That being said, I’m profoundly grateful to those who didn’t give up on me. This extends beyond Cordea, Maelyra, Brother Hickory, First Warden Talore, and Papa, in his own way. Alacai and Lynhart who despite everything and treating me like I was their actual brother. Nimbus, who encouraged the good side of my humor. Donaven whom I worked with briefly but was insightful. For those men who were lads and called me their First Warden with a staunch loyalty that couldn’t be matched. They trusted me, saved my life, and when I was recovering, all of them helped. All the women in the society house who called me Orrie, as well. My children because they gave me purpose and joy. And to Sister Kiao, because what’s a monk without a priestess to boss him around and to keep him moving forward.
“You shouldn’t be expending yourself,” stated Soletus after she caught him sneaking out if their sleeping space. He knew she wanted to get a look at him.
“This is nothing,” she told him with her hand firmly on bare chest to ensure she stayed connected to him.
He let out a dubious grunt. “It’s better you rest as much as you can. We’re leaving tomorrow.”
“Tyrus told me about the husk and the smell of drass beast flesh affecting you, so I’m checking,” she returned. It was more than just that.
“And is everything alright,” he said impatiently.
“I don’t see anything of concern involving that. Though I’ve notice there is a little less of you. Don’t frown, you know I was going to say something about it,” she told him. “Though your weakness to husks is worrisome.”
She pulled out of him and leaned against the boulder behind her. He worked lacing up his shirt and then pulled his jerking back on. She let him alone, closing her eyes once again wishing for a bed. Oeric had moved them the day they arrived a couple of miles down the road for better shelter against the wind. The tree was good at keeping things off their head, but not the cold. Three weak chanters needed food and to be kept warm.
The collection of boulders they were at now made for an easy shelter and heating. It also gave Kiao and Vlory privacy. They had a spot to themselves tucked between two large rocks with a tarp to themselves to keep out the wind. Soletus was slept in there for extra body heat. He didn’t seem to mind him being used that way. Kiao was thankful for it. She would’ve been chilly otherwise.
“You should look at Mien,” he told her gruffly.
“I was planning too.”
“Please do. Valhart hit him in the head with a rock and I thought it killed him,” he told her.
Horror washed over Kiao’s. She hadn’t heard the full story about what happened. She slept most of the day after she and Mien healed Vlory. She was woken up by Oeric who apologized and helped her move as well as get Vlory prepared to move. When the move was done, she at and slept again. Mien was the exact same but in a more sleepy state. He rode with his eyes closed. So she learned nothing and would have to ask that evening. For now, she settled on just focusing on her bond mate.
“Where was he hit,” she asked.
Soletus pointed to his temple. “On my blood and honor, I checked and he wasn’t breathing. His heart wasn’t beating. He was dead. I know he was.”
She wasn’t surprised at all. She swallowed and said flatly, “He wasn’t. A normal elf, certainly, but not a chanter. That statement about us being hard to kill is true. We have a survival mechanism.”
She nodded. “There are limits. It can only happen a handful of times in our lifetime. We aren’t invincible. Our body put itself into a suspended in a state while it repairs fatal damage. So, you’re not dead, you just appear to be dead.”
“Has that happened to you?”
“No, but it’s not the first time it’s happened to him. Any repair leaves behind a very particular looking scaring on the tissue to chanter’s eyes. It’s called silver scaring. To the normal eye, it just looks like flesh. Mien has that scaring on his kidneys. It’s not a little, it’s enough for him to have died from kidney failure.”
Soletus became grave. “So what can do that, a poison?”
Kiao nodded. “This might be presumptuous, but his step-father is a blighter addict. And he likely has access to the bad stuff can. Bad blighter will kill your kidneys. Not that the good stuff is any better. It does it over-time.”
Soletus didn’t look surprised. “He’s never told me what happened in detail, but he did tell me that his uncle was trying to kill him.”
“Same and he would say anymore about it,” she said. “It scares him I know. Maybe if I bring his head up, I might get an answer six years coming.”
Soletus shook his head and worked on winding his sash around him. “Don’t bring his uncle up. I get what it’s like not wanting to talk about something bad. You don’t want to remember it, let alone say it aloud.”
“Lyndon,” she guessed. “How did he die?”
Soletus became bewildered. “How do you and Papa already know?”
“Your father is the one to ask. Anyway, you can tell me what happened–” she said gently but all the blood drained from Soletus’s face.
“I had to tell Mien happened as well as Papa. As them,” he told her coolly. She wondered how deep Lyndon’s death cut him.
“Wait, why did you have to tell Mien?”
