Where There's Smoke
Prologue: There's Rain

The air of the Begintian plains always had this interesting quality to it before it was about to rain; a kind of quality you could taste on your tongue-delicious and swirling and smoky, twisting its way around you and teasing you-before the storm clouds even began to mix and condense in the blue sky.

Those days were like chocolate; sweet and delicious, but with a sharp undertone that surprised you, biting you but only making you want more.

The first time I met Jorn was one of those days.

Insomnia and I had been making our way towards the Cchnian border, away from the constant fighting of Baklatros and Casarov. Another firing squad, sent by the neighboring island of Lluvia, had arrived in Dremix the night before and the two of us could tell it was only a prelude to more trouble.

We were only kids-ten and nine-but we were smart enough to get the hell out of dodge.

Problem was, to get out of Cchnia then, you had to pass through the Takchitmal mountain range and the only way to do that was the tunnel system and that took a week just to get through. One week of pitch black, partially flooded and collapsed tunnels, said to be carved from solid rock by gigantic, ancient worms.

Things that big, we figured it was probably best to approach with extreme caution. You didn't eat through stone without having a nice set of chompers on you.

So there's me and Insomnia, ten and nine, sitting outside the cave mouth trying to calculate with our ten and nine year old math how much food we needed and how much money it would cost to buy that much fruit juice and that many bags of chips. Then we took a moment to try and measure the immeasurable source of mana and determine if mine was strong enough to take down a giant, armored worm with teeth and if hers was strong enough to heal me if I only had three appendages left after the encounter.

You know, kid stuff like that.

Well anyways, we're planning and scheming and just up to shenanigans in general when along comes this stick figure of a kid, blonde hair and brown eyes and skin that was as pale as pale could be and I figure he's about to collapse right then and there but, No, Insomnia said because he could be trying rob us of all our sixteen cents and that made him a threat.

So instead of getting the runt something to drink or eat before he blew away like dust in the wind, I picked up the nearest stick and chucked it at him with all the strength I could muster and it still landed ten inches short of my goal.

Instead of looking pissed or frightened, the kid just stopped walking and stared at us. I didn't think I'd ever forget that stare (and so far, I've been right) because it was just so empty and hollow and so utterly unlike a kid and completely like us that even Insomnia dropped the rock she had picked up and stared right back.

After a bit of this staring, she marched right on up to him.

Now, Insomnia wasn't very scary looking straight-up back then; she was the tiniest nine year old you ever saw and had these cute ginger pigtails that she'd put bows in just to trick people into thinking she was a normal kid. But once you fell for it, that warm and fuzzy look in her eyes would kind of melt away and you'd think, 'Something ain't right with this girl' because she'd just be looking at you, not blinking a bit.

With Jorn, she didn't even bother laying out the honey for this fly trap. She just stomped across the grass to him and stared and I followed her in case she decided to bless him with one of her deadly Shin Kicks.

So he's staring and she's staring and one of them's intimidating and the other's just confused but I honestly couldn't tell who was feeling what, so I just turned to the kid.

"Where're you from?"

"Vildamisch." He answered immediately, as if he'd had that response programmed in and was just waiting for someone to ask.

"That's near Baklatros, ain't it?"

"Yeah. Small town."

"Didn't they burn it last week?" His face got a kind of quiet look on it. I don't know how a face can look quiet, but it did.

"Yeah."

"What's your name then?"

"Jorn."

"Last name?"

"Don't need it anymore. No one else is gonna claim it, anyways." I snorted.

"Fair enough. I'm Blue, this is Insomnia."

"Those aren't names." He frowned, looking between us.

"What kind of name is Jorn? Sounds like Jam and Corn had a baby and were the most uncreative parents ever."

He cracked a smile at that, I think. So did Insomnia. So he was Jorn and I was Blue and she was Insomnia.

And that's just the way it was.