Chapter 8 of a book I'm working on.
Feedback is appreciated.
Raven looked from the elf to the redheaded woman to the priest with a stoic expression on her pretty face. “I'm not sure yet,” she said flatly.
Althea and Loren stared at her in surprise, but Tarn glared angrily at the mage. “What?” he growled.
“I don't know yet how I can be of help,” Raven explained, “but I'm sure that, at some point, a magic-user like myself will come in useful.”
Loren and Althea looked at each other. “She has a point,” the elf commented, and Althea nodded in agreement.
Tarn, however, clenched his fists and snarled, “I can't believe you tricked me, Raven! You made me think you had a plan so that I'd promise to let you help. And you even got me to kiss you!”
“You, of all people, should have known better, Tarn,” Raven told him in return. “You know how I like to play games.”
Tarn stared at her for a moment, struck speechless because he knew she was right. With a disgruntled huff, he stalked off to a table across the room and sat down heavily in a chair. He glared at Raven for a few moments, angry with her for having tricked him but more angry with himself for having fallen for it, then shifted his gaze to one of the windows.
Althea and Loren exchanged surprised looks with each other, then turned their attention to Raven, leaving Tarn to calm down on his own.
“He'll be fine in a few minutes,” the mage said. “He always sulks like that after I get the better of him.”
“So, the two of you were...close?” Althea asked.
Raven nodded. “A few years ago, before he became a priest of Samaryu.”
“I see. And he's agreed to let you help us?”
“He's too proud and stubborn to ask me for help, so I offered instead. It took a little...persuading...but he finally agreed.”
“And we appreciate the offer,” Loren said. “But why do you want to help?”
“Because I think I can be of help, and I'd like to help Tarn out. And because I like to be where there is action, and this sounds like a promising adventure.”
“Yes. Promising for excitement, and for opportunities to cause mischief.” She winked as she said the last part. “You did hear me tell Tarn that I enjoy playing games, right?”
Althea gave a slight nod. “Yes. Well, having a magic-user on our team probably wouldn't hurt, so I'll second Tarn's acceptance of your offer of help, but on one condition.”
“And what condition is that?”
“That you keep any mischief you might want to create directed at our enemies only. Alright?”
Raven nodded. “Alright. Fair enough.”
“Great.” Althea held out a cloth rag that Loren didn't recall seeing her bring from the kitchen. “You can start by helping Tarn clean the dining room. You can wipe down the tables, chairs, and bar while he sweeps the floor.”
Raven looked at the rag as if it had offended her somehow. “But-” she started to complain, but Althea cut her off.
“The sooner we get this place cleaned up and ready for business tomorrow,” the swordswoman told her, “the sooner we can get busy figuring out a plan to find those items.”
“Fine,” Raven said as she yanked the rag out of Althea's hand.
Tarn, who had been watching their conversation, smirked at Raven being ordered to help clean the pub. Then he got up from the table and walked over to the bar to retrieve the broom he'd dropped earlier, only to find it standing propped up against one of the bar stools. He stared at it for a moment with an eyebrow raised in surprise, then shrugged, took hold of the broom, and began sweeping.
“Loren and I are going outside to clean up what we can,” Althea told Raven. “We'll be able to see and hear through the windows, so I don't want to catch the two of you playing around instead of cleaning. Oh, and when you're done with the tables and chairs, clean the widows and fireplace.”
Raven just gave her a curt nod, then turned to the nearest table to begin cleaning. Across the room, Tarn smiled to himself as he swept up around the bar.
* * *
By lunch, the place was clean enough that Althea was satisfied and called a halt. “Good work, everyone,” she said as they all gathered in the dining room. “I think we're ready for tomorrow. Thank you all for your help. Now, let's eat and then get some planning done.”
Loren and Althea headed for the kitchen while Tarn and Raven took seats across from each other at the closest table. Anju also headed for the kitchen, tail held high at the thought of food, but Althea stopped him and quietly asked him to stay and keep and eye on the priest and mage. Anju's tail drooped in disappointment, but as Althea and Loren entered the kitchen, he settled down beside the bar, where he could watch Tarn and Raven without seeming threatening.
When Althea and Loren returned about half an hour later with bowls and a small pot of stew, they found Anju still beside the bar, and Tarn and Raven still at their table. Tarn was gazing out one of the newly cleaned windows with a slightly pensive look on his face. Raven sat with her chin resting in the palm of a hand and a look of utter boredom on her face.
