And that not to say there weren’t times I felt alone. I couldn’t help it as there was none my age open like me for a long time. The senior monks were convinced they had to conform and those closer to my age didn’t watch me with envy in their eyes. Yet Brother Hickory was unabashedly neth as well as being a chanter. I didn’t realize how much he was just so comfortable to be in his skin until I was around him long enough. And he was the one who taught me to be comfortable in mine. He was my example because long ago he didn’t like what he was either. He also stated he didn’t like people either. Honestly, I still find it hard to believe to this day. He was the kindest man I ever met.
Kellas had become a specter to Mien the entire trip. Something unreal, a tale. Because what happened to him seemed distance because he couldn’t remember any of it. And yet he was there right in front of. Just as he remembered him as well as completely different. He used to think that him and Oeric looked very alike. They same sandy hair. The same pale eyes. Oeric’s though weren’t flat and pitiless. They held so much in them. So much emotion unlike his voice often times. And in those eyes, Mien saw anger. It mirrored his own. He felt the same sensation as before, words for the Kellas formed in his mind, touched his tongue and yet they stopped at the very tip. They became lost in a haze. His head ached and his ears began to ring. The room became dull all the while Kellas’s attention fell on Oeric as if he weren’t there. He greeted the warden warmly.
“I’m glad you made it back. I heard you found them easily,” he said commending him.
Oeric and nudged Mien with his elbow. “Remember what I said.”
Mien nodded though he didn’t think he could engage Kellas. He had gone too far with his abilities because he felt ill like he was burnt out. However, he was able to glare at him squinting through the pain in his head.
“I came here to find you, Oeric,” said Kellas this time in a disarming voice. “I wanted to confirm that one of the boys didn’t come back. I was told it was Lyndon.”
“I’m not obligated to tell you anything,” returned Oeric in a rough voice that threatened to be a growl.
“You’re being hostile,” Kellas remarked. “So that means it’s true. Something is going on. I’ve been seeing topknots around and heard something happened in the Firerocks.”
Oeric then said dryly, “If one day you are allowed to ever look for a new line of work, you would do well as a swindler selling peddler water.”
Mien frowned at the fact it was apparently clear that Oeric thought it was perfectly okay for him to engage Kellas.
The warmth from Kellas faded. “So, you believe whatever story your son concocted. Believe me, Oeric, when they left, they were all alive. I had nothing to do with what happened. All your answers lie with your son.”
“My brother-in-law whom I love like he my brother lost his son. His only son and possibly the only child he can have. Children are precious and irreplaceable, something you don’t have a clue of or you wouldn’t have done what you did,” state Oeric.
“I didn’t kill your nephew. That’s all on Soletus’s incompetence,” held Kellas.
Oeric ushered Mien forward. The sensation got worse as he passed by Kellas. Oeric paused at Kellas’s side and stated, “One day, someone is going to hurl that blacked soul of yours into the Maw.”
Kellas looked coolly at him. “You’ve said that to me before. No one has stepped up and done it. Perhaps, old friend, you should be the one who does if you hate me so much.”
Oeric opened the door and pushed Mien through. The young chanter turned to see that wolf’s grin spread on his lips. “Hate you? A wolf doesn’t hate a predator that threatens his pack. He guards against it, defends them from it. It does the wolf or his pack little good if he throws himself at it and dies in the process. So, your reckoning will not be by my hands. Oh no, Dias will choose your reckoner. It won’t be me.”
It was Kellas’ turn to become opaque, though for an instant, his eyes shifted over to Mien then back to Oeric’s face. He said nothing. Oeric shut the door. The ringing in Mien’s ear stops but vertigo hit him. He wobbled and then planted his feet firmly to the ground, trying to decide if he need to lower himself down to a sitting position.
“What’s wrong,” asked Oeric.
Mien waited for the sensation of the world moving to leave him. Oeric placed a hand on his back.
The world refused to stop spinning, and he sank down sitting. “I don’t know. I felt off the moment we got close to Kellas. It made me ill.”
Oeric frowned. “His voice?”
“No, not his voice. I heard nothing from his voice. I couldn’t.”
“Do you need to go to the infirmary,” asked Oeric.
Mien shook his head. The world settled down again. “It’s letting up. If it happens again, I’ll go. He called you old friend, were you?”
“We were a long time ago,” he said tauntly. “Come, I take you back to the room for now. I want all of you in one place with him and Valhart slinking around.”
