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[personal profile] sundiver
And now for the cat fight. (No seriously, that's totally what I labeled the section as when I realized the argument was getting away from me.)
Updated 12/10/11


Previous

Part 3: The Forgotten Temple

Three armored people were waiting in the priest’s office for them.  The two men were dark-haired and young, only recently knighted.  Their scale armor was covered in dust, but looked in very good condition otherwise.  Each had a flanged mace hanging off his left hip and a large heater shield across his back.  The other person was a tall woman with cropped platinum blonde hair and striking cheek bones.  She wore plate mail similar to Tae’s, with a long navy blue cloak clasped at her neck.  It was embroidered with a large gold sunburst in the center.  Petra hadn't seen a female in the colors of Jadus in all her wanderings across the continent and wondered at the strength of will it had taken the woman to fight her way through the male-dominated ranks.

She turned from where she had been speaking quietly to the two men as they entered.

“Sorceress Odette,” she greeted, nodding politely at the three of them.  “I apologize for pulling you away from things, but I fear our mission cannot wait.”

Petra stayed close to the door as Odette and Tae joined the three sun-knights beside the priest’s desk.  Next to Odette’s clean gray walking dress and Tae in her borrowed gown- her clothing had been whisked away with a great deal of tutting by Mathild, Yeoman Yates’ pleasant wife- the travel dust was even further evident on the three.  Though the drought had left the land dry and dust was to be expected, much of the road between Reeds and Heron’s Rest was stone, not dirt.  It took a great deal of effort to throw up enough dust to be coated in it.

“You have the advantage of us,” Odette said coolly.  “You know our names, but the opposite cannot be said.”

“I am Yseult, a crusader out of Khorevail,” the blonde introduced herself.  “With me are Gethin and Barrett, knights from the temple of Jadus in Reeds.  I have been following your trail since the mess you left in Redbrook.  Helios Cantrell told me he had sent you to Khoresbar, which I found deserted.  I went to Reeds, thinking there might be people there who had seen you.  Helios Edric told me of your actions, and Gethin and Barrett agreed to accompany me into Telubra.  Gethin is not completely unskilled in the manners of tracking, and so I have finally caught up to you here.  Making yet another mess, it would seem.”

Following someone’s tracks on a disused road wasn’t really something to brag about, Petra thought.  What burr had she sat on to speak so rudely to people she had never even met?

“The mess was already made,” Tae said, not sounding a bit defensive about the matter.  “Would you prefer we had left them to starve in the depths of winter because the land refused to aid them?”

One of the blonde’s eyebrows twitched minutely.  “It was not your responsibility to dabble in things left to-”

“It’s the king’s responsibility, but no one with any sense of honor has ever held the throne in Telubra,” Petra snapped.  Dabble, indeed.  She might not have been particularly impressed with the woodswomen’s choice of actions- though the results were unbelievable- but there was no cause for the sun-knight to belittle their efforts.  “Why shouldn’t those with the ability take it upon themselves to help others?  They’re completely undeserving of the land’s vengeance, not when the king can afford to buy outland crops to keep his plate full while the vast majority of his people slowly starve to death.”

“And who are you to judge, little foreigner?” Petra thought the one who spoke to be Barrett.  Neither man looked truly interested in joining the discussion, but that must have struck a nerve somewhere.  She wondered why a Sund would care about actions in Telubra.

“Enough, Petra,” Odette said as she opened her mouth to answer.  “This is not their country either, so they have no reason to judge our actions here.  Sundabar may be displeased by the fact that Telubra will soon no longer need to invest so heavily in Sund crops, but it is a good and right thing we have done here.”

Petra eyes glittered with malicious amusement as Barrett drew himself up further and rounded on the sorceress.

“And what of the brothers of Folken Abbey, dear lady?” Yseult asked in a cold voice, cutting off whatever the man had planned to say.  “Was that a good and right act as well, slaughtering those poor men like animals?”

Petra could almost hear Odette’s jaw snap shut in confusion.  Their actions at Folken Abbey were perfectly clear.  The monks there had been slowly draining the nearby town of Redbrook of poor folk and orphans for blood sacrifice.  Any decent person with the ability to put a stop to it would have done what they did- put all fourteen men to the knife.  Whatever would have brought the ire of the sun-knights of Jadus, who were well known for doing precisely the same thing the women had done?