“He claimed his edict visions messed with his memory. He remembers things before but not after he comes out of.”
“I’m not sure if that just the vision or if his knock on his head affected his memory,” said Kiao in thought and then muttered. “Well, it might be a good thing. I’m sure he feels guilty enough because he couldn’t save him.”
“He is, but I’m the one who got him killed,” said Soletus softly.
Kiao understood now his agitation and avoiding food. She had seen in it before and likely would again. Many warden would feel guilt over the death of another especially if they causes said death. There was nothing she could do about it then, however, he was a clear case for Brother Hickory to help. The only thing she could do then was lean forward and hug him.
“I sorry. I know he was a bother to you,” she told him and he clung to her, grasping the back of her shirt as if afraid to let go.
One could grade Soletus on his mood, on the strength and length of his hugs. Kiao determined he was badly off. She was certain he was going to cry because she felt him let out a shaky breath and sniff. Instead, he let her go abruptly and avoided looking at her.
“I need to get going. I’m sure Papa needs me to do something.”
Kiao made shooing motions and settled down, worried. She then looked at Vlory.
Even with all the corruption removed and her body healed, recovery was going to be slow. Unlike Mien, what she had experienced likely rendered her survival mechanism useless or overtaxed it to the point she didn’t have it anymore. At the moment, Vlory’s body was in a burnout state. She needed to be in the infirmary and not out in the wilderness. Not only did they have to work on her physical strength, but strength in her abilities as well.
“Too much for one priestess,” she said to herself and she settled back, resting again.
Smoke from the campfire drifted inside the tent. They weren’t cooking anything, but it made her stomach rumble as they had. She rubbed it and wiped her runny eyes.
Vlory stirred, getting her attention. The kanu woman blinked awake and asked not much above a whisper. “Who are you?”
Kiao straightened up. “I’m Sister Kiao of the Dias Brotherhood.”
“Reckoner came, and I thought he was my end, instead he brought me healing waters. Thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me, I was guided here by Dias. Our Arch Priest saw you in a vision and he sent me to find you. As they say, Dias never lets a chanter down.”
“I’m worthy of something still,” she muttered.
“It’s not about being worthy, it’s what you can do. You’ve not been called yet. All you need to worry about is just getting better.”
She wiggled her feet and then she became mystified. “My spine was broken.”
“I mended it,” said Kiao, happy to see her talking. “You should be able to walk fine. Your body was preserved in a state like you were just injured. Even with the venom. I was also able to draw that out, too.”
Vlory smiled. “Such enthusiasm. Such care. Like Reckoner, you are soft-hearted as he, but bustling with life.”
Kiao was very familiar with that speech pattern. “You don’t happen to be timbre sensitive as well?”
“Yes. The world is singing in my ears again. I missed it,” she said, smiling. “Were you two raised together?”
“No,” she shook her head. “We met when we entered the Brotherhood and bonded together after he discovered I was a young woman. It was an accident. He shouldn’t even be bonded this young.”
Vlory gave a slight tilt to her head. “There is no age. It all depends on what is needed.”
“So, what was needed was for me to bond so someone younger than me and for him to adore me completely?”
“I suppose the Kanu treat bonded chanters a little different. The Brotherhood acts as if it’s a burden. Then again, we sprung this on them. They didn’t think Mien was capable of forming a timbre bond.”
“Because he’s male.”
Vlory then flitted out a laugh that like a songbird. “Silly misconception. Male chanters form strong bonds quickly.”
Kiao scooted closer to her. “I’ve never heard, told, or read anything like that, not that I could.”
Vlory looked appalled. “They didn’t warn or teach you?”
“I didn’t exactly enter the order as a girl. I was disguised as a boy. Mien came in later and everything was fine until he found out the truth. Given he is timbre sensitive, I don’t know how he didn’t know.”
“It’s difficult to hear our bond partners, but once we see it, we can’t forget.”
That was Mien alright, and she knew it.
“Older priests of my order want us to forget. They don’t want us together for varying reasons.”
Vory sighed. “They can’t sunder what is. They can’t change how he feel. What is felt is felt.”
“What do you mean, you can’t change how they feel?”
“It’s not a thing you can choose and mold. He’s strong feelings, right?”
“Well, you can’t change that. It is what it is. What you don’t want to do is take advantage of the bond. You have will over him and can force. You don’t want to force him to do what’s not right. Everyone pays,” warned the Kanu woman. She studied her a moment and then announced, “I don’t want you to experience such things. To pay you back, I will help.”
Kiao was surprised. “You’ll do that?”
