Blazing Fire, Storm's Desire Chapter 1
Ive been in the temple for almost a year now, and yet it still feels so strange in this place, Luc was kneeling at the end of a row with all the other apprentices in the front of the sanctuary, but his thoughts were far from prayerful. The cook is such a jerk. Somebody snatches something extra from the kitchens, and we all get punished. What kind of justice is that? And just how is staying in this position until our legs cramp supposed to teach us anything about holiness? Isnt that what were here for?
Hey, youd better not keep staring at that tapestry like you want to burn a hole in it, or youre going to get in trouble again. You know how His Graciousness seems to have it in for you a red-haired boy to his left whispered, his eyes never seeming to leave their focus on the floor in front of him.
With a stifled sigh, Luc lowered his head and attempted to look more respectful of his surroundings. Inside, he seethed, because Bran was right. Lately, it seemed that his every action was under intense scrutiny for even the slightest bit of fault. Other apprentices could get away with an occasional bending of the rules, but Luc couldnt even be a minute late for class or make a mistake in his memorizations without one teacher or another calling out for him to be made an example of. It had been Bran, because he had been in the temple three years longer and was a special favorite of the head scribe, who had found out that this special treatment was under the orders of High Priest Sasarai himself. Why? The only time Ive ever spoken to him was during the interview he gave me when I arrived. He didnt seem upset then And this, this persecution didnt start until a couple weeks ago.
Luc tried to think of anything that had happened around that time which could have possibly served to set the High Priest off in some fashion. No matter how he had looked at things before, he couldnt come up with an answer. Hed been on especially good behavior then, since his mother and elder brother had come, along with many from all ranks in Harmonian society, to celebrate the advent of the new year.
Gee, its hard to believe youre only seven, runt. You look like an adult with that expression on your face and the robes Marc smirked. An adult woman, that is.
Luc gave his brother a glare that could have split stone and would have added a sharp kick to the shins if there werent so many people around to see. He promised himself that he would make Marc pay for it later, even if it took months to find the perfect opportunity. Then, he turned to his mother. Momentarily, fear gripped him that she wouldnt like the gift he had made for her, but he spoke anyway, trying to keep his nervousness from showing, Mother, I made this for you. I know you get headaches sometimes after doing rune attachments, so
He let his voice trail off as she began inspecting the length of cloth and its attachments, giving it the same thorough scrutinization she put into all her work as a runemaster. Water rune pieces for healing and wind runes for sleep? she sounded surprised. How interesting. Thank you, my child. Youve done well.
Luc relaxed. His mother wasnt one to hand out too many compliments and just a bit too quick with the criticism. Hearing his mothers words of praise made him feel a bit lightheaded with glee, and bowed his head to hide one of his rare smiles before heading off to join the others of the temple in preparation for the service.
Why am I coming back here? Kirei wondered, picking her way through the thick crowd of people heading towards the Great Temple. Theres nothing left for me in this city and hasnt been for a long time. Still, I feel drawn to this place.
She glanced down at her gloved left hand and smiled bitterly, To be the bearer of a True Rune I cant decide whether its a blessing or a curse. Maybe its a little bit of both. Certainly, it seems to be more of the latter when one considers the bloodshed that has been and continues to be wrought for their sake. Then again, people have killed over much less.
Upon reaching the temple, she waited patiently for her turn to enter, taking mental notes about the changes in architecture. In addition to several new stained glass windows and a profusion of various flowers, two new statues had joined the collection gracing the path between the outer walls and temple proper. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of one of them, and she fought down a sudden urge to pull her hood up. It wasnt a perfect likeness, but it was eerily close. She let her gaze travel down to its base, observing some bent blades of still-living grass poking out from underneath. Her mouth twitched. She supposed that it was possible for it to have been made not long after shed left Harmonia and only just now been brought out of a storage room some place, but that seemed far too coincidental for her tastes. Besides, something about the style in which it was crafted seemed awfully familiar
I sense a familiar presence
What? Clive barked, startled at Storms sudden mindspeech. Mindful of a the curious gazes of the nearby faithful and baleful glares being cast in his direction by his fellow gunners, he toned his voice down, Familiar in a good way or a hostile one?
I Storm sounded as if he were confused and struggling to get the words out, a memory lapse condition that Clive had learned to be the reason that so few gunners in the history of the guild had been willing to partner with him. It didnt happen very often, and Storm didnt seem to be suffering any ill effects with regards to shooting capabilities, so Clive had never given a seconds thought to trading him in. Its not hostile to me, er us, at least. Of that, Im certain. But that may not hold true for everyone else in the temple.
