Valerik’s Quest 3

Every city has its slums, but Valerik was not in Dun for its slums as he took his eyes of the path he knew would lead him to the conisoir if he continued on it long enough. His main purpose of business laid elsewhere, a place he considered the civilized slum.

A few paces under the creeping afternoon sun had his boots moving in a decisive flow of steps. He had no need of his sense of direction to find his final destination. Just as he had moved a year ago, he moved again today. His feet clad in leather, protected from the stone ground by firm soles, carried him all the way to one point, perhaps willed by a greater power he would not acknowledge.

Every establishment and every worker paid their taxes in the name of King Criver. Part of it cared for the orphanages that housed the parentless and rejected. Like other smaller cities, Dun had only one: The Orphanage of Nezimir.

The building was deteriorated more so than it had been the last time he'd stood at it steps. It was a wonder how it still stood, not fallen with a score of dead beneath its rubbles. He almost feared to step within it. Sadly, some things were more essential than a man's fear.

The orphanage stood wider than most buildings. It reminded Valerik of the great halls within which the church often passed judgement. He had no doubt whoever built it had great things in mind for it. Great things now lost to vacation of position, change in financial import, or the corruption he had grown to know most men fall into. But one thing was certain: The great things would remain lost.

The entrance led to a great hall, and while the rooms laid, no doubt, above the hall, the children played en masse before him.

More children than he could count scoured the hall's floor, playing with a ferocity that should have all but put them in a state lacking of teeth, but they enjoyed their fun no less.

There was an elderly woman perched on a chair against one corner, paper work unattended and, if his sight was not contrived to deceit, asleep. He always viewed people who could slumber peacefully in the presence of a noisy child prodigies in their own right. But to do so amidst the chaos before him was... enlightenment.

Valerik was not very good with children, an enlightenment that proved itself from his years walking the mass of Ayla. He did not like them very much and the feeling was always mutual. However, he did take fascination in their uncharacteristic behavior.

While men held a pungent grip on good and evil, Valerik found a fascination in the raw potential possessed by children. It was endless and unfettered. Unlike most men, all it took was a view of a child's eyes, and everything would come to life. The naivety. The care. The mischief. The unbridled emotions.

But of them all, he took most of his fascination in those that held an innocence in evil. He saw it the last time he stood within this hall, and he would see it again today.

As though by some power, the elderly woman came into the waking world with a jerk at his first step. He needed no introductions and there proved no need for a request, like banks, Priests only came into orphanages for one reason.

The woman was the same one he had met a year ago. Although she was older, her skin weathered significantly more than was expected of a year, seeming three years older in the least.

She contained the children with a deftness only attained through years of practice, and she was nothing if not practiced. The children were not all too happy having their play interrupted and while she knew he required children of a specific age, she chose to terminate the freedom of all ages, shooing the unneeded up the stairs.

While the younger ones had engaged in games pointless to him, the older ones had engaged in more demanding displays. A group of boys groaned in disappointment as she called their bullying of a younger one to a halt, shushing only at the sight of him.

Children didn't fear priests. But as they grew older they learned to understand the errors of their ways. By their eight year they begin to develop an understanding of what should be consciously feared.

The elderly woman lined the children up before Valerik in no definitive order, none younger than their tenth year nor older than their thirteenth. She knew the ages, only he knew more. He dropped into his questions, asking their names before the important questions.

"Do you like the sun?"

"No. it's hot." This from a boy who answered his name to be Faer.

"Does the moon follow you?"

This boy was past his twelfth year and almost didn't hold back his chuckle. "No." There was a hint of humor in his reply. This one was either foolish or didn't fear priests. Valerik settled for foolish

The smallest of the boys was called Rolis, and while he fidgeted, his feet seemed happy with their place on the stone floor.

"What do you see when you fall asleep?"

"I see..." he seemed reluctant and for a moment Valerik thought he would have to work the answer out of the child, but he spoke again. "I see Ayla."

Some of the children giggled at the child's response but Valerik found no humor where they did. A question was asked, and an answer given. But if there was one thing Valerik knew, it was that no one sees Ayla.

He moved on. "... which way does the ground turn?"

The child squirmed under his gaze. He had answered his name as Sethlzaar and he stared at the floor a moment longer before answering. "left?"

The biggest of them claimed his name to be Shallan, and while he was the biggest, he was not the oldest. "...Is there light in the dark?"


The boy understood the absurdity in his answer but gave it with confidence. He was the biggest and he knew none of the other children would laugh at him. The seminary fostered confidence and taught strength. This child was fit for the seminary considering he knew what he spoke of.

The other children answered their questions as he asked. The questions were a pretext on his part. He knew what he was here for, notwithstanding, he slaved away at the task of asking them. There was no specific right and wrong answer that could be defined, only truth.

"...Where is your shadow?" he asked, fully aware of the absence of any in the hall.

"...What is the color of words?"

"...What does the night taste like?"

"...What sound does a smile make?"

He stood before Shallan and pondered his decision. A few of the boys before him now had stood before him the last time he was here. He had seen what he sought the year before but the child had not come of age then. Now, however, he would take the boy.

Father Thane spoke of mastering one's vices after assuming knowledge of them. Valerik knew his vices and indulged in them when he saw fit. Shallan would survive the seminary, life had built him for it, forged him with whatever hardship he had risen from. And he was blessed.

He looked to the elderly woman.

"Prepare the adoption papers."

Her reaction was a mix of both happiness and confusion, and Valerik found no surprise from it. It was not rare for people to happily offer up the blessed as they were called, a name based on the church's reference of their gifts of Truth's blessing upon them. It was no secret that children who displayed the characteristics the seminary sought for priests caused a variety of problems. Her happiness stemmed from getting the present problem or potential problem from the orphanage because as children the blessed could be very dangerous if riled.

