Chapter 3: Fire

Everen's sleep was fitful. Nightmares haunted him, nightmares so vivid that he cried out in fear several times. This was unusual; Everen did not often dream, and when he did, he hardly ever remembered them. Thus, when he woke up with a start, covered in fear-sweat, he was understandably shocked. His breathing was still labored as he surveyed his room to reassure himself everything he had seen was an illusion.

For a moment, the walls were drenched in red… blood, he cried in his mind. Then the red changed to leaping tongues of flame that devoured the walls, the floor, everything, until nothing but piles of gray ash remained. Smoke hung cloyingly in the air, threatening to fill his lungs and cut off any remaining breath. A haze crept into his brain; it consumed most of him consciousness. Darkness towered over him--dark, so dark…

Everen gasped out three musical-sounding words and clapped twice. The remnants of the dream vanished.

"Thank the Wind-Daughter!" he murmured gratefully, his hand pressed to his heart. "Now, about that dream…" He pulled himself together quickly as his thoughts clicked into place. The last time a dream had remained even after he had woken had been when the rebel attack had been lead on the elves of Dulamba. He had been five years old then, and he had dreamt of death…Five days later, he had found out that half the tribes of elves had been slaughtered and left to rot in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the leaves of their beloved Row'kilri. He had dreamt of the massacre then, and he had dreamt of fire and blood just now…

"I am not five years old anymore," he reminded himself stoutly. "If this dream was a premonition, then I can do something about it." He had no idea why he was feeling so resolute.

He hurriedly extracted himself from his blankets and stood. The floor was cold against his bare feet, and, for a moment, the room seemed to spin. Faintly, a soft scent, like lilac, permeated his senses.

"Someone's doing magic," he whispered. He formed a V-shape from the first two fingers of his left hand and framed his eyes with it. Breathing four Old Runic words, he watched carefully as a scene played before his eyes. An anonymous figure, covered in a dark cloak and carrying a strange bundle in one hand and a jug in the other, crept towards a pile of firewood by the back of a building. It carefully buried the bundle in the woodpile then cautiously drenched the wood with the liquid in the jug. After glancing around, the figure oozed back into the shadows that fell over the district. A few moments later, Everen heard three tantalizingly familiar words: "Fier a nomahn."

Whoosh! The woodpile and the back wall of the building burst into angry flames. Everen blinked and lowered his fingers, muttering a canceling- spell as he did so. "Peculiar," he muttered to himself. "Why would I dream of…?" He stopped and sniffed the air. Was that--?

"Fire!" he yelled. "Fire!"

Silence greeted him. He had a brief thought that perhaps he was crazy; perhaps he hadn't seen anything at all. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw several plumes of smoke rise into the air outside his window. "Fire!" he called again, more urgently this time; he had just seen eagerly grasping fingers of flame tickle the wall of the stable nearby.

Bark, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, threw open the door. Everen jumped. He had not heard the thief approach his room. "Why are you yelling?" Bark demanded, sounding far more awake than his appearance suggested.

"There's a fire," Everen told the young thief.

Bark snorted. "There is not," he scoffed. "You're seeing things."

"There is a fire," Everen repeated. "I saw it just outside my window."

"Dream-sight," said Bark, dismissing it with an airy wave of his hand.

"There is a fire!" Everen insisted, feeling the urge to stomp his foot in a fit of juvenile outrage. "Look!"

Bark crossed to the window and peered out skeptically. "There isn't anything out there," he said smugly. Everen went over to the window and peered out as well. The fire was still there, and it was still feeding voraciously on the building. 'Why can't Bark see it?' he thought. 'Why?'

"I don't see what you're so worked up about," the boy grumbled. "There's not even smoke, any--" He paused and sniffed. "Well, that's strange," he muttered to himself. "Why would there be smoke in the air?"

"Smoke…where there's smoke, there's a fire, and if you can't see the fire, chances are…" Everen's eyes widened as he recited the old saying to himself. "If you can't see the fire, there's magic."

"Eh?" Bark was a trifle confused.

"Somebody's put an illusion spell to work," Everen explained. "That's why you can smell smoke. An illusion only fools your eyes." His hands began to move in the careful, delicate motions of an illusion-canceling spell. "Somebody didn't want you to see the fire." He paused in his explanation and spoke five words. The air in front of him quivered, and suddenly flames leapt up mere inches from his nose as an almost overpowering wave of heat swept over him.

"Yikk!" Bark swore in Old Runic while he rushed to the bell-pull. He yanked on the rope, filling the inn with a deep, resonating clang. Doors flew open.