Loren and Althea walked over to them and set the food and dishes down on the table, the sat down the vacant chairs. Anju got up and joined them, sitting down beside Loren with a hopeful look in his pale blue eyes as he smelled the stew. A low whine escaped the white wolf.
“Just wait a minute, Anju,” Loren said as he passed bowls around. “I'll give you something to eat in a moment.”
“Help yourselves, everyone,” Althea said. “We'll discuss things after we eat.”
They all ladled stew into their bowls Loren had brought an extra bowl for Anju, which he filled with stew and set on the floor for the wolf. Then they all began eating.
When lunch was over, Althea cleared away the dishes and Loren fixed everyone mugs of brandywine. When Althea rejoined them, they began discussing a plan of action.
“So how do we start?” Loren asked.
Althea took a sip of brandywine then replied, “I guess we should know what we're looking for, first. You said there were two items, right, Tarn?”
The priest nodded. “Correct. There are two items needed for the ritual: the Staff of Power and the Crown of Acension. Without them, Aerith cannot take over her avatar – you, Althea.”
“But what happened to them?” Raven asked. “You said they were lost after her last attempt. How, exactly?”
Tarn took a drink of brandywine as he considered where to begin. “Well,” he said at last, “the accounts that I've read in my studies vary a little in regards to what happened during her last attempt. Most seem to agee that a priest of Samaryu somehow managed to track down where the ritual was being held – where that was, we don't know – and killed the avatar at the last minute, before the ritual was complete.
“Here is where the accounts begin to differ. They all still seem to agree that, in the resulting chaos, the priest of Samaryu was killed. But as for what happened to the ritual items, some accounts say that Aerith's followers just left them behind as they hurried to abandon the place before Aerith's wrath caved it in. Other accounts claim that two of her most loyal followers fled with the items, one heading north and one south. What happened to them and the itemns after that is not mentioned anywhere.”
Loren felt a brief, vague sense of apprehension at the mention of one of the items heading north, but he was not sure why. “Do we know what the items look like?” he asked. “It'd help to recognize them when we see them.”
“According to the descriptions I've read, the crown is said to be a silver tiara encrusted with diamond and emeralds, with a single large ruby in the center. The staff is of black oak with gold filagree and topped by a large rose quartz crystal.”
Something about the description of the crown sounded vaguely familiar to Loren, but he could not think why. “Is there anything else you can tell us about the items, Tarn?” he asked.
The priest shook his head. “I'm afraid that's all I've managed to learn of them in my studies so far.”
The group sat silently for a few moments, taking occasional sips of brandywine. Finally, Althea spoke up. “So, we know what we're looking for now. But how do we go about finding them? What's our next step?”
The group looked expectantly at each other, hoping that someone had an idea. When no one spoke up after a few moments, Althea sighed and stood up.
“Alright,” she said. “I'm going into to town for a little while. When I come back, it'd be nice to find that some sort of plan had been worked out.” She turned and walked away from the table.
Loren opened his mouth to ask his partner why she was going into town, but Althea was already heading out the door. “Anju,” he said instead, “go with her.” He watched asthe white wolf trotted off after Althea, then he turned his attention back to the priest and mage. “Well, we'd better figure out something before she gets back,” he told them. “It won't be good otherwise. So, any ideas?”
“Other than just heading off north or south to search, with no certain destination in mind and hoping to get lucky, no,” replied Raven. “If we did that, we'd be wandering around forever, and if I'm not mistaken, we don't have that long. What we need is more definitive information.”
Loren nodded. “I agree. But how can we get more information? Tarn's already told us all he knows.”
The three looked at each other, but when no on spoke up, they all sighed. Raven took to staring at the table. Tarn returned to looking out the window. Loren got up and started pacing in front of the bar. He paused after a few moments and faced the bar. “Hey, Smitty,” the elf said, figuring it wouldn't hurt to try, “you wouldn't happen to have an idea or know anything about those ritual items, would you?” Not getting a response, but not really expecting one, either, Loren returned to his pacing.
After a few minutes, Tarn sat back in his chair and muttered, “I wonder...”
Raven pulled her gaze away from the table to look at him. Loren stopped pacing and turned to look at the priest.
“What is it, Tarn?” Raven asked hopefully.
The red-robed priest shook his head. “It's probably nothing,” he said.
