She was the perfect image of ageless beauty. Her hair and clothing were simple, but immaculately clean. The thin silver band that held her hair back from her face shone with an unnatural brilliance, as if brighter than it should, in order to earn its place upon her brow. Her skin sparkled like a bed of diamonds, and as she placed her hands upon the wounded side of the man lying before her the light seemed to follow her, catching every last sparkle as it danced upon her flesh.
The man who lay upon the altar before her began to convulse as she worked her art. Every second that passed was an eternity for those who stood by, holding their breath as they looked on in wonder, not knowing if the man would survive the process. The spectators exhaled as one when she finally took her hands away, and only when she spoke did they realize that she had been successful. “Prism, dear Prism, you’re always on the brink of death,” she whispered sweetly. “When will you learn that death doesn’t want you?”
“Veil,” Prism replied, without opening his eyes, smiling pleasantly at the woman above him. “I have not heard your lovely voice in far too long.”
“I imagine it has been far longer for me than it has for you. You were trapped in a pillar with a demon,” Veil observed with a wry smile, “weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was,” Prism answered as he opened his eyes in surprise. “How did you know?”
“I’ve not earned the title of Oracle without reason,” she replied with a quiet chuckle. “I can still put patterns together. A pillar disappears and you suddenly reappear. I don’t believe that was a coincidence.”
“No, I suppose not,” Prism conceded with a slight nod. Smiling more broadly than before, he added, “It is wonderful to see you.”
“We thought you had left with my brother to hunt the Vhor,” she explained as she stroked his face gently. “But he told us that you had done nothing of the sort when we crossed paths later.”
“I’m sure he did,” Prism confirmed. “The last I saw of him before yesterday was when we all met before the battle.” His smile turned sad as he added, “He is still on the trail.”
“Then you have seen him more recently than I,” Veil stated with her lips scrunched to one side. “How was he?”
Prism sat up from the altar and shrugged. “Not as good as he could be, but better than he has been.”
“To any other person that wouldn’t make any sense,” Veil replied, laughing openly.
“I suppose I know you too well, Veil,” Prism replied with a grin. Then to the shock of everyone in the room, he embraced her. Though she was initially caught off guard by the action, she returned the embrace after a moment and hugged him tightly.
One of Veil’s guards drew his sword and took an outraged step toward Prism. “How dare you treat the Oracle like . . .?” He began, but was halted in his words and his movement by an upraised hand from Veil.
“There’s no need for that. Prism is an old friend,” she said firmly. With an air of supreme authority she chided, “If you had paid any attention to the history books, you would have known that Grandmaster Prism served with King Neredos and me during the Demon War. Without him we would have never succeeded.”
“I’m sorry, Oracle,” the guard apologized, sheathing his weapon immediately. He bowed low and backed away as he said, “Please excuse my rudeness.”
“It is quite all right. Thank you for your concern,” Veil said sweetly. When the guard bowed again she turned to Alsha, surprising the Knight by addressing her, “You are Lady Alsha Tremlain, a Commander of the Inquisitor branch of the Knights of the Firmament, correct?”
“Indeed I am,” Alsha replied quickly, unable to keep the surprise from her voice. While her father’s political connections had earned her the audience with the Oracle, she had not anticipated Veil to address her by name.
“Your father was a great man, in a line of great men. I am pleased to see that the legacy has continued.” Veil said as she rose to her feet and reached out to take Alsha’s hand in her own. Alsha blushed and nodded, but before she could humbly thank the Oracle for the compliment, Veil continued, “You did a great deed by bringing Prism to me, though I am surprised that you had the presence of mind to know he would need the help of a Fedain. We are not so commonplace anymore.”
“I’m afraid the credit does not belong to me,” Alsha replied, “but to the boy who suggested we rescue Prism in the first place.”
“Ah, the Shade who I was told accompanied you to the city,” Veil noted with a slow nod. “I understand that he has been held for questioning in regard to a plot by Salidar?”