Tae found her voice first.  “You mean the men who were sacrificing children to raise enough power to return their fallen prophet to life?  I cannot say the world is not a better place without them.  The poor man we discovered locked in a closet next in line for their bloody altar would agree with us,” she said calmly.  Both men looked startled at the words, and Petra wondered what the blonde had told them about it.  For that matter, she wondered what the blonde had been told.  “Was there a good reason you tracked as down, Crusader Yseult, or did you just come here to berate us until we agreed we were terrible people who did not deserve to live and would gladly do whatever you asked as our punishment?”

The blonde’s twitchy eyebrow had turned into a throbbing vein.  She closed her eyes and inhaled quickly, then slowly exhaled, visibly calming herself.

“Forgive me my assumption,” Yseult said.  Petra almost slipped off of the wall she was leaning against.  A sun-knight of Yseult’s rank apologized for nothing.  The two men looked just as surprised as she felt and could probably be knocked over with a feather.  “I was not the one who looked into the matters at Redbrook, and accepted the investigator’s report that intruders had sacrificed the brothers in a dark ritual.  I will have to send word back to Khorevail that the Folken Abbey records will have to be reexamined.”

“Hold on,” Petra said, completely lost, “you’re just going to take our word on that matter?  What sort of nonsense is that?”

“As a Crusader, I hold one of the highest ranks a sun-knight of Jadus may obtain. My bond with my patron is such that I can sense falsehood.  I can tell that Peregrine Tae-Lana speaks only the truth.  But I cannot use this gift upon a written report.  An investigator does not lie on such matters.  Their word has always been their bond.”

“But obviously this one did lie,” Tae said.

“This is why I must send word back to Khorevail that something is wrong with one of the investigators.”

“Do you know who originally sent the report?” Petra asked, ice running down her back.  The man they had released had said he was a researcher.  What if he was an investigator for the Jaden priesthood, what if he had been working on some sort of elaborate trap to set them up?

“Lorist Teilomere sent notice there was a problem at the Abbey, but Lorist Duxxil was the one to actually go.  Teilomere was already at his next location and had no time to write a report on the matter and Duxxil has done this sort of thing for him before.  The records keepers will have to go over everything Duxxil has done.”

“Would you like an explanation of our actions in Khoresbar as well, or is this inquisition over?” Tae asked.

“I could tell you about all the letters between Folken's head abbot and Lightbringer Roland in Khoresbar if you want,” Petra added coolly. “It was the main reason why I didn't put up much of a fight when the temple in Khorevail asked us to deliver messages there.  I was hoping to go through his desk, but unfortunately, his office was too filled with trolls for me to look through.  And we were too busy with other matters.”

“Letters?” The twitch was back in Yseult's eyebrow. Either their investigator hadn't found them or he had hidden them. Considering the fact he was willing to throw the monks' monstrous actions onto the women who had put a stop to it, Petra thought the latter to be more likely. She wondered how deeply the rot had set into the Jaden hierarchy. The sun-knights appeared to be out of the loop, so perhaps it was merely the priests playing terrible deep games with each other.

“I like catching up on gossip. While Tae and Odette dealt with the captive we released, I helped myself to the abbot's desk. His correspondence was boring up until about a year ago. Then it slowly got weird. Like something inside of him was twisting up his sense of right and wrong. The brothers apparently had the same thing happening to them, since they went along with his plans. The letters from Lightbringer Roland were originally worried and demanding he report back to Khorevail for an evaluation. Then they twisted the same way- advice on how better to choose their sacrifices, questions about results-” She trailed off as the others stared at her in a combination of fascination and horror.

“And you didn't bring this to the attention of Khorevail when you were there?” Gethin cried.

“You toned that story down a great deal when you mentioned it to us,” Odette said. She looked disappointed. Petra hated it when that happened.  She still wasn't about to apologize for it.

