Omai always saw many faces.
It was part of her work at the Lodge. Running the front desk, responding to requests from travelers, and attending to the general upkeep. These things always put her in the front lines of new faces. And Omai loved it.
The other girls her age probably busied themselves with various social scenes down in Gallenvale proper. But Omai was at the forefront of the social scene of the world. Travelers from far and wide, many of them Wendservants, came to Gallenvale by the sea. Whether for matters of Church or matters of business, they all needed a roof to shelter under during the stay. That Omai's mother and father owned the Lodge worked in her favor. As a young girl, she found herself taking part in the great conversations of the travelers. There were many stories to tell about the wide world.
It certainly could be tiring. Omai found her days attending to guests exhausting, but rewarding as always. As she crawled into bed at night—always grateful for the night staff's turn—the stories and faces of the day filled her dreams with their tales of adventure.
Many of the girls from Church were either already apprenticing to become Wendservants or settling down as Teachers of Tyka. For them, the power of wending would open the world and her many adventures. Sometimes Omai felt a little melancholy that she had passed such opportunities in her youth. But she didn't let it bother her. Her mother and father greatly appreciated her help in their little family enterprise, and she always had the many faces and visitors to satisfy her wanderlust.
In truth, Omai cared more about the conversations than she did about the actual adventures. Yes, many of her friends from seminary years were out across the face of Aegen, seeing wonders and new peoples lost to communication since the Final War. But while their experiences painted a single picture of the world, all the travelers that stayed in Omai's Lodge painted an unending host of new portraits of the world. The human experience and emotion gave unique perspectives every day.
Perspectives that Omai could never have gained a dozen lifetimes over if she had joined the ministry and become a Wendservant.
This bright morning, there were few travelers up and about in the Lodge. Being the mid season, most were either between journeys or still sleeping off their previous night's jaunt. So instead of tending to the quiet dining hall, which was vacant during the lull, Omai found herself outside the laundry room, gazing out at the early hour scenes over Gallenvale.
Leaning against a balcony railing, the sea stretched out far below the high mountain slope where the Lodge sat on the edge of the Township. Gallenvale's more densely packed streets looked like miniature sets and models down below, packed in tight along the narrow strip of even land straddled against the ocean. Up the steep and green lined foothills into the mountains, various homes and businesses poked through the forest canopy, up until the outskirts where Omai's Lodge sat perched on the saddleback between Mount Forthwhin and Badderbon. If her small balcony weren't tucked away in the lower levels of the Lodge, facing west towards the ocean, she may have turned to take in the rising sun over the towering Velmire Mountains, cutting a swath through the middle of the expansive Kasandrik Plateau.
Sucking in the cool morning air, Omai turned on her feet, heading into the stuffy laundry room. Giant tubular machines on stilts churned and spun as their contents neared completion. The beastly appliances were one of the few luxuries her mother and father had indulged in for the Lodge. A working laundry for weary travelers was an attractive option, after days or weeks wending through the mountains.
On cue, the obnoxious industrial buzzer kicked on, the machines slowing to a rest. Omai moved to the driers, pulling their contents gingerly to sort in the clothing carts. It took a moment to pull apart most of the clothing, clinging together from a mysterious force science still couldn't give a solid answer on. After finishing that chore, she hung a row of traveling overcoats, saving a particular one for last. It was worn and rugged, but not yet aged from years of experience. It bore the deep burgundy and brown colors of a Wendservant, one of the more casual wears of the Church. It also bore a particular smell—a mixture of Jenta Daises and Mountain Berry. Omai took in a long drag of the pleasant scent, recalling the distinctive stories this holy man always brought.
After switching over the wet clothes from the driers, Omai moved up the ramp with her procession of clothing carts into the Lodge's guest hall. A series of hooks and end tables waited beside each door, where she left the folded and warm clothing for the occupants within. Being the mid season, she had few visits to make, hastening her to the final door where her holy man slept.
