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Mesalkir Mysticism


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Mesalkir Mysticism

Chapter One

Even though the air was warm the warrior was used to much hotter at this time of day. He could never quiet adapt to the feel of it being so mild. The sailing ship rode the waves in peace as the rising sun cast a shadow from the mast. He was at the helm of the ship; his dark eyes were fixated on the destination of his vessel, a small island covered with dense woodland; the island of Dreysea. Grey clouds were coming in from the opposite side. “Isla javisticna fa temoi lengeta. Clos, clos, so sibilon,” he said with jubilation, glancing over his shoulder to his approaching companion. She was much less imposing in body, though her long red hair made her distinctive. She wore the same bronze armour to him with a black cape. “Kepaperai. Javisticna fa temoi lengeta, de Mesalkir lina clenarna.”

“Colfaidna sui? Leyameaous sages linbar isla,” she said, with a scowl on her lips.

“Heritir emir. Leyameaous deltain Ilumi, eh kenostus. So kebarangna leckes, reminisci.”His eyes darted to the curved scabbard his partner was carrying on her belt while he carried no such weapon. “Leymeaous et tanzi so nairiza, sages et isla so kevisticriza vel orichina,” he said, smirking. The woman only nodded before leaving to make the final preparations for landing. Despite his words, the man was itching to encounter whoever was fanatical enough to lock themselves away on such an island.


Emillius leaned against the wall of his tiny shack, attuned the tense feel of the air around him. He watched in silence as nearby a young woman was deep in concentration. While at his age his eyes would sometimes fail him he could clearly make out the silver flames that gathered around her. “Very good, I believe that should be enough,” he said. The woman did not respond, but he assumed she was listening. Her white tunic and indigo sash were fluttering in the spiralling winds around her. “Now I want you to focus on your arms. Tighten those muscles but keep the rest of your body calm, then repeat what I showed you.” The woman pulled back her right arm as though to line up a punch. The flames wrapped around her arm and shone brighter. When she thrust forwards the powerful moved with her body. It leapt of her hand but it refused to journey far once it separated from her. It did not even travel a metre from her face. She stood motionless and took a deep breath.

Emillius sighed as he approached. “Let’s not get upset about it, Rin. The time between communicating and controlling can be years. Perhaps you’d like to return to a meditative method.” Rin shook her head, giving the punching technique a second try. In truth, the techniques had little to do with actually harnessing mysticism, it was just to discipline her and encourage determination.

“I’ve been practicing those moves for days,” she said, shaking her head. “It won’t cooperate.” Emillius chuckled as he stroked his grey haired chin.

“Indeed it won’t, but then again you can be a little forceful with it. You’ve made fine progress on learning mastering harmony, now comes the period of learning what sort of shape your mysticism emerges as. It’s important that you don’t fall prey to impatience. Why don’t you come inside with me, I think it would be best to take your mind off things that are frustrating for now.” He headed inside, tugging the old wooden door open. He decided it would be good to give her a break by continuing their survey of the island’s sanctuary.

Inside the shack was a table surrounded by book shelves. He hovered over the table, expecting to find his latest tome. He checked underneath and across the floor but still no sign of it.

“Blimey, where could it have gotten to?” pondered Emillius, as he leaned over to the check the lowest level on the shelves. He was treated to the sound of his bone clicking into place.

“Well where did you see it last?” asked Rin, with a dull tone. Emillius knew where the conversation was going as it was a worryingly regular occurrence recently.

“Oh, I had it with me all morning; I was reading it at breakfast and when I was taking a walk to the sanctuary. I must have put it down and forgotten all about it.” He laughed and scratched his head, though he doubted Rin saw anything funny about it. It could be anywhere in the forest. “I’ve been working on it for months and the elder was expecting it in a few weeks. How could I be so foolish?”

“And which one was it? It better not have been important.” She crossed her arms, giving an aura of calmness and disappoint. Combined with her blonde dome hair and sharp blue eyes Rin often looked too serious for Emillius’s liking.

“Let me think for a moment.” He stroked his chin again. “It was the one with the red cover; I was recording the patterns from the sanctuary with it. You remember, don’t you? You were quite fascinated by the symbols as I recall. I’m sure it couldn’t have gone far.”

“I shall look for it, master.” Rin bowed her head.

“It’s not at all necessary; I have plenty of time at my leisure to find it myself.”

“Well the clouds are getting dark. It might rain, so you should stay here and keep warm. I wouldn’t want the teacher to fall ill.” Emillius suddenly turned grim for a moment, but Rin did not bother to wait for a reply before leaving on her quest. The old sage sat on the nearest stool. Having an apprentice like Rin was a joy in his life, but she was also very good at making him feel old. In truth she was right though, if he got caught in a rain storm his health would be in danger. But on the other hand, obeying her was hardly conductive to being her teacher and he figured he would have better luck finding his lost book than her. Before getting comfortable he sprang back up and staggered outside.

Away from his humble home the forest was so dense that only a few shafts of light could penetrate the branches. Emillius had learnt to find his way by recognising the shapes of the rocks that dotted the island; they were always smoother as he approached the lower slopes and the bay. His depression was soon shaken by the pleasure of wandering around his home. His love of roaming was why losing something never failed to irritate his apprentice, but each day the island enticed him into admiration.

His goal to find the missing tome was soon out of mind, as he was not even sure he had come to these parts with it. As he came to the edge of the forest his eyes were overcome by the shining light bursting through the trunks and the scent of salt water. He did not think he could be called lazy to answer the lure. However, when he eventually burst through the shade of the forest onto the beach he saw something even more curious than he could have hoped for. A ship lay on the sands of his island, though there was no one to be seen on board or in the vicinity. Visits from the Leyameaous were not rare but they travelled in smaller ships, and the mast did not bare any emblem he recognised from the mainland so he could only think of his visitors as uninvited guests.

“Erm… hello? Who’s there?” he asked, shifting his eyes left and right. He spotted the remnants of tracks being washed away by the ebb of the tide. His suspicions grew as his guests were clearly trying to hide what direction they had gone to. “A bunch of thieves,” he said, sighing before turning around and heading back towards the forest. It was hardly after passing the first trees that a powerful rustling caught his attention followed by the flicker of a shadow in the corner of his eye. “Show yourselves!” The weight of his voice carried little threat.

When the interlopers finally decided to emerged Emillius stepped back and broke into a sweat when he was overshadowed by the giant stature of the man. He wished he not called them out now. “I should tell you that only those affiliated with the Order of Leyameaous are allowed by law to step foot on this land.” Once the initial fear had settled he inspected them. Their bronze armour and tanned skin gave away their heritage. “If I’m not mistaken you two hail from Artstem. I guess that means we’re-”

“That’s right,” said the man, brushing his black tail of hair over his shoulder. “But you’ve clearly been living here for too long. Our lands have been at peace for many years now.”

“That’s wonderful to hear.” Emillius grinned, relaxing more. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He was not interested in using force, but he had a duty to uphold regardless.

“Sorry, but we are not leaving with nothing,” said the woman, keeping her hand on the hilt of her sword. “This is not war, but you are still the enemy!” She tried to step up, only to be blocked by the arm of her partner. “Pyrrgus, so kepajeca! Nai!”

“Mesalkir so vibilona. kebarangna lenostus.” Pyrrgus never let his eyes off the hermit. Emillius was amused how they were just as wary of him, he even managed a chuckle. “Don’t be so sure of yourself, idoem. Show us the temple and we’ll be grateful, or perhaps you’d like to tell us how many more of you there are here.” Emillius would not consider himself a competent guardian if he went along with that command. It was futile to ask them again, so he chose to resort to mysticism to chase them off.

He spread out his palms and took a deep breath as he harnessed the surrounding flames. Inky black limbs, like seaweed, sprouted out in two flocks that swayed in the breeze. At the tip of every stem was ever a wandering blue eye or a clutching hand, moving as though stricken with wanderlust. For a brief second he relished the look of repulsion on the woman’s face, though it did not deter her from bravely drawing her blade. Emillius moved the limbs from his left arm between him and his foe, leaving her sword to smack against the soft wall. The hermit staggered back, feeling a numb sting down his spine. He focused on stretching the arms in his right hand around to tangle with the intruders.

“Ana!? Mesalkir ana!?” cried the woman. Through the eye stems Emillius had a clear view around his oozing wall. The woman was hacking at grasping claws, keeping them at bay. They attacked like snakes, springing at her and trying to scratch her face. Pyrrgus however, remained stoic, leading Emillius into deeper curiosity. Three eye stems wafted towards him, closing in on his still face. Suddenly, the warrior grabbed the stems and yanked them, sending Emillius and all of his appendages crashing to the ground.

“Very predictable, idoem.” Pyrrgus planted his foot on Emillius’s chest as his mystic arms melted away. “Bind him,” he said, turning to his partner who pulled out a short rope. “You’re going to help us inside the sanctuary. You’ve got something we’re looking for. Keep quiet if you value your life.” The woman bound his hands behind his back and hauled him to his feet, and soon he was being pushed through the forest with a blade pricking his neck. Despite his predicament Emillius still found cause to smile at how the woman was handling him. She had a very tight grasp on his wrist.

“Your big friend didn’t seem so intimidated. I’m quite surprised if I do say so myself… and he’s also more fluent than you; so if I had make the deduction I’d think he was a war veteran, experienced in dealing with mysticism and weary of petty grudges, and you’re his lackey. That is to say, a low ranking soldier… Eliosa?” Which was Artstem for little girl.

“Nai!” She kicked him in her rear. “Moha emir. Lucky you’re useful.” Emillius sniggered, giving his sore buttocks a wiggle. The woman flung her head round pressed a little harder with the tip of her sword.

“You should turn left in a few minutes,” said Emillius, recognising a large pointed boulder he passed on his way to the sanctuary. No matter how sinister his mysticism’s form was he had never been skilled in using it for fighting, and he rationed that it was wrong to leave Rin without a teacher so he complied with their demands to continue living.

Deeper in the forests they trio began to pass several stone pillars, each covered with undergrowth. Though the sky was difficult to see through the canopy the lack of light shaft told him that the clouds were above them now along with a cooler air. Eventually they came to the sanctuary of Dreysea which on the surface appeared as a rectangular stone entrance with a small courtyard cover with moss and branches. “Essethal,” said Pyrrgus, put a hand against a pillar.

“I guess so. You’d think a man with my years of loyal service would’ve been given a more rewarding station, but I’m rather quite glad to be given watch over this place. Since you’re insisting I be your guide, can you tell me what you want me to guide you to?”

“Do you know what’s kept here?”

“I can’t say I do. And if you know I’d rather you didn’t speak of it.” Emillius had longed to know what sacred treasure was hidden on the island and being told before the discovery would ruin the thrill; like spoiling the end of an epic tale. He realised there was a tiny common ground they shared, and so it was good that none of his superiors were around. “I suppose whatever you’re looking for might be in the lower shrine.” He suggested that because his studies led him to believe it room was hiding something.

Pyrrgus lit a torch and led the way down the uneven steps of the ruins. The narrow corridor gave way the first of several square chambers. The walls on both their sides were decorated with reliefs. The left depicted a human of unknown gender, dressed in rags, beckoning to the sky from which a glaring eye descended. They were Emillius’s and Rin’s patrons; Mycticism Mesalkir and a Leyamea. The second relief was less clear, showing the same figure, Mesalkir, standing in a crucible of flames. Around the edges were the patterns he had taken a recent fascination to. “Are these familiar to you?” he asked. Pyrrgus did not speak but he looked over his shoulder with a raised brow.

Down another flight of steps the three found themselves in a small room. It contained a single stone altar and another relief on the wall behind. Mesalkir was sitting inside a tight circle from which flames were emitting radiantly from. From his studies Emillius was convinced there was a way to open up that wall, though the method eluded him and he certainly did not have the force or desire to break it. “Unless you’ve been doing your own research I’m afraid this is far as I can take you. Sorry to be such a useless old man,” he said, chuckling.

“Worry not. Sarenli, dathi en ganit.” The woman, Sarenli, reached into her satchel and handed her partner a stone block. “Sarenli fanan.” Emillius inspected the block, noting its material to be same as the chamber walls, but he had never seen anywhere such a shape would fit. The Artstem pair began scour the shrine. It took five minutes for them check every inch of wall. “Idoem, unless you’re a clot you must have noticed something strange over the time you’ve spent here.”

“Of course I have! Just nowhere you could fit that brick. I’m sure I’d be more help if you untied me.” Sarenli tapped her partner on the back and pointed at the altar. After setting the torch down they each took a side of it and attempted to shift it. Despite its great weight they succeeded in budging it. Emillius frowned, having never possessing the strength needed to check under it. “Of course the answer is in the one place I couldn’t reach.”

