The Line Between
By Alaena Hope
3: Those Things Unbidden
Bowing deeply to the Lord of Kwair, Kavin bid the man a good day and turned to make his way back home. The streets were mostly deserted this early in the day right after Origins, but here and there a few windows were starting to open and welcome in the morning sun. Lord Baiyu's home was located right next to the Skylin Temple, and he was just passing the wide, stone steps leading up to said Temple when an elderly man dressed in the blue and gold clothes of a Skylin master came racing down the steps. He debated ignoring the man and just going past, but the master chose that moment to call out his name. There was no way to pretend he hadn't heard in the stillness that filled the street. Not wanting to antagonize the Temple even if he was still annoyed, he stopped and waited for the man to catch up to him.
"Can I do anything for you, Master Faven?" he asked politely once the man had come to a stop.
Faven took a moment to catch his breath before straightening and giving Kavin a searching look. "I heard you were leaving the city…?"
"You heard correctly."
"But Master Kavin!" the mage exclaimed, wringing his hands in distress. "Please reconsider. I mean, you're Kwair's best healer. What are we going to do when the next incursion occurs? We need you here."
"And what about the people who are already injured and awaiting treatment in Hikoma?" Kavin demanded, staring straight into the old man's face. "They need the help now. Are you asking me to sit around and wait for something that might not happen when there are people with very real and current needs within my reach?"
"But Hikoma's three weeks' travel by foot!" Faven protested. "And we don't have any spare windrunners in the city. By the time you get there, it may already be too late to do them any good."
"So then why didn't you release the news as soon as you could?" Kavin's voice lowered as he clamped down on the urge to reach out and shake the man. How could a leading member of a Temple dedicated to the protection of the people speak so callously?
To his credit, the man looked at least a little ashamed. "We…we did not wish to cause people anxiety on a celebration day. Especially considering there is really very little we can do for those poor people."
"Well, those poor people might still need help. They wouldn't have sent a messenger bird this far if they didn't think someone coming from here would be helpful. Besides," he added, taking pity on the man as he seemed to crumple inward around the edges. "There are five other established healers in this city, two far more experienced than I, and at least three more who are showing potential. I'm sure they can handle anything that comes up while I'm gone. Besides, the sooner I leave, the sooner I can return."
Master Faven deflated visibly for a moment, but he pulled himself together with an effort and nodded his acknowledgement. "I see I cannot change your mind, but please, allow us to send one of our mages with you. It isn't safe for an unarmed man to travel alone these days."
Kavin frowned. "You'll need everyone you have if there is an incursion."
"An apprentice then," the man persisted. He was starting to look desperate.
Kavin relented with a sigh. "What about Amayo? I hear he doesn't have any assignments at the moment with the performances just over."
"I…ah…don't think that would be the best idea. I know he's a friend of yours, but he still has a lot of work to do if he's going to..." He trailed off, apparently unable to find a polite way to put his thoughts. He was rescued when a black-haired girl in the clothes of an apprentice came hurrying up to them.
She bowed to both men before focusing her attention on the Temple master. "Sorry to interrupt, Sir, but Master Leil says she wishes to talk to you as soon as possible."
"Ah, thank you Hanari."
The girl bowed again and turned to leave, but the master's eyes lit up. "Wait, Hanari. Do you have an assignment yet?"
The girl gave him a puzzled look. "No Sir."
"What would you say to accompanying Master Kavin on his journey to Hikoma?"
Hanari shot the healer a surreptitious look out of the corner of her eyes. "I—I would be honored, Sir."
"Is that all right with you, Master Kavin? Hanari Noi is one of our best apprentices—a very hard worker and a quick learner. She is due for intermediate status soon, and I am sure she will be only an asset for your journey."
Kavin glanced at the girl, slightly amused by the embarrassed flush that had crept onto her face at the master mage's praise, and nodded. "Very well. Miss Hanari, we will be leaving an hour after noon. Please meet me at my house. You know where that is? Good."
The meeting chamber buzzed with anxious murmurs that rebounded off of the high ceilings and whirled against the walls until the air itself vibrated with distress. It wasn't until the door opened to admit the last of the council members that the din died down, and even then it was a strained silence that threatened to burst at the seams. Emilu shifted a little uncomfortably where she stood in a corner of the meeting chamber, awaiting the call to give her report. It seemed everyone had already heard the news. What she didn't understand was why a full council had been called for the matter. After all, no matter how much the sword had been worth, it was still just that—a sword. And though she could understand that it could never be replaced for its historical value, there were plenty of ways the Guard could deal with thievery that didn't need to involve anyone else.
"Emilu Jimatan was the guard on duty when the theft was discovered. Miss Jimatan, if you would give the council your report?"
