The exiled grey elf Uteri was setting out on the third day of her climb up Mt. Gneise when she encountered a goat-boar. Faced with no other option, she chanted a mantra which allowed her mind to dominate the beast's and calm it. After that, she was captured by a pair of Drachen who seem to be guards for Jos-Kin Temple...
Instead of being taken up the central staircase to her meeting with Abbott Geoffstad, the duo lead her into the depths of Jos-Kin Temple. Were they taking her to a room? To a cell? To her death? Sweat began to bead on her brow and the small of her back as one horrible fated after the next played out in her mind. She hoped that this was not some cruel trap, but whispered to Atheek all the same. Her chant ensured that she would not go down without a fight. Her fingers and toes were vibrating with invisible power as her goddess dreamed of her safety.
When they rounded the next corner, Uteri's captors were met by a third, much older, Drachen. Bent to the point that they were actually shorter than Uteri, their once verdant scales had faded to a mottled yellow that looked like whorls in liquid gold.
"Welcome to Jos-Kin Temple traveler," they said, voice scratching. "The mountain was not too cruel, I hope?"
Uteri was so confused that she said nothing and just nodded.
"Good! Good!" The elder Drachen clapped their hands together before sliding one into their sleeve. "Now, to business."
Here it was, her end. She was sure they were rummaging in their secret pocket for some nasty wand to atomize her or something. Instead, the older warrior pulled out a ring of jangling keys and reached for the lock on a nearby door.
"This shall be your room for the duration of your stay, Yoteni,” they said as they slid one of the keys into the heavy padlock. The biggest soldier, the one who had licked his chops at her, pushed open an equally heavy oaken door. The room was sparsely furnished but had all the comforts of home: a small bed, a desk with a chair, and a window looking out over the valley below. Most surprising of all though was the gust of air that washed over her. It was warm, like a spring breeze, and a far cry from the chill expected of a draft blowing through a stone building at the top of a mountain. Was it heated with magic?
"Well? Aren't you going to rest?" the kindly elder asked.
"Oh, right," she said, shaking her head. "I expected a cell, so I'm a bit disarmed."
"Ah," they replied. "Fear not, there are no cells or dungeons here."
"So consider yourself lucky, elf," her belligerent captor snapped, brandishing their spear. "Were this anywhere else, were this still the war, your hide wouldn't see the light of day again unless it was leather on someone's armor."
Without even a change in their expression, the smaller Drachen whirled around and slugged the sneering saurian. The strike seemed to catch the blowhard by surprise and they staggered back, clawed hand to the side of their snout. "Apologies," they said, pressing their fist to their chest. "The rooklings still like to bluster."
"Think nothing of it, old friend. Youth is a trying time for us all." the older Drachen said before looking back to Uteri. "Should you require them, the baths are that way; down the hall to the left.”
"Baths? You bathe in weather like this?" Although, that could explain the reason for the room's heat—and who knew how insulating those scales were...
“Of course. This entire complex rests on an ancient, becalmed caldera, and its heat permeates every inch of the temple. I assure you, the water in the baths is quite warm. You may visit them at your leisure," they added, handing her the key and lock. "However, go nowhere else or risk swift, painful retribution.”
“Sure, sure,” She said, slinging her pack off her back to put it on the bed and leaning her staff against the desk before turning back to her escort. “When might I speak with the Abbott? The matter I come to seek counsel on is quite pressing.”
The chastised Drachen bristled and stepped forward. “You forget yourself, fallen! I ought to smi-”
“Enough!” The first hissed, putting a scaly, clawed hand on their subordinate's shoulder. “The Yoteni is to be regarded as a guest, as much as it rankles me to do so.”
“If you insist, Captain. Permission to be dismissed?” they asked of the elder.
“You may go, Sergeant, but leave the elf alone. Understood?”
Sarge—that was his name in her mind now—growled in the way most would mutter, but nodded and saluted before walking off. The sound of his displeasure finally faded after a moment. The captain turned back to face Uteri. “Bathe and rest first, Yoteni, we shall convey your request for an audience to the Abbott. He shall call for you when he is ready.”
“Patience, fallen one. I don’t know what errand has brought you to our keep, but I assure you that it can wait the night.”
With that, the Elder and the Captain left her. The sound of her door closing was a simple hollow noise, but it still felt like the sound of iron bars clanging closed. The moment she heard the captain’s footsteps fade, she tried the door. To her surprise, it opened with a simple click. Feeling more at ease, she shrugged off her mantle and hood, then busied herself with unpacking the essentials. She pried the dust-covered boots of her swollen feet before slipping out of the room with a towel and a fresh robe tucked under her arm.
Just as the Elder had said, the baths were just down the hall and they were beautiful. The tiled floor was warm and dry through her socks. An intricate mosaic of tiny ceramic squares was plastered on the far wall. The scene was one of a sun rising over a mountain. Below that, a wide cascade of water poured into the bath. The basin itself was sunken into the floor with a calf-high wall encircling it, more shimmering tile was set into the stone. Peering into the steaming water, the tile went down to the bottom of the tub.
She was unsure how the tub did not overflow. Perhaps there was some manner of slow drain? As she walked over to look at the waterfall filling the tub, she noticed both a curtain and a plaque asking patrons to shower before bathing to keep the water as clean as possible. The floor here was wet and it squelched through her socks.
Pulling them off, she also shed her trail worn outer layer before pushing the oil-treated fabric aside and leaning in to see how this so-called shower worked. A single pipe of glimmering metal curved out of the wall through a valve with a long handle up to a disc of the same material with many holes punched it. A turn of the valve was met with a rush of water that sent her reeling backward, sputtering; her underthings now soaked. She glanced around out of habit, before peeling off her damp shift and wiggled out of hose which had started to cling like a second skin. The elf made another furtive glance around when she began to remove the binding around her chest but, once more, noticed no one else in the room. She folded up the linen band and laid it on top of her things before she pulled the curtain around let the warm water wash over her.
Her muscles, weary from weeks of travel began to relax. A quick pass over her scar-covered stomach and sides found the bruises from her earlier encounter. They stung to the touch, but a bit of circling pressure under the water was enough to break up the blood beneath her skin. Her fingers picked at the ties in her hair, but the braid was such a snarled mess that it was impossible. A hummed melody conjured a bit of soap on her fingertips and she began to work out the knots. Her hair, however, was worse than she expected and she decided to focus on it once she was soaking in the tub.
As she realized that she was at peace, in what been enemy territory, it hit her how the treaty had changed everything. Like her first master had said, the greatest victory was surviving until hope paid its interest. Even so, she prayed that this investment paid off sooner rather than later.