Chapter 28 (Everin)

A breeze whistled over the grassy hills of northern Allomoria and rustled Everin’s dark hair. It was a cool, spring day outside – perfect weather for riding. Everin sat on a mottled white stallion that Thatcher had given them that morning. Strapped to his back was a small sack containing rations of food that Edoll had packed the night before they left. In addition, within Everin’s bag was a small pouch full of long, green leaves that Edoll had given him for the burn on his arm. When she’d given them to him, they once again had offered to pay with some of the money they’d taken from the Elderwood ghosts, but she’d turned down the coins. He figured she felt bad about forcing them to leave, and this was her way of making it up to them.

To Everin’s right were Cora and Ford. They both rode on the brown horses that they’d taken from the Elderwood ghosts. The morning sun shone in Everin’s eyes, and he had to squint as he turned to look at his friends. They rode their horses at a steady trot down the path that had been worn in the grass. Cora’s long, hazel hair billowed out behind her in the breeze. Her aura was a faint green – nerves about the prospect of confronting McCarthy soon, he figured. Interestingly, Everin noted, Cora’s aura didn’t seem to trail behind her the same way her hair did as she moved. The green energy drifting off her body must not be connected to the physical world in any sense, he reasoned. Not only was it invisible, but even the wind couldn’t affect it.

Cora noticed Everin studying her. She turned towards him.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Everin said. He realized belatedly that, for the first time since their journey had begun, things were okay. Not that he wasn’t sad – he still was. But he’d been able to help Tress, his mother, and the man who’d deserted, even if doing so revealed their location to McCarthy. It felt as though his life had a purpose again. He had his mission. He was going to stop McCarthy and finally figure out the truth behind why his parents were killed. It was invigorating to feel like his life had been given some kind of meaning again. Plus, there was the hope that he’d be able to find a way to undo what McCarthy had done to him after grilling the man for information. He could use his power one last time, and then focus on putting his life back together.

Using his power on McCarthy would undoubtedly be painful. It always was. However, he could think about that later. For now, Everin tried to keep his darker thoughts buried deep within him, where they belonged. Out here, with no other human around for miles, he’d found some reprieve. Everin had felt sick the entire time they’d spent in Thistleton. Being surrounded by so many people and being aware of all their suffering had been hard to process, even if he hadn’t absorbed the pain from many of the city’s residents.

Cora smiled at his response. “Good. We should get as far away from Thistleton as we can before word spreads about you. We’ve got a lot of riding to do if we’re going to reach the monastery of Stalin by the end of the day.”

Everin nodded. “I’m ready.”

It was Thatcher who’d suggested stopping at the monastery of Stalin. There were no major cities on the way to Doronhine from Thistleton. However, she knew that there was a monastery residing in the isolated grasslands that was home to monks of Stalin. She’d suggested that they spend the night there and resume their journey the next morning. Stalin was one of the most powerful of the old gods. He had several temples and monasteries specifically dedicated to him all over Allomoria. The monks, who were devout worshippers of Stalin, were kind, if somewhat reserved. They would probably give the trio shelter for the night. At least, that was what Everin, Cora, and Ford were counting on.

They had agreed that seeking shelter from the monks of Stalin was likely their safest option. The monastery was only a mile or so off the path they planned to take. If they left from the monastery early tomorrow morning and traveled quickly, they could reach Doronhine by early afternoon.

The trio made good time as they traveled. They alternated between riding the horses at a trot and letting them walk. It was as much for their own sake as it was for the animals. None of them had spent much time in a saddle back in Greenshadow Village. By midafternoon, Everin’s legs and back ached. He was sure that Cora and Ford were experiencing similar discomforts.

His companions didn’t vocalize their aches and pains, though. They’d spent most of the days journey talking. Everin noticed that they were much more casual around each other than they’d been just a few days ago. Something definitely had changed between them in that time, he decided.

