Fates Intertwined (Part 6)
Cairn pressed his back against the wall. His eyes felt heavy and his body numb. The smell of ozone wafted strongly in the air.
I can’t do this anymore. Demecus is gonna die… and it’s my fault.
He lifted his eyes, staring at the shambles his small room was in. His pallet was scored and blankets laying on it charred. Scorch marks from the surge of lightning the day prior covered the floor, walls, and ceiling.
Thankfully, like most Absonian buildings, the room was made of stone. The Brothers lived with the bare minimum, plus whatever personal effects they had gathered over the course of their stay in the Dorms. Still, it was an ascetic life. Material possessions held little value outside of daily needs.
Cairn thought about the Brothers living in the Dorms. Helplessness set in when he recalled their shocked expressions. Vahti’s expression hurt the most when he burst into the foyer. He looked so lost and fearful.
It’s only a matter of time before they ask us to leave…
His gaze shifted to the small bookcase where the scrolls he brought lay. They were the only thing left untouched by lighting. Cairn stood, his body aching. The world spun for a moment and he reached for the wall to steady himself.
It’s getting worse. My body feels so heavy.
Moving to the bookshelf, Cairn studied the scoring around its edges. It was specific and purposeful. Almost as if the lightning knew not to touch it.
Cairn’s eyes watered. Why can’t I control you? Why don’t the teachings help? What am I doing wrong?
It was always the same. No amount of meditation helped, but Cairn knew something was amiss. Justus and Arridus taught the basics of two the two paths as a means to discover which was the best to follow. But between them, it always felt like there was another route.
The Way of the Fist focused on physical discipline. Mastering emotion and self. The Way of the Mind focused on knowledge and contemplation. Both sought understanding of the world and the Creator. Both had their martial training and specialities in such pursuits.
I have to find my answer.
Cairn leaned against the wall, working himself into a seating position. Crossing his legs, he pressed his hands together and closed his eyes.
When you breathe Cairn, immerse yourself in it. Feel the air filling your lungs. Let it sooth and calm your spirit. Even if you are hurting your emotions cannot rule you.
Arridus and Justus had said those words often. They had always been so patient. Vahti was much better at grasping the meditations and techniques.
Cairn steadied his breathing, the stares of the others weighing heavily on him. Justus often spoke of how people condemn themselves for past mistakes. How they carry impossible loads and burdens.
Guilt is a reminder of right and wrong, Cairn. But it can also be a prison. Guilt’s purpose allows us to recognize when we’ve acted in the wrong, so we might work toward making things right.
We make it a prison when we stop forgiving ourselves of past mistakes. Regardless of the deed or atonement required, in order to move forward, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise guilt becomes condemnation.
But what if you hurt someone or fail to protect them?
Did you do everything in your power not to hurt them or to keep them safe, Cairn?
I would try.
Then was all you could do. We have limits, Cairn. There is only so much a person can take on themselves. It doesn’t mean we stop trying.
Cairn immersed himself, trying to navigate the labyrinth of emotions stirring in his heart. “I’m sorry, Demecus,” he whispered. “I know it was an accident. I wasn’t trying to hurt you.”
As he meditated, Cairn felt another Surge rising within him. It was stronger than before, with frustration and anger riding on its back.
Why me? What purpose does this serve? The smell of ozone in the air intensified, but Cairn ignored it. They were afraid, because they don’t know how to help. They don’t understand, and people fear the unknown. They can’t help it.
The Surge weakened.
“I forgive you,” he whispered. “It hurt, knowing you were afraid. I’ve been angry for so long. I’ve felt like a disappointment, like I can’t get anything right. But I’m neither a disappointment nor a failure.”
Cairn breathed in, then exhaled. He felt the Surge weaken further. It was like a river, its cool touch washing over his body while steadily flowing into him. Without opening his eyes, he spread his hands apart, feeling a tingling between his palms.
Cairn thought of Vahti, and regret reared its ugly head. “If it weren’t for me… How many times have I said that to myself when this began?” he whispered. “I would say, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘If I could just learn how to control this’. I’d bury those feelings and put on a smile for you, but neither of us is to blame. While I don’t have the answer, I can’t carry this anymore.”
The flow of the Surge became still. Cairn felt its power, but this time something was different. A calm existed that wasn’t there before, like being in the eye of a storm or a quiet lake. He opened his eyes, his mouth falling open upon seeing a small ball of lightning hovered between his palms. The shock of seeing it created a ripple on the ‘lake’ and the ball vanished.
Cairn fell forward, using his arms to catch himself. His vision blurred, and he felt a chill. Touching his face, he noted how badly he was sweating.
The fatigue hit harder this time, and he shook his head, fighting to keep from passing out. After a few quick breaths, the moment passed, and a slight smile crossed his cheeks.
I finally understand.
Cairn turned to the door. “Anki, now isn’t a good time.”
“Actually, young monk, now is an excellent time,” another voice chimed in. “I suggest you open the door.”
Hesitantly, Cairn reached for the door, sliding it open. His heart skipped a beat upon laying eyes on the Shaylin he’d seen on the street two days prior. Vahti stood behind him.
“Oh, come now. Don’t look so horrified,” the Shaylin said. “I’m here to change both your lives.”
Cairn narrowed his eyes. “How?” he asked. “You’re a Sorceire, I know what you people are about.”
“Cairn, how about we take a walk in the gardens? Or if you prefer, we could discuss things over that tea you monks are always touting about.”
“A walk would be pointless, Sorciere. I know why you’re here.”
A wolfish smile crossed his angular features. “Good, then tea it is. I hate wasting time with unnecessary formalities.”
Just sitting in the same room with Shaboh, carried the same feeling as staring down some venomous snake. His dark brown eyes shined with the gleam of someone who made plans within plans. It was ironic considering what his name meant in Shaylin.
“Now, that we’re all gathered like some happy family,” he said. “Let me start by saying Talleh, Cairn. Lanmi Senmut Aelta Qsoneen.” As before, he placed the tips of his fingers on his left hand to his forehead while bowing with high right hand over his heart.
“For someone who doesn’t like unnecessary formalities, you are rather formal, Sorceire.”
“Well, while I saw you from the street, Cairn and greeting accordingly; I felt here, face to face, respect was in order.”
Vahti stood by the door behind Shaboh. He was tense and ready to fight. Though behind the mask, Cair saw he wanted to know what the Sorciere had said.
“So you use a traditional first time greeting.”
Shaboh’s eyes lit up. “Oh, thank The Lady. Someone of refinement exists among these uneducated simpletons!”
Cairn smirked. “Do want me to translate?”
Regaining his composure, Shaboh shook his head. “No, that fact you understand is enough.”
“I could use the dragon tongue if you prefer. Or perhaps dwarven if dragons aren’t to your liking.”
“Now you’re showing off, but I’m curious,” he said. “How many languages do you speak?”
“Nine in total. I’ve been studying since the monks taught me to read. Whatever language maps we had, I learned. Whatever ones we didn’t, I figured out enough to understand.”
The Sorceire trembled, his excitement showing. “Oh, what a blessing you are, boy,” he said. “We will be good friends, you and I. Especially when you graduate from the Arcanum.”
Cairn bit his lip. “Why me?”
Shaboh took the stone cup from the table in front of him and sipped his tea. He closed his eyes as if savoring its flavor. “Cairn, do you know how rare your abilities are? For that matter, do you know how easy it is for others who practice the Arts to find you?”
“No, I honestly don’t.”
“Then allow me to enlighten you, he said, setting his cup down. “The last channeler, as you are called, to exist on record in Absion was over fifteen hundred years ago. She was heir to the throne and started a war over it.”
“Indeed, The Twins War,” Shaboh replied.
“That was a bit longer than fifteen hundred years ago, Shaboh.”
“Details, details, Cairn,” he said. “Regardless, you get the point.”
“Your talent doesn’t just happen, but suspect the reason for this is that those like you are either killed or burn out before learning how to use their abilities.”
Cairn felt the ‘lake’ inside ripple slightly. No, he told himself. I have to accept my fears, not bury them. “How do you know about all this?”
“My studies as war mage are eclectic,” he replied. “My peers consider me strange, but I find strange things interesting. Often you humans destroy things that differ from yourselves or shun them. It limits you so much.”
“Channelers especially interest me, and when I heard The Order was searching for information on your kind, it begged asking: Why? So, my hunt began and here we are.”
“What do you gain from this?”
Shaboh grinned. “A chance to learn,” he replied. “I may only one of your kind in my lifetime, do you know how rare that is for a Shaylin?”
Cairn eyed the table between them. If what he said was true, then it made sense why Shaboh would be so interested. Shaylin lived for a very long time and though Shaboh didn’t appear to be that old, he was obviously bored with the static nature of Absonian life.
“So to you I’m nothing more that a passing fancy?”
“Oh, Cairn, not at all,” the Sorceire replied. “Just sitting here with you, I can tell that you have a keen mind for one so young. I don’t want to see that wasted.”
“So, I get sent off and Vahti won’t get to see me for seven years. I’m Libertas, but have no money to pay the Arcanum’s tuition. They’ll own me.”
“See, this is where Vahti comes in,” Shaboh replied. “He can pay for your tutelage and earn the right for both of you to become Civis.”
Shaboh leaned forward. “The Colosseum,” he said. “He can fight. So why not use those skills to provide for your future?”
Cairn tensed. No… that goes against everything we’ve been taught.
“Cairn…” Shaboh said, his tone even and firm. “Calm down.”
Cairn looked to Vahti. The hard expression his brother wore said that his mind was made up. “Vahti, we can’t, the Brother’s won’t stand for it. If you kill…”
“Cairn, one way or another, they’re going to take you. It needs to be on our terms, not Absion’s. Shaboh will eventually have to report you.”
No… Vahti you don’t have to. “I’m learning to control it. I’ve finally figured it out. I just need more time.”
“I promised to protect you, Cairn,” he replied. “No matter what.”
Cairn turned back to Shaboh. He was quietly sipping his tea. “Shaboh you put him up to this, didn’t you?”
“I merely laid out the King’s Board, Cairn,” Shaboh replied. “Vahti simply made the first move.”
Eyeing both of them, Cairn sat back. Fine, I’ll play this game. But I have few moves of my own to make.