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Chapter 12 - Kyrill

Expectation and reality are rarely the same thing. It’s the space between those two where shadows stab you in the back, the comparison that twists the knife.

When you’re expecting something grand, anything less seems bad in comparison. Even when the result is still decidedly good, you’ve automatically set yourself up for disappointment. Conversely, anticipating the worst rarely results in the doom and gloom you expected. Things aren’t as bad as you thought! However, you’ve started with such a negative perspective that it brings everything else down, thus making a bad situation worse. You are your own worst enemy.

Kyrill breathed in deep and let out a long exhale.

He knew he shouldn’t be here. He was supposed to be out finding his bond.

“Don’t return without it.”

The words echoed through his thoughts like a spectre, haunting his every step. The further into the barren he got, the stronger the creeping feeling of unease grew. It was like the push of a magnet, the forces of nature telling him he wasn’t welcome. It didn’t help returning under such strange circumstances. Leading the procession of refugees cast a huge spotlight on him. He could feel their judgmental eyes piercing him like a million little daggers. All he wanted was to slip away from everything.

And yet here Isha was, disrobing in front of everyone, casting an even bigger spotlight, the whispers of the crowd rippling outwards and luring in even more attention. And just as quickly, off she ran, with Neera not far behind, leaving him to deal with the consequences.

“Hey, Omar, come take a look at this!” a voice called out from the crowd. Sure enough, Omar pushed through the crowd not a moment later.

“Kyrill, back from the hunt once again without a bond, big surprise. But I see you finally made some friends! Good for you!” He let out a big laugh. “The broken leading the broken.”

Omar approached Kyrill defiantly and stood uncomfortably close, face to face.

“If they cause any trouble, it’s your ass on the line. Got it?”

His threat was pointless. He had no authority to enforce the rules, nor was there any reason for Kyrill to be reminded of them, especially by Omar. It was just another excuse to poke and prod.

“They won’t. They need our help.”

“Actually,” Moswen hopped out from behind Kyrill. “There might be a problem already.”

Omar scowled at him, then looked to Kyrill, already attributing the blame of this unknown issue onto him.

“It’s nothing, sir, really,” he continued. “It’s just... none of the refugees have had access to soap in several days and after all they’ve been through I know they’d love to clean up. But, well, I understand things can be different from barren to barren so please don’t take this as rudeness, but judging by your example, I’m assuming your lovely barren doesn’t believe in the practice of regular bathing?”

Omar snapped his attention back to Moswen, pulling a glaring snarl.

“Or dental hygiene from the looks of it.”

Omar lunged at Moswen, scorn in his eyes. Before he could do anything, Kyrill grabbed him by the arm, spinning him around, and pulled him back. Omar wrenched his arm free and pushed away from Kyrill. A string of expletives and threats followed as Omar’s cronies rushed in for support, holding Omar back before he could do anything he’d really regret.

“Are those optional, or...?”

“Shut up!” Omar barked. “Who do you think you are? You’re nobody! You’re a nobody! You don’t belong here.” He turned his gaze towards Kyrill. “Neither of you do.”

And with that, he marched off, still fuming. Moswen smiled proudly, miming wiping his hands of a job well done, but when he turned to Kyrill he only saw dismay.

“Why did you do that?” Kyrill asked.

“I may not like people in general, but that guy was a serious asshole. He had it coming.”

“He’s just going to retaliate and come back even worse. We’re trying to ask for help from his dad and we’re giving him excuses to instigate fights.”

Kyrill began walking away.

“Kyrill, wait. Where are you going?”

“Omar’s beef is with me. As long as I’m gone he won’t cause any trouble with the refugees.” He paused, turned his back to Moswen. “They’re better off without me.”

Kyrill wandered the grounds of the barren feeling like even more of an outsider. He walked around in a daze, unconcerned with the activities of the barren, unaware of the passage of time. The same questions that had been plaguing him when he left to find Mido cycled through his thoughts.

Would he ever find his bond? Was he really supposed to, like Chione said, but he just returned too soon? Or had Chione been wrong? Had she ever really been sure, or was she just making guesses? Would any of that even matter? Their last conversation had ended with quite the ultimatum. And here Kyrill was, directly disobeying that order. How would that make her feel?

A voice from behind him snapped him out of his daze.

“Hello, Kyrill.”

Once again, he had been utterly lost in thought. While he didn’t plan on it, he found himself standing in front of the entrance to Chione’s lodge. The sun was already beginning to set. He hadn’t realized how late it had gotten.

“I was just talking to your new friend with the broken arm,” Chione said, moving past him as she approached the door.


“Yes, interesting man. Very prideful. Selfless.”

“He’s a good man.”

“He’s a moron. His wounds are being treated as we speak, as is the burning fever and infection doing a number on his body. I don’t know if he realized how bad off he was, but he sucked it up because he wanted to talk to Umar and myself first.”

“That’s just who he is. He puts the people he’s sworn to protect before himself.”

“And it almost cost him his life. He won’t be any good to his people if he’s dead.” She opened the door and walked in. “Don’t just stand there.”