“I mentioned it to the Isador priestess when she was dragging us up to the temple back in Khorevail. She told me to stay quiet and keep my head down while we were there. And of course I toned it down, they were discussing whether using the 'goods' beforehand would add to the power of the sacrifice or take from it. It was horrible! And since you have this terrible habit of poking your nose into other people's business, I decided to downplay it unless we ran into more troubles with the Jadens.” She eyed the ashen-faced knights. “Which now we have.”

“But Lightbringer Roland?” Gethin didn't look as if he believed her.  Of course, the temple in Reeds was directly under the control of the Lightbringer in Khoresbar.  He was probably worried if any priests there had the same sickness taking over them.

“I can guess which Isador that was,” Yseult said, a flat look in her eyes. She had spoken with Edric. He would have told her about the letters from his sister.

“I can't tell you what she was thinking. I just know when a diviner tells you to hush up or you'll have painful things happen to you, you hush up. So either the Senior Lightbringer in Khorevail has the same sickness or it shouldn't be brought to his attention because the same thing might happen to him as Lightbringer Roland. I couldn't find anything in the head abbot's desk that would explain why his abbey started going insane, but that doesn't mean that isn't how it happened to them as well.  But it wasn't any of our business and I wasn't going to draw attention to ourselves over it. It's your temple, Crusader, you set it to rights.”

The words seemed to put a fire back into the tall woman's eyes. “Setting a temple to rights is precisely why I came here.  But when we are done with my mission, I am afraid I must ask you to return with me to Khorevail to discuss this matter with my seniors.  These are serious charges you bring up against powerful men.”

In the discussion concerning Folken Abbey, Petra had forgotten Yseult had mentioned a mission, or assumed it to be something along the lines of clapping them in irons and dragging them back to Khorevail to discuss the abbey. Apparently it was nothing of the sort, and Tae had guessed aright that they were to be berated into doing the sun-knight's will. That wasn't likely now, but her sense of curiosity was exceeded only by Odette's.

“What then is the reason you asked to speak with me, if not to discuss our actions?” Odette asked.

“There is a temple far to the north, nestled in Telubra's mountains, in a completely inaccessible spot. There have been reports of evil magic leaking from there and I have been asked to go and fix the problem. The temple in Reeds requested I bring Barrett and Gethin along,” she motioned to the young men, “to learn how to bring down warding spells and to help slay whatever fell beast was imprisoned there and is now, for whatever reason, trying to make its escape.”

“And what about this matter would you need me for?” Odette asked. “It would be easier for you to untangle holy warding spells than for me.”

“Most certainly,” the blonde replied. “No, we require transport. I have obtained an orb of teleportation that will allow for two trips, but I was not informed of the fact that its use is inaccessible to divine energies.”

“So you require the help of someone who taps into the arcane ley lines to practice their magic. And powerful enough to transport you to a location never viewed before.”

“And since you thought her some sort of criminal, you could just demand her services as some sort of public recompense,” Petra added, crossing her arms across her chest. “So now that you don't have that to demand of her, just how do you think you'll pay her should she agree?”

“I hadn't considered the matter. It is usually considered an honor to handle such matters for the order of Jadus,” the blonde said stiffly.

She snorted. “That and three fehn will get you a bowl of soup.”

Petra was growing fond of the crusader's eyebrow twitch. It was unusual to see in someone so iron-willed. The woman must have had a great deal on her mind for a lengthy amount of time to let herself be riled so easily. “It is something to be discussed with the purser in Khorevail. And we have not the time.  The energies released grow daily.”

“We would not be able to travel for the next several days,” Tae said.

“We only require the services of the sorceress,” Gethin interjected into the conversation. The three women shot him identical disbelieving looks.

“We travel together,” Odette said coolly. “To hire one to go someplace is to hire all. An orb of teleportation can handle ten at a time, there would be no problem.”

“You don't really expect us to let you go anywhere with her alone, do you?” Petra asked scathingly. “You've already implied you were going to force her to do the work, I seriously doubt you're going to go out of your way to protect her should things go wrong.”

”Circumstances have changed.  I was working with false information,” Yseult said. Petra could hear the ire rising in the crusader's voice. She wasn't particularly concerned about it.  “Obviously I cannot expect-”

“You might still be,” the sorceress interrupted. “It is better to have four more fighters at hand should the information concerning this place be wrong.”

