Fates Intertwined (Part 4)
Vahti scanned the streets. It was like stepping into another world. There was nothing aesthetic about Serindeth’s design. If the high imposing walls around the city didn’t make it feel like a fortress, the marble, stone, and granite buildings would.
The streets showed a purpose of design. As they crisscrossed, Vahti couldn’t help but think if he had a proper measuring tool, they would be even in both length and width. It was all very uniform and militaristic, which described Absonians well.
The streets were packed as the people went about their business. Soldiers patrolled the crowd, in groups of five at regular intervals. Most held spears and large shields. Their Septimus or Compe leader was the easiest to spot by the red paint on his right pauldron.
Despite the strict ordered vibe permeating the streets, Cairn was wide eyed and filled with excitement. Vahti smirked as he scanned the booths of the merchants they passed, while Cairn eyed the wares on display. Some held sour looks once they realized he had no money and was simply browsing.
The sight of orcs seemed a special treat. Of all the races frequenting Absion, humans and orcs were most coming. Elves were much fewer in number. According to the Monastery’s library, sometimes Drakainan would come down from the Arshain mountains. It was a kind of coming age ritual among them.
Knowing Cairn, he wanted to see one of them the most. Studious as his brother was, Cairn spent four years studying the dragon tongue in hopes of one day speaking with one. Creator help me if we see one.
“Anki, this is amazing! I’ve never seen so many people.”
“Careful Cairn, don’t get too excited, you know what might happen.”
The light in his eyes faded slightly, and he nodded. “Sure, you’re right,” he replied.
Inwardly, Vahti cringed. I’m sorry little brother, we just have to be careful.
Despite the din, the silence between them was deafening. Cairn looked on, not daring to venture too far. Though his eyes said he wanted to.
After several blocks, Vahti stopped him to look at the markers of the closest intersection. The Dorms were six blocks further. He cast a glance behind him. Serindeth’s protective wall seemed no further away than it has been an hour and a half ago.
“Why do you seem so worried?”
“Because this isn’t the monastery, the world we knew is gone. People here will lie, cheat, steal and even kill to find their place.”
“But I’ve studied Absonian law. Brother Sicarius kept hundreds of scrolls on the subject.”
Vahti grinned and shook his head. “Why is it hard to argue with you when you seem so confidant?”
Cairn eyes lit up. “Because you know I’m right and you trust me,” he replied.
“Still, don’t let all that knowledge go to your head.”
Cairn shrugged, glancing at markers chiseled into the closest building. “This way!” he said, running ahead.
“Cairn!” Cairn ignored him, and Vahti glimpsed a mischievous grin on his younger brother’s cheeks. “This going to be a long day.”
Carin may not have taken to all the training they were given growing up, but he was still quick and agile. Vahti felt a strange sense of nostalgia wash over him as he chased his brother through the streets. It was like at the monastery, running one of the obstacle courses Brother Arridus designed.
The goal was to control your movements and keep the moving pillars from touching you. Arridus was always talking about being aware of your surroundings and anticipate what came at you. Cairn struggled most of the time whenever they ran the course. Thankfully, the pillars pummeling him were padded.
“Too slow, star pupil,” Cairn shouted.
A few passersby stopped, blocking Vahti’s path as they looked to see who his brother was shouting at. Vahti fell to his knees, leaning back and using his momentum to slide across the polished stone street. He glided between them, their mouths falling open as he rolled to his feet.
Cairn, we’re drawing too much attention! His younger brother was already further ahead. It was getting harder to spot him amid the crowd.
“Too slow, Anki!” she shouted. “You need to move faster! Isn’t that what…”
“Hey boy! Watch your step!”
Vahti froze, scanning the crowd. He caught sight of Cairn standing near a group of soldiers. Their Septimus was glaring at him.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…”
Vahti felt the hairs on his arm stand on end, the air felt electric. The familiar smell a lighting began filling the air. No! Not now!
Vahti bolted, pushing past the crowd to reach his younger brother. The soldiers took notice, tensing as he approached. He took his fist, placing it against the flat of his palm in front of himself and bowed.
“Please forgive my younger brother, Septimus. We only recently arrived from Hedath.”
Cairn backed away. Though they couldn’t see it, Vahti could tell he was struggling to keep himself under control. At the mention of Hedath, the soldiers relaxed. Though the Septimus still seemed annoyed.
“Monks, eh?” he said. “Where are your masters? You’re too young to be on your own.”
“Forgive us, but as I said, we only just arrived,” Vahti replied. “We were instructed to head to one of the Dorms prepared for us in the city.”
He tightened his lower lip, suspicion written on his face. The smell of ozone grew, and the Septimus stared off for a second, sniffing the air. Just leave, please. Just let us go.
“Then you won’t mind if we escort you to the Dorms, would you?”
Vahti stole his emotions away. “That’s very kind, but we should manage just fine. I’m sure men important as yourselves have better things to do than escort two monks a few blocks.”
He shifted his eyes to Cairn. “Just know your place as Libertas. This isn’t Hedath. Outside your monastery, Absonian law takes precedence.”
Vahti reached back, grabbing Cairn by the shoulder of his tunic. He bit lip, working to keep a blank face as Cairn shocked him. “Absolutely. We understand.”
The Septimus started at Cairn one last time before turning and walking away. His men followed, flanking each other as they began patrolling a different street. A few people had stopped to watch, but after the soldiers left, they were content to go about their business.
