A/N: I won't be bothering with A/N's this time around.I'd just like to thank my amazing, incredible, wonderful beta M. Evans (whose work I encourage you to read) and my great muse Jenna, who is the probably the best muse a girl could have. Now, on with the story.

Footsteps thudded mechanically down the drafty stone corridor. Past a long stretch of bare stone, and around a solitary urn they marched before turning to a crossing hallway of gleaming black marble, a stark contrast to the minimalism of the corridor. There was a pause, a slight one, before the footsteps resumed again. Plod-plod-plod they went, on the smooth marble floor, small, precise steps. All of a sudden, they stopped, simple wooden sandals clattering to a stop in front of a carved, very brightly polished wooden door. Intricate gilt filigree surrounded the doorway - as it did all other doors in this particular hallway - and an ivory-inlaid ebony table stood off a bit to the side. The boy glanced at it, tightening his grip on the tray, then raised his right hand to knock on the door. He rapped on it twice quickly, and snatched his hand back to steady the silver tray, heavily laden with teapot, teacups, ginger, sugar, and spoon. A second later, the door slid open silently - the hinges were, unlike in most other doors in the Monastery, well oiled - and the boy ducked his head and hurried inside. As the door clicked shut behind him, the young priest did a quick bow before proceeding to kneel stock-still on the flowered carpet.

The black-clad man who had opened the door stepped back, robes swishing, and cast a look of impatience at the boy. He was well past his middle years, scruffy grey beard sprouting from a dark, gnarled face. A thick, linked chain of gold was draped across his narrow shoulders. The boy knew the man, knew him quite well, as most novices did. He could feel the grimness in the other's gaze even with his own trained firmly upon the floor.

"Priest Meioze," the voice came from the other end of the ornate chamber, from another old, bearded man, sitting at a gilded writing desk, with a chain of links more than twice as thick as Meioze's. This man he knew too, though infinitely less well than the other. "Dear Meioze," he repeated "do not waste your precious gloominess on the poor Northerner. Surely we can show some gratitude for the tea he has graciously brought us."

Meioze just cleared his throat in irritation and strode towards the tray. "I suppose you will be done with the papers soon, Glaeron," he rasped, grizzled hand reaching for the teapot. The boy raised it instantly, eyes still staring unblinkingly at a frayed spot on the carpet four inches in front of his nose. "And my irritation stems from The Northerner's tardiness; it is quite inexcusable." A clatter for the teapot, a second one for the cup being lifted. No tinkle of sugar or ginger-spoon. Meioze was a stoic man.

"Oh, spare it, Meioze. The tea is finally here, and that's all that truly matters. Nothing filched either, which is an improvement from this particular lad. And the papers will not be finished with for quite a while, so I'm afraid you'll have to suffer my cheerfulness for the rest of this after-noon." Glaeron chuckled. He took up an eagle feather quill and scribbled a bit, before setting it down with a sigh. "I need my drink to deal with such things. Fetch me some tea, Meioze."

The other priest merely glared at him, but the boy got up and hurried carefully across the colorful carpets. He knelt down again by the burnished desk, his gaze pointed at the floor. It was hard though, keeping his eyes half-lidded while trying to hold up a tray above his head, so he did his best. His grip on the tray was so tight a vein fairly jumped out of his skin, seeming almost black against the terrible paleness of his hand.

"Now he's batting his eyelashes at you." Meioze said dryly, an edge to his voice almost approaching a joking tone. Almost approaching to others, yet for him that was akin to a loud guffaw.

Glaeron, as usual, just chuckled softly. "Well," he said, dropping large quantities of ginger and sugar into his tea and mixing it, "isn't that the custom of his people? I'm sure they all do the same things, such as batting their lashes at their masters and filching the tea. It's custom, you see." The priest grinned at Meioze's grimace and fixed his watery eyes on the boy. He was the Northerner, the abnormal paleness dispelled all doubts of that, but the elder priest could not make out much else of the boy's face.

Glaeron sipped his tea daintily. "Good Meioze, could you tell me this dear boy's name?" It was a command, not a request. "I am afraid you have somewhat of an advantage, as the Master of Novices, in that particular field."

Meioze scowled - the other, however, gave it no heed - and answered in crisp tones, "The Northerner's name is Syllis."

The boy, Syllis, was trembling. He had never stayed this long in the presence of the High Priest, and the pressure from keeping his eyes strictly down was driving him insane. He was biting his tongue so hard he could taste copper in his mouth.

"Oh, Syllis is it? Why, that is a Northern name!" Glaeron laughed at his self-made joke. "A beautiful name, almost too beautiful I should think." He chortled again.

Syllis almost dropped the tray. His palms were sweaty and he could feel the weight of the silver dragging down on his hands. Why couldn't he stop his hands from shaking?

"That is your name, right boy? And don't you go dropping the tray about, silver is precious."

"Yes, master." He whispered quickly. The young priest could feel the older man's stare travel towards the other side of the room and so, breathing heavily, cast a quick look at him from the corner of his eye. In the murky candle-light, the expression on Glaeron's face was neither one of amusement nor contempt. It was, surprisingly, quite thoughtful.

