Episode 13: We Need to Keep This Discreet

7 Days to the New Moon

It took a bit of time that morning to convince Liam to get on board with the plan. 

“A Ritual. At sunset. In the woods. With a woman we’ve never met before. Seems legit,” he had said to me after I explained my conversation to him. 

“Look, I know how it sounds, but it’s our only chance right now—”

“I don’t know if you noticed our odds at the moment, but there is a 50% chance that the woman you’ve been talking to is a total psycho.”

“And how do we know the Sisters aren’t the psychos?” I retorted, but as soon as the words left my mouth, I knew I hadn’t meant it. 

“You’d better have some extra special sense about this woman, Krys,” he said, before walking over to his cot (the sisters finally provided him with something he could stretch his legs out on) and opening his backpack.

I ignored his comment and quickly changed into the one street clothes outfit I had in my possession. The sisters had washed them for me, thankfully. The tunics were breezy and all, but I just couldn’t keep wearing something so damn ugly every day.

“All right, she told us to gather blessed water and Bellamer Root. The blessed water is easy. We can get it from the temple in the adjacent tower,” I said. “The root, though…” 

“Maybe we’ll find it in the kitchen? I could ask Sister Hannah. She’ll probably help me,” Liam said.

“Or she’ll get suspicious and tell Sister Farrah.”

“Oh right, and don’t forget we have to somehow manage to convince Farrah that we can leave the town without one of the Sisters to escort us,” he gave me a thumbs up and a tight smile. 

“One thing at a time, you grouch. Maybe there’s an apothecary in town that we could go to?” 

“I feel like I’m on a video game quest: ‘Gather the blessed water from the temple.’” He said. 

“I know, right? Run across town to talk to Farmer John.”

“Kill the rats in the tavern owner’s cellar!” we said in unison, and laughed.

“I wish this were a video game,” I sighed, looking out the window to the townsfolk and massive statue below. 

“If it were, you probably wouldn’t be running from the women who can help you level up.”

I turned back from the window ignoring his response and pulled on my boots. As I was lacing them up, I glanced over at him as he sat on his cot. He had a stern look on his face, and his thumbs were moving rapidly on his phone keyboard. It wasn’t the first time I saw him bothered by whatever he was reading on his phone. I was so absorbed in my own mess I hadn’t thought twice about his life. I began to wonder who he left behind. Had he just started dating someone, told them he’d be back after hanging with his sister? How many people did he need to lie to while all of this was going on? 

“Hey,” I said, sitting on the cot across from him. “I really appreciate you sticking around to help me with this. And I promise I will do everything I can to get us out of this mess and back to our lives.” He paused his typing and looked up at me. He shrugged. 

“You’re my sister. Of course I’d be here,” he said, and went back to typing. 

“Well… is everything okay in your…world?” I gestured toward his phone. 

“Oh, this?” He looked back down at his phone, finished typing, then stood up and put his phone in his back pocket. 

“Yep. You ready to go?”

I nodded, grabbing my bag. I knew better than to press him for more information – he’d only laugh it off or turn it into a joke, which would frustrate me. He had never been very adept at divulging his private life to me.

We walked through the courtyard to get to the adjacent building that housed the actual Temple of Amali. As we walked through the front doors, the atmosphere was significantly different from the studious and sterile vibe of the other two buildings. Scents of floral and musky incense floated beneath our noses, and rich colors of red, bronze and violet covered the vast seating area ahead of us. The foyer we were standing in had warm wooden walls, with handwritten scrolls adorning either side of the archway that led into the main temple area. 

We stepped past the threshold of the archway, and I felt a surge of heated energy starting at my feet and working its way up to my head. 

Home, a voice in my head said. 

“What do you mean?” Liam asked, looking over at me. 

“What? I didn’t say anything.”

“You just said, ‘home’. What did you mean?”

“I said that out loud? That wasn’t —”

“Hello there.” I jumped at the voice behind us. We turned around, greeted by the face of an older woman. Her red cloak swallowed her small frame. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth looked as brittle as tissue paper, but her eyes were a bright blue, and full of curiosity. She was holding a handmade broom in one hand, and had the other resting on her hip. 

“Hello. Are we allowed in here?”

“Of course! The goddess welcomes all into her temple. You especially, Sister Krystal.”

“You know who I am?” 

“Every sister knows you. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the town folk knew who you were too,” she winked.

“You’re a celebrity, Sis,” Liam said, playfully nudging me.  

“Is there anything I can help you with today, Sister Krystal?” Sister Berniece inclined her head slightly, like I was royalty. I stepped back, shaking my head.

“Not really, we’re just exploring. And I wanted to visit the temple. It’s beautiful, Sister…”

“Berniece,” she said, giving another small bow of her head. She then nodded toward Liam. 

“Keep her in your protection, young man,” she said, and walked away leaving through a side door. Liam looked at me in mock surprise. 

“She acknowledged me! And I don’t think I heard a lick of hate in her tone!”

“Hm. She must be one of the outcasts, ” I said, rolling my eyes. I then began walking toward the back of the temple. I was surprised that there was no statue inside, only a large table at the head with a fresh bouquet of flowers. A small gong sat to the left of the bouquet, a long stick of incense in the center, and bowl of water to the right. I looked around to see if any other sisters were hiding behind a pillar or door. Then I grabbed a small vial that had been in the drawer of the altar in my room, and quickly dipped it into the bowl. 