“Yes, Oracle,” Alsha replied.
“Please bring him here tomorrow. I would like to see him,” Veil requested, drawing another surprised look from Alsha, though the commander knew better than to question the Oracle. Alsha nodded and Veil went on as she turned back to Prism. “Prism, I would have you accompany them as well. We have much to discuss, though I fear I must rest now.” With another wry smile she added, “Healing such a virulent poison takes its toll.”
“I understand, dearest Veil,” Prism said as he squeezed her hand, drawing another outraged look from the guards. He stood up then and moved to stand beside Alsha. “I must speak with Neredos anyway. There is no time to waste.”
“You may find that difficult, Prism. Our friend has been . . .” Veil paused as she searched for the words to explain her thoughts; something Prism had never seen. She found them at last and continued her sentence, “different, of late. I’m not convinced that he will see you.”
“Someone needs to tell him what has been going on,” Prism replied firmly. “Salidar must be stopped.”
“Is he really so dangerous? None of the rebellions by the thulu’Khants have been successful in the past,” Veil replied, with a dismissive gesture. “You have not been here, Prism. You have never seen the defenses this city employs. Speaking of which, the Knights will pass on your concerns.” She patted his arm as she added, “You should take your well-earned rest, my friend.”
“I want to do my part to ensure we can withstand the assault,” Prism replied with a frown.
“As do I, my friend,” Veil said noncommittally. She squeezed his arm as he turned away and said, “We will speak later.”
“As you wish, dear one,” Prism replied, letting her go. He watched as she disappeared from the room with her guards in tow. Grim had told the truth about her; she had certainly changed. Even though she didn’t look a day older than she had when he had last spoken to her, the centuries had not been kind to her. It could have been the tiredness around her eyes, but it seemed as if something had taken a great toll on her soul.
Though they had been of similar age when they had ventured to close the demon gate together, Prism’s friends now had a level of experience he would never match. But there was one man left whom he knew was still alive, and despite Veil’s warning that Neredos might not be willing to reminisce about old times he had to see for himself.
“Lady Alsha,” Prism asked as he turned toward the commander whose name he only knew from Veil’s use of it, “Would you mind escorting me to King Neredos?”
“I’m afraid I do not have the authority to obtain an audience with the King,” Lady Alsha replied, stunned by the request. Not wanting to disappoint a friend of the Oracle’s, she quickly offered, “but I can put you in touch with someone who can. We can meet Kirra and Styx at the Hall of Justice, and the Grand Inquisitors can hear your request.”
“I’m sure he’ll see me once he learns that I’m here,” Prism replied with conviction. “Lead the way.”
The Hall of Justice was no different at night than it was during the day. It was the command center of the Knights of the Firmament, and the Order was active at all times. The only thing that changed was who was on duty, and as Kirra watched the shift change he realized that Styx would most likely be released soon. The Grand Inquisitors whom Styx was meeting with were sure to want to go home to their beds.
Confirming Kirra’s suspicions, it was less than fifteen minutes after the new shift started that the doors to the audience chamber opened and Styx stepped out. The three Inquisitors immediately followed him, and each one looked at Styx with contempt as they walked past him. Their looks did not improve as they passed by Kirra, despite his salute.
“That was an experience I would rather not repeat,” Styx mumbled once the Inquisitors were out of earshot. Styx looked at Kirra in alarm when he started laughing at the comment. He hadn’t thought he had been loud enough for Kirra to hear, but it seemed that Kirra’s hearing was better than average.
“It went that badly, did it?” Kirra asked with a grin.
“I hate to say it about your friends, Kirra,” Styx replied, running his hand through his hair in relief, “but they’re more than a little full of themselves.”
“They are that!” Kirra agreed with another laugh, causing Styx to stare at him wide-mouthed at his brazen reply.