In the corner of his eye he spotted Rin making the descent. The intruders where too absorbed in heaving the altar that they did not see her. When she saw them she recoiled back up the steps quietly, breaking into a sweat. Emillius saw a chance to untie his binds. He began to shuffle towards the stairs. “I’ll just give you two more room if you don’t mind,” he said.

“Don’t even think of trying to run, idoem.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.” He gave his hands a shake, drawing Rin’s attention. He felt as she fiddled with the knot. “My book?” he whispered.

“I got it.” Rin confusion was evident in her tone. Emillius winched as his apprentice accidently scratched him as she struggled with the tight knot. “Keep still.”

“Stop!” shouted Pyrrgus, blasting the two hermits back with his bellow. The intruders were breathing heavily and sluggish. As soon as he felt the burst of the robes unravelling Emillius summoned a single black arm to stretch across the room and wrap around Sarenli’s neck while she was still worn down. Pyrrgus grabbed the arm with both hands and ripped it in two. Emillius yelped and threw himself against the wall for support. The remains of his mysticism around Sarenli melted away, leaving her coughing. Pyrrgus clenched his fists as he looked down on the old hermit.

“Stop!” yelled Rin, who placed herself between them. “Just take what you want and leave!”

“Sorry, Eliosa, it’s not personal.” Pyrrgus took her by the arms and drew her close. He gripped her head with his other hand, as though he was planning to crush her skull. “Idoem, oppose us again and she dies.”

“She can’t control any mysticism yet, she can’t do anything to stop you.” Emillius panted as he stared into the warrior’s eye. “And it’s just her and me on his whole island if you really want to know. There’s no point in being so brutish with her.”

“If she didn’t want to get involved she wouldn’t have helped you. Sarenli, inseti ganit!” Sarenli took the brick and knelt down where the altar once stood. She pressed into a revealed gap in the floor and waited. The relief wall shuddered as a mechanism clattered. The central circle began to turn clockwise and screw inwards. It then slid to the side, revealing a dark tunnel behind the wall.

“Idoem, if you’ve been longing to see what’s in there why don’t you have the honour.” It did not sound like a suggestion. He gripped Rin’s shoulder tighter and nodded. Emillius wondered if the reason he was being told to go in was because Pyrrgus suspected a trap. That would mean that whatever was inside was not intended to be removed.

“Could I have permission to make use of my mysticism please?”

“Yes, but one suspicious move and she will suffer.” Emillius approached the opened and extended his arms forwards. A flock of arms grew from his sleeves and slivered across the floor and walls of the dark tunnel, feeling for anything loose. The ends felt something smooth. Upon further inspection Emillius suspected it to be a statue of a sitting man. Its arms were position as if it were holding something. When he tried to grasp that object with several arms they snapped trigger and a heavy blade felling from the ceiling, slicing each arm. Emillius collapsed with a gasp as his wounded arms recoiled back into his body.

“Master!” screamed Rin, who tried to race to his side only to be firmly held back.

“Idoem, what did you find?”

“I couldn’t see it, but there’s a statue. Take a look for yourself,” said Emillius, panting. Pyrrgus glanced at his partner who then took the torch and made her way into the passage, checking the floor before each step. Pyrrgus followed, forcing Rin to join him, while Emillius assumed he was invited just in case they needed more trap bait.

They approached the sitting statue, shining a light on it. It was Mesalkir, crossing his legs and holding a small totem pole in his hands. However, there was a second part to the statue Emillius had not noticed at first. Right up to the ceiling was a large bird that was looming over Mesalkir. The wings came down and encompassed the lower statue. The bird was symbolic of Leyamea Sithone, which was obvious to him. But he had never seen these two depicted together in such a manner. Emillius wished he could have been witness to this discovery in different circumstances, but he still took the chance to be in awe for just a moment. If not for the coercion involved this would have been one of the great turning points of his life.

“Remove it,” said Pyrrgus, glaring at Emillius. The hermit sighed as he stepped over the large blade that had shocked him before and reached for the totem. No trap was activated but the hermit struggled with sliding the totem up out of the statue’s grasp. Sarenli stepped in at the last moment to relieve Emillius of the artefact. “Gathe! Sarenli, fliana. Now we’ll leave you in peace, idoem.”

“Vocariza Leyameaous.” Sarenli pointed her torch at Emillius while resting the totem against her left shoulder. From what Emillius could tell she was worried that he would tell the rest of his order and probably wanted to kill him to keep him silent.

“Idoem, I’m sorry, but she makes a fair point.”

“What!? Fair!?” Rin looked up at Pyrrgus’s face, seething. Emillius however had reasoned through the scene and found that one of the intruders had left an opening for him. He swiftly wrapped Sarenli’s arm with his mysticism and flung her into her partner. The torch burnt Pyrrgus’s arm, causing him to recoil while Emillius shot out arms from his left sleeve to tangle his legs. With a desperate heave he downed Pyrrgus. Rin tumbled alongside him, but was quick to scurry from his arms. The two hermits fled the sanctuary. Outside the rainclouds had finally burst, bringing a chorus as the drops battered the leaves and the darkness made the woods perfect for hiding. They dashed through the trees without once looking back. It was not until Emillius’s frail body gave way that they rested. They sat under the protection of a thick tree, catching their breaths and trying to shelter themselves from the rain. “Master, who were those people? Those two didn’t even use mysticism... how dare they come here and push us around.”

“More importantly; what have they just acquired?” Emillius poked his head around to see a flicker of a torch passing through the trees. The intruders were heading away in the direction of the beach they had landed at. He gave a breath of relief.


It was supper as usual that night, a stew mixed from herbs and a few tiny rodents. Emillius kneeled down at the table with a spoon in one hand and the red covered book in the other. For him this was pure bliss. If it were not for the strange artefact they stole, the day’s robbery would be off his mind entirely.

“Master,” said Rin, tapping her spoon against the wooden bowl.

“Yes, child?” asked Emillius, realising that Rin had been usually silent that evening.

“I’ve never seen that thing before; what was it?” Emillius was silent for a moment, unsurprised that Rin would wait until he was relaxed to start asking questions.

“I got a close look at the markings on it. They’re the same style as those in the rest of the sanctuary.” He nodded to the open book which displayed several reconstructions of the patterns in charcoal. “So I’d imagine it’s of the same period. The sanctuary was built in celebration of Mesalkir’s transformation, and I’d think that totem would be related; like a possession he left behind.”

“Are you sure we’re wise to just sit here? Shouldn’t we be going after them?” Emillius furrowed his brow, wondering if Rin was being serious after what almost happened to her.

“Well I hope someone does; hopefully someone with a healthy spine and no girl to keep out of trouble.” He saw that Rin was narrowing her eyes at him. “Listen, I’ve meditated before Sithone.” Emillius pointed to the bird ornament above the fireplace. “And there’s been no sign from him. Besides, do you know what’ll happen to me if the order knew this site was defiled on our watch? Linde would have my head rolling; something we were so desperate to avoid today. Also, getting the boat out would be too much of a hassle, and of course we’d have to wait for the winds to be on our side… We’ll hear no more of your wild imaginings.” Rin swallowed a spoonful as she grumbled over his excuses.

“Shouldn’t we at least go and warn them about it? What if those thieves took something important? If you’re shaken then I’d be happy to go alone.”

“Shaken? Child, I’m a bastion of mental fortitude.” Emillius held his chin up and smirked. “But given your performance back there you’ve clearly got a lot to work on. I think you need to put more time into-” Suddenly the shack was rocked by a pounding on the wall. Emillius tumbled back, spilling his stew over his tunic. “Yalvia be damned! Are they back!?”

“It’s just a bird, master.” Rin laughed, leaning over to spy the gasp of shock on her master’s face. Emillius hated that smile, the one she pulled every time made a fool of himself. “I understand. You must be tired. Curiosity is great, but if it means working well then you’d rather just take a nap.”

“That’s not me at all,” said Emillius, frowning as he wiped off the chunks of meat off his clothes. He was torn on the matter; as much as he wanted to know what the totem was for he knew there was little chance of catching up to Pyrrgus. “It’s long gone now. Sithone and Carthex have mandated me to serve on this island and I cannot deny the will of Leyamea without good cause.” He retreated to a bed on the far side of the shack, determined to resist further pressure. He heard Rin opening the door.

“Master, it’s a messenger bird.”

“You read it,” said Emillius, turning under his blanket.

“It’s addressed to hermit Milo and says; Thieves heading for Dreysea-” Emillius interrupted with a snort. “Stop them. Failing that; report to Revila port. The sender’s name isn’t given. They ran out of space. It looks like I’m not the only one who wants you to get a move on.”

“I don’t see why you’re so concerned about it.”

“If you got into trouble my training would come to a dead stop,” said Rin. Emillius snorted again. He suspected that another reason she was so insistent was because she had never taken to eremitism like he had. Whenever a Leyameaous visited she became talkative and desperate for news of the mainland.

“Well, if the elder thinks important then I suppose I should answer them. Go pack my stuff.” As it turned out, the orders of the highest ranks were above the Leyamea.

“Yes, master.”


He opened his eyes after a long rest. The lack of light made it hard to tell whether it was morning, but across the room be noticed Rin’s bed had been slept in and she was not inside anymore. He sat up and stretched his arms. “Rin!” he yelled. There was no answer from outside. He assumed that she was preparing the boat, so he had some peacetime. Once up he opened his small wardrobe which kept his spare tunics and trousers, all in the Leyameaous approved white. There was also a spare indigo sash and scarf. The only clothes he could remember wearing. He took one set and began changing from the ones he was already wearing.

He took the dirty set and another clean one for his travels, wrapping them up in a cloth sack. Now was the difficult decision of what books to pack. The Leyameaous Law was a given, just in case he needed to look extra pious before his superiors. The Sacred East was an old favourite, but taking all five volumes would take up the rest of the space. Then there were his notes and studies of the island.

“It’s good to see you awake, master,” said Rin, walking into the shack, though Emillius was too engrossed by the bookshelves. “Everything’s set on the bay. I’ve still got some room left if you want me to carry any of those for you.” Emillius horded an entire row and handed them to Rin without a moment’s pause. “Do we really need to take all of these?”

“I doubt we’ll be able to come back for them,” said Emillius, pulling a weary smile. Rin stared back blankly. “When we report our failure we’ll likely be reassigned. There’s nothing to fear, they won’t separate us. Perhaps it’s time for a change of scenery anyway.” He turned back to the bookshelf and gathered as many as he could carry and dumped them with his clothes before wrapping everything together.

“I’m sorry, master. I’m not as attached to this place as you must be. It’s only been a few years for me.”

“There’s not cause to worry. I’ve thought about it overnight and you’re right; there’s no use in trying to hide what occurred. I guess if those two can be stopped in time we might get another chance to see what they stole.” He gave her a more genuine smile this time. The pair stepped outside in silence. Emillius closed the door behind them slowly. He took a long, hard look at his cosy island home, whose rotting wood was probably older than he was.

Eventually they departed in the direction of the bay. Both them were quiet but content. “I hope you’ve got your arms warmed up navigating,” said Emillius, with a delighted smirk.

“Pardon, master? I thought you’d know the seas better.”

“Now whatever happen to me being old, hmm?” he asked, putting on a croaky voice and hunching over. Rin chuckled and was joined by Emillius. He hobbled ahead and shook his fist at her like a furious crank. “Besides, child, you’ll have to speak up so I can hear you.”

“Master, stop it!” Her face went red as she laughed harder. She pushed him away, desperate to catch her breath. “Please, don’t be so embarrassing in front of the others.”

“You know I promise nothing.” He straightened his back up and smirked. Rin shook her head and smiled.

At the bay was a tiny sail boat waiting for them, tied up a piece of driftwood lodged in the sand. Rin had already packed a box of supplies. Emillius noticed there was still an impression in the beach where Pyrrgus had landed. The skies were clear, it a purple dawn, and when he focused his gaze he could make out the mainland coast in the distant. He hopped through the warm saltwater and then leapt into the boat in an undignified fashion. “I’m ready to get off, so why don’t you give us a push.” Rin untied the ship and grabbed the edge at the stern. She threw her pack to Emillius giving the ship a haul to get it moving. Emillius gave her a hand climbing on board as the ship took off over the calm waves.

“Keep us sailing ahead,” said Emillius, pointing to the mainland. Rin scrambled to grasp the sail cable and held it steady. The old hermit relaxed back and turned his head. He watched as the island moved further away. The sun had risen just over the canopy, shining on the oceans. The ship rocked suddenly, tipping Emillius over. He shot back up and stared at Rin, whose scowl made him feel small for a moment. “Keep it steady… please.”