Kyrill walked inside, once again greeted by a squawking Thiss flapping his wings like some kind of ineffectual guard dog. “Oh, hush,” Chione said to him. She seemed annoyed. Not a good sign. She sunk into her favorite chair and let out a long sigh, motioning for Kyrill to take a knee at her side.

“Umar and I have agreed to allow the refugees to stay. On a temporary basis. They’re hurt and need help getting back on their feet, but they are not Shaded Seed and cannot stay indefinitely. They’ll work while they recover and provide what they can, but once they are able, they will leave. Their original destination was Rotwater. Quite the journey. We’ve agreed to send a hunting party along with them to ensure their safety. And it’s a good excuse to do some trading, so we’ll send along some traders and supplies. We haven’t had a grand caravan like it for some time. Should be exciting.”

“You don’t sound too excited.”

“I’m an old woman, Kyrill. I get tired.”

“That’s not it.”

She let out another deep sigh.

“I’m disappointed in you, Kyrill.”

“I know, I’m sor—”

“Shut up. Don’t apologize. You don’t even know what you’re apologizing for.”

“The last time we spoke—”

She punched him in the throat. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Chione was quick, much quicker than one would assume for a woman of her age. In an instant, she had snapped at him like a whip, a quick back-handed slap not intended to do any real damage, though it felt like she easily could have if she wanted.

“I said shut up. Now listen. The last time we spoke, I told you what you needed to hear. You might not have wanted to hear it, but you needed to. Sometimes, Kyrill, my role in the barren isn’t fun. Sometimes, I have to do things because they’re what needs to be done. Like whipping someone in the throat because they won’t shut the fuck up and let their elder quell their fears and instill some godsdamned wisdom.”

He choked out a scratchy “sorry” and let her continue.

“Now. Did you find Mido?”

He nodded an affirmation.

“And did you retrieve his necklace?”

He nodded again, reached into his bag, and pulled out Mido’s necklace. Sparse as it was, he still felt a tinge of jealousy at the single jade bead at the end.

“Very good.” She said, taking it from him. She examined the late boy’s life achievements in her hands, a look of pity in her milky white eyes. “Such a tragedy. So much wasted potential.”

They both sat in silence, one mourning the dead, the other awaiting his judgment.

“Like I was trying to say before I was so rudely interrupted, when we last spoke, I told you not to return without your bond. My words were harsh, I know, but I had hoped it would put you in the right mindset.”

She unlatched Mido’s necklace and poured the beads into a shallow dish beside her.

“And I’m sorry to have disappointed you. I’ve been struggling with my decision all day, but those people needed help. I am willing to take full responsibility for my actions and suffer whatever the consequences may be.”

A smile crossed her face as she let out a quick sigh. Or was it a laugh?

“You’ve surely heard the phrase ‘love at first sight,’ yes? It’s evocatively poetic, but rarely accurate. Falling in love isn’t something that happens in a moment, but a realization that you’ve been in love and are finally aware of the fact. Bonding is no different.” She leaned forward and turned to face him. “Kyrill, you are bonded.”

Kyrill, hesitant and unsure as he was, somehow instantly understood exactly what she meant with a clarity that would have made him embarrassed had it not been for the multitude of questions bombarding his thoughts, none of which he was physically capable of asking. None, except for one. It was barely a question, escaping in a whisper.


Chione smiled wide. “Kyrill, please hand me your necklace.”

She fingered around the bowl that held the remnants of Mido’s necklace until she pulled out the bead made of jade. She slid it onto the end of Kyrill’s necklace, reattached the clasp and returned it to Kyrill, still stunned by the realization.

Similar to the last time Kyrill met with Chione, he left her lodge in a daze, lost in his thoughts. He wandered back to his cabin, both unthinking and thinking about everything. He almost tripped over a wooden block sitting in the middle of the path. A child was playing with one of those toys where you put a shaped block into the same shaped hole, trying to cram a cube through a circle.

By the time he made it back to his cabin, his retreat finally at an end, all he could think about was sleep. As he opened the door, however, he was greeted by a visitor already inside.

“Hey,” Moswen said. “Sorry about earlier. I didn’t mean to...” He trailed off and looked at his feet, ashamed of impulsive outburst from earlier.

“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it, really. Omar’s a dick. He doesn’t need an excuse to be an asshole. He would have found a way regardless. If anything, I appreciated someone having my back for once.”

Relieved, Moswen instantly perked up.

“Dude, of course. What are friends for?”

Talking with Moswen felt like treading water. He wasn’t just talking to his friend, but to the person—a person?!—he’s supposedly bonded with. Was he supposed to tell Moswen? How? Would he even be able to?

“So once Roegan is all better, it’s off to Rotwater?” Moswen asked.

“I think that’s the plan. I actually just spoke to Chione and...” He paused, swallowed, questioned whether now was the right time. “Chione is one of the barren’s leaders, and the situation is definitely temporary. They get patched up, then sent on their way. The barren’s gonna send a hunting party and some merchants as escorts.”

“Will you be coming, too?”

“I don’t know, I’d assume so. It would make sense.”

“I might come back for the trip then.”

“Wait, come back?”

