Dailin scanned the tunnel, searching for any Wards that were off color. A pointless routine but one that helped keep his mind preoccupied as they marched. So far things looked less active than they had been and Dailin prayed their venture outside would be less hectic. Less life-threatening, an unwelcome surprise that Aethin sister had offered them ‘you’re going to work this time Aethin, going to help keep our home safe. If not, I’ll have you sent back outside within a Round.’ It wasn’t a pleasant memory, that woman was the type of person that you tried not to get on their bad side. He was somewhat thankful that during the whole meeting she didn’t look at him, but he knew that her threat still involved him in the mess.
So here they were, Aethin by his side (crushing his hand) almost every day patrolling tunnels. The Sanctum intersections branched out quite the distance in almost every direction, but most led downwards. They passed through another door, which marked the end of the main tunnel. Letting all know that they were entering the less used passages, the ones farther out. Also, the tunnel size slowly changed to what one would expect to see in a Settlement. Gods be praised through, for the quality of the Wards stayed the same. A blessing as these tunnels were beaten upon daily, the Nightmares outside probably assuming that since these tunnels were smaller, they should be weaker.
Looking to Aethin “It might be a peaceful Rotation for once” Aethin just stared blankly at the ceiling, sighing. He’d been in a rather somber mound as this Routine of theirs stretched on. It’s been a few months, which was a blur of him rushing around getting sorted, learning the ins and outs of the city, and strengthen the channels in him that handled mana storage and flow. Plus pestering Aethin with questions, to the point Aethin dragged him to Transfer Heart and filled his head with common sense knowledge. It had left him with a mind-numbing headache, which remained in a diluted form for days even after he healed himself.
It cleared up a lot of things, that even though he can use magic he was still far down the list of importance. Magic was the standard to be seen as useful in this society, without it he literate would be seen as a soulless pest. Soulless being used as cannon fodder is usually the only time a Chanter recognizes them since it’s when they add value. But it isn’t the only way, Soulless could be slave workers in a way, during chores that most people didn’t wish to. But even there it was limited, as Dailin had found out when he spotted another race in the mix with his own. A Heavy muscular beings resembling a bipedal mole, the Wordane as his people called them. They were the ones that did most of the labor-intensive tasks that no one else wanted.
“Ready yourselves we’ve been tasked to patrol Wardless tunnels that have been left unsupervised for a while now.” Said their Taskmaster, he was a Mentor like Aethin, a title that wasn’t all that uncommon. Dailin had yet to hear the man name, as the leader of these patrols changed constantly. As does the individuals who are sent off to form one. It was a mixed task, both a punishment for most, or one people would take on when their perceived Worth was getting low. Aethin sister Tine had them locked to this job for, well he didn’t know, but by Aethin less than stellar mood, it showed they still had a ways to go. Not that he cared, this was the best he’s had yet, sure he would occasionally have to fight things he rather run from at full speed. But afterward, he lived in complete safety, and close to a form of paradise. Save when he’s running around completing other jobs Aethin family deemed to throw at him.
The patrol stopped as they came to the finally block, this one actual closed. For past, this point the norms of safety he had grown used to slid away. The block rose, and darkness showed itself, he and those around him activated their light stones. These were larger and gave off a far brighter light, a beacon to help lure Nightmares that were nearby. The passages here even Wardless had been carved out. If the people of his new home truly wanted to they could reclaim these tunnels, and upgrade them to fully functioning ones. Majority of the tunnels they passed were overgrown now, but lacking in the tale marks of Nightmares. They patrolled for hours and only ran into the occasion Maggot, which would only try to run for its life before being cut apart. Their Taskmaster huffed clearly annoyed “People grab a wall, send some waves out.”
Dailin frowned, and Aethin somewhat alert instantly retreated back into his trance. Dailin and the rest of the patrol did as instructed shifting large sections of stone, having it grind against one another. They kept it up for a few minutes, then stopped when familiar clicks began to echo around them. All of them formed a tight circle and collectively made a shield around themselves, slowly adding layers to it biding their time.