“I’m glad that you agree,” Styx said, shaking his head. “I’m told that you were informed that I am to be in your charge until they decide what to do with me. Apparently they aren’t keen on any of us ‘Shades’ being out of our holes.” With a roll of his eyes he added, “My presence unnerves them.”
“Well, you do need a bath,” Kirra replied with a grin, and his eyes said that the comment was serious. Styx was about to reply when Kirra waved for him to follow as he began the short walk to the building’s entrance.
“What is the obsession you surface dwellers have with bathing?” Styx replied indignantly as he caught up to Kirra.
“No wonder you smell bad with that attitude,” Kirra muttered as he looked Styx up and down. “How long has it been since you’ve bathed?” He asked as they stepped through the door and into the antechamber that led to the entrance hall.
“I don’t smell…” Styx began angrily, but Kirra raised his hand as he interrupted him.
“I’m going to stop you right there. You’re probably just used to it,” Kirra said with a chuckle. “Come on, I’ll take you to the bathhouse and we can get you cleaned up. We’ll get you some clean clothes as well. You look as if you’ve been wearing those for months.”
“I have been,” Styx replied, not seeing the point Kirra was trying to make. As they walked through the spacious entrance hall, Styx examined his clothing a little closer and realized that he had acquired a number of new tears recently, most notably the one in his gliding leather. “You’re right though, they have taken a beating lately,” he conceded. “Very well, if you insist, I will go with you. After all, I’m in your charge now.”
“Where are you two off to?” Alsha asked as they entered the building at the same moment the two were about to leave. “I figured you would wait for us, especially as Styx was worrying about Prism.”
“Oh, well as soon as I knew that a Fedain would see him, I was certain he’d be all right,” Styx replied smoothly, though in truth he had become distracted over the past few hours. “Especially when you mentioned it was the Oracle. I’ve heard she is the greatest healer in the world.” He examined Prism with approval as he observed, “He certainly looks as if that reputation is well deserved.”
“I am feeling better, Styx,” Prism confirmed with a mischievous grin. “Thank you for your concern. How did your meeting with the Inquisitors go?” He asked, moving to another subject. “I trust you’re not in a hurry to leave because you want to get away from them.”
“Certainly not. No, I could stay here all day,” Styx replied with mock seriousness, but then he laid a hand on Kirra’s shoulder and said, “But Kirra here seems to think I really need a bath and new clothes.”
“I think it’s good to placate your host, and I can’t say I disagree with him,” Prism replied with a firm nod. He smiled at Kirra who blushed for some reason Styx couldn’t understand. “We will see you afterward. Is there an appropriate meeting place where we can convene later?”
“My office at the barracks should do nicely,” Alsha offered, “It will be private for one thing, and it is a place that Kirra can get to without any additional clearance.”
“Very good,” Prism nodded. He bowed his head and then added, “Styx, Kirra, we will see you there in a few hours.”
The boys nodded and watched as Alsha and Prism continued along the route toward the audience chambers. Once they were out of sight, Kirra led the way out of the building and down the street. Something seemed to be bothering Styx but Kirra remained silent, waiting for Styx to speak up when he was ready.
He didn’t have to wait long. They had only been walking a few minutes when Styx said quietly, “I’m glad that he’s okay. I feel horrible that I forgot about him.”
“You really did?” Kirra asked with a raised eyebrow, “That’s fairly surprising.”
“I had my reasons,” Styx said with a blush. He kept his gaze away from Kirra, leaving him to wonder what he meant by the remark. Without any further explanation Styx looked back again and asked, “Anyway, what’s first, the clothes or the bath?”
“Clothes first,” Kirra replied after a moment of thought. “That way after the bath you can change into them immediately when we’re done, and not make you dirty again.”
“Is this going to be expensive? I don’t have any money, as you well know.” Styx patted his empty pockets and belt pouches to establish the point.
“I have you covered,” Kirra answered with a smile. “Between my connections and my own funds, this should hardly make a dent in my assets.”
“Spoken like a noble,” Styx replied with a roll of his eyes.
