What was the point of it all? Veil couldn't understand, even now, months after Master Jan had died; killing herself and voiding her own salvation in the eyes of the Church of the Blood. A Fedain was to do no violence to any living thing, and that included oneself.
Veil wondered if the Order of the Mountain had similar moral feelings on the matter. Did they look at Master Jan's death as an abomination? Or did they revere it—fond as they were of the concept of martyrdom. Veil had studied with the Order briefly, during her childhood, but she had never been as fond of it as her brother was. He had seen the value in some of their teachings, ones that Veil could not completely comprehend.
She wished she understood them now, staring at the simple plaque mounted in Master Jan's honor. It had been bolted into the high stone walls surrounding the Kobinaru municipal garden, a community food source situated halfway between the hospital and Veil's home at the palace. It was the only memorial to Master Jan that Veil knew of. Not even the Temple of the Mountain had honored her name in any way, although that was typical of their death rituals.
But despite the lack of memorials, Janlynd's name was still spoken through the crowds, with a mixture of reverence and disgust depending on whose lips spoke it. Veil still heard about Master Jan's suicide almost everywhere she went. Some just referred to her as 'that Pale monk that offed herself', but it was always easy to tell to whom they were referring.
Had her death made any difference? That, Veil still did not know. The government had reacted to the strong backlash following Master Jan's death, and lessened some restrictions. They'd given some concessions to their human citizens and made room for future improvements. The protests and riots had died down as a result, but they were beginning to pick up again. With the government returning to its old tricks, Veil was certain that resentment against the Fedain would be even worse this time around.
Veil could not understand why Master Jan would do it. Why, when the world moved on without seeming care or even real notice. Reforms only went so far in changing public opinion. True change required revolution, and it was now inevitable.
She heard a single footstep in the grass behind her and turned around, eyes wide with fright. A single monk stood there, calmly watching her, his hands raised and open to show he meant her no harm. Thunder rumbled overhead, reminding her of the intermittent rain that had plagued her that evening. Lightning flashed and illuminated the monk's face, revealing his pointed ears. There was only one Gor monk.
"Master Vinh?" Veil asked with surprise.
"Lady Veillynn. I apologize if I startled you," Master Vinhkroludar replied, lowering his hands slowly. "I'm only here to pay my respects, same as you."
"No, it's all right . . ." Veil replied, blushing with embarrassment and glad that the night and the rain hid the color in her cheeks. "I just didn't expect anyone else to be here at this time of night."
"I'm surprised you're here so late as well," Master Vinhkroludar said with a slight smile as he walked up to join her. "Of course, the night is still young, as nights are measured. We only bade farewell to the sun a couple of hours ago, after all."
"What are you doing here at this hour, if I may ask? I would think you would come during the day," Veil said. "As for me, I was simply on my way home from the hospital, and I like to stop in here at least once a week."
"One of my students decided to sneak into Kobinaru tonight. I have decided that I will have to greet him when he returns," Master Vinhkroludar said dryly. He seemed almost amused, though there was a touch of disappointment in his voice as well. Veil wondered what that student could be getting up to, to put the monk in such a conflicted mood.
But she thought it best not to press the subject, and replied simply, "I see."
"Lady Veillynn . . ." Master Vinhkroludar began, but hesitated at Veil's upraised hand.
"Please, Master, simply call me Lady Veil," Veil replied, "There is no need to honor me with my full name."
"Very well, Lady Veil," Master Vinhkroludar said, nodding politely. "Master Janlynd spoke of you often. She saw great good in you. You were her favorite student."
Veil sighed and returned her attention to the plaque. She reached out as if to touch it, but her fingers hovered in the air without making contact. She traced Master Jan's name in her mind as she read over the plaque again. "I don't know if I can live up to that. I don't know if I can live up to any of her ideals."
"You seem to be doing well so far," Master Vinhkroludar said. Another crack of thunder rumbled overhead, and the sound of rain hitting the rooftops followed. Master Vinhkroludar beckoned Veil to follow him. "Come. Let's get out of the rain, shall we? There is a sheltered bench not far from here."
Master Vinhkroludar kept a steady pace through the rain, his longer stride making it difficult for Veil to keep up. Thankfully, they didn't have far to go, and they shortly arrived at a bench under a stone overhang protruding from one of the walls.