“It’ll give me a reason to stay with you. Then I may leave.”
“No, you should stay,” stated Kiao earnestly. “I know women who will help you. They’ll find you a place to stay, help you get a job. Everything. I know a wise woman who could use you.”
Vlory shook her head. “I’m not a healing chanter. My skill lies in speaking to stone.”
“Wait, you can imbue tao stone?”
Kiao immediately thought about her staff. She wondered if she could fix it or help replace the stones. However, before she could ask, someone cleared their throat by the entrance.
“Can I come in,” asked the First Warden.
“Certainly,” answered Kiao.
He settled at the entrance on his knees.
He looked dead at Vlory, pale eyes assessing her. “I suppose she’s well enough to speak.”
“She is,” said Kiao.
Vlory stared back at him. “You’re the son of Lenneth’s sire. You sound nearly alike. He’s not well. His heart is in two.”
“Excuse me,” said Oeric.
“He is knotted with grief.”
Oeric glanced at Kiao. Before he could question here, she shut her eyes and relaxed back into sleeping.
“Insight,” questioned Oeric.
“No, timbre sensitive.”
Oeric silently appraised her again. Kiao couldn’t read whatever conclusion he had formed in his mind.
“While she is resting, I can give Tyrus, and Doran a look over. They look a bit rough,” stated Kiao.
He broke away from Vlory and told her, “I sent Tyrus to scavenge and Doran out to scout around. Soletus and I are going for water. Is there anything you want?”
“A side of deer. No, scratch that, a whole deer.”
The corners of Oeric’s mouth went up. “I can’t provide you with a deer, instead why don’t you go be with Mien?”
Kiao gestured around her. “Aren’t there things that need to be done?”
He shook his head. “This is what I need you to do, Sister. Watch her and rest. Besides, you come halfway across the country to find him. I think it’s fair you get some alone time with him.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “So, you’re leaving us alone?”
“Yes. You two won’t get much privacy after this,” he said.
Kiao blinked at him in wordless surprised that he would allow them privacy.
Oeric stood and stretched. “Unlike the old men, you’re around, I realize he’s your bond-mate and you two need time to reinforce it like everyone else.”
Kiao beamed and crawled out too to her feet, trying to control her eagerness. She would’ve skipped if she could, but there were tarps in her way. Mien was found lying in a corner as far from the entrance as he could get and nestled behind packs.
She crept over to him, hoping she made enough noise so to not startle him. He didn’t stir at her approach. When she moved the packs out of the way so she could sit at his side, he didn’t either. Kiao wondered if she should just leave him alone if he was in that deep of a sleep. He was more exhausted than her from their healing session. However, if she was going to examine him, it was better if he was awake.
She reached out to pat his chest, as that was the best way for her to wake him up. Right as her hand was above his heart, she saw his eyes open. He flashed his mischievous grin at her, and then there was a flurry of motion. He sat up and bear-hugged her. She yelped at being forced off balanced so he could hold her. The tod gave her little chance to struggle and pelted her face with kisses.
“You wonderful, wonderful woman,” he said, kissing her solidly on the forehead and then held her away from him so he could see her. His face was glowing with admiration.
“Hello to you too,” she said breathlessly, and then he embraced her again with enough force to squeeze her internal organs out her throat. She squirmed, and he loosened up his hold. She only had enough of a reprieve to exhale and inhale once before he took her in his arms and fell to his back. He positioned her so that below her waist was beside him, while the rest of her was above him. His face lit with delight and was almost vibrating with joy.
“You came all the way out here to find me. I’m touched,” he said, beaming.
“Technically, I was told by the Arch Monk to find Vlory and that you would be with her.”
He quirked his eyebrow at her. “So, you weren’t trying to find me regardless,”
“The First Warden and I were investigating what really happened,” she admitted primly. “He believed, and I agreed, that First Warden Kellas lied about what happened. He declared that he was going to search for you to your mother.”
“My mother,” Mien croaked.
“Yes, your mother. We had an awkward meeting with her because you told her absolutely nothing.”
Mien looked like he swallowed a melon. “Sorry.”
Kiao sat back. “Why didn’t you at least tell her I was female? That, I think, would’ve at least made it less awkward.”
Mien pulled himself upright and gently picked up her hand. “No, that would make her assume more. Am her little Theoderic. Things need to be just right for me. You wouldn’t be.”
Mien picked up her hand and kissed. “You’re a chanter. Something she doesn’t understand other than being a social status killer. My social status is wrecked and she wouldn’t want to ruin it more.”
Kiao stifled a groan. Her family wasn’t into the whole noble scene going to courts for socializing. They were too busy making dresses.
