A/N: This is the last chapter in this "book," but not the end of the story. I admit the book does not have the typical structure, but seldom in life do things play out in three acts. And who knows, maybe this first book is only the first half of the first act. I hope you continue with us on this journey, and see you in Book Two!
A Special Assembly in the Agora
The sky was a nice clear blue for such a hot day. Xuan had a really hard time waking up early despite the long night out, but it was nothing the West End bell couldn't handle to wake up everyone. Despite the rush of workers toward the Merchant's Quarter, the walk was doable as the air had not heated up yet.
Xuan smiled confusedly at the throng of people coming and leaving the city square. Then why was she here in the stifling heat instead of in a cool, dark library? Her height did not help in ascertaining the location of that particular landmark Enezi had asked her to meet her by.
Statue? There were lots of statues here from Arcolia's age. The Pantheon was, of course, present, but notable figures like the founding members of the city were, too. Throw in a couple dragons, and the huge rectangular square could have been filled to the brim if it weren't for market space and the huge stone stoa shading all the expensive goods.
Xuan squinted her slightly slanted eyes, trying to make out the details of an approaching statue. Ah, yes, there was the statue of Athena. Ares liked to wear a helm, but Xuan personally thought only the goddess made it look sharp. It probably was, to slice people with.
The Kalnasian grinned as she made it to the base of the statue. It was probably about four times the size of herself, and just as tall. She was distracted from measuring the statue at the sight of her friends and teachers, and she waved.
"How'd you get here before me?" she asked Aneska amusedly, eyeing her thigh. The bandages looked freshly changed and were not as oozy as before.
Aneska's expression did not change save for her eyebrows slightly rising. "Rem carried me." Which was slightly true, since he used a spell again. He should've listened to her and left her behind.
Xuan burst into laughter, glancing at the Halfling busy arguing with his elven friend. She turned to her own elven friend, smiling widely at the slender young woman. "And how's your head?"
Aine smiled weakly. "Never better."
"That is good," Enezi remarked as he stepped toward them. The top of his head reached about halfway up the statue. "You three may have to be at the top of your game today."
Xuan's eyes widened. "Don't tell me you'll have us train! Aneska's barely had time to heal!"
Rem grinned, leaning against the statue's base. "A flesh wound won't keep ya from usin' that noodle of yers, eh? 'specially when money's involved." His eyes gleamed just the slightest.
Aneska rolled her grey-blue eyes. "Finally, I'm getting paid to babysit you."
Enezi smirked slightly at the huffy Halfling before continuing. "Money isn't everything. We have decided, as your teachers, to begin your real training for the akesomnos."
"The akesomnos?" Xuan repeated, brown eyes wide. It was only something she had read about in books. "You mean the magic sleep?"
"Calling it magic is too general of a term," her teacher commented. "This sleep harnesses the very life force of Min, a power that some say is derived from the One."
Xuan nodded. "The One Above All that chroniclers lean toward." It was said that the One was the very source of existence, and that even the Pantheon drew power from. Hard to say, since you couldn't exactly worship the One…since he, she, or it was everywhere. That helped with a chroniclers' neutral stance…made it less complicated when the gods bickered.
Aine frowned in thought at the mention of the akesomnos, her pale green eyes watching those around them even as they spoke. "I hear of some rangers who have that ability. It seems to correlate with the danger they expose themselves to."
"A very relevant correlation," Setiri said, his golden hair glimmering as he nodded. His expression, usually pleasant, now seemed a little grim. "The healing sleep will accelerate healing without spell magic. The cost, however, is being forever marked by the very thing that is helping you."
Such a sleep sounded too good to be true to Xuan. Wars would never be finished if soldiers could heal right away. Or could they? She raised an eyebrow at Enezi. "So why doesn't everyone have it? Do you have to pay money or something?"
Rem shook his head, chuckling. "If only it were that easy. If you get the sleep, you might get put to sleep fo' good!" He seemed almost excited at that prospect.
His student rolled her grey-blue eyes and bit back an amused smirk. "Always one for detailed descriptions, aren't we, master?"
The Halfling laughed. "Damn straight!" Then he sobered for a millisecond. "But I'm serious."
Xuan grinned. "Really?"
He stared at her, shocked that the most trusting of the three would dare doubt him. "Y-Yes!" he sputtered. "Nez, you tell 'em!"
Enezi did not keep back his smirk. "Yes. The akesomnos amplifies your life force, marking you to beings and creatures that can sense such things."
The Kalnasian's brows quickly lowered, sensing the dilemma at hand. "So…" she slowly began. The heat was making it kind of hard to think. "You get the akesomnos to keep you from dying, but it might kill you?"