“Master, are you determined to act like a child?” asked Rin. Emillius finally decided to act serious by standing up and pulling a tattered map out from his sash. It pictured his island in relation to the east coast of Nolembel. It had been given to him before first departing to his home and he could not recall whether he had used since more than once since then. His island was not the only one dotting the seas in the area, and his had been marked with a big cross beside it.

“Revila is a little bit to the right, Rin. Try moving it twenty degrees.” His apprentice steered the sails to change their course slightly. “We should make it in half a day if this weather sticks.” Emillius glanced up at the sky, which had gradually changed to a soft blue, and took in the salty air. It had been long since he had experience such a wide open space.

Edited by Shuuda
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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter Two

As his ship approached the docks of Revila Emillius was preoccupied on his decision to leave the island. Now, with the atrocious rainfall, he did not feel like he had made the right choice. He and Rin were soaked through and they were struggling to keep their ship afloat against the ramming waves. As they came into the harbour the waters became slightly smoother, enough for Emillius to stop clinging to the mast. He looked around at the many ports, spotting a group of uniformed men standing in wait. "Take us over to the left, Rin!" he shouted, bringing his voice over the wind. His apprentice pulled at the cable and the ship began to drift.

As they drew closer Emillius gathered flames of mysticism around him and used them to form a stretching black arm that latched onto a distant bollard. With his other hand he grabbed the mast and proceeded to winch the ship to port. The group on land threw a rope to Emillius who tied it to the bow. He and Rin fell to their knees as they finally dragged to safety. They had been sailing in treacherous weather for at least half their journey. "The changeability of the sea I feel is more fascinating when seen from afar," said Emillius, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his scarf, only to find it drenched. He gasped when Rin tossed their packs onto the walkway. "Watch it! My books!" They were assisted onto the walkway by the Leyameaous who also collected their packs. Only one of them spoke however.

"Hermit Milo and student Triffonus?"

"That's us," said Emillius, inspecting his new host. He was short and dainty looking boy, with brown hair covering his forehead and squinting eyes. "We're answering the summons."

"Yes, priestess Serena is waiting," he said, using polite voice which was difficult to make out with the blasting gusts. Emillius groaned at the mention of that name, with Rin giving him a funny stare.

"Linde Serena, the most joyless, cruel, and dim-witted woman that ever roamed the surface of the world. And she's been promoted, how wonderful for her." Emillius grinned, more so when he saw his host shake his head disapprovingly. His joy was short-lived as he descended into a coughing fit. Rin supported him before he could bend down, though he heard her blow a sneeze.

"My apologies for keeping you out here; please come this way." He began to lead them up the walkway into the town, with Leyameaous laymen flanking Emillius and Rin. Leaving the harbour they began moving through the dirt alleyways between the brick buildings. The narrow paths and tall walls provided some shelter from the rain. "I'm afraid that your meeting will be in private at the Feymace villa, hermit Milo. Perhaps I should escort Triffonus to the temple living quarters in your absence." Emillius turned to Rin and smiled before sneezing himself. She departed with her personal escort and Emillius continued to follow the other laymen.

The Feymace villa sat on the highest spot of the town, ensuring that the shivering and battered Emillius had to endure a flight of slippery steps. The laymen opened the doors to the vestibule. "Good health to you, hermit," they said in unison, before leaving. Emillius rested against a column after staggering inside.

"Now there's a sight," said a smooth voice of a man, approaching from the shadows of the west wing. Emillius hung his head and his stomach churned.

"What are you doing here, Astoss?" he asked, looking up at the man who had a gloating smile on his face. He was scratching his chin while resting the elbow in his other hand.

"I guess you could say I'm accompanying our darling Linde, but I'm mostly here because I heard you were returning; and in shame no less." Emillius jolted his head, splashing drops on Astoss's trousers. The two then stared into the other's eyes, smirking. Aside from his longer hair Emillius saw no dramatic change in how Astoss looked. "I assume you're no closer to the secrets of mysticism than when you first left. What a shameful waste of a life." Emillius snorted.

Astoss retreated before going down on both knees and lowered his head. "I'm glad to see that you're still alive, Emillius. I fear an old friend like you is only a step away from death." Emillius went to his knees as well, flinching each time his skin touched his soaked clothes. They stilled pulled smug faces at the other.

"Thank you. I would've thought of you more often; though there're only so many meals a man of my age can afford to toss back up." They both laughed. "And what about you; how have your studies been?"

"Wonderfully, the elder himself has taken me as his confident. Once he's passed away the summit will be mine for the taking, and the secrets of mysticism that come with it. Caelia has been doing well." They both turned to small crow hobbling around one of the pillars. She stared back with her beady black eyes and Emillius waved a greeting to her and grinned. "She's become very lively since you left; my true masterpiece."

"I'm glad to hear you're doing so well. But your direction is all wrong as always. An understanding of mysticism can't be found there." Emillius believed a true understanding could be found through contemplation, though he had not found much success in that method he had to admit. While he would never say it too his face, he found a lot to admire in Astoss's daring and ambition.

They were drawn from their conversation by the flicker of a lantern hovering above them. Emillius twisted his head back, looking up at a lady in special dress. Along with her tunic she wore a large embroidered skirt from her waist her ankles which had an elaborately detailed scene woven into the fabric. It was of a naked tree under a blue night sky. Her face was hard to read and for a moment he doubted whether it was her. "Linde? We were just catching up, that's all."

"Hermit Milo, you've arrived later than expected," she said, calmly. "We'd best get to the heart of the matter. Come this way please." Emillius and Astoss rose up and followed into the atrium. Pillars ran along the walls leaving a square pool of water in the middle with leaves floating aimlessly. The three kneel together at one side. "It's my first duty to apologise, hermit Milo. If I'd acted sooner my message might have helped you." Emillius was slow to reply, having never expected word of those affect to come from her mouth.

"No one was hurt," he said. "They took something from the sanctuary; a small totem with markings. Never heard of such a thing; what about you?"

"I'll inform the elder, he might know," said Astoss, smiling back. Emillius rolled his eyes, unsurprised that Astoss would bring his closeness to the elder at any chance. "Curious about it?" he asked.

"Of course; it's maddening not knowing, and it was right under my nose the whole time. And those two; they don't even practice mysticism, so where'd they get their knowledge from? Surely I'm being punished for my very nature, and it's a chore to act so calm in front of Rin." He felt tense from going over the events in his mind. On their own will shadowy eye stalks rose up from under his sleeves. They waved and looked around, the eyes bulging out, glaring at everything surrounding him. Emillius himself turned silent, biting his lower lip.

"Hermit Milo, please control yourself. I'm sorry, you'll have plenty of time to indulge yourself, but we need information." Emillius snapped from his trance when he felt her slapping away one of the eyes. The dark stems retracted up his sleeves like scared rats.

"Sorry, it's just that Pyrrgus is an odd one." He swiftly covered his nose to sneeze.

"Was that the thief's name?" asked Astoss, crossing his arms.

"There were two of them; Pyrrgus and Sarenli from the Artstem desert. They took Rin as hostage and forced me to aid them. There was a sealed chambered they opened with a key. I can't imagine there they might have gotten that from."

"There have been no other robberies against the Leyameaous, so perhaps it was their leader who gave them the means."

"Or a traitor," said Linde, "Someone privy to sensitive information." The two men looked at other and quivered their lips. Emillius knew Astoss was not above playing dirty to get what he wanted.

"I can't imagine who you're talking about," said Emillius, grinning at the exasperation on Astoss's face.

"You're both suspect as far as I'm concerned." Emillius relaxed, knowing that even if Linde was a priestess the elder would always place his trust in the more senior members, and she was still young. "But what matters is how we plan to retrieve that totem."

"I hope I'm not included in that 'we'. You're not expecting me to give chase." He leaned back, staring now at Linde. He still could not discern her mood, which was incredibly jarring. He found himself wishing that Linde would act like her old self, so at least then he would know where he stood.

"I'm sorry Emillius, but you can consider it a fair punishment for failure. Astoss and I agreed under a Daveelvia tree that you should help." Emillius frowned, unable to question an agreement under that condition. "It's not a matter of catching up to them, but rather finding who's behind this. Astoss and I will look into the matter also, I'm certain we'll be able to provide with the knowledge on the totem."

"Very well, I'll see what I can do about it, but don't expect a miracle from me. The Velote Road is the still the fastest way to Artstem from here I hope. My apprentice and I will move once we've recovered from this ghastly weather." He purposely coughed for emphasis. Linde nodded, though Astoss was furrowing his brow. Emillius had little concern for his objections. He had heard all needed from these two and decided to end their meeting by standing up and making for the exit.

"About your apprentice, little Rin am I right? Has she harnessed any power yet?" he asked. Emillius sighed and shook his head. "A shame, I feel it might be best to leave her out of this. I doubt you could keep watch on her and this Pyrrgus fellow at the same time." Emillius crossed his arms, raising his head as to look down his nose at him.

"Nonsense; I'm a master before your lackey. You forget who it was that helped you master your own power." Astoss smirked. "It was... interesting to see you two again, and nice too. I bid you good day." Linde was giving him the most awkward face, like she was silently pleading to him. He had begun to realise how she was feeling, but he was unsure whether he wanted to put her guilt at ease or not. Choosing not to speak he stepped outside, relieved the see that the rain had begun to thin out. He wiped the first few drops off his face before descending the steps.


The radiance of the flame torches inside caused Rin to wince as she stepped in from the grisly city. She was vaguely familiar with the layout of Revila's temple. The main hall was dominated by a towering statue of a man half naked from the waist up, extending his right arm, beckoning to those entering. Seamen were kneeling before him in silence. She figured they were respecting Mulgis in the hopes of fairer weather on their voyages. Congregations of tramps sat around the bowls of fire, with laymen occasionally throwing tinder into the bowls. She took a quick glance left and right, each way leading to a corridor.

Her escort headed for a corridor branching from the right of the main hall, which eventually branched out in six doors. Entering through the first door on the right Rin found herself in the first living quarters, a sparse room with two rows of bedrolls. Her escort picked up a folded sheet of linen from a pile in the corner and passed it to Rin. "Here," he said, smiling faintly. Rin returned his smile and then began ruffling her hair with the linen. "I'll see if there're any spare clothes." She could only hear him walk out of the room with the towel over her eyes. She still shivered from the dampness of her clothes, which felt colder when she was standing in wait of her escort.

He returned with a white tunic. "Call me once you've finished," he said before leaving Rin with her change of outfit. She whipped off her sash and scarf, dumping the rest of the soggy outfit in a heap. She shot a glance at the door as she lifted the tunic over her head. She pushed her head through and then slipped her arms down the sleeves before bringing the hemline down her knees. Opening the door she saw her escort had been waiting outside in silence.

"Thank you, mister..." She hung at the last word. The man did not answer right away, but instead looked vacantly at Rin. He suddenly appeared to be overwhelmed with an urge to laugh, even covering his lips with his hand. It was only when he averted his eyes that he was able to speak normally.

"I'm Telien. How are you feeling, miss Triffonus?" Rin snivelled, turning her head in the hopes that Telien did not spot the mucus trying to leak onto her lip.

"I'll live." She was more worried about her master. Even if he was healthy for a man his age he still could not brave treacherous weather as well as she did. "And I'm fine with just Rin."

"I see. It's getting late; you should get some rest, Rin."

"Hold on, what about you? Do you work here?" asked Rin.

"Not quite. I'm priestess Serena's apprentice." Rin's once weary face lit up with a gasp. He looked a bit older than her, with a few healing cuts and dirt patches on his face. From what her master told her of Linde she felt pity for Telien. "It's been a few years since I began studying under her."

"So you're just like me? I've not really met many other apprentices. Do you know how to harness mysticism yet?" Telien shook his head, Rin huffed. "Me neither. Curses."

"It's not that annoying anymore, and master is confident that I'm close to making a breakthrough," he said. Rin sighed as she knelt down on the nearest bedroll.

"Emillius says things like that, but I never feel that way. He says that's the way it is for everyone, you've just got to keep meditating and it'll happen. It hardly seems like he's teaching me anything." She tossed herself back and stared at the ceiling. "It's not that I don't trust him, but it feels like I just don't understand the things he says." Telien went silent, much to her frustration. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"

"It's fine," said Telien, who stilled refused to face Rin.

"I don't think we had any news from the mainland for some time before we left. Heck, I don't even know what's going on nowadays. Emillius always told me there was a war with the desert, but now there apparently isn't anymore... but we still get their goons attacking us. I'm so out of touch with everything."

"I wouldn't imagine there's a lot to hear. It's been rather peaceful for years now. It's very nice." Rin stroked her face against the sheets. Now that she was on her side the weariness was setting in. "These are prosperous times with Lord Lucian at the helm."

"He's still alive?" Lucian Januous was the Lord Protector of Nolembel during her childhood. She thought he must be around the same age as her master. As much as she wanted to keep talking her heavy eyelids were pulling her asleep. Suddenly the door burst open and Rin jolted upright. She grimaced at the sight of her sodden master.

