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Support Indie Authors with the Smashwords Summer Sale!

Attention readers! Want to help support indie authors? Head on over to Smashwords now to check out their annual Summer Sale taking place until July 31st! This is a great opportunity to pick up some cheap summer reading material! #Smashwords #SummerWinterSale2016

Right now, you can pick up the ebook version of my novel, The Bonded: The Allseer Trilogy Book I, for 50% off during the sale by using code SSW50 during checkout!

Want a sample before you buy? Check out the preview below! ❤


 

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Chapter 1

The ritual was held in the Temple of Union, inside the vast hollowed heart of a glowing wraith wood tree. The tree itself jutted upwards, jagged spires reaching high into the heavens. In the glow of the moon it shone faintly, its ghastly bark throwing out a whisper of icy blue light.

The inside of the tree was a great hollowed core, forming a large circular room with nothing but dirt for a floor. It had been stripped bare, save for a row of wraith wood chairs at the back of the room. Robed council members sat quietly, waiting for the ritual to begin. They wore cloaks the color of the midnight sky, their faces hidden in shadow but she could feel them watching. Candles were the only light in the room and they formed a circle in which she and another Bondless sat. The faint light flickered and shifted, colliding strangely with the blue glow of the tree.

It was the sixteenth year in their cycle and now it had come to this. Reaching up, the girl tucked her ashen hair behind her ear and stared at the boy across from her. He returned her gaze, his dark eyes wide with fright. He had a full face, a boyish chubbiness to his body that only a growth spurt could take away. His wavy brown hair had been smoothed back and he ran a hand through it nervously, no doubt afraid her gaze picked apart some untidiness he had failed to notice.

Their clothing was customary for the Ritual of Union. Dark blue robes encased them, a silver sash tied tight around the middle. They’d removed the dark leather boots they’d worn before entering and they sat barefoot on the floor, their feet tucked beneath them. The girl tugged impatiently at a loose thread and she couldn’t help but wonder how many Bondless children had worn those very same robes before her.

It was on this day that they would cease to be Bondless. Over the course of their youth, the Council had watched them. They had picked apart their personalities, studied their interests and dissected every action they had taken. It was with this information that they chose one boy and one girl to bond together. After the process, the two would cease to be apart. Their thoughts, minds and hearts would meld. It is said that the Bonded can know each other’s thoughts without speaking, can find each other even if a great distance separates them. To be bonded was an honor with no equal. To be given that special connection with someone was the greatest gift a Bondless one could be given. Such a bond would grant them the strength to face the Darkness that lurked outside the walls of Sanctuary.

It was also something the girl found completely and utterly pointless. She’d known her entire life that it would come to this moment. Sometimes she had watched the boys she’d been raised around, wondering which one the Council would see fit to match her with. As she’d gotten older, the allure of being permanently bound to someone had lost its shiny luster.

Now it just frightened her. The thought of giving her mind to another wasn’t even something she could fathom. They’d tried to allay her concerns, her mentors assuring her it wouldn’t be as terrible as she thought, but she’d known deep down that they were lying to her. And now she sat, watching the boy she’d be Bonded to with a dissatisfied frown.

It could have been anyone else and she would have been slightly more interested in the ritual but instead they’d chosen to stick her with him. His will was about as pudgy and pliable as his face. He was the kid that always did the right thing growing up, the kid that was first to tell the mentors when another had done something wrong. He would do anything for the good of Sanctuary and it grated on her nerves that someone could be so compliant. How could anyone not have an opinion of their own? How could anyone follow without questioning? It didn’t make sense.

The only thing she was really looking forward to was getting her name. Throughout her youth, she’d always been referred to as the Bondless, or simply called ‘Child.’ During the Ritual of Union, they would finally be given a permanent name. To have an identity of her own after all those years was something she had been anxiously awaiting.

A soft rustling caught her attention and she glanced up, surprised to find herself staring at the Union Master himself. The man had always been a bit of an enigma. He commanded the lands of Sanctuary, keeping its citizens safe from the Darkness that threatened them. Along with the Council, he made the rules and kept the peace. Until their time of union, most of the children rarely saw him.