Enezi nodded solemnly. "The sleep is not a 'quick-fix.' It takes time to heal. However, it does quicken progress for whatever endeavor one desires."
Xuan's brows lowered even further. Like war. Kalnasia already saw a frustrating one half a century ago…who knew how much longer it dragged because of this sleep?
She found her teacher's hazel eyes frowning at her. He probably read her thoughts, and hopefully would tell her more later. But for now…
"So what are we doing here?" Aine asked, tempted to take off her cloak. At least they were in shade.
"Today we will introduce to you Arcolia's message boards," Setiri answered his student. "Located under a stone roof, the boards can be confusing for a first timer to navigate."
Enezi nodded, beads clacking. "The board of relevance for today is the request board. Long gone are the days when slaves performed all tasks. Whatever is left over to be done is displayed on the board for anyone to take."
Xuan nodded, history becoming relevant before her eyes. It was true, with the decline of wars and an era of peace on hand, slaves also wanted their own and revolted so many years ago. She was lucky her parents left Kalnasia, where freedom spread as slow as water running uphill.
Enezi looked off across the agora. "The akesomnos is attained through an examination that tests your abilities for survival. It takes place in two months time. The boards are a means for you to learn of other things besides what you are studying now. It will also serve as a source of income for your supplies during training."
Aine tilted her head, frowning in thought. "So what can we do?"
"See for yourselves!" Rem said with an excited smile. He sprang to his feet and launched himself into the bustling crowd.
Xuan looked around as they followed him, trying not to get swept up in the traffic yet so curious as to what was on sale. Cloth shades were pitched in bunches, and she caught a whiff of fish, surprisingly not rotten. The marble slabs they lay on probably kept them cool, or maybe spells were at work to delay the ongoing decay. How the fishermen afforded such magic was the question…
"Here we are," Enezi announced.
The group of six stood off to the side of a large wooden board away from the crowd also perusing the board. It was longer horizontally than vertically, much different from the other nearby boards meant to display news or mandates. For this board, the height was enough to allow every space to be filled without assistance. And indeed, every space seemed to be filled with pieces of paper.
Xuan could tell the wealth of an employer by the use of ink. Most of the requests, however, were on every-day paper, the backs of old flyers and announcements scribbled on with cheap writing stone.
Rem scurried through the crowd and leapt up, grabbing three and then returning.
Aine smiled at him, her pale blue eyes curious. "No coinpurses?"
The Halfling laughed. "They came 'ere for money, meanin' they don't 'ave any with 'em!" He pushed a request into each of their hands. " 'ere."
Xuan looked down and tried to read the scribbling. Farmhand wanted, pay worked out later. Bring to vejtable stall near Hefaystis. Her eyebrow rose. So another drawback to this system was the display of schooling. "How will this make people work for them if they don't know how much they're getting? Not everyone has time to walk across the city and back if the amount isn't agreed on."
Setiri smiled faintly at the young woman. "The open-endedness of pay is the appealing factor, as one may still prove his or herself to increase the expected amount."
Aine and Xuan nodded at that, while Aneska looked off at the agora crowd, not really paying attention. Xuan frowned slightly and then leaned in to read hers. "Help Wanted at Mahlab Bakery on Cerasia Street." She gasped and looked over at her blonde friend. "Don't you like to bake?"
Aneska smiled faintly. "In heat like this, there's nowhere I'd rather be than in front of an oven."
Rem laughed, grinning at his clever student. "That's ma girl."
Aneska fought the urge to throw up. Setiri shook his head, a small smile on his face. "Tell me, Aine, what does yours say?"
Aine tucked some hair behind her pointed ears as she bent her head down to read it. "Library shelver in the Holy Quarter required, Dione Lane."
Xuan's eyes brightened. "Library? That's perfect for me!"
Enezi gave his student a look, and she paused, smile freezing. There was something here he wanted her to find out…she frowned in thought. "Y'know, it's too easy. Maybe I would learn more if I was…on the farm?"
Despite her mentor's approving nod, Xuan's smile weakened. Ugh, what'd she do to herself…
Aine smiled over at Aneska. "Here, let's trade."
Aneska took the paper, frowning slightly. The elf might just sweat herself to a vapor at the end of the day.
Xuan smiled excitedly at them all. The sun was rising high in the sky and opportunities endless. "All right, let's do some work!"
The prospect of money was not all that Xuan enthused about. There were corners of Arcolia that still had to be discovered, streets to be walked upon. Yes, some streets held danger (or strange houses of Halflings), and nothing was as entirely pleasant as the summer sun streaming down on them. Whatever was there, they would encounter together.
For what purpose is adventuring without your merry band?
END OF BOOK ONE