Yseult closed her mouth and seemed to consider Odette's words.  ”You do have a point,” the crusader said, not actually agreeing to the matter.

Barrett, on the other hand, was more direct.  “Really, four more fighters?” He said in a disbelieving tone, visibly looking the women up and down.  “I might count on woodsworkers to be good in a fight, but I've never known a sorceress to be anything but useless, and priestesses are for healing and making up fake fortunes.”

Petra was moving across the room before he finished speaking, twisting between the two men before they could react, drawing the thin knife from her boot as she stopped behind him.  She caught his right arm and twisted it backwards and up, shoving it against the shield on his back.  She slid her knife through the splints in his mail and let the tip dig into the center of his lower back.

“You say another word to either of them and I’ll make sure you never walk again,” she hissed, pulling his arm further out of joint.  His shoulder made a popping noise.

“Petra!” Tae snapped out, reaching a hand forward in a stopping motion.  “That is unnecessary.”

She ignored her.  “Did you consider the fact that without that 'useless sorceress,'” she punctuated each word with a small shove, “that you won't be getting to where your crusader would like to go?”

He kicked backwards, and she twisted gracefully out of the way, smashing the heel of her foot into his other knee and he clattered backwards, his one arm not making it out from behind him before he hit the ground.  Yseult's armored foot came down square in the center of his chest before he could move to get up.

“My apologies, my ladies,” the woman said icily, angry gray eyes looking at Tae and Odette.  “He is the third son of a minor nobleman and is used to his brainless marriage- and fashion-oriented sisters and the broodmares his father has turned his peasants' wives into for more cheap labor.  A sun-knight of Jadus should know better than to treat a sorceress of your caliber like that, and knows full well his Isador sisters will turn his life into a living hell should he speak that way about them within their hearing.”  She turned her gaze first to the still-startled Gethin, who stared back at her confusedly before nodding his head with a great gulp of his Adam's apple.  She then glowered down at the man at her feet.

“Crusader, I insist-” he started, the angry look on his face telling Petra he was not remorseful in the slightest for the insults he had thrown.

“If you do not apologize to them this second, Sun-Knight Barrett, I will insist,” she repeated his word with a loud emphasis, “that you return to Reeds to undertake diplomacy lessons with the Isador sisterhood.  In fact, when this mission is over- should you manage to get over your ego and go with us- I will insist this anyway.  You have seen the Khoresbar temple before she destroyed it, and you saw the wreckage she left.  Do you really think it wise at all to anger her?”

His eyes grew wide at that and his face paled. Certainly it had been a group effort, but Petra had no qualms at all with letting Yseult foist the entire thing onto Odette's shoulders. With more practice, the sorceress would be able to do those things.  And should Barrett survive his bigotry- against either foreigners or women, she didn't know or care- he would do well to take the lesson to heart.  Do not meddle in the affairs of sorceresses, for you are only flesh and bone and easily transformed into a squishy toad.  Or possibly have your spine cut by their annoyed friends.  She wasn't choosy.

“My apologies, sorceress,” he said, wide hazel eyes focused on the gray-gowned brunette.

“And Tae,” Petra shot.

To his credit, his face didn't betray the embarrassed anger he had to feel after that reminder.  “I meant no disrespect, priestess.”

Tae raised both her eyebrows, disbelief evident, but it was Odette who answered.  “That it is the threat of violence that concedes this admission leaves me doubting it is truly meant,” she said, looking down on him coolly, “but I will accept that you do feel sorry for insulting me personally.”

“And I like to think of myself as a forgiving person for even those who do not truly wish it, so I am willing to accept that as the best you could do on such short notice,” Tae said, not a hint of her usual smile on her face.  “And I will find comfort in the knowledge that either your apologies will get better or you will not find a single priestess willing to heal you of any but the most life-threatening of injuries.”

His face flushed in guilty embarrassment, but he kept silent.  Yseult lifted her foot.  She gave a nod of her head to Gethin, and he reached a hand down to pull Barrett up off the floor.

“So now that you've found your place in the dominance hierarchy, you want to leave the bargaining to people who actually matter?” Petra asked, leaning back against the deck and crossing her arms.  “I'd hate to humiliate you in front of your boss again.”