"The weather today is just-" He halted upon being greeted by Rin's irritated expression. His face scrunched up and his knees shook. Rin dragged herself up, afraid Emillius was sick. However, as she drew near the hermit exploded with laughter. He tried to speak but he was overwhelmed with comedy. Rin blushed, realising that it was her being made fun of. "My good boy," he said, directed at Telien, "Didn't you say anything?"

"What is it!? Tell me or else!" She darted a glare at Telien, who was also sniggering.

"It's your hair, child," said Emillius. Rin patted down her head, getting a feel for how bushy her head was. She spun away and reached for the wet linen. She tried to stroke down her locks. "Never mind that now. I see you're doing well."

"Welcome, hermit." said Telien, taking a gasp of air first. "I assume you're staying the night here too."

"Of course," said Emillius, slipping his tunic off and claiming another of the bedrolls. "I've got a lot to think about, so please don't be a disturbance." Rin was happy for him to have an early snooze if it put a stop to his laughter. But she wished where could have been time for instruction.

"Telien, if you're done teasing I've got an idea. Maybe we could practice together before bed." Telien smiled and nodded, beckoning her to follow him. As the left several laymen from the shrine passed by, which must have meant the hour was very late. Telien checked the other doors until he stepped inside the third of the right. Like the other Leyameaous private chambers it was relatively empty, with the floor covered with woven mats. Rin was used to practicing outside, surrounded by trees and busy animals. The room felt soulless in comparison.

Despite that she moved the centre of the room and began her technique. The first stage she had performed so many times it had become instinctive. She closed her eyes and cleared her mind, ignoring the room and Telien. She could not sense any mystic flames in the room so she had to invite them with her thoughts.

A voice began to hum through her head, but she could only make out a mumble over the roaring. Even without the words she could make out the voice's cheerful rhythm. The mystic flames swirled around her feet, sending a soothing warm around her body like she was being embraced. She bent her knees and pulled back her right arm. She concentrated the warmth to that part of her body, leaving the rest of her feeling bitingly cold. She turned all her thoughts to pushing the flames out of her body, fighting against the freezing vice on her mind. Her breaths were short and pained as her throat clenched up, but she knew the flames would not take shape unless she could form the image so she persisted.

When she could take no more her arm shot forwards and the flames dispersed into nothingness. Her insides, which had felt shrivelled and frozen, pumped back to life. The attempt was just a repeat of her many failures however. The voice faded from her mind as she became more aware of her surroundings again. Telien had been watching with his arms crossed. "You see," said Rin, with a faint smile, "Nothing at all."

"That's a rather basic technique, don't you think?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Rin, scratching her head. "Master's very insistent that it should work."

"Of course," he said. The two were overcome with an awkward silence. Rin took up her practicing stance again, but she was too distracted to focus on training now. She would give glances to Telien in hopes of seeing what special training method he used. He still stood still with his arms crossed, watching her.

"Well what do you do to practice? I hope it's not what you're doing now."

"If you're curious; Linde and I train together. But thinking about it I can't imagine you and Emillius would've done it with each other." Rin shook her head, though she no idea what he was explaining. "It's inspired by the warriors of Mount Veizahi. It's a form of martial arts focusing on disabling-"

"So you hit each other?" Rin put her hands on her hips. "I've heard of something like that, but never from master. Let's give a try then." If Telien was certain his way of training worked then she was desperate enough to throw herself at it. She hoped he might lead her, trying to figure out the moves of a weird and foreign sounding land like Veizahi would be agonisingly embarrassing. Telien was still frozen in disapproving body language. Rin was clenching her teeth. "What's wrong?"

"It's too dangerous for you." Rin puffed up, constantly telling herself that he was just concerned for her wellbeing. She had spent the last five years of her life surviving on an island; hunting her own meals, so it was an unpleasant change to be treated like a flower.

"That's sweet of you, but I'll be fine, I promise."

"If you insist," said Telien, bending his knees. He began to summon the flames of mysticism. "First you must channel the flames around your body. Just do what I do." Rin nodded and tried to follow his steps, which she found easy enough. Telien took a step forwards, and Rin was stricken with dread. To her walking and focusing the flames was akin to trying to juggle knives and thread a needle at the same time. She looked down at her left foot, which felt as heavy as lead, and tried to force it to budge. She was suddenly weighted with feelings of instability. Sweat flooded her face and dripped down her chest as her breathing grew strained.

When her foot finally gave an inch the flames collapsed around her. She leapt and shrieked as her insides were struck by a boiling sensation for a split second. She had never experienced such a shock from practice before. "Does it always hurt like that!?"

"You couldn't manage it? It's fine."

"No, I'll just give another go!" Despite the lingering heartburn she was determined to make the first step. She wanted to feel smug when she lorded what she had learned while her master's back was turned.


Emillius took a long whiff of the air filled with the stench of fish. The morning sky was spotless and warmth was beginning to descend on the town. He stood at the top of the temple's stairs, overlooking the market forum. It was a humble circle of red brick buildings where sailors would push their wares. The temple steps were littered with laymen, greeting visitors and bantering on their faith. Emillius took breath again, grateful that his sinuses had cleared up. He glanced over his shoulder, seeing Rin in a far worse state. Her hair was even more atrocious and bags hung under her eyes. Her lip was crusted with blood leading to her nostrils.

"Perhaps a rousing breakfast would turn that frown underside down." Rin only responded by grasping head in pain. Emillius skipped down to the market stalls with Rin trailing behind with a series of groans. He could barely remember the last time he had been surrounded by so much junk. The first stall he found was covered with dazzling fish, and he noticed that even Rin was wet at the lips at the sight of them. Emillius reached for the largest one in the pile. "This fellow looks delicious."

"You want him?" asked the old lady tending to the stall. Emillius winked back.

"And just how do you plan on paying for it?" asked Telien from behind. Emillius swallowed a lump in this throat, having long forgotten the concept of money. He began fumbling for an answer, seeing the suspicious expression of the merchant which quickly contorted into anger.

"It's on me," said Linde, appearing from out of nowhere. "Don't threat about it, Telien; Emillius has always been absentminded. How many solins is it?" While she dealt with the merchant Emillius became absorbed in his confusion, spoiling the jolly mood he had been in earlier.

"When I was a little lad the Leyameaous used to get some leeway on bartering. Where's Astoss?" he asked, once Linde had given the merchant a handful of copper coins.

"I'm sorry, but he left last night. I think he wanted to report to the elder as soon as possible, so it's best you don't procrastinate."

"If you say so," he said, wandering aimlessly to another stall with the fish dangling against his side. "I'm thinking if you're insisting I haul myself across the land I should wear something nicer. RIn could certainly use from livening up." He pulled up a sample of fabric from another stall.

"The law forbids you from wearing commoner clothes, remember."

"I thought that was only the other around," said Emillius, trying to recall the days of this youth where all the rules were laid before him. "You're right." He sighed, realising they were just skirting around what they both wanted to confront.

"Linde, perhaps we should find somewhere more private. Rin, catch this!" He tossed the slimy fish to his dazed apprentice who failed to register until she was slapped in the face by the tailfin. He searched for the nearest alleyway, taking Linde by the arm. They stopped in a shady passage with few others to eavesdrop. At first he hesitated, trying to gauge her mood. "So, you've been promoted I've heard; the clothes give it away to. What's it from?"

"Yes, hermit Milo. It was quite recent in fact. I worked with Sofia in Noble's temple before the elder assigned me to Lassra. The pattern's from the Nine Trials of Yalvia." She patted down her skirt at the front and sides, with a cloud of dust rising off. "Honestly, between Telien and all my other duties I'm not sure how I afforded to come out all this way." Her lips twitched but she would not look him in the eye. "Have you healed up?"

"A long time ago," he said, feeling down his right arm. Emillius knew her ills were deeper than just one incident, but he had decided not to force her. He was still irked by how much she had changed, but the last thing he wanted was for her to get angry like she would in the past. "I'm glad you asked; I see it's been on your mind for a while now. I've not seen mysticism acting up in you at all since I got here too. Is that all under control now?" Linde's head drooped as she sighed. "You've grown up at least. I guess you could say I'm rather proud." She still refused to face him and the prolonged silence was like an itch. "I doubt you'll be seeing me around, with that arduous task you set me, but I'd be happy to talk again."

"It would be a pleasure master-" she suddenly paused, finally managing a nervous smile, "I mean hermit Milo. If you get the chance you should visit Lassra. It's rather modest but you'd like it a lot. Since you brought up the subject of that task, perhaps I could lend some assistance as well, since this morning proved you need it."

"You don't have to."

"I think it would be a good idea; take Telien along with you. I could use someone to keep an eye on you either way."

"Linde, he's your pupil, so let's not shirk our duties now." Emillius winched at the idea of taking some boy to push him along, but he had expected it. Astoss and Linde were too familiar with him to think that he would perform any task at an acceptable pace. "Besides, he looks a little scrawny and short-sighted." In many ways he reminded Emillius of himself.

"He's a fine young man, and you'll need all the help you can get. Besides, getting a lesson from an expert like you would do him a world of good." Emillius tilted his head, resting the side on the tips of his fingers. He did not care for being buttered up, but when Linde finally gathered the strength to look him in the eye it was the same guilty face from before. Perhaps it was her way of apologising at the time as keeping watch.

"I'm sure we'll get along just fine, and Rin seems to think well of him."

"That's great, hermit Milo. I'll go and tell him now," she said, spinning on her heel and leaving the alley. Emillius also returned to the marketplace, weaving through the commoners that were ever more filling the space. Rin and Telien did not miss their masters, as they were both nose deep in craved wooden idols. "Telien, he's agreed to take you with him, so make sure you're packed soon."

"Yes, master," he said, pulling his head up. He got down on his knees and the surrounding commoners backed away with hushed moans. "It'll a pleasure to be under your leadership, hermit Milo." Emillius copied his gesture, turning slightly red when he stared around the commoners giving them a circle of room.

"There's no need for this, boy; it's all rather embarrassing. I'm Emillius," he said. He shuffled around, uncomfortable on the hard dirt. Telien's stiff face slowly gave way to amusement. "I'm curious to how my... Linde's been training you." The cuts on his face did not escape Emillius's hazy sight. They both stood up and the circle became crowded once more. Rin was still carrying the fish in both arms though the life had returned to her face. "Enough dallying, it's time to cook a fella before he turns bad. The temple fires are still burning."

"Is that appropriate, Emillius? The shrine will reek if you cook that inside." Emillius however was already heading for the steps, disregarding the concerns of the students. "Are you even listening?" Finally, Emillius felt a tug on his arm as Telien grasped the fish. "There's no need to cause a stir, I'll take it to the temple kitchen if you like." The hermit grinned, but he would not give up the fish, bringing distress to his new companion.

"Give up," said Rin, snivelling, "Master's always determined to be an embarrassment around people. I was thinking you should get to know him while Linde takes me around."

"It would be my pleasure," said Linde, bowing beside Rin. Emillius only watched briefly as the two women wandered off together. A nervous feeling returned to the hermit, with his current and last student as girls it had been many years since being the company of solely another man.

Foregoing the bowls of fire he sought out the kitchen amongst the laymen private chambers. The laymen already working inside unquestioningly made space for their elder. He took one of the lit stoves as his own and began cooking the fish. First he reached for a knife and sliced the head off and then tossed it to the flames. Soon the entire room was potent with the stench of his breakfast.

"I hear that you've been training with Linde," he said. He revelled in the scent rising up his nose. "How does that fair?"

"It goes well. Ugh." Telien recoiled, covering his nose. "Master Linde is very strict, but just. She's never told me anything about you up front. You're, to put it polite, rather unconventional." Emillius chuckled as he flipped the fish.

"I for one love the smell of good catch of the sea; the island life wouldn't be the same without. But you know I could never imagine that woman teaching." That was certainly the case just yesterday. Patience had never been one of Linde's virtues from his memories.

"She takes faith most seriously, which is something I often find the senior members lack."

"Oh hush now. I don't like to boast but I'm among the greatest practitioners of mysticism of my time. I personally know the elder and the elder before him." Telien however could only stare incredulously at him. "Young'uns these days think they know everything; Rin's no different. I guess you two will get along like a house on fire. Naturally I'll be making sure you don't get along too well."

"I'm sorry for speaking out of line," said Telien, squirming. Emillius smirked at his over eagerness to surrender, reaching around to give him a pat on shoulder.

"Relax, boy. You're more rigid than that little weasel Astoss was." He gave a tired huff. He saw how Telien was flabbergasted at speaking of Astoss in such terms. The rest of the room joined him, setting down their knives and plates to gawk. The hermit dismissed them, keeping his gazed fixed on his meal.