They went back to the room and opened it. Tyrus was stretched out on his mat sleeping. Soletus had pulled his too a wall and was sitting up staring ahead of him.
“I thought I told you to get some rest,” said Oeric, with disapproval dripping in his voice.
“I can’t sleep,” said Soletus. “Isn’t there something that I could be physically doing than just waiting around here?”
“Rest because you need to be sharp of mind.”
Soletus didn’t lie down.
Oeric closed his eyes and exhaled letting out his frustration. “Try please. I’m going to arrange food and get Brother Hickory to come to speak to you. I’ll be back.”
Mien went to his own mat. Weariness took hold of him quickly and once again he found himself in the field. He thought he was done with his edict, as the visions had stopped. Vlory was healed. Yet there he was, alone. The mirror of himself wasn’t there, but chorus was. He didn’t understand gentle ethereal voices whispering around him. However, from the tone it sounded happy, glad for him.
Mien did the only thing he could and walked. There was no place to really go in the dreamscape. The field went to the horizon on all sides still, but he chose the direction where he felt the tugged towards. Mien then saw someone to his left. There stood a man. He saw the shadow of that face staring back at him in the mirror daily. He thought about him every time he held a rock in his hands. Yet the memory of the man faded had faded to the point he had forgotten his father’s hair threatened to be coppery orange in the summer. How those dark blue eyes of his weren’t as bright as Soletus’, but they were just as welcoming.
A somber smile spread across his face. Mien would’ve run to him but, he felt unable to. He couldn’t go left. He could only walk forward. His father was beyond him. Instead, he raised his hand and waved his fingers at him. That would have to do instead of that one last hug. That somber smile brightened, and Julius bowed his head to his son.
“Light the world,” he said. The wind stirred and his father became dust and traveled along with it.
Mien continued on straight. And as he walked forward, various stages of him appeared. From a baby to toddler to a young boy and went all the way to the point when he came to just himself. Granted himself had that same infuriating expression his face as his guide.
“You wear this exact same expression, given the right circumstance,” said his guide, remaining as he was then and not an older man as he had been.
Mien wondered how often his friends wanted to punch him in the face.
“Not at all, really,” answered his guide.
“So, what is all of this?”
“Again, visions aren’t ours, but we need to stay focused on things the path in front of us. There is no turning back time. We can only go forward. Now, to important things. We need to finish this up. You asked me early on who I was.”
“I did. I thought you weren’t me, not completely,” he said.
His eyes went colorless again.
Mien’s stomach twisted a bit. He remembered Kiao’s reaction to his guide. She was in awe at first and then she shifted into being scared, but not in the way of something frightening because it was dangerous. She acted as if his guide holding her was something that wasn’t allowed. Then there was what his guide told him about Kiao’s guide. He couldn’t understand what it said to her, but his guide said it was something her heart needed to tell her.
“So, you’re not me, but you are me,” said Mien and he swallowed. “Then you’re some sort of manifestation of my magical heart.”
His guide smiled broadly at him and inclined his head to him. “I am that part of you that connects to Dias. I am the piece of the two of you,” said his guide, whose voice was his and then became more. “I am fully open to you now. There is one more phrase that it yours. Minor compared to what you possess now.”
Mien nodded, unsure of his feeling of who he was talking to him.
“Our light may burn as bright as the sun, and we can scorch corruption into ash. However, protecting others is our most precious gift.”
Again, Mien bobbed his head.
The being’s voice then changed, sounding less like himself and something more and echoed in his heart.
“These interactions are going to be few and far between. I’ll show up when you need me and there will be a day that you will. And my chanter, never forget, never be afraid to use your voice. Despite the world, sing. Always sing.”
Then, like before, he woke up. He was greeted by the sound of someone slurping and scraping the sides of a bowl with a spoon. His own vision focused on a bowl of food and beside it on a place was a large onion pastry.
“Kiao insisted that I buy you one,” spoke Brother Hickory somewhere off to his left.
Mien sat up and found him sitting in the chair at the table. The aged priest greeted him with a warm grin. He couldn’t help to return it. There was something reassuring about having him sitting among them patiently as ever. Mien snatched his bowl and took a big spoonful in his mouth.
“I was going to wake you up,” spoke Tyrus, cleaning the bowl he held sides with a lump of bread. “But he to us to let you sleep.”
It was warm and savory. Mien missed savory food. As well as butter. There was butter in his strew so it clearly didn’t come from the mess hall. It tasted a great deal like Soletus’s mother’s cooking. He looked at his friend, who was eating slowly. Taking little bits at a time, however, he wore a slight smile of appreciation.
