The official day of testing was almost over. The various Orders had finished their Trials, and while nothing had been said, Warrick was sure he had not been selected. As the various Trialmasters had lined up at the top of Whiteford's village square for the Calling of the Chosen, none had so much as glanced in his direction. While the villagers of Whiteford would be upset, Warrick was relieved. He had not missed that no female Order had sent representatives to Whiteford this year. Not being selected meant that he too would now be staying in Whiteford, staying with Jessie. Staying to fulfil his promise to Jessie's mother.
As he stood waiting in the square with the other Potentials, Warrick thought back to that day, two months ago. The day of Harvest's End. The day Jessie's mother had sternly commanded Warrick to protect her daughter Jessie, and he had solemnly Oathed that he would.
"Mind you protect Jessie now Warrick. See that she's unhurt and unmolested by the Travellers. She's my daughter and they'll be words to your father, see that there isn't, if anything should harm a hair on her head!" The mock angry words of Jessie's mother were laughingly delivered as her husband, Jessie's father and the Farmsteader, had helped Jessie up onto the cart bench next to Warrick, sharing a grin with Traveller Mathews, also on the bench seat, reigns nonchalantly held in his hands.
"I will ma'am," Warrick had replied solemnly. "I won't leave her side until she's again in the hands of her family." Warrick had pronounced his intention with all the dignity of a solemn oath, despite the wide grins of the adults. Traveller Mathews had shared handclaps of farewell and a chuckle with the laughing Farmsteader Stevens and his wife, before with a flick of the reigns the cart was off.
Warrick meant every word of that promise to Jessie's mother, and he still intended to keep his word, even though fulfilling his oath was not something he could ever expected to now be able to do. Warrick and Jessie had left for Whiteford on the first of the carts bound that way from their family's Farmsteads. It was Harvests End, for harvest not just all the cousins of the Farmsteads and villages, but also all those who Travelled the roads came home to work harvesting the produce from the family Farmsteading. At Harvest End, not just all the Travellers, but also all the cousins of the Farmsteads and villages travelled to Whiteford to celebrate the end of Harvest Season, and to farewell the Travellers as they once more left on their journeys to the cities, along the ways of the Realm as they set forth to sell the Harvest.
Contrary to the words of Jessie's mother, the Travellers were as much family and friends to the Farmsteaders as their neighbours and the surrounding villagers. While it was joked and mock snarled about 'tricksy Travellers stealing away with the maidenhood of the plains', all knew that the only 'stealing' going on was that of said daughter's hearts, and as many daughters of the Travellers were 'tied to the earth' in unions with the sons of the plains, as daughters of the plains, aye and not a few sons too, were 'entranced' by Travellers into venturing forth throughout the lands.
Travellers were not once a year merchants, turning up at harvest time to buy the wares of the Farmsteads for as little as possible, to cart to the cities for the greatest profit they could get. Travellers were integral to how the Farmsteads survived. They were family to the Farmsteaders, travelling to the cities and towns to both sell the crops and then purchase the needs of the great Farmsteadings, bringing them back from the cities to the great boarder plains the Farmsteadings spread across. Travellers traveled across the three districts, carting food, produce and other needs, even droving the great herds of animals to feed the peoples of the cities, and bringing back breeders from the other districts to keep the bloodlines mixed and the herds strong.
Even a Traveller such as Mathews, who was from the furthest district sunset, and wasn't actually related by blood to any of them wasn't a stranger. Trader Mathews had been there at Warrick's birth, their families had been trading with each other for three generations. Traveller Mathews family was herders and Mathews was here on the day of Harvest End to organise and pay for the winter feed Warrick's family had been growing for them since the time of Warrick's great-grandfather. A time when the two families had agreed that a long term arrangement between the families to supply hay and other feed for the winter herds was in each families interest, even if some years the hay cost more than it could be gotten for elsewhere, and other years the feed was sold for less than others were willing to pay. Warrick even remembered a time eight years ago, during the bad drought, when the best breeding stock from the Mathews herd had been bought to his family's Farmsteading so that the bloodlines could be preserved.
Traveller Mathews was an older man, greying and weatherworn. His advancing age hadn't stopped him though from outworking the tall for his sixteen summers Warrick at loading the cart. By almost two-to-one, Traveller Mathews had beaten Warrick in carrying and packing the cart as the sun rose that morning, ferrying produce from the barns of Warrick's father's Steading to the Mathew's Travellers Cart and its numerous storage bins, loading the cart full before Warrick and Traveller Mathews had made their way to the neighbouring Steading where they had picked up Jessie.
For at Harvests End, all the work of the harvest was finished and the Traveller carts were loaded with the fruits of the Steadings. The combined families would then make their way to Whiteford, where the hay and feed for the Mathews herds would be stored in the vast sheds, specially built for the purpose beside the river docks, ready for the river boats to load up and begin the long haulage to the Mathews' Herdlands many weeks sunwards. The combined families would then head to the Travellers camp to celebrate the end of harvest all night long. The next day, vastly hung over, the Farmsteaders would farewell their Traveller cousins as they began their journeys in carts along the Ways to the cities and towns, to sell the rest of the harvest and buy what was needed to keep the Steadings healthy. In a great convoy, waved on their way by the entire district, the Travellers would leave Whiteford before the Farmsteaders would return again to their Steadings.
But this year that had not happened, not at least for the extended families of Jessie and himself.
Dismissing the memories, memories that still haunted him even after two months, Warrick returned his gaze to the assembled Trialmasters and waited. Warrick stood in the main square of Whiteford with the other Potentials, calmly watching as one by one the Trialmasters of the different Orders stepped forth and called out the names of those Chosen to be welcomed into the ranks of their Order, gathering up their new recruits and leading them from the square.
As he'd expected, his own name had not been called. It barely even registered with Warrick as he turned to leave the square that he was the only one Trialling at Whiteford that year not to be Chosen. Blank faced, Warrick walked stoically through the thronging crowd, slowly making his way from the square. Making his way back to the Waystation. Back to Jessie and his oath.
"Warrick not chosen? The only one from that pack? I can't believe it!"
Harsen, Headman of the small town of Whiteford, listened to the incredulous murmurs of the townsfolk around him, townsfolk who had come to watch the Trials and now spilled out onto the square to congratulate and to gossip. Grimacing he watched Warrick leave the square, an almost inhuman expressionless calm pulled tight like a mask over his face. Not since Harsen had been the one to tell Warrick and Jessie that the entirety of their extended families had been killed by Wyrdrealm Demons had he seen so much as a single expression on that young man's face. Not pain, not tears, dear Gods, certainly not laughter. Even the humiliation of being the only one not chosen for Orders today did not have the power to crack that emotionless mask.
Two months ago Harsen had watched the sunlight leave Warrick's face. As Headman, Harsen had taken upon himself the task to break the news to the two Farmsteader children of the bodies found. Of Warrick's mother, father, younger brother; all the rest of Warrick's and Jessie's immediate and extended families, both Steader and Traveller, found dead at the scene of a Wyrdrealm Demon massacre.
For the first time he saw the by now familiar expressionless mask of Warrick's come down over his face. Showing no emotion what-so-ever at the news, Warrick had turned, gently gathered the crying Jessie in his arms, put her face to his shoulder, and then half carried, half lead Jessie to a nearby wall, where they had slumped down together, a now openly weeping Jessie in Warrick's lap and a thousand mile stare on Warrick's face as he gently held Jessie for bells. Not so much as a tear entering Warrick's eyes, while a distraught Jessie wept herself to exhaustion and eventual sleep in his arms.
That sight, the weeping girl in the arms of the emotionless boy, had broken the hearts of the whole of Whiteford. It wasn't even discussed, but silently understood by all, that with the death of their entire families, the whole of Whiteford was now ready to do anything they could for the distraught pair.
Harsen heard heavy, determined footsteps coming his way, and turned to see the angry face of Keeper Stones. As the Keeper of the town's Waystation, where Warrick and Jessie, along with all the other Potentials, was staying, Harsen understood the anger on the Keeper's face. If anyone had had the time and opportunity to examine all the Potentials, it was Keeper Stones.
"What the hell happened there?" Stones growled out as soon as he was close enough for conversation. "Warrick was easily the best of them. I can't understand everyone else being picked and Warrick left standing in the square like that!"
"I believed he was good, but you really think he is the best of them?" Harsen asked.
"Easily, the whole two months he's been here he's been helping out. Never complains, never moans. Just silently listens to yer order, asks the questions he needs to understand the job, and then just does it! And he keeps paying for the room he shares with Jessie too. Every week, hands over the money first thing. Doesn't even listen to me say he doesn't need to pay, puts the money down and walks off with that non-expression of his."
"I thought it was agreed that Whiteford is paying his board?" Harsen demanded angrily. "And why is he doing chores as well? His board is payed for!"
"Why's he paying if he's a Potential?" was Stones calm reply. "You know that's always been free board and food for chores too." Sighing Stones gave the departing Warrick an exasperated stare. "He's paying 'cause I can't get him to not pay. He just puts his money down and walks off, no matter what I say to him. Most of the time I'm pretty sure his not even listening to me. Anytime someone tries to talk to him about what happened, he forces that heartbreaking smile on his face, says 'thank you' politely, and then insists he's 'fine' and walks off."
"So what are you doing with the money?" Harsen asked, also with a sigh.
"I've put it aside. Hopefully he'll stop running on rote and start living again. I reckon when that happens I'll be able to have a talk to him and give it back."
"Running on rote?"
"Yeah, him and Jessie both. They just reported to the kitchens crack of dawn the first day they were there, asking what they needed to do. Don't even think it occurred to them that they were paying guests and not supposed to work. Missus suggested they needed something to take their mind off things, so we gave them simple mindless tasks and they just kept coming back when they were done. When the other potentials started turning up they naturally started working chores with them. As I said, just doing things by rote, not thinking, not getting emotionally involved, certainly not planning," Stones paused and looked thoughtfully at the retreating Warrick. "Come to think of it, I'm not so sure about Jessie," he drawled thoughtfully.
"Really?" Harsen asked hopefully.
"Missus said that she's let some things slip, and Jessie may not be going on rote like Warrick there, but waiting, and it doesn't seem as though she's waiting for life to start again, more waiting for something specific that hasn't happened yet."
Harsen paused thoughtfully, before with another sigh he returned to the main problem. "So what do we do with Warrick?" he finally asked.
"Ain't that the question," Stones agreed, finally turning back to Harsen as Warrick turned the corner and left their view. "Missus says even Jessie expected him to be Chosen, apparently she'd already packed for them both."
"Packed for them both huh?" Harsen gave Stones a puzzled glance. "No female Orders came this year, where does she think she's going?" Harsen mused.
Stones blinked. "You know, in the excitement this morning, I didn't even think of that," Keeper Stones drawled. "Only Jessie was there for the female potentials, all the rest were boys. The fact that she'd packed like the rest of them didn't even twig with me till you asked the question now." Turning, both of them stared at the Waystation, just visible in the direction the retreating Warrick had strode off towards.
"You're back earlier than I expected," Jessie greeted Warrick as soon as he entered their shared room at the Waystation. "The Order anxious to get you started or something?" she questioned glancing up from the bed she was just finishing making. An unrelated female and male sharing a room together at a Waystation should have raised eyebrows, in a place like Whiteford it should have been unthinkable. But with no other female Potentials presenting this year to room with Jessie, and too many young male Potentials around to let her room by herself, putting Jessie with Warrick had been the obvious solution. Everyone in Whiteford had seen how the two were around each other, especially since their shared tragedy, and one look at Warrick's face when he stood near Jessie had quite literally given nightmares to the other male potentials. No one thought Jessie's virtue was in any danger from the rooming arrangements.
"I wasn't Chosen," Warrick answered emotionlessly.
"Okay, and how did you manage that?" Standing up Jessie turned and demanded of Warrick accusingly, facing him with her hands on her hips and a demanding expression on her face.
"Pardon?" Warrick blinked. Jessie wasn't usually so confrontational.
"Come on Warrick," Jessie replied, exasperated. "You and I know that only you could have pulled something to prevent yourself being Chosen. It wasn't an if you were going to be Chosen, it was a which Order!"
"I think the Orders all wisely decided that a Potential with no real desire to be Chosen is not a recruit worth having," Warrick replied slowly, trying to work out where Jessie's unexpected anger was coming from.
"You know you would have done well in any of those Orders," Jessie stated, giving Warrick a worried stare.
"I don't wish to be in any of them, I have a promise to fulfil," Warrick replied firmly, staring right back at Jessie with no compromise in his expression.
Jessie sighed. Turning from Warrick she returned to finishing off the bed she had been making when Warrick walked in. Looking around Warrick noticed that Jessie's bag was packed, neatly waiting beside the bed she was making. Examining Jessie more closely, Warrick finally took notice of what she was wearing, Warrick started sharply as he recognised her traveling clothes.
"Going somewhere?" he demanded.
"Yes," Jessie replied simply, not looking to Warrick. "I have my Trial too, then I will be leaving. I packed your bags as well," she pointed to the floor next to his bed.
"What trial? None of the female Orders came," Warrick questioned confused.
"Yes they did. Cylsteth," Jessie replied, a little defiantly, standing to face Warrick straight on.
"Cylsteth. Your trailing for Cylsteth!" Warrick exploded, shocked. "People die trailing for them! Its not pass or fail, its pass or die!" Worriedly Warrick approached Jessie carefully. "More of their candidate end up dead than accepted," he pleaded softly. "Even those that pass tend to leave for the Order on a stretcher!"
With a sigh, Jessie turned back to the bed. In frustration Warrick turned away, noticing for the first time that it was not just the bed, the whole room had been cleaned. The beddings on both beds had been freshly replaced, Jessie's and his belonging were neatly packed into their two rucksacks, and the whole room cleaned ready to receive new lodgers. "When is your Trial?" Warrick asked frowning, turning back to Jessie and stubbornly standing before her until she answered.
"Now," Jessie said softly, avoiding his eyes. "I need to go now."
"You weren't going to tell me?" Warrick cried in anguish.
"No," Jessie said, closing her eyes, keeping her face turned from Warrick's distress. "I was assured you would be in an Order today so I could go to my Trials with an open heart." Finally she looked to Warrick, tears in her eyes, silently begging his understanding. "I was told to tell nobody of the Trials, otherwise they would stop me attending them."
"Do you honestly believe I would stop you?" Warrick asked, hurt.
Jessie looked into Warrick's eyes and for the first time in months saw an emotion there. "No," she sighed. "You too know why I am doing this, you would never stop me." Silently she asked his forgiveness with her eyes.
"I'm only sad I can't Trial with you," Warrick said, his face betraying his emotions. "Cylsteth are the only order that fight the Wyrdrealm Demons, but they only take females. I'd give anything to be trialling with you," he whispered.
"Even your life if you fail?" Jessie reminded him with a wry smile.
"Like you," Warrick said calmly and solemnly. "I would give my life for the merest chance at stopping something like happened to our families from happening again."
"Not revenge?" Jessie queried softly.
"They are dead," Warrick stated, glassy eyed, but no tears. "I can't bring them back. All I can do is save others in their memory."
"You're better than me," Jessie stated, her expression hard. "I just want to kill demons. Kill those that killed..." Angrily Jessie quickly bent down and snatched up her rucksack, hurriedly she turned and fled the room. Without even realising what he was doing, Warrick grabbed his rucksack too and followed.
Warrick ran after Jessie, catching her just as she stepped out of the Waystation and into the fading afternoon light. "What are you doing Warrick?" Jessie demanded angrily as he stepped up next to her.
"I might not be able to trial with you, but I can certainly stay with you all the way until you are accepted," Warrick calmly replied, settling the rucksack on his back and adjusting the straps to get them comfortable.
"An Order is like a family huh?" Jessie sighed. Warrick blinked as Jessie repeated out loud exactly what he was thinking. He quickly looked over to her and noticed the unshed tears in her eyes. Of course. It was the last thing any of her family had ever said in her hearing too. Even if it wasn't directed at her, like him there was no way Jessie was ever going to forget her mother's final words to him, nor his reply either.
"Yes," Warrick replied simply. Like a lot of things, further words weren't necessary between them. It wasn't as though both of them hadn't examined in detail every word they'd said, every action they had taken, anything they could have done differently that day.
A Wyrdrealm rip occurred, and a pack of demons came through. Nobody knew where or how many. Any searchers that found the demons that day died.
Jessie, Warrick and Traveller Mathews survived because they were on a small fast moving cart, bells in front of the rest, almost certainly passing through before the realm-rip occurred.
Their families did not survive because, though there was nearly fifty of them, grouped together on the slow moving farm wagons, the demons they faced still overwhelmed them. Fifty people, or a hundred, it didn't matter. Ordinary people where no match for even a single Wyrdrealm Demon, let alone a pack without Mystical protection nobody survived a Wyrdrealm Demon attack. Fifty people would have been enough to attract demons from miles around, certainly with a group that size no matter what time they had passed near the realm-rip, they would have been attacked, with the inevitable results.
Both Jessie and Warrick had thought round and round about that day many, many times over the last two months. Neither had ever suggested to the other that they were "lucky" or "saved". Both knew that they would have changed anything simply to have been there with their families at the end. To have held them and said "I love you" one more time. Dying with them was nowhere near too high a price for that, it was barely even a price at all. Many times over the last two months Warrick and Jessie would have said it would be a blessing and have meant it with all their heart. At barely the age of sixteen, both Jessie and Warrick had learnt the harsh lesson that there is a great many thing worse than dying. Sometimes, simply surviving was quite possibly one of the cruelest.
Warrick let Jessie lead them for almost a quarter bell before he thought to question where they were going, since it obviously wasn't the main square where his Trials had occurred. "The temple," was Jessie's short reply.
Warrick looked across at what he had assumed was Whiteford's only temple, a square stone building that they happened to be passing, and that Jessie had not so much as glanced at. "Which one?" he asked puzzled.
"That one," Jessie stated, pointing at what until now Warrick had always assumed was a ruin on the hill above the town.
Looking up at the steep slope of the hill, more rock than grass, with what grass there was deeply covered in mid-winter snow. Warrick glanced at the rapidly sinking sun before once again turning to Jessie. "Is it really a good idea to be climbing that at this time?" he enquired concerned.
"I was planning on doing it a bit earlier, but someone spoiled that," she replied somewhat sharply.
"Maybe some more haste then?" Warrick suggested with a smile.
"Oh good idea," Jessie replied, turning slightly to favour Warrick with an answering grin.
Jessie started to walk faster. Warrick glanced at the sun again, looked towards the shadows already on the hill, and decided a little running would not hurt. For the first time in two months he reached out to take Jessie's hand in his, smiling happily as she also clasped his hand. Then together they took off running for the hill, laughing and leaping down the street in heedless abandon, running down the street in pure joy at being together, like they had not done since coming to Whiteford. Without realising what it looked like, Warrick and Jessie ran hand in hand joyfully for the hill, down the Path towards what Whiteford's residents knew as "Lover's Leap".
Racing the shadows up the hill as the sun sank, Jessie and Warrick arrived at the entrance to the temple complex along with the sunset. Shadows seemed to make the stones dance, while the ruby red sunset painted the temple walls in the colours of blood.
"I assume you were told to come at this time?" Warrick queried Jessie, glancing uneasily at the temple complex before them.
"Of course," Jessie replied shortly.
"Got to hand it to the Cylsteth," Warrick murmured. "Even with their reputation, this is definitely a step up in atmosphere to what I expected." Warrick looked around tentatively before turning back to Jessie, "What do we do now?"
Jessie gave Warrick a considering look. "I was told to proceed through the temple and the test would begin," finally she answered. "Time for us to split up," she suggested uncertainly.
"I don't think so!" Warrick replied forcefully. "When the test starts I'll stand apart with the Trialmaster. Until someone pulls me out though, I'm keeping my promise." Warrick fixed Jessie with a simple stare, no menace, just iron hard resolve.
Jessie sighed, then closed her eyes for a few moments. "It doesn't feel wrong," she murmured eventually, opening her eyes to contemplate Warrick thoughtfully. "So I guess we'll do it your way," she relented.
"'Feel wrong'?" Warrick asked puzzled.
"I've felt what would happen today for almost a month now," Jessie murmured quietly, almost whispered really, giving Warrick a fearful look.
"Good," Warrick stated firmly.
"Good?" Jessie blinked in astonishment. "I state I've 'felt' this day for a month now, and you say 'Good'?" she asked in disbelief.
"This is a 'live or die' test Jessie," Warrick reminded her. "These people chase demons. I doubt ordinary people survive the Trials to join Cylsteth. I know I'm going to lose you today no matter what, I still want you alive rather than dead." Staring at him in astonishment, Jessie saw the fear in Warrick's eyes for her. "'Feeling' how things will be is definitely something I'm happy to hear you say today." With a pull of his rucksack's straps, he gave Jessie a wry smile. "So oh master of the feelings, how do you want to proceed?"
"I was all for going alone, but you were too stubborn for that. Now you're going to listen to what I say?" she demanded, still perplexed by his calm acceptance of her revelation.
"You're the one with the Feelings," Warrick reminded her. "As long as its understood I'm with you till the Trial, I'm following what you say." Warrick stood unmoving, giving Jessie a firm stare, again no menace, but resolve to match the mountains.
Jessie stared at Warrick for a second, then without saying a thing turned and strode for a gap in the walls of the complex. A little startled that she would do so without first telling him what to do, Warrick quickly rushed to catch up. Noticing that Jessie seemed to be concentrating and moving as silently as she could, Warrick decided to make use of skills his father had taught both of them, skills used hunting the hills and forests around their Farmsteads. Move cautiously. Breath softly. Step quietly. Most importantly, shut up and follow silently.
Keeping an eye on Jessie and trying to become aware of her entire posture, aware so that he could quickly follow any instructions she gave, whether they be verbal or gesture, Warrick followed closely behind Jessie. Move for move, Warrick copied Jessie as she crept through the courtyards of the temple complex. While he strained his eyes and ears, Warrick never heard anything, but he trusted Jessie. No matter what she did, either freeze in place, or drop to the ground and lay quiet, he followed suit, as quickly as he could, and as silently as possible. Even when Jessie backed up over half a courtyard, leaving it behind and going what seemed way out of her way to get around it, he never questioned her, never made any sound at all, merely followed her as silently as he knew how.
Warrick saw a fire flickering ahead the way they seemed to be going, but since Jessie stopped dead at the sight, he just held his breath and concentrated on not making any noise, while paying attention to all his senses. As he was used to ever since entering the complex, he heard nothing, saw nothing, smelt nothing, but still, Jessie seemed to be reacting to things he could not sense, so he concentrated on being silent and following her guidance as quickly and as quietly as he could.
Eventually, after following a very indirect route, Jessie lead him into the courtyard with the fire in it, and seemed to relax. After all that had happened in the last what felt like bells getting here, Jessie relaxing had the opposite effect on Warrick, and he tensed up and started concentrating even more on his surroundings. Carefully studying everything, finally he spotted the women sitting on what seemed a camp roll in the shadows of a wall.
Jessie smiled as she saw her, ran up to her and knelt on the ground in front of her, then sat on her feet while still sitting up straight. Warrick gave Jessie a strange look, he'd never seen her sit that way before. As he followed Jessie cautiously, Warrick looked around convulsively, he just could not feel comfortable, certainly siting, or kneeling, was out of the question for him at the moment. He looked and noted that the wall was quite high, very strong and in good repair, also that there was two walls and that the strange lady and Jessie were actually in the lee of the corner between them, with the fire burning to his right, between the three of them and the closest opening in that wall. Looking around behind him, Warrick saw only an inky blackness from where they had come. Much as Warrick was curious about the women, and what Jessie and her were going to do, every time he turned his back on the inky blackness he felt an inch in his shoulder blades and immediately turned back to face that way. Eventually he simply gave up, moved close so that his back was to Jessie, and stood facing the inky blackness.
"I see you brought your protector along," the woman commented to Jessie.
"Brought implies I had a choice. He made it clear that he considers his promise to my mother binding until I am accepted into Cylsteth," Jessie replied wryly.
"So you told him what you intend?" the lady asked with some surprise.
"I did," Jessie stated bluntly.
"And he didn't try and stop you?" Again, there was surprise in the lady's question.
"He knows exactly why I will do this. He said he only regretted not being able to Trial for Cylsteth too," Jessie explained sadly.
"You would Trial for Cylsteth?" Since the voice was slightly louder, Warrick assumed it was directed to him. He turned to see the lady looking straight at him.
"You fight the Wyrdrealm Demons, I would sacrifice anything to do so as well. I am aware that you only accept females and that none of the male Orders fight Wyrdrealm Demons. I assume there is a reason for that, so I accept I cannot do so myself," Warrick answered truthfully.
"You would really sacrifice anything to fight Wyrdrealm Demons?" the Lady pressed Warrick. "You are aware that saying things like that on Trial days can have the force of an Oath?" she warned carefully.
Warrick paused as the warning in the lady's tone registered with him. Then he thought about if he really would sacrifice anything. Warrick needed little contemplation before he quickly realised that he would not. He could not kill another human just so that he would have the chance to fight demons, no matter how many others he might save doing it. Once he realised that was out, he came to also understand that no matter how it hurt, or how much he wanted it, he wasn't really able to make others suffer in anyway in order to try and fulfil his wishes.
Warrick sighed. "You are right Trialmaster," he said bowing formally. "There is much that I would not do, but truthfully, anything of myself or that is mine to give, I would gladly do so for the chance at fighting Wyrdrealm Demons," Warrick offered with heartfelt simplicity.
With a stare that looked like it could see right through him, the woman regarded Warrick with an unreadable expression. She then nodded sharply and intoned "so noted" as though a great purpose had been decided, then seemed to dismiss Warrick from further concern as she turned back to Jessie.
"On this night, you came here of your own volition knowing what is to be?" she intoned formally, this time it was Jessie she studied intently.
"I do," Jessie replied calmly. "I freely submit to the Trials as testing for Cylsteth, at the peril of my life," Jessie promised solemnly, deliberately, not the slightest hesitation in her voice.
"At the ending, you submit to what is to be?" the Lady questioned Jessie.
"I do. I freely submit to Cylsteth and sever those ties of family, friendship and companionship to dedicate to Cylsteth."
Looking again at Warrick the Lady challenged, "You who have protected her and stand here at peril of your own life, will you let her go?"
"Of course," Warrick replied quickly. "If she is accepted into Cylsteth, I pledge my promise fulfilled. My Oath ties only me and I claim no special bonds to Julie otherwise," Warrick replied, the formal words coming from within, from a part of Warrick separate, but contained. Numbly Warrick realised he couldn't have said anything else in reply.
"Julie? Why did you just call me Julie?" Jessie asked confused, staring at Warrick in surprise.
"Because by your Oath, your pledge of allegiance to Cylsteth accepted, you are now bound and your new name revealed," the woman formally responded, before with a look towards Warrick and raised eyebrow. "I am surprised though that you know it?" she questioned him.
"I didn't. I don't. I. It … just popped out," Warrick stumbled trying to explain.
Her other eyebrow raised too. "Well it's her name now." Coming towards Warrick she examined him closely, finally asking him curiously, "What would you call me?"