Clive moaned softly, Great. Just great. So, should I alert the others to the possibility of trouble later on?
What? No, I dont think that would be wise. Its more of a latent threat than an active one. Being overtly offensive would do more harm than good. Just be watchful. Ill let you know when it gets closer so you can tell me what you see. It hurts for me to look too closely at it, Storm admitted. Like a bright flame, only not quite so I dont know how to describe it.
Hm Clive shifted slightly at his position by one of the main sanctuarys pillars so that he could get a better look at the entering worshippers.
Dear me, Id forgotten about the ritual handwashing. The only question to ponder is which bowl I should use, Kirei mused. Im not a noble anymore, so I cant use that one. Sadly, my studies of the world have also slipped since my leave taking of Crystal Valley, so the scholars bowl is also out. That leaves Oh, forget it. Ill just use the peasants bowl and let them wonder.
Once again, Kirei was forced to wait as the line moved forward with aching slowness. By the Sword and Shield, its hot in here she tugged at the fastening of her cloak to gain a hairs breadth of breathing room. I wouldnt think that it was possible to make me roast in the middle of winter, but theyve managed to do it. Honestly, how many braziers are needed to heat a place this size? Half this number would have done the job or perhaps two-thirds. Our elders could use an extra touch of warmth to ward off the chill.
Kirei smiled wryly at that last thought. No doubt existed in her mind as to the fact that she was just a tad bit more advanced in years than those same elders she was thinking of. Yet, she did not look a day over nineteen. The mixed blessing of her rune had seen to that.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a flicker of movement. Inclining her head slightly to the side, she looked to find its source. A young man wearing a hooded cape the same color as his eyes was watching her like a hawk. Undisturbed, she stared back at him, letting her smile grow as he frowned. These Howling Voice gunners are so easy to toy with. They take their little orders so seriously that it constantly amazes me that they dont explode from the pressure. I wonder why this particular one is looking at me so strangely. Then, her eyes lighted on the gun at his side, and she knew. She turned away, blinking rapidly to forestall the mist of tears threatening to overwhelm her. You may not remember me now, but I will never forget the promise you asked of me brother.
Toweling someones hands dry was not exactly one of Lucs favorite tasks, especially when the hands were those bearing evidence of hard labor. There was even one guy missing a finger, and he was glad that he had already been working on another persons hands, so somebody else had to take him. He felt a little guilty at his relief, but all thoughts were shoved to the side as he washed another pair of hands and another, and another. Hed never felt this tired before in his life, not even when hed stayed awake spying on his brother, Marc, trying to figure out just why he spent so much time in the stables at night. That particular remembrance was enough to make his stomach churn, and he couldnt help making a face.
I dont believe Ive ever gotten that particular reaction to someone seeing a rune on my hand before.
Luc flushed and stammered out an apology. For a moment, hed been so self-absorbed that he hadnt even been paying attention to what was right in front of him. He forced himself out of his stupor and decided to pay extra care to this persons hands to make up for his lapse. So, this person was a rune bearer were they? There werent many runes that a common citizen could afford. That made him curious. It also made him puzzled when he realized that the hands he toweled were about as rough as a bolt of silk. His heart almost stopped beating when he finally saw the rune.
He knew all the ordinary runes, both common and rare, as a result of his mothers profession. This one was neither common nor rare It was wholly unique. True Rune Great heavens above, its a True Rune! Lucs eyes widened in wondering delight as he passed the towel over rune in a circular motion, causing its pattern of a heart made out of flame to glitter like a gemstone.
Enough already. Youre going to wear my hand down to the bone if you keep that up, the voice, which Luc could now tell was female, chided cheerily.
He dared a look up at look up at her face. She had long hair as black as a ravens wing tied back in a braid and eyes as green as Lucs own. Her features were fine almost to the point where she could be mistaken for an elf, but her ears were, most assuredly, not pointed. Luc knew Marc well enough to understand that, if their places were reversed, hed be drooling over her. Not so with Luc. Hed had plenty of experience resisting the pull of his mothers obligatory Phero Rune to know the feel of an emotion influencer, and he wasnt about to let go of his control now.
The woman nodded approvingly down at him, Impressive self control. Youd make a fine wizard yourself. Its too bad that Heh, it looks like Im holding up the line. Maybe Ill see you later, kid, Shield willing.