“Not anymore. I am descended from a noble house, but the last few generations in my family have met with tragedy. My parents died when I was very young, leaving the family fortune in a trust, and me in the care of one of their friends. When I became an adult at fourteen the funds became mine, as did the few items left of my inheritance,” Kirra explained as if his situation were the most normal thing in the world, “I don’t count as a noble anymore; there’s no longer a house to rule. That doesn’t mean I don’t retain some of the perks.”
“Well then, my aristocratic friend, lead on,” Styx replied with a mocking bow, “I shall live off your generosity.”
“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that,” Kirra replied, slightly put out by the gesture. “I wasn’t trying to sound arrogant.”
“It’s okay. I’m out of my depth here, Kirra,” Styx admitted with an apologetic shrug, “I tend to only have two types of reactions to situations like this. I either become angry, or sarcastic. I’m afraid you have to deal with the latter, and it’s by far the more dangerous of the two.”
“I think I can handle it, now that I know what to expect,” Kirra replied with a grin.
To Kirra’s delight Styx grinned back, and with that the wall between them fell apart. They continued in friendly banter until they reached a tailor who Kirra knew kept later hours. The tailor greeted the knight pleasantly, and when he told her that he had brought her a new customer she was delighted, but when she found Styx standing in front of her with all of his dirt and grime she almost fainted. Only the generous amount of coin that Kirra shoved into her hands persuaded her to let them stay.
A few measurements later, the tailor was able to provide a complete outfit for Styx from the clothing she already had on hand. Kirra asked about coming back for adjustments should they be necessary, and the woman looked at him in horror as she considered Styx returning to her store. When Kirra stated that they could stay around instead while the adjustments were made, she quickly agreed to his earlier suggestion and shooed them out of the shop, the outfit bagged and in Styx’s hands.
“I don’t think the tailor liked me very much,” Styx noted as he stared into the bag, “but these clothes do seem quite nice.”
“I think it was your smell that turned her off the most,” Kirra said honestly, bringing them back to their earlier conversation. “Don’t worry,” he said triumphantly, “we will soon remedy that problem. To the baths!”
“You’re enjoying this a little too much, I think.”
“Come on,” Kirra replied, ignoring the comment. He dragged Styx through the streets until they reached the spacious bathhouse. Steam escaped from multiple vents in the walls of the structure, and there was a large device above the roof that marked it as the bathhouse. With the Everbright City’s position above the clouds water was a precious commodity, and the only reason they had any at all were devices like this, which captured the water out of the air itself. The bathhouse had the largest of these devices in the entire city and it was connected to the main water plant, meaning that most of the water in the city was nearby at any given moment.
“Through here,” Kirra ordered, as he pulled Styx up the steps and through the beads that hung in place of a door. “Perhaps they’ll have a spare sack or something we can ditch your old clothes into after we get them off you.”
“We get them off?” Styx echoed nervously as they reached the front counter. “I wasn’t aware you would be joining me.”
“Someone has to make sure you wash your hair,” Kirra replied quickly as he paid the woman at the counter for two lockers and asked for a sack. He thanked her as she provided him with one, and then led Styx by the arm to a door beside the counter from which steam emanated.
“I don’t know about this,” Styx said as they entered a room with rows of lockable cabinets. His eyes widened in surprise as he glanced around at the people in various stages of undress. “Wait, all these people are bathing together?”
“Um, yeah. It’s a bathhouse,” Kirra replied with a raised eyebrow, “It’s sort of what we do here.”
“I think this is a bad idea,” Styx said as he started backing away.
“Nuh-uh,” Kirra replied as he pulled Styx back toward him. With a determined grin he added, “You’re going in. Take off that armor. Perhaps we can get that cleaned and repaired later.”
