A Fire So Pure
by Josh Vogt
Part II: Buried Secrets
Philiel thumped boot heels on the window sill and leaned his chair back. “When I introduce myself to someone, I don’t take a whole week to do it.” He turned to where Ayrion meditated in the center of the room.
“Extracting an individual from the mortal flow,” Ayrion said, “and into the depths of their elan identity should never be rushed. I waited ten years before approaching you. You weren’t ready before then.”
Philiel frowned. “Of course, I have to take your word for it since I barely remember anything from who I was before.”
“Such is the cost of our transformation.” Ayrion shut his eyes and tried to focus on a calming pattern. “Any change in the shop?”
A rustle indicated Philiel checking on the rebel hideout down the street. “Nothing since they ducked in. You realize she and her companions are going to get themselves killed sooner or later, right? Don’t they realize that until Lord Olarm himself is eliminated, this settlement doesn’t stand a chance of being free?”
“I believe they do,” said Ayrion. “But they’re far outnumbered, untrained, scrabbling for resources, and in constant danger. It’s a mercy they’ve survived thus far.”
“Even more reason to make our move soon,” said Philiel. “They’ve what? Two dozen to their number? It’s obvious they’d all die in any direct attack. It’d be a shame to lose such a fine weapon to a meaningless cause.”
That popped Ayrion’s eyes back open. “Weapon?”
Philiel smirked. “Oh, come now. I know what we’re really here for. This woman has a remarkable penchant for destruction. She’d be quite the spearhead for our agenda.”
Ayrion scowled. “I’ve no agenda except helping this woman achieve her full potential. Bringing her into our fold would be for her own good, giving her better control of her chaotic power.”
The other elan scoffed. “You want to hold her back even once she’s one of us?”
“Our existence remains unknown to most mortals,” Ayrion said. “It needs to stay that way. If any consolidated government or military leader knew the full extent of our people’s powers, we’d easily be perceived as a threat.”
“Maybe we should be.”
Ayrion narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean by that?”
“We need to push harder. Move faster. Take greater risks if we want to achieve real rewards. If narrow-minded mortals see the change we bring as a threat, so be it.”
“Secrecy is our ally,” Ayrion said. “If we strike out at the mortal races, the backlash could ruin everything. Have you forgotten we need them just as much as they need us?”
“I’m not saying ash and salt them all.” Philiel mimed drizzling dust from fingertips. “Just reduce their numbers until they’re manageable. Keep just enough around to replenish our people. Those who resist get removed and those who embrace our rule eventually get elevated.”
Ayrion thrust a finger toward the lord’s tower. “Such a perspective is no better than that of a thrallherd!”
Philiel’s gaze flared. Golden energy coiled around his fists, forming a pair of curved daggers with hooked tips. His conjured weapons shimmered as he lifted them. “You may be my elder, Ayrion, but if you ever compare me to such a one again, I’ll flay you to the core.”
Ayrion met his look without flinching. “You could try.”
The pair faced off across the room until Philiel glanced out the window. His blades winked out of existence.
Ayrion rose and joined him. Serelna had indeed emerged from the rebel hideout, the first time she’d done so alone. A drab cloak blended her with the usual foot and cart traffic.
He tapped a cheek in thought. This certainly broke her pattern of activity. A broken pattern suggested either another intersected it or they now perceived a deeper level of its weavings. This merited closer inspection.
He held an arm out, but fixed Philiel with a warning look at the same time.
“We’ll finish this discussion later.”
Philiel flashed teeth. “Sure.”
Ayrion ported them after the rebel woman, keeping to rooftops and alleyways whenever she moved to the edge of his sensing. Her pattern of power burned in his mind like a candle flame, guiding him through the void between one shift and the next.
Serelna led them to the southern gates, where she fell in with a farming caravan heading out to the fields. Ayrion and Philiel resorted to walking among the wagons and carts out onto the main road that cut along the forest border. They traveled for a couple hours, putting Ettleston nearly out of sight behind them.
Even with her being his sole focus, Ayrion almost missed when Serelna slipped away from the caravan and into an overgrown field. If he hadn’t been attuned to her pattern, he might’ve lost her after all.
They followed suit, leaving the road for the increasingly thick growth on the forest’s edge. It became trickier to track her through the woods, as Ayrion had no familiarity with the place and so couldn’t shift any further than what he could see through the dense vegetation.
