“The still water’s reflection wouldn’t lie. Your actions will be a scar to remember. A scar that will taint your way by the people just glancing towards you and the ones that have known you throughout your entire life!” Jaspen seethed as he said the words.

“Who are you to say what it is people believe, think, or judge about another,” Fellion responded in a statement that emboldened his perspective of the traitor standing before him.

“Maybe then, I should give you another chance to change this perception you have about me?” A coy smile crossed Jaspen’s thin white lips stating his defiance more than angry words could ever accomplish.

“You are of an ill-begotten faith and traitorous views if you think disposing of me will change your fate in this world. You are bound to be tossed away like the filth your kind deserves, regardless of any actions I take,” said Fellion.

“Then explain to me just what my ‘kind’ is my supposed ‘ally’?” Jaspen mocked.

“Allies… ha! We were only serving the same cause, at least that is what I thought, until you! YOU!” Fellion pointed a finger absurdly forceful towards his opponent as he spat the last of his words, “Turned your back on everything pure you’ve ever known. Your kind is nothing less, and no more, then self-serving cretins!”

“You truly believe we are of false reason, that we are faithless and deceitful? Your wisdom became shrouded from a veil of self-delusion, my friend. This faith of yours is as diluted as the liquor at Spoken’s Inn.” Jaspen spoke the last with contempt and an issuance of hatred towards the man; doing everything with his words besides physically spitting in the man’s face.

Cerene sat silently watching the two men spout words like swords back and forth. Words amazed her, purely due to the fact she could not speak herself. Her fascination for words drove her to books, hundreds upon hundreds of books she had the privilege of having close at hand. Thanks to the city chapel in town that had taken Cerene in to teach and support her was such a luxury as literature so readily available to her there. At only four and a three-quarter foot tall and just shy of ninety pounds sopping wet, Cerene was merely a shadow buried deep within the darkness, easy to miss, which was perfect for her love of observing others. The fact she couldn’t speak left her used to being a ghost and ignored by most everyone around her.

These two men had a storied history,’ Cerene thought, as she stared silently towards them still spouting off to one another reducing common language to more animated hand and arm movements than words. Perhaps there would be blood this day, she mused. Despite how much she was enjoying watching an exchange of intelligently formed conversation she had somewhere to be. Cerene stood and turned on her heel and made her way back through the crowd that had gathered around the two men to loiter and watch. Cerene had to be back to the monastery to join the Respects with the people there. She quickened her pace through the throng of individuals and made easy work of the distance before slowing when the people thinned out. Coming in sight of the chapel when she was making her way past the graveyard next to the monastery she saw him again. Tham, she noticed, was here for the second time this week just before the setting sun. A pang of despair went through Cerene at Tham’s devotion to his wife’s resting place. She couldn’t help to feel conflicted at the beauty and sadness of such a thing, but Tham was always content and never hesitated to smile to her despite his obvious struggles that were far greater than hers.

Sometimes Tham spoke to the likes of Cerene, of course, he knew she couldn’t respond, but that didn’t stop him. That’s why Cerene felt a keen sense of respect for the man’s open honesty and kindness. It was hard to get used to how most would pretend she couldn’t hear as well as talk. No matter how much she told herself being a ghost to those around her didn’t bother her, or that she just didn’t exist because she wasn’t able to speak, she still found herself retreating within herself. These were things about her that she ignored for the most part, and in her latest years noticed more and more she could use to her advantage.

Cerene had made quick time to the monastery, and she was a bit early to the Respects. She would see if Tham wanted to visit before continuing in as the more frequent visits to his wife lately might have an interesting reason. Tham didn’t seem to notice her as she approached through the garden of headstones to sit near where he was. Cerene waited, quiet, and stared forward to the same headstone he looked on. She knew it was his wife that rested here and that, from the date of the inscription, it was only two passings since she left him.

“I have been thinking of a story, Cerene,” Tham said in his quiet, but soothing tone. Cerene wasn’t surprised that he noticed her approach without seeing her, but she couldn’t help be slightly offended. Cerene took quite a bit of pride when it came to how quiet she could be when she wanted. Cerene looked up to him, but Tham was still staring ahead, his hands clasped on the small of his back looking to his wife’s headstone. “Not an accurate, ‘story,’ per-say, but something I wrote that I used to read to her when she was in those final months.” He was silent for a moment, and Cerene looked away down towards the grass noticing a few dying and brown patches scattered around as the season changed cold. She absently moved her fingers out of habit in the language of the hand, a gesture that said only, ‘Love stories.’ Tham wouldn’t know even if he was looking, though, he didn’t know hand signs well enough for that one. She had been teaching him a few here and there in passing, and he had been catching on quickly enough. “Would you like to hear it?” Cerene looked up and noticed Tham looking to her now, and she brought her hand up in a fist raising and lowering it at her wrist and smiled to him as he signed back the letters O and K and returned the smile before making his way to seat himself next to her on the concrete sun-bleached bench.