"Is this a trial Linde's putting me though?" muttered Telien, backing away. "I'll set some places around the shrine for when the others get back. Take all the time you need." Emillius shook his head with wonder, trying to stir up an opinion. He tossed the fish over again and blotted out the surrounding laymen as he chewed over the tension of his new companion.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter Three

The wagon driver trembled as a pair of eyes watched his face from the ends of their inky black stalks. Emillius had his nose deep in a worn map, his eyes following the southernmost roads. He and his companions had been travelling them for a day on the assumption that Pyrrgus was heading south for Artstem. They had been stopping anyone they came across for information, but he never thought they would be so fortunate as to find someone who might have seen the pair of rogues. "Were these two of the desert you saw carrying anything particularly unusual?" he asked, bobbing his eye stalks at the man.

"The man was carrying some big over on his shoulder. It looked really old." His eyes flickered away, but Emillius's stalks would shift so as to not break eye contact. "I asked him about, it looked valuable, but he just ignored me."

"You spoke to him?" asked Telien, leaning towards the wagon driver. "What did he say?"

"He didn't really talk so I just moved on. It was pouring down yesterday so I didn't want to stick around for long. They were camping along the trail of Romeus." Suddenly, the eye stalks slivered back up the hermit's sleeves and then he gazed up from the map.

"The Leyameaous require no more of your time, my friend. You may leave, and may Sithone keep the skies clear on your journeys." The driver smiled half-heartedly and rushed back to his horse and wagon. "I think I know where our friends are heading for." He beckoned Rin and Telien to gather round, amused by how his apprentice was shielding her eyes from the sun. The heat of the plains was a challenge to contend with compared to the island's cool breezes.

"You say that, but they're so far ahead of us. Can we even catch up?"

"It's simple really; Pyrrgus will want to avoid any run-ins with the army, so he'll likely stay away from the main roads leading through the gap in the Gaiac mountains which heavily defended. His best chance is to go over the mountains, which even for a warrior is no easy task." The trio looked to the south where the mountain range was visible in the distance through the dusty haze, stretching on over the horizon in both directions. Emillius pointed to a spot nested in the mountain range on his map. "That's the Pompa shrine. It's used as a hermit's retreat and it's a little known secret that it's the best place to start crossing over."

"So that's where we're heading for?"

"Of course not, I'm not playing chase with him. We'll take the gap and head them off."

"But you said Pompa was a hermit's retreat. What if that thug hurts someone there?" asked Rin, appearing genuinely concerned.

"I doubt we'd get there in time to be of help," he said, not sharing the same grimace. Rin and Telien both glare at him. "Let's be rational about this; out best course of action would be a get ahead and set a trap. There's no way I'm going to fight that muscle bound ape. You two shouldn't get so high on the thought of being heroes." The group continued along the dirt road with nothing to give them shade from the sun. Emillius knew they had to keep a good pace up if they wanted any chance of catching up, though he thought their chances were slim. He began humming a jolly tune so not to invite any more chides from the children.

"If I might make a suggestion," said Telien, running up to the front of the line. Carrying both the packs Rin and Emillius had brought to the mainland was making him sweat vigorously. He was fanning his face with his hand. "There's a military base on this road that stores supplies to be sent to the gap. Maybe they'd let us get a ride on a wagon, or at least some shelter from this heat."

"A splendid idea. This old map mustn't be showing me much because I didn't see that anywhere."

"Perhaps we should make it a rule not to rely on maps that are older than your teacher, Rin."

"Don't expect me to help. I'm from the north. I just can't believe how boiling it is here." She wiped the sweat from her force head, brushing her fingers through her frizzing hair.

A flash of shade came over the group. Emillius looked up to see the sun had been blocked by a passing bird. Rin and Telien brushed it off and returned to talking among themselves. Emillius on the other hand was suspicious of why a sole crow would be flying so far from the Altir forests and took the bird to be Astoss's servant, Caelia. He also assumed this meant Astoss desired the totem as well.

After an hour was walking Emillius dropped to the ground and groaned. He raised his hand to be given a flask of water by Rin. "Don't waste it please, master." Emillius spun the lid off and guzzled down the water. His companions sat down, with Rin rubbing her legs. "Master, I think we're being a little ambitious. We're not going anywhere with you slowing us down." Rin and Telien were not nearly as worn out as he was, so he would look the fool if he spoke against that comment.

"Never mind, I've got a better idea now." He scrounged around the grass, finding a pair of stones, one grey and the other brown. He placed them on the road and whistled into the sky. The black bird swooped down. "Tap the grey one for yes, and the brown for no. Understand?" Caelia hobbled up and pecked the grey stone twice.

"What is that thing!?" asked Rin. She overshadowed the bird.

"She's an old friend, who I sincerely hope has come to assist us." Caelia tapped the grey stone again.

"I saw a bird like this with Astoss," said Telien, who attitude was more neutral than Rin and Emillius.

"Good eye, boy. Astoss's mysticism lets him create consciences and place them in any creature he chooses so long as they're dead beforehand. Caelia here is the first he ever made."

"I don't understand, master. Is she like a human?" Caelia tapped the grey stone enthusiastically. "It's good to meet you," said Rin, apprehensively, tilting her head. Emillius smiled remembering when Astoss had first controlled mysticism. Neither of them had the slightest clue of its nature until the young Astoss decided to test it on a nesting crow.

"Back to the matter at hand; Caelia, I have a task for you if that's alright. I need you to fly to Pompa and confirm my opinion. Search for any sign of the Artstem warriors and then return to me. We'll be taking the Velote for the next few days at least. Can you do that for us?" Caelia tapped the grey stone. As fond as he was of the bird he knew she was first and foremost a servant of Astoss, and would only help as much as he wanted to. When Caelia flew away south Emillius put the stones in his pocket. "We're moving on," he said, feeling well rested.

Eventually they were in close distance of the supply base, or so Emillius assumed it to be since it was the only sign of human civilisation they had encountered in hours. He had summoned three black arms to swat the impatient blue bottles circling his head. He glanced back to see his young companions fighting off far fewer pests.

The base was an oasis for horses, with stables and a ranch dwarfing the stone structure. Dozens of horses were feeding in the shade. Emillius leaned over the fence and waved to a man in tan uniform overlooking the workers. He had a scabbard on his belt so Emillius thought he might be the leader. He turned to the trio, revealing the burns on the right of his face. The man's expression was full of contempt. "With all due respect, priest, we're behind schedule. Is this is important?" he asked.

"I wouldn't say it was, but perhaps if I lent you a hand for work you'd hear me out." At first he was met with silence as the man briefly inspected his workmen again.

"The horses still need feeding and the stables cleaning. Pelagius, here!" A skinny, dirty man in a sleeveless shirt heeled. "I might have a few more to help you out."

"Hop to it then," said Emillius, turning to his companions who were less than amused.

"Hermit Milo, you can't be serious. You've made me carry just about everything and now this!?"

"The sooner you start the sooner you'll be done. Our friend here doesn't seem the type to enjoy procrastination." Telien flung the packs over the fence and followed them. Rin however refused to move, glaring at her master. "Fine, I'll join in too. Fair enough for you?" Emillius sighed as he crossed the fence. Rin was smirking when she joined the men on the other side. Pelagius led the way to a stable and handed them three shovels. They were to collect the horse muck and pile it together in a heap in the corner. The students were skittish, recoiling from the scent. Emillius grasped his shovel using his powers, latching one black arm around the end and another around the pole near the scoop. He began heaving the waste while backing away to speak with the overseer.

"Done like a man of true faith," he said. Emillius chuckled, dividing his attention between talking and moving his mystic arms.

"It'd be a shame for me to get these clothes mucky. Anyway, I'm here because I'm in need of aid from your outpost. These students and I are in a hurry for the Gaiac gap. We were hoping you might have a supply convey we could travel with."

"They're pretty regular, usually leaving in the morning. Not that there's any room for useless additions."

"My mission comes from the highest offices of the Leyameaous."

"If the captain were here that would matter. But I'm charge while he's away and I say 'no'."

"I think you've got a sore spot, and I don't just mean your face."

"Feeling shallow, are we?"

"It's human nature." Emillius scoffed, which got the overseer to crack a smile. "I'm on the trail of two crooks from Artstem who've made off with a part of our nation's great history. I would think that the descendants of the Nolem Swords would make it a priority to project the great heritage our ancestors fought to liberate."

"As much as I'd like to kick you out on your rear I'd be in serious trouble if you ratted on me. If it keeps you quiet then I'll find a way to make room. What name does my intolerable friend go by?"

"Emillius Milo, a hermit." He turned his attention to his task, noticing some of his flings had been overshot. His companions were fuming as they cleaned up his accidents. He for one enjoyed using his power for mundane tasks; it gave him a sense of ownership. He also enjoyed crushing Rin's expectations of watching him get covered in filth. The overseer was still lingering, presumably to make sure the job was done to his liking. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir..."

"I'm sevre Isaac Valiens of the twelfth legion. Would your students be interested in something more permanent? We'll be back on track at this rate." He finally left the hermit's presence, heading for the main building. Emillius continued his work, bursting into laughter as Telien slipped in the muck.

Then the toil was over the three Leyameaous were kneeling down at the side of a ranch where horses were roaming peacefully. Rin and Telien were worn and filthy, and even though he had used his powers to cheat Emillius was feeling tired as well. The sky was full of stars with the crescent moon hanging over the mountains, one of Sithone's eternally watchful eyes on the world. "It's a glorious night for prayer, don't you think?" The students could only nod half-heartedly. Emillius began focusing, summoning the silver flames around his body using the most basic meditation method. "Won't you join me?" he asked. The two students groaned before closing their eyes and following his lead. They were mimicking the stars, their bodies glowing so that their divine masters could see them from the sky. He could hear the voice of mysticism in his head. Despite long since mastering his powers he still could not make out its words. His dreams were full of imaginings of what they it was trying to say.

Soon however they were joined by a gathering of workmen who sat around them in no orderly fashion. Pelagius knelt beside Emillius. The three lost their flames when their concentration was broken. "Forgive us for the intrusion, but me and the boys were wondering if you were leading a prayer?"

"I'm not really a priest as such, so I don't lead these things. You're welcome to join us though; sometimes the best prayer is to silently bask in the glorious night sky under Sithone's eye." He could tell from Pelagius's raised eyebrow that not many were buying his excuse, but they did not question out loud. "Well I always thought of it that way."

The praying quickly fell into socialising, with several breaking the silence to share a joke and a slap over the shoulder. One even began passing around a flask. Rin was seduced into joining their merriment, while Telien tightened his eyes as he tried to block them out. Emillius spread his legs out, simply adapting to the scene. He grinned at Pelagius. "It looks like Sir Valiens won't be joining us this fine night."

"He's organising the wagons all by himself. He really isn't pleased, so you best not speak out of line from now on." Emillius tilted his head back and laughed. When the flask came into his possession he took a sip, cringing when he discovered it was not water as he had been expecting. Pelagius patted him on the back and sniggered.


Emillius felt something shoving his shoulder, bringing him out of his sleep. He opened his eyes, greeted by the piled up sacks of the storeroom. Looking down on him was Isaac who had his foot on his shoulder. "I think it's a bit early," said Emillius, groggily. He was certain he had only just gotten to sleep a few hours ago.

"I've had a message from the gap. One of the forts is having trouble so we'll be leaving now. Five minutes, be there or be left behind." Emillius relayed the message to his snoozing companion, first by nudging them both. He repeated when they failed to respond, using a firmer push. Eventually Telien parted his lids and yawned.

"What is it?"

"The world doesn't want us to sleep on the job so let's hurry along. Rin, child, wake up." The girl was resilient, prompting Isaac to intervene by pulling her up by the shoulders and shaking her. Her eyes snapped open and she wrestled from his grasp in a fit of panic. "He's a handy fellow." Emillius rose and stretched his arms up.

Outside two horse drawn wagons were awaiting them. Isaac immediately climbed to the front of the lead wagon. There was only room left in the back of the second on so Emillius hoped on-board. Between him and his students there was no room to spare and they were cramped together. Telien was carrying the packs on his lap and Rin had drifted off the moment she was still. "Just what in the world is going on?" asked Telien, rubbing his eyes.

"I can't really be sure, but in my day attacks on the gap were common. A lot in Artstem aren't too happy about those forts, obviously. I get the feeling I'm being dragged into another situation." He sighed lightly. Finding the totem and its thieves was a matter of duty to faith, but he had no wish to involve himself in any skirmishes. He kept watch on the dawn sky, hoping that Caelia would return soon.

The convoy rushed through the southern plains. As the sun rose up the gap in the Gaiac range became visible in the distance. Rin had awoken and was staring at the landscape slowly unfolding. Through the maw they had a clear view into even more arid lands of Artstem. "What time is it? It's so hot," said Rin, sitting back down.