Veil felt eyes on her and glanced back, catching sight of Captain Farr moving in the darkness. She had asked that only one of her bodyguards follow her into the gardens and had chosen the one whom she trusted the most. Captain Farr had been with her for a few months already, and she respected him. He was loyal, almost obsessively so, and had insisted that he accompany her inside the gardens instead of waiting at the gate as she instructed. She was grateful for that now, for what if Master Vinh had been someone else, an assassin hunting for Fedain noble blood?
"You can ask your bodyguard to join us, I don't mind," Master Vinhkroludar said, following Veil's gaze. "He shouldn't have to stand in the rain on my account."
"It looks like he's about to take shelter under that tree," Veil said. "If it's all right with you, I'd rather he kept his distance for now. I'd like an opportunity to speak with you privately."
Master Vinhkroludar inclined his head in acceptance. "If that is what you wish, Lady Veil, then I shall oblige you. What is it you wish to speak of?"
Veil hesitated, unsure how to broach the subject on her mind. She decided to start with something neutral. "Master Vinh, do you know why Master Janlynd wanted her ashes to be buried here? At the municipal gardens?"
"She gathered her herbs from here and met many people she loved in the process," Master Vinhkroludar replied without hesitation. "Most of the people who use these gardens are human, with an occasional Fedain or Gor. The Fedain who come here are of a different sort than most. They are the ones you never see on the newscasts or speaking in public. The ones who don't look down on humans, and who see humans as their equals. Their voices are drowned out by the Fedain nobility."
"You're being rather bold, Master Vinh," Veil replied.
Master Vinhkroludar chuckled softly. "Would you rather I skirt around the issue?"
"No, of course not."
Master Vinhkroludar nodded, then fixed Veil with a stare that seemed to pierce to her very soul. "You come here because you seek clarity regarding the meaning of Jan's life. You mourn her passing and are trying to understand why she would sacrifice herself in the manner she did. It's inconsistent with Fedain culture, after all."
"That's true," Veil replied. Master Vinhkroludar had managed to cut through to her deeper thoughts without any effort at all. Veil wondered if it was the Master's unique ability to perceive emotion, or if she really wore it all on her face. Either way, she hoped the Master would offer her additional insight into her troubles.
"This place represents many aspects of that life. Master Jan gave her whole self to service, because she believed that a few good people could save the world. So, she began working here, almost twenty years ago, I think, before she'd even sworn her oaths," Master Vinhkroludar replied. "When she began, relations weren't nearly as strained between human and Fedain citizens. The human caretakers of this place were cautious at first, but as soon as they saw that she had come to work, they quickly came to love her. Master Jan always impressed upon others the importance of 'doing'; of activity instead of passiveness."
"That is one of many things I respected about her. She taught me to learn by doing, rather than losing myself in research," Veil said.
Master Vinhkroludar nodded. "Indeed, that was without a doubt her style. As a result, she has helped more people than most, though that doesn't mean that research is a bad thing. In the long run, learning about things is what creates lasting impacts. One may plant a seed and it may grow or it may not. If one nurtures that seed, and takes the time to do it right, that seed will grow for certain. Or near certainty, anyway."
"Do you think her sacrifice is meaningless then?" Veil asked.
"On the contrary, I think it has done more good than most things have in a long while," Master Vinhkroludar replied. His lips pursed in thought, he stared out into the garden, his eyes focused on something in the dark. Veil tried to follow his gaze and saw nothing but the shadows of plants in the drizzle. She decided it was nothing but meditative focus as the Master continued. "I do believe that, unless someone is able to lead the charge in making that goodness last, it will fade as quickly as the sun during the rainy season."
Veil both loved and hated this answer, and she wasn't sure what she could do with it. Leading people was difficult, even if you were born to the position, and it seemed almost as if Master Vinh was speaking in circles. "What is to be done then?" She asked, "My father does his best, and I do my best . . . but we're only two people against a world that seems intent to destroy itself."
"What is needed is an example so stirring that it leads others to feats of greatness," Master Vinhkroludar replied. He gave Veil a sidelong glance and added, "I'm sure you've heard about the construction in Oligan?"