Stone showered around them pelting the shield as Behemoths crashed through walls, maggots, and Stingers at the back rushing forward. They let the Nightmares swarm around them, hammering at the shield. Dailin would have been worried if he didn’t have Sanctum Chanters at his side. All the Chanters except for him had varying marks of glowing veins, and eyes. These people wouldn’t be spent anytime soon, not unless they had to use lightning. The shield gradually pushed outwards as they added more layers to it, the Nightmares only now making rents in the first layer. They held it still, waiting for the command to let loss.
Nightmares continued to pour in, dogpiling on top of the horde already swarming over them. A minute later and the shield was fully encased in bodies biting and stabbing at it. “Now” called out the Taskmaster, and the outer layer of shielding went red. Nightmares screamed as limbs began to melt, and the horde as one shirked back. The shield followed as they sent in flying outwards melting a good portion of the host that had gathered around them. They continued the process till none were left. Then stay waiting for a new host to form, then quickly melted it away. This went on for almost an hour before the Nightmares in the area had enough. They scurried away, sending out a distinct scream echoing down tunnels, when a Nightmare heard it, it would run as well.
Even with the host gone he and his fellows maintained the shielding, most of them veterans to this sort of task. There would always to be some of the Nightmares braver than most, those who would stay behind and wait for an easy kill. But in truth, the real reason at least for Dailin was coming out to these defenseless passages had become even more frightening for him. These shields were a temporally reprieve from the gnawing fear coursing through him.
As they rested the Taskmaster checked their work, trying to make out the total kills they had gathered. They had a quota that the Higher ups liked them to meet before ending a patrol. Their leader grimaced “We head back to the block, we’ll wait there for the Nightmares to regain their courage before we embark again. That got a round of mumbling, complaints, and curses, even from those who volunteered to be out. “Quit the quivering we’ve almost reach our goal, now move.”
The march back went smoothly, Dailin hadn’t seen a single Nightmare show itself, both wonderful and worrying in its own right. Nightmares breed madly if there’s one there should be another hundred moving about. ‘They said this place has been left neglected, seems rather peaceful to me.’ Dailin called out to a Chanter next to him “I’ve not been to this section before, is it always this quiet?” The Chanter continued scanning the surfaces “No, my last march through here it was a withering hive of activity” the Chanter smiled as he looked to Dailin “We reached our quota in a few Sequence, then ran back to the Gate as fast as we could.” He looked lost in thought for a moment “But that was three, four Arcs ago” turning he shouted back “Anyone of you been to this Section recently?” The majority answered with resounding no’s, a couple startled talking amongst each other. One of their group answered, “We were out here an Arc ago, can’t say it was a hive, but it was a lot more active than this”.
Their little talk continued all the way back to the Block, giving him mixed feelings. Annoyed being one of them with the lack of Nightmares, and now they had to waste extra time hunting Nightmares. Then fear as his thoughts continued down the path of what that meant in the long run for him. These patrols (even forced upon him) were his main source of perceived Worth to the Sanctum. Without them he wasn’t sure how he would maintain the image of being seen worth keeping. It would be the same for many people, this horrible job was almost a safety net from being thrown out. He pushed the fear aside ‘Its only one section plenty more to go around.’
Dailin felt a tug on his arm, Aethin trying to get his attention “Yes my Mentor?” Aethin motioning to the door “Why haven’t we gone inside?” Dailin made sure not to roll his eyes as he made his voice kind “We haven’t met the quota yet so” Aethin interrupting him “How? We’ve been out here for Rounds now.” Dailin forcing a smile “The Nightmares seem to be very thin here, its making things difficult.” Aethin frowned and glared out into the distance, letting loose a huff of discontent before returning to his trance. ‘Once again he leaves me to do all the work, no wonder you got thrown out.’ Aethin for all his knowledge and potential was lazy, to the point of stupidity. Dailin wasn’t that active himself, but he could force himself if needed. Especially if it kept him from an agonizing death, Aethin? From what he’s seen no, no his Mentor for all the help he had given him, was, in the end, a deadbeat.
