Not so long ago, this had seemed like a sanctuary. Not a home, precisely, because Moriah had one of those already, but a place devoted to growing her into what she was fated to become.
Somewhere along the way, it had become stagnant. Smug. Smothering, and she couldn't place a finger on exactly when, and how, that had happened. Now was even worse, it felt like a cage. A very pretty cage, a very comfortable cage, but a cage nonetheless. Her teachers spoke of maturity, of transitions, of focus, and it seemed that lately Moriah had neither maturity nor focus.
It was an odd feeling, because until this, she'd always been accused of being too focused. Too mature for her admitted youth. Too adult. Yet here she was, staring vaguely into the dancing motes in front of her, her attention miles away from her teacher's lecture.
Something is not right.
She frowned, puzzled over the thought. It had been a long time since she felt the touch of destiny upon her. It was as if that had all vanished when she had ascended. She was supposed to be closer to Aion as one of its daevas, but there had been little evidence of that since she had sprouted wings. But now, it spoke again, and it seemed to speak contrary to those who were charged with her guidance.
Leave here? It was insanity. Pure foolishness. So many fought, studied, waited to be accepted here, and she considered leaving it like it was nothing. Wasting it. The chance of a lifetime, and for an immortal, that was a terrible thing to lose.
This is not the place for you.
Not the place for her. Moriah glanced out of the window next to her, unaware that she wrinkled her nose pensively. Here wasn't right? Where would be more right than here? Everyone she knew, everyone she trusted, all agreed that there was no place better for Moriah than the finest place of learning her calling had.
But they aren't Aion.
Truly enough. For all of their grandeur, those who surrounded her were not Aion itself. For all of their pride, they were merely the servants. It seemed to Moriah as though they often forgot that, but that had always remained firm in her heart. She was a daeva. She was a servant. She was a tool. A weapon. She dropped her gaze to her desk before her, to the hand grasping the still stylus before her. While it was lovely, fingers adorned with rings and gems, its purpose was obvious. Her claws folded in, curved and lethal, black as the hair on her head. It had felt wrong to blunt them as so many here did, so she left them as they grew. It had been awhile since she'd even noticed them, so much a part of her, but they were longer than usual, their darkness deeper. She rested her index finger on her desk, warily pulling it down the battered surface.
A pale line appeared in the wood, and she frowned at the vandalism…and at the edge they'd attained. "You and I, we are weapons, Moriah." It seemed as if those words had come so long ago. She had lost sight of that truth. She had let them lead her away…
No. You have learned a great deal here. Lessons you need. Steps on the path to your Calling. But it is time to go. For now.
She hissed in guilt, tearing her eyes from the surface of her desk and up to her teacher. His voice hinted that this was not the first time he'd called her name, she'd ignored the earlier times. "Yes, Master Harven?" She stuttered, feeling the stare of her classmates upon her.
"Ah, yes, springtime in Pandaemonium." He breathed with a chuckle, not a hint of anger or exasperation in his bearing. "The answer to…." He pointed at the slate board beside him and her gaze flicked to it. Thankfully, she did indeed know the answer to the question written out there, knew it quickly and without conscious thought.
He smiled at her, and she frowned. If only he knew what was going on in her head, he wouldn't have that benign smile. Springtime? Was it that simple? No. This was more than just youth and confinement acting up. This was a draw that became a push… left alone, it would become a torrent. She should tell them, but they'd just try to argue and logic their way out of it. Moriah should stay here, safe in Pandemonium. Absolutely safe and untouchable in the Convent. Preened and pruned to be a great cleric, as her calling dictated.
That calling is a duty, a responsibility. And that calling…calls.
She jumped in her seat when the bells finally sounded, obliterated quickly by the sound of chairs squeaking. The explosion of conversation would start once the students were out in the hallway, Harven was a firm teacher. No speaking in his room unless it was class work…
She grasped the straps of her bag, slinging it over her back. It was indeed a lovely day, warm for spring, the trees in a glut of lavender flowers. "You staying?"