"You use that to summon people in the middle of the night?" Everen couldn't help but ask as Ket rushed in.

         Bark shrugged. "It gets their attention."

"What is going on?" Ket demanded. She looked about half-awake and was soaked to the elbows, presumably from dish duty. "What's happening?"

"There's a fire," Bark told her quickly. "Outside. The inn just started catching it. We need to get as many people out as we can."

"I'll tell Mama." Ket moved to exit with Bark, but Everen stopped them.

"Take these," he said, hurriedly weaving a spell. "They're cloths, of sorts. They're fire-proof, and they'll grow or shrink to protect what they're called upon to hold. Use them to get your valuables out."

"Thank you," Ket said in true gratitude. "Come on, Bark. We need to get going. Everen, come with us."

"Just a minute," he said. "I can get through the fire if I need to. I need to check out a few things."

Ket looked like she was going to debate this, but Bark caught her arm and dragged her out the door.

Everen stared after them for a moment before turning back to the window, murmuring the fire-proofing spell as he did so. "How did this happen?" he asked himself. "And why would--"

"Starguard," a cold voice almost purred. "I've been looking for you." Something sharp and bright slid in front of his neck--a sword.

"Mesenth." Everen spit out the name as though it was rotten. He was careful not to make any sudden moves, being mindful of the sword pressed against his neck. "What do you want? I have nothing to give you."

"I want information," Mesenth told Everen. "You know this. Nothing else is of value to me."

"You'd love to kill me, and you know it," Everen retorted. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get out of here. There is a fire."

"I know." Everen could practically see Mesenth's shrug in his lazy voice. "I set it, after all."

"You what?"

"Be you deaf? I set it. A diversion seemed to be in order; I wanted to speak with you very badly, and I can't deal with distractions." Mesenth's voice hid a smirk. "You don't have to worry about your room catching on fire, though. I shielded your room from it. Wasn't that nice?"

"Don't you care about the other people in the inn?" Everen growled from between clenched teeth.

"They can take care of themselves."

"There might have been children staying here!"

"So?" Mesenth seemed not to notice Everen's horror. "Their parents can look after them." He grabbed Everen's hair and yanked his head back. The blade of his sword rested delicately on his exposed throat. "Now," Mesenth snarled, his conversational tone gone, "about that information…"

"What do you want to know?" Everen asked suspiciously. Mesenth was obviously up to no good, as usual.

"Where is the Rebandic princess?" Mesenth inquired almost casually. "I have an appointment with her."

"An appointment to do what?"

"Ah-ah-ah," Mesenth chided. "No questions from you, only answers. Where is the Rebandic princess?'

"I don't know," Everen tried to say, but Mesenth tugged sharply on his hair.

"Don't lie to me, Starguard. Where is she?"

"I said I don't know."

"Liar. You've been looking for her for the past three years."

"That doesn't mean I've found her," Everen pointed out. Mesenth hissed and jerked Everen's hair again.

"Where is she?"

There was a pounding on the door. "Everen? Everen! What's going on? The whole first floor's on fire! Everen! Answer me! What's going on?" Ket called, sounding slightly frantic.

"Ket! Go away!" Everen cried. "It's not safe! You need to leave!"

"Mama sent me up here to make sure you're safe!" she responded. "What's going on?"

"Ket! Go away!"

"Everen, what's wrong?"

"Why don't you invite her in?" Mesenth suggested pleasantly. "Three is such a wonderful number, don't you think?"

"Ket! Get out!"

"I said," Mesenth pressed his blade down ever so slightly, and a thin line of blood trickled down Everen's neck, "why don't you invite her in?"

"Everen, I'm coming in, whether you like it or not." Ket carefully pushed open the door and looked in surprise at the sword, Mesenth, and the uncharred interior of Everen's room. "What's going on?" she demanded. "And who are you?"

"I'm Mesenth Darkeve," Mesenth told her cordially. "It's a pleasure to make the acquaintance of such a…fiery young lady."

"Charmed," Ket replied coolly. "May I ask your business?"

"You may ask, but I won't answer."

"How witty." Ket glared at Mesenth, her eyes blazing. "You have my permission to leave now. I don't need you bothering the customers anymore."

"Oh-ho." A cruel smirk twisted Mesenth's lips. "Clever-mouthed wench, aren't you? Tell me, do you know the whereabouts of the Rebandic princess?" He stepped away from Everen and smiled engagingly at Ket.