“So, I’m just not good enough for you, despite being a minor noble’s daughter as well.”
“You are a different minor noble,” he said, rubbing the top of her hands with his thumb. “The queen granted your mother and father the title of lady and lord. That title is only holds for two generations. That is low status in the world of nobility. And you wanting to be with me looks like you want a rise in status. Which, if Cyan wasn’t a minor with a main house attached to it, would be fine. However, we are looking to raise status too. You wouldn’t benefit me. And since I’m first born. I need to go for higher status women.”
“That is so stupid,” said Kiao.
“It is,” said Mien. “I’m sorry if she treated you like some pest.”
“She did. And she treated Oeric the exact same. She really had a problem with him being a cur. You didn’t tell her that either.”
“I didn’t want her to tell me I couldn’t be friends with Soletus. Not only that, she wouldn’t want me near him. Though one conversation with him, should have waylaid any discomfort she had with him.”
“She was insulted by him. Most so he didn’t act like she assumed. Heck, I’m surprised they never met.”
“Father dealt with the brotherhood. Mother didn’t. She deals mostly with Lord Kharis. She’s no idea on what the order is other thatn what most people know and causing our cousin to forsake his house. If anything, she’s afraid I will be like Hickory. Anyway, Sol’s father declared he was going to find us, but how did you find me like that in a dream?”
“I only learned how to do it because you opened the channel between the two of us and sent your emotions to me,” she explained. “It was a burst of a lot of things, it had me worried because I felt fear and desperation among it all. I thought you were hurt because you didn’t return with Kellas.”
Mien thought for a moment. “I guess that was when I first used my edict phrase, right before Lyndon died.”
“And how did he die,” she said softly. “I tried to ask Sol, but he didn’t want to tell me.”
Mien sighed. “Not surprising. It took him a bit to tell me. Lyndon died when the two of us were trying to save Sol. I don’t remember it, but he was shot in the neck with a bolt.”
“What happened that left you unable to heal that,” she wondered. Mien could patch a wound like that.
The brightness on his face wanned and morphed into regret. “Sol told me a clay shell was tossed where we took shelter and I blocked it.”
Kiao’s jaw sagged. “How? Can a shield be that strong?”
He shrugged, then nodded. “Maybe. Yes. The will of the chanter and all. Then I held up a bunch of debris with the shield while they dug us out. Lyndon died because it took so long. And what makes it so bad, I can’t remember it.”
Kiao scooted beside him and pushed his forelocks to the side and out of his eyes. “Would you want to?”
He looked down at his hands. “No, but it would help Sol, I think. He’s not himself. He has moments when he’s fine and then he’s just angry. Kind of like his training with Ealdred, but worse.”
“Well, Oeric is here, and he’s the best person for him right now,” she said, and realized that Mien’s good mood had evaporated. She wanted to see him bright and exuberant again. “Anyway, about that channel.”
He looked intrigued but remained subdued. “What about it?”
“I learned how to open it. After you sent all that to me. The bond tried to connect to you. Apparently, the bond didn’t establish itself properly and was trying to. It wouldn’t have been so bad if didn’t block my other senses. I had no control over it.”
Mien quirked an eyebrow. “And you traipsed across the countryside in that vulnerable of state?”
“I had Oeric with me. He actually helped in me learning to control it.”
“So, you can enter my dreams and I to send you my emotions,” he rolled that in his head a moment. “That’s not what I expected of the channel, but better than us reading each other’s thoughts.”
“Can you connect to it now? I mean, it was trying to establish our bond between us properly.”
His gaze turned vague in concentration. She then felt the channel suddenly and a nudge. She opened it and uncertainty that wasn’t her own greeted her.
“I think you got it,” she said, feeling the connection between them become clearer.
Mien smiled full of delight. Her magical heart sang, warming her chest. She could feel his wonderment and it was all a little too much. It was one thing to feel her own emotions, it was another feeling someone else’s on top of her magical heartwarming as much as it did. She doubled over clutching her chest. Excitement morph into concern. Mien grabbed hold of her and held her to his chest. The connection broke.
“Sorry, I’m not used to sensory overload like you are,” she said after taking in several breaths.
He held her tight and nuzzled the top of her head. She relaxed into his hold. For a long moment, they sat in companionable silence. Kiao put her hand on his chest to feel his heart beating. It fluttered along quicker than it should have . She didn’t know if it was because of what happened or her proximity to him. They didn’t exactly get close to each other like they were a lot. Sure, the other priests like Elnos were a problem. However, it was Mien and his touch affected timber sensitivity.
