Inbetween: Chapter Fifty Three

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Yuri found a priest he trusted to teach Willow about the magic behind the stones used in this world. Once she decided to trust him she did not waver in that feeling for one moment. She put her trust in his judgment and decided to learn everything she could from this priest.

She did not know how much longer they would stay in this place. Alenna had not been forthcoming about her plans to any of them. They were at the mercy of her whims and would need to leave when she decided it was time to go.

For that reason, Willow thought it was best for her lessons to start as soon as possible. Living in such close quarters made it almost impossible to keep their activities a secret from Alenna, but she did not seem to care one way or the other what they did. Asa had tried to use that fact to reassure Willow before she set out this morning, but she had a feeling he did not believe it himself. Her own gut told her to be cautious as well.

Although they were all at least a bit hesitant, Yuri would not permit her to ignore this matter. Perhaps if she had not been so upset the other day he might have let it slide, but he worked quickly to find someone who could explain magic to her and now he would not let her put it off for even one more day.

She was not sure what to expect when she was told that she needed to visit the local temple. As far as she knew, she had never seen one of these temples so she had no idea what to expect.

The village was so small that it would be simple to find a temple, but so far she had taken no notice of such a place. Now that she knew where to go, she realized why. There was no temple located in the village proper, which explained why she never noticed one. The temple was located a bit further down the mountain. If she did not have the boots Alenna had given her, she was not sure she would have made it at all.

The size of the building necessitated its distance from the village. The center of the structure was a massive stone room. High on the mountain where the village was located there was nowhere with a large enough piece of flat land for such a structure. It was simpler and took far less material to build at a lower elevation where there was room.

Climbing part way down the mountain did not change much in terms of climate. They were too far north for the slightly lower elevation to improve the temperature or thin the layer of snow and ice that covered the ground. The constant cold and wind was just an accepted fact of her life at this point. She came to terms with it easily enough, even if she hated it because she had spent the entirety of autumn mentally preparing for the wind and the cold. The real hard part was adjusting to getting anywhere on the steep terrain of the mountain.

It took her the better part of an hour, but she made it to the temple without any bruises or broken bones. She only wished that she could believe that the hard part was now over. She still had to go inside and submit herself to the scrutiny and instruction of a complete stranger.

The door to the temple was exceedingly large. At first, she assumed it must be for decorative purposes. Larger archways had a way of making a building seem more important. As she walked in, she noticed the well-worn wheel tracks in the stone. This place might be called a temple, but she needed to remember that the people here performed a vital function that kept the rest of this world running smoothly.

Yuri’s directions ended as soon as she made it to the temple, but she had no idea where to go now that she was inside. She had the name of the priest she was supposed to meet with, but no notion of where she should meet him. She did not even know what he was supposed to look like.

As soon as she entered the temple, she started to feel all the trappings of her awkward adolescent phase coming back. Walking into this place was eerily similar to the first day of school during her mortifying middle school years. Although she knew nothing had changed about herself physically, she could not shake the feeling that she was suddenly ungainly and unaccustomed to the length of her limbs.

She looked around for someone that could point her in the right direction. Surely if she said she was here to see Rashne anyone present would know exactly what this was about and lend her a hand.

Initially, she was frozen in place. A hallway stretched on before her with a wide, arched ceiling making her feel as though she was almost still outside. She would continue to feel small and lost unless she did something to change that fact.

That feeling would continue to haunt as long as she remained still. She moved forward and immediately felt at least a small bit of her former confidence coming back.

The whole building was strangely silent considering the amount of noise her lone footfalls were making on the stones. It seemed the temple was just as inactive as the mine had been for the first few days follow Alenna’s arrival. The miners had returned to work now so she was sure that there would be more ore coming to the temple soon. For now, it seemed as though the priests at the temple were still on holiday.

Calling out to see if anyone would answer seemed like a sensible thing to do, but the overly large and silent hallway still had her trapped in the mindset of her socially awkward teenage self. As long as she felt so terribly uncomfortable in her own skin, she could not bring herself to draw attention to herself. Even as she knew it was probably a waste of time, she continued to silently wander down the hall.