Warrick tried to say "Trialmaster" but his tongue would not form the words. He opened and closed his mouth a few times but nothing came out. Confused, testing words that came to him, he tried "Teacher?" When she just kept staring at him, Warrick found himself continuing, "Guide", then "Taskmaster" and finally "Laurette".
Julie gasped as she heard the name 'Laurette' and blurted, "But I didn't tell him!"
Laurette just glanced at Julie before looking back to Warrick. "What title did you want to say, but could not?" she pressed him.
"Trialmaster," Warrick now found himself able to say the word again.
Julie gasped again, "But what about my Trial!?"
Laurette just looked at Warrick, seeming to invite him to reply by her silence. Warrick paused and then quoted slowly, prompted into putting in a slight emphasis by a feeling inside himself. "'Because by your oath, your pledge of allegiance to Cylsteth accepted, you are now bound and your new name issued' … she's already passed her Trial!" he exclaimed stunned.
"Correct." Laurette smiled joyfully.
"Huh, when?" Julie seemed quite confused.
Concentrating, it came to Warrick. "Crossing the complex," he blurted. "The Trial was to cross the complex!"
"But that had you! How could that be my Trial?" Confused Julie turned to Laurette demandingly.
Looking at Julie fondly, Laurette responded with a smile. "The dangers were real, and every bit as deadly though leading a non-participant through them," Laurette explained slowly. "Warrick neither spoke nor attempted any sort of help, so the trial was judged fair and complete. You are now a member of Cylsteth," Laurette assured her.
"What about Warrick?" Julie asked concerned.
Warrick again looked towards the inky darkness. "Even with two of you now, in the dark, I have no wish to cross back that way." He turned around to Laurette, "I assume you have another way out?"
She sighed, "I had planned to take Julie straight to the Training House, but I see we can't leave you here, and you're right, even with two of us, going back that way in the dark is too dangerous."
Laurette turned to the fire and seemed to be staring at the exit across form it, but didn't look happy. Warrick too looked at the exit. He couldn't help noticing that while Laurette set up her camp facing back to the inky darkness Julie and he had traversed to get here, Laurette had built her very big fire, more a bonfire than a campfire, between that exit and her. Obviously what was in the darkness bothered her, but what was through that exit was what she felt the need to build defences against. Warrick quickly decided he had no wish to know what was through that exit.
Quickly turning to Julie, Warrick pressed, "Which way is the safest way?" Julie started to look around but Warrick barked, "No. Don't look. Just point."
Without hesitation Julie pointed to the wall on the left and said, "That way, right there. That part of the wall is an external wall for the complex. On the other side of the wall there is safety."
Warrick looked at the wall, then went over and examined it. It was high, higher than he could jump to reach the top, but not too high to boost someone onto it. With both Julie and Laurette on the top of the wall, he should be able to jump high enough to grab their hands, with that leverage he'd then be able to climb up onto the wall too.
"Okay, pack up camp we'll go this way," Warrick ordered. "Julie bring over our packs and once we're ready I'll toss them over."
"Once we're ready?" Julie asked confused, looking quickly to Warrick before turning back to the packs.
"I don't know what's on the other side of the wall. Lets not make unnecessary noise before we have to," Warrick warned.
Laurette again gave him an approving look. With a quick pull, she finished tying off the bundle made of her camp roll, and then paused to look consideringly at the fire. Warrick did too, then glanced over at Laurette. Silently they agreed that the dangers of putting out the fire far outweighed any damage a brushfire would cause to a temple already in ruins. Leaving it to burn itself out, Laurette quickly moved to join Julie, standing at the base of the wall next to Warrick.
As Laurette and Julie bought over their packs, Laurette quietly asked Warrick, "So which Order did you pledge to today?"
"None. I wasn't Chosen by any," he replied absently, listening to see if he could hear anything from over the wall.
Laurette stopped, turned to him, and in a startled voice exclaimed, "You Trialled today for all the Orders I saw flags for in the square?" Warrick nodded. "And none of them picked you?" she demanded disbelievingly.
"He hid his light under a bushel," Julie decided to add as she too studied the wall.
"How?" was Laurette's startled response to Julie. "Truthseeing for a start. He also kept up with you through your trial. One of the cleanest I've ever even heard of, nothing twigged to your presence and there was two of you running the gauntlet together, one of them a man!"
Julie stopped and paused, seeming to think carefully. "You're right. Something stealthy. I could feel Warrick there, but it seemed only because he wanted me to. My senses reached right through him, almost like he was a ghost following me. I could feel things beyond him just as easy as I could feel things in any other direction."
Warrick listened to them discuss abilities he didn't feel he had, in fact knew he did not. There was no way any Order would pass-up a recruit with powers like they were discussing, willing or reluctant. Since he was not Chosen, he couldn't have these skills. "Just well trained," Warrick interrupted their speculation. "Like Julie, I set and cleared traps on the pest lines as well as hunted through the forests near our Farmsteadings. I learnt to be stealthy and follow orders from my father, the same skills and teacher Julie had." Pausing he considered what else Laurette had suggested. "And I don't ever get feelings about people lying to me, so I can't be a Truthseer."
Laurette paused too and thought. "Hmm, possibly a Trueseer instead?" she suggested musingly. Stepping close to Warrick and studying him closely, suddenly she demanded, "What is beyond this wall?"
"With the way tonight is going, something very noisy," Warrick responded immediately and with a laugh, before turning to look guardedly back through the dark behind them. "If we're ready to go, I'd suggest lifting the packs to the wall and dropping them carefully rather than throwing them, but I think we may need speed more than stealth here," Warwick said pointedly looking at the fire that seemed to be now visibly wilting in size.
Laurette turned and looked to the fire and started, once again she gave Warrick a surprised look. Reaching down she quickly started throwing the packs over the wall where, as Warrick had half expected, very noisy landings on crackling bushes could be heard loudly, causing Laurette to grimace, but she kept going till all four packs where thrown over the wall.
With the noises from the packs still echoing through the night, Warrick and Laurette scanned warily the inky darkness, before Warrick shook himself, and quickly placed his back to the wall. Making stirrups from his hands, Warrick nodded to Julie. Julie wasted no time putting her foot in his hands and then jumping off with her other leg as Warrick quickly pushed against the sole of her shoe, boosting Julie until she scrambled up and onto the top of the wall.
As Julie twisted around to lie on the wall with her head above Warrick, he quickly got back into position with his hands in a stirrup and nodded to Laurette.
Stepping forward Laurette put her foot in Warrick's hands, when a growl arose from the inky darkness. Thankfully Laurette just pushed off with the leg she was standing on. Reaching up towards Julie, catching her hand, Laurette quickly pulled herself to the top of the wall as Warrick pushed against her foot.
With both Julie and Laurette on the wall, Warrick took a few steps towards where the growling was coming from, then turned back to the wall. He saw both Julie and Laurette ready and ran towards the wall, jumping and reaching for their hands. Just as he grabbed them he heard a great roar and then felt a burning in his back. With a spike of fear he madly pulled himself up the wall, scrambling with his legs as both Julie and Laurette rolled off the wall, still holding his hands, using their weight as they fell to pull Warrick, assisting his scrambled climb.
Warrick found himself with his arms and head hanging down the back of the wall, bent double with his feet still hanging down the inside wall. Quickly Warrick rolled around on the top of the wall, till he was lying spread along the wall's top. Warrick then grabbed the inside of the wall with his hands and rolled, his legs now dangling down the outside of the wall.
As he rolled, Warrick looked into the temple complex and saw his first demon, coming towards him along the temple wall. It was running on four legs like a dog. Black, but outlined in fire and it had a long whiplike tail with spikes all over it. As he stared shocked, the tail whiplashed forwards, and a spike near the end detached, seemingly headed straight for his head. Warwick squealed, letting go of the wall and feel, tumbling down to land flat on his back, where a pain like fire flared up in the small of his back, causing Warrick to cry out and then loss consciousness.
Laurette heard the demon growl as she put her foot in Warrick's hands, and years of experience took over. Laurette kicked off, reaching up as she did so and grabbed Julie's hand, using that grip to pull herself as she scrambled to the top of the wall. Quickly getting herself lying along the wall, head to head with Julie, Laurette grabbed hold onto the outside of the wall with one hand and then lent as far over as she could to reach down towards Warrick with the other. Julie seeing what Laurette was attempting followed her example and lent down towards Warrick as well.
Laurette looked down and was once again impressed with the composure of the boy. Rather then being frozen like she expected, Warrick had actually taken steps towards the sound of a demon, and was now standing with his back to the dark a demon growled out of while waiting for her to get set.
Laurette doubted she could have stood with her back to an unseen growling demon like that, yet somehow he'd gone through testing for eight different orders this day and none of them had noticed this composure? She agreed with Julie totally, somehow he'd managed to hide his light under a bushel, she just couldn't see how he could have done it. Warrick was extraordinary. The only one she had ever been more impressed with was Julie, and Julie was a once in a generation asset she had been sent by her Order especially to recruit.
Getting through the Trial gauntlet was a given knowing the talents Julie had to have to be sent a special recruiter. But to do it at twilight? In a rouge temple complex? Near where a realm-rift had occurred just two months ago while dragging a non-participant? To not get picked out even once was unheard off. To do all that with untrained skills certainly explained why the Order had sent Laurette to Whiteford three months ago to try and entice Julie to join them. But the more Laurette saw of Warrick, the more impressed she was.
Following Julie through her trial like that was enough for any girl to have also passed the Trial. Everything she had seen since had just made her more and more impressed. At first she'd been upset at the change of plans forced on her by Warrick's presence, but since she had found out he'd been passed over at the Trials? Now it seemed like providence. There was no way with the state of things as they were that recruits of Warrick's calibre could be allowed to be passed over by the Orders. If Warrick had been female she would have Oathed him in already, unfortunately he was male. It therefore became her duty to intercede with the other recruiters. Somehow she needed to talk them around that they had made a mistake with Warrick, that he needed to be Oathed to Orders and taken for training.
Laurette watched Warrick take a running jump at the wall. Just as he jumped she watched in horror as a Whipcrack demon appeared out of the night, set itself and launched a tailspike at Warrick. Sailing through the night, Laurette watched the hand length, finger wide spike of bone hit Warrick in the small of his back. Desperately Laurette grabbed Warrick's hand, reaching over with her other hand Laurette pulled Julie off the wall as she allowed herself to tumble down the outside of the wall, holding Warrick's hand tight. Laurette used her body weight falling outside the wall to help pull Warrick quickly up and onto the top of the wall.
As Laurette landed on her feet at the bottom of the wall, she looked up to see Warrick quickly scramble himself flat to the top of the wall. Warrick was lowering himself down when he gave a squeak, letting go of the wall and falling as Laurette watched another tailspike fly through the space Warrick's head had been just moments before. Warrick's tumbling decent ended in an undignified heap on his back, before crying out in pain Warrick slumped and lay limp.
Laurette quickly moved to Warrick's side, as she did so the smell registered with her. Laurette looked down in horror to see the whipcrack spine had been forced through Warrick's entire body, back through to front, by the fall, and from the smell Laurette knew it had pierced the intestines. Irrespective of anything else it had ruptured, that alone was a death wound.
Just then Julie too knelt beside the body, took one look and screamed "Warrick!"
Harsen had not been pleased to hear that Jessie and Warrick had being seen running up Lover's Leap. While their families had been coming here for years, and they had lived in Whiteford for two months now, he wasn't sure that they had heard the stories of the lovers that hill was named for. It wasn't a pleasant tale, and mostly it was only repeated around the time of Trials, but this was the first Trials either of them had attended. It was obvious to all that neither of them were exactly socialising at the moment. In fact, except for chores for the Waystation, Harsen couldn't remember seeing either of them out and about in Whiteford at all. Neither could he really remember seeing them around the Waystation's tap rooms either, except for meals or to help out serving. Come to think about it, they were mostly in their room, and it was positive none of that stuff had been going on.
Harsen sighed, in hindsight he should have been a lot more concerned about what was happening with the two of them. Neither Warrick nor Jessie had so much as mentioned a desire to see their Farmsteads, not that anyone had been surprised, not with all their family dead and the memories such a visit would invoke. The next two closest Farmsteads had sent hands to take over keeping the Steadings going. Harvests were in, so it was mainly just feeding and cleaning up for the livestock and keeping the food gardens tidy.
Though all the families had died in the attack, with all the cart animals too, the harvest, carts and wagons were all recovered. They had been bought into Whiteford and the feed put into the sheds for the boats, while the Travellers carts were taken to the Travellers field. There the rest of the region's Travellers had distributed the harvest amongst themselves, with the understanding that when it was sold they would bring back the money to be returned to the two Steadings. Also as many of the Travellers carts as possibles were given to new owners, with the spares taken to the boat sheds to be stored until needed. Travellers were already spreading the word amongst the other Traveller families about the unused Travellers carts, and Harsen expected they would get more visitors than usual from Traveller families, families with newly wedded offspring, until the carts were taken. Understood by all was that Travellers carts were for the roads. No town, village or steading was ever more than temporary custodian of a Travellers cart, merely holding them in storage until such time as they were claimed for the road again.
As with the Farmsteadings, neither Jessie nor Warrick had been to see the carts. If so desired, any of the carts was theirs by blood. It was also true that as the last surviving members of their family, both of them had sole claim to their Farmsteadings. Since Jessie and Warrick had not returned to their Farmsteadins with the hands who were now running them, nor expressed desire for a Travellers Cart, nor been to see any of the Trademasters around Whiteford about apprenticing, the whole town had taken their silent assumption of the Potentials chores at the Waystation as a declaration that they would be standing for the Orders Trials. While the region would be sorry to lose the last survivors of two families who had been farming in this region since Steadings were first built, it was understood why the two young adults might feel the need to server all ties with the memories of this region and their lost families, and start a new life in the Orders.
Since no female Order came to Whiteford this year for the Trials, and now Warrick had been passed over in his trials, worry about what the two would do had taken root in the entire town. Add the sight of them both being seen running hand-in-hand up Lovers Leap, linked with the story of the two failed potentials who had leaped to their deaths from that hill in ancient times, and it didn't take long for a concerned crowd to be at the Waystation wondering what Harsen was going to do about it.
It was full dark by the time they got to the top of Lover's Leap and started searching. Harsen wasn't interested in losing anyone to accidents atop this hill in the night, so he'd made sure that only those with experience in the wilds at night were with them, and that they traveled in small groups with full kits, including rope, torches and supplies for making camp, all in case they needed to stay out the night.
Even he was surprised to see the light of what appeared to be a campfire in the complex. Like all the locals he knew not to enter the walls of the Temple complex on the hill. Those walls hadn't been built long ago by the temple denizens to keep the villagers out of their temple. Those walls were well repaired by the real builders of them, the townspeople from Whiteford who came up here each and every spring to make very sure that any damages from the winter storms were repaired. Everyone knew that demons roamed inside those walls, and that those same high walls kept the demons inside and the town safe in their beds at night. It was made sure that all children who were of the age were dares and peer pressure could make them do dangerous thing were mandatory workers on those walls. Enough demons bothered the repairers each spring to leave even the most rambunctious in no doubt of the consequences of setting foot in those walls. Nobody wanted any extra holes in the walls that could let things out as easily as they let over-confident children in.
"Looks like at the back, near the rear walls," opinioned Verlick who usually lead the repair teams each spring.
"Inside the walls, or just outside?" Harsen asked also studying the light of the fire.
"Now that you mention it, it might be outside. It looks near the Lady Chapel we use as a base when we repair the back walls. We fix it up every year too, good water, good shelter, close to the walls, but it has walls of its own just in case. Probably the holiest place in this whole town, certainly its the place the most fervent prayers have always been made from. Nothing like the sound of demons to encourage your devotions."
Harsen always knew Verlick's sense of humour was broken, but even he had to admit that he was probably correct about that Chapel. It had a true sense of serenity, something difficult to believe considering what it was next to. Whatever had affected the ruined temple to turn it into what it had become most certainly had not had any effect on that Lady Chapel.
"Okay lets stay together till the Lady Chapel and start our search from there, it's as good a base for us as it is for the spring repairs, and we can check to see what that fire is about while we are at it. Hopefully the fire is outside and its our runaway lovers stealing some time alone together."
When they got to the Lady Chapel they found it was deserted, but Harsen left some people behind to start building a fire and setup a camp. From here it looked like the fire they'd spotted was really close to the walls, and to Harsen it still seemed inside the complex. He wanted a nice safe place to retreat to if needed, and a good beacon to make finding it easier. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he was pretty sure demons didn't make fires and was getting really worried.
Creeping along the wall to the fire, they were quite surprised to hear bushes cracking in front of them, then Harsen saw something come over the wall from inside the temple and crash down at the base of the wall. Harsen just froze as fear gripped him that something was coming out of the temple. Looking up in horror he saw what looked like the silhouette on top of the wall, then he heard the growling of a demon before another silhouette joined the first lying on top of the wall. Harsen brain was just panicking as it tried to work out what type of things would be coming out of a demon desecrated temple, when with a roar the two silhouettes toppled off the wall and a third silhouette appeared on top of the wall and started clambering over the top.
Harsen stood petrified, staring in horror at the villager's nightmare become reality, when a scream of "Warrick!" rent the air. Harsen finally unfroze as he recognised Jessie's voice screaming Warrick's name. He had no idea who the third person was, but at least two of those that had climbed out of the compound were people that they had come up here looking for, and he rushed up to see what was going on.
Laurette stared despairingly down at Warrick's limp form, desperately thinking through all the healing she had available to her. She couldn't think of anything that could heal that wound. Not here. Not on a hilltop next to a desecrated temple, with only what she had in her pack. Even the object she'd been given that she'd thought at the time would allow her to do anything wasn't going to be able to help her here!
"Jelsen," Laurette murmured respectfully from the door.
"Laurette. Please enter," a smiling woman offered as she stepped back.
As Laurette stepped into the rooms of the leader of the Cylsteth, she couldn't help but wonder what the other Orders would think if they knew that Cylsteth operated without any formal titles of leadership.
It wasn't a tradition or anything, the Cylsteth Order just had never bothered to use them, no matter how large it had become. "Fighters fight. Leaders lead. There will be magic." It sounded like a motto, but in reality it was the organisation of the Cylsteth. It should have been a recipe for disaster, and in any other Order it would be. But for Cylsteth it was different. Cylsteth had Aorga, it had available all the skills Aorga brings, and it had the certitude of knowing all its members shared those skills.
The Cylsteth Trial made sure that any recruit that passed had Aorga. More, they had enough Aorga to learn the necessary Aorga skills required of a Cylsteth member. Nobody liked that so many died trying to pass the Cylsteth Trials. Only the best in the Order at estimating Aorga potential were allowed to be Trialmasters for them, trying to make sure only those with a real chance of passing where tested, but while a Cylsteth Trialmaster could recommend a Potential to not take the trials, and in fact could bluntly make a speech to all that the Trial was going ahead despite her recommendation, tradition was that no Cylsteth Trialmaster could deny anyone from attempting the Trial. The only one deciding to take a Trial was the Potential, nobody else. When a Potential died all knew there was only one person to blame for the situation, and that they had quite literally already paid the ultimate price. While not nice, it was the only way such harsh trials could be run without losing all the Trialmasters to unending bouts of guilt over the may deaths they were forced to witness.
When a recruit arrived at the Cylsteth training house for training, one of the first skills drilled into them until it was second nature was the very vaguely named "Place". A Cylsteth was taught, and then drilled mercilessly, to the use their Aorga to always know where their "place" was. Where in a room they should be standing. Where in a formation they should be positioned. Where in an organisation they were best fitted. A skilled Cylsteth could develop Place to the point that in battle they could know the moves and attacks of an opponent as soon as they decided to make them, moving to defeat an attack almost before their opponent could launch it. In the very fluid, very fast paced fights against Wyrdrealm Demons this was a survival skill without parallel, allowing Cylsteth members to survive, and in fact defeat, almost impossible opponents. To fight multiple fast moving demons at once, or defeat the very largest and strongest of demons, demons that even in death the largest of men would struggle to damage with the sharpest of swords or axes.
Often the first Cylsteth to respond to a rift outbreak had never fought with each other. "Place" allowed the Cylsteth members not just to 'know' where they where needed, but also how to organise themselves without thought, to immediately go to the tasks and positions they needed to be in for the group that was there to effectively counter the demons. Then as new responders arrived the Cylsteth members would quickly shuffle the positions around for best effect, always presenting the most effective defence, the most effective attack where it was needed and when it was needed.
Training in "Place" was a long, arduous affair, not because it was a particularly powerful or difficult Aorga skill, but because humans have so many "built-in" assumptions upon which they build their "mental map" of their place in a group, of where it is "safe" to stand, of where they 'fit in'. All these assumptions the Trainee needed to learn to ignore so that the subtler sounds of their Aorga "Place" could be heard. In fact, to help recruits start listening to their "Place" all that is possible was done to during their training to make the signals recruits had used all their life to work out where they should be and who is the most import and their relative rank become all mixed up. Having no titles is all part of this. Once they have left behind being recruits "Place" is second nature to them and titles are redundant. Plus, nobody had come up with a good reason to waste time with titles anyway.
Entering the room Laurette was quite surprised that her sense of "Place" was guiding her to the desk in Jelsen's room. Usually Jelsen was quite informal and much preferred sitting in the chairs at the table her prized chess set occupied. Laurette smiled as she glanced at the chess set. Jelsen loved experimenting with different Mystical skills being used to decide the moves in a chess game. More importantly, she loved thinking of ways to cancel out the strongest skills with the least powerful she could. It was amazing how many times Jelsen had turned the tables on some of the most skilled and powerful at various Mystic disciplines, mostly using intellect alone to turn a powerful Mystical skill into a liability within the course of a single game.
Beating Jelsen at chess was a common training exercise of the most Mystically skilled, powerful, and often the most arrogant, of new Cylsteth recruits. No recruit had yet beaten Jelsen, but the 'record' for realising that their powerful Mystical skill couldn't be used to beat Jelsen was six months of misery for one particularly powerful and arrogant recruit. She had been condemned to playing chess in front of her whole class twice a day, losing each time, until her arrogance had been sufficiently ground down to allow her to come to realisation that total reliance on her strong Mystical Gift was a weakness, a weakness her instructors had been trying to get her to understand all that time.
Sitting down in front of Jelsen's desk, Laurette was surprised to see that Jelsen was remaining standing. Laurette was here to talk about the new potential she was being sent to recruit, to strategise final suggestions before leaving to Trial her. "Jessie" was a once in a generation recruiting chance, the number of skilled in the Order getting Readings meant that 'Jessie' had unusual potential, as such a degree of planning was warranted. Surprisingly though, it seamed to be just her and Jelsen, usually the more unusual recruits required greater skills in planning, a small group was usually used, presenting ideas and thinking through potential problems together to maximise the offered opportunities.
"I've had some information about our recruit that is very important," Jelsen started remaining standing. "All agree that you are going to be successful recruiting 'Jessie', but that the actual survival of the Order requires that she arrives here in what was stated as 'with the correct attitude'."
"The correct attitude? What does that mean? What does 'Survival of the Order' mean?" Laurette asked concerned, shifting forward in her chair.
"I gather it means for 'Jessie' we're not going to get a chance to adjust her attitude after she arrives, and that if she arrives with the wrong attitude she will not be able to be trained correctly to save the Order. Very important points there. One; she won't destroy the order, but she is needed to save it, and Two; we are under a limit of some sort in training her with the skills she needs. The 'attitude' she has when she arrives will be all important. It will either let us impart the skills she needs in time or not, will will not be able to successfully modify it in time if she arrives with an incompatible one."
"What's the deal with her attitude, is it going to be fragile or something?" Laurette queried concerned.
"No actually, quite the opposite," Jelsen explained with a smile. "A lot will have happened to 'Jessie' by the time she arrives here, so much so that for all purposes mentally we'll have an adult to deal with, not a child. Certain things will be set hard like they are for adults. If they set the wrong way, we won't have the time to change them, and that will spell disaster for her training, and therefore for the order."
"Anything you can tell me to help?"
"One skilled did say 'the biggest task will be to make sure that she doesn't learn any self imposed limits to her power'. She will need to do things that for anyone else would be impossible, but to do them she needs to believe that they are in fact not just possible, but within her control," Jelsen advised.
"Okay, that actually makes sense now," Laurette said relieved, sitting back. "She's so powerful she'll push the limits, but only if she believes she can push them. At some time the order's survival will be dependant on her doing something impossible, but to do this 'Jessie' needs to be of an attitude that she believes that it is possible for her to do it, otherwise she'll never even attempt to do it." Smiling Laurette looked up at Jelsen. "Anything else?"
"Yes. I have instructions about things to give you and words to use when giving them to you. Understand, we have had multiple reads on this, all of them agree that only you can do this and only this way."
"When am I going to get details on those reads?" Laurette asked curiously.
"You're not," Jelsen replied bluntly.
"Pardon?" Laurette blinked, honestly shocked. "Reads" were incredibly subjective. Two "Readers" getting Reads on exactly the same situation would often give reports so different that it took a great deal of skill to work out that they were even the same incident. It was normal to do a great deal of talking with the "Readers" so that the full nuances of a situation could be understood. The same information from a Read that felt "serious" could have a completely different meaning to one that felt "humorous" for example. Not getting this in a situation when the survival of the Order was at stake was basically frightening. From what Jelsen was saying this "Jessie" was going to save the order, if Laurette got her recruitment right. What Laurette did in the next few months was quite literally going to damn or save her entire Order and they were deliberately keeping things from her!
"You will not be given further information," Jelsen announced. "According to the Reads you need certain things. They need to be given to you in a certain way, and anything that compromises the presentation will compromise the outcomes." Jelsen took a deep breath and fixed Laurette with a firm look. "So 'no' you will not get access to the Readers, you won't even know who they are. All Readers have been removed from this House already so you can't ask them. 'No' you can't know exactly what they said. The only copy in this house is the one in my hand, and it contains only my instructions for informing you. You will stay in your seat once I finish until I have burnt it so that you can't read it either. All people with knowledge of the Reads except me have already left the house and I will leave as soon as I have finished informing you. All of us will stay disappeared and uncontactable by you until such time as the recruit enters the Training House. Are we clear on this?"
Wow, they were serious about this, they'd done Reads on what she would do to find out the information and had obviously closed all of them down. No wonder it was just Jelsen and her in this meeting, from what they were saying she was poison to the whole leadership team until such time as she finished this recruitment.
"I think the seriousness of your intentions has broadened my horizons on what exactly 'clear' means," Laurette stammered, as near to shocked from Jelsen's announcements as made no difference.
