Chapter 12: The Fire Reader
The next few days passed by with a flurry that not even Kephra expected. His arm was healing rapidly, to the point where he could now gingerly practice with his spear. Despite its apparent age, and its unusual appearance, the spear worked fantastically, like the spear had been made for him. It was balanced and the spear head was broad and sturdy, able to pierce even the thickest armor. The bite marks on his forearm were now healing to nothing more than small puckered scars. The shoulder however, was taking much longer to heal, considering that according to the medic, he had nearly reopened the wound from throwing the spear a few days ago.
He was growing restless, an uneasy feeling settling into the pit of his chest. Something didn't feel right in the air, and he couldn't quite figure out why and it was going to drive him mad if he did not delve into the source of the feeling.
"You're pacing again," Micah said idly, fiddling with a piece of jewelry. He had recovered enough to reside in the same tent as Absalom and Kephra. The leg was healing well, although Micah will forever walk with a prominent limp. He was repairing small pieces of jewelry now, since many of the rebels discovered his previous occupation. For Kephra and Absalom, to see Micah once again working his craft was a joyous sight to see the raichu had changed almost overnight since he started. One of the Sky soldiers promised Micah that he would find a way to obtain better tools for him.
Kephra paused in mid step, not fully realizing his actions. "I was?"
Absalom nodded, running his blade over a whetstone. "Indeed."
Kephra sighed gustily and sat down heavily on the nearest cot. "Sorry. I've been feeling restless and unsettled lately, like there were insects crawling across my arms. Something is up."
"Maybe if you killed some Tao, you would feel better," Micah joked, before turning to Absalom. "Many pardons."
Kephra let out a sardonic chuckle. "Don't give me any ideas, especially since supposedly the Tao Army is a day's trip from here."
"Yes, he might wipe out an entire army," Micah added, his voice monotone.
Kephra got back up and reached for his spear, the wooden shaft feeling comfortable under his grip. "I'm going for a walk." He grabbed a worn cloak and exited the tent.
Absalom turned to Micah. "You don't think he's really. . ."
Micah snorted. "I've only known Kephra for a little while, and while he may be vengeance incarnate, he would not do something that insane. . .I think."
Kephra pulled the hood over his face, to keep the autumn weather at bay. It had stopped raining much to everyone's relief, but the brisk weather still persisted, bringing with it dewy mornings and sharp biting winds. He had worn a thick, drab brown tunic and a pair of breeches. The tunic had first felt odd against his feathers, for it had been over two years since he wore one, but he had gotten used to the feeling quickly, for it provided a barrier against the winds. The spear he carried loosely in his hands, for he was in safe company, among his fellow rebels and soldiers.
He headed towards the edge of camp, where the glade and the forest's edge met. The woods looked dark and foreboding to those who were unused to them, but to the blaziken, they provided a safe shelter, where he could think and brood quietly, without any interruptions. If it were any other time, he would have found a small hallow at the base of a large oak about fifteen yards into the woods, out of the sight of any curious eyes.
This time, was a little different. He eventually found a small clearing, much deeper in the forest, where the trees towered above him, dwarfing his frame. He scouted the edges of the clearing, picking up pieces of kindling and underbrush as he went. He dropped the debris into a pile at the center of the clearing, away from the massive trunks of the trees. While the air was moist with the bite of autumn, Kephra did not want to risk causing a fire.
He lined the kindling with fist sized stones he managed to find. He brought one of his wrists flaring to life. He held it over the kindling and the fires caught an errant branch sticking up from the pile. The forest debris quickly burst into flames, but was contained by the circle of stones. Kephra took a deep breath, inhaling the wood smoke, watching as the smoke curled and twisted about in soft silvery tendrils, forming nameless creatures of fantastic shapes and designs. The scent filled his senses as he peered into the heart of the flames, trying to repeat the series of events that had happened previously.
How was he able to conjure up the powers of a fire reader earlier. Was it intentional, destined to wield the mystical powers of the fire readers? Or was it just a mere fluke, an accident? He squinted further into them, growing frustrated when all he saw were flames, dancing in the ring of stones. No visions, no mysterious figures, nothing
What was it that he heard, the night he read the flames? "Seek me and I will give you all that you wish for. . .And I will bring justice to the land once again." he said aloud, his voice seeming unusually loud in the otherwise silent clearing. The figure in gray, with piercing golden eyes haunted his dreams, alternating with those of the day the Tao soldiers came. The enshrouded figure brought on quite a few restless nights for him.