“Not now, Cairn, let’s just get to the Dorms.”
“Sure, whatever you say.”
Cairn tried hiding it in his tone, but Vahti could hear it plainly. What his brother was really saying was: I’m sorry I keep messing things up.
The Dorms weren’t very spacious, neither was the building. It was a one story building and like the surrounding buildings, was built with a rigid Absonian mindset. Brother Demecus and the others had made the most of it. He explained that much of the building had been remodeled to suit their needs.
Each Brother had their own room and helped tends to the needs of their small fifteen man community. Some managed the gardens, selling what produce they grew in the market. Others maintained the meditation and training areas.
Everyone worked to keep things clean. A few of the brothers shared in the responsibility of cooking. It wasn’t much different from the monastery, but it still didn’t feel like home.
The gardens were probably the nicest thing about the Dorms. There was no roof, allowing the sun to nourish the plants. It was like an oasis amid of sea of stone and granite. The last natural vestige of life.
Vahti had taken to spending a lot of his time there after he finished his chores. He never spoke of any insights he might have gleaned, but between meditation, training, and chores his routine each day had become set.
Cairn stared into the street from the steps of the Dorms. “It’s hard to believe a week has gone by,” he mused.
The Septimus they met on the first day patrolled the area regularly. Once, he came by on his own to inquire about how they were getting along. There was something off about him. He always seemed suspicious. Brother Demecus had been polite, assuring him things were fine.
The older monk’s stance, however, showed he was ready to put the Septimus in his place if he persisted. Cairn smirked just thinking about it. The soldier never would have seen the strike coming.
The law was clear. No soldier, member of the Inquisition or government could interfere with The Order or any monk while on temple grounds. Not even the Emperor had a say. It was part of an ancient covenant established several decades after the Order’s founding.
There were loopholes when it came to public safety. If a monk murdered another, or caused harm to someone without justifiable reason, then they would lose their immunity. Theft was also another example. In each instance, such things were impossible. The order’s tenants forbade harming another, unless in self defense. Fighting was always the last option and theft in the monastery was unheard of.
“I see you’ve found your place to meditate.”
Cairn looked behind him, and Brother Demecus smiled. “I wouldn’t call it meditation. More like quiet contemplation without all the breathing.”
The older monk laughed. “Well, it sounds no different to me.”
Cairn smiled. “I just don’t know what to do. I wasn’t born Sivis, so since I’m not an Absonian citizen, it limits my options. Vahti’s worried about me working. If I have a Surge, the who knows what will happen.”
“You have time, Cairn. We have spent the last week searching for a teacher to help you.”
Cairn nodded. “I know, I’ve seen Vahti sneaking off at night into the city. He’s pushing himself too hard.”
“Love of family drives him.”
“Don’t tell Vahti, but sometimes I wonder about that. If we’re even blood. We don’t look alike and part of me is sure we are family, but sometimes we just seem so different.”
“Isn’t The Order family, though not by blood? Why does blood make any difference who you call family?” Demecus asked. “Take that orc or Shaylin walking down the street. If they were to step into the Dorms and ask to be shown The Path, wouldn’t they become part of our family?”
“Would the shape of their eyes or color of their skin deny them the right to say such a thing? Blood, Cairn, doesn’t always make one family. It’s the bonds we forge with others that make this so. In the eyes of the Creator, all are one. All are Family.”
Cairn glanced at the pair Demecus pointed at. The orc had a brand on his arm, signifying him as Servus. His master was a plump Absonian, who was busying himself with browsing a local vendor’s pottery stand.
The Shaylin was tall and lean. His almond-shaped eyes and pointed ears made him stand out among the other humans on the street. He was scanning the streets as if he were searching for something, or maybe someone. He wore a purple sleeveless tunic.
Cairn froze, noting the tattoo on his left shoulder. The script on the outer edge of the formed a circle and was written in dragon speech. Inside the circle were smaller circles decreasing in size. Each was connection by black lines forming a chevron.
“In service to the state and have become free to wield the gifts I was given…” he whispered softly under his breath.
The Shaylin turned, even so far apart it was clear the elf had heard him. He smiled widely when his brown eyes met with Cairn’s. The Shaylin bowed low, placing his left hand over his heart, while taking his right and putting his fingers at the center of his brow. It was a formal greeting of respect among his kind.
It signified that: With my mind; I acknowledge and see you. With my heart, I take joy in our first meeting. The Shaylin then made a simple gesture, his almond eye widening as if surprised. He pressed the tips of his fingers on his right hand to his forehead and walked away.
“Cairn? What’s wrong?”
Cairn’s heart pounded as the smell of ozone permeated the air. He fought to breathe, to quell the Surge as fear amplified its power. He’s with the Arcanum… The Septimus figured it out, and now they want to take me away.
“Cairn! Calm down!”
Cairn sat frozen, his thoughts racing as a crackling sound rang in his ears. What should I do? Where’s Vahti, he’ll know…
A loud pop struck Cairn’s ears, and the Surge instantly died. A wave of fatigue rolled through him and he turned to look behind him. Cairn’s jaw dropped when he saw Brother Demecus laying unconscious on his back several feet away in the foyer of the Dorms.
“No!” he whispered softly, his eyes watering. Cairn scrambled inside, placing his fingers to Demecus’ throat. The older monk’s pulse was erratic. “Help! Please, someone help… I didn’t mean it!”