Emilu pulled her thoughts back to the present at the sound of her name and hurried forward. Bowing deeply to the council at large, she squared her shoulders and fixed her eyes on a spot just over all of their heads. She had gone over what she was going to say many times since she had been told she would be speaking to the council, but she still found her heart rate speeding up the moment their eyes settled on her.
Don't think about them, she told herself firmly. Just say what you have to and get it over with.
"My shift began just after nightfall yesterday. The inner sanctum of the galleries was the last stop on my circuit of the grounds. When I went in for the inspection, the king's sword had disappeared. There were no signs of forced entry and nothing else had been disturbed."
"How often is the room in question inspected?" an official Emilu didn't recognize asked.
"Once every week, Sir."
"And who has the key?"
"The captain keeps it until the day scheduled for the inspection. Then the guard in charge of that circuit will have the key in his or her charge until the following morning. But a thief would not only need a key," she added hesitantly. "There are a series of…combinations without which the key would be useless."
"And there is only one key…?"
"Yes," the captain of the Guard replied this time. "Or at least I am aware of the existence of only one key. However, I have only been in office for five years. I do not know if any copies were made when the locking mechanisms were first installed."
"They were put in about nineteen years ago after the passing of King Chushen," Master Sehana, the Reilin advisor announced, her smooth, rich voice the calmest that had been heard all morning. "I believe there were two keys made then, but one was lost to the sea with the master of the treasury soon after it was made."
"It must have been stolen magically then."
Murmurs of agreement rippled around the room. Bowing again, Emilu backed away discreetly. No one noticed, and she reached her corner unhindered. She could feel the anxiety in the room rising again.
"This is ridiculous." The Skylin advisor's exclamation cut through the buzz of voices as he turned hard eyes on the woman seated across from him. "Tell me Sehana, where were you two days ago? No one could find you, and no one knew what you were doing." His words were followed by a moment of absolute silence.
But Master Sehana remained unperturbed. "I had personal business to attend to."
"Yes, and now we all know what that business was! Everyone here knows the Reilin have been going on for years now that we don't need a king. Now you've seen to it that we can't get one."
Sehana didn't so much as blink, but, when she spoke, there was a chill in her voice that made even the Skylin mage draw back in his seat. "I assure you, Master Tion, that I had as much to do with this unfortunate business as you do. Now, I would suggest we turn our attention away from who might or might not have been responsible to how we might actually remedy the situation."
"I agree," the captain interjected, glancing from one mage to the other and back again. The last thing they needed right now was for the two to get into a duel of words that could easily end in something far more harmful. Letting his gaze sweep over the rest of the room, he noted that a similar realization had dawned on his fellow council members. That would make things easier. "I would suggest we appoint searchers to scour Chimadine and visit the nearest cities and outlying settlements. If the thief's purpose was monetary, he won't hang on to it forever. In the meantime, we can send for mages—from both Temples," he added quickly, "to go over the inner sanctum more thoroughly and see if they can find out exactly how our security was breeched so flawlessly."
As no one had any better ideas, it was agreed. Emilu moved up to stand next to the captain's chair as the rest of the council filed out of the room. He acknowledged her presence with a nod and gestured for her to speak.
"Sir, I was wondering," she started then stopped, frowning. She didn't want to sound disrespectful, but, then again, it would be a greater dishonor to her superior if she did not trust his judgment enough to speak her mind. So she cleared her throat and continued. "I think this would be a waste of resources. The incursions are happening everywhere now. It's not just the fringe settlements anymore, and we have our hands full as it is. Can't we have another sword made?"
The captain regarded her with a thoughtful expression that was anything but offended. "Tell me Emilu, how long have we been without a king?"
A little taken aback by the sudden change of topic, it took Emilu a moment to answer. "Twenty years."
"And do you know why we haven't had a king since?"
"…Because one hasn't been chosen yet."
He nodded. "And do you know how the king is chosen?"
She had to think about this one for a moment. "I…don't know," she admitted finally. "I always thought the Temples chose. Like how they can sometimes see things in water…?"
The man was shaking his head before she finished. "I believe that rumor started because, traditionally, it was the mages who went in search of the next king. A representative would be chosen from each of the two Temples, and they would travel the Kingdom with the king's sword. But it wasn't the mages that did the choosing in the end."
"It wasn't?" Emilu repeated, thin eyebrows rising towards her hairline. "But then who did?"
The captain only laughed and got to his feet. "Isn't it obvious? Now come on, we've got work to do."
Emilu frowned. No, it wasn't obvious, but it seemed she wouldn't be getting an answer right now.
"Toshin! Toshin!" Hanari shouted as she burst into the jeweler's shop, but Toshin's father was the only person there. He smiled when he saw her and waved her to a seat, but Hanari was too excited to sit. Instead, she bowed to him and asked if Toshin was home.
