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Chapter I: Evening Interlude
Arrangements for sleep were planned shortly after Jezran began leading them down the stairwell. Jezran explained that the floors of the tower had dozens of separate rooms, likely a dormitory for those who worked in the observatory long ago. Selene was barely listening. The words of the strange figure still echoed in her mind.
“Welcome to Syndramire, Selene Bryseis.”
Someone was waiting for me here? Why? Could it be someone from back home? Impossible, everyone I know from back home is either dead or gone. Even so, they’d know me as Rieta, right? So why call me Selene, unless they were mocking me? I just don’t know…
Her thoughts were interrupted by a voice to her right, “Nervous about tomorrow?”
Selene nearly jumped out of her skin, head spinning like a top until her eyes met Ari’s. A rush of heat flooded her cheeks. I can’t believe she snuck up on me! Arveene would probably box my ears if she saw me caught off guard like that.
Regaining her composure, Selene decided it was for the best that she avoid the topic of the figure with anyone. Not until she knew for certain who or what it was. Besides, Ari was not entirely wrong. A ball of anxiety had begun forming in the pit of her stomach the more she thought about it.
“Uh…yeah. I guess, but it’s fine. I did come here for adventure, after all.” Selene tried to pass herself off as nonchalant, unsuccessfully.
Ari nodded, “I’m pretty sure that’s natural. New things are exciting, but can also be a little scary.”
“Especially when you have giant fish carpets flying through the sky like it’s the dang ocean.” Selene mumbled.
Ari chuckled, “You mean the Umbralivant? Yes, those are quite scary. We’d best avoid those, but we should be fine during the day.”
Selene rolled her eyes, “Oh good, should give me plenty of time to get used to the other fun monsters hiding in the streets.”
“Yes, that’s the spirit!” Ari smiled, but then added with a frown as a thought occurred to her, “Still, I’m surprised. Umbralivants are quite rare to find on the surface, especially this far from the open ocean. I don’t think I’ve seen them this close to shore since…”
Ari’s words trailed off as she was lost in thought for a moment.
It was rare for Ari to talk about the past, and Selene did not want to miss this opportunity. “Since what?” She prodded, hoping Ari would continue.
Ari blinked, then shook her head. “Oh, nothing. It was just a long time ago.” She then added, “It did remind me of something I need to ask Argent, though. Excuse me.”
Without waiting for a response, Ari dashed ahead, slipping past Hamish, who was a few steps in front of them. Selene sighed, then sped up her descent to walk beside Hamish.
“Everything alright, my friend?” Hamish said, “I hope you do not regret agreeing to help.”
Selene frowned, “Guess you heard us talking?”
“Apologies, friend.” Hamish blushed, “Did not mean to drop eaves, but sound carries in small stairway.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Selene shrugged, then added rather unconvincingly, “….and I’m fine, by the way..”
Hamish nodded, “Whatever you say, my friend. But..remember that comrades share burdens, and there is no shame in being frightened.”
Selene was about to respond when suddenly Jezran called out from ahead, “We’re here everyone!”
“We can talk more about it later, Hamish.” Selene whispered, earning a slight nod from her companion as they caught up with the rest of the group.
Jezran was in front of them, facing away from the stairs leading to the first floor. “Now then, let me get those rooms ready for you.”
Spinning round to face the stairs, he waved his hand in the air and whispered, “Ani-rah.”
Cleaning items scattered about on the first floor, ranging from brooms, mops, and cleaning buckets, sprung to life at his call and bounded up the stairs, coming to stand at attention in front of him.
After they finished gathering, he turned back to glance at Argent, “Two rooms should be enough for you and your friends?”
Jezren then raised his hands above his head and clapped his hands, yelling, “Ari-maht!” The cleaning supplies jumped at his command. They moved in unison toward two adjacent doors near the stairway.
“It should only take a few minutes,” Jezran said, admiring his handiwork, “Should give you all enough time to gather up your things.”
The party gave their thanks and headed downstairs.
Another time, Selene would be entranced. Magic, of course, was nothing new in the world. She had heard tales of wizards and sorcerers all her life, but even so, seeing it up close was a rare delight.
Tonight, however, fatigue and confusion had taken their toll.
All the same, she was the last to descend the final staircase, watching the cleaning supplies until they all disappeared into rooms.
She went to get her things without another word, even when Hamish attempted to pick up their prior conversation.
After the rooms were cleaned and the cleaning items, particularly the brooms, were handled, they discussed what the next step should be. It was decided that Ari and Selene would take one room, while Hamish and Argent took the other. They all agreed to rise and meet before dawn to discuss the journey ahead.
The rooms could not be called extravagant, after the debris and dust were cleared, little more remained than empty rooms with furnishings for two occupants. Two beds were set on either side of the room and a washbasin stood near the door. Lanterns hung magically near the beds as the sole source of light inside. Still, compared to the hard wooden floors of The Admare, it was practically luxurious.
Ari grinned broadly and ran to one of the beds, “Oh this looks wonderful, don’t you think, Selene?”
Selene did not reply, moving across the room to the other bed. Despite her sudden fatigue, her mind could not accept the picture before her.
When was the last time I slept on one of these, I wonder? She let her hand glide across the white linen sheets. I think we spent a night or two in a room at an inn during winter, once.
“Selene?” Ari asked from across the room, “You okay?”
Rieta was too absorbed in her thoughts to respond. I think it was probably three years ago. We had such a good haul, Arveene wanted to celebrate.
“Selene? Is something wrong?”
