Protector (Anniversary of the Veil, Book 1): Chapter 1 – The World Beyond (Part 2)
Alet thanked the gatekeeper and started walking. She did not want to appear suspicious. Aelde’s notebook made no mention of such scrutiny of simple visitors by the priests.
The other two fell in step beside her. She heard a loud clank as the gatekeeper shut the gates behind them, followed by the sharp sound of sliding iron, as he locked them in.
“Block thoroughly so the priest cannot read you,” Alet ordered again as they approached the church. “We need horses, and this meeting will help us gain more insight into the priests.”
Alet wasn’t sure of her words at all, but there was nothing for it. Avoiding the priest now would raise suspicion.
Onentha gasped as they stopped at the intricately carved, cast-iron church door. Alet looked at her sharply, fearing the woman sensed ill things that she herself had not.
“This design…it’s the exact replica of the design on the doors of the L’Intin Palace of old. I’ve only seen pictures of it. No such door exists on our side of the Veil. And look…” Onentha crouched to study a small panel about a foot from the ground. “This is where the secret lock is. It’s in a different place on each door, and only the keeper of the church can work it.”
Leave it to Onentha to disregard all danger if a scholarly opportunity arose.
Alet looked at the sun-shaped knocker in the center of the door. Quite a few moments passed before she swung it.
Soon a scraping of leather on stone was followed by the unlocking and opening of the door. They were greeted by a tall, broad shouldered man wearing a long dark grey habit pulled together at the waist by a leather belt made of ribbons. His black hair fell to his shoulders and a single thick eyebrow shadowed his stone hard black eyes.
“Father,” Alet said. “My companions and I would seek shelter under the roof of your church…as the roads are dark.”
The last part came as an afterthought, but at least she did not forget to add the customary request. Alet hoped the man did not notice the pause.
“The roads are indeed dark, and you are welcome to stay here for the night. May you find peace behind these walls. I am Father Noh, please come inside and share my supper.”
“My name is Alet, and my companions are Onentha and Essall. We were robbed in the night. We will only stay until the morning, just long enough to acquire new horses and supplies.”
The priest nodded. He led them across a cavernous room with wooden benches arranged in a circle around a raised podium. The dining room was beyond a door obscured by a thick black tapestry. His dinner of bread and ham was still on the table.
As he began cutting a generous piece of ham for each of them, Alet parted her block just a sliver to try and read the man. His Life Force was a dormant lake, he was not using it now. Alet quickly replaced her block.
“What brings you here?” the priest asked.
“My sister and I were in the north visiting a cousin who had taken ill quite suddenly and died. This is her son,” Alet said and pointed to Essall. “We are bringing him with us back home as we are the only family he now has left. He is to be apprenticed to my husband and learn the blacksmith trade.”
“I am sorry for your loss.” The priest turned to Essall who nodded and cast down his eyes. For once, he was the picture of servility. “If you wish I can say a Farewell Prayer for your mother later.”
“I would be most grateful for it.”
After they finished eating, the priest led them back to the prayer room. There, the three Keepers sat down on the bench closest to the podium in the center of the room. The priest started lighting the thick, white candles standing along the circumference of it.
Alet strengthened her block, until she felt as though the walls of the church were closing in on her, taking away her air. It was the same feeling she had as a novice at the Haven, when she first began learning how to block all connections around her. The feeling of suffocation went away once she gained sufficient skill, but being locked in Father Noh’s church made her feel like a fifteen year-old girl again.
The priest raised his arms to get their attention then began speaking in a half-whisper. He looked up at the ceiling as he did so, and Alet followed his gaze. Even the smoke given off by the candles disappeared in the gloom above them.
The priest’s words were indiscernible, but the memory that arose in Alet’s mind was not. She stood in the Supreme Keeper’s office at the Haven, Omitai embraced her as she wept. Aelde was dead, Omitai told her, most likely fallen off the cliffs and into the raging sea. The vision changed. Alet stood in the graveyard where her family lay buried, placing a sunlit orb next to a plaque that now bore Aelde’s name as well. Alet was alone, all her close kin now forever gone.
Somewhere behind the grief, Alet knew the feelings came because of the prayer. She dared not try and read the man now, since he was using his Life Force, so she could not see the way in which he was manipulating it to achieve this effect.
To Alet’s left Onentha was sobbing quietly and rocking back and forth. To her right, Essall had clenched his hands into fists, and the expression on his face was one of a man struggling with a great weight.
Alet’s grief vanished and three things happened in quick succession.
She felt the priest read her thoughts, the locks on the doors slithered into place, and the priest was standing directly in front of them.
“Who are you? Why are you here?” Father Noh’s voice echoed harshly in the empty room.
“As we told you, we are traveling home. We have just buried our cousin and the mother of—”
“This boy, he should be a Protector of the Realm. Why is he not wearing his uniform? Why is he traveling with the two of you?”
“He is no Protector, but our cousin’s son. We are taking him home with us.” Onentha’s voice sounded as hard and cold as rock.
“It is rare for women to travel alone in these parts of the realm. And it is impossible for a boy of his ability not to be a Protector,” the priest said. “You will remain here until I communicate this to those who can better make you tell the truth.”
Alet looked at Essall who shrugged and whispered, “I am blocking.”
On the other side of her, Onentha was already meeting her gaze. Their eyes locked for just a moment. Onentha broke the gaze and the priest fell to the floor clutching his chest.
The angry glare was still in his eyes, so quickly had death claimed him.
“You only needed to incapacitate him, Onentha. There was no need to kill.” Alet stood up and checked to see if the man was still breathing.
“This man…this man was responsible for the death of countless little girls with the ability to use the Life Force who could not be gotten across the Veil in time. I saw it…I saw it all while he was performing his prayer. He doesn’t deserve to live.”
Alet had seen none of that.
“Had we not agreed to block all connections, Essall? How was he able to see the flow of your Life Force?”
“I was blocking! Do not blame me for this. I don’t know how he got inside, he was suddenly just there.” Essall’s eyes held no defiance this time, he was telling the truth.
What was I thinking, entering the church?
“We will jump to the capital and get the princess out quickly,” Alet said. She would do all she could now, so her poor decision tonight would not cause the failure of the mission.
“And the ripples?” Essall asked. Alet almost punched him.
“We don’t have the time to worry about it now. The secret locks will give us some time before they discover the body, am I right?”
“Possibly, but—” Onentha said.
“In that time we need to get Princess Issiyanna out of the castle, or not at all. We jump to the cliffs.” Alet would not waver in her duty again.
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