“Petra, that is enough,” Odette said while Yseult shot a glare at the young knight to cow him into keeping silent.  “Do try to remember we will have to work with these people.  I would rather there be some semblance of a good working relationship with them.”

She looked disappointed.  Like it was Petra's fault the man had a bad attitude.  To be honest, it probably was her fault he still had a bad attitude after the reaming the crusader had given him, but it wasn't her fault he had started out with one.  She ducked her head.  “Sorry,” she murmured, contrite.  “I lost my temper.”

“Really now, Petra,” Tae said.  “About the only thing you did right was remembering not to light him on fire like you did the last one.” She managed to keep a perfectly straight face, but her blue eyes twinkled with amusement.

“That is not helping,” Odette scolded.

“I cannot help it.  She was defending my honor.”  And this time Tae did smile.

“If we can get back to the matter at hand?”  Yseult said in an exasperated tone.  “I can understand why you insist on traveling together.  You're all obviously insane and have to keep each other in check.  Should we take only the sorceress, we will likely return to find the village in shambles.”

“More likely just farmers ignoring their crops to do sword drills.  Carmen's a firm believer in self-defense and she was not too happy about the soldiers who looted the general store,” Tae said.  “But it will be at least three days before their energy levels will be up for physical exertion, and that will only be if I can get a few of those strapping farm lads to tie Carmen down to keep her from doing her morning bladework exercises.”

“There is no other way of leaving any earlier than that?” the crusader asked with a frown.  “I did not exaggerate the importance of stopping this evil from continuing to leak out.”

“How are you so certain this temple exists, if there is no way to get to it without magical means?” Tae asked.

“Several of Isis' scriers triangulated its location.  It has been warded against remote viewing, so it is only an assumption on the Isadors' part that it is a temple, but they claim to feel the touch of a god to it, so it is a safe bet.”

“Although there's no guarantee it's not occupied,” Petra said.  “Just because they couldn't scry out a route through the mountains to it doesn't mean nobody can get to it.”

“Then it is just as well we are not leaving right away as I had planned,” Yseult said resignedly.  “There are obviously some things I hadn't considered and we will need to discuss them before we depart.”

“How about we take tomorrow to discuss things among ourselves and speak with you here the day after that?” Odette said.  “There are still things in the village we must set to rights, as well.”

“Very well then,” Yseult said, nodding her head.  “The morning of the second day, we shall see you here.”

Odette motioned for Petra to precede her from the office.  It was wise of her, Petra thought.  She wasn't really known for refraining from playing tricks.  She hopped away from the desk and strode out of the room, not deigning to look back.  She'd already cast a minor cantrip on his footwear anyway.  He'd think there were rocks in them for days.

Odette and Tae followed.  Yseult closed the door behind them, but Petra could hear Barrett's outraged voice ask, “Can we at least leave the feral one behind?”

She grinned toothily.

“I do not trust that smile,” Odette said as they walked down the corridor to the exultation chamber and the exit.

“Well, that's because you know me,” she replied, trying to tone her grin down.  She didn't think she was succeeding.  “I didn't do anything, really.”

“Oh yes, I certainly did not see you casting spells on the loud one,” Odette agreed dryly, arching one elegant brow.

Tae gave a small laugh.  “Tell me you did not give him piles.”

“That would have been obvious,” Petra said haughtily, sticking her nose up.  “Also, I don't know how you think I write my spells, but I can't do anything like that.”

“Then what did you do?” Odette inquired.

“You remember that cursed stone I picked up?  The one that no matter how many times I threw it away, it kept reappearing in my boot?”

“Did you give him a cursed object?” Tae asked incredulously.

“I had to pay through the nose to find someone to remove that curse,” Petra said.  “Of course I didn't keep the rock to give to someone else.  I did, however, make note of its spellbinding.  And how irritating it was to walk with a rock in my boot.”

“I take it he will be constantly shaking out his own boots, trying to get out a rock that is not there,” Odette said with a sigh.  “At least your magic does not have permanency.”

