And I was one of the few that, it seems, that listened. And I think I need to preface the rest of what I say this. Everyone deserves a second chance. People are capable of making things right. That no matter how long it takes, they do good by others. But some don’t listen. I think that’s why other elves have such a difficult time trusting curs. That so many are granted chances and none of them became more than what they are. Thus, the belief that those with facial scaring means crazy and unsavory action. Yet, those who wrap themselves in evil actions were not curs. Just ordinary elves, like Kellas.
They traveled non-stop for a day. Slept and started over the next day. There was no sign of Xerius. She knew trees didn’t stop him. However, they were still in the thick of the old wood forest around them. The land inhabited that far north and east. Oeric kept watch regardless Kiao was certain Xerius had finally given up, or they had lost him. She expected their trek to be taken at the speed she was used too. However, the day was chiller than any other day as before. Her breath came out of her mouth in billows. She pulled on her extra shirt she had brought to stay warm. Oeric woke up moving slowly from stiffness. He claimed it was the weather. She knew better. The illness he was pretending he was well from, was taking its toll. His gait went from steady to slow. By middle of the day, he was limping and stopped.
Kiao dismounted her horse when he did.
“I just need to rest a little, that’s all,” he said.
From the note in his voice, there was something wrong. And Kiao figured out what it was when he changed back into a man and started massaging his right hip.
“First Warden, you are making that worse with all this walking.”
He then sat on the side of the road and watched the sky again. His chest rose and fell as he took in deeper breaths. Color that had drained from his face was bleeding back. “Tell me something. If this becomes chronic, how long as a warden would I have?”
Kiao settled down beside him. “It ultimately depends on how bad the damage is once it has healed. If it’s just an occasional flare-up, you’ve decades. But it’s going to get worse again. Eventually, you’ll have trouble walking daily.”
He let out a heavy sigh. “So basically, this is something that will make me unfit to serve?”
“Correct. And you are going to rest for another month when we get back. That will help heal all of this. And you probably won’t go chronic. I know you like to stay active and keep moving, but you are hurting yourself.”
“That’s fine,” he said, taking on a matter-of-fact tone. “And Sister, if it becomes a chronic and I need to stop being a field warden, just tell ‘it’s time to stop,’ and I’ll understand. I won’t argue.”
Kiao gave him a suspicious sweep over. “I’ll hold you to that,” she promised.
“You’re a woman, I expect you too,” he said, leaning back in the grass.
“I expected you to be more upset about this. Most men—”
“Sister, I rather not serve until I die or be killed. I do this because this is what Dias found fit for me to do. That doesn’t mean I’m completely beholden to the order.”
She wasn’t certain she heard right and stared at him for an explanation. Oeric watched the sky between the tree limbs and then added.
“Some men give themselves to this order and having children is just part of it all. That’s the way my late brother was. Children can be raised by a wife who can take care of herself and them with the help of family and others. I’m not like that. I wanted my children to have a father. Some who can show he actually cares,” he then became pensive. “Am I a coddling parent when it comes to Soletus. Many claim I have. But I want him to know I’m there.”
“You’re fussy at worse, attentive at best,” answered Kiao. “And Sol is more than a little incident prone.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” said Oeric, looking at her now. “He goes through these cycles where he saves everything that can go wrong to one spectacular moment. Fern was never like that. I pray Saedee is like her sister. Though, she thinks the world of her brother. She’ll be happy to see him again.”
He smiled slightly.
“You really do love your family,” remarked Kiao.
“We all do,” he told. “I want mine whole again. Since I’m I’m resting here for a long moment. You should take this time to contact Mien.”
He clearly wanted to be left alone. She pulled her horse staff off the path. Oeric claimed it ran parallel to the main road. Though it wasn’t much of a road itself but a worn path by more deer used it than people.
Kiao once again checked using the staff and the stone inbune with love. She wasn’t sure how one could do such a thing. What she did know was that the stone wasn’t limitless. Thee more she used it, the weaker it was going to get. However, she was trying to conserve her own abilities.