Moriah barely identified the questioner, and knew what the question was a lead in to. No, Moriah was not staying here, in her cell, as she normally did, but she was not planning on an invite to any sort of fun. "Going home." She admitted slowly, uncertain as to why. Home was empty. She'd be alone. Maybe that's what she needed, the time to reflect and understand this.
"Ah. If you change your mind, you know where to find me." The girl offered with a big smile, and Moriah sent her a faint one back in response.
Pandaemonium was lovely, and her steps lightened as she made her way into Crandale's warren of shadowed streets and sudden cul de sacs. It was too nice a day to be so somber, even if the house she was going to was empty…
She easily worked the lock and let herself in. She heard the voices before it even settled in that she had done so with great stealth, and she had pulled back into the foyer corner instead of moving onto the carpet.
"Tell her? We can't tell her!"
Moriah bit her lip, falling even further back, obscured by the heavy fall of dark curtains. Annlyn, here? Why? Tell who, what? If she craned, she could catch a glimpse of her guardian's sister standing in the library. Yes, definitely Annlyn. And Annlyn was definitely disturbed. Truly disturbed, not the fashionable flighty edge of panic the woman often cultivated.
"Eventually, Moriah is going to hear this, Annlyn. Who do you want her to hear it from? You? Me? Or someone on the streets? Some well meaning acquaintance offering support?"
If it was possible, Moriah would have retreated further, but she already had the iron latch of the window behind her digging into her shoulder. Balder? Pandaemonium's high priest, here? In Rasmus's house? In hers? Talking about her, to Annlyn. What was it she should know, but obviously didn't?
"She'll become so distracted, her studies will suffer…." Annlyn sought refuge in logic, and it was an ill fit for her.
"No. She'll leave the Convent." Balder lacked the fluster; his words were like a foundation, rock steady.
"That's even worse!" Annlyn's voice rose sharply. "It's bad enough we can't find Ras, but to lose Moriah out there looking for him would be double the sin. She'll go after him!"
Moriah's world stilled, wrapped in dark velvet, the faint gleam of light behind her. Ras? Gone? That was an emptiness, a lack, a loss that she had never, ever considered. He was there. Like the sky was there, always. He'd saved her, twice, and now he was gone? He was all the family she had…
"Of course she will go after him." Balder replied inexorably. "He's gone after her, she'll return the debt. Even if there was no debt, she loves him."
"There's a big difference between Ras and Moriah." Annlyn growled. Balder's response must have been a motion or an expression, or there was no response, because she continued. "Ras is a trained combatant. Moriah is a child. A priest. She's not…"
"Moriah is an ascended daeva. We knew she would ascend, and we gave her the benefit of years of training before she came through. And now, she has had the finest training we could offer a priest. Annlyn, like it or not, her training is as impressive, or more so, than just about any priest we have on the line."
"She has no experience…"
"And the only way she will get that is to fight."
"You make it sound as if you want her to go after him." Annlyn's tone was bluntly accusatory, and Moriah flinched. That was not the way one spoke to the High Priest….
"No, Annlyn, I do not want her to go after him. But to fight this is to fight a losing battle. Everything we prize in Moriah will send her after your brother. If she does not go, then I have misjudged her soul."
"She's just a baby." Annlyn mourned, "I can't tell her. Maybe if we wait just a little bit longer…we have people looking for Ras's unit…."
Moriah glared at the gilt edging on the curtains. Of course, Annlyn wanted to wait. Let someone else try to fix it, all the while leaving Moriah in coddled safety in the Convent, blissfully ignorant.
"I'm being called to the front, Moriah." Ras's hand had been heavy on her shoulder, his presence comfort personified. "I'll be back before you know it. Keep your studies up…"
Back before she knew it… No. It had been months, but she'd been so secure that they'd never lie to her that his absence, and yes, his lack of communication, had not seemed that odd, until now. Time flowed differently for the immortal, a realization that Moriah had thought she was finally starting to grasp. Before she knew it, to a daeva of Ras's age, could mean a year or two… or so she'd thought. But no, the two were in agreement. He was missing. He was somewhere in the Abyss.
Go away. She glared at the fragment of Annlyn she could see through the barely ajar door. Now that she knew, she had preparations to make. But to make them, these two had to leave.