Cora and Ford didn’t notice Everin observing them. They only had eyes for each other. Everin was fine with that. He preferred to quietly ride beside them and take everything in. He listened in on their conversation, he scanned the grassy knolls that stretched for miles all around him, and he tried to come up with a plan for how he would find McCarthy once they were in Doronhine.

Unfortunately, Everin simply didn’t know enough about the layout of Doronhine or King Valen’s castle. The sun fell lower and lower on the horizon, and by the time the lonely monastery came into view, he still had nothing to show for all his brainstorming. Everin examined the monastery. It was an elegant structure made of carefully crafted wood. It stood three stories high, making it the tallest landmark for several miles. Around the building itself was a meticulously kept garden. Flowers of all colors and varieties blossomed in geometric patterns before the monastery. A stone path wound through the garden to the building’s entrance.

As the three horses and their riders approached, a man and a woman appeared at the entrance. They made their way through the garden path in time meet Everin, Cora, and Ford as they came to a stop before the property.

“Welcome, brothers and sister,” the male monk said. He had short blond hair and wore a long red robe. He gave them an easygoing smile.

“Hi,” Cora responded. “We’re traveling to Doronhine. We were told that this was the only shelter for miles. Would you be willing to let us rest here for a night?”

The woman responded. She was dressed in a robe identical to her partner’s. “Stalin teaches us that selfishness is a vice and those with resources are obligated to share with those without. You are welcome to stay tonight, provided you give a few hours of work before the sun goes down.”

“We’re willing,” Cora said.

“In that case, welcome to our home.” The woman smiled as she and the man helped Everin, Cora, and Ford climb off their horses.

The man took the three horses and led them somewhere behind the main monastery building. The woman, who introduced herself as Castro, led the trio through the garden and into the tall wooden structure.

The interior was as clean and orderly as the gardens outside. Castro guided them down a hallway and up a flight of stairs. They treaded on soft carpets, and they passed by several men and women wearing similar red garments. Everin noticed a stone statue resting by the stairwell that depicted a powerful figure dressed in flowing robes. He had a thick moustache and a hand raised towards Everin. This must have been Stalin, or at least an artist’s depiction of the old god.

At the top of the stairs, Castro pushed open a door revealing a room that was bare except for a few mats resting on the floor.

“You may leave your things here. This is where you’ll be sleeping tonight.”

Everin did as Castro instructed. Leaving his bag resting on one of the mats. They followed the monk downstairs, and she proceeded to set them to work. As neat as the monastery was, it soon became apparent that there was always something in need of cleaning. Everin, Cora, and Ford swept floors, scrubbed tables, and dusted off books and bookshelves for the next hour or two before the sun went down.

As they worked, Everin tried to study the men and women who resided in the monastery. None of them had distinct auras. Sure, they suffered – he saw faint wisps of green or blue energy around most of the monks. Although, none of them appeared to be in any great emotional pain. Maybe they were on to something with this worshipping of the old gods after all, he wondered.

As night fell, the trio was greeted by another monk. A short man who carried a tray with bowls of soup.

“Thank you for the work you’ve done today. You’ve earned your stay tonight. Please enjoy some nourishment before you retire upstairs.”

The trio thanked the man as they accepted the bowls. The soup was good. Everin relished the warm broth. It was the first real meal he’d eaten in ages. He inhaled the contents of his bowl, as did Cora and Ford. They retreated upstairs and settled onto the mats, pulling makeshift blankets over themselves. The mat was softer than Everin had expected. Coupled with the warm breeze drifting over him, Everin expected himself to be put right to sleep. He couldn’t drift off to his dreams, however. His mind was still a flurry of activity.

This wasn’t a new feeling to Everin. He often had trouble sleeping, as this was the time his horrible memories loved to come out and play in his head. This night, thankfully, it wasn’t the traumatic death of his parents that kept him awake. It was something else – nervous anticipation. The realization that he could very well be facing down McCarthy before the sun went down again was more than enough to keep him from falling asleep, no matter how hard he tried.