“I didn’t want to interrupt your vision,” said Hickory. Mien stared at him. He had a lot of questions about what he experienced. “We’ll talk about it later. I know edict visions always lead to a single question of why we don’t tell you what to expect.”
“That,” stated Mien, pointing his spoon at him.
Doran then cleared his throat. “He’s awake now. You promised to talk about Soletus’s idea when he did.”
Hickory held up a palm forward. “Wait and digest. I know you’re eager to make amends, but you four need to really consider this.”
“I don’t mind,” said Mien between bites.
Soletus placed his bowl down. “We should start planning this out as soon as we can.”
“There isn’t much to plan,” stated Hickory. “Much of what I wanted to speak to you about is for you to fully understand what you are asking me to do. Being subjected to my phrase of truth isn’t painless. You don’t get a chance to think or pause. I ask you a question and you are forced to tell the truth. It’s very unpleasant. I can use substances that make you more accepting of the that sort of treatment but that in of itself if a problem.”
“But we’ve little choice,” said Doran. “They told you what going on what is happening. We have to give them something worth more than a bloodied weapon. We have no other proof but our words and if we can prove them true, we’re free. I can be that person.”
Hickory’s eyes warmed up, appearing bluer. “The only reason why you’re doing this is to make amends. And while that’s a noble gesture, it’s not what you need to do. You should choose something more meaningful to the person you wronged.”
Doran regarded Soletus. The young monk glanced at him and then just ignored him.
“Besides, that, Soletus is your senior,” said Hickory. ” And he’s the owner of the knife. The burden of proof is on him.“
“No,” Doran protested loudly.
“I see no problem with that. I can do it,” said Soletus.
Hickory’s head swayed. “The issued isn’t whether you can or not. It’s what it will do to you. You are chanter gifted. A normal individual won’t fight the process much, You, on the other hand, will likely be aware of what is going on even with drugging you. It will also make the after-effects much worse. Then there is a period of feeling violated. You will won’t nothing to do with me and I want to avoid that.”
“If you’re so against him doing it, then let me,” pressed Doran. “I want to make this right. Let me do it.”
Soletus snapped his attention to him. “It doesn’t matter what you want. A first warden takes responsibility for the actions of his band. I was acting first. I have to answer.”
Doran covered his face. “Why do you have to be this annoyingly selfless?”
“I’m not,” said Soletus, barring his voice down on Doran. “I’m stating fact. That is the way it is. That’s what I agreed to as senior junior warden. I’m supposed to set an example and will be used as an example. So, if you want to make right with me, it damn well isn’t this!”
Doran was rendered wordlesss with his back pressed against the wall. Mien was impressed that Soletus actually directed his voice at a single person.
Mien then stated softly to Hickory. “Can you help him stop that? It’s been getting worse.”
Soletus looked betrayed.
Hickory became worried. “Given just your state alone, I would like for you to find some way out of being chosen. Also, there are things we need to discuss in the foreseeable future. Doing this will hurt that.”
Soletus picked up his bowl and stirred what remained of his meal. “Is there really any need?”
“Yes,” said Brother Hickory gently.
“You already knew, didn’t you,” said Soletus, still keeping his head down.
“Yes. And the reason I said nothing is because it’s such a difficult thing to bring up. You weren’t aware of it. And you only become so when you realize the world doesn’t think like you.”
Soletus raised his head and said in his normal speaking voice, “If I promise to talk to you about it and allow you to train me about being chanter gifted, would you do this, please? It’s the only way we can prove what happened. We need proof stronger than that bloodied knife.”
Hickory bobbed his head. “I will. And I will hold you to that promise.”
“Then what can I do to be ready for this,” said Soletus.
“Nothing other than remember, don’t fight me.”
“Why does it feel what you do could be a punishment,” said Tyrus.
“That because in the past age, it was used for torture and interrogation,” said Brother Hickory.
“Worse phrase ever,” muttered Tyrus.
“The phrase can be used postively. Such as protecting others from liars and, like now, free an innocent.”
Tyrus then asked, “If that’s the case, why not Kellas? He would be the perfect choice.”
“Because Kellas has appeared to be a responsible first warden. To the other first and second wardens, it would look like an attack and they would be unhappy. It’s more believable for a young men to act rash. Soletus does have a reputation of being strong-headed and stubborn.”
“But doesn’t make me a murderer,” exclaimed Soletus.