It was better than is was in the beginning. He would tense up, only allowing her close to him briefly. Touch could be too much for him. He would sometimes becoming annoyed making it much worse. Yet then, he didn’t push her away gently. He just held her. And Kiao wanted to savor the moment for as long as she could.
Eventually, he lowered himself down again, still holding her. He placed her down and then rolled to his side. She did the same facing him. He kissed her forehead again but didn’t reach out to touch her. It was then she noted his eyes shifted shades to a sultry amber. The only green there was at the rim of his irises. She didn’t know what ability he was even engaging. Or if it was a mood response.
“Are you okay,” she asked.
He nodded, shutting his eyes again. “I’m tired again. I don’t feel as bad as I did when I was in burnt out. But I over-did it.”
Kiao then spotted a mark on his skin at his temple. She pushed his head back and saw a scab that was likely going to leave a scar.
“Soletus said you were hit in the head.”
Mien chuckled. “I forgot about that. Examine it because I haven’t given it a proper look. By the time I got my abilities back, I’ve had to worry about husks and corrupted chanters.”
Kiao leaned away from her to look at his head. He hadn’t touched it with his abilities at all, as there was a scar on his temple. When she examined him, she saw silver scaring on his skull. She delved deeper and saw scaring on his brain tissue.
“Your skull was fractured. Why would Valhart hit you that hard?”
Mien touched the healed wound and shrugged. “I don’t know. I literally cannot remember.”
She pursed her lips, speechless. No wonder Kellas denied going to the gorge and pushing the full responsibility on Soletus.
“So, what do you remember?”
“Kellas at the inn and wanting to do to the gorge to find those peaceguard from the blighter incident. Soletus wanted us to vote on what to do. Then I had an edict vision and I remember brief things but it’s confusing and muddled. Then I woke up beside a dead woman.”
Kiao looked at the scar worried. “Mien, brain injuries stack.”
“You think this is from brain trauma? The visions caused me to forget hours at a time. The first one I had, I couldn’t remember what happened after the vision. Granted, I did have strawberry wine before.”
She then scowled at him.
“I know, I know,” cried Mien. “But, there was a festival and I like strawberry wine. Your right though, it was hours, not days. But there is nothing wrong with my memory.”
“I know, it’s just head injuries are like spinal injuries hard to heal. Actually, there are harder and sometimes impossible. I just don’t want you to like Oeric. His stuttering, for example. That’s from head trauma.”
He rested his forehead against hers. “I get why you are concerned, but I’m fine. Believe me, I’m not planning to get hit in the head again.”
“I know,” she said in a small voice. “I just don’t like the thought of someone hitting you on the head and causing memory loss. Valhart needs to answer for this.”
“When we get back, I think it’ll be easy to sort out…hopefully.”
“Kellas lied about everything,” she said. “Said that Soletus led a march to the gorge. He said nothing about Lyndon or you. Said everyone was alive the last he saw you fellows.”
“And what is he planning on saying when we do come home? Deny it,” asked Mien and then shook his head. “No, we can worry about it later. I just want to be with you. I want a nap and cuddles.”
He then grabbed a blanket that had pooled at his feet and pulled that over them. He rolled on his back and she snuggled into the crook of his arm. Once again, he pressed his lips against her forehead again. Then let out a content sigh.
She snuggled against him and hugged him. Oeric was right, they wouldn’t get a moment like what they were getting for the rest of the trip. There was plenty of time to talk. She decided to just enjoy the moment. The rest of the world could wait while she closed her eyes and napped.
End of pt 4
At least I didn't have to write this entire chapter from scratch. That scene with Kiao and Mien does need to be honed more. However, I have a good base for when I have to go through this story again. Because I will have too eventually. So why did I re-write it? Because it was too dialogue heavy. Their conversation wasn't focused. Also, there was a lot of information I thought that could be saved for later or understood that could be removed. Plus, this chapter is an example of how I adjusted my writing to RoyalRoad for its detriment. Because RR doesn't like romance, I made the passage dialogue filled to avoid a great deal of fluff. However, I'm correcting a lot of RR based decisions. I cut out a bunch of dialogue and made a foundation for a cute scene woven in between. I need a lot of distance from this chapter to be able to write it properly. However, this chapter will be one of the first I will tinker with again. So I may fix it over my break.
As for the break, I'm vanishing for the whole of February. I will be back March 6th. Hopefully that will give me enough time to fix a few logic issues with pt. 5 and have some time to breath. Then I'm done with this novel. Yay. Also, I'm sleepy, and I will be going to bed. Thanks for reading.