Just as she started to give up hope, she heard the squeak of a heavy door swinging on its hinge somewhere behind her. She pivoted on her heel reflexively, feeling more than a little bit guilty for trespassing so far into the temple without any sort of formal introduction. As far as she knew, she was expected, but now that she was caught she wondered if she should have found a way to knock before entering.

Her feet were frozen in place. She had no choice but to wait and watch as a man stepped out of the door and approached her.

“You must be Willow,” he said as he came close enough to speak at a normal volume.

She nodded. While she was not sure what she expected, she was sure that she had not expected to meet the man that now stood before her. When Yuri said she would be meeting a priest she imagined an old man in long robes. The man approaching her now was in his early thirties at the latest and wore the same style of thick, warm pants and shirt as everyone else in this area, but his were without dye or ornamentation. She supposed that the plainness of his clothes could be interpreted as priest-like, but the defiance of her expectations threw her off balance.

He beamed. His smile cemented the idea in Willow’s mind that he was entirely different from what she thought of as a priest. Part of her wanted to be on guard around him since he was not acting in a way that seemed to befit someone of his station, but his smile had a disarming quality that made it nearly impossible for her to be on guard.

“I’m Rashne. Shall we start your lessons?”

“I guess so. I have a lot of questions.” She felt a little self-conscious admitting this to a complete stranger, but if he was to be her instructor she thought it would be for the best to be honest with him. Although she felt as though she had been betrayed by her trust in Alenna, she found herself easily trusting Rashne immediately. She hoped Yuri had chosen her instructor carefully so her trust was well deserved.

Rashne led her to the back of the hall and pushed open one of the two heavy, wooden doors far enough for them to pass through. Willow was shocked to discover the room on the other side had and even higher, domed ceiling than the hallway. The room was circular and easily a hundred feet in diameter. Willow knew this room must be at least mostly obscured by the mountainside as she had not noticed a large circular room while she was making her way down the mountainside. She felt sure she would have noticed a structure like that.

She looked around the room from her vantage point near the door where she had entered. She dared not walk around the room without permission. From the moment she walked in, she felt that there was something special about this room and she did not wish to harm the room’s mystical properties by a simple misstep or mistake.

The floor of the room was a stone mosaic of more circles and triangles. She knew without being told that these patterns were of some significance to the magic she was here to learn. She did not know how she knew this. If she was asked, she doubted she could put it into words. The feeling was pure instinct. Deep down inside she could feel the patterns on the floor trying to reach out and connect to the power she kept hidden deep down inside.

“We’ll have our first lesson in here. The room usually isn’t vacant, but since everyone took a few days off to celebrate the visit of High Lord Alenna visit, the room is empty for the time being,” Rashne explained as he strode toward the center of the room. He looked back over his shoulder and nodded at Willow.

With that subtle approval, she followed him further into the room. Stepping through the areas marked by the varying patterns on the floor made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She could feel the echoes of all of the magic used in this room reverberating off the walls and traveling through her until it hit that small place inside of her where she kept her magic locked down.

When they reached the center of the room, Rashne abruptly sat down. Not knowing what else to do, Willow joined him.

“You can feel it, can’t you?”

The way Rashne asked the question told her that he already knew the answer, but she felt compelled to answer anyway. The room had a power of its own and it compelled the power she had within her to answer.

“Yes,” she answered in a hushed tone of reverence that the moment and this place seemed to require. “What is this place?”

“This is a place integral to the function of our society. This is where we convert the raw ore mined from the earth into the magical stones used by just about everyone. I can explain the process to you if you’re interested, but I thought you wanted to learn about how magic works rather than the refining process.”

Willow perked up and sat up a bit straighter. “I want to learn it all.”

Rashne laughed. “I’m not sure I can teach you everything, but I think I can at least set you on the path to getting all the answers you need.”

“Okay. We’d better start at the beginning because I’m pretty sure half of what I think I know is wrong.”


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