"Thank you. Moving on, this is a fully charged Antora Idol on a necklace for you …"
"What!" Laurette couldn't help exclaiming. That was equivalent to the full Aorga output of the entire Order for a month stored in an idol. They were insanely expensive to make, both in terms of time and costs, and were only worth making because they were miracles at call, they were so powerful. Of all the Orders, only the Cylsteth regularly made Antora Idols, because demons had to be countered and sometimes you needed the full power of the Order to do so, but had neither the time nor resources to concentrate the Order in that way, hence Antora Idols. They were carefully hoarded with the prime job of the entire Reader pool for the Order to make sure that the ones they had were paired to people powerful enough to use them and that these people were then correctly instructed on where it was needed, when it was needed and what to do with it once there. Actually Laurette wasn't even sure she had the skills to use one…
" … and I've been told to tell you 'Yes you are powerful enough to use it' and 'you will need to use it, but not against Demons, only to save Julie." Jelsen paused to make sure Laurette was paying full attention to her before continuing. "Only you Laurette will know when to use the Antora Idol, and it must be used only to save Julie, nothing else. No more information is to be divulged on this object." Putting down the Idol Jelsen instead turned to another item on her desk.
"Next. 'Here is a bag of money, it is quite a big bag of money. It would be cheeper and easier for the Order as a whole if you would go and recruit 'Jessie' rather then wait around here and force everyone to invent ways of hiding from you." Jelsen looked up at the wryly smiling Laurette.
"I had already had the thought that I should just start traveling to her now," Laurette confirmed.
"Quote, end quote 'do'. Moving along. 'Here is a book of all the banned spells. Learn it, learn why they are banned and don't forget to take it with you'." Jelsen tossed Laurette a slim volume which she caught reflexively and then just stared at. It took Laurette a moment to realise that Jelsen had used this distraction to quickly step to the fire and drop the sheet of paper she was holding into the centre of the fire and it was now burnt, much too fast for Laurette to get even a glimpse of anything it had said. And then Jelsen used the fire's distraction to quickly exit from the office through the door to her apartment right there next to the fireplace.
Laurette couldn't help herself, she jumped straight up and ran to the door and looked through, but Jelsen had already left the apartment. Laurette was going to pursue her, but remembering the priceless Antora Idol on a necklace sitting on the desk, Laurette quickly ran back to pick it up and place it around her neck. She reflexively picked up the bag of money too and then sank back into her chair, taking the time to think as she realised it was now pointless to chase after Jelsen.
Laurette looked up at the sound of feet and was quite surprised to see men from the town rushing up to them.
"What's happened?" one of them demanded.
"Demon spine, right through the lower back," Laurette filled them in on the injury.
Laurette looked at the crying Julie and quietly stated "Yes."
Julie looked up at this and Laurette was surprised to see the composure on her face, despite the tears. Surprised at the sternness of her expression as she forcefully spoke a single word, "No".
"No. You told me we can heal. You will heal him. I have seen he pledges Orders today and he will. So heal him!" Julie demanded.
"You have seen?" Laurette questioned.
"Yes!" Julie replied firmly. Not the slightest hesitation, a glare in her eyes as she stared down her mentor.
Laurette carefully studied Julie's posture. Her determination. Her demeanour. Finally Laurette spoke quietly, conversationally, "Has anything about today occurred as you have seen? I know its similar, but from what you told me before, I would say you have not seen."
"No, I have," Julie tried to explain. "Everything I saw has happened, but what I thought it meant was not always as I believed."
"Really?" Laurette pressed.
"Yes." Once more firmly, stated without hesitation.
Laurette sighed. "Okay," she said finally after silently studying Julie. "I want you to sit there and concentrate. You are aware of the mistakes you made before now, so don't repeat them," Laurette admonished. "See what happened today, what will happen and understand what is to be, not what you wish for it to be." Sternly Laurette glared at Julie.
"I will," Julie replied. With that Julie settled on her heals, closed her eyes and while still holding Warrick's hand seemed to go into a trance, looking within herself.
"So you'll try a healing?" Hansen asked Laurette cautiously now that the two women had finished their conversation.
Turning Laurette sighed, "I don't think I can, but we'll see."
"If you want to try we have a much better place down there," Hansen offered. "Clean water, warm, much better light," he pointed down the slope.
Laurette looked where he was pointing and saw a fire lighting up what looked to be a strong stone building. "Yes, that would be much better," she confirmed. Turning back to Hansen she asked, "Can you build a stretcher and carry Warrick there?"
"Of course, we'll get right on it," Hansen promised, signalling to the other men with him.
Laurette watched the men kneel down and lay two of their tall walking staffs on the ground. Quickly they pulled strips of wide leather out of their rucksacks, tied the leather in loops and feed the staffs through the loops. Very quickly they had a stretcher ready to take Warrick. As they manoeuvred the stretcher to Warrick's side Julie came out of her trance. Standing up, she moved to Laurette's side.
"We need to talk," she quietly murmured.
Laurette looked at her face and noticed the same stern expression as before. She finally understood that this was the moment when she saved her Order or not. How she handled Julie tonight was going to decide if Julie remained flexible enough to be the Order's saviour, or if she instead broke. With a nod to Julie Laurette turned to the villagers and quietly requested, "Please take Warrick down, we'll go ahead to get ready." At the villagers agreement Laurette turned back to Julie. Gesturing to the packs on the ground at the bottom of the wall, Laurette picked up her own pack and camp roll and set off for the stone building. Picking up both her own and Warrick's rucksacks, quickly Julie set off after Laurette, catching her within a few steps.
Once they had some distance between themselves and the village men, Laurette turned to Julie and invited her to start the discussion. "Everything I've seen, happened," Julie begun. "I saw me taking the Oath and you telling me it was accepted. I saw me leaving Whiteford and not going back, and I've seen the same for Warrick. Not just him following me before going back to the town, but that he has left the town and he won't be going back." Looking carefully at Laurette Julie continued, "And there is more, tonight he makes his oath of Orders and he will live to fulfil them. He does not die tonight!" Julie fiercely declared. "So you need to heal him until help comes!" Julie finished with a stubborn look.
Laurette frowned and kept walking. She knew help wasn't coming, but she also knew that Julie really did have sight, and that seeing it fail her would almost certainly cause a blockage of it, something she could all too easily see would cause the downfall foreseen by the Order's Readers. Someone who needed to push the boundaries of what was possible could not do so unless they had overwhelming confidence in their own skills, confidence that what they saw happen happened.
Laurette racked her brain trying to see a way out as they walked in silence to the stone building. By the time they arrived, the much more wilds experienced townsmen had caught them up, so Laurette was walking beside Warrick as he was carried into the shelter. Laurette's eyes widened in surprise as she walked in and she felt the serenity of a very powerful Sanctuary. Without even thinking, Laurette quickly chanted the spell to release a Sanctuary's light, and as the comforting light of a summer morning embraced them, she saw the demon spike in Warrick's stomach dissolve to nothing as the light touched it. Laurette blinked at that example of the sanctuary's power. She quickly put her hand over Warrick's stomach and let a little Aorga power dribble into him, attempting to feel the progression of his wound. Momentarily she was hopeful, but then her spell reported and her hopes were dashed. Even with the power of this Sanctuary, Warrick was still dying, though the infection was being significantly slowed down by the Sanctuary light. It would take longer here, but still inevitably, Warrick would die.
Laurette put down her rucksack and opened it, searching through it, hoping to find inspiration, a solution to her dilemma. How was she to heal Warrick when his injuries were so obviously beyond her skill? Also how to Oath him to an Order even though none of the male Orders were here?
The first thing she saw in her rucksack was the book of banned spells. Laurette quickly opened it, knowing that while all the spells in the book were banned, it often wasn't what the spells did that got them banned, but rather how the spells were doing it. Maybe in here was a spell she could modify to allow her to resolve her dilemma. With a wry smile Laurette remembered the very different circumstances that had made her start reading the book originally, amused that such a very unusual occurrence for her, studying spells in a spell book, might just be what saved her order.
Laurette was bored on her river barge. The first day, loading the barge, had been exciting. Then there was the next day, learning all about her new home, learning about a river barge and it's occupants, learning the rhythms and flows of a working barge plying its trade up and down the river. But now, two days later, she was coming to the realisation she was stuck on a small fifty foot barge that barely had enough room to turn around in, either above deck or below, let alone pace or exercise like she was used to as a swordswoman and fighter. She'd chosen a slow small barge as it would take longer and use up more time, time Laurette had in abundance since her all but banishment from the Order House. But now Laurette was starting to feel the effects of too much time and not enough space. In desperation Laurette pulled out the book of banned spells from her rucksack, the only book she had with her, and started paging through it.
Wow, this wasn't just a list of spell names and the judgements of why they were banned, this was the actual spells! Why were actual banned spells kept around in a book? Surely that would encourage people to learn them?
Hey, wait a minute! That spell's not banned, she used it the day she left the inn … "this spell leaves the servant unable to do anything but what the spell caster wants of them …" wait, no that can't be right. When she'd summoned a servant to help her pack, he'd had no trouble telling her no, but he'd get one of the maids to help her instead. What's going on here … Laurette read through the familiar spell listed in the book three times before she noticed the subtle difference between the spell she remembered, the spell she had used that morning, and the one in this book. One line had moved, that was it. The spell had all the same lines, but one line was said three lines before in this spell, and it had the horrifying effect of removing the will of the servant when cast on them.
Okay, now she knew why the spells were listed. There was nothing wrong with the intent of this spell, but the results of getting it wrong were truly frightening. Only by having the whole spell can you see and understand what had happened. Laurette smiled in pleasure. It looked like this book was going to be much more interesting than she had first thought when it had been given to her. Laurette determined that by the end of this voyage she was going to read and figure out what had gone wrong with each and every one of these spells and determine what exactly it was that had got them banned.
Laurette quickly flicked through the book, she needed something that saved Warrick or she'd lose Julie. No, not just saved him, but allowed him to Oath to an Order even though no Male Order was here … wait, changeover, not oath to an Order that wasn't here, allow him to Oath to the Order that was here!
Some time ago, the Cylsteth Order realised it needed skills it didn't have, mostly military leadership skills, there wasn't a lot of female military commanders after all. In desperation they realised that there was plenty of males with the skills needed and the changeover spell was created to bind them to Cylsteth and then force the wakening of Aorga power in them. Aorga power was a female power, and the wakening of it in a body that was "injured" caused a massive healing wave that would force all physical changes of Aorga production (increased vitality, increased strength, usually a late growth spurt) to go through the body all at once, in moments rather then over a period of months like usually happened when Aorga awoke. This "healing wave" would literally heal any injury short of death, and on a male it had a most interesting effect. It would change them to having a female body. A fully functioning, totally female body, producing Aorga just like any other Cylsteth Member.
Though widely used at first, after the emergency the changeover spell was banned for a few reasons.
First, it was a "forced" change, using compulsions to compel compliance. There was nothing voluntary about it. In fact, it was about the "blackest" spell in the book of banned spells that had ever been "officially" sanctioned for use, only ever used on those sentence to death by the Crown, but still, it was an ugly, disgusting spell. Considering the spells to torture and enslave that were also once used under sanction, that was saying some pretty horrible things about the effects of this spell on it's recipients.
Next it was discovered that none of those that received a changeover survived the crisis. It a took a while to work it out. While the spell bound the recipient to act like they accepted the change and do the will of the Order, it wasn't actually enchanting them. The spell just forced the body to act that way. Underneath the will was still there, fighting the compulsions, desperate to get free. Eventually, all of them had found the same loophole. They were bought in to help fight demons, fighting demons is dangerous. All of them worked out to "lead from the front", and eventually an obliging demon would remove them from the prison changeover had made of their very bodies.
If Laurette forced changeover she could then initiate Aorga production in Warrick, which would trigger the body shift and healing wave nearly all new Cylsteth recruits needed to heal them after their Trials. Warrick's wound wasn't anywhere near as bad as she'd seen a Healing Wave heal. Warrick would be saved, and further, as a female, Warrick would be eligible to Oath to Cylsteth. Both Julie's Foreseen events would occur, and Laurette's dilemma would be resolved.
Lets see, components … wow, that was a lot of spell casters, she didn't have that many, what were they all doing? Oh, wow, that was a lot of compulsions being layered on. Can I really do that? Do I want to? What is the use of "saving" Warrick if he was layered in so many compulsion he comes to hate his life anyway?
Laurette sat thinking and realised something, for Warrick this was not a forced change. She remembered what he'd said "… anything of myself or that is mine to give I would happily give for the chance at fighting Wyrdrealm Demons" … this changeover would allow Warrick to fight Wyrdrealm Demons! She didn't have to force the spell, Warrick would accept it! She could even use the pledge he'd already made as an Oath, as long as she did the spell tonight. Quickly looking at the spell Laurette stripped out all the parts that were compelling the subject to accept the changes. Then doing mental comparison about what was left, Laurette quickly decided nothing left seemed like anything Warrick had not already pledged he would give.
Hmm, pulling out all those compulsions really did reduce the number of casters, but it still needed a lot of power, and most of the casters was still not all of them. Laurette still could not use the spell with just herself … hmm … wait Julie! Julie couldn't help her cast the spell, but Julie needed to have her Aorga production triggered as well! She could sync Warrick's body to Julie's and modify the normal recruits initiation spell to include things from the changeover spell and then split this off here and do if first and a preparation spell and "Yes!" Laurette didn't realise she had spoken aloud until she felt the arms of Julie around her in her a hug.
"You know how to save him don't you?" Julie asked with a smile of victory.
Laurette put her hand over Warrick's stomach again … the Sanctuary had massively slowed the spread of the decay. "The sanctuary isn't curing him, but its slowing the effects, giving me more time. I think I know how to use that time to …" Laurette realised something, tying Julie into Warrick's body was dangerous. If it failed, or Warrick resisted the change, Julie would suffer the same fate as Warrick! She sighed, "I'm working on it, but I'm pretty sure I can, yes," she admitted.
"Where do you Aqueerna ladies want your patient?" Laurette looked up and blinked at the inquiry from the villagers, still holding Warrick on the stretcher.
"Huhn, what? Aqueerna? No Cylsteth." Laurette looked around and noticed finally that the villagers where standing waiting for her instructions. She also realised that letting the villagers see the transformation of either Warrick or Julie needed to be prevented, both of those secrets were too important to Cylsteth to become common knowledge.
"Um, can you put him there?" Laurette said pointing to a room off the main Sanctuary hall. "Leave enough room on all sides for us to move around him," Laurette instructed as she moved aside and rested leaning against a wall, taking the time to think, not just reacted. What was the most important thing at the moment? … the spell. If she couldn't work out how to heal Warrick none of the rest mattered because she wouldn't be doing any spells she needed to keep secret.
Laurette waited for the men to set Warrick down, then she moved close to him and sat down cross legged, close enough her knees touched Warrick on either side of the wound in his stomach. Once she had done that she tested putting Aorga into Warrick through her knees and made sure she could monitor him that way ... she could. Laurette then put the spell book open in her lap and concentrating on the book, and the changeover spell within it, went into a light trance. Laurette concentrated so she could both monitor Warrick's condition through her Aorga, as she simultaneously attempted to solve the puzzle of how to save him with the least danger to Julie.
As the stretcher was laid down and Laurette sat beside it to start her preparations, Julie went over to talk to Mayor Harsen.
"Cylsteth huh? That explains a few things," Harsen commented as Julie approached.
"Yes, I was just finishing my Trial," Julie agreed.
"Your Cylsteth Trial was to break through a demon despoiled temple?" Harsen asked in disbelief.
"No wonder so many die doing Cylsteth Trials!" Harsen exclaimed.
"It's not like they are not warned!" Julie defended. "Cylsteth doesn't want them to die either, but we are obliged to let anyone who wants to take our Trials do so."
"We?" Harsen asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I passed, I was accepted." Julie shrugged. "Anyway there are a few things Warrick was going to organise but he can't now, so I need your help to organise them," Julie quickly changed the subject back to the one she had approached Harsen about originally.
"Lay up lass, your new mistress believes she will save him, no need to go morbid yet." Reaching out Harsen laid a comforting hand on Julie's shoulder.
"No, that's not why he can't do it," Julie explained, smiling her thanks for the comforting touch. "Warrick will be leaving with me and Laurette. He won't be going back to Whiteford."
"Cylsteth doesn't take males Jessie," Harsen said softly, still touching her shoulder.
"Its Julie now, and that's not an issue. Cylsteth doesn't swear males to the Order, that is true, but they do heal males in need at their Houses, allowing them to stay until the need is past. Warrick will need more healing than can be provided here, so we'll be taking him with us. After he is healed he'll be swearing to Orders and so won't be back."
"He's already been passed over, he ca…"
"No, he was't passed over," Julie quickly interrupted. "He just was not chosen by the Orders who came."
"That's what passed over means lass," Harsen interrupted gently.
"Talk to them," Julie insisted. "Warrick left too fast, they were going to explain it to him. He was beyond the Orders who were there, they didn't reject him, they just couldn't train someone with his skills. They were talking about how to organise Warrick's Trials to one of the Mystic Orders, its just that its never happened before that a Mystic Order hadn't sent a representative to the Trials of a Mystic Potential, the Trialmasters had no idea what to do."
"Huh?" Harsen blink in astonishment.
"Part of the Trials is a test for mystic potential," Julie explained slowly. "If that test is passed, the normal Orders know that the Potential is not for them, and they leave the rest of the trials for that Potential to the Mystic Orders. But the only Mystic Order that came to Whiteford this year was Cylsteth. Please let the other Trialmasters know that Cylsteth will take care of the needs of Warrick for them, make sure he gets to the Order he needs to be with."
"So he was the best of them then?" Harsen said smiling.
"No, I was. He was a very close second," Julie replied with a small smirk.
Harsen couldn't help but smile. In two months that was the closest he had seen Jessi… no Julie, he had to remember to call her Julie. That was the closest he had seen Julie show any pride in anything she had done. It wasn't that the two of them were not doing good work, as far as he had seen they were always doing their very best. This was just the first time he had seen one of them take pleasure in doing the job well.
"Alright lass, I'll tell them. I'm assuming since you are both leaving that the other order of business is the Farmsteadings?" Harsen guessed.
"Yes. Both of them are to be left to Traveller Mathews and his family," Julie replied.
"What?" Harsen was quite surprised by that. "Listen lass, you needn't worry. Anyone who took over the Farmsteadings would continue the agreements your families had. Not just for sentimentality, but we all saw how much it made sense for the three families. You must know that other Farmsteadings families have started making similar alliances with Herdersteading families?"
"That's not the reason and its not the Herdersteading families we are leaving it too," Julie insisted. "We are leaving it to the Travellers. Ever since the family agreements, the Traveller families have anchored their wanderings on the Steadings of our three families, finishing one end of their wanderings at the Herdsteading and the other end here at the Farmsteadings. Whether they were at the Farmsteading or the Herdsteading, they were always welcomed as cousins," Julie explained. "For the last two generations, even though there was no intermingling of blood, the two Traveler families have operated like a single larger Family. Each Traveler always on the look out for the needs of both the Farmsteading and the Herdsteading. Even though the families of our blood are all gone, Warrick and I want to make sure that the families of our adopted cousins are recognised. We wish to make sure that our cousins inherit the Farmsteadings to continue the family link. Plus some of the dead were adopted cousins, Travellers who were 'in the area' and had come in to help us with the harvests. We hope that the Farmsteadings can at least a little bit offset some of the blood dept owed by our families to our Traveller cousins for that died protecting our families."
"Okay, I understand. The Traveler families are adopted cousins and are to be considered such under the inheritance laws," Harsen assured Julie. "What do you want us to do if none of the Traveller families want to settle down and be Farmsteaders?" Harsen asked cautiously.
"Don't worry, Trader Mathews is already on his way back with all his family. He thinks its to help Warrick and me run the Farmsteads. Just tell him when he gets here that as our cousin we leave the Farmsteads to him and please let the hands already working the Farmsteads know what will be happening, so that they can make their choices on what they wish to do."
"Lass, how come neither you nor Warrick ever tried to claim your steadings?" Harsen asked the question the whole town wanted to know. Julie seemed quite talkative for a change and it was the last time he'd be able to find out. "Its obvious you both care for them or you would not be so serious about making sure your adopted cousins get them."
Julie frowned, looking sadly back to Warrick. "Warrick and I both knew Harvests End was our last day on the Farmsteadings before we left, " she explained softly. "Our families had noticed signs that we were destined for Orders years ago. Part of the reason we were with Traveler Mathews was so that we could arrive early to start the process of registering for the Trials, after the rest of the family arrived our parents could quickly finish it before getting started on the Harvest Ends celebrations."
"You could still have dropped out," Harsen pressed. "Your families never arrived, so it's not as though they could have finished the registrations."
Julie sighed, turning back to Harsen. "It wasn't as simple as that. Cylsteth had already contacted me about Trialling for them."
Harsen eyebrows rose high at that news. To be contacted months before the Trials indicated some very special talents indeed. No wonder Julie was sure she was the best of the Potentials, and that she was going to be Chosen today. While the Trials for Cylsteth would never have been a formality, no Trial were you could die could ever be considered that, it's not as though Cylsteth would be inviting people to join them who they believed would fail their Trials. Give them their due, despite the reputation Cylsteth had for its Trials and how many Potentials died in them, Cylsteth Trialmasters were always very accurate in their warnings to those they felt would not pass the Trials. It was just their misfortune that they were the only Order to fight the Wyrdrealm Demons, which that meant that they got applicants who were desperate to join them, so desperate they'd Trial even if doing so meant certainly losing their lives.
"After what happened, I couldn't not take up the offer to join Cylsteth and kill Wyrdrealm Demons," Julie continued. "Warrick is a little different. While as a male he can't join Cylsteth, I believe he too wanted some memorial, some reason he had survived when his family didn't," Julie shrugged. "Warrick was going to join Orders to save others in memory of his family."
Harsen nodded, finally understanding them. "I'll personally make sure that Traveller Mathews gets the Farmsteadings when he arrives," he promised.
Julie nodded, then turning her back on the Farmsteadings, and all the ties of her old life. Tears in her eyes she went to help her new mentor with her preparation.
Laurette was glad of the last three months worth of study she had put into this book, and more importantly, into how the banned spells differed from the normal everyday versions of spells they were based on. The last few months had been a master class in Spell Making as she had patiently picked apart spell after spell to see how they were put together, and to understand all the nuances of how the different changes affected the outcomes. Laurette had been a spell caster for a long time, but she had never before needed to learn how spells were made and developed. Usually, out in the field, it was much more a matter of priority how many spells were learnt and how fast they could be cast. Making new spells was something done in the Houses at leisure, not something usually done in the field.
Due to all her study over the last three months Laurette was able to quickly strip out all the compulsions, then she stripped out all the parts dealing with multiple spell casters working together, since she was going to be the only caster of this spell. She then striped out the forced activation of Aorga, as the much more modern spell they now used with injured recruits was both simpler, and very importantly, able to be done by a single caster. Finally she was left with the basics that actually initiated the changeover. Looking at it she almost absently neatened it up and swapped in modern elements that had continued to be refined long after this spell was banned and no longer being used.
Looking at what was left she realised that while dangerous, one person could cast it now. Well, not simply dangerous, foolhardy. The only parts of the changeover spell left that required multiple casters was the protections to keep the participants safe from unexpected consequences. Those parts of the spell by definition needed someone else to cast them, so that they could monitor the other participants of the spell and know when to interfere. Without those protections feedback from Warrick as he experienced changeover was certain to effect Laurette, effects that could cause her severe psychic injuries, certainly enough to incapacitate her for a period, if not for good. Death was a real possibility from casting a spell with this much power and no protections.
Syncing Julie and Warrick and doing it that way would allow Julie's awakening to drag Warrick's body through changeover, allowing Laurette to monitor it all safely, but it would condemn Julie to whatever fate Warrick suffered. Any rejection by Warrick to what was being done to him would cause the spell to fail, and Warrick to continue dying, along with Julie once linked. Julie dying was unacceptable to Laurette, she was needed to save the Order, she could not be risked.
Also the spell required power, lots of power. While the need to use multiple casters was negated by the changes she had made to the spell, the power of those spell casters was still needed to enact the changes on Warrick's spirit so that the awakening of Aorga could be achieved. The only source of power large enough Laurette had available to her was the Antora Idol, and that Idol had a specific task, to save Julie.
Laurette came out of her trance, double-checked Warrick and confirmed she still had time. She looked across to Julie who was also in a trance, sitting on the far side of Warrick's from Laurette. Since she still had time thanks to the Sanctuary slowing down the progression of Warrick's injury, Laurette decided to sit back and think. Now that she knew it was possible to both save Warrick and fulfil the events foreseen by Julie, Laurette needed to decided if it was the correct thing.
Firstly the use of an Antora Idol to save Warrick when it was specifically for saving Julie. This did not cause Laurette any concerns. Saving Warrick was needed to save Julie. Laurette was certain this was the event foreseen that would endanger Julie, because losing Warrick would not just cripple her emotionally, but if Warrick died it would also paralyse her ability to trust her sight after this, crippling that skill too, or at the very least requiring many years of work to again instil within Julie faith in her skill, years that the Order did not have.
Secondly which version of the spell to use? While syncing Julie and Warrick was less dangerous, it still had the potential to lead to the death of Julie. This was unacceptable. Laurette would live with the effects of casting a spell of this magnitude without protections to protect Julie. Even if she died, Julie would definitely live, and since the purpose of the spell was to cause a body shift and healing in Warrick, he would probably survive too.
Thirdly, protecting the Order. Laurette decided she would simply order the villagers away and not to come back. Once they had left she would teach Julie what to do in the probable case of her incapacitation, and then she would perform the changeover followed by triggering Aorga production in both Julie and Warrick simultaneously, which would effect the body shift and healing for Warrick.
Once she realised she had the plan for what to do, Laurette knew that she was going to do it. She only had the skills to do this because she was given the book of banned spells to read and the forced idleness of expulsion from the Order House in which to study it. Add to that having the Antora Idol to power it, and it was obvious to her how all the steps set in motion by the Readers and her meeting with Jelsen inevitably lead here to her doing this precise spell. It was also obvious to her that this was the crisis foreseen. While she was aware that she was about to perform a spell that nearly all would consider a "banned" spell, no matter that in her mind it no longer had any of the effects that had gotten it banned, performing this spell would have serious consequences. Everything in her being told her that it wasn't just right to do this spell, it was necessary and needed, but that did not forestall the actions of others.
Surprisingly she was calm in her mind about her decision, despite the danger to herself and the serious consequences once the Order found out she had attempted a changeover spell. It surprised her to realise that while Julie was everything she'd expected before being sent to recruit her, Warrick had so impressed her that she was ready to do this spell simply because it saved Warrick, allowing her to recruit him to into the Order. In her mind Laurette already considered Warrick and Julie a team, with Warrick the Soul and the Rock, there to provide protection to Julie's Power. While she believed that Warrick wasn't necessary for Julie to save the order as had been foreseen, she also believed that Warrick and Julie as a team would serve the Order well after the event that saved the Order was forgotten by all.
Smiling, at peace with herself, Laurette looked down at the sleeping Warrick, reaching out to gently caress his face, certain of her intended actions and their consequences.
Warrick was surprised to be sitting on the hill next to the family Farmhouse, leaning against the trunk of his tree and watching down the main way to the road. It was a view he had enjoyed nearly everyday of his life, so his surprise to be doing it again was a mental itch he was trying to scratch.
He looked at the Farmstead, scanned horizon to horizon, and saw nobody. This should be surprising, but again he somehow expected this, which was another mental itch he was scratching.