“He compared Tae to one of those water-scrying charlatans and said you were useless, when he was really thinking 'good for nothing but warming beds.'  You're probably going to want to pull on your healer's robes, Tae, just to remind him.”  She pulled the door open, and they stepped out into the night.  “You're lucky I didn't shrink his smallclothes, but that would have actually required touching him again.”

“Do try to think your actions through better next time,” Odette said.  “Sooner or later you are going to anger the wrong person.”

“He wasn't about to do anything to me,” she replied.  “Not with that crusader there.  It was a low-risk gamble.  But I should probably stay out of his line of sight while we're still here.  Farm accidents happen all the time, after all.”

“He is a sun-knight of Jadus,” Tae scolded.  “He is not going to bully you.”

“And Lightbringer Roland was famously known for his charity and mercy before he disappeared,” Petra countered.  “Something bad is going on inside the Jaden priesthood and we'd do best to stay clear of everyone who calls upon Jadus for aid.  I really doubt the priests could get contaminated without the militant arm of the clergy noticing.”

“You think the higher ranks of sun-knights know there is a problem and are not doing anything about it.”

“What happened in Folken Abbey might have been a complete abnormality,” Tae added.

“That doesn't mean it isn't spreading.  Khoresbar's Lightbringer was showing similar symptoms in his letters, and you remember Edric saying the records keeper wanted to experiment with liquid fire on the trolls.  That's something someone like me would do, not a holy man.”

“And if the priests in Khoresbar have gotten this- infection, who is to say they are not spreading it to the temples of the cities they fled to?” Odette said.  “It is something to consider, I agree.  But not until after this work with the sun-knights.  This is a discussion they should have with their elders, not outsiders.  And they would be insulted by us discussing it amongst ourselves in their presence.”

“Not talking to them is no skin off my back,” Petra said.  “They're judgmental and argumentative.”

“And you are not?” Tae scolded.  “At least the crusader was quick to apologize about the matter.”

“And that's so normal for them,” Petra muttered.  “I do confess to wanting to see this temple that cannot be scried.”

“Then why you insist on putting up so much of a fuss-” Tae started.

“Just because I like the job doesn't mean I think we should take it on their terms.  Teleporting in blind with three sun-knights and a sorceress is just plain stupid when you know of four well-trained people jumping at the opportunity to tag along as well.”

“Not to mention I would have to teleport back here to rejoin you rather than teleporting to where the sun-knights would wish to go,” Odette said.  She must have seen something in Petra's face, for she continued. “And do not think I cannot read your thoughts here, Petra.  You might be paranoid that they would force me to take them to their destination instead of returning here, but there must be some semblance of trust for a good working environment.  Constantly worrying everyone has an ulterior motive is no way to live.”

“And an excellent way to get an ulcer,” Tae added with a smile.

Petra shrugged.  “It's kept me alive so far.  But then, I also know I take it too far.  That's what you are for- to tell me when to back down.”

“They will probably want to return to Reeds,” Tae mused.  “So we will not be backtracking too far.”

“The men might want to return home, but the crusader will want to go to Khorevail,” Odette disagreed.  “While she might not mind the travel back from Reeds with news of a successful mission, she will want to report the matters concerning Folken Abbey and Khoresbar's Lightbringer to her superiors as quickly as possible.”

“We'll lose another month,” Petra complained.  “There's no reason for Odette to drain herself again folding it into a week.  The only reason we did it the first time was because the Jadens paid us well for the hassle.  And with the way our luck has been, the Lothar Heights will have been razed and its land salted a week before we get there.”

“Petra, who told us to go to Lothar?”  Odette asked with a sigh.

“One of the Isadors we spoke to in Khorevail,” she replied, cocking her head back in confusion.

“And why did we go to Khorevail?”

“There was an Isador in Khorestun who mentioned that as Crunch’s destination.”

“And Khorestun?”

“It was the closest major city to Redbrook, and Athena needed new boots and hates village fashion.”

“But we were passing through Redbrook because one of the Isador sisters wanted a letter delivered to her family there.”

“Are you trying to imply that the priestesses of Isis are part of some conspiracy to get us to certain places?”  Petra asked.  “Because I already thought of that and it doesn't really add up.”