"Quite. I managed to swipe us something for breakfast." He handed her a circle of bread he had stuffed in his pocket and second for Telien. He took the third for himself, but before he could take his first bite a familiar shadow swooped overhead. Caelia had returned, landing of a crate beside Emillius. He broke his bread in half and reduced one half to crumbs. Caelia pecked them out of his hand one by one. "And here was me wondering how you'd be finding food all the way out here. I would've found some worms, but Astoss thinks you're too high-brow for that." He suddenly shrieked as Caelia dug her beak into his palm. After finishing his own meal Emillius took the stones out and held one in each palm.

"Did you find Pyrrgus?" asked Rin, with her mouth half full. Caelia tapped the grey stone. "Is that a yes?" Emillius nodded. He assumed this meant his theory was correct. "Was anyone there hurt?" Caelia, after a moment of hesitation, tapped the brown stone. Emillius knew she was lying, but hoped the younger two would not catch on.

"You see, Rin, everything turned out fine."

"What kind of idiot do you take us for?" asked Telien.

"Was anyone dead?" asked Emillius, hastily before he could be accosted more. To his relief Caelia answered with a more confident 'no'. "There we go, there's no reason to threat. I forbid us from going back, and that's the end of that." He reclined back, still aware that his companions were glaring at him. Eventually they simmered down and finished breakfast.

The first of many military structures in the gap came into view, a fortress nestled in the mountain side overlooking the wasteland in the distance. The convoy rode up a branching road towards the fortress with the guards up front becoming tense. Emillius kneeled up, but he could only see a thin cloud of smoke from behind the fortress. They crossed a stone bridge towards the reinforced doors that rumbled and churned as they opened. A booming voice could be heard alerting archers. As Emillius turned his head he could see smaller towers in the distance, in a line stretching all the way to the other end of the gap. "So, Caelia, will you be joining us the rest of the way?" asked Emillius. The bird did not choose any stone, but instead flew away. Emillius did not take this a rejection but rather self-preservation. He knew that Astoss would want to keep his masterpiece far away from battles.

They came to a stop in the yard and immediately soldiers shoved past the Leyameaous to scramble for the supplies. Emillius dusted off his tunic and glanced around. It the scene was overly loud for his taste, so his curiosity had wilted. While he was no expert on military matters even he thought the place was sparsely populated in spite of the clamouring. "Well you boys look busy, so I'll just get out of your hair."

"Not so fast!" shouted Isaac. "We've got marauders scurrying around. An old man like you would meet his end with them."

"I'm afraid in reality you can't command me, mister Valiens. Our deal has come to an end."

"Do as you please, but those doors aren't opening." They were interrupted by a scream from the walls as a soldier was struck by an arrow. Emillius ran up the steps, followed by Rin, to see how many enemies were on the other side. He ducked behind the wall, popping his head up and watching the frenzy of movement below. A wave of rag-tag troops rushed from cover to cover. Artstem was a broken land with no unity, and with no uniform to identity them Emillius suspected these people might just be desperate peasants on the search for food.

"If those boys are heading around back maybe we could go over this wall and sneak off." He whipped out a mystic to show that could use them like a rope to lower his companions. Everyone ducked at the crack of an arrow against the wall.

"I'm amazed someone with no sense of preservation could live to be so old," said Isaac. "Someone who spends their days pondering the ethereal would be very surprised to find how very real a sword to throat feels." Emillius could only offer a brain dead smile for his scathing. "You should speak with the captain, I'm sure he'll be more enthusiastic than I am to help you."

"Not necessary. I really have no interest in working with your kind."

"Maybe we should just cooperate," said Telien, whose shivering was rather revealing of his motive. A grappling hook flew over the wall.

"Get back!" yelled Isaac, yanking both Rin and Telien by the arms. "Bring the arrows, immediately!" He reached for the hook and tried to dislodge it, but he struggled to shift it as enemies climbed up.

"Look out!" shouted Rin, pointing to figure emerging over the wall who was drawing a sword. Isaac sprang up and punched him in the chin. He then stabbed the intruder in the stomach and cast him to his death on the ground. A second attacker climbed over the wall and deflected Isaac's swing. Emillius looked around the wall, seeing the same story repeated as the warrior of Artstem spilled over the top. He patted his students on the shoulders and nodded to the steps. Telien was the first to head down, needing not excuse to keep away from the bloodshed. Rin however was hesitant. She was shivering all over. "What about him!?" she asked, pointing to Isaac. The soldier was clashing steel was a muscular foe. He managed to trip his enemy over and cut his arm open.

"He's just doing his job, so we best leave him to it," said Emillius, trying to nudge Rin to the stairs. A gang charged towards Isaac. The hermit knew the only thing standing between him and a bludgeoning death was the deformed Isaac. As much as the effort would strain him, he had to get involved for his and Rin's skin at least. He whipped out a pair of black arms from each sleeve and snatched the wrists of the attackers, binding their weapons. Isaac cut his way through all four before they took their eyes off Emillius. The hermit even generously dragged their dying bodies off the wall. That was enough to convince Rin that he would pull through as she finally obeyed the command to retreat.

As soon as they reached the bottom soldiers raced by carrying arrows. "I guess we're stuck here," said Emillius.

"Pardon?" Telien leaned closer, trying to hear him over the shouting and mashing of blades. Emillius's already inappropriate smile broke down into a chortle. "Now's not the time."

"Terribly sorry, I never know how to act at in these social scenes." He scratched the back of head, getting funny looks again from the students. Rin had stopped shaking, but her stares were fearful.

"Master, this is serious," she said. Emillius knew that as the voice she used whenever she doubted his lead. She was clearly expecting her teacher to provide the answer, so now it was his goal to pull one from his arse. He jogged the stairs and regrouped with Isaac, who had won a reprise from melee. The army had withheld and the attackers had retreated away from the wall as arrows were launched at them. Emillius carefully manoeuvred around the corpses.

"Don't think it's save, old man. Those savages have no fear," he said, his attention focused over the wall. Emillius peered over the edge, only to duck when an arrow flew above his head. "But since you're here; how far can you stretch those tentacles?" Emillius was vexed at his arms named as such. They clearly had hands on their ends making them arms as far as he was concerned.

"Fifty feet if I really focus at it. I suppose you want me to harass those men down there, which is something I could do, but it would be a rather painful experience for me. I'd rather not."

"My dead friends would be grateful if you could expend a little effort on their behalf. I'll take some men around to finish them while you've got them busy." Emillius did not particularly care for the dead, especially if they were stupid enough to get caught up into a fight in the first place.

"Very well, but don't expect me to be entirely pleasant when this is over. I'll start once you're on the way out. Hmph."

Isaac gathered a sortie of as many troops he could find and headed down for the gate, leaving a few to continue shooting arrows to keep the enemies from thinking they had abandoned the wall. On the sound of the gates clattering Emillius went to his knees with his arms spread out and his eyes closed. He summoned a pillar of flames to forge into his powers. Rivers of black limbs flooded from his sleeves and slivered over the wall like a horde of snakes. Through his new eyes he saw how the men of Artstem were baffled, clenching their weapons. The arms spread out like delta around the boulders and lashed out at the warrior groups from both sides.

It did not take them long to start fighting back, slashing their blades at the black arms. The shock of each blow ran up the arms and up Emillius's spine, straining his concentration. His whole body felt cold. While a practitioner of his years could control the icy sensation, he was so focused on stretching his mystic arms that the feeling crept up on him. The movements of his mysticism grew wilder, striking like a flock of birds. The men of Artstem gathered in a circle, protecting their wounded. They cut several of his arms apart, which gave the hermit a twisting jolt of agony. He fell back from the backlash. Before hitting the stone he found something supporting him from the shoulders. His spasms were being contained.

His arms rose up and flew over the heads of the outer ring and swiped at the men in the middle. The formation shattered with the wounded trying to flee the clawing hands. As soon as they moved from behind the boulder arrows were cast down in their direction. As the scramble drew longer Emillius's arms began to wither like rotting plants. Many collapsed and faded away as his body grew weaker simply from maintaining his powers. By the time Isaac and his soldiers reached the battle the Artstem side was too spread out of form a defence. For Emillius the counter could not have come sooner.

He snapped his eyes open and gasped for air. His vision was blurred and he could recognise the face just in front of him, and for a moment all he could feel was his mysticism melting away; a spreading numbness running down each of his mystic arms into his flesh limbs. Warmth surged back into his body, calming him down. His eyes rolled up, staring at Telien's worrisome face. Emillius took this as a sign he was in a sorry state, but he grew a weak smile regardless.

"Emillius, are you feeling alright?" he asked, his quiet voice was hard to make out over the dead wails from over the wall.

"Aye, I'll be fine," he replied, dragging his words out. "Just take me off the bed. I could use the sleep." He felt the hands against the back of the shoulder shake. He wished he could say something to calm Rin down, but all he could manage was a long yawn. His head felt suddenly light and he drifted off to sleep against his will. The last thing he heard were the frantic calls of his companions. He almost found it funny.


When he came to his senses he shook his head, ruffling his hair against the thin pillow. His limbs were stiff as though he had rigor mortis. He yawned and batted his eyelids, making out traces of the infirmary he was resting in. He tossed his head again to spot Rin kneeling beside his bed, her front turned away. He could make out her praying in a hushed voice. It took a while for her to finally realise he had awoken.

"Don't smirk like that! I thought you were..." She took a deep breath.

"Nonsense of the highest order. It's just been a long time since I had to abuse my powers to that extent. The pain suffered from using a well discovered form of mysticism like mine is just illusionary at best. Besides, you're the one who wanted me to do something about it, and I did."

"It looks pretty real."

"I was just very tired, that's all. Perhaps if some brutish oaf hadn't have woken me up so early I would've been fitter." Rin laughed softly.

"He's right outside, master. You should lower your voice."

"I assume this is me you're talking about," said Isaac in the half way opened door. Dried black blood covered his front and specked his face. He came inside with Telien following. Rin and Emillius averted their gazes, resisting the urge to grin. "Nevermind, I guess you've earned a bit of leniency. I've just been speaking with your young friend here. He's informed me a little more about your mission." Emillius cocked his eyebrow, as he was not interested in getting anyone else involved.

"Thank you, but in the future I'd rather you consulted me first."

"Sorry, but-"

"It's fine." He pulled a hand from under his blanket waved it loosely. "I assume everything went according to our plan."

"Our plan?" asked Isaac, giving a contemptuous smirk as he shook his head. "It turned out as I'd hoped. I should thank you though; you made a nice distraction for those savages."

"It's hard to imagine the army would have so much trouble against simpletons," said Telien. "I guess we're not as at peace as we were told."

"Normally we wouldn't, but their attacks have been relentless lately; one after another. The captain's sent another request for reinforcements."

"Why are those people so keen to throw their lives away?" asked Rin, in a pitying tone. Emillius sat up and swung his legs out from the bed. He leaned forwards and put a hand on Rin's shoulder.

"Why don't I go and show you. Think of it as a little lesson." He hopped out of bed and stretched his arms, though Rin and Telien were soon crowding him. "I told you, I didn't suffer any real harm." His slightly wheezy voice failed to reassure them.

"Not so fast, old man. I didn't come down here to see you off so soon." Emillius ignored him and led his students through the door. In the corridor he followed the light at the far end. Eventually he led them back to the wall, tip toeing around soldiers carrying away dead bodies. The sun was still shining as it made its descent over the western horizon. The sight was breath taking but the stench was ruinous. He wafted the air away from his nose as a corpse was hauled right past him.

"That was pleasure itself," he said, masking his revulsion with laughter. He put an arm around Rin's shoulders and pointed to the north. From their vantage they saw the land were full of life, with wild beasts wandering in search of food. To Emillius they appeared as blurry dots over the grass, and he could only hope Rin could see them more clearly. Beyond the plains were fields and streams of fresh water. "You see that? Nice, isn't?" Rin had no response, her eyes absorbed by the landscape.

"Well the air certainly is nice," said Telien, who was leaning over the wall in a vain attempt to get a better view. Emillius then pointed Rin to the south into the land of Artstem. As far as they could see was a wasteland of parched red rock and clouds of dust carried by the wind. Through the lining of dust he could make out the shape of a mesa.

"I've never seen anything like it."

"It's an acquired taste, but I think there's unmatched beauty in their land. I remember when my own master showed it to me from the mountains. If it weren't for the marauding clans we both would've considered moving there. More importantly, the reason we rarely see it is because most people would never want to live there themselves; the only sane people fit to live there are those like myself."

"Are they mad?" asked Rin.

"Possibly. They're certainly not a happy people, but what matters is that they live there because they were made to."

"So all that fighting is because they want our land?"