"Yes. We believe it's probably a weapon," Veil said softly. "It's often whispered about the palace halls. More like everywhere, really. Once word got out, everyone has been a little afraid. Plus, there is that issue of things being destroyed in the Dobraeg. We believe they are testing it there."
"I'm not so sure that what they're building is the weapon," Master Vinhkroludar said, shaking his head. "Or, perhaps the weapon and the construction are not the same thing. At least, my sources seem to indicate so."
"You have sources in the Oligan government?" Veil asked skeptically.
Master Vinhkroludar chuckled and seemed on the verge of losing himself to hysterics. It subsided after a moment however, and he answered with only a hint of mirth. "Not exactly. I have sources in the Northern Gor tribes. It's odd, actually. The Northern and Southern tribes rarely speak to each other, but because I have abandoned my Southern home in favor of joining the Order of the Mountain, it has earned me some measure of trust amongst them." He shrugged as if his own words made no sense at all, and continued gently, "But, that is beside the point. There are a handful of Gor working on the project with the Oligan government, and they're working with the granddaughter of a Gor High Priestess, Alazyn, if I remember the name correctly. Alazyn has assured them that the project is a peaceful one."
"Seems an awful lot of trust for secondhand rumors to me," Veil replied, as skeptical as ever.
Master Vinhkroludar nodded, conceding the possibility, though his words clearly showed that he did not share her belief. "Gor have good instincts, some of the best out there, though I suppose an Elrok might contest the point." He paused for another chuckle. "When your primary focus is on living in harmony with nature, you have to learn to trust your gut. The Gor wouldn't have told me it was a peaceful project without some reason to believe it."
"What if they're being fed lies? What if this 'Alazyn' doesn't even know the truth?" Veil countered.
"Then I suppose we'll find out." Master Vinhkroludar shrugged again. "But I'd rather believe in the potential good that could come from it. Be wary of the snake, for it often bites, but it also kills the rat that would invade your home."
Veil wasn't certain how to interpret the unfamiliar saying. "Trust the enemy?" She asked.
"Respect the enemy," Master Vinhkroludar replied. "Recognize that they have the same qualities you do. A will to survive, and a necessity for that which perpetuates their survival. They have homes, families, loved ones . . . you may view them as a pest because they fight you for territory, but they view you as a pest for the same reason. Does that make either side right or wrong? I am not the one to judge such things. What is right for the snake is wrong for the rat, and vice versa."
"Because in the end we're all snakes and rats?" Veil asked.
"We are all part of the web of life, all predator and prey. Even animals who only eat plants still benefit from death. Even if they kill the plants themselves, those plants still grow in soil made more fertile by the deaths of other beings. All things are connected, from the rat, to the snake, to the Fedain or Gor," Master Vinhkroludar said. He continued in a more serious tone. "Commit no acts of violence. That's the Fedain creed, isn't it?"
"Was Master Janlynd's suicide violent?" Master Vinhkroludar asked.
"In the eyes of the Church of the Blood," Veil replied with a nod.
"Ah . . . but Master Janlynd was a member of the Order of the Mountain. Should one be judged by the labels of others, or by how she chose to live with herself? 'I vow to defend the innocent, the helpless, and to resort to violence only to the magnitude it is necessary', that is the oath she swore. In the eyes of the Order, Master Janlynd lived true to herself to the very end, and honored that oath. Her last action, though destructive, was a display of utmost courage in my eyes, and as for its necessity . . ." Master Vinhkroludar trailed off, his eyes focusing on something distant again, only this time Veil was certain it was nothing but a memory. "I don't condone suicide for suicide's sake; do not think I am encouraging such an action, but Janlynd . . ." He sighed deeply and returned his gaze to Veil. "She believed it was necessary for one person to die to communicate the seriousness of our current situation. Since she could not make the decision for another, she chose to make herself that example."
"I still wish she had not," Veil replied, "I miss her."
"As do I," Master Vinhkroludar said. "She was a treasured friend." He stood up abruptly, turning to face Veil fully. "I'm afraid, much as I have enjoyed our conversation, it is time I take my leave."
"Where will you be going this evening?" Veil asked. "To look after your student?"