If it wasn’t for Dailin dragging him along through all the patrols they’ve embarked on, he was sure Aethin sister would have thrown him out by now. Or worse assigned him to a flock whenever one is assembled. ‘Then I’d be forced to go with him.’ Aethin was Dailin backer, but Aethins family was his, that gone Dailin would have to find some way to get Aethins family, clan to let him stay, or find someone else who would house him. Dailin search in that regard hadn’t been promising, as almost everyone seemed to be doing the same thing, constantly. He couldn’t help but sigh, this situation painfully similar to when he was a slave to an overspending lord. He just hoped it didn’t turn out the same way with him on the streets. ‘Least I won’t starve this time.’
As they waited for the order to move, Dailin spent it combing through the information he’d picked up over the months, searching again for anyone else he could work for. Even though it made his skin crawl he wasn’t above spending extra time on patrols. If it meant he had a place to return to after the work was done. Nor the dangerous jobs of clearing out infested areas, but that would be a last resort, a last thrown in pitch to get a deal.
Clapping brought him back to the present, their Taskmaster bellowed “Alright that enough waiting, let’s get this over with.” Dailin tugged at Aethin arm, as people reassembled into their oval formation. They walked for a bit making sure that there was enough room for the Nightmares to encircle them. The creatures preferred that, and as he learned during his trips with others that the things didn’t like attacking if the intended victim could seem them. But only when alone or accompanied with too few siblings. In mass, the things will attack regardless of the odds, till their numbers were thinned once more.
They halted within a passage that had many branching paths, “You all know the drill get to it” said the Taskmaster his eyes scanning for movement. Stone echoed and rumbled as they churned it, and as the time passed they began looking around. There were sounds of Nightmares, clicking and screeching, some of the braver ones revealed themselves to get a look before scurrying behind a bend or rock.
They stopped churning stone as Dailin and his fellows formed up shields. Nightmares rushed them, slamming into the barriers, Dailin frowned as the only creature that had shown up were Maggots. The Nightmares of worth such as Behemoths or Consumers were absent. Not even the Stingers had shown themselves.
The patrol let minute’s pass by waiting for more to show, letting the Maggots echo out their calls for aid. Time continued to tick by, with no signs of reinforcements heading in their direction. The Nightmares paused in their assault Then Maggots began to break off, the Taskmaster yelled in alarm “Fire, don’t let them get away.” Shieling flew melting all in sight, the tunnel returned to its calm silence. Sneering the Taskmaster scanned their work “This will have to do, back to the Gate people, were done for this Rotation.”
The march back was peaceful, almost as if they were traveling in Warded tunnels. It had the opposite effect on him and the group. His heart hammered loudly in his chest, muscles growing tight in anticipation for something to go wrong. That was the norm in passages such as these. Anything else meant trouble in some form or another. They only relaxed their guard when they passed through the door and rich light embraced them. Aethin instantly came to “Finally!” his shoulders slopped, and he let go of Dailin hand. Others echoed Aethin cheer of the task done, Dailin stayed silent more focused on replenishing his body with the mana that hung heavily in the air.
A slap on the back broke his concentration, Aethin his customary smile plastering his face look down at him. “Interested in joining me to the brothel? The Maidens you left behind have been asking for your return.” Dailin face heated up as he recalled the last trip where Aethin had deceived him into going there. ‘The scents won’t have such a strong effect on you again, you’ll be fine’ Aethin had said, a claim which turned out to be complexly wrong. “NO!” breathing out slowly “No, I’ve had my fill for now.”
Aethin grin grew and Dailin looked away “To bad but be sure not to stay away too long Acolyte, Maidens, once they've gained interest for someone, go searching for them after a while. Might even corner you in your own room” Dailin rubbing his neck, feeling rather uncomfortable talking about this around people who could clearly hear “I think I might prefer that, least there wouldn’t be any of that plighted scent around.”
“Oh” Aethin smiling happily “I’ll let them know then, they’ll be thrilled to have you completely to themselves” Dailin frowned as he looked to Aethin “your joking right? They’re not really going to show up like that?” Aethin rubbed his back, and Dailin could hear muffled snickering behind him “Ah to be young”. Winking Aethin continued “Just be sure you keep your door locked when you rest.” More suppressed laughter and Dailin focused very hard not to tear up, or lash out. Too many memories surfaced, too many recurring instances of him being mocked. ‘Stop laughing, stop laughing at me!’
