A Fire So Pure
by Josh Vogt
Part I: A Pattern of Power
Ayrion sat on a boulder beside the road, knowing an unseen watcher stood nearby. He kept his eyes shut, sensing the surrounding farmland with its windswept crops and animal dens, as well as its hidden spaces…pockets of silence and shadow filled by invisible patterns.
Most people overlooked the flow of energy within and between all things. They didn’t realize how a person could be defined and detected by their patterns, if one knew them well enough.
He opened his eyes, fixing on a shadowed grove across the road. “Why bother hiding, Philiel? Am I really so handsome to gaze upon?”
A sigh, and a swath of darkness congealed into a figure. The other elan marched across the road to stand below Ayrion’s boulder, gazing up impatiently. Unlike Ayrion’s bland traveling robe, Philiel wore fitted leathers covered by a red-and-purple cloak.
“Handsome?” Philiel said. “More like decrepit. Why do you manifest in such a feeble form?”
Ayrion chuckled. His current appearance had thinning gray hair, a hawkish nose, and skinny limbs—hardly threatening or noteworthy. Philiel, on the other hand, displayed ruddy hair with a muscular frame and dark skin.
“Foremost, mortals often ascribe an extra level of veneration to their elders. Secondly, they also tend to underestimate the abilities of the well-aged.”
Philiel eyed Ayrion with distaste, eyes gaining a yellow glow that almost could have been a trick of the light. “I’m surprised they partnered us.”
“Indeed. I thought they’d send Uladen or Gavriel as my balance. Nevertheless, let’s see our duty done.”
Ayrion rose and stepped off the edge of the boulder, a good six feet off the ground. A thought, a blink, and he stood beside Philiel on the packed road.
They fell into a stroll, paces matched as only old acquaintances could achieve. The road stretched up to a distant settlement with high stone walls and wide gates. A central tower speared up from it, needle-thin. The town sat just north of a thick forest, where the tilled fields gave way to dense clusters of towering trees that blanketed the land past the horizon.
“How did you hear about this candidate?” Philiel asked.
“A scout in the area,” Ayrion said. “The settlements are mostly devoted to farming and a few mildly productive mines.” He nodded at the town. “Ettleston. A minor holding that oversees a dozen villages further west, all ruled by Lord Olarm. He’s stayed uninvolved with most major territorial conflicts plaguing South Femon this past decade. Until recently.”
“Better to see for yourself.”
A couple more hours brought them to the gates, and they entered under the hard gaze of the guards. Several main roads cut through the settlement, guiding past storehouses, small inns and taverns, scattered markets, and crammed homes.
The population appeared mostly human, people of a stocky sort whose thick brows and dull eyes suggested lives devoted to hard labor. Insectoid dromites slipped by, antennae twitching as the creatures moved along in uncanny unison. A few dwarves and xephs punctuated the midday crowd, keeping to themselves.
Ayrion walked in no particular direction, simply getting a feel for the place. Despite the sunny day, it felt like a thick cloud hung just above everyone’s head. Guards stood on almost every street corner, green-tinted armor covered in yellow cloaks. They watched the foot traffic with unwavering scrutiny.
Philiel’s face tightened, complexion darkening while the soft glow of his eyes turned harsher. “This place is primitive by most standards. The people here have all the spirit of branded cattle. Hard to imagine anyone worthy of the transformation being found in such a heap.”
“Yet here we are. What else stands out?”
“The tower.” Philiel chucked his chin at the center of the hold. This close, the tower turned out to be a many-windowed structure with balconies and parapets jutting out like thorns on a stem. “Doesn’t seem like much in the way of obsidian or gold around here, but whatever wealth does exist, I’d bet most is funneled straight to the lord’s lap.”
The other elan snorted. “Now that I’ve shrewdly noted the local ruler is a greedy bastard who abuses his power, are we going to get to the real matter at hand?”
Ayrion gauged the sun’s position and halted in the middle of the road. “It should be just about time.”
Philiel huffed. “Have I ever mentioned how much your inefficient teaching style irks me?”
“Greetings, my loyal servants.”
The elans turned in unison with everyone around them, orienting to the enormous, translucent visage hovering before the tower. Multiple faces, actually, all displaying a golden-bearded man with a round jaw and sharp green eyes. Each faced a different quadrant so all within the hold fell under the projection’s gaze.
“It is good to see all of you so hard at work, fulfilling your duties, as is right.” His voice came soft yet firm. “Most of you continue to prove your loyalty with full enthusiasm. Yet there are those among you who would disrupt the peace we’ve secured.”
As the man spoke, Ayrion braced against waves of invisible influence radiating out from the tower. The words pinged against his mind, dampening his focus while tendrils of power leeched strength from his limbs. His shoulders gained the same slumped posture as everyone else, while the edge of his thoughts dulled.
With a rouse of willpower, Ayrion barricaded his mind against the external manipulation. Beside him, Philiel straightened as well, breathing deep.
Ayrion mused to himself as the projection continued talking. “Fascinating. Ectoplasmic conjuration? Light manipulation? However it’s done, the illusion is superb. One of his servants must be creating it.”
“Thrallherd.” Philiel practically spat the word. He turned to eye a woman who stood over eight feet tall. A large crate was strapped to her shoulders, and she carried an even larger one in her thick arms. “Spitshards. Is that a jettur? Here?”
“Any jettur I’ve met would rather die than live like a slave. If this thrallherd can compel one of their kind, he’s stronger than most.” Philiel’s eyes widened. “Don’t tell me he’s the candidate.”
“No. Strength has value, but our reports indicate he is quick to abuse his subjects.”
Philiel rubbed the back of his neck. “Haven’t met a thrallherd who wasn’t a mindmucking sadist. No wonder this place is so wholly cowed.”
Ayrion grimaced. “I wouldn’t say wholly.”
One of the faces burst into flame. For a moment, it appeared as a molten skull hanging in midair. Then all the faces puffed away as ashen clouds drifted over the hold.
The ground trembled as more flames spewed from a building at the base of the tower. People fled screaming while guards raced for the fire.
Ayrion held a hand out. “Shall we?”
Philiel sighed. “It’s a good thing I haven’t eaten this week.”
He laid his palm against Ayrion’s. The air blurred as Ayrion phased them across the distance. The elans shifted back into physical reality with a lurch, sending Philiel stumbling a step.
They arrived unnoticed in the mouth of a cramped alley a couple blocks over from the tower. The street beyond was in chaos. Citizens ran about, some with clothes smoking as embers rained on their heads.
Flames already engulfed a two-story warehouse a few buildings down. A ragtag team had formed in an attempt to fight the blaze. People hauled in barrels of water, some by hand, others on hovering discs of summoned energy. A few folks floated in meditative poses, conjuring ectoplasmic veils to smother the fire or directed whips of pure water that emerged from rents in the air.
Ayrion pointed. “There.”
Five figures dressed in gray leather outfits raced out of a building a few doors down from the one ablaze. Each carried a small box or two tucked under their arms. Crimson rags hid their faces while low hoods covered their heads.
Just then, half a dozen guards jogged into their path, swords and shields readied. Four of the apparent thieves slowed, but the fifth—the slightest and shortest of them—lunged ahead.
A slim arm raised and a shrill cry rose above the clamor. A wall of pure fire manifested before the person and rushed out, washing over the screaming guards. Several guards raised mental shields, blocking or diverting the flame; yet even they reeled as fiery gusts buffeted them from all sides.
The firestorm died away, leaving the road clear. The leader of the thieving band staggered and went to one knee. When another thief hauled the person upright, their hood flopped back, revealing shoulder-length raven hair and a pale face.
The woman tugged her hood back into place just as another band of guards raced past the alley from the opposite direction. She shoved the thief assisting her away.
“Run!” came her muffled cry.
As her companions resumed fleeing, she stepped forward and raised her arm again. Another wall of flame swirled into being, forcing the guards to halt. By the time this conjuration dissipated, the thieves had vanished.
With a look, Ayrion drew Philiel deeper into the alley.
“Quite the display,” Philiel said. “Her?”
Ayrion chuckled. “Oh, yes. She’s our candidate. Serelna.” He briefly shut his eyes, savoring the energy in the air. “I’ve a sense of her power’s pattern and can track her a short ways. Let’s introduce ourselves before we lose her trail.”
This time, Philiel didn’t hesitate as he held out his hand. The elans vanished, leaving nothing but smoke and screams behind.
A Fire So Pure is set in the Third Dawn Campaign Setting and is a 4-part series. The Third Dawn fiction pieces are designed to give a glimpse into the different cultures that call Ksaren their home.
About the Author: Josh Vogt is a freelance writer whose works include Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes.