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The narrow-cobbled streets were a hive of activity. The medieval, old-world style was still prevalent throughout, but with none of the realism. Beyond the white toothed smiles, I’d assumed in this kind of time era they’d still be having their bowel movements in buckets and tossing the contents out the window. But as I’d learned in the temple, there were actually flushing toilets, complete with that all important u-bend. Seems this place found their own Thomas Crapper a bit earlier than we did.

We drew the eye of many we passed, but no one appeared to show the slightest bit of hostility toward us. To Meria, they were very respectful. The clergy of Devotion seemed to hold a very special place here in Laurel. I couldn’t say I was surprised. I liked the two members I’d met so far, regardless of their faith. I found myself liking the place very much.

We finally came to a narrow wooden house that was unusual enough in itself, as the rest of the town was built from stone. It had the impression of being squeezed into the space, as an afterthought with the front face only spanning ten feet wide at most.

On the small porch of the building stood a very similar-looking man and woman. Kalia and Morro Sigland. They were both level twelve, the man a head taller than the woman, but they had the same smooth features, framed with dark brown hair. I suspected they were most likely siblings rather than husband and wife.
“Greetings, Acolyte Meria.” The woman said. “Please enter and we may discuss what can be done for this unfortunate man.”

Her tone was odd. As if she was barely on the planet. The man behind her didn’t speak at all, but they had similar glazed over expressions.

“Well met, Kalia, and thank you for seeing us on such short notice.”

The woman nodded, then turned and entered the building. I caught Meria’s eye as we followed and raised a questioning eyebrow at the weirdness of the two. She returned a small smile and shrugged non-committally.

Once inside, we were invited to sit on cushions on the ground around a ridiculously low table that had an ornate teapot in the centre and a number of tiny steaming tea cups around it.”

Mal managed to sit comfortably, Boris settling happily by his side. Me, Daz and Joel however were all stiff arses and struggled to contort ourselves into the awkward sitting position. Meria didn’t join us, choosing to remain by the door. We sat there in silence for a few moments. A fragrant scent permeating the air helped me to relax.

“So you wish to unlock the potential of your Neuma? The path of the external is not for you?”

“Yeah, if it helps me sort this stupid arm out,” I answered honestly.

“I’m thinking of following a spiritual path,” Mal said. “I’ll give this a blast though see what it’s all about.”

“No,” the previously silent Morro said with a surprising amount of firmness.

“The paths are at odds with each other,” Kalia said to clarify. “One contradicts the other. You must ask yourself which you have most faith in. One of the gods or yourself?”.

Mal looked at the two of them dubiously and stood up. “I don’t know which one I have most faith in. But right now, we’re here for Clive, so crack on with him and I’ll make my mind up later.”

“Yeah, I think I will too,” Joel said also getting to his feet. Daz looked at me and shrugged. “I’ll stay for moral support.”

“No,” Morro said again.

“You must be certain in your pursuit of Internal Connection,” Kalia continued. “If you cannot commit to your Neuma, then leave it to flow wild and free.”

Daz shrugged, “Sure, yeah, I can commit,” he said looking at me with a what the fuck expression. I stifled a laugh and focused my attention back on Kalia.

“Okay then. Hit us with it,” I said. They may have been stranger than a two headed giraffe, but this was currently my best chance of survival.

“Take a cup of tea.” Kalia said, and we both did.

“I want you to take a sip of the tea and focus on the sensation as it courses down your throat and enters your stomach.”

“I hope there’s more to this than just some meditation crap,” Daz said.

I was okay with it, after improving my Internal Connection. It actually meant something to me now.

“The tea,” Kalia prompted.

I shrugged and knocked it back. It was sweet, and spicy, pretty nice tea all round and… Kalia’s face was etched in shock. Looking over to Morro, he displayed a similar expression.

Then the party started.

The room started spinning like I was on a super charged waltzer from hell. Everyone seemed to be talking to me, but it meant nothing. For a start, they’d sped up about ninety mile an hour, into chipmunks on speed.

The following period of time could have lasted seconds, minutes, or hours. There was no way to tell as I was bopping off my face. I just about managed to consider this was not helping my damn arm, when the waltzer came to a screeching halt. I blacked out for a second, and when my eyes reopened, Meria was cradling my head. Now the odour of vomit permeated the air, but I couldn’t see or feel any on me.

