A Fire So Pure
by Josh Vogt
Part IV: Embers on the Wind
This is the final installment of A Fire So Pure
Lord Olarm peered at Ayrion from atop his cushioned throne. “Who did you say sent you here again?”
Ayrion swept another bow. He’d altered his appearance to make himself taller and slimmer, with a tanned countenance and dusky hair.
“I serve a master of commerce to the north who wishes to remain unknown,” he said. “I am here to help restore a measure of peace.”
As Olarm considered this, Ayrion surveyed the tower meeting chamber. Heavily armed guards stood in every corner and alcove. Lord Olarm wore plate armor even in his inner sanctum, decorated with golden filigree engraving and crystal studs. Lush drapes curtained the place, with servants in silk suits bringing in platters of dripping pork and rich wine.
Despite the luxury, Olarm hadn’t gone soft like many lordlings. He looked knotted and wiry, almost uncomfortable on his throne as he fiddled with the naked sword laid across his lap. The severe cut of his beard and hair lent an even more piercing look to his gaze.
Lord Olarm cleared his throat. “Certainly you understand we can only do dealings if we’re entirely open with one another. I would know your name, your reason for coming here, and what you can offer me.”
The thrallherd’s power thrummed against Ayrion’s mind, whispering of submission, trying to guide his thoughts into alignment with Olarm’s will.
Ayrion smiled guilelessly. At the same time, he kept his mind locked up tight, a rock against which waves of influence washed over without effect. “Lord Olarm, you are absolutely correct. Let there be no lies between us. My name is Borovan Terruck. My master is none other than Lord Hengshley of the Four Fjords. He’s invested in many of the merchants who buy from your farmlands. When he heard of the ongoing unrest here, he sent me to determine the situation.”
Olarm settled back, smirking slightly. “While I appreciate your master’s concern, this unrest is nothing more than barnyard rabble that will be eliminated soon enough.”
“Truly, m’lord? In my short time here, I’ve seen one attack with my own eyes and heard of many more. Your guards appear ineffective. Merchants are loathe to do business here, and farmers report their produce being raided on the way to market.”
Several guards shuffled in place, muttering. Ayrion kept his gaze fixed on Olarm, as almost anyone who lacked an elan’s mental fortitude would be enraptured with the self-proclaimed nobleman.
“You offer your people a measure of peace few other regions enjoy,” he said. “However, should you show any weakness, there are many who would eagerly exploit it.”
A glint of fury lit Olarm’s eyes. “What would you suggest? These rebels are a persistent nuisance, I admit. They somehow remain beyond my…reach.”
Ayrion leaned in. “And what would m’lord do if they were within your reach?”
As the troops marched toward the market square, Ayrion kept to the rear of the line alongside Olarm himself. The lord gripped the pommel of his sword as if wringing an imaginary neck. As they progressed, any nearby citizens went to their knees or prostrated themselves without so much as an exclamation of fear or delight.
In this eerily silent-yet-observed manner, the troops wound their way along the streets while the setting sun cast black claws of shadow along the cobbles.
“Once we’ve dealt with this business,” said Olarm, “you’ll turn over all other intelligence you’ve gathered. Then we’ll talk about how I can use your former master to my advantage.”
Ayrion inclined his head. “Absolutely, m’lord. I’d be honored to further your glory.”
They reached the edge of the main marketplace, which bustled as people wrapped up evening purchases, loaded wagons, and chattered about recent news. Olarm gained a look of fierce concentration and the activity ebbed until the place was still and hushed. Everyone stood with heads bowed, staring at their feet as guards jogged past into position.
Ayrion marveled at the man’s innate ability. Yet, as he’d explained to Philiel, power alone did not earn one a place as an elan.
Olarm led them to a clearing near the center of the market. He nodded at a silversmith workshop off to one corner. Several squads had taken up stances before it with two more to either side. Other troops were in the back alleys, while archers and psionic lancers manned the nearby rooftops.
“That’s the place?” Olarm asked.
Ayrion grimaced. “It is, m’lord. They’re gathered inside, plotting their attack on your tower.”