“Come on, let’s find Mien this time,” she muttered. She wanted nothing more than to be on her way home with her hand in his. This time when she dove into the channel and was met with more than a single ripple. It was steady. Not only that, but the channel also itself didn’t seem like it was an endless, empty voice. It felt attached to something because she felt a very familiar sensation when she heard his timbre. It felt like he was asleep.
“I feel Mien,” she cried.
Oeric stirred behind her. “Is he close?”
“Maybe,” said Kiao. “I don’t know, it’s faint, but it feels like I’m touching a sleeping mind. Nimbus said that if I could use the channel, maybe I could use my own abilities of communication, I could enter his dream, and he can tell me where he’s at.”
She didn’t wait for Oeric’s response and dove in. Her abilities stretched but, she couldn’t reach him. She wasn’t close enough or even touching him. She tapped into the stone and reached towards Mien again. The stone’s power propelled her even further and suddenly she was dragged through the channel. She never had an instance where a mind sucked her in, but it did this time right into the light. She stumbled out into something.
In a dream, she would pass through objects, as nothing was tangible. If such a thing happened, the person was walking up. She waited to be bounced back to her mind, however nothing happened.
She thought it was Mien speaking to her. She turned her chin up and saw a different Mien looking down at her. His hair was past the tops of his shoulders. He was a little taller and there was a little more to him. However, the biggest difference was in his face. Every feature she liked about Mien’s face was aged intriguingly so.
“Uhhh,” was about all she could muster and then she heard his a more familiar and younger voice.
“Kiao,” Mien exclaimed behind the older version of him.
Confusion washed over her. She swung her head around, inspecting the dream space. It was colorful and not typical spaces where things were often muted and cloudy. In fact, she was standing in a field that stretched out as far as the eyes could see. The sky was colored like it was sunset. Mien looked as he probably did in the waking world. He was in uniform and road worn. Her own body faded out of the formless figure of light. Into what she looked like her in the waking world.
She then inspected the older Mien, who was keeping her steady. The being’s eyes shifted from green-gold to colorless and back again. Realization then hit her.
“This is an edict vision,” she exclaimed. “How am I even in here? And you…”
She tried to pull herself away from Mien’s guide. Not that she had anything to fear from it. But she knew what made up an edict guide, and she had no right to touch it in the form it was. He let her go.
“It’s okay,” he assured her.
The air rippled beside of Mien and guide that Kiao had, a child version of herself, joined them.
“I told you we would speak again,” said the little girl.
Mien nearly jumped out of his skin and held his chest. “What going on here?”
Mien’s guide walking over to Kiao’s guide and held out his hand. The girl took and in a blink of an eye, she changed into a mature version of herself. Everything about her was the same expect everything that wasn’t. Kiao gaped at the womanly figure wearing a priestess gown that was gold, white, and red. In her hands was the very staff she was using right then. The girdle around her waist caught her attention the most. Like the Arch Priest’s cord, it was yellow and white.
The older version of herself told her gently. “There are things you must know. Not to burden you with the knowledge, but to allow you peace and understanding that sometimes what we want isn’t what we need to do.”
“What are you talking about,” questioned Kiao. She had so many in her mind.
“There is something bigger for you and you have to be made ready for it. It takes time to become a matron. He needs time.”
She wanted to ask her who “he” was, however she felt a hand wrap around hers. She looked to see Mien looking very amazed.
“This is very surreal,” he told her softly.
Once again, him touching her made her realize again what was at stake.
“I have to talk fast or you’re going to going to wake up.”
“This is a special place where you can meet to talk,” said Mien’s guide. “The only limit is how long you can keep this channel open. There is a lot more that we need to tell you.”
Kiao’s guide started chanting the phrase of purification and Mien’s joined in harmonizing the phrase of protection. She then moved to the phrase of healing and the phrase of light. It was the most beautiful thing she ever heard. The song then changed to that of light and of healing.
She could feel the power in those words. She felt alive. Mien appeared to be captivated by it. When the two stopped singing, Mien’s guide said to him.
“Do you understand?”
Mien nodded. He faced Kiao. “I have with a Kanu chanter named Vlory with us. She’s been corrupted by drass beast blood. And she needs to be purified, but if we do, her wounds will kill her.”
Kiao took it all in confused. “What wounds?”