Everen quickly pressed his fingers against the cut on his throat. It wasn't deep or severe, and it had stopped bleeding. 'Thank the Wind-Daughter!' he thought, relieved.

"Do you know where the Rebandic princess is?" Mesenth asked Ket again.

Ket assessed the young man. Mesenth was pale and had long, blond hair. His features hovered on the edge of beautiful and could almost be called delicate. Eyes of a strangely dark green rested above a thin-bladed nose and beneath fine, nearly colorless brows. He wore a spotless white tunic as well as leggings and boots of the same pristine shade. His manner appeared civilized, urbane, and well-educated, chivalrous even, but there was an evil glimmer in his eyes that made Ket almost fearful of him.

"We don't have a princess," Ket answered finally. "The true bloodline of the Rebandic rulers died out years ago."

"I know the bloodline died out, and I know you don't officially have a princess, you silly girl. I'm asking you if you know where the heir to the Rebandic throne is," Mesenth groaned.

Ket shrugged. "How stupid are you? The current king is heirless, and the true bloodline was slaughtered years ago. If any of the bloodline lives, it's through luck alone."

"So nobody knows where she is?"

"Are your ears stuffed with wax?" Ket unconsciously echoed her earlier words. "Nobody knows if the bloodline lives, much less if there is a surviving heir. The princess you're looking for is as good as dead."

        Mesenth scowled. "I don't believe you. I'll have you know that I've had the finest mages track her blood, and every report I get says she still lives."

"Not in this country. There's a standing death warrant for the true line of the throne," Ket informed him. "She…or he…would have left the country by now or would have died. Take your pick, then leave."

"You can't order me around, wench," Mesenth told her imperiously.

"Watch me," Ket growled. "Get out of this building. Now."

Everen, who was watching from a corner of the room, decided that Ket did not like being called a wench and that it would not be advisable to interfere.

"What if I don't want to leave?" Mesenth countered.

"Then I can't be responsible for what happens." Ket drew her dagger out from somewhere inside her bodice; Everen didn't pause to consider its whereabouts, rather pausing to note the keenness of the slender blade. Ket gave the dagger a small twirl and said quite matter-of-factly, "Get out of this establishment immediately."

"Not until my business is finished," Mesenth corrected.

"That doesn't imply the immediate removal of your person."

"It doesn't now, does it?"

"Mesenth." Everen spoke from his corner. "Get out. We can finish our discussion later."

Mesenth gave Everen a penetrating look, then, surprisingly, he nodded in agreement. He bowed curtly to Everen and swept Ket a very insulting bow. "I do hope we'll be able to continue our discussion soon, Starguard. It's been fine. And it was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, young lady." With a small puff of air, he disappeared.

"Why did you come up here?" Everen demanded as soon as Mesenth had vanished. "Why in the name of Sester Earth-Son did you come up here?!"

Ket shrank back from Everen's savage glare. His eyes, black as midnight and half-feral, burned with rage and…was it fear she saw? Yes, it was fear, a shrinking star that glittered in the darkness. Everen as terrified, and his fear enraged him, though his façade would speak otherwise.

"Why did you come up her?" Everen said fiercely again. He had her nearly pinned against the wall and shrinking back in fear. Ket had thought she understood a good deal of him, only to find out she didn't know him at all.

"I-I thought I heard someone call for help, and then I came up here on Mama's orders, a-and…" Ket trailed off, feeling very afraid and a little foolish.

"Why didn't you leave when I told you to?" Everen practically snarled.

Liquid flame, Ket thought. His eyes are liquid flame. "I thought you were in trouble," she whispered, casting her own eyes downwards.

This is probably true, Everen reflected. I was in trouble. "How did you get up here?" he asked in a much gentler tone, backing away.

"I used the cloth you gave me. It works really well," Ket explained. "I didn't get burnt at all."

"Speaking of being burnt…" Everen picked up his saddlebags, fireproofed them with a quick spell, and carefully arranged his already fireproof cloak. "Let's get out of here."

"Huh?" Ket was startled by the rapid change in his manner.

"There's still a fire, Ket," he told her pointedly, draping the cloth around her. "Mesenth may have shielded my room, but the shield will break soon. Let's go." He grabbed Ket's arm and half-dragged her out the door.

Almost immediately they were engulfed in a wall of flame. The ends of Everen's hair crisped, and Ket's cheeks went red as the heat swept over them. "It's too strong!" Everen yelled over the roaring of the flames. Why did Mesenth set such a strong fire? he wondered. This wasn't necessary.

"What can we do?" Ket yelled back. "I wouldn't walk through this for love or money!"