"I don't know where my charge has run off to, so I am considering making my way back to the gatehouse to await him there. Though . . ." Master Vinhkroludar put his hand out from the shelter, feeling the rain drops across his skin. "I'm considering a stroll through the streets of Kobinaru instead."
Veil's eyes widened in surprise. "In this weather?"
"In the Dobraeg, rain is a sign of warmer months. It is spiritual and cleansing, and it's been a long time since I've lost myself to it. In the morning I will have to discipline my favorite student, and I'd like to have a clear mind when I do," Master Vinhkroludar replied.
"Thank you, Master Vinh. I appreciate you speaking with me," Veil said, standing and indicating to Captain Farr that he should approach her, and that she was ready to go.
"It was a pleasure, Lady Veil," Master Vinhkroludar said, bowing respectfully. "Remember Master Jan, use the teachings she taught you, become the leader you wish to become. The world will do better for it, I assure you."
Master Vinhkroludar's words sat with Veil for a long time after their meeting. She wanted to be the leader that he had described, someone who could truly stir the hearts of her people. She wasn't sure how she would manage it, but the urge refused to go away.
Days dragged into weeks, and wherever she could, Veil started looking for opportunities to improve the lives of those around her. She felt it wouldn't be enough, however. She needed something big; something life-changing to center her efforts around.
It was in an informal gathering with many members of the hospital board that she found it. One of the doctors mentioned the nanite vaccination, which had been on hold for several months at a crucial phase. Master Janlynd had been a driving force on the project, and some of the motivation had died along with her. It sat, postponed with the Science and Medical Council, waiting for review.
But Veil knew one couldn't wait forever to try to change the world, and Master Vinhkroludar's counsel blended with the force of Veil's youthful enthusiasm. Before she knew it, she stood and addressed the others in the room. "We need to move on to the next phase of the project."
"Are you sure?" Doctor Kinthrae, an older Fedain with a bushy moustache said, sharing looks of surprise with two of his colleagues.
"Definitely. We've had enough success recently that I think it's time for the next phase of human trials," Veil replied.
The hospital administrator, Doctor Poelraynn raised one of her eyebrows and met Veil's eyes. "You're not in charge of the project, and you don't get to make that call."
"How long are we going to sit here and wait?" Veil asked, projecting her voice to make sure she had the attention of everyone in the room. All the doctors turned in her direction, though most seemed confused by what was going on.
"What do you mean?" Kinthrae replied. He looked to Poelraynn for permission to continue, and after receiving her nod of assent he stood and faced Veil. "The decision isn't in our hands. We have to wait for the Science and Medicine Council in Xarin to—"
Veil scoffed at that and fixed Kinthrae with a stern glare. "Look, you know as well as I do that things are getting bad again. We in this room represent a minority of Fedain who care about human suffering. We're waiting on a council of nobles out there, who couldn't be bothered at all. We need to move forward with this. The sooner we do, the sooner we can show our human neighbors that not every Fedain is unconcerned by their plight."
"But we can't bypass the council," Poelraynn said.
"Can't we?" Veil asked. "Can't we act on behalf of our fellow beings like the Fedain are supposed to act?"
"What you're talking about could get us banned from practicing medicine ever again. All of us. Even entertaining the idea could have such negative ramifications," Kinthrae said. "It's too big of a risk."
"What about a controlled trial?" Veil suggested. "Rather than a public one, we could extend the offer to a select group of people instead of making a big deal about it."
"The people do already know about the vaccine, and we have already done a few controlled tests of earlier versions," Kinthrae said thoughtfully, looking around the room. "I can see your logic, though I'm not sure I share your enthusiasm for skirting the edge of trouble."
"That's part of the problem. The Science and Medicine Council doesn't think the vaccine is viable because of our past failures, even though this version is different," Poelraynn said.
"We've followed their protocol all this time, and now that we have one that we're near certain will actually work, they're dragging their feet. We've been sitting on this version for months," Veil said testily.
"What is your proposed trial, Lady Veil?" Poelraynn asked.
"The Order of the Mountain," Veil replied confidently.
There were murmurs of confusion throughout the room, but it was Kinthrae who answered her bold statement. "You really think the monks would participate in such a thing?"
