The Bells Have Tolled
I'm not sure I like how this chapter came out but I'm also not sure how to make it more likable :P
Arial woke early and washed her face in a basin of cold water. She met William at the North Gate. He looked exactly the way she felt-- utterly exhausted-- even if he claimed otherwise. Nonetheless, she abandoned him shamelessly with Richard. He wasn’t unpleasant to be around, but he wasn’t exactly pleasant to be around, either.
She left them to their business and started on her way to the center of town. She fully intended on finishing the tattoo sleeve on her upper arm, even if it meant forcing her way through the throngs of celebrators.
The tattoo wouldn’t be lucks and charms to one of the Teslalan gods. She had one too many of those already. Nor would it be a series of lucks and charms to the Hunvian gods she followed; at least, not entirely. Finished, it would depict the mellow Pojess River on its path through woods and farmlands. Runes she no longer believed in would be turned to beauteous nature. Rippling down her shoulder like a vine of blossoms, symbols from a language she couldn’t read, passed on to her from the priest who had converted her to the Hunvian religion. They would read,
Strength Courage Beauty Honor
All things she was not, yet all things she aspired to be.
On the edges of the road, vendors and celebrators tended to their breakfasts over open flames. The air was filled with smoke and expensive spices, saved all for this one day dedicated to the celebration of Maim, the Goddess of Destruction. This afternoon, in the town’s square, High Priestess Adaellae of the Mere would arrive and give a sermon. Reveal another vision, perhaps? Arial rolled her eyes at the thought, ignoring the stench of the mule she walked past.
The walk was a daze of avoiding children with crackling sparklers and intoxicated adults playing too close to fire; of vendors calling her out of the crowd to buy their food or trinket, then harassing her when she refused.
Arial opened the heavy door to the Rykun temple. Darkness shrouded the entrance, and there were no glimmers of light deeper within. That was the problem with Rykuns-- they took themselves too seriously. Today, they would be dark because the celebration of Maim was a depreciation of Adaer. In two weeks’ time, they would force the city to observe Dark Day. Two months from them, the small community that celebrated Adaer would be penalized for putting down Maim’s followers.
“Who enters?” an old woman’s frail voice called.
“Arial Shasetia,” Arial replied in a respectful tone. “I come to visit Priest Piodre.”
A small woman with wrinkled brown skin approached, holding a lamp above her head. She nodded. “He told me a pagan was come to visit him.”
“The… pagan is me,” Arial confirmed, pagan hard on her tongue.
She nodded and gestured for Arial to follow her. “The earning of a Ticket is difficult,” she said when Arial started following her. “There are numerous, numerous paths to doing so. That’s why I like to keep my temple open minded.”
“Your temple?” Arial repeated before she could stop herself. She slammed her hip into a table. It grated against the ground and something rattled. She felt her eyes bulge as she waited for the sound of shattering glass.
The woman turned around, a collected expression on her face, and held the lamp towards the narrow table Arial had hit. A red vase with a sunflower rocked a second more before landing flat on its base.
“I forgot to ask,” the woman said when the vase stilled. “Hast thou work gone well this day?”
Arial stared at her for a confused moment. “Oh! Yes, yes. Many thanks. Your own?”
She shrugged her shoulders and held up her free hand in an open gesture. “I haven’t decided yet. It certainly began well, but Mr. Enzo Hunter arrived from the high priestess’s abbey and he hasn’t left yet!”
“Oh?” The Rykun temple, defeated so easily by a guest?
“Oh, indeed,” she said. She paused again, lips turning down in a tiny frown. “Have we introduced each other? I’m Esther Palsin.”
Arial caught her tongue this time before saying Like the duchess? “I am Arial Shasetia. It is a pleasure to meet you, Priestess.”
Esther smiled warmly. “Priest Piodre is in the study with our guest. Would you like to meet him there, or wait in our Emblem Room?”
“Whichever is easiest for you, Priestess.”
Esther stared at the drooping sunflower in the red vase a long moment before nodding. “To the study.”
