact, they had clearly been lit multiple times. She went on getting a full view of the area. She walked from one corner to the next. Each of the corners were covered in dust. Whatever furnishing or cushions for pray and siting for teaching had been removed long ago. There was no pulpit wooden or stone either, but the indication of one. The pulsing didn’t come from there. Instead, it clearly came either from the statue or behind it. She looked behind is and saw nothing but cobwebs. She resigned herself to leave it a mystery and opted to pray.
She wanted to light the candles, before she settled, how she would do so later when Oeric came back. She had to let that bit of ceremony and got to her knees. She prayed for help with finding Mien and Soletus and thanking Dias for making it as far as they did. She added that she needed help with dealing with Xerius and Roxyln.
I don’t know how to deal with a priestess of another god, she prayed. Especially one’s that make nasty substances.
It was then she felt a chill on her knees. There was a draft coming from somewhere on the floor. She stopped and placed her hands down on the floor. Air brushed gently against her fingers. There was an opening somewhere. She stood back up and studied the statue more closely. There wasn’t a decent amount of light remaining in the temple. The shadows would only be growing deeper. However, she could see that the wall the stature was against wasn’t whole. In fact, there was a straight crack that went down to the floor and a couple feet above Dias’ head and then down. It was a doorway.
I’ve heard stories about stone doors, she thought. Some mechanical, some are magical. Some are both.
She then placed the flat of her hand against the stone and a jolt went through her body. The center of her chest got warm as runes lit up and framed the door. Her jaw dropped at the glowing runes colored a greenish blue. She comprehended the language but she couldn’t read it at the same time. It was written Melodic. Melodic itself was a sung language. There was no writing it in a traditional sense. It was only written using the phonic syllables that made up a chanter’s language. It was easier as Melodic itself was represented by a complex symbol. They looked very alike with the difference being anything from a short line or a tiny dot.
Brother Oli showed her a book that had the Hymn of Dias written Melodic. It was a confusing mess of lines in the middle of tiny hexagons that filled the entire page. This time, it didn’t like incomprehensible jumble. There was something there. The chorus whispered the meaning in her ears. It was the key to unlock it, but she couldn’t sing.
She wished she could sing such beautiful words. She tried and was greeted with pain. It felt less hot and more needle like, meaning the hold over her throat had lessened however, she still couldn’t sing.
What if whistling works? Does that count? Is the door responding to my touch or my strong timbre?
She had a timbre, regardless if she spoke or not. It could be heard if she spoke or any other sound. Knowing that, she pursed her lips together and tried. The sound from her lips echoes around her. To her ears, she sounded like a song bird. When she stopped, the illuminated symbols wink out and changed colors to gold and reds. Something clicked and the stone door cracked just enough to get her fingers behind the door to pull it open. It was extremely heavy and she leaned back using her weight open it. She only pulled it enough to slide her thin body through.
She stepped into a chamber that was lit by a skylight way above her head. There were nine display racks going up the wall in front of her that were empty. The tenth one at the bottom bore a staff. It wasn’t like a quarter staff. The wood was twisted like it was cut from vines twinning together. It was also white, like it had been bleached by the sun. When she ran her fingers down the length of it, it didn’t have the texture of wood. In fact, it felt like stone.
She turned it in her hands and saw that at the top of it, three stones carved with runes inlaid in the wood. One was love, insight, and the last purification. She had no clue how to use the staff, but she knew for a fact that the stones were imbued tao stone of Kanu origin. Instead of placing the artifact back, she walked out without thinking. She only realized it when the door behind her shuttered moaning and sealed itself again with a loud thud. She whipped around just in time to see the symbols turned silvery and dissipated.
The entire chapel became silent.
Kiao touched the door again with her palm. Nothing happened. The door was inert now. She was at a loss on what to do. She didn’t want to steal an artifact from its resting place, however, it felt as if it belonged in her hands.
She stepped back and stared at the statue of Dias. Like the one outside, the god’s hands were outstretched welcoming those inside. However, at that moment, it looked more like it was a gesture for her to take the staff she held. The was no way to put it back. Neither could she just leave it. The logical thing was to keep it. She went back to the hearth and waited for Oeric, hoping he wouldn’t say anything much about it.
Kiao has now become acquainted with relaxed Oeric. He's one step away from referring to her by name.
Yay, I am back. I am still sick. Now the upper respiratory sickness tour has landed on sinus infection. I mean, this is an improvement from before. I'm not coughing with a painful sore throat. If I can beat the sinus infection, surely, I will be done with this. I would love to have my sense of taste back to normal. I keep on going in and out, not being able to taste my food.