"I think we could trust them to keep it within their ranks regardless, and it would be worth asking them," Veil replied firmly. "If we have any participants at all from the Order, at the very least we'll have additional data to present to the Council."
But Poelraynn was already shaking her head. "I don't think this will work."
"Why not?" Veil asked, not willing to back down.
"The Order of the Mountain believes in maintaining physical purity. What you're asking could be perceived as an insult to them," Poelraynn replied. "That is an even greater risk than it was before."
"What if we asked them out of respect for Master Janlynd?" Veil asked.
This gave Poelraynn pause. She shared a glance with several of the other doctors around her, and after a moment she conceded with a nod. "We'll consider it."
Veil growled disdainfully. "So now I have to wait for another council while the world burns?"
Poelraynn forced a polite smile and directed it at Veil "We'll get back to you, Lady Veil. It's the best we can do."
Veil shook her head in disgust and left the room. As she stormed down the hallway, Captain Farr fell into step behind her and followed her all the way to the small resting room at the end. It was night, and this part of the hospital was mainly used for administrative duties. As such, the room was dimly lit and deserted.
Veil stared out the glass window before her. It afforded her a view of the eastern half of Kobinaru, including her palatial home and the Kobinau Council Chambers where Master Janlynd had killed herself earlier in the year. The sight of the building twisted her stomach into knots, and Veil wished she could do something about the nausea.
"It didn't go well?" Captain Farr asked.
The question surprised Veil. Captain Farr rarely spoke in such an informal way, and she regarded him with surprise. The dim lights overhead illuminated his face in a soft way, making him appear friendly to Veil's eyes. Had he always seemed so gentle to her? When had he learned to smile like that? "Just typical Fedain reluctance to do anything with meaning," Veil replied gruffly, shoving the strange feelings away.
"I'm sorry, Lady Veil. I don't know what's going on, but if there is something I can do to help . . ." Captain Farr began, then trailed off as Veil began shaking her head.
"I was certain this would work as soon as I had the idea," Veil replied.
"I'm afraid, without knowing what the problem is, I can only offer my services as your bodyguard . . ." Captain Farr said, then realized what he was suggesting and took a full step back, bowing humbly. "Forgive me, Lady Veil. I realize that sounds like I was asking for details or suggesting that I would interfere in matters of state, and I had no intention. I was simply trying to be amicable."
Veil regarded him with renewed interest. He was . . . handsome. How had she not noticed that before? She had spent so much time with him, he'd almost become a blur in the background, but now, in the near darkness, he shone almost as brightly as a lantern. "Captain Farr, it's quite all right. I know you are a loyal soldier. I'll just have to figure out some other way to solve my problem. Otherwise, I'll have to wait and be content with that," Veil said, hoping the diplomatic answer would give her an opportunity to sort through her feelings.
"As you say, Lady Veil," Captain Farr replied, bowing again.
Veil returned her gaze to the window, her eyes lingering once more on the Council Chambers. She had seen so much death in her short life, and lost so many people she cared about. She didn't know what she would do if she lost another as close to her as Master Jan. It made her glad that Captain Farr would not be going anywhere anytime soon. She hoped he'd stay around forever, she hoped . . . "Captain Farr," Veil said softly, "what would you do if you could be safe from disease and injury?"
Captain Farr hesitated. "I'd be a much better soldier," he said thoughtfully, "so I imagine my life wouldn't change much."
"That's a fair point."
"Are you talking about the vaccine?" Captain Farr asked with confusion.
"That's right. You know about that?" Veil asked.
"Yes. I've heard you've done a few trials as well, before I entered your service," Captain Farr replied. "It's hard not to hear things when you're here nearly every day."
"Understandable," Veil replied with a nod. She considered him again, judging his loyalty once again, and the broadness of his shoulders. "Maybe . . . maybe you could help me with something."
"What would you ask, Lady Veil?"
Veil turned on her heel and started toward the nearest staircase leading down to the lower levels. "Come with me," she said, despite knowing he would come whether she told him to or not.
She led him to the research hall, avoiding as many of the hospital staff as she could manage. The laboratory itself was deserted; most of the researchers were either in the meeting with Doctor Poelraynn or had already gone home for the day. Veil used the proper codes and guided Captain Farr inside, then locked the door behind them.