Aethin pulled him into a shoulder hug “Don’t worry Acolyte you still have time before things get to that point, just be sure to visit them on occasion. They can get a little annoyed when their chosen don’t visit their children.” Dailin memories shattered and his growing anger froze “Children? What children?”
Aethin looked at him oddly, before he looked away understanding coming to him “Right, young, well when two people come to together and act in the fashion we engaged in at the brothel” Dailin waved a hand stopping him from going on “I KNOW! I, I just didn’t think about it.” ‘The damnable scents literately made me unable to think about it.’
Aethin perked up “Oh, good I really didn’t want to explain such things, but now that you know, perhaps you should come with me. Really get to know the ones you laid with, who knows” Aethin hugged Dailin tighter “Maybe one of them will want to become a bond-mate”.
Dailin mind was in turmoil, and he answered absentmindedly “Sure.” Aethin smiled pulling away from him “Don’t worry I’m sure this time the scents won’t get the better of you.” He shrugged “and if they do what’s wrong with more offspring. You wait and see their just adorable, the cutest things when their first born.
Dailin shook his head in disbelief, he was barely keeping himself housed within these walls, now he also had to help his kids. He squinted his eyes as he stared at Aethin “You’ve had lots of kids then Menor?” Aethin sounding proud “OH, yes more than I really know about now.” He looked at Dailin “I’ve been around, my hands have lured many Maidens into my embrace”
Dailin tried not to show his disgust ‘That was more than I wanted to know.’ He smiled “Then you must have lots of experience in taking care of them? Know how to earn the worth to help them stay within relatively safe walls.” Aethin stared at him confused “I don’t know where you get these odd concepts from, take care of them?” Aethin laughed “That’s the Maidens job, they belong to her after all.” Aethin tone grew envious “As do all the benefits that go with them.” he sighed “So many benefits” Aethin studied him quizzically “You’ve never noticed how few Maidens there are amongst our ranks?”
Dailin looked around, studied the group they were with, all male, and as he thought about, every group he had been in was the same. There were quite a few in the group of those fleeing the Settlement, but that was an exodus, not a patrol party. He turned back to Aethin “I suppose not.” Dailin his tone skeptic “So what? All a Maiden has to do is have some kids and she set for life?”
Aethin chuckled “They wish, the benefits aren’t that good, but it’s not that far off the mark Acolyte” he rubbed his chin “I don’t think I passed over this information to you? Didn’t even occur to me, since you act so grown most of the time.”
Dailin his mind not so chaotic now “Then if I have nothing to do with them why should I go see them?” Aethin rolled his eyes “first if your child turns out gifted with a great soul, their worth quite a bit. The Maiden will be interested in having more with you, maybe even share some of the Benefits to keep you around. Second as I said before Maidens enjoy partners that show interest in their offspring, that you could be trusted with supervising them if situations called for it.” Aethin placing a hand on his chest, a mark of caring on his face “Third family matters, after all, it’s the only reason we're here Acolyte, my father laid with many women, his offspring displayed great worth and formed a powerful clan.”
Dailin let a grin of his own show “Is that your plan Mentor, lay with enough women that one Rotation you won’t have to" waving an arm at the tunnel “do this anymore?” Aethin looked away, focused on the ceiling “Maybe, the Maidens do love me.”
‘But your sister, and maybe many more of your family than you know don’t.’ Dailin with the thoughts of family and children on his mind frowned, as particular bits worked its way to the surface “Am I one your children Mentor?” Aethin head snapped back in his direction, Aethin sent glares behind him, as his question must have got the interest of others as well. Aethin eventually studied him, looking hard at his face, before turning away. “I’m not sure, the Anointed of our Settlement had a gathering of young, if you recall. Made it so the Maidens wouldn’t be able to tell whose was theirs” Aethin sighed “for the best since the children were being sent off to die.”
Dailin frowned, angry with himself for letting this topic come up around others. Allowing people a good guess at just how young he was. “Yes, I remember, not something one can forget. Is that going to be done to my children? Forced grown to maturity?”