"That boy's been locked up in his room all morning," the man replied, a slight furrow appearing between his brows. "I don't know what's gotten into him lately. He's always holing up in his room. He doesn't come to help me unless I ask him anymore either…" The man heaved a sigh at that, a wan look creeping across his features like clouds over a clear, blue sky. "I don't know what I'm going to do with him."
Hanari paused for a moment at the backdoor. She could hear the very real worry in the man's voice, and she felt sorry for him. Yet, though she thought she had a fair idea about what was upsetting Toshin, it wasn't her place to say. Letting out a quiet sigh, she bid the man a good day and hurried towards Toshin's room.
The path up the stairs was familiar, but it seemed different too. Less. The staircase was more narrow and the landing less far away than she remembered. She thought with a twinge of surprise that it must have been quite a while since she had last paid Toshin a visit at home. Not, she reminded herself, that that was really something she was obligated to do. She enjoyed Toshin's company—always had and would, if she had a choice in the matter, but she thought that perhaps she had missed something along the way while concentrating on her studies at the Temple.
Skidding to a stop in front of the correct door, she knocked lightly. "Toshin? It's Hanari! Can I come in?"
There was the sound of scrambling and a muffled thud before the door flew open. She was greeted by Toshin's sheepishly grinning face. "Hanari! It's kind of messy in here—"
Rolling her eyes, Hanari pushed her way past him and into the cluttered room beyond. "I know that. I don't think your room's ever been neat."
Flopping down into the chair that stood in front of a worktable covered in bits and pieces of things she didn't recognize, she studied her friend with quizzical eyes. He looked…drawn, she thought, and perhaps a little frustrated. Unaware of her scrutiny, Toshin started to arrange the wooden boxes and books scattered around the room in an attempt to make it more presentable.
"So…how are you holding up?" she asked as he continued to organize the room. "Your father says you've been spending a lot of time in your room."
He flashed her a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Just fighting the inevitable, I guess. Sometimes I think, if I never come down, I won't have to start working in the shop. I know it's stupid," he added, looking away. "And I'll deal with it soon. I just needed to do it myself without my parents hovering over me."
"Are you sure you don't want to talk to them?"
"It's not like I haven't before. I just…" Trailing off, Toshin sat down on the side of his cot and looked down at his hands. "I don't…want to disappoint them. I just need more time. So was there something you wanted to tell me?" he asked abruptly, favoring Hanari with a curious look. "I heard shouting from downstairs just before you came up."
"Well, I was coming to tell you that I'm going to be gone for the next two to three months or so," Hanari explained, her earlier excitement creeping slowly back into her despite the fact that she knew Toshin was deliberately changing the subject. "The Temple's assigned me to go with Master Kavin on his trip to Hikoma."
Toshin's eyes widened, flickering over the pack sitting next to Hanari's feet which he had disregarded up until then. "Hikoma? As in the one where all the vesori are?"
"They aren't there anymore," she corrected him. "Their mages managed to drive them out, but yes. There aren't any other Hikomas are there?"
"Master Kavin wants to go help with their injured. Apparently, they've been rather shorthanded. You know how Master Kavin won't carry weapons. So the Temple wants me to go and help keep an eye on him." She grinned despite herself, and Toshin laughed.
"That sounds amazing! You're going to have a lot of stories to tell when you get back," he told her with a broad grin. "Just think about it! On a mission to escort the city's best healer to save the people of Hikoma."
"It's not quite that dramatic. I mean, most of the major stuff should be taken care of by the time we get there," she replied, but she couldn't help absorbing his enthusiasm. It wasn't wrong to be proud of getting to go on such a venture was it?
"So when are you leaving?"
She started, glancing out the window before leaping to her feet. "I forgot! I'm supposed to be at Master Kavin's an hour past noon. Sorry about leaving so suddenly. I'd love to stay longer, but—"
"Hold on a second." Leaping off the bed, Toshin went scrambling through the boxes he had only just stacked up against the far wall. Flipping open lids and unscrewing tops, he had the entire mess reinstated within seconds. Hanari stifled a laugh and waited by the door, her traveling pack slung over her shoulder. Toshin emerged a few moments later with a triumphant shout and bounded over to stand in front of her.
"Here," he said, grabbing her left hand. "I made this for your birthday, but, since you might not be back by then, I might as well give it to you early."
Letting go, he stepped back and watched as Hanari examined the thin bracelet that now hung around her wrist. It had been fashioned of a myriad of tiny, jade leaves edged in silver that twined together into a seemingly seamless yet flexible whole.
"You know, Toshin," she said quietly, looking up into his face, green eyes filled with wonder. "You're really good at making things."
He blinked at her in momentary surprise then looked away. "Oh, well…thank you. Do you like it then?"
"I do. Very much. Thank you." Stepping forward, she gave him a quick hug and headed out the door. "I'll be back as soon as I can. Take care."