Arial nodded and followed behind the elderly priestess.
The hall became progressively narrower before Esther stopped in front of a cracked door. Light spilled into the hall, as well as burning wood and the sound of men talking. Esther rapped lightly on the door, silencing the speech. She pushed it open.
“Priest Piodre,” Esther said, gesturing to Arial, who bowed her head politely from the doorway.
“Captain!” Priest Piodre turned away from his companion and approached her. “Perfect timing! I could use your help.”
“Oh?” Arial raised an eyebrow. She was here to finish her tattoo, not get involved in some scheme.
“Thank you, Priestess,” Piodre said offhandedly to Esther, waving for Arial to enter.
“Be well,” said the old woman, cracking the door before she left.
“Captain Arial, I ask you to meet Priest Enzo Hunter.”
The fat priest bowed his half shaven head and held out his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain.”
Arial took his clammy hand firmly and shook. “And you, Priest. I regret to be interrupting your business.”
“Nonsense!” Piodre declared, running a tattooed hand through his curls. “We could use an instigative mind like yours.”
Arial only looked at him, waiting for him to continue.
Piodre licked his lips. In a hushed voice, he said, “You might consider it payment for a favor.”
Arial nodded once, slowly. Then she snorted, shaking her head. “Blackmail by a priest?”
“Blackmail? I only need a manuscript!” the Maiman priest declared.
Arial glanced at him. “What manuscript?”
“Speaker of the Mages Oniman’s Codex on Summoning Divinities.”
Why had she asked that? Arial knew little of books or magic; she should’ve expected this to be the answer. “Sounds rare,” she said finally.
“The only book of its kind,” Enzo Hunter agreed, nodding vigorously. “It’s kept in Governor Dario’s personal collection, normally. He loaned it to a monk. Mr. Danick, that’s his name.”
Arial had never heard of the man. Then again, monks were none of her concern. The zealots often minded their own business, so long as they were left alone. “Surely he’ll bring it back?”
“That’s just the issue, Captain.” Enzo Hunter rubbed his eyebrow. “Essentially, as it happened, I was tasked by the high priestess with locating someone to borrow the Codex from Governor Dario. I found Mr. Danick, who agreed to speak with the governor. Over the course of weeks, they became trusting of each other, and Mr. Danick received the book. Since then, almost a week ago, I’ve been unable to contact him.”
“Perhaps it’s a fascinating read?” Arial suggested.
Enzo Hunter lifted a finger. “I thought so at first, as well. After all, if you’ve borrowed the book, take a few days to read it, why not?” the priest shook his head. “Upon speaking to some of the other monks of his monastery, I learned that he had been under pursuit. He found refuge in a temple.”
“This temple. Mr. Danick just left our sanctuary this morning,” Piodre finished.
A monk on the run with a priceless manuscript. Arial nodded. “Who’s chasing him?”
“Well…” Enzo Hunter frowned at the ground. “We’re not sure. But we are sure that we need the manuscript to be found, if only for the knowledge of its safety.”
Arial nodded, looking at both of them. “I’ll file a missing person’s report for Mr. Danick. As for the manuscript… I can’t put manpower towards it unless Governor Dario reports it missing, and I don’t have time to search for it personally. I’ll keep an ear for it, particularly from the governor, but…” Arial shrugged her shoulders.
“Now Captain, the favor I’ve done for you--”
“Unless you return every coin I gave you, I owe you no favor.”
“Please--” Enzo Hunter shook his head. “I would pay you personally. The high priestess is very desperate for this manuscript.”
“Perhaps she should watch the toes she steps on,” Arial said calmly.
“I thought you were someone else, captain.” Piodre shook his head. “Now I understand why they say what they say about you.”
Enzo Hunter looked between them. “What?” He looked hard at Arial. “Who are you? What do they say of you?”
“Me?” Arial blinked. “Priest Enzo, what isn’t there to say about the war hero turned pagan?” She couldn’t keep the bitter taste from her mouth. Oh, how the tables turned.