Everin lay on his mat for a long while, trying to force his eyes to stay shut. He was unsuccessful, which meant he was awake when he heard a rustling across the room.

Ford’s voice whispered, “Hey, you awake?”

Cora responded quietly. “Yeah, what’s up.”

More rustling.

“Here, come with me.”

Everin heard Ford and Cora climb to their feet and silently pad out of the room. Intrigued, he waited a moment before pushing his blanket off and following them. It normally would have been hard to find Cora and Ford in the dark monastery, but their auras lit up like torches in the otherwise dark night. They were both in the garden at the front of the monastery, sitting on a large, flat rock, and facing the open countryside before them.

Everin didn’t like the idea of spying on his companions, but an urge to confirm his suspicions drove him forward. He crept outside through the front entrance and hid himself behind a pillar nearby.

“…Sorry for keeping you from getting to bed. I just couldn’t sleep, and I wanted to get something off my chest.” Ford’s voice carried over to Everin’s ears.

“Don’t worry. I couldn’t sleep either – too nervous about tomorrow.” Cora this time.

“Yeah. Everything’s been moving so fast. Things have just happened so fast since that night in the forest, and now, suddenly, we’re here in front of Doronhine.”

“Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

“Well, I…I like you Cora. I mean, you already know that. But I really like you, and I feel like this mission of Everin’s is coming to an end, but I don’t want whatever this is between us to end after we find McCarthy.”

Everin bit his tongue. He’d been right. They did have feelings for each other. There was a short pause, although Everin was sure it didn’t seem short for Ford. He chanced a peek from behind his pillar. Sure enough, the boy’s aura was blazing with enough green energy to light up the whole garden.

Finally, Cora answered. “I don’t want it to end either. Hey, remember we’re still deserters? We’re in this together for the long run, at least until the war’s over.”

There was a relieved laugh from Ford. “I guess we are.” Everin heard the unmistakable sound of two lips kissing. He mulled over his recent discovery. He wasn’t sure how he felt about Cora and Ford being together. Cora had been his only close friend for the past year. He wanted her to be happy. He didn’t know Ford incredibly well, but over the past few days, the boy had demonstrated that he was trustworthy and more than willing to make sacrifices for those he cared about.

Everin wanted to feel glad for them, but something stirred at the corner of his mind. Doubt? He wondered if his insight into suffering was what left him so apprehensive. After seeing Thatcher, Jorian, and even Margoline back home, he’d begun to appreciate how closely love and pain were linked. Maybe his power had left him a bit jaded, but he was beginning to believe that it wasn’t possible to love without suffering.

The sound of kissing stopped. Cora’s voice made its way to where Everin hid.

“We shouldn’t stay here. One of the monks might find us.”

Everin tensed. He needed to get back to their room before they did.

Ford’s voice answered, “You’re probably right.”

A pause.

“Just a moment longer.”

There was a quiet snicker and a murmured, “Maybe a moment or two more wouldn’t hurt.” This was proceeded by the smacking sound of more lips upon lips. Everin took this as his que to sneak back inside. He tiptoed back into the monastery and hurried back into their room. He climbed back onto his mat and under his blanket. Several long moments later, Cora and Ford returned and somewhat clumsily attempted to climb back under their blankets without making too much noise.

If Everin’s mind had been a whir before, it was doubly so now. There were so many things to consider. So many things that could happen tomorrow. Eventually, he must’ve managed to drift off to sleep, because he was woken early the next morning by a crash followed by a series of shouts. Everin hurriedly climbed to his feet as he felt the building rattle. He looked outside the window just in time to see a woman with glowing yellow wings swoop past. In the garden in front of the monastery, two more figures stood. From their violent red and blue auras alone, Everin was able to guess who they were. All three of King Valen’s angels had arrived.

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