Aethin flinched, which had Dailin brow rise. Murmuring behind him had Dailin look, some of their fellow Chanters were giving Aethin an interested look. A fellow behind them called out “What’s he mean by that Aethin? Your group wasn’t really that desperate to try a full changing?” Aethin glared at them “It wasn’t my call, the Anointed of our Settlement weren’t the brightest bunch, nor the kindest, and yes we were desperate.”
Another voiced “So the children were brought to adulthood in one session? No staging what’s so ever?” More of the patrol were listing in, Dailin both embarrassed to have so many eyes looking his way, and annoyed with people prying into his past. Aethin let out a tired and angered sigh “No not completely, they stopped at their late teens, and no I wasn’t part of it. And before any of you get your hopes up it failed horribly. The children grew fine, their minds, however, were damaged, most were at best living corpses.” Shoulders slumped at the news, and people turned their heads talking with each other again, completely losing interest in them.
Dailin gave Aethin a question look “So my children won’t meet a similar fate then?” Aethin shook his head “No, at most they’ll be grown large enough to move and act on their own. Then given a few Arcs to let their minds adjust before putting them through another, as you say forced growth.”
Dailin worries lessened with that knowledge “Well that does sound a lot better, and my kids will be born within the walls of a Sanctum.” Aethin grunted “Indeed, they’ll be safe for a while, but the moment they can serve” Aethin went quiet, long enough that Dailin looked to him “Get to know your kids before their sent off Acolyte, it’s rare to see them again once they leave these walls.”
Dailin relied dryly “Not if I find myself outside them again.” Aethin shivered “Don’t say that, it would mean I’d have a large chance of being out there too, unless I traded you off.” Dailin hummed, not particularly sure how to respond to that. It was a threat in most cases if the knowledge in his head was correct.
They walked in silence, Dailin mind wrapped up with the prospect of kids, even if he wasn’t going to be the one caring for them. It still brought memories to the surface, he did have many wives adoring him in his dream. With that comes kids, lots of kids, lots of times with him failing as a parent. Not enough food, not enough time, not enough money, the debtors are coming, his daughters are screaming as thugs drag them away. His boys taken by lords for war. Dailin shook his head forced the past to recede, the calls for help to go away.
Aethin placed a hand on his shoulder “knowledge getting to you again Acolyte?” Dailin came to, the realm refocusing, and he patted Aethin hand “Yes, sorry can’t help myself, one thought after the next, then things get cluttered.” He smiled at Aethin “I’m fine now.”
As he looked around he noticed he had been distracted for quite some time. The tunnel was back to its maximum size, plenty of room for them even as the tunnel started to fill with other patrols completing their task. The strain and fears of the day events drained from him, as his body relaxed all on its own. The light coming from the Wards became more peaceful to him every day, even though he knew in most cases it was a false peace. He or his body still allowed itself to be pulled into the lie. He was tired, not physically he had too much mana running through him for that, no even now with months of the same stress. He still couldn’t get used to it, the constant panic, the complete unknown every time he left these walls. Worse he could it feel the fear growing more apparent every day, the dread of being outside these walls, outside any Warded walls was becoming unbearable.
It was getting to the point that he wondered if there was something woven into the patterns that made people become attached to it. He certainly did, and as the thoughts of going outside again entered his mind his body natural started to dense. He took deep breaths and let his thought ebb away as he stared at the ceiling, watched the ever continuing pattern pass him by. He spent the rest of the march back to the crossroads like that, both completely relaxed and dread free by the time they arrived.
Unlike the one, he and Aethin had stopped at on their way to a new home. This one was very busy, filled to the brim with people coming and going. He sighed ‘Guess I’ll have to wait till I’m home for a proper bath.’ Their Taskmaster voiced, filled with impatience “We’re staying for a Round that’s it” Pointing to a tunnel exit “Regroup over there.” He then quickly separated himself from the group heading to the bathhouse.
The group dispersed afterward people heading in every direction. Dailin headed straight for the Garden, food being one of his best distractions from the stresses of life. He was somewhat annoyed that all the chairs and tables were taken, that he had to stand and eat. But that annoyance drifted away as he picked up pieces of conversation.
“Spent five Rounds searching for Nightmares, all we got out of it was few Carvers mucking about.” Another spoke, “You didn’t try luring them in?”