He was an old man, much older than she remembered. His thinning hair had faded to a dull gray and he had a sharp, weathered face that looked like it had been carved from rock. He wore the same robes as them; dark blue with a silver sash. They hung loose on his lanky body and swirled around him as he approached. He regarded them with hawkish eyes, his lips drawn into a tight line. She exchanged a nervous glance with the boy next to her.

With a gesture of his hand, the Union Master commanded them to rise. They stood, then knelt on one knee and bowed their heads with respect. The Union Master nodded his approval and cleared his throat before speaking.

“Welcome, Children. It is good to see you both today. As you may already know, I am the Union Master. No doubt you’ve seen me throughout the years, but now I may properly introduce myself. From this point on you may refer to me as Master Nyson.”

“Yes, Master Nyson,” they spoke in unison, just as the mentors had trained them to.

“Ah, such manners” he spoke, his gravelly voice taking on a tone of approval. “You come before me today, two Bondless ones ready to take the next step in the cycle. As you know, the Council has watched you closely over the years. They have seen your desires, watched your actions and choices and have been amazed as you’ve grown before their eyes. We are all honored to guide you through this process. Shall we begin?”

She nodded, feeling her stomach twist at the thought but she managed to keep her expression passive. She didn’t want the boy next to her to think she was as frightened as he looked. Even now she could see him wringing his hands nervously.

From the shadows, two men emerged. They were identical. Tall and lean, they wore the same dark robes as the others in the room. Both seemed dreadfully pale and their chin length white hair made them look like ghosts in the light. They bowed respectfully to Master Nyson before taking a seat before them. Each held a leather bag and from these they produced several vials filled with a dark liquid, parchment, ink, quill and a strange instrument with a needle sharp point. This was all done in silence, the strange men hardly looking at each other. Their movements were precise and almost comical, so mirrored were they that they barely seemed to be separate people at all.

The girl watched this with fascination, her eyes wide as she observed the silent exchange. “This is what it is to be bonded,” Master Nyson said. “To know the thoughts and feelings of another so deeply, you could mirror their movement without looking at them.”

We’ll share each other’s thoughts, the girl thought to herself. It irked her that someone could be privy to the things that she thought or felt. She looked at the round faced boy and silently cursed her luck. She didn’t want to be bonded, not to him or to anyone. It wasn’t her choice, but what other choice did she have? Much like everything else throughout her childhood, this was something being decided for her.

Nyson regarded her with a level gaze. “Are you disappointed girl?”

The girl checked her face, skewing her expression to something more agreeable. “No, of course not, Master. My thoughts merely strayed.”

He nodded, his eyes hovering over her for a moment longer. “Very well. Let us continue the ritual. I could bore you with small talk, but I think you already know the importance of this. This bond that you are to be given is unlike anything you’ve yet to experience. To succeed, you must treat your bond with the utmost respect. Treat each other well and you’ll flourish. Now, I think it is time you both received a name.”

At the mention of receiving her name, she turned her full attention to the man in front of her. He set a piece of parchment between them, dipped his quill and waited for Nyson to continue.

The Union Master shifted himself towards her and she met his eyes. She mentally forced her hands to be still, trying to keep her nervousness from showing. “It took quite some time picking a name for you, Child. Through your youth you’ve shown that you are spirited and intelligent. Your kindness and bravery are commendable traits and it is these qualities we smiled upon when we thought of who to bond you with. Your strength of character compliments him greatly and will bring him happiness and stability.”

The girl smiled to herself as she listened, nodding in agreement as he listed off her more redeeming qualities. It was only when his face grew somber that the smile faded off her lips and she watched him with steely eyes. “One cannot just be made of good qualities, however. Be mindful of the doubt that plagues you, girl. We’ve seen it much over the years and we do not wish to see it lead you astray. You are curious about your new life and rightfully so, but curiosity can lead to trouble. Be thankful for the life you’ve been given and never cast doubt upon it. In this, your bond mate will help you. His dedication will reveal to you the value of devoting yourself to this process.”

