Chapter 13

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MAIEL SAT CROSS-LEGGED on the narrow cot. After inspecting the room, she found it to be as safe as any sanctuary could be in Samsara. Meaning there were no windows and one entrance. None of the walls touched the exterior and vents were nonexistent. Either way, this was where the resonance was and she was resigned to her situation.

Maiel settled down to meditate and regain her strength shortly after the vratin left. Her sword lay at the ready across her lap. The shield usually on her back sat against the rickety side table and her helmet was placed on top. She'd even discarded her bow and arrow, propping them in the corner. At the base of the quiver rested her gauntlets and greaves. Her sandals lay on the floor below her perch.

Relaxed into the exercise of meditation for some time, Maiel didn't expect the soft knock on the door. She opened her eyes. The vratin with the oddly strong atman stood on the other side awaiting her invitation. She bid him enter and returned to her focus.

"I hope you don't mind, but I brought you some soup. It's a bit cold tonight," he said, entering with a clamor.

The vratin stood dumb, with a tray awkwardly held in his hands, noticing her pose and discarded armaments. The bowl steamed beside a squat teapot. He quietly closed the door with his foot and set the tray aside.

"Thank you, but I'll not need to eat," she said, returning to her meditation.

"You'll find that you do," he said with a smile, sitting in a chair that faced her. "Eat. Eat and you'll take form and have time to amend your mistakes. Starve and you'll fade, fall to the shadows and suffer."

Maiel opened her eyes. The light of them made her gaze quite intense, while she paused a moment to consider what the soul had to say. She felt stronger and much calmer with the little rest she had already taken. What he said wasn't possibly true. Still, the vratin's words offered some insight about himself. He knew of the necessity of food in preventing an atman from descending too far. It was a strange bit of knowledge for a simple soul. Other details also left her suspicious, like his resonance and sight.

Maiel scanned the man's face for a clue to his character. He regarded her in similar fashion, predicting her concerns. His face was kind but stern, a familiar expression among duta when their advice was ignored. However, luck didn't provide her with a duta. His pale blue eyes, like polished agate, confirmed that he was just a man.

"Try to eat. You'll feel much better," the vratin pleaded.

Orius had unbound his graying dark hair and traded his robes for a simple black frock and white collar. He looked simpler, but no less determined. He folded his arm over his middle and placed the opposite hand over his mouth. Maiel's eyes narrowed. Something about him was familiar; perhaps he was a friend from home.

Maiel held out her hand, keeping her eye on him to discern exactly what was so familiar. The bowl of soup he brought lifted from the tray into the air. When it settled on her palm, she lifted her other hand and the spoon shot with violent force into her grasp. The vratin rubbed his bottom lip with a finger, unimpressed or careful. She sniffed the steam and a delicate scent tingled her nostrils. She raised her spoon reluctantly, knowing that food in Samsara could be strong.

"I made it as bland as possible."

Maiel's eyes shot to his. He knew that as well.

Orius shrugged.

The atman in this vratin's core must be a key to his puzzle. No doubt he had insight due to his relationship with the other guardians. Perhaps they simply provided answers to his questions moments before he'd rejoined her. Of course, it was highly likely he was a leader from one of the outposts. She eyed him, searching for the mark of the group.

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