"Bring justice to the lands. . ." he muttered to himself. Nothing more than a dream, just like the vision had been nothing more than a mere accident.
"Well careful there my friend, lest you decide to burn the entire forest down."
Kephra whirled around from his seated position, reaching for the spear. "Who said that?" he demanded. "Who are you?"
"Nothing more than a friend." Kephra's eyes caught a black shadow nesting in a tree. Upon closer inspection, it was a honchkrow, with a red sash across his abdomen and a blue ribbon in his feathery "hat" atop his head. "Now, if you would place that spear down, before you stab someone's eye out with that thing."
Kephra growled at the back of his throat, the spear still tightly held. "Not until you tell me who you are."
"Very well then. I am Rei, the honorable "Prince of Thieves"," Rei gave an elaborate bow, one wing swept out for emphasis.
"A Prince of Thieves?"
"Well, I used to be, until I was caught. Now, I am a spymaster. I run a network like no one has ever seen." Rei bobbed his head. "It's quite impressive, actually. Honest."
Kephra slowly lowered the spear, but not much. "A spymaster? For us, the Sky army?"
"Yes and yes. But what I would like to know is why you came all the way out in the middle of the woods, only to light a fire and to stare at it for who knows how long?"
Kephra turned back to the flames, watching them intensely for a moment. "If you must know," he began. "I was trying to see if I was truly a fire reader, or that was merely a fluke, brought on by exhaustion." A part of him wondered why he would reveal such an intensely personal revelation to a stranger, but he realized, that pokemon revealed a lot to strangers, no matter what the situation. It was how one was constructed, molded in the image of the All-Father. One dud not have to worry about the trust of a stranger? What did they have to gain, spreading secrets entrusted to them?
Rei's eyes widened. "A fire reader? You are growing more and more interesting by the minute. You've become quite the famous little blaziken." he clacked his beak sharply, clearly impressed.
"But as I said, it was probably just a fluke, a mistake."
"The All-Father never makes a mistake." Rei argued, his mood serious. "To be a fire reader, well, I have never seen one myself, but my grandfather once knew a fire reader, a magmar, if I recall correctly."
Kephra snorted, but then stopped. "Yes—wait, what do you mean, famous?"
"Word has spread that you were the one who helped take out the entire Black Pit Mines operation and those Tao soldiers pursuing you. Even though you were wounded and outnumbered, you still fought with the spirit of ten soldiers!"
"That is what everybody keeps telling me," Kephra admitted reluctantly.
"Yes. Well, I must be off, defying the Tao Empire's whims and what not." Rei bowed once again and flew away, sending dying leaves everywhere, forcing Kephra to shield the fire, too keep the honchkrow from accidentally putting them out, or worse, spreading them. He began to watch them once more, gazing hard into the heart of the campfire, until he heard Rei's disembodied voice.
"It would be best if you just relax!" he offered.
Kephra started, his heart racing, but he calmed himself and went back to the flames, allowing his body to release the tension in his muscles,slowly, the muscles unused to such an action. He opened his mind, taking note of the lackadaisical shapes that were born in the flames. The world seemed to fade into a black haze, the tress becoming nothing more than vague shadows, the night sky vanishing into eternity. It was just Kephra and the small fire at his feet. Even his weapon was forgotten.
Then, in the fires, the amorphous shapes began to coalesce into more solid, recognizable forms. A thought came up in the back of his mind. "I'm reading the fire," he took note, and the thought vanished from his mind, keeping distractions at a minimum.