Warrick was staring at the kitchen, the domain of his mother, with tears running down his face when he felt the presence of another person beside him. Looking around he saw a woman and the name "Laurette" came to him.
"I never visited, but I assume this is your Steading?" Laurette asked quietly.
"It was, yes," Warrick answered.
"Was?" she prompted.
"I've left it, there's nobody here anymore," and with that Warrick remembered why he was surprised to be here and, most importantly, why there was nobody else but the two of them. Silently the tears tumbled down.
Laurette crouched down beside Warrick and pulled him to her breast, as Warrick hugged her tight and let all the tears he had held back for the last two months finally flow.
After a time Warrick pulled back to wipe his face on his sleeve. "Thank you," he said softly.
Laurette patted him on his back, looked into his face for a second, then released him and sat down beside him, leaning her back against the same tree as he was. This was not what she had expected when she cast the spell, but she assumed it was some part of the "feedback" caused by having no protections. Somehow she seemed to have entered Warrick's subconsciousness.
"Warrick, do you remember what is happening?" she asked, hoping for guidance on what to do now.
"Not really," Warrick looked to her confused.
"Do you remember the demon?" she pressed.
"Oh. Julie's Trial. Yes I remember the demon and something about my back hurting."
"Yes. The demon. When you fell from the wall you fell onto the demonspike and it was pushed all the way through your back. We took you to a Sanctuary …"
"That explains why I'm here," Warrick interrupted with a smile. "This was always my most happy place. I could sit here for bells just watching, felling safe and happy. … am I dying?" Warrick asked looking up at Laurette.
"I can save you, but there is a price," Laurette offered.
"Well mostly you and a little bit for me."
Warrick sighed. "Don't worry, I'm happy here, waiting for my family to come for me."
"What if I can give you a chance to avenge your family?" Laurette suggested.
"Revenge won't bring them back. And it was demons, I can't fight demons, only you can fight demons," Warrick said with regret.
"What if I could make it so you could fight them?" Laurette offered again, wondering what it would take to get Warrick to accept her help.
"I'm not like Julie, I don't feel anger at the demons. I don't want to kill them to make the pain go away. … I don't want to die, but I also don't want you to have to pay a price when I can just wait here for my family. Its peaceful and I'm happy." Serenely, Warrick leaned against the tree. Closing his eyes and turning his face up towards the warm sun.
Laurette wasn't surprised at Warrick words, everything about this felt real. Here there were no lies, no false pretences. This was how Warrick was at his core. She thought back to how she'd first met Warrick and smiled. She realised she was solving the wrong problems, making the wrong offers. It wasn't about what she could do for Warrick, it was be about what she could enable Warrick to do for Julie. Turning to Warrick she made a final offer, "What about Julie? What about if I can make it so you can help her? If I found a way for you to join Cylsteth, to stay with her, keep protecting her?"
"But I'm a male. Males can't join Cylsteth?" Warrick stated, opening his eyes to turn to her with a penetrating, demanding stare.
"What would you give up to join Cylsteth and protect Julie?" Laurette pushed, delighted at Warrick's focused urgency.
"Anything of myself or that is mine to give," Warrick once again promised, to Laurette's welcoming smile.
"You will be giving up yourself, when this is done you will no longer be Warrick. You won't die, but you will no longer be Warrick either," Laurette cautioned.
Warrick didn't even seem to hesitate before repeating, "Anything."
Since the spell still didn't seem to be activating, Laurette decided to try a formal Oath. "On this night, you are here of your own volition knowing what is to be?" she intoned as she had earlier that night for Julie.
"I do. I freely submit to the Trials of Cylsteth, at the peril of my life," Warrick replied solemnly.
"At the ending, you submit to what is to be?"
"I do. I freely submit to Cylsteth and sever those ties of family, friendship and companionship to dedicate to Cylsteth," Warrick formally Oathed.
Laurette didn't even need to accept the Oath before she felt the stalled spell take hold, and the power of the Antora Idol being pulled through her into Warrick. It felt like fire, it felt like raw pain, and it was all she could do to cling to consciousness and keep channeling the power into Warrick. As the pain ebbed and flowed, never less than intense, sometimes more than she ever thought she could endure, Laurette held and forced the power down the Paths the spells required of it.
Laurette held just enough presence of mind to feel when the power from the Antora Idol exhausted, thankfully just as the spell to changeover completed. She quickly released a little of her own Aorga into both Warrick and Julie, who's hand she was unknowingly holding. Enough for her to feel the presence of Warrick, to confirm the new female nature of that presence. Also, surprisingly, to feel the broken bones in Julie's hand she must have caused by crushing them in her grip as the agonies went through her.
With almost her last reserves Laurette cast the spell to awaken fully the Aorga within Julie, and the newly formed potential within Warrick. Then surprisingly she felt the beginnings of the healing wave in Warrick as a little of that power was feeding back into her, a residual of the changeover spell and its missing protections.
The sudden reversal from intense pain to cool healing, along with her drained state and mental exhaustion was enough. Gently Laurette slipped from consciousness to sleep, slumping down as darkness overtook her.Lady Chapel
Laurette came to when someone replaced the cool cloth on her head with a much colder one. She opened her eyes to a splitting headache, blearily blinking up to the face of Julie, hovering over her with the strangest expression.
Wearily Laurette discovered that her body just didn't seem to want to move anymore, preventing her attempts to sit up. When she heard a groan next to her and saw Julie quickly turn to look over her shoulder, Laurette realised who had to be making the groaning and quietly ordered, "Julie, help me see."
With Julie's help Laurette was able to sit up and crawl closer to the sleeping mat she'd had the men make for Warrick before they left to return to the town. When she got there and looked down she was astonished by what she saw.
Warrick groaned again and lifted an arm to his forehead, where it brushed a damp cloth. Groaning, he forced opened eyes that blinked at the light. Two faces looking down, Laurette with an astonished look on her face, and Julie, who at a single glance Warrick could see was smirking worse then ever before. As the practical joker of both their families, Warrick had seen Julie with some truly amazing smirks before, and this one promised quiet the spectacle.
"Okay Julie, why are you smirking and what is it going to cost me when I find out?" Something seemed off, the words not sounding right, and Warrick frowned trying to work out what. At the frown Julie stopped smirking and collapsed instead into gales of laughter.
Even after the astonishingly pretty girl talked Laurette was still having difficulty believing she used to be Warrick. While she was still tall, actually very tall for a girl as she still had Warrick's height, she was almost rail thin and delicate. Laurette examined the girl who was very definitely showing the early stages of a womanly bloom from teenaged girl into full maidenhood. She also had the long blond golden hair and agonisingly cute face that immediately conjured up images of summer dresses with long pigtails flapping in the wind as they went skipping down the street.
Warrick hadn't just changed, she'd changed to almost the ideal vision of innocent girlhood. As Laurette contemplated the mental image of Warrick as an innocent girl skipping in pigtails, taken with the absolutely adorable confused expression on her face, Laurette had to quickly turn away, covering her face to conceal a wide grin. She coughed a few times to suppress the laughter that threatened to come out, Warrick was going to be confused enough as it was and would have enough confliction about her new gender without everyone laughing at her about it … even if it was so terribly amusing.
Warrick was distracted from Julie's laughing by the weird expression Laurette got on her face, before she quickly turned away and started coughing. Just as Wareick was about to sit up and see if he could help, Julie was back in his face again. "So, you like naming people? Lets see how you go this time. What's your name?" Julie demanded with a huge smirk on her face.
"What's my name? Its … " Warrick mouth opened a closed a few times and try as he might he couldn't get it to say 'Warrick'. "Its …. Its …" he just couldn't say it. He tried saying the syllables by themselves "… … k" Okay, the K came out, must be getting better "… … K … a " Huh? "K al" Huh, what was going on? "Cal…ley" What the? Why did he say Calley? That was Julie's little sister's name.
Warrick looked up and saw the look of horror on Julie's face and quickly sat up and hugged Julie to her breast What? Breast? Why did he have breasts? and laid his head on the top of hers so that his long hair hung down over both of them Hair? Long gold hair? Where did that come from? Gently he rocked Julie back and forth as she cried.
Warrick knew that while Julie cried for all her family, the one she missed the most was her younger sister, Calley. One of Julie's earliest memories was of her mother holding her new baby sister and promising Julie that she'd get her as a room-mate as soon as she grew old enough to leave the cot and sleep in a normal bed. Julie's mother had often told stories of Julie badgering her father to build that new bed for her sister, and how she had moved it into her room ready for her new sister months before she could even crawl. Then Julie had patiently taught first the crawling, then the toddling Calley to crawl into the bed and sleep there, with Julie curled around her to keep her safe. Eventually Calley had cried anytime she was put into the cot by herself and not in the bed with her sister, and Julie had got her little sister as her room-mate, a situation that had continued for the next 13 years.
During the last two months he'd shared the room at the Waystation with Julie, Warrick had often heard Julie, just as she started drowsing off, start to tell "Calley" about her day and her dreams and pretty much well, … everything. On the good nights she just fallen asleep without realising what she had done. On the bad nights he'd hear her wake back up as she realised what she had said, then break down sobbing at the loss of her little sister and confidant. On those nights Warrick had gotten out of his bed and pulled Julie up and into a hug, just holding her as she wept for the loss of her family and especially her little sister.
"I'm sorry Julie, I'm so sorry." Warrick whispered has he hugged Julie and rocked her. "My name is ……K. No! My Name is ……Ka. No! It's not Cal… It's not Cal!…I'm so sorry Julie, I'm so sorry! I'll choose another name, I will, I promise. I'll choose another name …" Warrick didn't even realise he was now sobbing himself as he rocked Julie as much for his own comfort as hers.
Julie heard the rising distress in the other girls voice and shifted around so that she could pull the distressed girls head onto her own shoulder and then reached around to her back and started rubbing it with one hand as she hugged her tight with the other.
"Shh Calley, Shh. Its Okay, really its Okay, shhh …" It hurt, oh it hurt to be calling someone else 'Calley'. She felt like she was betraying her sister, but she had been held so many times over the last two months by these arms, so many nights crying all night long, now that he …she … Calley. Now that Calley was crying she just could not bare to hear her hurt. "Shh Calley. Common, shh, its alright. Really its alright … shh".
Laurette just stared in shock at the distress that Calley's name was causing. She knew enough about Julie to know one of her younger sisters had been called Calley, but it was obvious from the way the two girls were breaking down that the name meant a great deal more to Julie, so her sister Calley must have been very important to her. It was also obvious that Calley's Trueseeing was at work. The name "Calley" wasn't one she choose, she quite literally could not say anything else, so as "Julie" was one of the new recruits names, "Calley" was the second, and Laurette was unsure how that would effect the mental health of Julie, though as the two girls rocked and comforted each other she was beginning to suspect.
Calley woke to a gentle kiss on her forehead and looked up to find Julie smiling down at her. "Wakey wakey sleepy head," Julie murmured happily.
Calley sat up slowly, absentmindedly pushed her long gold hair out of her face, then stopped. Clutching the hair, she pulled it around and stared at it. As she did so she heard a giggle from Julie, but this time it wasn't enough to distract her from her breasts that she just sat and goggled at in shock. She eventually became aware that Julie was giggling fit to burst and this finally distracted her enough to look up at Julie, who took one look at her face and just disintegrated into howls of laughter.
"Your face, … your face! … so lost, so confused, so cute!!" Julie fell over onto her back laughing hysterically.
"C cute??" Calley stammer in shock.
Julie held her breath to stop laughing at the confusion in that word and heaved herself up to look at Calley again and got a face full of 'poor little lost kitten' pouring out of every fibre of the incredibly cute girl in front of her and couldn't help it as she imagined the reaction of 'Warrick' if he could have seen a girl like Calley doing this. Once she again fell backwards kicking and laughing in glee at the image.
As Julie was only too aware of from the last two months, 'Warrick' had a natural protective streak that was way beyond 'paternal' and well into 'heroic', but the look she had now! Calley had a look and a manner that would make farmboys rush out to save kingdoms! From evil. From dragons. From storms, tides and everything! Julie was female and had no feelings for the fairer sex at all, but even she could feel the effects of Calley's new persona, and it was all now wrapping a package that was still, basically, 'Warrick'. Julie couldn't help it, she laughed so much she bent in two, arms wrapped around her aching stomach.
Laurette woke to the sound of hysterical laughter and quickly sat up and looked towards the sound. Unlike the scene last night when she had fallen back asleep with the two girls hugging and crying in each other's arms, now she looked over and saw Calley with the most adorable confused expression, and Julie hugging herself tight and laughing so much tears were coming out of her eyes. Okay, Calley's 'little lost kitten' look was both incredibly adorable and oh so funny to see on someone who had been a boy just yesterday. Laurette couldn't help but smile herself before she thought of what the laughing from Julie might be doing to Calley's mental state.
"Julie enough," she admonished. "Calley's going to be confused enough without you doing that."
Calley looked over to Laurette, then down at herself, then back again and seemed to be trying to think of something to say. Laurette decided to rescue her before the oh so cute confusion set off Julie again. "Only females can Oath Calley," she apologised. "I said I could save you, that you would be able to Oath to Cylsteth, that you would be with Julie, but you would also no longer be 'Warrick'."
Calley's hands slowly crept up and tentatively they cupped her breasts, then her face went pasty white and her hands darted for the waistband of her pants. Julie was sitting up by now and as soon as she saw the fearful expression and darting hands she jumped and embraced Calley in a tight hug. As Calley's exploring hands encountered the new absence between her legs she let out a short fearful whimper, then went stiff and just held herself rigidly in Julie's grip as silent tears rolled down her checks. Laurette was quickly there too, to hug her tight just as the shakes started.
"Shh Calley. Shh," Laurette soothed the trembling girl. "You're fully female now and a member of Cylsteth with your sister Julie. I know its not what you thought would happen, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you before I did it, but you are alive, and you are wanted and you are still you!" Laurette promised her. "Shh Calley. It's going to be alright," Laurette tried to comfort and reassure the new girl as she hugged her tight along with Julie and waited for the shaking to pass.
"Wha … What now?" Calley managed to get out as her shakes subsided a little.
"You're Cylsteth now Calley," Laurette assured her. "Oathed and accepted and very much wanted. You and your sister will travel with me to the Training House to start your Noviciate."
"S … s … sister? Are all C. C … Cylsteth's s sisters to each other?" Calley stuttered, swinging around, desperately fixing her gaze on Laurette.
"No, but in all honesty, do you not love Julie as much as the family you lost?" Laurette asked softly. "Are you not protective of her still? Have you not lived like brother and sister for the last two months?"
"Yyes," Calley stammered.
"Did you ever feel more than brotherly to her?" Laurette pressed.
"More th.than brotherly? Huh?" Calley looked blankly up at Laurette. "Oh!" she exclaimed, blushing bright red. "No! She's Julie! She's been there all my life. More than the cousins who lived with us even. She spent nearly all her days at our farmhouse with my Mum looking after us so that her mother could work the fields and look after the stock with her father. She's in nearly every waking memory I have," Calley cried.
"How about you Julie?" Laurette asked quietly.
"She's closer to me than even Calley ever was," Julie admitted, and after last nights events Laurette now knew how close that must have been. "I. I never even thought about it. She's always just been there, like my hand or my foot, except more like my conscience. Reminding me to behave, to not hurt people with my jokes, to be responsible and not wreck the work of others with our fun." Julie shrugged, "She's Calley."
The more she heard, the more Laurette was surprised that she'd ever managed to get Julie alone to talk to her and offer her a chance to Trial for Cylsteth. She was especially surprised that she had not meet 'Warrick' before the night of the trials. Warrick/Calley joining Cylsteth seemed to have been ordained, because if she had met him before the trails she would have made sure to seek out one of the Mystic orders who trained male Mages so that they would be there for the Whiteford Trials to Choose him. The number of 'coincidences' needed for Calley to be Oathed to Cylsteth was staggering. Laurette was starting to wonder if Julie was the most important recruit she was bringing back to the order, luckily she was bringing both of them back, so it wasn't an issue.
"Okay, you and your sister are going to have to help me, I used up a lot of Aorga last night …" Laurette began.
"Err … actually that was two days ago, well three now," Julie corrected her.
"What?" Laurette looked at Julie in disbelief.
"You and Calley were out a whole two days and then we all went back to sleep last night, so this is the third morning since the Trials," Julie explained quickly.
Laurette sighed, "Actually, that just makes it easier. They would have already sent others to check on us by now. We might as well wait for them, they'll probably be here sometime today."
Laurette sat and thought for a minute as she tried to decide what to do. Hopefully when the searchers came they would not include anybody from Whiteford. While Julie and Calley hadn't seemed to notice it yet, the broken hand Laurette had given Julie while using the Idol had also triggered a body shift in Julie when her Aorga had activated, leaving Julie a little more mature than she had been. Laurette had noticed a few extra inches at the cuffs of her shirt, also Julie now had a little more in the front than before. While not quite as obvious, what with Calley's transformation, for the first time in months Julie was laughing and smiling, but Julie looked prettier and Laurette didn't just think it was because she was happier.
Julie's transformation wasn't as blatant as the transformation of Calley, but Laurette didn't want to chance any of the villagers noticing it. While she was a city girl herself, she had spent enough time in Whiteford to know that gossip seemed to be the only form of entertainment the town had, and that 'Jessie' and 'Warrick' had dominated it for the last two months. Anyone coming up from the town would be on special lookout to see that 'Warrick' was alright and 'Jessie' was happy. It would be hard to hide what had happened here from eagle eyed villagers.
Laurette decided that she needed to become more proactive about keeping any townspeople from seeing what had happened. Seeking to find out more about the Sanctuary she turned to Julie, "Julie, while we've been out the last two days, how much exploring have you done?"
"Just enough to explore the Lady Chapel," Julie admitted. "I was afraid to leave for too long, leave you and Calley alone without ..." Julie shrugged her shoulders.
"Why don't you tell me what you've found?" Laurette asked with a smile for the girl's dedication.
"We're in the sleeping chamber." Julie pointed behind them, "Through that door over there is the spring, and next to it is the room where they keep the food. There is about a weeks worth of food in there for us left by Harsen." Turning she pointed the other way. "Through there is the main chapel, which has exits to the courtyard and also to a walled garden."
"How high are the walls in the garden?" Laurette asked.
"As tall as the temple ones."
"Can they been seen into from outside?"
"I don't know, I've stayed in the chapel, I couldn't see anything over them though."
Laurette smiled. "Good Julie. I want you and Calley to stay out of sight. If anyone from the town sees either of you now it would lead to speculation about things the Order wants kept secret. I'll take a walk around the outer walls walls now while you and Calley get cleaned up, then we'll pack up and get ready to leave."
"Um Laurette, um. Can we uh heat water with our powers?" Julie asked blushing brightly.
"Huh?" Laurette stared at Julie puzzled.
"Well, the fire went out yesterday, there wasn't much wood stored here and it ran out. It's been okay because the glow in the chapel never seems to go out, and there is plenty of water to wash up with, only its really cold, like nearly freezing!" Julie whined.
Laurette laughed. "Show me this freezing cold water. This is a Sanctuary, there are usually certain spells built into Sanctuaries. I may be able to do something."
Laurette stood up and they all trooped into the room with the spring. A single look around was enough for Laurette to smile, the room was pretty much what she was expecting, a pretty typical Sanctuary bathing room. An underground spring feed a series of small pools ending in a large one, with a secondary room leading off from it that housed a necessity. Water from the spring overflowed constantly from the main pool, and it was channeled to carry the waste away from the necessity, while the series of pools was constantly cleansed by a stream of new water from the spring.
Laurette went up to the pools and released a little Aorga into each of them, trying to tell if the Sanctuary spells were still active on them or not. She was surprised to find that not only were the spells still active, but they were much more powerful than she was expecting. In fact it wasn't just one of the small barrel sized pools that had a heating spell for it, but the largest pool did as well. Reflectively Laurette activated the spells and realised that within a few moments the barrel sized smaller pool would be warm, but also within less then a quarter bell the large pool, big enough to hold multiple people and deep enough to stand up in with ledges all around the edges to sit in would be warmed as well.
"I think you are in for a treat Julie," Laurette commented smiling. "I want you to go get your cleaning things and bring Calley in here with you. Both of you strip naked and use this smaller pool to wet yourselves down, then soap yourselves up and clean yourselves. Use the smaller pool to fill a bucket and rinse yourselves down, don't get any soap or dirt into the pools themselves. Once you have done that you can climb into the large pool and sit there and soak for a while while I scout around outside the chapel."
"Don't you want either Calley or myself to keep a lookout for people coming to find us?" Julie asked confused.
"No," Laurette shook her head. "The last thing I want is anyone to see you," Laurette explained kindly. "Just stay in the large pool until I come and get you. If anyone enters the temple call out that you are bathing and naked and ask them to wait outside, I will be back before they worry too much about how long it's taking you to dry off and get some clothes on."
As Julie nodded, Laurette looked over at Calley who was watching the large pool heat and start to steam with a look of wonder on her face. Quickly turning back to Julie Laurette stopped her before Julie left to gather her things.
"Julie, be gentle with Calley," she admonished softly. "Please stop laughing at everything she's doing. I know she is extremely cute when she's confused, but please help her out. Do you remember all the things your mother taught you about using the necessity and bathing when you where a little girl? Well her mother didn't teacher her those things, she didn't need to know them before. Please take her to the necessity and explain it all to her and make sure she understands. Also help her clean herself and make sure she learns how to do it properly. You'll also need to make sure that you help her get properly dressed as well, including those things that I doubt she has any of in her pack. Have a look in my pack, there are some extras in there I bought for you. Luckily I believe she'll be able to use the ones you've outgrown."
Julie looked down at her chest and sighed, "I wish you had told me that you had spares for me, it's been pretty uncomfortable for the last two days."
Laurette just squeezed Julie's shoulder and looked her in the eye "Calley Julie?"
"Yes, I know what to do. I helped my Mum teach my younger sister. And I'll be gentle. She's my Calley, I can see what she's going through, I don't want her hurt by it," Julie promised.
"Thank you, how about you take her into the necessity now while I start getting dressed and look around outside? I'm sure she'd prefer you to do it than anyone else. While she goes you can get your things and prepare for the next stage, stripping her naked, seeing herself for the first time, and then all she needs to know about how to wash properly as a girl."
Nodding Julie left to drag Calley off to the necessity, where a protesting "Eep" informed Laurette that Julie had followed Calley in to begin her feminine hygiene lessons. Laurette turned back to the sleeping room and quickly found her boots. Slipping them on she stood and went through the still glowing temple and out through the opposite door. Laurette glanced up at the sky. It was still early, maybe an bell past dawn, this was good. By her calculations it would be early afternoon at the earliest before the follow up search group would arrive.
Laurette looked around, she saw she was in the temple 'gardens', which looked quite overgrown and seemed mostly to consist of early spring vegetables and herbs. Taking a walk outside to look around she realised that this garden was enclosed, it had no other entries other than through the main temple she had just stepped out off. It enclosed the temple on the side and the back and obviously the bathroom shared a wall with it as there was a channel along part of the back wall of the temple where fresh water flowed to be used as a sort of outdoor washup, and also for watering the garden.
Laurette went back into the Chapel and listened at the door to the living quarters, hearing squeals from Calley that certainly suggested that Julie had her continuing education in feminine hygiene well in hand.
She continued out the main doors of the temple and into the welcoming courtyard for the Chapel. Laurette looked around at the wall surrounding the Chapel and noticed its good repair, obviously some of the repairs were quite new from the colour of the stone and the mortar. While nobody seemed to be worshiping at the Chapel, it was far from abandoned. The walls were well repaired, the gates well hung and closed, so obviously they were easy to pull closed behind the villagers, or they were so well hung that Julie by alone could close them. Around the inside at the top of the walls was an archers run, including a curtain wall to protect archers standing and shooting from the wall.
Laurette climbed the archers run and took a walk around the walls. They were good sturdy walls, enclosing not just the Chapel, its attached living areas and enclosed Garden, but also some barns leaning against them out back of the Chapel and what looked like a bunkhouse, not to mention a substantial courtyard both in front and behind the Chapel. It looked like quite a community could be supported and protected from this sanctuary.
The walls of the Chapel had a commanding view of the track down to the town, and while she couldn't see anyone on the Path yet, Laurette did notice a commotion at the docks and what looked like a cadre of fighters getting off a boat there. Right on time for what she expected. She took one more look around the Chapel and nodded to herself. The three day delay was worth it. The town of Whiteford might be a bit surprised, but she didn't think that cadre of Clysteth fighters now disembarking at the docks was going to be leaving. With the corrupted temple next door, and this delightful Chapel as a base, she believed the Order of Cylsteth had found itself a new Advanced Training House, somewhere they could blood their Cadre to fight demons. First by practicing resisting demon aura from the walls of the Chapel, then by building archers runs on the outside of the Temple Complex and shooting at the demons inside. There was lots of room out the back inside the Chapel walls to build the necessary buildings for an Order House up against the walls, still leaving enough room in the centre for a substantial practice courtyard too.
Laurette went back into the Chapel and gathered her washing things from her pack, as well as a clean set of clothes, then proceeded to the bathing room. She looked to the large pool where a very red-faced Calley was crouched down with only her face showing, desperately trying not to look at Julie, who was mercilessly teasing her first by floating with her boobs in the water right in Calley's face, then by using a foot to tickle her on the legs under the water, causing her to flinch and sit stiffly with her legs held together.
Julie still had the feminine training of Calley well under hand, so it was time to get Calley a little more used to the casual nature of a bunch of girls in a bath house. She pulled her tunic off and calling out "How's the water?" leaned right over Calle to feel the water, letting her girls hang free. Calley predictably half drowned herself in shock trying to get away from them, while Julie, good girl, spotted an opening underwater and goosed Calley's legs with her foot again. Laurette had seen Julie moving to goose Calley, so she was able to dodge back quickly before Calley half jumped from the pool, and so didn't end up with Calley's head forcibly rammed into her boobs.
Leaving the chuckling Julie and spluttering Calley in the large pool, Laurette removed the rest of her clothes, drew a bucket of warm water from the other warmed pool and proceeded to dump it over herself and then soap herself up and wash. She then drew another bucket of water and rinsed off with it before getting into the large pool, making sure to sit right next to Calley so that they were touching shoulder, hip and leg. Julie saw what she was doing and quickly moved over to sit right up against the other side of Calley, touching her shoulder, hip and leg too.
Calley sat there stiffly with two girls rubbing up and down both her sides. Laurette just lent back and let the warm water sooth her as she waited for Calley to settle down again. Once Calley had settled down and seemed to be comfortable with two girls sitting next to her, naked and touching her sides, she sat up straighter in the pool, looked across Calley to Julie and started a little "feminine comparison" talk with Julie.
"Did you find the spares in the pack?" Laurette inquired of Julie.
"Yes, but I didn't get a chance to try them on yet," Julie responded with a slight frown.
Laurette looked a little closer at Julie. Now that she was naked it was a little easier to judge how much she had grown. "You look maybe a couple of inches larger. I looked at your Mum while I was at your Steading, and I got a good idea what you would probably grow to be, so I bought something about halfway there, you still have a couple of years of growth in you. I think I got reasonably close, definitely good enough for now. You'll be measured and given training clothes once we get to the Training House anyway."