Styx sighed and complied, putting his leather gliding armor out on one of the benches in an untidy heap. Then he was down to his clothing that he wore underneath his armor. He hesitated and looked at Kirra in desperation. Before Styx even knew what was happening, Kirra drew a knife from his belt and began cutting the clothes from Styx’s body. Styx started to protest, only to have Kirra put the knife to his throat and warn him than if he kept up his struggling, he might cut something he wasn’t supposed to. Styx had never felt more vulnerable in his life and he didn’t like it at all, but for some reason he couldn’t bring himself to resist. Kirra had him completely under his spell, and only when he stood completely naked in front of him did he realize how far it had gone.
Nodding in satisfaction, Kirra wiped his knife off on a nearby towel and then quickly undressed himself. Styx was too concerned with finding something to cover himself to notice Kirra’s naked body until he finally wrapped a towel around his waist. He had never been in a situation like this before, and even though he couldn’t help but admire the beauty of Kirra’s physical form, he was too nervous to do any more than hide behind the towel. He watched numbly as Kirra picked up his own clothes and locked them away in one of the cabinets, then taking the bag of new clothes that Styx had carried in and doing the same with them, adding Styx’s leather armor to the same locker before closing it up. Kirra then gingerly touched the dirty scraps of cloth that Styx had been wearing before and stuffed them in the sack before kicking them under a nearby bench.
Kirra had no reservations at all, and once he grabbed a towel of his own—which he slung over his shoulder—he grasped Styx’s hand again and began pulling him forward. Styx followed blindly until Kirra led him to a large pool that was full of bathers, both male and female. It was the strangest sight that Styx had ever seen, and to his horror Kirra pulled the towel away from his waist and then shoved him into the pool, causing a large splash as he hit the warm water.
“See, this isn’t so bad,” Kirra said as Styx came up spluttering. Kirra then slid into the water, and Styx hurried over to hide behind him.
Styx eyed the rest of the bathers with suspicion as he whispered. “Shh, if we stay quiet, no one will look over here.”
“Wait, are you telling me that your brash, sarcastic self can’t handle public nudity?” Kirra asked with a grin.
“It’s not something I have a great deal of exposure to,” Styx admitted, failing to notice the accidental pun as he ducked behind Kirra again, dodging the glance of a nearby woman. “I always hated bath time when Madame Godani insisted.”
“Too bad she’s not here now,” Kirra interrupted dryly.
“Why do they keep staring at me?” Styx asked, ducking low in the water. Even though he didn’t like being submerged it was better than being gawked at. “I don’t like this at all,” he whimpered, “can we leave?”
“Not yet,” Kirra replied as he turned his back to the other bathers to look Styx in the eye. “Come on, turn around and let me wash your hair,” he ordered, and was surprised when Styx did so with little hesitation. “They’re simply curious,” Kirra explained as he began to run his fingers through Styx’s dark brown locks, encountering a large number of knots that he began to untangle. “You don’t look like them.”
“What do you mean?” Styx replied in confusion. “We’re all human here, from what I can tell.”
Instead of immediately responding, Kirra motioned for Styx to hold his breath and then dunked him under the water. When Styx rose back to the surface, Kirra was holding a bottle of some sweet smelling substance that he quickly poured into his hand.
Kirra began to rub the substance into Styx’s scalp, and Styx began to relax. The smell had the effect of soothing one’s nerves, which was why Kirra had chosen that particular type of shampoo. As Styx groaned with pleasure at the feeling of having his scalp massaged Kirra explained, “You’re pale. You haven’t seen more than a few days of sun in your life. There’s also the fact that your tattoos stick out. I like this one a lot.” Kirra reached down into the water and gently touched the tattoo on Styx’s back between his shoulder blades. It was an eagle with its wings spread wide and done in black ink. “Eagles are my favorite animal.”
“Tattoos are common,” Styx replied, feeling his nervousness leave completely under the sensation he was feeling now. He pushed up against Kirra’s fingers, loving the touch against his skin. “Everyone has them in The Shade, and there seem to be plenty of them here. Several of the bathers have them.”