She gave him a parting wink and moved through the throng to take her place at one of the benches. He turned back to waiting line of people, occupying himself with speculations on the exact name and nature of her rune while he continued the seemingly endless cycle of drying hands.
That was the only unusual thing that happened, Luc thought. There must be something Im missing.
A couple of dark shadows moved to blot out what little light he could see on the floor in front of him. That meant only one thing. Once again, somebody had found something to complain about, and he was about to get punished, likely as soon as this general punishment period was done. He just wished that he had some clue as to what hed done wrong.
Maybe shes after the Shinsei spear, Elza theorized, pausing to sip from her mug. Its not exactly common knowledge that the guildmaster borrowed it to help fashion a new gun. What do you think, Storm?
Clive sighed, Hes not going to answer you He hasnt even been talking to me very much lately. And you already said that Moon has no clue who the girl is or what shes after. If Moon doesnt know, then theres no point in asking any of the others.
They both sat in silence for a moment before Clive asked, What makes you think its the Shinsei spear?
Im sure you remember the unholy fuss that the gunners who brought the spear in said it was kicking up when it found out what the guildmaster wanted to do with it. Something about wishing that the Blazing Heart would come to its rescue and send them to burn for all eternity. Your description of what Storm saw her as made me think that it could be her. Her sudden appearance is quite timely, and if she happens to be a rune bearer... Elza shrugged. Its been debated before that the True Runes still share some kind of link with one another. It could mean that she was summoned.
Well, theres only one way to find out, Clive stood, shouldering Storm.
And what, pray tell, is that?
Ill ask her myself.
Mm Hold on a second. Im coming with you.
Two weeks Its been a while since Ive stayed in one place so long, and I never thought it would be here. Heh, heh Just goes to show you the kind of tricks fate can play on a person, Kirei chewed slowly, savoring each bite of the meal in front of her. I could just leave, but I dont want to let Sasarai beat me. He may be the High Priest now, who knows how he managed to pull that one off, but hes still the same old brat I remember. I just want to talk to the kid, not steal him. I mean, gee. Whats Sasarai so afraid of? I may not like him, but I play by the rules as long as everyone else does I do have to admit, that statue he made was good. He always had a flair for stonework.
It had always been Kireis habit to keep track of what people were going in and out of places, so she looked up as the inns main door opened. It was not usual for two Howling Voice gunners to come through the door, and she had a feeling they didnt come here to eat, especially since one of them was the boy whod been staring at her before. Oh, goody. Guests. I was wondering when they were finally going to get around to checking me out. Might as well make the best of it, she thought and called out to them, Come on over and have a seat. Ill treat you to a meal.
The boy gave her a death glare that would have made Kireis brother proud. What he started to say, but was cut off by the other gunner, a girl, What he means to say is that we just ate. So, thanks for the offer, but well have to pass on it.
The boy sat on the opposite side of the table from Kirei while the woman sat on one side between the two. She must have come along to play mediator. Thats nice. Id hate to have to humiliate the guy if he tried something stupid, Kirei motioned for them to speak with one hand and continued to eat. She intended to finish this meal before it got cold, even if they were going to interrogate her.
I cant believe this. She just continues eating like were uninvited dinner guests or something. Maybe I was wrong to come? No. I may have come for the wrong reason perhaps, but at least talking with her might break Storm out of this awful funk hes in, Clive nodded to himself and asked, What are you doing here?
The black-haired woman finished chewing her bite and swallowed before replying, Thats certainly direct. Ill give you that much. But awfully vague, you know? The obvious answer would be to say that Im eating dinner. However, I dont think thats exactly youre looking for. Ive just got one question to ask first. Did Sasarai send you?
No, we came on our own initiative, Elza said. What makes you think that we came on the orders of the High Priest? He doesnt exactly have control over us.
The woman grinned. Which question do you want answered first? Oh, no matter. The two are related. As to why I ended up here, I have no excuse, no reason. Maybe I was homesick? Anyway, I probably would have left a couple days after I got here, but Sasarais being a pain in the posterior. I just want to have a little chat with one of his apprentices, the one who dried my hands during the service. You know who Im talking about. You were watching me the whole time, she said, waving her fork in Clives direction. But Sasarai wont let me see him. He wont even let me leave a message. Hes reacting totally out of proportion to what Im asking. Its like hes hiding something from me, just like the bad old days when we were both kids.
Clive and Elza exchanged a glance at that statement. For as long as they could remember, even as long as their parents could, Sasarai had always been High Priest. She has one of the runes. Im certain of it now. Before he lost his nerve, Clive reached across the table and pulled the glove off her right hand. He stared in shock. Nothing. I was wrong. How could I ?
Heh The woman raised her still gloved left hand and wagged a finger at them. Wrong hand, genius. I believe that this is what youre looking for.
She removed the other glove and held her left hand palm down in front of them. Not all True Runes attach to the right hand. You should keep that in mind.
Whats its name? Elza asked softly.
She replaced both gloves, looked at them steadily, and said, I want you to promise me that youll tell me why you wanted to know after I tell you. Fair enough?
Both of the gunners nodded. All right, then. This little wonders known as the Blazing Heart, she looked at their expressions. Oh, my. I seem to have hit a nerve. Remember, you promised to tell me.
The Shinsei spear, Clive said flatly.
What about her? Come on, you two. Im not a mind reader. Youre going to have to say more than that.
She gave the spear a gender, so she must know it, um, her from before, Elza thought and gave Clive a dont interrupt me look before telling her the latest developments with regards to the Shinsei spears status.
Oh, the woman said, sounding shocked, then in a disturbed tone, Thats not good. Not good at all. Doing your little guild rituals one of the more transformed incarnations of a True Rune is bound to blow up in your faces. Either that, or itll tear miladys consciousness apart. Shes an old friend, and Id be most peeved to see any harm come to her. So, yes, youre right to worry, because I simply cant let that happen.
Clive started to rise from his seat, but she motioned him to sit back down, Now, now. Dont be so hasty. We can solve this without drawing arms. I sincerely doubt your gun would fire on me in any case, but thats beside the point. If you guys bring both spear and unfinished gun to me, Im sure I can work out a solution that will result in both a new sentinent gun for you and a happy, whole Lady Shinsei for me. Sasarai probably wont be too happy, but who
She stopped, her expression transforming into a mixture of surprise and sudden enlightenment, So, thats it. That fool. How utterly, positively typical of him to think that of me. I would never involve a child in a quarrel between rune bearers. Its in extremely bad taste, and I shudder at the mere thought. Ive got to do something before its too Er
She wants to help this kid, but shes worried were going to do something with the spear when her back is turned, Elza thought and said aloud, Clive
Clive fidgeted, struggling with his own moral decisions before saying, Well give you a few hours to take care of business and meet you outside of the citys southern gate with the spear and gun. But if youre trying to play us for fools with your bargaining, your life is forfeit.
Thats fine with me, because Im not lying, she replied.
I havent done anything, Luc mentally repeated the phrase like a mantra, hoping it would give him some kind of calm. It didnt. They were taking him directly to see the High Priest this time, and he couldnt seem to stifle the rising panic he felt. He wasnt sure what would happen, but he knew it would be bad. Bad for him and, likely, his whole family, too. Harmonians were big on the whole family honor thing, so Sasarai was bound to make use of it.
After being ushered into Sasarais presence and forced to sit in a rather uncomfortable chair, the two underpriests left Luc alone with him. A hint of sadistic glee lit Sasarais features and he said, If you confess to your crimes now, I promise you that the punishment will not be harsh. You are young and extremely vulnerable to be led astray by outside influences.
Huh? Luc was really puzzled now. However, he was tired of being picked on and harassed, so he met Sasarais gaze with a hint of steely fury, I dont know what youre talking about.
I was hoping youd deny it, Sasarai made a show of dipping pen to ink and signing his name to a document in front of him. Then, he reversed it for Luc to read.
Youre kicking me out? Something inside Luc snapped and he jumped to his feet. You cant do this! The worst thing Ive done wrong here is miss one class to play with some of the other kids. This is completely unfair.
Youre right. It is.
Both Luc and Sasarai turned to see the source of this new voice step out from behind a curtain. Luc immediately recognized her from the New Years service, and she did not look pleased. Sasarai merely raised an eyebrow, Come to rescue your accomplice, Kirei? How noble of you.
So, thats her name
Idiot. Imbecile. You, you Oh, words cannot begin to describe the depth of contempt I feel for you, Kireis normally pale face was pink with ill suppressed fury as she stared Sasarai down. Not only do you dare sell out one of the True Runes in such a half-baked proposition, but you ruin an innocent childs life in the process! If I thought there was any hope of reasoning with you, I was sorely mistaken.
Sasarai looked extremely nervous, Now, Kirei, dont do anything rash.
Rash? she queried with a sudden icy calm. If I were in the mood to be rash about things, Id begin by burning this gilded deathtrap down around your ears. As it is, youre in this trouble too deep to worm out of it now. It will cost you dearly.
That True Rune has the power of fire and of emotion. It frightens him, Luc gazed at Kirei in an awe just short of worshipfulness.
Cost me? Sasarai prompted.
Any trace of control the High Priest had left was gone. The blank fear on his face was as easy for Kirei to read as Lucs wonderment. Her eyes softened, but only slightly. Three conditions, Sasarai. Just three conditions, and Ill leave here forthwith. Break them, and I will burn this place down with you in it.
Kirei added a finger to her visual hand tally as she went over each point, First, there is the matter of Luc. You wrote that document in haste, but it will stand. I wont see his talents wasted in this pigsty. He will go with me to a place where he can be trained properly. That is the first condition.
A Alright. Go on.
The second condition also deals with Luc or, rather, his family. This will be kept quiet. It will be as if he never existed. You will not shame his family in any way, shape, or form, nor will you cause others to be unfair in their dealings with them.
Sasarai nodded mutely as Kirei continued, Before I continue onto the third condition, I must say this, Sasarai. I am sorely disappointed in you. I knew we didnt always get along, but I thought I could at least trust you not to do something this stupid. Lady Shinsei will not be returning to your possession ever. This is the third condition, though its more of a stone cold fact. Also, I have a warning for you. If Luc has any reason to believe that you are doing something equally foolish, he has a means to contact me and bring it to my attention. I have made a point out of not getting involved in this worlds problems for fear of abusing my power, but there are some things that I just cannot allow to happen.
Great. Thats good, Kirei nodded. Luc, I suggest you get you go to your room and get your things packed together Or did you already order that done for him, Sasarai?
Sasarai merely nodded, not trusting his voice to give affirmation. Well, then. That makes things easier. Come on, Luc, lets go.
Luc couldnt suppress a smirk and almost giggled, Oh, how the mighty are suddenly brought low. I never realized what a wimp he was.
By the time night fell, Kirei put the finishing touches on the Howling Voice Guilds new gun, Lady Shinsei offering a mix of advice that varied in actual helpfulness. Kirei took it all with a reasonable dose of good cheer. After all, she had been a scholar once, and she knew she could put something so simple as this together without much trouble. All right. Its done. Or rather, hes done. Behold, the newest member of your guilds weaponry, Star. Be gentle with him. Hes crafted out of the memories of someone very dear to me
I understand. One of us would take him on, but we already have a good rapport with our partners, eh, Clive?
Clive made motions of acquiescence, trying not to look like he was still watching her for some kind of double cross. Kirei shook her head, If you cant learn to trust at least somebody, youre setting yourself for a hard fall, you know.
Clive looked away and said, Come on, Elza. Weve gotten what we came for.
Twelve years later, Luc could remember the whole sequence of events as clear as day. The war between Jowston and Highland that had ended two years ago had brought the memories to the surface with a painful immediacy. But the thing that hurt the most was not the fact he couldnt return home safely. It was that Kirei had blown into his life like a whirlwind, totally upended everything, and blown right back out again, more chaotic than his Cyclone rune at its most powerful. He kept telling himself that it was only some aftereffect of the pheromonic properties of her rune, but even he didnt really believe that. Leknaat had never said much about her before, so it came as quite a shock to him when he found out just what task she had in store for him now.
I must have heard wrong. You want me to do what? Luc asked.
I want you to find Kirei, Luc. The Stars of Destiny are about to gather again, and she cant hide from the world any longer. One with a darkened spirit is drawing near to uncovering the Storm Runes watery grave. Tell her that I said that, and I guarantee that she will change her mind about not getting involved, so to speak, Leknaat answered.
As you wish, my lady. But Where do I start?
The Grasslands, somewhere within or near one of the Karaya tribes encampments. Oh, and Luc? Before you go, be sure to take Lady Shinsei with you.
Luc twitched, No, please Not that. Anything but that.
Leknaat chuckled softly, Its not so bad as you make out. Shortly after arriving, youll find that one of the Karaya is in dire need of someone like our dear Star Rune incarnation. He will take her off your hands. The rest is up to you.
Luc bowed. He didnt always like her decisions, but he had nothing but the utmost respect for her. If she said that a thing would happen, then it was no less than a perfect truth as far as he was concerned. On that note, he teleported out.
Leknaat let out a heartfelt sigh, Good luck, my pupil. I have taught you all that I can, and youre going to need it.
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