Chapter 24 can be read below the cut.
Veitlen sat on a bench after swordfighting practice the next day, wiping his face with a towel. Juno stepped toward the lockers, still holding her sabre in her hand. “Hey, Juno,” he said. “Do you know where Lillin usually is right now?”
Juno stared at him through narrowed eyes. “Why do you need to know something like that?” she asked.
“I need to talk to her about something,” said Veitlen.
Juno put her left hand on her hip. “She works at the Barak family jewelry shop. Every day, apparently. Even weekends,” she said. “I tried her to get her to take weekends off, but she said she needed the money since she’s living alone.”
“I didn’t really need to know all that. So where’s this jewelry shop?” Veitlen asked.
“It’s on the Promenade. ‘Barak Jewelers’ or something like that,” said Juno. She looked at him accusingly. “Don’t do anything to bother her, Veitlen! She’s really stressed out right now!”
“I’m just gonna talk to her for a little bit, geez,” Veitlen grumbled.
He ended up spending more time talking to Juno and Ariana than he planned, and by the time he got to the Promenade, it was evening. The shadows were stretching across the street, and the sun was starting to disappear behind the mountains to the west.
Barak Jewelers was one of the rows of shops along the Promenade. The windows were open, and Veitlen could hear two people talking as he approached. One of them sounded like Lillin.
Veitlen opened the door of the shop. Ohtavia and Lillin both sat on the other side of the counter, looking rather confused to see him.
“Lillin, can you step outside and talk to me for a few minutes?” he asked.
“Um, what?” said Lillin. She frowned.
“What’s this about?” Ohtavia asked.
Veitlen looked to the side. “It’s a private thing. About demon hunting! The hunts we went on together earlier in the year…”
“Really?” said Ohtavia. She didn’t look like she believed him.
Lillin also looked skeptical. She stared at him with narrowed eyes. “Why though?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you when you’re outside. It’s not relevant to Ohtavia,” said Veitlen.
“What’s so private that you can’t say it in front of me?” Ohtavia demanded. “Veitlen, you’re incredibly suspicious right now.”
Veitlen leaned over the counter to whisper in Lillin’s ear. “It’s about us being witches.”
Lillin stood up suddenly, the legs of her chair scraping against the floor as it scooted backward. Veitlen backed up instinctively.
“Okay. Let’s go,” said Lillin.
“What?” said Ohtavia.
Lillin walked around the counter and looked back at Ohtavia. “I’ll only be out a few minutes. You don’t need to worry about me.”
“Are you sure?” said Ohtavia. She looked bewildered.
“Yes,” said Lillin. She glanced again at Veitlen before leaving the shop.
Outside, Lillin leaned against the wall of the shop with her arms crossed. She did not look happy, and was frowning with her entire face. “What is it?” she asked. “Spit it out. I don’t have all day.”
“The Avatar found out we’re witches. She knows about you, me, and my cousin Nymue,” said Veitlen.
Lillin’s expression changed to one of confusion. “Why? How?” she asked.
“I told her. Sorry about that,” said Veitlen.
Lillin’s expression changed again – to one of anger. She pointed in Veitlen’s face. “You told her!” she hissed. “You made it sound like you had nothing to do with it and then you immediately said you told her!”
Veitlen raised his hands in front of himself and looked away. “Okay, yeah, that sounds pretty bad. But it already happened! There’s nothing I can do to take it back.” He paused. “I also told the Avatar that I’d bring the rest of the witches to meet her. I was hoping you’d come with me today.”
“EXCUSE ME!?” Lillin screeched. “No! Absolutely not!”
“No, you have to!” said Veitlen. He was starting to feel panicked. “I told her you’d meet with her today!”
“YOU JUST LIED AGAIN!” Lillin yelled.
She glared at him and shook her head, then looked toward the shop entrance. “I’m not going to do anything you or the Avatar want me to. I don’t care what you think. I’ll refuse, again and again, until the both of you give up,” she said.
Veitlen was stunned by the intensity of her words. It took him a few moments to figure out what he wanted to say. “Uh…well…I can’t actually force you to do anything. But y’know…she’s gonna come talk to you anyway, no matter what I say or do,” he said.
“I just said I’d refuse,” said Lillin sharply.
“She’s not the type of person to accept that,” said Veitlen.
“I don’t care,” said Lillin. She walked back into the shop.
Veitlen stood there and sighed. He doubted Nymue’s response would be much better.
Nymue stood near the Avatar’s Palace, her arms crossed and a frown on her face. Even from about five meters away, Veitlen could see from her body language that she was not pleased to be here.
“Why’d you keep me waiting for so long?” she asked once he was in earshot.
“Sorry. I had to go do something last-minute,” said Veitlen.
Nymue eyed him suspiciously. “So what did you want to tell me?” she asked.
“Well,” said Veitlen. He pointed toward the Palace. “We’re going to meet with the Avatar for a little while.”
Nymue stared at him for longer than he found comfortable. “Nym? Are you okay?” he asked.
Nymue’s eyes widened and she gaped at him. “What did you do this time?” she asked.
“Why would you just assume I’ve done something wrong!?” Veitlen demanded.
Nymue seemed to realize something, and started looking angry. “Wait, why am I involved in this? What have you done, Veitlen!”
Veitlen put his hands up in front of him. “It’s nothing bad, I swear!” he said. She looked skeptical. “Okay! Now you’re mad at me, too. This is…not great.”
“Explain. Now,” said Nymue.