“A venomous drass beast mauled her and to heal her wounds, they gave her drass beast blood. That blood kept her body in a suspended state. So, without any drass beast blood, her wounds revert open. That’s what’s happening now.”
Kiao never heard anything like that.
“This song is the only way we are going to save her,” he said earnestly.
“Wait, if this is your edict, what phrase did you learn?”
“Protection,” said Mien with a sad smile. “Something bad happened. I guess I shouldn’t wait to tell you, Lyndon’s dead.”
Even though she knew he had, she bowed her head and nodded. “I already know. Is everyone else okay?”
“Sol needs some attention. He’s not injured physically, but he is doing better, I think. But if you talk to him, he’ll be much better. Otherwise, we’re good.”
“I have someone with me that is far better than I. But I don’t get this. This is your edict. I never heard of anyone joining another’s chanter’s edict.”
Then Kiao’s guide walked over to her. “This is shared because melody can’t exist without harmony. As bonded chanters, you have a song that you can sing and this is your song.”
“But why learn it now,” she asked. “We’ve barely learned anything about our bond.”
“Because the powerful need to come together when there is a need for it,” she said to Kiao. And then her guide leaned forward and whispered to her. She sighed, then added. “Also, a heart that burns with the passion of the sun needs to be tempered by the cool voice of the stars.”
The woman then stepped away from her and became a little girl again. Kiao felt herself being tugged back.
“Where are you at,” Kiao said to Mien.
“I’m under a massive burning ash. Are you coming down the main road?”
“We can get there.”
“Good, there is a very noticeable path the cuts off from the main road. It’s obvious with a lot of trees growing on the side of it looks like a perfect tunnel.”
Before Mien could tell her more, Kiao was sucked out back through the channel into her own mind. Her body hit the ground, and she snapped back into the waking world. Oeric jumped to her side and lifted her back up.
“We need to get going, now,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of time.”
“You find them?”
“Yes. He’s very close.”
“What are we looking for?”
“I didn’t get much of a description. They’re under a large burning ash tree off the main road. The path is obvious,” she said.
Oeric became intrigued. “A burning ash, you say. He used the word large.”
“Actually, he said massive.”
The first warden blinked and then smiled. “I know where they are at. And we are on the quickest route to get to them. Come on. He’s under Lenneth’s Tree.”
“That’s what I call it,” he told her, shouldering his pack as she got back on her horse.
“Another hideout spot?”
“No. I was out on sabbatical. Spent a year away from the monastery.”
Kiao knew that both monks and priests took them. In the current era, it was more monks.
“During my wonderings, I visited previous areas I’ve traveled, including the temple, then I wandered up here and became acquainted with Captain Gyrfalcon. That tree saved him and his men,” he said and ended with a chuckle.
“And you in all of this?”
“Well, someone had to fight the drass beast. I was there already when he came upon me. That tree, though, has always stayed in my mind. I never thought I would be swinging that way again. If we stick to this path, we will come out the backside of it. In fact, it’s quicker if we stay here then–”
Oeric’s gaze went upward followed by his brow pulling together. Kiao followed his gaze and saw a large bird circling above them.
Kiao groaned. “Please tell me that’s just a buzzard.”
“Physically it isn’t,” he grunted.
With no prompting, Kiao got on her horse and took Oeric’s packs from him. He shifted again, leading the way. She summoned Emery to be her extra eyes again. She was nervous. Xerius was above them stark against the blue sky not trying to hide in the trees.
“Why is he making himself clearly seen this time around and not hiding,” she said.
“A hunter doesn’t like to be seen by his prey unless for a reason. And if I had to guess a…” he trailed off and then brooded a moment before muttering. “So he’s doing that. How quaint.”
“Doing what,” prompted Kiao.
“Sister, I need you to trust me. I want you to go on ahead. Don’t worry, I’ll catch up.”
“What? No? Even I know this is the opposite of what you’re supposed to do!”
He stopped in the road and stared at her. “This entire time, I’ve tried to be as unpredictable as I could be. And this is very unpredictable.”
“If you split from me, I can’t help you.”
He looked her in the eye. “Do you trust me, Sister?”
Kiao pursed her lips together.
“This is a basic yes or no question,” he prompted.
“Yes, I trust you, to be an idiot dod,” she snapped. “You’re entirely correct; you monks all have muscles for brains! Every single last one of you. This is how all you come into my infirmary. Get hurt from doing stupid things.”
He didn’t even flinch at her words. In fact, Cordea always told her that Oeric had a rascal smile when he was about to do something she was going to regret allowing him to do. And he wore it then.
“Sometimes Sister, doing the right thing may not appear to be the brightest or the rational choice.”
Kiao maneuvered her horse in front of him. “Sacrifice might be a noble act, but not when its needless heroics.”
“Sacrifice,” laughed Oeric. “Who said anything about that? I just need you to trust me and save your chanter. My job is done. You’ve probably less than a mile to travel and if I know anything about that bond partner of yours, he’ll meet you halfway.”
“Oeric’Sheldmartin, your job isn’t done until we walk through the town’s gates. You’re ill. Clearly it is causing this insanity,” she said, her lit getting stronger.
“No insanity, just trust me,” he assured. “What I’m doing is risky, but this may work.”
She pursed her lips at him, shaking her head, frustrated that he would do this. His stark gaze continues to stare at her, undeterred. Instead of rebuking him, she bobbed her head.
“Fine! Thought it would be nice if you share your plan.”
“Just trust me,” he repeated and winked.
She knew he had done that to placate her. Showing that he wasn’t concerned in the least.
“Oeric’Shelmartin, I hope you know you are an infuriating man. If you don’t come back at a reasonable time. I will hunt you down.”
“I expect you to. Though, probably, unnecessary, Sister,” he returned.
Kiao knew that he knew what he was doing. She just didn’t like it. Oeric then darted into the woods; she didn’t bother watching him leave her. She urged her horse forward, going as fast as she dared down the path. There were a lot of unknowns going forward. Not just the terrain, but what she was truly dealing with. She never dealt with someone who was corrupted. She gripped her staff and knew what it was for. The combined efforts of Mien and her clearly weren’t enough for this task.
The path in front of her took an abrupt turn to the left. Kiao slowed the mare down paying more attention to what was ahead of her than what was beside her. Emmery cried out, flashing an image of one of the panthers that attacked before right as she was knocked off her saddle sideways.
All the air was knocked out of her lungs in one whoosh when she hit the ground. The edges of her vision blackened. Emmery was flung away from her. The staff lay behind her and her horse went running away. It only slowed down because of another tawny panther running towards it. The one who had knocked her off stood over her head rumbling, unaware of the tawny streak that bounded towards him from behind him. He lifted his head in time to see claws and teeth hurtling at him.
The dyne elf leaped away nimbly and the new tawny panther planted himself over Kiao screaming at him with fangs bared. It was loud enough to bring her out of her daze. When she saw fur, she screamed, beating the creature in the torso. The panther above her looked down and around his green eyes were white sunspots that spread out like rays.
“Glen,” she cried, hugging him and then met the protest from her ribs. She dropped back down, and the consort licked her ear. “No, stop it! No, Glen, stop I’m fine.”
Her reunion with Mien’s consort was cut short when she saw the other dyne elf poised in the grass as a panther ready to get Glen. They were surrounded.
“Move,” she ordered, and hit Glen in the chest. As the second one charged forward and then a bear intercepted it with a body-slam. The dyne elf was sent skidding in the dirt. Khodi then stood on his hind legs looking like a giant and roared. The one that wasn’t tossed scrambled behind his partner. Neither of them retreated, though. Their jaw hung stunned by the sight. A rider then joined the two consorts with his bow raised. He sent an arrow right at their feet.
Doran plucked another arrow from his quiver and notched it. “The next one goes in your leg,” he warned.
The two attackers looked at each other and slinked into the woods.
Kiao dropped to her back, moaning and assessing her injuries. Her back was fine. Neck, could be better. Her shoulder, bruised and as well as her ribs on the side she fell. All in all, she could lay there a little longer. Footsteps crunching in the dirt by her ear. Glen moved and revealed Soletus stooping beside her.
“You okay,” he asked.
“No,” she said. “Help me up.”
He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her up until she was standing.
“Mien said you were coming. We thought you were coming down the main road and then Glen charged off in this direction,” he explained.