Laurette turned and looked closely at Calley, noticing how uncomfortable she got at that and how she turned red and started squirming, arms raising to cover herself. Yes, she even managed to do that cutely. "Your sister here on the other hand looks like she's just starting to blossom, your old ones might be a tad large for her," Laurette thoughtfully murmured to Julie.
"We could always pad them?" Julie suggested wickedly. Calley stared at Julie, then looked down at herself and then over to Laurette with pleading eyes.
Laurette laughed, "Julie that is wicked and you know it, besides your sister is going to be beating off the boys with sticks as it is, no need to have her 'advertising her assists' like that as well," she chuckled.
At that thought Calley went white and seemed to stop breathing, Julie quickly hugged her. "Breath Calley, come on, breath. We're here for you, breath, it won't be like that come on," she begged Calley.
Laurette also reached over and hugged the frightened girl. "Sorry Calley. Come on, Julie's right the Order is only females, you won't have to be amongst males unless you want to for a while. You'll have time to get used to yourself before then, I promise."
"What about the t…town? What happens when we go back t…to Whiteford?" Calley panicked.
"Shh Calley, shh," Laurette murmured to the frightened girl. "I guess I didn't get a chance to tell you, but we are not traveling to the Training House by ordinary means. Chosen and Trialmasters always Gate back to the Training House for the Order's protection. We nearly always have to do at least one Aorga triggering to heal a recruit injured in the Trials and as our Order wishes to keep that trick a secret we made a permanent Gate at the Training House to make it easier to Gate there and therefor something all the Trialmasters are able to do so."
"So I, I don't have to …?"
"No Calley. When we get to the Training House I'll need to tell those who are going to train you so that they can accommodate you properly, but you won't need to tell the other Noviciates if you don't want to."
Julie looked confused for a second and then turned to Laurette, "I thought you said there was no rank in Cylsteth, how come you keep calling us 'Noviciates'?"
"There is no rank in Cylsteth, but there is in the other Orders. We work with them so we use the training ranks so that they know when our members are not trained yet and approximately how far along in training they are. Once you are fully trained we stop using ranks. The other Orders know that all fully trained Cylsteth are treated equal. Our Order always sends those with the best skill to handle the situation and whoever is there is the best we have for their needs. Ranks just get in the way of that, so not using them stops the other Orders, or especially Nobles, prejudicing against whoever we might send."
Concentrating on the conversation about things other than her body allowed Calley to calm down some, and she hesitantly joined the conversation. "Doesn't that cause problems if you send obviously young, just finished training women to respond to the summons of nobility?"
Laurette looked at Calley and sighed. "I'm sorry Calley, I forget you weren't there while I was instructing Julie before the trails."
"You were instructing Julie before the trails?!" Calley yelped.
Laurette looked at Julie quizzically, "You really didn't tell her?"
Julie shook her head. "Well, my parents only knew because you talked to them about asking me, and I didn't fell comfortable about talking to others about it, it seemed you were being pretty secretive about it. And then after … I didn't want to tell that I had a chance to revenge my family when, well …" Laurette did see. It would be cruel to talk about the chance to revenge the deaths of your whole family to someone who had also lost all their family too, but would not be able to even Trial for the chance to revenge them.
Turning back to Calley Laurette explained, "I contacted Julie about three months ago, to talk about Cysteth and that we'd be interested in her. Then I came back about two weeks later to answer her questions about the Order and to let her know that if she decided to take the Trials she'd be given the option of taking the Cylsteth Trials straight up and would not need to go through the normal Trials first. After what happened to your families I checked back with Julie in Whiteford and she said she wanted to Trial for Cylsteth, so I've been staying at the Temple and Julie has been coming to me when she needed to talk, mostly we talked about the Order and her Futureseer talent. I also let the other female orders know that there was no females for them to Trial this year, so they could skip the Whiteford Trials."
"Three months ago? Wow, Julie must have a very special talent!" Calley looked awed at the implication.
"Yes she does," Laurette confirmed. "But don't worry, you're just as special too." Laurette looked into Calley's eyes and saw the doubt in them, but for the moment let it be. When she got to the Training House and was tested was time enough for her to realise how special she was, and after the testing she would be much more likely to believe.
"As for sending 'obviously young women'," Laurette smiled. "How old do you think I am?" Laurette asked Calley,
"Um, twenty five? Maybe a little older?" she suggested.
Laurette laughed even though she'd expected something similar. "No, I'm quite a bit older than that. Actually I once tried to talk Julie's maternal grandmother into Trialling with us, and I think there was a couple of her aunts in the Traveler families I tried to recruit as well. We've had our eye on Julie's family for a while now," Laurette said smiling fondly at Julie before turning back to Calley. "Aorga production increases the bodies natural healing and seems to prevent ageing," she explained to Calley. "Cylsteth members don't die of old age, but then again we live a dangerous life fighting demons, so it's possible we'd die a natural death eventually, it's just that none of us have lived long enough to find out when."
Laurette sighed and stared out into the pool deep in thought, a sadness in her eyes as she watched the swirling water. With a shake of her head she finally turned back to Calley, "The entire Order looks about the same age as I do. You won't finish your training until you too are in your twenties, and about then you'll too stop appearing to age, even the nobility can't tell if we are sending a newly trained member to answer their cause, or if it is an older member they just haven't heard of before. It's one of the reasons most recruits get new names when starting their Noviciate, it makes it hard for people to track recruits through our training, and also hard for people outside the Order to keep track of our numbers, something we don't want those leading the demon incursions to ever find out."
"There are people leading the demon incursions?" Calley gasped in shock.
"Unfortunately yes," Laurette replied with a sigh. "There is ample proof of intelligent planing in the way the demon incursions are happening, and that those doing the planning are attempting to negate the effects of our Order in particular."
"Negate?" Calley asked wide-eyed.
Laurette sighed, she didn't want to scare them, but nor did she want to lie to them. "I'm sorry Calley, now is not a good time for our Order. We lose more members each year to the demons than we are recruiting at the moment, and it is even worse than just the numbers. We are losing our most trained and experienced members and gaining fresh, inexperienced untrained new members. We are slowly being worn down, not just in numbers, but in experience, technique and a whole host of knowledge that is slowly being drained out of the order with each death. We desperately need some new blood and ideas to help us survive. I hope you two can be part of that solution, not just you Julie, but you too Calley. You really are just as special as Julie is to the Order." Laurette reached out and hugged Calley to her, not really sure if she was comforting Calley, or she was hugging Calley to comfort herself.
"How bad is it?" Julie asked slowly.
"Oh it's not that bad yet, there won't be a crisis for a while, well beyond your time of training," Laurette assured them. "I expect you'll be senior members of the Order yourselves before it does come to a head. But it is something we are noticing, and you might find it affecting your training. We are already talking about changing the makeup of our action teams to try and reduce the deaths, but the fewer members in our order, the fewer we have to send, and the more danger those we send are in because of it. It's not critical at the moment, but it is starting to get serious." Laurette sighed, "And I do wonder about the attack that wiped out your families."
"Why?" Julie demanded.
"I don't think it was random," Laurette explained sadly. "As I said we'd been keeping an eye on your family Julie for generations, and now the whole bloodline is wiped out in one attack? That's suspicious. I think we might need to start investigating all the families we've been keeping an eye on. If the demons have moved onto attacking the families of potential recruits that could be a whole new escalation in our problems, it could seriously effect our future recruiting numbers."
Laurette gave Calley a final squeeze and then started to get out of the pool. "Come on you two, the Order's cadre was getting off the boats when I was walking the walls, they will be here in about an bell, so we need to get organised. Enough lazing about in the hot pool, wonderful as it is."
Laurette stepped out of the pool, grabbed the blanket she'd bought in for the purpose and started drying herself down, before passing the blanket to Julie as she got out. Noticing the gleam in Julie's eye as she contemplated the red-faced Calley, who was just starting to stand up in the pool and was trying to cover herself up, Laurette smiled and said to Julie, "I've just got something I want to check out back of the temple before the cadre get here. I'll get changed next door and do that while you help Calley get dressed."
Laurette had barely made it to the sleeping room before a strangled yelp from Calley and then a splash informed her that Julie had just given Calley a reminder of how sensitive her new body was. Since Caley was still splashing about in the pool and couldn't hear her she let go of a laugh at Julie's "teaching" methods and quickly got dressed in her clean clothes. She put her boots on again and left through the Chapel for the front entrance, to circle the temple and check out the buildings she'd seen from the archer's run on the wall.
Laurette walked around behind the Chapel and looked at the buildings behind it. It really did look as though one of them was a bunkhouse. Laurette went to the building and looked inside, yes it was a bunk house and all setup ready for use, a little cleaning and it would be good to go, even the cleaning gear was here ready to use. Laureate nodded to herself and decided on what she would do when the cadre arrived, then went to the front of the chapel complex and climbed up to the archers run above the gate and sat down to wait for the cadre to arrive.
After about half a bell of waiting Julie came out with a flatbread roll for her. It was quite a good roll of meat, leafy greens and some nice preserves. As she was eating it she become aware of exactly how long it had been since she had eaten, and how hungry she was, after all it was two full days and three nights since she had broken her fast last. She looked up at Julie who was looking around from the archers run, obviously trying to see the cadre who was on the way. "Julie, this is a very nice roll, but I think we all need some more food."
Julie turned around and giggled at that, "Calley thought the same way, so I left her making some more rolls while I bought you one to get started."
"Okay, when you go back have a look in my pack, I have some travel sausages there and also some Apples. Since we are going back to the Training House we might as well finish them off. And I'd like another roll too," Laurette said with a smile for Julie.
Julie gave her a wry smile at the almost-but-not-quite order and turned back to look at Whiteford, almost magnetically her head swung around to look towards the Farmstead Road out of Whiteford, to where it disappeared over the horizon. Laurette came up behind her and gave her a hug.
"Let Calley bring me the rest of my food, so that she too can have a chance for a final goodbye. I'm sorry, but once the cadre is here I need you and Calley to stay out of sight, even from them. I want as few people as possibly to see you and especially Calley. What they don't see they can't accidentally comment on to the townsfolk. The only people I intend to see Calley are the ones coming back to the Training House with us. I'll let them know 'Warrick' didn't die, but 'he' is coming back to the Training House with us and that from there we'll make sure 'he' gets to the 'correct' order. I won't lie to the townspeople, but I need for what actually is happening to stay a secret."
"Do you mind if we both come back to say goodbye?" Julie said with a wistful look to Laurette.
Laurette thought a moment, she really didn't want the cadre seeing the three of them on the walls. Some of them had the eyesight to tell even at that distance there was three women on the walls, and if they told that to any people from the town speculation about who the third women was could cause all sorts of issues. "Okay, I'll let you and Calley stand on the wall and say your farewells, but try and keep it short." Two women on the wall would just be thought to be her and Julie, and nothing would be thought of this recruit getting comforted as she looked towards her former home. By now the cadre probably knew the full story about what had happened. Calley was wearing some of her clothes and from a distance Calley and Laurette looked similar enough that even the most eagle eyed among the cadre wouldn't notice enough difference to comment on it, especially as Julie and Calley wouldn't be there to meet them when they got close enough to start doing comparisons.
Julie turned inside Laurette's hug and put her own arms around Laurette and hugged her tight. "Thank you," was all she said before letting go and scurrying down the wall to fetch the food and Calley.
Laurette was surprised that it was more then a quarter bell before Julie and Calley returned, there was still no sight of the cadre so she wasn't upset. She started down the stairs to meet them and saw that they didn't just have her food for her, they had a basket of food to share. "What's this?" she asked in surprise.
"Calley's good with making packed meals, she learnt from her mum. We want to eat one last time in the summer sun of our home and remember our families is all." Laurette saw the hidden sadness in their eyes and just smiled and gestured to the stairs with her hand.
When they reached the top Laurette sat down on the stairs, being careful to make sure that the curtain wall hid her from view. At Calley's raised eyebrow of enquiry she explained, "I don't want anyone to see three women on the wall and for it to get back to Whiteford and be commented on. If people see two women on the wall they'll just assume its Julie and I, especially if it's only at a distance." Julie and Calley nodded and then knelt down at the top of the stairs and opened the basket. Laurette was just expecting to see some rolls and apples in the basket, but was surprised to see more. Instead of just the sausages to chew on like she expected, they had been turned into the meat filling for more rolls, including salads and relish. Someone had obviously been picking from the temple garden to fill out this feast. Her apples had been sliced and added to the salad on the rolls, though she noted that three of them had been saved on the core for eating. There was jugs of cool water, obviously from the spring, and someone had made some honey cake mix with nuts, oats, dried fruits and honey, that even though it wasn't cooked would eat well raw as a desert.
Laurette looked over everything again and then realised that with the exception of the pickings from the temple garden, all the contents of the picnic were made with ordinary travel rations. She looked up at Calley with surprise. "I think I just found my new most favoured traveling companion," she complimented the blushing girl with a laugh. "Where did you learn to make a feast from travel rations?"
Calley smiled in delight at the compliment. "We had lots of work that needed doing far from the farm houses and travel rations were given to the work crews who did it," she explained. "Mum swapped recipes all the time with Travellers to see what she could do to make the rations more palatable, and she went out with us kids to the more frequently visited worksites and we planted wild vegetable patches like they have in the garden here. Well feed workers are happy workers, and travel rations don't have to be chewy and bland," Calley finished with a small sad smile.
Laurette grabbed a flatbread roll and started eating, delighting in the sharp tang of the apple interacting with the salty meat of the sausage on her tongue. Laurette wondered what Traveler discovered that combination, but it was definitely something she was going to share now that she'd tasted it. Julie and Calley were starting to remove their food from the basket, so Laurette grabbed another roll and a jug of water and gestured them to take the basket with them instead. Julie and Calley took the basket and set it on the curtain wall and looked towards their former homes, slowly eating their food. Loretta shuffled down the stairs a bit so that she could lean against the wall while sitting on the stairs and took a swig of her water and ate her first roll just enjoying the sunlight.
Laurette finished her other roll, took a long draught of water from the jug and then looked towards her two recruits. Julie had snuggled up to Calley and they were sitting arm in arm on the wall, but no longer looking towards their family's Farmsteadings. Laurette decided to chance a little conversation. "So Julie, now that we've had Calley's turn at cooking, you going to stun me anew with your skills?"
Julie laughed, a clear bell-like sound, something that caused Calley to turn to her and smile appreciatively. "No. Calley's Mum tried to teach me, in fact it was me who was supposed to be getting the lessons that Calley learnt from. I'm good enough that you won't starve, but I know to let Calley cook cause the food tastes better."
"How is it Calley learnt cooking lessons you were taking?" Laurette asked surprised.
"I told you we were inseparable. We were the only ones near our ages in the two Farmsteeds, so we just naturally did everything together. Actually we were a bit of a handful, so we were passed back and forth between the adults as a pair so that the other adults could get a rest from us … or we just trailed after each other. Anyway, we always took lessons together, no matter what the lessons were on, or who was supposed to be getting them."
"You were the handful," Calley said with a smile for Julie. "I was the one who could control you and reign you in. I think the families kept us together because over time they learnt that if you got bored by yourself without me they definitely regretted what happened."
Laurette sat smiling at their happiness, she was glad that their final memories would be happy ones, something she had not expected when she allowed them onto the wall to say goodbye. Laurette looked up at the sun and sighed. "Sorry to spoil the mood, but the cadre will be here soon and if we can avoid them seeing you at all I'd prefer it."
Julie and Calley took one more look over the horizon to the Farmsteadings, then hugged each other and got up. Julie took out an apple from the basket and some of the honeycake mix and gave them to Laurette as she was going past down the stairs. "I'll go back and finish packing our bags while Calley cleans up," she stated.
Laurette nodded, gave Julie a quick hug, and then did the same for Calley as she went past. She climbed the stairs and stood looking over the curtain wall towards the Whiteford Path, which she noted with pleasure was still empty. Laurette decided to try the honey cake mix and was delighted at its taste, even if it was a bit sticky and messy. She finished it off, held the apple in her mouth as she poured some water from the jug onto her hands to cleaned them. Putting the jug on the wall Laurette was absently wiping her hands dry on the front of her clothes when she saw the first people coming round the side of the Temple wall along the Whiteford Path. She waved to them from the wall as she absently counted them and tried to make out what they were. It looked like fourteen people, good. That would be a squad of twelve cadre with a Trialmaster and hopefully one of the healers from the Order. Thankfully there should be no townspeople.
Once she was sure that was all in the party, and that there was no townspeople following along behind, Laurette turned to the stairs, took a bite from her apple and started making her way down the stairs. By the times she was at the bottom of the stairs she'd finished her mouthful, swallowed and called through the open chapel door, "Julie the cadre are almost here. Quickly finish up and take our packs through to the garden and wait around in the corner away from the door."
"Yes Laurette" "We're finished now" they called back. Laurette left the near empty jug on the steps of the Chapel and made her way to the Chapel gate. Turning the lock wheel Laurette opened both panes of the temple gate fully. Once they were open she turned back to the chapel door where Julie was standing with a rucksack over her shoulder and Laurette's pack on her back. Julie waved to Laurette to let her know they were ready, picked up the jug and then went back into the temple to go through the other door and out into the garden.
Laurette smiled that the timing seemed to have worked out so well, and eating her apple she walked down the short barbican to stand waiting for the cadre at the entrance to the Chapel while she finished off the apple.
After only an eighth bell wait she saw the cadre coming up the Path. It looked like they had picked up the pace quite a bit when they spotted the Chapel. Laurette was pleased to see Gadrie was the Trialmaster sent to check on her and was flattered when the healer turned out to be Sechell, who was so good a healer that the Order had actually sent her to the Aqueerna Training House to do their full training, making her one of the best healers there could be. She would have to ask her how she would have healed Warrick, after all activating Aorga is a once in a lifetime event, but gut wounds were an all to common demon injury.
"Laurette! I'm surprised to see you so happy," Gadrie greeted her with a smile and a hug. "You were due Home three days ago after all, we were expecting a problem?"
"I'm sorry," Laurette apologised. "I slept for two days after the healing and I only woke up completely this morning to find that out," Laurette explained as she returned their greetings.
"So you healed him?" was the surprised reaction of Sechell to that news.
"I assume since you are here that Jelsen was more forthcoming to you than she was to me?" Laurette inquired with a smirk.
Sechell cautiously considered Laurette, "I'm not sure I know everything, but I feel that I know what is at stake here, yes."
"Did she tell you what I was given?" Laurette asked.
"Surely you didn't?" Gadrie demanded with a gasp, letting Laurette know that she did know what she had been given.
"Julie is a Foreseer, she saw the nights outcomes and I could either let her lose faith in her abilities, something I was warned the Order could not afford, or I could save her by saving Warwick." Laurette shrugged. "I chose to save Warrick. He's stable now, but I want to get them both back to the Training House as soon as I can. In fact I only waited around because it would be rude and disruptive to have left without telling you where we where, since a party would have been sent to look for us after so long without news."
Leaving the shocked expressions of Gadrie and Sechell, Laurette just smiled and walked up to the frontmost cadre women. "Hi, I'm Laurette," she offered, stretching up a hand to the mounted woman.
"Simone," the Cadrewoman replied, clasping Laurette's arm.
"Hi Simone," Laurette greeted her. "I have a surprise for you, then I'm afraid I'm running away and stealing Gadrie and Sechel. We will be Gating back to the Training House as soon as possible," Laurette explained with a wicked smile.
"I assumed so," Simone smiled back in resignation. "I understand there was a demon incursion here not two months ago? Since we are here now we were going to track that down."
"Good, you'll really enjoy the surprise then. This is a fully functioning Sanctuary," Laurette stated to the shocked surprise of Simone, in fact all the cadre looked suitably impressed at Laurette's revelation, then they started grinning.
"Fully functional?" Simone asked grinning too.
"Yep," Laurette promised with a smile. "There is a barn out the back as well as a bunkhouse. The villagers have stored a little food here as they use it every spring, but you'll need to go back down and restock for such a large party. You'll really enjoy the bath room, it's a multi-pool one."
"Wow! Most of our Houses don't even have one of those!" Simone exclaimed eyes wide.
"Actually, that's one thing I wanted to talk to you about," Laurette said, her tone turning serious. "Have a look around yourself, but I'm planning on suggesting the Order take this over as an Advanced Training House." Simone just raised an eyebrow at that. "Look over the defence yourself, but that temple over there is demon active, as I'm sure you know, and we've already had that incursion you were discussing. But I want you to look it over and make up your own mind." Laurette ordered. "I'll talk to the Training Masters when I get to the Training House and let them know my thoughts, but I expect they'll send someone else out here to look it over before you leave here."
Simone looked thoughtful and then nodded. "Should be fine. It will take us a few day of patrolling to work out a feel for the demons in the area anyway, so I can wait here until the Training team send someone to inspect it."
"Be very careful here Simone." Laurette warned softly. "I suspect that the demon incursion here was not random. It killed the entire family tree of both the recruits here, trunk and every branch. Julie's family had produced four potentials in the last three generations that I personal know off, now all of them are gone. If this wasn't aimed at the order, then it was an astonishingly lucky break for our enemies."
"You suspect they are targeting our future recruits now?" Simone demanded shocked.
"The entire family trees of two Mystic Orders Chosen in one incursion?" Laurette asked with a raised eyebrow. "I'd prefer to be paranoid rather then miss the start of such a devastating new tactic like that which could be so disastrous to us."
Simone looked troubled, but nodded finally. "Okay, I'll spend some extra time and make sure to find out exactly what happened."
Laurette frowned a bit and got a thoughtful look. "Be very very careful. If I'm right they may have traps ready for anyone who goes looking into this, they wouldn't want it confirmed."
Simone too became thoughtful. "You could be right." she agreed. "I'll look for the traps instead, if we find them its confirmation enough, and we can pull back and call in the resources needed to crush the incursion."
Laurette stood thinking and remembered the conversation she'd had this morning with Julie and Calley. "How strong in Aorga are the members of your squad?" she finally asked to Simone's puzzlement.
"How many can each Hold in the face of a Demon? Say Holding cadre from Storntan?" Laurette pressed.
"Stortan you say?" Simone looked over her cadre thoughtfully. "I'm certain each of us have here could easily Hold unto a squad each of Storntan each, allowing them and their horses to move freely in the presence of demons, why?" She turned back to Laurette in enquiry.
"Not all traps need to be demons," Laurette replied cryptically. "With twelve squads of Storntan, each with one of our Cadre attached as guides and to Hold in the presence of demons as needed, we would have the resources to finally fight the bastards with numbers on our side for a change," Laurette growled. "We could actually turn these traps inside out, and instead of losing our people, we could actually inflict defeats on the enemy and possibly capture somebody, maybe even somebody who has useful intelligence. And if there is demons out there we can use the Storntan to Hold lines and cordon off the area, then concentrate a Clover to take down the demons slowly inside the cordon." Laurette gave Simone a penetrating stare. "Lets fight smart," she suggested. "We no longer have the numbers to do cordon and search like we used to, but we definitely have the numbers to allow the other Orders to do it with us, provided enough of our members can perform Hold on theirs to allow them movement in the presence of demons."
Simone looked impressed and a nasty grin spread across her face. "We saw some Storntan cadre training by the river as we traveled past, very professional they looked, I'm sure I saw some of them looking our way with envy. If I went to their Captain I'm sure I could be very persuasive in presenting the idea of an alliance to him."
Laurette looked at the gleam in her eye and laughed. She would bet that Simone would have a great deal of fun 'persuading' the captain too. "Don't worry, let me get the leadership to pass on a request. Fort-up down here until they come. Prepare the barracks for them and go down to Whiteford to get the supplies and let them know what is happening. The temple complex across the way could be a godsend. With it you can creep the Storntan to the walls, let them see demons and get used to the effects of the Hold spell. Once we've full integrated our guides into their cadre we'll be much better able to do the cordon and search. This incursion has killed enough already, I'd love the clean-up to be as one-sided our way as the original attacks was theirs. Also, it would be interesting to know how long from the time you put down roots here until you start getting 'tempting' demon sightings for you to go chase and fall into traps with."
"Yes. That would be a good thing to know," Simone agreed. "Okay, I'll wait and I'll get the whole cadre to start thinking about other things we could do to get information on our enemies. You're right, this could be a great chance to finally start learning about the other side and their tactics."
"Don't limit it just to our cadre," Laurette suggested thoughtfully. "Explain it to the Storntan cadre too. We've already come to the conclusion that it's most likely humans are organising this. Lets get off our high horse and bring in their expert help. Storntan have been fighting human verse human, intelligence verse intelligence, for as long as our Order have been concentrating on demons. Lets start getting them to help us learn to do the same." Laurette smiled, "Now, do you have enough money to buy supplies and start setting up a Training House here?"
"Actually I do and that reminds me." Simone reached into a saddlebag and pulled out a pouch of coins. "Waystation Keeper was most insistent that I give this to you. Says it belongs to young Warrick, apparently he wasn't too with it for the last couple of months and had been paying lodgings while working as a Potential. Keeper wanted me to promise to give it to you so that you could return it 'when he was more with it'."
"Tell him I will," Laurette said as she chuckled imagining that conversation with Calley.
"Want to let us into the joke?" Simone asked.
"Oh nothing, but I could just imagine the poor Keeper's conversations about money with that one. By the way, when you go back, please let them know that we've taken them both to our Training House and we'll make sure that they are both looked after fully, including getting to where they need to go."
"Will do," Simone promised.
"Okay then. Nice to meet you, I look forward to hearing about a very successful cleanup here and all the intelligence you've gathered," Laurette smiled as she took her leave from Simone. "Now I need to steal these two and get out of your hair." Laurette looked over to Gadrie and Sechell who both looked a little stunned at the speed at which Laurette was organising things, turning standard Order procedures on their head. "Grab your personal effects, leave any food or money for Simone, they are going to need it," Laurette ordered as with bemused expressions Gadrie and Sechell dismounted and grabbed a set of saddlebags each and their personal weapons, handed their reins to two of the Order and turned round and started following Laurette into the Chapel.
"Is this rush really necessary? I thought you cured Warrick?" Gadrie said as they entered the main Chapel and into the light of the Sanctuary. "Wow. It really is a full, unspoiled Sanctuary! And so close to a despoiled temple! I agree, we need to setup a Training House here. With a Sanctuary to keep them safe and a source of demons to get them bloodied and experienced we'll be able to know when they are ready to face demons and not just hope, that will save so many in their first few encounters!"
Gadrie, like Laurette, was aware of the very high rates of serious injury and deaths amongst first time fighters in the Order. Fighting a demon's aura as well as remembering your training and then getting used to the differences between fighting demons instead of humans, all contributed to overwhelm new fighters. This caused new fighters to be concentrating on the wrong things at the wrong times and get hurt from demons that suffered none of those distractions from the job of killing humans.
With a wall between them and the demons, the new fighters could concentrate on fighting off the effects of the aura, then once they mastered that they could observe and study moving demons and become familiar with how they moved and attacked, all before they had to fight them to death. Experienced fighters could talk to them and tell them to they were blue in the face, but it just never had the impact that seeing demons move, jitter and attack for yourself. You never forgot your first experience of a demon attack and the wrongness of how they moved.