"Priest Meioze, it is still more than half a season to the Frost Ritual, correct?" he ploughed on, without waiting for an answer. "We shall have a fresh stock of younglings coming up, should we not? And, I believe preparations for the Midwinter festival should be underway, and the pickings for the ceremonies. This young lad should do, I think he would be ready by then."

Meioze simply coughed, loudly, shuffled his feet, and glowered at his tea.

"Should we start discussing these issues soon Master Glaeron," he said finally, his voice grating like a snake on gravel, "I should say the time for tea is over. Away with you, boy."

Here there was a pointed look at Syllis' tray, and he answered the unspoken request with an immediacy born of the panic of one who sees escape, and knows he will only be offered it once. He set everything down very carefully on the floor, and expertly poured a cup of the pecan- flavored tea from the porcelain teapot. His hands shook as he put in generous amounts of sugar and ginger, albeit he tried to hide it. He set the finished cup of tea down on the desk, and gathered up the tray.

After he stood up he bowed himself almost double and backed his way across the room to where Meioze was standing by the door. The elder priest set his own still-full cup down with a look of distaste. He was, after all, a stoic man.

A few minutes later, Syllis was walking hurriedly down the stone corridor -- the bare, unadorned one - balancing the tray with his right hand while trying to hastily wipe the sweat off his other on his robes. If they could be called robes, he thought, glancing at the frayed hem of his sleeve. They were nothing more than a bunch of brownish-brown rags, stiff with grime and filth, thrown together to make some semi-decent protection against the drafts and neurotic cold.

His wooden sandals made soft, muffled noises as he plodded along the empty hallway. He scratched absently at his robes, noting that other than being tatters and shreds, they also appeared to be infested with fleas. He made a mental note to wash them soon. Very soon.

He also had a headache. Quite a bad one at that. Lately, his head seemed to throb constantly, and there was no escape from the pain. The constant fetching and chores did not help. Nor did the humongous amounts of mosquito bites he seemed to get lately.

It was as he was clawing at an infernal itch in his thigh that he dropped the tray. The crash, louder than it seemed possible, startled him out of his reverie. There was a smaller bang as Meioze's cup shattered.

Syllis hissed an oath and bent down rapidly to gather the shards. It seemed the strain of the day had finally gotten to him. His nerves had been fairly on edge since the cook had ordered him to deliver the tea. Not that he was unused to such tasks, but today just seemed like one of those days where everything went wrong. A puddle of viscous black tea was spreading on the floor, and Syllis tried not to cut himself lifting the shards of porcelain out of it. His eyes skimmed each end of the hall as he did so. Getting caught with spilt tea - no less than black pecan tea! - was the least of his desires. He might get yelled at in the kitchens for the cup, but porcelain was less precious than the Arch High Priest's specialty pecan tea, imported straight from the West.

After he had all that was left of the cup on the tray - the puddle had acquired a distinctive red sheen by now - he set everything else down on it haphazardly, picked it up, and set off at a run down the corridor. He had to be at the kitchens before sunset.

He turned left at the next crossing (more bare stone) and went down the first staircase on the right. By the time he reached the bottom his breath was coming in short gasps and, yet again, his hands were trembling.

"Oh, blast it." he muttered, and caught sight of something unusual. He set the tray down on a small wooden side table by the kitchen doors, and made his way over to it. It was a mirror. Almost a proper mirror too, not just a piece of polished copper, but real glass. The boy peered at it in surprise. A blurry reflection stared back. He couldn't make out much, other than the extreme pallor and the almost imperceptible green gleam of the eyes. The glass was bubbly, he noted, and many cracks ran across its surface. Syllis did not waste the opportunity however, it is not often that he came across mirrors, and gave a half-hearted tug to his robes before shoving open one of the heavy wooden doors in front of him.

The smells of the kitchen assaulted him almost immediately. He wrinkled his nose, and picked the tray back up. He let the door fall closed behind him. These were the downstairs kitchens; the ones where all the real cooking got made. It was a long, low-ceilinged chamber, white-washed walls and brown clay floors. A series of tables lay in a row down the middle of the room, most heavily laden with different foods and dishes and whatnot. Syllis made his way over to one of them.

"Why there you are boy, took you a while didn' it?" A large woman bellowed, pushing lanky hair out of her forehead. The head Cook, up to her elbows kneading dough in a large pot, eyed the tray. Her beady eyes widened. "What be that mess boy? That be bloody pecan tea you foolishly spilt! Specialty brew, that is! I be used to idiocy from yer part, but not like that!" She snatched the tray from his hands.

Syllis cast his eyes down meekly. She was one of the only grown women he knew, in the entire Monastery. He had known her since before he could remember, and he had seen her temper at work times beyond number.

"My, my, this be one pickle we're in.what be ye wanting, Kali?"

The young serving girl glanced at the young priest nervously. She looked away quickly, and buried her fists in her skirts before answering. "It's the s-stoo, ma'am." She stammered. "Goom's spilt it again. Says he gots his hand burnt, too."