A squeal rose from the grass. Emmery crawled out of the woods. Glen lowered himself down, and she crawled on his back. She sent impressions of the staff to Kiao.
“Sol, I can stand. Please get the staff over there,” she pointed, and he retrieved it for her.
Doran rode towards them, looking around. “Those were elves. Why are elves chasing you?”
“Long story short, dyne elf mercenaries are after the First Warden and I offended them.”
Soletus’ eyes widened. “Papa is with you?”
“Yes, and he’s a stupid idiot dod. He split from me. Leaving me alone to get attacked,” she said with her voice staining high now.
Glen then nudged her leg with his head and purred against her. The action calmed her down a little.
Soletus handed her the staff. “Do you need a moment,” he said.
“No,” said Kiao, waving him off. “I just want to yell at him because he knew this was going to happen. He was counting on you fellows to get me. Get me my horse. I need to do what I came all the way out here for.”
“Where did you last see Papa,” Soletus asked.
“About a half-mile back or so,” she said. “He claimed he was right behind me.”
Soletus brow pulled together. He plucked the whip canes from Kiao’s saddle. “Doran, take her back. I’m going to find Papa.”
“So, you’re splitting us up,” asked Doran.
“Kiao needs to help Vlory,” he said in a non-nonsense voice that sounded a lot like Oeric’s. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”
As he got on his own horse, Doran looked at her with a pleading gaze. She let him go, despite the fact his voice sounded off and gestured to Doran to allowed Doran.
It didn’t take them long to arrive at the largest burning ash she had ever laid eyes on. In fact, it was probably the largest tree she ever seen. And below the branches sat her bond partner, watching her arrival with Tyrus nearby. A tremendous weight was lifted off her heart. Though concern was etched on his face. When she was close, his gaze left her and went to the staff, puzzled, then frowned at it.
“Don’t say anything. I need this to help her,” she told him, settling down at the Kanu woman’s side.
“It’s so noisy though.”
“I can’t hear a thing off of it,” she said, looking down at the woman. She was covered in horrible scratch marks that opened on her arms right in front of her. “Oookay,” she said slowly.
“She’s been getting worse right after I sent Glen to meet you. Sorry I didn’t come, but I didn’t want to leave her,” said Mien. “The worst of it is on her back.”
Kiao started hearing the song in her mind’s ear again. “Remove everything from her back and body now. We need to do this quick.”
Mien obeyed and removed the shirt and moss that he had prepared and revealed the Kanu woman’s back. The priestess’s heart sank. Whatever had gotten her torn into her flesh with all intentions of eating her. She has seen enough teeth and claw marks to know the difference between them. The flesh that was pulled from her exposed her spine.
The priest exhaled. She knew she had seen worse, but at the moment, her memory failed to relinquish anything comparable.
She leaned towards Vlory’s face, and the woman was breathing shallowly.
“You poor thing, how did you even survive long enough to take the blood,” she whispered.
The kanu’s woman’s eyes cracked. “Another chanter?”
The phrase of purification roared in Kiao’s ear. Mien’s face contorted and held his head.
“You hear it and it’s getting louder,” he said with his eyes burning gold. “We need to figure out how to do this.”
There were not only going to have to not only purify her but also heal her.
The voice sang out at the same time, this time with the phrase of healing, and she grimaced and clutched her burning chest. “I need to purify her now. It feels like when I went through my edict phrase.”
Kiao looked down at Vlory and hovered a hand over the deepest of the wounds with her other hand clutching the staff.
“Mien, we know the song, but I don’t know how to do this. Well, I know a way that might work. I’ll pull the poison out of her but I need you to cover every wound you can find and keep her from bleeding out."
“Cover her wounds?”
“Use the phrase of protection. It will act as a seal to her wounds temporarily because I think purifying her is going to take a great deal of myself and time.”
“How am I supposed to use the phrase of protection like that,” he asked.
“With the phrase of healing,” she said speaking quickly. “You can chain phrases together. The hymn was made to do that. I’ve only read about this not practiced at all, but the way our song goes, purification, protection, healing, and light.”
“Okay,” he said, still looking lost.