“Yes, but not spirit tattoos,” Kirra clarified. “Trust me, we can tell the difference as well as you can. Spirit tattoos are illegal in Pentalus and The Everbright City. It’s not illegal to have one, just to get one. So, that makes you unique.”
“Well, it’s not as if I chose to kill the hawk,” Styx said defensively as he reached up to his cheek. “I’ve had this since I was an infant.”
“Personally, I find it quite distinguished,” Kirra admitted, and he was glad that Styx was facing the other way so that he couldn’t see his blush. Despite the implications Styx might take from the action, he stroked Styx’s cheek gently as he studied the design. “Now that the dirt is no longer obscuring it I can tell that whoever did it was a master. Do you know who it was?”
“No. Madame Godani said that when I was found I already had this on my cheek.”
“Who is this Madame Godani? You’ve mentioned her twice now.”
“She’s… my mother,” Styx answered after a slight hesitation. “Not really,” he clarified, “but she’s the woman who raised me. She runs the Inkblades thieves’ guild in The Shade.”
“Oh? Are you a thief then?” Kirra asked, and he felt Styx tense up under his fingers. “Don’t be worried, I’m not going to judge you for your past.”
“Yes,” Styx replied with a sigh, “Yes, I am.”
“Well, maybe you’d consider leaving that life behind…” Kirra suggested, trailing off as he let the thought sink in.
“Kirra,” Styx said as he turned around to face the older boy. “What are you suggesting?”
“I don’t know how to go about saying this. Quite frankly, I’ve never really had feelings like this before for anyone, until now,” Kirra admitted with a blush, then coughed and continued, “I was wondering if you’d stay with me. I enjoy your company.”
“Honestly…” Styx said as he let the thought play around in his head. “I enjoy yours too,” he replied with a sad smile, “but I’m not sure that I can.”
“There’s…” Styx began, but he shrugged helplessly as he couldn’t express the thoughts in his mind. “I don’t know, my feelings are mixed up right now.”
“There’s someone else isn’t there,” Kirra stated with a sad smile.
“Not exactly. Yes? I told you I was confused,” Styx replied with a shake of his head. He hadn’t thought about Maxthane much, not since his talk with Dogo, but now thoughts of the prince came flooding back into his mind. “I don’t want to think about him, but I can’t stop it either.”
“I understand,” Kirra replied with a tight smile, “I knew it would turn out to be too good to be true.”
“Kirra, how about you give me some time?” Styx offered with a sincere smile. “I’ve never had any real friends, and I would like to get to know you first. I’ve been tossed all over the place over the past two days, and I don’t think I would be happy with myself if I made a decision like that without knowing what I was getting into. I need some time for things to calm down.”
“Reasonable enough,” Kirra replied with his grin returning, “but let me give you something else to think about.” He pressed forward through the water and kissed Styx passionately. Styx didn’t need any urging to kiss back, and they stayed locked together for nearly a minute, the tension dissipating between them as their bodies pressed together. Exerting all of his willpower to end the moment, Kirra pulled back. He knew there was a connection between them, but he wanted to respect Styx’s desire for time. At the very least, the expression on Styx’s face told him that he had left an impression that Styx would not soon forget.
“Come on,” Kirra said, smiling sadly with the knowledge that it might be some time before he would be able to taste Styx’s lips again. “Let’s finish up so that we can go meet the others.”
They continued their bath in silence, as Kirra washed Styx’s hair thoroughly, while Styx took the hint to scrub his body at the same time. Once Kirra thought Styx sufficiently cleansed they returned to the lockers where their clothing was stored.
Styx tried to dress as quickly as he could. Now that they were out of the water his embarrassment had returned, and he couldn’t wait to be covered up again. He had some trouble getting into the unfamiliar clothing, but Kirra quickly came to his rescue. Styx started to calm down again when he felt Kirra’s hands against his skin, even though Kirra took his time and let his touches linger. There was something about Kirra’s presence that seemed to make everything okay, and he almost regretted it when Kirra pulled his hands away. When they were both finished dressing, Styx was surprised to find that the new clothes were comfortable even if they did make him look like a noble.