“I told the Avatar that we’re witches and now she wants to talk to you,” said Veitlen. He couldn’t meet Nymue’s gaze.
Nymue rolled her eyes. “You…you really want me to get involved in your bad decisions, don’t you?” she said.
“It’s not just you!” said Veitlen. “I told her about Lillin and Morgaine, too.”
“You’re digging yourself deeper,” Nymue pointed out.
Veitlen’s shoulders slumped. “I know,” he said glumly. “I regret saying anything in the first place. I should have just kept quite and told the Avatar nothing.”
Nymue still looked annoyed. “Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to accomplish anything,” she said. “Take me in to see her.”
Veitlen looked up at Nymue in shock. “Wait, seriously?” he said.
Nymue rolled her eyes at him and started walking toward the Palace. “If you’re just going to stand there, I guess I’ll go in by myself,” she said.
“Hold up!” said Veitlen. He ran forward to match her pace.
There wasn’t anyone at the entrance of the Palace or in the lobby. No guards, no staff, and no people taking pictures or walking around the gardens.
“Why isn’t there anyone around?” Nymue asked.
“I dunno. Ask the Avatar when you see her,” said Veitlen.
Nymue continued looking around. She narrowed her eyes at something behind Veitlen. “Oh. There she is.”
Veitlen turned around to see Chanda approaching. “You’ve only brought one,” she said.
“I couldn’t get Lillin to come with me,” said Veitlen. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s no matter,” said Chanda. “Hello, Nymue Rozenbarr.”
“Avatar, I’ve been wanting for a while to speak to you about a few things,” said Nymue. “Can we do that now?”
“Of course,” said Chanda. “I have plenty of questions for you, too.”
Nymue looked serious. “I’ve found so many inconsistencies in the early history narratives. Nothing makes sense if you look at it with even the slightest bit of scrutiny,” she said.
“I’ve been researching the same thing for years!” Chanda said excitedly. She clasped her hands together. “It goes even deeper than you may expect!”
Nymue looked confused. “What? Seriously? You’re researching this?”
“It’s what I’ve been doing in my spare time for almost fifteen years. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere near done with my work,” said Chanda.
“Fifteen years?” said Nymue. “How…how much misinformation is out there?”
Chanda frowned. “Too much, unfortunately. A lot of it is in strange places, too. It’s too difficult to sift through on my own. I could use an assistant,” she said.
Nymue looked a bit taken aback. “Are you…are you seriously implying that you want me to as your assistant?” she asked.
“I suppose so,” said Chanda.
Nymue frowned. “Yes or no. I need a real answer.”
“I won’t be able to give you an answer right now. I should think it over a little more,” said Chanda.
Nymue continued frowning. “You keep talking about all of this like you had no part in it. I find that hard to believe.”
“That’s understandable,” said Chanda. “I also doubt you’ll believe that most of those historical revisions were made by my predecessors.”
“You’re right. I don’t,” said Nymue.
Chanda sighed. “I really can’t blame you for being suspicious.” She waved her hand. “This isn’t actually what I wanted to talk to you about. Let’s move on to that, shall we?”
Veitlen sat in a chair with his arms crossed and stared off into the air as Chanda and Nymue talked among themselves. He didn’t have much of an interest in what either of them had to say, so toning them out wasn’t very difficult.
“I think we’ve discussed everything we need to,” said Chanda. “Do you have any more questions for me, Nymue?”
“Yes,” said Nymue. “What’s the use of knowing if I’m an Avatar or not? It’s not exactly going to improve my life or help me accomplish anything.”
Chanda looked a little taken aback. “Veitlen didn’t understand this either. Perhaps it’s something that’s only important to me.”
“Sounds like it,” said Nymue. “I need to get going. I’ve been here long enough.”
“Just you? Look at Veitlen,” said Chanda. She gestured toward him, and Nymue saw that Veitlen was still sitting in the same chair with his arms crossed, his head tilted upward. He was asleep.
“As I said. Long enough,” said Nymue. She walked over and tapped Veitlen’s shoulder. He started awake. “We’re done talking.”
Veitlen stood up, still looking half asleep. “How long has it been?” he asked.
“Too long. I’m going home now. You can stay and talk to the Avatar more or whatever,” she said.
“No, I’ll leave too,” said Veitlen.
He kept yawning as they walked away from the Avatar’s Palace. Once they reached the main road, Nymue turned away. “See you later,” she said.
“No, not yet,” said Veitlen. “There’s something I didn’t tell you.”
“What is it, Veitlen?” Nymue asked in annoyance.
“Rahka Hiljachetsu!” said Veitlen. He looked fully awake now. “The one with the silver spirit weapon. He’s still alive. He’s just in prison.”
Nymue narrowed her eyes at him. “How long have you known about this?” she asked.
“Literally one day, Nym. The Avatar told me about him yesterday,” said Veitlen.
“And you’re absolutely sure he’s actually Rahka Hiljachetsu? No doubts?” said Nymue.
“Well, his name was on the door, and I saw his spirit weapon, so I’m pretty sure it’s him,” said Veitlen.
“I’ll check that out tomorrow,” said Nymue.
“Good. I told him I’d bring you around soon,” said Veitlen.
“You’re on hunts starting from tomorrow for the next few weeks,” said Nymue. “You won’t be able to bring me anywhere.”
“Aw, shit, you’re right,” said Veitlen. “You’ll just have to go there on your own.”
He waved at her as they went their separate ways. Nymue let out a breath as she walked along the street. She hadn’t learned that much by talking to the Avatar, but hopefully she’d be able to learn something from Rahka.