We had a warm meal, then hid under the covers late into the night whispering stories back and forth. Even in the dark, I could see her blue eyes sparkling as she listened to my retelling of her favorite story.
“Selene, can you hear me?”
It was about Illanon Silver-Eyes. She always loved hearing stories about elves and magic. I bet she’d love this, too, and meeting everyone…
The name, her name, finally registered. Rieta was pulled from her thoughts, “Yes?”
She turned toward the elven woman, who was now beside her with a hand on her shoulder, small lines of worry creased her brow. “Are you okay? I called out to you and you didn’t say anything. And now…are you crying?”
Selene’s hand immediately sprung up and touched her face, finding a faint dampness from a tear rolling down her face. Quickly, Selene rubbed it away, “I’m sorry Ari. I’m just…really tired I guess. Been so long at sea, it’ll…be nice to sleep on a bed again.”
Arifrenya eyed her for a moment. Selene thought that she was going to say something, but a glimmer flashed across Ari’s expression and she simply nodded, “Right, that’s what I was saying.“
Selene quietly breathed a sigh of relief, as Ari walked back to her bed.
“I think you need some sleep, Selene. It’s been a long day,” Ari said.
Selene nodded, whispering under her breath, “Yeah…it has.”
The two then prepared for bed in silence before blowing out the lanterns.
“Do you think Selene is alright, Argent?” Hamish whispered to the elf as soon as the door was shut behind them. “She seem…quieter than usual.”
Argent approached the nearest bed, setting his pack on the floor nearby as Hamish hesitated by the door frame. He thought over the question a moment, then shrugged, “I don’t know, it’s possible it’s just jitters.”
Hamish’s brow furrowed slightly as he moved towards the opposite bed, following Argent’s example as he set his pack down. Hamish had traveled this land for many months, but the minor subtleties of its language continued to elude him. “Jitters? What is this thing you speak?”
Argent pulled the covers off his bed, laying them on the floor, “Nerves. I think she’s just nervous about tomorrow.”
The monk nodded in understanding, “Oh, yes! Of course. Still, I cannot help but worry that these ‘jitters’ as you say, are not…more.”
“Perhaps they are, but some jitters before an expedition like this are a good thing. It should keep her sharp tomorrow when she needs her wits about her,” Argent said nonchalantly. He pulled out a whetstone, some oil, and a few cleaning instruments from his pack then laid them atop the bed cover.
“True, but is different for one so young…” Hamish trailed off as he unpacked his candles and incense, “I cannot help but wonder…”
“Wonder what?” Argent said as he pulled out various weapons, ranging from simple knives and short swords to an exotic set of throwing axes and a morningstar.
The longsword at his hip was never removed, however.
“…is nothing,” Hamish said sheepishly.
“No, speak please,” Argent said, inspecting each weapon, sharpening or cleaning as needed.
Hamish nodded, then muttered quietly in his native tongue as he struggled to find the right words, “Selene is…she has…dark…omen. Around her.”
“She’s Malenai, sad to say most carry dark omens,” Argent stated matter of factly.
Hamish’s brow furrowed, “No. I do not mean like rest of kind. I sensed omen over her. I fear whatever cause this will lead her to death.”
Argent’s back remained turned to Hamish, so he could not read the elf’s expression, but his voice sounded tenser than before, “What do you mean?”
Hamish shrugged, “I…am not sure…sorry, friend. All I know is something bad has touched this poor child, and I hope to protect her from it.”
Argent nodded, “I understand. I’ve done everything I could to prepare her for Syndramire. Just remember if that fails, she will not be alone. We will all do what we can.”
Hamish nodded solemnly, “Thank you, my friend.”
“She is my student, and I will do what I must.” He stated matter of factly.
Hamish felt some peace from Argent’s words, but he would not find calm unless he meditated properly. This was not his first journey, and he could sense the challenges ahead would be great.
He would need to prepare himself spiritually. He had to be on his guard to keep everyone in the party safe, as was his duty.
Argent said from over his shoulder, “Do you plan to meditate?”
Hamish nodded, “Yes, I suspect I sleep very little this night.”
There was a pause, then Argent asked, “Do you mind if I join you?”
Hamish’s trademark grin returned to his face, as he excitedly proclaimed, “Not at all! Sharing in spirit with comrade shall surely be good for journey ahead.”
“Is there…anything you need from me?” Argent asked.
“No. My order prepares for meditation alone. This way we never lose practice, even far from home like this.”
Hamish began to lay out three candles, spread equidistant apart with a simple censer placed in between.
“…do you miss them?” Argent asked quietly.
“Yes. But is good to be far away, so I can be here.”
Hamish did not respond immediately. He began to hum quietly, a deep rumbling baritone. He pulled a flint and razor out from his pack and raised it to each candle.
His hands moved only ever so slightly as he struck the two together, creating a spark. The ritual required a single strike to light each candle, using only the simplest of movements to complete.
Discipline and control were key.
Once finished, he responded, “I am needed here.”
Argent nodded, “I suppose we are both bound by duty, then.”
“Then we are both in best place. No better place in the world than where you are needed.”
Argent chuckled, “You are a strange one, Hamish.”
Hamish shrugged, “Makes sense to me. I travel in lands with strange company.”
With the candles alight, he pulled two sticks of incense from his pack, he then lit one for each candle and placed it within the censer. After a few moments, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply as the air filled with the familiar scent of Arbettin Cedar.
“Meditation is ready. Please sit down and cross legs beside me like so.” Hamish said as he gestured to the spot beside him.
Argent nodded and quietly sat crossed-legged beside him. Both closed their eyes and sat there until the smell of incense had long since faded.