"Tell the fire to part!" Everen shouted at her. An inkling of an idea had grown in his mind, and he wanted to test it badly.

"Why can't you do it? I don't know how!"

"You know Old Runic, yet you don't know magic?!" Everen's tone was incredulous. "What did you think Old Runic was used for?!"

"None of my books ever told me!" Ket excused herself, though she sounded close to tears.

"Ket--!" Everen clenched his teeth and held his anger in check. He had let his desire to find out more about Ket blind him to the fact that she was still no more than a child, just as much as he was. It was his frustration and fear that had spoken instead of his normal calm. He was still terrified that he would put people he hesitantly cared for in danger again, terrified that someone would die because of him, terrified that someone's precious innocence would be slaughtered because he needed them to be hardened and cynical.

And he was furious. Mesenth's not leaving him alone and the world's demanding so much of him and those around him had been weighing on his mind for too long, and he was tired of it. But right now, he couldn't do anything about it. He had people to protect, and a girl that had unknowingly risked her life to protect him was depending on him now to save her own. He took a deep breath to reclaim serenity and immediately began coughing.

"It's the smoke," he gasped out to a wide-eyed Ket. "Get down." They both crouched down on the floor.

"What can I do?" Ket asked after Everen's coughing had subsided. "Tell me, and I'll do it."

"Without questions?" he inquired. She nodded. "All right. There are a few things you need to know first. I'll try to explain this as simply as I can." The fire crackled warningly. "Magic is, or, at least, Old Runic magic is, the commanding of the natural forces to behave unnaturally."

"Um…perhaps this isn't the best time to have this conversation," Ket interrupted, eyeing the wall of flame that towered over them.

"No time like the present. Anyway, that's really all Old Runic magic is--commanding forces to do what you want them to."

"So to do magic, all I have to do is command in Old Runic?"

"Yes." Everen paused. "Of course, not everyone can do it, but I think you can. Just tell the fire to part, and speak in Old Runic."

"Why can't you do it?"

"No questions. I'll get rid of the smoke so you can speak." Everen gave her a mischievous grin. It was open and honest, and Ket thought it was a good expression. "Give me a moment, then you can start." Without waiting for a reply, he stood and began to speak.

"Air, be as clear as glass. Smoke, disappear. Air, be safe to breathe," he whispered in Old Runic. With an odd shiver, the smoke vanished, and both Ket and Everen discovered it was easier to breathe. "All right, Ket," Everen said. "Your turn."

Ket stood also and stared at the fire. Though her mind knew she was protected from the blaze, every instinct clamored at her to go, to run away as quickly as her feet would allow.

"It's all right," Everen said in her ear. "It can't hurt you. You command. It obeys."

"Are you sure?" Ket asked worriedly.

"Certain. It won't hurt you unless you let it. Go ahead. I'll help you if you need it." He stepped back, his golden eyes strangely appraising.

"All right." Ket steeled herself and fixed the fire with a stern look. Her insides were quivering with fear, but she squashed the anxiety. I can do this, she told herself. I can do this. It won't hurt me. She took a deep breath. "Fire!" she commanded. "Part! Now!" The flames shivered uncertainly, but a pathway did not open. "Part!" Ket demanded again.

"Perhaps you can't do this," Everen suggested after seeing that the fire did not split. He gauged the flames and decided that they maybe had a minute before the roof started coming down. He knew he could get them out via a rather nifty transportation spell if needed, but it sapped most of his strength. The want to see if Ket could do magic weighed heavily against his want to get out, and he didn't know which option to choose.

"I will do this," Ket growled. Inside of herself, she admitted that failure could maybe be an option, but her own nature as well as her adolescent stubbornness insisted that she would do it. For some reason, she felt as if she was tapping into something that had been waiting for her to acknowledge it since her birth. She drew herself up and declared in a ringing voice, "Fire, you WILL part! I, Ketrine Row'an, command you!" Something surged out of her, and she nearly fell to her knees.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then the flames vanished.

"Did I mean to do that?" Ket asked nervously, feeling weak.

Everen was laughing, and his laughter made her want to laugh as well; it wasn't a sound one would normally associate with him. "I probably should have informed you that names have an enormous power in magic, as well as intent. You wanted the fire to go away, and since you commanded it to in your name…"

Ket smiled, a bit embarrassed and very surprised. "Silly me."

He grinned reassuringly at her. "It's all right. A lot of beginners do the same thing. Come on. Let's go find your mother."

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A/N: And here is revised Chapter 3. Just the little things are fixed here, but I think it's a bit better.