Returning his eyes towards the resting place of his wife he spoke slowly at first before going on. “Combined existence…,” he nodded, the motion obviously meant for his thoughts, “I can’t say I ever actually understood that title until I lost her, she came up with it, you see. It fits, though, a good title. Let us see if this clouded mind can come up with words again,” Tham chuckled to himself looking at her. “Who am I kidding? I couldn’t forget if I wanted to.”

Tham sighed softly and began, “A silence solaced through sacred practice. Then a time unending foreboded an eternal waking. Misunderstood through concept and meaning, waning moons and crescendoed beats. Time fell away unbeknown to the fallen, and a love proved as unabated as a glacial fall carving canyons, shaping mountains. Unmoving as those monstrosities and unaware it never was, but the right to its beauty, it too slowly began to gain ground. The cascading mountain tops rose ever higher as this indefinite structure continued its growth, acting as if a shelter, not hindering to any. Light and dark were similar, for all contained that intrinsic value of constant desire and unknown fates. The only thing left was to be, exist and push on. For they were all blind, led by their love. Outspoken for any, and inwardly kept for themselves, the proof was, and is, in the rapture merely held in their embrace. Never replaced, and always to be held, life cannot truly be without the heart that belongs. Because then there would never be, that pull that pushes forward. For their life, it depends on that blood deep within.”

Cerene looked away from Tham as he finished and looked again on her headstone as he sighed softly to himself. “You better be off Cerene, the Respects begin shortly.” She nodded to herself and knew he was right. Cerene placed her hand flat near her lips and motioned a, ‘thank you.’ The action was a quick follow up with the back of her fist pushing forward from her chin letting Tham know she loved it, she also mouthed the words in case Tham didn’t catch the phrase, but he seemed to understand and smiled, signing back a, ‘thank you,’ of his own.

She wished she could stay, the Respects always took so much out of her, but it was what was due, and she couldn’t complain. Without the convent who knows what would have become of her, so Cerene carried off into the large open doors of the Monastery to join the others beginning the short trek to the gathering where the Respects began. Cerene made her way down the front halls between the meandering Monks towards the group.

“Samaneri!” Cerene stopped in her tracks hearing the Rassaphore call to her. It was Randal, she could tell by the accusing tone in his voice. “You’re late! Again!” She knew she wasn’t, but turned to face him. There were those she wished she was more invisible towards, and he was one of them. He was still a fledgling Monk having just been to his first Rain, the Upasampada, and gaining the Rassaphore title naught but a month or two ago. It didn’t stop his desire to loom the title over her as if she did him wrong in one of her past lives. She never understood what he gained out of bullying her, and he knew she couldn’t retaliate. Her Upasampada was still almost a year out for her to gain her Nun status.

Cerene held up her three fingers fist out towards Randal and then spun her fist back towards her before bringing her three fingers down in a fist all while mouthing the word she was signing, ‘What!’

“I said you’re late! You better start running, little runt!” Randal accused.

Some Monk you are making,’ Cerene thought to herself waving the offensive words away as she turned. Despite knowing she wasn’t late Cerene hurried her pace just to distance herself from him. The others were gathering, and she made her way to the other Samaneri novices and sat on her knees next to one of the other girls that smiled up at her. The  Samanera, or boy novices training to be monks, made up the other half of the gathering hall. These Respects were for the novices, and the Nuns and Monks were later in the evening. As soon as everyone gathered in the huge hall, a soft silence came over the room, as it always did. The giant golden statue at the head of the room was nearly a dozen feet tall. There was no gender that you could tell, and it was merely a person kneeling with their arms outstretched in front of them, head to the ground. A low thrum of chants filled the gathering hall from the elders of the group, the novices joined in and would continue to do so until the hour had passed. It was during this time that the novices would all meditate on the Ten Precepts. Halfway through the Respects a Great Schema, one of the lead Monk’s or Nun’s, would join the novices and begin reciting the Vinaya; the set of rules that this Monastery expected of their disciples.