“Yes, afterward, we still spent another Round wasting ourselves shifting rock before some began to show up. Eventually, our Taskmaster had us move again, try farther out, that help some. Still took Cycles to meet our Quota.”
Dailin flexing his ears about, picking up similar tales, the patrols that shared the same rough area his group scouted told the same story. Patrols from other section didn’t have as much trouble, but they also talked of thinned or thinning numbers of vermin running around.
“It was odd, here my patrol was surrounded by swarms of the plighted vermin ready to blast their soulless hides to bits, then the things started moving away. Their antennas flapping all over the place, before we had a thought the Nightmares scattered.”
Dailin listened, not so distracted by his food anymore as worries wormed there way into his mind. He wasn’t a year old yet but was he experienced enough to know that Nightmares became suicidal in larger numbers. They don’t just leave, retreat from a meal right in front of them. Nor do areas left unpatrolled not become infested. Nightmares breed like mad, mature quick, and well don’t stop growing.
‘They’re somewhere out there, waiting, amassing, gods don’t let me be one of the people to deal with it.’ The patrols were enough stress for his system, fighting off an actual horde? That wouldn’t do well for him, nor Aethin.
He stayed listing to conversation almost his full hour, forcing him to rush off and quickly wash himself down. He hurried over rejoining back with the others, most smelling of fresh oils and scents. Aethin walked over to him “There you are, I suppose you were stuffing your face again?” Dailin frowned, and Aethin laughed in return “By the Giver I don’t think I’ve seen anyone eat as much as you Acolyte.”
Dailin grunted a reply “We all have our pleasures of choice Mentor, food helps me relax.” Aethin shrugged “I suppose but I’m sure mine is far more relaxing and pleasing than yours.”
Dailin rolled his eyes but didn’t respond ‘Your pleasure takes too much time, and comes with children attached.’ Their Taskmaster clapped and waved them on, he looked far more relaxed now. During their walk home Dailin told Aethin of the conversations he had picked up on. “Don’t worry too much about it Acolyte the plighting creatures move around often, searching constantly for easy meals. They’ll be back eventually.” Dailin shook his head “I know, it just odd for a whole section to be affected, that and I’m worried the things are amassing.”
Aethin frowned “it wouldn’t be the first time, but the Nightmares have long given up on assaulting a Sanctum tunnel, they’ll go elsewhere, best we offer blessings that the Giver aid those that will have to deal with that problem.’ Dailin just stared at him “You don’t think it might be us? Maybe after the things breed in large numbers, after they get their hands on a decent meal. Perhaps they'll come back this way and start raising havoc in the section we patrol?”
Aethin waved his words away “You worry too much, besides if the section got that infested multiple Patrols would be sent to deal with it.” Aethin rolled his eyes as he looked at Dailin who was unconvinced, patting Dailin shoulder “Trust your Mentor, things will go back to normal soon enough. Though why you’re complaining about a lack of Nightmares is beyond me.”
Dailin looking to the ceiling to ease his worries “Because we still have a Quota to reach, and now we’ve wasted more of our Rotation trying to reach it.” Aethin sighed “True that is rather unfortunate, my Maidens will be distraught at the news, they complain I’m not around enough as is.” Dailin fought down the scoff that nearly left his lips ‘Right I’m sure, it's not like they don’t have an endless sea of men coming to see them constantly.’ It made him wonder of the children, if they were actual his, it didn’t matter since he didn’t get to raise them regardless. But he would still wonder, would wonder every time he looked at someone ‘is that my child, or is that person, perhaps that one with a lot worth is mine.’ Sighing he focused on the ceiling, wishing that he could return to his room and continue working on himself, just skip meeting the Maidens altogether.
Aethin ruined that hope by dragging Dailin to the brothel the moment they got back to Hadthel. The brothel was at its height when they arrived, people flooding into the place, the scents held within thick and clouding the air. He scoffed when they first entered, and instantly felt his heart quicken, his blood beginning to burn. ‘What was I thinking coming back here?’ He had his mana perform a small chant, changing the scents to smell of flowers, it worked the smoke now less offensive to him. But the effects remained and were getting worse. Aethin was breathing in deep, apparently addicted to the incense, or the act that comes after.
