Chapter 33: Meanwhile
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In the past two hundred years nobody had made any progress in researching the scripture sigils anymore, and Oryn Tilia had been the first priest in a hundred years to pick the research back up. He studied the water sources, the ritual platform, the stones, and everything his predecessors had ever written about the sigils.

In all of recorded history, there had been only one successful attempt at using scripture sigils not given to them by the gods. It incorporated a black stone, which, in combination with modified sigils, would produce an effect unlike anything anyone had ever seen. It had been pure luck that a priest had stumbled over these sigils, however, and even using a black stone hadn’t been his intention. He had clumsily tripped over his robe, blurred part of the sigils he had been experimenting with, and dropped the stone he was holding onto the water source he was testing the sigils on. The produced effect had been fascinating, but unfortunately it didn’t have any practical usage.

Oryn had once reproduced the experiment successfully, but he had come to the same conclusion as the priests of the past. He was also looking down at how these results had been found. He didn’t want to rely on luck, he wanted to actually decipher the sigils and learn how to use them. Just like a certain boy had done recently.

He looked at his notebook, where he had drawn dozens of iterations of the same scripture sigils, on pages after pages. Again and again, with ever so slight variations.

“Attempt sixty-eight...” he said to himself.

The sigils he had seen on the hands of Tomar and Riala hadn’t been complete, but after combining them, there were very few gaps to fill anymore. If he could just find the right sigils to make the scripture work, he would become the first priest to have ever discovered new scripture on purpose.

Over the course of his years of research, he had developed many theories as to what certain sigils could mean. A single scripture was nigh useless for this kind of analysis, but in combination with the black stone experiment and the sigils on the ritual platform, he had at least been able to make out certain patterns, even if they had never led him to success.

“Come on...” he said as he placed a blue stone on the small water source on a table before him. With bated breath Oryn looked at the cube, but nothing happened. After a few seconds he let himself fall backwards into a chair and started staring at the ceiling.

“I’ve tested every combination...” he said and let out a loud groan.

Based on his notes and theories, one of the scriptures should’ve worked. Disappointment clear on his face, he mentally went over everything he had seen and heard once more. The way the two had used the scripture, how they had attacked the guards, and how he had tested the water source script on them. He wouldn’t give up so easily.

Oryn stood back up and paced around the room, playing with a blue stone in his hand. He tried to reenact the scenes that guards had described to him, of how the boy and the girl had used the scripts. He raised his arms, he ran, and he jumped, but no idea would come to him. When he made another small leap and tried to do a pose, he messed up the landing and tripped over his own foot, stumbling head first into the table with the water source. It toppled over and Oryn ended up on his back, with one hand on the cube lying beside him.

“Ow...” Suddenly, a large stream of water shot out of the water source and propelled the cube upwards to crash into the ceiling, before coming back down.

“What!?” He was barely able to roll out of the way before the heavy water source crashed back onto the floor, where he had laid just a second ago.

Oryn’s eyes went wide. Somehow he had used the scripture. Ignoring that he could’ve died just now, he jumped to his feet and examined the water source. How did I do that!?

He grabbed another blue stone and desperately placed it onto the water source, but nothing happened. Until he went over what had happened again. He realized that the cube had laid with the scripture facing upwards when he had fallen over. He had placed it on the scripture, not on the top of the cube, like you usually would.

With a squishy sound from rotating the cube on the wet carpet, he recreated how it had been positioned before. He placed another blue stone on the water source and quickly stepped away. Once more it blasted into the ceiling and then fell back to the ground with a wet thud.

“I did it! I did it!!!”

He was over the moon, but his repeated cries of joy did not go unnoticed. A priestess hammered on the door from outside his room. “Shut up, Oryn!”

It wasn’t unusual for him to bother the other priests with frustrated shouts when his experiments didn’t produce any results, but the ruckus he was causing today was on another level. The door to the room flew open and an ecstatic Oryn came out of nowhere, tackling the priestess into a hug.

“Waah!”

“I did it, Aelene! I discovered a new scripture!!” he shouted into her ear.

She did his best to pry him off of her, but with his tight grip and erratic movements it proved difficult. “Let go of me!!” she yelled and finally managed to push him away, making him fall back on the wet floor in his room.

“What is wrong with you!? And why is your whole room wet!?”

“I did it!!” he said, laughing like a maniac.

It wasn’t until now that his words finally registered in her mind. “You... you did? Are you serious?”

“I restored the sigils the kids had on their hands! Wait, I’ll show you!”