Laurette grinned at Gadrie's reaction and Sechell's stunned expression to the Sanctuary's light. As a healer a Sanctuary as powerful as this would be like a summer rain on her soul. "As you can feel Sechell, its light is really quite powerful, it dissolved the demonspike instantly and massively slowed down the infection so that I had a chance to work on a spell to heal Warrick."
Sechell had stopped and was smiling in delight at the feel of the Sanctuary, but at that statement she seemed to wake up and turned to Laurette. "Okay, I'm sure it helped. But the injury I heard the villagers describe, and that you seem to be confirming, is something I could only have healed with the full resources of a Healing House at my call. But you? Even with the power of an Idol, I'm sorry Laurette but you have never been know for your spell casting, nor particularly your healing. What did you do!" Sechell demanded insistently.
Laurette sighed. She kind off expected this really. "Look, I'll need to show you, once you see you'll understand. But I need you to not make any comments about it till we get to the Training House. Its something that mustn't be talked about here, we cannot have it getting back to the townspeople. I need your word on that, only until we've created the Gate and travelled though, that's all I ask."
"That sounds ominous, is this going to be a hard task to do?" Gadrie demanded.
"Very," Laurette admitted. "But you'll soon see that its vital to the Order that what happened not be discussed here."
Both Sechell and Gadrie stared hard at Laurette, then scowling Gadrie gave a single hard nod and sighing Sechell also promised.
Laurette looked carefully at the two of them, took a deep breath, watched them both gird themselves for what they were about to see, and then lead them into the Chapel garden and around the corner to where Julie and Calley waited.
Gadrie followed Laurette into the garden, after the promise extracted from her she had no idea what to expect. Walking around the corner she was surprised to see two Cylsteth Chosen! Even more, she was shocked to see how powerful both of them were. It took a moment for her to gauge the relative strength of each, but she guessed that the shorter one was 'Julie', the Chosen that they had been sent out to find, but the margin was very narrow. "Where did you find two!" she exclaimed in delight. "How did we not know of her? I mean wow, two Chosen of such calibre! What is your name?" she asked rushing up demandingly to the tallest.
"Um, Hu hi, I'm C Calley," she stuttered, seeming quite shocked that Gadrie was so interested in her.
Before Gadrie could continue to question her though, Sechell piped up. "Where's Warrick?" Gadrie looked down, then all around the garden. Except for some bags, there was nothing else but vegetation to be seen. She too looked to Laurette for an explanation.
Laurette visibly breathed in deeply, straighten her shoulders and then reminded them, "Remember you promise, no discussion until we are at the Training House?" When both Gadrie and Sechell nodded, Laurette pointed to Calley. "Right there. This is Warrick." Calley looked at both of them apprehensively and smiled weakly. Rather absently Gadrie realised that she was a very pretty young lady, and that her apprehensive smile was truly, heartbreakingly cute.
Gadrie and Sechell stared at Calley for a long time as they tried to make sense of what they were being told, before Sechell took in a shock breath, turning quickly to Laurette she demanded, "You didn't!"
Laurette sighed, looked at Sechell with a complicated expression before finally replying, "In a very real sense, no I did not, but yes, that was the basis of what I did," she explained before holding up a hand to forestall further questions. "Now we really don't want to be discussing this here, and you can see how much power I used, so if possible can one of you create a Gate so we can get out of here and to the discussions I know we need to have?" pleadingly Laurette looked from Gadrie to Sechell and back.
Gadrie could see the visible effort Sechell took to clamp down on her temper and not respond to that, she just glared at Laurette and stood there fuming, before turning to Gadrie and squeezed out a stifled "Please?"
Gadrie glanced over at Laurette and was surprised at how unsurprised Laurette was at Sechell's furious reaction. Laurette just looked back at Gadrie with the same pleading expression.
Gadrie could see something big was going to happen, and that Laurette obviously expected it and didn't want it to happen here. Sechell's restraint suggested she didn't want it here either, so Gadrie just closed her eyes and started the spell to summon a Gate.
By the time she was finished Laurette had her two Chosen with their packs standing right at the Gates opening, and she started rushing them through almost before Gadrie opened her eyes. Sechell quickly followed them, still fuming silently at Laurette. Gadrie looked around almost automatically to make sure there was nobody else going through the Gate, then went through herself, reflexively closing the Gate as soon as she exited on the other side.
Sechell's fury was an almost visible presence as she stamped up to Laurette and just about yelled, "Tell me you did not perform a changeover!" There was an audible gasp from the whole courtyard at that accusation, and Gadrie turned white as she finally understood what it meant that Calley was Warrick.
Quite distinctly and with great precision Laurette ground out, "No I did not perform the banned changeover spell. Yes I did perform a changeover and recruited Calley by it."
"What does that mean! 'No I didn't.' 'Yes I did.' Which is it!" Sechell fumed.
"Do you know how many spell casters are required to perform the banned changeover spell?" Laurette asked Sechell calmly.
"So you admit to knowing the spell!" Sechell screeched incredulously. Gadrie was shocked too. Why had Laurette been studying a banned spell?
"It requires a minimum of thirteen casters, with twenty-one recommended," Laurette continued calmly, ignoring Sechell's screeches. "Furthermore the banned spell wraps the recipient up in layer after layer of compulsions. As you can see Calley is free of compulsions and is in fact an Oathed member of Cylsteth, just like any other member. The spell I used was a completely voluntary one and Calley participated in it willingly. In no way can the changeover of Calley be compared to the previous changeovers inflicted on those poor men," Laurette explained as though lecturing in a classroom.
"So you did perform it?" Sechell squealed in disbelief.
"Sechell there was just me there, not thirteen casters, certainly not twenty-one. I couldn't have performed the banned spell because it isn't possible for me to perform the banned spell by myself," Laurette tried to explain again.
"But you did a changeover. That's banned!" Sechell screeched loudly.
"Actually that's not how banning works." Laurette said calmly, absently using the tones of a teacher with a favoured pupil. "In the case of the banned changeover spell, it was not the act of changeover that is banned, it's the fact that it's an unwilling changeover. Also there is some truly heinous compulsions to serve the Order tacked on as well, which are secondary reasons that the spell is banned. The spell I used does neither and I contend is therefore not a banned spell."
"You're going to plead technicalities!?" Sechell was almost crying her distress.
"The difference between a banned spell and an allowed spell is often incredibly minor, so minor that the banned spell can be said by mistake by someone who was not sufficiently paying attention. But no Sechell, I'm not going to plead 'technicalities', I'm going to argue intent and outcomes," Laurette lectured, still not reacting to Sechell's raw emotion. "The changeover I performed was willing and not forced. The spell I performed cannot be used against the wishes of the intended recipient. Calley had to give permission and Oath to Cylsteth before the changeover could be performed. This is in no way deserving of a banned spell status."
"It's. A. Changeover! How could you ever believe it would not be banned?" Sechell stood with body rigidly straight, fists clenched in anger before Laurette.
Laurette silently looked at the fuming healer for a while, then looked around at those gathering in the Training House courtyard to hear them. This really wasn't the audience she wanted for this debate. "Sechell the only thing that would let you believe what I am saying is a full tribunal investigation, which I will accept and submit to. I am willing to produce the full script of the spell for them and they can examine Calley to confirm my claims."
Laurette looked back around at the witnesses to the confrontation. Since she had rushed the return as soon as the second Trial party had arrived, and there would have been no way for people at the Training House to have expected such a rapid arrival, she was not surprised to see nobody was waiting for them. But the Gate point was an alcove in the main arrivals courtyard for the Training House, which was always maned by a cadre each of both experienced and trainee fighters armed in case of attack. Also there were the normal contingent of both arrivals and departures that was normal for the biggest and busiest House in the order and now all of them knew about Calley.
Oh well, it was naive of her to have assumed she could have kept this a secret from the inhabitants of the Training House, as soon as the Tribunal convened the rumour mill would have spread the reason far and wide.
Looking around Laurette spotted the Order member currently in charge of the trainee cadre and went up to her. "Please remind your trainees and any other trainees that were in hearing that changeover is one of the Order's Existential Secrets." She knew that the Training Masters would make sure to remind all the Trainees about the Secrets, but mostly she wanted all in hearing to be reminded so that the shock didn't cause them to blurt something out in the wrong company. "Come on Sechell, Gadrie, let's get this over with," Laurette called as she took off striding across the courtyard.
With a gesture she gathered up Julie and Calley and together they crossed the welcome courtyard towards the House entrance. As they caught her Laurette became aware of the jingling from her belt of the money pouch Simone had given her and decided this was about the best time she was going to get to give the money to Calley, the reaction of Sechell promised that she was going to be stuck defending herself officially for her actions very soon, and quite possibly for some time thereafter. Taking the pouch she turned to Calley and questioned, "Calley, what is the traditional payment for a Potential to a Waystation when accepted for Trials?"
Julie looked at the pouch in Laurette's hand and just giggled. Calley blinked a few times at the apparently random nature of the question. "Umm, nothing. They work in the Waystation for food and board," she finally stumbled the answer.
Laurette grabbed Calley's hand and slapped the pouch into it. "Quite" was all she said before turning and continuing across the courtyard. "Put the pouch in you rucksack Calley, I'm sure it's all there," she called over her shoulder.
Calley stared at the pouch in her hand for a few seconds before an "oh" of understanding was let out. Julie poked her in the ribs as she hurried past, still giggling at how matter of fact, but still quick and successfully, Laurette had managed to get through to Calley on a point the full staff at the Waystation had been trying to make for two months. Calley jumped from Julie's poke and looked up and saw the distance Laurette had opened between them as she strode away. Quickly opening the flap of her rucksack Calley dropped the pouch in, closed and tied down the flap back down again, and putting the rucksack back on her shoulders she quickstepped across the courtyard to catch back up with Julie and Laurette just as they walked through the gateway to the House proper.
Julie looked up and noticed the currently open iron portcullis concealed in the gateway. Looking further she saw they where in a secondary barbican with another gateway at the end, which had another set of portcullis held open. Looking up she realised that this wasn't a wall in a manor house like she had expected, but was actually an opening in a second defensive wall inside the first, the whole welcome courtyard, and even this barbican, were kill zones in a defensive network protecting the House.
She looked towards Calley and saw her looking around too. After Calley finished her inspections she turned towards Julie and noted, "Looks like the neighbours get a bit rowdy."
Laurette hearing the comment looked back at her two charges and noticed what they were examining. "Actually legend is that at the beginning of our Order we used to share this as a Training House with the Storntan Order before they moved to their current Training House at Palacegate," she explained. "Since we have our own cadre, not to mention quite literally supernatural enemies, we have maintained and improved the defences as seemed prudent."
As they walked through the second gate they entered a much larger area, it was as wide as the previous courtyard but about three times as deep. In addition to a double tower over the gate there was towers in each of the corners with doors in them, looking like they gave access to the walls towering three stories above them. Looking around the courtyard, which was as large as a parade ground, Calley saw groups of fighters who seemed to be working together in teams. She saw everything from small groups of three fighters facing off against each other, to larger groups of what looked like twelve fighters practicing manoeuvres against each other. On her right she saw groups of fighters obviously doing similar things, but this time they were mounted.
"These are our journeymen," Laurette continued the orientation as they walked across the courtyard. "And their trainers of course. Journeyman is the last rank before being accepted as full members of our Order, so they are perfecting their massed combat, riding and advanced fighting formations to prepare for the final test, being taken on a cleansing for their first battle with demons. Like the Trials it's a much more robust test than we'd really prefer, but since fighting demons is the reason for our order, the proven ability to do so is a required attribute for full membership."
Calley had a smirk on her face, but Julie beat her to the punchline, "Journeymen?" she asked with a raised eyebrow. Laurette looked to her two charges and couldn't help chuckling too.
"Actually, that title really annoys the most fervent of our Order's opponents in the nobility. I don't think even a decree from a Deity could get us to stop using it by now. Again I'm pretty sure it's a leftover from when we shared the Training House with the Storntan, but by now sufficient unpleasant and unwanted advances by the nobility to get us to stop using it have been made to pretty much harden our resolve as an Order to 'respect our traditions'."
"'Respect our traditions'?" Calley asked with a smirk.
"Of course." Laurette said cheerfully. "We're an order of women who learn the Mystic arts and weapons usage and recruit mostly the children of freemen, but with the occasional daughter of nobility thrown in. Disrespecting the Nobility is almost the first of our traditions," Laurette said with a smirk, getting a set of giggles from both Julie and Calley. She looked over and saw genuine amusement and agreement to the attitude and smiled at them. They were going to fit in fine in the Order.
"Of course all the other Orders back our usage, mainly because they don't want the nobility to believe it can influence the Orders in any way. I'm sure more than a few of them would prefer we stop mixing and matching our titles in unique ways like we do, but there's no way they are going to appear to side with the nobility by saying so now."
"We do?" Calley asked puzzled.
"Yeah we use fighting titles for some of our training ranks, like 'journeyman', Mystic titles for other of our other ranks, like 'noviciate', and then our own unique 'no ranks' for all ranks past journeyman, which drives everyone else to distraction," Laurette explained as they walked across the courtyard.
"Why the mixing and matching?" Calley enquired.
"We are a fighting and Mystic order," Laurette explained. "The first few advancements happen when you've shown sufficient control over your Mystic abilities, the last two advancements are gained by developing and showing your prowess in the martial arts. So, mystic ranks to begin with, then martial ranks to finish with."
"How long will that take?" Calley asked curiously.
"Six years or so," Laurette stated shortly. "It's about three years of Mystic training and three years of martial training, but it's not like you do one than the other. You start off doing both, but with martial training starting slow, basically getting your muscles built up and your dexterity and stamina improved, while we concentrate on your written and Mystical education. Then as your written education is completed more and more Martial training takes over until you complete both your Mystical and Written education, become a Journeyman and concentrate on integrating all you have learnt into your fighting skills, before graduating to full member of the Order."
Laurette had been looking around the Journeyman courtyard as they walked, and finally appeared to see who she was looking for. Quickly changing their direction, she strode towards a group of people who seemed to be watching the largest of the Journeyman groups practicing with their horses.
As they walked past various training groups, Calley saw that Laurette's statement on the looks of the Order members was right, none here looked much more than mid-twenties. In fact the only way she could tell the trainers from the trainees was the slightly silkier way the trainers moved and fought. They just seemed to always know exactly what their opponents were trying to do and how to use the plans of their opponents against them.
Laurette had stopped at the group they had been walking towards, and Calley noticed the appreciative looks the members of the group were directing at both herself and Julie. Before Laurette had a chance to say something one of them questioned, "I thought you were going for a single recruit. If you are going to hit the jackpot like this we should leave you out in the world more often, you certainly made good use of your three months banishment," she said with a smile, then hugged Laurette close and finished, "Thank you, but where did you find the second recruit?"
Laurette smiled and then introduced them, "This is Julie, who I was sent to Trial, and this is her sister Calley, who came with her to the Trials and then followed her through the courtyards of Whiteford's lost temple complex with neither of them so much as getting a growl from a demon until we were leaving the complex after Julie had Oathed."
"All the way?" was exclaimed in surprise.
"Front to back, they even summoned a portal into the complex, I was quite surprised at that." Laurette then turned to Julie and Calley. "This here is Dorain, when she's here she likes to pretend to oversee the Order's Training Masters."
"When I'm here?" Dorain exclaimed in disbelief. "Unlike somebody I could mention that flitters from House to House like some sort of butterfly sampling flowers, I don't believe I've gotten out of here more than twice in the last couple of decades!" Dorain growled out menacingly towards Laurette.
"How are Steve and Brint?" Laurette asked with a knowing grin, smiling back at Dorain's mock fierceness.
Dorian grinned back. "Steve's following in his Father's footsteps, I think he even has designs on a girl, you remember Stacey?"
"That Potential he swept off her feet just when you were getting all set to recruit her?" Laurette asked with a laugh. "I think 'designs' is the understatement of the century! His conquest of her beat out any of the military campaigns our Order has attempted this decade, he certainly left you completely flat-footed in the opening skirmish and he just kept upping the ante as he went on," Laurette commented wickedly, getting the embarrassed look from Dorain she expected, though she did also notice the not-so-hidden pride in Dorain's eyes for her eldest.
Being sent to Trial a new recruit and having the recruit stolen from under you by your own son was a source of constant teasing for her from the whole Order. In truth the knowing smirks of the Readers who had sent her out to recruit Stacey, and the fact that Stacey had come back with her, even if she was now living in one of the farms around the Training House rather the in it, lead most to assume things were as they should be. After all, the farms around the Training House were a rich source of recruitment, not just for their Order, but for the other Sister Orders too.
Most of the farms were worked by lovers and offspring of various members of the Order, just as there was a surprising number of Tradesmen in the local town who, while not married, had houses full of offspring. Cylsteth honoured the Code that members of Orders were not to marry, but as with all the other fighting Orders, the Order looked the other way as long as their members didn't officially marry, and the families were kept discreetly within the 'family', so to speak, of towns and villages 'in the know' around the Order's Houses.
Laurette was pretty sure that Whiteford was about to become one of the small 'family' of towns 'in the know' of that particular 'secret'. In her three months there she had gotten to know them, and they were all good people. People well aware of the realities of life, and quite prepared to deal lovingly with consequences rather than get hung up on the technicalities of due process.
Laurette had noticed more than a few "chubby" brides binding their hands under the amused and knowing looks of their families while staying at Whiteford's temple. Twice she had witnessed ceremonies where the groom's mother was holding a baby, once when the groom was a Traveler, the second time when the groom worked on the riverboats. The bride's mother had sat right next to groom's mother, obviously also very familiar with the baby. The fact that on both occasions the celebrant had tied the ribbons, then immediately gone to the groom's mother to retrieve the child to present to the newly weds before starting the traditional blessings, so that the blessings were delivered over the whole of the new family, not just the newly wed couple, had impressed Laurette to no end about the feelings of Whiteford about family values. It was obvious no matter what the technicalities of the dates of the child's birth and the parents binding, nobody cared and it would be forgotten soon by one and all.
"I think you should be thankful Storntan was late in their recruitment that year, otherwise they would have snapped up Steve and had him in Palacegate before you could have blinked," Laurette smirked at the prideful mother.
"I think Drognar believes the same, he's not taking any chances with Brint," Dorain chuckled, naming the Training Master for the Storntan Order. "He's out 'checking on the harvest' at the farm now. Says he's here to look into 'closer relationships between the two Order's Training Houses', but I noticed he bought that sword wielding younger daughter of his, who just so happens to be Brint's age. I think he's trying to butter me up with her so I don't notice he's trying to swindle my youngest away from me."
Laurette laughed, knowing full well the Order had had its eye on said daughter for the longest time, after all her mother was with the Order's representatives to Palacegate and not a bad swordswomen herself. It was doubtful she was getting her sword lessons only from her father, or even mainly from him. Also everyone in the Order knew Dorain's youngest Brint had a sword and the training to use it, something he couldn't have gotten from his father who was one of the districts best farmers and hands down its best brewer, for all he claimed it was a 'hobby'. But his sword skills began and ended with putting one in its scabbard and than moving said scabbard under the pillow while he got down to much more pleasurable pursuits with its owner.
"Drognar the Storntan Training Master it here?" Laurette asked happily. "Excellent, I have two proposals I was going to bring up anyway, having him here to give us the Storntan's reaction to them would be very helpful."
"Proposals? Dorain enquired. "Should we have been more worried about what you get up to when away from us so long?"
"Don't worry, these brainstorms are the results of a fevered mind in just the last few days," Laurette promised. "First Whiteford. In addition to having that corrupted temple we've never gotten around to cleaning up, because the villagers have contained it so well and we are always short of numbers, Whiteford also has a very powerful fortified full Sanctuary sitting right next to the walls of said temple."
Dorian's lifted an eyebrow. "Really? How good are these fortifications?"
Laurette smiled. "The villagers have been keeping it in good repair too. They are as high and in as good repair as the temple walls that have been keeping the demons contained for generations. Well maintained gate with single person lock, archers run and protective curtain wall all around, enclosing a full Sanctuary Chapel complex including stables, barracks and garden."
Dorain's eyes widened in surprise. "How good is the Sanctuary?"
"Dual pool. Sanctuary light dissolves demon flesh instantly," Laurette stated with a huge smile.
Dorain grinned appreciatively. "What about the townspeople? You said it's in good repair, do they still worship at it?"
Laurette shook her head happily. "They have a temple in the main square I stayed at for three months. They are good people, justifiably paranoid about their problem on the hill. They keep the Sanctuary in good repair because it's a good base from which to do the work of keeping the temple walls repaired each spring."
"Sounds ideal. How do you think they'll react to us taking it over?" Dorain asked seriously.
Laurette pulled her two recruits to her and hugged them tight. "Pretty favourably, after all they've been watching that temple for generations, and then they had that incursion two months ago where they lost two entire Farmsteading families and their Traveler cousins to Wyrdrealm Demons. I think they'd welcome a permanent presence from us."
Both Julie and Calley had flinched at that reminder of the loss of their families, reflectively hugging Laurette back. Dorain noticed both the sisters flinching and also the hugs they were exchanging with Laurette. Dorain filed that away particularly, she'd never noticed Laurette as being the mothering kind before, but she certainly had a close rapport with these two new recruits. "So you think it's suitable for an Advanced Training House?" share asked slowly.
"I thought you'd ask that," Laurette said with a last hug off the two recruits before letting them go. "I left Simone and her cadre to start looking into it, but it certainly looks promising to me."
"Alright, I'll send Sarah and her Journeymen to look into it, I'm sure she'll be able to talk Barthes into going down with her too," Dorain stated.
Barthes was the best carpenter in town, and he liked to refer to Sarah as his 'squeeze', so it was a given she'd be able to get him to go with her. Laurette stood thinking for a bit. "Send Judith too and you might as well get her to take her Clover with her," she finally suggested.
Dorian looked puzzled for a bit, after all Judith was one of the newest members and her 'clover' was still in training. All three of them were good healers and as such even though they were full members of the Order they were still being trained in their healing talents.
The Order respected healers, they were one of the greatest strengths of Cylsteth. None of the other fighting Orders had their own healers to call upon, having instead to rely on healers from Aqueerna, the Healer Order. But Cylsteth was also practical, first the defences needed from the Mystic training. Then the skills needed to survive in battle from their martial training. Last training in healing and other skills. Demons were no respecter of human concepts like non-combatants. Healers needed to know how to protect both themselves and those they were trying to help from the Mystical corruptions and auras of demons, as well as the physical attacks from the same, before it was prudent to allow them in the battle lines. Since that level of skill was the same as a fully trained member of the Order it was traditional to welcome healers into full membership with the rest of their Training group, and then instead of assigning them to the expected Point / Soul / Mind Clover, they were put into a Clover with two other healers and assigned to the Training House for a further year to be taught by experienced healers how to fully utilise their talents. Exceptional healers like Sechell were then sent on for additional training with the Sister Order Aqueerna.
While a Clover of healers at an Advanced Training House made sense, and Judith and her Clover had nearly completed their year of training and were definitely due some time in action to make sure the lessons were sticking, it took Dorian a bit to remember that Judith was in a steady relationship with the newest Master Stonemason in town. Further the other two members of her clover spent a lot of time with another late Journeymen Stonemason and the Blacksmith's younger son, who was just about to finish his Journeyman training and become a Master Smith too. Two stonemasons, a blacksmith as well as a carpenter would all be very useful in converting a basic fortified chapel into a full Cylsteth Training House.
Dorian looked at Laurette and remembered that Laurette had been away from the Order totally for the last three months, and that she had not been to the Training House for a full year, when she had last bought in Chosen as part of last year's Trials. Knowing what skills who had, which Clover they were in, and also who they were seeing, how serious the relationship was, plus the details of the significant others occupation showed a true Talent for organisation that Dorian hadn't been exposed to before. It explained why Laurette was always being pulled into schemes at the Mother House though. Dorian was a bit surprised that Laurette wasn't a full time member of the Mother House staff with skills like that, she instead seemed to flit and float around between all of the Order's Houses almost at will.
"Okay I'll get that organised too. What was your second proposal and why would it involve Drognar?" Dorain asked Laurette, keeping her questions about Laurette unvoiced for the moment.
"Shaking up the way we do cordon and search," Laurette smirked.
"You know we don't do cordon and search anymore," Dorain exclaimed. "We can't concentrate the numbers to do it."
"I noticed that Simone had a particularly powerful cadre with her," Laurette stated causing Dorain to blink at the unexpectedness statement. "By the way who do I thank for Simone, Sechell and Gadrie?"
"Jelsen," Dorain mumbled. "She walked in five weeks ago and gave them their marching orders. By the time you were overdue they were already on the boats ready to fetch you."
"Jelsen's here? Anyone else?" Laurette asked in surprise.
"I'd have said all of them, but after that little trick of the memory you just showed I'm no longer confident I even know who 'all of them' are anymore," Dorain said with a laugh.
Laurette snorted. "I'm just their favourite troubleshooter. I'm sent in when they want an outcome and a little subtlety about its necessity." Dorian just snorted and then carefully filed away that revelation.
Laurette got thoughtful for a second and then seemed to make a decision. "Okay can you delegate someone to give the marching orders to Sarah and Judith's teams and specifically imply they are not coming back and then give them time to go to the town and pay off their tabs and 'pick up any projects' they've been working on, or leave forwarding addresses …" as she was saying that Julie whimpered.
"What is it Julie?" Laurette demanded, turning to the girl and reaching out to hold her shoulders.
"Send wagons," Julie blurted urgently. "Pack everything and make sure they stay together, all of them, all the time. Also send them by boat and have them make sure that Traveler Mathews and his family takes it too. Tell him you're doing a favour for your new recruit. Also please? Escort him all the way to the Farmsteadings when he's finished his business in Whiteford?" Julie looked up at Laurette in entirety.
"Why Julie?" Laurette demanded urgently.
"Demons. They are going to try picking off single travellers to get the Cadre to start chasing them into ambushes," Julie whimpered.
"What about attacking Steadings and villages?" Dorain snapped the question at Julie.
Julie concentrated for a moment, "I don't see that," she said shaking her head firmly.
Laurette looked to Calley. "Calley, what do you think?" she inquired curiously.
Calley for the first time seemed to go into a trance of her own, then she came back and said, "They have the numbers to do it, but they don't want to tip the Order yet to their true numbers."
"They have the numbers to attack Whiteford?" Dorain demanded incredulously.
"Easily. Not just attack, but raze it," Calley confirmed.
"Where are they hiding numbers like that?" Dorian mused.
Calley started fading into a trance again, when Laurette noticed she blanched pure white and quickly slapped Calley across the face, hard, then grabbed her between her two hands and stared deeply into Calley's eyes. Calley was so shocked by this she stood there wide-eyed with tears leaking out and rolling down her checks. Suddenly Laurette smiled happily and pulled Calley to her chest and hugged her tight.
Dorian blinked a few times, and then said, "What?" in confusion.