"It would be more accurate to say they're fighting because they want their land back." He could see Rin's expression droop, and even Telien had gone silent. While he was relieved to see his companions possessed sympathy, more than he did at least, it was not the meaning he wanted to convey. If they were going to travel through Artstem he needed to put their youthful naivety to rest. "You've misunderstood me. I was merely explaining the mind-set of these people. You shouldn't expect to find any friends during our travels in their land." No matter how inappropriate he knew it was Emillius chuckled. The mood swings afflicted on the young were amusing to him. "That all I wanted to show you today. We head out in the morning." While taking the stairs down he bumped into his new sword swinging friend, Isaac.

"You're rather unpleasant," he said.

"Coming from a man with your face; that's a serious accusation." Isaac did not appear offended; he even sniggered upon looking into his eyes. "Now what was it you needed to see me about?"

"It's not me, old man. The captain has a proposition for you."

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Chapter Four

The blistering sun was unforgiving on their faces, leaving the three with bone dry lips and parched skin. Emillius was sitting on a red rock, breaking his desperate thirst. He shook a final few drops from the flask before tossing it back to Rin. She was carrying a backpack full of them just to keep them alive on what Isaac had promised was a small trip. They all wore headscarves to keep the sand from their hair and to contain the sweat from their foreheads. "Honestly, I'd no idea we'd need all this," said the hermit. Emillius had long since taken back his remark about moving here. He felt more wrinkled than usual.

"I guess it was for the best that we decided to do this," said Telien, glancing at the sun. Emillius had to admit he was right. There would have been no other way to get their hands on all these supplies without stealing. In exchange all they had to do was pass on a message to figure of supposed power in the region. "They even gave us a map that's not older than you are. We shouldn't be far now."

"Do you know thing about this Melda person, master?" asked Rin, licking her sore lips.

"Nothing about her, but I've heard of her clan, Maychus. Let's just say they lost a battle too many during the war. How she can remain so influential in the region is baffling. It's most curious." Though he had not regained much strength he knew they needed to continue before nightfall. They drudged along boiling rock until they came to a ridge. The group gave a collective moan upon seeing how the land below stretched out into an endless bowl of sand and dust.

"Wait, master, do you see that?" asked Rin.

"I can't see anything," replied Telien. Emillius was in the same boat.

"It's hard to make out, but it looks like a tower." Since she was the only one with eyes capable of seeing it she decided to usurp the lead position. Once they found a steep descent they began to trek along the sand pit. Eventually Emillius was able to make out the outline of the structure. It was indeed a tower made up of three tiers. There were banks of sand leaning on the walls, as though the desert was swallowing it. A suddenly gust blasted sand at their faces. They covered their eyes but the damage was already done; Emillius's face was searing hot now. Rin collapsed, reaching for her pack.

"Look who's wasting water now," muttered Emillius, turning his back to the wind. "I promise you can take a rest when we're inside."

"Perhaps it'd help her if you tried carrying something for once," said Telien, offering to remove Rin's pack for her. Emillius frowned as apparently he had no choice; Rin was glaring at him in her usual disproving fashion. He grudgingly took the pack, wondering why he never had an unquestionable level of authority with any of his apprentices.

After what felt like hours of dragging themselves over the desert the tower finally became clearer through the dust. Its beige walls were dotted with square openings that were covered with fabric. As they were almost at the doors one of the curtains one the second tier was pushed aside, revealing a man who leaned out with a bow in hand. "Dangidanatie!" he shouted. It took a second for Emillius to rummage through his translations; the man wanted his group to identify themselves.

"Emillius Milo." Emillius pointed to himself, and then Rin. "Rin Triffonus. Telien..." He paused, giving a worried glance at his companions. "Honani Maychus? Captain Regale jasenzouca," he said, slowly as he recalled whatever knowledge he had of their language. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small emblem and held it up. The man left the opening though they could hear him shouting inside. As they waited, the Leyameaous looked around. In the near distance were walls poking up through the dunes. It was awe-inspiring to think that the tower may have once sat in the midst of a town that had since vanished. The wind whistled in the cracks of the tower, which Emillius saw was putting his young companions at unease.

The doors cranked opened, sending out waves of sand, and three armed guard cautiously approached, wielding curved blades. Emillius stepped forwards and offered the emblem. A guard swiped it off him and inspected before handing it to the next one along. Once each of them was satisfied they beckoned Emillius and his following into the tower. The swords were pointing towards their necks. The grand hall was peaceful and dim, lit only by whatever light could penetrate the curtains. They wiped sand on an old red carpet leading to branching staircases.

"Retavai Elisetha!" commanded the lead guardsman. One of his men ran up the right stairs.

"You two follow my lead. There's some etiquette, but I'm not entirely sure what it is." As they waited the guards patted them down, checking for any weapons. Emillius cooperated, putting his hands up and letting them check his pockets, while Rin and Telien squirmed and flailed their hands in protest. "Just let them do it," he said, handing his backpack to the nearest guard.

The attention of everyone was directed to a figure descending from the stairs. A young, thin woman dressed in white, draping cloth. Her bare, brown arms were covered with black flame patterns. While Emillius thought she did not look so much older than Rin her posture was straight and refined. She looked at her guests expectantly. Emillius put his right hand over his stomach and bowed, keeping his face looking forwards at her. His companions were sluggish but they soon emulated his action. The woman approached by two steps and blew three kisses. All her guards moved into positions on both her flanks.

"Hei atmattai... you speak?"

"Heen." Emillius pointed to himself, and then his companions. "Un heriza."

"Gundidn. It's best for me to speak your tongue. That is easy for the guests, correct?" She smiled modestly, clasping her hands together.

"It's as you say, Elisetha."

"Thank you," said Rin, bowing again.

"We shall meet in my latlurel up the stairs. It's the perfect place for me to speak with Leyameaous." Escorted by her men Melda lead the way up the stairs she had come from.

The place she referred to was tall and lit by box lanterns hanging from the walls on their left and right. What struck Emillius as fascinating was the art covering the far wall; a painting of a naked man with his arms spread out. Circular symbols rested on his chest, stomach, and crotch. Melda sat on a large plinth with her legs crossed.

"Is there a ceremony?" asked Telien, frantically taking in the exotic chamber. Emillius chuckled under his breath; the scene could be compared to an ancient ritual in his mind. Since no instruction had been given Emillius assumed it was alright for him and his students to kneel on the carpet.

"Regale sent you, so I've been told. Since you don't come bearing more tributes I believe you're here because I'm failing in my end of the agreement."

"I can't say I know much of it myself, but he wanted me to pass on news to you. Some of your peasants have been knocking at our doors." Melda arched her eyebrows, confused by his words. "That is to say they've been attacking us and we'd like them to stop."

"How do you know these men were from around here? I'm Elisetha of a ruined clan, my reach has boundaries."

"I don't know why you're telling me; I'm merely passing the message; I have no real interest. I suppose it's my duty as a Leyameaous to remind you all of the virtue of patience. In time you'll solve these disputes." Melda's calmness lapsed for a brief moment.

"Don't be so patronizing; we've been patiently enduring the desert for generation." She took a deep breath. "Forgive me, but since you Leyameaous live in luxuries you do I cannot expect you to understand. Such is the tragic life of heathens." She put her hands together and sighed as though she was truly saddened. "While you might not be interested I for one am curious as to why captain Regale thought it was wise to present priests of the Leyameaous."

"I'm not a priest, I'm a hermit. The difference is that I eschew wealth by choice in the pursuit of wisdom, while you and your desert dwellers are given no choice."

"Yeah, not to mention this little room is pretty luxurious," said Rin. The guards stood up, glaring at the guests.

"Enough," said Melda. "The Latlurel holds a special meaning to our faith."

"Yes, I'm quite curious about it myself," said Emillius, changing the topic before anyone got hurt. "Is that who I think it is behind you?"

"Correct; our protector and first god, Mesalkir." Rin and Telien leaned over to get a better look at the image.

"What do those symbols mean, master?" asked Rin.

"I believe they refer to what the Artstem call the Oran Diam; the organs Mesalkir supposedly tore from his body when he attained divinity. They're symbolic of the worldly needs he no longer required; how morbid." He glanced to Melda, expecting her to add to his explanation or worse; amend it.

"You're half correct. Mesalkir also wished to remind his followers that the rulers of men should be men, and not any sort of beast."

"Now who's trying to insult who?" Emillius smirked, though Melda remained stoic. "But, please continue; you've captivated me."

Telien nudged the hermit. "We've given her the message, shouldn't we be leaving?" Emillius was glum, but he soon responded with a polite nod. He stood up and turned back to Melda.

"We've already used at least half our water supplies. Forgive us being as leeches, but Regale told us you'd be able to give us more. I'm doubtless you must have a way of finding water out here."

"I'll have you taken to the well below. Take only what you need, and nothing more." She beckoned her guards to arise and approach their guests. "Also, as gratitude for delivering the message I shall let you stay the night as guests. The nights are unbearable to those who are less honed."

"I'll have to think about that, since I'm uncertain we could spare that time." Melda was indifferent to his stubbornness, which was pleasing for the hermit.

The Leyameaous were led out of the latlurel; down to the ground floor and then following the next series to stairs downwards into the underground. They were led through a narrow corridor to a wooden door at the far side. They stepped inside a small room, the only feature of which was a well that had been crudely dug. Emillius and Rin leaned over the hole as an escort threw down a bucket on the end of a rope. The echoing splash gave a cool feeling to Emiliius's lips. The pack of water flasks was returned as the bucket full of freshwater was tugged up.

"May you wait for us outside?" asked Emillius, smiling at the guards. They reluctantly left the room, but they kept the door open by a few inches. "They are a suspecting bunch," he whispered. He began running the flasks through the bucket one after the next.

"Her highness isn't impressed with us," said Rin. Telien shrugged.

"I've heard some pretty gruesome stories about these people, but she seems civilised enough. I don't see why she has any sway. I'm straining to even think of this place as a palace." Emillius chuckled, finding himself agreeing with him about Melda's humble tower.

"The rulers of clans and kingdoms are chosen from those who are in touch with Mesalkir's essence, like those of the Leyameaous. While we use ours to praise and carry the will of the Leyamea the seths of Artstem venerate themselves."

"And she calls us heathens." Rin pouted, picking up a flask for a brief sip.

"It's a misunderstanding by simpletons. They think because Mesalkir was a man who obtained divine power that we are the same for having similar power. A lord and a peasant are not the same for both having blood in their veins after all."

Once all the empty flasks had been filled they three opened the door and were greeted by the guards. They soon returned to the ground floor with the hopes of leaving. However, the way to the doors was blocked by Melda. She clasped her hands and frowned. Emillius had thoughts of just walking past her and leaving silently but in the corner of his eye he could see a guard with his hand waiting on the hilt of his sword.

"I'm sorry, a sandstorm is raging tonight. I'm afraid the doors must be barred shut; otherwise it might burst in. Belonatie Oralerapa." Her last words were apparently directed to her servants, who rushed to the openings to seal them up for the night. Emillius saw the nervous faces of his companions, and he was not feeling so comfortable himself. "I'm afraid I can offer little to guests but beds. My guards will be watching you closely; I hope that is not a problem." Melda retreated up the right stairs upwards to her temple.

"It feels like we've been trapped," said Telien, eyeing the surly guards at each side. "Where are we allowed to go?" None of the guards answered because they did not understand him. Emillius cautiously approached the left steps leading up. A pair of guards followed from behind, but did not restrain him as he took the first few steps. When Rin and Telien tried to follow they were blocked off by another man.

"I'm guessing they don't want too many people going up. Why don't you two meditate while I take a gander?"

"Aren't you supposed to be teaching me instead of wandering off?" asked Rin, nonchalantly. Emillius bit his lip and stared at her for a while. Eventually Rin just sighed and brushed him off. "Fine, I'll wait if it makes you happy." The old hermit grinned and nodded before hopping up the rest of the way.


Discovering what could be called a tiny library was enough to put an end to Emillius's tour of the tower. Not even the guards lurching over his shoulder could dampen his sense of excitement. Since neither of them was trying to impale him he assume he had not stumble upon any great secret and continued to indulge in the reading of the scroll rolled before his eyes. He could only translate a couple words in the piece as it was written in ancient Artstem script, so it had to be at least two hundred years old if his knowledge of their history was still reliable.

Between the curved letters were roughly drawn images of round helmets and straight-edged swords. Near the bottom were symbols he recognised as numbers; twenty six, seventy two. He rolled the scroll up and reached for another waiting on the grid shelf. Each square held its own treasure in the form of knowledge and Emillius hesitated on deciding. It felt less like a trap and more a treat.