He quickly got up and ran over to the water source, almost tripping over himself. Aelene walked into his room hesitantly, her every step producing a squishing sound. As she entered, she looked around the room, seeing a mess of papers, books, and stones, most of it drenched.

“The High Priest is going to rip you apart if he sees what you did to the temple’s books...” she said.

He only briefly glanced behind him to look at her while he rotated the water source into place again. “Huh? Oh, it doesn’t matter, I know every single word in these books. I’ll just rewrite them. And then I’ll add one of my own!”

Oryn motioned for her to stay where she was and used the scripture a third time. Aelene looked on with wide eyes, as she watched the cube fly up with a strong gust of water. Even the fact that some of it sprayed onto her and that the ground below her feet was becoming more pond than carpet didn’t bother her.

“That’s amazing, Oryn,” she said in a daze. “How did you do that?”

He was about to explain his process, when he froze. “I...” he started, but he said no more and fell to his knees, looking at the carpet, crestfallen.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” she said with worry.

“It was just an accident... dumb luck... just like him...” he said, not quite realizing that it had been more than that.

***

“Hertar! You have to send someone to look for her!” a woman said to the king. “She might be all alone out there! In the woods! Without any food or water!”

“Berlotte... The soldiers that were with her searched for survivors, but they didn’t find anyone. I’m very sorry, but the chances that she is still out there—”

“Don’t give me that!” Berlotte said, interrupting King Hertar. “You encouraged her to become an agent and you sent her on this mission! I don’t care about chances, I expect you to not rest until you have found my daughter! That’s the least you can do!”

“You have been holding that over me for years,” the king said. “She got the Fighter Calling and we all had to live with that. I was hoping to make her my successor! ‘The least I could do,’ was to make sure she would have a good life!”

“And you think part of that good life was going after criminals out in the Wildlands!?” she said, exasperated. “Please, Hertar... I beg of you. Send someone to look for her. If there’s even a sliver of a chance, we have to take it.”

King Hertar had no reason to believe that his niece Berla was still alive. Lera hadn’t found her body, but even together with her partner Pari, she wouldn’t have stood much of a chance against a category five beast. And if she had miraculously survived, she would’ve been able to make her way back home. That is, unless she was gravely injured, but the last thing he wanted was for his men to find her disabled. She would not be able to do her destined job anymore, in which case town law would require him to send her to her death as well.

He wasn’t able to exempt himself and his family from the town’s laws. Over the years, he himself had sentenced hundreds of people to be put to rest, and not following the same rules could lead to riots, like it had when Rulers had tried to do so in the past. Should they actually find Berla, and he had to do this, his sister would never speak with him ever again. On the other hand, he had a hard time ignoring the pleadings of his sister.

“Berlotte,” he said, “I will send a few guards to search for her. But, please, prepare yourself for the worst case.”

“I feel that she’s still alive, Herta. You will see,” she said, before thanking her brother profusely and leaving the room in high spirits.

After she was gone, the king begrudgingly turned to a guard that was standing in a corner of the room. “Get me Eissen.”

The guard quietly saluted the king and likewise left the room.

He would have to do at least something to get his sister off his back, but he didn’t intend to actually have his men do any extensive searches. Unless Berla was still alive and well and had just decided to not come back for some reason, nothing good would come from finding her. Giving the job to a trusted subordinate of his childhood friend Lera would be the safest way to see his requests fulfilled.

About half an hour later, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” the king said.

Eissen entered the room and kneeled before the king with his head bowed. “Your Majesty.”

“I need you to assemble a squad and head to the southern woods, where Lera has last seen my niece Berla. You know her, right?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. It is a tragedy that she did not return. My heartfelt condolences.”

“Thank you. However, I want you to do another search for her. If you find her alive and well despite all odds, bring her home safe. If not... I expect you to come back alone. Do you understand?”

“I do, Your Majesty,” Eissen said without any hesitation.

“And don’t put the search above your own lives. You too are expected to come back safe. Should the beast situation still be out of control, retreat immediately.”

“We will. Thank you for your concern, Your Majesty,” Eissen said, before standing up and leaving the room.

***

A direct order from the king was a great opportunity for the young guard, who was on a path to succeeding Captain Lera in the future. If this mission went well, it might even put him above Jara, who was currently considered the number two of the eastern guards. And all he would have to do was either find Berla’s remains or kill her. If he could prove to the king that he could do what it takes, that was a small price to pay. He knew the young woman would most certainly not be alive and well, but that too would work for his ambitions.

He assembled a group of four other guards he trusted and they left for the southern woods as soon as they could.

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