Olarm sneered. He hitched his shoulders back and bellowed. “Serelna Ulvertun and the rest of your lot! You are surrounded. Your cause is lost. Surrender and submit to—”
The door and several windows blasted outward, flaming wood and glass slag striking the nearest guards to the ground. Ten rebels in gray outfits and crimson masks surged from the smoking rubble that had been the shopfront. They clashed sword to dagger to shield to mace with Olarm’s fighters, battling with fanatic desperation. Several stood back, flinging unseen blasts of power at the troops. One manifested blocks of cerulean paneling over his body and set about pummeling anyone in reach with his psionically-armored fists.
Screams rose as fifty more guards marched in. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the rebels drove the troops back several times with the ferocity of their surprisingly coordinated attacks. Ayrion wondered if their minds had been linked, letting them battle as a single unit.
Even so, while two dozen guards had fallen, Olarm’s soldiers pressed in, cornering them against the market walls. A couple fled into the alleys to find them blockaded. They began to fall until a mere handful remained.
Ayrion caught the eye of one, a bald man who fought with a pair of shimmering yellow daggers. As their gazes met, the man’s eyes flashed golden, and Ayrion knew the crimson mask hid a smirk.
All at once, Philiel jumped back and flung his hands up, dispersing his weapons. “Surrender!” he cried. “We have no hope here. Lord Olarm, we submit!”
He dropped to his knees and allowed the guards to batter him to the stones. The surviving rebels fought a few moments more before following suit, heads bowed and shoulders slumped. As the guards closed in, one slashed a dagger across a rebel’s throat. Ayrion winced as her body collapsed in a spray of blood. Such a pointless waste of life.
“Where is that witch?” Olarm muttered.
As if in answer, the top of the shop erupted with light. Serelna stood on the roof’s precipice, wreathed in flames. The nexus gleamed like a fallen star in her grasp.
Arrows soared her way and turned to ash. With a gesture, she sent balls of flame wheeling after soldiers who fled before the hellish heat. She drove off those binding the captured rebels and then fixed on Olarm. Word hissed and popped off her tongue.
“So. The puppetmaster dares to emerge from his lair.”
Olarm thrust his sword out. “And the rat scurries from her burrow.”
Fire washed out from her, forming a flaming slope from the roof to the ground. She paced down this as easily as one might saunter along a garden path. Ayrion blinked at this remarkable display. However, the energy she wielded fluxed at random. It could fry her mind at any moment.
The temperature rose noticeably with each step she neared. “You were a fool to come here. I’ll burn you where you stand.”
Olarm spread his arms. “Will you then?”
All around, citizens rustled into motioned and clustered about him, several rows strong. Children hugged Olarm’s legs, cheeks pressed to his thighs.
As Serelna looked on in horror, Ayrion checked for the surviving rebels. All had slipped off in the distraction, including the disguised Philiel.
“Well?” Olarm gave a skull’s grin. “Will you kill all these along with me?”
Serelna trembled in place. “You’re a beast. A monster.”
“I am your lord,” he said. “You are an insect. What you think of me matters not.”
Ayrion, Olarm, and Serelna turned as Philiel—still in his rebel disguise—staggered through the crowd. Olarm gestured for guards to apprehend him, but Ayrion stopped him.
“Wait, m’lord. Let us see what he risks death to tell her.”
Philiel limped over, a hand held up against the baking heat of her power. Serelna stepped off her path of flames and restrained the fire whirling about her just enough for him to approach. He knelt, shoulders shaking as if he wept while speaking in anguished tones.
“Mistress…what are we to do? All those not dead have fled. Only I remain. Please, guide me…this seems so hopeless.”
He grasped her free hand with his gloved ones. Smoke rose from the brief contact before she jerked away.
“Don’t call me mistress,” she said. “I command no one.”
Olarm barked a laugh. “Except these fools you’ve brought to their deaths.”
“All who fought alongside me did so of their own free will!” Hot wind swept out from her, sending Philiel tumbling.
“You should listen to your own man,” Olarm said. “There’s no hope left except in kneeling and accepting me as lord.”
“Never,” she seethed. “I will never—” She winced and clutched the nexus to her chest. “What is…happening…” Her breathing came labored, and she blinked about. “Where are…”
She fell to her knees, trembling. The flames winked out, leaving the marketplace in twilight.
“No…no…” Serelna shook her head as the relic dimmed, the crystal at its core a mere chunk of stone.
Olarm chuckled. “See? Your power is nothing. And soon, you will be nothing but an extension of my will like all the rest.”
Serelna’s gaze snapped back up, focus returning for an instant. “They are better off dead than your slaves!”
