Cool rain mist permeated the shrine’s air as Ryhka sat poised on the stone floor in front of the marble figure of Anthelwen. Though her knees were aching at this point from putting all the pressure on them, she continued to remain in her stance waiting. The pitter patter of the rain echoed throughout the shrine, and it’s smooth, cascading sound indicated no one was really about lurking outside. It really seemed Ryhka was the only one daring enough to be out into the world today.
However, none of this particularly interested Ryhka as she silently stared up at the statue. Her white hair fell around her in waves, nearly reaching the ground due to her proximity to it. By the level of dampness, Ryhka could tell she had been waiting in the shrine for about thirty minutes, give or take a few given she had rung out her hair a bit when she arrived. Though boredom threatened to move her from the spot several times, she continued to play the pious visitor and at least look like she a ruminating over the nine gods of Faeaidra.
Just as her thoughts turned to examining the quality of the marble for the fifth time, the dull thud of steps began to approach her from the left. Her muscles tensed slightly in anticipation, though she forced her gaze to remain squarely on Anthelwen. At least mentally, however, she followed each footstep’s rise and fall. With each complete cycle the steps became loud, and Ryhka could be sure that they were indeed heading in her direction.
Upon hearing the distinct echo that indicated the owner of the footsteps was in the room, Ryhka’s eyes quickly flitted to confirm the figure was not a threat. The sight of the familiar sky blue and gold raiments of the priesthood assayed her worries, though, and her eyes nonchalantly returned to Anthelwen. In this time the figure had continued to their approach and only stopped two feet short of bumping into Ryhka. With a little bit of creaking and cracking of bones, the priest brought himself down to the ground to join Ryhka in a similar (albeit more practiced) sitting pose. The rain’s pitter-patter returned for a few moments as the dominant sound, as Ryhka patiently waited for the priest to speak first.
“A strange time to be visiting Anthelwen,” the grizzled voice of the priest stated as if it was simply a matter of fact. “The last visitor during the rain came in the hopes for more powerful lightning magic to destroy his neighbor’s crops. Tell me, young one, are you here for the same?”
“No, sir priest,” Ryhka replied calmly as her gaze finally turned towards the priest to take him fully in. She noted he was much older than she first though, perhaps in his late 60’s. Though his standard priest hat covered his hair, she could see his short, salt-and-pepper beard clearly. The only thing remarkable about him, perhaps, was the scar on his chin where no facial hair would grow.
“Ah, I see,” the priest chuckled, interrupting Ryhka’s mental ponderings about him. “For the best, perhaps. Though I imagine you are not here simply to stare at the goddess’ form.”
“No, I’m not.” Ryhka paused in silence a moment, giving the priest a chance to interject. When the silence continued, she spoke again. “I was told that you might know where IT is.”
“To what ‘it’ are you-“
“You know which IT I am referring to, sir.”
The amused look at had been on the priest’s face for a moment quickly washed away. His hand unconsciously rose to his face and stroked his beard, one finger in particularly lingering on the scarred area. It was clear this had not been the first time the priest had been asked the question, though it was clear the question brought him no joy. Rather, it seemed to weigh on him as if knowing the answer was to know death. For a moment the priest’s blue eyes met with Ryhka’s pink and green eyes, as if to assess something about her person. What he found in the gaze, however, Ryhka would never know. Whatever it was, it caused him to have a long and low sigh.
“If I said it was a fool’s legend, you would not believe me, would you,” the priest questioned, though his tone suggested he knew the answer.
Ryhka merely shook her head in response, and the priest sighed again.
“I do not know what led you here, though I imagine I don’t care either. I will be frank with you, young one: I do not know where the Bane of Faeaidra is. I do not know anyone who for certain does. What I can tell you is where you must go next in your journey. Will this suffice?”
“Yes, that will suffice,” Ryhka exclaimed with confidence, though a disappointed pit formed in her stomach anyway.
“Very well. In the North there is a city called Lentina. Head there and talk to the priestess who keeps Kjelduino’s shrine there. She will guide your next step,” the priest instructed with some amount of reluctance as Ryhka drank the information in.
Ryhka pondered over this information momentarily. Lentina was at least two week’s travel away by foot, though supply stops would surely slow the trip. The thought made Ryhka a bit nervous, though she couldn’t be sure the lost time would make a difference either. Everything was up in the air, far more so than Ryhka preferred to tolerate.
“Is there anything else you can tell me? What will this priestess say?” Ryhka verbalized, her sitting position shifting to be even more uncomfortable in her uncertainty.
“Do not ask, for I do not know. She knows things I do not. The only thing I can say to you is to take heed. No one I have told this to has ever succeeded, and to my knowledge most have died during the journey.”
Ryhka paused, opened her mouth, paused again, and then finally nodded. With a few twitching of stiff muscles, Ryhka rose from her position to stand for the first time in a while. Though her muscles threatened to cramp and cripple her, Ryhka banished the soreness from her mind so that she could leave with her dignity intact. Quickly adjusting her sword on her right hip into a more comfortable and ready to use position, Ryhka took one last look towards the priest.
“Thank you, sir priest. I will make for Lentina and consult this priestess,” Ryhka said with immense formality and a small and courteous nod.
The priest nodded back and stared at her for a long moment before simply uttering, “Survive by your strength, young one.”
“And you, sir, survive by your faith.”
Ryhka began her trek to the door less entrance of the shrine, but stopped suddenly short of exiting.
“Sir priest. A favor?” Ryhka inquired while looking back at him from over her shoulder. When the priest’s eyes made contact she continued her request. “If a boy with blond hair comes and asks after IT or myself, keep silent.”