"Be careful!" he called after her, but she had already gone. His breath hissed through his teeth in something that wasn't quite a sigh because he refused to let it be one. His cot creaked as he settled himself back onto it and propped his elbows on his knees.
"I wish I could go with you," he told the empty room, but, of course, there was no response.
"You," Kavin announced to all the bundles, boxes, and jars scattered all over the front room of his house, "are a fool, and if you get yourself killed on this journey, it's going to be every bit what you deserve."
Picking his way to the table, he set the traveling pack he had dug out of his back room on its cluttered surface and started to put everything inside. The bag had been a parting gift from his teacher. Woven of Kichandri hair, it could hold far more than its physical size would suggest. It was a valuable thing, and he had never thought he would need it, but the old healer had insisted he take it. Now he had reason to be thankful he hadn't argued with the woman.
It wasn't that he had never wanted to travel. In all honesty, he had never even thought about the matter. On occasion, when need called for it, he had gone to the smaller towns and villages under Kwair's protection, but the journeys had always been short and about as adventurous as a trek through one's own backyard. If he hadn't let his anger at the Temple direct his actions, that would very likely still be the case.
"Are you going somewhere?"
Glancing back towards the front door which he always left open when he was at home, Kavin found Amayo hovering over the threshold. The apprentice mage was eyeing the mess in the usually clean room with confusion.
"I'm going to Hikoma, actually."
Gold eyes widened in horror. "Hikoma? By yourself? But Kavin—"
"It's dangerous, and I've never set foot outside of the Kwair region all my life," Kavin supplied, a wry smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I've been asking myself if I've gone mad, but I can't just stand by even if it turns out I'm useless when I get there. At least this way, I know I've tried." Securing the pack, he straightened and scanned the room for anything he might have missed. "I've been thinking… Maybe things aren't getting better because we only ever do enough to keep them the way they are. Besides, I'm not actually going alone. The Temple insists I have company, so they're sending someone with me. Hanari, I think her name was."
"Hanari Noi?" Amayo brightened as he leaned back against the kitchen counter. "That's good. She has the best marks among the apprentices right now. I think they're going to promote her soon."
"Master Faven did mention something about that. But what about you? Would you like to come with us?"
Amayo stared at the back of his friend's head for a moment then shook his own. "I think I'd like to travel someday, but, right now, I'd probably be more of a danger than anything to anyone I traveled with."
Closing one last cabinet, Kavin turned to level him with a stern look. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. If you really think you're no good at this then go do something else. No one's making you stay at the Temple. If you need a place to stay, I have a spare room. I could always use an extra pair of hands with my work, so you wouldn't be doing nothing, and you could find a trade you're actually interested in to learn."
"I," Amayo started, stopped, then cleared his throat. "I appreciate the offer, but I do want to be a mage. Even if the Temple only keeps me because I was born under the Soracia, it's a chance I've been given, and I'm going to do the best I can."
"Well, if you ever change your mind." Kavin pulled the strap of his traveling pack over his head and grabbed his cloak from where it had been draped over the back of a chair. It settled over his shoulders in soft, green folds. Directing Amayo outside, Kavin locked the door and tossed the key to him. "By the way, if it turns out I don't come back from this after all, you can have the house. You can take the medical supplies over to Mistress Lin's and donate the weapons in the back to the city guards."
Amayo blanched. "Don't talk like that!"
"It's better to be prepared. And you're practically family."
"Master Kavin!" A shout rang out from down the street as Hanari came running up to them. Coming to a stop, she bowed deeply, her hair falling forward to hide her face. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
He greeted her with a friendly smile. "No need to apologize. I only just finished packing." He turned back to Amayo for a moment, his expression serious again. "Don't look so horrified. It's only a possibility. Believe me, I intend to come back in one piece."
Straightening, Hanari peered curiously at the two out of the corner of her eyes while pretending to adjust her pack. She recognized Amayo Dyesis—there weren't many people in the Temple who didn't. At nineteen, he was the oldest apprentice on the records, and it was a bit of a joke among the apprentices that he would probably be the only apprentice never to be promoted. But Hanari had always felt more sorry for him than anything else. He always seemed to be in some kind of mess or other, but, the few times they had talked, she had thought him rather nice, just…easily distracted. Now though, he had a determined look on his face that made her think that perhaps the other apprentices were wrong.
Then Kavin was waving for her to follow him, and she had to hurry to keep up with his long strides. Around them, the city street was alive with activity. People waved greetings to them, and Hanari realized that none of those people knew they were leaving. To them, she and the healer were just on some everyday errand somewhere from which they would return later that day or the next. For a moment, she wanted to wave at them and shout goodbyes—to let them all know that this was a different kind of errand to a place few of them had ever even thought of setting foot—but she didn't. Instead, she followed on the healer's heels as they passed through the city's main gates and out onto the open road beyond.