“Feel for it. You’re good at that now. Follow me like we’re dual-healing,” she said and chanted the phrase of healing and was immediately hit with resistance just to see. Mien put his hand over her chanting as well and bolstering her efforts. They entered her body and all she could see was the dark purple of corruption in Vlory’s blood.
“I’ll draw it,” she told Mien and started chanting the phrase of purification and it poured of her mouth, starting the melody and Mien followed with the harmony of his phrases. She no longer just saw Vlory’s body, but she felt it. The woman was corrupted down to her bones. Nothing was spared. Her heart, lungs, liver, ribs, spine, and brain were all filmed with a layer of purple so dark, it was black. The only light was her magical heart and even that struggled to keep it back. Kiao then pulled it all towards her.
Drawing it out was akin to sucking a bucket of water empty through a thin hollow stem. It took more effort than she thought. She could feel how much she was using herself to do it. If she continued the way she was, she couldn’t heal the woman. That was when she pulled from the staff. It gave her a strong boost and drew even more corruption out.
On the outside, an inky darkness flowed out of Vlory’s wounds to her hands, forming into a globe. She could feel Mien’s presence as he figured out what she wanted to do. He went to all areas of outer damage as well as blood vessels and arteries to keep the blood in her there. The scope of Vlory’s injuries was immense as there was also tissue deterioration to her muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and organs from the damage done by the drass beast’s venon.
Vlory let out a cry of anguish, but she didn’t fight.
“I’m sorry, but this needs to go,” she said, doubling her efforts. Sweat pouring down her face and around her neck. There was so much of it. It caused her ears to ring. And her strength was waning. She felt the current of comfort that often flowed through Mien and her become alive. She could feel his strength flowing into her.
“Just a little bit more,” said Kiao. She was down to her feet and toes and pulled the very last bit of corruption out that she could.
She opened her eyes and in her hand was a spinning mass of corruption. She didn’t know what to do with it. Dropping in on the ground wouldn’t be good. However, before she could even ask Mien, he lifted his hands to the side of it and the phrase of light spilled from his lips. Inside of the mass of darkness flickered a light coming to life. It glowed become white and burned the corruption away from the inside until it became nothing but ash.
“I can burn whatever corruption there might be left inside of her. That was a lot to pull out,” he said.
“Then come in light the way. Start with her head and work down to heal her,” she told him.
Mien nodded and started changing the phrase of light and then she went in with healing. They both sang their song delve back into Vlory’s body and Kiao healed every place Mien brought her to. Along the way, if he saw even a speck or darkness, he burned it. He had power over the corruption and so every cut, venom burned, crack, splinter, fracture, and tear Kiao healed. There was no corruption left. Not that she saw anyway. She healed them all with Mien’s voice and own abilities fueling her until every bit was down to the Vlory’s feet.
When they were done, they pulled out of Vlory’s body. Her skin healed up but there was scaring. Like the lightning bolt going through her face and her back looked like a tap root with branches going from. It appeared to be a reminder of what happened and for her to never do it again. Kiao smiled at her work even though she felt the same exhaustion healing for a full day of badly wounded patients. She was grabbed by Mien. He hugged her. He was panting with his shirt sweat-soaked. She clung to him anyway.
“Thank you so much,” he said and then sagged down. He rested his forehead on her shoulder.
“I can take him,” said Tyrus.
“Please do,” she said and scooted to the tree and rested against it. Mien was place on the other side of her.
“Is she okay,” asked Tyrus pointing to Vlory. The woman was at her other side. She was breathing steadily and shivering.
Kiao nodded. “Cover her back up and keep her warm. She can get ill easily in her state. She’s still very weak. It was then that she realized the staff was still in her hands. The stone that was imbued with to purity was cracked and inert. She used up every bit for that. She had done the same. Her stomach groaned. She needed food but rest came first. Mien hand encircle hers right before she blacked out, squeezing it.
Yes Kiao, Oeric is rather infuriating. All males are on some level.
Yay, I love it when a conflict gets resolved. There are two more chapters after this. And it is the end of pt 4. This one being the very first chapter I revised. (Sometimes I don't go in order when something need a lot of work). The next chapter is the most revised chapter of the entire story.