Before the priest could answer, Ryhka took her final steps through the archway and exited the shrine. The entrance only had the smallest of covers over it, and she quickly found herself being drenched by the continuing downpour of rain. The light droplets danced on her skin as she walked through the small city towards the inn, and all around it was not an unpleasant sensation. The only thing that made Ryhka uneasy was the lack of people on the cobbled pathways. Though of course most would take shelter during such a storm, it was times like these where the very shadows felt like attackers ready to pounce. Even at her skill level, or perhaps because of her skill level, luck and mistakes could mean the difference between going home on two feet or no feet. Thus, she wasn’t very keen on such loneliness.
Thankfully, the inn was only a 10 minute walk from the shrine, and Ryhka quickly found herself hobbling up the wooden steps that marked its entrance. As soon as she entered the inn, she was overcome with an immense change in atmosphere. The shrine, being lite only sparsely by candles and being somewhat air had not only been cold, but gave the feeling of immense distance. It was barely a step above just being outside. The inn, however, was a different world entirely. Candles were littered about everywhere, from the window sills to the tables in the entrance’s common area. A strange, gold chandelier hung from the ceiling as well, and it too had its share of candles to the light the inside.
What truly made the difference in atmosphere, however, was the fire that roared in the common area’s fire place. Even from Ryhka’s faraway distance, warmth had immediately begun to seep into every pore of her being upon entering. Something about the sheer temperature difference seemed invigorate her, and any energy lost from sitting in the shrine so long was regained. Given the rambunctious nature of the other patrons taking refuge in the common area, she imagined she was not alone in this feeling.
Ryhka continued to stand at the entrance for a time, trying to dry off enough to not drip water all the way to her room. Even if she had felt like being so inconsiderate, some glaring glances from the innkeeper told her the gesture would not be appreciated. With nothing to do but stand and wring her hair and clothes out, Ryhka found herself taking in the image of the common area. Several patrons were loudly and boisterously involved in a card game of some sort, though which Ryhka couldn’t even fathom to guess. Two girls stuffed away in the corner were whispering quietly, though a quick stolen kiss between them told Ryhka it must be an intimate affair. Further towards the small bar sat a few patrons; one was sleeping, and the other two seemed to be engaged in some sort of angry debate (perhaps about which drink was better during rainfall). Last but not least was a lone figure sitting by the fire seeming to stare at nothing. As Ryhka squinted at them a tad, it finally dawned on her that the figure’s short and scruffy black hair belonged to her companion Nayalin.
After waiting a few more moments to dry off and be tolerably damp, Ryhka softly approached Nayalin. The loudness of the common area became more apparent as Ryhka got closer, and she purposely tried to make her normally soft footsteps louder so Nayalin might hear her approach. However, given Nayalin’s lack of movement, it was hard to tell if Ryhka had been at all successful to this in any regard. As Ryhka made her final approach, she cleared her throat audibly so Nayalin might finally make the connection before Ryhka spoke.
“Nayalin? What are you doing down here?”
Nayalin inclined her head slightly in Ryhka’s direction, though the targeting was clearly off due to the ambient noise in the room. A slight and humored smile graced her face, however, and Ryhka could almost see a sparkle in Nayalin’s white, semi-translucent eyes.
“Eavesdropping,” Nayalin giggled softly. “That group playing cards. They’re trying to get as far south as they can. They stepped on someone’s toes in the capital and think they’re being hunted.”
Ryhka’s eyes slowly glided over to the group for a second, before sighing and returning to Nayalin. “That’s a bad habit.”
“I did not force the information from them,” Nayalin retorted with a joyous voice. “I don’t think you value how much just listening can achieve.”
A frown marred Ryhka’s face slightly, though it was one of reluctant acceptance as well as frustration. Even Ryhka couldn’t deny the usefulness of Nayalin’s eavesdropping sometimes.
“How was the shrine?” Nayalin inquired in Ryhka’s silence, her face now in a more relaxed and serious expression as well as pinpointed on Ryhka’s position.
Ryhka paused for a moment longer. “As well as it could be. Are the others about?”
“Aliciva and Feolend are out on the town despite the rain. Miroleq is in his room, as expected.”
“I had hoped they’d all remain, though I don’t blame them for leaving.”
“Did you need them here?”
“We leave for the north tomorrow. Where I dare not say in such a public area.”
As the words left her lips, Ryhka gave a somewhat suspicious look to the people around. To the surprise of the cautious part of her conscience, not a single person seemed to even acknowledge her existence; any sort of Nayalin-like behavior was ridiculous to even consider. Yet, still, Ryhka’s mind issued warnings of security for such information. Even a single person could reveal her intent to the one person she didn’t want to know.
Slowly Ryhka’s eyes found their way back to Nayalin who was simply nodding an acknowledgement of Ryhka’s concerns. With an amount of grace Ryhka couldn’t dream existed, Nayalin stood from her spot on the couch.
“I think we shall retire upstairs then,” Nayalin stated simply as she grabbed her walking stick.
Ryhka exchanged a small smile with Nayalin, though whether it was by coincidence or an unspoken mental connection Ryhka couldn’t say. Nayalin’s stick tapping along the floor as Nayalin moved halted any pondering Ryhka might have about it, though. Taking on a slow gait, Ryhka followed Nayalin up the stairs to await her companions’ return.
Where to start reading?
The Bane of Faeaidra is a two-part fantasy novel following deuteragonists Ryhka and Niead as they race each other to find an ancient artifact that could fix the sins of their pasts.