“Yeah, I dunno. I’ve been thinking, and I might head out tomorrow. Part of me wants to stay, but—and no offense—but... I don’t think I like it here.”

“Feels kinda wrong?”

“Yeah, it’s uncomfortable.”

Kyrill nodded knowingly.

“It’s... it’s not just that, though,” Moswen continued. “I haven’t really talked about it, but... I don’t exactly do well in large social situations. You know how some people panic when they’re in small spaces?”


“Yeah, I’m kinda like that, except instead of enclosed spaces it’s large groups of people.”

“A cornered animal is a dangerous animal.”

“Exactly. Except my corner is too many people and instead of getting dangerous I get anxious. Like a weird kind of fear response, a tightness in my chest. So I lash out. Cornered animal, and all. I talk shit and start fights. And I can’t help it. People worry me. I’m fine now, but when we were walking through the street and everyone came out to gawk and that asshole started up and...”

“You felt out of place.”

“I immediately started thinking why am I here?”

“Like you didn’t belong.”

Kyrill knew all too well how he was feeling. Moswen was lucky, though. He isn’t expected to stay, make due, fit in.

“Gods, I’m sorry. I just dumped all of that onto you. I don’t know why I said all that. I just felt like you should know, I dunno.”

Kyrill knew why.

“It’s alright, Moz.”

Again, Kyrill debated whether he should tell Moswen about their bond and what that even meant. Or what that usually meant. Just then, however, a knock at the door made the decision for him, preventing a conversation that only would have gotten more awkward. Kyrill leapt to his feet and headed for the door, welcoming the interruption. On the other side stood Camilla, her bright, beaming smile and flowing red hair melted away Kyrill’s worry.

“Hey, stranger! Heard you just got back.”

And in an instant, the worry came rushing back. Kyrill became aware of the new bead in his necklace, the jade a stark contrast to the iron and bone. He crossed his arms, worried about what would happen if she were to notice and say something with Moswen right there. Even if Moswen weren’t there, Kyrill wasn’t sure he would want her to know. What would she think? Surely, she would be excited to learn that he finally bonded. But how would she react upon learning it wasn’t with an animal, but a person?

“Can I come in?” she asked awkwardly after Kyrill hadn’t said a word since opening the door.

“Yeah, sorry, I uh...”

“Oh, you have a guest,” she commented as she walked past. “Are you one of the refugees? You arrived just in time for the big tournament tomorrow!”

The tournament...

Kyrill had forgotten all about it. And now he had a riled up Omar to look forward to.

“Nope! Kyrill and I actually helped get them off their ship.” He jumped to his feet and extended his hand. “Moswen. Pleased to meet you.”

Even without learning her name, Moswen would have known exactly who the woman was. The red hair was a dead giveaway, but even more so was the look on Kyrill’s face.

“Camilla. And the pleasure is mine. You know, Moswen, you two probably saved all those people’s lives.”

Camilla had always been Kyrill’s biggest supporter. It was weird. As kids, they were close friends, but as they grew older, romantic feelings evolved. Neither of them could act on them until they both bonded. Camilla was a bit of a late bloomer, but for Kyrill, it just never happened. Until now. Now that he’s bonded, he can act on his romantic feelings. Just not with the married woman he still held a light for. And she was the one person—not his parents, not even Chione—who seemed to actually care for him, believe in him, even with the strange awkwardness just under the surface that neither dared address.

“...ducking and weaving between the stones, jabbing at it with my spear.”

It seemed as if Moswen was in the middle of telling Camilla the story of how he and Kyrill had met.

“The mighty beast was clearly not of this world, as every wound, every puncture, closed and healed instantaneously. I was trapped.”

And he also seemed to be embellishing things a touch. Kyrill walked behind Moswen and made eye contact with Camilla, who seemed delighted by the story. He smiled at her and shook his head in a this-definitely-isn’t-how-it-happened gesture. Camilla smiled and returned her attention to Moswen.

“It wasn’t until Kyrill came running, throwing his axe to the ground, and swung a mighty uppercut directly into the bear’s jaws, sending it spinning backwards and over the ledge. He saved me. We were safe. But for how long?” His tone shifted dramatically from heroic to horrified. “With it’s unnatural healing capabilities, it’s possible the beast survived. We have no way of knowing for sure if it’s alive or dead. It could still be out there, stalking the forest, waiting for another potential victim. Or perhaps it was out for revenge, tracking us, the hunters become the hunted, and it’s on its way here. Right. Now.”

“Eee, that was amazing! That gave me chills, Moz. Chills.”

The three continued talking well into the night, laughing and sharing stories. Kyrill continued to avoid the pressing issue clawing through every thought from the back of his mind. As the twilight hours approached, Camilla returned to her husband, Moswen laid out his bedroll in the front room and Kyrill retired to the back.

He was home, back in his own bed, but kept wide awake by a feeling he had trouble understanding. Was it dread? A sense of unease? Longing? It seemed like a combination of them all, yet none of them at the same time. Whatever it was, he could physically feel it in his knees, leaving him uncomfortable no matter how he repositioned. As if he were too tired to rest.

As if he just couldn’t find the right fit.


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the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet