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The Last Faoii

By TahaniNelson All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

Blurb

The faoii have protected Clearwall for generations. A close relationship with their Goddess and sisters has always allowed these women to maintain their temples and lands in peace and prosperity. So when the monastery of Kaiya-faoii is attacked by the long-vanished croeli, an ostracized nation seeking to reclaim their former glory, the faoii are caught unprepared and only young Kaiya-faoii is left alive. Forced to cope without the long-standing traditions of her Order, Kaiya travels across the country searching for others to help avenge the destruction of everything she’s ever known. The search brings Kaiya not only to other faoii that have survived the occupation, but to a secret she never wanted or dreamed of—an estranged brother. Fighting against a system that has kept them apart their entire lives and forced into a war at the heart of a broken empire, the siblings must evaluate the true meanings of enemy, betrayal and freedom—and the grey areas surrounding each.

Chapter I

Stupid morning bells. Stupid, stupid morning bells. Kaiya cast a baleful glance at the grand iron banes of her existence as she trudged towards chapel. The bells ignored her and continued sounding with an unnecessary clarity in the otherwise silent dawn. Next to her, Mollie pulled impatiently at Kai’s elbow.

“Come on, Kai. I’m not going to get stuck mucking stables again because you can’t get up like any regular faoii for chapel.”

Kaiya wrinkled her nose and yanked her arm away, making a face at her redheaded shieldmate.

“It’s not too difficult. It’s unnecessary.” She mumbled as she trudged a few steps up the hill. “The Goddess doesn’t ask for our worship through words or songs. She cares about our love of justice and strength. Our faith in honor and virtue. She cares about the strength that comes from being us. We don’t have to worry about pleasing Her.” She huffed and added under her breath: “Why would it matter to the Eternal One whether I got up at dawn or two hours later?”

Mollie must have heard her anyway, because suddenly the redhead stopped, spinning towards Kai in a single, graceful movement that spoke heavily of her faoii training. Her eyes were dark with irritation. “Don’t presume to know more than the cleroii, Kaiya. You know it’s our strength of discipline that makes the Goddess proud of us.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah” Kaiya growled. “And the songs help focus the cleroii. Save it, Mollie. I’ve heard it a thousand times.” She scrunched up her face and mockingly droned out one of the daily mantras in a poor imitation of Cleroii-Belle’s voice. “’Kaiya-faoii, you must be disciplined. Kaiya-faoii, you must sing. Kaiya-faoii, I see that piece of bread you keep sneaking bites of.’ Bleh. It’s all bull, Mollie. None of it makes us better faoii.”

Mollie opened her mouth to reply, but Kaiya continued before she could. “We’re fighters, Mollie. We’re not cleroii or preoii. ‘Our blades will sing with the voice of every throat that has cried out against injustice and dance with the steps of every innocent child.’”

“’And we will lead the choir and the voices of our sword will deafen the ears of our enemies.’” Mollie finished the Oath with a resigned sigh, pulling away from Kaiya enough to fist her hands in front of her, one over the other as though grasping an invisible hilt. Kaiya smiled.

“Exactly. I’ll make a good faoii out of you, yet.” She slapped Mollie on the shoulder and began the trek once more.

“We’ll see.” Mollie whispered. “Did you really sneak bread into the chapel?”

“That’s not the only thing I sneak in” Kaiya whispered gleefully, motioning to her boot. Mollie glanced downward, gasping at the iron hilt she saw there. She stuttered to a stop, green eyes wide in disbelief.

“Kaiya! You can’t just—”

“Ready at all times, faoii.”

“In mind and spirit! You don’t bring weapons into chapel!”

“Really? So, I don’t have to go?” Glee colored Kaiya’s eyes and Mollie glared. “I am faoii after all. ‘Wherever I am, so will a weapon against injustice always be.’”

“That’s why you have hand-to-hand training! You can be a weapon without carrying a weapon!”

“’All things are sacred, and all souls worthwhile. But my blade shall be held above all, for it protects all, and shall be a part of me, for I am faoii.’”

“Stop quoting the Oath at me!” Mollie fumed.

“’And my tongue will never forget the words of truth, for where I speak so will the Goddess hear, and I am only faoii in Her presence.’”

“Ugh. You’re impossible.”

“And you’re about to make us late.” Kaiya motioned to the path, vacant save for a few stragglers. Mollie’s gaze widened, eyes colored with shock and betrayal. Kaiya would have felt bad if it wasn’t so damned funny. She grinned as she crossed her arms and settled her weight on one hip, raising an eyebrow at her flabbergasted shield sister.

“You… you tricked me.”

“Yep. The sight didn’t see that one, did it?”

“I saw deceit, but I thought it was about the knife…”

“Maybe it was.” Kaiya laughed and smacked Mollie’s shoulder. “Start running. We can still make it.” Mollie nodded and took off at a trot. Kaiya matched her, then increased the pace.

Flying across the monastery grounds, they arrived at chapel just as the last bell sounded.

The chapel of Illindria, great Goddess of the faoii, was large and open, its marble walls curving gracefully upwards towards a peaked roof. Sunlight fell through the large glassless windows, trickling through tree branches that bowed into the open chamber. The scent of lavender drifted in from outside, and Kaiya noted that the tapestries normally used to keep out drafts had been pulled away from the dewy morning air. She glanced around as they passed the first window, idly breaking off a sprig of sweet smelling vielin and twisting the purple leaves between her fingers. At least she and Mollie weren’t the last ones to arrive to chapel (something she silently thanked mighty Illindria for as they stopped to kneel before Her statue), and none of the cleroii seemed ready to strike at the girls with their hated staves. Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad after all. Weaving the vielin into a lock of hair that rarely stayed in place, Kaiya guided Mollie to one of the well-worn benches.