First, a building built in the dusty red cliffs of a valley. The building was stout, the gray stones aged and weathered. Kephra could make out parapets and the shadows of towers. There was a gate too, but that, like the rest, was now a pile of debris faintly resembling what it once was. This must be Ft. Karydos Kephra realized. Then, the fort seemed to go back in time, as he watched the fortress grow and expand, the stones reassembling themselves. He saw seven on one of the walls. They each represented the seven types of elemental alchemy: fire, water, earth, air, lightning, ice and Lyfe/Anti-Lyfe, Kephra drawing on the wealth of information given to him by his mother. They all carried weapons, each one different and fitting the user. Kephra's heart skipped a beat when he saw a spear looking remarkably like his, clenched in the hands of the fire type. At the foot of the fortress were monstrous creatures, not even close to resembling any pokemon Kephra knew. They were clawing and mewling, laying siege to the fortress, and the seven soldiers fought back. They must have been the only soldiers left to defend the fortress, Kephra thought.
Then, the vision changed rapidly, to a series of catacombs, ancient carvings and paintings etched into the rock. A bubbling spring laid at the catacomb. The stone looked familiar, ruddy red in the torchlight.
As he tried to make sense of the catacombs and the ancient etchings, Kephra's head whirled as the vision tore him away, only to see a temple nestled in some trees. Vegetation liberally covered the temple, from vines draping from the roof and curling around the pillars, to flowers and other miscellaneous plants peeping from every nook and cranny. There was a small squat stone bench near the temple's entrance and a robed figure, clad in gray, sat, holding a single, lush, pink hued, pink petaled flower. The figure raised his head, to lock eyes with Kephra. It was the same figure as before.
"So, we meet again, Fire Reader."
"Wait, how can you see me?" Kephra asked the vision.
"I am one with many gifts, one of which being to see those who are scrying me." the figure nodded. "Do you come, seeking more answers?"
"I'm sure you know what I want."
"But of course, you desire for peace, for your home to be restored to what it once was. I can give you these things, if you can find me."
"But how can I find you! I don't even know who or what you are!"
"I am the real solution to the war. The harbinger and the peacemaker. I wield the power of one in one hand," the robed figure held the flower in his palm-clawed and scaly, Kephra noticed, and frost formed on the flower, spreading from the heart of the plant. The flower seemed to wither and curl in on itself, dying from the cold snap. "And the other in the other hand." he transferred the dying flower to his other hand and the frost receded, retreated. The flower opened once more, looking as vibrant as it did before, when the last of the frost died away.
"Seek me and I will give you everything. . ."
"Wait!" Kephra shouted, one hand extended.The vision faded away and Kephra found himself back in the glade, the fire beginning to die into embers.
"Who are you?" he whispered to the flames, bittersweet about the whole experience. On one hand, he was elated, upon discovering that he was indeed a fire reader, but on the other hand, he was growing more frustrated with the mysterious stranger in gray. He would have to just wait and see, to see what else the figure had in store for him. He began to get up from his seated position, stretching his legs and picking up his spear from the forest floor, when he caught the glowing red eyes of the watcher in the trees. Her lupine face was unmistakable.
Rain wandered the depths of the forest, to clear her mind. The past few days were growing more and more stressful, as she and her father were making plans for the move to Ft. Karydos. She was also planning to spring another raid on the Tao army, this time taking out many of the Tao siege engines, making it difficult to assault the fort. The question was who to bring with her and how should the raid go down. These things were always difficult to plan.
The woody scent of smoke wafted across her nostrils. It was an uncommon phenomenon for a fire to be burning at this time of year, for the woods were saturated with rain and fog, preventing a fire from springing up. A forest fire would be disastrous for the Sky army at this point in the campaign. So, led by curiosity, she decided to follow the scent, using her sense of smell and her powers of Aura. She closed her eyes, revealing a world absolutely bursting with Aura. All sources of life, from plants to farm animals to more sentient beings such as herself, possessed Aura at the core of their beings. In order to discern one form of life from another, different things had different "patterns" of Aura, differing from one form of life to another. All plants had one type of pattern, with minimal variations, while all farm animals had a different pattern.
Using this to her advantage, Rain picked her way through the forest, towards a vibrant spark of life, sitting in the center of a clearing. As she came to the clearing, Rain opened her eyes and the various patterns of Aura vanished. At the heart of the clearing was a small flame, and a blaziken perched next to it, his eyes glassy as he peered into the fire. The figure was unmistakable: it was Kephra, the former slave who had brought down Black Pit Mines. He was unresponsive, but his mouth was moving. She could barely make the out. Why was he talking to the fire? While many different types had different customs—her father would toss a golden arics into a body of water, whether it was the ocean or a creek— she had never heard of a fire type talking to a fire. It was odd, to say the least.
Then, the blaziken shouted, one hand extended towards the flames. "Wait!" he shouted, shattering the silence. Rain nearly jumped at his sudden movement. "Who are you!" That was even stranger, in Rain's eyes. Then she made the connection: he must have been referring to a vision, she thought.
"A fire reader?" she asked herself. She made a move to step inside the clearing, until the blaziken stood up, his blue-green eyes catching hers. She had to admit, he was handsome for a member of his species, with an angular face, more so than other blazikens. His eyes were arresting, a pale blue-green, with darker rings around the edge of the iris. He was tall, towering over her. The spear clenched in his hand made him appear to be some god of war, the hood over his face, highlighted in harsh lights and shadows from the dying fire. She seemed to be caught in his gaze, one so cold and hard eyes that had seen more than any other soldier would wish to in ten lifetimes.
"Rain." he said simply.
"Kephra," she replied. She stepped into the clearing. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask the same of you." Kephra crossed his arms, the cloak enveloping his body as a gust of wind blew.
"I came to think," Rain said.
"As did I."
The glade fell into silence as they stared each other down, challenging each other with their gazes, bright red and pale blue-green. Rain spoke at last, breaking the uneasy silence. "You're a fire reader aren't you?"
"What makes you say that?" The blaziken sounded uneasy, like a child whose secret had been exposed.
"You were staring into the fire, your eyes glassy. You looked like you were talking to it, and then you shouted at it."
Kephra turned his head away. "So it would appear that yes, I am a fire reader. I only found this out recently, during my escape from the Mines."
"Isn't that a rare ability?"
"From what I heard, which is only shreds of rumors and half truths, being a fire reader is a rare power."
"That is. . .interesting," Rain slowly admitted. "You seem to be growing more and more intriguing by the minute."
"I will take that as a compliment," Kephra chuckled. "Now, what are you doing here?"
"I am planning another mission," she said, wondering why she would reveal her plans to this. . .this blaziken of all things. "I intend to destroy the Tao's siege engines, to prevent them from harming our fortress."
"Excellent plan, until they decide to rebuild them anew." he said sarcastically.
"Then I will destroy those as well."
". . .Then I ask to join you in this mission."
His barked out request took her aback. "Why?"
"You want me to prove my worth, so I will."
"What makes you think that you need to prove your worth to me?"
"It was written plainly on your face when we first met. You didn't like what your father said, so I intend to prove you wrong. I have every reason to kill every single one of those Taos as much as you do, whatever that may be."
"My reasons are none of your concern. Besides," she added. "If you wish to destroy those Taos, then why not that Tao charmeleon?"
Kephra paused. "I do not see him as a Tao. He saved my life. He may be born a Tao, but he is not one at heart."
"Just like not every Sky soldier is fighting for us," Rain said quietly, too quietly for the fire type to overhear. Why did her past have to haunt her so much, and at the most inopportune time?
"Very well," Rain agreed at last. "You may join me. But I want your Tao friend, the charmeleon to join us as well, to prove his loyalty."
Kephra glowered at her demands, but he relented. "I will ask him," he conceded. "But he has no need to prove his loyalty. Isn't killing his fellow soldiers at the Mines good enough for you?"
"Not until I see it for myself."
"Fine." Kephra glanced down at the dying fire and he stomped on it, sending ashes and embers everywhere, extinguishing the campfire. The clearing was enshrouded in darkness once more, until the blaziken lit his wrist, acting as a makeshift torch. He inhaled deeply, before asking. "I would appreciate it if you do not tell anyone of my fire reading skills."
"And why not?"
"Because I do not want to be seen as someone more than I actually am." Kephra brushed past her, into the forest. "Good evening, Rain."
Rain stood in the clearing for a beat, until she spun on her heel, following his fiery wrist, using it like a beacon into the night.
Kephra doesn't really like Rain much now does he? But he has reasons to dislike her, but I think it is mostly because of her apparent dislike to Absalom. Micah's she neutral towards, but you can't really dislike Micah. It's like trying to hate kittens or something lol.