"She's a Trueseer," Laurette explained not letting up her hug.
"Okay, but why would a Truthseer be in danger?" Dorain asked still confused.
"Not a Truthseer, a Trueseer," Laurette emphasised. "Someone that sees True, sees things as they are. She was going into a trance to 'see' the demons," Laurette explained, staring at Dorain with horror in her eyes.
Dorain blanched white too and blurted "Martle!"
"Who's Martle?" exclaimed Julie getting scarred by the reactions of Laurette and Dorain.
Laurette gave Calley one last squeeze and then released her before she carefully took Calley's face in her hands so that she could look Calley in the eye. "You are a Trueseer Calley, do you understand what that means?"
Calley tried to shake her head but Laurette was holding it too tight. "Nno," she stammered.
"A Tureseer see things are they are," Laurette explained softly. "Sees them with clear eyes, no illusions and as thoroughly as if they are standing right next to them, above them, all around them. You cannot not know all there is know about what you 'see'," Laurette explained.
Calley looked a little confused, but nodded. Laurette sighed and tried again. "Calley, it's as if you are right there. You remember the demon right?" Calley blanch and stiffly nodded. "Calley, that was just one demon and you were not fully woken to your power. You have awoken now and you were trying to use your power to find out everything about a demon infestation large enough to take down Whiteford. Calley please please please, promise me you will won't try and use your Trueseeing to look at demons?" Laurette had tears in her eyes as she begged Calley's promise.
"Never?" Calley confirmed cautiously.
Laurette sighed. "Not forever," she clarified. "But certainly not until you are trained. Once you are a Cadet and have mastered your Mystic defences we'll do some very careful testing and experimentation to make sure that your Mystic wards will work for your Trueseeing skill and what the limitations of your wards are and how to make sure you never try to go beyond the limits of your wards," she promised the scared girl.
"Limitations?" Calley stammered.
Laurette winced. "And now we come to Martle. Martle was the last and only other Trueseer our Order has ever had. We'd never heard of Trueseers before, and Calley is only the second I've ever heard of with the talent. Martle was mistaken for a Truthseer and was used to verify the ravings of a poor unfortunate that had seen a large demon infestation and we wanted to get what information we could from him," Laurette said with a sigh and hunted eyes. "Unfortunately she went into a trance and 'saw' the infestation with her talent and was driven mad by it."
Calley saw the look on Laurette's face and understood that 'driven mad' was a 'polite company' term for the event. Laurette's eyes had a haunted look to them that withheld ever so much more.
Calley pulled Laurette to her in a tight hug. "Thank you for saving me," she whispered as suddenly Julie was hugging them both too.
Laurette put an arm around Julie and hugged her tight, then kissed her on the forehead. "Careful of your talent too, Julie. Usually it will stop you from looking too deeply into places that are dangerous for you, so don't push it when demons are involved. Just tell everyone your talent is warning you not to look there. People know what it means when a Foreseer can't look at something," Laurette promised.
Laurette turned back to Dorain. "I can see things around our new Training House are going to be interesting for a while. Can you go inform the new adventurers about their marching orders and send them to town with carts to start their recruitment drive?"
"How big a recruitment drive?" Dorain inquired.
"Multistage. For this one, only those that can get ready now to go with the cadre, the rest later when we send the Trainees. We'll have another large contingent of cadre with them we can protect families with. I want our twelve squad, healer's Clover, and especially their associated spouses, ready to move out as soon as the tools can get loaded on the carts. Make sure to buy for all the tradesmen everything they don't already have to setup full trade-shops from the other masters in town. I want them ready to setup and start as soon as they get there. No silliness with 'the master creates his own tools', we don't have time. Do it as a loan if you need to, we'll pay to bring them back once they are replaced."
"What about Whiteford, couldn't we get stuff from there?" Dorain suggested.
"We want the owners using all that stuff," Laurette said shaking her head. "We're going to need all the tradespeople we can get from Whiteford as it is, they're not going to have spare tools, or the time to make them either. We're going to need to work out schedules to share all the tradespeople with the town and district so that we don't deny them the trades they need as it is. Everything we take ourselves is another thing we're not competing with our new district for. We need this to work. We need to maintain the goodwill of the people even while we are moving in and causing them some hardships."
"Will you be going?" Dorain enquired with her head to the side.
"I can't," Laurette sighed. "As soon as you get this started come to the day study, I'll explain the rest then."
"Okay," Dorain promised. "Now what about 'cordon and search' you were talking about before you got distracted?"
"Oh, you might as well send for Drognar too," Laurette said with a smile. "I'm sure they'll be talking to him as soon as we are finished, let's save it for the meeting with them."
"Drognar? That Drognar? The one just walking in with his daughter and I note my son. That Drognar?" Dorain stated staring over Laurette's shoulder towards the courtyard gates.
Turning Laurette looked where Dorain was staring and blinked, then smiled. "I think you are looking at the wrong thing, your son and his daughter seem very chummy," Laurette teased Dorain with a smile.
"Oh, they've been like loadstone and steel ever since she arrived at the farm," Dorain said dismissively. "Brint and her are the same age and you know how Brint is with anyone with a sword he thinks might spar with him. I get the feeling people that who treated her as an equal in fighting skill have been few and far between. She had her sword whipped out in a second, Brint followed suit and they went at it hammer and tongs, screaming in joy, for the next bell. They have been pretty inseparable since." Laurette raised a smirking eyebrow at Dorain, who sighed. "No, both of them are pretty dedicated to the Path of Orders, even her father isn't worried about something like that happening." Looking at Laurette's knowing smirk she snapped, "And no that isn't the blindness of motherhood either."
Scowling Dorain contemplated the smirking Laurette then sighed. "Okay, I'll take care of getting the ball moving on Whiteford and gather up Drognar and get him to the meeting with them and we can continue the conversation then and maybe you can tell me why Sechell is glaring daggers at your back and Gadrie is looking at you like a survivor she found after a demon attack."
Laurette just sighed too. "I'll escort my two recruits to the day study and get Sechell to examine them, you please get the ball rolling on sending Judith and Sarah and their teams into town. I think they can stay there tonight and leave for the river tomorrow. Don't forget to remind them to find Traveler Mathews and his family and get them on the boats too. Get the girls on horses and down to town ASAP, we need them to be as persuasive as possible. We'll send servants to their quarters to pack them up and it'll all be on the carts tomorrow when the servants bring them down for the partners to pack their things for the journey too."
"Your very sure that they'll come just because the girl's whistle," Dorain challenged Laurette with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm very sure they will once the girls have the night to convince them," Laurette said with a smirk. "Especially after you've confided in them how much we are going to need their spouses. Just as importantly, the girls'll be there in the morning to sooth any put out customers and help with the packing."
"How will that help?" Dorain asked curiously.
"How often has the Order had anything officially to do with the partners of our members?" Laurette questioned Dorain.
"Never," Dorain stated immediately. "We've always been very careful to maintain the fiction that what goes on in the private bedrooms of menfolk with our Order members isn't something we know about."
"So what would people think when they see not just our members, but also our servants and our carts involved in the packing?" Laurette questioned Dorain again.
"That's it's something super-important, something important enough to bend the rules that get in the way," Dorain responded.
"Exactly," Laurette said with a smirk. "They'll get the message to bring any real hardships to us and leave our people alone to get on with what they need to do in peace." Dorain looked thoughtful for a while and then just nodded. Turning she made her way to a group of Journeymen close by and started giving orders.
Laurette waited for Dorain to make her way to Drognar, before she turned to Gadrie. "Gadrie, I know you are confused about what I've done, but do you think you can find Jelsen and inform her we need an urgent meeting? Feel free to let her know what's coming so that she can organise for all those that need to be there, then come find me in the Day Study?" she asked in entirety.
Gadrie looked at her carefully then turned to Sechell and asked, "You'll be with her until we can escort her to Jelsen?" At Sechell's nod Gadrie turned back to Laurette. "Don't leave the Day Study," she ordered. "It would probably be a good idea if you also kept your interactions with the rest of the Order here to a minimum until we have a fully informed decision from the leadership about what to do regarding your actions." Gadrie waited for Laurette's acquiescence before she strode off for the main entrance into the Training House. Laurette looked at the stern expression on Sechell's face and just turned and set off for the main entrance too.
As she approached the drawbridge over the water filled moat she pointed out to Julie and Calley, "This is actually a third separate inner wall anchored on four keeps, you can see two of them there and there," she said pointing to two square structures in the wall, one of the left and one on the right, fully eight stories high. They could see between those structures was a four story building with this facing wall built as a defensive wall with a gate house in the middle they were currently making their way towards. Between the Keeps and the outer walls was built defensive walls as high as the outer walls, breaking the Journeymen's parade ground off from the other sections behind the walls.
"What's behind the walls?" enquired Calley pointing to one of the walls at the end.
"Kitchen gardens and other food growing areas," Laurette explained. "Along with gardens we have on the roofs and some substantial gardens we have placed around the stables and excise areas we have enough food growing areas to in a siege be food sufficient. As well the kitchen has enough rabbit hutches and chicken runs that it can indefinitely provide eggs, chicken and rabbit meat to fulfil the House's needs."
As they came up on the bridge to the gatehouse Laurette gestured down to the moat. "This is all around the inner defensive wall, and is used to gather all rainwater that falls on the Training House complex. It provides all the water for our crops and animals, as well as being a defence. We also have it stocked with fish for eating, again part of our food production. There is also a Sanctuary at the heart of the complex, we've built the kitchens and bathrooms around its spring. That spring provides all the water needs for the people of the complex for drinking, cooking and washing."
"For how many people?" Calley asked impressed.
"It's all calculated on a multiyear siege with the Training House accommodating the full population of the surrounding town and district," Laurette stated. At the impressed looks of Calley and Julie she noted wryly, "It's meant to be impressive. All the defences and preparations are real, but the main defence is the concept that we are so well prepared. We don't ever want to need this even if it's unlikely we'd lose the siege. Having to fort up for a siege would cause immense disruption. The idea of the excess preparation even in a time of peace is to emphasis to everyone how useless attacking us would be, so that nobody ever seriously considers doing it. Mostly what it is, is an immense pain in the arse to our Trainees who have to look after all the gardens and animals." She smirked at the two new recruits, "Enjoy your break from farming and cleaning up after animals, you'll be back to doing it by the end of the week." Calley and Julie just smiled at Laurette, they had been doing those chores all their life, doing it again here meant nothing to them, it was just the way life was.
Calley looked around and noticed the greasy look on the chains of the drawbridge, and the women looking down curiously at them from slits next to where the chains disappeared into the wall. She also noticed that there was two portcullis to drop in the main doorway, and that the main doors opened out onto the drawbridge, not inwards like she expected. They walked into a massive arched room with windows in the roof through which more women looked down, but instead of running the full length of the building and emptying into a courtyard like she expected, there was two sets of wide doors, one on the end of the left wall, and one on the end of the right wall with the smell of stables from both of them.
Pointing to the left Laurette explained, "Trainee stables on this side, cadre and guests stables the other. They run the full length of the building both ways and have exits under the keeps at either end into food growing areas between the walls, so that we can exercise the horses along the Paths between the plots. There are also exits out into the main farm which lies between this building and the Old Keep.
"This building has the 'Public' rooms for the order, and is as far into the House as we let non-members. It has its own guest rooms, kitchen, bathing rooms, meeting rooms and offices. The Old Keep on the other side of the farm anchors our teaching buildings. There is the Keep itself, various buildings built between it and the walls to House teaching areas, sleeping rooms, libraries, armouries, the kitchens and Great Hall. There is also training courtyards between them, for practicing with weapons, learning control of your Aorga and the like. You'll get a full tour later, for now we need to attend the Day Study and Sechell needs time to examine you Calley," Laurette stated giving Calley a comforting pat on the back.
Gesturing to the right, Laurette led them through a wide doorway with two thick oaken doors that could be used to close it, the doorway also equipped with a portcullis that could drop and block it off. Just inside the stable was a normal sized door, still thick oak, but of a size meant for someone to walk through, not ride through like the doors they had just entered. Opening it Laurette waved Calley and Julie through, and then followed after them at a quick look from Sechell, leaving her to bring up the rear and close the door.
As they started climbing the stones steps to the next level Laurette continued her explanations, "Downstairs is the bathrooms, laundry and cool storage areas for the guest building. There is a wide corridor all along it with the bathrooms, then laundry, then kitchens all under the cadre stables, and storage rooms under the Trainee stables. The first floor is full of rooms for meeting people and entertaining guests, including dining rooms above the kitchen. The next floor houses rooms where the administration of the House gets done, there are separate rooms in the Old Keep for administering the Trainees. Finally the top floor is given over to sleeping rooms for those members of the order that work in this building, and also some guest rooms, as well as rooms for some of the Cadre Housed here."
"Some?" Calley asked curiously.
"The permanent cadre assigned to protect the House have rooms in the four towers, and when assigned to the outer walls sleep in bunkrooms in the Guard towers. There is also a lot of Cadre assigned to the Trainees, and they of course have rooms in the Training Complex instead."
Coming to the first floor Laurette gestured them left and walked a short distance down the corridors before opening a door and leading them into a room that was brightly lit from windows filling the far wall. On the right was a large table with a dozen chairs around it. On the left was a fireplace with a few large armchairs next to it. Along the walls large couches were placed, each long enough to fully lie down on. Low tables sat between the couches and in front of them, chairs with large arms were placed so that each lounge was its own smaller conversation grouping.
Laurette walked over to the large windows and stood smiling in the sunlight. "I always enjoy this room," she stated. "Even though we are in one of the most secure keeps in the Kingdom, it has these large windows and such a pleasant view."
Calley and Julie walked up to the window and looked out through the clear glass panes. Outside they were looking into a courtyard that was at least three times the size of the Journeyman's parade ground, but looked like some Noble's ideal of a farm. Small plant beds neatly arranged in geometric patterns with wide raked dirt Paths between them, each Path having a paved walking area in the middle of it, there was even a central paved avenue straight up the middle running between this building and what looked like an ancient keep on the far side of the 'farm'. Looking to the sides they could see that the area at the base of the walls was also paved and a covered walkway was built right up against walls that seemed to run all the way down both sides of the enclosed gardens.
"Impressive isn't it," Laurette commented, then looking at their faces she smiled. "It's not that bad, the geometry has reasons, its not just decorative. The wide Paths are used to exercise the horses in the stables below us. The paved sections down the middle of the Paths are used to channel water to the sides and into the moat, they also serve as Paths for people walking around. The main avenue is for the heavy carts that take food and other things through to the Training Complex," Laurette explained pointing to the Keep on the far side of the courtyard.
Calley frowned remembering the main entrance and the two doors at the end leading off at right angles to the passageway. "How do the carts get in? I wouldn't think you could turn much more than a light two wheeled carriage from the entrance and into either of the stables," she asked curiously.
Laurette laughed. "No you couldn't turn a cart in the entrance, but there is a trick you couldn't see. The Trainee stable door closest to this side of the building can open both into the stables, the normal way we keep it, and also out into the entrance room. If you are careful you can bring a cart in hugging the cadre side wall, open the Trainee door the other way and then angle the cart through the trainee door going almost sideways so that it goes immediately out another set of doors to the avenue. You need to use thinner carts, but you can make them a bit longer and they hold just as much. Makes our carts look a bit unique, but they are easy to spot from the walls."
Laurette looked around and at Sechell's expression sighed. With an arm around both Calley and Julie's waists, she lead them over to Sechell. "How do you want to do this? Would you like the story from me first? Examine Calley? Question Julie?" she asked. "Calley and I have basically been asleep yesterday and the day before, its been Julie who's been awake for it all."
Sechell scowled at the three of them for a while. "I'll start with Julie," she decided finally. "She is most likely to give me the raw facts in this story," she growled as she turned and stalked towards the fireplace.
Turning to Julie, Laurette gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Tell her the truth Julie, all of it. I didn't do anything wrong, but what I did they've only know to happen with the most hideous of spells, spells that the Sister Orders have banned. Just tell Sechell all that she asks and anything you can remember, Okay?" Julie nodded, then with trepidation walked to the fire place at the end of the room where Sechell waited, glaring back at Laurette.
Laurette turned to Calley, gave her a hug and then nodded to their packs. As she picked up her bedroll and rucksack, Calley picked up both Julie's and her rucksacks, turned and followed Laurette who merely placed her packs against the wall behind the door neatly. Calley followed suit and then looked to Laurette who was studying Sechell. Sechell was now seated in an armchair near the fire, and had Julie in another armchair facing her so that Sechell could both talk to Julie and keep an eye on Laurette over Julie's shoulder.
Laurette looked around and pointed over to the table, then she bent down and grabbed a book and a pouch from her rucksack and followed Calley to the table, gesturing to Calley to sit on the seat at the end of the long side so she could take the seat at the end of the table and talk to her.
"You've had all the same schooling Julie has? Reading, writing, numbers?" Laurette asked as Calley sat.
Calley nodded. "Mum taught both of us. I think I'm about the same as Julie, except anything you've taught her in the last couple of months."
Laurette smiled. "Mostly I've been teaching her about her gift. While Sechell's busy I want to do a little testing of you." Laurette passed the book to Calley. "Can you read any of that?" she asked.
Calley looked hurt at the implication. Taking the book then started flicking through the pages, first slowly, then going faster, seemingly just scanning through it. Finally she looked up at Laurette in confusion. "The letters don't make any words I know," Calley admitted.
"But you can read the letters?" Laurette confirmed.
"Yes," Calley stated puzzled.
"Flick all the way through the book, tell me when you can no longer read the letters," Laurette encouraged.
Calley kept flicking through the book. Suddenly she looked up, "Hey I know that word, it's 'changeover'" she declared holding out the book and pointing at a word.
Laurette glanced at the word and nodded. "Correct, please keep looking through."
Calley flicked all the way through to the end and looked up at Laurette with a shrug. "That's the only word I could read, but I can see the letters all the way through," she said hold back out the book.
Laurette took the book back and flicked to a page near the end, turning the book so Calley could see it and pointed to certain letters, asking her to name them, after a few she nodded and closed the book and put it to the side.
"Is it a magic book, is that why I can't read it?" Calley asked excitedly.
Laurette laughed. "As a matter of fact it is a magic book and that is why you can't read it, but it's not magic that is stopping you reading it, just lack of knowledge," she explained. "The book is written in the elder tongue and the language has shifted over the years, it might as well be another language by now. Given a few months of study you'll be able to read pages from the book fine, just a little slowly. In a year or two of reading it everyday you'll be as good at reading it as you are at reading our current tongue," Laurette promised her.
Laurette reached out and moved the pouch onto the table between Calley and herself. "You've not looked in this pouch right?" Calley looked at the pouch and then shook her head. Laurette nodded and touched the pouch. "I believe you have Truesight, it is the Skill that best matches what I have seen you do. Tell me what is in this pouch."
Calley looked at the pouch and then reach forth a hand, but Laurette quickly knocked it away. "Not that way Calley, use your Gift," Laurette instructed. Calley just looked back and forth between the pouch and Laurette, then bent down in her chair to get a better look. "Calley stop," Laurette interrupted her. "I'm trying to test your gift." Calley just sat there staring at her in confusion.
Laurette sighed and the paused to study Calley for a few and then smiled. "Close your eyes Calley," she instructed. "Think of nothing. Just listen with your eyes shut." Laurette waited until it seemed Calley was half asleep, then in a quite voice started talking again. "Calley, can you hear me?"
"Mm," Calley responded sleepily.
"Keep your eyes shut, concentrate on the pouch," Laurette continued softly, encouragingly. "Can you picture the pouch? See it laying on the table in your mind?"
"Good. Now I want you to concentrate closer and see if you can feel the pouch. Lay your hand on the table, palm up. Concentrate on feeling the pouch. Can you feel it? Can you feel the leather resting on your palm?"
"Yes," Calley replied slowly.
"Okay roll it through your fingers. Let your fingers feel the contents. Can you feel the contents of the pouch as your roll it around?"
Calley's fingers of her hand started moving and flexing as though they were rolling something between them. "Yes…"
"Okay Calley, what's in the pouch?"
"How many of them Calley?" Laurette asked getting a pleased expression.
"Okay Calley. Now I want you to pick up one of the coins. Hold it between your fingers. Look at it Calley, look at it carefully. What is it?"
"It's a silver half crown."
Laurette smiled. This was better than she expected. "Okay Calley, I want you to put that aside carefully and pick up another of the coins. Can you do that?" Calley nodded and made the appropriate gestures with her fingers. "Good Calley now look carefully at the coin, what is it?"
"It's a golden crown."
"And is the Kings head face up or down Calley?"
"It's face up."
"Good Calley. Now I want you to put this coin aside carefully too, and I want you to pick up the other four coins and look carefully at them, and tell me what they are."
Laurette waited as Calley fingers moved "three more silver half crowns and a copper full."
"Okay, final question Calley, is the King face up or face down on the copper full?"
Calley frowned a bit and seemed to be a bit confused, finally she replied "There is no King's head. Just a wheat sheaf on one side, and a blank face on the other."
"Really Calley? Why is that?"
Calley frowned a bit more then smiled. "This is your lucky copper! This is the one the Prince stole for you from the royal mint after they stamped the wheat sheaf but before they stamped his father's face on it."
Laurette blinked at that and her eyebrows rose in surprise, but she kept her voice quiet and calm "Okay Calley, so is the wheat sheaf face up or down?" she asked.
"It's face up."
"Good. Calley open your eyes and look at me." Laurette waited for Calley to blink her eyes a few times and actually look at her, even so Cally still looked a bit unfocused. Laurette spoke a bit louder, at her normal volume. "Hello Calley. Use your eyes, look at me, come on look at me," she encouraged the girl.
As Calley's eyes came back into focus Laurette smiled. "Welcome back Calley, you need to practice doing that with your eyes open and while also paying attention to your surroundings. I'd suggest you start practicing every chance you get to sit down," she suggested. "Just concentrate on something and try and learn all you can about it. Then when you feel more able concentrate on something and slowly walk away from it trying to both focus on waking and concentrating on something. Finally what you want to do is pick something someone is carrying and first sitting down follow it then what I want you to do is from out of sight of the person carrying it follow them. It will increase your skill."
"What skill?" Calley asked puzzled.
Laurette laughed. "Do you remember what you told me was in the pouch?"
Calley squinted and then offered, "Six coins?" As Laurette just looked at her, Calley added "A gold crown, face up, four silver half crowns, and a blank full copper with the wheat sheaf up." Looking at Laurette, eyes-wide she waited for her confirmation.
Smiling, Laurette pushed the bag towards her. "Reach into the pouch and lay the coins on the tables as they are in the pouch," Laurette instructed.
Calley did so with her eyes getting wider and wider as each coin was pulled out. When she got to the full copper, the last coin out, she just sat there turning the coin over and over in her hand, staring at it stunned.
Laurette slowly lent forward and gently retrieved the coin from her hand. Picking up the other coins she returned them to the pouch. "I take it you didn't know about your Skill?" She asked as Calley shook her head. "Nobody ever talked to you about it? Nothing unusual ever happened?" Again a shake of her head was Calley's only response. "What about Orders? You said your family was taking you to register as a Potential, when did you decide you wanted to go into Orders?" Laurette pressured Calley.
"We didn't exactly," reluctantly Calley admitted. "A few years ago everyone just started talking about when Julie and I would register, and what Order we wanted to join." Calley frowned a bit. "I think it was around the time people started including us in the conversations for the planning of things, instead of encouraging us to leave. Mum used to come in and give both of us a plate of food and have us sit at the corner of the table with her as she also ate. Then the adults would sit down too and start discussing things, every so often they'd get Julie or me to confirm something."
Laurette looked impressed. "Julie said that your Mum nearly always knew when the two of you were just about to get completely out of hand and turned up just in time to stop the chaos, is that true?" she asked Calley.
Calley nodded with a wry look, "I think the times that truly annoyed Julie was when we were at her Steading and Mum casually walked in just as Julie had finished setting up something and was about to unleash it. I think she thought it was unfair that Mum interfered with her fun at her own Steading too."
"Was your mother from the region?" Laurette asked, absently playing with the bag of coins.
Calley shook her head. "No Mum was from the city, she was a Guild lady. Her father came out to our farm once with Traveler Mathews when she was a little girl, about eight or so. My Dad was a couple of years older, he was sitting under the same tree you saw me under. As the carts arrived Mum jumped down and ran up the hill, when she saw my Dad she said 'Mine' jumped in his lap put her head on his shoulder cuddled up to him and went to sleep. Dad had no idea what to do and the adults who had followed her up the hill laughed themselves silly.
"Every year after that, on their way to the Steading for harvest, one of the Travellers would bring Mum, then Dad and her would accompany the Travellers back to Palacegate with the harvest goods. As they got older it was just assumed they would marry, till the time Mum was twenty-one and the whole of her family accompanied her out to the Steading for the harvest and the wedding."
"Would you be upset to know that your Mum probably had the same Skill as you?" Laurette asked softly.
Calley looked up surprised, "Really?"
Laurette nodded. "Not as strong as yours, or at least she didn't believe so, but definitely at least some of the same Skill. She did a very fine job of gently encouraging both you and Julie in exercising your Skills, both of you use them all the time, you just don't consciously know you are doing it."
Laurette looked to Julie who was talking animatedly to Sechell. Turning back to Calley she absently tied the pouch to her belt and studied the girl properly for the first time since her changeover. Things had been rushed all day and she hadn't yet had the leisure to just sit and study Calley as she had Julie on many occasions over the last few months.
Calley was a tall girl, already topping Laurette by half a head. She had unkept long blond hair that even in a pony tail was brushing the middle of her back. Her complexion was neither pale nor tanned, it was an in-between colour best described as "healthy". Her pale blue eyes sparkled with intelligence, but she had a calm and considered personality. Even now she was as busy silently studying Laurette as Laurette was studying her.
Laurette's study was interrupted when the door opened and Gadrie entered, accompanied by another woman. Both of them walked straight up to Laurette, though the new woman looked intently at Calley the whole time she approached.
"Laurette," Gadrie started. "Jelsen has said that you'll get your chance to present your side to all the leaders together tonight, but that she'd like Artel here to examine Calley and make an initial report. She also wants Sechell to have all the time she needs to satisfy herself, so that she too can give a preliminary report."
Laurette stood and extended her hand to Artel, but she seemed not to notice, being too busy studying Calley. "Good afternoon Artel. I'll be happy to help in any way I can," Laurette spoke loudly and politely, with a grin.
At the calling of her name, Artel finally looked towards Laurette. "I can see why you were dispatched to retrieve her, she really is worth even the cost of an Antora Idol," Artel replied absently grasping Laurette's hand and pulling her into a hug. "I look forward to teaching her. Where is the boy I'm here to examine?" Artel asked looking around after letting Laurette go.
Laurette blinked, then pointed to the far side of room. "That's Julie, she is the one I was sent to recruit." Turning Laurette indicated Calley, "This here is the former 'Warrick', now 'Calley'. I believe she is the one you need to examine."
Artel looked down the room, then stopped and stared at Julie, before she started looking back and forth between her and Calley. "Wow, two of them! Are they sisters?" She turned back to Calley. "Are you? Sisters I mean?" she demanded from the confused girl.