"Oh, bloody-" the cook caught sight of Syllis, and bit off her oath. "Young fools spilling tea, now stew. Beef stew! We'll be left with naught soon, left to eat bootlaces like 'em soldiers. Goom! Get 'ere ye weasel!" she glanced back, and grimaced. "Ye're fine, for today at least. Master Meioze will 'ear of this. Away with you, boy."

Syllis bobbed his head and ran happily out of the bustling room, almost bumping into a scullion boy on the way. As soon as he re-entered the drafty corridor, he leaned against the heavy door and sighed. He almost smiled. He had just been saved from a yelling by the cook, by sheer luck. He fought an urge to giggle. He was free! There was one small problem though. He was hungry, very hungry. The last thing he'd eaten was a single slice of bread, which had been at dinner the night before. It was rather ironic really, he had just got out of the kitchen, where he now really needed to go, but it was the one place he could not go back into. He suppressed another nervous laugh. He had nothing else to do for the rest of the afternoon, so he settled on wandering the corridors aimlessly.

He did not want to go back up the staircase, at least not this one, which was spiral and highly steep. He was sure he would collapse if he tried to climb those two hundred and twenty two narrow steps of stone. He hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. He turned to his right. The lower Refectory, where the novices ate, was in that direction, as well as another, less steep, staircase. There were other nooks and crannies that way, though most were empty. The stairs to the dungeons were there too, but no novices went down there.

He walked for a while silently, suddenly becoming aware of something warm dripping down his palm, and a subtle sting. He paused and remembered. He had cut his hand. A look told him the cut wasn't bad, though his fingers were sticky with blood. He tried to rub it off on his robes, but gave up. His robes didn't seem to be able to accept more filth. He settled for licking it off, which was disgusting, but he had no other choice. He couldn't walk around with his hand bloody, people would notice. They would accuse him of something, like stealing the fresh meat from the kitchens. It was, after all, the type of thing his sort would do, at least according to Meioze's teachings. He scowled, only partly from the taste.

A few more steps brought him to the wide archway entrance of the Lower Refectory. Syllis didn't bother looking inside. This Refectory, reserved for the novices, kitchen staff, and lowly merchants on visit only served food around noon and dinnertimes. Even then, it was not an organized affair. One just wandered down into the Refectory around those times and hopefully there was something to eat available. Unless when there were large traveling parties, those times someone like Syllis just had to skip his meal. The kitchen rarely, if ever, offered food to a novice while there was a party of traders waiting in line.

"Hey, Syllis, over here!" the shout echoed in the cavernous hallway.

Syllis, startled, almost tripped over his own feet. He whirled around to see who it was.

"What are you doing down here? They shan't be serving food 'till in two hours time." Said a tall, dark boy, a small book bag of fine leather dangling from his large hands. He was clad in the same style as the other boy, except his robes looked slightly cleaner.

"I know that, Pitre. I was.just walking really, that's all." Syllis answered. He could feel the itch in his thigh starting up again.

"Oh, I thought you were sent on an errand. Took you a while, tea, was it?"

"Yes." Syllis willed his hands to stay still.

"Well, you can see what my errand is," said Pitre, holding up the bag. "And as you're walking around already, you better start walking to the Library; one of them Bursars has something to tell you." And with a small smile, he turned and walked away in the opposite direction.

Syllis stared after him, biting his lip. Pitre was another novice, like him, except he was taking special training in the scholarly direction, which was why he spent most of his time in the library with the Bursars. He was quite nice really, very talkative, although Syllis didn't get to see him too often. To someone like him, however, a summons to the Library couldn't be too good.

Pushing the growing need to scratch his leg to the back of his mind, Syllis turned his attention to the staircase. Luckily this one had a banister, and Syllis hung on to it like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. He had not realized how incredibly tired he was, as by the time he was half-way up, his legs felt like leaden weights. This helped him forget the itch though, which he later guessed was one good thing about exhaustion. It makes you forget things.

He made it up to the ground floor and, after a longer time than he expected leaning against the wall getting his breath back, he started making his way towards the Library.

He should have hurried more, as the Bursar, identifiable by his blue sash and generous midsection, met him halfway there. The pinch faced man had a vexed look about him, and as soon as he caught sight of Syllis, pulled something out of his robes. Syllis rushed up to him and made the necessary bow. His leg was getting worse by the second.

The stocky man fumbled around with a sheaf of papers - paper! A bad sign, Syllis thought - before finally managing to fish out an especially official looking one. It seemed to have been written scant minutes before.

"Ah, here it is," he said in the huffy voice of one who is used to delivering messages. "Freshly inked by the Master of Novices, Priest Meioze himself! 'According to primordial prerogatives set forth by the Holy Writ, twelve novices are to be newly Raised to the Rank of Priest. Of them, five' - that means you, boy -'are to attend ceremonies on the night of the next waxing crescent of the moon.' That means in exactly one week's time. Congratulations, boy." The Bursar shoved the paper back in a pocket of his robes, and rushed off without another word.

Syllis bowed again, even though by then the other priest had already turned around. After a few minutes, in the flickering torchlight of the corridor, he let his mouth drop open in disbelief. He, a Northerner, was to be made a Priest by next week. The itch, almost impossible to ignore mere moments before, had completely disappeared.