Raven and Loren frowned. The elf returned to his seat at the table and took a drink of branywine, then looked at Tarn. “'Probably nothing' means there's a slight chance it could be something,” he said, “and at this point, something is better than nothing, no matter how small. So go ahead and tell us anyway. We'll decide if it's something or nothing.”
Tarn gave a slight nod and took a sip of brandywine. “There was an incident a few years ago, not long after I became an acolyte,” he said. “At the time, it struck me as a little odd, but I didn't pay it much mind. I was young and new to the priesthood, after all, and who was I to question my superiors?” He paused to take another drink before continuing. “One day, I was in the library, studying. It was late in the day and everyone else had already retired. I wasn't tired yet, so I had stayed to keep reading. So I was the only one in the library.
“I had gotten up from my table and was searching the shelves for a book when I heard the door open. From my position, I couldn't be seen by the person who'd entered, but I could see them. And I was surprised to see High Priest Usiah. He was carrying a large, leather-bound book with gilt lettering and edging. I'd never seen that book or any like it before. And Usiah moved hurriedly, as if with a sense of urgency, which made me curious.
“Doing my best to stay hidden, I carefully peered around the end of one of the shelves and watched High Priest Usiah as he hurried down the main aisle towards the back of the library. I didn't know where he intended to to with the book, since there were no doors back there, just shelves fo books along the back wall. Imagine my surprise when he stopped before one set of shelves and reached out with his free hand, and the shelves quietly retracted into the wall, revealing a dark doorway. Usiah stepped into the opening, and just as I was thinking about trying to follow, the shelves returned, closing the doorway.
“I waited for him to return, and when he did a few minutes later, I stepped out and confronted him. He was startled to find me there, obviously believing the library had been empty. But more than that, he seemed surprised by me, personally, being there. I asked him about the book and the hidden doorway, and he sternly told me not to worry about it and to just forget about it, that it was none of my concern. Though I was curious about it and the vague sense of fear I felt from him, I did as he said and paid it no more mind. He is my superior, after all.
“But now, I again wonder about that book and hidden doorway. What was Usiah trying to hide? Could there be information in that book that he didn't want me to see? Could it be something we could use?”
“It's possible,” Loren said. “It all sounds so suspicious, I'd love to see what's in the book and hidden room.”
Raven nodded. “I agree. It think it's worth looking into.”
Tarn looked from the elf to the mage and back. “I agree. But how can we? The temple isn't exactly close by. It'd take us weeks, possibly, to get there, and that's time we can ill afford. Then I'd have to explain why I was there instead of looking for Althea. And if I'm caught breaking into the hidden room, Usiah will have my hide...”
Raven held up a hand to stop the priest from prattling on. “Dont' worry, Tarn,” she said with a small grin. “I have an idea.”
“Great!” Loren said enthusiastically. But Tarn just looked at the mage incredulously.
“Oh, don't give me that look, Tarn,” Raven said. “It's a really great idea. You'll see.”
“What's a great idea?” a female voice asked from the front door of the pub.
The trio at the table turned to look and found Althea and Anju had returned. Althea held a flat package wrapped in brown parchment in her hands.
“That was quick,” Loren remarked. “I thought you'd have been gone longer than that.”
“I did, too,” Althea said as she approached the table. “As it turned out, I didn't have to go very far.”
“What's in the package?”
“You'll find out later.” Althea took a seat in the vacant chair and put the package on the table. “Someone mentioned having an idea. I take it you all are finally on to something?”
Loren nodded. “Tarn and Raven are.”
“Great! What is it?”
Tarn briefly explained about the book and hidden room in the temple, then Raven explained her idea. When the mage was done, Tarn actually smiled at her, impressed by her ingenuity. He was also surprised he had not thought of it himself.
“Good idea, Raven,” he said. “A very good idea.”
“See, Tarn,” she said, “I told you.”
“Good work, you two,” Althea said, a pleased smile on her face. “Raven, do it.”
With a nod, Raven reached into a pocket of her black robe and brought out a small, round mirror. Althea, Loren, and Tarn watched as she held the mirror up in front of her and gazed into the glass. She spoke a couple of words in a low whisper. Althea and Loren gasped as a pale light surrounded the mirror.
“Wren?” Raven said to the mirror. “Are you there, Wren? It's me, Raven.” She paused. “Ah, good. There you are. I have something I need you to do for me, Wren, and it's very important. Now, listen carefully. Do you remember Tarn? Good. Do you remember where the temple of Samaryu is? Great. Now, here's what I want you to do.”
She proceded to tell Wren her plan.