He reached for his old boots, the only piece of clothing that Kirra hadn’t destroyed earlier, but he was surprised to find a new pair being handed to him instead. They appeared to be of the finest quality of leather, and when Styx put them on his feet he found that they were surprisingly comfortable.
“When did you pick these up?” Styx asked in wonder as he stood up and took a few steps to test out their feel.
“I bought them while you were being measured,” Kirra explained with a slight smile. “There was a cobbler next door to the tailor’s and I chose something from the stock he had available. I had to guess at the measurements, but from your expression I’m guessing I did a good job.”
Styx nodded and helped Kirra gather the rest of their things and left the bathhouse. On their way out, Kirra made sure to ask the attendant at the desk if she could dispose of the sack of rags for them and then tossed her a few coins for her trouble.
There was an uncomfortable silence between them. Kirra wanted to speak about what had happened to them at the baths, but didn’t know how to start. Styx appeared to be lost in thought and Kirra didn’t want to intrude on his introspection, lest he ruin things between them, and sadly, the silence lingered until they reached the barracks and knocked on the door of Alsha’s office.
“You look and smell much better,” Lady Alsha observed as she opened the door and looked Styx over. “I’m impressed. If you weren’t so pale I might not think you were a Shade anymore.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Styx replied with a tight smile.
“I suppose your lack of proper manners gives you away too, but I can get used to that,” Alsha continued with a grin. “Come in, both of you. We need to talk.”
“How did it go?” Styx asked as soon as he saw Prism, who was sitting in a comfortable-looking armchair, drinking a cup of tea.
“They’ve put in a request for an audience,” Prism replied with a roll of his eyes. “That’s all they can do, they say. Quite arrogant for those chosen to protect the people if you ask me.”
Styx couldn’t stop himself from snickering at Prism’s observation. With a raised eyebrow Alsha asked, “And what do you find so amusing?”
“Oh, just that we were sharing similar thoughts earlier,” Styx replied after glancing at Kirra. “So, what’s the plan then?”
“We’ll rest. There’s little more that we can do until tomorrow. Everyone I know with any influence is already asleep,” Alsha answered with a shrug. “First thing in the morning, we’re taking you to see the Oracle.”
“The Oracle?” Kirra asked in surprise.
“She has requested to see you, Styx,” Alsha explained while Prism nodded sagely. “I’m not sure why, but I don’t question her orders either.”
“It’s because you saved my life, Styx,” Prism explained before taking another sip of his tea. “She would like to thank you personally. It is a Fedain custom that has been around for thousands of years.”
“Maybe it’s been gone for that long as well,” Kirra replied with a smirk. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“How many times have you heard a tale of a Fedain who wasn’t doing the saving themselves?” Prism returned with a knowing grin. “It isn’t a custom that would come up often.”
“I concede the point,” Kirra replied with a slight bow. “Now the last thing to cover is where Styx will sleep this evening.”
“That was something I wondered about as well,” Styx added with a look of concern.
“The council believes that the best solution is for you to continue your charge over Styx while they keep him around for questioning,” Alsha explained while Kirra nodded slowly. He was beginning to see where this was going, and he almost groaned when she confirmed his fears and said, “As per the rules governing barracks’, Styx cannot sleep here. Kirra, you’ve received special dispensation to stay outside the barracks for the time being. You’ll have to take him home.”
“Home?” Kirra replied, not liking the news at all. “Has that been cleared with him?”
“High Inquisitor Grembal delivered the news to me himself,” Alsha replied with a sad smile. “It appears he’s been hoping you’d visit for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
“Understood,” Kirra replied without emotion. As his stomach began to knot he saluted and turned on his heel. As he stepped out the door he said “Let me go gather my things. Styx, we’ll leave as soon as I get back.”
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