The place was a hive of activity, so many people crowded the room that he couldn’t see to the other side. He wouldn’t get an ounce of privacy today if he even tried laying with a Maiden. A realization that helped him fight off the primal thoughts plaguing him. As he focused on the worries that he would make a complete fool of himself in front of scores of people.
Dailin reluctantly followed Aethin once he was centered again. Aethin rushes as best he could through the crowds towards the stall. Dailin had an easier time keeping up with Aethin once they got close enough to see it. There wasn’t many suitors left, women or men, and he found Aethin sighing and grumbling to himself, something about accursed nightmares ruining his day. The woman manning the stall saw Aethin, smiled and waved “My you’re quite late this Rotation lover, your choice Maidens have already laid with others,” she gave an apologetic look “They grew tired of waiting, and the constant pestering of requests.” Aethin let out a groan his shoulders slumped slightly “I suppose I should have known, this place is quite lively this Rotation.” The Maiden shook her head “It’s always near this volume, you're just gone by then or already have a spot, but don’t worry there are st--”
She stopped talking the moment she got a good look at Dailin “You!” she pointed, Dailin felt his ears go limp, her tone wasn’t friendly. “Where have you been? My sisters have been nagging me to death about you. Endless questions of how to get hold of you? People you lounge with?” He tone grew dark “Where you live?”
Aethin grinning “Told you they’d go looking if left them alone too long.” Dailin glared at him, before turning his attention back to the Maiden. “My apologies I’ve been quite busy with the number of tasks assigned to me.” Not entirely true, but it wasn’t a lie either, there were days where he was running around constantly. The Maiden hummed, staring him down, the silence continued for a few seconds longer “That’s it? You were busy? Somehow for over an Arc, couldn’t have sent a message, told them where they could meet you.”
Dailin opened then shut his mouth, relieving fast enough that telling the women that he didn’t know any of the Maiden names, might not be the smartest answer. He gave her his best look of guilt, and made his voice sound genuine “Again I Apologize, it slip my mind, but I’m here now, if they still wish to meet.”
She smiled and he found it unpleasant “So you are, and they still do, so you’ll stay right there, where I can keep an eye on you, I’ll send for them.” Dailin smiled at her “Thank you Madam” while at the same time asking the gods to smite her or have something wicked afflict her. Plus Aethin as his Mentor was failing miserably to hide his mirth, his lips twitching. Aethin took a deep breath before he spoke. Looking to the Maiden “Is there anyone available or have the desire to lay with me.” The Maiden looked to Aethin, then to those that remained. One of the men looked Aethin up and down and approached smiling. “I would have you if you’re interested?” his voice was very soft and ladylike, and if Dailin hadn’t been looking at him, he would have assumed it was a woman talking. Aethin eyed the man and returned a smile. Aethin grabbing his hand and began pulling him towards the crowd “I would, now come, it’s been a long Rotation.”
Dailin shivered slightly ‘Is that why he’s so touchy in the baths? Oh, gods, was he flirting with me?!’ Dailin folded his arms, and leaned against the wall, putting his utmost attention on blocking out that thought.
The Head Maiden true to her word kept an eye on him, at all times as she spoke with servants who hurried way. Dailin had to close his eyes, as the view of countless nude bodies, was making his urges all the worse, especially with how open people were with their intimacy. ‘I could make a run for it, push my way through the crowds before that woman had a chance to catch me. Then never come back here, and hope Aethin doesn’t tell them where I live.’ He sighed and continued to wait, wondering the whole time why he agreed to come here.
“My Heart there you are!” His eyes flicked open revealing four women walking towards him, smiles wide, and eyes bright with joy. His eyes widened as he looked at their stomachs, large and well into pregnancy. He quickly hid his shock, as he pushed from the wall arms opening out in greeting “My Maidens, it’s been too long.” He would have said more but the women quickly surrounded him, two of them grabbing his arms, while the one that spoke grabbed his ear and tug her nails in. He hissed, all of them were frowning their looks of delight gone. Her tone hotly “Over an Arc, not word, no calls or warnings. You treated us as some soulless whore, Is that what you think we are to you?”