She flung her arms wide and screamed to the heavens. The relic blazed anew, and even Olarm reeled in the face of the miniature tornado of flames that coiled up around her.
In that moment of confusion, Ayrion transferred himself to stand directly behind her. The swirling flames puffed away before they could touch him, and Serelna flopped to the ground.
Ayrion crouched, grasped her shoulder, and shifted them both away with a thought.
“I should join rebellions more often,” Philiel said, as the two elans sat in the moss-covered ruins. Stars twinkled in the night sky, casting the ruins in deep blues and silvers. “That was amusing.”
Ayrion scowled. “Lives were lost, Philiel.”
“Mortal lives. While our numbers grow by one. A fair trade-off, I’d say.”
“I doubt they would.” Ayrion rose and clasped hands behind his back. Both of them had returned to the forms Serelna knew them in. “Shall we see to our guest?”
They descended into the ruins and came to the ceremonial chamber, where Serelna lay sleeping on the dais. They gazed at her from across the chamber.
Philiel coughed. “You realize she’s faking being asleep.”
“Obviously.” Ayrion smiled at Serelna. “You can open your eyes, m’lady. We mean you no harm.”
With a frustrated growl, Serelna propped up on an elbow. She pressed a hand to her forehead, no doubt experiencing a headache as an after-effect of the brain mole oil Philiel had dabbed on her skin in the marketplace. An excellent distillation to use against other psionics, neutralizing their powers and sending them unconscious for a few hours.
“What…happened?” She squinted at them. “You two…” She lurched upright and looked all about.
Ayrion reached into his robes and drew out the nexus. “Seeking this?” He strode further into the room.
“That’s mine,” she said, slowly getting to her feet. “You’ve no right to keep it.”
“I believe I have some small right, actually. My companion and I rescued you from the brink of death.”
Her brow furrowed. “Rescued?”
“Lord Olarm believes you dead, consumed by your own power. It was nearly the truth until we intervened.” Ayrion tucked the relic away. “Sadly, your final attack killed quite a few of your fellow citizens.”
Serelna’s grieved gasp tore at him as she slumped back to the floor. A harsh but necessary lie. She had to see herself as a danger to those she fought for, a way to keep her from rushing straight back into the fray.
After a minute, she looked up at him, gaze vacant. “You should’ve left me to die with them.”
“And let Olarm have final victory?”
“What’re you talking about?” She laughed bitterly. “I failed. He won.”
Ayrion sat across from her. “Serelna, listen to me carefully. What you did back in Ettleston…what you attempted to do, at least…it was a noble thing.”
She returned to staring at nothing in particular. He pressed on, trying to reach her.
“You were willing to sacrifice yourself for those you truly cared for. However, you went about it all with power you couldn’t fully control. Power that would’ve killed you soon enough.”
Her eyes flicked to him and away again.
“Yes. I know you felt the nexus tearing you apart from within. I know it was a price you were willing to pay. That’s why we’re willing to help you still.”
“Help how?” she asked.
“By offering the chance to become an elan.” He raised a hand to forestall the objection rising to her lips. “Whatever you think of myself and my companion, this isn’t about us. It’s about you. Your future. Gain full control over your incredible ability and—should you so choose—return here and succeed where you have failed so far.”
“If I became…” She swallowed. “…one of you…you’re saying I could come back and beat him next time?” She eyed the lump the relic made in his robe. “As strong as that made me?”
“With the proper training, I’d wager you wouldn’t even need the nexus. You’d possess incredible power and precision, able to char Olarm to the bone without anyone around him being in danger.”
“How long would this transformation take?”
“Depends. It took me a few weeks.” He tilted his head to where Philiel squatted and drew patterns in the dirt. “My companion here resolved in a matter of days. But mastering the intricacies of your new form could take years.”
“Years,” she breathed.
“Years don’t matter much when one is immortal,” Philiel said.
“They matter to the people trapped here,” she said.
Ayrion laid a hand on one of her knees. Her lack of a violent reaction indicated good progress. “Survive, Serelna. Survive to free this place and your people another day.”
She finally met his gaze full on. “Will it hurt?”
“Good. If my people are going to suffer, then I should as well.”
Philiel sighed. “Your logic needs work.”
Ayrion stood and offered a hand. “Shall we see to your rebirth?”
Serelna hesitated for a breath. Then she grasped his hand and rose like a kindled flame.
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.