As for her surprise, when a priest finds a blessed without parents or ownership they take him. But he had asked for papers and priests were never known to adopt children.

The blessed had a certain prowess over every other person. They had stronger bodies and healed faster than their peers. The children were often rumored to survive illnesses known to kill healthy men.

"What name shall I write, Father?" the woman asked, ready to ink the name on both papers before her.

Valerik wondered what expression the woman would make at his answer. Vanity, he thought.

Father Thane might commend him for the mastery of his, but he was more than certain the priest would take disgust in his vice, and his choice to ever indulge in it.

"Father Valerik," he replied, never taking his eyes off the boy. A last name was required but he knew she wouldn't ask.

"... And the child's?" She seemed eager to put the name to paper.



The protest died on her lips at his gaze. The shock plastered across her weathered face told a tale. She had groomed one or two of the boys for his arrival. She knew he would return after a year and she chose it as a chance to rid herself of one of them. For whatever reason, he couldn't say.

The child required a surname, now. His would suffice.

"Sethlzaar Vi Sorlan," he said.

Shallan and Rolis had given acceptable answers but where Rolis' had been guessed, Shallan's had been studied. Priests asked questions whose answers could only be born of the mind in children, but the answers were not all they sought. Both boys had been given away by their eyes. And the woman confirmed his suspicion with her surprise. A surprise that did not rise from the decision he had made, but rather, the decision he had not made.

Sethlzaar had been silent from the moment he'd paid the adoption fee of one Maeldun gold coin, not asking any questions, simply squirming in silence under Rive's gaze when they made it to the horse. Valerik had left him with the stead to get what was required for their trip and had returned to meet Sethlzaar where he had left him. Still squirming.

The guards had not asked questions when he passed through the gates. A priest leaving with a child after entering a city alone was not unheard of. He paid the fee for their exit and pushed Rive into a steady canter. When they were clear of the city and well within the forest, he slowed the horse's pace and the boy began his steady flow of questions leaving a significant period of silence before the next. Valerik answered none.

"... Why does Ayla turn?"

This time the question had come timidly. It was the way a child asked a question that worried him enough to take a risk.

"The answer to that will present itself." Valerik answered, the child swaying on his place in front of him with each step the horse took.

He took a moment to inhale the forest air. It was rich with the smell of dirt and wood and life, the way Ayla intended it to be, not the way the cities made theirs.

He looked down at the boy. His short black hair matted to the top of his head, a sharp contrast to Valerik's long white which he kept from his face by knotting a few strands from the side at the back. He found his hands scratching at the stubbles that spanned his jaw, realizing he'd forgotten to shave. In a few weeks he'd be sporting full grown beards. It gave him an air of authority but he never could get himself to like them. After a moment he stared at the black of the boy's hair with mild envy. All in due time, he thought. All in due time.

"I have a question for you," he began, continuing when he was certain he had the boy's attention. "Why do you let them beat you. You could have stopped them," he added. "So why didn't you?"

The boy shrugged. "Because she told me not to."

Valerik paused. Ayla never spoke to anyone. It was unheard of, at least not in over two thousand years.

What exactly was the child he took?

"And who is she?" he asked cautiously.


The words drew a sigh of relief from Valerik.

"She's my friend," Sethlzaar continued, perhaps oblivious of the effect of his words. "I promised her I wouldn't hurt anyone, there. That's why they let me stay."

They rode a while in silence and Valerik frowned when the scar beneath his left eye began to itch. To everyone it was a scar, to his skin, a blemish, but to him it served as a reminder that even among friends, always sleep with one eye open.

He'd laid amongst friends in the cold nights that Agaroth was known for and exhausted from the day's travels, he had subjected himself to the authority sleep carried with it. He had no knowledge of what woke him from his slumber that night but it had helped him escape a knife's edge with only a scar that now ran from the bridge of his nose to the bottom of his left eye. The other man he had gutted for good measures. Sometimes he wondered if people feared him more for the scar than the cassock which was ludicrous because all priests had scars and to find one without a scar was to find a floor without a speck of sand. Considered, most of them kept their scars from their faces.

His scar only itched when trouble was brewing. As he slowed Rive to a halt, he counted as high as eight.

"Do endeavor to learn something," he instructed the child before dismounting.

The wind blew and the branches on the trees shook. With them, the leaves rustled. Valerik basked once more in the vivid presence of Ayla in everything around him, then stopped himself from getting lost in it and pulled his veils free of their scabbards. They offered a deadly hiss when they came loose, a sound that always brought with them a wrong sense of peace.

His assailants stepped out from behind the trees. They were professionals. He liked professionals. They always seemed to understand when there was no point to hiding other than the passage of time. One of them was a woman. They bore a tattoo of a snake on their neck in blue ink. It marked them as members of the infamous Finil guild. They were known across the province for their skills; skills he'd had the honor of experiencing once before.

More than last time, he observed. But they underestimate me.

He twirled the veils, letting their hilts roll over his hand before falling back in place. "Shall we begin?"

It is said that to survive a brother of the seminary, ten blessed men are required to stand before the eleventh. It is also said that to survive a priest of Truth, the same number multiplied by one greater than itself is required to stand before the last. These survivors are how the feared tales of priests are told; these and those who come to witness the horror.

However, when considering the potential of winning a fight against a priest with the help of numbers... Don't.

For Valerik Sorlan, the Finil guild sent eight.

Thank you all once again for making the time to help my characters come alive with a world to exist in other than the one in my head. I hope you enjoyed this chapter and exercise enough patience for the next which will be released by Friday morning. Also, kindly follow me for notifications and updates and vote if you believe this tale is worth it. We will see you again in four days...

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