‘Yes that’s exactly what I thought you all were!’
“No, no.” He said between groans of pain as she continued pulling his ear. “I’ve just been terribly busy, I embark on Patrols every Rotation.” She pulled again, but not as hard as before. “To earn the needed Worth to stay with all of you.” Her grip loosened, and they didn’t seem as mad as before, though still clearly annoyed. ‘Oh, gods Aethin what have you gotten me involved in?’ “Then you should have sent a message.” Rubbing his ear she stared into his eyes “Could it be you couldn’t, that you don’t recall any of our names?” Dailin jaw clenched and he tried not to look away from the accusing eyes, he failed.
She gave a tired sigh, while the others giggled. Dailin felt his cheeks warming ‘Don’t laugh at me! You’re supposed to be whores, there wasn’t supposed to be any attachments to this.’ She moved closer and pressed his head into her chest. “It’s alight my Heart, you’re not the first man to commit this act. Least you came back, unlike so many others.” She pushed him away, but her hands remained his face forcing him to look into her eyes. “Now that you’re here we have much to discuss.” The Maidens began pulling him away, and he saw the woman manning the stall grinning wickedly at him. “Starting with where you live, and don’t lie, we’re going to make sure you actually live there. This little issue isn’t going to be allowed to happen again.”
Dailin exhaled, putting no effort into resisting them “Yes Dear” he tried to sound cheerful, she kissed him on the cheek, smiling happily “Good, for we expect plenty more newborns from you, My Heart.”
Onphae had lost track of how many groups and come before this one. Yet another flock running from their ravaged home. It had to be a record that he was sure of. The number of Settlements lost in a single Cycle had been met within an Arc. That made him anxious about what was to come, as a Guard he would be first to deal with the threat. Looking at the state of the flock and how not a single Guard was amongst them, had him well aware what that entailed.
“It going to be a rough Cycle isn’t it brother.” Called out is fellow Guard Foelae grinning happily as he watched the flock enter their Settlement. Onphae nodded wishing he could find mirth as his brother Guard did. “Rougher than usual by the looks of it. Least for us.”
Foelae smiled at him “I don’t know brother, the Chanters looked pretty beaten themselves, look spent. I can’t say I’ve seen that before.” Onphae shook his head and frowned “That because you’re still young, and proving it well by finding merriment in that scene. Nothing good comes from things that can make a Chanter lower themselves to our level.” Foelae shrugged “I find amusement where I can, besides those Chanters, could have been pushovers, never been in a fight before. Maybe they didn’t pace themselves well enough.
He could only shake his head at his brother’s words, every sentence showing his age. Sighing he placed his shard on the Wards, Foelae mimicking him, the block lowered back down and his nerves settled with the open tunnel no longer displayed to him. He took a reassuring breath as he lowered back into his chair, and slumped over the table.
They focused back on their game of Conquest, Foelae even young was annoyingly good at it and was now winning more often than not. Onphae studied the board letting the dangers outside fade into the background as the game took his mind. Barely two Rounds passed before the Wards flared again and he grabbed his spear. He stilled when the Wards wasn’t pulsating out an alarm but instead a message from outside. He pursed his lips, sure that it wasn’t time for a Scout to check back in. Pulling out his shard he connect to the guide, his eyes widened in surprise as the message came through. A message for asylum, as yet another flock sought to house themselves within their walls. ‘Giver bless us, please keep this threat from our walls.’
Turning to Foelae “It’s another flock. I need you to go send a message or find someone who can, the Anointed will want to know before we let another group in.” Foelae frowned “But we always let them in before telling the higher ones, its “ Onphae held up a hand “I know, but these are different times, the Settlement is filling up beyond what should be, and this group is rather large.”
Foelae got up, and looked worried “You think they'll turn them away?” Onphae didn’t met his brother eye “I don’t know, off with you, it’s not kind to keep our people out there in those cursed tunnels. Foelae nodded and ran off, and Onphae sent a message to the people outside, telling them to hold, that he was awaiting orders from on high.
He rubbed his chest, his heart unsettled with the current events, Onphae found peace in the patterns, in knowing how things should be. As he stared at the messages coming through, he wondered how much longer that would last.