“I know,” said Hickory gently. “Oh, I know. However, acts of passion do happen. If I had to guess, the assumption might be you did it because of Sister Kiao.”
Soletus looked confused.
“Young men have gone to extremes for someone they love. That’s why they teach control over you passions. And you are around Sister Kiao quite a bit. The could rationalize that you secretly fancied her because you’ve not shown much interest in Briar. People wouldn’t assume neth.”
“Who would kill anyone for a girl,” Soletus covered his face and muttered, “People are so stupid.”
Mien then said. “But she’s my bond partner. Wouldn’t I be the one who wants revenge? I even have a history of violence.”
“True, and they may suspect that too. However, that knife was found and it belongs to your friend. That said, I will bring your offer forward to Icus. I’m going to pray there is another way,” said the priest. He stood up stretching and cracking several joints on his way up. “If any of you lads wish to speak with me, feel free to message me and I’ll arrange for a session with you.”
They all said goodbye to Hickory. Once alone again, Soletus spoke.
“I know he wants to pray for another solution, but in my heart, there is no other solution. Unless there is more, we need to dump on the table.”
Tyrus immediately stared at Doran. The young man held up his palms to the half-elf. “I swear I don’t have anything else,” he said.
Soletus crossed his arms and looked at Tyrus. “What about you?”
Tyrus shrugged. “I don’t particularly like you, but you’ve grown on me.”
Soletus sighed. “So, nothing new. We need to put our heads together and think of something that will cast more doubt on Kellas’s tale. What Doran has said won’t because he can’t prove anything.”
Doran held his head down. “I’m sorry, you know.”
The young monk regarded him with a narrow gaze that was only enhanced by his eyes blue eyes becoming two orbs of onyx. Mien wondered if it was the effect of the light or the fact his iris color shifted shades like a chanter. His mother often made the same expression and she never looked that cold.
“And it wasn’t malice on my part. I really didn’t want to do it, but I needed to prove myself.”
“Yep, because we all know that stealing someone’s gift is the best way to do it,” returned Soletus surly.
Doran’s brow dropped. “You know it really just a knife.”
“Yeah, it’s just a knife. But it’s what that knife stood for. Papa gave that to me, believing in me when others didn’t, and you let Valhart taint that.”
He then pleaded again. “Then how do I do right by you? How would I make it better?”
“There is nothing you can do to make this better,” returned Soletus with waning exasperation. He was tired.
Doran’s face soured. “So, you just want to be mad at me.”
“I’m not even mad at you,” Soletus told him with the same disapproving tone his father would use. “I’m disappointed.”
Doran’s shoulders sagged. It was the first time Mien had actually seen him remorsefully. He felt a little sorry for him. Just a little though.
Mien cleared his throat, wanting to move on from to something else he wanted to tell Soletus to help. “I actually do have something to tell you,”
He shared with everyone what was told to him even with what the enforcer told him not to tell. He thought it would be at least a little better for Soletus, and he was right. The young monk brightened.
“So, they don’t think I did this?”
“Enough know. I think Icus doesn’t want Kellas and the other to run.”
“Well, this is a fine hot mess,” he remarked. “Then we really need to find something to help us. I know Icus is doing what he can, but just to make sure.”
Tyrus then cut in. “There ain’t much we can do. You’re using the strongest defense we have.”
Soletus raised his spoon to his mouth and stared ahead of a moment in thought, then set it down again. “Seems a bit too convenient for Elnos to throw himself off the tower. Who was this person who tipped them off?”
“Titfire, Sol,” stated Tyrus. “Thank Dias people really don’t think we’ve killed everyone in the gorge. No need to speculate about that, of all things.”
Mien answered him. “Icus didn’t say.” Then thought about it himself. Who would? Only Valhart knew, but that didn’t mean he was the one who tipped them off. It wouldn’t benefit him. Valhart on returning home, was certain he was dead. Elnos and his transaction ended. Someone else had to find out about those drawings and tell Icus and Rastor. But who? Mien wanted to bring that up, but Soletus then said aloud.
“So Valhart was trying to kill Mien, but needed Doran to take my knife so he could, what, blame me for killing my friend,” asked Sol.
That was another point Mien thought needed explaining. And he thought of one quickly. “No, something simpler than that,” said Mien, looking at Doran. “I suspect that he was going to implicate the one who stole your knife.”
Can we just congratulate Oeric and his control during all of this? I'm so proud of him. He's found the grace needed to be the character with some of the best lines I can write.