Only he wasn't in his room. Omai let herself in, smiling at the messy bed cover left behind. His regular travel boots remained at the foot of the bed; without his overcoat, he certainly hadn't checked out early. No, Omai suspected he was on the east side of the Lodge, enjoying the sunrise she was currently missing.
She left the coat hung in its proper place, remade the bed, and then returned the carts to the laundry room. Then she followed her intuition to the Lodge's eastward balcony, where a lone figure leaned against the railing, silhouetted in the amber morning light. His unkempt brown hair stuck up in clumps, revealing that he not only hadn't showered, but might not leave in such a hurry this morning. Omai had certainly planned to share breakfast with him. Perhaps lunch was in order as well.
Sidling up beside him, Omai was impressed by the gorgeous view stretching out beneath them. Rolling hills, slopes, and ridges; the mountains cascading in wide girths of land and rock, down to the stretching farmland in patchwork colors of varying green. Many kilometers further east, the towering Velmire volcanic chain reached skyward, like a jagged spine scaling out of sight far to the north and south. It was a beautiful sight, but Omai was more focused on the young man she now leaned against.
"Beautiful morning, yes Kagon?"
He smirked. "Good morning to you, too, Omai. I see you wasted no time in distracting me from my morning communion."
Omai snorted, laughing. When Kagon had first stayed at the Lodge over five years ago, Omai had sought every opportunity to pester the newly initiated Wendservant. He seemed too content to spend his time in solitude, claiming to be involved in some form of communion or another. Since then, it had become a bit of a game between them—any time Omai found him alone, naturally it was her duty to interrupt his private spiritual time.
"You were just praying for me to show up," she jested.
Kagon turned his head to face her, his usually pale blues glowing and sparkling in the morning light. There was something alluring about the way half his face disappeared into shadow, the other half almost blinding light, even for a pasty highlander such as himself. He certainly had grown out of those young, boyish features she remembered from his early seasons wending south through Gallenvale. Kagon looked the better part of a man now, just as surely as she looked the part of a woman.
Even if he was determined to pretend that he didn't notice.
"Some things you don't have to pray to God about," said Kagon. "He just sends them your way."
Omai grinned, trying not to let her breathlessness show on her face. She was twenty-three for Tykavail's sake! Much too old to fawn about like a love-struck youth fresh into the seminary. The thought alone made her burst out laughing again, turning so that she could slide down to the floor, her back against the railing.
Kagon chuckled, joining her on the floor, pulling his knees up close to his chest. "Someone's in a fit of giggles this morning."
"Yes. That's what we get for staying up late and getting up early."
Kagon huffed playfully. "I asked you several times if you wanted to call it a night. I knew you had work in the morning."
Omai waved him off. She was content to stay up all night talking, listening to his stories and telling her own. It was now a month past since his southward travels through Gallenvale, and she wasn't about to squander precious time on his brief return journey north. Sleep was a non-issue.
"Brother, I could run this place on three hours of sleep if I had to. Done it before, swear on the Lord."
"I believe it. Doesn't mean it's fun."
Omai laughed again, tossing her long golden hair for effect. "I'm having a lot of fun, if you haven't noticed."
"That's the sleep deprivation talking. We'll see how you feel after breakfast."
Omai's eyes flashed up to the Lodge. She thought she could see Jenka heading back from the kitchens to fetch the other staff. And that meant fresh food was already underway.
"Speaking of which, wanna head down to the dining room?"
Kagon obliged, standing and offering a hand to pull her to her feet. Still a little hazy in the mind, Omai accepted the hand and curtseyed dramatically as he lifted her up. Kagon shook his head, smiling and Omai found herself in a fit of laughter again.
It didn't take long to get some eggs and a bowl of mill at a lone table in the empty dining hall. Omai had no problem sharing the room with the usual bustling crowd, often moving between tables to touch in with various new comers and old faces alike. But it was nice to have the room quiet and exclusive this morning. It added a certain level of intimacy that Omai eagerly welcomed.