However, his dive was soon disturbed by light footsteps. Emillius looked over his shoulder, greeted by Melda. "Idoem, I'm flattered by how you've decided to take advantage of my materials. You can't even read any of it." She covered her mouth as she laughed. She stood beside him and glimpsed at the new scroll he was rolling out.

"I'm powerless to resist." He heard the scrape of iron as one of the guards became wary of his friendly tone.

"Paltenlatie," said Melda. The guards bowed to their ruler before leaving her and Emillius in peace. "They're very zealous these days."

"I suspect they're all of what remains of your clan. That would be most unfortunate if you were the only woman here." Emillius sniggered.

"You're very direct, but correct," said Melda, with a sorrowful breath. "Without our bargain I doubt I could even feed these men. But enough of me; what brings you into the desert?"

"It's a pilgrimage. My master always thought I should visit some of the... lesser known sites."

"At your age? Forgive me for calling you foolhardy, idoem."

"That's kinder than anything my own apprentice would say."

"She's very disappointed with you. Perhaps you shouldn't be here alone." Emillius chose not to answer, denying her place to question his method. "I don't really believe you; surely you're not irresponsible enough to drag those two out here on a whim." He did not want to reveal his true motivation on the risk that she might want to protect a fellow dweller of the desert.

"I'm more used to asking the questions myself. What is it you say to convince those savages to stay calm?"

"I promise them a better future in time. They can be rather faithful."

"Your heart must wretch with guilt from all those empty vows." He was surprised by how unconcerned she remained. He had to give her some respect for her fortitude. "I suppose you have to tell them something to keep them in control. I can't say I'd do any better in your place."

"The right god can bring flowers to the wasteland. It's not me, but I devote my time to finding the one with that power from Mesalkir." Emillius was late to respond, searching around his knowledge of word meanings. From what he knew, god was anyone who could control the divine power of mysticism. He speculated this was what she was spending all her provision on.

"If my darling apprentice develops any such power I'll let you know. Not that I would be keen to hand her over so soon."

"That's generous. I doubt I have many sympathisers in your ranks. Then again you hardly seem like the most devout. The last time I was visited by one of you he wouldn't even look me in the eye without sneering." Emillius turned silent again, getting a queasy feeling in his gut that he knew where she was going with her speech. "Tell me, how long have you been with them?"

"Just about as long as I can recall; since I was a child at least."

"I've heard something quite unsettling about the recruitment." Emillius rolled his eyes, as it was the typical criticism given to his temple.

"Yes; everyone who displays the ability to commune with mysticism is taken in. In the past that even included if it was against the will of one's family, but it's a long since abandoned practice. Mistakes have been made, but you don't think I'd be as foolish as to judge matters on a single fault. I'm a very forgiving person you see."

"I wonder whether it's you with the wretched heart," Melda said, smug over his own admittance of his faith's less glorious aspects. The conversation felt boring so he went back the scroll, just about ignoring her entirely. "I could read that out for you if you want." Emillius's head jolted up again. He handed her the scrolls, smiling. "This one is actually a record of one of my ancestors. Are you interested in that?"

"Of course I am. My sense of curiosity is a snake that binds my legs until it's fed." He conjured several black vines to bring his metaphor to life; something that drew a laugh from his host.

"Mesalkir's essence has bestowed a strange gift on you." He held the scroll closer to her face. "Idoseth Gestil of Maychus ruled over my clan during the defence against the Halenji empire-"

"Say no more, child. The conclusion of that tale is all too obvious. Thank you for the translation, naturally, but I must wonder if all these writings from back then. That's a shame really if it's true; people are easily controlled by past glories." Not that a nation famous for losing wars had any glory from his perspective, but in his mind people would delusional search for specks of gold in a muddy river. "Of course, reliving the failures of your family would be fascinating, but I don't want you to weep, child." He realised that her face had been hidden by the scroll during this speech. She revealed her smiling expression, but it was clearly forced.

"I wanted to be generous and let you go. You're a harmless idoem after all." She clapped and her guards stormed into the room. "Kenarrandatie idoem. keumbatie Rin vel lefalneteca," she said, rolling the scroll and pointing it at Emillius. The guards closed around the hermit, trying to grab him. Emillius stood up tried to back way, but the room gave him no way to distance himself. "Don't try to get Mesalkir on your side. The lives of your companions are at stake."

The threat was enough for Emillius to surrender. The guards clenched him by both arms and dragged him in front Melda. She offered a conceited smile which Emillius endeavoured to return. He was not used to speaking with the high brass beyond the Leyameaous elders who were generally forgiving as long as he was still competent. "Would Elisetha accept my humble apology? In my excitement I forgot the presence I was standing before."

"An allowance can be made at least. For tonight you'll return to the guest chambers under guard. I will come to a decision by morning."


Rin and Telien had been relegated to a tiny guest room in the basement. She sat with legs crossed in a slump. She could not help think they did not trust her and Telien to explore the tower, which was a little amusing as she knew Emillius was even less responsible. "Maybe if we'd stayed on the island he'd still have the time to teach me something."

She glanced over to Telien who was not listening. Just as Emillius as advised; he was busy meditating. Far from getting to see more of the world she felt like she was being dragged from one unbearably hot place to the next, surrounded by self-absorbed individuals. "Whatever happened to our little fighting?"

"Forgive me; I didn't think you'd want to try again so soon." Rin stood up, grimacing.

"It's better than just sitting here doing nothing," she said, dragging Telien to his feet. "It'd as if I didn't exist unless I gave you a prod every day. Are you always this damp with Linde?"

"I'm not in my element here either. Your master's going to get us in serious trouble if he continues like this. He never thinks of anyone but himself." Rin lightly punched his arm, having thought of a way around her training dilemma.

"Why don' you teach me the moves. That'll be one less thing on my mind when I try the real thing." Telien batted her fist away. His feeble motions made Rin question how much truth there was to his method of practice; the boy acted so weak.

Telien began by bending both knees, spreading his legs apart. He turned his right foot clockwise. "This is how you start off. It's really important to keep your footing steady." Rin adopted the same stance. Telien then brought both fists to chest height. Rin playfully lunged forwards, jabbing her partner. She was suddenly tripped as Telien kicked her foot. She landed on her backside, shaking her foot, which stung for an instant. She scowled at him as he returned to his opening stance.

"I just was only having a laugh," she said.

"Sorry, but your footing was careless." Telien chortled as he offered a helping hand to her. She copied him again, shuffling her feet around in the hope that she would find the right position. "You've got it right, just keep it that way." Rin could not see any different in how either of them was standing. Telien slowly leaned forwards so she tried to copy his own trick. Her foot rammed into his but there was almost no give. She looked up just in the time to clumsily deflect Telien's palm. She staggered back in a frantic attempt to hold balance. Her partner was courteous enough to give her space.

"I can't believe a scrawny little thing like you keeps catching me out," she said, with a huff.

"Master Linde gave me a lot of bruises when I first started. Perhaps I'm not going hard enough."

Their practice was interrupted by a ruckus in the corridor. They could hear Emillius engaged in his usual banter. Rin popped her head out of the room to see him being dragged by two guards to the room on the opposite side. While she knew this meant they were in the trouble the sense of vindication was too intoxicating to resist. She smirked when her master passed a glance. He was tossed into the room with the door slammed behind him. She slipped back inside before the guards decided to turn their attention on her.

"I just hope he didn't do anything too offensive. That woman was really stuck up as it was." Rin sat down and stroked her forehead, the gravity of the situation finally hitting her. She felt too weary for training now.

"Don't say that too loudly. Best we keep our heads down until she cools off." As they sat in silence the howling of the sandstorm became ever more present. Rin felt tense just waiting for the next day to arrive. She got up and opened the door again, finding a man still blocking the way to her master. He watched her, but did not make any threat. Telien was leaning behind her. "He doesn't look too bothered about us."

"Maybe if we find that woman we can talk her round. We can tell her that master is mad." A statement she thought held a certain amount of truth.

"Perhaps I should do the talking. I doubt your manners are a vast improvement over his." Telien slipped past Rin and walked towards the stairs, unhindered by the guards. Rin trailed behind, fuming at his chiding.

They returned to the great hall at the entrance, but both stairs going up were blocked off, as still were the front doors. What caught their attention was the purple light flooding through the gaps around the door of the tower's shrine. It was no mystery; Rin knew it was the light of mystic flames flickering. They could feel whatever warmth around them being drained towards the source, leaving them cold.

"It's not hard to see how these people might see her as a deity. I just hope for our sake that image hasn't gone to her head." There was a hint of genuine worry under his stern front. He approached the guardsman defending the stairs. "Please may we speak with Elisetha." He combined his speech with gestures to symbolise ascending and politely presenting himself. The man paused and scratched his chin before shaking his head.

"Do not mind my loyal men," said Melda, emerging from her shrine bathed in silver flames. Rin and Telien were both silenced before her radiance. "If you're here to plead on behalf of idoem, then I'll spare you a moment." The flames surrounding her intensified.

"We're most grateful," said Telien, shivering. "I don't know what it was that master Emillius said that offended you, but I can assure that he cannot be held entirely responsible for his actions." Melda interrupted with a thinly disguised yawn. "Men of his age are susceptible to the erosion of the mind."

"He certainly acted senile, but he no different from the rest of your little band of holy men; arrogant, clueless, and above all, blasphemous." Rin stepped forwards, clenching her fist. Before she could open her mouth Telien slapped her over the shoulder. As much as she wanted to avenge those insults she knew rationally that it was best to let him continue. She took deep breaths and gazed away from Melda. "Perhaps if I knew what you three were doing out here I'd have an easier time trusting you. I can't help but wonder what kind of damage someone like Emillius could do if he continued to run his mouth down here."

The two Laymen stood silently in the face of her request. Telien turned to Rin, still trying to look in control. Rin nodded firmly, signalling a sense of trust.

"I'm afraid you'll have to ask master Emillius himself," he said, airing uncertainties in his voice. "We're just young students after all, and a man as bizarre as master Emillius enjoys keeping surprises. But he's a hermit and I'm certain he'll stay clear of any people out here."

Melda smiled, which put Rin on edge more. "I understand. I'm sorry, but you will have to wait until the morning, I have much meditation to perform. Now, I bid you to go to sleep; it is a late hour." She drifted back into her den, still pillowing with flames.

"It doesn't look like I was very convincing," said Telien, sighing. Despite his failure he appeared relieved to not be in the presence of the Elisetha.

"At least she didn't have her men lop our heads off." Both of them chuckled, much to irritation of the nearby guard who responded with a grunt. "And thanks; I would've made it much worse if you hadn't stepped in. Being stuck between those two and their powers gets under my skin." She began shivering, the heat of the exchange fading away. With no chance of talking sense into Melda she decided it was best to get some rest. She patted Telien on the back. "Maybe tomorrow I'll repay you with some swift learning." She gave a mock punch to his cheek and laughed.


Since his room had no windows Emillius could not tell how early it was in the morning when it awoke. He felt refreshed so he rose out of his shoddy bedding and found his way around the dark room until he touched the door knob. He twisted it, but it was still locked. "Good morning; is anyone out there?" He knocked on the door twice. "Can I at least get some light? I'm turning into a bat inside here."

After a while there was a click as the door unlocked. A dim bolt of light flooded the room as a guard greeted him from the corridor. "Oh finally-" Before he could finish the man yanked him by the arm and dragged him along. He was taken the entrance hall where his companions were waiting along with Melda, who was protected by the rest of her men. Rin and Telien were glaring at him with pouting lips; they were scared he would say something inappropriate again.

"Good morning is what you'd say at this time," said Melda. She was a draped in the same garbs as the day before.

"Good day indeed," replied Emillius, looking over to his companions to make sure he was in accordance with their wishes. "Are we to wait any longer for your answer? We seriously are in a hurry." He was now considering the idea of packing up and heading back home, since this woman had been such a big thorn in his side. After his task was done he would be certain to stay well away from the folk of the desert.

"I've decided what to do with you. Killing or imprisoning a foreign priest would bring even more troubles of my kingdom, especially after the favour you've done. So I'm releasing the three of you back into the desert." She waved them goodbye with a conceited expression. Emillius smiled, until that was he saw the guards approaching with pieces of cloth in hand. They began to blindfold Emillius and his companions; using rope the bind their hands behind their backs. Rin struggled and thrashed, but was quickly held in place by a man grabbing her arm and hair. He could hear the front doors rattle open, with the arid wind blowing indoors. "It was a pleasure to meet you, and of course I should thank you for delivering your message. Farewell, and good luck on your... pilgrimage, was it?"

"Hold on, aren't you basically trying to-" Emillius was shoved along towards the opening. The sandstorm had at least subsided by now, but the air was blisteringly hot again. The saliva was parched from his mouth moments from stepping out. The sun shone through the weave of the cloth, making him twitch his eyelids. The doors were slammed shut behind them as they trekked through the sand.

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