“What in the actual fuck!” I shouted angrily, as I sat bolt upright.

“You are an idiot,” Kalia said flatly, as I jumped unsteadily to my feet in outrage. The pain in my arm had risen multiple levels of agony. I had to assume Meria had healed and cleansed me as I saw a puddle of vomit on the floor, near to where I’d lain.

“You can’t go around dishing out tea that can do that, without telling someone!”

“I said sip the tea you fool. The fault is yours. Do not blame me for your inability to follow a simple instruction.”

My anger mixed with exasperation. “My fault! You… I... you just fucking drugged me! If someone did that to me back home, I'd knock them the fuck out,” I roared. I had friends who dabbled in drugs, but other than alcohol and coffee, I was clean as a whistle. I wouldn’t even take a paracetamol if I could help it. I also knew people who’d been spiked on a night out, and none of those occasions had ended well.

“What does knock you the fuck out, mean?” Kalia asked. I heard my friends laughing their asses off.

“It means, he’s not happy that you gave him drugs without telling him,” Mal said wiping his eyes. It was just as well. As I could barely articulate any words, I was so angry.

“I don’t know what drugs is, but our tea when consumed as directed, opens the pathway to enlightenment.”

“Next time you’re in this position, you maybe need to emphasize the sipping part a bit more clearly. Not just hand over a tiny fucking cup with a powerful psychedelic in it, and expect the other person to know. I thought it was PG Tips!”

Kalia just looked confused now. Morro for some reason, had moved to the back of the small room and looked terrified. I shook my head, slowly calming down. Suppressing the last of my rage, I spoke again through gritted teeth.

“Look, Kalia, I can already meditate and feel my…Nuema? I didn’t need to be drugged.”

“It’s how we commune with our inner selves,” Kalia said.

“So let me get this straight. You guys can only access your Neuma by being high?” I asked disbelievingly. “Can you do anything with it like heal yourself?”

“Not as yet. We are in the early stages of learning to manipulate the power within our meridians.”

“Shit. Well, this is no use to me whatsoever. I havent got time to sit here getting high. I need to do something about this fucking arm.” Turning away from her, I locked on to Meria. “Are all the Neuma Masters going to be like this?”

“I cannot say Clive. I do know Natom Hilgresh is supposed to be very powerful, but I have not met him or any other than Kalia and her brother. I can see this may have been a mistake,” she said, looking sadly at the two junkies.

I shook my head and walked out of the hut more than a little devastated at the dead end.

“I understand why you were angry,” Meria said. “I had no idea this is how they accessed their Neuma.”

“It’s not your fault Meria. I’ll need to speak to Esb… Priestess Descar to find out if the Neuma Master we’re supposed to be traveling to meet will be off their faces as well. If they are, then I need a different plan. I’m also going to need to focus on my arm for a little while. I can feel that it’s started to push up my arm more aggressively. It really doesn’t like the healing and cleansing you guys provide.”

She nodded with a compassionate expression. “Go to your room and do what you need to do. I will go and seek out Priestess Descar for you.”

“Thank you Meria. I appreciate that,” I said before looking at my friends. “What are you guys going to do? Because I’m going to be meditating my ass off, and that isn’t going to be much fun for you lot.”

“I wouldn’t mind a look around the shops,” Daz said hopefully. “Maybe get ourselves some gear. Mal and Joel are kitted out with the Shinobi Shozoku. I wouldn’t mind a bit of protection myself.”

Mal smiled at Daz. “Gear? You got money for gear Daz?”

“Ha, ha, ha,” he drawled out sarcastically. “Yes, I do have money Mal. You’re keeping it in your robes for me remember?”

“Clive’s gonna need some gear too,” Joel pointed out.

“Keep an eye out for anything good for me. You can show me once I’m done at the temple.”

“At least I’ll be able to see when you leave the temple,” Mal said tapping his head.

“Wait a minute, did my marker go on the map in your head too?”

“Sure did pal. Now I’m always watching,” he replied in a mock sinister voice. Even so, I found it slightly unnerving.

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