"I was thinking," she began, adding extra spice to her eggs, "you could stay over through the afternoon instead of leaving this morning."
"You're going to ruin those eggs…"
Omai waved him off. "You highlanders eat such bland food."
"And for a shore girl, you sure don't mind burning your mouth to a crisp."
She grinned at him, throwing a little on his eggs. "It's flavor, not heat, silly. The shore people know how to enjoy the flavor of food."
"No, they know how to drown out the natural flavor of food. And I really was hoping to get going within the hour."
Omai watched Kagon's expression drop, as if mirroring her face. She hadn't meant to show it, but sometimes it was annoying how devoted the guy had to be.
"Don't be," she said, keeping her tone light. "You're doing your duty to the Church. That's more than half the traders who come through here."
She smiled, but she could see in his eyes that he was aware of how he had disappointed her.
If you can read me so well, then would it kill you to stay until midday? Just this once?
"Kagon," she began, glancing down at her eggs, "I understand you have responsibilities to the Church. But why are you in such a hurry to go back somewhere you hate?"
"It's my home…"
"Your family doesn't even live in Nihma's Hollow. And you haven't called it a proper home in years."
Omai chose her words carefully. She doubted many—if anyone in the whole world outside his Township—knew Kagon's story. Knew how a simple folly of youth had left his neighbors unfair and harsh towards the poor fellow. In another one of their late night conversations, many seasons past, he had stated himself how painful it was to go back. The word 'hate' had cropped up. Omai would never have spoken so harshly against someone's childhood home otherwise.
She knew what cruelty awaited the holy man.
"You're right, Omai," Kagon said softly. "It isn't my home. But it's the closest thing I've got, so I have to make do."
He reached across the small table, taking one of her hands in his. A shiver ran down Omai's spine, and she had to subdue a soft sigh that wanted to escape. Kagon was blissfully unaware of how much little gestures like that meant to her.
"But don't worry about me," he said through a genuine smile. "I've found another home of sorts on these roads south through Gallenvale and abroad. And whatever unkindness I have to endure for my return trips, all of it is made up a hundredfold when I set out again."
Omai returned the smile. "Maybe you should see if the Church won't let you relocate permanently."
After breakfast, Kagon was kind enough to wend Omai to the high pass up-slope from the Lodge where there were several kendleberry bushes. Without much strength to her Thoughtflame and never having really wended in her life, Omai usually made the trek on foot. It was a laborious task that reminded her often of what she had missed on during her younger years in the seminary. After loading three basketfuls, the two returned several hours before lunch. And now it was time for Kagon to go.
Omai leaned against his doorframe, watching as he finished loading his traveling satchel. Unlike most Wendservants, this one didn't look made by a local leatherworker from his Township. It was ancient, probably used by someone in his family years before, back before the Final War when such commodities were mass-produced. Now there probably wasn't another one like it left.
Kagon pulled on his overcoat, which was just a little too long in the sleeves, but otherwise was a slimming fit. Then he was standing before her, and Omai realized she was blocking his way.
"Take care, Kagon." She leaned in quickly, pecking him once on the cheek. She resisted the urge to burst into laughter again when she saw how it made him blush so deeply. "And if you get to feeling too down, come right back here and I'll be waiting to cheer you up."
Kagon shook his head, chuckling to himself. "Goodbye, Omai. Don't stop being your mischievous self."
Then in a shimmer of ambient blue green light, he slipped out of the room and off into the mountains. When she was sure he had wended far beyond her sight, she exhaled deeply, leaning back against the wall for support.
There would always be new faces and stories that passed through the Lodge. Omai counted on it to keep life fresh and her work there meaningful. But of all the faces and all the stories, she wished Kagon's particular one would stop playing so hard to get and make a permanent move to Gallenvale. It wouldn't be so hard to apply for such a change in the Church, and maybe it would give Kagon a better home to come to at the end of his regular journeys.
It would certainly give him a prettier face to come home to.