“Are you sure that’s blessed?” Liam was looking over my shoulder. I nodded. 

“Yeah. It’s a pretty standard occult practice. The water is always consecrated or blessed before being placed on the altar along with symbols of the elements.”

We quickly headed out of the building, and I felt a jolt in the soles of my feet. Whatever was flowing through me in the temple stayed there. 

“Okay, next we need to find the root. I guess we can start by walking down the main street?” 

“Yeah. But hold on,” I said, tugging at his jacket. “I need to put up the barrier.”

“Are you sure you can do this?” he asked. “You’ve only been here once so far, and well…we saw how that ended.”

“I know, but I have you, don’t I?” I said, squeezing his arm. 

He was right. I had no idea how well this would even work, but if we wanted to go through with this, I had to be willing to take the risk. 

As I was taught before, I closed my eyes, and counted backwards from ten, imagining the orange dome of protection slowly forming around me. It took me a few breaths, but once I could envision it completely, I opened my eyes. 

“All right. Let’s go.”

————————————

The main street was as busy as the last time, but much quieter. The voices weren’t completely gone, they only sounded like conversations in the distance. The volume was low enough that It was easy to ignore. As we passed by the coffee shop from the day before, I noticed that not every building had visible modern signs. Some only had signs on the sidewalk, while others had wooden plaques hanging on the windows.  The narrow street wasn’t made for cars, so crossing to either side to get a closer look was easy enough.

A dark green building caught my eye, sitting next to a barber shop. There was no sign that I could see, and the window was filled with tall plants. I crossed the street to get a closer look. The door was brown, but only had the word “ENTER” carved on the front of it. As soon as I turned the handle and pushed the door open, I was greeted with a bouquet of herbal and floral scents, but the familiar smell of calamus slid beneath, like a call sign. 

I was in the right place. 

The small space had wall to ceiling shelves, filled with numerous labeled jars. A standing wire rack to my left held an assortment of dried plants. Small signs sat on each shelf with product names and prices. The script on the signs was so distinct – letters had additional bends and curves, blending into the next letter, ending at odd angles – it almost looked like another language. Liam and I wandered the aisles looking for Bellamer Root, but there didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to the way the items were organized. Hyssop sat next to Mustard seed. Licorice root sat next to dried Jasmine flowers. How could anyone find anything in here? 

“Welcome. May I help you?” we looked around to follow the sound of the voice, and our eyes rested on an older man who looked to be in his 40s or 50s. He was wearing a black apron and wiping his hands on a towel. His tan skin, high cheekbones and straight black hair reminded me of someone of Polynesian descent. His rolled sleeves showed strong forearms adorned with jet black tattoos.

“Hi there, I’m looking for a particular root,” I said.

“Sure. Which one?” he asked, stepping forward from. 

“Bellamer Root,” Liam said. 

The man’s eyes squinted a little as he looked from me to Liam. 

“Bellamer? You sure?”

We nodded. 

“That’s…a rare root. And poisonous. I normally don’t keep things like that stocked here.”

“Okay. Well, do you know—” I began.

“–Although…I think I received some by mistake with my most recent shipment,” he said, holding up a hand. “Let me go check.” He disappeared into the back of the building again. After a few moments he walked back out again, holding a small paper bag and a pair of tweezers. He gestured with his head for us to follow him to the counter that was nestled in the far corner of the shop. He opened the bag on the counter, and used the tweezers to pull the root out and hold it up. It was only a small piece, the size of a baby carrot sliced in half. Liam leaned forward to get a closer look, but the man pulled his hand away. 

“Highly toxic, remember? Shouldn’t even directly touch this stuff.”

“What do I owe you?” I asked, pulling my wallet out of my purse. When he didn’t answer, I looked up. He was quietly placing the root back into the bag, and rolling the top down. He then slowly looked up at us. 

“What does the Conduit want with Bellamer Root?” the corner of his mouth twitched up into a smile.

I raised my eyebrows. “How did—“

“—I do a lot of work with the Sisters. And you’re a new face in a small town. I put two and two together,” he said, smiling.  

“Well, you wouldn’t understand,” I said.

“Try me.”

“I’d rather not. We’re on a bit of a time crunch, and—”

“Gerry,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Come again?”

“My name is Gerry. Nice to meet you. So if you are the Conduit,”–he nodded to me– “then you must be her Aegis.”—he shifted his outstretched hand toward Liam. 

“Aegis?” Liam asked. 

“Her shield. Her protector. Her…facilitator.” Liam tilted his head and squinted, but said nothing. 

“Gerry, we need the root. And…we need to keep this discreet?” I said, leaning over the counter. I looked into his eyes, pleading with him to let us go. His brown eyes met mine, and the original amusement in them softened. Was I detecting sadness? He pulled his untouched hand back and stood up straight, breaking eye contact. 

“So much fight…but for what?” he muttered. He then pushed the bag toward me. 

“On the house. Come back when you’re ready for what you need.” He then looked over to Liam for an uncomfortably long time, and walked to the back room again. 

We stepped back out onto the street, now armed with the tools Lillian requested. 

“What just—” Liam began.

“We need to figure out how to meet up with Lillian,” I said, grabbing his elbow. There was no time to analyze what just happened. I wouldn’t let anyone stop me from getting out of here.

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