Looking to Laurette for guidance Calley finally stuttered. "Um, yes, sort of. Um."
"Sort of?" Artel pushed.
Calley just stood there pleading to Laurette with her eyes, until Laurette tried again. "Artel, she was Warrick just a few days ago. She's the one Jelsen wants you to examine."
Artel looked to Laurette confused. "Jelsen wanted me to examine a boy called Warrick."
"Former boy called Warrick, she goes by Calley now," Laurette emphasised.
"Former boy?" Artel just looked back at Calley confused. "But she has Aorga. She's a chosen, not a boy!"
"She was a boy, it was a changeover. That's why you need to examine her," Laurette tried again. Artel continued to look at Calley in confusion. Finally Laurette turned to Gadrie. "Why did Jelsen want Artel to examine Calley?" she asked.
"Because she's the only person here other than yourself who has studied the changeover spell," Gadrie said with a shrug.
Artel still looking to Calley absently responded, "Yes. I looked over the banned spells list a while back to see if their statuses needed changing or not. Nasty piece of work, all those compulsions." Turning to Laurette, Artel pointed at Calley. "Why do you keep saying she was a boy? She's almost the perfect recruit."
"Artel how long ago did you study the changeover spell?" Laurette finally demanded exasperated.
"I didn't study it," Artel said in surprise. "I merely looked over its results and confirmed it wasn't anything we'd want to use again."
Laurette sighed. Picking up the book from the table, she flicked through it and handed it to Artel, pointing to a page. "Refresh your memory."
Artel looked down almost automatically. Taking the book with an absent-minded "thank you" she started intensely studying it. After a few seconds she physically staggered and looked hurriedly up at Laurette. "What were you doing with this book?" she demanded.
"It has glamours on it to encourage not reading and forgetting the spells. I wanted to see if Calley was affected by them." Laurette shrugged.
Calley looked to Laurette in surprise. "You said I couldn't read the words 'cause they were in a different language, not because there were spells to stop me!"
"Were there any letters you couldn't read?" Laurette pressed Calley.
"Do you remember all the letters you tried to read?"
"Then it was the language stopping you, not the glamours," Laurette stated firmly.
"She read all of it?" Artel asked excitedly. "Did you test the other girl?"
"Yes, same results," Laurette smiled. "No effect from the glamours, all the letters could be read. They just need to learn the Old Tongue and how to convert written symbols to casting spells."
Artel hugged the book towards herself and smiled. "Two of them," she repeated almost reverently.
Laurette looked helplessly at Gadrie, who looked just as helplessly back. Luckily they were interrupted by noises at the far end of the room as Julie moved her chair and stood up, followed by Sechell who guided her down the room to where everyone else was standing.
Looking towards Artel who was again busily reading the volume Laurette had given her, Sechell turned to Gadrie and asked, "Why is Artel here? She's a bookworm."
Gadrie shrugged. "Jelsen asked her to look at Calley, apparently she's the only one besides Laurette to study the changeover spell."
"Validate not study," Artel again interrupted without looking up. "I was only interested in validating the status of the spell regarding its position on the banned list," Artel explained absently without looking up from her reading.
Laurette, Sechell and Gadrie exchanged glances. Finally Laurette asked Sechell, "Would you too like to examine the changeover spell when Artel finishes?"
Sechell looked towards the book, "What is that?"
Artel answered for Laurette, looking up form the book finally. "It's one of our banned spell registers." Absently she looked at the back cover and then read the last page. "Looks like the previous copy from the official records. There is a newer one there now." Apparently finished her comments, she turned back to the page Laurette had opened the book to for her and continued reading.
Sechell turned to Laurette in shock. "Where did you get that from?" she demanded.
"Jelsen gave it too me, along with the Antora Idol, before I left to recruit Julie. It's actually quite interesting. Did you know the first spell in the register is a banned version of the servant calling spell?"
"What? Why?" Sechell demanded.
"Oh that," Artel interrupted again. "Yes, we need to be careful of that. You get the order wrong of that one sentence and you thrall the servant you call." Absently Artel flicked to the front of the book, pausing to study the spell written there. "Oh that's right, that's why I ordered a new copy. That line can be placed in a whole lot of places before the closure and cause the issue, this copy only listed the one. The new copy lists all the problem places." Once again she flicked back to the end of the book and continued reading.
"Thrall? We keep lists of thrall spells?" Sechell demanded.
"Don't worry, it's banned," Artel said absently.
"Banning them isn't going to stop evil learning them and using them!" Sechell exclaimed.
"Why are we worried about evil people?" Artel asked honestly confused, looking up and studying Sechell. "They'd use the compulsion spells, and we train everybody to use them. This thrall spell is such a problem because of all those careless Trainees that can't be bothered to learn proper spell structure, and think they can 'fix' spells and then end up thralling all our servants."
"What?" Sechell gave a strangled squawk.
Artel nodded. "Last one, poor girl, it was a week before one of her friends built up enough courage to disturb me in the Library and beg me to help her. I had to go through the whole servants hall and check everyone. Six of them had to be sent to the healers and I never did get to investigate who had done it."
"When was this?" Sechell demanded incredulously.
Artel closed the book and looked up at the ceiling in thought. "Now, I remember them talking about the wheat harvest, and there was also that King's messenger. So that would make it four?" Artel started absently counting on her fingers. "Yes four …"
"Four decades ago?" Sechell prompted.
"What? Decades?" Artel blinked at Sechell in confusion. "What do you mean decades? I'm always cleaning this up. This was just before the harvest started four months ago." Sechell, Laurette and Gadrie stared at her in horror. Artel looked down at the book in her hand and then held it out to Sechell. "You wished to examine the changeover spell too?" she offered politely.
Numbly Sechell took the book and stared at it until Laurette took it from her, flicked to the appropriate page and handed it back. Almost like it was a snake, Sechell received the book and timidly started to read.
While Sechell read, Artel moved to Calley and gestured for her to stand. "Might as well get this over with. Come along to the windows and into the better light, let's get you properly tested," she suggested to Calley.
"Ah, I believe Jelsen wanted you to examine her for information about Laurette casting the changeover spell, not test her Mage abilities," Gadrie diffidently suggested.
"Oh, Laurette didn't cast the banned changeling spell," Artel airily dismissed the idea. "Look." Artel pointed at Calley and croaked a single syllable causing Calley to light up from the inside with the purest of white light. "See, not a spell on her," she declared. "Not even a good luck charm. There is no darkness here. No compulsions. No soul screaming its pain." Suddenly Artel stopped and moved closer to Calley, examining her closely, but was interrupted by a voice from the door nobody had heard open.
"So she is not the recipient of a changeover?" the voice demanded.
"Certainly not the banned spell in our register," Artel said absently as she continued to study Calley, a look of wonder on her face.
"Have you finished your examination yet?" the woman at the door demanded.
Artel blinked, finally turning from Calley to glance over to the woman by the door. "Of course not, I have barely started," she snapped at her, obvious distaste on her face as she glared at her.
"But you are sure no changeover has occurred?" the woman badgered Artel, stepping into the room and making her way towards Artel and Calley.
"I'm sure the spell from the banned register hasn't been performed," Artel snapped, but before she could continue the woman turned to Sechell.
"And how about you, what has your examinations revealed?" she demanded.
"I haven't examined her yet," Sechell protested.
The woman raised an eyebrow. "By all means, let's do that now." Without warning, she grabbed Calley by the arm and dragged her to the end of the room, all but pushing Sechell before her.
Laurette stared, and then looked towards Gadrie and Artel with a raised eyebrow. "Letra," Gadrie explained. "She enjoys disciplining the Trainees on the Mind Path."
"Too much," Artel whispered under her breath, glaring at the woman with poorly disguised hate.
Laurette looked towards Letra, watching as she stood over Sechell who was helping Calley remove her tunic. "What happened? How did she get the position?" Laurette asked quietly.
Gadrie looked over too before explaining. "She took over when Trieliee went to the Healer Halls." Laurette gasped. "Oh, not like that," Gadrie explained horridly. "The Healers are just feuding with the Training Masters. Again." Gadrie sighed rolling her eyes.
"Feuding?" Laurette looked to Gadrie puzzled.
"The normal thing," Artel offered. "Not enough Spirit taught in the Mind Path, not enough Magery on the Spirit Path. They are right of course, but the Mind Paths leaders are dominated by those who trained with Forsten, and Spirit is almost a dirty word with them."
Just then they were interrupted by a loud exasperated outburst from the other side of the room, turning back they where in time to see Letra exclaim loudly. "Oh how hard is it to check something like that!? Even a child can tell the difference." She grabbed the front of Calley's pants, pulling them open and forced her other hand into them, causing Calley to try and wriggle away, then frantically try to push her hands away. Finally Calley went dead white and screeched, dropping to the floor, hysterically thrashing and wrenching herself free, backing into the corner where she slid along the wall still screeching, kicking and thrashing hysterically.
Sechell stared in disbelief as her arm was grabbed and she was dragged from the room by Letra muttering, "Now let's get this meeting over with."
Julie screeched "Calley!" and dived towards her sister, while Laurette growled inarticulately in pure rage and took off running for the same door Letra had just left by.
Letra was striding along with a scowl on her face when Laurette got in front of her and stopped suddenly, forcing Letra to stop and scowl up at her. "You need to work on your bedside manner, or your emPathy or something. You took a happy kid and reduced her to a catatonic wreck crying on her sisters shoulder. What by all that's holy were you doing with your finger?"
"I was checking her maiden's head if you must know. I hate liars." Letra spat.
"Liars?" Laurette demanded incredulously. "What was she lying about? She barely said anything the whole time you examined her!"
Fiercely pointing back down the corridors Letra all but yelled in Laurette's face. "That is a girl back there. Breasts, vagina, maiden's head. Girl. She even produces Aorga, from the feel of it more than three times what I do. I don't know what game you three are playing, or what you did with Warrick, but. That's. Not. Him." Taking a deep breath she visibly calmed herself. "That is a normal in every way, very highly Skilled, newly Oathed to Cylsteth recruit!" she screeched into Laurette's face, then pushed past Laurette and continued stalking down the corridor dragging Sechell.
Gadrie grabbed Laurette's arm just as she leaned back in preparation to take Letra's head off, shaking her head. "Laurette don't. Leave this to Sechell. Once she gets over her shock, she'll take Letra to task officially, much better than anything you can do."
Laurette stood shock still, fists clenched, jaw clenched and eyes closed, almost vibrating in fury. Finally she took a deep breath, opened her eyes and glared at Letra's retreating back, once again clenching her jaw.
Gadrie swallowed then gently shook Laurette, as Laurette turned towards her, Gadrie nodded back to the room they had left. "Calley…" was all she got out before Laurette blanched. Shaking Gadrie off almost negligently, she sprinted to return to the room she had just left.
Gadrie watched Laurette sprinting for a moment, before turning towards where Letra was still dragging Sechell along. Sechell and Gadrie exchanged looks, they had both talked to Headman Harsen, and they knew there was nobody else on that hill. The only people there had been Laurette, 'Jessie' and 'Warrick'. Whatever else happened, all three of them agreed 'Warrick' was now Calley. Gadrie quickly looked towards the door Laurette had disappeared into before sighing, turned back to Sechell and nodded. Gadrie took off jogging to try and catch up with Letra so that she could get to Jelsen and the others at the same time, and prevent Letra spoiling the meeting with her false report.
Gadrie arrived at the room Jelsen was using soon enough after that she could catch the door before it closed behind Letra and walk right in behind her and Sechell.
Jelsen looked up as they walked in and asked, "Where's Laurette?"
Before anyone else could say anything Gadrie forcefully replied, "Comforting Calley. Apparently ex-boys react hysterically when they are forcefully probed in a place that shouldn't exist by someone looking for a maiden-head!" Gadrie all but screeched into Letra's face.
"She did the what?!" Jelsen yelped.
"Just because someone was too squeamish to check …" Letra started calmly replying before Sechell fiercely shook her arm free and went red in the face shouting, "Squeamish!" Sechell starting to reach for Letra, forcing Gadrie to quickly got between them, stepping Sechell slowly back with a hand on her chest, gently shaking her head and glaring at Letra so she kept her distance.
"What the hell happened!" Jelsen demanded.
"That thing," Sechell yelled back. "Stuck her finger in the most delicate place of one of our new recruits!"
"Oh come on," Letra dismissed the accusation. "If she'd been a boy, like you were all accusing her of being, I would not have been able to do that!"
"It was a changeover!" Gadrie shrieked. "As you fully well know, changeover recipients can get pregnant and give birth! Sticking your hand down her intimates wasn't going to tell you anything!"
"Even Artel said there was no changeover!" Letra roared back.
"No," Sechell replied fiercely. "Artel repeatedly stated the banned changeover spell hadn't been used, which is exactly what Laurette keeps saying. All three of them insist that Calley was Warrick before Laurette changed him to stop him dying!"
Jelsen just sighed. "So is it or isn't it a case of changeover?" she pleaded.
"Yes," Artel stated calmly walking into the room absently examining a book. "It seems to be a changeover."
"What!" Letra screamed. "You said it wasn't!"
"I said it wasn't the banned spell in the registry, and it wasn't, there are no compulsions. You dragged Calley away before I could finish examining her."
"How is the girl?" Jelsen asked.
"Hysterical. I think she'd been avoiding the whole 'girl' thing. Having something go up there like that hasn't done her mental stability any favours. Laurette and her sister were having a hard time even getting close to her when I left, it didn't look like they needed an audience for it."
"But you got close enough to finish examining her?" Jelsen demanded.
"Oh no, but I already had enough to see that she's probably a changeling," Artel said absently.
"Probably? How?" Jelsen demanded.
"Her Aorga is different, or more precisely, it isn't shaded, it's completely pure and clean," Artel explained, a thoughtful expression on her face as she tried to find the right words.
"Shaded?" Jelsen asked in confusion.
"Yes, the act of resisting demons as your Aorga breaks out shades your Aorga production, it's ever so slightly biased stronger to resist demon aura. Calley's is not, which means her breakout happened without demons, but at the same time she's Oathed to Clysteth, an act that requires demons. Somehow she Oathed to us before she had any Aorga. The evidence therefore supports changeover," Artel finished firmly.
Jelsen thought for a bit. "So you see something that changeover explains, but not actual evidence of a changeover spell?" She finally asked Artel.
"Well, there wouldn't be," Artel stated. "It's like looking for the evidence of any other recruit's injury after the Aorga triggering healing, it just ceases to be there because the body heals totally. After changeover they are female, nothing male remains to be found other than memories."
"But we still don't have any proof!" Letra demanded.
"What do you want? A signed confession? I'll ask Laurette to come in here and she'll sign it. Why would she lie?" Artel asked in exasperation. "The sane thing is to do it, and then turn up all happy and smiling and say 'Hi everyone, here's my recruit and here is her sister, aren't I awesome!' Why on earth would she lie and say she did a banned spell if she hadn't? Laurette says it happened. Julie says it happened. Calley says it happened. Calley's Aorga is different in the way we'd expect it to be if it happened. We've found no proof, or even suspicious, that it didn't happen. Let's just go with 'it happened' and move on shall we?" Artel snapped.
"Thank you Artel. I believe you've correctly stated the situation," Jelsen said sighing. "Much as we'd love to disbelieve it, it seems we really do have to deal with a case of a banned spell being done by a member of our Order."
Artel face tightened. "No. You have a case of changeover to deal with," she snapped. "I can categorically confirm you do not have a case of a banned spell being performed. None of the spells in the banned list can cause the results Laurette got with Calley. You might decide her spell deserves to be on the banned spells list, but it isn't there currently, so it wasn't a banned spell when she did it." Artel glared at Letra, daring her to contradict her again.
"What are you saying?" Jelsen demanded.
"Exactly what Laurette keeps saying," Artel said with a sigh. "You will need to hold a full tribunal investigation and decide if the spell she has done needs to be banned or not, but until the tribunal decides to banned the spell she did, Laurette hasn't performed a banned spell."
Laurette came back in, immediately hurrying to where Julie was still cradling Calley protectively on a lounge. "I'm sorry, I'm not going to be with you tonight," Laurette apologised quietly to them as she satdown. "There needs to be an enquiry into Calley's changeover and to decide if I performed a banned spell or not. While my position in the Order is still unclear, it has been decided that I will not perform any official functions for the Order, and in fact they have asked me to stay within limited quarters for the time being. I'll be going straight there and I'm to have no further interactions with any Trainees until such time as the Order decides."
Calley looked up at Laurette distraught. "They are locking you up? For saving me? But I agreed to it! You didn't force me or anything!" she exclaimed.
"I know and I expect that will be the result of the enquiry, " Laurette said sitting and putting an arm around the distressed girl. "But it won't be quick, it can't be quick. There are things that must be decided to the satisfaction of all, and only through a long and thorough enquiry will the Order members as a whole accept the decisions made. It needs to be seen that it was done thoroughly and properly." Laurette sighed. "It needs to decided did I use a banned spell? Then the Order needs to decide if they should use changeover as a recruiting tool? And finally when and how should changeovers be done in the future needs to be discussed and agreed on. All three questions are enquiries in their own right, so it is going to take a while before they can finish."
"I'm sorry Laurette," Calley wept. "I didn't want to die and honestly being with Julie here is a dream I couldn't have allowed myself to have, but I would not have regretted you leaving me to wait for my family."
Laurette pulled Calley to her and kissed her on the forehead. "I chose to save you Calley, no matter what I am saying to others. I knew doing it the risks I was taking, and I made my own choice. The Order needs you Calley, and if it drops the full weight of its sanctions on me for doing so, I would still choose to save you!"
Firmly Laurette hugged the trembling girl to her, "I chose that then and I chose you now. You are worth whatever they do to me!"
"What if they throw me out?" Calley quietly asked, looking down and not even trying to meet Laurette's eyes.
Laurette could feel that Calley was really scared at this prospect, feel her trembling. Calley was a boy, and this was an Order open only to women. She was shaking with fear that after everything, she would be thrown from the Order and have to make her way in the world alone, without family or friends, and as a girl. Most especially now was she afraid of being alone and being a girl.
Laurette let go her hug, and instead held Calley by her shoulders, reaching out a hand to gently tip Calley's head up until she looked Calley in the eye. "The worst they would do is choose not to train you Calley," Laurette stated. "If you hold on and wait for me, on my Oath I will find you and train you myself. Do you understand Calley?" Calley just looked at Laurette, tears in her eyes, not knowing what to believe. "On my Oath Calley," Laurette repeated firmly. "I will find you and train you, you just need to hold on," Laurette intoned with all the finality of the unbreakable Oath it was.
Laurette sat staring into Calley's eyes until finally, with the tears steaming down her face, Calley nodded her acceptance. Laurette smiled at the girl and pulled her in for a fierce hug, holding her tight until she stopped shaking. "They won't throw you out Calley," Laurette murmured comfortingly into her ear as she hugged her close. "You are a secret the Order wants kept to itself, no matter what they decide to do with me. And don't have maudlin thoughts about the Order 'getting rid of the evidence', we don't work that way." She looked into Calley's eyes and saw the concern there. "Calley, do you really think I would stay in an Order, Oathed or not, that did that?" she asked.
Calley looked Laurette in the eyes and then hugged her tight. "Thank you," she sniffed. "You have your own worries and you are doing so much for me." Laurette pulled her tighter, silently hugging her until the tears stopped.
When Calley calmed down some, Laurette continued her explanation. "Gadrie will finish my Trialmaster tasks with you both, but until they take me away I can at least begin your basic orientation in the Order." She gestured the two of them to get comfortable and was humbled when they just both folded their feet under their legs and cuddled up to her on either side.
"The Order trains three sets of skills into its members," Laurette started her lecture, smiling at the two girls as they pressed up close to her. "First is the Mystic arts, Magery. Demons all output an aura. Most humans it freezes, makes them so afraid they cannot run, they cannot fight. All members of the order have enough Aorga that they can resist this aura. We will train you in Magery so that you can do this automatically, all the time, and also move and fight against even the most powerful demon's aura.
"Secondly, we will train you to fight with weapons, for reasons that are obvious. You will learn to fight on foot alone, or as part of a three person formation we call a "clover". You will also be taught to ride and fight on horseback. You will be taught to work together and fight as small teams, we call them cadres.
"Thirdly, we are a Religious Order. Unlike most in the Sister Orders, Cylsteth actually takes being a Religious Order seriously. We see a lot of dead from demon incursions, and we are usually the only ones who are there to deal with the consequences. You will learn the Rites at least to acolyte level, higher if you so wish, with particular dedication to the Rites of the Dead.
"Tonight there will be a test of all this season's Recruits. Everybody has natural inclinations, ways they tackle issues, favourite ways of doing things, skills that are above average in particular areas. There is a maze at the centre of our training complex with various challenges. Each of those challenges have multiple solutions, based on the Path you take though the maze it is possible to work out your natural strength, personal inclinations, favoured strategies.
"Are you naturally a fighter? Do you tend to solve problems with weapons? We call members on this Path 'Points', because they will be first when fighting is needed. Recruits who follow this Path are grouped together and given extra training in weapons and fighting. Training will be overseen by mentors from the Point Path.
"Are you naturally Mystical? Do you try and solve problems with your intelligence or are you skilled in Magery? Then you are on the Path we call 'Mind' and you are grouped with liked minded individuals to get extra lessons in the mystic arts, logic, leadership and the like. Your training will also be overseen by mentors who are of the Mind Path.
"Our last Path is called 'Soul' or 'Spirit' and it's a mixed bag. Those who are Religious go here, and they will be trained in Full Orders if they so wish. But also in Spirit are those advanced in uses of Aorga channeled through Devotion rather than Magery. Most of our Order's healers are on the 'Soul' Path and use Devotional healing not Mage healing, though our better Mages can do at least a little Mage healing. There are also a few, such as Sechell, who can do both. Also in 'soul' you will find those with gifts such as the two of you possess, though Julie your Mage talent is such that I expect you will be in Mind rather than Soul. Soul also tends to get our Orders, well for want of a better word, 'staff' members. Those that mostly spend their time in the Order's houses making sure that everything runs. Don't get me wrong, every one of them can fight, it's just that when demons don't need to be killed they can find other useful things to be doing. Point usually get stuck patrolling the walls, or guarding the doors or other stuff like that. Mind, of course, tend to be thinking and planning and the like.
"Gadrie will take you to the Maze entrance tonight and all the Recruits will be there. She will choose the door you enter by. Do not worry, it is not a random selection, but something all Trialmasters can sense. They will know which door to use. When and how to allow particular recruits to enter the Maze, and the timings of their entry.
"Multiple Recruits will be in the Maze at once, and the rules are simple. Solve each challenge presented to you. If two are at the same challenge, the only object is to get past the challenge. Help each other or not as seems right to you. Do not think about which Path you should be on, and therefore how you should be solving the challenge, only think of the challenge in front of you, and how you would solve it.
"Eventually you will exit the Maze in front of the door for a Path, you will be meet by the Training Master for that Path and welcomed into it. They will then provide your needs and set your schedule for training."
As it looked like Laurette was finished, Calley asked her question, "You think Julie is Mind?" Laurette nodded. "What about me?" Calley begged quietly.
"I'm not sure," Laurette said with a sigh. "You have a good Mage talent, not quite as strong as Julie's, but definitely good enough for Mind. But I also sense quite a lot of Soul in you, and then your instincts in the temple were spot on, so you appear to have talents for fighting too." Laurette frowned before turning and raising Calley's chin to look her in the eye. "Calley, promise me you'll not force yourself in the Maze? Just do each challenge as it feels right to you," Laurette pleaded with her.
"Has the Maze ever been wrong?" Calley asked timidly.
Laurette smiled. "The Maze isn't some sort of magical sorting box," she explained. "It's a set of challenges designed to show the natural inclinations and skills of the Recruits. You will be further tested in your Path and training adjusted accordingly. Everyone will be getting training in all three Paths and you will have at least a year were the majority of your lessons will be from each of the Paths. Everybody is different, but all in the Order have at least basic skills in all the Paths, if you didn't you would be Oathed to another of our Sister Orders instead, Orders who concentrate almost exclusively on a single Path each, not all Paths as we do."
"What about the other boys you have converted? What Paths are they on," Calley asked quietly.
Laurette sighed and hugged Calley. "There are no others," she finally admitted. "The Order has not created changelings for a hundred years. All previous ones died in battle long ago," she informed Calley symPathetically.
"But what Path did they take?" Calley pressed.
"No Path Calley," Laurette explained softly. "When the Order did it before, we did it not to recruits, but grown men, men condemned to die. We wrapped them up in compulsions to fight for us, and forced their bodies into forms suitable for our fight. It was a bad thing we did Calley, and when we stopped, we banned anyone from ever using those spells again. It is for that reason I am in trouble for doing a changeover with you Calley."
"So they believe I am forced to the Order?" Calley gasped.
"No," Laurette assured her. "They can see that you are Oathed. You will find that you too can feel the Oath in another now too, if you concentrate. No one will mistake you for one forced."
"Will they know I am a changeling?" Calley pleaded.
Laurette sighed. "I do not know. I was sent from the room while they discussed the two of you. Gadrie has charge of you now, until you enter the Maze. All I know is that the decision was made to have you both enter the Maze with the rest of the recruits."
Just then the door opened and Gadrie entered with Letra. "You are to come with me," Letra ordered Laurette with no preamble.
Gadrie however noticed the close protective posture of Laurette from the two new recruits, and the sudden tightened grips the recruits instinctively did, and interrupted. "Laurette, you are to be given rooms upstairs where you will stay for the duration, removed from the Trainees. I will escort Calley and Julie across to the Maze myself, it is time for the recruits to be tested."
"Come," Letra demanded, starting to advanced on Laurette and her two Recruits.
In panic, Calley half scrambled over the back of the couch before Gadrie stopped Letra's advance, allowing Laurette and Julie calm Calley again. Standing up, Laurette pulled Calley and Julie to their feet in turn, pausing to hug each of them tight to her. "You are our once in a generation Julie," Laurette encouraged the girl. "Remember that," she insisted before turning to Calley. "We need you as much as we need Julie," Laurette pleaded with her. "I recruited you because I believe in you Calley. You are worth anything they do to me," Laurette insisted. "Believe in yourself, please?" she pleaded, waiting for Calley's nod before she hugged the girl.
Releasing Calley, Laurette paused to one last time reach out and touch Julie's shoulder, sharing a sorrowful look with the girl, before with a sigh she walked to the door and waited for Letra to leave, following her out.
"What will they do to her?" Calley pleaded to Gadrie.
"I honestly don't know," Gadrie apologised, reaching out to comfort the girl. "Nobody does. They are scrambling around desperately trying to think what to do."
"What happens now?" Julie asked, staring forlornly at the door.
"You gather the packs and I walk you across to the Old Keep and the Maze inside, and we see which Path you will be on. Come," Gadrie gestured them to the door.
Walking to the door, Calley and Julie paused briefly to shoulder their packs, taking the time to compose themselves. Looking at Laurette's packs still by the door, Calley and Julie glanced at each other, then shrugged and picked those up too, turning towards Gadrie and following her from the room.