She moved straight to the cabinet where the recent vaccine samples were kept and opened it. "Would you take the vaccine?" she asked as soon as she gained access to the vials.
"Lady Veil . . ." Captain Farr said slowly, "is that something you are authorized to do?"
Veil reached in and placed her hand against one of the vials. "No. I am breaking the law by handling this right now, but that doesn't mean I can't do it."
"Uh . . . so you want me to be your trial?" Captain Farr asked skeptically.
Veil nodded, though there was hesitation in her voice as she replied, "If I know the vaccine works, then I'll have data to take to the doctors. Once they know it works, they'll be willing to help me enter the next phase."
"Very well," Captain Farr said, sticking out his arm and rolling up his sleeve. "I'll participate."
Veil placed her hand on Captain Farr's arm and met his eyes. Her whole body tensed as if shocked, and her eyes widened for a moment as new sensations washed over her. She instantly wanted to do so much with him, to feel all his skin against hers, to make him more than just a bodyguard. Her Fedain blood was betraying her. She could see it now, and that would only get in the way. She wanted him, but that couldn't motivate her now. She couldn't force herself on another person, not in any way whatsoever.
Dropping her hand from his arm, Veil whispered, "I don't want to force you. You do not have to do this. This is not an order. But I am asking you."
Captain Farr met her eyes and replied firmly, "I will do it. For you."
Veil searched his gaze and saw similar desires in Captain Farr's eyes. He wanted her as much as she wanted him. Maybe she could justify it, if it was mutual. "What is your blood type?" she asked, overriding her lustful thoughts.
Captain Farr pointed to one of the vials. "Should be that one."
Veil nodded and took hold of the vial, then gathered the rest of the supplies that she needed from the lab. She wrapped his arm with an elastic cord, tightening it just enough to make his veins more visible. After drawing the vaccine into a needle, she placed it against his vein and looked up at him. "Hold still," she said gently. "I apologize for the harm of the needle, but I need to prick your skin to vaccinate you."
"Don't worry, I won't consider it an act of violence," Captain Farr replied with a grin.
Veil fought the urge to swoon at that smile, and her cheeks colored. "I like to make sure my patients are informed before I hurt them."
"You're a gentle soul. I trust you," Captain Farr said.
Veil nodded and stuck the needle into Captain Farr's vein. She quickly drained the syringe and then removed it, applying a small sponge-like material to the wound before wrapping it with cloth. As she turned to put the supplies away, she stumbled slightly, and Captain Farr caught her.
He lifted her back to a standing position, his hands gently resting against her skin as he stared into her eyes. "Captain . . ." Veil said, "Are you . . .?"
Captain Farr's face flushed with embarrassment and he looked away, releasing her. "Think nothing of it, Lady Veil. It's not proper for a human to think such things about a Fedain, least of all one as young as you."
"You're only in your early twenties, you're not old," Veil replied, resisting the urge to reach out and stroke his cheek. To cup his chin and spin him back toward her, kissing him as deeply as she could manage. These urges would get the better of her if she wasn't careful, but she had learned long before how to be careful.
"It wouldn't be proper, Veil," Captain Farr said stiffly, turning away. He took several steps toward the door as Veil did her best to recover her emotions.
"I . . ." she said quietly. "I suppose not."
Captain Farr nodded and raised his arm, indicating the bandage. "Thank you for this gift."
"I hope it brings you much safety and good health in the years to come," Veil replied. She sighed, wanting to scream in frustration at the urges her body compelled her to fulfill. Instead, she calmly put the syringe against her own vein and filled it with blood, then transferred it to the vaccine bottle.
"What are you doing that for?" Captain Farr asked with alarm.
Veil nodded toward the display case. "This batch is scheduled for destruction in a few days, so it won't be used. Not at the rate these discussions are going, anyway. There will be a new batch made, sooner rather than later, but I can't let them know this one has been tampered with, now can I?"
"I suppose not," Captain Farr conceded.
Veil quietly disposed of the rest of the evidence, then began the process of locking everything up tight. She pointedly avoided Captain Farr's gaze as she proceeded toward the door. "Let's go," she said gruffly, "before I do more things that I shouldn't do."
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