“We do not have all of the information, of course it does not make sense on our end,” Odette said coolly.  “But ever since entering Valencia, we have been herded westward when we did take jobs for Isador sisters.  The diviners of Isis have an excellent message system; it would be child's play to detour our route.  Redbrook was in no way on our route until we took a job to go to Ironspike north of it.”

“Now who's being paranoid?” Petra asked.

“Merely seeing patterns,” Odette disagreed.  “And Jadus and Isis have closely related clergies here.  If one follows your line of thinking that there is something happening to the Jaden clergy, it stands to reason that those of Isis should also be showing signs of change.”

“Were it not for the fact we did not get information from Isador diviners very often, I half expect it to turn out Crunch never left Biar,” Tae said.

“No, he definitely did the same sort of wandering we did,” Petra said with a shake of her head.  “He sticks out here like a sore thumb and there were definitely plenty of people we came across who had seen him.”

“But few who knew where he was headed.”

They arrived back at the public house.  The celebrations had grown quiet- farming life was controlled by sunlight, and the hour was late indeed for the locals.

“Thank goodness we do not have to go back in there,” Tae said, taking note of the dimmed lights.  “I have never been so-”

“Idolized?” Odette said as Tae stopped, searching for a word.  She continued their walk down the quiet path to Yeoman Yates' house, where Carmen and Athena should already be sleeping.  “It was quite off-putting, especially as it was Athena and Carmen who did the heavy lifting.”

“It toned down after they returned to Yeoman Yates' to rest, but it was still overwhelming.  Even drove Petra to skulking about outside.”

“I was tired of being patronized,” the little redhead said.  “I'm tiny and have youthful features.  They may know intellectually that I'm an elf, but they see me and think of their kids.  And since Tae was giving me frowny faces-”

“You were juggling dishes.”

“I missed that part,” Odette said with a smile.  “You must have been quite bored.”

“There was still food on them,” Tae continued, her voice tilting between amusement and annoyance. A complete win in Petra's books- annoying people by being amusing was always the best way to go.  Or vice versa.

“Well I had to make it a challenge, didn't I?” Petra asked innocently.  “It was either that or the cutlery, and considering Mal wouldn't serve me alcohol, I doubt he would have been happy with me in his knife block.  And juggling fire inside a dusty wooden building is just asking for trouble, even by my standards.”

“I wonder about you, I really do,” Tae said with a shake of her head.  “You have an excellent education, a gift for language, and a completely ingenuous bend for magical theory, and you throw it away spending time on silly nonsense like creating spells to make people think there are rocks in their boots.”

“I like to think of my magic as an offensive weapon in the 'people get offended' sort of way, not in a 'the best defense is a good offense' sort of way.  I'm never going to wield the spell power Odette does, so why shouldn't I get my enjoyment out of what magic I can do?”

“Your gifts would be better served if you put your mind to studying grimoires for more spells to rearrange to your liking instead of people's letters for gossip,” Tae said.

“But then we wouldn't be forewarned that the Jadens are going crazy and that the incident at Folken Abbey wasn't an isolated event.  I still think we'd be better off skipping this job and heading out for Lothar instead.”

“The dark energy spreading from the temple may have something to do with what is happening within the Jaden clergy,” Odette said thoughtfully.

“I hadn't thought of that.  Did Yseult say when it started?  The abbey started going crazy somewhere between a year and a half and two years ago.”

Odette looked thoughtful, but shook her head.  Yseult hadn't said when the leak had started- or more likely, merely been noticed.  Triangulation of an obscured location could take weeks, even through scrying.  Who knew how long the energies had been leaking out of the place before anyone caught on to the problem?

“The trouble in Khoresbar started with that earthquake,” Tae added.  “That was what, a month ago? And the signs point to it not being natural.”

Petra scratched one ear, thinking matters over.  “The weather in this section of the land- on both sides of the Telubra-Sundabar border here- has been poor for the better part of a decade.  But I seriously doubt something like what the crusader spoke of could go unspotted for that long, though.  A lot of the problem with the weather is tied to the Telubrin king, so there may be no relation there.”

Tae shrugged.  “We will just have to ask her when next we speak to her.”

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