Once seated, all faoii eyes were naturally drawn to the marble figure that stood at the chapel’s head, wreathed in the light from the Eastern windows. Illindria’s gentle gaze was inviting. Beautiful. In Her right hand was a glistening fantoii. In Her left, a sprig of healing chinol. Kaiya smiled. That was the Goddess. A creature of duality. A deity of life and death. War and healing. Perfect.

Someone was talking, but Kaiya ignored them, ensconced in her own thoughts. It was probably the same drabble as every other day, anyway. Besides, the Goddess would definitely prefer it if Kaiya used this time to better understand the nature of Her being, rather than listen to some cleroii prattle on. She was sure of it.

Duality. She is a creature of duality. Of course She was. A person has two eyes, two ears, two hands. A person, like a coin, has two halves, or like the sky, two shades. Light and dark. Good and evil. A scale must have two platforms in order to balance. What equilibrium could there be found in three? Or one?

She also probably likes to sleep in. Kaiya smiled as she stared up at the Goddess and Her eternal beauty. The graceful effigy seemed to understand, and looked down upon Kaiya with a serene smile, the pleated braid hanging over one shoulder from beneath Her ivy-covered helm.

Movement at the base of the Goddess’ unclad feet caught Kaiya’s eye, and she came back to attention just as Preoii-Aleena spread her arms, her sermon evidently finished. Immediately, the girls in the pews at her feet fisted their hands, one over another, and bowed their heads. Kaiya did likewise, and they spoke as one.

“I am faoii. I am the harbinger of justice and truth. I am the strength of the weak and the voice of the silent. My blade is my arm, and in such is the arm of all people. Wherever I am, so will a weapon against injustice always be. And with this weapon, I will protect the weak and purge all evil in the land. I will be ready to perform my duty for the weak at all times. And through this, I shall remember that all things are sacred, and all souls worthwhile. But my blade will be held above all, for it protects all, and shall be a part of me. For I am faoii. And my tongue will never forget the words of truth, for where I speak so will the Goddess hear, and I am only faoii in her presence. We are the weavers of the Tapestry. We see the threads through all the world and guide them with the Goddess’ eye. Above all, we are faoii.” The chorus of women’s voices grew. “Our blades will sing with the voice of every throat that has cried out against injustice and dance with the steps of every innocent child. And we will lead the choir and the voices of our sword will deafen the ears of our enemies. For we are faoii.”

Kaiya’s eyes flashed as she grinned. As much as she complained about early morning chapel, she could not hate this part of it. The power in the room swelled, and the staves of the cleroii glowed in the presence of the Oath. The Oath was strong and sacred. Beautiful and powerful. Perfect.

The warriors around Kaiya smiled as well, and even calm-eyed Mollie had irises that glinted like steel. “We are faoii!!” The cry was unstoppable, irrepressible, and swelled out of each girl with an indescribable force. Released, the power gushed from the room, causing the chandeliers to sway and the trees outside the glassless windows to dance in an unnatural breeze. Flushed and limp, the girls relaxed, grinning at each other with shining eyes. Preoii-Aleena beamed and nodded from her dais.

The cleroii and few young preoii rose and began their first song. The power that built here would not be as explosive as the Oath, but it was soothing, and Kaiya leaned back, letting it wash over her. These songs were magics of healing rather than war, the craft of the cleroii rather than the faoii, but she enjoyed listening anyway. And besides, this was always the best time to mess with Cleroii-Belle.

“What do you think Cleroii-Belle would do if I sharpened that dagger in Chapel?” Kaiya whispered to Mollie. “Do you think she’d cause a huge scene here or just wait until afterward? Could she even hold it in that long?”

“You wouldn’t!” Kaiya could hear the fear in Mollie’s voice and laughed as she dug into her boots. “Blessed Blade, Kai. Please.” But Kaiya was already running her whetstone over the dagger’s edge. The faint skkksh barely rose above the cleroii song.

Somehow, Cleroii-Belle heard it. Because of course she did. Kaiya could almost sense the older cleroii hustling down the aisle, grey eyes intent on the back of Kaiya’s braid. Kaiya did her best not to smile and waited to see what would happen, the “my blade will be held above all” section of the Oath ready on her tongue. A dozen nearby faces turned towards the odd noise of Kaiya’s whetstone, intrigued. Cleroii-Belle arrived at the end of their aisle.

“We’re in for it now,” Mollie sighed. “I’ve never seen her so angry.” Kai wondered if she was actually hearing a smile under Mollie’s morose tones. It was possible; few of the students around her were successfully hiding their amusement. Kaiya controlled her urge to grin and instead looked up at the cleroii with wide, innocent eyes. A dozen faoii held their breath to see what would happen next.

Their curiosity would never be sated.

As the aging cleroii opened her mouth to speak, the doors to the chapel crashed open and Faoii-Leigh rushed in, her bronze breastplate splattered with crimson and chunks of flesh that slid across the markings. Her dark eyes sparked with anger, disgust and…fear? Was that fear lurking just behind the irises?

If it was, the woman’s voice belied it with an order that rang out like steel on stone. “The monastery is under attack! Faoii, on your feet!”

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