At last, they appeared in a grove formed of mossy boulders and lined with trampled animal trails.
Philiel scuffed at the earth. “Where’d she go?”
Ayrion frowned in confusion. “She’s nearby. In fact, we should be right on top of her.”
Philiel scouted the grove for any tracks, but when he returned, he pointed to the nearest rock formation. “Those look a little too neat for a random pile of stones.”
Ayrion studied the area. He’d been so intent on keeping Serelna in focus, he hadn’t truly observed their immediate surroundings. Now that Philiel noted it, the pattern popped into place.
“These are ruins,” he said.
His companion tapped the ground with a booted toe. “So we are on top of her.”
Once they knew what to look for, it only took a few minutes to find the dark crevice wedged between several boulders and what looked like a wild hedge, but was actually an ancient wall covered in vines. Slick stones led into the earth, and the pair let their natural energies emanate as soft glows to light their descent. Carvings were visible on the walls despite their obvious age and the thick muck.
They reached the bottom of the steps and found a large stone chamber, hewn by unknown hands. Roots trailed down from the ceiling while piles of rubble lay about from old cave-ins. The elans picked their way through the debris, and Ayrion tried to temper his rampant curiosity. Had this place been a temple? A fortress? A predecessor to the hold?
They sidled down a narrow hall and through another longer room with a lower ceiling that branched at the far end. As they came to this juncture, Ayrion clutched Philiel’s shoulder.
Philiel’s glowing form dimmed to the appearance of mere flesh. Ayrion followed suit. As his eyes adjusted to the place’s ambient energies, a flicker of orange light caught his eye from the leftmost passage.
He took the lead, creeping along until they reached another threshold. The room beyond must’ve been ceremonial in some manner. A main aisle cut through crumbled stone seats and benches, leading up to a raised dais. Behind this, strange glyphs formed an intricate carved relief on the wall.
The relief proved the source of light as portions shimmered and rippled with fiery light. The energy’s movement across the runes proved dizzying when Ayrion studied it for too long, so he turned his gaze fully on the figure in the room.
Serelna knelt on the dais, hand clutched before her, holding something Ayrion couldn’t quite make out. He peered closer. Was she meditating? Attempting to commune with a godmind?
Serelna thrust her hands above her head. She clutched a fist-sized object that gleamed in the false light.
An instant later, Ayrion and Philiel shielded their eyes as the relief transformed into a blazing sigil. Serelna became a stark silhouette in a chamber that shone brighter than day itself, while the object she held turned into a miniature star. Even with his eyes averted, Ayrion sensed the massive energy being funneled through the item and into the woman—waves of raw power that suffused her mind and soul.
Her scream rose, equal parts agony and ecstasy. It went on for several minutes until Ayrion feared she’d shriek her throat raw and leave it bleeding in tatters.
As quickly as it came, the light extinguished, casting the ruins into even thicker darkness than before. The elans crouched at the threshold, voices so low they had to put ears inches from lips to hear one another.
“Some sort of psionic relic,” Philiel said. “Her powers come from that?”
Ayrion shook his head, trying to make sense of these new patterns. “Her talent is innate, but I’d wager whatever she found here woke or strengthened her ability. That’s why it fluctuates so wildly. Raw emotion guides her, not training. Her hatred of their thrallherd lord…her craving to free his subjects…”
With a loud groan, Serelna fell to hands and knees, heaving for breath. The object in her grasp clacked against the floor. Its glare dimmed to a flicker of energy, like the sun going behind a cloud.
“If she keeps fueling her power in this manner,” Ayrion murmured, “it’s going to overwhelm her.”
“Overwhelm?” Philiel whispered back.
“Eventually the stress will prove too much. Her mind and body will fracture, and the energy she possesses will be unleashed, leveling the whole settlement to scorched earth.”
“Glorious,” Philiel breathed. “What we could do with that potential…”
Ayrion grumbled. “We’re here to offer her a better future, not treat her like a tool.”
Serelna lurched upright and her voice echoed about. “I know you’re here. The flames whisper your words to me.”
With a cry, she rounded and snapped her hands out. Fire flew from her fingertips, roaring into a vortex that spun out to engulf the elans.
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.