“Yes, Master Nyson. Thank you,” the girl muttered, bowing her head. She bit back her frustration, glaring at the ground with enough force to burn holes through the world. Her cheeks burned and she was grateful for the dim light masking her embarrassment.

“Are you ready to hear your name?”

“Yes, Master.”

Anticipation hung like a thick cloud and the girl found it hard to breath. She clasped her hands tightly, feeling her heart flutter wildly in her chest.

“From this day forth, you will take the name Kirheen. It speaks of strength and elegance, a perfect match for an intelligent beauty such as yourself.” The girl nodded her approval, making sure to smile at the Union Master. She watched with great interest as the silent man before her wrote her name on the slip of parchment. He turned it towards her so she could see.

She whispered the name, letting it slip off her tongue. It felt good to finally have an identity, something she could claim as her own. It was a fine name and she couldn’t help but grin as she memorized the letters on the parchment.

“Congratulations,” the boy next to her whispered, touching her gently on the arm. “It’s a beautiful name.”

She was about to thank him when Nyson called for his attention. He turned away from her quickly, dark eyes shifting nervously to look at the Union Master.

“Ah, you’re a dedicated one, boy. We’ve seen that much over the years. You are steadfast and loyal, always putting others first. You’ve a firm love of life and see good in all things. However, you’re also doubtful of yourself. You’re nervous and uncertain, lacking the strength of will to realize you are worth far more than you give yourself credit for. In this, Kirheen will help guide you. Her strength of character will help fuel your inner fire, showing you how to be courageous and confident.” Master Nyson smiled at the boy, giving him a reassuring nod. “You’ll grow to be a fine man. But you can’t hope to be a man without a name. Are you ready to hear it?”

The boy said nothing, just nodded his head meekly. His eyes had grown large and he held his breath, waiting anxiously to hear his name.

“From this day forth, you will take the name Garild. It speaks of dedication and kindness, but also of a strength and confidence you will develop in the coming years.”

“Thank you, Master Nyson,” the boy said, bowing his head. If he was pleased with his name, he didn’t show it. Instead he watched as the man in front of him wrote out his name in ink. Leaning over, Kirheen gave him a friendly nudge on the arm.

“Nice name,” she said with a smile. “I think it suits you.”

“T-thank you,” Garild said with a stutter. He turned away from her, red rushing to his cheeks.

“Kirheen. Garild. You have been given names but you are still without a symbol. I’ve personally chosen a symbol for you. As I’m sure you’ve learned by now, your symbol is meant to represent two things found in the world that are unified. It is meant to represent a powerful bond, one that you will quickly develop. Your symbol is unique and special. It represents you both, unlike your names. To tarnish the reputation of your symbol is to bring shame to your bond. Do you understand this?”

“Yes, Master Nyson,” Garild said while Kirheen nodded her head.

“Good. I want you to always remember that. It is very important. For your symbol, I have picked for you the sun and stars. It is a strong, yet subtle symbol.”

This part of the ritual was one that Kirheen had found herself both curious and terrified of. The process involved having their symbol put into their skin using a sharp needle, a procedure that was supposed to be quite painful. Despite knowing that, it wasn’t the process itself that scared her. What scared her more was the permanence of it. The symbol didn’t come off. It would be in her skin forever making her a walking, talking advertisement for their bond. It would be a constant reminder that her life and her mind were no longer her own.

The silent twins took to work, creating the symbol on another piece of parchment. They drew the sun, hiding within its face a crescent moon and stars.

“This last part of the ritual is not without discomfort. It is through this pain that your bond will grow stronger. You’ll carry your symbol not only in your heart but on your flesh as well.” The Union Master pulled back his left sleeve and flipping over his arm, he showed them his own symbol marked in dark ink on the wrinkled flesh of his wrist. It was of an elegant fish with blue and silver scales. It looked to be leaping out of a pool of water.

“It’s beautiful,” Kirheen remarked. She wished nothing more than to move closer and inspect the design. The only thing keeping her rooted in place, other than humiliating the whole Council, was knowing she’d have her own symbol to gawk over soon.

“When you’re ready,” Master Nyson finished, stepping back into the shadows. The white haired men carefully set aside the design they had crafted, then took a moment to arrange two bottles of dark liquid within easy reach. Garild watched nervously as the thick liquid sloshed around within the glass confinement.

Kirheen spoke, trying to make herself sound eager. It was nothing more than false confidence to mask her nerves. “I’m ready,” she said. Her words must have had the intended effect for Garild looked at her in shock, dismayed by her readiness. She was supposed to be strong and brave and she intended to live up to the impression she’d given them.

“You’re going to let them put that in your skin?” Garild asked.

Kirheen rolled her eyes. “Of course I am, silly. You’re going to have to as well. It’s part of the ritual.” Her lips spread into a smirk, a solitary eyebrow rising as she challenged his bravery. “Unless you’re too scared?”

He retorted quickly, trying to hide the fear in his voice. “I’m not scared!”

“Prove it!”

The man in front of Kirheen held a sharp instrument. He dipped it into one of the vials and the tip came away dripping with the foul looking liquid. He motioned for Kirheen to sit closer. As she drew closer, the man met her eyes and gently reached forward to grab her left hand. The closeness alarmed her and she nearly drew her hand away. He smirked, raising one brow in the same challenging expression she’d given Garild. She realized he was taunting her and she narrowed her eyes, giving him a firm nod to continue. Her sleeve was pushed back and her hand flipped so her palm faced the sky. He wiped her arm with a clear liquid that tingled as it touched her skin and then he readied the needle. Quick as a snake the instrument descended, striking into the soft flesh of her wrist. She gave a small yelp and would have pulled her hand away if not for his fingers gripping her tightly. With an intake of breath, she steadied herself. White teeth flashed, the white haired man amused by her reaction. She pursed her lips and allowed him to continue his work, feeling the slip of the needle poke into her flesh.

Garild watched in silence, his mouth gaping open like a fish. He gave a visible shudder as blood welled to the surface where the instrument had pierced her skin, injecting it with that shadowy ink. As the man smeared away her blood, the ink spread with it. He looked faint.

Kirheen watched as the man seated in front of Garild reached forward and tugged on his sleeve. He looked irritated.  Seeing no response from Garild, he reached forward and tried to grab hold of him. Garild pulled back sharply, a look of horror on his face.

“It really isn’t that bad,” she said reassuringly. Despite her comment, she winced as the needle dove back into her wrist. “At least we only have to do it once.” She smiled at him sheepishly and he gave her a look that said how little he trusted her words. He gulped down his nervousness and let the man take his wrist.

Kirheen watched him tense as the man gripped him, watched his eyes grow to the size of the moon as the needle was dipped and raised above his wrist. Whatever brave thoughts he’d had of surviving the experience left him in a rush of escaped breath as the needle touched his skin.

His eyes rolled back and he slumped onto the ground. At first Kirheen was alarmed and then the man holding her wrist burst with laughter. He had passed out in front of the Council and in front of Nyson. Kirheen felt a wave of embarrassment knowing that this was the boy she’d been bound to and for better or worse, she was stuck with him.


Chapter 2

Garild woke with a start, feeling disoriented as he looked around. The familiar wraith wood walls common to Sanctuary surrounded him, but the room itself he’d never seen. He vaguely remembered waking in the middle of the night, but he’d been too tired to investigate his surroundings. He tried to think back on what had happened at the Ritual and felt his heart drop into his stomach. “Oh, Allseer…” He’d passed out in front of the Council, in front of Kirheen and in front of the Union Master himself.  He was a fool, sure to be laughed out of Sanctuary by the rest of the Bonded.

The room was small and simply furnished. Two beds, one occupied by himself, took up most of the room. A small desk sat against the wall to his right beneath a large window allowing a pleasant view of the surrounding forest. Vibrant purple flowers filled a vase on the desk clouding the room with a scent he would have found agreeable if not for the dull throbbing in his temples.

As he went to prop himself up, pain flashed across his wrist. At some point bandages had been wrapped loosely around his arm, probably to protect the symbol that had been poked into his skin. He had no desire to look at it. Doing so was likely to make him pass out again.