Cerene did her best to focus internally and to the Great Schema, softly reciting the Vinaya countless times. She found her mind wandering as it often did, though, this time she found herself once again trying to remember life before the monastery. As thankful as she was for the people that took her in, she never felt part of this place, never felt whole here. There had to be something more, something else. She had never been too far away from the plot of land that the large monastery occupied. Sometimes the Nun’s would take her on walks into Egostrian to get food but never strayed from the path to explore. She wished to venture out. She wanted to see more than these walls. This place was not her. She did her best to give her all, but her mind often betrayed her. She found stories, stories in books and listened to passersby speak about places outside of the city. The Lagartija Forest, the far away land of the Ketsueki Desert across the Rystan Ocean. Her sense of purpose found meaning in a profound draw on her very soul to be free to explore the world. She had nothing, though, possessions were only minimally allowed and she had never owned any coin for herself. Cerene knew these were hurdles she had, but not her biggest. How would she bring herself to leave this place, away from the people that took her in, and would they ever take her back?

A sudden pain shot in her hand as her fingers crushed beneath the soft soled slipper of another Samaneri. Cerene winced and shook her fingers out to wave away the pain as she furrowed her brow at the girl that kept on walking with her friends without so much as turning to apologize. Cerene sighed, maybe the girl didn’t notice, she shook her head and stood. ‘Apparently, I missed the ending bell,’ she smiled to herself. ‘Lost yourself a bit more than usual this time didn’t you, Cerene?’ She thought before making her way through the throng of novices that headed to the meal, but she didn’t find herself hungry, and she felt the need to get some more fresh air again. I’ll see if Tham is still here. Cerene quickly made her way out of the Monastery to the tombstones out front that circled the side of the building. She saw his back as Tham was leaving. Clapping her hands to him to get his attention she then waved with a smile to him when he turned to her.

Tham returned the gesture, “Welcome back, little one. Care to join me for a walk?”

Cerene raised her eyebrows and thought about it, Classes and Respects were over, everyone will be eating, and the elders will be in Respects at least another hour after the meal. She smiled to herself before nodding to him and smiling as she made her way to walk next to him. Tham was a hair over six and a half foot tall, and with her four and three-quarter stature, they made quite the odd pair walking away towards the main throughways of Egostrian.

A Rassaphore Monk stared silently towards Cerene and the tall stranger through the entrance door as he leaned against the dark oak frame. Randal smiled a half-smile to himself as he chuckled a bit before checking over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching him. He nodded to himself when he only saw novice’s making their way to meals as he turned to slowly make his way down the stairs to follow the little runt to see where she was sneaking off too. Randal chuckled darkly to himself. ‘The little bastard girl is going to get it for sneaking off like this, perfect, just perfect,’ he thought.

It wasn’t the first time Cerene had visited Tham’s place. She loved listening to the uses of different herbs, what was best for certain sicknesses, how to stop a wound from infecting, preventing blood loss and all other sorts of aid. She had learned more from Tham than any teacher she had ever had, but perhaps that was the ease at which he spoke. Tham was just a natural at simplifying healing techniques that it was a wonder why everyone couldn’t do it. He let Cerene practice sometimes with concoctions letting her fail miserably and find her path to the right way to do it. ‘Many ways that you can prepare an egg, Cerene,‘ Tham would always say to her, ‘But if your customer wants sunny side up, you better know how to keep the yolk runny!’ He would joke, even though Cerene knew he was deadly serious considering his profession.

“Cerene?” She heard Tham call from behind the counter. Cerene turned to him and raised a brow. “Let me show you something. I was hoping to get your opinion.”

Cerene furrowed her brow, ‘My view on something?’ She wondered curiously before nodding to him. Tham smiled to her and motioned for her to follow as he left the entrance to a back room. Cerene followed and joined him in the back room that looked a lot like a room to treat patients. There was a big single person bed in the middle of the room, shelves, and cupboards full of all kinds of medicines and wrappings. Everything looked proper and in place except for what was on the bed. Above the sheets of the bed was a thick layer of sand, at first it seemed formless, but the longer Cerene looked at she swore it looked like the shape of a person.

Tham looked to her, “This is what I wanted to show you,” he said as he made his way to the bed. Tham grabbed a handful of sand and let it run through his fingers back onto the bed as he looked up to her, “I had a patient come to me a few nights back. I thought I had the issue figured out. It was only a spider bite. Granted the poison had spread quicker than I had seen previously, but the effort it seemed to take them getting here, that’s not entirely surprising. The harder you work, the faster your blood flow, the quicker things progress.” Tham looked down again at the sand on the table, “…but then there’s this.”

Cerene made her way to the table and ran a finger through the sand tracing the phrase, ‘They?’ in the sand.

Tham nodded, “This,” Tham pointed to the table, “was him. He had a partner, Jesine is her name. She is staying in the back sleeping area as long as she needs to.”

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