“Oh.” Enzo Hunter’s eyebrows shot up, then a look of recognition crossed his face as he put the name to the rumors. He shook his head and took a couple tentative steps toward her. “Captain, I beg you. This manuscript, if you don’t find it for myself, and for the high priestess, then why not for the sake of its meaning?”
Arial breathed in deeply, closing her eyes. “Priest Enzo…” She shook her head, opening her eyes. “Priest Enzo, I don’t know what it means. You tell me it’s priceless, one-of-a-kind, but I…” She shrugged helplessly.
The priest’s brows knitted together. He rubbed his eyebrow. “Think of this manuscript as a person,” he said finally.
Arial bit her tongue, bit back But it’s not. Instead, she nodded, awaiting further explanation.
“A person, they contain knowledge. If it’s a, I don’t know, a, um…”
“Farmer?” Arial proposed.
“A farmer, alright. That person knows a specific set of knowledge. They know what crops grow best in their environment, they know what sells the best and what stores the best, they know their equipment best. Yes?”
Ah, a man who understood that farming was somewhat complex. How refreshing. Arial nodded. “Most certainly.”
“Let’s say this farmer has a single child, a daughter. She cannot learn this information without speaking to her parent. She cannot know that…” He waved his hand. “Tomatoes don’t grow where they live in the Nethers unless she learns it from him, correct?”
“Or unless she learns it herself by trial and error,” Arial corrected. She paused, then shook her head. “Priest Enzo, can’t someone else learn what this Mage Oniman has already learned?”
Enzo Hunter shook his head, his lips turning down in a frown. “She was one of the last mages of her specialty. None since have had such power. At least, none of our knowledge.” He shook his head again. “What is something, Captain, that you learned from your parents, something that you could not have learned without them?”
Arial glanced at the hearth. Something she could not have learned without her parents? She looked back at him. “Death waits with open arms for us all.”
Enzo Hunter blinked. Clearly, he was not expecting something so cynical. “Alright. Imagine you did not learn this from your parents, imagine you learned it from this Codex. Imagine that--”
Arial held up her hand. “Pardon my interruption, Priest.” She shook her head. “Nothing you say will convince me that this book is the same cost as a human being.” She shook her head again. “But if you tell me where Mr. Danick’s monastery is located, I will go and speak to them for you.”
Enzo Hunter breathed a heavy sigh. He rushed forward and hugged Arial tightly. She squirmed in his grasp. “I apologize,” he said, letting her go. “I should not have done that. But you, you have done a good deed.” He started to search the pockets of his coat.
Arial waved her hand. “I don’t need payment, priest.” She turned to face a simmering Priest Piodre. “You, sir, owe me an emblem.”
Piodre huffed. He walked to the door of the room. “Very well. Let us finish.”
“Wakegloom Abbey--” Enzo Hunter said. “Find me in Wakegloom Abbey any time of the day.”
Arial nodded. “Certainly, Priest Enzo.”
Piodre opened the door wide and looked at Arial. “I trust you to wait here while I--”
Footsteps pounded down the hall before a young woman in plain clothing skidded to a stop in front of the door, nearly falling sideways. “The bells,” she gasped. “The bells have tolled.”
The trio stared in silence.
Arial had lived in this pitiful city four years now, and never had the bells tolled.
“Impossible!” Piodre cried. “Even arachnois haven’t been seen in a decade!”
The young woman shook her head. Sucking in a breath, she repeated: “The bells have tolled.”
What's not to like about this chapter?
I also feel the need to point out that your scene setting and description is on point here. Especially in the beginning with describing the tattoo, it created a very clear visual for me.
Arial is the best. From the moment she meets up with the priests and they greet her I can just imagine her immediate thought of "you're gonna make my life difficult aren't you?" and it really made me chuckle.
All in all, this was a really great read. :)
Arial has no people toleration XD
Idk. When I finished writing it I felt like it was kind of clunky, and when I was trying to edit it I felt that way, but I couldn't figure out where exactly. Maybe it's just me :P