Soft footsteps echoed outside the room and a moment later Kirheen pushed aside a blue curtain and entered. Her face was rigid but her eyes twinkled as she looked at him. He knew she was suppressing laughter and the realization made him angry. He didn’t want to see anyone right now, especially the one person he’d been hoping to impress.

“Finally decided to wake up, did you,” Kirheen questioned as she moved to the edge of the bed. “I hate to tell you, but those strange men got quite a laugh. Guess it’s normally the girls that have that reaction.”

Garild looked away from her, his face turning red with anger and embarrassment. He pulled his burning arm to his chest and nursed his wounded pride. “Good to know.”

“Oh, Garild. I’m just messing with you. Don’t be angry.” Stepping closer she took a seat on the edge of the bed. “If you want to know the truth, it hurt pretty bad. Have you looked at it yet? It looks pretty cool.”

Garild shrugged.  “I really don’t want to look at it.”

“Stop it! Take a look!”

Kirheen had removed the bandage from her wrist and held it out towards him. A dark color against the pale flesh of her wrist caught his attention. She hadn’t been lying, it was interesting. A sun held the delicate crescent of the moon, stars dotting the surface around it.

“It’s nice,” he said, looking away quickly. Seeing the puffy red skin around the mark made his own wrist throb. “Where are we anyway?”

“Once they finished up the symbol, we were brought here. It’s… our new home. They’ve already gathered all of our things from the Temple of Growth. We won’t need to go back.”

The temple was where they had been raised. Two long narrow buildings had served as their home throughout their childhood. It was where they had learned of the world, where they had learned of the struggle the Bonded faced, of the duties that were expected of them, of the powers they possessed that would one day be used to battle the Darkness.

It was strange to think they’d never go back. All of the people they’d grown up with were going to be Bonded soon. The time for playing was done. Now was the time to become an adult, to face their responsibilities.

Kirheen sighed, seemingly lost in the same thought he was. Her eyes shifted and she turned her attention back to him. “Our instructor is supposed to be coming by today.”

“Oh? Do you know who it is?”

Kirheen shook her head. “From what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to be one of the Council members. Apparently most of them are also instructors.”

“Not surprising. They are supposed to be the best of the best,” he said. He hadn’t met many of the people on the Council. Just like the Union Master, they weren’t often seen until one became Bonded.

“Yes. Nothing like having someone here each and every day to help us learn about each other. I think having us share a room is going to take care of that just fine,” Kirheen grumbled. She rose from the bed and strode into the other room, leaving him to his thoughts.

Garild winced at her words. He always had a hard time deciphering whether she was being serious or just sarcastic. She had always been an outspoken girl. Often he’d heard her openly challenge or question anything she deemed odd or interesting. She had no problem letting her thoughts be heard and he found himself envious of how easily she expressed herself.

It had never been that easy for him. Bottling everything up seemed to be a much better alternative. It also made him well liked, something Kirheen didn’t have the luxury of. Her attitude hadn’t earned her many friends over the years.

Although envious of her strength, a lot of her comments had a tendency to swing in his direction and she knew exactly how to hurt his feelings. It had never been a secret that she wasn’t happy about being bonded. He’d heard her rant more than once about the delicate nature of her thoughts and feelings and that an intrusion into her mind wasn’t something she could tolerate. She’d vowed to keep her mind strong. If someone truly wanted in, they’d have to have the strength to break through those barriers. She’d been quick to assure him such a thing would never be possible.

Despite her brashness, he couldn’t have asked for anyone better to be bonded with. He’d always liked Kirheen and felt drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He doubted she realized it or would even accept his feelings if she did. For now just getting to spend each day with her was enough, even if her comments made it perfectly clear he was a fool for enjoying it.

Though he wished to remain in bed, his curiosity got the better of him and with a grunt he swung his legs onto the floor, favoring his wrist as he walked to the other room. It felt like he’d held his wrist to the sun. The skin was fiery and hot and he wondered how long it would feel that way. He pushed aside the blue curtain separating the rooms and stepped into a simple seating area. To his right were several cushioned wraith wood chairs forming a small semi-circle around a fireplace. It was empty now, the season still too warm for fires. The rest of the room was filled with a few large plants, and a couple light blue tapestries baring the symbol of the Allseer; a white eye with a jagged line through the center.

Kirheen was sitting in one of the cushioned chairs next to the fire place, peering into an intricately carved table he’d failed to notice at first glance. As he approached, he realized the center had been carved out and filled with water. Two colorful fish were at its center, swimming lazy circles around each other. Plopping down in the chair next to Kirheen startled them, sending them splashing away from each other. Kirheen looked up with a sigh, her chin cupped in her hands.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. She shrugged, eyes wandering back to the fish. She was strangely quiet and he wondered just what was going on in that head of hers. He was about to ask when a knock at the front door cut him off. He rose quickly, crossing the expanse of the room in a few steps. He opened the door to see an older woman standing before him. She was tall and thin with dull gray hair pulled back into a meticulous bun. Her sharp green eyes regarded him over an upturned nose, her lips pulled into a tight line. He had to wonder if the woman had ever had a happy thought in her entire life.

“H-hello,” Garild stammered, feeling uncomfortable under the weight of her gaze. “Can I help you?”

“For starters, you could get out of the way. And in the future, not reenacting a certain fainting spell in front of the whole Council would be preferable.”

Garild blushed, his cheeks turning as red as an apple. He stepped out of the way, allowing the old woman to enter. She surveyed the room, eyes slowly inspecting every surface as if she were committing it to memory. As her gaze fell on Kirheen, her face seemed to melt into a frown that told them she was more than a little disgusted to be in the same room. Kirheen caught on to the look and she stared back menacingly, one brow arched high, an expression that was quite common when she saw a challenge to be had. Their eyes locked and Garild felt a chill run through him.

“And just who are you?” Kirheen spat, twisted around in her chair so she could see.

“I could ask the same of you, but I find it unnecessary. Your ill manners speak for you, Kirheen. I was told my students would be a surprise. What an intriguing jest.”

Kirheen huffed, a forced smile splaying across her face. “I’m glad you’ve heard of me. Saves me some effort.”

“Still that flapping tongue of yours, girl. You may have earned a reputation around here, but it isn’t one I respect. That is something you’d have to earn and right now, you’re making a very poor case for yourself.”

“My apologies,” Kirheen said sweetly.

The woman ignored her. “Very well. Garild, go take a seat next to your companion.”

He did as he was told, not wanting to test the woman’s patience any further. He took his seat and watched as the woman passed around the chairs and tables to stand in front of them. He avoided eye contact, sinking back into his chair in hopes he would become less noticeable. He felt afraid to move, afraid to speak, as if a whisper might cause the room to explode.

“I’m glad someone can follow instructions. I suppose introductions are in order. My name is Herzin. So far, you’ve both been fortunate enough to have never stepped foot in my halls, but I’m sure you’ve heard stories. I am the Judge of Trials and now your instructor.”

Garild felt himself drain of color. He’d heard about the Temple of Trials and none of it was good. For the Bonded that strayed from their given path, a trial was held to decide their punishment. Herzin alone held the keys to their fate and from what he had heard, her punishments weren’t exactly kind or fair. He wasn’t sure how much of it was truth and how much was grossly exaggerated, but the fact that she was now their instructor sent a chill of fear up his spine.

“We’ll try to avoid getting into any trouble. We wouldn’t want to see more of you than we have to,” Kirheen snapped.

Herzin regarded her the way one would a bug they’d just squashed under their heel. “The feeling is quite mutual, dear. Do pray you never end up in my hall. I think your already dour opinion of me would sour quite quickly. Shooting down your insults is entertaining and all, but we have work to do. I need to explain a few things to you and I need your full attention. I assume that won’t be a problem?”

Before Kirheen could shoot back with a remark, Garild spoke. “Of course,” he said quickly. “No problem at all.” Kirheen shot him an annoyed glance.

“Good. Now, I’m going to ask you some questions to get a grasp of your knowledge. Answer to your full extent. It will dictate the training you receive from here on out. First off, I’d like to hear your opinion on something. Garild, tell me what you know of your bond. What does it mean to be bonded?”

All his life, he’d been told being bonded was the greatest honor one could be given. To be granted such a connection with another was a beautiful and special thing, one to be cherished and respected. Deep within his heart, he truly believed that.

He also knew that their bond was meant to strengthen their powers; to help them learn and guide each other until they would be strong enough to face the Darkness. Though he believed in his bond so strongly, he found it hard to put to words such feelings, especially with Kirheen sitting next to him. For him, their bond meant a lot and though she didn’t feel the same, he hoped there would come a time when her feelings would change. As long as he didn’t give up on her, he knew she’d come around eventually.

“It’s a great honor. It’s the truest connection one can have with another person. It’s quite a gift, being able to develop a connection so deep that you could know the heart and mind of another as well as you know your own. It is the best way to strengthen the powers we are blessed with.” He felt himself blushing as he spoke, the words revealing what he truly felt in his heart. That feeling was quickly dashed against the rocks as Kirheen rolled her eyes, obviously at odds with his feelings on the subject.

“How very eloquent, Garild. It is a gift and one that should not be squandered.” At this, Herzin cast a glance at Kirheen. “And what of you, Kirheen? Care to tell me how you feel about this subject?”

Kirheen sighed. “I don’t believe it’s a gift, so much as a curse. It allows our minds and hearts to be known by another, regardless of whether we desire such an intrusion. Using it to battle the Darkness is one thing, using our power to invade the minds of our friends is quite another.”

“An interesting perspective.”

Garild felt his stomach drop. He really was a fool. “Kirheen, you can’t really feel that way.”

“And why not?” she snapped. “Should you be allowed access to my thoughts and my heart simply because you desire it, because it is expected of me?”

He was at a loss for words. He couldn’t believe she actually felt that way. Herzin spoke for him, calming the situation before it had a chance to escalate. “Strange that you two have been bound when you share such… different opinions on the matter. Perhaps you can find some common ground here. In ways, you are both right in your assessments. Our power, bestowed upon us by the Allseer, is a gift. To say otherwise is a slight against the Goddess herself, Kirheen. However, your bond, regardless of how you personally feel about it, is a means to an end. All of this training will lead you to one thing; battling the Darkness. But do tell me how you can expect to block out the power of the Darkness if you’ve never experienced the sensation? How would you know it was happening? You’d fall under that corruption without the training I am to provide you.”

“There has to be others ways than this,” Kirheen said.

“And we’ve tried them. This is the best method of strengthening your powers whether you like it or not. There is no argument to be had here. Either you learn to use your powers, or you spend the rest of your days toiling about and learning how to stitch.”

Kirheen grumbled under her breath, crossing her arms over her chest protectively.

“I know you’ve both heard of the Darkness. Garild, please enlighten us on what that is?”

“The Darkness is a plague that swept through the lands beyond Sanctuary, destroying both the land and those that lived there, often turning them into violent husks. There used to be people like us but without the powers of the mind. They existed until the Darkness came and drove them all to madness. Only those blessed by the Allseer survived and fled north.”

Herzin nodded. “Good. Do you have anything to add to that, Kirheen? What are your powers for?”

“Our powers are used to cleanse the Darkness. Our goal is to push back the corruption and reclaim the world that was taken from us.”

“I hope speaking those words makes you realize the importance of our struggle, Kirheen. Without our powers, the Darkness would have taken this world long ago. You were both born with these powers and it is the only reason you survive. It is a heavy burden to bear, surely, but it is a responsibility that ensures our survival.”

Kirheen sighed loudly, obviously bored by the history lesson. She had a tendency to disregard the dangers beyond their own bubble, believing it to be an exaggeration, something to spur them on the path of learning their powers. He wondered if the Darkness frightened her at all, or if it really was just the thought of having another in her mind that scared her so.

“You can be bored of this all you want, but you can either grow to fight the Darkness or you can become a testament to failure and spend the rest of your days aiding those that were more dedicated to the cause.”

Something switched in Kirheen and a coldness seemed to grow in her stormy eyes. She locked her gaze onto her instructor. “I’ll never be just a failure.”

Herzin smirked. “Then you better stop acting like one.”


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